Things That Bring Me Joy
I don’t normally take pictures of my food, but this morning I’m making an exception.
I am fully convinced that everything in my life is because of the theatre. Today’s post is exa
mple #673 of that fact.
I woke up this morning at 8:45 and was struck by the fact that I had no place to go.
No school. No trip to Starbucks. Not even a church service to attend. Not that that is a radical departure for me. As readers of the blog know, I haven’t been attending church for the past year, but just the fact that it wasn’t an option caused a small but significant shift in my thoughts. I could still choose to be spiritual, it was just up to me how that was going to manifest in my day.
So I did my normal thing. I read my Richard Rohr Daily Meditation. I read the daily Catholic Readings. And then after an hour of scrolling the news and texting my family, I decided to spend forty-five minutes making breakfast and listening to a podcast, all while letting my wife Jaimie have the bed to herself.
Wife. Feels good to see that word next to Jaimie’s name.
The podcast I chose was On Being, and this particular episode was on the practice of cultivating joy. “How can we be joyful in a moment like this?” was the question host Krista Tippett posed before introducing her guest, Ross Gay. Mr. Gay is a writer and teacher and had written an essay every day for a year about noticing things that made him joyful. One of his discoveries was how by simply noticing what made him joyful, he increased the amount of things that made him happy.
What an incredible realization.
This idea has been on my mind recently. How the heck DO we cultivate joy? And not only because of the Covid-19 that is upending life for all of us. I’ve been thinking about it because of my own health challenges. Because we just lost Andy. Because we got married at a hospital in a lockdown. It would be so easy for Jaimie and I to roll up the drawbridge of our lives and say no to any joy at all! But what kind of life would that be? The crazier our circumstances, the more we need to practice experiencing joy daily. It’s a duty. It’s a responsibility. To ourselves and to those around us.
So with Jaimie asleep, and me having the kitchen completely to myself, I decided to cultivate joy with my breakfast. I made my eggs exactly how I wanted them. I put a pat of butter in the pan, let that melt down before sautéing my spinach. I stirred the eggs with salt and pepper and cheddar cheese before slowly pouring it over the spinach. I then turned the temperature on the stove down and proceeded with the “Adam Knight Slow Egg Method.” This technique takes slightly longer, but produces eggs that are soft and beautiful and worth the ten extra minutes.
I put the eggs on my plate, right next to a dollop of ketchup and hot sauce.
Because that is how I like my eggs, dammit. I like them with ketchup. And the theatre is to blame.
I came of age during a golden time of education. Not only was it the peak of school integration, but it was also the beginning of a wave of investment in the arts in the Greenville County School system. This investment has altered my life in every conceivable way. Including how I eat my breakfast.
One of the programs I was able to take advantage of was GATE. Now ARMES, GATE was/is an after school arts education program open to gifted and talented elementary and middle school students. ARMES has had some incredible teachers over the years and is now headed by my dear friend and colleague Anne Tromsness.
When I was in school, the teacher was this dude named Charles. I remember very little about who this guy was. I don’t remember his age or where he was from? His background? Was he even an actor at all? I do remember him being slightly edgy. He had dark, wispy hair, and was my first encounter with a five o’clock shadow.
He directed us in a production of Our Town. I remember that very clearly. We performed it at the old Fine Arts Center, and rehearsed it at Buncombe Road Methodist Church in downtown Greenville.
He wanted me to play the Stage Manager, but I wanted the part of George. I was very adamant. I was a young romantic lead, and why waste my talents on the measly narrator when I could emote and be romantic all over the stage.
The other thing I remember about Charles was his girlfriend. Mainly because she was gorgeous. Not as gorgeous as my new wife, Jaimie. (Wife- there it is again!) I just found her intriguing. What the hell was she doing in Greenville? Who knows why this young girl in her twenties with artistic ambitions was helping her boyfriend direct a middle school production of Our Town?
I also remember us having a conversation one day about breakfast. That’s right. Breakfast. I remember it because during the course of the conversation she told me that she liked ketchup on her eggs and I had never heard anything so exotic in my life.
Ketchup on eggs? Holy shit. That seemed so intense and I don’t know, adult. And it was so New York. People didn’t put ketchup on their eggs south of the Mason Dixon line At least they didn’t on State Park Road in Greenville, SC.
I remember feigning bewilderment. Feigning disbelief at how anyone could do such a thing. But the second I became old enough to eat eggs on my own, I started eating them with ketchup. All because of her.
And I still do! Not only is it delicious but it makes me feel like an artist. It makes me feel edgy and connected. It brings me joy, which was the point of the podcast. Which is the point of life. Which now feels more important than ever.
I sat my plate down on the coffee table. I opened the door to the patio, and the cool air felt amazing on the my bare legs. I dipped the eggs in the ketchup and each bite sparked a new memory of my life in the theatre. Of life in Armes and Governor’s School and college and grad school. Of diners in New York City and Iowa City and all the cities in between. Just that simple awareness, noticing the ketchup on my eggs, transformed a morning of shoveling food into my mouth into a morning of connecting with this small detail of my life.
It was the best church I’d had in a really long time.