Age is a funny thing. Women, especially, spend a lot of time benchmarking themselves against age: you’re a failure if you’re 16 and you’ve never been kissed; your “biological clock” has been ticking for awhile by the time you’re 30; and you’re considered pretty damaged goods by the time you turn 50 (or so L’oreal would have me believe). On Monday I had an annual performance review at work. I was presented with anonymous comments solicited from colleagues: “shows depth of understanding beyond her position”, “far-sighted and pragmatic for her age”, “excellent judgment—beyond her years”. It’s meant to be flattering, but I left disconcerted.
People tell me I am an old soul, but if that’s true, I’m not a particularly wise one. Kind of like the next-door neighbor curmudgeon who is a little bitter and has very particular opinions about things that don’t really matter.
We’ve been restless for no particular reason (“Well, you should be, at your age,” said someone to me: “age-appropriate” rears its head again.) I’ve been throwing around phrases like “getting out of Dodge” (usually with expletives for emphasis), testing them, seeing how it feels to say it out loud. Ben and I go back and forth: what do we need and want? New jobs? No jobs? More money? More flexible schedules? New scenery? New ducks? (We’re trying that one, verdict is still out on if it fills the void, but ducklings are very cute.) Writing, in particular, is becoming a bizarre looming presence, a kid tugging at the leg of my jeans, wanting attention that I don’t have to give.
I’m reading works that, not so long ago, used to make me feel connected and intellectual. Transcendentalists, the old white New England guys, Emerson and Whitman and Thoreau: the cast of a 19th-century Wes Anderson movie. This time around, I’m irritated at their Manifest Destinies and their blind surrender to wild Nature. Where did Thoreau get his money, hmm? How did Papa Walt have such a flexible schedule? Nothing they wrote tells that story.
And of course, now as in the 1800s, that is the story. How we make our living and if it was easy or hard and if we want more money and how we spend it; how we play hooky and how we show up; how we put down roots and how well we transplant or graft ourselves. The story is if you listen to the monkey on your back or the annoying kid tugging at your jeans; if you decide to start over with more ducklings after the tragic raccoon incident; if you find the gumption to really get the hell outta Dodge.
“Listen: you are not yourself, you are crowds of others, you are as leaky a vessel as was ever made, you have spent vast amounts of your life as someone else, as people who died long ago, as people who never lived, as strangers you never met. The usual I we are given has all the tidy containment of the kind of character the realist novel specializes in and none of the porousness of our every waking moment, the loose threads, the strange dreams, the forgettings and misrememberings, the portions of a life lived through others’ stories, the incoherence and inconsistency, the pantheon of dei ex machina and the companionability of ghosts. There are other ways of telling.”
― Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
I turn 26 tomorrow.
Who knows what that means, but we’re shootin’ the works.
. . . . .
Recipe details & sources:
– Pork shoulder: An enormous, 13-pound thing that no one would buy at the farm market. This recipe from Bon App is one of the best template recipes for pork shoulder, ever, and I tweak it depending on ingredients and the season. I make it ahead, refrigerate, and reheat very slowly the day of.
– Eggplant stacks: Essentially this recipe, but I use oven roasted tomatoes and panko. Make ahead, bake the day of.
– Tarbais beans: Technically the Rancho Gordo guys don’t call these Tarbais beans, because they’re not grown in France, but it’s my birthday and I like to feel fancy. Platters of perfectly cooked white beans with lots of herbs and aromatics and vinaigrette are one of my favorite foods. Make beans ahead of time, store in refrigerator in their cooking liquid, drain and toss the salad together right before serving.
– Cucumber panzanella: Inspired by this Ottolenghi column from The Guardian. One of my favorite things to eat right now. The goat feta is made by my friend Molly down the street, but any crumbled feta will do. Make croutons and chop cukes ahead of time; toss together before serving.
– Panna cotta: New obsession. I splurge on very nice bovine gelatin because the stuff in the store skeeves me out. Faith Durand is the queen of “bakeless sweets”; I adapted this recipe from her template by adding in chopped nectarine and peach. This is the only thing I will actually make on the day of the party.