DQoM Show Notes

Janet Elsbach

What do you do when a neighbour or friend is going through a really tough time? How do you help celebrate someone’s success? Someone in the neighborhood has become more withdrawn and you’re not sure how to connect – what do you do?

Janet Rich Eslbach has some ideas. Janet lives in a rural Massachusetts, and teaches writing to adults with developmental disabilities and, for over ten years, was a counselor to new and growing families. Janet is a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in anthropology and a focus on writing and holds a masters in education from New York University.

 Janet writes about how all the numerous things going on in the average life collide with making dinner on her blog, A Raisin & a Porpoise. She is also an editor and writing teacher who loves to make space for people to get their point across. Her book, Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community One Dish at a Time, was recently published by Roost.

 On top of this, She is an amazingly present and generous person with a width and depth of experience of navigating difficult situations. I hope you’ll really enjoy our conversation.


 Podcast Transcript:


What do you do when a neighbour or friend is going through a really tough time? How do you help celebrate someone’s success? Someone in the neighborhood has become more withdrawn and you’re not sure how to connect – what do you do?

Janet Rich Eslbach has some ideas. Janet lives in a rural Massachusetts, and teaches writing to adults with developmental disabilities and, for over ten years, was a counselor to new and growing families. Janet is a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in anthropology and a focus on writing and holds a masters in education from New York University.

 Janet writes about how all the numerous things going on in the average life collide with making dinner on her blog, A Raisin & a Porpoise. She is also an editor and writing teacher who loves to make space for people to get their point across. Her book, Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community One Dish at a Time, was recently published by Roost. 



Welcome to don’t quit on me. The podcast series, where we consider alternative ways to manage the inevitability of stress and pain,

the wide range of people who share their stories, strategies, and perspectives. We aim to inspire hope confidence and the belief in the fact that things can get better, no matter where you are. 

Janet Reich Elsbach is a home cook inspired by seasonal food, the particular cravings of those she loves to feed and the idea of bringing people together at the table. The book, Extra Helping – recipes for caring, connecting, and building community one dish at a time, was recently published by Roost.

On top of this, she is an amazingly present and generous person with a width and depth of experience of navigating difficult situations. I hope you’ll really enjoy our conversation.


… Crows … which I love because I believe they’re kind of spirit type animals and they’re amazing. They are so intelligent. 


An American study. I read years ago; they were trying to establish that crows could recognize human faces. So, they had people wear those very realistic, rubber masks of like, you know, Brezhnev and whoever was current at the time world political figures.

And then they, had the people wear them upside down. And crows would turn upside down. Like what’s up with that? No, they would see the same face that they’d learned to recognize. I can’t remember they had food rewards or what the, the crows were sort of trained to respond to, but when the people wear the masks upside down and the crows would basically fly upside down, like looking at them, like that’s odd, you, you look different.


Yeah. What are you doing that for? 


Yeah. Okay. Just, that was brilliant. And it was of course on a college campus. So, I just loved the idea of all these crows sort of flying upside down. 


I knew people were crazy, but not this crazy. Mum also used to have an interesting take, which was that she loved the fact that crows were a) uninhibited and b) possessed the ability to let people know how pissed off they were, you know, that they’re just not holding it in. So that there’d be no complications with repression or, you know, so that’s probably why I warm to them initially. I think. Yeah. 

Janet Elsbach, Welcome. I’m very grateful for you taking the time out to chat  and share the insights that kind of led to you writing the book.


Well, I’m so happy to be here and I’m really glad that you found me.


They talk about surfing the web. I like to surf podcasts and just kind of is someone mentions someone and it resonates a little bit, then go off on that tangent. I often think that you find what you need to find? 


Yeah. I love that practice too.

 I like listening for anything that makes my kind of my heart pick up pace or my ears prick up kind of like a dog, like I just followed that. It’s like a penny walk. We do just keep following those leads and see where they, where they go. 


That’s it. I interviewed Krishna Das about 16, gosh, somewhere between 10 and 15, 16 years ago. And he said, That as far as he could work out, the, the ‘whole deal’ was to try and develop an ability to be able to sit with the difficult things in life, and not get swept away by them. And also, to be able to be present enough for the good things in life and not be thinking about the other things that have challenged us.

 And I think what you were talking about, that penny walk, is really, being still enough to listen to the things that resonate and, you know, keep as buoyant, as buoyant as possible. 


Yeah, absolutely. Okay. 


Could you talk a little bit about what led to you writing the book, Extra Helping, like the path that it and I guess the idea behind it, and the book is awesome by the way.


Oh, thank you. I, that I never get tired of hearing that. So, well, the, the book really began as the blog that I was keeping, which began as almost all good things in my life have, it began with the urging of good women friends around me. I’ve been a writer and a teacher of writing pretty much my whole life.

And, at kind of peak blog in the U S, what happened first was my friend Susie invited me, to be part of a women’s writers evening. And she knew me, you know, we’d known each other for years and she knew that I was writing and teaching, but I didn’t have any public facing presence as a writer in the world since a children’s book that I’d written when I was in graduate school a long time ago.

And so, I felt like in order to have some authenticity to take part in this evening, I needed to have some writing out in the world. And at that moment, starting a blog, at least in the U S was sort of what everybody was doing. And I said, well, you know, I just don’t know what I would write about. And this group of women friends said, well, everybody wants to know what you’re having for dinner, putting in your kid’s lunch box.

So just write about that. And I thought, what was this? That was kind of a brilliant suggestion because that happens every day. You know, we, we eat every day. Um, so I naturally had something to write about and I grew up in a very food-oriented family. Our family, friends were all, very food oriented in all of our family gatherings and social experiences as growing up seemed to be organized around food.

I wasn’t a food professional, really. I worked as in catering and in bakeries and so forth, but I didn’t really think of myself as a professional food person, but it was, there was just naturally something to write about every day. Um, and I had a practice at the time, which I still have of cooking for people.

Who were going through something joyful or otherwise. And so when the blog had been in existence for awhile, another friend said, you know, it’s probably time that you wrote a book. And again, I turned to my, my coven, my Senate, and I said, what do I write a book about? And they said, well, this dinner, basket idea, this food that you bring, people don’t really know how to do that.

And they’re hungry to know, hungry, to know more about how to do that. And I really thought about the idea of.

There, I there’s just a sort of witchy magic to intuitive feeding that I learned from my sister. I feel the most strongly, like, just knowing what someone’s hungry for. In a particular circumstance and it was a really interesting exercise to kind of unpack that and think about, um, how would you build that kind of awareness?

And during this time, my, our, our eldest sister, um, was diagnosed with cancer and, uh, several cancers, uh, appeared in other parts of my family. So there was quite a lot of active caregiving going on. And so the idea of the book really kind of grew out of just this lifelong orientation towards feeding people and a very intensive experience over a short run of years of illness and, um, grief and loss in my family.


Thank you. And I’m sorry to hear about the challenges you faced with that. It seems that food like music can transcend. A lot of the stuff that we get caught in when we’re going through intense emotions. Can you maybe speak to a little bit of how you’ve seen the gift of food or using that intuitive sense, the nourish, I guess even your, your family and others has helped.


Yeah. I, you know, I’ve had a lot of powerful teachers on those topics in my life and. Sort of what we started out talking about that kind of being present, being aware, being open to sort of sensing things is another really important tool that, um, it kind of crystallized for me. Uh, a friend of mine who’s a professional singer, was having a lot of trouble with her throat.

She was sent to a specialist and he said, your vocal cords are parched. That was the word that he used, which seemed like a very unmedical word to me. And I immediately thought of, um, what the answer to that would be sort of, what, what, what would you put on the other side of the scale? And it helped me to see that a lot of times I looked at things that way, like a particular illness or a particularly strong emotion, like you’re saying, there’s something we can take in.

And for me, I, I gravitate towards thinking about food. Um, but it could be music as you’re saying, or, or any kind of, any other kind of input, any other kind of thing. We can absorb that that’s almost like an antidote, but sort of the counterweight, what would balance? And I think ended up the wrong word and capture weight is more what, I mean, what balanced this out.

So not to say that this experience of illness or anything else needs to be erased, but just what would bring equilibrium, what would balance it out? Um, so that a person could experience it without being, you know, sort of tilted off kilter somehow. Um, and as often happens, I’ve now spent so much time rambling rendered.

The answer that I’ve forgotten the question, but… 


I think you spoke to it beautifully and another few points, which are relevant very beautifully. And, my Dory brain is sitting here going, I do need to stay on track, but geez, that’s an interesting tangent. Yeah. Okay. Could you, um, talk a little bit about, uh, I know that I’ve heard you comment about the.

The humor behind a cookbook without photos and the debate that probably happened from the publishing side of things. And how did that decision come about? 


In very plain terms? I wasn’t particularly well platformed, as they say before the book came out. So they were kind of taking a little bit of a flyer on me and a cookbook with photographs is a big production.

You know, it’s a whole other order of magnitude. And the other side of that, which was more positive to me, I liked the idea. First of all, one of my most powerful, um, sort of guiding star writers is Laurie Colwin. Who’s written who wrote other, some just incredible books about food and feeding people and eating together.

And, her books are books of essays with recipes associated with them. So, any kind of middle school sort of feeling I was having about, Oh, all the other girls get pictures in their cookbook really dissipated for me when I thought about just even being on the same, you know, in the same category as her writing and a friend of mine very kindly said it really lets it be more about the writing, um, which I loved and.

Made sense to me because I’m not a professional food person, I’m a home cook. And I, I definitely am inspired by looking at cookbooks with beautiful photographs, but there is some freedom in, um, you don’t have to make this come out to look exactly the way somebody else has done it. You can just be with the ingredients and you can make it, you know, how it makes sense to you.

And. My friend, Susie, uh, always says done is done as beautiful. Like, however you did it, it’s done. And it’s perfect how it is. So, I like the idea of people not having to measure themselves against a photograph, which is the sort of the flip side of having a photograph as a guide. Is this sort of like, well, mine doesn’t look like there’s death, you know, maybe I did something wrong and if it’s delicious or satisfying or whatever else you were hoping it would be, you did it.


Right. So, I love that so much because there’s no, we. Well through a process of, I guess, being educated into it. And one of the what’s the, um, the antithesis of a serendipity, um, of social media, you know, we are constantly comparing ourselves. So, I did, I loved that. Uh, there was no photographs, there were a few pointers, like, If it looks like there’s too much water, that’s good you’re on track. And, um, and it tasted fantastic. And it was so simple. I made it for dinner and my wife ate it every day for the rest of the week because it just felt healing. 


Yeah. It never stops giving the pot of Congee. That is really the, if I had to pick one thing out of the book that I would give to everybody is just the, the one tool to have in your toolkit.

It’s that? Because for one thing, it’s just, it couldn’t be easier and it it’s easy to make in quantity and it’s endlessly variable and it’s just so soothing, um, comforting. And you can do it really with whatever you have. Yeah. 


You mentioned before, and I’ve also read about your writing classes. I’d love to know a little bit more about those if you’re okay to share.


Sure. Well, the most constant, um, place that I show up in that way is I’ve been working with an organization in the, in Western Massachusetts, where I live that works with people with disabilities, um, doing arts workshops and uses those. Um, engagements as a way of kind of, uh, bringing disability out of the shadows and helping to integrate the community.

Like you were saying, music can be kind of a little universal source and the arts in general, I think, have that effective where if you get a whole bunch of people who don’t think they have anything in common and throw them into a room together and say, figure out how to talk to each other, you’re in one kind of experiment.

But if you bring them in to a place where some creative endeavors going on, Um, you automatically have a, just a really engaging way for people to meet each other from wherever they’re coming from. So I’ve been teaching, writing in that setting for years. Um, I don’t know, 10, 15 years. And then, um, and it’s a really wonderful organization and.

The woman who founded it. I always say she happened to choose beautifully. Um, this idea of helping people who live in therapeutic settings, both, uh, people with disabilities, the elderly, um, and it’s expanded over the years to include a lot of other categories, um, with the community at large, but you could have chosen pretty much any kind of chasm, uh, just to pick one out of the news today, the, you know, Israelis and Palestinians and.

Just any perceived difference, really is handled so beautifully and gracefully by giving people something creative to, to hold in common. So it’s just been an endless source for me to be involved there. I’ve taught fiber arts with them for a long time and started teaching in the writing.lass probably, I think it’s probably 15 years ago pushing 15 years ago. So I teach, I teach there and I love it. And I find that it feeds me as a writer to be around people who have so much less in terms of reservations and, um, sort of overburdened self-concept. It’s really nourishing for me just as in my own writing to be around people like that.

I’ve taught in a local high school, but, and have just started reaching out with a writing workshop that I’m offering on my own, which the first one will be next week. As of this recording, um, Thursday, the 20th of May. Through my friend known Wells who has a really great, um, kind of think of it as a big umbrella, it’s called the field of human collective.

And, he has a podcast called You, Me and empathy and, we met that way. And then when he, he started this teaching platform, I, we, we talked about offering a writing class through that. So, I’m really excited about, about that. And I really love the idea of. Just making it, unscary making it simple and stepwise to express yourself in words, not to feel too, you know, it’s a, it’s a balance of writing exercises, but also just a few points in the workshop where we stop and kind of get out of our heads and kind of shake like a dog, you know, do some, some more body focused exercises to help us get out of our heads in order to kind of come back in intentionally.


It’s funny, you mentioned shaking like a dog because, you know, I hear in my 52nd year, I’ve started really, um, attempting to pay attention to stuff more and be more present more often. And Gabby and little or big dog, we shall get stressed at things like the postman has a love, hate relationship within waits for him, but then, you know, she’s very vocal with her love and then, visibly shakes and you know, is, is healed by that act. 


And I love watching the, you know, it’ll start at the head and you can watch the, they don’t stop until they’re finished. It goes all the way down their spine to the tip of their tail.

If they, you know, whatever tail they’re working with, but they, they, they don’t stop until they’re absolutely finished. I heard a wonderful podcast a couple of weeks ago. Brenee Brown was interviewing these two sisters twin sisters who are neuroscientists, and they were talking about finishing emotions.

That, um, we tend to stop before we’re finished. Um, you know, you think if you’ve survived something and it’s technically over, it’s done with, and you’re, you’re done with it. But in fact, if you’ve been through something intense, um, you know, you got startled on your way home, but you made it home. You’re not actually done.

You need to return to that experience kind of what you were saying before. Sort of notice it, allow it the whole full shape of it to come into your consciousness and use that kind of. A metaphor of the dog, shaking it off, you know, you get, let it travel all the way through you until you’re finished with it.

And then you’re actually done, and you can move on other, otherwise we kind of end up harboring little remnants and bits of, you know, leftover intensity because we haven’t completed them, which I thought was just such a compelling idea. It is. And so, uh, gosh, so, so simple, but so insightful. And you know, there’s a truth that you can eat.


It makes absolute sense and that how, if we haven’t gotten rid of those fragments, they’re just going to compound and I’ll shape everything from the way we hold ourselves to the way we breathe. And, Hmm. Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned before, uh, I think was it the feeling human collective, um, and what was the podcast.


It’s called You, Me and empathy. It’s wonderful. I wrote a little bit about it today was saying that if you look through the archive of people who’ve spoken with, you can almost always find someone who’s invited in to talk very comfortably about something that you are personally uncomfortable.

I should stop generalizing, for myself – I can always find a conversation that creates a very comfortable, exchange around something that I’m harboring some discomfort around. So, it’s just, it’s really it’s very healing to listen to, and it sort of helps frame things. And he’s got a really, it sounds like, kind of like you sort of a roving eye like, who can I talk to about this and that?

And, you know, he’s, he kind of follows us his heart towards a whole incredible range of people. I’ll be checking it out later today. We’re heading up the coast. So. 


Yeah, I’ve got two questions, but I think they kind of go, um, together. One is, um, do you have any thoughts around why actively caring for people feels good as opposed to just, you know, I guess being stimulated to care for someone by looking at our phone, but not following it through. 

And secondly, I guess on the act of cooking for others as an act of service or even a meditative practice. And when I, when I say the words. Food and meditative practice. I think of that, like water for chocolate movie, but you know, the emotion and the intent that we bring to food. 


Yeah. Um, well, you’re, that’s a big, ambitious thing that you’ve asked me to hold two questions in my head at the same time, but … 


Feel free to answer them or not answer either of them and answer what you would like.


Oh, I hope one of the things on the menu is to feel free, to forget one while I’m entering the other one. Um, I think. There’s, you know, there’s a lot to be said for the muscle memory experience, you know, that we can kind of get numb. We can’t kind of get down. We get numbed to the sort of litany of suffering and pain that we witnessed, you know, with that sort of thumb scrolling motion. 

There’s just so much coming at us all the time that we can’t do anything about. And. Finding the places where we can actually do something where we have agency, even if it’s in a very narrow sphere, it’s very close into home. I think it’s a kind of armor. Isn’t really the right word, but it’s kind of afforded fication for when you do see it, as you inevitably will, more input, more devastating images and stories.

You need to have some personal sense of agency, some, some actual muscle memory of doing something that moved the needle that shifted the balance. Um, even if it’s tiny and, and local, otherwise I think we just kind of get flattened by it. And I think it’s sort of the same principle that, you know, the. No organizational gurus will tell you to like clean the sink.

The whole house is a mess. Every toy, every sock, every whatever is out of place. And we can just start kind of spinning around, but you start with something very specific, you know, clean the sink and then the sink will be clean. And then you have this feeling of agency of having completed something. And you can build on that and, and work with that going forward.

And anything, anything that is sensory as. Well, really anything can be broken down into its sensory elements. I think that’s why they talk about, you know, doing the dishes or any kind of other activity can become a form of kind of Zen Buddhist practice. Because if you break it down into its sensory parts, the field, the way the water feels on your hand and the smell of the soap and the sound of the dishes and so forth, anything can become a form of meditation and food by its nature is such a sensory experience.

Um, that there’s lots of room. It’s beautiful. Um, you know, there’s sounds that are associated with it. I realized how much I cook by ear. You know, that, you know, I can tell that pot needs me by the sound, anything like that I think is very grounding. And then there’s when you’ve done it to help another help a body out, whether it’s your own or, or somebody else, you know, that just kind of compounds the benefits of having engaged with it.

Totally lost both questions, but I think that’s kind of in the … 


Somewhere in the middle, somewhere there that I probably wanted answered. So thank you. Thank you. I’ve heard you talk in another podcast, how we should start where we are, you know, don’t look at all these things and say, well, I couldn’t possibly do that or that. I heard you say, well, just, you know, what can you do? And I think it was a tray of brownies.


Oh, yes. I hear a lot from people who say, well, I don’t, I don’t know how to, I can’t do what you do because I don’t know how to cook. The only thing I can make is brownies, well be the person who shows up with brownies.

And even if the person you’re showing up for us, you know, paleo, whatever, can’t have them, the act of doing it. First of all, you’ve had the grounding act of making them, which especially if is the only thing you do is because you know, anything we do. Repetitively becomes a kind of meditation and they can give them to someone, but, or do whatever they do with them.

But that, just that exchange, to me, that one of the magical things about cooking for people, even if it’s brownies, and there’s nothing wrong with brownies, is when you show up at the door with that item, what you’re showing the person is not just that you’re there with brownies, but through the, all the steps – Thinking about making them getting geared up, getting all the supplies, going through the steps, you know, packing them up, everything –  that you were holding that person in your mind. So, there’s this, that that’s sort of the magical, extra nutrient in the food that we present to other people is this idea that, um, they were being fed and held in your consciousness while you were doing all the things that you were doing. And by extension, it’s true that if you stopped by the restaurant between your house and their house and pick up soup. When we do those acts of service for other people, we’re not, it’s not just the tangible thing that we’re offering, but it’s this idea that I was thinking about you, I was holding you in my head the whole time, thinking about what you needed and offering something, bringing you something all that time.

I was thinking about it. Um, which, you know, in hard times, they’re very isolating. So that idea that, someone’s thinking about you and holding you in their consciousnesses. Is the counterweight for that, you know, there’s a lot of solidarity in it. It’s very, um, I think it’s incredibly powerful, especially now where we’re feeling fragmented and we are leaning a lot on, um, I guess, artificial mediums to give us some sense of connection.


I agree with everything you’ve said. And I had another point, but it’s drifted out of my Dory brain again. Do you have a meditative practice, and do you mind sharing what that might be?


Yeah. I have a very itchy and, um, kind of peripatetic practice of actual meditation in some kind of formal way that another person would recognize as meditating, um, through, um, lockdown.

I came across a wonderful studio in Brooklyn called Heal House, which put all their classes online and that’s been a real salvation for me because the classes are short. They’re about a half hour. Um, it’s a sort of beautifully, uh, there’s just a beautiful range of people who come to the class. I’ve had offered the classes and I found that a really soothing and, and easy, um, way to engage with it.

But for the most part, th the, the truly consistent thing is trying to, which it sounds to me from your questions. And a little bit, we were talking before, um, is, would, would resonate for you too, is, is the. Just being present in the sensory part of living in a body in the world, um, can be really grounding.

And I’ve had, you know, great coaches and teachers too. Who’ve helped me zero in on, you know, waking up in the morning and feeling that the dog’s against my legs. You know, that’s a really grounding practice to start the day with and kind of brings you fully into your body. And, um, makes me aware of sort of what’s available for me in the world.

And that’s, that’s quite consistent. I don’t always go to class every day. I don’t always make time to sit in a consciously intentional way every day, but I’m trying, I’m trying to get better. 


Yeah. I, a hundred percent agree. That is my intent for this year is to be more or be more formal. Well that’s not going to happen for me … to attempt to do a more formal practice.

But one thing I found refreshing when I spoke to Jud brewer, a few weeks back, he mentioned, he said somewhere along the line, ‘small moments, many times’. And I think that talks to what you were saying, that it is, you know, when we stop and actually pay attention and look in the dog’s eye, or we’re looking in the face of our child or the person we’re talking to, and really zero in on that and gently let the thoughts get out of the mind that is showing up. And that’s both healing for us. And I guess whoever we’re showing up for. 


Yeah, that makes sense. How important. 


And I know that you’ve written the last chapter of the book about self-care. We hear a lot about it, but I guess how important is it, and do you have any nuggets of wisdom to share with people who might be feeling intense, heavy emotions?


Well, you know, when the chapter you’re referencing in the book was written really coming out of this very intense period of, of taking care of my sister. She was, sick and dying and there’s a, I mean, it becomes kind of a parable for other, other experiences like that, that there’s an intensity to what she was going through. It’s inescapable. She doesn’t get to take a day off, you know. I think about that all the time. When I was going through that, you know, we kind of worked in shifts, taking care of her, and there was a very guilty feeling of relief, in the time off periods, because I always thought, well, she doesn’t get time off. But there’s something about, taking that time and you know, all over the world, there are people in the caregiving role who also don’t get time off, which I’m very aware of. And certainly, we’ve all become more aware of it in the last year, year and a half. But even if it’s just little moments, you can’t pour from an empty cup. you have to find some way, um, to, to restore yourself if you were in the role of providing care for, for other people. So it’s, essential.

And I had a friend years ago who said, you know, you, you have to take care of your body or your body will make its own plans. So, you know, if you don’t rest, you run the risk of, you know, falling asleep, driving, you know. You can’t keep putting off when those accounts come due, you can’t, you kind of can’t keep bargaining them off into the future. So, it’s really essential and it sometimes has to be, especially, you know, in really intense times when you can’t, as we’ve all learned during the pandemic, it sometimes has to come in tiny little bites. And for me, it’s really helpful again, just to notice it and identify it. Let it land, particularly even if it’s just, you know, five minutes when you stick your head out the window and look up at the sky. Consciously name it for yourself. I’m doing this, you know? And what, about it is nourishing, like looking at the expensiveness of the sky or feeling the wind in my face?

Do you need to go into a place that’s very quiet because you just want that experience of quiet and stillness, even if it’s just a tiny little sliver of something. If it’s you just have time to go and get a drink of water.

You know, like exhale, look at the water, experience, the water, be grateful for the water experience. That moment of relief I was thirsty and now I’ve had something to drink, you know, even if it’s just that tiny little sliver, really name it and let it land. So you can kind of recognize that you’re filling yourself back up just a little bit, so you can keep pouring out.


Again, I am a purposefully put myself on mute, so I don’t go. Yeah. Yeah. 

Okay. It’s probably the wrong word of the wrong usage of the word ‘educated,’ but educated to believe that, you know, we shouldn’t look after ourselves, but also I think there’s an instinctive sense of the whole Wayne and Garth ‘I’m not worthy’ you know, to take a little bit of time. 

I can definitely attest to what you’re saying, small amounts. If I have three or five minutes, the beach is not far away, I’ll go and put my feet in the sand or just look at the water and that’s enough. Or if that I don’t have that time. Just like you said, the sun on the face is often enough.

Yeah. And even if you need five minutes of mindless scrolling, I would argue, there’s probably something else you could do with the five minutes. I would argue with myself. There’s something else that I could do with the five minutes. Yeah. But even that, I try to say like, okay, what I need to do right now is not be thinking about this other thing.

And I need enough content to just shut my mind off for a moment. That’s what I need is these five minutes of whatever, even that you can find a kind of place for yourself as a, as a nutrient. In some way, if you just take a moment before it. 


Yeah,  I agree. I mean, I suppose if I’ve got to the end of the day and my brain has no more thoughts left in it. I’m happy to know veg out for a while, right because you know, it, it does have a use and I guess. 

Following on from the last question, the square dance of caregiving, can you talk a little bit about that concept? And I guess being, willing to accept help from others. 


Oh, those are two sort of separate but related.

I would say, the thing that’s helped me accepting help, which I made the mistake of believing as a helpful person, that accepting help would kind of come naturally. And it does not spoiler alert. It does not. Those are two separate things that have the illusion of being connected more strongly than they are.

So, I try to drop into awareness of how satisfying it is to provide. Like, one of the questions that you sent ahead of time was sort of  put me in mind of that thing that you see in westerns about like sending the husband to boil water and tear sheets, you know, which, a lot of folk wisdom suggest was really just to keep him busy, but there’s something about having something to do, which is such a relief when you’re very concerned about someone or you’re even when you’re celebrating, you know, someone’s had a baby having something to do, having a task, is so satisfying and so occupying in a positive way. And so, I think people who struggle, I know for myself, struggling to accept help is the sense that you’re burdening someone that you’re putting them out in some way, and, taxing them in some way –  that it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant for them. And it helps me to remember how gratifying it is for me to be helpful. And I think, okay, I can understand, or this person obviously has love and concern and friendship, you know, they want to, they want to do something. So, it’s an exchange.

It’s not, it’s not an uneven exchange. It’s an even in many ways, a very even exchange you’re giving by graciously accepting the help. You’re letting the person feel that sense of agency and participation and support. I think that’s really, really important. And the other thing that’s helpful to me is that square dance idea, that the tallies don’t line up. Especially when I was writing the chapter about, showing up for people, who’ve had a baby, I met several or spoke with several friends and women that I sort of met by extension who had been so nourished by food chains or meal trains. I don’t know if those terms are universal around the world, but, that they had this almost like zealotry feeling about continuing to pay that forward. You often don’t get an even exchange with the person who has helped you. You don’t get to help them back when they’ve just helped you. You just have to trust that there’s a pretty long arc to that. And it isn’t always, you know, it, isn’t always something you could work out on an Excel sheet.

Um, you did this for me, and so I’m doing this for you and now we’re even. There’s some, there’s some sort of global balance that you’re participating in when you accept, and when you extend and we don’t have a macro enough lens to understand the ways in which that all comes out, even in the end, and detaching from the idea that there has to be some way to balance it out and tally it up.

So that it’s even really liberating to me. It makes me feel like those tiny little local acts that we do really do affect the balance, the world over. It really does help the overall evening out to do that kind of thing. And so that idea of detaching, I keep coming back, I’m not a very thorough or intense student of Buddhism, but the idea of non-attachment, I feel like every so often something will hit me, and I’ll go, Oh, that’s what they mean, by that, you know, there’s just some other nuance to understanding it, but just not being attached to outcome, not being attached to accounting in any kind of detailed way, but just understanding that your act of giving and somebody else is act of receiving overall in the end, it all comes out beautifully.

Even if we do that. It tallies up. It certainly does. And there, for me in the years when my children were in school and we were carpooling, there was the, you know, that you would sometimes meet parents who were like, well, you pick it up my child three times. So I need to pick up your child three times. And I would always say, I absolutely trust that this is all going to come out in some way that we don’t understand.

Even I’m not keeping track of the three times I did it against the, how many times that you did it, like. We are just all, what I do for you allows you to do something for somebody else. 


Yeah, that is driven by capacity and often by the kids’ needs or wants, you know, if they’re getting on particularly well, then it feels good to foster that relationship and build that time.

I love the quote that you wrote event. The world of the caregiver can feel like an odd alternate universe parallel to the land of the well, but be separate. That was hugely powerful for me having been a carer,  but also having been a recipient of care – in one sense, you described something that took years to understand, you know, you’re on either side, and you do you feel alienated, but there’s only a short gap that separates us.


Yeah. I think I was listening to an interview today, actually. And she was talking about her experience of mental illness and she said, as a culture, we normalize. Not the performance, but sort of the acting out of success and achievement and contentment and joy, and you know, all the things on the positive side, but we force everything else into the shadows.

And so, there’s this sense that it’s somehow wrong or shameful or, um, just because it isn’t seen it, isn’t understood in the same kind of way. And., I remember reading years ago, in the big theme parks that you don’t ever see, anyone emptying the garbage, it’s all sort of slurped down into this netherworld underneath where it’s all, all the refuse and messy stuff is dealt with in a place that you don’t see.

And that’s what I kept thinking of when, you know, when I had family members that I was tending to, like, I could see the rest of the world happening, but it definitely felt like I was kind of sucked into this other place where messy things got handled and the rest of the world didn’t have to see it.

And any kind of a lifeline that someone could offer across those, you know, between those two universes was just so helpful cause you feel sort of invisible and that has it because it’s hidden because it isn’t, you know, grief and illness and disability are not most of what we see. On social media in the world, there’s this sense that it should be hidden somehow or that it deserves to be hidden at merits being tucked away.

And, and again just this last year and a half, we’ve kind of seen the cost of not having kind of a common language around grief and illness. Like we’re just stumped. We don’t know, you know, as a collective, we kind of don’t know what to do. At least in the U S there’s very little in the way of kind of grief policies and, you know, for big employers, like you’re expected to, you lose someone, you just get right over it and get right back on the horse and that’s become like, we’ve, we’ve allowed that to become the presumption of what’s normal, that’s what you’re supposed to do. So, anyone else who’s daring to grieve beyond 72 hours or two weeks or whatever is allowed. It’s sort of, there’s something a little pathological about that, because you’re supposed to be, you’re supposed to get over with it and be done.

And this is just like a big reckoning, you know, kind of forcing everybody to recognize that it’s, it’s a lot more powerful than that. 


I think those employers or organizations that are able to embrace that and make space for it ultimately will be successful. Yeah, that’s a huge insight for them to do embrace. 

The flip side of a Marianne Williamson quote about when we let our own light shine, we subconsciously give others permission to do the same.  I think in a small and non-confrontational way, when we let our darkness show or our pain and suffering, the same is true. Like if we’re going through an incredibly difficult time and we can connect with someone, obviously it has to be the right someone and they can hold space for us. That in a short space of time, that validation is hugely healing. You know we’re all crazy. So let’s not even worry about that. That’s a given, but not quite as bad as I thought, and that there are other people just like me. So that whole, ‘just like me’ thing, othering, which is something you’ve talked about….


Yeah. The modeling. Even if they’re not handling it in a way that you comes naturally to you, that there is something about seeing other things, people go through, you know, the dog shake from nose to tail and come out the other side, just, it gives you, you know, really important data about what you can survive and what you can handle.

Just seeing somebody do it. You might do it differently. But seeing someone manage in that way is, you know, it’s very fortifying. 


You mentioned the writing workshop, uh, previously. And I know that I saw a treasures and talismans workshop coming up, which of these workshops are local and which might be available online.

There’s two, two occasions for treasures and talismans coming up. And one of them is, uh, for internal, for an organization that I work with. And the other one is a public. Class and it’s all online. None of that’s. The beauty of the beauty of quarantine is that everything is available everywhere now. Um, so it’s, uh, this I, and I hope I’ll offer it again.

These are kind of test runs to try it out. And I think if it goes well, I’ll probably keep it, keep it going through the summer in some form or another. But the, so it’s a known organization, feely human collective is offering the class, https://feelyhuman.co/

Or the link to register for that class is on my website, https://www.araisinandaporpoise.com/  a reason and a porpoise.com and also on feely human collective. 


Beautiful. I love the whole package of the work you’ve done it is just beautiful. And it speaks to that Dalai Lama quote about being wisely Selfish – If you want to be happy to care for others, giving people tools to do that. 


Well, I really appreciate your looking at it that way. Cause it’s, it’s easy inside of your own life to feel like things are sort of disparate. They’re not really connected, but, everything that I I’ve done has really been about connection and. So, it’s funny. One of the criticisms of the book that I read before gave up the practice of reading those kinds of things, said that there were too many kind of, I can’t remember the word that the person used, but too many international recipes.

It was. And that to me is it speaks to the idea of balance around the world. Like when you’re eating something that you know, that a mother in some other country, or, you know, there’s something about the way that food travels around the world that we can replicate in our own kitchen. You making congee in your kitchen after learning about it from me,  after me learning from a Chinese friend who, who taught me how to do it. There’s something so healing about that. And I noticed when I was researching the book, there are certain foods that just turn up all over the world that really unite us. So. Well that connection is a gift.


I love that quote ‘there’s no one of us that’s as smart as all of us.’ Like there’s something, we all bring something to the table and it’s also a relief because no one has to be an expert, you know, really, we just have to be an expert of our own stuff. And, and if something’s worked and people are open to receiving it, then we can share it.


Thank you so much. This was such a pleasure. I really just feel so. I’ve had lots of happy times on your side of the world. So, it’s really nice way to drop back into those memories. And it’s just been such a pleasure to talk to you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the show. And if you feel inclined to support us, you can do so on the website at dontquiton.me/podcasts. Thank you.














































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