Almond cake with jam and chocolate

IMG_5247“You know how people mostly draw Yin and Yang as fish?”
“Um, I guess…”
“What if they drew them as wolves instead, packs of black and white wolves?”
“That’s a picture I’d like to see.”
“Of course the chances of it happening are almost zero. But there’s not a completely zero chance of anything.”
“So anything is possible?”
“Yes, everything is possible,” said Isaac trotting down the street and singing, “Yin and yang, sucker. Yin and yang, Sucker!”
I’m in concurrence with Isaac on this one. I believe anything is possible. I always have. I believe most things some of the time. I believe some things most of the time. I believe there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. I believe there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. I believe in chance and coincidence and luck. I believe if I play a game of solitaire in the morning, whether I win or lose reflects how other things in my life might turn out. Not that it will change the outcome, but it will predict it, like the augers of ancient Rome. Do I really believe this? Naw, no, of course not. Mostly no. But not zero chance no. And the thing I mostly play for these days is my novel and my stories. Will they ever be published? Will anybody in a position of any power in any editorial department in the world like them at all? Will the next message I get be from somebody who likes my writing? No. No it won’t. It will be from somebody trying to sell me something. Somebody asking for money. I know that. There’s a 99.9% chance of that. And although I honestly believe that most people who get their work published are genuinely talented and deserving, and if something’s really good it will get seen (as they used to tell us at the independent film festivals), I believe for me, if anything gets published it will be sheer dumb luck that the right person sees it and likes it. Despite all of my considerable soul-crushing efforts to contact agents and publishers, it won’t be any of those. It will be some weird connection I didn’t even know I’d made. Like when I’d made my second film and I applied for all kinds of grants and submitted it to all kinds of people, but it was some guy that saw somebody else watching it on a monitor across a crowded room that ended up giving me a grant. And I was thinking that maybe I have a little bit of luck set aside for me on a certain day, and it could go towards stories or novels getting published, but maybe instead I win something stupid in a cereal box, or I get a coupon in the mail for something I don’t even want, and that’s my luck for the day. And then, maybe, I don’t even recognize all the luck I have every day, because it’s bigger than any petty thing I’m thinking about. Maybe I drive down a road at the exact time that flocks of blackbirds are forming and reforming in dizzy formations over my head. Maybe I go for a walk with Malcolm and he tells me “Yellow can be lemon or banana, and I’m cool with both of those.” And then he continues with a reasoned monologue on the merits of various candy flavors despite the fact that I’m laughing so hard I can hardly walk. Maybe that’s the lucky thing, having that chance to be with these crazy people who tell me these crazy things that make me bursting glad to be with them. And I know I know about all the lucky things so precious I can’t even talk and can barely even think rationally about. And of course I believe in fate, too, and meant-to-be, because there’s just as great a chance that this is true as anything else. And I’ll take it, I’m cool with both of those. Yin and yang, sucker, yin and yang.

I’ve been making lots of cakes this winter, because it’s been that kind of winter. One after another. For a while I was making cakes with nuts and jam and chocolate. Because who wouldn’t want a cake with nuts and jam and chocolate?

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Roasted parsnip, pecan, and caramelized shallot pizza

Pecan, parsnip and shallot pizza

Pecan, parsnip and shallot pizza

Well I finally finished reading Zola’s Nana. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get through it. I enjoyed it and admired it; of course it’s  well-written, but the truth is it made me a little sad and it’s hard to spend too much time in Nana’s world. None of the characters treat her very well, and neither does Zola himself. It’s not just that he’s cruel to her with the plot, although he is. He’s not kind to her with his words, or with the words he has her speak. I don’t think it’s intentional on his part. He wanted her to be a sympathetic character, he didn’t want her to be held responsible for all of the destruction that occurs. In his notes about her, which he assembled before he wrote the novel, he describes her as “…good-natured above all else. Follows her nature, but never does harm for heart’s sake, and feels sorry for people.” But just as she becomes “…a ferment of destruction, but without meaning to, simply by means of her sex…” so she also becomes a character Zola can’t completely realize or embrace, because he knows he doesn’t understand her and he fears her power. Zola’s style of writing is very straight-forward and unadorned, almost documentary. I learned in the introduction to my version that Zola published a work called The Experimental Novel around the same time that Nana came out, in which he said that “imagination had no place in the modern world, and that the novelist, like the scientist, should simply observe and record, introducing characters with specific hereditary peculiarities into a given environment–just as the chemist places certain substances in a retort–and then noting down the progress and results of his “experiment.” So Nana reacts to the world around her, and vice versa, because of “hereditary peculiarities” and because she’s a woman. But of course a novel isn’t scientific, and relations between anybody, either real or fictional, are never predictable. Even in reality, we create the people in our life. We take notes on their character, we make decisions about them and expectations about how they’ll act. And sometimes we’re not kind about it, particularly if we don’t understand them or fear them because they’re different from us. For the most part Zola maintains the cool clinical tone of an observer. But to me the novel is most beautiful when people behave unexpectedly, and when Zola’s language bursts through with emotion and poetry. Nana has many lovers, but there’s only one person she seems to actually love, who seems to love her, Satin. Satin calls to her, “Come along! Come along!” and “Nana undressed in the dressing-room. To be quicker about it, she took her thick mass of blonde hair in both hands and began shaking it above the silver wash-basin, so that a shower of long hair-pins rang a chime on the shining metal.” What a perfect poem of anticipation! It’s a kindness, a gift, this moment and this love, no matter how short-lived. In literature, as in life, everything is more beautiful when it’s messy and unexpected and we don’t decide about it beforehand.

I’ve been making lots of pizzas lately! I always make a “normal” one for the boys, with marinara and mozzarella, and then I make a weird one. I’ve been experimenting with lots of almost-pesto sauces, which are almost more like savory frangipane. And this one was no exception. It had a pecan sauce, which I actually made earlier in the week to have with kofta. I added an egg and a little smoked gouda and topped it with roasted parsnips and caramelized shallots. Smoky, savory, a little sweet. Nice.

Here’s Nantes by Beirut, because it sounds almost like “Nana” and it’s got the French connection.

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Chard and Pistachio Tart

Chard and pistachio tart

Chard and pistachio tart

I don’t wait on lines very often. For one thing, I rarely leave my house. For another, I’m too impatient, it always seems like I could be doing something better with my time. I can’t think of all that much worth waiting on line for. I don’t mind waiting, in general, I never get bored; boredom is against my principles. But there’s something about a line of people I just can’t seem to tolerate. Today, however, I found myself on a line in the grocery store and I didn’t really mind. I clutched a box of moldy clementines, and I waited for the attention of the customer service representative. And when it was finally my turn, I had no proof that I’d bought the moldy clementines in this location. For all she knew I could go from store to store with moldy clementines, slowly building up my fortune $7.99 at a time. So she had to venture out into the store to find a price, or someone to help, I’m not sure. But I didn’t mind. I was avoiding something, or some things. I’ve started a new novel, I’ve started a new story, I’ve started a new Ordinary post. I want to write them, I feel like I should write them (why? I don’t know.) I wake up every morning and go to sleep every night determined to write them. But when I sit down to do it I get a heavy fog behind my eyes and I don’t know, maybe my time is better spent waiting on line clutching a box of moldy clementines. Maybe I’ll become one of those people who goes out of their way to complain about things just for a bit of attention or to pass away an afternoon. I’ll send food back at restaurants, even though it’s exactly what I ordered. I’ll call help desks and technical support lines just to chat for a bit. While I was waiting I noticed that the store offered a new feature: a beauty consultant. He was a young man who looked surprisingly elegant, even in his store-issued vest. He had a booth that looked like it could have been made for a high school science fair; a mirror, a stool, a glass jar of cotton balls. A sign said that if we brought in our makeup bag he’d help us make the best use of it. I thought about taking my lipstick out of my coat pocket and saying, “Here’s my makeup bag! Help me out!” And I caught a glimpse of my old face in his mirror in the flattering fluorescent lights of the grocery store and I thought about the women who must end up on his stool in a grocery store in this part of the world–the glamor! I wondered how he’d gotten this job, and I thought maybe he started out as a clerk or a stock boy, but he had this idea and the store let him try it. I hoped he was happy with it, even though he seemed to spend most of his time wondering up and down the aisles. Everyone seemed happy that he was there, everyone seemed to love him. It made me happy to see him there. I thought about how I’ve always said it was a good thing that I had sons because if I had daughters and they asked me how to apply mascara or any other makeup product I’d have to say, “F**k if I know!” But here was someone’s son who obviously knew all about these things. I got my $7.99 and I left the moldy clementines at the desk, and I wondered if they had a whole pile of moldy produce and spoiled milk back there, and maybe they came to life at night as spoiled-food spirits. I apologized for wasting the clerk’s time, and while I drove home I remembered a conversation last week in which somebody had said, “How do you kill a day?” How do you kill a day? It’s too easy, days are very fragile.

I apologize for the crappy picture on this post. The pie was good though. Normal sort of crust, topped with greens and rosemary, then a layer of cheese, then a savory pistachio frangipane. I thought it had nice flavors and textures…comforting for a cold day. And it wasn’t too hard to make.

Here’s Everybody Plays the Fool, which is a song I heard at the grocery store, and which I like a lot.
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French lentil gravy &French lentil, mashed potato and pecan croquettes

French lentil, potato, pecan croquettes

French lentil, potato, pecan croquettes

In my dream I had to answer this question on a test: What are all of Shakespeare’s plays about? And I answered without hesitation, “TIME PASSING.” And my evidence to support this answer was that all of the scenes happen in chronological order. Heh heh, yeah, showing my work, with examples. I saw the scenes, in my dream, flashing in a vivid, inevitable succession. And when I first woke up I thought, no, that’s not right, because most things are written that way, one thing and then the other as the hours and days pass. And then I thought about how Shakespeare’s plays are so passionate and immediate. How he often wrote them from stories hundreds of years before his time and how they sometimes still feel so startlingly new and real to us hundreds of years after his time. Which doesn’t feel like time passing, it feels like time standing still. And then later in the day, as I was going about my work, I thought about The Seven Stages of Man and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and thought maybe we all soliloquize about time passing in our quiet moments, but most of the day we’re too busy with the bright urgency of life to give it much thought. David showed me these beautiful films, these very ORDINARY films, made by H.Lee Waters.

They show people going about their day-to-day life, just walking down the street, mostly, or leaving work or school. The sort of in-between times when they were probably thinking about the past or the future more than about where they were at that exact minute. They’re probably thinking about time passing mostly because they’re glad that the long day is over and they’re anticipating the evening to come. The footage is beautifully relentless, streams of people in different cities leaving work and school, streams of people smiling at the camera. And the faces are so bright and beautiful, so full of life and light. So distinct, yet so strangely similar. You wonder about all the thoughts in their head. The fears and loves and worries. You wonder about their lives before and after this moment. The footage reminded me of one of the Lumiere brothers’ first films, which is one of anybody’s first films, which shows workers leaving a factory, and dogs wandering back and forth in front of them.

And these faces are also full of light, and you can just feel that the filmmakers are full of wonder at this marvelous new art that makes the mundane remarkable. And you start to think that maybe time passes very quickly for every person, with criminal speed, but it passes slowly for humankind. And now I think that everything that anybody does: artists and writers and doctors and mothers and plumbers and waiters and scientists and teachers, young & old, it’s all about time passing, in all its beautiful poignant, painful incomprehensibility. So tomorrow may be creeping forward in its petty pace, from day to day, but we’ll do what we can to make the mundane beautiful, we’ll glow with the struggle, and we’ll imagine the sun shining on our beaming faces as the days go by.

Biscuits and french lentil gravy

Biscuits and french lentil gravy

We ate this on a(nother) cold and snowy day. I wanted something warm and comforting, so I though of biscuits and gravy and mashed potatoes. This is like one of those sausage gravies, I believe, not smooth, but spicy and full of texture. We ate it over griddle scones. The next day we combined the leftover lentils and the leftover mashed potatoes, added some smoked gouda, and made croquettes. We ate these with warm tortillas, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, avocado, and some pecan tarator sauce.

Here’s Deltron 3030 with Time Keeps on Slipping.

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Red rice, red lentil, and black bean chili

Red lentil and red rice chili

Red lentil and red rice chili

“I don’t mean I’m oversexed or anything like that – although I am quite sexy.” So saith Holden Caulfield. I’ve always loved Holden’s interpretation of the word “sexy.” It has nothing to do with looks or skill or experience and everything to do with curiosity and enthusiasm. He’s sexy because he thinks about sex a lot, and by this standard everybody is sexy! I think this shade of meaning should be applied to many other words as well. Sometimes I think I’m a funny person, not because I make good jokes, but because I like good jokes. I’m no wit or wag or stand-up comedian, but I like to look for the humor in most situations, I like to be around people who are cleverer and funnier than me. I’m musical because I love music, not because I’m particularly good at playing it, although I like to try sometimes. I always have a song in my head, and often I will sing it. Similarly, in this light, a person could be beautiful not because of any physical attributes, but because they find beauty in the world and people around them. This attitude seems so much more warm and genuine and generous than more judgmental use of these words, which reward some people and find others lacking. It’s all from within, attainable and universal. And it’s so much more true to life as it’s actually lived. Sexiness, for instance, has little to do with makeup and clothes and airbrushing and all of the other trappings of foxiness that we’re sold on a daily basis. It has everything to do with confusion and passion and messiness and ardor; qualities that can’t be graded, sold or faked. I believe this is true of most things in life worth pursuing, of anything that we create,it’s all best when it’s fueled by fervor, emotion and imagination, even if it’s something you don’t understand at all.

David said this was the best chili I’d ever made! I made it on a snowy snowy night, the should-have-been-a-blizzard of ’15. The red rice has a nice, chewy, toothsome quality, which makes this satisfying and comforting. The red lentils cook down to become almost creamy, and the black beans add their lovely earthiness. It’s smoky with smoked paprika and roasted red peppers, and brightened with a little balsamic, pepper flakes and cumin. Red rice can be found in most grocery stores, these days, at least the fancier ones. It’s vegan if you leave the butter out, which you could easily do.

Here’s Right Said Fred, of course!

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Almond cinnamon shortbread cake

Almond cinnamon shortbread cake

Almond cinnamon shortbread cake

The other day I thought I lost a scrap of paper. It was just another scrap of paper with words on it, but it was worth fifty dollars, so I felt like an idiot for misplacing it. I searched for it through piles of papers with words on them, through drawers-full of scraps of paper with words on them. This is how I organize my life. I scribble thoughts and plans and recipes and names and dates and numbers unintelligibly on torn pieces of paper, which flutter around me like maddening moths. And then I lose them and years later I find them and wonder at their meaning. As I was searching, I found one relatively intact sheet of a smallish size stuffed into my drawer. Near the bottom, in very neat (for me) handwriting, it said “Yes Today is Today.” The neatness of the handwriting suggests to me that I was trying out a new pen. I love new pens! Other than that, I have no idea what the hell I was talking about, or why I wrote this. Judging from the name & number scribbled on the top of the paper, it dates from around a decade ago. What was I happy about on this today? What had I been looking forward to? I’ll never know. But what a good inspirational meme this would make, Yes Today is Today, with some lady in yoga pants and a flowing scarf looking ecstatic as she stretches into the sunset. It’s so now-momenty. Of course I’m not at all now-momenty. I understand the appeal and the advantages, but I just can’t do it. I live in a cluttered tangle of memories and plans, half-remembered words and half-hearted hopes. How can we live only in this moment when this moment is so fleeting? Of course we can’t, we’re made up of our past and our future is upon us before we know it. Obviously I don’t want to live in the past and anticipate the future at the expense of my appreciation of the present, but there would be no present without the past and the future. I like to think about the moment I wrote this years ago, I’m glad I don’t know what it was that made me happy, that I was looking forward to, I’m glad to imagine what it might have been. It seems more real, more full of promise than whatever actual event I was anticipating. It could have been anything. It could be anything, it might be something I’m still looking forward to. It might be nothing at all other than the recognition that today is irrevocably and undeniably today. There’s no arguing that point! And on these dark cold January mornings when it’s really goddamn hard to get out of bed, it might help to say Yes Today is Today.

Cinnamon almond shortbread

Cinnamon almond shortbread

This is an incredibly simple cake, and I like it a lot. It’s like soft shortbread when you first try it, with a crispy crunchy top of almonds and sugar. And after a day or so it becomes a little firmer and more cookie-like.

Here’s Time has Come Today by The Chambers Brothers

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Small pies with french lentils and greens

IMG_5112

    American Mythologies #5: dress your way/EVERYBODY IN KHAKIS.

I ordered some clothes from a certain company and now they are my best friend. They’re so friendly and attentive, and I know they like me a lot because they write to me many times a day, offering me special exclusive deals that nobody else is privy to. The other day they sent me this message…

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 10.48.18 AM

Do you see how it is? You can have your own unique style just like everybody else. We’re all individuals! We’re all the same in being utterly original. Here in America we’re a nation of mavericks, we all do what we want to do and like what we want to like. Of course it helps if plenty of other people like it, too. Not everyone of course, but the right people, the cool people, and we can depend on advertising to reliably tell us who those people are. And we can count on the internet to tell us what’s viral and trending, so that we see exactly what everybody else sees, and so that we remember to watch to the very last second, because that is the moment that will astound us! Oxymoronically, even our most conservative politicians are mavericks. They keep us on our toes, we never know what crazy method they’re going to use to ensure America’s complete homogeneity. Remember Herbert Hoover’s rugged individualism during the depression? Well that’s who we are, we’re all individuals who can take care of ourselves, with no help from the government or anyone else at all. We can pull on our own bootstraps! We can iron our own khakis. Because there’s no greater marker of distinctive idiosyncratic style than a good pair of khakis. Originally adopted as a uniform for soldiers, so that they were all uniformly dressed, this drab fabric is supposed to stand out nowhere on nobody; you’ll melt seamlessly into the background wherever you may be. And now it’s the uniform of waiters and clerks and businessmen, of anybody who needs to be just like everybody else. Of course the truth is that although we haven’t always had the highest tolerance for difference, America has a splendid history of eccentrics, some celebrated, some obscure and forgotten. Many of the people who first declared America to be America, and then many of the people who forged West on some mad mission, despite the hardships and deprivations, must have been completely bonkers, and not always in a good way. And the truth is, that despite what my new best friends at the clothing company and their associates in the advertising division might tell us, you can be completely bonkers in a good way even if you’re wearing khakis. Even if you’re wearing the wrong khakis, which are out of style and ill-fitting and which you were forced to buy to work at some job that is strangling your soul. Even then, you can have a world of weird and wonderful thoughts in your head, which are unique and distinctive and entirely yours.

We ate these little pies on New Year’s Eve and New Years Day. Because lentils and greens and round foods are supposedly good luck, for health and wealth and happiness. They’re simple, but I thought they were really good.

Here’s Strange by Screaming Jay Hawkins
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ART WILL OUT

artwillout

One night I was laying down,
I heard mama and papa talking.
I heard papa tell mama, let that boy boogie-woogie,
It’s in him, and it got to come out
And I felt so good,
Went on boogie’n just the same

The other evening after dinner David and I drank some red wine and ate some ginger chocolate and talked about Henry Darger. I said, “Art will out,” and David said, “You could put that on a t-shirt.” And maybe I will! But I’ve been thinking about this idea ever since. I’ve been thinking about how history is full of unlikely artists, people with little exposure to art or access to materials, who somehow find a way to get their voice heard. People with little formal education, who create work as beautiful or more beautiful than anyone else because they have to find their own way to say it. Elizabeth Cotten taught herself to play guitar upside down. Big Bill Broonzy made himself a fiddle out of a cigar box, and played with his friend Louis Carter, who played a homemade guitar. Henry Darger used junk he found in the streets to create over 15,000 pages of writing and art, a vibrant, beautiful, terrible world bursting out of him. It was in them and it had to come out. I’ve been thinking about William Carlos Williams who worked as a doctor but found time to write poetry about the world around him. I heard a story once that TS Eliot worked long hours at a bank, and scribbled his poems on matchbooks. I’ve been thinking about people who overcome prejudice or political or religious oppression to say what they need to say, and maybe the struggle makes their voice more powerful. I honestly believe that everyone has some world in their head that has to come out somehow, some song or story or picture. And maybe it won’t come out in any obvious way, maybe it will be in the unusual spices they add to their meal, or the pictures they take of their dogs, or the stories they tell themselves when they can’t sleep. And I believe that the creative process doesn’t stop with the product, it begins again when somebody reads or looks or listens, so that the person reading, looking, and listening becomes part of the process, becomes an artist, too. So maybe it will come out as the love you feel for a song, or the way you’re moved to tears by a book you read. Maybe it will come out as a conversation with someone you love, over wine and ginger chocolate on a chilly evening a few days before New Year’s Eve.

Happy New Years, Ordinary friends, and a sincere hope that we all hold dear the art within each other and ourselves, and that we all find some way to draw it or write it or speak it or sing it!

Here’s Boogie Chillun by John Lee Hooker, of course! When I got there, I say, “Yes, people”

Roasted butternut and yellow split pea soup

Roasted butternut and split pea soup

Roasted butternut and split pea soup

It’s the season for reflection, for looking back on the year just passing and taking a reckoning of all you’ve done or left undone. The wise men of newspapers and magazines are making lists of all the worst and best things that have happened over the course of a year, and Facebook’s computers are compiling photos of the most important events of our lives for us to share with our friends. And what is the phrase that has been stuck in my head with contrary steadfastness these past few days? “Don’t look back.” I’m unaccountably fascinated with this idea at the moment. It is, of course, one of Satchel Paige’s rules for longevity, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” And D.A. Pennebaker borrowed the phrase from Paige for the title of his beautiful 1967 (1967!) movie about Bob Dylan. And Bob Dylan himself used the phrase in his song She Belongs to Me, “She’s an artist, she don’t look back.” It’s an idea that shows up in myths from all over the world. Orpheus leading Eurydice out of Hades, Lot’s wife fleeing Sodom. If you look back you’ll be punished for disobeying a rule, for lacking trust or faith, for seeing God at his awe-ful job. But what does it mean? What does it mean? It can’t mean that we shouldn’t sift through our memories, and revisit people and places from our past life. We’d be nothing without our memories. Our future would be meaningless without our past. It can’t mean that. Is it spoken by someone who fears aging, like I do, and is frightened to see how fast it has all gone behind them, and how rapidly it will fly before them? Is Satchel telling us that we shouldn’t let fear of what has gone before frighten us about what’s to come? And what is gaining on us? What slouching beast? These are the questions we wrestle with on sleepless nights. Today I read the passage from Virgil’s Aeneid called “The visit to the underworld.” This was written more than 2000 years ago. Get your mind around that. I’m not sure that people have changed all that much, and I find it a strange comfort to look back all that way into someone else’s life, and see echoes of my own.

In the center is a giant and shady elm-tree, spreading branches like arms, full of years. False Dreams, so it is often said, take the tree for their home, and cling everywhere beneath its leaves.

Here’s The Temptations with Don’t Look Back. We’re gonna leave all our troubles behind.

This soup! It was tasty because butternut squash and yellow split peas are ridiculously tasty. Plus it has nice spices in it. It takes quite a while to cook the split peas, or it did for me, so plan ahead!

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Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

Tarragon pesto pizza with salsify and asparagus

American Mythologies, #4: Catcher in the Rye is a sophomoric over-rated novel about teen angst.

    The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger. A controversial novel originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage angst and alienation.The novel’s protagonist Holden Caulfield has become an icon for teenage rebellion.

Thus speaketh Wikipedia, and although ordinarily I would eschew Wikipedia as a less-than-scholarly source, when dealing with American mythologies, it is the authority, the ultimate collection of all of the opinions that have gathered over the years to become myth. Whether or not you like Catcher in the Rye, I think we can all agree that it has achieved mythic status in the pantheon of American literature. And Salinger’s legendary reclusiveness has only added to the mysterious air of cool that clings to the novel. I would argue that, over the years, our ideas of what the novel is about have taken on a life of their own, so that now they seem more real in some ways than the original story, and they bear little relation to it. Now we think of Holden as a rebel, a maverick, and if they ever made the book into a movie (which, mercifully, they never will) it would star James Dean or a young Marlon Brando. Wikipedia tells us, “Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States,” because Holden was a bad role model, further adding, “Often the challengers have been unfamiliar with the plot itself.” No less than three shootings have been somehow associated with the book. Of course none of this has anything to do with anything that actually happens in the book. The very phrase, “teen angst” is disparaging; it suggests that the nature of the angst is trivial and misguided, a self-centered foolishness to be outgrown, born of boredom and a bratty hatred for everything and everybody. Teen angst is all about ME, and why I’m so unfortunate. And I think Holden is thinking about everyone around him: his elderly teacher, the ducks in Central Park, his kid sister, his old friend, his dead brother, children in some mis-heard song, some miserable kid prostitute in a green dress. I think that’s why it’s beautiful. I don’t think Holden hates anyone, I think his problem, the source of his pain, is that he loves everyone he meets. Even with the people he doesn’t like he finds something to love. The kid who is a terrific bore is an excellent whistler, “So I don’t know about bores. Maybe you shouldn’t feel too sorry if you see some swell girl getting married to them. They’re don’t hurt anybody, most of them, and maybe they’re secretly all terrific whistlers or something. Who the hell knows? Not me.” He loves everybody: the mother he meets on the train, the nuns he meets in the station, the grippey teacher who yells “good luck” at him, the girl whose roller skate he tightens. He’s not the scowling kid who scrawls “Fuck You” every where he goes, he’s the kid who gets depressed when he sees that somebody else has done that. He doesn’t hate school because he’s too cool for it, it’s just the opposite, he hates the fact that people are forced to be more cool, more contained, to dim their enthusiasm. “What I mean is, lots of time you don’t know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn’t interest you most. I mean you can’t help it sometimes. What I think is, you’re supposed to leave somebody alone if he’s at least being interesting and he’s getting all excited about something. I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It’s nice.” He doesn’t mistrust adults or authority figures, unless they’re hypocritical or tyrannical. I think he recognizes that they’re as confused as he is, that you never really outgrow the bewilderment caused by human connection, by sex, by loss, by loneliness. I think Holden is a teenager in the way Calvin is a six-year-old, his age allows him to say things we’re all feeling, as does the fact that he keeps calling himself a moron and a madman. There’s a passage in the book in which he’s talking about Laurence Olivier’s performance of Hamlet and he says, “He was too much like a goddamn general, instead of a sad, screwed-up type guy.” And I think Holden is that sad, screwed up type guy, too, not a fighter, not a rebel. And he’s got good reason to be sad. In Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the title characters go through the long list of woes that have afflicted Hamlet, and then they say, “And why are you behaving in this extraordinary manner?” It’s like that with Catcher in the Rye, too. His brother died at the age of eleven, when Holden was only thirteen. Three short years prior to the time that the story is set. He’s been in one boarding school after another since that time, alone, lonely, homesick, mourning. It’s Christmas time and he’s afraid to go home because he’s failed out of another school. Why would he behave in this extraordinary way? Why would he have a breakdown and become sick and sit in the park thinking he was going to die? Why would he talk aloud to his dead brother, wracked with regret over the one time he didn’t let him ride to his friend’s house years ago? How could he not! He’s searching for some sort of meaningful connection, and he’s disappointed by people who pretend to be something they’re not, or hide who they really are. But he loves them anyway. I know I quote this passage too much, but he reminds me of Alyosha in Brothers Karamazov, “Do you know, Lise, my elder told me once to care for most people exactly as one would for children, and for some of them as one would for the sick in hospitals.” Holden feels sorry for people a lot, and I think that’s a form of love. At the end of Franny and Zooey, when Zooey, as an adolescent, says everybody is a moron, his brother Seymore tells him to shine his shoes or be funny for the fat lady, and then Franny and Zooey get this idea of a cancer patient somewhere, listening to them talk, and then Zooey says the fat lady is christ, which means that everybody is christ, but they’re Jewish, so it’s not in any Christian sense of the word. It’s about loving everybody that you meet. And I think Holden does that. In Brothers Karamazov Ivan talks at great length about the suffering of children, and he asks Alyosha if he would kill one child to bring peace to the entire world. Alysosha wouldn’t, he would save the child, and Holden, standing on the edge of a cliff, would save all the children if he could, as they come running through the rye.

I’ve gone on and on, and I could go on even more! I could write a book about this book. But I won’t. I’ll tell you about this pizza instead. I think it had nice flavors, sort of nutty from the salsify and asparagus, and bright from the tarragon. We grew salsify in our garden this summer, and we’re just harvesting it now. It’s a funny sort of root, with a mild sweet nutty flavor. It’s quite hard to find in stores. You could replace it with parsnips if you can’t find salsify. It’s similar, and much easier to clean. Or you could leave it out altogether. This would still be tasty.

Here’s Just One of Those Things by Art Tatum, because it’s a song Holden likes.

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