It is November and gray and almost Thanksgiving. The air scrapes at my face in the early morning. I come inside to coffee and recipe books for stuffing and mashed potatoes. Two years ago I cooked my first Thanksgiving turkey and no one got sick. This year my victory is smaller, but more frequent. It reoccurs each time I claw at the suction on the Mason jar with a knife. The popping sound encourages the fork to my mouth. I failed canning the tomatoes the first time. I was tired. I wanted to give up. The diamond etched glass rattles in the cup holder of my car in stop and go traffic.
Once seated at a coffee shop with a friend, who like all my friends, I rarely see, I push a canned jar across the table towards her as a gift.
“How are you?” Amy asks.
I breathe. I want to lie about that like she wants to lie about her family and the holidays. “Frustrated,” I say.
She nods. “So much drama. At work. At home. But at least everyone is healthy.”
“That’s true. Don’t worry. I tested this batch. You won’t get sick.” She smiles. I give thanks that I am not sick yet, much less dead. If I cannot feel completely thankful. I can at least not be "not thankful".
I’m not sure if I would have returned to can the tomatoes if I had not experienced a particularly cutting peer review of a novel manuscript. It wasn’t like the last time when I had no idea what I was doing and was ready to accept all suggestions and critique. This time I had tried. This time I had experience like the barbecue sauce and the salsa. The manuscript should have made sense. The stewed tomatoes should have made sense. But both felt like failures. Unable to look at one, I retreated to the other.
“How was class?” Amy asks. “How many sessions did you have?”
“Six. But I wouldn’t have come to this last one, if we weren’t having lunch.”
“Well, the mix of people, it just wasn’t right for me. It felt too much like they wanted to change me, instead of helping me to be better at the kind of writer I am.”
She takes lifts a spoonful of soup to her mouth. “I don’t have time for anything creative. Maybe in January.”
“That was actually the one positive comment one woman had for me. That I had a good habit.”
Amy squints up at me not understanding.
“That I write all the time. Or that I do at least something related to writing on a daily basis. You know. Like the gym. But since I’m not working, I feel like I have to be accountable for my day. Still it feels like a backhanded compliment, especially since by her comments, all that diligence isn’t doing me much good.” Do I have an excuse to be angry? Or hurt? At what exactly? “I can finally sip my hot tea without burning myself. My hand lingers on the cardboard cup. “It’s ego.”
“Well, keep putting yourself out there. Universe or not, sometimes you just get a bunch of days you don’t want in a row.”
“That’s true. I’ll just keep showing up, like the gym.” This time I laugh. I give thanks for another day of ache, because I know I’m not done. If I cannot feel completely thankful. I can at least not be "not thankful".
On the drive home I contemplate again how the small celebration of plain tomatoes overshadows the simmer of feast like preparations. Why? Because the grand moments, like the turkey, come easy. The seemingly lesser, but more frequent, actions that move me forward require constant effort. Shining in a nook of a cupboard in an orange kind of red are the tomatoes. They are a reminder that I can capture enough sunlight until the gray days end.
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