When I was ten, my best friend was a girl from church named Tracie. She was two years older, infinitely more street-wise. We made potions, dressed up in her mom’s ’60’s garb, and daydreamed business ventures that never left the ground. We were small-town girls with skinned shins, daughters of a faith that tried to swallow us whole. We couldn’t make sense of our church or the people who kept failing us, so we leaned into each other, laughed until we cried, and on one fateful winter night, ate homemade snow ice cream and pickles until I puked in her carpeted bathroom with its shelves upon shelves of breakable elephant figurines.
Over a slow arc of years and then decades, she drifted south and I north.
We lost touch with each other in that unique way most childhood friendships eventually fizzle. But somewhere in a cardboard box is a tiny, plastic pickle pin, the kind meant to be attached to your bag or shirt in some strange showing of loyalty. We were young. We loved pickles and being weird together. What else was there to say?
Three summers ago, I was adapting to life in our new community. I was busy learning the flow of my neighborhood, learning names at our little church down the street, corralling a preschooler who was still trying to relax into our family, and making trips to the county jail. I was a writer, but I’d have only said so in a whisper. There was no book deal, not even close. I didn’t have an agent, my blog kept breaking, and I was sure I was alienating my readers with my incessant virtual lip-biting over all the change heaving my way.
I frittered over my dwindling comments. I obsessed over my traffic. I waffled between a keen understanding of exactly who I was, and the low-pulsing ache of wishing I were different. All around me, online friends launched further, faster, and my soul tinged green with envy.
And then I made a batch of pickles.
They were crunchy, dilly, barely-sweet perfection, and I had mastered them.
On that particular day, I was fed up with being fed up and went looking for a distraction.
Maybe it was the way our east-facing windows kept the house unseasonably cool, or the fact that the noise outside them felt like discovering a new favorite song. I don’t know, but a shaded corner of my soul found a spot of light. I had made something; not the thing I had set out to make, but every bit as lovely and worthwhile. I grabbed a jar along with the wrinkled dish towel and a lone tomato, and snapped a few pictures.
I may not have had the right words that summer. I wasn’t sure how to make people happy or if it was even my job. But I had pickles, and they made me feel better. It would have to be enough.
A strange thing happened, then. People couldn’t stop clamoring for the pickles.
They found my blog through Pinterest, they came with questions and canning wisdom of their own. I blogged another pickle recipe, and we all nearly lost our minds. Traffic was up, comments were on overdrive. Maybe that dorky pin all those years ago meant something. Maybe I wasn’t a writer. Maybe I was a pickle-maker.
In the years that followed, my pickles were pinned and repinned thousands of times over while I quietly kept showing up to pin down my heart on the page. I wrote, I continue to write, because it’s a thing that blooms and bleeds inside of me. I’m more fully Shannan, more alive and filled with wonder when I ask questions aloud. I process the pain of life and capture its glory while threading words onto a long string. I cook dinner, watch television late at night with my husband, plant flowers, and drive friends to AA. I write it all down. I’m a whole person, and the same is true for you.
You are gallery art, one-of-a-kind. You don’t have to compartmentalize, pander, or be defined by anyone. You are not part of a crowd or a brand.
You are a complicated human, hard-wired to surprise others and yourself.
I’ve always had a thing for pickles. I prefer them with extra dill and garlic, and if they come with a peppery kick, that’s even better.
I’ve always had a thing for people, and the stories they carry – sweet and sour, I want them all.
What’s one little thing that makes you, you? I’m all ears.