“Are you eating sensibly?” The question jumps at me from the side of the chip canister I’ve just opened. No, can of chips, I am not eating sensibly. I’m about to shovel cheddar-flavored imitation Pringles into my face while driving home from the store. The can also bills itself as containing five servings. Ha! Like real Pringles, these are made to be inhaled in a single sitting. At least, that’s how I operate. When work used to require frequent road trips, I’d stop at the Co-op on my way out of town, pick up a can of chips, a box of Stroopwafels and a pack of Xylitol gum to chew obsessively while making my way south – the chips and cookies would be demolished by the time I crossed the Eel River Bridge.
Was I proud of this habit? No. I was sure I was the only person impelled to such snacking extremes, the adult version of the child snatching the marshmallow from the bowl before the researcher could even complete his spiel. I would picture all the fit, enlightened surfer women I know, none of whom I could imagine practicing this gluttony. An indicator, I would think, pushing another chip into my mouth, that I wasn’t living life right.
That feeling – that I’m not living life right – settles on me now and again, often prompted by someone posting about the 82 gallons of berries they’ve jammed or tomatoes they’ve canned or books they’ve finished or homes they’ve remodeled or marathons they’ve run. What is wrong with me that I’m accomplishing so little outside of work?
I haven’t used the canner I asked Bobby to buy for my birthday last year. Our early October commitment to spend every weekend deep cleaning and repairing all aspects of the house fell by the wayside mid-month. The stack of unread books sneers at me. Out in the garden, the nasturtiums wind through stinging nettle, the hot lips have quadrupled in size and the beans are dead on the vine. I’m sure I should be doing something with the raspberry canes.
I remember being poor. I remember stupid jobs and lousy bosses and cars that would not stop breaking down. To have such luxury as I do now – a house I love, the beach and bay right there, a job that pays the bills and allows for frivolity – always I want to be deserving of this fortune. Even as I write this, I’m struck by the between-rains beauty outside. The sun has slipped out from the clouds to slant in through the windows, lighting up the yellow flowers in the green vase as if they were tiny suns themselves. It is almost stupid, this beauty, and I may be stupid for not being out dancing in it.
Five minutes later, I’m out on the deck, not dancing, but with the hose in one hand and a squeegee in the other – the sun’s brightness lit up not only the flowers but that the windows need cleaning. In the former chapter of my life, the one in which the jobs did not pay the bills much less allow for frivolity, I obsessed with keeping up appearances. We might be on food stamps, Medi-Cal, cash aid at times, but we would fit no one’s idea of trash. Even our most beater cars boasted clean windows and vacuumed interiors. I still can’t not see all that needs to be done. When people comment on the loveliness and warmth of our home, I want to point out the the walls that need repainting, that the floor hasn’t been mopped in a week. Much like when you’re told you’re beautiful, the reasons to insist you’re not – this zit! these wrinkles! my giant nose and untamed brows! – pop to mind like a counter attack.
And yet, I once blocked a woman on Facebook because every time I posted a stunning sunrise or epic sunset or heart-filling photo of the ocean, she would complain in the comments that I was leaving out the trash, the global warming, the homeless encampments. She was right. I sought to share only nature’s glory, to affirm the magnificence that exists despite and within all the crises. (This is not a perfect metaphor, the comparing of global problems to my personal neuroses, but here we are.) Sometimes the better response to someone admiring beauty is to join them in it, not to insist on listing all the flaws they’ve failed to see.