I’ve recently discovered the work of writer, Vanessa Martir a few days ago, and deeply appreciate her thoughts on what she calls ‘story block’. (It’s WELL worth the read, especially if you’re a writer). Reading her work has prompted me to think about what gets my stories ‘stuck’. In my case, that has everything to do with being called to deeper vulnerability in my writing.
I started off in Creative Writing, and deeply excavating self was inescapable. However, in this “think-piece-and-click” era, it’s become a subtle expectation that writing worth reading always pieces together a logical “argument”. Let me be clear, it takes DEPTH of thought and SKILL to write in this particular format. I know this intimately. Yet at this point in my journey, I know that was me story-blocked is not a lack of things to write or to think about. So, I’m slightly pivoting for a bit. I hope you’ll be able to trek with me! Today, I was inspired by author Nike Marshall, and will share from the prompt: Eating Alone.
I. Someone close to me should have told me that I was losing too much weight, too fast. Perhaps they did. Perhaps I couldn’t hear them. I was exercising for at least two hours a day, but hadn’t coupled it with the intentionality of eating regularly. It was 2011 – 2012: the year that I faced a long season of unemployment, a crisis of faith, and love lost due to emotional abuse.
II. The most vivid thing I can remember about my initial drive to Chicago were all the corn fields we drove through to get there.
My graduate program required that we finish an internship at two separate sites. So, in the summer of 2012, I packed my bags, ended my lease, drove to IL, and moved into a dorm room to work at a religious college.
I was constantly surrounded by religious iconography: a cross in each room, nuns and friars walking around the campus ground. There was one particular picture that haunted me. It was a portrait of The Last Supper. The figures ate their meals with solemnity. Judas looked as if he was on the verge of a panic attack. His face haunted me because I was on the verge of one too.
III. The college gave me a stipend to have meals on campus. Those meals were restricted by the summer schedule. If you missed 9 am breakfast then you’d either have to wait or buy a cold sandwich from the downstairs food bar. The sandwiches made me sick. Or perhaps it was just profound grief.
Each day, I’d get off at 3 p.m., take a long nap (catching up on all the naps I missed during my course schedule periods), and wake up again around 5 p.m. One day, during my nap-routine, I woke up ravenous.
It was a type of hunger that I had not felt in a very long time.
I needed thriving food, which is very different from “It’s-six-o’clock-and-you-should-eat-something” food. So, I got in my car and drove a while…
IV. I have a tendency to move to places without knowing a soul there. I knew (and loved) my coworkers at that time, but there wasn’t anyone I’d felt particularly close enough to to share a meal with. Especially not a meal this important. In order to get what I needed, I knew I’d need to venture out alone.
I chose a place that was only 7 minutes away from me, because I knew that if I drove too much, I’d think too much, and likely talk myself back into the all-too-familiar dining hall line. I was seated by a man who (perhaps unknowingly) looked around for ‘the rest of my party’. I half-whispered, “It’s just me”.
“Would you like to sit at the bar?”
“No. I want to have an entire table”
It was the first time, in a long time, that I’d allow myself to take up that much space.
I ordered a wood fired flatbread pizza and watched them knead the dough at my seat. I ordered a glass of sangria (red), a pot of loose Jasmine tea, a lemon gelato, and a mini cheesecake. And something in my soul shifted.
V. There are a couple of places, moments, persons, and things that have saved my life. Learning how to eat alone in Chicago is included in that. Since that day, I’ve explored countless restaurants, both alone and with company. I’ve gained weight. Lost it. Gained it. Took my ‘demons’ out for nice meals. Until they and I could get ourselves together. Then, I recovered my appetite.
Featured Image – Createherstock.com
Additional Images from personal collection