During my one free day in New York this past October, I went for a walk.
It was a long walk, straight down Fifth Avenue from 49th Street to Washington Square Park near NYU. I needed the air, and the two mile stroll in crisp but not too cold weather helped me let go of a month that I called from the beginning "the month to get through." October wore me down, and this walk was the start of an approximately two-week process of letting go and reconnecting with myself.
I was on my way to meet a friend. Fellow literary food blogger Nicole Villeneuve from Paper and Salt happens to live in New York, and we planned to attend a poetry reading and go to dinner. which meant I had several hours to roam. Along the way I stopped at the New York Public Library. Have you been? It's such a charming place, and before I wrapped my scarf around my neck again, decided to buy a copy of Annie Dillard's The Writing Life from the bookstore. A coffee shop was in my future, and I thought this slim meditation on writing would be a perfect accompaniment to my cup of tea.
Tucked in a corner table at Think Coffee with a hot mug of chamomile steeping, I read. I underlined a lot of the book, and one passage in particular provided a gentle reminder that writing isn't a race. Sometimes it's an easy fact to forget.
“Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.”
― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
With that, I closed the book. The sun had set, and I walked a few blocks over to the Skirball Center. It happened to be the weekend of the Academy of American Poets annual conference, and it felt serendipitous that the chancellor's reading was held on my one free evening in the city. The reading was filled with words from some of the country's biggest names in poetry, like Edward Hirsch and one of my personal favorites, Jane Hirshfield. I couldn't have been happier.
Next, we dined at The Smile, a rustic little cafe a few blocks away and shared a ricotta crostini with saffron cauliflower that I thought about for three days. On my flight the next morning, I considered all the meals I shared in New York, and the idea of bringing home recipes as souvenirs. I used to buy postcards and key chains, but now whenever I travel, I'm making notes for what I want to recreate in my kitchen upon returning home.
Before the reading began, the woman introducing the event said that "poets are the keepers of language." They give meaning to the mundane and provide words for the unspeakable. I was practically giddy, sitting in a room full of people who love poetry, and count it as an hour well spent. Poetry is restorative. The way a massage or dip in the hot springs relaxes your body, poetry does the same work for your soul.