Last Tuesday I flipped open Michael Neill’s “Creating the Impossible,” and the page waiting for me told me to create something from nothing. OK, I thought. I will, why not. It was a sunny morning, I was fresh from an outdoor swim workout with my pals. I was sitting at Chez Sussex’s Red Chair Café having a coffee with my husband, and staring out at trees and water. It was 8:30 am on a Tuesday, a time when anything is possible on a blue-sky, flower-fill spring day in Seattle with a weather forecast of 80 degrees.
“I’m going to create something from nothing!” I texted my friend Stephanie. So now I was really on the hook.
Create something from nothing?
I’m was all over that! Except . . . I really had to finish prepping for a biz-launch kickoff I was having the next day with a new client. Since it was already in motion, it didn’t qualify as something from nothing, but what the hell. In the background, I could let my mind play with creating something from nothing. Surprise me, I said to the steamy eye of “nothing.”
(Of course, the unspoken expectation was that this creation would be something positive.)
At two o’clock I was still prepping for Wednesday, organizing a series of questions to walk through with a bold woman who was starting up a consulting business. I thought I was “almost done” for about three hours. I moved from the dining room table to the patio table where I got too hot, then back to the dining table. I opened the refrigerator about 20 times, and amassed a stack of small crumby plates, along with rumpled paper towels, water glasses and a La Croix can—my messy spectators.
Let it be said I could have been working away from home, like at my co-working space. Let it be said I have a home office, and I was not in it. If I had, what came next might have been avoided. Instead, from my open-space dining room table I had a view of the patio, the trees and sky and hills and lake, and part of our front yard garden. This garden happens to be my husband’s office. He was out there trimming our laurel hedge into a perfect serpent—it’s long and windy and snakelike, with a head that curves inward and you can all but imagine the flickering tongue. I see it as the dragon-protectorate of our home. And that's where my husband was, out clipping and laying down mulch and watering, straining his back, making the place look beautiful.
At 2:15 pm Steve came inside while I was standing in the middle of our galley (European) kitchen. I was still chewing on “something from nothing” while finishing my “something from something” work. Does drinking a glass of water count? Does making peanut butter on crackers and then eating them count? Where’s something from nothing going to come from? My antennae swayed invisibly above me, scouting out my something-from-nothing creation.
“What shall we have for dinner?” my husband asked, opening the fridge.
Dinner? I looked at the clock then into our big granite sink cluttered with coffee cups. BUT I HAVE TO FINISH MY WORK, I yelled to him silently. Instead I said some form of “I can’t think about this right now,” with a wave of hand signals. My husband sighed, swigged his Coke, then went outside to spread more mulch.
This was not the first time we’ve done this tango.
I got lost in my work and by 5 o’clock I was in my office printing out decks for the next day's session. As the printer whirred I submitted to the fact that I wouldn’t be making something out of nothing today, but c’est la vie.
When I emerged from my office, Steve was sitting on our bright yellow sofa watching the news. I could tell he hadn't been to the store because there was no sign of newly bought foodstuffs on the kitchen counter.
“What’s for dinner?” I asked, cringing as the words dropped out of my mouth.
“I’m OK, I had a big lunch. I don’t want anything," my husband answered. I could tell he was not happy with how I had avoided talking about dinner plans all afternoon.
“Why didn’t you go shopping?” I ask.
“Because I don’t know what to buy,” he answered, frustrated. “I don’t know what you’ll eat, you’ve become impossible to shop for.”
It’s true. My appetite had shifted, in part because a doctor had veered me away from certain foods, and I was going through a fussy mood. I had not eaten the last few lovingly bbq'd salmon dinners my husband had cooked--usually a favorite. So, I saw his point about me being presently difficult to shop for, but I was pissed off nevertheless—pissed off that we couldn’t agree on what we wanted to make of these sublime evening hours. Pissed off that we were at odds. Pissed off that I was, well, pissed off.
“You know I don’t like being at the store during rush hour,” my husband said evenly
It could be that I hadn’t eaten enough nutritious food during the day. It could be that we’ve had this hotly contested dinnertime debate a few, oh, hundred times and: I Just. Couldn't. Deal. It could be that I had a meltdown right there and then, and became hopping mad that yet again, here we were undecided about dinner and on other sides of the fence about how to approach it.
“Goddammit!” I shouted. I stood from my perch behind the kitchen peninsula, facing the TV room, my husband and looking out toward the back patio. A hot sensation travelled over my shoulders, neck and cheeks. I stomped and yelled a bit and stated in a raised-but-not-too-raised voice: “I’m just so angry!” I said this to my husband while not looking directly at him. “It’s not your fault I just feel angry, I hate this dinner argument. I hate that I can’t make a decision!”
He looked back at me and said the only thing he could: nothing.
“I’m going out for a walk to cool down. I’m just so angry!” I said as I slammed the front door. I was back 15 minutes later.
“Are you feeling better?” my husband asked softly.
“No!" I huffed. "I’m still mad!” I returned to the kitchen peninsula, drank a glass of water and stare-glared out our sliding glass doors to the flower boxes bursting with petunias.
“Come here and sit down,” Steve said patting a spot beside him on the couch. That wasn’t going to help but I plopped down next to him and stared at the TV screen without following the story.
In time I did calm down. I drank a few sips of my husband’s Diet Coke; let his hand creep into mine. My breathing returned. My stomach grumbled. I got up and quietly rustled through the pantry, the fridge and vegetable bins, and made a cucumber and avocado salad with garbanzo beans. We had ice cream with berries for desert. We watched the penultimate episode of The Americans. It was a lovely evening.
EUREKA--SOMETHING FROM NOTHING
As the night wound down, I brushed my teeth and thought about my unmet Something From Nothing. Oh well. I tipped my head up to look in the mirror, at the froth of toothpaste around my lips, my hair matted down around my face, the redness in my cheeks, and laughed out loud. I saw it!
"What?" Steve said from our bedroom on the other side of the pocket door.
"I made something from nothing!" I yell-mumbled back with a mouth full of toothpaste.
I had created something from nothing. I had created an evening argument. Out of absolutely nothing, other than my troublesome thinking around my dinner expectations.
What I didn't see, of course, was how dinner had been the something-from-nothing creation staring me in the face.
Still, in the end, the good and not-so-good news was this: I had created something out of nothing, after all. I could call Stephanie in the morning and tell her all about it.