Wednesday, April 25, 2012

april photo-a-day challenge

For the month of April, my amazing and fun friend Stacy suggested that a bunch of us do this:

So we have. It's been fun! Here are my photos from the month:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

a bewildering question

If you can hang with me, I have a stir-fry recipe waiting for you at the bottom of the page. But first I want to talk for a bit.

Here is one of my favorite poems by Marie Howe. The Billy in the poem is her brother, who died of complications from AIDS.

I ask a lot of questions of myself. Most of them are not as weighty as the ones Howe mentions. Sometimes I write my questions down. What follows are a few recent examples.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

haiku + quick pickles

Early in Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children, the main character Saleem Sinai explains that as he feels himself getting older, his desire to tell his own story grows more and more urgent. Identifying himself as a man who has "dedicated [his] latter days to the large-scale preparation of condiments," he declares:

            Rising from my pages comes the unmistakable whiff of chutney...
            And my chutneys and kasaundies are, after all, connected to my
            nocturnal scribblings--by day amongst the pickle-vats, by night
            within these sheets, I spend my time at the great work of
            preserving. Memory, as well as fruit, is being saved from the
            corruption of the clocks.

Warming to his theme, Saleem lectures Padma, his long-suffering wife-to-be: "Things--even people--have a way of leaking into each other... like flavours when you cook... the past has dripped into me... so we can't ignore it..."

I always liked this metaphor. Rushdie uses it to suggest that we are all like pickles, each of us a separate piece of vegetal matter that can be distinguished from another piece. If we are born into the same family or country (or, in the case of the novel, if we are born during the same midnight hour of that country's day of independence), we might find ourselves pickled in a common brine. Over time our shared history, the liquid that surrounds and preserves us, may begin to give us all a similar flavor and color. Nevertheless, each of us is still our own completely distinct, separate chunk of cucumber, beetroot, or watermelon rind.

This also resonates with me because I have a refrigerator door literally crammed full of every kind of condiment and relish you can imagine.

Monday, April 9, 2012

sage + sausage gravy

Years ago, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and tested off-the-charts INFJ: introverted-intuitive-feeling-judging. It always felt like an apt description of me, both the good and the bad of the type. Some people think the MBTI, a personality indicator with sixteen possible types, is the equivalent of silly horoscopes or tarot readings, just a fun little parlor game, because it's based on a self-reported questionnaire and not a "scientifically objective" measure of personality. Still, I've found it useful over the years. Because it is non-judgmental - it describes a neutral set of preferences - it has helped me to better understand, anticipate, and accept what motivates others and even myself, and how we view and navigate the world differently. According to the seminal text Please Understand Me II, the sixteen personality types are evenly classified into four temperament groups, each of which has a completely different aspiration. SJs want to be Donald Trump. SPs want to be Jimi Hendrix. NTs want to be Albus Dumbledore.

According to this book, like the three other "Idealist" NF types, an INFJ like me aspires to be Confucius:
The Sage is the most revered role model for the Idealists—that man or woman who strives to overcome worldly, temporal concerns, and who aspires to the philosophic view of life. Plato, perhaps the greatest of all Idealist philosophers, characterized the sage by saying that the "true lover of wisdom" is on a metaphysical journey [...] To transcend the material world (and thus gain insight into the essence of things), to transcend the senses (and thus gain knowledge of the soul), to transcend the ego (and thus feel united with all creation), to transcend even time (and thus feel the force of past lives and prophecies): these are the lofty goals of the sage, and in their heart of hearts all Idealists honor this quest.  (145)
But what's funny about this description of the sage is how loftily abstract it is, with its language of rising above the earthly world to a place of transcendence—especially when you look up the word in the OED and read how pragmatically the grandaddy of dictionaries defines the quality of being sage: "Practically wise, rendered prudent or judicious by experience." And also: "Characterized by profound wisdom; based on sound judgment." According to the OED, any transcendence the sage has achieved comes, paradoxically, directly from having kept both feet on the ground, having lived through an experience, and having returned with practical wisdom to dispense humbly to those who solicit it. Sages are sage because they've been there.

Friday, April 6, 2012

the king of bikini island + the dream strata

Dreams are strange things. I think they come from some psychic version of an underground stream, and they deliver gloriously bizarre and circuitous messages from our unconscious. That's why I feel I'm under no obligation to make this post particularly rational or linear. But I do promise a recipe at the end. Not the best thing I've ever cooked—I'm still in the process of figuring it out—but undeniably interesting because it's a recipe I dreamed.

Over a decade ago, I began the Ph.D. program in English at the University of Georgia. Truth: it is an impressive program, where I got to study under a number of brilliant, quirky people whom I admire and write a book-length dissertation that I'm proud of, on a topic that I found challenging and intriguing.

Also and equally true: Rhea and I had secretly always wanted to live in Athens, Georgia, ever since I was in high school and read somewhere that one of the members of the B-52's said they'd gone to an Athens house party where they danced so much that the floor fell in. This may be totally apocryphal; I have no idea where I read or heard it. In all honesty, I may have dreamed it. But it stayed in the back of my mind for ten years, even and especially after Rhea died: I want to live where they dance so hard they break the floor.