Or…Why I Love Tidings of Magpies (In which we try to justify our existence)
I hope you will forgive a little New Year’s introspection. Tidings of Magpies has been described as a “small but mighty labor of love.” And indeed, that is what it is for me. Curating and compiling these articles is a lot of work, to be sure, but it is probably the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. I’m not going to lie, not a day goes by that I don’t think, “Why bother?” And the answer always starts as “Why not?” but in the end I usually arrive at a stronger argument to keep on with it.
Sometimes it seems we live in sad and cynical world, and it’s easy to feel disconnected and discouraged. Surely the best way to fight the darkness that surrounds us is to share art and music and thoughtful writing. And it goes further than that for me, because I love, really love, everything that I’ve shared. And I love it more as I format the work, the more I look and read and understand. And I love it more as I think about how it’s all connected, as I did yesterday, on a grey and gloomy New Year’s Eve, after a couple of years that have been hard for everyone in ways we could never have anticipated.
It’s not a coincidence that I would find patterns in the work we’ve shared, or that those patterns delight me. All of the paintings and photographs and essays and poems that we’ve shared ask more questions than they answer. They’re all poised on the beautiful, murky, poignant edge between humans and nature, light and dark, abundance and decay, society and solitude. They ask what it means to be human, how we find a place in the world around us–the world of man that we’ve created, and the world of nature that we encroach upon. They all ask how we navigate time and history and memory. We need to ask the questions though we will never arrive at the answer, and there’s great joy in the feeling that we’re all walking along this edge together, finding our own balance as we go. And great joy in sharing the stories and pictures and music that have given us light and hope along the way, with generosity and affection.
We’re all gleaners, finding beauty and meaning and sustenance in the unlikely, the odd, the overlooked. We’re all magpies, lining our nests with beauty where we find it.
And so we continue into the new year. I am beyond grateful to everyone who has allowed me to share their work, and I’m very very excited about some of the work I plan to share in the month(s) ahead. I’m thankful for anyone who has taken the time to read, look, share, and respond, and I hope that you will continue to do so! Happy New Year to all, and wishes for peace, health, joy, and inspiration to all of our magpie friends.
Hello, Ordinary friends. We’re still working on putting together our Magpies’ Magazine, and here’s the latest issue. It’s a collection of all the articles we’ve published over the past month, for those who like to savor their Magpies’ tidings as an issue. We’re really honored this month to share photography from Paris, art from Ottawa, a brilliant article written in Tokyo about a Ugandan record label, along with beautiful poetry, memoir, and more. We hope you enjoy!
Very pleased to share the latest issue of Tidings of Magpies! Brilliant art, photography, nature essays, two more installments of Ralph Brown’s beautiful song-based memoir, a new magpies mix tape, fiction, “Why I Love” articles, and so much more!
I love everything I’ve posted, and I’m so grateful to everyone who shared their writing and their art. I’m already looking forward to sharing new art, music, and writing next month!
The eagle-eyed amongst you will recognize that these were all actually posts that we published over the course of September. As discussed at the beginning of the month, the reasons to post every couple of days (instead of all-at-once at the start of the month) outweighed, in my mind, the reasons to publish one big issue. Mostly it had to do with the number of emails subscribers would receive at one time, and the amount of time people have to get through so many articles at once. However, I still love the idea of an issue: the pleasure of compiling and composing it, as well as the focus and balance that the structure provided. I like the challenge of trying to combine articles that complement and contrast with one another. So this is my solution: to gather all of the articles at the end of the month on one page, and share that in a post.
I love everything I’ve posted, and I’m so grateful to everyone who shared their writing and their art. I’m very happy to have our first travel writing and our first nature writing. And I’m excited to launch the Why I Love series. I’m also very excited about the treasures I’m already collecting and compiling to share in the month ahead.
Thank you for reading. As ever, I welcome and comments of feedback you may have. And Please submit subscribe support.
Hello Ordinary friends! I couldn’t have been more excited about this issue. Probably shouldn’t have launched it during a thunderstorm/hurricane/tornado/flood. But here we are. I hope you’ll take the time to read any or all of it.
Here’s my letter from the editor, which I hope my fellow Ordinary friends will appreciate.
Hello, fellow magpies! Thank you for taking the time to read our magazine.
In some ways this is an apology, or at least an explanation. For this, our second issue, I contacted a lot of people I admire and asked if they would share their work. Some I know, others I do not. A few people responded, and I was genuinely thrilled with those who did. I started to compile the issue, to build on what I already had, to figure out how to add to it, to form something interesting to read. And then, one sleepless night, it suddenly occurred to me that every shiny thing I had collected had been written by or about a man. Now, I’m fond of men, three of the three humans I live with are men or soon-to-be men. But I had hoped to share a wide variety of different voices, in every. single. issue. And if you consider the history of all that has been written, the vast majority of it has been by or about men.
Did I panic and start over? I did not. I decided to lean into it, to embrace the situation, to pretend it was all a calculated decision. Because I started thinking that all of the men sharing their work for this issue of Magpies are fairly odd men, just trying to find their place in the world, their path through it. And maybe it’s because we just dropped my eldest son at college in a city, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my two fairly odd teenagers, and how they’re trying to decide who they are in the world, but it all started to make sense to me.
Just because your people wrote the rules doesn’t mean you’re comfortable with those rules. Just because people like you assigned roles and defined notions such as success, progress, work, and purpose, doesn’t mean you need to apply them to yourself or to anyone around you.
My boys are beautifully defiant of roles and expectations, they move through life with their own style, and rhythm and ideas. With brash elegant humor and fierce, disarming intelligence. It’s thrilling to watch them figure it all out, and maybe that’s why so much of what I’m sharing this week appeals to me.
This is not a themed issue, but, like all humans, I like to find connections. To me, this issue is like a funhouse. Everything is either connected by strange unlikely corridors, or is an unreliable reflection of the article or feature that came before–or of the writer, or the reader, and of me as well.
I had written a whole list of those connections, but I’ve just erased it. I’ll let you make your own connections.
So, I suppose this issue is dedicated to my boys, heading back to school after the strangest and most disappointing year. I hope that they will find inspiration and connection and community. I hope you’ll find some of that here, reading Tidings of Magpies.
Last night I had a dream in which I found myself in a strange house. It was “mine” in the way houses are in dreams–bewilderingly. It was strange, but delightful. Full of surprises, a little wonky, but not dread-ful or frightening. I had fallen asleep thinking about my new mad scheme, this magazine called Tidings of Magpies, and I think that’s what the dream represented. Each room another article or feature or image in the magazine.
Tidings of Magpies is a little like Out of the Ordinary, but with other voices, other writers and artists and readers sharing their work and their passions. It’s a magazine about art, culture, food, and life. It’s a collection of things that caught our eye that we want to share with you.
These things might not necessarily be the newest-latest, because there are plenty of publications covering those. This is about art, music, film, food, and literature that we love, that intrigues us and stays with us. It could be a movie from the sixties, a band from the 80s, an artist from the 1600s. Or it could be something brand new. We want to share things others might have missed, and shine a light on the possibly obscure and overlooked.
We’ll be featuring some criticism/analysis, of art, film, music, etc, and some original art, fiction, poetry, photography, music, film.
On some level this will be a forum for lesser-heard voices. Librarian-poets, bank teller-rock stars. But if we’re moved by something brand new and extremely popular, we’ll share that with you, too, and tell you why we love it.
If you would like to submit an idea for an article or feature please let me know! You can comment here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other day Isaac asked me how to spell “hearing.” Because he and I never give each other a straight answer, I told him h-e-r-e-ing. The more I think about it the more I like the word, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I woke up in the middle of the night recently and felt perplexed. I thought about all of the places people live, all over the world. I imagined you could cut away the sides or tops of houses and apartment buildings and tenements and you could see the people inside, living their lives. I hoped they were being kind to each other and their children and their dogs, but I middle-of-the-night feared that many were not. I was bewildered by the thought that I could be anywhere, but I am here, in the same small city I’ve lived in for 20 years.
It bears repeating: it’s been an odd odd year. We were all stuck in the same place, our own space, our here. We were relentlessly here, relentlessly hereing. I think (and write) so much about time passing, about marking it and being aware of it. It’s mildly discombobulating to think about space and place as well. And small wonder that after a year of hereing we’re imagining other places and visiting them in our dreams.
All of this hereing conjured the phrase “hereness of dusk,” which has been in my mind ever since. It is, of course, from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and is from one of the most beautiful passages of literature I have ever read.
…as though even here in the filtering dusk, here beneath the deep indigo sky, here, alive with looping swifts and darting moths, here in the hereness of the night not yet lighted by the moon that looms blood-red behind the chapel like a fallen sun, its radiance shedding not upon the here-dusk of twittering bats, nor on the there-night of cricket and whippoorwill, but focused short-rayed upon our place of convergence;
…And my mind rushing for relief away from the spring dusk and flower scents, away from the time-scene of the crucifixion to the time-mood of the birth; from spring-dusk and vespers to the high, clear, lucid moon of winter and snow glinting upon the dwarfed pines where instead of the bells, the organ and the trombone choir speak carols to the distances drifted with snow,… But in the hereness of dusk I am moving toward the doomlike bells through the flowered air, beneath the rising moon.
The narrator knows he is in trouble, that he’s about to be expelled from college, and he imagines himself in another place and another time. But he’s almost painfully (though beautifully) aware of the space and time he is moving through. In these dreamlike moments, the here becomes the now, the space becomes the time. He is occupying, moving through, taking up space in the dusk. He is hereing. It bears repeating, “In the hereness of dusk I am moving toward the doomlike bells through the flowered air, beneath the rising moon.”
From the sublime to the tasty. This is what I made us for my birthday meal. I love love love fennel and it’s not universally adored by the family, but I took the excuse of birthday brattiness to go heavy on the fennel in this one. Fennel, tomatoes, and olives, with herbs from the garden is a perfect combination to me. They are all strong, assertive flavors, but they work beautifully together. I also used several kinds of cheese. The parmesan and cheddar I grated so they blended right in, but the fresh mozzarella and goat cheese I just roughly crumbled, so that you encounter them in pleasant pockets of soft cheesiness throughout the tart.
Here’s Stand by REM. Think about the place that you live, wonder why you haven’t before.
It’s a vast expansive place, so full of memories, bewilderingly full of memories. Ghosts and dreams swim through slanted lights and shadows, pockets of coolness and warmth, floating in the ocean near shore at the end of summer.
Of course it’s not any of that. It’s just blog, it’s just an ordinary ordinary blog, which probably shouldn’t have recipes, or should only have recipes and not the ravings of a madwoman. It’s just a bag of words, a shabby bag, worn with so much usage, torn through with the spiky awkwardness of all of the shambles of words thrown into it. Too many words, probably, but here we are, 1000 posts later. I’ve got a birthday next week. I’m between jobs with no hint of a career, we’re all just surfacing from a pandemic. I’ve got a lost-at-sea feeling. But I’m glad to have The Ordinary, for now. I’m grateful for anyone who has taken a minute to read any of the nonsense or try any of the recipes. I hope that someone has discovered a song or a movie or an artist or a good book because of The Ordinary. Thank you, Ordinary Friends!
Here is a playlist I have put together of songs I love to cook to. Songs to get you dancing and singing as you’re standing over pots and pans in your kitchen, or scrubbing pots and pans in your kitchen. I will be adding to this as the songs pull on my coattails, so stay tuned!
I think I may have invented this recipe! I’ve seen (and made) ricotta gnocchi. I’ve seen (and made) semolina gnocchi, but I’ve never seen them combined like this. These are light, tender, and flavorful. They’re simple but a bit of a production. But it’s all fun. You can put them with any kind of sauce you want. I like a light tomato sauce. I think later in the summer I’d do a roasted tomato and pepper sauce. Last night we had them with a hazelnut rosemary white wine sauce, also good, but not as pretty.
Those masterful images because complete Grew in pure mind but out of what began? A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street, Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can, Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone I must lie down where all the ladders start In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
The last lines of one of Yeats’ last poems. The Circus Animals’ Desertion is a beautiful and sad poem written by an old man regretting his lack of inspiration and imagination. He’s tired, and he claims to have nothing left to say. Old-old-old-old-old and raving.
You learnt a great deal, Louisa, and so did your brother. Ologies of all kinds from morning to night. If there is any ology left of any description, that has not been worn to rags in this house, all I can say is, I hope I shall never hear its name.
Mrs. Gradgrind, on her deathbed, regretting that she has raised her two children with only facts and no imagination.
I can’t remember which reminded me of the other, but for some reason these two works are so beautifully melded in my mind at the moment. I just finished re-reading Hard Times, which I might not have read since middle school. (There’s so much about it that’s deliciously Dickensian, and so much that, I have to admit, I don’t love. For some reason I thought it was one of his earliest works, but it is not.)
In Yeats’ poem, his imagination is represented by circus animals. These inventions and spirits and characters of his creation through most of his life, “Winter and summer till old age began, My circus animals were all on show,” And for Louisa, the circus is a forbidden place of wonder and mystery–a break from the relentless grind of facts…
“He had reached the neutral ground upon the outskirts of the town, which was neither town nor country, and yet was either spoiled, when his ears were invaded by the sound of music. The clashing and banging band attached to the horse-riding establishment, which had there set up its rest in a wooden pavilion, was in full bray…Phenomenon almost incredible though distinctly seen, what did he then behold but his own metallurgical Louisa, peeping with all her might through a hole in a deal board, and his own mathematical Thomas abasing himself on the ground to catch but a hoof of the graceful equestrian Tyrolean flower-act!
‘In the name of wonder, idleness, and folly!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, leading each away by a hand; ‘what do you do here?’
‘Wanted to see what it was like,’ returned Louisa, shortly.
Louisa has an unmanageable mind, as she describes it, she can’t help but wonder and imagine, and see cities in the fire.
‘Have you gone to sleep, Loo?’
‘No, Tom. I am looking at the fire.’
‘You seem to find more to look at in it than ever I could find,’ said Tom. ‘Another of the advantages, I suppose, of being a girl. … Except that it is a fire,’ said Tom, ‘it looks to me as stupid and blank as everything else looks. What do you see in it? Not a circus?’
‘I don’t see anything in it, Tom, particularly. But since I have been looking at it, I have been wondering about you and me, grown up.’
‘Wondering again!’ said Tom.
‘I have such unmanageable thoughts,’ returned his sister, ‘that they will wonder.’
But after a lifetime of being discouraged to register anything but facts, her thoughts come out twisted and malformed. She’s tired and frustrated with herself, with everything. She talks about the garden she should have in her heart, “‘How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? …What have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here?’ Said louisa as she touched her heart.”
Yeats has spent a lifetime in the circus of his imaginings, so that the creatures he’s dreamed up become more than real to him. They take all of his love. But now he’s tired, too. Mythology, allegory, dreams, have all left him. He’s lost his ladder, and now lies where all the ladders start, in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
It’s strange to me to think about what Louisa would have been like if she’d been allowed to let her restless imagination loose, and if she’d been born a boy–if she’d built the city in the fire into something as full of life and light and as real as Yeats’ circus. It’s strange to think about Yeats YEATS feeling tired and discouraged and lacking in imagination. And of course the world he creates to describe his lack of imagination is the most frighteningly beautiful and inspired lament to loss of beauty and inspiration I can imagine. Because he may have lost the mythology and the lofty imagery, but he hasn’t lost the love or the language, he’s just brought them down to earth. He’s using them to make the ordinary beautiful–rags, bones, broken bottles. And things as extraordinarily ordinary as aging, as remembering. He must be satisfied with his heart.
Left the town with the circus boy
The circus boy got lonely
It's summer, and it's sisters song's
Been written for the lonely
The circus boy is feeling melancholy
This is THE BEST crispy baked tofu in THE WORLD! It’s madly adaptable. I always make it when I make my version of vegetable fried rice, which is a thing Isaac loves. But if you want to just make it like chicken nuggets, you could add a little garlic salt, omit the sesame oil, and dip in bar b que or whatever sauce you like. Also, you can make a sauce to toss these in. I’ve done tamari, honey and chili, but you can go crazy!
There are a couple of things that make this good and easy. One that makes it good is freezing and thawing two times. One time makes it a bit crumbly, but two times makes it not the spongey mess that is normal tofu, and helps it to absorb the marinade. The other is the use of a container to coat the tofu. I do this for pretty much anything I make that’s coated these days. I don’t have patience or counter space for a bowl for flour a bowl for egg a bowl for crumbs kind of production. One big container with a lid (tupperware or otherwise) is all you need. Just don’t shake too vigorously or the tofu will break. And finally this could absolutely be vegan. I add mayonnaise as a sneaky way to make the marinade stick to the tofu, but vegan mayonnaise (or no mayonnaise at all) would probably work just as well. And I add about half an egg because I use the other half for the aforementioned stir fried rice, but I’ve made it without any egg and it’s still good.
While I was picking berries for this galette, on a cloudy morning on a busy towpath, a young man rode by on a bicycle. He said hello as if he knew me, which he didn’t, and he asked if I had a cigarette. I said, “Sir, do you not see me here, foraging for berries? Do I look as though I have a cigarette?”
I like the idea of foraging, I like animals who forage, I like stories about foragers, but I rarely forage myself. I did manage to get a good cup and a half of mulberries, though I tossed every third berry to the geese swimming impatiently in the water below.
Some scenes about foragers:
I love his gentle, beautiful footage:
“The important thing is to get so far away from civilization that I can be completely alone…”
I wanted to keep this very simple, so that the flavor of mulberries would shine through. I just added a little sugar and lemon to the berries. The crust is almost like a shortbread cookie crust–just flour, sugar, vanilla, and butter. You can adjust the amounts according to how many berries you manage to forage. As I mentioned, I had about a cup and a half. I washed the berries in a couple of changes of water, and you will have to pick off the little stems from each berry one at a time. Your fingers turn purple, but it’s not unpleasant.
This turned out really tasty. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten mulberries before. They have a very soft, juicy, indescribable taste, not quite like any other flavor I can think of. This was good with whipped cream lightly sweetened with maple syrup and a dash of vanilla essence.
And here’s Culture with Alone in the Wilderness. What a beauty.