I have something weird to confess: I have always wanted to be a Person Who Makes Scones. So in February, I took a personal day to write… and bake scones.
I’d been building up to them for quite a while, dedicating a Pinterest board to scones a couple years ago and pinning recipes when something caught my eye, each one reigniting my desire to be a Person Who Makes Scones. In the fall of 2019, I took a big step toward it at the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market when I purchased some baking grade lavender, an ingredient which I’d decided would set *my* scones apart from the rest. But even though I also wanted to be a Person Who Bakes With Lavender, the tiny jar of it sat unopened until February 2020.
That’s when I finally baked some fucking scones.
They weren’t pretty, but holy hell were they delicious. They were Blackberry Lavender White Chocolate scones, and I meant for them to save me. My anxiety had been out of control, I was extremely overwhelmed (and sinking) and I hadn’t been writing. I’d been pacing, shuffling my feet so as not to slip on panicky thoughts littered all around me: what am I gonna do, what am I gonna do, what am I gonna do.
It was time for the scones.
Something you need to know is that I am not a baker. I have no idea why the idea of being a Person Who Makes Scones was so appealing. Except that, obviously, she was a person who would gift friends with baked goods. She’d show up. She’d do things like brunch. She’d get up early to write. She’d have her shit together. I have no idea where these notions came from, but I was sure I’d feel a whole lot more optimistic about life if I made some scones. I believed everything would fall into place.
But things did not fall into place.
By the end of that week, having seen news reports out of Japan and Australia of a rapidly spreading, deadly virus, lockdowns and empty grocery store shelves, I started preparing. Now, months later, the end of 2020 nears. But the pandemic continues.
Lots of people on Twitter are sharing lists of what they managed to accomplish this year “despite.” Here’s mine: I baked some fucking scones. It turned out to be a one-off, but I’m still kind of in love with the idea of myself as Carolee Who Makes the Most Amazing Scones… even though she’s no longer under the impression that the scones will save her.
We can never really know what we’re up against.
It seems like all my attention after the scones went into the pandemic and politics — plus parenting while everyone was so wound up by the pandemic and politics — and so I was surprised to look back this week and find this blog post listing my poetry goals for 2020. I’d been so caught up in news and despair (and also really long work days) most of the year that I’d forgotten entirely about those goals.
It’s funny now to think that I had a chance at any of them. And honestly, I’m just happy that I’ve written anything at all this year. It was a year in which we had to fight for everything. And I fought for my writing. That’s a big fucking win. I’m 1,000% okay with the fact that I didn’t “get there” on these goals, but here’s a reporting for my own account:
Goal #1 / Write 5 new drafts each month
I wasn’t even close to being this consistent, writing instead in fits and spurts, per my normal M.O., including a current year-end push. Even so, it looks like I’ll end the year with 40-ish new pieces, which averages out to just over 3/month. (Bonus points for trying micro-fiction for the first time!)
Goal #2 / Write and revise toward a new manuscript
Well, this didn’t happen. I didn’t even attempt it. However, I did organize hundreds of poems into one filing system. I finally know where everything is. In the process, I have new appreciation for some themes in my work and feel motivated to play with them and see what I can pull together.
Goal #3 / Apply for grants and residencies
This goal had big things in mind: NEA applications, excursions, retreats, etc., and I did absolutely zero work toward any of those things (and who knows what they’ll look like going forward). However, I did join a few online workshops, including two with Sarah Freligh (poetry and micro-fiction) and one with the Madwomen in the Attic out of Carlow University. Ours was the first national cohort for Madwomen, which had previously been Pittsburgh-only but expanded when the pandemic forced it online.
Goal #4 / Continue making visual art
I didn’t get to this one much, but I did make half a dozen new digital collages, which I shared on my gooduniversenextdoor Instagram profile.
Goal #5 / Re-engage with my local writing community
By “re-engage,” I meant “attend readings” again. Those readings never happened, of course, canceled like most in-person events due to the pandemic. However, I did attend a number of Zoom readings with people from our local scene. It’s been delightful.
Goal #6 / Finish my 100 books reading project
I ended up raising the white flag after 38 books. I still read dozens, if not hundreds, of poems, but I did so primarily online via email subscriptions and poets I see on Twitter. I’ll likely continue to publish reading notes for full-length poetry collections, but I’ve tapped out of this particular challenge.
At some point during the first half of the year, Cheryl Strayed launched a podcast called “Sugar Calling” to chat with writers about this moment in history and how they’re coping. In the first episode, talking with George Saunders, she said,
“Everything that’s scary about this moment has existed all this time… this has always been true… It’s amplified. It’s on our doorstep… We are mortal. We don’t have control. We have to simply try our best. Keep the faith. And maybe pray to the divinity in each other and honor the divinity that is within each of us.”
Mortality on our doorstep.
Day in and day out, frightening headlines. Spikes in cases. Overflowing ICUs. Layers upon layers of restrictions. News of so many people flouting masks. Death tolls. Mobile morgue trailers. We’re now losing our neighbors at the rate of one every 25 or 30 minutes. Over the weekend, I saw that in parts of California it’s one every 10 minutes.
And something slithering just beneath the chaos and chatter: whispers of our own deaths. For whom the bell tolls and all that. Heavy stuff. And nothing new except that it’s pretty rare to be confronted with it so incessantly for such an extended period.
Death is quite literally in the air we breathe.
And there I was in February believing scones would be enough.
It’s funny what prior versions of ourselves think and do. Mine not only prayed to the god of sticky dough and wooden spoons but also had very specific ideas of what it was going to mean to be a poet in 2020.
She had no idea, of course.
We can never really know what we’re up against.
I still believe it’s important to set goals. I’m not thinking of stepping away from that hopeful and helpful thing we do a couple times of year. But as I consider the year that’s past, instead of placing the emphasis on how I failed to make scones every weekend, I’m holding onto this: “One afternoon in February, I gave myself an incredible gift.”
And it’s available to me again whenever I choose.
I’ve often been skeptical about what it means to shift a mindset. Is it really powerful enough to change how a person feels about herself and the world?
We can never really know what we’re up against, etc., etc.
But I’m definitely getting to an age* where I’m less interested in disappointing myself by inventing so many Who I Ought to Be’s and more interested in exploring who’s underneath all that and what she needs in any given moment. I’m learning how to extend to myself both grace and curiosity. Instead of standing outside myself listing how the version of myself that shows up isn’t enough, I’m suddenly fascinated by whomever I’ve brought to the dance.
Even after 48 years, I’m alien and strange to myself in so many ways. And I’m delighted by the chance — like my favorite animal and new tattoo — to get my tentacles (and my poems!) in there and see what she’s all about.
Here’s a good example: my wild idea about baked goods may not have “panned” out (see what I did there?), but I did find happiness in another food from my kitchen: home fries.
Always concerned about my weight, I’ve frequently banned potatoes from my plate. Strange for a girl from Maine to skip the potatoes (some people have wine cellars in their basements; people from Maine have potato closets), but that’s the power of diet culture. During the pandemic, I’ve let that all go, a sin I’ll account for at some point in the new year, for sure.
But right now, I melt pats of butter in a skillet and dump in par boiled, diced potatoes. I salt and pepper as much as I want and avoid the temptation to stir too soon. I’ve learned to be patient and let them sit; it takes longer than feels right for them to crisp.
Turns out, I’m not a Cosmopolitan Baker of Scones but an ordinary girl from Maine (“living in exile,” as they say, in New York). And I’m happy to see that girl. She often evades me, but here she is feeding me.
*perimenopause – and it’s often terrible