Feeding the Soul

One of the women in my doctoral cohort noted recently that as her ability to articulate and write the academic portion of her thesis gained momentum, her access to inspiration and productivity within her artistic practice decreased, and vice versa. I have also witnessed a similar push and pull within my own efforts, another piece of evidence that it is difficult (maybe impossible for many of us?) to have our A game on in all areas of our lives at all times, to balance demands and desires within the time and spaces we occupy at any given moment.

In this new year (as of a month ago already!), R. and I are experimenting—per usual—with ways to take the rhythms and outcomes of our lives to the next level, including in what we eat. Last Friday, I was excited to develop a recipe to share with you, a warm wintry bran muffin (full of fiber; absent refined sugar or dairy; you can just imagine how delicious that would be). I spent about an hour with my lab work in the kitchen, dividing the base recipe (from a source unfamiliar to me, my first mistake, despite the four-and-a-half star rating, but don’t most things rate four-and-a-half stars?!) into thirds, using wheat bran for four of the muffins, oat bran for another four, and ground flax seed for the final four. I was going to compare and contrast the outcomes and offer you the best-tasting option among the healthy three; I carefully grouped the muffins in the tin according to ingredients, accurately predicting that the baked muffins would look even more similar to one another than the wet dough ones did. I placed them into the oven. And then I went for a long walk with a beloved, our conversation filling me with hope and cheer to the point of overflowing.

The muffins didn’t burn; the oven has a timer. But they were moved onto the cooling rack (by someone else being helpful) without the grouping by ingredient, the nearly identical brown caps indistinguishable markers of each other’s internal differences. It didn’t really matter. As I had spooned the tough batter into the paper muffin cups earlier, I had thought, “These seem like wet cardboard, studded with dates and bananas.” And, no surprise—both because of my brain’s desire to be proven right, my human tendency toward confirmation bias and also because of hard and dry objective fact—they tasted kind of as I imagine cardboard would, but studded with dates and bananas. In my life, I have baked thousands of hearty and delicious muffins (and scones) from scratch, usually involving pounds of butter and cups of buttermilk; last week’s batch had none of the magic (nor the butter/buttermilk, so there’s that). But I have been working consistently on a deep mapping art piece whose own magic is emerging, and that creative effort is its own form of nourishment, exactly right for right now.

Decades ago, I read a poetic aphorism (probably attributable to the 13th Century Persian poet Sa’di, in his Gulistan, although that was not my direct source at the time) that has repeatedly asserted its relevance in my life, whether the (seemingly) scarce resource is money or time:

“If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft/ and two loaves alone to thee are left/ sell one, and with the dole/ buy hyacinth to feed the soul.”