So I lost my template in an upgrade. This isn’t how anything’s supposed to look. Pretend it’s prettier until I fix it, will you?
Normally, I love to cook. I’m clumsy at it, my track record is splotchy. I don’t even yet, at 45, have a signature dish. But that hardly matters at all. I normally love it.
Mostly because writing is such a solitary thing. There is a person, a brain and keyboard, and not much else. Sometimes there is something to drink, but for the most part, any senses engaged are imagined. Cooking, though, engages everything, and you can play Maria Callas while you do it, on Pandora.
Cooking is messy, and wet, and requires physical exertion and dexterity. Deboning a chicken for instance, is nothing like writing at all. Cooking means there is butter melting in pans, one thing transforms to something else. There are smells and touches, and things to chop to bits. There is heat from the stove — cooking is hot!
(PS, Another of Karen Karbo’s Julia Child Rules? All You Need is a Kitchen and a Bedroom!)
I’m not feeling cooky this week, but when life’s on a good pace, I do, and then I think if only there were just three things to do ever — cook, and write, and read, (plus pick the kids up from school), that’s all I’d ever bother with. I’d be entirely amused.
This week, because Karen Karbo — just two days ago! — published a fabulous book, I’m writing about Julia Child. Lots of us are. (If you are twittery: #LiveLikeJulia.)
I am writing about Julia’s Rule #3, from the book, which is “Learn to be Amused.”
And at some point, obviously, I need to cook.
When I asked to write Learn to be Amused, I was very amused. But then something happened and now I’m not. That’s the whole point, of course. Everything is going to happen. Some of it’s going to hurt. The life you wanted may not be the life you live, and that’s the whole reason to be amused.
So I’m making Julia’s Lamb Stew Printaniere, which just means lamb stew with spring vegetables. (It’s fun to say!) I know it’s not spring, but I don’t think it’s cheating. You can’t beat lamb stew in fall, spring vegetables or not. I’m going to leave out the peas, though. And maybe the potatoes. And the green beans, probably, too. I don’t really like green in my stew, so I’m putting in lentils and using tomato paste, and I have my new red Dutch oven which is amusing.
Stews are amusing. Little round onions are, too.
My friend, Todd, knows how to be amused. He has a pencil-thin moustache. To me, this is one of the most amusing things ever.
Any idiot, Chekhov said, can survive a tragedy, it’s the day to day that kills. The rain, the dog in the garbage, the creaky door, the soft-boiled egg that went hard. I think tragedy can kill you, too, but whatever. I get it.
Jamie Lee Curtis started writing children’s books, bestsellers I think, after a successful acting and yogurt-selling career, and to me that hardly seems fair. You should only get to be wildly good at one thing, not a bunch of them, and especially not in publishing where it’s hard enough out here without some chirpy actress running around!
But my mother-in-law bought those books for my daughter, and I loved them to death. My favorite was: Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day. It’s a book about emotions, a whole range of them, that a fiery little red-haired protagonist goes through, and the point is she’s engaged in every one. She’s so Julia!
Karen Karbo, writing about Julia Child in her new book that’s out today that you should really definitely go out and buy right now, said: “If you’re not living the life you want, learn to love the life you have.”
And I’m not. Living the life I want at all. I’m so far from living the life I want that it’s like the life I want is on the moon, and not even on an obvious part of the moon but in a really weird out-of-the-way pocket of it. I can’t even remember what the life I want is supposed to look like, it’s that far out of here. Which might actually mean I am, I guess … living the life I want.
One thing my ex-husband gave me (besides two kids and a divorce) was a laugh. He taught me how to laugh. I mean really laugh, like laugh all the time at everything, even when you’re sad or not amused, because why not? Why not laugh? It’s fun. He laughed more than anyone I’ve ever met, and so my kids laugh, and I still laugh, too. We are not living the life we wanted (yet, probably we are) but we’re amused.
When my son was five years old, we got Whaley. Whaley is a whale. He eats potatoes, and when he gets nervous around strangers he says they smell bad. Somewhere in the garage is a box I’ve not unpacked, and at the bottom of that box is a comic book titled, The Whaley Adventures, written and illustrated by my son. Whaley had fabulous adventures.
When my daughter was in Kindergarten, she wasn’t crazy about being there. Or about people talking to her, or expecting her to talk to them back, or about people at all, really. New experiences annoyed her. (There are dentists in McMinnville with drinking problems, that we’re partially to blame for … )
Picture day was a particular thing that incensed her. I totally get it now. You’re forced into a line with a bunch of little kids, manhandled by strangers, poked and prodded and propped onto a chair with lights glaring down like interrogation rooms. It is kind of dumb. She didn’t want her picture taken, fine. Who cares? But I pushed it, because I did, and what it came down to was Whaley. On the third day, the last day the photographer was there, the whole team of us got her to sit on the chair and smile because we let her hold Whaley.
Whaley is amusing. Photographers, sometimes, are not.
Once, we thought we’d lost him. Whaley had been missing for months, and in desperation my now ex-husband and I went searching for a replacement. There are, it turns out, millions of stuffed Orca whales, in millions of toy stores, they’re everywhere. But not one single one of them looks like Whaley.
He turned up in a closet. We had a birthday party for him that year, and we lit candles in his potato and then helped him blow them out. I wish I knew what he’d wished for.
Whaley was there for all of us, during turbulent times.
Life, don’t forget, is amusing.
(Buy Karen Karbo’s fabulous book, Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life. I mean it.)
A writer whose work and career I admire very much has a book coming out October 1st, tomorrow. She’ll be reading from it at Powell’s books, and signing its beautiful copies. And she’s done the most brilliant and generous thing to excite people about it, she’s invited a number of other writers to join her and write their own things about her rich and dynamic subject: Julia Child.
It was a smart plan because now we’re all obsessed with Julia again, as well as the wonderful book before it’s even come out. It’s also generous of her to let some of us participate, because her subject is juicy, and ripe.
Each chapter of the book is a different rule that Julia lived by. So Karen asked each of us to choose a rule, and read the chapter, and I chose #3: Learn to be Amused.
The chapter itself, is not entirely amusing. In fact, it leads off with amusement and then breaks your heart. But that’s the whole point. Life is heartbreaking. There’s no dodging it. Find amusement. You don’t need to have the life you want, to love the life you have.
I am smack in the middle of brand new heartbreak myself, so it’s tricky this whole amused thing. Heartbreak’s relentless, and a stalker, but love and laughter are, too. And amusement is right on their tail. (So, right now, is a fly. He’s flying in squares right around me and won’t fly away. I don’t find him amusing.)
Last night my roommates and I watched To Catch a Thief for about the 300th time. One of my roommates is 12, the other is 14. This is a comfort film for us because there was another point some years back when life was not at all how I wanted it. My then-husband, now ex-husband, had left our home leaving me with one big life I didn’t want on my hands. I found myself alone, in our once dream house, roaming the grounds in the middles of nights in dramatic long dresses like a clumsy tragic mess.
It was a house I knew I would lose, and I had sweet small children who had no sense of what lay ahead. But we refused to be bothered with that. We found amusement. I introduced them to Hitchcock and we watched almost the entire ouevre. (A very amusing word!)
We watched Rear Window and North by Northwest and The Man Who Knew Too Much and Birds and Strangers on a Train, and we spotted the Macguffen’s and cameos and by the way, Alfred is a guy who I think was easily amused.
These were our last days of disco and we went out in style. We held pool parties all day, crowded the fire pit at night. We threw Hitchcock into the projector and beamed him up on the outdoor screen or on the big wall of the small guest house, even in the middle of the day if that seemed like fun.
And voila. Now instead of remembering the disaster of that summer — the fear, the anxiety, heartbreak — we can watch To Catch a Thief and remember our creaky little popcorn popper and Cary Grant’s infectious charm. The technicolor marvel of the French Riveria in a cool dark room in the middle of a hot day.
Today I bought a Dutch oven. The act itself was unremarkable. I live in a suburb, it lacks charm. It’s certainly not Cary Grant. The stores are big and dull, so there’s nothing particularly amusing or exciting or unique about any one purchase of anything. I bought a 6 quart, red, cast iron Dutch oven for $59.99, and then for lunch I made chicken stew that turned out not very great. I overcooked the chicken, for one thing, and I don’t expect anyone to eat much of it though the broth did come out nice – the point is, I was amused.
I am taking stock today (no pun intended) just a little bit so I’ll remember that amusement is here, all the time. I am now not only a divorced woman, a woman who is divorced — something still hard for me to say even years after the fact — but now have the matter of a post-divorce failed relationship, too. A very difficult one. Someone special, someone I feel lost without. I’m wondering now, how do we ever get it right? This isn’t the life I wanted, or the one I thought I’d be living today.
And yet also it is. I am delighted with my red Dutch oven — why on earth have I never had one? And the cutting and the mincing and the chopping and braising while listening to the government shut down on the radio and watching the dog eat a fly … all of this amused me.
The roommate who is 12 is a girl and when she picked her volleyball out of the yard yesterday, it came with three baby slugs. She took pictures, and then we named our loitering moth “Karl.” Here is a baby slug.
There’s no photo of Karl.
But here is Cary Grant working crossword puzzles in a soup bowl. (Thank you, Anthony O. DiFalco!)
Because Karen is so generous, I think I’ll be here all week. Blogging about amusement.
Go to her reading tomorrow night at Powell’s in Portland (unless you live in Japan) and buy her wonderful book!
Plus, try the veal; veal is always amusing.
It’s time to do it, start writing again. I have been all this time, it’s one of a few things I do, but it’s just been here and there and nothing to bother you with. Now I’ll start bothering.
I have a habit of addressing the complexities first, so here they are — my keyboard. My keyboard, and the boxes. Okay, and the old place, too, so there are three complexities today. None of them appealing enough to address, so there will likely be the same three tomorrow, because today I want to cook. Cook and read. Cook, read and write, actually. Three things because the day, I guess, is full of threes. With also a small bit of exercise wedged in and that’s only because it’s good to do one thing each day to counter guilt, and most days the exercise works. On some days, mass.
I want to cook because I’ve moved, from an apartment with a small unworkable kitchen (I wasn’t raised in New York, so am not trained in unworkable kitchens) to a bright airy place with a long and beckoning one. I’ve set up gadgets on the counters, and now all I want to do is make things. Any things. Eggs. G., in two days, has perfected her scrambled egg. It’s delightful to watch, and so she’ll have that and I’ll pursue the omelet. Omelets are a thing I should have down pat already, but don’t. One day A., in our last months together, very carefully and deliberately, and meaningfully prepared me an omelet. He had it down pat, I was jealous. If I made movies, I would feature him in those last days making the omelet as the movie’s big poignant scene. J. also makes an omelet, but not a poignant one. He makes a sensual omelet full of chase and flirtation, but he hasn’t made one in some time, I should mention that. I’m only shooting for a sensible omelet, a responsible one.
It’s been an odd three years. The long kitchen is beginning, and destination. Things fell apart, they do that sometimes, so I set out with A. (Jr.) and G. Three years later, I’m here. We’re here. There are big tree trunks (attached to trees), and blueberries and it’s quiet like the country, and there are hippies out in back. One neighbor brings raspberries and once in awhile a car drives by and it’s not a concocted suburban street, but a real road. A real road runs in front of the house, and the houses don’t match. Some yards are bigger than others, some of them have fences and some don’t. Up the road is the country store and you can get ice cream there, a decent wine in a pinch, gobs of candy and whatever someone’s dropped off that is in season. Like cucumbers.
I enjoyed reading Jami Attenberg’s Tumblr today. If you haven’t read her books, you ought to. If I hadn’t already read most of them, I’d be reading one now, but instead I’m reading Karen Jay Fowler’s, and the keys on my keyboard stick.
The birds, with all their chirpy gossip, make it impossible to find ambition.
Mel Brooks’ perfect omelet, is right here.
Okay, Mad Men, you didn’t ask, but you should have. I’m not a girl who’s going to leave when you don’t get the promotion, or your jokes gets stale and your stories repeat, or when Don is less hot, and Roger’s lost his power and Peggy’s outfits are not quite so cute. I’m with you guys. Let’s talk it out, let’s work through it. Let’s admit, though, we might have a problem.
First, cards on the table: Daniel Mendelsohn. His review (I read it late, over a year after he wrote it) well, it rattled me. What I’m about to say I might very well not have said, in fact, if his critique hadn’t happened, but it did, I’m who I am — old teachers, pets, boyfriends and critics all shape me for better or for worse. And here are some issues I have, with last night.
Betty’s cancer scare — introduced, heightened, milked and resolved in 30 minutes — felt very soap operatic. Don’s emo chat with Roger felt very, um, lame. Peggy should not be wearing loose-fitting cotton shirts, and she wouldn’t, that felt very dumb. Megan should not work with her husband because it feels very Jabot Cosmetics, where everyone on Young and the Restless always worked whether they wanted to or not. We get that Don’s too cool to hang with Harry; wait, or is he? White Castle and pot looked more fun than a grump.
The funny Michael Ginsberg did not, so quickly, need hint of sad backstory introduced, and Betty was right to eye-roll Henry. No man on earth who lands a trophy wife, and who is wealthy and handsome with a big beefy job, is going to unconditionally love her when she’s fat. Except maybe Johnny Sack, who was sweet to chubby Ginny in that upstanding mob man way, right up to the end.
Oh darnit, Mad Men. When you make me wait two years, I think it’s fair of me to expect a lot and be a bit off-put when it seems like you don’t care. Wine and dine me before Sunday and maybe I’ll let it go.
There. Mondays are unforgiving.
Once you’re out of the habit of writing a certain way each day, it’s a challenge to get back. It’s like other things – running, which my friend Tim does, or playing the cello, which a. did one year, or painting bold stripey art like Mark Rothko, who’s dead. I’ve been out of the habit of writing a certain way each day.
I’ve been writing mostly as ghost, for one thing, and it’s odd to write and be invisible and then go on about your life. It’s a bit like being a spy, or Walter Mitty, I lead a secret life of words, I’m Mittyesque.
James Thurber, by the way, had a daring batch of hair and so I pinned it to a board. His first marriage to Althea Adams was troubled, they divorced. I’d like to know what became of her.
Last fall, I lost a laptop. (See previous post). And with it, a great deal of work. It was traumatic and to survive that sort of thing — three years of clips and drafts and emails and notes, and no backup — well, I’ve mostly avoided thinking of it. Hemingway, you know, lost all those manuscripts in Paris that Hadley left on the train. Ralph Ellison lost work on the train, too. And they wound up okay, sort of. (One killed himself, one didn’t write much else.) If they were here, we’d make a funny Facebook page together, but they’re not so we won’t.
My friend Leanne wrote a book called Brontasaurus, and it’s smart and moving, the things a book should be. You ought to read it. Buy it, and then read it. And then if you want to have lunch with me, I think Thursday I’m meeting my friend Laura and if you ask me nicely, you can come.
The title of this post is from Chekhov, by the way: The Lady with the Dog.
Was it something I said? Did I leave your toothpaste cap off? Did I cut you off yesterday when our lanes merged? Did I talk too loudly on my phone / take the last Diet Coke / make an inappropriate joke about your mother? Did Scruffy pee on your new white carpet again? Tell me, just tell me, just say it.
My laptop is gone. The universe took my laptop. I’m not sure why. The universe knows I’m a writer. He knows I don’t do back-ups, he knows — he was there watching (I know you were there, Universe!) — that I wrapped up a huge piece of work yesterday. He knows I put off sending the work to my agent, and didn’t get around to it last night, he knows I have six years of files on my laptop — Universe, I know you KNOW!
Whatever. There are fliers around — A. from a previous marriage helped out with that, again (see “dear hawthorne,” below, about Scruffy.) The fliers offer rewards. The universe doesn’t care.
Today I’m rewriting book reviews, Universe. Thanks. Today I’ve arranged to have my chakras all aligned (and please stay out of it!) Today I’m eating clam chowder to prepare to redo six months of work on a thing. Today my hair is dull and listless. (I don’t think that was necessary, Universe — you’ve made your point, but okay.)
If you see a small laptop with a copy of everything I’ve ever written — yes, Universe, you know I loaded backups from old laptops on it, and you know I then lost the disks — please tell it to come home. I will buy candy for everyone, I’ll give you my soul.
Until then I’ll be right here, rewriting book reviews on a strange laptop I barely even know wishing I had crackers to go with my soup. [Sigh.]
(And … cut.)
Dear Everyone in the Hawthorne District in Portland,
Will you marry me? I mean it, I’ll buy a ring. And you can stay home and watch Cake Boss, and I’ll pay the bills. I’ll take the garbage out, too, and buy you presents. I love you, I really do. Do you wonder why, the rest of you not in Hawthorne? Well, I’ll tell you. It started Wednesday. No, no, it started in August, before the beach. There was a week we went to the beach (it was cold, we saw a shark) and before then I got a house. A sublet. I’ve always wanted a sublet, I got one, I’m happy. It’s Andy and Sharon’s place, they’re in a band (which makes me cool) and they’re on the road and they’re subletting to me. We listen to records and drink lemonade out of mason jars. We’re thrilled. But this is about Scruffy. If I had a crush on Hawthorne from the mason jars (and I did), then the Scruffy thing knocked me off my feet.
It’s not a huge deal, I guess. You know Scruffy, he runs away. He runs away and comes back, it normally doesn’t concern us. Last Wednesday we had a meeting to go to and we left. We left Scruffy in the fenced backyard, we left him there with Shadow. (Shadow is a dog, too, he’s Andy and Sharon’s). Shadow is great, he stays in the fenced yard. Scruffy is bad, he finds gaps. Wednesday night we came home late and Scruffy was gone and I said, “enough.” Actually, I screamed it dramatically, and capitalized it, and threw my hands up in the air toward the skies. Or maybe I didn’t, who cares. The point is, I’d had it with Scruffy. New neighborhood, a city, busy streets, I gave up. I bid our sweet Scruffy, adieu.
Then A. stepped in (yes, A. you remember him, perhaps, we were married once.) A. made fliers, he printed them up, he drove here and put a flyer in every shop … and then came the calls.
I’m just saying, Hawthorne … you guys are really cool. The calls, the concern, the sightings, the casual way you all called Scruffy “Scruffy.” Hawthorne, you are my soul mate.
We got Scruffy back because Wendy from Laurelhurst chased him for dozens of blocks, made him safe and contained him. Before that, though, Amy called, and then an 831 number whose name I didn’t catch, and Lisa who had spotted him and hoped he’d been found.
He’s here, he’s grounded, we’re taking Shadow for a walk now while Scruffy sleeps. We’re walking to Red Box to rent “The Perfect Game,” so the kids can review it for my side job (I’m tired of working).
Meanwhile, I feel like Scruffy’s rescue is a perfect nod to 9-11. Thank you, Hawthorne, thank you heroes, thank you America for coming together like that. Thank you, even, to A.
(In three days I’ll be at Mr. Olympia Las Vegas, follow me at @muscleclamp or @powerboynatural on Twitter! I hope I win.)
Wow, Jennifer Egan! Congrats. First the NBCC, now the Pullitzer for “A Visit From the Goon Squad.” Lucky!
I can’t get caught up in all that, I have the dishes to unload. And Tim is waiting to hear from me, and J. is waiting on something, too. Plus everything is a draft right now, I need finishes.
I’m wearing my glasses today. They look dumb but I fixed WordPress, I think. I think I did and I’m sure it’s the glasses.
There’s cold pizza if you want some.