Friday, February 24, 2012

Home at Last

"The light is so rich outside," I said to Helen last night as we pulled down the blinds in the front room. "Don't you think the light is so rich?"

She just kind of nodded at me, preoccupied. The blinds are a technical challenge that don't really admit distractions like mom nattering on about the light. But really: it snowed yesterday during the night, after a day of heavy wind that threatened to keep my plane in the air, circling, bumpily, forever, while my house was down there, just right there, and I couldn't get to it; and as night fell, the snow was this deep royal blue and the trees and sidewalks and streets were almost violet. The lights on behind us in the house and superimposed over the deep blue snow were a homey yellow brown and it was so calm and beautiful I wanted to stay in that light forever. However, there was dinner to make, and spelling tests to prepare for, and et cetera et cetera, and when I turned around again it was night and everything outside was invisible.

So: it is good to be home. The kids really missed me this time, especially Silas, which caught me by pleasant surprise. Sometime I think he doesn't really miss anything except his Wii, during those long, long hours he is forced to be at school or asleep, and indeed, one of the stories he was anxious to share when I came to say goodnight was how he rented Modern Warfare Three from the Redbox at King Soopers (ye gods--really, must we go there? Modern Warfare? Isn't that for 16-year-olds?). It's been nice these first few days home to be not rushed, too, so I haven't been snappish at all. That part has been so nice that it's made me wonder if snappishness is something I could actually give up, like, for good. I mean, it's not like it accomplishes anything, and it's not like being rushed as a state of being is really enhanced by also shrieking at people to get their teeth brushed, now, unless you want your teeth to fall out of your head. Hm.

The work trip went fine. I managed meetings and booth duty and sessions and socializing without undue melancholy; I ate some terrific food and went on long runs along the waterfront and tipped the maid appropriately (this is always something I agonize over). I saw the Gum Wall and had tea and crumpets and bought 3 pounds of smoked salmon at the Pike Street Mall. I kept up on typing my meeting notes and came away with a list of action items that was invigorating but not overwhelming. And I read a lot. I finished The Sense of an Ending (blew my mind, a little, although I still prefer Flaubert's Parrot and I'm not sure I ever really had the narrator's back, so to speak) and Heavenly Questions (this one did blow my mind and I'm still amazed that this little blue book can hold so much inside of it). I cried over the tsunami parts in Lives Other Than My Own but otherwise this assemblage of reading material was not as sad as I expected it to be. The essays in Pulphead (by, correction, John Jeremiah Sullivan) are fantastic and humbling--the first few are just good writing, plain and simple (or complex and delicious, David-Foster-Wallace-style, without the desperation), and then he gets into scholarship, for the love of god, and it turns out he's good at that, too, and it kind of makes you reassess your own talents and wonder why, exactly, you don't bring half this energy to your own work? Also, I really want to visit some Midwestern cave paintings, now. And listen to Robert Johnson.

And under all of it, real life. The sword of Damocles that hangs over us all. I'm not forgetting. I just don't like to talk about it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The city of rain and fog and coffee

Yes, that IS a tiger costume.
In a few hours it will be daylight and I will go get on a plane and fly to Seattle. This is a trip for work; it's the big annual event that everyone stresses over and plans for and prepares for. I assess my level of stress right now: moderate. It feels less like stress and more like "I have forgotten what it is like to ever sit down." Which is true. It seems like I spent most of my twenties either hiking through the mountains,  trying to figure out how I could be hiking through the mountains, or lounging around. With a heavy emphasis on the latter. Now I'm not even sure how it's done. Wait, you mean I just sit here? Like this? On the couch or what--a chair? Does this look right? Shouldn't I be picking things up or making someone some food?

At the far end of the plane ride there will be rain, and (presumably) seafood, and a lonely hotel room for which I'm simultaneously longing and dreading, and coffee shops. Oh, and lots and lots of meetings. I meant to buy a new suit of clothes for the meeting, something that actually resembled a suit, but on Wednesday, which was the last-minute day I had set aside for the task, I couldn't face driving through the rush hour traffic to the mall. Or trying on suits, or looking at price tags. Especially that last one. So I will be wearing what I usually wear, with some extra snuggly warm things thrown in. I'm assuming I will be cold and damp the whole time, although I don't really mind cold and damp. I also kind of thought about buying some makeup, but--well, that's just too complicated. I haven't bought makeup for twenty years. So I will be my usual slightly faded self.

After careful consideration, I whittled down my bringalong books to five.

1. Pulphead, Jeremiah Sullivan. Essays. Just came in from the library.
2. Lives Other Than My Own, Emmanuel Carrere. Another library hold item that came in just in time to go.
3. The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes.
4. Heavenly Questions, Gjertrud Schanckenberg. Poems.
5. Masque of Africa, V.S. Naipaul. Just renewed this for a third time so I could bring it along and maybe actually get a toehold in it.

So: hipster essays, memoir of the 2004 tsunami, a novel about death, poems about becoming a widow. Naipaul's book is the only one that won't make me want to hole up in a bar and howl. Well, luckily it's the fattest.

I'm still on the fence about whether Lewis and Clark will come. I'm getting rather fond of them both, with Lewis's continual but competence-induced fretting ("a terible calamity , the last thermometer got broaken and that was the most uceful pece we owned I beggan to dispair") and Clark's untroubled report of events ("horse fell 32 feet doan the montan was hurt verry bad destroyed my desk. shot 3 deer 6 elk a white bear") and the deliciously awful spelling. However, I'm near the weight limit for my baggage and my copy of the book is very fragile.

Well, daylight is almost here and I have a quick run to fit in and a shower and a hairwash. I may try to bring the camera, although I fear I'll be cramping Helen's creative output if I do so.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Snow Day

When I went for my run this morning, a huge yellow moon hung low over all the houses, an ethereal visitation that made the boring old neighborhood feel like a magical city on another planet. It helped that it's been snowing a lot this week, so the neighborhood is prepped to feel otherworldly and strange. But it got me thinking, as I ran down Caley, trying to remember to watch my feet, about the spirit of place, the senseness of things.

I'm often mindful of the spirit of the place this used to be. I'll put myself to sleep at night imagining the grassy barren plains that used to stretch from horizon to horizon where my neighborhood is now. I'll think of yucca and Bouteloua grass and rabbitbrush and sage and how lonely and calm this exact spot once was; sometimes I'll pretend it's still like that, under the streets and the houses and the garbage cans out for weekly pickup. It relaxes me.

But I'm not often mindful of what's here now. That's partly because I don't have to: it's here, with that dog barking two streets over at five a.m. and the snowplows going through in the night and the vague distant hum of I-25, a mile away. It's neither lonely nor calm. It's here, and if I think of it at all I soon slip into particularities of specific people and specific routines and how I need to remember to put the recycling out in the morning and we really should have the neighbors over for dinner again and have I checked that spot on the front sidewalk that ices up, lately? I get distracted.

But with that moon hanging low and beautiful over everything this morning, I did start to sense the spirit of the neighborhood itself. It's a head-down, eyes-on-your-own-work kind of place, older and shabbier than most of the surrounding neighborhoods but still prosperous, with flashes of wild longing for something else. It's cozy and well-stocked, with an occasional need of a good airing. This is a neighborhood where half the people park on the street because their garages are full. It has a hive-y, warren-y, connected feeling. Not perfect, not idyllic, not the kind of place you'd dream of living if you were a kid growing up in Ohio--but comfortable. Not bad.

It's been a busybusy two weeks. While I was flopping all over the place bellyaching about Si and his lack of interest in a second language or possibly even a first (relieved/mixed feeling update: he accepted my offer of compensation for education and he will be taking Spanish in the fall), I was up to my panicked elbows in organizing a before-school Spanish class at school for my other child. This is far and away the most involved I have ever gotten as a parent in the affairs of the school; while I'm a genial attender of meetings and enjoyable school fundraisers and have even helped to "host" an event or two (this mostly entails following some other mother's pleasantly detailed instructions on which fruit to buy where), I'm the sort of parent who would really rather mop the floors of the school, twice, with a toothbrush, than walk in and ask a business to sponsor Muffins with Mom. And they already have a janitor, so.... Plus my eyes start to glaze over when other parents start getting excited about how many thousands of dollars were raised at the auction or how great it is that every child has a smart board of his or her own. But! A Spanish class. That I can get behind. I'm even talking about trying to organize a summer Spanish camp, which, I suspect, involves levels of organizational perseverance and salesmanship that I simply do not possess. However. Busybusy, and I can say with relief that the class has left the ground.

In other project news, I got all het up by The Wild Table and went foraging last week before the snow fell. I'm very proud of my haul:

That's at least 6 oz of premium January sour dock, right there.
I found some dock--sour dock? curly dock? some other kind of dock? not sure--growing on the sunny south-facing side of an irrigation ditch, and later went back and cut a bunch, along with some dandelion greens growing nearby. It felt reasonably back-to-the-land-ish and adventuresome, although also "I'm a forty-year-old-mom-trying-to-pretend-I-know-what-I'm-doing"ish. There was also a carpet of a delicious-smelling umbelliferae plant growing in the ditch, and although it smelled as though it might be addictively rich like arugula I thought it might also be deadly water hemlock. So I passed.

Dock was the first wild plant I ever went out and harvested and tried to eat--I think I was in college at the time, and I want to say I made quiche. Is that even possible? According to all the guidebooks, dock tastes like spinach and could thus be used, theoretically, in a faux spinach quiche. I don't even like quiche, though. I guess I might not have known that yet.

In any case, both then and now, I have to say: dock kinda tastes like leaf. Not like a yummy lettuce or spinach leaf, either. Just: leaf. Endlessly sourish and leafish. It's the kind of wild food that might make one abandon eating wild food for twenty years, in fact.

Not that it didn't taste great when stir fried in olive oil with garlic:

Those look like eggs but they're garlic.
But I think the take-home message from that recipe is that you could fry grass clippings in olive oil and garlic and they would taste great.

So. I haven't given up on the wild food yet, but I think I'll wait until later in the year, when there are plants that are actually good growing out there.