I had such a funny story to share with you, and I was so pleased with myself to have a funny story to share before sharing the not-funny story that has been on my mind in recent weeks. It was all there, the funny story, in my head, in the morning, while I was making coffee and frying an egg for my daughter and getting ready to drive carpool. It was there, clear as a bell. And it was very funny.
I drove carpool, came home, got ready for work, had a new thought on the way to work, had more thoughts (mostly work thoughts) at work, worked, went to the post office, ran an errand, picked my daughter up from a friend’s house, came home, mapped out the evening in my head (the map included writing), and I could not for the life of me remember the funny story.
Anne Lamott is right, you know: always keep a pen and paper on you.
Also: multi-tasking is terrible. But it is the daily reality for some of us (mothers, mostly), and that’s that.
So, I had something really funny to share, and if I remember it, I’ll share it some time in the future.
I have a few other things to share, too, and I’ll start with cheerful ones:
The Book Group
My book group (not a book club) met at my house this month, and our book was Tana French’s The Witch Elm, (which I’d read back in the winter and recommended to the group for a summer book). Everyone enjoyed the book and the conversation, and in the conversation a man I’ve come to cherish coined a term I hadn’t realized had been missing: Elevated airport fiction.
Tana French, for example, is elevated airport fiction. Patricia Cornwall is just airport fiction. Not sure what that makes Nora Roberts, but you get the idea.
Elevated airport fiction is my favorite escape. It’s a guilty pleasure with a little redemption built in. And it’s exactly what I want to read in summer, when I’m tired of reality and wish for a fairy-godmother.
Next up we’re reading Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney’s debut novel (recommended by the friend who coined the term “elevated airport fiction,” which this novel is not, he says, because he has already read it). I’ll report back.
As I mentioned, the book group met at my house, which means I prepared dinner. What I planned to prepare was carnitas. What I actually prepared was a riff on this lovely spring ragoût recipe from Davis Tanis. I used Israeli couscous instead of the tiny stuff, and I did not make the sauce because I wasn’t sure where the group stood on cilantro, that curiously polarizing herb (that I love). For dessert? Salted toffee (1 stick of butter, all the sugar I had in the house, and a splash of vinegar, cooked to hard crack temp, poured on a baking sheet and sprinkled with sea salt. Like cheese soufflé, this toffee’s foolproof, I promise.)
The only other thing I remember cooking this month was something I manufactured one school night, using what I had on hand because I didn’t want to go to the grocery:
Pork loin, cut into bite-sized pieces, browned in oil and then braised for a good long while in an orange juice liquid, with onions and garlic and oregano. While that was cooking, I cooked some basmati rice. And when the rice and the pork were done, I put the pork in a bowl, dumped the rice in the pork pan (heavy enamel pot) and let it pick up all that good stuff. And while the rice was doing that, I cooked some green peas. And then I scooped it into four bowls, and we had dinner.
Have I cooked anything else that was particularly good recently? If so, I can’t remember. August has been a bit of a blur.
Last month I wrote about the fabulous and stylish Swedish dish cloths from Sweetgum Home (you may have seen ads on Instagram, which is how I discovered them). And I got the nicest note from Sandra as a result, so I am putting another plug here (and no, there is no affiliate link or any of that crap – if I tell you I like something, it’s because I like it.)
Also, if we are friends in real life, you are probably getting a set of these for Christmas.
Do I still care about making art, since I haven’t written about it recently?
Well, yes. Always. And in August I was reminded how very much I do care.
The ever-wonderful Vu Le, who writes the Nonprofit AF blog, wrote a story about art that I’m never going to forget (and once you read it you probably won’t either). It’s another take on the idea that art might save the world (which I’ve mentioned before…), and a reminder that the things that make life a joyful, shared experience are things worth fighting for.
The time I did not spend cooking in August was spent making things – dresses, among them, using the Lotta Jansdotter Esme kaftan pattern from her Everyday Style book. The direct impetus was needing something to do that could take all of my energy and attention the weekend after the El Paso and Dayton shootings. The secondary impetus was that I’m just plain tired of wearing black all the time, even though I swore in November 2016 that I would wear only black until the country came back to its senses. Silly me, how could I have known that things were actually going to get progressively worse, not better, after that.
Anyway, I’ve grown tired of wearing black, so I picked out all the cheery fabrics that have been sitting on shelves waiting for me to find time (and an idea) to do something with them. And I took solace in sewing, and solace in the cheery prints.
Other creative endeavors in August:
2020 wall calendars (yes, it really is that time).
And hand-painted, hand-poured soy candles, because I promised my daughter I would help her raise money for the school trip to Paris next summer (because we agreed that she would pay half, and we would pay half). Last Christmas she and I made soy candles using the leftover Oui yogurt jars that I couldn’t bear to throw out, even in the recycling bin. For an upcoming market, we’re taking it up a notch and painting the jars with reactive metal paints (so fun). If you’re in Memphis next Sunday (September 8th), come see us at the Central Gardens Artists Market, part of the annual Central Gardens Home Tour.
Here’s one thing I’ve learned since taking a job as director of an organization that deals with domestic abuse, child abuse, and family violence: it’s an epidemic. In every neighborhood, at every socio-economic level. I cannot begin to tell you how many stories I’ve heard in the last three years from friends near and dear to me about their personal experiences – more of them since last month when I wrote about my work and Rachel Louise Snyder’s book.
One friend allowed me to share the experience of discovering the family’s dirty secret and the process of getting help. Read it here. If the story inspires you, perhaps you’ll consider a donation in “Henry’s” honor to help ensure that money is never a barrier to getting help.
Since the book group was reading a book I’d already read, I spent August reading other things – articles, mostly, though also Peter Heller’s newest novel, The River (which I recommend).
For pure entertainment:
- “Color and Light” short story by Sally Rooney
- The Photography of Margaret Bourke White
- From Woodstock to Wilson: the Work of Photographer Burk Uzzle
- Paul Child’s portraits of his marriage to Julia Child (I bought the book – it’s magnificent)
- There were so many fantastic tributes to the late Toni Morrison that it’s hard to pick just one to share – but this is my favorite, because it makes clear how she lives on as writers carry her forward
For more serious contemplation:
- More on the flaws of our “charity” system in the U.S. – You Can’t Lift People Up by Putting Them Down
- What happens when you put reps from Greenpeace and Nestlé Waters in a cramped bunk on a boat to see the impact of plastic on the environment? Here’s what – and it’s a great story.
- Here’s a lovely piece about the Minnesota Boundary Waters and the unnecessary threats that environment.
- And here’s an equally thoughtful piece about how the terrifying Amazon fire is less terrifying than what the ongoing threat of fossil fuel
On a lighter note:
- How to Ride a Moped to Hollywood. You’ll be glad you read this one – and don’t skip watching the 11 minute short film that started it all.
And, in the end…
The not-so-funny story that’s been on my mind:
I’ve long said that my son is my conscience and my daughter my muse. But the truth is that they both play both roles for me, to varying degrees. And they both offer me a perspective on the world that I would not see, if not for them.
One night after dinner, while we were making her lunch for the next day, my daughter said: I’ve been thinking about it, and I realize that the world may end – the planet may collapse – in my lifetime.
She said this around the time that Iceland had a funeral service for its dead glacier, not long after the news from Greenland about the historic (horrific) ice melt. So I could not respond by telling her not to worry about such things because she is young and the world is full of surprises. Nor could I say her statement was hogwash.
So I replied by asking: And what do you think about that?
And she said: I think it means we have to enjoy the time we have together, however long that is, and that we have to take care of one another as best we can.