Twenty sixteen

redstarsingersWell, my friends, I don’t know if you enjoyed yesterday’s post, but I hope so. Please check out this link, which is a recording of the song ‘Pig Nixon’. It’s worth a listen, I promise.  Click the ‘more’ below the video and you can read all the words. I was delighted to read in the notes:

“In the ’60’s a lot of spirituals and rock ‘n’ roll songs were overhauled to become freedom songs for civil rights demonstrators. ‘Pig Nixon’ comes from ‘Oh Wallace,’ (‘…you’re never gonna jail us all’) which people sang in Alabama. We use ‘Pig Nixon’ as an all-purpose song, writing verses for the occasion, each verse about a current issue.”

I read that as an invitation, if not an exhortation (noun: an address or communication emphatically urging someone to do something) for another rewrite. Someone please come up with some new words and transform ‘Oh Wallace’, which became ‘Pig Nixon’ into…? We have issues aplenty these days, have we not?

I am quite ambivalent about the blog-o-sphere, particularly my place in it. I don’t want more people to follow me and read my ramblings.  So don’t misread my next request…

I really want to encourage folks to write protest songs for 2016. We need ‘em. So, I’m asking you to spread the word, not about my blog, but just get the idea out there to any singer-songwriters you know who might be receptive. And ask them to tell others. The creative arts may be one of the best ways to fight this fight. Plenty of other practical suggestions are being made and I support them all, particularly excessive amounts of human kindness. It would be fun to have a song or two to hum.

You may remember that the title of this blog is EatingArtWork and that I have written many posts, both personal and more general, about food, the food industry and so on. I’ve just learned about an organization called Civil Eats, which is “a daily news source for critical thought about the American food system. [They] publish stories that shift the conversation around sustainable agriculture in an effort to build economically and socially just communities.” I’ve put in a link to one article that caught my attention.  nablopomo_badge_2016

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Mourning, Gratitude

turtle-tanAh, the hoopla of Thanksgiving: family, a traditional meal, football games and the official start of the Holiday season. The shopping frenzy of Black Friday has become as iconic as the images of turkeys and Pilgrim hats. That’s not to mention Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

Being grateful for our blessings should be a given, everyday. I wince a bit thinking how much the idea of giving thanks has been relegated to this single day. As the ‘good will to men[sic], peace on earth’ message appears each year in December and is not in evidence in July or March. My cynical self notes the many un-peaceful actions that so often arise during the stressful weeks leading up to the gift giving celebrations.

I am especially aware of the mourning that our national holiday neglects to mention, but which is at the core of the Thanksgiving ‘story’. It is vitally important that we honor the millions of indigenous people, here in this country (and all over the world) who’ve been systematically murdered and displaced. In addition to supporting the activists at Standing Rock and other protests, I’ve embarked on some self-education.

Here is the link to a Native American Indian website that I recommend. I was fascinated, as a girl, by the stories of the Lenni Lenape people who originally lived in what is now northern New Jersey. My hometown of Hackensack is one of dozens of local place names that derived from the language of this Algonquin tribe. This site brings together a wealth of information and links to more information about North and South American indigenous peoples.

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Wandering

Searching for something to write about for the blog today, I scrolled futilely through dozens of old pieces of writing. I thought ‘maybe I can just recycle something or maybe I’ll be ‘inspired’… But nothing pops for me. Too many pieces that are examinations of past miseries and I want to be done with that stuff, in the same way I do not want to dwell on the results of the election. Gotta move on somehow.    trails1

Another batch of the old writing, which I find more interesting, relates to my long-standing project of collecting Food Life Stories. I must say that ‘long-standing’ is an apt description, because it seems that the endeavor has been standing still for months. Months which add up to years.

A conversation with friends at supper last night rekindled my excitement about conducting the interviews and gathering these stories. But I still don’t know how I can use the raw, first person data I’ve accumulated.      I need a writing coach!         Wait, I am a writing coach. Physician, heal thyself.

I think I’ve returned to the topic of time. I’ve already acknowledged that managing money was never a strength of mine.   Many years spent reading what writers have to say about writing has underscored the fact that it takes commitment and sacrifice to write. I have echoed this simple fact endlessly during four decades of teaching writing and coaching writers. To cop a line from the Declaration of Independence… I hold this truth to be self-evident…

Perhaps I am stuck on the sacrifice, as much as the commitment. To give up time with friends and family seems impossible. To deny my desires to read, cook, garden, nap or (now) draw can seem equally difficult. So, once again I conclude that I am not really a writer. And I trash myself and my aspirations.

Yeah, how’s that working out for you, CJ?        nablopomo_badge_2016

Well, its not.

Thyme

thyme I am not punning, although I do enjoy puns. Yesterday’s post was drafted the day before, since I knew that I would be spending a full day involved in funereal affairs. Wish I could share some of the stories, but I believe it is best not to broadcast family business, especially when it is dicey.

Last night I was too depleted to fully register my exhaustion. Today I am body tired, brain tired, bone tired, heart tired, tired to my core. Tired and sore, actually. I think the sore can be traced to the effort it took to ‘hold it together’. The muscular tightness required to behave ‘like a lady’ in circumstances that cried out for extreme name-calling and the release of minor physical assault. Okay, that is enough.

So today, I spent some quiet time sifting through my thyme. A bundle of the herb, which I harvested a few weeks ago, is now fully dried. The fragrant and delicious leaves must be separated from the tiny twigs. It is at once pains-taking and soothing. I only do a small portion at a time, building a little nest of discarded twigs beside my winnowing basket. The connection with the tiny-leafed thyme growing in my summer garden and the winter soups, stews and roasted chicken that will receive large pinches of these leaves brings me pleasure. This is time well spent.

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Truly

A friend recently told me about a wonderful weekly newsletter called Brain Pickings, written by Maria Popova. Now in its tenth year, this gift, which arrives in my inbox each Sunday is quite a treasure. In very tiny print, above the masthead (I started my writing life an aspiring journalist) it says:

Reflections on the rewards of seeking out what magnifies your spirit.

Then I think about the masthead quote on the NY Times: ‘All the news that’s fit to print’ and I consider the dis-spiriting nature of so much that is reported as news these days. To be honest, I often think that I am “too busy” and file Brain Pickings, planning to “read it later”, but I intend to start making time. Her writing is nutritious and healing and who doesn’t need that? I could go on and on about the glory and richness of this enterprise, but I urge you to take a look for yourself… a treasure trove of deeply thoughtful writing.

A few weeks ago, Popova wrote about Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher and writer whose work I read back in my college days. Some of his ideas I absorbed and retain, but I have not thought of him, except perhaps in a crossword puzzle context, for years. Imagine my surprise when I found this quote. It would have been fairly meaningless to me as a twenty-something, but strikes right to the heart of my sixty-something quest for self.

“What have you truly loved thus far? What has ever uplifted your soul, what has dominated and delighted it at the same time?” Assemble these revered objects in a row before you and perhaps they will reveal a law by their nature and their order: the fundamental law of your very self. Compare these objects, see how they complement, enlarge, outdo, transfigure one another; how they form a ladder on whose steps you have been climbing up to yourself so far…

What have I truly loved thus far? That is a powerful question. Each time I read it, or consider it even peripherally, something starts churning inside of me. I want to know the answer and I can tell that I do know the answer. I need only the courage to acknowledge these ‘revered objects’ that have ‘uplifted my soul’, dominating and delighting me at the same time. So I have begun remembering and assembling a list of these things that I have loved, seeking to understand my ‘very self’. Seeking to reconnect with those sparks of  joy.

One love that I discovered, perhaps re-discovered, a few years ago is what led me to creating this website and thereafter to this blog. While participating in an Artist’s Way workshop, I had to do a little drawing as part of an assignment. I can’t remember what it was; something like a floor plan or a map, I think. What I do remember is the realization that I had gotten happily lost in the project. It was just so much fun, playing with colors.

A high school art teacher had told me that I could not draw, therefore I did not draw. My family, fully cooperating with the scarcity mentality, agreed with her. My sister was a talented artist. I was the writer. Cannot exceed one of each per family, that’s the rule, right? But I truly loved doing this little drawing, so I started drawing pictures of food and writing little essays around the drawings. I called it Eating Art Work.

The other day, after a fairly long hiatus, I picked up my pencil and artists markers and – boom – the experience was powerfully fun once again. I lost myself in the pleasure of the work or in the words of Nietzsche, my soul was dominated and delighted at the same time. Here is a little piece of the drawing I made, based on the framework of an online project called TDAC. Check it out. This is part of my recipe for One Hour Chili. I’ll be doing a second draft and then I will share it here.

TDC chili NaBloPoMo_2015

 

 

 

Lists

I would like to meet someone who never makes lists. Do you exist? With the up-to-date ability to make lists on smart phones, computers, etc. it is hard to imagine that even list scoffers don’t partake. I have multiple lists going all the time, although I have never made a list of my lists. There are priorities associated with each list: ‘to do today’, long range planning to schedule appointments, a list for the mechanic about car issues, guest lists and gift lists, grocery lists and lists of recommended books and movies.

I have pads of lined paper in all sizes on which to make lists. I also use unlined paper, the back of envelopes and the Notes app on my phone. As a lifelong grocery shopper, I have to say that a grocery list on my phone doesn’t work for me. The phone keeps shutting down, so I have to wake it up, over and over. Also I don’t carry it in my hand – how can you reach for food or packages with one hand occupied? – so I have to take it out of my pocket all the time. I also keep lists on this here computer, especially long lists and lists that need to have information updated frequently. Mostly I write lists in pencil, so that I can keep them neat, if changes are necessary. Occasionally ink is fine, but I will generally seek out a pencil before using a marker or other odd writing implement.

Most of the time, things are crossed off, as they are accomplished. I’ve experimented with erasing each finished task, but then I missed the pleasure of seeing exactly what I had done. There was just a piece of paper with eraser crumbs and ghost writing on it. Nah, I need a little more feedback, approbation, you know? Sometimes the quantity of lists, or half completed lists becomes chaotic. Then I have the opportunity to rework the lists by combining and reprioritizing. As time passes, I discover that some ‘to do’ items can become more urgent, or they can slip out of the picture altogether.

And then there is the disposal of lists. There is a certain satisfaction in crumpling up the paper into a ball and tossing it across the room, into the recycle bin. The eternal question is whether list keeping reduces stress or adds to stress. If trying to remember things, trying to carry too much in my head stresses me out, then a list is good. It can take up the burden. However, listed items become ‘shoulds’ far too often. They sit there on the paper – where I wrote them – and they shake their fingers at me, scolding. This is not right. When I was younger and trusted my memory more, I would sometimes try not making a list and just do whatever came to mind in whatever order it arrived. That was way before becoming a mother.

Now, for my traditional visit to the dictionary. I wanted to see what it had to say about the word ‘listless’. Curious – does it mean without a list, plan, priorities? Well, Webster says:

listless, adjective (of a person or their manner) lacking energy or enthusiasm

ORIGIN: Middle English, from obsolete list [appetite, desire] + -less .

Wait a minute! Does that mean that list once meant appetite or desire? Better check up on the definition of list itself: [Please note that I am leaving out the definitions that relate to jousting and fabric.]

list , noun

1 a number of connected items or names written or printed consecutively, typically one below the other

a set of items considered as being in the same category or having  a particular order of priority.

ORIGIN: late 16th century, from French liste, of Germanic origin.

 

 list, verb [transitive]

1 make a list of

(often be listed) include or enter in a list.

ORIGIN: early 17th century, of unknown origin.

list, noun: desire; inclination

ORIGIN: Old English lystan (verb), of Germanic origin, from a base meaning, pleasure.

Okay, there we have it. I think?

Old English maybe, or Germanic or French or unknown in origin. Obsolete, maybe or perhaps early 17th century.

Maybe having to do, originally, linguistically, with appetite, desire, inclination or even pleasure. Hmm. Does that relate at all to how I/we think of or use lists today?

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Receiving

Receiving, or letting people help you. Not easy in our independence-minded, survivalist, lone cowboy culture. I like to think of myself as above or outside of all that bs, but in fact, it has its tentacles in my psyche as much as anyone else. It’s a rewrite of the standard aphorism, but for me (and many of us, I think) it’s far easier to give than to receive. And I’m questioning why. Do I not want to admit weakness? Do I not want to become dependent? Or, horrors, am I afraid to be beholden to others?

Giving makes me feel good. I know, I’ve posted recently about the downside and dangers of care-taking. But when someone is in need, it is ‘instinctive’ (and what do I mean by that?) to want to help. Often that means cooking something: for someone who has been ill, had surgery, has a new baby or a death in the family. That’s old timey, neighborly, ‘we take care of each other’ giving. Akin to shoveling snow for someone who is elderly or giving someone a ride to the airport, right? And of course there is gift giving, something that can become a costly (in time and money) obsession at this time of year.

But that’s not what I’m trying to examine here. It’s hard for me to look at this ‘rejection of receiving’ issue. Makes me uncomfortable. What is it about wanting to believe that I am self-reliant and supremely competent? I’m searching for words and understanding, but I can tell that there is a defensiveness to this automatic stance. I’ve come to believe that it is ‘smart’ to hire professionals to do certain jobs for me. Where I might have once felt some embarrassment, I now see these as sensible choices. It’s the more personal help that is harder to accept and nearly impossible to request.

I think ‘should’ and ‘guilt’ are probably operative words here. I should be able to ‘handle this’ on my own. I feel guilty when I cannot. Or when my need is somehow visible, so obvious that a friend will offer to bring me a meal or take care of me in some way. Ah, there it is: a glimmer of, a dawn of understanding. It is about shame after all. The drive to hide any family imperfections was paramount in my childhood.   Also known as the imperative to maintain proper appearances, even if that required creating an illusion. In reading some of my old writing last month, I came across a fabulous line. When I read it, I laughed out loud. Understated, but it captures the ethos: “You never share reality.”

That was written in a notebook, what I would consider private writing. Now I am putting it out there. Doesn’t matter who reads it; the impact for me comes from having ‘said’ it. It may be that a lot of the writing I have done and continue to do, certainly what I share here, is almost a direct response to that interdiction.  The thing about ‘receiving’ is that to do so, you have to choose to let people see the real you.  The drumbeat, the chant of all I have found helpful and healing over the years is this:

Share your reality.

Just “me having a bit of thought about this…”.

 

 

 

The Care & Feeding of Friends(hip)

I believe it was Descartes who said: “I think, therefore, I am.” I could say, or certainly in the past could say, “I feed, therefore, I am.” This is (has been), obviously, not always a good thing. Particularly when used against myself, as in “My worthiness is determined by my service to others… i.e. feeding them.” But that is the shadow side. There is so much that gives me pleasure about feeding others. I am proud of my knowledge and my skills and I love to share them, as well as the resulting food for consumption. Random associations include:

  • long time friend JR saying: “Cathy used to bake all the time… ” which recalls the years when I worked as a baker and constantly baked sweets at home for my friends;
  • talking with a young mother about ways to put together quick, easy, nutritious and varied pureed food for her baby;
  • making a Key Lime pie for my elderly grandmother every Christmas for 15 years;
  • cooking up large batches of Guatemalan black beans and rice for family and friends;
  • trying new recipes and food/flavor combinations;
  • playing with fresh produce or herbs from my own garden or a farmers market…

Many happy memories. I am quite sure that I could continue adding to this list for a long time and that it would more than out weigh [sic] the ‘cooking as a responsibility and burden’ occasions that are also a part of my history. And I do want to share my thoughts about the subject line: The Care and Feeding of Friends and Friendship.

Nurturing is what makes a friendship strengthen and grow, just as feeding a child is essential for its growth and development. Sharing food is an elemental manner of nurturing; preparing the food adds another layer to the connection. In virtually every culture, the act of eating together represents an essential bond for family and community. There is some powerful magic that can happen when humans focus on their food, setting aside, even briefly, the contentious stresses of everyday life. Sitting together to eat or drink can bring forth the conversational sharing that solidifies relationships. I’m not saying that people must share meals in order to have healthy meaningful friendships, but it doesn’t hurt, does it?

Alright, I am going to move away from this warm fuzziness for a bit, because I need to share something from Caitlin Moran’s book, which I mentioned yesterday, How To Be a Woman. I’m just going to put the raw material out there, which for some reason I’ve avoided doing in this blog, thus far. I think that I’ve begun to understand why I shied away from putting it out there.  When I first read it, it knocked the wind out of me, in both a good way and a terrifying way. Good, because she put into words something that had been my experience, but I could never have articulated. Terrifying, well, for the same reason, I guess. It explains a piece of my personal psychology and experience, in part by placing it in a larger cultural context, which is devastating in its simplicity, obviousness and outrageousness.

from How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

[The fact is that]… people overeat for exactly the same reason they drink, smoke, serially f**k around or take drugs.  In this trancelike state, you can find welcome, temporary relief from thinking [and feeling]… Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction and self-obliteration. You get all the temporary release of drinking, f**king or taking drugs, but without… ever being left in a state where you can’t remain responsible and cogent.

In a nutshell, then, by choosing food as your drug… you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, pop in on your mum and then stay up all night with an ill five-year-old… something that is not an option if you are [shooting/snorting drugs] or… knocking back quarts of Scotch.

Overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of f**king yourself up while still remaining functional, because you have to.

Fat people aren’t indulging in the ‘luxury’ of their addiction making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead they are self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that’s why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.     [Emphasis is mine.]

Well, it happened again. Every time I read this, I am struck dumb by the truth of it and the power of it. In one fell swoop it deconstructs so much for me about addiction (of all kinds) and women, food, care-taking and responsibility.

I encourage you to check out the whole book, which is, as stated by the reviewer I quoted yesterday “… as much attitude as analysis. … in equal measure, intellectual, rebel[lious] and goof[y].”  Or at least to take a look at this article about the chapter from which these lines are drawn: I Am Fat. Moran describes a visit to a friend in a British rehab center who reveals to her the ‘ranking’ of addictions being treated there. And Moran plays out a pointed and hysterical tale about dysfunctional and beloved rock and roll musicians, whose behavior and unreliability are forgiven and somewhat glorified.   What if they used food instead of drugs? They would show up for every performance, but how would their fans react to the fact that they look not wasted, but fat?

In closing, a comment about an editorial in today’s Boston Globe. It expresses a very sensible opinion, with reference to some very interesting research about food labeling. You can find the full text here.  But…

Can someone please tell me why the editorial writers or staff decided to include a photograph of two XXXL women, taken from behind, which emphasizes their XXXL butts? The headline is One soda = a five mile walk. The research tracked the behavior of black teenagers. So, is this choice of image perhaps playing to the basest responses of the reader? Is it about shaming? Misogyny? Shock value? Comedy?

It is cruel and wrong, wrong, wrong. They ought to be ashamed of themselves, for furthering erroneous stereotypes.  It makes me so mad.