Last weekend, I made the most perfect hash browns of my life.
They were crispy-crusted, soft and billowy and delicious on the inside, salty and a bit spicy and ready to ferry sweet dollops of ketchup to our tastebuds.
I’ve made okay hash browns in the past. Maybe a little too crispy throughout, maybe not seasoned enough. You know, you dump enough eggs and sriracha onto something, and you can’t complain. I’ve made some straight-up bad hash browns that stuck to my crappy pan and left only the soggy middles to plate.
It wasn’t until recently, when I had the right pan (cast iron) and the right cooking oil (vegetable oil, not butter) and the best frozen shredded potatoes there are (Alexia Forever!!) that I was able to realize the dream of a divine breakfast at home. I always dreamed of them coming together, and I knew they would, they simply hadn’t. I didn’t have the right tools and I didn’t have a honed set of skills. I only had the passion for cooking and the drive to become better.
Which is exactly the way I’ve been relating to the writing life lately. Not that I’ve made anything perfect or that my skill is close to “honed.” Rather, I feel that I have become better. I’m producing better work which is garnering stronger responses. I’m feeling more confident that pieces will find homes. I look back at what I was doing in the past and I get a little embarrassed, but I still feel pride that I put in the hours. I was writing, and that was the only way I was going to learn.
The last year felt like a face-plant, but I can feel my stride coming back. Like a friend of mine observed, writing is like getting back into the gym. It hurts at first; you can’t fathom how far you’ve fallen away from what you used to do. The muscles seize and you have to walk around with T-Rex arms for two days because you ripped all your insides to shreds. I’m always afraid that I will never come back. After a rash of bad fortune or no inspiration or whatever the case, I feel like I’ve spent all the creativity I had in the bank. Overdrawn, frittered away. I keep hoping that this is the loop-around when I’ll learn that life doesn’t work that way, that I don’t have to punish myself for being a human along with being a writer, and that it’s these fires and setbacks that move my writing forward. The agony forges the cast iron. And that pan is goddamn magic.
The last week has been monumental, and I feel–for the first time in a long stretch–that I’m headed in the right direction. An essay I wrote over a year ago about my Great Aunt Eva (the only childless woman I’ve known in my family) was featured on Vol. 1 Brooklyn, after a year of agonizing almost-acceptances and rejections. This is one of my favorite essays that my friends wouldn’t let me toss. Friends are the potatoes. Without the best ones, you’ve just got crap in a greasy pan.
Last weekend, after three years and 16 rejections from The Rumpus, they featured an essay I wrote very recently in a fever dream of inspiration. There are the pieces like Aunt Eva that take over a year to ripen, and then there are the ones a zombie version of yourself hammers on the keys until the morning and the night lose distinction. This piece was shared by one of my favorite writers of all time, which was… well, indescribable, really. Like all the nights of working or not being able to work much, the frustration and the blood at last built a bridge into connecting to people. The exact reason why I’m here, happening.
Like an amazing meal, it’s a magic that defies explanation.
Weeks like this are rare. That’s why they need to stay unforgettable. Not letting go of this sense of purpose and desire to keep pushing ahead, keep chasing down what’s in my heart until it’s real. The idea that yes, you’re growing, you’re getting better, all the ephemera tossed out into the universe builds.