Now that I‘ve trained my palate to enjoy that particular taste of bitterness, I’ve been enjoying more matcha. There’s something about the act of making it—warming the bowl, putting the whisk in hot water to soften, sifting the powder, and then whisking hot water and powder into frothiness—that feels incredibly centering.
This week has knocked me off balance for a few reasons.
The first is the snow. About four and a half years ago, I went for a walk in snow in shoes that were truly suboptimal for the task, and ended up slipping about seventy billion times and eventually spraining my knee so that I couldn’t walk for a few months (note that there was a second spraining in there, too). Now my brain does this supremely thing when it sees snow out: it says “here there be peril! Time to panic!”
I’ve been trying to retrain that, which means I have a pair of Kathoola microspikes (a present from my husband in 2021, which I managed to, um, not use until this last week because of all the anxiety). When it snows, I pick up my growing anxiety and take the dog out so I can rewire my brain. “See? No slipping. My feet have traction! This is fun! We like it! There is no peril here. Let’s try this slope. It’s safe, my husband is standing right there and I can grab a hold of him if I start to slip. Which I didn’t!”
It’s been a good experience, but it takes effort and meditation beforehand and a lot of self-bargaining about what I am and am not willing to do. I am making progress, which is rewarding, but what would otherwise be a small and simple two mile walk becomes emotionally exhausting.
Afterwards, matcha is a great reward. It’s warm, and the process of making it warms my hands. This one was deep and frothy and just the right amount of bitter, with a deep almost nutty taste that lingered at the back of my throat. I could drink it and sit in my warm house after a good time slogging away in the snow, and appreciate the fact that my brain and I are doing our best to move a little further.
The other reason this week threw me off balance was this: the passing of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. For those who don’t know, from 2007 to 2008, I clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor (or SOC, as she—and everyone at the Court—called herself).
I had spent the entire year working for Alex Kozinski. It was not a great experience. By the time I got to SOC, I think I was about 20% present. The rest of me felt like a tangle of PTSD triggers and dissociation. I was deeply afraid that I had signed up for another year of losing myself.
By contrast, she was extraordinarily human: the kind of person who makes sure that people are fed and taken care of, who tells you when you’ve done something good. One thing I remember is that we had a case in which Justice O’Connor was sitting by designation as a circuit judge. It was not an easy case, nor was it a fun kind of hard case. It was the kind of case that was very complicated and of interest only to the parties.
I remember her saying to me, “I don’t understand,” and having a moment of complete and utter panic, because if Kozinski had ever said that to me, it would have been preface for “I don’t understand how you could be so stupid as to fail to explain this,” followed by further invective and a line-by-line ripping apart of the memo to demonstrate my many abject failures.
And—everyone who knows SOC will not be surprised by this, but anyone who didn’t might be—she was one of the most fiercely independent people I had ever met. When we traveled together, she always refused to let the US Marshals put her carry-on in the overhead compartment (and she always only traveled with a single carry-on: she gave me a run-down on her carry-on capsule wardrobe that made this possible) with a terse, “No, THANK YOU. I can handle it.”
But what she said in the moment after was: “I need help.” And so instead of being raked over the coals, as I expected, we sat down and went through it, clause by clause, until it was clear.
It was not the first time in the clerkship that my full-body, PTSD-haunted flinch was met with warmth and kindness. It was not the last. But SOC proved to me over and over that it was possible for people with power to act in a caring way.
Over and over during the clerkship, my desperate panic met a kind and loving reality. Gradually, a part of me that began to learn. It took me a very long time to internalize what I learned from her: that true strength and confidence doesn’t lash out in a moment of insecurity, that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. I am still working that out.
I know many people who don’t agree with her jurisprudence—I am often one of them.
But I deeply miss her presence in this world.
Praise & a 99¢ sale (not on the same book)
On Monday, a friend of mine was talking and said, off hand, “oh, congratulations on the New York Times thing” and I was like “what New York Times thing?”
“Withheld secrets abound in the genre — just ask Edward Rochester — but in Wedgeford they become chances for characters to take a leap of faith, rather than to falter. Both this novel and the previous one, “The Duke Who Didn’t,” turn on moments where characters pass beyond suspicion and show deliberate, courageous trust at the precise moment any other romance would amplify doubt and self-interest. That moral optimism left me breathless, and filled me with light in this darkest time of year.”
Anyway, it just so happens that The Duke who Didn’t is 99 cents in digital this week. So if you like books that are full of moral optimism that cost 99 cents, this is one for you.
If you also like books that are full of moral optimism that cost slightly more than 99 cents, The Marquis who Mustn’t is right there.
Since I went public about Kozinski in the end of 2017, I haven’t done a Court-related event—not a clerk reunion, not really anything beyond a few panels that were carefully constructed. That is about to change. It is traditional for a Justice to lie in repose at the Court for a day before the funeral; it is likewise traditional for her clerks to rotate as honor guards while she does so.
As I get ready to attend Sandra Day O’Connor’s funeral, I feel a lot of fear: fear of what people have been saying. Fear of who will be there.
My anxiety is on pretty high alert. I do not know what, exactly, I am afraid of, except that my brain is telling me “here there be peril.”
But the antidote to peril was something I learned working for SOC: to face fears with love for myself, with dignity, with confidence… And maybe, when all of that seems inadequate, with matcha.
Until next week!
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