On January first, 2021, I found myself spontaneously cleaning every clock face in the house. Windex and shine! For those where moisture was not possible, I used compressed air. Begone dust!
It was satisfying. Cleansing. Inviting.
Now for the miracle. A few weeks ago I took part in a book-gifting chain letter. I mailed off a book to someone, sent the rules to a couple people, and forgot about it.
On my walk with Finny yesterday, I listened to more of Brene Brown’s interview with Tim Ferriss. So much food for thought! On return, I swooped up onto the stoop to grab a package and came back into the house rattling about this thing Brown said and that thing. Let’s try “batching” and “marriage isn’t 50/50, sometimes it’s 80/20 or 10/25.”
As I was enthusing about Brown’s work, I opened the package to find one of her books. I was stunned. I was stunned particularly because I’d forgotten all about the book-gift thing. I had to text Ginny to track down the origin (it was from her nephew on her husband’s side) before it all made sense.
How do you like that?
On a more sober note (more sober than reorienting oneself to Time or being the recipient of a minor but nevertheless eye-opening miracle?) : I’ve started Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. HOLY CHRIST.
More to come. But just a teaser: when the Nazis were seeking to codify their racial caste system in the early days of Hitler coming to power, they studied American law AND THEY FOUND IT TOO EXTREME.
This year, I’m going to let my screen shots stand in as an annual review. Although I’m not sharing every single one, I’m posting a lot of them. They tell a story and one that isn’t quite so curated. There are a lot of poems included and movies I enjoyed. In other words, it’s not all gloom and doom!
Food memoir. Fascinating and well written. Partly of interest to me because she came of age roughly when I did and some of her stomping grounds overlap with mine (she went to Hampshire College for a year; I went to UMass Amherst). She is an unusual chef/restaurant owner for coming up through catering rather than working the line up to executive chef in someone else’s restaurant first. Hard working bad ass with crucial food experiences in Italy.
I also could relate personally, having been a lesser kind of bad ass who helped support herself from age 16 to 22 by working in restaurants. I’ve been a dishwasher, a salad girl, and a waitress in low and high end restaurants. Most memorable: kneeling to serve misonabe in huge clay pots in a tatami room for several summers. This was in a Japanese restaurant housed in a Victorian mansion at the intersection of Routes 20 and 22 in New Lebanon, New York. The kitchen was on the first floor and the tatami rooms were on the second floor. It was not for nothing that a customer once rudely referred to another waitress as a “stevedore.” (She was my height with rope-hard calves). But seriously, the teriyaki was served in iron skillets, the misonabes and yosenabes in eight inch diameter clay pots (with lids!) Put four of those on a tray, balance it on your shoulder, walk up a long, split stair case, lower the tray to a stand and then kneel to serve each and every one of those heavy, heavy dishes. Don’t forget to kick off your shoes!
You’d have strong calves, too!
This book was a debut novel or I’d rate it lower. If I was a book reviewer, I’d try to discern why I found the writing a little disappointing — after all the author got me to turn more than 300 pages in less than a week — but I’ll offer only one thing. The unlikeable main character.
The main character doesn’t realize her husband has early onset Alzheimer’s for an excessively long time because of the ignorance of the times. Okay. But she tolerates his bad behavior for so long and surely she had to see he suffered from SOME KIND of mental illness? She also delays getting help for a ridiculously long time. So between that and her insufferable need to social climb out of her humble beginnings in Brooklyn, I disliked her quite a lot. Really good writing can make up for an unlikeable character, but here?
I also read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this week. There were interesting overlaps with Thomas’s book in terms of place and time and I see why it goes on many people’s top ten lists but it wouldn’t go on mine. For one thing, the trope about the poor girl in rags reading a book a week just made me roll my eyes. (The alcoholic Irish dad, also a trope I suppose, didn’t bother me at all. He was rendered with some affection and depth). For another thing, it’s a little repetitive. And predictable.
It’s a depiction of a very poor family at the turn of the century in Brooklyn. Mother who cleans houses. Father who sings for a penny when he can and drinks. A son and daughter who have to drop out of school to earn their two dollars a week to help support the family. The details about what a family in these dire financial straights might eat in a week with no money was particularly compelling and called to mind things I’d heard from my father’s childhood. He was born about ten years after this novel ends. Raised on Brooklyn/Queens line. Also Catholic.
The book runs right into 1918 and although there was a lot of mention of entering the war in 1917, there was only passing reference to the influenza epidemic. For obvious reasons, I hoped otherwise.
Last night I finished Where the Crawdads Sing. Read it almost in a sitting. I definitely see what all the fuss is about.
When writing a novel, sometimes you avoid certain books because you don’t want to be undermined by them or discouraged by them or maybe for less clear reasons. I still haven’t read Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd or The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, though both are on the shelf upstairs. I’d avoided Owens’s book, too, even though it’s set in North and not South Carolina, just because.
Well. It’s a compelling and beautifully crafted book.
Landscape descriptions of the low lands are stunning and evocative
Depictions of trauma imposed by physical abuse and abandonment are believable and consistent and drive the story in interesting ways
There is redemption and a surprise twist
It proves the power of an author depositing a dead body in an early chapter
Time flashing back and forth well done
Author made two of the central character’s saviors Black without turning them into completely secondary and non-dimensional figures
Nature is a character in the best possible way
Let me just note, too, the synchronicity between the NC novel and Hamilton’s food memoir. Both the female character in Crawdads and the real live author/chef of Blood, Bones, and Butter were the last of five children and abandoned by their mothers. We’re not talking about mere psychological abandonment — their mothers walked right out of their lives. Some of Hamilton’s teenage years have a feral quality to them — stealing cars, passing herself off as three years older to get work in a kitchen and then moving to NYC as a young teenager and getting into drugs.
ALL of the years of Owens’s female character have a feral quality to them. It is the defining quality of her life, in fact. Nature is her companion, her parent, her teacher, and her source of survival.
And now three quotes from conversation between Brene Brown and Tim Ferris in recent podcast:
Ninety percent of pathology is armor.
The replacement for armor is curiosity.
Lasting change has to be driven by self-acceptance.
Spotify and sugar save the day! Had a cheerful morning here baking to Christmas carols. Otherwise, it’s been so quiet, so subdued.
Thumbprint cookies, pecan balls, and pinwheels — more to ship West, some for the neighbors, a few for us.
If you knew what a messy cook I used to be, you’d be shocked to see me wiping counters between measuring, laying the wet teaspoons on a dish towel, and getting all my ingredients out prior to beginning. This affirms for me that people DO change.
Determined about a week ago that we’d have lasagna this year. True to Covid-custom, I ordered everything on line. Waved to the peapod guy thru the door. But guess what? I forgot ricotta! Quick. Quick. Checked amazon fresh. Every single size and make of ricotta was out of stock. That’s when I learned that other people make Christmas lasagna, too.
That night, I did not sleep. Not a wink. Not because of my ingredient oversight but because I just don’t one or two nights a week. I usually read and eat a bowl of cereal — that night, French Granola and a novel about immigrants in Brooklyn at the turn of century entitled, We Are Not Ourselves.
It was well enough written to make me read it in a few days, but otherwise? Just okay. Compelling details, though, about early onset Alzheimer’s, which one of the main characters suffered from.
I was more impressed when I learned that it was Thomas’s first novel.
Once it was late enough (early enough?), I headed over to Wegman’s for ricotta. The early hour is reserved for seniors.
A gull flew over head as I made my way across the parking lot, its belly orange-hued from the rising sun. Later when I remembered that tangerine-bellied gull, I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it. Or when. That speaks to Covid-mind more than to age, I think. Was it really this morning that I saw that gull? How is it even possible?
The last time I’d been to Wegman’s was March 11. I don’t usually remember dates, but I’d had a bone density scan that day in one of the offices above the grocery store, so it’s easy to peg in time. (That DOES speak to age).
K started working from home two days later. So it’s been nine months. Nine months of barely going anywhere and hardly seeing anyone.
One in fifty residents of Los Angeles County is infected with the virus now. My brother has a construction crew coming in and out as well as physical therapists. What to do? Both the therapy and a handicapped-accessible bathroom are essential. Everyone is careful. Still, it’s hard not to worry. My brother acknowledged on the phone this morning that he would not survive Covid.
Meanwhile, both of my careful sons have roommates going home for the holidays. WHAT THE FUCK? Nice way to put entire households at risk! Both boys will have to assume those roommates are infected when they get back. They’d be smart to avoid them and wear a mask in the house, but I’ll bet they won’t. I had hoped to be past nagging by now.
One batch of my pinwheel cookies was a botch. Too tedious to explain, but — no matter — I decided to call them Comma-Lah Cookies. Get it?
I think my second fox is adorable, don’t you? The first one is below. I think I only shared it on Instagram.
I’m babbling, so I’ll sign off: Merry Christmas or Happy Belated Chanukah to all and to the United States of America — let’s have Happy New Year. A happy January 6. A happy January 20th. Let 2021 turn the tide.