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Monthly Archives: June 2016

Light In My Head

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I am a gut-level fan of the Waterboys song “Fisherman’s Blues“.  It’s almost trite for someone who’s an Irish folkie to like this song, but I don’t care.  I know even the opening notes by heart – Mike Scott’s chugging guitar, the first chiming mandolin chord, the first wheeze of the fiddle – and even just that is enough to make me smile. Play the whole thing and I usually end up tapping a foot, swaying slightly and singing along, happily sighing when the fiddle wraps around the mandolin during the bridge.  By the second verse I’m usually singing – “…with light in my head, and you in my arms….WOO-HOO-HOO!”  And sometimes, during the second bridge, when the drum and fiddle are twirling around each other I get out of my own seat and twirl around with them, totally caught up in it.

*

I’ve been wanting to write about a lot of the events of the past few days. But I just felt too helpless.

First the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine young people, dancing just as joyfully – albeit to other music – all of them shot by a madman, for no other reason than being men who loved other men. Or women who loved other women.  Or for just being in the same room as men who loved other men.

The media and the news have gone off on a wild tangent about this being a terrorist act, simply because that madman (I refuse to type his name) called 911 midway and offhandedly said he was with ISIS. But this was no terrorist attack – he was simply shooting people he hated, people who were going about their own lives and trying to carve a little joy out for themselves, joy that had had absolutely no impact on him and wouldn’t have interfered with his own life in any way.

He hated them because they loved, and he killed them.

And every time I tried to think of how to write about that, nothing I thought to say seemed to matter a damn bit.  So I stopped.

*

And then a few days later, prompted by the attacks, one of Connecticut’s senators started a filibuster demanding a vote to regulate guns.

I first caught news of it at work – I have a BBC news app on my iPad, and my coworkers and I usually stop our work and huddle around it when we hear its distinctive musical breaking-news alert; my co-worker N once teased that “whenever I hear that, it’s usually because something bad happened.”  The filibuster, though, we thought was good – hopeful that maybe something would finally bring the steamrolling of guns over this country to a halt.

I watched the live feed of the filibuster off and on through the day, into the night – thinking of something to say about guns.  Thinking of how the one and only time I ever saw anyone in my family hold a real weapon, it was when my father borrowed my grandfather’s little hand pistol to shoot a huge snapping turtle in the pond where my brother and I sometimes swam.  I was about nine, and had no idea Grandpa owned it or that Dad knew how to shoot it.  Dad made us kids stand about ten feet away and we all huddled, jittery, as Dad took aim into the water and fired once, then twice.  I jumped both times even though I knew it was coming.  I don’t remember going back in the water that day.

I also thought about the stage combat class I took in college – how every other class was hands-on, and all of us gleefully dove in and learned how to do fake punches and brandished fencing foils and flung each other through scores of stunt wrestling moves, but the one class that dealt with gun safety was uncharacteristically hands-off.  The instructor asked us all to simply come in and sit down, and then proceeded to disassemble a starter’s pistol he had in front of us – telling us exactly what each and every part did and how it worked.  And then he put it back together again, telling us exactly what each and every part could do if it went wrong.  He loaded a single cap into the gun, pointed it at the ceiling and fired – explaining what the entire ballistics process was as he did – and then spent the rest of the class running down a long list of actors who had been injured or killed from guns, even prop guns, and explaining exactly what had killed them and what they should have watched for and what they did wrong.  To this day, I have absolutely no problem holding any other weapon – I’ll probably even quote Inigo Montoya if you give me a rapier – but I will only touch a gun under extreme duress, and most likely will try to find a way to not have to.

I don’t dislike people who do like guns, mind you. Remember, my grandfather owned a gun, and my father knew how to use it.  I know at least one or two other friends who’ve tried target shooting and hunting.  But I also know that they also know how dangerous they are, and they’ve simply chosen to use caution around guns – while I’ve just chosen to abstain from the whole thing, thanks.  I also know that they know it makes much more sense to pick the safest possible gun for the job, rather than trying to collect a military-grade weapon just for the sake of having it.  And they agree with me that having some system in place to ensure that people buying a gun aren’t criminally dangerous is also an important thing we should be doing to protect ourselves.

I thought of all this while the filibuster was going on, and was getting ready to write something the next day – but then the Senate brought up four gun bills in a row, and voted them all down just as quickly, and I was too disenheartened.

And then a few days later, Representative John Lewis held a sit-in in the House on the same issue – but even then, after fifteen hours, all that happened was that Speaker Paul Ryan adjourned, and nothing happened.  And I was even more disenheartened.

*

And then this morning that chime rang on my iPad again, and this time it was telling me that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union.

In and of itself that shouldn’t seem to matter to someone in the United States.  The Dow plunged at first, but then righted itself midway through the day; the talking-heads were all talking about how this was a non-binding referendum, and Parliament still had to vote on it and might say no; and it was England so who cared anyway.

But mixed in with that I heard other accounts, from non-White Britons who were already starting to hear people shouting at them to “go home”.  I was hearing from people who’d voted to leave defending themselves by talking about how “immigrants” were taking their jobs.  I was hearing about people in their 20’s who were on the dole and had been getting ready to retrain for a different career in Germany or France, but now wouldn’t be able to. I did perk up mid-day, while reading the truly baroque insults that various Scots had been hurling at Donald Trump for an ill-advised tweet, but then I read yet another account of a Welsh woman in a hijab being told to “go back home” and whatever little good mood I had shrivled.

I came home, not wanting to talk, not wanting to write, not wanting to think.  Websurf, dinner, read, bed.  That was going to be it.  A puppeteer I know posted a quirky question on Facebook which caught my eye – “What do you all need to hear today?” – and I read some of the responses; some serious, but some silly (he responded to someone’s request for “Hamilton” by posting a link to an audiobook of the Federalist Papers).  I left my own lighthearted answer – three tongue-in-cheek music requests, things I thought would either be difficult to find or fantasy pairings I didn’t think existed; a rare Tom Waits bootleg, a remix of a specific Peter Gabriel song, and – “a recording of The Waterboys jamming with Glen Hansard on ‘Fisherman’s Blues’.”  I chuckled and made dinner.

Less than an hour later, something made me check Facebook again. My friend had responded to my comment, saying: “you mean this?”

And he also had posted this video.

I stared.  I watched it.  I typed a babbly all-caps response that I HAD TOTALLY MADE THAT UP HOW DID YOU FIND THIS AND WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME YOU WERE A WIZARD.  I watched it again.  And again.  And again.

And by the third or fourth viewing the song was working its usual magic and I was singing along, the heart back in me and wanting to write something.

*

The world can seem bleak sometimes.  The Things Going Wrong can pile on you unrelentingly, and you feel like your only options are to swing from anger at the injustice and a feeling you should be fighting, to sadness that there are so many for whom your work will be coming too late, to helplessness because the problems are all so big and the struggle so long…

And that is the time you need to stop and take a step back and do what you can to find joy.  Slip into a coffeehouse for a croissant.  Visit the bodega where they have a friendly cat.  Let a neighbor’s dog lick your face.  Point a rainbow out to your roommate.  Trade silly jokes with your co-workers.  Discover a friend might be supernaturally able to manifest Youtube clips.  Dance in a club with friends, or dance in your apartment by yourself, singing along to the Waterboys or whoever gets you dancing, and stay there and dance as long as you need to until you’ve remembered what the fight is for, and can get back up and fight again.

“I know I will be loosened from the bonds that hold me fast,The chains all around me will fall away at last…” – Mike Scott, Fisherman’s Blues

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The Pea Salad Misnomer

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I belong to a pretty active CSA, which I love – even though I get completely overwhelmed with produce through the summer.  Each year I try a couple of apporaches to staying on top of the horde; making jam with the excess fruit, keeping salads in the fridge, meal planning, preserving, freezing, anything I can.  Since the distribution is on Saturday, I’ll often include a lot of the bounty in my Saturday breakfast; this morning was an egg florentine with a handful of strawberries on the side.  Delicious, and used up half the spinach in one fell swoop.

This week we also got fresh peas in the haul, and I eagerly came home, thinking that there must be some kind of a lovely pea salad somewhere in the world.  Something spotlighting the sweetness of the peas, maybe adding some chopped nuts for a bit of crunch, laced with some herbs and a light dressing.  I did a search for “pea salad” online.

….Oh, there are pea salads alright.  I had no idea that pea salads are apparently a potluck or picnic staple in most of the country, and so there were pages and pages of recipes, all from people swearing that their recipe was a family favorite or that it was the big hit at last summer’s barbecue or whatever.  But nearly every one of them loaded the thing with mayo, and bacon, and cheese.

Peas have flavor, especially if they’re fresh – and it is a sweet flavor.  It’s a subtle flavor, too, something that would get totally overwhelmed by mayo.  But recipe after recipe had the mayo and bacon front and center, smothering the poor peas.  How in the hell can you taste the peas with all of that gooey stuff all over them?  You may as well just make a spread of cheese and baconaisse and spoon that into your mouth.

Or maybe that is exactly the point?  Because everyone would look at you funny if you ate condiments by the spoonful.  But if you douse vegetables with it and call it a salad you can delude yourself into thinking it’s healthy.  Even though deep down you know it’s really not.

I actually think that deep down we all know that the rich and heavy stuff isn’t as healthy.  And parts of us do want the simpler, fresher stuff.  I went to a potluck once, and took a very simple vegetable dish – a melange of green beans, peas, and lima beans, dressed with a little melted butter and two crumbled up strips of bacon at most.  When I got there I saw a lot of the other offerings were elaborate plates of lasagna and baked ziti and rich casseroles, and humbly put my little bowl on the table alongside everything; everyone else had done a lot more work, I thought, and was embarrassed.  But then I was surprised when everyone kept coming up and thanking me for it – everyone else’s food was just rich and heavy, they said, and my mixed vegetable dish was exactly what they needed to balance it.  At the end of the day, everyone else had to bring home half-eaten trays of pasta and cheese and sauce, but my bowl was totally wiped clean.

I did manage to find one lovely-sounding thing with mint and arugula, a lashing of lemon juice and a hint of Parmesan cheese.  That’s much more like it.

What I Did On My First Camping Trip (By Kim W, age 46)

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Okay, this wasn’t my first camping trip.  My family took a trip back when I was fourteen; we borrowed a neighbor’s tent and joined one of my sets of aunt/uncle/cousins for a week in Maine, where we got rained on and my uncle rallied us to a mountain hike that was well beyond my own family’s physical ability; he lured us up the mountain by promising we’d see a magnificent waterfall, one which he’d seen himself in early May, but forgot that it was now the middle of July and that the water had dried down to what my father described as “an old man peeing off a rock”.  I was all for another attempt, but the rest of the family, not so much (at least, not at first; my brother later went on to backpack around the world twice in his 20s).

Everyone told me that I could go on a solo trip, but I’ve always wanted a practice run – I was very aware that I was really more or less along for the ride on my first trip.  My aunt and uncle did most of the cooking and my parents set up the tent while my cousins and brother and I just poked around at the edge of the lake.  I wanted at least one supervised hands-on trip before trying to go on my own, and have been quietly hinting to people for years that I’d like to try (albeit, possibly too quietly because no one realized I was asking).  Then a couple years ago I met J in a kayak club, and after a couple years of comparing notes on boats and hikes and other adventures, I bit the bullet and asked him if he would be my camping Yoda.

And thus this weekend we jumped into a rented car with two tents, a cooler, and some clandestine alcohol (shh) and head north, to a campground in the Catskills.  J tried to always explain why he was doing what he was doing, showing me the tips and tricks he’d learned from a lot of camping – everything from how he picked the tent site (“someplace flat not close to a tree”) to how to carry dish soap (in a bottle with an eyedropper), and even mentioned some of the differences between car camping, like we were doing, and backcountry camping, which he prefers. And I did learn a lot, including:

  • That even when you purchase firewood from a general store it may be a little too wet.
  • That lentil stew cooked over an open flame cooks way faster than you think – but also tastes way better than you’d imagine.
  • That roasting corn over an open flame takes longer than you’d think.
  • What tequila does when you splash a tiny bit onto a campfire.
  •  How to drive a tent stake into the ground when the ground is about 98% solid rock and 1.5% cement.
  • That if you were an idiot and forgot to bring cooking oil to saute the onion, a little of the liquid from a can of chick peas actually works as a substitute.
  • That the soot from the bottom of your cooking pans will get everywhere.
  • That some people will come all the way out to a campground in the middle of a beautiful site and then never do anything but sit in a circle around the fire pit and talk and drink.
  • That if you need to get up  and yell at those same neighbors because they have moved on from just talking to blasting Country Grammar at midnight, you should bring a flashlight.
  • That if you need to get up and pee at 4 am, you actually don’t need a flashlight.
  • That you can make serviceable coffee with a tea ball strainer, especially if you’re tired enough after having yelled at your camping neighbors for blasting Country Grammar at midnight.
  • That sometimes when the hiking trail guide describes a trip as “easy” with a “gentle slope”, they may be lying to encourage you, and you actually may be doing some ambitious climbing.
  • That you will encounter icky things in the bathrooms, like spiders and waterbugs, and you simply won’t care.
  • That lengthy conversations around a campfire are mesmerizing, and the fire can lull you into relaxing and talking more freely than usual.
  • That if your friend J surprises you with a trip to go zip lining, you should say yes because it’s awesome.
  • That chewing gum can help when a sinus headache has jumped out and attacked you at the very beginning of the zip line course.
  • That I’m better at zip lining than I thought.
  • That if you don’t actually have ice on hand for your feet, dunking your foot in the lake works just as well.  Especially if you get to watch a man teach his three-year-old daughter how to swim as you do.
  • That mist rising off a Catskills lake at dusk is incredibly beautiful.
  • That it’s possible to forget that waterfalls dry up in summer, and so the falls you’ve just hiked to today are a lot like the “old man peeing off a rock” you saw when you were fourteen.
  • That the view from the next peak makes up for that.
  • That if you need a break mid-hike, it is perfectly fine to sit on a flat rock next to a tiny pond and look for frogs.
  • That rain on your tent roof can lull you to sleep.
  • That it is possible to strike two tents and pack up an entire two-person campsite in only five minutes when you wake up to discover one of your tents is leaking.
  • That diner waitresses are very tolerant of muddy and faintly odoriferous customers at 7:30 am.
  • That apartment stairwell railings are perfect places to hang muddy tents that need to dry out.

I think I’m ready for more.