cafe mama

finding magic every day

all the pretty stories . march 31 . 2010

megan paska with her bee frame in brooklyn
She is still holding the phone in one hand, clasping the pole in the other, and she begins to cry silently in the bright lights of the last MAX train to Portland... When he says the word, "crazy," he smiles so that the lines on his face come alive, rippling, his ears anxious with pride... The women of Brooklyn weave into their lives a fierce ruddy self-possession, the pioneer spirit that may have come from Austin or Maryland or even New Jersey but lives and breathes and forges community in a way that their great-great-great-grandmothers might have known... He laughs in a way that I know he will regret, all of us look at him with something between pity and fear and a rueful admiration, the strength of him, the energy, the will of his anger.

I have been reading. Last week it was The Gastronomical Me, MFK Fisher, and while at first I was ringed with her cavalier way of tossing cruelty and mortality and great loneliness into little food stories, I grew and grew into them until I knew that in every great joy is a memory of deep longing for it, in every achievement is many many days of meaningless, mindless struggle, for every meal there is the one who cooked it and all her hopes and agonies and loves. Her hungers, Fisher would have said.

And Mara and I are letting this course guide us, our syllabus title reads, "Hearing and Seeing," and while I read I do not get faster but I slow down, sometimes reading a passage over and over until I get it right, looking up words and copying down sentences to remember, leaving them on the page to savor them in my memory like a dessert in an Allende novel. As I read I open my eyes wider and I see the stories around me. As I read I must often set down the book, turn off the podcast, stop talking, stop scribbling, listen, look, eat of the world.

I am not the one to make up the stories; I am the one to tell the stories. And I must get the story right. I must tell it over and over again, starting at the middle and going right back to the beginning and then to the end, swooping in and out for a better view, asking questions and finding new ways to see the world through other's eyes. There are so many stories, too many stories, and the ones that come before me must be told again and again, they must be explored, spelunked, unraveled and then knit up again, each thread finding its place -- my fingers are not, not skilful enough -- I am left with so many bits and pieces, the most brilliant colors and fulsome textures, the hard parts that require cool fingers and rested eyes, a body at peace with its guiding mind.

florian kaps taking a photo of andre bosman
Here is Andre Bosman. I go to the launch of the Impossible Project's PX 100 film for Polaroid cameras expecting to be charmed by Florian Kaps -- I am -- I laugh and I scribble and scribble, bent over my notebook recording numbers (five mentions of the word "magic," 60 million vinyl records sold in Germany last year, twenty-one dollars, 10 million films a year) and funny things ("no one knows why people shake a Polaroid picture -- is it encoded in their DNA?"). But it is Andre who has my heart, it is his eyes as he tells the story, as he says, "I didn't know he had bought all my film!", that Fade-to-Black film that was an invention, sort of a mistake, and only Florian Kaps valued it enough to buy, sell, let artists around the world discover it. In Andre is the soul of "impossible," the soul of Edwin Land, the inventor of instant analog film, the soul of great and impractical inventors and artists. He is da Vinci; he is a boy jumping off a tree with duct tape wings; he is alchemist and fiscal conservative. He knew all along, all along how this might could work, no one listened, except the crazy ones who (after all) made it work. This is his story and I wish I had half the art, twice the time, it would take to tell it.

kate payne at babycakes
Here is Kate Payne. I have met her somehow on Twitter and now we are in Manhattan at a tiny cafe that sells gluten-free, processed sugar-free cupcakes and I without exception love Babycakes, and Kate, and I listen to her stories as if they are already familiar. I see her and Megan Paska as the symbols of a new world: women who improbably seek to feed their hungers with their own hands, their own lettuces, their own hearts. We are talking of quiet simple things, bread-making and nettles and books and words, and they are memento mori of the way this city we are in has always worked. Capitalism! It is an idol, and you do not need to say "false idol" because there is no other God than He. Perhaps I am bending the air a bit here when I plant my flag on a rooftop in Brooklyn where the bees assemble honey from nectar they sip free from everything around them and it is the best honey in the world and I say here! Here is the mountaintop! And as I am walking back to my hotel I take photographs of these great and translucent buildings and I hold the community of women, all around the world, quiet at their stoves each night, feeding real hungers with real food and concrete love, in my heart.

everett on his bike with a baguette
Here is my son. And another, and another, but this night I may only tell the story of one. I grapple with his story as I do with him; I live with him and still, it is but tiny pinpricks of light I am seeing too closely, only were I to rocket up to the very heavens could I comprehend its shape, its patterns and curves and beauty. I look at him as he puts arm under littlest brother every time he finds Monroe asleep, curls around him, protector, comforter, comforted. He feeds on this loud complex love, gulps it, I think perhaps it sustains him as he struggles with the Great Unfairness of the World. We are riding our bikes to school and we talk of things; he wonders why the drivers of cars do not care! about bikes, and ever so much less do they care about skateboards, and we consider how this will change and I tell him, be brave my son, for we are the pioneers. I tell him how strong he is, how strong and how brave and how sensible -- it is true -- and more so, he surprises me by signalling for me to cross a busy street (and knowing when to) because Monroe has fallen asleep on the bike, his head on my signalling hand. He surprises me by waking in the middle of the night and saying, "it's o.k., Monroe, your brother is here. It's o.k." And then he is angry, his anger is voiced in little spurts that are quiet or medium, and rarely, in great geysers and gushes of violence and shouts. It is always for the unfairness, the unfairness of the world, and my head aches because he has endured unfairness badly and has one day after school kicked and climbed and struggled and kicked again, knocking the corner of a partition surrounding the "chill space" square into my forehead, and for minutes and hours and even more than a day afterward I long to wail, cry. Later that afternoon we ride on the bike home and he is calm, introspective, sobbing quietly but without rancor for a few minutes over things he knows I will not give to him and all the while I am imagining the sweet release that would be a soft clean bed in a silent room and time and space to cry.

I am home now, and I am cooking in ragged bursts, I am baking bread again, I am cutting purple asparagus from the garden, roasting it whole with gray sea salt and green olive oil and eating it hot out of the baking pan. I give the biggest spear to Everett; he eats it all. As Fisher writes, I will really look at things with all my brain, I will care for my food even if I have to eat it alone, "with death in my house or in my heart," with my story cut short, we are all hungry all of the time and I am foraging with all of the sight I can muster. Look, listen, love, eat, and you will be full.

paying the bills

read my previous post . in the closed stacks . february 14 . 2010