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The Goose Is Getting Fat

I’m way ahead of myself with Christmas this year.  Partly because I did a lot of gift shopping when I was in Paris in July – I was there during the sales, and deliberately hit up a couple shops and bought things in bulk. And then everything got safely stowed in the hall closet – I’d wait until later to wrap them.  Usually I do a lot of wrapping on Christmas Eve – I always end up traveling to my parents’ house to spend the holiday with the family, and I usually have Amazon mail everything to them there so I don’t have to drag it on the train.

Then came….the election.

And after a week of mourning, I bizarrely found myself suddenly thinking of how I would wrap my presents. I ordered special Paris-themed Christmas wrapping paper, and started hunting down boxes.  Dug everything out of the closet again, dug out a big box of ribbon, and started writing out tags. By Thanksgiving I already had a stack of ten presents piled up in a corner of my room and was already eyeing the toys I set out as a little sideboard display – I couldn’t put them out yet, could I?

I did wait until this week for that.  But I still was getting things done much earlier than usual.  And the whole time, a song from Mame was going through my head – “we need a little Christmas right this very minute…”  Yes. Auntie Mame is what we need now – try to hang on to joy as fiercely as we can. Carpe Gaudium.

I’ve also started preparing for a small Christmas party I’m having, in two weeks.  I’ve bookmarked about twenty cookie recipes and even some candy and fudge recipes, and made up the first batch this weekend – a shortbread thing I make every year. They’re  supposed to be decorated with melted chocolate and walnuts to make them look like acorns, but this time I dug into some crunchy caramel candy sprinkle things I got from the shop G. Detou in Paris.  I had a little flash of “no, I want to save this” and I cringed a bit when I put it away after, noticing it was only a third full now – but then I reminded myself that I was already planning to go back to Paris in the spring, and I could get more, remember?

And then I tried one to reinforce that it was a good idea to use the damn things.  ….And oh my it was.

I’ve bookmarked about fifteen more cookie recipes, three candy recipes, and a couple of small appetizer kinds of things to make for a small party I’m having in a couple weeks, and I’ve also already started some of the make-ahead bites. I’m holding back on the tree for another week yet, but there are some candles and garland greens that are going to start showing up over the next week, and I’ve even got special tins to store all the cookies in as I make them.  I’ve also got the packet of vin chaud spices (also from Paris) ready for when I need it.

Because I predict I’m going to be needing a little Christmas a few more times this month – times when I’ll want to huddle by the window with a cup of something hot and minty or spicy and a cookie to nibble – and hopefully friends to join me.

 

A Moment

And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’ –Kurt Vonnegut

It’s Thanksgiving evening now. I was home here in New York City – every other year, my brother and cousins and some aunts and uncles all spend the holiday with their in-laws, so my parents and one aunt and I say “to hell with it” and have our Thanksgiving at a restaurant on the weekend. This leaves me free to spend Thanksgiving Day proper at home, wearing nothing but jammies and eating exactly what I want. A made a lentil-pumpkin curry stew, and I made us each dishes of baked sliced sweet potatoes, simmering in a glaze of butter, sugar, and the juice of some fresh cranberries. I also cheated and got a turkey tenderloin that had been packaged with its own marinade – and most likely had been swimming in it for a couple days – and roasted that alongside.

Yesterday at work was thick with office politics, the tension of three peoples’ strong wills being amplified by extra uncertainty; I work for an NGO that resettles refugees, and we have all been swinging between heartache and anger since the election. We also have been floored by a Texas judge’s move to overrule the expansion of overtime – an expansion we started preparing for months ago, and now may have to stop all our work in its tracks. Sometime at 2 pm yesterday my boss sent out word to “leave whenever the Lord places it on your heart”, but the last-minute scurrying to wrap up all essential tasks for the week took me another two hours, so it was nearly my usual time to go home anyway.

Elsewhere my friends are sharing their Thanksgivings up and down on Facebook. Three families I know have new babies celebrating their first Thanksgivings – one wee one is brand new, only about three days old. One friend shared portions of the three-page speech his seven-year-old is writing. Another friend is celebrating her first 5-K run, completed this morning. Others are on a ski holiday. My friend Colin is working over the holiday, running the lights for a stage show on board a cruise ship – but still found a chance to post a photo of his “Thanksgiving meal” of baklava and a capuccino on a balcony in Santorini.

I played a little too fast and loose with money the past couple weeks. I’m not poor – I have enough to make rent, feed myself, and take care of expenses if I am careful – but if I’m not careful, I definitely find myself broke. I’ve been in this state before, though, plenty of times -I fall into the trap of taking cabs home from work, or buying my lunch instead of brown-bagging it, and then the money I budget for myself to cover two weeks lasts only one. I was hoping to see Moana this weekend at some point, but money is tight right now to the point that I may need to wait another week.  It’s my own fault, but not being able to simply see a movie when I want is frustrating beyond belief.

A turned the stew into a thick soup that we’ll be eating for leftovers. There was also leftover turkey, which I’ll be turning into a bunch of other dishes myself. There are also tons of sweet potatoes, potatoes, and carrots in my fridge, and I have three days to turn them into dishes too – things I can bring to work or have waiting for dinner when I get home, simplifying the evening. A enlisted me for help cleaning the fridge out a little today, and I saw some bits and pieces of other food I can use, things that can be turned into pasta bakes and casseroles and tucked into omlettes to further eat. At this moment, though, I’m full.

We still don’t quite know what’s going to happen next year. Regardless what you think of the outcome of the presidential election, it’s inescapable that it’s prompted a lot of anger on both sides. It’s anger that people are not going to be able to just let go – people have been pushed far past their breaking points. The first mis-step of the new administration and some people may snap. The impact of that snap may be small and local – or it may be national. But there will be an impact. The only question is how big it’s going to be.

Maybe it will just be small.  Maybe I’ll be wrong after all.

A is streaming something in her room – either a movie, or an episode of West Wing, which she’s been working through. I have just finished a small chocolate caramel lava cake, something from a mix that I discovered in the back of my pantry (and am not entirely sure how I got). The peppermint tea I just had to settle my stomach a bit is warm in my belly. We got the boiler fixed last night – it was acting up – and the house is comfortably warm against the BQE outside.  I’ll get to sleep in tomorrow and then two more days after, and I’m well fed. There’s a candle making a soft light in the kitchen and a special documentary about Shakespeare on the radio. For the rest of the night, I don’t really have anything to worry about, or even do, except just be.

Yesterday was chaotic, tomorrow is uncertain. Tonight, there is good.

 

The Least We Can Do

We’ve all heard, by now, of the rash of racist or sexist or Islamophobic incidents that broke out across the country the day after the election. To my dismay, I learned that there were two that happened where I went to college; someone wrote “TRUMP!’ in huge letters on the door to the prayer room at the engineering college, and later that day, a student taunted three high-school-age girls in an elevator by repeatedly using the n-word and saying “I can say whatever I want now because Trump won”.

I heard about it through a friend’s Facebook post, and initially shook my head. Then had the urge to write a letter.  Then realized – I know a lot of other alums through Facebook. And they know other alums.  What if we all signed that letter?  I announced my intent on Facebook, tagged all the alums I knew, and urged them to tell me if they wanted to sign it too.  And sure enough, a bunch of them “liked” my post, and one even tagged a whole bunch of other people right away.

But…that was it, for most of them. I only got eight other people to join me, out of about twenty who learned about it.  And I’m grateful to those who joined me, but…it’s still not what I was hoping.

We have all gotten used to an automated way to participate in community now. We’re on Facebook instead of catching up over coffee or on the phone. We “share this picture of the Vietnam Memorial” to support veterans rather than actually pitching in at the VFW. We sign online petitions rather than paper ones.

There are those who would say that the Internet makes it easy to participate in the civic discussion – but that’s the thing, it’s made it too easy. Or rather, too easy to feel like we did something.  It’s too easy to change your avatar to a picture of a cartoon character or the Eiffel Tower, or to say “Je Suis Charlie”, or share the photo meme that scolds you that “I bet only 2% of the people who see this will share this photo of a German Shepard because no one cares!” And so most of us click share and maybe type something, and then go on with our day – without expending even the few extra seconds of second thought to realize that sharing a photo of a German Shepard on the internet has absolutely no currency in the real world.

And right now, that kind of slacktivism isn’t going to cut it. Real world impact is going to take real world action. Especially now.

The good news, though – it won’t necessarily require that much impact. Most of us opt for this kind of Facebook activism because the problems seem so big and outside the reach of an individual person. But according to a former Congressional staffer, who went online with advice on Twitter a few days ago, all it takes is phone calls.  And you don’t even have to pay long distance to call Washington – the district office is not only just fine, it may be even better.  And really, this is what you sent them to office to do – represent you. And the way they figure out how to represent you is if you tell them.

While I was still waiting for incoming signatures, I got into a text exchange with a friend (I’ll spare her name). We briefly talked about going to the Womens’ March on Washington the day after Election Day, but a couple of bad experiences at marches had me a little uneasy, and she confessed she was only thinking of it out of a need to do something.  It was early in the morning, and we both had work to get to, so we left it at that.

Then a couple hours later she texted me again. She announced she was about to make a phone call to her state legislature about an issue that was affecting her business.  Then five minutes later, another text – they’d told her it was a federal issue.  So she was going to make more calls.  She called her representative, both her Senators, and a couple other places.  And then most likely hyperventilated and had some wine because she hates using the phone, almost as much as she hates drawing attention to herself (I was in her wedding party, and before the processional I was trying to get her to sing “Chantilly Lace” with me to stave off a panic attack).

This was an enormous act of courage, and I told her so. It was also a constituent exercising her right with the most effective means possible and demanding her right to be represented by the people in power. But – it was also just three phone calls.  That was all.

It is time to raise the bar on “the least we can do” and get back to real activism.

 

Cookery Calendar Challenge – November

So, yeah, I forgot to report back on this because I was distracted by my country basically going insane. Hello.

So, I went with the British cooking book, and…honestly, at this exact moment I can’t really remember what I made.  I think there was something with a cheese sauce and hard-boiled eggs, baked, on a bed of mashed potatoes and leeks.  That was good.  And another thing with chicken thighs and apples baked in cider.   That was also good.

I’m sorry folks; I haven’t the heart to report back more on things.  I’m still in a punch-drunk daze about the election.  I’ll probably summon myself enough to only make one recipe from the second cookbook choice – I’ll go with the New England cookbook I was trying to think about last month – but right now, cooking just seems like a utilitarian thing now.

But this will pass.

Raymond Carver has a short story called A Small, Good Thing that rings true, and eventually I will remember its message.  It’s about a young couple with a son who is about to turn eight years old; at the very start of the story the mother is placing an order for his birthday cake, due in one weeks’ time.  But that same day the boy is hit by a car, and is brought to the hospital where his nervous parents wait by his side for two days until he dies. His parents spend the next several days dealing with the funeral arrangements.

The whole while – while the boy is in the hospital, and after he dies – the parents are also bothered by mysterious phone calls from someone who calls to say “I’m calling about Scotty (the boy), did you forget him?”  After several days they finally realize – it’s the baker, calling to remind them of the forgotten cake.  Mad with grief, they drive to the bakery to yell at him for torturing them – but instantly realize that there’s no way that the baker would have known their son had died.  The baker, too, instantly regrets the hurt he’s inadvertently caused them.

He asks them in, sits them down in his office, and brings in a tray he’s just pulled out of an oven.

“You probably need to eat something,” the baker said. “I hope you’ll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this,” he said. He served them warm cinnamon rolls just out of the oven, the icing still runny. He put butter on the table and knives to spread the butter. Then the baker sat down at the table with them. He waited. He waited until they each took a roll from the platter and began to eat. “It’s good to eat something,” he said, watching them. “There’s more. Eat up. Eat all you want. There’s all the rolls in the world in here.”

The three sit in the office and talk – the young couple about their son, the baker about his job. About the thousands of wedding cakes and birthday cakes he’s made over the years. About how he would rather be a baker than a florist, because he gives joy but also nourishes people. And over a loaf of dark brown bread he pulls out of the oven later that evening the three find some kind of comfort and communion.

Eating is indeed a small, good thing at a time like this. Right now I’m only eating because I know I have to, but in time I’ll be able to savor again.

Presisedivacantism

People tend to have the idea that Catholics are a monolithic, and largely conservative, entity.  And they are totally not – there are all sorts of little groups mixed in there, like the religious orders you’ve heard of (Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits like Pope Francis) and lots of other little zany fringe groups, ranging from the super-liberal group that made Sinead O’Connor a priest to super-conservative groups with conspiracy theories that would make Dan Brown say “….dude. Y’all gotta calm down.”

One group – which is actually pretty big – is the Sedevacantists.  Sedevacantism was founded in the wake of Vatican II, the series of papal-sponsored conferences meant to modernize the Catholic church a little.  A lot of the old Catholic traditions – fast days, meatless Fridays, speaking the Mass in Latin – were relaxed, or wholly done away with.

It is human nature, though, that whenever any group of people makes a huge change, there are people who preferred things the way they were before. “Traditionalist Catholics” reserved the right to keep the old customs; and as far as the Vatican was concerned, no problem.  If there’s a parish somewhere where there’s enough call for a Latin Mass at noon on Sundays, after the English one in the morning, and the priest knows Latin, then great.  Traditionalist Catholics still aren’t crazy about the changes to the church, but they’re sort of grumbling to themselves about them.

The Sedevacantists, meanwhile, go beyond simply grumbling. The term comes from the Latin sede vacante, or “empty seat” – and refers to the Sedevacantist position that Pope John XXIII’s even calling for the Second Vatican Council made him a heretic, and therefore none of the popes that have come after him since 1963 have counted.  As far as they’re concerned, the Papacy has just been empty all this time. A couple of small parishes have gone a step further and elected their own popes; there’s one guy in Oklahoma City, Pope Michael, who was canonized by his parents in 1990.  (I am not making this up.)

…I say all of this to describe the strange sort of shrugging disregard I find that I’m giving to the election now.  Not that I am shrugging about the whole thing – I’m writing a couple of activism letters, I’m looking into volunteering at a writing program here in the city, and my friend Sue is talking me into going to the women’s March on Washington in January.  But the reason I’m doing all of that is…because I’ve just decided to disregard the existence of the President altogether. I have to step up and take action to protect people because the Oval Office will be an empy office for four years.

Now What

It feels like my country broke up with me.

I don’t mean that in any glib way, either.  Everything has that unreal, everything-is-different-now feeling you get after a major breakup, when you’re going about your day, brushing your teeth or drinking fruit punch or cream-cheesing up your bagel or lobbing paper clips in the trash can at work, and suddenly reality shifts as it hits you that “I’m never going to eat bagels or drink fruit punch with them again”.   The very air feels different right now.

My friend C from Ireland emailed me after the election, and I nearly burst into tears at work when I saw the first line of her email – “this is the first time I’ve wanted to cry at the results of an election.”  My friend Sue made me laugh, though; she texted me at about 1 in the morning, when it was likely Trump was going to win, to say – and this is a direct quote – “WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF FUCKING MCFUCKITY FUCKING FUCKING FUCK GOD DAMNIT FUCKING FUCK”.  A bit later she described the situation as “motherfucking asswhistling shitfest”. (I have to admit I really haven’t been able to come up with any better words myself.)  Sue and I spoke more today, and she says her daughter told her that her entire fifth grade class is talking about collectively moving to Canada.

I’ve been…withdrawn. I’ve developed the bad habit over the years of going turtle when I’ve had a bad shock, sort of withdrawing into my house and not talking to people and hiding. It’s a protective thing, but it’s also sort of iced over my soul some.  I joked to someone recently – ironically – that maybe I needed a breakup of some kind, because in my case I may need my heart to be broken back open.

And well, I got that, alright. I’ve been walking around for the past two days with that same constant soul-ache, a stab coming afresh whenever I saw someone sniffling at work, or when I saw the faces of Obama’s staff watching his meeting with Trump, or whenever I saw the words “President-elect Trump”.  Or especially when I read any of the huge surge of reports of anti-Muslim or anti-Mexican or anti-immigrant or anti-Jew or anti-Asian or anti-gay or anti-basically-anything-other-than-white violence today.

I work for an organization that, as part of its mission, resettles refugees in the United States.  And we all were wrecked that first morning, walking around numb, occasionally stepping out to cry.  Our CEO called us all together for a group staff meeting that afternoon to rally the troops a bit, but I took greater comfort in something he said first – that if we were feeling upset or angry or betrayed or devastated right now, it was important to honor that reaction – because that meant that we had high ideals and moral standards for this country, and we cared deeply about them. If we didn’t care, this wouldn’t hurt so much.

And the good news, he added, is that we can still live by those ideals even if others don’t share them.  The Constitution is still the rule of law in this country, and things like murder and obstruction of speech are still against the law.  They may not be fairly applied in all cases, but those tools at least exist.  You still have a law to turn to that says that “actually yeah, it’s okay for this person to speak their mind.”

And even if you aren’t brave enough to speak to a wider platform, or take national action…you also have the ability to reach out to your smaller community and improve things there. Smile at the woman with the hijab behind the checkout counter who’s making your coffee.  Crack a joke about the local baseball team with the guy in the wheelchair that’s next to you on the subway. Step in when you see a bunch of kids taunting another kid by calling him a “fag”, or when you see a guy down the bar hovering over an uneasy-looking woman.

And we shouldn’t forget about joy either. Tonight, I boxed up a bunch of autumn leaves to send to a friend who was born in New England, but now lives in San Francisco, and recently said he missed autumn. And next I’m wrapping my father’s birthday gift to send through to him, and I’ve even started planning a Christmas party.

And we need to take care of ourselves as well.  Eat when you need to, sleep when you need to, step outside into nature or watch cat videos or play Civilization for nine straight hours (just ONE! MORE! TURN!) or read poetry if you need a break. Yesterday, on one of the two occasions I had to step into one of my boss’ offices for a freakout, I told him the story about how my cat’s persistent demands for food were what helped pull me out of my post-9/11 funk; it reminded me that he was alive and depended on me to take care of him, and that also meant I had to be well enough to care for him.  “My cat reminded me to be sure I ate today,” I remarked to my boss, shaking the bag of potato chips I was snacking on as we spoke.

And that is still true. We are all each still alive. And our government will not be able to take care of us as well now, so it is time for each of us to take care of each other now, however we can. We need to start with ourselves, first, making sure we each are doing okay, and then we need to check in on each other – helping each other with finances, advice, or even just hugs and beer. Send each other joy. Defend each other. Advocate for each other. Laugh with each other.  Cry with each other. Speak truth to each other.  Listen to each other’s truth.  Remember what each other said.

We won’t always get it right, and we won’t always be able to do grand gestures. But if we are always thinking of caring for each other, that’s the important part. That is how we will gradually knit together first our families, then our communities, and then knit that into a true society that can be the country that we really were meant to be.

America, God-Damn

I am ashamed to be an American today.

I have nothing more to say right now.