Though it shook her, Una loved the book. In fact she turned around and read it again straight through. I wanted to ask about it, but tried to give her space. I wondered how she experienced the story; I wondered at the contours of her approach toward, and immersion in, this particular encounter—with the characters, the tragedy, and ultimately with her own mortality.
To take tea is to receive something; it is a gift of mindfulness, gentleness and grace. To partake in company is to merge with a great tradition of civilized communion, which has its version in nearly every culture on earth. Whether it’s matcha sipped reverently in a Japanese teahouse, smoky “Russian Caravan” steeped in a Moscow samovar, or mint tea poured from a standing position with a distinctly Moroccan flair, the allure of ritual remains. There’s something so affirming about connecting with the way things have always been done—or, at least the way they’ve been done for a long, long time.
Vocations are not occupations, though they are integrally woven together. To know the difference and the difference it makes is critical, and much of the grief we experience is borne of missing one for the other. Vocation is always the longer, deeper story of someone’s life; for Joy, she was always the creative creator of things she would make that the whole world would someday enjoy. Occupation is not that, but is more the way we describe the things we do along the way of life, entering into particular responsibilities and relationships that are ours, and while shaping and forming us, are more often than not signposts of the deeper vocation. They are not the point; they point to the point.
I’m told I’m a good hostess. Plenty of interesting food—down-home victuals perked up by saucy suggestions found in vintage recipe books. I get people talking. I listen for laughter and bring out more food, and by the time the last mug is laid to rest on the coffee table, I’m exhausted. I go to bed saying it was so much work I’m never going to host another dinner. But in the morning I awake smiling, knowing a good time was had by all who came expecting one. Like my mother, I enjoy having entertained, enjoy having offered my home-cooked sustenance.
Maybe I’m like my mom in yet another way. Mom’s mind-set in me may explain why I continue to pursue creative writing when it’s one of the most strenuous mental workouts I can imagine.
It isn’t normal for a drummer to call an artist and say, “I’m going to play on your next album, and we are going to do it like this.” He and Matt Pierson (the gift of studio time was for the two of them) were very gentle and careful the way they went about it, and so I was able to get into a different place. What would I write if I wasn’t thinking about audience and due dates? I really wanted to lean into being a songwriter, taking the craft seriously. I wanted to write from a more intuitive place. Writing is never easy for me, but it did help to have this wide-open invitation to write whatever I wanted.