Tuesday, October 26, 2010

sugar maple turn

I recently (like, yesterday) read a book by the poet/mortician Thomas Lynch, Bodies In Motion and At Rest. He speaks with eloquence, humor, and a caustic sort of understatement about death and words, how they relate and don't, what he's learned from each of them. It's quite good. I haven't read much of his poetry, but this poem was included in the book and I liked it so here it is, for you so you can hopefully enjoy it as well. He said that it arose from his solution to writer's block: take one object in your house, one object you can see from your house, one thing you read in the paper, and one thing you saw on television, and then try to relate them all.

A Note On The Rapture To His True Love

A blue bowl on the table in the dining room
fills with sunlight. From a sunlit room
I watch my neighbor's sugar maple turn
to shades of gold. It's late September. Soon...
Soon as I'm able I intend to turn
to gold myself. Somewhere I've read that soon
they'll have a formula for prime numbers
and once they do, the world's supposed to end
the way my neighbor always said it would -
in fire. I'll bet we'll all be given numbers
divisible by One and by themselves
and told to stand in line the way you would
for prime cuts at the butcher's. In the end,
maybe it's every man for himself.
Maybe it's someone hollering All Hands on
Deck! Abandon Ship! Women and Children First!
Anyway I'd like to get my hands on
you. I'd like to kiss your eyelids and make love
as if it were our last time, or the first,
or else the one and only form of love
divisible by which I yet remain myself.
Mary, folks are disappearing one by one.
They turn to gold and vanish like the leaves
of sugar maples. But we can save ourselves.
We'll pick our own salvations, one by one,
from a blue bowl full of sunlight until none is left.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

of soup and friendship

Today I had a genuine day off, the first in far too long. I didn't do much: read a bit, drank coffee alone at my desk--I've fashioned myself a bit of a me-corner, with photos and my computer and a notepad and a green plant that smells like limes when you rub the leaves--embroiled myself in some various forms of correspondence, and called it a day. For the first time in weeks and weeks I felt like I wasn't running myself ragged, and god, that felt good. I wasn't entirely unproductive, though. I made soup.

My friend Rose-Anne and I did this thing a while back that we called the Tandem Posting Project; every other week we choose a topic and we both wrote a post about our reflections on and around that idea. We talked about long-distance friendships, favorite recipes, and even dirt, but eventually writer's block and a trip to Europe got in the way and we haven't resumed yet. I feel guilty about this, but I'm uncertain I'm up to the task of writing anything--much less something topical and with a deadline--and so the project has languished in a corner of my mind, waiting. But tonight I made a soup from Rose-Anne's blog, a pumpkin soup with chewy hominy and tangy tomatillos that I just freaking loved, and it occurred to me that I have a pumpkin soup recipe of my own to offer up. And so! A homage to the on-hiatus Tandem Posting Project.

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

The funny thing is that even though I've been utterly overwhelmed by basically everything lately, my cooking has been going really well. I cook nearly every night, mostly new recipes, and I'm more willing to adapt things all willy-nilly and just sort of go with what I think will be good. Sometimes this is mediocre--there was a weird cauliflower moment a few weeks ago, for instance--but often it's not too bad. This recipe is loosely adapted from (seriously, folks) www.pumpkinsoup.org, a website dedicated entirely to pumpkin soup recipes. I've never had much of a love for sweet soups, so it was a relief to discover last year that there were good savory ones out in the world, lovingly collated by some pumpkin soup aficionado out there for my own personal benefit. This one--it's in the International Pumpkin Soups section--has bite and creaminess, and I love the use of black beans, chilies, and coconut milk together.

Rose-Anne, this recipe isn't as elegant as yours always are. I'm afraid my memory is bad, and I don't always remember what it is that I do when I cook. I don't measure or time, and this might well be wrong in several different ways, so be vigilant if you try this at home. Consider this a rough draft, but one that I believe will work just fine. I enjoyed your soup, and if I ever refine mine I'll serve it to you some autumn visit.

2-3 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
2-4 cloves garlic, diced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp thyme
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 can pumpkin puree or equivalent amount fresh pumpkin puree
4 cups vegetable broth
4-6 cups water
2 cans black beans
1 can coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
lime juice to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot, and saute the onion until it begins to become translucent. Add the jalapeño, garlic, cumin, and thyme and saute for another minute. Add the broth, water, and sweet potato to the pot and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer until the sweet potato becomes very soft, roughly ten to fifteen minutes. Coarsely mash with a potato masher, then add the pumpkin and black beans and simmer for ten more minutes, adding more water if the soup seems too thick. Add the coconut milk, salt and pepper. Serve with lime juice on the side, to taste.

Friday, October 15, 2010

the secret garden

“[S]ecrecy hides far more than what is private. A private garden need not be a secret garden; a private life is rarely a secret life.” –Sissela Bok

…but what about where the private life is a secret garden and it has always been off-limits to you? And what if you respect those limits because you think you know what’s inside them? It’s you who would be keeping secrets then…” –Sue Halpern

When I was a kid my dad would go on weeks-long working trips in the Grand Canyon, and while he was gone my mom and I would stay up all night together watching Politically Incorrect and then whatever came on after Politically Incorrect or old Hitchcock films, eating food that I can’t even mention without shuddering now, stuff we never ate during daylight hours or when my dad was home. We once stayed up until 2 AM together watching a show about people with weird “supernatural” abilities because I was insistent that I wanted to see an old woman called the Human Cork. Another night my mom read me the infamous vomit scene from Steven King’s The Body (the filmed sequence in Stand By Me really can’t compare) and we laughed until tears rolled down our faces, until my entire body hurt and we were stifling giggles, trying not to wake my sister. Those nights, and that night in particular, I felt closer to her than I ever have before or since. I think it’s because we were sharing a secret, because we’d made a privacy out of the two of us and it existed independent of the rest of our lives.

But what is private, and what is secret? I’ve been going over these questions a lot lately, as it is obvious to me that a decrease in my immediate access to privacy, not to mention solitude, caused some pretty severe distress, mentally and emotionally. And here’s something: as the amount of privacy I had decreased, the amount of secrecy I required increased pretty dramatically. As the amount of time I had to engage with myself on a one-to-one basis (so to speak) began to disappear, I found myself retreating in lockstep into behaviors that felt furtive, like I needed to hide away some stolen moments for myself like a squirrel with a cache of nuts for the hard times ahead. I went invisible on gchat, I only listened to music when I was alone; when I got a night to myself all I ate was instant mashed potatoes just like my mom would have, and as I ate I think I understood her a little bit better. I think I’ve desperately needed control over some part of my life, and so I began controlling tiny things and calling them secrets, actions that were only for me. Maybe it was the same for her, and I’m retrospectively proud to have been let in on the game.

Secrets aren’t inherently bad, and I think that actually they’re one of the keys into the mystery of desire for solitude. Privacy, at least in the American sense, means getting to choose what you want to show other people, and secrets are what you choose not to show. You can share privacy with as many people as you care to, but secrecy is usually a more personal matter. Most of my secrets are silly: foods that I only eat while alone, the need for an occasional night where I drink too much wine and read and get all adamant in my journal about the nature of beauty or whatever. Others carry more weight, but I find I’m bad at keeping the big ones. If it’s important enough, it’s usually important enough that I want to discuss it. Either way, the less privacy I have the more important my secrets become because, when I don’t have as much control over my privacy my secrets start to define more clearly who I am when I’m alone.

Because even though my secrets feel silly and small to me, I hold them close because they remind me of who I am as a solo entity, when it’s just me in here and out there and I’m not thinking about anybody else at all. No matter how much I care about them, other people are always a factor to be considered when I think about what I want to happen next, another variable that I can’t control. My small secrets wouldn’t hold up to the scrutiny of others, and so they become a symbolic stand-in for the solitude that is no longer as prevalent in my life as it was a year ago. The joys of eating gross comfort food or of a solo listen-through of a favorite cd increase exponentially when these actions become secret; they become precious, because they are for me and me alone. I could let other people in if I chose—as my mother did with me during those long preteen nights together—and sometimes I do (I just told y’all about the instant mashed potatoes, for instance), but for now I’m mostly guarding them carefully. A secret is insurance against the encroachment of others, no matter how welcome that entrance might be. Sometimes, you just need something that belongs only to you.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

sweet home

Over the weekend I moved, of all things. We’d been looking at places, weighing the merits of a three-bedroom, a two-bedroom, or two one-bedrooms--being in a triad complicates housing, among other things--before deciding on the last option, but the move was still an almost complete surprise. We filled out an application for a one-bedroom in a designated low-income complex, which turns out to be an incredibly complicated process, and it took a week to get all the paperwork—proving our residency, ability to pay rent, income, job status, etc.—sufficiently completed. Eventually, however, we were declared officially poor (we're half a yuppie, my boyfriend says) and on Friday we were finally approved; because of my work schedule, we decided against all common sense to move on Monday.

Whew, is all I have to say. I feel like I haven’t sat still in days, between work and moving and cleaning the old place and being in the very baby beginning stages of setting up the new apartment. But even though this apartment is still overrun with full boxes and empty bookshelves (Don’t even freaking ask me how many boxes of books we had. A LOT) and my spices are all buried beneath some blankets in the giant box that nearly killed me getting up the stairs, I’m already ridiculously happier than I was. I think this apartment will be an excellent argument for space’s impact on mental health.

I wrote a few months ago about how my apartment, my old apartment, had gone rather suddenly from being just a space I lived in to being a home. Well, shortly after that it went from being a home to being something else entirely. My space, while perfect for one inhabitant, proved to be entirely too small for two cohabitants (two and a half, really, since my girlfriend was visiting for about half of every week), two cats, and more books than you can shake a stick at. The apartment went from cozy to claustrophobic, and my insomnia and the lack of a second room to flee to led to me spending many, many nights quelling my restlessness in the bathroom, writing with my back braced against the tub. It made me so sad, watching a place I loved become something akin to prison, someplace that made me itch to leave almost as soon as I entered. People would laugh when I told them I’d spent the wee hours hanging out in my own bathroom, but really it made me deeply sorrowful and more than a little crazy-feeling. If you aren’t home when you’re home, what’s left?

Here, even with the boxes, there is already space. It’s been so long since I’ve lived somewhere with, for instance, a hallway. There are three closets. I set up the bones of my kitchen tonight and my god, I choked up: a full-sized, brand-new stove and refrigerator greeted me when we got here, and there’s even room for a bookshelf. My cookbooks are finally home as well, it seems. It’s almost alarming, the space. A coffee table, really? I am so in love with the idea of what this can become for me, geographically and creatively, that I can barely wait. I hope to be writing at my desk in the living room soon instead of the bathroom; I hope to drink coffee on the couch in the morning and write my goddamn heart out. The worst part about losing my sense of home was that I couldn’t write a word. I hope the drought is over, or at least beginning to be over.

But here’s to new homes, to sharing space with loved ones while preserving your own life, to being happy where you are. Loving where I am makes me want to love the whole damn world, and having a home makes all the difference. I think I’ll love it here.