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  • juliadestefano

Updated: Aug 28


   Ever since I can remember, I have loved pudding. As a little girl, I muddled around my grandmother's kitchen, watching her make chocolate pudding on the stove. My grandfather would sit on the stool, watching the goings-on from the countertop as he always did when she and I were in the kitchen together. I can still see him there in his knit tan sweater. Grandmother would serve the puddings hot in sundae cups. The tops were significantly thicker - "pudding skin singles" as George Costanza once affectionately called them in an episode of Seinfeld. I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the tops. To say that homemade chocolate pudding became a sort of a thing is an understatement. Though exclusive to grandmother's kitchen at the time and therefore, a delicacy, I came to associate pudding with comfort food.


  At some point, we graduated from pudding in cups to the no-bake pudding pie. It was a wonder to behold - chocolate pudding pie with Cool Whip nestled in graham cracker crust. I had always been a s'mores girl, and this dessert seemed to marry all the ingredients together. Best of all, it didn't have to be made on-demand like the s'mores did. As I never could achieve the same level of satisfaction from store-bought pudding, the caveat remained the same: it had to be homemade. At this, pudding pie became the dessert - made by my grandmother, then my mother, and now me. You would think that, for Italians, we would have a more elaborate and heritage-oriented dessert. While those certainly exist in my family, the pudding pie has remained a fixture throughout the generations - perhaps for its ease, versatility, and the fact that it tastes even better the next day.


  As I began sketching out this piece last night, I had just finished my last spoonful of that melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, the fluff of the Cool Whip upon my tongue, the crunch of the graham cracker, the chocolate sprinkles serving as garnish and somehow pulling it all together. Every now and then, I hear a call for chocolate that refuses to be ignored. Lately, I have been singing that Spandau Ballet song in my head. If this is indeed, the "sound of my soul," then you would think my soul would be sweeter! Instead, it just feels uneasy.  To be fair, though, I don't know of a soul right now that doesn't feel some degree of uneasiness. I find myself thinking of the quote, "know thyself," and what that looks like at this time in living history. If I am wise, it is because I know who I am, what I need, and what triggers me. If I am wise, it is because I know that the whole of me matters. I know that I am the Pie, every inch of me worthy of being savored like a pudding pie or that apple pie I will no doubt transition to making come September. 


 Because I am the Pie, I know the importance of passionate prosperity. I know that real richness - true value - lies in applying focus to our relationships with each other. I didn't always know this, and my thoughts trail to a friend who passed away by suicide one year ago today. I had so many opportunities to spend time with him that I did not take advantage of. I had lost myself in life - in things that I thought were major that ended up being trivialities in the long run. That's not to say such "things" weren't important or even big in their own way, but I never should have traded my relationship with my friend - or potential lover or partner, (who knows?) - for them. Our story went unfinished. I don't want any more unfinished stories, as I realize now how important it is to prioritize special bonds. My friend never knew what he meant to me because I didn’t show him my heart through my actions - in this case, by making the time for him - and he wasn’t the first. Having always been on my own quest for self-improvement, I struggled with channeling energy into my relationships. I didn't realize that relationships are part of self-improvement in that they allow us to experience love and to know love, among other things.


  I carry some degree of pain inside. I think we all do. But I can’t help but think of it as another lesson in not letting something important slip away, and I am reminded of “Wild Horses” in which Mick sings: “I just can’t let you slide through my hands.” Joy is the harmonizing of two hungers, two smiles, of eyes that talk to each other - desirous of living because we don't last forever - and we yearn to feel it. Only when we focus on the relationships that bring us joy and make time for them do we increase security and stability in our world, which serves to influence everything else - and I think about the emptiness that comes over me at the end of every August, and how I just don’t want to go it alone anymore. I think about how much better I am when I love and am loved. I think about my emotional tank and how it feels so very empty when I am not getting my basic needs met - often when connections become sporadic. Affection and support create stronger foundations, worth their weight in gold. Reciprocity is one of the most valuable things that we can offer another, yet the natural push and pull of life can challenge even the strongest of connections.

The Pie knows and accepts this. But I also know that it’s what we do in the face of challenge that matters most, especially where love is concerned. A lover needs to see this effort from us, just as a dear friend would also need to see it. I know the importance of the phrase "each other" and what it should look like to be present for someone I love - even on my "off" days because I need that consistency and believe that the other person deserves it, too. Anything less hurts my heart because I don't know where I stand amid the red light-yellow light confusion. I strive to find the sweet spot within a meaningful connection, and remain where the light is steadily green. As we were designed for connection both inside and outside, my soul wants fullness, freedom, and union. Reciprocated connection is the thing.


  It isn't about the desire to "lasso the love" out of someone but rather, the quiet comfort in knowing that someone is choosing to be present because you matter to them - because they have decided that they can live without you, but they don't want to - because while there are no doubt other things going on in their life that you may never know, they recognize that you are also an important part of it. Let us not forget that silence can speak very loudly. The Librarian - I mean, the Pie - should know. There comes a time when the scariest thing isn't to take a risk to change but instead, to sit back and allow things to remain the same. Clarity prefers clarity, and I find myself re-working that line from Hamlet in my head: We shall not look upon each other's like again.  


Let's find the time

to do the things

that we only have time to do once

because the love is there,

and we matter. 

There will never be another you

or me

or you and me. 

What turns you on?

If it's me,

then hurry up please.

It's time.  


"Take your seaside arms, and write the next line,"

The Red Queen



  • juliadestefano

  Back in April, at the height of "pandemic hopelessness" and long before the dreaded "It's OK to not be OK" commercials took root, I wrote a piece called: It's OK to Almost not be OK. I'm not unaccustomed to having my heart metaphorically bleed when I write. Boy, did it gush during this. I finished the piece while sitting by the picture window, awaiting the start of a drive-by funeral. In that surreal moment, overcome by a combination of immense sadness and disgust at what the world had come to, and feeling so powerless, I decided to subtitle it: Looking Through the Lens of Leaning-in.


  Since the very beginning of enforced lockdown and subsequent isolation, I had been reflecting on the idea of "leaning-in" and on the preservation of those relationships we can live without but don't want to. Though it was only March, I saw the emotional implications of lockdown right away, and they scared me. The unpredictability of everything scared me. It still does, though my fear is colored with more than a tinge of frustration these days. As the country was trying to make sense of the pandemic, it wasn't really appropriate to speak about such feelings, so I covertly wrote on them. It was SpillWords that gave me the audience I needed to feel sane through our living history - embracing a poem of mine called "Quicksand" that was centered on what I called the "loneliness epidemic" (see below for the poem). To my shock and relief, "Quicksand" ended up being one of the most popular writings on the site. I couldn't help but marvel at how, seemingly overnight, topics that had once been considered taboo or insensitive in the face of the pandemic were now widely-accepted. More and more articles began to pop up on major news outlets that were focused on depressive feelings, hopelessness, and overwhelming fears of both internal and external losses.   


   I was already feeling compelled to write on what it means to "lean-in." But the public's new, widespread shift towards personal emotions and the importance of relationships gave me the push I needed to see my vision through. The act of leaning-in during a pandemic certainly looks different to the giver and feels different to the receiver. But its preciousness knows no bounds. There are no words to describe what leaning-in can do for someone who is otherwise feeling so alone. I think of a friend of mine who I speak with, in some shape or form, everyday - often multiple times a day - and what that means to us both as we navigate the murky waters of heightened aloneness, and pray for better days.


  I knew I had to dig deep if I hoped to write anything of lasting substance. Could I somehow "paint" a picture vivid enough to retain personal meaning, yet also be relatable to anyone who happened to read my piece down the road? My head flooded with scenarios and images. I don't really think of myself as a prose writer, but there is something to be said about pouring oneself onto paper in that way. Ideas that I would normally infuse with poetic language were suddenly naked before me. I put them down in their rawest form. I have always believed in writing to heal. The messier it is, the more real it is. At the same time, that is what made this piece so difficult to write. Then the mug tipped over, and the piece began writing itself.  


  Today, SpillWords published It's OK to Almost not be OK: Looking Through the Lens of Leaning-in. Though I wrote it months ago and thankfully, life has improved some, it feels every bit as important to me now as it did then. It is a happy, special thing to see something so personal granted a wide audience. Maybe, just maybe, I can help to keep the conversation surrounding leaning-in alive - because we absolutely need to be thinking about the people in our lives right now and what they mean to us, and doing all we can to nurture those connections that truly ignite something in our heart and soul. People don't really know what they mean to us unless we show them.


To maintain personal truths in a Twilight Zone-d reality - that is the way it should start,

The Red Queen




  • juliadestefano

There's no telling if, how, or when a written piece will take on a life of its own.


But here we are.


In art, as in life, intention + action = magic, as long as we keep our light on

and we never, ever let communication get lost


because life is challenge and change,

but real love is a rare and beautiful gift existing beyond rituals of seduction.

Hearts come equipped knowing this - if we'd only tune into their frequency.


Yours in actionable love. Cue the Foreigner song,

The Red Queen



© 2020  Julia R. DeStefano

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