Milk at midnight – Letter no. 6

The other night I woke up around 3am painfully hungry. My stomach felt like it was eating itself. I went downstairs, poured a glass of soy milk, and went back to bed. The scraping feeling subsided, and I fell asleep. By morning, the whole thing felt like a dream.

Nighttime hunger happens only occasionally now. A year ago, though, when my weight was restoring and my metabolism was all over the place, my body woke me up ravenous multiple nights a week. Back then the solution wasn't as easy as a glass of milk and back to bed. I was so afraid to eat or drink anything "extra."

I am so grateful that now when I wake up, I can simply and calmly have a small snack and then sleep easily. 

At the same time, I'm frustrated this still happens, so many months and meal plans and deep breaths later. I'm ready to to move past this. But nighttime hunger is one indication of several that I'm not quite finished recovering yet. And so: a few more meal plans, a few more deep breaths, and maybe a few more months.

I'm longing to be done with this process. I'm so eager for this season to change. I'm so ready to finish this chapter.

But a mentor offered me this: my calling in this season is to persevere. To keep walking, seeking, growing, learning. To endure.

Tonight I'm reflecting on these Scriptures; may they give you comfort and courage for your journey, too.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. | James 1:2-4

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. | Romans 5:3-5

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. | 2 Corinthians 12:9

And my favorite:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart: I have overcome the world. | John 16:33


The kind of love – Letter no. 5

The other night, my pastor described love for us:

With all due respect to C.S. Lewis, [author of The Four Loves], there are many more kinds of love. Hundreds of kinds of love within a marriage.

There’s the kind of love that deepens when you figure out the mundane details, groceries and chores, of living together. The kind of love when you make up after your first big fight. The kind of love when you bleach the bathroom floor because your spouse got the stomach flu.

And he went on. While I don't know what love is like in a marriage, I do know the love of friends and family — hundreds, if not thousands, of faces and facets of love.

There's the kind of love that wakes up early on Saturdays to buy a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts from the gas station down the street when you have sleepovers.

The kind of love that teaches you to read in doctors’ offices, forming letters with the throat-swabbing popsicle sticks.

The kind of love that gives you ten dollars from her own Vera Bradley wallet when, once again, you’ve blown through your own monthly allowance in the first week on the magazines and the junk twelve-year-olds buy.

The kind of love that cries when you leave for London, affirming what you’re fighting to believe: you’ll be missed.

The kind of love whose first thought is for you, are you okay, when the crumpled car rolls to a stop.

The kind of love that catches you mid-collapse.

The kind of love that listens, prays, and calls.

The kind of love that sees who you are, who you have been, and who you will become, and treasures each.  

How grateful I am for these many portraits of love. 

What Resembles The Grave – Letter no. 4

A couple of weeks ago I couldn't get these lines out of my head:

This is the life, hold on tight. And this is the dream, it's all I need. 

Yes, this is a Hannah Montana song, which I swear I haven't watched in years. I told my friend Emily the lyrics felt so real and tangible to me. I sang them on my morning commute to a job I enjoy and on the drive back to the city and my home. I told her, when I think of my church and my friends and the Trader Joe's down the street, the Kennedy Center ballets and Rock Creek Park and the Georgetown waterfront, I'm just so grateful.

Only days later, I started slipping again. After months of steady progress. How can one bad turn so easily shoot me backwards? It's like I drew the Candyland card for the Peppermint Forest when I had almost made it to the Ice Cream Sea.

So here I am again, learning the basics: this is how you feed yourself, this is how you live. This is how you tell someone who knows what you need that you need them, who knows what to do and does it. This is how to rise when you fall.

My friend Tanner shared with me the following poem of comfort — many thanks, friend. May we always remember Who delivers us from the power of the grave.

What Resembles The Grave But Isn't by Anne Boyer.   

Always falling into a hole, then saying “ok, this is not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of the hole which is not the grave, falling into a hole again, saying “ok, this is also not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of that hole, falling into another one; sometimes falling into a hole within a hole, or many holes within holes, getting out of them one after the other, then falling again, saying “this is not your grave, get out of the hole”; sometimes being pushed, saying “you can not push me into this hole, it is not my grave,” and getting out defiantly, then falling into a hole again without any pushing; sometimes falling into a set of holes whose structures are predictable, ideological, and long dug, often falling into this set of structural and impersonal holes; sometimes falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out of the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other to get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together; sometimes the willful-falling into a hole which is not the grave because it is easier than not falling into a hole really, but then once in it, realizing it is not the grave, getting out of the hole eventually; sometimes falling into a hole and languishing there for days, weeks, months, years, because while not the grave very difficult, still, to climb out of and you know after this hole there’s just another and another; sometimes surveying the landscape of holes and wishing for a high quality final hole; sometimes thinking of who has fallen into holes which are not graves but might be better if they were; sometimes too ardently contemplating the final hole while trying to avoid the provisional ones; sometimes dutifully falling and getting out, with perfect fortitude, saying “look at the skill and spirit with which I rise from that which resembles the grave but isn’t!”

Free time – Letter no. 3

This morning I finished my daily list by 10:30am . My next thing was church at 5:00pm. This left me with six and a half hours of completely free time for the first time in forever.

In school there was always something to write, read, or study. "Free" time always had a cost, paid with late hours in the library. But, I'm no longer a student, and this time was delightfully, disorientingly free. 

I called my sister to ask for ideas, 

baked sourdough bread,

chatted with a friend,

went for a walk,

unloaded our dishwasher,

wrote a grocery list and a budget,

read Lunch in Paris,

edited an essay,

rearranged my bookshelf, 

and then went to church.

A lot of things, all things that have at some point been on my daily list and done like a chore. Doing them of my own freedom felt a hundred times better.

Steak frites, feminism, and coffee — Letter no. 2

Tonight on my way home, a man in a red jacket ran by me holding two small-size boxes of pizza. Maybe he was trying to make sure they didn't get too cold on the way back from Domino's? In any case, he's probably finished his dinner by now, as I just finished mine with my housemates. I toasted the sourdough I made this morning and scrambled eggs with salt and pepper, while Sam baked a coconut cream pie. Elena toasted the fries and made a sandwich with her leftover steak frites from our dinner at Le Diplomate last night.

Le Diplomate is the loveliest restaurant I've ever been to. The doors are bulky and wooden, the windows inlaid with stained glass. And the interior—the crown molding, wooden panels, cafe chairs, the white cotton napkins with red stripes—felt like a movie set in France. I had ravioli for the the first time in a long time, stuffed with ricotta, and we shared the palet chocolat cafe for dessert. We watched How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days when we got home. I was struck by the portrayal of feminism as (1) vegan, tattooed, and pierced, (2) prone to yelling, or (3) so focused on a career that you've forgotten to care about your employees beyond their products. Alternative, angry, and lacking compassion. I remember watching the movie in the Belk lounge with my freshman hall, and I noticed none of these things. Either I or the public perception have changed even in four years. Likely both.

Speaking of college, I spilled coffee on my carpet the other day, and the smell took me right back to my sister's Ruffin dorm room from sophomore and junior years. She and her rooommate Maggie brewed coffee all day and night, and they only ever used incandescent lights and covered their walls in old movie posters and Mipso graphic designs. I would visit, sleep on their couch, and pretend to be a Carolina student, thermos in hand on the way to Davis. (The library). In the words of a new favorite writer of mine Joan Didion, "Smells, of course, are notorious memory stimuli." I'm hoping I remember this place, or at least this night, by the smell of sourdough, toasted coconut, and Le Diplomate pomme frites.

Old fashioned's, china, and routines – Letter no. 1

Tonight I overheard someone on 14th Street say, "You wouldn't drink an old fashioned on the beach." His friend replied, "Yeah, old fashioned's definitely require a certain context." That context is D.C. in January, where a whiskey blanket would be so wonderful, except I dislike whiskey. Temperatures have been less than twenty degrees for most of the week, surprisingly on par with my sister in Kansas City. For the first time in my life, hats are an essential part of my wardrobe. 

I'm reading my Bible chronologically this year, and last week's reading included Noah and the ark. I was struck this time by the long amount of time he, his family, and the animals and creeping things were stuck in the ark — not only the forty days of flooding but also the many months the earth dried out in the sun. And then, of course, once they got off the ark, they were the only ones left to repopulate the earth. They really couldn't escape each other. Did they get on each other's nerves? Did they get frustrated or resentful or resigned? I thought of families home for Christmas. The Manning's had a wonderful Christmas together. In moments, though, as in all families, I could see old frustrations and dynamics like hairline cracks in the china. But we keep using it, every year and throughout the year. We keep calling and trying and visiting and praying.

Speaking of china, I want to remember this fragment from Wild:

"...the jet-black glass shards that wondrously cover the trail, making each step an ever-shifting clatter beneath me, as if I were walking across layers upon layers of broken china ." (page 281)

I finished the book this week and am remembering this year how much I love reading. A fellow lover of words, my dear London friend wrote to me this week that routines have been key to feeling at home in the city because they provide a sense of familiarity and comfort. How I agree. These weekly letters — this is the first — will be a new routine of an old practice for me of writing my reflections on these days, hopefully in a small way to keep in deeper touch with my friends, and also myself.

Sincerely, Mary Scott


Note: the painting in my thumbnail photo is Child Wearing a Red Scarf by Eduoard Vuillard. Seen, admired, and loved in the National Gallery of Art.

Airports and hometowns

Getting ready to leave home for D.C. after Christmas, I'm remembering how I used to love packing and used to love airports.

I would lay out my wardrobe for any upcoming trip, sweaters and jeans in winter and swimsuits and Nike shorts in summer, to make sure I had everything I could need for a weekend with my grandparents on the cold river or a fortnight in the family condo on the beach. Spread across my comforter, the tidy folds of my clothes seemed to hold so much potential, even the balled-up socks arranged in a row. 

And early morning drives and sunrises through the windshield, no matter where I'm going, call to mind riding with my family to the Raleigh airport en route to Disney or New York City — to a ten year old, the most magical places in the world. The airport itself felt magical. Checking our bags, going through security, and finding our gate felt like a big to-do, an ante-adventure or prequel. All the people and the tall ceilings. Our travels were the closest I could get to living in a fairytale. 

Neither hold the same allure anymore. A part of this was developing an awareness of an unsafe world. Christmas lights and bullets both shine in New York. The other part was becoming an adult with a paycheck and a checking account. The frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity is not, in fact, free. Nor is tea time with Cinderella. The Monorail smells, and I am the only one making sure I am at my departure gate on time. This is the fading magic of youth, when every thing is free and every one is kind. 

I drove out to Frenchman's Creek this morning to have my tires checked before I make the drive back to my grown-up home in D.C. All were fine. The man at the shop, a friend of my dad's and whose kids went to high school with me, wouldn't let me pay. I thanked him, and he said to tell my parents hello for him. And for that moment, I felt like a child again, cared for and safe in a hometown world.

Twenty three

This is a snippet from a movie called Reality Bites. I've never seen the whole thing but found these words encouraging. Hope you do, too.

GIRL: I was really going to be somebody by the time I was twenty three.

BOY: Honey, the only thing you have to be by the age of twenty three is yourself.

A mother's care

Since Caitlin had her foot surgery this week, her mom has been staying with us.

We girls definitely have the better end of the bargain. For instance, last night she cooked a big pot of chili in Beth’s Dutch oven with cornbread on the side and served us all supper. Today at work, Caitlin sent us all pictures of the new curtains she’d hung up. And I came home tonight to find the kitchen cleaned, the dishwasher unloaded, and African violets in little flower pots on the window sill. Poor Caitlin’s mom, for all her kindness towards us and our home, is sleeping on a cold air mattress at the foot of her daughter’s bed.

There’s something so comforting about having a mom around, even if she’s not my mom. Not just because things are magically cooked and cleaned and cared for. But that someone cares enough to cook and clean and care for you.

When you’re living in a city away from home, you learn to take care of yourself. Everything our moms used to do for us, my friends and I now do ourselves: cooking, shopping, laundry, banking, scrubbing the disgusting mildew-y grout between the shower tiles. In a functional sense, we’ve kind of become our own moms.  

But Caitlin’s mom and her care make me miss being a kid. When my mom took care of everything. When my sweaty tennis clothes in the hamper would reappear fresh and clean on my bed. When the coffee was already made every morning and the fridge was always stocked with the expensive fruit I can no longer afford.

Even more, I miss my mom.

Hot chocolate with milk

I made hot chocolate with milk, not water, this afternoon. This tastes immeasurably better. It’s sweet, frothy and rich. Thick with calcium and protein and sugar, all things I need.

I take a sip and feel the tiny chocolate grains on my tongue, between my teeth. I remind myself they will not reappear tomorrow morning as a layer of flesh on my ribs.

This hot chocolate is just a drink. Not a trick or an enemy or medicine. Just something to sip on a chilly Friday afternoon.

Making a capsule wardrobe

Last week I had a terrible fashion week. It was partly a logistical failure. When the air was sticky and humid, I wore a gray fleece-and-leather dress. When the rain came, I forgot my raincoat. And it was partly a style miscalculation. On Thursday, sick of sweating in my thick fall clothes, I wore a blue silk patterned romper with camel-colored wedges. My supervisor at work said I looked like I was going to the beach.

This fall’s climate has forced me into a catch-22 situation. I can’t pull out my sweaters, boots, and Barbour yet without sweat beading on my back. Neither can I keep rotating my bright summer dresses, white denim, and wedges in October in D.C.

My wardrobe difficulties are minor, I know. But by the end of the week I felt out of sorts. I put my outfits together with care, and when work sucks and I can’t write anything well and the people on the other side of my desk decide to play YouTube videos without headphones, my outfits hold me together like a safety pin. Even if I fail everything else, at least I succeeded in looking stylish.

Really, my insecurity last week was less about what I was wearing, feeling out of step and out of place with the weather, and more about feeling out of place in a fast-paced, political, expensive city that smells like marijuana.

Exasperated, I researched capsule wardrobes over the weekend. Capsule wardrobes are all about simplicity, ease, and lightness, things I am craving in my overly planned life. To make one, you choose a color scheme and curate a small closet with interchangeable pieces. For instance, your dark denim jeans can work with an ivory sweater or a lighter wash chambray shirt. The grey knit dress looks good with a denim jacket and boots or with a raincoat and plaid scarf.

So I pulled all six of my white dresses, the yellow gingham dress, the pink linen midi dress, and the one-shouldered red top I always mean to wear but never do and everything else brightly and packed them up in a suitcase that now sits on the top shelf of my closet. What’s left: a few muted colors – cream, navy, olive, pink, and gray (my favorite) – in a few softer, warmer, medium-weight materials – wool, denim, and heavy cotton.

The weather didn’t change. And theoretically, I could still make a choice that feels wrong from among these few selected pieces. But clearing out my closet felt like clearing out my head, and I felt a little less overwhelmed and out of sorts.