Clearly they have been traveling…

Whelks
by Mary Oliver

Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit –
and here are the whelks –
whirlwinds,
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken –
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless –
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss –
than wholeness –
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled –
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shanking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.

***

It’s been a long week of writing about home, or of trying to write about home. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, then you know I have never had a good grasp on the idea of such a place to begin with.

Throughout the month of June I have been participating in a fun Instagram photo-a-day challenge and decided to use the above photo to define my version of “centered”. The whelk in the photograph is the literal center and my emotional center is the beach beyond. Just this morning I realized the whelk, in its battered and nearly broken shell, is always home no matter where the seas toss him out. That damn whelk gave me a clearer perspective on the whole idea of home.

Does home have to be a single place?

During my research on the definition of home (yes, I’m that bewildered by the topic that I had to do research), I began to feel a little less obligated to call out the name of a single place to point to as home which, to be honest, left me feeling guilty for not giving the designation to all the other places I’ve ever lived. Clearly, I have been traveling.

For the record, I haven’t yet figured out my own definition of home but I’m learning there is more than one way to define it.

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The Art Mind

My daughter tells me I need an “art mind” because, without one, I will never comprehend the beauty that is a brick turned on its side with steel poles pushed through it and displayed under bright lights in a gallery. And she’s right. I’m okay with this, though, since other people have told me something similar when it comes to appreciating poetry.

Details and explanations mean a lot to me so when I look at a piece of art or read a poem that someone has poured their heart and soul into, I usually think huh? and ask for them to just get to the point: Why do I have to guess at their meaning or translate it for myself? Why don’t they just tell me what they’re trying to say? It’s like charades in a way and people can get really pissed off when you don’t guess correctly. It is rather annoying.

But I can appreciate when something looks or sounds interesting. I have one favorite poem called The Supple Deer by Jane Hirschfield. I get it. I mean, I really, really GET IT. I think. I’m pretty sure I do. And if I don’t then it doesn’t really matter because it is a truly beautiful string of words she just made there.

The quiet opening
between fence strands
perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground,
the deer poured through it.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don’t know how a stag turns
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never felt such accurate envy.

Not of the deer—

To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.

And yesterday, around the moment my kid told me I have no eye for the true beauty in art, I saw these. Sure, they’re just boxes and the focus was on geometry (sadly, something else I will never comprehend), but they are pretty boxes. I might actually like to have one of them inside my house, though I’m honestly shooting for a Florida Highwaymen painting to be my first big artsy purchase.

All artwork is by Eric Wright:

by Eric Wright

by Eric Wright

by Eric Wright

by Eric Wright

I think we call all relate to this little guy.

by Eric Wright

Books Worth Reading: Part Two

Below is a list of the books I am currently relishing.  Matt is fascinated with the fact that I can manage to read more than one book at a time (although I am not reading all of these books at the same time – more like three or four of them, but it’s my current group of must-reads).  It’s not often that a single book will seize all of my attention, though it does happen.  Usually if I am consumed with a story in such a way that I barely come up for air, it’s a sure bet that I will finish it within a day or two.

(Confession time:  I have another small stack of books that I hope to start reading soon, and I’ve carefully placed them in the very visible cubby of my bedside table as I am the embodiment of the saying out of sight, out of mind.)

I’ve included links to each book I mention so you can take a look for yourselves and read other personal reviews:

Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food: A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking, and Creating Community Through Food by Sam Mogannam & Dabney Gough – This is a perfect example of learning by taking baby steps.  Eat Good Food slowly and informatively guides those of us not too familiar with cooking (as opposed to just throwing a bunch of food together and eating it) and provides an abundance of material to help one buy, cook, and store every edible item you can imagine, from chocolate to potatoes to fish to bing cherries and everything in between.

The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper & Sally Swift – A book rich with storytelling and many entertaining quotes. One of my favorites that rings true with me…

Mashed potato is the gentile’s chicken soup. It’s nature’s tranquilizer. I take it instead of valium.
~ Andrew Payne.

In this book are recipes of every kind and involving almost any ingredient you can imagine. The unique difference I can appreciate between How to Eat Supper and most other cookbooks is that these recipes don’t come off as being pretentious or impossible.  Challenging, yes! But I didn’t take an interest in cooking simply so I could continue making grilled cheese sandwiches with various meats and call it a culinary adventure. Here, you’ll learn the base of a recipe but suggestions are given as far as trying different variations.  It’s where I got my idea for the lemon & thyme panna cotta!

Kneadlessly Simple by Nancy Baggett – It’s bread, people.  HOMEMADE.  And the title itself includes the word “simple”.  I haven’t baked up anything from this cookbook yet, but I’ve already brought home my rapid rising yeast and I’m prepared to have a go at it soon. The family got pretty excited when I suggested I make a nice bread bowl for the next time we have potato soup.  I mentioned baking a pot bread and got some raised eyebrows. For the record – pot bread only means the bread was baked in a pot, not that pot is an ingredient.  So firstly, my apologies to anyone I might have just misled. Secondly, if you really thought that’s what I meant, you need this book more desperately than I do.

Ghosts of Cape Sabine: The Harrowing True Story of the Greely Expedition by Leonard F. Cuttridge – Finally a book that doesn’t center around food! But only because these poor souls ran out of the stuff after being abandoned by the United States government and declaring a short-lived mutiny of sorts on their commander, all to end up eating each other. I came across this story while watching American Experience on PBS and absolutely fell in love with this crew.  The ship’s commander, Adolphus Greely, and other crew members documented their struggles with being left behind (by the military), isolation, depression, inevitable insanity, desperation, murder, cannibalism, and an unavoidable burden of a slow, painful death.  Also, Robert Todd Lincoln comes off like an unmitigated asshole.  His father would not have approved.

Vertical Hold by Jeff Simpson – I have never met Jeff but he is one of Matt’s closest friends. Here is a small fragment of Jeff’s work from the poem Hollow Light

In winter nothing is usable.
Everything is there for the viewing –
even breath has form.

As a behind-the-scenes kind of engineer, Jeff played a very vital role in my birthday celebration back in October and his words encouraged me to tell Matt, “I love you.” So, thank you, Jeff! Visit his website at www.jeffsimpson.org and be sure to check out The Fiddleback, Jeff’s online arts & literature magazine.

Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie & John Geiger – Another story of yet another failed Arctic expedition?  I know! I’m not quite sure what has happened to my usual morbid taste in reading material such as serial killer biographies and Holocaust survival stories, but my head and my heart will certainly appreciate the break from such sadness.  The Franklin Expedition is a tragedy in its own right, however, one that researchers are only now beginning to understand was even more catastrophic than originally believed.  Besides the anticipated threats confronted by all Arctic explorers and the dangers of maritime work itself, new information has been unearthed (literally, as the crew’s bodies were frozen in the ice) and has led to the theory that many Arctic explorers, not just those on the Franklin Expedition, were killed by the lead in their food’s tin cans. And there are even pictures for those of you sick enough to be fascinated by such things, as I am, since the Franklin Expedition was one of the first to take with them a camera!  (Fun fact: Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, calls the book “groundbreaking”…the pun is intended, she admits. Ha! She’s so clever.)

Flying Without Fear: Effective Strategies to Get You Where You Need to Go by Duane Brown – This was recommended to me by a new friend in Oklahoma City who once suffered from a fear of flying as badly as I do now. Elizabeth and Matt must have joined forces (although I’m not sure they even realize it just yet) and I now own this book.  Matt had this waiting under the tree for me on Christmas morning.  I have thumbed through it quite a bit, absorbing some of the “rules of worrying” and probably mucking up the therapy process by going out of order, but I can’t help it.  When the author suggests that I be accompanied on my first flight by someone who expects and can tolerate that I’ll go apeshit midflight, why would I want to stop reading? Another favorite hint from the author:  “If turbulence comes, check the wings. If they are still attached, say, ‘I’m okay.’” I would like for HIM to accompany me on my first flight since he has this kind of experience with crazy people.

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad – For the second year in a row now, my friend Doug in Waukesha, Wisconsin, has sent me a copy of one of his favorite books of the year.  In 2010, Doug sent me my own copy of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  This year, I received this book about America’s punk-rock DIY movement and features the stories of such bands as Black Flag, Minor Threat, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and one of the most popular homegrown bands from my D.C. childhood, Fugazi.

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg – In 1944, a man was quoted as saying,

Fish is the only grub left that scientists haven’t been able to get their hands on and improve…

Oh, how times have changed.  While there is much research and literature about the disaster that has become our planet’s oceans, at least considered to be more interesting by the general public, there is little that touches on the fate of the animals that live in the seas and how overfishing has depleted so much of our world’s marine population. Focusing on the four fish that are regularly found on our menus – salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna – Greenberg writes about the politics of fish as food, the fish farming industry, and the effects of the biotech revolution on our everyday living and our overall ability to respect nature. The first few pages made me a little sad but, then again, I do like to torture myself with horrid tragedies (remember, I voluntarily read McCarthy’s The Road).

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser – I’m reading this on my NOOK, each and every night. It took some time for me to fall into the way Schlosser writes and to feel comfortable with his storytelling method, but I’m so glad I stuck it out.  This is one of those books that I truly cannot attempt to properly summarize.  There are so many aspects of the food industry that Schlosser exposes (from the treatment of animals to the treatment of workers) and I honestly found myself surprised by the way the U.S. government expects consumers to just accept the dirty leftover scraps of what’s being offered, both literally and figuratively. Just as Sinclair’s The Jungle gave the American public an opportunity to demand the rights and respect all workers deserve, Fast Food Nation describes how quickly it has all been taken away, right under our noses, through the power of industry and the greed of corruption.  Also, I haven’t allowed my child to eat at McDonald’s since I turned the first page. And their french fries are actually injected with beef – that’s why they’re so intensely tasty! Vegetarians, beware.

So, there you have it. I’m starting classes back up again on Monday and I’m quite worried that I won’t have time for reading, of the fun kind. Because, yes – I do find the death of our seas, tragic shipwrecks, and learning about foodborne illnesses to be quite entertaining.  And Margaret Atwood, too.

Groundbreaking? *snort* That’s just hilarious.