In Service of Clarified Butter

2 9 15
Early on in the #365Quote Project. February 9, 2015.

For this (I’m-super-behind) Quest2016 prompt CHRIS BROGAN asks us

How will you better clarify whom you serve and what you do for them in 2016?

I’ve noodled this. I’ve put it off for a week. Because 1) there is no oomph for me right now – everything in life feels temporarily very stuck – including words and feelings, 2) all the answers are (unabashedly?) selfish feeling and 3) all I can actually think about is clarified butter.

So let’s start there, with the butter – because there is nothing better than butter. I swear it runs in my veins. I’m not kidding. Butter, unlike liquid oils is part fat, a small portion water and 1-2% milk solids. Because of the milk solids and water, it doesn’t take nearly as much heat to brown or burn butter – when compared to other fats. So, clarified butter just the fatty goodness of butter, without the water and milk solids – and it’s required if you are, say, frying or high-heat-long-time cooking something in butter. (Let’s just pause here and say – YUM).

In theory, making clarified butter is easy. In theory, almost everything is easy – no? Throw your butter into a heavy pan, heat at a low temperature until it melts. Until the (totally delicious) milk solids float to the top and some of the water evaporates off. Skim off the milk solids, strain the liquid through cheesecloth – voila – clarified butter. But, cook it too hot, you get browned butter (still delicious, but not what you are going for). Cook it too hot and too long, hot burnt mess. Don’t cook it long enough, just a pile of melted butter. And, you’ve gotta skim, and pour – and anyone who knows me can voice that I am terrible at pouring anything. So, it takes some attention. Some focus.

Distilled. Impurities removed. Clean. Clear. Condensed. Powerful. Refined. Purified. Specific.

Clarified butter serves a very specific purpose. High heat. You can’t really use it for baking. It’s not so much fun to spread on bread.

But, you’re probably getting tired of the butter analogy, so I’ll move on.

And here comes the selfish part – when I think about who I serve and why – the answer is me me me me me me me. (Oh wait, more butter.)

This has been a clarified butter year for me. Literally. I have been tending to my one hundred and thirty five pounds of butter on the stove. Heating it up. Melting it down. Watching for the white, crackly, solids to float to the top – and skimming them off. Tending to temperature and skimming and timing and – yes – even efficient pouring.

I’ve been finding my voice by standing over that pot and skimming off the tiny bits of floating white. I’ve been distilling my sense of self into something understandable, translatable, powerful, potent and useful for me. I have been refining this thing that I am, stripping away water and milk solids and all of the other things that brown and burn at high heat and intensity.

And all of that time in the kitchen, over the pot of melted butter, has made for one very selfish feeling year. Maybe my most selfish year. (Well, ask my parents what I was like as a teenager, maybe this is nothing like those years). My most selfish adult year. I have, literally, been focused on serving myself. I’m behind on thank you notes and birthday cards and (now) Christmas presents. To say the least.

This past year I have been serving myself. The year ahead…I will still be serving myself. And what – what do I do for this little audience of one?

I write and I hone and I clarify and I craft. Because, as Brenna Layne says it so powerfully: “Writing is how I make sense of the world.” I do it because the writing itself is the process of warming and skimming and pouring that butter through the cloth. The writing is the only way that I can process and filter and file everything soaked in through these six sense (you know, the heart is a pretty big sense). And, quite frankly, it’s all begging to be shared. Maybe the it isn’t begging, but there is something in my brain that just wants to share it. Without even thinking.

Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert. Maybe it’s because I live alone in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it’s because I have always been this way. Maybe I am shy. Maybe I just feel most own-it, confident, brazen, brashly myself with pen in hand instead of telling stories at the dinner table.

It doesn’t matter. I write because it serves me. It helps me iron out the wrinkles of the day. It helps evaporate the water in the butter. It let’s the irksome milk solids float to the top.

It doesn’t matter if any of it is good. It (most of the time) really doesn’t matter if anyone reads it. It’s about the process. It’s about making the time to make life make sense. It’s about living firmly rooted in a practice. Because all of those things help me stay present and distilled down to the important, heat-tolerant stuff – and help me keep moving forward. Boldly and bravely.

And here’s the thing, the thing that confuses and bowls me over and blows me away. The times when I write and I am most grounded and most me and most present and vulnerable – those are the times when the most people respond. Respond to something that I have written. And that sets me back to the pot over the stove, to stir and skim and continue to focus on this practice. The practice of being grounded and clear. The practice of sharing.

I will continue to clarify my own butter in the year ahead. To stand over the stove and melt and stir and distill and purify. Because in that clarity, when I make that space for myself – then I can hear and share my own voice most effectively.

And, why does that matter? Because each day as I write more and more, and share more and more, and get braver more and more, and try to find and stay in that place of authentic me-voice-self-ness – I need more and more to be able to find that real voice within myself. The voice that translates and processes and makes sense of everything that I see, and the voice that gets written publicly to share all of those thoughts back out. Because, I need to stay continually grounded in my self and my perspective to avoid getting pulled away by the gusty winds of well, what do they want to hear?*

*Whew, in seeing that on the page, it’s a double whammy. The intention was about my writing. Because I see how lackluster and dull and antiseptic and cloying and boring and dead it is when I try to write with that question in mind. AND, in seeing those words there – holy how if I am now a recovering super-duper-people-pleaser.

The #Serve message from Quest2015 lives here: In Service of Happiness

CHRIS BROGAN explores how people use content and community  to build marketplaces around areas of belonging. He is CEO of Owner Media Group , providing simple plans and projects for business success. He is also a highly sought after professional speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of eight books and counting, including his forthcoming book, Insider: Strategies and Secrets for Business Growth in the Age of Distractions


Stop Being Nice

Man, sometimes the words just come. I had been struggling with this prompt. A narrative? A story? A lesson? I gave in to the soft, easy and satisfying urge to list. My last task for the night (saving the best for last or procrastination), I was going to snuggle into bed with my computer and type up the furious notes I’ve been chicken-scratching into a series of well organized bullet points. OK, maybe also take photographs of each blurb in my notebook and make a collage, and there was my second favorite passage from the Bhagavad Gita to include, and integrate cool looking quotes over images…

And then the spirit grabs you.

Sometimes Vanessa, you’re too nice.

I was pinballing around the tiny kitchen, my brain chit-chattering like a small bird. I was listening to its birdsong in the background, an accompaniment to my dinner preparation. Head inflamed and heart prickly from a conflict-rife day, I was endeavoring to place each conversation, event, experience, frustration into context. Learning, understanding my part, undoing the braid. Processing and remembering the past few weeks, months, inevitably, years. I traveled back in time to a hike in the Pacific Northwest.

Sometimes Vanessa, you’re too nice.

That’s my Mom. Well, maybe it was my Dad. I don’t remember. No matter who said it, I’m pretty sure they were both thinking it. They were both right.

This was the wise counsel of my folks. I had just ended a not-so-happy, not-so-fulfilling, not the best long-term relationship with someone who had a not-so-healthy relationship with booze. I was beyond the heartbreak stage. Their words came from a place of care. They didn’t have to say anything else, I knew exactly what they meant. Summary: you stay too long and give people to many second chances and hand over too much of you and you treat others well when they don’t really deserve it, all at the expense of yourself. Yup. I got it then, I get it now. And no matter how much I get it, the compassion (and obligation) outweigh the grit, and I just. keep. trying.

[Sound of head hitting against wall.]

The small birds in my head parsed this into a lesson. “Stop being so nice.” And then the chirping in my head stopped. “Stop?” That starts with, “stop”. That’s the answer. That’s the answer!

Stop being nice.

And suddenly, the response to Thursday’s prompt from multi-talented visionary Charlie Gilkey arrived on my doorstep. Dragged in by the chirping birds.

“Pursue knowledge, daily gain. Pursue Tao (wisdom), daily loss.” – Tao Te Ching*
We often think too much about adding new things, when the source of a lot of our growth is eliminating old things.
What do you need to STOP doing in 2015?
And what do you need to do to make that STOPPING more than an intention?”

Stop being nice.

Say goodbye nice. You dirty, four-letter word. You semi-insult. Get out of my face. Get outta here. I’m not even going to be kind to you as I slam the door behind you. I’ve had enough, and you are not welcome here anymore. I’m just gonna take care of myself these days, and not give a whosywhat what you or any other ambivalent adjective thinks about me. Pack your bags, shuffle off, and don’t show your face around these parts ever again. I’m busy hanging out with my true old friends honesty, compassion, self-care, truth-speaking and ouch.

So, suck it.

And what do I need to do to make that STOPPING more than an intention?

Geez Charlie, why do you have to finish with the hardest question? I don’t have an answer, yet. I don’t have to. All I have to do is slowly put one foot in front of the other. Listen, check in with my heart before I talk, and practice doing exactly the opposite of what I have done in the past. That’s all.

– – – – –

 Curious what was on the list before interrupted by the birds?

  1. Stop holding your breath.
  2. Stop staying up so late.
  3. Stop judging your love of staying up so late, you night owl creative genius. (Yes, late nights make me feel brilliant and prolific and flowing and exhausted in the morning.)
  4. Stop grasping at every creative thought, sentence snippet, storyline, light bulb moment that a-ha’s into your head. Maybe if that thought poofs by the time you get home from the dog walk, step out of the car, finish the meeting (to which you forgot to bring a pen), maybe it just isn’t ready for the big world yet, and it has tunneled back into your brain and heart to metamorphose into something even better.
  5. Stop thwarting your routine.
  6. Stop pretending you are a person of routine.
  7. Stop believing there will be ‘more time’ when things are ‘under control’.
  8. Stop the tightening in your body when you write. Writing feels good for your heart, stop making it feel bad for your neck, shoulder and back.
  9. Stop getting distracted by big ideas. Record the big ideas. Claim it for the future. Write it down and put it in the mason jar on your desk, or slip it into the cash box in the egg shed. For the future. The on-farm yoga studio, writing workshops, egg-sandwich shop can all wait.
  10. Stop making excuses to not have fun.
  11. Stop putting off joy & relaxation.
  12. Stop putting yourself second.
  13. Stop anything that doesn’t serve you.

– – – – –

Oh, curious about that quote?

It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity.

-Bhagavad Gits 3.35

– – – – –

Oh, and…

14. Stop. Sometimes, just #STOP.