Here’s Time has Come Today by The Chambers Brothers
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…
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.
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”
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!
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.
We’re heading into the dark season. Last winter was a particularly long, cold, brutal one, in this part of the world, and it’s hard not to feel a mounting anxiety as the days grow shorter. I think everybody feels a little twinge of melancholy this time of year. Even the impending holiday can make a person anxious.
When you feel seasonally challenged, you should take a walk on the towpath by my house. Most of the green is gone, but there are a few vines and mossy trunks, and they stand out against a background of rich rusts and umbers and golds, a strange warm quiet beauty on a cold day. And after about a mile you’ll come to my favorite field in the world. You’ve just emerged from a tunnel of trees, and now the world opens up and you’re looking out onto a field stretching away under a bright sky, sloping down like a saucer into a line of trees and running down to a beautiful railway bridge that stretches over a creek.
The light under this bridge is always strangely glowing, even on grey days, perhaps with the memories of summer afternoons spent swimming in the creek.
This morning when Clio and I scrambled out this way, we came upon a pine tree festooned with blue birds, like the prettiest Christmas tree you have ever seen.
One of them sat a little distance from the others, on a branch above our heads, and looked down on us like he wanted to tell us something. I nearly cried. They were still there on our way back, but after we walked by they flew off together along the bed of the creek. There is no more hopeful sight on earth than a bluebird, particularly in winter!
It fills you with a strange glow. Even these leafless plants we saw, with a strange light purple hue seemed oddly hopeful.
I know I write about hope a lot, but it’s such a mysterious emotion. I’m always a little impatient when people say you can make good things happen just by thinking about it, that if you have a positive attitude the world will reward you with gifts, that if you stop worrying about not having enough money and just feel happy, you’ll suddenly have enough money. (Usually the people who tell you these things have plenty of money, or happen to be paying you poorly for your work.) And yet–it’s not the strange bright branches or the light under the bridge or even the rare and beautiful birds that make you hopeful, it’s something in you that responds to them. Which is an even more hopeful thought somehow. Who can explain it? Not me.I had a hankering for potatoes, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted them boiled and soft and comforting or broiled and crispy. Then I thought I’d try something new, and see if I could have the best of both worlds. I think they turned out really well. They’re mostly soft, not crispy, but they have a more interesting texture than plain boiled potatoes. Lemon and bay are lovely together, and go very nicely with the mild, pleasing flavor of potatoes.
Here’s Jimmy Smith with Greensleeves from the phenomenal Christmas Cooking album.
We had some leftover mashed potatoes, so this is what I made. I lined a cake pan with butter, then bread crumbs and chopped pecans, then a layer of mashed potatoes. I molded this into a crust. Then I poured in a mixture of eggs, cheese and greens. It bakes together quite nicely. Soft and satisfying, but with a crispiness on the outside from the nuts and breadcrumbs. If you’re trying to go gluten free, leave out the bread crumbs, and add a few more pecans. And that’s that! This was nice with a spicy red sauce.
Here’s a song from the opening credits of Loves of a Blonde sung by one of Andula’s fellow factory workers. If you don’t fall in love with this film from the first second, you’re crazy, crazy I tell you!
I told you I was going to put smoked basmati rice in everything I made from now on, and this soup is no exception! (You could make this with regular basmati rice or even white rice. It will still be smoky from the roastedness and the smoked paprika.) This is a really meaty, umami-isn soup. You could make it even more so by adding a dash of tamari, a smidgen of marmite, or a spoonful of miso paste. I didn’t think it needed that, though. It’s plenty flavorful as it is. It’s also pretty easy to make. It doesn’t take long to roast the mushrooms, and don’t be afraid to cook them till they’re quite well-browned, it will deepen the flavor. This soup will still be creamy, and it will be vegan if you leave the small bit of butter out.
Here’s Big Youth with Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Spot the sample!
Time is running and passing and passing and running, so you all better get it right this time, because there might be no next time.
* actual messages from my deleted folder!
I like the idea of Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. Have I read them? I have not, not even a smicker of them, as our Malcolm used to say. Will that stop me talking about them? It will not! According to my understanding, Barthes examines certain aspects of modern life that have become accepted as fact and shows how they are, in truth, myths: stories that we use to define ourselves and our place in the world. Barthes was writing in France in the 1950s, and it seems that now, here, in America in 2014, we’ve woven such an insane tangle of stories to explain ourselves to ourselves and the rest of the world that it’s almost overwhelming. It seems important, though, to take a step back from time to time, and to try to unravel them to arrive at some truth. Some ever-shifting never-reachable truth. Here’s one I’ve been thinking about lately. “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” It all starts in pre-school, when they’re handing out crayons or cookies. The fundamental idea, of course, is to be content with what you’re given, and to shut up and stop whining! At its most basic, it’s toddler crowd control. At its most basic, I like the idea. I would like my children to be capable of contentment, a difficult state to achieve. I would like them to be grateful to get anything at all. I would like them to be even-tempered and agreeable rather than whiny and difficult. Of course I would. And I would like to live in a world where these qualities are rewarded. But the truth is that we don’t live in that world. We can send an army of five-year-olds home chanting the catchy little rhyme, but if they absorb the lesson too completely how will they ever become successful modern Americans? We’re not supposed to be happy with what we have! We’re supposed to want more! Too much is never enough! We’re supposed to want whatever other people have. It’s one of our older myths, as Americans, that if we work hard and strive for more, for better, we can achieve success and riches. How would advertising work if people were content with what they had and who they are? It wouldn’t! It wouldn’t work, and billions of advertising dollars would be wasted trying to manipulate people based on desires and insecurities they didn’t really feel. In America we award the loud people, the talkers, the salesmen, the people who want what they get and want what everyone around them gets, too. We don’t admire people who settle. We’re scornful of people who don’t strive to better themselves, even if they face insurmountable odds such as we can’t even dream of. I believe there are countries where ambition is looked upon as a negative quality, as a vice, but we don’t live in such a country. As long as we’re telling stories about the world we inhabit, I’d like to tell this one: You get what you get, and you change it to make exactly what you need. And if you don’t get the right parts to make what you need, you share with your neighbor. You trade them the parts they need for the parts you need, and everybody creates exactly what they want. Obviously, if everyone makes a picture with the one crayon they’re given, which might not even be a color they like, it won’t be as satisfying as if everybody shares all the colors to make their pictures. Everybody makes something beautiful. And still, nobody gets upset.Croquettes! Or kofta, if you like. Or burgers. These would make great veggie burgers! These are very flavorful, very umami-ish. They have a nice texture-quite crispy. We ate them in warm tortillas with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, grated sharp cheddar. Which was delicious! But you could also make them larger and put them on a bun to make burgers. Black rice is not hard to find, I think, but you could make these with any other kind of rice, even rice leftover from your take-out food. All of these things, the lentils, the rice, can be used in other meals, which is good because the recipes given below will give you more than you need.
Here’s Bob Marley with Want More.