September 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
This is the story of a compliment.
About a month ago I had a rare Tuesday night off from work at the Cafe, and I had gone over to my boyfriend’s house for the evening. We decided to go for ice cream after dinner, which is a really easy decision to make when you live in NEPA, since there is an ice cream place within 5 minutes of everyone’s house. As a matter of fact, there are at least four ice cream places within a 5 minute drive of Matt’s house. But that’s not really the point.
We were sitting in his Volkswagen bus, licking our cones and trying to invent ways you could get more sprinkles onto soft ice cream. Matt made some offhand comparison and I said, “That’s a good metaphor.” I paused and then (because I’m the kind of person who also thinks it’s fun to diagram sentences in my head), I said in a goofy, fake-smart voice: “Do you know the difference between a metaphor and a simile? A metaphor is a direct statement of comparison and a simile uses the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.”
Predictably, Matt snorted at me and asked, “Am I in English class right now?”
(Like you, dear reader, I assumed his question was rhetorical.)
But then he continued in a more serious tone. “Why aren’t you an English teacher, actually? You’re so smart. You could probably get ridiculous scholarships and get through college so easily. Why didn’t you ever do that?”
I thought about it for a few seconds and shrugged. “I never wanted to be a teacher. And I never had the money to go to college.” But that seemed like an excuse once I said it so I kept going. “Honestly, when I was 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So I figured I’d work for a little while, save up some money, and then go to school.”
I paused to lick my cone, because chocolate ice cream was about to cascade off, slither down my hand, and drip onto my light-blue summer shorts, presumably leaving a trail of rainbow sprinkle destruction behind. I caught the drip in time, though.
“I never had a burning ambition, or a career I dreamed about doing, except maybe writing. I never cared if people thought how smart I was. I never wanted people to think of me and say ‘Rose is so smart!’. I guess if I have an ambition for my life, it’s that I want to be a genuinely good person. I want people to think of me and say, ‘Rose is a kind person.’ That sounds cheesy but it’s true.”
I gave Matt a self-conscious smile, because it did sound cheesy to say it out loud, but he didn’t tease me or make fun of me.
He just looked silently at me for a few seconds, and then said, “Well, you’re doing a really good job at it so far.”
I said thank you, very quietly, but my eyes were shining.
It does sound cheesy though, doesn’t it? But why? Does it have too much of a do-gooder sound to it? Or Barney the Big Purple Dinosaur, with his “sharing is caring!” goop? So I’ve been trying to think of examples, to make my ambition into something I can take seriously. What is kindness?
Kindness is my mother washing at least 10 dirty dishes of cat food every day because she’s too kind not to feed the strays on our back porch. It’s Sam playing soccer with Reagan in the restaurant parking lot even though she just worked a long shift, because he’s so excited to play with her. Kindness is Matt coming over my family’s house for dinner on a weeknight, even though he’s exhausted from work, because he knows it means a lot to me. It’s Jeff, my boss and owner of the Cafe, giving the dishwasher rides home after work because he doesn’t drive. Being kind is what Angela did when she worked at Salvation Army and spoke Spanish to the customers when they needed it, even if it made her job a little harder. It’s my aunts always being there to help my family out. It’s my brother-in-law helping to pay for Cathy’s car repairs. So many more examples come to my mind as I write. So many people I know, doing great and small acts of kindness.
And then it hits me: all these examples I’ve thought of are really just people being unselfish. It’s all examples of people giving themselves up for others, putting others first. Generous, unselfish love. So maybe I should fix my words. Maybe instead of saying “I want to be kind”, what I’m trying to say is “I want to be unselfish.” And that’s a worthwhile enough ambition for anyone. That’s the work of a lifetime.
July 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
Yes indeed, as the above picture so portrays, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the 2015-2016 STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS. And yes, I know I’m a month behind with this post but life has been busy and good, which is as it should be when summer bursts upon the Valley.
Man, what a series. It’s actually kind of fun just writing this post now because it brings it all back… the way we outplayed the Sharks, Matt Murray’s huge saves, seeing so many of our WBS Penguins boys lifting the Cup… and let’s not forget Phil Kessel (*insert crying/laughing emoji here*) simply winning the Cup, and Conn Smythe winner Sidney Crosby.
Being the champions is a fantastic feeling.
I was going to write more about my summer now, but I’m going camping with Matt this weekend and I think I need to start figuring out exactly what one packs to camp. Other than beer. I’ve only been camping once before in my entire 30 years. Apparently there is this thing called “mountain pies”, which you cook in this nifty little device. And apparently I am the only person in the Valley who has not heard of them? Well now I know, and I’m going to make the best dang mountain pies this campground has ever seen. Also, I think I will roast some sweet potatoes in the firepit and then squish a melted marshmallow on top. Mmmmm, I would rather have a sweet potato with marshmallow than a s’more any day. Un-American, but true. I can never get my chocolate melted enough for a s’more, and I don’t like marshmallows that much to begin with. But if it’s a nice toasty, golden-brown marshmallow squashed happily into the steaming mouth of a sweet potato, all sugary ooze and slightly carmelized potato bits… Well, that’s different.
I’ll write more soon; I have a post brewing.
June 9, 2016 § Leave a comment
One win away.
Hockey’s greatest prize could be awarded tonight. If the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the San Jose Sharks, they’ll have won the Stanley Cup Finals in 5 games and become the champions of the best sport on earth. They will have proved their detractors wrong and reaped the rewards of their mid-season surge. The best team in the entire league from January on, they “went 33-12-5 in the last 50 games of the regular season and are 15-7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs”. – nhl.com
Not that I’m overly excited or anything.
I was listening to the Marek vs. Wyshynski hockey podcast yesterday (which is fantastic and I totally recommend it) and they were saying how they don’t feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth of Finals hockey, because even though the games have all been so close in score, they really haven’t been that close in play. And I just laughed because it’s true, but I’m a fan of the team that’s doing well, so I don’t mind at all. Trust me, I love a good competitive hockey match just as much as anyone, but I’ve seen the Penguins blow too many leads to wish for it in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
So tonight, you know where to find me: nervously shredding a napkin between my fingers as I sit at the Cafe with Jeffrey and Pete. Pete will be making all sorts of sarcastic comments about the Pens’ power-play. Jeff will be muttering that no lead is big enough. But underneath all the tension and nerves, we believe in this team. They’ve accomplished so much under Mike Sullivan’s coaching. They set up in the offensive zone with confidence. They aren’t scared to make stretch passes. They win the battles along the boards (a HUGE part of why they are up 3-1 in this series has been their play along the boards). And they’re actually GOOD at back-checking!
Jeff just texted me to let me know he’s going to have the game on the projection screen in the party room tonight. 200″ of playoff hockey, spread across the wall for us. The Stanley Cup will shine like a diamond when NBC does their inevitable shot of it rolling through the hallways. “The Stanley Cup is in the building” – I can hear Doc Emrick saying that so clearly. Yes it is. And we all know who deserves it.
Come on, Penguins. One more win.
May 19, 2016 § 4 Comments
It’s been so long since I updated my “Baking In A Tiny Kitchen” sidebar! Too long, far too long! (Although to be completely honest, I made these cannoli in Matt’s kitchen, which is not quite as tiny as mine, and also contains far fewer people at any given moment. Seriously, this may be the first time I ever made a “slightly intimidating dessert” without my mother’s watchful eye. Age 30’s been a real wild ride, folks.)
And while, yes, the cannoli were slightly intimidating to make, fear not. If I can do it, you can do it. You just need patience, confidence, and these nifty little things called cannoli tubes.
Here we go!
The recipe that follows is from chef Alex Guarnaschelli, on the Food Network’s site: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alexandra-guarnaschelli/homemade-cannoli-recipe.html.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup dry white wine
Step 1: In a medium bowl, I mixed together the flour, sugar and salt. This is it! I’m making cannolis. The first step is the hardest! Just kidding, this is an incredibly easy step. No one can mess it up.
Step 2: I cut the butter into small pieces and mixed it into the flour with my hands. This took a little longer than using a pastry cutter, but I don’t know how well a cutter would have worked with the small pieces. It’s really not a lot of butter.
The recipe says to work the butter in with your fingers until the mixture becomes coarse and sandy. I feel like this is one of the harder steps to describe on a blog for someone who might not work with dough very often. I could tell just from the feeling that the butter was mixed enough. My advice is that it doesn’t need to look perfect. The butter will never evenly coat all the flour; it’s not supposed to. Just get it good and mixed in there, make sure it’s coarse without being too lumpy, and go with your gut.
Step 3: Add the egg yolk and the white wine. (*insert thumbs-up emoji here*) Those Italians, man. The white wine is literally the only liquid in this dough. The recipe calls for a 1/2 cup, but I felt like my dough was still too dry and crumbly, so I added a littleeee bit more… about a 1/4 cup worth.
Once my dough had come together, I wrapped it lightly in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge to rest while I made the ricotta filling and Matt prepared the skillet for frying. (He was smoking chicken wings outside that day too… it was a 5-star food day for the both of us.)
For the ricotta filling, you will need:
2 cups ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup small semisweet chocolate chips
Note: If your ricotta has an excess of liquid, make sure to drain it for at least 30 minutes over a strainer beforehand.
Step 4: In a medium bowl, I whisked the ricotta until smooth, then added the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. I mixed that all together to form this pretty, speckled concoction.
Step 5: In a small bowl on my electric mixer, I beat the heavy cream until it was stiff. See those lovely peaks?
Step 6: Fold the cream into the ricotta mixture. I used a spatula to do this. Fold it in there nice and gently, just like folding a sad little hand in poker. Better luck next time, Ace of Spades.
Step 7: Stir in the mini chocolate chips. I may or may not have eaten a handful of them… So little and delicious. Zest the lemon exterior into the ricotta mixture as well. A hint of lemon for some zing!
Put the ricotta mixture into the fridge and let it chill in there while you fry up those cannolis. Things are about to get fun!
For rolling and frying the cannoli, you will need:
1 quart canola oil, for frying
Flour, for rolling
1 egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash
Step 7: Get out the cannoli tubes!! One of my favorite parts of baking is getting to use fun little implements like these guys. (For my local readers: I got them at the Maines Food Source in Kingston.)
Step 8: Make your egg wash first, because your hands are going to be all floury once you start rolling out the dough. Just crack an egg into a bowl and lightly beat it. Set the bowl to the side.
Step 9: I put Matt in charge of frying the cannolis, because he’s better at that than me, and plus I already have enough burns on my ladylike hands from baking. (From the Great Homemade Caramel Incident of ’14.) So he heated up the oil in the skillet to 360 degrees, while I rolled out the dough. I spread a layer of wax paper on the table, dusted it with flour, dusted the rolling pin with flour, and then rolled out the dough. You want to make sure you roll it veryyy thin, like an 8th of an inch. I don’t think I rolled my dough out thin enough; I would do it more next time.
Once the dough is rolled out thinly, use a round bowl or a cup to measure the cannoli rounds. It should be 3-4 inches across. I ended up using one of those “perfect egg” circles. (You know, one of these guys.) It worked out great. I cut the rounds and traced the edges with a knife to make sure they were cut cleanly. Then I lifted a round (the dough should be fairly easy to handle without falling apart) and wrapped it around the cannoli tube, like so:
Take a little bit of the egg wash and brush it onto the edges of the dough. Squish it together gently, so that it’s sealed shut. Flare the dough ends a little away from the cannoli tube, so that the oil can get in there and work its frying magic.
Step 10: Matt gently dropped the cannoli tubes into the oil and used tongs to keep them submerged while the shells fried. The general time was about 2-3 minutes in the oil.
They should be a lovely golden-brown when you take them out, and have that signature “blistered” texture of cannoli. He used the tongs to hold one end of the tube and very gently slid the shell off and onto a plate.
This is the more time-consuming part of making cannoli, because you can only fit so many tubes into the oil at once, then you have to wait a minute for them to cool down once they come out, before you can wrap the dough around them again. Just be patient and have fun! I suggest drinking some of the white wine during this process, and dancing to good music, and trying to keep the cat off the table.
(Note: You’ll have little bits and pieces of the dough left over from cutting it into rounds. I found my dough was pliable enough to handle being rolled together again and I got a few more rounds from rolling the bits and pieces together and cutting them out.)
Let the shells cool for a few minutes while you prepare the pistachios and chocolate for dipping. (Note: this step isn’t in the recipe I followed, but it’s incredibly easy.) You will need:
1 cup melted mini chocolate chips for dipping
Shelled and crushed pistachios for dipping
Step 11: Put your boyfriend to work shelling all the pistachios, since he was the one who insisted on having them, and you don’t even like nuts anyway. If your boyfriend also does not like pistachios… congrats! You get to skip this step. You don’t need those gross nuts anyway. Once the pistachios are shelled, crush ’em up real good. You can leave some decent-sized chunks, since they’ll adhere to the chocolate, but make sure to get some pistachio powder in there too.
Step 12: Melt a cup of the mini chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl. I set up a little dipping relay station, which is one of my favorite parts of baking. It’s like playing with toys! Or painting! Get messy!
Dip the shell into the chocolate, then into the pistachio bowl. Carefully flip it around and dip the other end. Set it on the wax paper to harden. I put the shells in the fridge to harden while we ate dinner. I think the cold-hardening process helps the nuts adhere more firmly to the chocolate than just letting them harden in the open air.
Step 13: Fill the shells with your ricotta mixture before you’re ready to serve them. Since it was just the two of us, we filled about 6 cannoli. (They’re little! No judgment!) I ran into a problem here, because I didn’t have a pastry bag tip big enough for the cannoli. So I went back to my roots and used a ziploc bag with the one end snipped off. That worked like a charm. Hold the cannoli shell in your one hand and squeeze the filling in.
Once the filling is in them, serve right away. Don’t fill them if you aren’t going to eat them soon… no one likes soggy cannoli!
You can dust them with powdered sugar to give them a pretty texture as well! (Honestly we kind of forgot that step.)
And there you are! Delicious homemade cannoli:
Again, the recipe I followed can be found here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alexandra-guarnaschelli/homemade-cannoli-recipe.html.
The only thing it doesn’t include is the chocolate and pistachio dipping part. You got this, though!!
April 22, 2016 § Leave a comment
Spring has arrived in NEPA. I can tell because at the hockey games, the sunset light is still glowing through the arena doors midway through the first period. Playoff hockey is here too, with its inevitable tastes of hunger (I can’t eat because I’m too nervous because we’re about to hit double overtime in a Game 7), and sweet, cold ice cream (the only time of year I’m warm enough to eat ice cream at the hockey games is during playoffs), and soft pretzels with mustard. I wonder what playoff hockey tastes like to the guys on the ice. Blood in the mouth, sweat on the upper lip, fresh adrenaline maybe? This is why I could never be a sports reporter, because those are the things I want to know.
Ever since Matt and I started dating, I find myself paying a lot more attention to the flavor of whatever coffee I happen to be drinking. I’m getting coffee-spoiled by him and his personally roasted coffee beans. For instance, I’ve never really noticed the taste of the foam on a cappuccino before. Normally my coffees come in to-go cups with lids and tiny slit openings. Most of the foam is lost, squished against the lid’s surface, a sad waste for an unappreciative plastic container. But Matt makes me cappuccinos in warm ceramic mugs with the foam layered richly on top and I taste it in every sip. It floats like meringue on my tongue, that complex and wonderful combination of airy thickness, a light weight, the flavor of contradictions. The milk foam is bland by itself, but then he taps a dash of cinnamon across the top, a spice that has always tasted of childhood delight to me. When I take a sip and it mixes with the rich darkness of the espresso hidden below, I can’t help but smile to myself, because it’s a grown-up drink now.
Channing asked me to be one of her bridesmaids for her wedding next year. She gave me and Jess and Missy cute little cards with a wonderfully adorable handwritten message inside for each of us. Friendship tastes sweet in the soul: a warm and uplifting flavor of joy. I couldn’t be more proud to be in her wedding, to help her and Mike make a commitment to each other in front of all of our friends and family. If true friendship means looking out at the world ahead together and wanting only the good things for each other, then Chan and I have it nailed. We hauled each other to our feet so many times after falling down and we kept on going. (Literally. This one time, at Franklin’s, we were singing along to the jukebox at the top of our lungs: Friends In Low Places by Garth Brooks, and when we tried to get “low” we fell down on top of each other.)
The poet T.S. Eliot famously wrote: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land”, but I have never been able to reconcile that cold- albeit beautiful- imagery with spring here in the valley. I once wrote a poem about October- how the autumn month reminds me of a graceful old woman. And if so, then Spring in Pennsylvania is a beautiful girl. She dances around the corners of April, a blithe maid wearing a new dress. She tastes of cold lemonade and fresh rain, a soft kiss in sun-dappled shade. She is strong in a way most young girls are not: she brings with her only the necessary storms. She weaves early flowers into her hair as a crown and counts “he loves me, not” on petals as they swirl through her fingers. She is full of earnest hope and the ancient promise that joy will always enter in with the dawn. Spring is a girl with knowledge of beginnings, of nurturing. Her feet are planted firmly in the newly tilled earth and she has only begun to know the true strength of roots. The stars in her eyes are not blinding; they strike a spark of grace and wonder and an age-old longing for the truth of things. Above all, like all the beautiful girls throughout time, Spring yearns.
February 26, 2016 § Leave a comment
Matt and I went for a hike last weekend. He took me to the Ceasetown Dam and we tromped through the woods, sliding like little kids on the ice that lay under the deep shadowed trees, squishing through the muddy water where the sun had worked its invisible magic. It was one of those rare winter days in Pennsylvania where the air is a dance of contradiction, warm in the light and still chilly in the shadows. It was a day made for the sound of creeks rushing over little rocks and the lush scent of dead and rotting leaves. We took our time as we walked down the trail towards the lake. I climbed a half-fallen tree but didn’t get very far. The lichen was damp and gave my sneakers no purchase on the slanted trunk. He found a long, thin stick and we had a mock sword-fight, with little bits of bark flying every time our branches clashed. He showed me his favorite fishing spot: a giant boulder, spearing sharply up out of the water, steep and granite-cold. We sat there for a while as the wind blew. The tops of evergreen trees make a unique noise in the wind that sweeps off a frozen lake and into them, have you ever paid attention to it? It sounds like murmurs; it speaks of peace.
We stood on the rocks at the very edge of the frozen water, looking out across a green and gray horizon. The sunlight glowed in the air and then shattered off the ice into a glorious profusion of gold and silver and white. Every shade of blue in the world glinted in front of me. The colors were right at my fingertips, they were grace made visible, they shone like a benediction. And I thought: let my joy rise like incense before You, my God.
February 23, 2016 § Leave a comment
For my 30th birthday, I wrote a little story.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. (I’ve always wanted to say that!)
She wasn’t exactly the person I would have chosen to sit next to at the bar, but when you’re competing for an open stool with about fifty other Saturday night partiers and a casual acquaintance waves you in next to them, the least you can do is say hello, how’ve you been.
We’re not close friends, this girl and me, despite knowing each other for basically ever. We just haven’t spent a lot of time together and besides, I feel like we live really different lives. She’s kind of a loner, and I’m not happy unless I’ve got eight different friends bouncing around me.
But that’s a lame excuse for not really getting to know someone and I realized as much, as we sat next to each other at the bar and made small talk about our lives. I’m going to actually get to know her tonight, I thought suddenly. It might not work, but lately I’d been trying to talk less about myself and listen more to other people’s stories. You’d be surprised how many times you can hijack a conversation by relating everything the other person says to something you’ve experienced. I discovered that sometimes just listening is much more interesting.
The bartender slid a Blue Moon in front of me and gave her another whiskey on the rocks. As she took a sip, I noticed her lipstick was the exact shade of raspberry I’d been trying to find for ages, and I complimented her on it.
She gave me a strange look. “Thanks,” she said, a little hesitantly. “You really like it?”
“Yeah, I do!” I almost started rambling about my Estee Lauder Siren Red lipstick that had been discontinued and how that exact hue of pinkish-red had apparently never been duplicated despite there being literally thousands of other lipsticks out there… but then I remembered my promise from before and I stopped.
“You always have on great makeup.” I said instead, which was the honest truth, I swear, not just some ritual girly compliment. I certainly didn’t think it would have the effect it did, though.
Her eyes filled up with tears and I thought she was angry before she looked down at her drink. “Do you know, I almost didn’t wear any makeup tonight? What difference would it make? It never does any good.”
“I… well, yeah sometimes it is a hassle but…” I trailed off, and she instantly filled in the gap.
“I’m sorry. I’m just having a really bad few weeks. I was going out with this guy, and I thought he really liked me, but of course he didn’t. So I came in here to have a drink to relax and wouldn’t you know, he’s over in the corner with some leggy blonde bitch.”
Being a rather leggy blonde myself, I kept my mouth closed and waited.
“It’s always the same,” she laughed harshly. “I can’t get past my own insecurities. I’m never good enough for myself. I know that guy isn’t worth my regret but in my mind, it’s just another case of me not being enough.”
I spoke cautiously, not wanting to hurt her more, but trying to understand. “Not being enough what? Pretty enough?” I was baffled for a second, but then I got it. “You don’t like the way you look. You don’t think you’re attractive, do you?”
Her eyes flashed as she laughed again, but I didn’t think the anger was directed at me anymore. This was a more internal hatred, a deep, festering wound. “No. I don’t. I hate the way I look. I deliberately avoid mirrors when I’m out in public. I’ve literally never taken a selfie. I hate my body. I hate my face.”
I sat quietly, listening to the bitterness in her voice. The bar was crowded and noisy but her low, loathing words seemed to echo in my ear.
“I bet you never hear a voice in your head. How could you? You’re tall and thin and pretty. Guys are always asking you out. How could you know what I hear, what goes on in my head? Every day, this horrible little mocking voice is in my ear, in my head, jeering, laughing, asking me why I even bother with a diet when it doesn’t help, why I would ever think a skirt looked good on me. Look at those rolls, the voice taunts me. You look so gross. Seriously, how could you think that dress was a good idea. Every day, a whispering, mocking, running soundtrack to my life.” She stopped talking abruptly, and then looked right at me. The anger was gone; only misery showed stark in her eyes.
“In over twenty years, I’ve never once looked in the mirror and been happy with what I saw.”
Her voice cracked with pain and I thought to myself, we are all so full of hurt, so burdened with the weight of our struggles. I didn’t know what to do, because to say the expected “You look fine! You’re beautiful!” would have been unbearably cliché. She would have shut me out instantly. And I realized, sometimes when the depth of someone’s pain is outside your skill to heal, you just have to spill your own guts as well. Sometimes only sorrow can comfort sorrow. So despite my earlier resolution, I set my glass down and said, “Do you want to know what my mocking voice says?”
“Sure,” she shrugged, staring down at her hands, still speaking quietly.
“You’re right,” I began, “I don’t hear a voice when I look in the mirror. I don’t hear it when I try on clothes at the mall or walk past the glossy magazines with their tall and slender models. Instead, I hear the mocking voice when I see wedding pictures on Facebook, or baby pictures on Instagram. The mocking voice scoffs and jeers at me, a nasty little companion inside my head. It says, “Ha ha ha, look at all these people who managed to do this one thing, this one simple thing. All these people were able to fall in love, and stay that way. All these girls had the man they loved say to them “I want you, forever”. How many people get married each year? How many have babies? It’s like the most common thing we do and you couldn’t even manage this. You couldn’t even manage this one simple thing. So many girls get pregnant that we have a law saying you can kill your baby if you don’t want it, that’s how often it happens. And you couldn’t even have a baby by the time you’re thirty, you complete loser. You have literally wanted to be married for your entire life and you couldn’t do that yet, either. You are thirty, and you are such a failure.”
I stopped there, because I was about to cry and heaven knew I’d spent enough time crying in public for the past two years. She turned and looked at me over our drinks, and I saw true friendship in her eyes for the first time. “I didn’t know you had a voice in your head too.”
We all have a mocking voice. We all hear the smirking scorch of its acid tongue behind our flaws and failings. You flunked another class, idiot. You quit another job. You got wasted and slept with another stranger, you slut. You can’t lose those fifteen pounds no matter how hard you try, fatty. You have something wrong with your brain, who would ever want you, crazy? You let so many people down this week. You’re too busy to be a good mother. You’re too lazy to build a career. You’re too dependent to be a strong woman. You’re too independent, it turns guys off. You don’t look like Karlie Kloss, you don’t sing like Taylor Swift, you can’t write like Hannah Brencher. You don’t have any best friends. Why do we torment ourselves so, girls? The voice mocks on: Another black-out wasted night. Another diet started only to be abandoned. Another one night stand, ‘just for fun’. Another drug or another pair of shoes or another gym class or another guy to text just so the loneliness doesn’t eat you alive at night. You suck. The mocking voice slithers into our heads and down into the pits of our stomachs, hissing contempt and disgust for all our vulnerability and mistakes.
There are always wounded pieces of our secret souls, even in those who seem to have everything we’ve ever wanted.
I turned to her- this unique, interesting, intelligent girl who had somehow deceived herself into thinking she was not good enough- and I said, “Listen to me. This is what I would make you know if I could: you are not alone. We are all missing pieces inside; we all hear those poisonous thoughts. But you can’t let the mocking voice win. You have to shout over it, drown it out with love and friendship and truth.”
“I don’t even know what truth is,” she said bitterly.
“Then keep looking for it. Keep searching. Look for it in the beauty of humanity, in the commonplace faces of your everyday life. Listen,” I said again. “A funny thing happens when you stop hating yourself because you don’t have the answers, when you start letting others in, letting them help you through the pain. You realize that love can silence hate, goodness can drown out contempt, that the world is full of simple, joyful voices. Our lives are songs, they’re stories written in sunlight and in shadow. Find what makes your voice sing. Find the words of your story; write it bold and bright or quiet and humble. It’s your voice. It’s your story to tell.”
She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and gave me a measuring look. “What does your other voice say?”
That made me laugh. I’d been trying to figure it out for so long. But I gave her the truth, because what else did I have?
“It says ‘Look at you! Your arms are not empty without a husband and child; they are full to bursting with relationships! They are overflowing with true friendship and love, spilling over with the joy of new faces and experiences!’ It says we are made for relationship, that God wants us to be in love with Him and with each other. It says love is sacrifice; it’s hard and gritty and real and when it breaks, it hurts like a knife in your heart, but forgiveness is the mightier sword. It says there are hidden gifts in every person and the purest joy lies in discovering them, in making known to someone that simply to be who they are is wonderful to you. It says there will always be a yearning in my heart, a longing for the strange ache of beauty, because we are restless by nature, strangers and sojourners in a land of light and darkness. We long for mystery and yet love to be steady. After 30 years, my other voice says we are not made merely for this world, we are made to make it better.”
I looked at her again, with her pretty lipstick and winged eyeliner and her dark eyes so full of pain, and I said “Love yourself. The world is a better place with your voice in it.”
I don’t think the mocking voice will ever be totally silenced. We are surrounded by voices and images all the time; we are sharing our lives and peeking in at others’ every day. It’s a habit-forming way to live. Comparison and envy become inevitable. I think the best way to combat them is to decide whose voice is most important to us. Do we have a healthy balance of images in our Instagram feed? If I’m beating myself up every time I see pictures of weddings and babies, why don’t I follow some amazing single women as well? Women who travel and share beautiful pictures of foreign lands, women who are serving others in the poorest neighborhoods, women who have time to do mission trips and rooftop yoga and late-night coffeehouse writing sessions, because they don’t have to worry about teething babies and a spouse’s recent lay-off and balancing motherhood and a career. Because while we are- none of us- free from the mocking voice, we all have so many other voices inside, just waiting to be heard.