The Affrontery

We’re going to start a restaurant called “The Affrontery.” It will be a place you can come to be mildly outraged at things you don’t really care about. A place you can loudly air your imaginary grievances. And you can share your outrage with other people who also pretend to be affronted by the same things, and you can build off each others’ offended sensibilities, until your anger starts to feel real to you. And you can all feel clever when you ALL use the exact same phrases, as devoid of meaning as your anger is devoid of feeling, until the words somehow become a homing signal to the outraged. You and your new friends can fuel the fire of your ire by telling each other shocking things you mis-read on social media or half-heard on Fox News, where feeding manufactured outrage is the only form of discourse, the lowest form of discourse. And what begins as mild irritation at people who frighten you because they’re slightly different from you in any way at all, will grow and build into a real terror that civilization as you know and define it, is at risk. Though, of course, you’ll know it’s not true, not nearly true. It’s just that the anger is so addictive, so infectious, the feeling of being included in this gang of self-righteous haters so delicious, that you’ll tell yourself you believe it.

And the waiters will run, screaming, to the exits.

Of course there’s no need to start such an establishment, because we already have the Internet. Maybe people have always been this way; but surely the ease of talking on the internet, the shallowness of connection, and the anonymity of the speaker contribute to the cruelty of the rhetoric. In my own town, people are unfailingly kind when they meet in person, but unnervingly abusive on the community Facebook page. Somehow, reasonable adults are turned into middle school bullies, or maybe it’s just that this sadly-human instinct is given room to grow. The sickening feeling of join-or-become-a-target is depressingly familiar.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that this false fury belittles actual anger. In a grotesque twist, this mock outrage is often directed at people who actually have something to be angry about. Because real anger is powerful, and that is frightening to people trying to cling onto whatever power they feel they are entitled to. Real anger is an agent for change, so they try to subvert it and represent it as hysteria or categorize it as nonsense. Women and other marginalized people recognize this treatment (Side note! “I’m not hysterical, I’m angry,” from the latest episode we’ve watched of my current favorite show. Call My Agent). The anger of the Black Lives Matter movement was seen as revolution or worse. But on January 6th an insurrection fueled by ignorance and affrontery–was described as a pleasant tour through the capitol building by very fine people. The entire history of our flawed nation, so grotesquely, predictably skewed; the false anger that has sustained us for as long as we’ve existed desperately trying to cover the devastating depths of justified anger we are terrified to acknowledge.

I love something I saw recently, a lot of people have seen it, but it’s so beautiful I will share it here. I saw an interview in which these beautiful girls described the incident that inspired them, and they said “We were really angry so we decided to write a song about it.” That’s what we need, really angry people who are angry about actual injustice, to write, sing, paint, and yell about it. Pure anger, pure, joyful, change-the-world anger. (Another side note: I know that anger doesn’t need to be this sweet and beautiful. I know that true righteous anger can be frightening and ugly and still valuable and still beautiful)

Almond-raspberry cake and the mulberry geese

I walked along, thinking about how I hate hateful people (because I’m self-aware like that) and gathering evidence of hatefulness-for-no reason, in my busy brain. And then, in these thoughts almost myself and all of humanity despising, happly I happened upon **the one thing we’ve all been waiting for, for more than a year.** It’s the mulberry geese: of course it is. Along the towpath there grows a mulberry tree, which somehow stretches through a stone wall to spread its beautiful, mossy, glowing green branches across the canal, almost to the towpath. It creates a beautiful green world, with light from the water casting rippling gold on mossy branches. And when the berries ripen and fall, the geese and ducks gather below and race each other to catch every plump berry that plops into the water. THIS IS MY FAVORITE THING IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW!

Last year when I was feeling a little down, for all the reasons everyone was feeling down last year plus a few more, I passed the mulberry tree, with its canopy of beautiful leaves and its battalion of hungry waterfowl. I felt, for the first time in a long time, a kind of love for a moment or a place or an inanimate object that actually elevates your spirits. I felt it irrationally and physically in that part of me that people once foolishly described as their heart. I can’t quite explain the reason I love this mulberry tree so much. It is an undeniably pretty part of my favorite place in the world. (my towpath). Isaac says I use the word “love” too much, and I know I do. I know I’m soft in the head and the heart. But I do genuinely love the geese, the ducks, the tree, the berries, the moving light, the water, the time of year, the mossy wall.

Years ago I wrote a children’s story about the mulberry ducks (and illustrated it a bit too!) and there’s something about spring that makes you want to wake up and create things again. The mulberry tree evokes the happiness of writing that story. In the story the young ducks are waiting for the berries to fall until some clever crows show them how to hop on branches and knock the berries off. They get so full they feel ill, and decide to go back to swimming in the cool water, waiting for the berries to fall on their own. On the one hand it could be seen as a condemnation of ingenuity and ambition, which is probably not the best message for children. But I prefer to see it as a mediation on knowing the value of having enough. Of having the patience to allow things to happen in their own time, at their own pace.

But mostly I love the beautiful hopeful gesture of the geese and ducks, waiting for the fruit to drop in a beautiful place on a beautiful day. They look up at you with their sweet faces if you throw the mulberries from the path to them, and they swim in a pretty flurry if you shake the branches so the berries fall. I am currently between jobs and entirely without a career, but I can’t think of a better way to spend my time than swimming beneath the spreading green world of the mulberry tree, waiting for the berries to fall.

I made this cake for our 25th wedding anniversary. It’s like a miniature version of a wedding cake. Very simple, very easy, very pleasing in every way. I made the whole thing in a food processor, which meant that it went quickly and produced a very very smooth, fine-crumbed cake. And you can’t beat raspberry and almond for good flavors. It’s quite a small cake. You might think you won’t be able to slice it across in half, but it does work. It’s almost like a very large soft cookie. It’s good with coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, or red wine after dinner.

Here’s Al Green with Here I Am. It’s been in my head for over a week, but I don’t mind, cause it’s so good.

Recipe after the jump.

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Smoked mozzarella and mushroom tart (in a poppyseed buttermilk biscuit crust) & Vaccination Ruminations.

What’s down the road?

When we got the first shot I felt a little weepy. Partly it was the idea that more than a year of constant stress and worry could be on its way to some sort of resolution. But mostly it was seeing this coordination of humans working, through fear and worry, towards something for the better of each of us and all of us. For as long as I can remember the idea of big groups of people working together towards a common goal has inexplicably made me weepy. Political demonstrations, marching bands marching, cross country meets. I don’t know why it does but it does. And this time the sense of being part of something bigger than any of that, something global, well, that made me a bit of a puddle. We were at a drive-through clinic in an unremarkable suburban community center, but it glowed with all the concerned cheerfulness of the volunteers and nurses and medics and people about to get a shot. I thought about how several of my ongoing worries (Malcolm’s first year of college, the La Liga season) would be resolved by the time we got the second shot, their stories wrapped up: I didn’t know now, but I would then. (Malcolm’s first year of college very very good, the La Liga season not so good, if you’re wondering)

We drove to the second shot through sun-baked fields surrounded by trees shimmering with the songs of cicadas, out of the ground for the first time in 17 years. How the world has changed while they were underground growing, never knowing all the strange busy-ness of people above the ground.

To be honest I was worried about the side effects of the second shot. People would say, “I just started to feel like myself again” when they described recovering from the aches and pains and fatigue, as if being ill made them something other than themselves.

For me the only side effect from either shot was a sore arm and middle-of-the-night thoughts on the strangeness of time passing. The strangeness of the human body, of my own blood moving through my veins. The strangeness of disease, and how it has taken on a personality in this last year, become a character in a story: mercurial, unpredictable, ruthless. The strangeness of medicine, how the things we once believed to be true we no longer do, and the things we now believe one day we won’t. What we worry about now some day we won’t. Old stories will be resolved while new ones are begun, new characters introduced, for everyone, all over the world, humans and cicadas alike. We don’t know now, but one day we will.

Mushroom, ricotta and smoked mozzarella tart with a poppyseed buttermilk biscuit crust.

In my mind I invented this buttermilk biscuit crust. It’s got about half the butter of a regular pastry crust, so in theory it’s a little healthier. It’s more crumbly than flaky, but it’s tender and tasty, and very easy to work with. You can roll it out or just press it into the pan with damp hands. I added ground pepper and poppyseeds to this version because I thought it went well with the smokey cheese and smokey mushrooms, but that’s up to you. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make substitute milk soured with a bit of lemon or vinegar till it gets lumpy. In the olden days I would roast or pan fry the mushrooms first, but this time I just coated them in olive oil and piled them on top, so they would retain some of their juiciness.

Predictably, this makes me cry.
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Umami Linguini and juvenilia

Among my juvenilia. I found this cat and mouse I made when I was in high school, maybe? Malcolm made me this Clio and alien sculpture when he was in high school, maybe? Crazy, right?

My parents dropped off 7 boxes full of dusty and brittle testaments to my enduring madness. Letters, full notebooks, empty notebooks, postcards, photographs, random notes from friends, fortune cookie fortunes, yellowing newspaper articles, ticket stubs, an award from my college dorm for being “least likely to be functioning in reality at any given moment.” And stories, so so many stories.

It’s a discombobulating experience to sift through relics of different periods of my life with my boys looking on: Journals about how confused and lonely I was at Isaac’s age, notes and letters from people who were so important to me at Malcolm’s age–people I think about often but never speak to any more. Strange to see myself from outside, in a way, as a person or even a character in the story of my life. I’m so accustomed to the view from inside my head as I wander through life as a collection of worries, hopes, dreams, appetites, and fairly constant confusion. Digging through the layers of my years brings alternating waves of thinking I liked myself as a person and thinking what a precious fool. It’s a disarming feeling of self-consciousness I rarely feel any more, and an odd echo of so many of the questions I had as a youth.

Here’s an excerpt from a sort of journal entry written on January 23, 1989 at 3:36 p.m. “I like people right now. Almost all of them. It is usually all or none. I’m going to stop worrying about being one.”

Here is an excerpt from a fairly long story I wrote. Parts of the very long story are dreadful, parts of it are appealingly Kafka-esque, and I think I like this bit of nonsense that is almost complete unrelated to the rest of the plot, inasmuch as there is a plot at all.

“The weather had changed, and by the time he reached the gates to the park, his coat seemed too heavy and made him feel stodgy. In the park he was suddenly aware of the sighing, sweet, wet smell of thawing things. The strong colorless light made everything stand out so sharply that Paul could almost not bare to look, though he felt a pain at the thought of missing anything touched by this pale glow. Paul began to run, and felt the cool wet leaves slap again his face and tug at his coat. The path grew narrower and more overgrown. Finally Paul stopped and sat on a bench on a muddy bank leading to a pond.

Paul tilted his head back to feel the sun glow through his eyelids. he breathed deeply of the murky pond smell and looked into the bewilderingly, jumpingly blue sky. The only perfect view. As he did so he noticed he was not alone, and he drew his coat together.

Standing not far from the bench and staring at him very intently was a boy with straight back hair, and very pale skin, smoothly patterned with turquoise veins. His eyes were brown and the sun shot back into the small hollow of his iris, resonating beneath the shadow of his lashes.

‘Seek not…’ he began in a clear voice.

‘God, you surprised me!’

‘Seek not to be…’

‘What are you doing here? You really…I didn’t hear you at all.’

‘Seek not to be understood but to understand.’

‘What?’

‘Seek not to be loved but to love.’

“What are you saying?’

‘Dunno.’

‘Did you invent it?’

‘Dunno. No.’ He glanced at Paul from the side of his dark eyes and then looked away quickly again. ‘Look, ducks.’ He stood to climb down to the pond but Paul put a hand around his frail, pale wrist.

‘What did you say? Where did you hear that? What does it mean?’

The boy’s arm became tense in Paul’s hand and he looked down at his feet.

‘Did you say seek to understand? Do you mean that? Someone told me not to understand, to appreciate, perhaps, I was thinking, but you said…do you think it’s true, what you said?’

‘You got any gum?”

And that’s enough of that self-indulgent nonsense! Apologies for the nostalgia-steeped rambling!

A housekeeping note, I will be moving my crush-of-the-day brand of nonsense to Facebook. Here’s the page.

This pasta came about because I wanted to make a pasta sauce freed from the shackles of expectation. I didn’t want to make an Italian-style pasta or an Asian-style pasta, but one that combined elements that taste good together. The result is this spicy, smokey, nearly meaty dish. Very simple to make, completely open to variation (for instance, I had a little thai red curry paste in the fridge, so I threw that in, but if you don’t have it, still yummy). I forgot to take a picture of it till it was mostly gone, and it went very quickly! If you want it to be vegan just leave out the butter and parmesan, it will still be good!

Here’s A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays by De La Soul. Beautiful song, beautiful video.

Recipe after the…JUMP!

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French Lentil and Black Rice soup (and burgers) And the most beautiful short film I’ve seen in years

La Bienvenida by Fernando Eimbcke is a beautiful short film about commitment, hope, and a refusal to be disappointed. It tells the story of a band in a small town in Mexico. They are learning a piece by Mozart to welcome an unnamed dignitary to their town. The film focuses on the sousaphone player, who is having some trouble mastering his part. We follow him on the long walk home from practice, watch him sit outside his small house in the moonlight, playing his part. Watch him walk to two stores looking for milk for his crying baby, then feeding the baby, then practicing in the moonlight again, and waking the next day, still in the chair outside his house, slumped over his instrument. Then walking to the town to take his place with the band under banners and streamers. It’s a hot day, there’s a long wait, there’s a pale donkey. And I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s delightful, delightful.

Everything about this film is beautiful to me. It glows like it was filmed on the moon: shifting shadows and glowing lights. A crocheted blanket over a window, a convenience store in the middle of nowhere, the pale donkey, the sousaphone itself, the warm, kind face of the sousaphone player: everything is beautiful. I see echoes of Fellini in the town scenes, echoes of Kurosawa in the landscapes, echoes of Jarmusch and Ozu in the rhythm, pace, and stillness of the movement. But it has a language and aesthetic all its own. So much is left unexplained, and the dialogue is barely existent, but you feel real love for the man and his baby, and the white haired woman rocking the baby. Visually it’s got a remarkable cool-warmth, and the story itself also glows with a generosity and honesty and quiet humor. Take ten minutes and watch this remarkable film. Yes I used the word “glow” too often, but I love things that glow, I love the word “glow” and this film GLOWS.

The short is part of a collection of shorts by Mexican directors called Revolucion, and all of them are worth watching. Fernando Eimbcke also directed Temporada de Patos (Duck Season), one of my favorite films ever.

In a similar vein, we have a mixed CD of musicians from Lagos, which I’m slightly obsessed with at the moment. This morning I said, “I love this one.” and David said, “Oh yeah, that’s very Claire-y.” Turns out it’s by Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson. It’s not actually unlike La Bienvenida, with its cool melty warmth, its light and darkness, its slightly-out-of-tune horns. And here it is:

I was thinking of writing a cookbook of meals that you can turn into burgers or croquettes the next day if you have leftovers. It’s such a thrifty, depression-era way to cook, and I hate hate hate throwing food away. In my experience, anything you make with legumes and grains can easily be made into croquettes or burgers with a couple of additions. Generally if it’s saucy you want to add things to bulk it up and dry it out: bread or cracker crumbs, always, and lately I’ve been adding a small amount of chickpea flour and high gluten flour (which is what they make seitan from). This made a nice warm, smokey, brothy, substantial soup, and delicious burgers the next day.

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Petals (and filled yeasted-savory-crepes)

It’s petal-falling season in our town. On cherry-tree-lined streets the slightest of breezes will send delicate pink and white petals all around you in a soft warm tizzy. The petals from the cherry tree in our yard swirl into our open door, persistent, and end up somehow in every room, even in rooms we don’t use, like small worries or memories from a dream. Every year I think of the same thing: The Exile’s Letter by Ezra Pound (or by Li Po and translated from the Chinese by Ezra Pound). It’s foolish to have a favorite poem, of course, but this one has been in my head for years, indelibly, since I first read it. (I know Ezra Pound was a fascist, I understand that, and it does complicate my love for the poem). To be honest, though the whole poem is strange and beautiful, it’s the end that I really love:

And if you ask how I regret that parting?	
It is like the flowers falling at spring’s end,	
                    confused, whirled in a tangle.	
What is the use of talking! And there is no end of talking—	        
There is no end of things in the heart.	
 
I call in the boy,	
Have him sit on his knees to write and seal this,	
And I send it a thousand miles, thinking.

The language and the imagery, though simple, are both so pretty, and the feeling is of such longing and regret. And I love the construction “And I send it a thousand miles, thinking.” I don’t know if there’s a name for it, but I think anything would be beautiful written like this. “I scrubbed the toilet, remembering.” or “I left for work, wondering.” Love it. But it’s this, it’s this: “What is the use of talking! And there is no end of talking—There is no end of things in the heart.” It kills me.

And as I was thinking about this poem, I remembered another poem that is similarly lodged in my brain for decades, I Know a Man, by Robert Creeley:

As I sd to my   
friend, because I am   
always talking,—John, I

sd, which was not his   
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for   
christ’s sake, look   
out where yr going.

Perfection. So much spoken in so few words.

And then there’s Diary of a Country Priest, the film by Robert Bresson. It’s foolish to have a favorite film, of course, but this one spoke to me as few films have. I’ve written about it before, so allow me to quote myself:

His solemnity and his honesty raise him above the petty bickering of his parishioners. He doesn’t bother to defend himself from their accusations, because his understanding is on a completely different level. When he realizes this he says, beautifully, “I’d discovered with something bordering on joy that I had nothing to say.” I love that. The film is full of unexpectedly beautiful statements like this. His “old master” an odd sort of priest who appears throughout the film, follows a stream of advice with the words, “And now, work. Do little things from day to day while you wait. Little things don’t seem like much, but they bring peace.”

And I wonder what it is about these poems and films that they’re with me all the time. Why am I so drawn to examinations of talking and not talking? I love to talk, I love to discuss, and banter, and disagree, and agree, and connect, and despair of never connecting, and learn, and share a joke, and share things I love–songs and movies and books, and learn about those things that somebody else loves. I talk too much, there’s no doubt about that, and talking is strangely addictive, once I start, it’s hard for me to stop. It’s been a strange year for a talker. Sometimes I feel like a fizzy bottle of pop that’s been unwisely shaken.

But I’m also profoundly fond of silence, and aware that all that is most important transcends words. In a world of constant noise and bickering and shouting for attention, it’s sometimes a joy to remember the weight of silence.

And I hit publish on the post, thinking.

Here’s Jordi Savall with one of my favorite wordless pieces of music. The chaconne from Antoine Forqueray’s Pieces de Viole.

I had the idea of making savory crepes, but of frying them with the filling right inside, rather than making the crepes and filling them after. I also made a yeasted batter, which makes the crepe a little more substantial, almost like a flatbread in some ways. These turned out really good. I made some with spinach and ricotta and shallots and garlic and herbs for David and myself, and one without spinach for Isaac, who has now decided he only likes it in saag paneer, for the time-being. You could really fill it with anything you like, though. I’d thought about roasted mushrooms and sharp cheddar, or you could do roasted peppers and feta and olives. Whatever strikes your fancy! The cheese helps to hold it together, but if you’re vegan you could substitute mushy legumes. And if you’re vegan leave out the egg and use warm water instead of milk.

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Farro risotto with fennel & butternut squash and Veggie Burgers

On some days, at the change in seasons, you can walk into your own house and it feels strange to you. In the spring when you first open a window or a door–you might smell a spring rain or sunshine on dirt and grass. Or in the fall when you first turn the heat on, and the radiator kicks and hisses, and the smell is such a new but familiar comfort.

I walked into the house the other day, the back door was open and spring with all of its scents wafted in, and I was reminded of that moment when you come home after being away for a week or so, and can smell your house the way a stranger can–when something so close and so customary that your senses don’t register it becomes a step removed. And then as I passed through the house I imagined that all of it was new to me. The pictures of my beautiful adult or nearly-adult boys; the masses of stones and sticks and other odd treasures we’ve accrued over the years; pictures by David and the boys; all the beautiful nonsense we’ve collected–ticket stubs and feathers and corks and shells and hastily scrawled notes–most of which is only beautiful or valuable because of memories attached.

I imagined myself of 30? 40? years ago, walking through the house, never knowing this life was my life. It’s a strange house, and it’s a lovely life. After the long littleness of being stuck in the same few rooms for over a year, it’s good to float through your own life as in a dream, allowing everything to feel new and unexpected to you. Everyone should try it.

This time of year is all about nostalgia, April mixing memory and desire, as it does, stirring dull roots with spring rain. The cherry trees and Magnolia blossoms lining our streets don’t smell pretty or floral, but their scent will bludgeon you with the memory of playing with friends in backyards till the dusk fell all around you like flower petals, and you were called into the slumbering warm lights and smells of your familiar house, too close to notice.

Speaking of things that make me weepy (it doesn’t take much these days) here’s Johnny Flynn with The Water. I like all the versions, but especially the ones with his sister.

I like a Farro risotto. It’s not as soft and squish as a rice risotto, and I like the fact that it asserts itself in that way. I’m also a bit obsessed with fennel at the moment. And licorice all sorts, though those do not feature in this dish. It’s a bit of a joke in my family–you have the impossible burger, the Incredible burger, but we have the inevitable burger, because if I make something with grains and beans, as I so often do, I will turn the leftovers into burgers. This could be black rice, black bean and beet chili, or couscous and chickpeas, or this very dish. It works well, it’s economical and it’s delicious. Try it yourself! Recipe after the break

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Mood

Strange day, strange nights’ sleep for many nights, strange dreams. Went for a walk with Clio at twilight when the sunset was pale pink against an indefinable grey in the trees and shadows. This time of year is like that–all that is pretty and warm and bright trying to assert itself against all that slumbers. This year, I’m not sure what I’m more comfortable with, because it’s been a strange dream of a year, and I know I’m not ready to wake up yet. I know that. There has been a strange comfort in the closing-in this year, despite everything or because of everything. But walking along home, half-asleep, my thoughts started petty, worried, anxious, and then along the way as the light deepened, my spirits elevated, my thoughts lightened. And I realized that I love my thoughts and nobody can take that from me. Just walking through a small city in a big, troubled country, past houses with the warmth of lights just turning on at close of day. Houses full of people I don’t know, lives and worries and joys I’ll never know. All these people with their own thoughts and cares. Nobody can take our thoughts from us, and I know that is a burden sometimes, but I have to believe that ultimately it is a gift. Nobody can take our thoughts from us, so we must try to cultivate them, as simple and impossible as shaping our dreams.

Dream a Little Dream of Me is the song of the day, and I’ve chosen this version. I’ve been thinking about this movie lately. What a perfect thing this Beautiful Thing was.

Marginalia (and roasted golden beet, olive, and feta salad with fennel vinaigrette)

My friend Laura posted a picture of a stick library for dogs; basically a pile of sticks with a sign saying take-a-stick-leave-a-stick. (NO, Claire, NO! Leave it! Drop it! No more talking about dogs and sticks!) When I saw the picture I instantly thought that Clio would be way more interested in the dogs who had carried the sticks than in the sticks themselves. When she finds a well-gnawed stick she reads it, she studies it. She can probably tell every dog who carried it, what they had for breakfast, what mood they were in when they ate that breakfast.

Then I was thinking about books you get from an actual library–a book library–and how one of the pleasures of a book-library-book used to be seeing the names of the people who had checked the book out before you. I think nowadays they just stamp a date due, but if you get an older book you can still see the names of everyone who borrowed it, and the dates they did. Seeing those hand-written names evokes a rare wistfulness and curiosity. Sometimes people would check the book out multiple times, and you wonder what was happening in their lives that distracted them from it. Probably they just got bored, but maybe they set it aside to tend to someone with an illness. Or did they have an illness? Did they have a sudden chance for a trip around the world, and were they worried about taking a library book with them because they might lose it? Sometimes the same person would check the book out and then check it out again years later. And you can imagine them reading the book, setting it aside, and then something reminding them of it later, as they sat outside on a spring evening, with the light slanting just a certain way, and the birds singing a song they didn’t remember that they remembered. You think about what was going on in their life that made the book important to them again at that time.

And remember in high school, when you’d see the list of names in a well-worn text book, and you’d recognize, maybe, someone’s cool older sister? And how she wrote the name of her favorite band in bubble letters all over the inside covers, and you’d wonder what life was like when she walked the halls, if the school smelled the same, if the light was the same, or if it has that pale yellow glow of old home movies as it did in your imagination.

And when you buy a book from a used book store, if you’re lucky, whoever had it before you (or all the many people who had it before you!) left notes, and replies to the notes, and doodles. My favorite marginalia is that of my son Isaac, in every single math workbook or history worksheet ever. Of course I should tell him to concentrate on his studies, of course I should discourage him from making a world of sketches instead of focussing on his assignment. But his doodles are so perfect, so beautiful.

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Bringing sticks home

Every morning Clio and I go for some sort of run/walk/amble/stumble. For a while in the winter it was more of a slog-and-fall over feet of mush or ice. But lately…WHAT? You don’t want to hear about another walk with my dog? Yeah, nobody does, I get that. But, this is the story I wanted to tell: Every walk lately, the last week or so, she brings home a stick. She can run around the field, trying one stick or another, but once she’s found a good stick there’s no dillydallying and stopping to smell anything or talk to a dog-friend or listen for important dog-news. She’s just home as fast as she can, doggedly, navigating all obstacles with the stick in her mouth. And when we get home she leaves the stick by our front door. David gathers the sticks and puts them in the fire pit in our very slowly thawing back yard.

Clio doesn’t have plans for the stick when she gets home–it’s all about the journey, the process, the act of carrying the stick home. I feel like this is an important life lesson. Others have written about this, but nobody so well as Clio.

Writing this blog, for instance, is like carrying sticks home. I know nothing great is going to come from it, I don’t have big plans for it, but when I have a thought I like, maybe out on a walk with Clio, I’ll carry it home, doggedly, and try to leave it by the Ordinary’s front door when I get here. And I had a dream the other day, that I made a painting of a dream I’d had earlier in the week. And I spent all weekend painting the dream. I’m not the best at painting, but the process of painting was a pure pleasure to me. (As is the process of dreaming.) I don’t have plans for it when it’s done, it’s just about the process of carrying it home from my head to a piece of paper.

If I questioned painting my dream–if I question what I write for the Ordinary, (and believe me, I do) it’s hard to write anything. If I think “what’s it all in aid of?” “what good will it do?” I don’t know, maybe I’d never get out of bed! But the process is so appealing. The process of walking, during all the seasons, of making meals, of thinking thoughts and writing them down, of dreaming dreams and trying to paint them. Of bringing sticks home, proudly, and leaving them by the door, even in the knowledge that they’ll go up in sweet-smelling smoke on a cool spring evening.

That’s what it’s all in aid of. Why does it make it all worthwhile? I honestly don’t know, and yet it does, I have to believe that it does. Carry your stick home, friends. Don’t question it, carry it with pride, nose high, and enjoy every second of the journey.