death by gingerbread
Last week, I killed my butterfly.
Let me explain.
Sometime back in October of 2021, I’d started to feel the weight of my world lifting ever so slightly from my shoulders. My health had begun to steadily improve. I was doing more of what I love; exploring parks, walking briskly, breathing heavy, making bread, keeping my bees, going to weddings. I’d managed not to mess up the first romantic partnership I’d had in years (yet), and I was (and still am) deeply in love. I was working longer hours, and felt my work shifting from tedious and mindless to purposeful and good.
I could feel that it was time to start taking things more than a day at a time. And so I started to think about The Future. About how I’d always wanted to write. About how fantastically in my element I feel when I’m pushing that pencil, tapping those keys, clickety-clacking about. About that unparalleled feeling of accomplishment I feel once I’ve pushed my pen to the paper to etch out the final period. It’s as if I’ve thrown up all the words in my head onto the paper in front of me, literal chunks of my purge on the page in the form of adjectives, nouns, and verbs. To this day I’m still not clear why this is such a satisfying phenomenon to me, but there it is, undeniable in its viscerality. And so I had to act, because it had gotten to a point where not following my dreams, staying “safe,” staying “comfortable,” staying “secure,” was becoming more painful than actually doing the thing itself.
I recently attended the Organic Seed Alliance Conference for my work at a local seed company, and the keynote speaker in the closing ceremony, seed enthusiast, artist, independent scholar, and conservationist Vivien Sansour, addressed the times we are living in as challenging and stressful on physical, mental, and emotional levels. “In times like these, we need to support each other in choosing courage over comfort, and freedom over security.” I couldn’t agree more. There’s no going back to “the way things were.” We’re too conscious. To move backward at this point would be painful and we would not survive. If you’re not anxious about this, then you’re not paying attention.
To move forward with courage and confidence, we must love ourselves, our communities, and our flora and fauna. We also must love that which is dying, and learn to fight for those things, but also to grieve if they don’t make it through to the other side. It’s time to live our lives with bravery and vulnerability. Because to live any other way at this point means that we’ll only get sicker.
I’ve seen so much in my lifetime to suggest that this kind of vulnerability is the only way we can continue to evolve as humans. To be open to failure. To trust in the process. To die small deaths. To gain wisdom from each trip we take, and to take lots of them. I know this in theory and in practice.
So, all that being said, (and since apparently I seem to have some sense of passion about these things), I decided to take the plunge and start writing, and to share that writing with you. And if my writing touches even one person, in one tiny aspect of their life, it will all have been worth it. When I think to myself “C’mon grace, does the world really need another writer? Really?” I think back to high school after my first break-up, and how I would listen to Hold on to What You Believe by Mumford & Sons on repeat and it gave meaning to my experience, and it healed me, and it reminded me of my strength and my faith, and it got me through. One song. That and time are all it took. And so I imagine what it might be like to write something that impacts a person is such a way that they live a little differently afterwards, or if it helps them find meaning in the story they tell themselves about their life. That feels worth it, to me.
So, at this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “now Grace, that’s all fine and well, but what about this butterfly that you’ve killed? Did you throw some gingerbread at it?” I hope you all have heard of a little thing called a metaphor, otherwise, I’m deeply sorry for the way I’ve chosen to kick off these musings. The butterfly metaphor comes from an excerpt my Dad shared with me from Decoding Greatness: How the Best in the World Reverse Engineer Success by Ron Friedman. It uses Ann Patchett’s words to describe what happens when artists decide to bring their visions into existence:
When she is generating ideas, Patchett writes: The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling. During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame. This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It’s an intoxicating period, not unlike the morning after a romantic first date or the month between accepting a job offer and starting your first day of work. Patchett’s future feels rich and full of promise. What follows is a period of procrastination. Having published many books, part of Patchett anticipates the grueling journey ahead and resists getting started. She finds herself occupied with productive distractions, consumed with pretend priorities. Eventually the writing begins, and with it comes stomach-churning, soul-crushing disappointment, which Patchett recounts in gory detail: When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it…. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing—all the color, the light and movement—is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.
My friends, last week, I killed my butterfly, and vitamin gingerbread was born. Though it’s still an infant, it’s my child now, and I’ll continue to nurture and feed it, just as its mere existence nurtures and feeds my very soul.