To Make Anything at All

To make anything at all is kind of a miracle. To do anything other than exactly what you need to do, to eat and stay well and stay sheltered, is the height of magic. This world doesn’t make it easy, and it’s only become more and more grinding in the last year, because not only are we just trying to pay the bills, we’re wondering whether there’s a nuclear attack or some disastrous new rule about to land on our heads.

It gets to be a lot.

But for some of us, me included, there’s some bizarre compulsion at work to make things. And to make things even when it seems like the best answer is to sit home and rock in a chair in a corner, maybe with headphones on, maybe while eating a giant piece of chocolate sheet cake, maybe after having boarded up all the windows.

Sometimes it’s even a stretch to make dinner.

Pat and I made Thanksgiving dinner the other day. Well, on Thanksgiving day. This was a last-minute idea. November is one of those months that feels like there’s a vortex in the middle where time shovels itself when no one is looking. The end of it comes up fast, and the jack-o-lantern carcass is barely scraped off the doorstep before you’re supposed to be defrosting a turkey.

After emailing a few people that I knew (and one last-last-minute Twitter DM), we had a fine guest list. Two pals and two dogs would be coming, for a total of four adults and three beasts. Pat went to Costco in a crushing crowd to bring home a semi-frozen bird, a few bags of groceries arrived from The Internet, and I made one day-of run to the fancy grocery store for things that were the unsung (and thus forgotten) components of various things: walnuts, five-spice powder, tapioca, twine.

As is pre-holiday tradition for my family, I worried. Our apartment is too small, and so warm with the oven that we’d have to open the windows and run a fan. The dogs would be too many, what if they hated each other? The pals hadn’t met before and quite possibly had zero things in common. The sweet potatoes had been on the stove much too long.

But, it was totally fine. The pals were their awesome sociable selves.  No one was mad when the cork fell in the wine bottle and the dogs turned into a three-pup tumbleweed. The turkey got cooked. Poorly spatchcocked with thighs weirdly akimbo, and an hour late, but it was done eventually.  At the end of the night, we sent everyone away with leftovers and hugs; the dogs were like, “Wait, we don’t all live together now?” And the next day Pat and I had the best turkey sandwiches.

To make anything, anything at all, is a miracle. On Thanksgiving morning, I was sitting on the floor of my office thinking about how we were going to get dinner together after all, and the worry began to expand into totally unrelated spheres: how I hadn’t heard from a friend who lived far away and maybe he was dead, and how my projects were behind, and how time suddenly felt so choked, like the grocery store was about to close and also how was I so unsuccessful at such an advanced age?!?

Then I did one of my weird calming tricks, like a Bible dip but just for your bookshelf. I reached for the closest book and flipped it open. It was a book of poems by Campbell McGrath, one of my favorite poets—a signed copy. And inside the cover, he’d addressed it to me, writing, “Keep the faith.”

I’ve made a lot of things. Weird and quirky and ambitious projects, all of them. And each launch has brought up exactly that same feeling, the feeling of standing nervously by the oven with a thermometer. Looking over at the well-meaning grins of people you want to do right by. You’ve checked the thing, and it’s bloody and terrible and fucked up in at least three ways. The good people are happily munching on veggie chips and sipping wine with bits of cork in it. You hope against hope that another twenty minutes in the oven will do it.

Keep the faith.