Tag: big thoughts
There was a chair in the front window of my teenage bedroom, but I almost never sat there. It faced into the room, because all there was to see outside was the house across the street, with its dirty-blond buzz-cut of a yard and a security system sign staked by the door. The chair was next to my bookshelf, and as such, it mostly collected books I was too lazy to shelve. The only time I sat in it, that I remember anyway, was the day before I left for college. It was late afternoon, maybe early evening. My dad was standing in the doorway, one shoulder against the frame. He’d been keeping me company while I kneeled on the floor in front of a gaping black suitcase, the biggest one we had, folding clothes and stacking them into its corners. I was tired and cranky and nervous, preoccupied with how much was left to do and how little time there was for it. I clambered up onto the chair.
“This is too hard,” I announced, slumping over my thighs. I was afraid of leaving home and afraid of where I was going, but I never would have said it aloud.
“You’d better get used to it,” Burg replied. “Life is hard. That’s how it is.” He never talked like that. Surely, I figured, he was ribbing me. I looked for the telling smile. It wasn’t there. A weird, crackling silence filled the room. He shoved off the door jamb, walked across the hall to his office, and shut the door.
I was about to turn 19, and I had a plane ticket to northern California, where I would in theory start a new life, my adult life, away from my family. My father was 68. He was still seeing patients, in seemingly good health, living in the house that he and my mother had always wanted. He was happy. But the man wasn’t young. Born in the year of the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression, the oldest son of Polish Jews who’d immigrated to Canada and later an immigrant himself, he dragged around all the aches and pains and piles of personal garbage that a human accumulates over seven decades of living. I was supposed to believe him, even if I didn’t want to.
But that thing he said has stayed with me, and I wonder at it sometimes, bat it around, tug at it, like one of June’s hair ties in my pocket. I think I wrote about it in A Homemade Life, actually, though I couldn’t find the passage when I went searching for it. (Maybe one of you knows where it is?) I always think about Burg in the midst of Big Life Stuff: marriage, birth, death, divorce – the moments, I guess, when my story feels too big to hold by myself. I never mean to, but there he is. It occurs to me that I am haunted. I wonder what he would say about who I am now, about June, about Brandon, about the woman I love, about Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, about Russia. Can you believe we are still talking about “the Russians,” like we’re stuck in a loop of Dr. Strangelove? I wonder why Burg walked away from me that day. Given everything, my life at age 38 and the world we live in, the abyss of which he seemed to be peering down that afternoon, do I get to be happy? How often? How?
I live in the house that Brandon and I bought six years ago last month. Until last August, I had never lived there alone, or as its only adult resident. I can hardly let myself think about what it must have been like for Brandon to leave behind our house and all the plans we had for it. He tells me it’s okay – that it was hard, but it’s okay. “You know me,” he says cheerfully, “I’ll have fun finding a new house someday. I like a new project.”
After the awful strangeness of our separation had started to give way to something different, still strange but strangely less awful, I started to move things around in the house, my house, to make it my own. I stopped waiting for someone else to take out the trash, change the lightbulb, put away the ladder. I threw out the expired prescriptions from the medicine drawer, and the creepy-looking earwax removal kit. I got tired of seeing the hose lolling next to the driveway like a reptile with wasting disease, so I went to Fred Meyer and handed over $29.99 for one of those plastic wheeled caddies you wind a hose around. No one has ever so jubilantly installed a hose caddy.
In January, there was a blockage in the sewer, and it backed up into the red-carpeted bathroom in the dungeon-slash-basement. There might be a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’m going to leave it where it is. Two months later, I can now correctly use the words water mitigation, asbestos abatement, concrete aggregate and trenchless sewer replacement in a sentence. It is not fun to spend money that you don’t really have on something you only appreciate because it means the absence of something you don’t appreciate. But I do now get to replace the carpet, and I don’t worry about the sewer anymore.
Last week, while scooping old ashes out of the fireplace, I noticed a thin, warped sheet of metal on the hearth, and when I lifted it, I found a rectangular hole set into the bricks. I texted Brandon a photograph of it, asking if he knew what it was. “You’re supposed to brush ashes in there,” he texted back. “And then clean them out in the basement by that little door.”
“Wait. There’s a little door in the basement?” I yell-texted into the phone as I ran down the stairs, hoping to find my own private doorway to Narnia. Sure enough, I found a small steel door in the wall of the laundry room, maybe six inches square and rusty. And though it was full, absolutely overflowing with cubic foot upon cubic foot of fireplace ash from the previous owner, the first thing I thought was, Laundry chute! I’ve always wanted a laundry chute – mostly because I want to be tiny like a human Stuart Little and slide down said chute, but also because: laundry chute. For the past six years, I’ve called the stairs to the basement my laundry chute, as I gleefully heaved dirty clothes, towels, and sheets over the railing. As it turns out, I had one all along! Almost! And really not at all! But I have an ash chute, and it thrills me. I intend to use it.
A couple of hours later, as I was coming down from the ash chute discovery, Brandon texted me a photo of June in the living room of his apartment, crouched inside a plain cardboard box that she was calling a puppet theater. There was some sort of frothy tulle situation wrapped around her lower half, and she was waving one of the three dolls she’s named after herself. I guess we’re all building the houses we want to live in. Whenever I’m at the grocery store that stocks the dishwasher detergent that Brandon and I both like, I buy an extra box for his apartment.
I hung a portrait of my dad in the front hall, a black-and-white close-up in which he wears a straw hat and a very knowing, dad-like look. I like having it there, though I don’t actually see it much, the way we stop seeing the walls or the floor. I think he walked away from me that day because he had to. Otherwise, he would have had to watch his last kid leave home. Now he gets to watch me leave every day, and at the end of that day, he gets to watch me come back.
Today it’s been 14 years since my dad died, and in most ways, it seems like longer than that. I’ve done a lot of living – maybe too much? – in those 14 years. But I can still hear his voice in my head, and I can still feel the hug he gave me in our driveway before I left to drive to Seattle for graduate school, in September of 2002. Burg would be 87 now, and I’m sort of glad I never had to see him diminished by old age – or, at least, not more than he was diminished in his last weeks, as cancer had its way with him. He would be glad to know that Mom and I now…Read more
I’ve always been drawn to the things we’re not supposed to talk about. I remember the night when, toward the end of writing A Homemade Life, I got into bed, switched off the light, and suddenly was hit with a very bad idea, an almost electric impulse to write about my father’s death. I wanted to take it out of my head and put it somewhere else: the color of his skin, the strange percussion of his breath, the nurse calling up the stairs in the middle of the night. I wasn’t writing a book about my dad, and I wasn’t writing a book about death; I was writing a food memoir, tra la la, with fifty recipes and a…Read more
Today I come to you from Sitka, Alaska, where I’ve been since last Saturday, leading a writing workshop on memoir and place. I’m among the faculty for the first-ever Sitka Arts and Science Festival, a week of multi-disciplinary cross-pollination and collaboration dreamed up by the Sitka Fine Arts Camp and several local partners, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s been cool and misty almost every day, summer-in-Sitka-y. I didn’t bring enough clothing for this weather, even though, after fourteen years in the Pacific Northwest, I ought to know better. I’m re-wearing what I did bring. Today is day four for these leggings, day two for this sweatshirt. I’ve been wearing my cheap Uniqlo down vest, and it spits out tiny white…Read more
I am not, in general, someone who keeps a running catalog of her favorites: favorite movie, favorite book, favorite song, favorite color, favorite number, and so on. A couple of decades ago, if pressed, I might have offered The Shawshank Redemption as my favorite movie, because I have a thing for Tim Robbins, and I also have a thing for Morgan Freeman’s voice, and, of course, it’s also a first-rate story. But then I moved to Seattle and rekindled my teenage love for Singles, which you know all about because I mention it near-constantly, and because it’s the only movie I can actually quote lines from. Still, I don’t know that I’d call it my favorite. That’s a strong word, and it scares…Read more
It seems lately that I’ve found a lot of good reasons to not cook – or, if I do cook, to not cook anything new or anything that requires more than a passing thought. I’m a big champion of scrambled eggs for dinner, as you likely know, and a seven-minute egg on anything that holds still, and I could eat Ed Fretwell Soup for an entire week of every month. I am currently in a very pleasant rut of all of the above, plus whatever-is-in-the-fridge-cut-up-and-dunked-in-vinaigrette and a decent amount of pizza from my own establishments, because what is the point of having restaurants if you can’t eat in them, right? Someday I will cook something new and write about it. But not today.…Read more
Every year, my friend Brandi takes her preteen niece Paige on a trip for spring break, and this year, June and I went along. Last week, the four of us spent four days exploring the Grand Canyon and nearby Antelope Canyon, eating trail mix (the kind with M&Ms in it, the only kind), and feeling a quasi-religious level of gratitude that the flat tire we got while driving between the aforementioned canyons didn’t occur in the desolation of mid-desert but rather in the parking lot of one of only two gas stations along the route. Somehow, June is now big enough to carry her own backpack. My life passes before my eyes. Back at home, I find that we have reached, yet again,…Read more
A couple of years ago, late one winter morning, we were out running errands in the neighborhood, and we stopped into La Carta de Oaxaca, on Ballard Avenue, for an early lunch. June was still in a high chair and not yet fully proficient at chewing anything with crunch, so we ordered their sopa de pollo for her, a rich, brothy chicken soup served in a bowl big enough for mixing cake batter, with the meat still on the bone and big hunks of zucchini, carrot, and chayote. I shredded the meat onto a plate and chopped up the vegetables with the side of my spoon. She ate with her hands, the juices running fast down her forearms, which were then still…Read more
Last night I got to spend some time with my friend Sam. We hadn’t hung out, just the two of us, for a while – maybe not since June was born, if I really think about it. Sometime in the next month, Sam will become a dad. We’ve somehow been friends for nearly a decade. When I got into his car last night, he had R.E.M.’s Out of Time in the CD player. “Texarkana” was on. We got stuck in traffic, because it was rush hour in Seattle, but it was okay, because we were talking about being kids listening to R.E.M., Automatic for the People especially, and all the Big Feelings we were just starting to know then, feelings set…Read more
My mother tells me that she had always loved the house. She used to drive by and admire it. When I was thirteen, it came on the market, and she and my dad snatched it up. The house was built in 1948, old for Oklahoma, painted brick with wrought iron and ivy. It needed a lot of work, and they tore out walls and opened it up, changed everything. It was their biggest, finest collaboration, and they made it exactly what they wanted. It was weird in ways, or maybe quirky is the better word, with a mirror on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom and Pepto-Bismol pink wallpaper in the dining room. But mostly it was beautiful, obscenely beautiful, full of…Read more
I am feeling profoundly (or, as my fingers tried to put it, “feely profounding”) inarticulate today in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. I keep thinking of my uncle Jerry, the first gay person I ever knew, whose death to AIDS in 1988 spurred me to activism as a young kid with moussed bangs and a Silence=Death sweatshirt, and in whose memory June carries one of her middle names. I wonder what he would say today. I’m grateful, relieved, elated, and beyond, that June will grow up in a world that’s very different from what I knew in 1980s Oklahoma. It also feels like a fitting time to reread John Birdsall’s whip-smart Lucky Peach piece, “America, Your Food…Read more
In three months, this site will be eleven years old. Three nights ago, I got to stand on a stage in New York in front of hundreds of people I admire – including Martha, THE Martha, who looked foxier, and younger, than anyone – and accept a James Beard Award for this blog. I was so nervous, so totally electrified with terror, that my right eyelid twitched for six days leading up to the ceremony. I hope I never forget what it felt like, after so much hoping, to hear my name called. I hadn’t planned a thank-you speech – if you take your umbrella, yadda yadda, it won’t rain – but once I was up there, everything felt oddly…Read more
I woke up this morning with that itchy feeling I get when I’ve gone too long without writing. I have a writer friend who once told me that she didn’t feel right if she wasn’t writing regularly, that she woke up each morning needing to write, and until very recently, I didn’t really believe her, because it never felt that straightforward to me. (I also wanted, uh, just a little bit, to reach out and strangle her with my bare hands; she made writing sound so easy.) I never felt that kind of imperative to be a writer – or, really, to be anything in particular. Writing sneaked up on me. But now that I’ve been at it for a…Read more
We spent half of last week on Lopez Island, staying with friends at the home of friends-of-friends, breaking in our sun hats, making buildings out of driftwood, wearing ourselves out so well that we were in bed before the light was gone, getting reacquainted with summer. Despite the fact that I seem to have filled my life with a lot of work and obligations and businesses and whatnot, I am not someone who enjoys feeling busy. I do not like to feel busy at all. I also do not like to set goals. But my goal this summer is to have a lot of days like the ones we had on Lopez, summer days like the ones I had as…Read more
It is 12:26 pm on June 23. I’m sitting at my desk in the window, which, if you were considering it, is a bad place to put a desk. What a person needs behind a desk is something sturdy, galvanizing, like a wall. Otherwise you’ll wind up spending your time as I am today: watching the world’s most subtle breeze blow through the branches of the neighbors’ tulip magnolia, wishing I were eating a cheeseburger. I’m slowly emerging from New Book Insanity. I am so relieved, so glad to have this book behind me and out in the world, and also so, so, so tired. Elated! Tired! Dead! (But hey, Spokane: I’m going to be in your town tomorrow night,…Read more
Hello from a plane somewhere between Minneapolis and San Francisco! I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple of days now, on trains and planes and more trains and planes, but then I wind up staring out the window or admiring the spectacularly bedazzled manicure job on the woman next to me or reading an entire Us Weekly over someone’s shoulder before passing out and suddenly coming to three hours later in a new city. Today, I will persevere! I will only read half of an Us Weekly over someone’s shoulder. I’m eight days into nearly two consecutive weeks on the road for Delancey. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be on book tour, even now that I’ve been…Read more
June has mastered a new word, and that word is eat. It’s one of many things I like about her. Because Brandon works most nights, I get up with June most mornings. I have developed a condition that my friend Andrea calls Bionic Mom Hearing, so I sleep with earplugs and a pillow over my head. It’s a sight I think you would enjoy. But she manages to wake me up anyway (MAAA! MAAA!), so I get a bottle of milk from the fridge (prepared the night before, a small gift to my future self), retrieve her from her crib (“UP! UP!”), carry her across the hall to our bed, lie down and listen to her little mouth working at the…Read more
Maybe you will remember a day, more than two years ago now, when I announced that I was writing a new book, and that, if all went according to plan, it would be out in the spring of 2013? And then maybe you will also remember that nothing went according to plan, in ways that were hard and good-but-hard and then great and really, really great, and here we are, with no book, in July of 2013. Maybe you will join me, then, in heaving a giant sigh of relief – more than that: a great wind, a hurricane-force gust – that Delancey is not only done, donedonedone, but that it now has a cover. A cover! This thing is ON. I will tell you…Read more
Last night, it occurred to me that I had inadvertently neglected to write down something important: that June’s head smells like strawberry jam. I’ve thought about it for a long time, trying to make sure that was it, and now I’m certain: not strawberries, but strawberry jam. She smells like something I would like to eat on buttered toast. Now there’s a menu idea for Delancey. Brandon bought himself a record player as an early Father’s Day present, and he’s been buying old records left and right. The other day he came home with Cat Stevens’s Tea for the Tillerman. The next morning, before he woke up, June and I were hanging out, like we do every morning, and I turned on…Read more
My father wasn’t a writer, or not in the vocational sense, but he liked to play with words, and I grew up thinking of him as someone who wrote. He never made a big deal of it; writing was just something he did sometimes, a few quick lines on one of the index cards that he always kept in his shirt pocket. I haven’t seen a lot of his work – only a goofy poem he once jotted for me on a notepad from a medical conference he went to, and some haikus that we found in his bathroom drawer after he died. Many years ago, in a context that I now don’t remember, my mother told me that Burg…Read more
I’ve been wanting to put up a new post for ten days, but I haven’t, because I don’t have a recipe to share. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying, watching the clock do its tick tock tick tock thing, and feeling pretty terrible about it. If you have a blog, you will know what I mean: this stuff is fun, but it comes with a lot of pressure. For a long time – six years on July 29th – this blog has been about stories and recipes, and it always will be. Always. But somewhere along the line, I now realize, writing about stories and recipes began to feel like a rule, like all I was allowed to do.…Read more
This morning, someone pointed out to me that it has been a month, exactly a month, a whole month, since I last posted here. I nearly choked. The truth is, I’ve been having a hard time. Nothing around here looks the same as it did, pre-restaurant, and to be perfectly honest, though I like this new life, I also miss the old one. There’s no point in trying to hide it. I’ve been dealing with a lot of exhaustion, and it’s been difficult to feel creative, eager to cook and write here – or do pretty much anything except watch Battlestar Galactica on Netflix. It’s a dire situation when you go to the dentist, as I did this morning, and…Read more
Well. That took a little longer than I expected. Thank you for hanging in there, and even more, for being so understanding. I missed you all, and I missed being here. I was having a pretty rough time a couple of months ago. You could probably see it more clearly, actually, than I could. I have never, ever, done something as consuming as this opening-a-restaurant business. Even writing a book doesn’t compare. People had warned us that projects like these always take twice as long and cost twice as much as you expect them to, and dude, that is Seriously. No. Joke. It’s been like Little Shop of Horrors over here, only the role of Audrey II, the man-eating plant,…Read more