Sunday Sanctuary: Tending My Instrument & the Advice of Virginia Woolf


When I look at my creative history, I realize that I’ve left behind many of the ways I’ve been creative in my life: dance (except the occasional wedding), singing (except in the car or the shower), and theatre (which was my minor in college). As we age, we leave behind many of our creative pursuits for seemingly right reasons: not enough time to devote to a craft thanks to real life demands and sometimes a loss of interest. Or, sadly, the belief that grown-ups a birthday cake for Johndon’t play act or dance en pointe.

But that may be a story for another day.

A few years ago, I fell back in love with food. Oh, well, maybe I always loved food as a way to soothe the soul and commune with other souls, but this time, I fell in love with the process of taking the best raw ingredients I could find and creating something with them.

It is a way to be creative in a way which is practical. It is a way to use my creativity in a way that enhances our daily life, providing not just nourishment for the bodies of those in my care, but also a setting for which to share the stories of our days.

Creating in the kitchen fuels my creativity, nourishes my body, and yes, also nourishes my soul as cooking for others is one of the ways I show love.

And I will confess that one of the necessary tasks of creating a meal – sourcing the ingredients (aka Grocery Shopping) – is a task that I love, too. It’s like a mini-artist date with myself, pawing through local summer tomatoes for the ripest ones, sniffing the cantaloupes to choose the sweetest, and discussing the possible ways to prepare a piece of wild caught salmon with my favorite fishmonger, Paul.

“The human frame being what it is, heart, body, and brain all mixed together, and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”

― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I’m sure you’ve seen the last line of this quote by Virginia Woolf many times. Recently, I re-read her book “A Room of One’s Own” and caught onto the deeper meaning of this: women colleges were feeding the students not-so-glorious foods while the men’s colleges, like Oxford, were feeding their students lovely, elaborate meals.

In addition to needing money and a private space to write, Woolf knew that in order to create, women must also be well fed.

Just as my house is not just a home, but my sanctuary from the world, my body is also my sanctuary. It houses my soul. It is my instrument. Yes, my mind is where the creative ideas are born, but it relies upon my body to birth the ideas into the world.

They need each other and,  like it or not,  my body is my instrument.

Earlier this year, I had moments where the act of holding a pen was excruciating. I’d be slicing strawberries and all IMG_20160527_181536the pincer action of holding a berry and a knife caused severe cramps in my hands. And sitting for hours meant stiffness in my hips that was unbearable at times.

No matter how unbreakable we believe we may be, sometimes we have to make peace with the fact that we have been hard on our bodies during our youth. Many of the creative pursuits of my youth, like dance, can be hard on a developing body. And how can I neglect to look at what all the years of typing and writing have done to my wrists and hands?

Though fifty is on the horizon, it’s not here yet, but facts being facts, I have the beginnings of arthritis.

While my doctor offered to treat my developing arthritis in a pharmaceutical way, we agreed to first try a holistic approach: an anti-inflammatory diet.

I am not a big fan of pills. Yes, I take my blood pressure medication and an aspirin for my heart. I take the supplements my doctor recommends. But the thought of relying upon medication to do the things I love to do was unimaginable.

I thought back to the wisdom of Woolf and while I believe the meals I have been creating are lovely, I had to admit that when my body – my instrument – is trying to communicate with me, I had to ask myself if I was fueling it in the best way possible.

There are a lot of foods considered anti-inflammatory: fish like salmon and halibut, good fats like olive oil and IMG_20150509_183947avocado, tomatoes, spinach, nuts, and other such delicious ingredients. Our daily diet is pretty heavy on these non-inflammatory foods.

But I also know that other foods that exacerbate inflammation: heavily processed foods, gluten, sugars, and dairy. We don’t really eat a lot of processed foods, but dear God, do I love good bread and cheese and the occasional piece of chocolate or carrot cake.

One of my all-time favorite ways to create in the kitchen is baking, that beautiful mix of science and art.

And I must be honest:  I’m not a fan of demonizing any food group. Unless you are lactose intolerant and can’t handle dairy, it’s not “bad”. And gluten is such a hot no-no these days. Most science still points to the fact that the average, healthy person will thrive on a well-balanced diet including ALL of the food groups.

Yet, when your body is telling you that things aren’t running 100%, it’s time to take a step back and say, hey, I’m not a 16-year-old girl with a daily dance practice barely weighing 100 pounds.

All the research told me that experimenting by eliminating food groups known to add to inflammation for at least thirty days to see how your body feels is a worthwhile experiment. That meant: no gluten, no dairy, and no foods with added sugar.

I couldn’t imagine coffee without cream or eggs without crusty,  sourdough toast slathered in butter. But just as my creative life deserves to be romanced with beautifully made notebooks, didn’t my creative life also deserve me fueling the instrument in a way that not only nourished, but supported?

In May, I began a (modified) Whole30 as an experiment, to see if eliminating potentially inflammatory foods helped. No gluten, no grains, no dairy, no added sugars except a tiny spoon of turbinado sugar in my coffee. Oh, and no pseudo foods, using cauliflower to make a pizza crust and such.

IMG_20160725_203751By June, I noticed that my hands didn’t ache or cramp up. My hips felt better.

Yes, I’ve experimented with a little cake here and a little cheese there, but my body has shown me that abstaining from these foods makes me function at my best.

Choosing to see food as both a creative outlet and a way to best fuel my creative instrument allows me to also fuel my ability to create.

Just as I must birth stories at a keyboard and share secrets by writing a letter to a friend, I need to create a meal from the ingredient up in a way that nourishes me spiritually and fuels my instrument to create.

We must tend all of our sanctuaries to fuel a creative life.

Even if that means taking a hard look at how we are choosing to fuel our minds, our souls, and our bodies.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.