I. On a Sunday afternoon
I am making three lasagnas, one for a family member who was just diagnosed with lymphoma, one for a friend with a brand new baby, and one for my sister.
The baby and the cancer happened so quickly, seemingly days apart. Events like these make me broody about mortality and humans and life. In darker moments, it feels relentless, this onslaught of new babies and people I love falling sick, as if I will never possess arms open enough or heart big enough to welcome them and give them the tenderness they deserve, the protection they need. Three lasagnas: the puniest of offerings.
I bring the lasagna to family dinner, and everyone has seconds. Everyone is quiet while they chew. It is not okay. And yet.
II. On a Tuesday night, oh wait, now early Wednesday morning, oh god
I am not one to wallow, really. I think things can be really, really bad, but not apocalyptic. Modernity is simultaneously more fragile and more resilient than we think. I believe in work. Which is probably why it was a very bad idea to take off a week of work during the election.
We are having talks about normalization in our household and in popular media, and I have opinions about it. What I want everyone to know is that it’s human to normalize things, so you shouldn’t feel guilty when you do. Should you fight it? Yes. Set yourself a calendar reminder every morning at 8 am to write to your senator about Aleppo or Bannon or campaign finance reform or immigration. Automate your donations. Use behavioral psychology to help your poor lizard brain keep its focus on important issues of which it will tire. And it will tire. You will want, soon enough, to post a photo of the yuppie naturally leavened bread that you baked.
When bad things happen, there’s a bizarre insistence from other conscientious folks that we stop talking about flip things like what’s for dinner, but the fact is that we all still eat, and that the bad things are there, every single day. Similarly, the work never, ever ends. Timeliness of our response is important. Consistency, though, and settling in for the long haul, is paramount. We have to be able to, every single day, keep our brains and hearts open enough to fight injustice where you see it and drive yourself to work and take care of your babies or your health or your girlfriend and sometimes to eat dinner. These things are not of equal importance. But there they are, all contained in the span of the same 24 hours.
I’m stirring a pot of soup while calling my senator (How is he doing? I ask the answering machine. Must be weird to be that-guy-who-was-almost-vice-president). Some people’s day jobs are writing about food. Some people’s day jobs are working at a bank. Some people’s day jobs are being Senator-Almost-Vice-President. My day job is working on health systems in poor countries, but for some reason I’ve also been writing a silly blog about food (sort of) for six years. I want us all to keep our day jobs and our silly blogs and keep cooking dinner and keep fighting. These things are not mutually exclusive. I want us to work to keep them not mutually exclusive, not just for ourselves, but for everyone else. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone else could cram fighting and working and also enjoying a meal into their days?
This is what I am committed to, the victory of the ordinary-that-is-not-ordinary. It is popular to act like sitting down to a reasonable dinner at the end of the day is a small, humble act. What a joke. It is a big, hard act, and it is a privilege.
I have a nurse practitioner friend who says that everyone medicates in some way or another. I drink more wine than I should.
III. Early Wednesday morning
We have a small copse of woods on our property, around 4 scrubby acres. It’s not much, but it’s a veritable nature preserve for the surrounding area, as the developments close in around us. Coyotes, white-tailed deer, pileated woodpeckers. The deer are a plague. We signed up for a service that links small landowners with hunters, with the aim of letting some bow hunters into the woods this season. (Yes, this is basically AirBnb for hunting. What a world.)
At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about having strangers out killing animals in our woods. But I’ve been surprised how nice it feels to share our small sanctuary with people, and grateful for their respect and kindness. One is a wine importer, and brings gifts of ground venison alongside bottles of Brut cava. Another, an older gentleman who has retired to the aforementioned dreaded developments, is so enthusiastic it’s catching. “This is God’s country!” he shouts as he walks back in, cheeks cold and shiny red. He’s convinced there’s an eight-point buck out there. They drive in before dawn.
One day as I headed out, Tom, the wine importer, huffed and puffed through the yard, dragging a doe behind him. “Did you just get her?” I asked. “No,” he said, “I got her at first light, clean. She dropped where she stood. But then I sat and watched the morning.” He promises to bring the backstrap – the choicest cut – for us, and I promise to share with him the best venison chili recipe. He drives home, and I drive into DC.
I have been writing an essay about Dairy Queen for about six months now. I got it into my head the last time I visited my grandparents’ farm in Indiana that I was going to write this piece about Dairy Queen and taking refuge and hockey-puck-shaped Dilly Bars. I planned to take a grand writer road trip to confirm that, per this outdated website, the original Dairy Queen in Joliet, Illinois became a church and then an auto insurance office. Sometimes I overshare and tell people all about this fabulous essay that I’m sort of in the middle of writing, and I have a lot of it done, like a lot, like 10,000 words a lot, which actually is definitely too many words to write about your personal feelings about Dairy Queen.
In any event, I consider it something of a creative failure to have only been able to write part of a long, bad essay about Dairy Queen for six months. I don’t need to tell you the kind of paralyzing, sneaky, hate spiral this can send someone into, one where one doesn’t do anything at all because of the aforementioned clear creative failure.
But I do want to write more, and yesterday, at a very low moment, decided that even if it’s just a LiveJournal rant about feelings, thinly-veiled politics, soup, and dead deer, that I would do so, today. So here I am. Ben is at a conference (farmers have conferences in the winter). I am eating cold leftover Kung Pao tofu. I am writing.
Tomorrow I’ll call Tim Kaine’s answering machine again.
I. This lasagna – the creme fraiche is a true stroke of genius. It’s almost annoying how fabulous all of Julia Turshen’s recipes are.
II. This soup: Kenji for president
III. Best ever venison chili: Molasses! Coffee! Many chiles!
IV. Get your wok out, I made Kung Pao tofu that’s a mash-up of this (without the deep frying, sorry President Kenji), this, and this recipe. It is a process, but good. Chinkiang vinegar if you can get your hands on it; 1 tbsp red wine + 1 tbsp balsamic if you can’t.
V. Places to send your ducats, if ya got ’em:
– Southern Poverty Law Center
– Planned Parenthood
– Council on Islamic-American Relations
– Consider supporting your local or regional or national news outlets! We need strong free press more than ever.