Collard and black-eyed pea dumplings with pepper jack
At the beginning of the year Malcolm had to fill out some sort of worksheet to introduce himself to his new teacher. What does he want to be when he grows up? A mailman! Wot? I thought, not famous artist or rock star or astronaut? “Mailman” seemed like such an unlikely answer for a ten-year-old. Obviously, it’s a good, solid job, with benefits, and one anybody should be proud to hold. But our Malcolm is not a practical man. He’s zany and disorganized and fantastically impulsive. Sometimes it seems as though he’s got more physical and creative energy than can be safely contained in one human being. The more I think about it, though, the more I love his answer. I like the idea of having a sort of regular, down-to-earth, ordinary job (like, ahem, waitressing, say), and having the rest of your life be the outlet for your creative energy. I believe that it’s grounding. I believe that working with people and serving people is inspiring and that anything you do, creatively, benefits from the sort of warmth of understanding you achieve when you feed a person or ring up their groceries or deliver their mail. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that artists are a refined class unto themselves, with supersensitive souls and a delicate constitutions. Everybody, human and animal alike (I believe) is possessed of a potentially rich and receptive sensibility, if they take the trouble to open themselves up, and the time to notice. And plenty of well-known artists have had very ordinary jobs. T.S. Eliot worked as a teacher and a banker, and apparently scribbled his poems on matchbook covers. William Carlos Williams was a doctor. (And I’m sure there are plenty of other examples, if anybody else would like to chime in, here.) Obviously, it would be wonderful to have a rewarding career, creatively and financially, and find everything you need in one package. But that’s not a reality for many people. For me, the important thing is not what you do for a living, or how much money you make, but how you occupy your mind while you’re doing your job. I can just see Malcolm, walking from house-to-house, his mind a-buzz with crazy schemes and inventions. (In fact, he once described a scenario in which he worked as a mailman, and as well as people’s mail, he’d deliver trash from house to house. He’s a big fan of trash, and likes to make new things out of it. So he’d deliver one person’s cool garbage to somebody else who could use it to make something they need. One person’s trash is another person’s inspiration.) I believe this applies to motherhood as well. It’s so hard to be a mom sometimes – you’re criticized for working, criticized for giving up work to stay home. It can lead to real feelings of failure! (Which, in turn, makes you a worse mother, which makes you feel like more of a failure, and on and on…) Whether you stay at home or you’re out of the house building a career, you can always have something that you’re working on, in your head or on paper or on canvas or on film. You can delight in your children as your creation, and celebrate their imagination.
The very act of cooking dinner in the evening can be an expression of your artistry! And you’re sustaining your family! Double plus bonus points!! This weekend at work I didn’t make very much money, but I was allowed to take home some leftover cubes of pepper jack cheese. Score! And we got some collards from the farm. I’ve been dreaming about making some sort of savory pastry – crunchy outside, soft and warm inside, with lots of melting cheese (it’s started to get very cold here!). I love secret melted cheese! So I decided to make a cornbread crust, and inside have a layer of collards and black-eyed peas surrounding a big soft melty bit of spicy cheese. I thought these were so delicious, I was quite proud of them, and gobbled them up. They were fun to make, too. And as David pointed out – black-eyed peas and collards are both considered lucky foods!
Here’s a song David discovered that’s been stuck in my head (in a good way) ever since he played it for me. I find it quite moving! It’s Neneh Cherry and the Thing with Dream Baby Dream.