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I hate myself in winter.

I am as cold and silent as a leafless forest, with an underbrush of timid dry sticks and invisible

moss.

I went to Sedona on a vision quest many months ago. I sat in a prayer room filled with the smoke of  tobacco, juniper and sweet grass. A man moved the smoke around us with an eagle feather and I saw spring.

A savage green spring so far in the future it felt like a date I will never live to see.

He handed us a pouch filled with the unused tobacco and told each of to release it back to the earth. It represents your worries.

Drop it in a river, he said, or toss it off a cliff on a windy day. It doesn’t belong to you. It was on loan. And now you must give it back.

It sat for months on my dresser. Willingly giving. I didn’t want to let it go. I was the bad friend who borrows a book and never gives it back.

But, winter’s filled with worry, so, what’s a little more. I gave it back.

I tied a piece of jute string to it, grabbed a ladder from the basement and hung it from a limb of an evergreen that I can see from my great window.

And there I watched my worries, from a distance, through glass.

I watched as birds flew near to catch a glimpse of the new, yellow object dangling from a limb. Like a jewel it sparkled against a backdrop of gray sky. The cold, hazy sunlight nudged through the grayness and said, There you are. And the wind and sun took back its possession and set me toward spring.

Out of place

We are in the middle of a warm spell. A  few days out of place. Winter breaking the rules. The lakes have melted. The snow is gone. I took baby for a walk yesterday and he saw birds, maybe for the first time in his little life. Geese flew in a crooked V above us, honking, and he looked up with his mouth wide open and followed them as they crossed a blue sky. I often imagine what it might be like seeing the way life moves for the very first time.  Seeing things that fly. Things that swim. Things that walk and run. A leaf that falls off a tree. A car that zooms by. A sunset. The idea of learning that the world has purpose astounds me.

The lady at the Chinese restaurant, after baby went home, said to me in broken English, “The world is happy today.”

I smiled. I need this warmth more than anything. But it’s a cruel trick. Like an insect born out of season. It doesn’t stand a chance. Like taking a weekend in Florida in the winter only to have to come back to the cold. It’s a sharp reminder of what you don’t have.

I read somewhere recently that there are scientists who believe the universe is conscious, which means it’s free to break the rules if it wants to. It has a brain. It pulsates with intention. And that intention propel us forward through the arrow of time. 

Stars make willful decisions. 

With new eyes and new thoughts I can’t help but wonder, How can that not be true?

Winter

I took a stroll down a snow melted path by the Rancocas Creek with my love. We wore invisible red silk threads wrapped around our wrists in honor of our fated devotion as we meandered through a brown, sleeping field. Tiny sparrows crunched under brush on broken sticks.  And the whoo of a gentle wind tapped stillness on the shoulder who did not budge.

I saw how tree trunks in winter have their big debut and show off their gnarled, twisted limbs and leafless outstretched arms. Finally free from the heavy, wet burden of carrying  the green spring and summer.

How tall brittle grass reminded me of a childhood spent among cattails and milkweeds, ripping open caterpillar nests with a stick, in careless destruction of life.

How silence is the winter’s way of turning inward, quietly shutting me out, not realizing how much it hurts.

How the sunless glaze of a cold dark day warns of an eternal winter.

And how joy, unseen, is buried under hard, unrelenting earth that softens from our heated steps.

The perfect meal

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A french farm-to-table setting

Many, many years ago, I worked as a bartender on a US and Danish air force base in Greenland–miles away from civilization and one very long treacherous dog sled ride to the nearest Inuit village. Food was functional and almost always thawed. In fact, most foods were brought in on US cargo jets either canned or frozen. There were three restaurants and a chow hall on the base, and the one constant you found on all four menus, for breakfast, lunch and dinner was pork. Pork chops, pork and beans, pork patties, pork bellies, pork sausage, pork meatballs, pork roast…you get the point. The reason for pork wasn’t so much that the Danish love it, or the Americans for that matter, but rather, it freezes better and longer than any other meat, and when you’re shipping rations to the arctic you need something that will last…and last and last and last. And so,  along with 300 other US servicemen and a few civilian employees like myself, I ate so much pork that when I returned home, I swore it off for the rest of my life (OK, save the occasional slice of sausage pizza).

This got me thinking of how impossible it would have been to have a good meal, let alone a perfect meal in that setting. Greenland was remote. And frozen. And lonely. And aside from the extremely rare arctic hare or caribou that was served fresh from the kill, it was slim pickings. Your choice was reheated pork and canned somethingorother. The sad truth is, the same can be said for a huge swath of America, despite our access to better quality, fresh ingredients. It’s so hard to create a meal (and I mean, a real meal) from shoddy, conventional, factory farmed and frozen food stuff, let alone fake food. Do you realize that over half the “cooking” that people think they do includes some form of processed or pre-packaged food (let me open this box of instant potatoes and add water)? And according to a Forbes article, while our obesity rates soar, we spend less time eating and less time cooking than other nations.(1)

You see, I’d been reading Michael Pollan‘s  NYT best-selling “In Defense of Food.” And I was preoccupied by the way we eat. On the one hand, I was horrified that some consider a microwaveable Lean Cuisine to be a healthy meal. On the other, I was intrigued by the simplicity of Pollan’s underlying message: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But more than this simple message were his “rules” for eating–rules that could bring us back from the wasteland of processed and fake foods we’ve created for ourselves out of convenience, but that have actually removed us from a more real experience of eating. So, what were his rules? They were practical and straightforward things like: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” “Eat at a table,” “Eat slowly,” and of course, “Try not to eat alone” (and a few more).

I figured, if I could achieve as many of these things in one meal, I could essentially create the perfect meal.

And so,  one afternoon,  it began like this: I called my new neighbor and said, “Let’s get together and eat.” I wanted to eat with friends. Doug and I typically don’t do that. We eat with family, which is great. But I wanted to branch out. I also wanted to eat with people who deeply appreciate food like my Italian-American family. That’s hard to find. Most of my American friends get more excited over a craft beer than a fig with feta. I knew that the Lombardos–our new neighbors– would definitely appreciate good food. After all, they own and operate a high-end, award-winning Italian restaurant  in Collingwood. So, as Marisa and I talked about it, we figured let’s just go out. This way, no one would have to cook or clean up. Right?

Wrong.

Nonsense, said her husband. I’ll cook. 

A chef, cooking in my kitchen!? Two thoughts: Lord, what did I do to deserve such luck! And, Lord, help me if I have to prepare food to impress a chef and his family.  As with most gatherings among friends, it’s the collective responsibility of the group to bring a dish. What the hell could I bring? I didn’t feel as though I was up to the task. Sure I know my way around a kitchen. But I’ll never win any awards. What’s more, Shepherd’s pie doesn’t exactly shout “gourmet” or “perfect.” Suddenly, I felt performance anxiety.  I felt as though my “perfect meal” could potentially turn into a perfect disaster.

But that didn’t happen.

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Marisa Lombardo, owner of The Artemisian

Try Not to Eat Alone As with all perfect meals, preparation actually begins well in advance. In this case, it began a year prior, when our new neighbors moved across the lake from us. Doug and I would sit out on our back porch, or on the dock, overlooking the lake, lazily watching contractors come and go over the many months it took to renovate the house that faced our backyard. Until one day, in late spring, the new owners finally moved in.  And before I could wrap a bow around a bottle of Spanish Rioja and deliver it to their doorstep, I received a called from Marisa, a total stranger to me at the time, asking if I wanted to join her and a few others for a yoga session on her dock.  Although the yoga never happened–at least not then– that very night she and I and Doug were sipping top shelf whiskey in my kitchen telling our life stories. This was not going to be any average neighbor. And as I secretly rejoiced in that fact, I simultaneously recognized that I was experiencing one of those rare coup de foudre moments that can only be explained by the alignment of stars, or more realistically, shared commonalities between a group of people who hit it off.

The yoga and whiskey were just the beginning. There were impromptu lunches and bike outings with kids; stop ins to bitch about gluten intolerances or work frustrations; recipe sharing, art outings, and one rather successful attempt on her part to teach me how to make real Italian espresso in a macchinetta. And when her husband and Doug were thrown into the mix, talk expanded to travel, motorcycles, grills and how to build an outdoor shower. And thus, the first ingredient in the perfect meal hadn’t exactly been found or bought, rather created from scratch: friendship.

Adding a few others to join in the “perfect meal” was essential too. Jan, Doug’s sister, who is a class or two away from becoming a sommelier is a definite foodie and a regular at all our gatherings. She offered to bring wines that perfectly paired with our meal. Who else would know what goes so well with oysters, pork and pasta but Jan? And Marisa’s and Franco’s long time friends, Juan and Lisa were a must too. I met Juan, who is Spanish, and Lisa, whose family runs a Spanish Imports business, at one of the Lombardo’s parties and we hit it off instantly. The Spanish connection could not be denied (on her annual trip to Spain with her parents when she was 14, Lisa ending up meeting Juan. It was love at first sight and they were married at 19. For those of you who don’t know, my first husband was also a Spaniard. We both have two boys around the same age, and we both love all things Spanish). It’s no wonder they compare friends to food when they say friendship is the spice of life.

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Franco Lombardo, owner of Sapori Restaurant, and his daughter

Eat at a Table After some discussion of the menu, we decided to leave the main course to Franco. Wheph. And so, I was off the hook and didn’t have to offer up my crock-pot American Chop Suey.  My marching orders were simple: set the table, make dessert. Easy. I could handle that. In fact, desserts are my speciality. When I was young I spent hours with my grandmother, who was a Pennsylvania Dutch baker, helping her make apple pies, apple dumplings, shoofly pies and funnel cakes in her tiny kitchen in Ambler, PA. We’d load up her stationwagon early in the morning and haul all that goodness down to Union St. in Medford where she and my dad’s second wife Jenifer ran a little bakery called The Upper Crust. Whipping up a fruit tart with a buttery flaky crust was in my genes. And because it was summer, peaches and blueberries were still relatively easy to find at a NJ Farmer’s Market.

Setting a table was also something I divinely enjoyed. There is an art to it, as well as a tradition. The colors, the fabric, the centerpiece, the dishes…I wanted them all to reflect a French provincial farm-to-table feel that was at once elegant and understated. I’d choose a basic blue and white linen tablecloth, blue and white plastic (yes, plastic!) plates on top grainy, dark wood chargers from Sur la Table and a bouquet of wild flowers. On subsequent dinner parties I stole Marisa’s idea of cutting a few sprigs of basil or thyme from my garden and placing them in mason jars.

Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food The night of our soirée was a Tuesday in July. The table was set, the guest arrived, and Edith Piaf was belting out La Vie en Rose in the background. Franco started us off with fresh oysters and tuna carpaccio with wasabi salsa. We all lingered by him at the island in the kitchen, standing, drinks in hand, scooping up an oyster, biting off a chunk of baguette. Laughing. Chatting. I don’t care how big or exotic your house may be, if you’re a foodie, there’s no other spot for you but the kitchen, near the person cooking. You will stay there the entire time until you’re told to leave, which happens often, right before food is about to be served. I remember my mother  yelling at every Christmas dinner, “Everybody out of the kitchen!” including the adults, and we knew it was only moments before dinner would be served.

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The grilled pork belly

The tuna and oysters would have been enough. I would have been completely satisfied. But, it was only the beginning. Following the antipasti, Franco prepared sautéed shrimp & cuttlefish squid ink pasta. He plated and served the pasta for seven adults and seven kids and we finally took our seats at the table. More wine. More talking. And the slurping of the squid ink pasta, which turned our tongues black. At this point, we ate nothing else. Just pasta. In Italy, true tradition is to never serve a “side” of pasta or a meat over a mound of pasta. Rather spaghetti, pasta, risotto and so on are the primi piatti, or first plate. Then the main course, which, in our case (coincidentally), was Pennsylvania Amish pork, is served with a small accompaniment.

Eat slowly. While the photo of the grilled pork belly I’m sharing here exists, it does it no justice. And to say that this one piece of meat changed my perception of pork forever is an understatement. I assure you this dish was so divine it threw me into a state of temporary nirvana so profound and so celestial that I became speechless for moments after I had first tasted it (my eyes may have also rolled back into my head; honestly I don’t remember). I kid you not. Because the second bite was just as mind-blowing as the first. Tender. Mouthwatering. Succulent. Cosmic. Franco grilled the pork out back on our little grill–an outdoor appliance that never cooked up anything fancier than a burger or a dog. He topped it with a light salmorigano sauce of lemon, olive oil, garlic, oregano and fresh parsley. He believes food should be simple. It should speak for itself. Marisa made baby kale and watercress salad with dates, goat milk ricotta, figs and balsamic pearls as a side.

But here’s the question. Would this meal taste as good on its own? Does any food have the ability to taste divine in a complete vacuum?

The answer is complex. While “delicious” food can be and is often prepared, cooked and served by a pro (or not), the experience of the meal can be deeply enhanced when shared with friends who participate in the story of that food. We ate together. We ate slowly. We ate deliberately. We talked about the food. We talked about cooking. We talked about ingredients and farms and animals. By the end of the night, we all knew which ocean the oysters were pulled from, what the pig had eaten, and that the pasta was made with cuttlefish ink and semolina flour imported from a tiny village in Sicily. I want to make it perfectly clear that every part of this meal came with a story.

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A summer berry & fruit tart

And just as a storyteller weaves a tale and transports an audience, the perfect meal does the same to those who sit down together and eat it. There’s a symbiotic relationship between people and food, and to make a mental and emotional direct connection to it– where it comes from, how it’s made, what it means to you –is to achieve as close and intimate an experience as you can possibly ever achieve from something you ingest. And, that’s when I realized that, Greenland aside, I had had many perfect meals in my lifetime. I grew up with a family that bred me with a keen sense of food not only as sustenance, but as a story. Our Italian heritage, our identity was connected to nearly every recipe my mother made. My great grandmother’s raviolis. The red gravy a top every Sunday dinner. The Italian cookies that were made on my great-grandmother’s pizzelle iron. If food is love then the perfect meal is the story in which that love is told.

The dishes were not cleared from the table right away. If you are Italian, Spanish or Greek (maybe even French), clearing the table too quickly is sacrilege. Plates remain on the table a long time. This is a distinctly Mediterranean tradition. We pick. We eat more. We eat off someone else’s plate. We take our time. We talk. We drink. We digest. Whether you are right off the boat or third generation Italian-American, these are the kinds of traditions that are not so easy to shake. They last for centuries. Sitting at the table a long time over a good meal is in your blood.

At some point, someone asked for an espresso. I cheated. I whipped up a few in my more modern Nespresso maker, not yet a pro at using the macchinetta. I didn’t know this, but, Italians apparently never order a cappuccino after 10 in the morning. After dinner, you have an espresso. And then you have a Passito Di Pantelleria, which is a sweet dessert wine. Or chocolate.

A slice of  homemade fruit tart isn’t so bad either. The next thing you know, it’s close to midnight and your friends are helping you with the dishes and you’re completely spent. You’ve experienced the perfect meal.

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Friends: Tracy Shields, Jan, Juan, Doug, Marisa, Franco and Lisa

I often wonder if the pork they served us in Greenland would have tasted better with friends. I imagine it would.  And yet, there was no story to that pork. No one knew where it came from. In fact, we were so remote, I often imagined that we received our food by way of some humanitarian-like airdrop, where cargo planes would fly overhead and boxes of frozen pork would be dropped by parachute onto the frozen tundra. Actually, we’re not so far off from that imaginary scenario when we go to the grocery store. Where does all that stuff come from? Who knows. Michael Pollan writes that your best hope for real food from a supermarket is around the perimeter. That’s where the produce, the dairy, the meats are. All the aisles in between are processed food airdropped from corporate America.  The best story that comes from a bag of chips is that you located it on sale in aisle seven. I’m not sure that makes for a very great story. Or a great meal.

 

 

 

Remembering Prince, 1958-2016

prince_shmI have to say something about Prince’s death because, honestly, I just have to write to feel better about this. And, because, he was probably my first true love. Yeah, I know. That sounds pathetic. I remember when Michael Jackson died and everyone went crazy. People were crying. I thought, “Are you kidding me? You act like you knew the guy…” Well, now I understand.

I’ve cried for three days straight. No, I mean, I’ve sobbed. I had devoted so much fantasy time to that man for a good ten years–I had every single solitary one of his albums, his 45s, his cassettes and his CDs; I knew every song, I could tell you which album each song came from; I had all his song lyrics figured out and in high school, my walls were painted purple with the big EYES from the Purple Rain album; I even lost my virginity to Purple Rain with a kid who I believed was the closest thing I could get to Prince–I devoted so much emotional time to that man,  it only seems natural I would feel this loss, and yet, a part of my identity that took years to build seems to have crumbled away in an instant. That’s a bizarre feeling. For sure.

Untitled-1Aside from my father, Prince was probably the man who influenced me most, good and bad, and fueled a latent nature that was dying to burst forth. Everything I was running away from, everything I wanted to be, everything I couldn’t attain was wrapped up in that man. His lyrics held all the answers for a girl who was clueless and afraid of love and life. What’s more, I think he changed the chemistry of who I was the night I first saw him in concert. As he sat at his piano, screaming The Beautiful Ones, “I gotta know…Is it him or is it me…” Prince reconfigured my DNA that night, and there was no going back. Without him, I couldn’t tell you what I would look like today, what I might have become. I was transformed.

My mother couldn’t figure out the attraction. I think Prince scared her. He was black, he was half naked all the time, he wore frilly clothes like a woman and he sang about masturbation and God and she wasn’t having any of it for her perfect little girl. After I had bought the Controversy album at a record store at the mall, I hung the poster that came with the album in my bedroom closet. If anyone remembers this poster they might see how it could horrify a parent of a 15-year-old girl. It was Prince in black bikini underwear only, standing in a shower with a crucifix hanging on the shower wall. When my mother uncovered it at one point, not long after I had put it up, she told me to take it down. I refused. She told me, “If that ‘thing’ is not gone in three days, I am ripping it down.” I said, “No. It’s my room! You have no right to do that.” She said, “It’s my house.”

I held my ground and left the poster on the wall and, when I came home from school on the third day, the poster was ripped to shreds in a heap on my purple bedroom carpet.

I suppose that story is more telling of my mother than of me or my sentiments for Prince. And yet, there were many more times I would cry over the man. I cried out of frustration when I missed one of his concerts, I cried out of jealousy when I learned he was dating Vanity or some other woman. And I cried just to cry because, when you’re 16, that’s what you do.

And I wasn’t alone. I had a clique of friends that also worshipped the Purple One. We wore fringe and lace, swooshed our hair to one side, wrote letters to God, painted our rooms purple and drew The Sign and those Eyes on all our notebooks along with lyrics, carefully chosen that spoke to us like no parent ever could. We worked diligently trying to uncover all the hidden messages in his albums. When Paisley Park came out, we were hysterical because we thought Prince was dying. And we all wrote in our yearbooks that we were going to DMSR our lives away…

Shortly after graduation my best friend came to visit me in Wildwood where I worked for a summer selling t-shirts. I was so lonely and so missing my old friends that her visit was a godsend. We noted the cherry moon on the night she showed up. It was a sign.

When I was in my 20’s, living in Paris, I lived my life through the Sign of the Times and Batman albums. I drank “pink things” at an American bar called the Violon Dingue with my British friend Karen and we smoked Gauloises and bemoaned living in Paris with zero money. I thought it was a miracle when a boy selling cassettes on the street offered to sell me the Black Album and a bootlegged copy of Crystal Ball that he had clearly made in his parents’ basement—all for a whopping 20 francs. I think I sacrificed a meal and a pack of cigarettes that week. But, it was worth it.  This collection of songs I shared immediately with my other Prince-addicted friend, Kimberly, who was also living in Paris at the time. One night we ended up at club that was promoting an All-Prince night. We had come across one of their paper advertisements in the street—a red heart that said LoveSexy and were convinced the Man would make an appearance. I begged my au pair family to let me have the night off. I took the train into Paris from Fountainbleau met Kim and we stayed out until 7am—until the Metro started running again—dancing and waiting. He never did show, and what’s more my purse was stolen. But, I still have the LoveSexy advert. That’s all that really mattered.

princeI marked the years by albums, and, maybe shortly after Emancipation (ironically), my styles changed and I drifted. Or did I drift away organically? It’s not clear. The impoverished, but spiritually abundant days of Paris were long gone, and the girl who was so averse to growing up, grew up faster than she wanted in a less-than-perfect marriage and a deep struggle within myself to hold on to the woman I wanted to be. I remember one afternoon, living in Madrid with my new husband. I was happy within myself for a moment, in between fighting and a seemingly never ending long string of days where I would cry and rock back and forth wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. I remember putting on Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife, singing at the top of my lungs and dancing around a rather empty Madrid apartment living room that only had a futon and a TV. My husband came in and yelled, “Stop singing, you’re annoying me.”

That was the end of Prince.

I came back briefly during his Musicology period—Call My Name and On the Couch were the throaty, moaning, slow love songs that had first drawn me in and I simply needed to go back. That was 2004. The year my father died and the year I divorced. But, it wasn’t the same. I had changed. Prince’s spirituality imbued with sexuality was the perfect message of inspiration and validation I needed when I was younger, when I believed in those things, but I simply no longer possessed any of that anymore. Letters to God were replaced with the logical promise of science. And as far as my sexuality was concerned, I had spent years devoid of everything Prince told me true love and sexuality should look like. There were no hot nights in bathtubs with candles. My husband never said to me,

“If I was your girlfriend

Would U let me dress U

I mean, help U pick out your clothes…”

I got nothing remotely close to that. And so, I stop believing. In Prince. In the promises of youth. In me.

And that was that.

Until it wasn’t anymore. In 2009 I met Doug. By then, I had been through my fair share of ups and downs, reconnected with my true self, or rather, found my true self, not my fantasy one, and felt the warm glow of aliveness and happiness coming from within and from my children. While I no longer needed an idol to help me form my identity, I was no longer jaded by all the dreams that never came true. Doug and I, when we first met, talked about the fact that we both had Prince posters all over our walls and that he always dug girls who were into Prince because, well, let’s be honest, if Prince did one thing for any true fan, it was to teach them how to fuck. From a man’s perspective I could see how that might be appealing.

But, the truth is, Prince was a distant memory, a larger-than-life figure that gave me so much more than a song to dance to. He taught me how to be free. How to love. How to be my own duality. How to express myself. How to be unique. How to look at the world in all its glory and say, this is beautiful.

When I heard the news that he was dead it came in the form of a text that I only briefly saw. And then another, something about TMZ reporting it and it can’t be confirmed. I froze. I was at my computer, just off a 2-hour conference call. I went right on to Facebook and saw the posts blowing up my newsfeed. I called one of my old high schools friends right away and just kept saying, “No, no, no, no, no…It can’t be…” We were both crying. Holding on to the possibility that Prince not remotely capable of dying.

I looked at the date. And I knew.

Ironically, or coincidentally, both my father and Prince died at age 57. And ironically, or coincidentally, they both died on the same date. This is significant. There had always been a mystique about the world for me–an innocent belief that the universe aligns certain major events in your life mysteriously–as if someone behind a curtain is trying to tell you something–I may be invisible but there’s a purpose and a plan, and I’m going to drop little clues to keep you guessing. I stopped believing in that for a very long time, but in that very moment of reconciling Prince’s passing, I knew. It was a gentle reminder that the world is still a mystery and I need to keep my eyes open for signs.

Thank you, Prince. Thank you. For a lifetime of helping to build a girl into a woman. That’s a pretty big feat for such a little guy.

best-prince-songs-5I read today that Prince’s remains were cremated. And that reports of his death were that he may have overdosed on percocets. To me, those are crazy hard facts to hear. They don’t compute. They bring me back to the girl with the ripped to shreds poster on her bedroom floor. Crying because it just doesn’t make sense.

One of my homegirls sent me a poignant quote that sums up exactly how I feel about Prince’s death and why it’s possible I still feel a bit lost.

Prince was so utterly, effortlessly enshrouded in mystique that he seemed other-than-human, to the point where mortality never figured into our calculations.—Vanity Fair

Rest in peace. Nothing compares to you.

35 years of journal writing

journalI have been writing in a journal since 1979, since I was 11-years old. This photo marks 35 years of writing and showcases over 105 journals. It does not include the years I wrote online, the short stories I wrote and ultimately published, the blogs I wrote or the myriad notes I saved. Outside the frame of this photo, but on the shelf, there is a pile of smaller journals that were unnumbered and thus, left out of the picture.

Like a long road, or a straight line that pushes past a horizon with no end in sight,  these journals move forward in time along with me. They are how I tell time. They are time. They are me.

The very first binding you see is where I met one of my best friends with whom I am still very close. I was in 6th grade. In 1989, I lived in Paris. In 1990, I bartended in Greenland. In 1997, I met and married my first husband and lived in Spain. In 1998 my son Daniel was born. In 2000, Julien was born. In 2004, my father died, I graduated college and I divorced. In 2007, I quit smoking ( for the second and final time). In 2008, the economy crashed. In 2009, I met Doug.  In these journals exist every broken heart I’ve ever had, every best friend, every mediocre friend,  every major event, and a gazillion minor events. My Prince phase, my Paris phase, my speak-with-a-British-accent/Spinal Tap phase, my sex phase, my I-want-to-be-a-nun-phase, my travel agent phase, my travel writing phase, my waitress phase, my ignore-all-responsibilities-and-take-off-to-London phase, my mommy phase, my college phase, my grad school phase, my corporate shareholder phase. If I slept with you, you’re in these journals. If I partied with you, you’re in these journals. If I loved you, you’re in these journals. If I worked with you and found you any bit entertaining, you’re in these journals. If I cried on your shoulder, or begged you to stay, or hated your fucking guts, you’re in these journals.

I made it to Volume 100 in 2010. That year, my interest in journal writing waned and I didn’t write much. I thought I’d accomplished all my goals and there was nothing more to write. If I wrote at all it was online and it was basically me logging every morsel of food that went into my body. In OCD fashion, I tracked breakfast, lunch, dinner, exercise, vitamins, water intake, sex, periods, moods, and how much caffeine or chocolate I allowed myself on any give day. But when I noticed myself getting sicker and depressed, I thought it might help if I gave up the tracking and went back to actually writing in a hard bound journal. So, by 2013, I cracked open the spine of Volume 103 and started writing at my desk again. I felt more me. 

I’m not one to live in the past, although, with these journals, it’s very hard for me to escape my past. That can be bitter-sweet. If I forgot where we had Christmas dinner in 2009 and with whom, I just have to look it up. Voila. The journals are all dated and numbered and memorable dates are easy to find. If I want to laugh again about a trip I took, it’s there. If I want to look back and read silly things my kids said when they were toddlers, it’s there. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed reading early grade school journal entries with friends. The drawback is that sometimes–most of the time– they dredge up the old me. Old insecurities, old hopes and fears, crushed dreams. Things I’ve long overcome or given up. But, things that, nevertheless, make me feel sorry for the girl who wrote them. She never vanishes; she never grows up. She’s always looking up and out of the pages at me with this arrogance that I no longer possess. And I think, what the hell is up with you? You’re such a fuck up. You’re making all these stupid mistakes. You’re stuck, and you don’t even know it.

And no matter how hard I try,  I can’t  help her.

And since she can’t help herself. It’s frustrating reading.

But I too am stuck. Unlike others, who leave no trace of the guy or girl they used to be, and who can freely choose to rewrite their history with bold new assuredness (Sure, I was always confident), I cannot. I need only to flip to Volume 26, 36, 57, 99 to read, “I have failed,” and I am quickly reminded that there is no rewriting the past. The presumptuous, foolish, imperfectly charming  young girl of these journals is here to stay. If anything comforts me it’s the thought that I created her, separate from myself. And like a flesh and blood character in a novel, you can read about her and she exists. And when you’re sick of her, you can close the book and get back to your real life.

But I guess, with the exception of my two sons, she really is one of my greatest accomplishments. The girl of my journals. And while she only takes up such a small amount of shelf space in my house, she represents my near entire existence on this planet. And much like when we’re cremated, and the entirety of who we are, in the end,  fits into a space no bigger than a shoe box, so too does she. Small. Contained. Alive.

For now, my time line moves onward. The pages fill. My new goal is to get to Volume 2oo. Or at least fill up the rest of the space on the shelf. I figure it should take me another 30 years. That puts me at 75-years-old. That’s enough. By then I would hope that that girl will have grown up and that she will no longer summon in me pity and a sense of helplessness, but rather, joy and pride in knowing that she made something of her life.

I only have 95 journals left to get there.

Take it personally!

Need a great gift idea? How about dinner for two prepared in your home by a personal chef.

As some of you may know (despite my public displays of affection for my lovely boyfriend, D) I am not very romantic. I hate the idea of Valentine’s day, I think celebrating anniversaries is kinda lame, and I rarely make any requests for candlelight dinners, flowers or chocolate. But I do love giving and receiving  unique gifts.

And so, the other week, I was trying to come up with a gift for D– whether we celebrate or not, I still wanted to do something special for our three-year anniversary. That’s when Fran Davis popped up on my Facebook newsfeed with the idea of hiring a personal chef to prepare dinner for two. Bingo. I hate cooking, but love to eat healthy so I chose my menu items (she had a few to choose from) and I hired her.

Personal Chef Fran Davis, of The Flavorful Fork

On Friday, she arrived at 4ish with all her cooking supplies, including her own pans, knives, spices,  and towels for clean up. I think she even brought her own sponge! Anyway, as she cooked (in my kitchen), I was able to finish up some work and then pad around the house, doing virtually nothing. Actually, I kinda felt like a lazy, pampered (spoiled) bourgeois housewife. But we chatted and laughed and I was amazed at how well she was able to not only cook this amazing meal, but socialize as well. I think if I had her job, I would have been more like, “OK, don’t talk to me, and get out of the kitchen!” Who knows, maybe inside that’s how she felt. Truth is, she seemed very at home and comfortable.

So, D came home around 5:30.  Fran had also brought over a bottle of Spanish red for us, so we started drinking that. I set the table, lit a candle (why not) and by 5:45 dinner was served.

Our first course was a mango and avocado salad with mango dressing (I still have the dressing in my fridge and keep putting it on everything), after that she served Parmesan-Herb Crusted Tilapia, served with mashed yams (I believe she threw a little sage into the yams too). This main course was so amazingly good that it made me believe I was eating at Le Bec Fin. Tres gourmet. To think that something that delicious can be made in my kitchen is a bit of a shocker. That was always my excuse as to why I never cooked. I didn’t think my kitchen was capable of it. Then again, there was that time that Natalie made that amazing risotto. Now, I guess, I have no excuse.

But back to Fran, our final course was a pear-cranberry fruit crumble for dessert with a scoop of coconut ice cream. Dear Lord! I think I gained 10 pounds in two hours. But it was completely worth it. By that point, D and I were both in our respective food comas and I don’t even remember Fran cleaning up. The next thing I remember was hugging her goodbye and dreaming up a future event where her services could again, be put to good use. Maybe a tapas party in the new house? Just to make sure the new kitchen is capable of serving up fabulous faire? Definitely food for thought.

As for my lack of enthusiasm for romance, I guess I’m not entirely averse to it. But I would still not say that the night was romantic. It’s kind of hard to be all shmoopy in the presence of a friend who’s cooking in your kitchen. But it was definitely a positive, unique experience. And that’s what I liked about it. I could feel pampered for the night and in my book, any time I don’t have to cook, it’s a good thing! I will definitely be calling Fran again. And I hope this inspires others to do the same! She can be reached at The Flavorful Fork dot com.