Dear lovely, quixotic world,
I take you for granted, sometimes. Certainly, I exult at all the tastes that excite me (like this sugar cookie from the Sensitive Baker in Los Angeles, which Sharon and I ate in the parked car before we even drove away). I’m overtaken by the beauty you offer, the sudden flashes of sunlight on the trees to my right, or the first daffodils beginning to show their yellow buds at the base of the tree, outside the pharmacy, down the street. These moments stop me. They take me out of myself. For an instant, I appreciate you, my heart unfurling from its winter position into openness, again.
But still, I forget you. I walk through the day, focused on the next task ahead, and I forget to say just how much I adore you. How can you be so enormous and expansive as to include smoky chipotle enchiladas, spicy bipimap, and lemongrass soup in one place? All at the same time, people are hunching upon your dirt, eating lotus root dumplings or teff porridge or cornmeal mush with ham mixed in. I lose myself, in my small world. You are much bigger, and more important, than me.
Love really isn’t the word for this.
Today is Valentine’s Day, although I’m pretty sure you don’t really care. All around us are banks of bouquets in pink paper, lacy hearts, boxes of chocolates, and cold red roses. Oh gad, I hate this holiday. So manufactured. I used to tug against this day because I didn’t have anyone with whom I could share it. What other day can make people feel so bad about the state of their lives?
But even now that I have someone, the one who makes me giggle every morning, I still don’t like this day. What a hustle of sales pitches and guilt trips. There’s this ad that plays on Seattle radio incessantly these days, a damned diamond commercial. Some dorky woman is recounting the story of how her dopey boyfriend became much better in her eyes when he gave her a diamond ring. “He put it in the microwave?” her incredulous friend asks.
“I know! I almost ate it!”
(Remind me not to eat at these people’s houses.)
Worst of all, both women are in awe of this man’s ability to buy a diamond ring, when he was so obviously a nincompoop in their minds. “Your Brian?!” she asks.
Yes, because nothing makes a relationship better than gazing at your loved one through the gauzy dazzling haze of a diamond ring.
(This morning I turned to the Chef and said, “Man, I’m a cheap wife. I already owned my engagement ring, and our wedding bands cost $18 each. You certainly didn’t have to struggle.”
“I know,” he said. “Sweet.”
And we both grinned.)
I don’t think diamonds are beautiful. There’s already so much beauty for the waiting.
Just outside the restaurant this afternoon, a cadre of no parking signs stood at attention. Exasperated drivers glanced at the entire bank of spots blocked to them, and they grimaced visibly through their tinted windows. But I was walking, already slower. The sun felt warm on my shoulders. I stopped to look.
Lean in close to anything, and it’s gorgeous. The flecks of red, the scuffed white patches, the dirt smudges, the scratches landing down — there’s an entire world in there.
Right now, that looks more beautiful than a bed strewn with roses.
(And no thorns.)
That’s the thing about you, dear saturated, satisfying world — you are always giving.
Later, when I was trying just to notice, I looked down at the sidewalk. This woman had just hunkered down in a seat outside the bakery, her cup of tea steaming. Before she turned her face to the sun to drink some in, she looked at me with my camera pointed down at the ground.
She laughed at me, quietly. I must have looked ridiculous. Why would anyone take a photograph of the sidewalk?
Look at all those lines, the dark patches, the angles leading toward the street, the store, the path ahead. Who says this isn’t worthy of our attention?
Besides, I was really trying to capture her shoes, the ruby-red-gilded-maraschino-cherry-raspberry-in-summer shoes.
Look what you offer, you expansive, absurd world. That shoe, the table leg, the shadow? A perfect triangle. Everywhere, symmetry.
We have too many of these around, though. Do not enter. Stop. Go away. Cease and desist. Don’t trespass. Don’t fence me in.
Why are we making so many rules?
Maybe, my dear and mostly unfathomable world, it’s because you don’t have many. It occurred to me today — when I was walking around open from the sunlight on my head and the camera to my eye — that you are always saying yes. Yes and yes and yes and yes.
And not yes to any particular decision, based on morality and pleasure. But yes to everything. Yes to birth and death, war and negotiations, bloodshed and laughter, summer and winter, crocuses poking up through dog poop and candy wrappers to glance up at the sun. Yes to this minute and this and this and this one. You just keep giving. And you don’t expect anything in return.
I think, today, of a line from a Theodore Roethke poem: “Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.”
Maybe we write up rules for what love should be (“He’d better get me a really good present,” I heard someone say today.) because deep down, if we admitted it, we’d have to say: we just can’t do what you do. We don’t know how to say yes to everything, every minute, no matter what happens. We’re afraid of your power.
I stand in awe.
So, my ridiculously silly and unceasingly gorgeous world, I know it’s a fallacy to keep saying “my world.” Forgive me. I’m human. I’m trying to understand. Although, it seems to me that when I stop asking questions and searching for answers, everything makes sense in a place without words.
But I’m still using words.
You know what’s funny, you yielding and barbaric yawp of a world? I know that half the people reading this expected me to write an impassioned love letter to the Chef for Valentine’s Day. After all, it is our first one being married. And I do love him, deeply.
But we don’t like Valentine’s Day, to be honest. He’s been working like an overheated dog all day, preparing food for people with special reservations who need this meal to mean everything to them. (I’m sure it will be fantastic.) I’m home alone, the sound of the dishwasher running in the kitchen. That was my present to him. I did the dishes. We love each other, and learn from each other, every day. We don’t need this one, in particular.
Besides, yesterday was a kind of valentine for us. We were in the New York Times, in a piece called “I Love You, but You Love Meat.” (That doesn’t describe us.) It was about couples who work through different food needs in the midst of a relationship. We were happy to participate, and to share our story. But if I needed any confirmation that you are a surreal and surprising world, yesterday morning I turned on the computer and saw our faces staring back at me on the New York Times website. My oh my.
So this isn’t another love letter to the Chef. Those are more private these days.
And besides, what I have learned, these past two years of loving him, is that love only expands outward. I didn’t truly know how to love before I knew him. Now, loving him only makes me love the moments as they arise, no matter how they look, more and more and more. What a shame it would be to love only one person, in the midst of this panoply and cacophony of human beings and little objects of attraction.
You’re teaching me how to love everything, oh world.
Thank you. You have my love, as long as I am breathing.
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting,
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
If you live in Seattle (or nearby), and you have the time, please come by Queen Anne Books on Tuesday, February 19th.
At 6:30 pm, I will be reading from my book, answering questions, and hoping to meet many of you. This reading is particularly dear to my heart, as I used to live in Queen Anne, and this was my bookstore. In fact, Queen Anne Books is where I bought my first gluten-free books, as well as sustenance reading when I was sick.
I’m so excited to be there. And I might just be bringing treats with me too…
Isn’t it funny, that the lobster has become such a symbol of luxury and gourmet gluttony, when it was once considered so humble?
Still, it is good. And tonight, the Chef made lobster risotto for the menu at the restaurant. And if I’m lucky, he might just bring home a little bit for me. That’s the only present I need: him home with me, the two of us eating together.
For the lobster risotto, follow the same general directions as we specified for the artichoke risotto, which is here.
However, be sure to omit the artichokes. Add one teaspoon of saffron with fresh herbs to the onions when you are simmering them.
At the end, when the risotto is ready, add pieces of poached lobster tail to the risotto.
And it probably all tastes better with this shrimp stock, as well.
6 ounces shrimp shells
1/2 carrot, small chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, small chopped
2 celery stalks, small chopped
2 cloves of garlic, small chopped
2 tablespoons thyme, finely diced
2 tablespoons tarragon, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
water to cover
Add all the ingredients into a large stockpot. Simmer on medium-low heat for one hour. Strain.
Use this stock to make the risotto, and that lobster taste will burst out even more.