Photo by Dvortygirl/Flickr

Over at The Butter, Grace Talusan has published this moving essay about becoming obsessed with making yogurt from scratch–while on a Fulbright Scholarship in her native Manila–as a way to distract herself from feeling helpless in the face of poor children she came upon who were living in horrible conditions, plus her own infertility and other personal woes:

With writing, I often make the mistake of confusing my work with my self-worth. I fear coming across as stupid or cliché. I berate myself for wasting precious time by not working enough, or by working too much on a piece that goes nowhere. And if the piece does get finished and shared somehow, so what? I remember handing my immigrant father a book that contained one of the first essays I published. He asked how much I had been paid. “Fifty dollars. And this contributor’s copy. It’s an honor to be published. Hundreds of other writers were rejected,” I started to say, but then I trailed off, demoralized and ashamed. I was sure that my father, who worked seven days a week, would not understand how a person could work on creating something for dozens of hours over several months for such meager rewards. He probably thought I was foolish for working myself ragged at several part-time jobs in order to support my writing time. And what did I have to show for all this effort?

However, I am not at all discouraged from failing at making yogurt. The failure doesn’t stop me from trying. I contemplate what went wrong and feel excited to try again. I know that each failure will teach me how to succeed…

…It isn’t until my niece asks me why I am always talking about yogurt that I realize how important it has become to me. An obsession, but also a distraction. A way to avoid talking about what happened to me one morning before brunch in an historical home in Malate. The taxi dropped me off on the corner beside a blue wheelbarrow, which was full of garbage and covered with a piece of cardboard. As the taxi drove away, I noticed empty the street was on a Sunday morning and then I turned my head to the wheelbarrow and spotted the bare legs of child sticking out from under the cardboard. My knees loosened and I grasped my friend’s arm because I was going down. Even though I hadn’t smelled decomposition, I was sure that child was rotting in the heat. But no, it was not as bad as all that. The child’s mother was asleep just behind the wheelbarrow, on her own piece of cardboard, with two other small children and a baby beside her. I felt ashamed of every complaint I had uttered in the country, and every privilege I possessed and would continue to enjoy. How could children be dead asleep on a sidewalk at high noon? What had they done the night before?

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