Isn't it cool when it works out?
I spent the bulk of the last week driving from Eastern New York to Western PA and back again — and then doing it another time because it was so much fun.1
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This last trip west then east was to return my Elder Teen2 to college. During the super boring stretch of I-86 (which is most of I-86), ET played DJ with her Spotify account. Tyler Childers was in heavy rotation, as were the Chicks and Reba.3 We had a good groove going so I started calling out bands that I thought would fit. Scott Miller’s “Absolution” was a must (and is a song I should not listen to when driving).4 New Nickel Creek. Old Punch Brothers. And then I suggested Gillian Welch, mostly because ET is a fan of the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.
The song she played was “Time (The Revelator),” which is all about trying to make art or music or words that capture some ineffable-ness of being human but feeling like you aren’t good enough to do it. It’s also the song I most associate with the Elder Teen’s first few months, when I would just hold her for hours listening to this song while sobbing because her birth broke me wide open.
I’d just been released from Knoxville’s finest psych ward,5 where I’d spent the better part of a week away from the infant whose birth6 sent me into a dark fucking place, one where removing myself from the planet started to be a really good idea. I had a plan in place and everything.7 Fortunately, I had enough sanity left to realize this was an actual crisis and asked for help.
Being on a locked floor was exactly what needed to happen and something I never want to do again. Once stable enough to be released but not, like, totally stable, I spent those early months of motherhood going through the motions. I wasn’t quite there; I wasn’t quite not there. Tears would leak out of my face without my knowing it. I would start laughing at something genuinely funny, then find myself sobbing. My one hope was that my emotions would progress from being a horrible surprise every few seconds to merely being disregulated. Holding the baby and swaying with her to Gillian Welch was about the best I could manage most of the time.
And so that’s where I was in the car on Sunday, back in our living room in Knoxville, swaying and weeping. And so I told the Elder Teen about my history with this song.8 And about how I could have never predicted where I’d be and she’d be 20 years on. And how every hour felt like days and how I was just a shell of a human and how I figured I’d be a terrible mother. And that time is a revelator.
What I didn’t tell her is how those first few days of her life felt like I was on a tightrope over a pit of alligators and broken glass a million feet deep but that when I fell off I discovered I was walking a chalk line on solid ground I could simply step off of and redraw in a new direction. And that there’s a moment in the song, when the harmony almost-but-not-quite drifts into dissonance that captures that realization better than my words ever could.
I didn’t tell her any of that because we were both a little teary by then. She wanted to skip to the next track but I needed to just sit with Gillian until the end. Which is what I did.
This is going to seem like a huge leap but bear with me: You should watch The Big Brunch on HBO Max.
I know what you’re thinking: I don’t need another cooking show. And, no. You don’t. But you do.
The Big Brunch is very much a show on which people cook and compete, like Top Chef or British Baking Show. The challenges each Big Brunch episode treat brunch as a mood rather than a fixed concept, which is how it should always be approached, now that I think about it. Dan Levy9, Sohla El-Waylly, and Will Guidara judge dishes cooked by chefs. Like most cooking competitions, contestants are whittled down. There's a prize for the one left standing.
While the framework is familiar, the feeling isn’t. The Big Brunch is more humane than most cooking shows. Levy and co. want to see these folks do their best work and be their best selves. There’s no villain and no hero. We spend time getting to know each of these very human humans in their actual lives and why they want to be on the show in the first place. In many ways, The Big Brunch is a show about compassion and growth10 — and waffles and dumplings and cinnamon buns.
The last episode brings it all home, as the judges get a little teary when they think about how far each cook has come in trusting their skills and vision in just a few short weeks. It’s a lesson about how to be an artist in whatever medium you choose, about the importance of putting intention behind intuition, about trusting that you’ll figure out how to move forward when you fall off of the chalk line on the floor. Because you will whenever you are pushing your boundaries, which is what you should be doing if you want to fully live your life.
“Isn’t it cool when it all works out,” Levy asks a chef who has finally leaned into who she is, even though it isn’t who the rest of the world thinks she ought to be. I look at my 20-year old and ask the same thing.11 Time continues to be the revelator, in kitchens and in cars. Which isn’t to say you don’t have to do the work to get there, mind, only that you may not know how it all will end when you begin.
“Fun” is doing a lot of work here. It was, by and large, just fine, except for some snow on one leg, which wasn’t my favorite but is better than ice so … let’s just go with fun.
She’s 20, mind, which means she’s no longer technically a teen. I’ve called her the Elder Teen and her sister the Younger Teen for so long, tho, that, well. Elder Teen will remain the Elder Teen until she has her own Elder Teen. Not that I’m pushing or anything (and I suspect she won’t have kids or will have them much later in life or … I mean? Who knows? I didn’t want kids until I did. Lives are long (if you’re lucky) and you can change your mind a million times.)
ET loves “Night the Lights Went Our in Georgia” and “Fancy.” Reba’s a little too country for my tastes but I can hang.
And suddenly I was in the second floor of a bar in Knoxville’s Old City drunk and leaning against the wall to find enough friction to remain standing.
Not her fault, mind. There were cracks and family history and outsized expectations. She was the precipitating incident, not the cause.
I wrote a whole book about it. This isn’t intended to be an advertisement, mind, but I won’t be reiterating the whole story here because it’s very long.
She knows what the book is about and that it exists. I have no idea if she’s read it, nor is it my place to ask.
(who I want to have a drink/meal with just once and if you can make it happen universe thanks in advance)
This isn’t a surprise if you saw Schitt’s Creek. If you haven’t seen Schitt’s Creek, remedy that situation. Yes, you will find the first few episodes off-putting. It’s intentional and gives the show room to grow in amazing ways.
Which isn’t to say it’s perfect or that we don’t drive each other nuts or that we haven’t had therapy or any of that. Only that it is much cooler than I’d ever imagined and seems to have worked out, more or less.