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03 May 2007

love what you do

Tibetan prayer flags

I've learned some lessons lately.

Love what you do. For years, I longed to do what I love: write. And now, I am. I am dancing most days, my arms flung out, happiness up to my ears. But the fact is — even work you love is work. Some days, it's more work than others.

This week, the final edits of the manuscript of my book were due back to the publishers. Two weeks ago, the two copy-editors sent me the entire book, in a big stack of white papers, festooned with red and purple pencil marks. They had examined every word, sentence, and paragraph as though they had been chained to their desks and could only move those pencils. Not only did I have to read every mark, and decide if I agreed with their edits, but I also had to read my entire book again and decide if I still like it.

Luckily, I do.

Along with this, I had to cross out suggestions of theirs with which I did not agree. (Some of my sentences sounded a little too poetic for their ears, I think. And boy — oh boy — do I love long dashes.) I restrained myself. I mostly agreed with them. After all, they were my readers. And they caught ticky-tack stuff I would never have seen. (All my life, I thought they were spelled Abba Zabba bars. But it turns out they are Abba Zaba bars. Who knew?) Bless them.

Still, there were recipes to test, and friends' suggestions to incorporate in those recipes, and recipes to test again. I can honestly say that I have made the lemon olive oil cookies twenty-two different times, just to make sure I had the right approach. (We'll see how you feel about them in October.) For two weeks, I should have had my head pressed to those pages, doing nothing but taking in every hyphen change and 1/4 cup measurement.

Those of you who have started blogs because you want a book deal? Make sure you really want one. I revel in this, still grow teary-eyed when I see the cover of my book, and cannot wait until I hold the final copy in my hands. But seriously, writing a book? It's hard work.

Make sure you truly do love what you do. Make sure you really want it.

On top of this work, there were the five thousand other details shooting up from my feet, threatening to explode in my face. A new camera to buy. A house to find. A marketing proposal to pull together. Bills to pay, apartment to clean, groceries to buy — life goes on, in the midst of big deadlines.

There's something wonderfully comforting about the mundane.

I could tell you more, but I'll refrain. Let me just tell you this story about best-laid plans.

The day I thought I would send in the book turned out to not be the day. Rising early that morning, I started working long before the Chef arose from our bed. Hunched on the blue exercise ball, in the tiny nook before the window where I write, I started making changes in the recipes. Not yet anxious, I could sense the adrenaline leaning me forward. I could make it. I could do it.

The phone rang. It was my sister-in-law. Her crown had fallen out the night before. She needed to come into the city, to see the dentist. Could the Chef and I babysit Elliott at the dentist's office while she endured the drill?

Of course. That would only be an hour or so, right?

As we drove to the dentist office, the Chef panicked. He suddenly wondered if he had left a burner on at the restaurant, the one with the big pot of stock. Could we drive out to the restaurant to see?

Several hours later — after we had been there and back, and found out the burner was not on — we drove away from our home to sign a paper. (More on this later.) This was a joyful occasion, but it came on the day before the book should have gone out in the mail.

Then again, I had already decided to let go by this time. I couldn't make it, with all these interruptions. I would have to mail the book the next day. Besides, I reminded myself, these were not interruptions. They were life asserting itself. When have I turned down the chance to hold my nephew? We don't want the restaurant to burn down. And the house? Oh yes, it was worth it.

Having the afternoon without the impending worry of not finishing (I wouldn't) gave the Chef and I the chance to test four recipes again. Because of that unintended time, we nailed the pizza dough recipe, the sorghum bread recipe, the raspberry-vanilla jam recipe, and the blackberry sauce recipe. I stand by them, now.

Thank goodness for unintended times.

Still, by the end of the night, I went to bed with only a bit more work and some proofreading to do. Surely, we would finish by the time I took the Chef to the restaurant for all that cooking.

Around 10 am, I was sitting up in bed, the laptop on my legs, the Chef to my right, reading the newspaper. I finished typing up the last changes to the recipe that needed work. With a sigh, I went to save it, so I could saunter into the living room to print up the pages I was inserting in the original manuscript.

Suddenly, the computer froze. Nothing. No movement. No whirring sounds. Simply dead.

Consciously, I decided to not panic. Instead, I closed it, took out the battery, and started again. The little lines ran around in a circle for ten minutes, simulating a fresh start, before I started to worry.

I went into the living room, tried it again. Nothing. I tried again, crossing my fingers this time and saying, "Please?" That rarely does anything for computers, it turns out.

With panic in my toes, I ran to the bedroom. "Sweetie, the computer is broken!" My shoulders were hunched with all the tension of the past two weeks that I had been trying not to express. I hadn't washed my hair in two days. I wanted to pound on the bed with my fist and break into tears.

But he saved me.

The Chef came over to hold me, and rubbed my back. He kissed me gently, and reminded me to take a breath. Then, holding my hand, he walked with me into the living room.

As much as I love being an independent woman, I rely sometimes on those strong arms that enfold me.

We called the appropriate company. The lovely woman on the phone gave us ten tricks to try. I think some of them involved turning around three times and spitting into the wind. No luck.

We had to go to the Apple store.

I could feel my eyes widening, as I tried to not let the tears become fully formed. As I dressed in whatever clothes I could find on the floor, I turned around. The Chef had put on some ridiculous song, and he had started dancing. A perfect imitation of a bad guy dancing at a wedding reception, all elbows and gawkiness. He looked so wonderfully serious and stupid at the same time that I couldn't help but laugh out loud and double over with more laughter.

Laughter helps, every time.

I spent five hours at the Apple store. After the first two, I gave up on the notion of sending out the book that day. I let go of any deadline. Instead, I focused on the conversation with this great guy, Daniel, who slowly walked me through every possible permutation and reassured me, every twenty minutes, "Oh, we're going to fix it." I marveled at how small the world is, when Kevin, a friend of mine from New York whom I had not seen in six years, walked over to me and shouted, "Shauna James!" He works at the Apple store now. Seeing him there, and catching up a bit, made me feel much better. I bought coffee for Daniel after he left for his lunch break, my computer still whirring and thinking about working. Mostly, I kept looking down at my wrist, to see the YES tattooed there. "You got that for a reason, Shauna. Here it is."

Yes to every moment as it arises, as it is, because it will never come again.

Eventually, they made the computer work. I had to move every single thing on the computer over to my external hard drive (yes, I brought it with me), and then erase it from my computer. Essentially, I had too much stuff on my computer, and I had to purge. This sounds like my life right now.

Start again.

But they made it work. Here I am, typing away. They made me laugh. They made me feel human. And they didn't charge me a penny for those hours of help, all those young men in Genius shirts. I love them.

(And if this seems like an ad for Apple, so be it. If someone at Apple is reading this and wants to send me a new, free iMac, so be it.)

And that night, I made the lemon olive oil cookies, one more time. Finally, finally, they tasted the way I wanted.

All things for a reason.

Yesterday, the Chef and I mailed the manuscript to my copy-editor in New Jersey. We smiled and hugged and laughed. I thanked him, every single way I could think of thanking him. We felt triumphant.

And then I found out that my copy-editor is on vacation this week. It didn't really matter when I sent it.

There you go.

In the midst of this, I kept feeling grateful.

Okay, so I missed a deadline (that turned out to not be steadfast). But there was so much in there: to test
...a nephew to babysit
...a restaurant to work in
... money to afford all those ingredients
...a book about to be published
...lovely guys and women at Apple who helped me, unfailingly
...a new house, something out of a dream
...a computer, in the first place.

And mostly, the Chef. His unfailing support and goofiness and concern — this is the stuff of dreams, really.

Find someone good in a crisis.

It's done. Once again, for the afternoon at least, I have the time to sit in the sunlight and watch the Tibetan prayer flags moving in the breeze.

It's good to be alive.


At 12:01 AM, Blogger Mary said...

What a gorgeous post and it is good to be alive! I saw your blog mentioned over at the Health Nuts forum.

At 12:27 AM, Blogger Sea said...

Congratulations! We all can't wait to see your beautiful book in print!

And- it must be something in the air, because my laptop died recently too. The people at HP actually had a new hard drive on my doorstep the day after we contacted them. Who would have believed it? Some of those tech folks are pretty darned cool.

Happy book submission! *hugs*

At 3:36 AM, Blogger sweetpea said...

Yes- thank goodness for the Apple guys! It's all worth it and we are looking forward to the final lemon olive oil cookie recipe! Now, time to take care of yourself!

At 4:03 AM, Blogger nicola said...

There you are! I'd been wondering how you were faring. The little blue sugar pot was looking very familiar. What a time. What you've been going through reminds me of pregnancy,labour and of all these years of getting sculpture commissions over the line, in the wee hours on the last possible day. I know now these various creative babies entail a similar run of processes. First you're the tightly furled rosebud of potential, then you gloriously bloom- and then all of your petals fall off and you are the groaning swollen rosehip, convinced that you cannot possibly do another single edit,recipe test, contraction, or piece of sandpaper on the marble!In labour I would decide to call it all off just as my child was being born, in commissions I down tools and tell John we will just have to live in a caravan and the bank will just have to reclaim the house. There often seems to be a bottleneck of impossibilities, and yes the hilariously mundane bits of life still pepper the plate.Hooray for you and the Chef laughing and goofy dancing your way through the bottleneck. Well done, best wishes, and don't think we're not tantalised by the oblique references to A House!

At 4:21 AM, Blogger Lynn Barry said...

Amen, sister!HUGS

At 5:07 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I am so happy you get to do what you love.
On Sunday I will be graduating with a BFA in Painting and a BA in Women & Gender Studies.
I am so excited, elated... I never thought that I would ever go to college and come out with degrees that really meant something to me.

What I also never dreamt would happen is that I would get into Grad school, with a full ride and stipend.

But the best thing that has happened?
I found out I had celiac and now that I am gluten-free I no longer have the symptoms that so many doctors blamed on painting. Only 6 months ago I had been told I needed to stop painting if I ever want to feel healthy. What a blessing Celiac is, I can still paint, I feel better then I knew I could, and your book comes out in October, filled with recipes I know I will love, and a love-story that I will want to share with all my friends.

Life is wonderful when you get to do what you love. How lucky are those who can?

Thanks again, you inspire daily.


At 5:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Once again - a great reminder about life from the Gluten-Free Girl!!

I try to do three things every day that make me reflect on just how good my life really is - ya know - on the level where it really matters....whether it's tickling my SuperChef (20yodd) when she least expects it, getting ino a grape fight with my 10yodd, or just 'ooh & aah' -ing over some 'cutie pie' on the CD cover just purchased by my own GF girl (13yodd)...

Life is living! And I'm liking it!

Your schedules & deadlines should alwys be your "Plan B" & I love the way you said, "...these were not interruptions. They were life asserting itself." I shouted "AMEN" to that!!

Congrats on your home!! Your life is inspiring me, dear girl!! Congrats on all of it ~ the home, the book (which I've pre-ordered!!), the Elliott moments, the restaurant, and of course - your wonderful Chef!!

Congrats on the joy!!

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Anneen said...

Hi Shauna,

It's Anneen (Anne) here your Irish Blog Reader, this comment isn't related to your latest blog entry, there's something regarding your Honeymoon that I was hoping to ask you you about but don't really want to go into it here, would it be possible for you to e-mail me your e-mail address so I can send you an e-mail, may address is I tried clicking on the e-mail link on your profile page but it didn't work.

At 7:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a typical day for so many published authors and people who work in publishing that I know, including myself (yep, I've been on both sides of that fence). . . .

You just learn to enjoy the all the little moments, pick your editorial battles, and always, always work on an Apple computer.

No matter how many times an Apple crashes as you work on the last chapter -- it's happened to me a few times, with books, thesis papers, etc -- a Mac tech will always be able to your salvage your data.

At 7:34 AM, Blogger April said...

I love how sometimes we have to learn that our timeline is not God's timeline. Things that we woke up this morning thinking "I must do this today" by 10pm become, "I'll do it tomorrow", not because we procrastanated, but because life interfered and we were forced to slow down or stop and enjoy LIFE. Not our plans, but the world around us.

At 8:42 AM, Blogger Mrs. G.F. said...

I loved this post, as well as many others. I do love the way you write.

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Congratulations :) I will be ordering a copy of the book when it comes out.

(And it's amazing how well things can work out when you don't stress them.)

At 11:47 AM, Blogger TheGirlCan'tHelpIt! said...

I know what you mean about loving what you do. People want me to want to paint, want me to want to write a book, want me to want professional success in the arts. It's just not in me. I don't love it like that. I love it in a private, intimate way. Not a public way. And I have a career that I love; the one I wanted, not the one people wanted me to have.

Oh Shauna how your Chef reminds me of my Crab Cake shouldn't shock me: You're love of life and appreciation of each day is so similar to mine it's not really a surprise that we each found similarly compatible men to share our lives with, down to being steadfast in a crisis.

And isn't the Genius Bar a godsend!

And the book picture is extraordinarily lovely - you have every reason for pride.

At 12:17 PM, Blogger ChupieandJ'smama (Janeen) said...

"Besides, I reminded myself, these were not interruptions. They were life asserting itself".
Such a true statement and I think we all need to remember that, whatever our dead lines.
I'm glad you can now sit back and enjoy the sunshine.

At 12:25 PM, Blogger Jodi said...

Hi Shauna,
I was wondering where you were. I thought you were baking for the Chef, so I was as patient as a three year old on a car ride - did she post yet.
I did pray that all was well, and I'm glad that it worked out just like it was supposed to.
I appreciate your ability to accept your "weakness" by asking the Chef to help you calm down. It was the wise thing to do. Share the burden - that's what you are getting married for (among other things).
On top of everything else you have going on, you're becoming a homeowner. YIPPEEEEE! Now the fun really begins. You know we'll want to hear every detail about this latest venture. Just when you think things will calm down, you'll start with the house. So much good is happening to you both.
Congratulations on mailing your changes. Come on October!!!

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Jean Layton-GF Dr. Mom said...

Once again all the joy and tribulations of life in one succinct posting. I can't wait for the book! Tell us about the house!!! Please....
BTW my laptop died too. That's one part of why my blog is so quiet.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Kelly said...

congratulations on all of it, Shauna. And thank you for posting it to remind the rest of us to step into the yes of every moment, to not let the thwarted feeling take over and cast its dense shadow on the magic. Thank you.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Sean said...

I am glad Daniel was able to help you. I work at the Genius bar as well, am a huge foodie, and I read your blog everyday. Congrats on all the great things happening in your life!!!!

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


I don't even know the Health Nuts forum. I'm going to have to check it out.


Are all laptops dying? I have to agree with a later comment — there is something in the creative process that seems to engender this. I'm so glad that you had yours back to fast!


Yes, those Apple guys are pretty spectacular. The lemon olive oil cookie? It's cakey and soft, instead of crisp. But boy, I sure like it now!


Thank you for checking in! Your comment feels so apt to me, in all the struggle and loving and birthing process. If I ever do have kids, I'll remember this process of birthing a book, and feel like I am somewhat prepared. This did me good to read.


Thank you, as always.


Your comment made me cry. The thought of having to give up what you love most? And then finding out it's just silly old gluten you have to do without? I'm so thrilled for you. And so happy that you are spreading that happiness here. We could all learn from you.

Peyton's Mom,

Thank you for this sweet comment. And I can only imagine that tickling your little one and laughing is more important than anything else in the day.


Oh my dear, thank you. I did receive your email. I'll be writing soon.

Fjordland Daisy,

Thank you for that vote of confidence. (It's good to know I'm not the only writer to have endured this!) And Apple? I could kiss them. I've always been a Mac girl. I have to admit it. Let it sound like an advertisement. I don't care. I love this laptop fervently.


Absolutely. I have an entire chapter in the book about slowing down. Once you let go of the death grip on goals, life becomes far more enjoyable.


Thank you.


Yes, I agree. Who are we to say how things should work out?


I'm so glad that you have figured out what you love, and that you stick to it. Writing, being a chef, and painting — they are not for everyone. You have what you want, and I'm so happy for you.

Chupieandj's mama,

Emjoy the sunshine? Oh, I will!


I agree with everything you wrote, and thank you for worrying! I'm here. I just couldn't handle the computer for a couple of days. (I still don't know how to get back into my flickr account.) But I'm back. And I'm jazzed to write more often here.

But I have to tell you — we haven't bought a house. Yet. We cannot afford one. Yet. We found a little house to rent, and we'll tell you all about it soon!


I'm so sorry about your laptop. But I'm glad you're doing okay. I owe you an email, my dear. At least now you know why I'm so behind!


What a beautiful way to put that. I'm going to remember your words.


Were you there that day? If so, you should have come over to say hello! Thank you for being a Genius. I think I'm going to bring all of you a big plate of cookies.

At 7:05 PM, Blogger Heather said...

Oh Goodness, this is the crying-est blog I have ever read! I swear, I tear up every time, and can't read it at work anymore. You make me want to tattoo "yes" somewhere on my person, simply to remind me of your wonderful outlook. Congratulations, and have a wonderful forever with the love of your life!

At 5:56 PM, Blogger Leeann said...

I've never commented here before but your blog is my very favorite! This post is a particularly beautiful one and I love the accompanying photo--I'm making it my desktop background so I can remember the spirit of this entry every time I see it. :)

And I can't wait for your book!

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Peggy said...

Thank you. I need to read this post several times each day to remind me to listen, breathe and learn to be still.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Laurie said...

Hi! I've been a lurker for awhile, but I had to say hello and let you know how much I enjoy your blog!

I also have celiac disease (in addition to numerous other conditions), I am also a writer and a blogger, and my first book is due out in 2008. Watching your progress has been so refreshing and affirming for me, and I can relate to a lot of what you express here. Congrats on the book and the engagement and everything else!

(Oh, and I too have an affinity for the long dash--sometimes, it's the only thing that works just right!)

At 8:36 AM, Blogger shauna said...


Oh dear, I don’t mean to make you cry so much! Maybe I should write more about people tripping. Ah well. Thank you. I’m glad that what I write reaches you like that. Truly, I’m honored.


Thank you! I have to say, I was particularly happy with that photograph as well. I took it the first afternoon I had my new camera. The sun falling through the Tibetan prayer flags in our living room window drew me in. I’m happy that it moved you as well.


I might read it over on some days too! We all need a reminder to slow down.


Thanks for de-lurking. And my goodness, congratulations on all your successes!

At 9:44 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Stumbled across your site whilst looking for a technical description of gluten activity in bread which I will need to know for an upcoming nutrition exam. Am a GF Aussie girl and can't wait to come back to the site for a good look around and to read more of your blog. Your chef sounds like a great comic relief and support. Does he have a brother?? Look forward to more light relief in between study. Thanks.


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