the big summer potluck of 2012 and reflections

I spent last night in a shiny, modern hotel in Manhattan, on Crosby Street in Soho. It was my last night in the city, and the first night since leaving the Big Summer Potluck in Pennsylvania. The previous two nights, I’d shared a room in a Bethlehem hotel with two talented and beautiful friends, Winnie and Lindsay. But last night, I was by myself again, soon to head home to my family.

In the elevator on my way down to breakfast this morning, I caught myself avoiding looking at my reflection in the mirrored elevator walls. I’ve never liked seeing myself in mirrors. When faced with mirrors, I tend to focus only on the necessary parts, singularly – the contour of my eyelid as I put on eyeliner, the center of my lip as I apply lipstick– but rarely as a complete person. I realized, in that mirrored elevator ride, that by avoiding my image – avoiding myself – I was doing the exact opposite of what I’d spent the weekend doing at the Big Summer Potluck. During the Potluck, a retreat for food writers, photographers, and bloggers, I’d spent hours reflecting on myself as a whole, looking inward, delving deep, and taking stock of both who I am and where I’m headed.

While food was a focus of the retreat (I refuse to call it a conference), the Big Summer Potluck was, to me, less about food and more about enjoying and embracing the community of writers and creative types who make up this food blogging world. It was about finding meaning and purpose in what we do, be it making beautiful photographs, creating nourishing food, writing the book we’ve been dreaming about for so long, or lifting up and supporting those we love and cherish.

Brooke spoke of mindfulness and of finding moments of stillness that can serve to reconnect us to our lives. She spoke of being fully engaged in everything we do, be it washing dishes or eating a meal or reading a story to our children, regardless of how trivial that action may seem at the time. Brooke’s words resonated with me and reinforced a lesson I’ve learned often (and forgotten, just as often) from the cancer patients I care for – we should live this day, this moment in time, as if it were our last.

Later, I caught Molly in the upstairs of the barn, when it was just the two of us, and – after introducing myself – I explained that I struggle with knowing exactly where my writing is headed. There’s a book in me, I confided to her, but I don’t know how to get it out, or even what form it will take. I confessed that I feel scattered, especially given the multiple components of my life that compete for my time, none of which I would trade for all the money in the world, but all of which manage to blur my focus. She spoke later of her own path as a writer, and her words were comforting and encouraging. I’m not sure Molly said these words exactly, but what I heard was, “Just write. You can do it, I know you can.”

I’m pretty sure I felt an imaginary hug in her words, too. A strong, warm, and encouraging embrace.

Joy sat in a folding chair on the grassy hill behind the barn, before the rains came, and talked of being inspired by the creativity we see in others’ work. Marissa made plum jam, slogging through the steamy heat rising from the simmering pot of jam-in-the-making to share her trade secrets with us. Max prepared omelets for 80+ and discussed the finer points of making smoked salmon. Pam created much of the food that was served, including heavenly buttermilk waffles and fried chicken, and then she discussed the art of recipe development.

Various attendees stepped up to the microphone and chimed in with their stories of self-doubt and fear of not being good enough, stories of success, and tidbits of wisdom. Melissa’s words, spoken through tears, of being brave and strong, and of ignoring the 13-year old jealous child within, had me nodding as she spoke, and earned her a big hug later in the weekend. Maggy wore a white tank top with a huge red heart in the center, and somehow this was fitting. Her personality shines with enthusiasm and vivaciousness. The Big Summer Potluck simply wouldn’t be what it is without the dynamic and awe-inspiring trio of Maggy, Pam, and Erika.

And so, after meeting a friend for one last breakfast in Soho this morning, I returned to my hotel to check out and head to the airport. With my handbag and tote slung over my shoulder, I maneuvered my overfull, wheeled suitcase to the elevator. Once inside, I pressed the button for the lobby. I glanced in the mirror ahead of me and saw myself reflected back. I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw, but I wasn’t appalled.

And most importantly, I did not look away.

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26 Responses to “storytelling through writing: four tips”

  1. 1

    You had a well-deserved spot on that panel! It was so lovely to finally meet you. Hope you get a chance to dive into that new Stephen King book soon!!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 8th, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

      Thank you so much, Anna. I loved getting to meet you and Lisa finally. Travel safely home!

  2. 2
    Macaroni Mama — June 9, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

    Great tips Merry Jennifer. Maybe I will start reading again.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

      I sure hope so!

  3. 3

    I’m sure you did absolutely wonderful! Your writing is amazing, and I’m excited whenever you have a new post up. You make it seem effortless. 😉


    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

      Thank you so much, Denise. Definitely not effortless, but thank you for saying that!

  4. 4
    Ali | Gimme Some Oven — June 9, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

    You are such an inspiration! Thank you for sharing this, your candid thoughts on the panel this weekend, and your amazing recipes and stories week after week. You are making the world a better place in so many ways.

    Such a privilege to meet you this weekend too! I definitely look forward to staying in touch, and hope to get more time to sit down and chat more sometime soon! 🙂

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 9th, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

      It was so great meeting you, Ali. I would definitely love talking more in the future. (keep with that music!)

  5. 5
    Kathryn — June 10, 2013 @ 4:28 am

    I would have loved to be able to listen to your panel discussion – this post is inspirational enough so I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be in the room. Some really great advice here, thank you.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

      Oh, Kathryn, I wish you could have been there — but mostly so that I can finally meet you. 🙂

  6. 6
    Momo — June 10, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    Your seat on that panel was well-deserved and I think this post proves it! Thanks for being part of BlogHer Food ’13!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

      Thanks so much for having me, Momo! I had a blast on the panel – and at the entire conference.

  7. 7

    i have always enjoyed your blog and you are a big inspiration <3

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

      Thank you so much!

  8. 8
    Beth Lee — June 10, 2013 @ 9:03 pm

    I felt the same way as you last year but you know what? we both deserved our “place at the table” and each of us had very different and still very meaty and useful tips to share. Congrats on what sounds like a great conference and panel. I, too, thought the questions were excellent during my session. Brought out even more good stuff from the panel.

    Wish I could have been there in person. I’m sure you were outstanding!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

      Thank you so much, Beth! I wish I could have seen you, too. Maybe next year?

  9. 9

    You did well during the panel, it was lovely to accidentally meet you the night before and thanks for this post. MUCH better than the notes I took! 🙂

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

      I loved how we ran into each other after that fortuitous introduction on twitter the day before. 🙂

  10. 10
    Amy at Kid Cultivation — June 11, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    I attended your session and found it so heartening and inspirational to hear about your writing process in the midst of a very full and busy “real” life. And if it’s any consolation, I was too shy and awed by you 4 amazing bloggers on the panel that I didn’t even introduce myself. I guess that’s why so many of us stick to writing. It’s much easier to be brave and confident on the screen! Thanks for speaking and yes, you belonged there.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

      Oh, Amy, next time you simply must come up and say hello! I would love to have met you in person. Thank you for being there!

  11. 11
    Paula — June 11, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

    Great tips Merry-Jennifer. I’m glad you enjoyed the conference. I’m sure everyone who had the pleasure of hearing you speak were enriched by what you had to say.

    I think that even though you have taken a course and have signed up for another one, that you are a gifted and natural born story teller.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 11th, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

      Paula, you have no idea how much that means to me. Thank you. xo

  12. 12
    jenny r — June 13, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

    I think we left one crucial thing out at the conference: feeling like an imposter is absolutely vital to the experience. And as soon as we realize we ALL feel like that (I’m betting even Stephen King did when he first started) the sooner we can plow through whatever is holding us back. Great post! Great to meet you!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 13th, 2013 @ 8:20 pm

      You’re probably right, Jenny. That’s one of the hardest things to get over.
      It was wonderful meeting YOU!

  13. 13
    Nutmeg nanny — June 16, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

    Really great tips 🙂 wonderful post!

  14. 14
    Michelle — June 18, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

    Merry-Jennifer, like so many others have already stated, I agree that you more than belonged at the table as a member of that panel. I’m no longer food-blogging, but I will tell you that there have only been about 3 or 4 food-blogs I continue to personally follow, and your’s is one of them. You inspire more of us than you may ever truly know with your real-life -busy-motherhood-spouse-Dr-daughter-friend stories that speak to our hearts, all while staying connected to the heart of the home, the kitchen. Brava!

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