A+ Student Syndrome, Part Two

The A+ student had a goal.  Or rather, the Artist Formerly Known To Participate in A+ Student Syndrome, who still liked to get things done–that person had a goal.

It was a set of little deadlines, leading to one blog post per week, on Fridays.

In fact, that exceptionally smart person was going to get a few posts ahead, “in the can” as they say, ready to automatically publish–so she wouldn’t have to worry about producing every single week; she could take a little time away if needed, or work on something for longer if it was, you know, Not Quite Ready But Almost.  She luxuriated in thinking and writing, felt cured of the perfectionism.

But then…you might have noticed Of-the-Essence-Blog started on a Wednesday, followed by two Friday posts in a row and…silence until today.

Yes, life intervened before she could get the next piece finished, without that comfortable backlog of essays. Life intervened when she lost a filling on Thursday–Thursday before the Friday when the blog needed updating.


Just a filling, but really, when you are breakfasting on delicious pastries, and you think, Wow this muffin must have been made with stone-ground corn, and then you see it’s not a misplaced part of the grinding mill, it’s a big hunk of silver which until moments ago fit nicely into a back molar and you’ve never had trouble with fillings before and the jagged tooth then shreds the side of your tongue and egad this needs to be fixed very, very soon and you berate yourself in good A+ student manner for not finding a dentist right away when you moved here and then you think about all the awful life crises that happened to prevent you from finding said dentist and in addition you realize you now can’t eat all the crunchy healthy food in your fridge, thus undermining your campaign to get the clothes you bought last summer to fit more loosely again, and oh my gosh you still haven’t chosen which short piece to edit and put up on your blog–well of course you are going to be emotionally and physically exhausted and incapable of writing about anything for days and days.


Friday and Saturday went by with no post. Dammit. Behind already.

The list of self-imposed deadlines grew from “little” to “little and belated” to “really overdue and huge and monstrous”; the writer berated herself and returned to strict requirements for things to be Just So.

Aside from not being on time, she saw she hadn’t prettied up her site to her own exacting internal specifications, so she avoided what now felt like drudgery instead of delight, with hours of television episodes on Netflix on Sunday and cleaning out the email queue on Monday and Tuesday, all the while eating too much soft white bread and honey-butter.

The voices returned.

I can’t do this writing thing, I am letting my few readers down, I am letting myself down, I am failing already and I just started.

An unexpected interruption had collapsed the proverbial dromedary’s spine; the pack animal wasn’t as strong as she thought.

Then the former A-plus-er realized that being tired or in pain can turn up the whispers of doubt, which don’t ever go away fully anyhow.  You just get better at identification and quicker at banishment. After seeing them for the untruths they are, no worries linger about straw and burdens–because you are just out enjoying the day’s walk.

Hey! I am not letting anyone down; so I didn’t get to do what I planned.  What’s the big deal? There’s no failure here, just falling down and getting up.

You are a writer. Only fear makes it logical to pulverize your creative children before they are even born. So, write already!

After the new dentist put in a temporary crown and chewing was no longer painful, she took a deep breath. I will try to publish this next Friday. I will.  Then she smiled and shook her head.

In the first post, I said I would be continuing my description of A Plus Student Syndrome. Just didn’t think it would be quite so soon.





First harvest in my community garden plot

As someone who cooks a lot, for myself and others, I use fair trade, seasonal and local, and/or organic ingredients, whenever possible.   Call me crazy but I just believe in these defining attributes strongly, try hard to find them, and encourage others to prefer them over imported, old, pesticide-covered & water-polluting, factory-farm, long-distance food.

Having said all this, I don’t flog myself when I can’t find them. (Striving for perfection, not necessarily reaching it, right?)

As a city dweller without yard access, my fresh veggies with those descriptors come from the farmers’ market, the local grocery, and in the summer, my community garden plot. “Community garden” just means I grew it myself, or a friend did, in a local shared garden; in the Albany & Schenectady area, that would be part of Capital District Community Gardens.

So for me the literal ground-work of April and planting of May have now yielded July’s bounty—

Basil. Many poetic words have been waxed about its delicious properties, its pungent, fruity addition to dishes. But look how gosh darned pretty it is, coming out of the dark earth, growing hard in the night and day! I can taste the sun in it, taste other seashores and countries. As long as I pinch off the tops to keep it from bolting (flowering), it will continue to give me pesto and Thai-spiced vegetables and lime & basil vinaigrettes all summer.

And nothing like the morning light streaming through red chard….Yes, it got a bit old and spotted before I got to it, so I picked leaf after leaf, and tossed it all into green bags in the fridge until it could be washed properly; yes, I used the fancy salad spinner, rinsed it again and again to get the grit off, spin-spin-spin, and then finally cooked it all down. Mild and wonderful to float in soup or drop into stir-fry, it’s one of the “top ten vegetables” for nutrition. Go chard, you subtle thing, you.

Can I tell you what happens when you plant radish seeds in the ground, water them and then leave town without thinning them? You get a lot of radishes. I ended up with piles and piles of mildly spicy roots popping up out of the ground, mostly red but many pink, and a few exciting purple ones. You’ll see the basil here in the sink too, and a little parsley:  clean flavors to go into my salads.

Finally, this is a picture of my bush beans, before they were beans, back when they were just beautiful pinky-purple flowers. I watered, weeded some, went out of town (see above), came back, and almost missed the long stems of bean, hanging hidden behind leaves. They would have been spotty themselves and over-ripe the next time I came to my plot, if another gardener hadn’t pointed them out to me while I was frantically weeding the nasturtiums and watermelons. The former-flowers now-beans have been turned into Five Bean Salad, complete with parsley picked the same day.

Marinated Five Bean Salad Adapted from  Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, Ten Speed Press, 1977:

¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar and ¼ cup fair trade olive oil

2 tsp salt and some fresh ground pepper

½ tsp oregano and 1-1 ½ tsp basil

1-2 heaping teaspoons of minced garlic

zest (the yellow part of the peel, taken off with a tool handily called a zester) and juice from half a lemon

1 can each of well-rinsed dark kidneys, black beans, great northern beans, garbanzo beans—or whatever else you’ve got. Mollie recommends freshly cooked beans, but it was just too hot this week!

2 heaping handfuls of fresh community garden bush beans, washed and trimmed

½ bunch of community garden parsley, chopped

1 finely minced red onion; maybe 1 1/2 if you like more onion

Mix all the sauce ingredients together. Cook the green beans in a bit of water (1/2 cup to a cup) until tender (5-10 minutes depending on their age and your definition of “tender”; some people like a crunch to beans; others desire complete abdication).  Mix green beans with canned beans and other ingredients in a big bowl.

This version is much lower fat than the original; I wanted to be able to taste the lemon and the different beans’ nuttiness more than just taste and feel the oil; a cup measures roughly 225 calories. Yummy cold or room temperature.

What To Do When Your Fridge Dies

This is what you do when your fridge breaks on one of the hottest days so far this year.

You stuff all the frozen and refrigerated food into two big bins (not owning big coolers), and wrap the bins in blankets until your landlord gets a new fridge moved upstairs.

Of course you cook the defrosting shrimp with the half-lemon from the crisper, and some salt, and eat it with the cocktail sauce you’d have to throw out otherwise (to reference George Carlin’s Ice Box Man).

All while you cry with a good friend.

Then you wipe your eyes and make an amazing pasta salad with the already cooked natural chicken breasts, organic red pepper, defrosted green beans, a can of mushrooms (‘cuz you can’t help loving canned  mushrooms, comfort food from your childhood), Flour City multicolor “pizza” pasta, oregano dried from the community garden, and basil & garlic cheese curds from Argyle Cheese Farmers, sold to you by Marjorie with a smile lo those months ago, and hidden in the freezer for a cheese emergency.

You feed the pasta salad to everybody who comes by to mourn the fridge’s demise.

Then you meditate on food you’ve saved, food you’ve lost, food you’ve hoarded; the temporal nature of foodstuffs and life, and finally, how delicious it is to be forced to eat cold shrimps on a hot afternoon, accompanied by a Long Trail Blackbeary beer and people who love you.

(If you want to know more about Argyle Cheese Farmers, look here.  For Capital District Community Gardens, here, and the tasty pasta I used, here.)


A+ Student Syndrome

NOT the perfect apple–or a perfect photo of one, either. But it was a delicious small Honeycrisp, dewy and resting in my sink, juicy and refreshing when finally cut.

I thought this first post was going to be about food. After all, that’s what got me excited about blogging in the first place.

You see, I find myself taking pictures of meals—at home, while I cook and when dishes are completed; out at restaurants, hollering: Wait! I have to get a picture of this first!; over at friends’ houses as they roll their eyes: Don’t put your fork into it yet…hold on…just one shot! Ok, a couple more….

Preparing food is contemplative, and I delight in thinking about the meaning of eating. So I could have started by describing a particular food, a recipe, the importance of local produce or gardening and community—all great subjects.

Then I thought it would be about writing, that I write in order to process the world—which has kept me sane, literally, through the past few years. There’s nothing like the luscious correct word for something, or getting blasted to another time through smells or sounds or an overheard phrase.

Next it struck me this opening post might be about the outdoors, discovering an ecosystem new to me, here in the Adirondacks, Catskills and Berkshires. Exactly how walking is meditative, and yoga keeps my body able to do the hiking and biking I enjoy.

But it seems the voices in my head want to keep me from this initial foray into the e-writing world, with worries about perfection and “getting it just right, first.”

I’ve gnashed my intellectual teeth and wept fearful tears over what to write, how to write it, editing so as to put something really worthwhile out into the world. Which has kept me from starting in the first place–What if it’s a disaster?

Now I know my topic!  Meet a phrase I coined several years ago in my memoir work, though other writers I know have come up with it independently as well:

A+ Student Syndrome.

A+ Student Syndrome says you can never do enough. Period. End of story.

You cannot earn an A because only an A+ is acceptable. How could you think of publishing something that is less than a highly polished pearl of perfection?

Even if you do produce something spectacular, you have to move on without pause to the next job, chore, affirmation of your worth, once you are finished with the one at hand. The internal standards rise with every creation you finish, no matter how good that creation was.

So you get stuck when you want to try something, something you are not sure you will be good enough at.

Stuck big-time.

In my head right now—How many people will comment on the preposition at the end of the sentence up there? Maybe I should fix it. What about my other word choices? Maybe I should move the paragraphs around a little more. Or my photos? Maybe they suck! On the other hand, what if this blog is horribly popular and then I have to keep writing better and better pieces, longer and longer until I don’t have anything interesting left to say? What if people reading this think: Exactly! Already she doesn’t have a damn thing to say!

Are you nodding your head in recognition at that driven self-doubt? I’ll write more about this running life-theme later. But I am going to post my first piece, in spite of my A+ Student Syndrome, in fact because I am recovering from it. Hence the subtitle of this blog: Building a life moment by moment.

There! I have committed to leaping in joyfully and wondrously and knowing I am enough, all by myself, even if my words aren’t flawless, even if a dish flops or I’m not skillful at certain parts of my life.

Fall down—get up. That’s what I am supposed to do. One motion, repeating itself.

Not fall down and berate myself for falling. Not get up and never ever fall down again. Not worry about how to avoid falling at every moment.

Fall down—get up. Gloriously. With style, even. Not worrying about whether it rates an A or a C. Yup, building a life, messy moment by messy moment.