Paula Deen: Toast

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Maybe Anthony Bourdain was right after all. Maybe Paula Deen is “the worst, most dangerous person to America”  for promoting unnecessarily fatty and sugar-laden recipes to her viewers.  Though “most dangerous” probably confers more power on her  than she possesses. (Especially after today.) He was quite correct though, in describing her fans as “scary.”

Paula Deen is toast.  Responding to facts that came to light yesterday from a deposition last month, Food Network announced that they would  not be renewing  her contract, which expires at the end of June. If I were Paula I wouldn’t be expecting any residuals from re-runs either. That she bailed on the Today Show and instead posted not one, but two staged videos begging forgiveness didn’t help her case.

The deposition was from an ongoing federal lawsuit brought against Deen by Lisa Jackson, who worked for Deen and Deen’s brother, Earl Hiers, at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah. Jackson, who is white, alleges that the siblings created a hostile atmosphere with ongoing racial slurs, sexual harassment, and separate entrances and restrooms for black employees.

In addition, the deposition explored Paula Deen’s desire to produce an “old style plantation wedding” for her brother featuring “little n*ggers dressed in long-sleeved white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties” as servers. She later amended this to say that what she wanted was older black men in white jackets, “like before the Civil War.” House slaves, in other words.

When asked during the deposition whether or not she ever used the “N-word”, she responded “Of course.”

Of course?

“Of course”, like “Doesn’t everyone?”  “Of course,” like “what a silly question.”  One has to wonder if Paula Deen saw her career flash before her eyes in that instance, because she certainly started back-pedaling, offering as example an episode where as a bank teller she was held at gunpoint by black man. Uh huh. Her fans are clinging to that like it’s the last piece of chocolate cream pie.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent years as a journalist that I have a keen ear for lies, spin and misstatements, but something uttered many decades ago, before she was a public figure, would not find its way into a current law suit.

More cogent perhaps are the statements that followed. When asked if that was the only time, she said no. When asked what other instances she said “Probably repeating something I heard.”

“Like a joke?” the lawyer asked.

“No, like a conversation between blacks.”

Really, how could Food Network even consider keeping her on the air?

It’s not like she’s the first television star to get the boot. Remember Pee Wee Herman, whose career was wrecked when he was discovered with his pants down in a porn movie house? Did you know that Cindy Williams was rather unceremoniously let go from “Laverne and Shirley” because she got pregnant? Or how Paris Hilton’s The Simple Life was de-railed by her sex tape? Don Imus lost his long-time radio show after he referred to the Rutger’s women’s basketball players as “nappy headed hos.” Cocaine addiction precipitated Mackenzie Phillips departure from “One Day at a Time.”  Michael Richards (“Kramer” from Seinfeld) famously responded to a group of hecklers at a stand up gig by calling them “n*ggers.”  His career has never recovered.

Paula’s fans can’t believe she’s being canned, especially given that chef Robert Irvine has been restored to Food Network, writing on the network’s page (in capital letters, naturally) that he “LIED, EXAGGERATED and EMBELLISHED” his resume. Er. As if exaggerating one’s accomplishments is somehow equal to forcing people of another race to use a different bathroom.

(And for the record, Robert Irvine was fired after the St. Petersburg Times reported his embellishments. In 2008, Irvine launched a blog that cleared up some inconsistencies in his work history, demonstrating that the contested claims were somewhat exaggerated, but not outright lies. A few months later he was rehired by the network and continues to be one of their most popular personalities.)

Many have flounced all over Food Network:

“I hope you people are as perfect as you expect Paula to be!”

“I’m canceling your channel today!” (As if you can cancel one channel.)

“You have thirty days to reinstate Paula or else!”

“Your programs will never be on in this house again!”

“I can’t believe you’re firing her because she made one little mistake years ago.”

“At least she didn’t lie like Robert Irvine!”

“Are you going to ask every employee if they ever used the n-word? You’ll have a huge cut in payroll.”

A common theme was to compare Paula Deen to every other person in the world who may have uttered an ethnic slur. (My guess is most of the people who are defending her are guilty of the same. )

And many people have told an off-color joke or two or ten.  Or grumbled some thing unforgivable while stressed out. When a friend’s husband left her for a woman who happened to be black, I’m sure she said a few unsavory things in her rage and pain. But those in the public eye are held to a higher standard and they are rewarded for it with fat paychecks.

It is a bit disconcerting that everyone is against racism in the abstract, but as soon as it’s the least bit inconvenient (i.e. their favorite television chef getting fired) they are eager to excuse it.

Others (and not just fans) have queried why the plaintiff in the lawsuit (remember the lawsuit?) stayed on for five years. I don’t know the answer to that. But how many people stay in a bad job for five years? Quite a few in the current economy. For that matter, how many people stay in a bad marriage for five years? Untold millions. Don’t you wonder if Lisa Jackson wasnt a fan herself when she was first hired? Isn’t it likely that she was thrilled to get the job? And just like people who’ve worked for Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Cosby and Bob Barker, she discovered that her boss was somewhat more complicated than the public persona revealed.

I know people who use the “n-word” and I wish I could say it was just my black neighbors referring to each other. Nope. it’s white folks. None of them, that I know of anyway, are related to me. My grandmother, in South Carolina, used say “negro” or “colored” but that other word, that was not allowed. Most genteel folks in the south don’t say n*gger. At least not anymore.

Finally, this gets to the heart of the problem that is Paula Deen.

She’s a parody of a particular kind of southern woman and about as genuine as a three-dollar bill. I resent her co-opting the heritage of so many southerners and selling it back to them as her own. She didn’t invent her “best dishes”. Go to any church supper in South Carolina (or Alabama, or Georgia, or Mississippi) and you’ll have that and better. She tried to fold white-trash cuisine into the repertoire of good, honest Southern food like it belonged there. It wasn’t just that she denigrated people of color (and that’s bad enough) she exploited and corrupted an entire culture of Southern Cooking. All the while, she  just so sweet it makes your teeth hurt, but scratch the surface and there’s little there but blind ambition.

So she’s toast. And deserves to be.  Pass the butter, would you?

But Paula fans, take heart. She made $17 million dollars last year. Only the Lord above and Deen’s accountants have any real notion of her net worth. Carefully managed, that should make for a comfy retirement. And as God is her witness, she’ll never be hungry again!

 

 

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The Story Inside You.

Or How I Came to Be a Writer Even Though I Didn’t Want to.
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Not quite a writer, at the grave of James Joyce.

Being a writer is a little like having a small stone in your shoe.  Perhaps it is inconvenient to stop, sit down and take off your shoe, but you must. Off it comes, a hand seeks the tiny kernel that nags each step. Sometimes you have to shake it out.

Do people choose to be writers?  I didn’t. In fact, I tried everything I could think of to not be a writer. In my high school yearbook it says I want to be a film director. I started out with broadcast journalism. I have a degree in performance. I’ve worked in museums, bookstores, libraries, newspapers . . . uh-oh, I see a theme.

It is my blessing and my curse.

Both of my parents were writers.  My father spent much of his life trying to pound out a biography on the somewhat obscure poet, John Berryman. The sabbatical year Dad took to work on the book, Berryman leapt off a bridge and died on the ice below. It would have been the opportune time (as much as any) to have a Berryman biography published, but he never did close the deal.  Years later, clearing out my father’s office, I found filing cabinet drawers full of research on Berryman. When I asked him what to do with it, he wrote on a notepad– cancer having robbed him of speech– “Pitch it.”  I did not.

I carry it around in boxes, instead, a cautionary tale as heavy and solid  as a bowling ball. Many bowling balls.

My mother’s writing time was sacred. One morning, my sixteenth summer, I had a bad fall from a horse. As I regained consciousness in the cool netherworld of the ICU, I saw her sitting there. My first cogent thought was to feel guilty that I had interrupted the writing time.

I had seen from the cradle what a writer’s life was like and it looked like lots of work for little glamour and I wanted no part of it.

The problem was that I kept falling into writing, the way one might stumble into a ravine. I was supposed to be studying radio and television at the University of Florida but I when I went to register for Freshman English I signed up for a senior level creative writing class with Harry Crews instead.  No one said I couldn’t.

Harry derided me when I said I didn’t really care for a story by Kafka. But then he discovered that I was the 17-year-old daughter of one of his former colleagues (“Well, how the hell is he? We were the dearest of friends!”) and after that he treated me with considerable kindness. Like you might treat a kitten. A kitten that had a little talent for writing. I miss Harry.

It was no surprise to anyone that I didn’t last in my chosen major.  I did get to do a stint at the Independent Florida Alligator before I left. It might have been the only “student” newspaper in the country that was a mid-market daily: becoming a journalist by the seat of one’s pants.   I wrote on the side, because writing was like breathing. Just something I did. Short stories. Record reviews. Interviewed bands every weekend. Met the Rolling Stones.  I couldn’t decide what I wanted to Be. Or do. I thought about learning to play bass, be in an all-girl band.

Instead, I wrote my way into Art School in Boston and wrote throughout Art school and somehow ended up with a degree in Performance Art.  Other students asked if I realized how “text heavy” my installations were. Audiences were often speechless when the performance ended. I don’t know what that meant.

After college, I got a job as a buyer for children’s books, no writing involved. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to Be. At home, when it was quiet, I counted syllables and built poems. I read The New Yorker. I started sending them poems, which they politely declined each and every time. That was okay, I didn’t want to be a poet anyway. Did I?

FaulknerquoteMy mother suggested a writer’s conference with the poet Howard Nemerov. It was in her town, could I get the time off?  Well, I probably could, but The Poet was going to choose his students on the merit of their work, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, I said. I probably wouldn’t get in. I did get in, one of seven.

I confessed to Howard one afternoon that I didn’t think I would ever be a “real” writer.

“Too late for that, my dear,” he said lugubriously. “You’re about as real as they come.”

Well, perhaps I could be a poet then. Perhaps I was a poet. I read books of poetry and went to readings and kept sending thick brown envelopes to The New Yorker and getting thin blue ones in return. They didn’t care that the U.S. Poet Laureate thought I was already a “real” writer or not.

And then it happened.

It was as if I’d walked along the beach. I was quite certain that I didn’t want to get in the water. Well, okay, I might wade along the shore a little bit, picking up the odd shell or bit of driftwood. The water is refreshing, so perhaps I’ll venture out a little further. Now I am in it up to my waist. It is starting to carry me a little. I can splash around a bit, it’s almost like swimming. Eventually I choose to slip beneath the surface, and swim. Like Eliot’s mermaids, riding seaward on the waves.

I never did decide to Be a Writer. But when the story is in you, it must come out. Over the course of a thousand poems pecked out on an old Royal typewriter; and books started and never finished and literally millions of words lined up one after the other and forced to march along in some kind of cohesive fashion, it happened. I found my voice finally. Not a poet. Not a novelist. I write non-fiction. I am lucky that sometimes people even pay me to do so.

Essays. Profiles. News stories. Posts. Some come easily, practically writing themselves. Others, like this beast, hang around my neck for days at a time. You never know when you start which will be the problem children. Some stories compel me, haunt me, demand to be written. Often these are stories about crime, and this is a large part of what I have written about for the last twenty years. Hobbled by the limitations of deadline and column inches, conventional newspaper accounts often leave most of the story untold. The tenets  What-Who-How-When and Where are usually all the reader gets, and even then “Who” is little more than a name, age and gender.

No one even attempts “Why”.

Writing about crime has meant sticking my neck out. Way out. It’s one thing to write poetry in a quiet room, pulling the rhythm from your own drummer. Writing about crime leaves you vulnerable– not just to the wrath of the criminal (which is not insignificant) — but to an insidious malaise. When most waking hours are spent poring over the minutiae of a terrible event, of creating a portrait of the victim, of examining the unanswerable “why”, in time it feels like your very soul is being sucked right out of you. When you hold the mother of murder victim in your arms while she sobs, there is a price for that. After awhile, I couldn’t do it anymore. Oh, I still make notes. I still follow threads and even draft outlines. But I think that chapter might be done.

That only leaves everything else to write about, thousands of stories left to tell.

How to Make an Egg Sandwich

 

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First of all, you need a gas range. If you don’t have a gas range, please go out and get one. Making an egg sandwich requires the immediacy of “heat there – heat gone” that only the flame can provide. If you have an electric stove, and you insist on using it, well, okay, you can make an egg sandwich on that, but it will not be as good.

I learned to make this sandwich as a child watching my father do it, and in my heart I carried with me that method, both observed and instructed, like a kind of religious ritual. Thirty-five years later my father offered to make me the sandwich, and I was pleased and excited. Once again, I was going to have an egg sandwich made at the hands of the master! Imagine my shock and surprise, my downright dismay, when he didn’t make it right. He mixed up the eggs in the pan on the heat, it was stunning. He even added pickle relish to his own sandwich.

To properly make an egg sandwich you need five items: eggs, salt, white bread, mayonnaise and butter. (No you cannot use margarine, spreads, olive oil or anything else. It has to be butter.) For years I made this sandwich with Miracle Whip, but it contains High Fructose Corn Syrup, so I’ve gone to using mayo, it’s better for you.

No doubt you’ve seen those insidious ads that suggest High Fructose Corn Syrup is “all natural” and “nutritionally the same as table sugar.” They’re like those cigarette ads from the fifties that proclaimed smoking was “Healthy!” “Good for you!” Recommended by Doctors!” High Fructose Corn Syrup is a sweetener in which the caloric content has been used up through processing, it provides no cellular fuel at all. It may be all natural, but it leaves all natural fatty deposits in your liver. No thanks. But I digress. We like Hellman’s for mayonnaise, as it is a bit tangier and more like Miracle Whip in taste.

Clearly, this is not an egg salad sandwich, and technically, it is not a fried egg sandwich. A fried egg sandwich would be something akin to the burger my stepfather used to order at the lunch counter of the Linkletter Hotel . . . three patties of beef, three slices of cheese stacked in a bun, with a sunny-side up egg on top. He ate this sandwich continental style with a knife and fork.

This might be described as a scrambled egg sandwich, but you cook the eggs more like frittata, you don’t scramble them in the pan, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you want to use cheap eggs, that’s your prerogative of course, but the extra expense of organic eggs from grain fed, free range hens pays off in taste. (Not to mention the kharmic boost that you get from not further contributing to the misery of hens being kept on an assembly line and fed diets that include (eek!) bits of other chickens. Cannibal chickens! The stuff of Wes Craven’s nightmares.

So take two or three beautiful eggs (your preference) and crack them into a bowl, glass measuring cup or clean coffee mug. Whisk them briskly with a pair of forks. Heat a small non-stick frying pan, and add a dollop of butter. Turn the heat on high. When the butter is melted and frothy, pour in the eggs. Be careful not to let the butter brown . . . if it does, you have to start all over with new butter.

While the eggs bubble happily in the pan, get out two slices of good white bread. (A note about Wonder Bread. I am not a Wonder Bread snob. I can roll up my slice of Wonder Bread into those neat little doughy balls with the best of them . . . but Wonder Bread won’t work well for this sandwich, it’s too spongy and the whole thing will just be a soggy mess. It needs to be white bread with a little bit of body.) Or you can use nutty multi-grain bread, or the like. Sourdough or rye are likely to crowd the delicate taste of the eggs, so they are not advised.

My husband, who is a wonderful man in nearly every respect, insists on freezing the loaves of bread that cross our threshold. If I’m making this sandwich with bread that’s been frozen, I toast the bread. (Thawed bread is not the same as soft bread, darling, no matter what you say.) In the best of possible worlds, use bread that you just brought home from the grocery store, bread that has never seen refrigeration of any kind.

Take your slices of bread, and spread upon them a reasonable amount of mayo. Don’t glop it on, just a little goes a long way. Some heathen pagan insensitive types have been known to put mustard (mustard!) on this sandwich. I say to them, why don’t you just have a mustard sandwich? Even a tiny bit of good Dijon mustard will make it taste like mustard. I shudder at the thought.

Have you been keeping an eye on the eggs? You need to be keeping an eye on the eggs. They should be getting tall and puffy in the undisturbed pan. Now, depending on the intended recipient of the egg sandwich, you flip it either sooner or later. My son, who is generally a good boy, likes his eggs browned slightly. What’s a mother to do? I can’t stand them this way, but that’s his preference and so I bite my tongue and make his sandwich with the eggs browned.

Sprinkle salt on the eggs like you were dancing to Afro-Cuban music while cooking. (In fact, it’s not a bad idea to listen to Afro-Cuban music while cooking.) Flip them over with a spatula. Cook for another minute or so, then slide the eggs (a golden fluffy patty of eggs) onto the waiting bread.

Place on a small plate and carry with you to your favorite armchair to consume while reading a paperback novel. Put the egg sandwich on a tray with a steaming cup of coffee and a tall glass of orange juice and carry upstairs to your husband who is feeling not quite himself. Wrap in a paper towel and carry for your son who has his arms full with his school bag and cello so he can eat his warm breakfast in the car on a dark and cold winter morning on the way to school.

Make this sandwich when you aren’t in the mood to make dinner. This sandwich is excellent for lunch while working on household projects. It’s great nourishment for your mother recovering from heart surgery. It is, in fact, perfect for mending broken hearts, not to mention a bonafide cure for hangovers and other ailments. An egg sandwich is just the thing to fix for your father when he is dying of cancer, even if it turns out after all these years that he doesn’t make it the same way. He will enjoy it anyway, maybe all the more so because it was something of his that you took and made your own.

 

This a reprise. I wrote this piece in March 2009, and I am sharing it here in loving memory of my Dad, Larry Paul Vonalt, January 10, 1937-December 26, 2005. Thinking about you on Father’s Day, Dad, and all days. (And I would like to add that since this was written Miracle Whip has stopped using high fructose corn syrup in their salad dressing.) 

Lame

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I am the Queen of the Sensible Shoe. From the time I was a little girl in patent leather Stride Rites, to this very day, I have chosen flat shoes. Well, there was that period in 1975, when I was thirteen and traded some of my most precious possessions to the daughter of a family friend for her David Bowie style platform-soled shoes, but that was just a passing phase.

Even in those days you would mostly find me in Earth shoes (remember those?) and yes, Mother, in retrospect I agree that they were the ugliest shoes ever. And unlike my somewhat more glamorous stepsister, I wasn’t drawn to three-inch stilettos either. Mind you, Hannah was blessed with beautiful feet, like those that grace the paintings of William-Adolphe Bougeureau. I don’t have beautiful feet. I have very serviceable feet that look crudely sculpted and  stuck on the end of Very Sturdy Legs. 

Even if I could walk in them, I would look absurd in sexy shoes.

This is not to say that I have a closet full of Old Maine Trotters. Indeed, my husband is amazed at the variety of shoes I have acquired. Stegmann clogs. Doc Martens of many varieties, including the pair pictured– a birthday present to myself when I turned 51. Penny loafers. Riding boots. Sperry Top Siders. Fisherman sandals. Merrell barefoot running shoes. (More on those in a minute) And Mary Janes of every description by half a dozen of my favorite shoe makers and usually in black.

Last year, when I took up the Rehabilitation and Remodeling of Myself, I did a lot of research on running shoes. I have always found big, over-padded  athletic footwear (in white) uncomfortable in every way; not fun to wear and besides, they made me self-conscious. I was curious about the move towards “barefoot running” and I found a pair of Merrell shoes that were designed for the task– not the freaky looking ones with separate toes, just nice slender lightweight athletic shoes with a zipper. In black, of course.

I loved those shoes. They were incredibly comfortable. I wore them all summer long. And then one day when I took them off, my feet were really sore. It had been an active day, with a hike and a brief run at the end of it– and I just thought I’d overdone it. The next day my left foot was intensely painful. It was actually my neurologist who told me that I’d probably strained my Achille’s tendon after I nearly leapt off the table during a routine neurological reflex exam. She recommended RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation.

It was really aggravating to be sidelined when I’d been making such good progress, and as soon as I was able the old shoes were back on and I was at it again. I was still having some pain in my feet, but I figured it was just a little tendonitis, nothing to get too concerned about.

I started to notice a pattern. In the morning, when I got up, I could hardly stand. After I’d been working at my desk for a while, it would be excruciating to walk into the kitchen for another cup of coffee. This was not tendonitis. This was the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis, where the fascia that runs the length of your foot becomes inflamed which mostly manifests itself as heel pain, but also general foot swelling, which would explain why some of my favorite sensible shoes no longer fit.

Strangely, the longer you walk, the more it eases off. But if you’ve been on your feet a lot, and then you stop, or sit down, or go to bed– as we all must do– God help you when you try to get back on your feet the next time. It seems so unfair. I mean, I know that my sensible shoes have helped me escape bunions, corns, Haglund’s deformity, hammertoes and sciatica– but I never expected to end up lame anyway.

My weight has a lot to do with it. My serial monogamy for shoes– when I find a pair I really love I tend to wear them exclusively until they are totally worn out. Showing dogs– which involves lots of standing and running on concrete floors. The spectre of menopause. It is mostly my left foot that is affected, and it was my left foot that had the Achille’s tendon issues. And it was my left foot that sustained numerous hairline fractures when a big hunter mare stood on it 35 years ago.

Though the prognosis is nearly  always that it takes more than a year to recover from Plantar Fasciitis, there are exercises to do, and shoes to wear and inserts, orthotics and padding to consider. This is when I really miss having health insurance, because perhaps it would be nice to have a little guidance in these matters. But free clinics aren’t interested in your sore feet and orthopedic specialists just aren’t in the budget right now.

So, I soldier on doing what I can. After all, I need these feet to carry me through another 40 years of treasure hunting, puppy training, making photographs, dancing in the kitchen and visiting zoos, museums, slums, waterfronts, burial mounds and crime scenes. I don’t have time to be lame.

One, two, buckle my shoe.

 

 

Consider the Lillies

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Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. -Paul Tillich  

A friend writes to suggest that perhaps I should consider faith. “What I think you need,” she writes, “is not happiness, or money, or perfect health, but a larger purpose.”  My friends is an intellectual, and when my son Julian was born, she gave him a gold nugget and a copy of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Though I knew she had converted to Catholicism, I was a bit surprised to read her suggestion that I give Joyce Meyer a try. And though I’ll probably give Mrs. Meyer a pass, I have been left thinking about the nature of faith and its role in my life.

I’ve long been drawn to the spectacle of religion but only as an observer. The photographs that Shelby Adams took of serpent handlers in Kentucky, the novels of Harry Crews, religious festivals, shops full of church goods. But it’s not just the freakish aspects that speak to me, but the contemplative ones too. I can certainly find a moment to stop and meditate in a beautiful sanctuary.

I suppose I do believe in prayer, not as an intercession, but as simply sending love out into the universe.  That some almighty being would bother with the minutiae of our individual lives strikes me as a little far-fetched, but if you believe it and it gives you peace, that’s wonderful.

Hucksterism disguised as “Christianity” really gets up my nose, though. Recently Oinkadoodlemoo,  a local barbecue place, posted on their Facebook page that  “God is our CEO.”   When I responded that this was offensive enough to prevent me from ever setting foot in their restaurant again, the actual CEO (not God)  sent me an email to ask if he might talk to me about their philosophy and I said sure, and provided my telephone number, but I haven’t heard back from him.

If you are a believer, how can you describe The Almighty Being as something so mundane as the head of a barbecue joint? And if you don’t believe, it just feels like another fundamentalist spooning up a side of dogma with that pulled pork.

My immediate family was not of a congregation, though both of my grandmothers were regular church-goers. Sundays were about brunch, or school projects or dog shows. We did do a stint in the Anglican Church in Prince Edward Island but it didn’t stick. When my husband and I married it was in the Lutheran Church, and we were confirmed into the ELCA in preparation for the vows. They’re a pretty progressive church and we stayed with the congregation until our son was about three years old and too fractious to make it through the service, no matter how beautifully it was sung.  Friends and family run the gamut from fiercely atheist to deeply devout and I feel not one bit inclined to inspire any of them to try something different.

But do I Believe?

I simply don’t know. I’m open to what ever happens, including nothing.

After the death of my stepfather in 1998 I experienced a whole series of incidences that might be considered paranormal. I will write about them sometime. And again, after my father’s death in 2005, a couple of things that were just a little strange. In my twenties I struggled with temporal lobe epilepsy and one of the elements of that condition is prescience. It is, after all, elementary physics that energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. So what happens to the energy that makes us human when our bodies give up the ghost? It must go somewhere.

But are belief and faith the same thing?  Not for me, I think. My father’s mother died in March, at the age of 96. Her husband, her eldest child, her parents, and many siblings had gone before her. In the last few years, she said repeatedly that she could not understand “why the Lord would not let (her) come home.” She wanted to die, not because she was in pain particularly, but because she wanted to be reunited with those she loved, she wanted her reward for nearly a century of fervent devotion. She wanted to rest in the hands of the Lord.   I so hope that in the hour of her death that she arrived at the heavenly kingdom for which she had prepared her whole life.  She believed and the faith that sustained her was borne of those beliefs.

I don’t believe the way she believed, but this does not mean that I am without faith.  Years ago I lost a dog in downtown Dayton. She was gone for nine days. For the first four days, I searched frantically, nearly in a state of panic. On the fifth day, exhausted, I  called a pet psychic, and she told me that the dog was okay, that she was in an enclosure and that I would have her back the following Monday. It was Tuesday, as it turns out, but that’s just a minor detail. Now, I don’t know what it was about talking to this woman that made such a sea-change for me but I went from a place of fear to a place of faith. I believed that I would the find the dog, I believed that it would all be okay. I believed that as long as I kept sending positive energy into the world that  we would be reunited. And we were.

Faith allows me to talk to strangers in the street. It allows me to sleep while my teenaged son is still out with friends. It is the thing that keeps me from collapsing in fear at the ferocious and terrible pain that is a full-blown migraine headache. I have faith that things will not always be so bleak. I believe that faith sustains me and allows me to me let the world in instead of shutting the world out. It’s what keeps me typing out one word after another in orderly steps– blind faith that someone out there will want to read them.

Faith, finally, for me is an absence of fear. This does not mean that I have a life free of anxiety or sorrow. But it does mean that when I find myself obsessed with worry that I can make a concerted effort to let go of that and simply be. It’s a little like flying.

White Bread

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Let them eat cake.  ~ Marie Antoinette

 

The other night, at Kroger, I looked down at the paper bag in my cart and I felt a little horrified. In the bag were two packages of Oscar Mayer Bologna, two loaves of white bread, a head of iceberg lettuce and a package of hot dog buns.

So it has come to this, I thought, panic creeping in.

Rather than teeter off the edge into full-blown despair, I rationalized. This is the price of my freedom.  Even though my husband is retired and I find work here and there, job-writing, I don’t have to punch a clock anywhere. If I was out there in the rat race, I could buy what I used to buy. But at what cost, I asked myself, just slightly smug.

The justification doesn’t last.

It’s been bologna sandwiches for three days now. And truth be told I have a sort of “slumming it” fondness for such food. Sometimes a bologna sandwich on squishy white bread is just what the doctor ordered. But not often. And certainly not for three days in a row.

It seems worse in the summer somehow. In the winter, you can spin fantastic meals out of the meager pantry. A bit of bacon and some dried fettucine, a little  cream and before long, it’s a plate of fettucine carbonara that you’re tucking into. Potato soup. Clam chowder. Casseroles. My one indulgence is the quart of heavy cream because it does extend everything into the realm of sublime. I know how to cook and for the most part, we eat well.

But I’m not inspired. There are things that I could make, even now in the sultry days and nights of this Ohio summer, that are tasty and sustaining and don’t seem quite so pathetic as bologna sandwich on white bread.  But I don’t. I just open the refrigerator door and reach for the mayonnaise.

I think the problem is my husband.

Tonight he wanted to go see a free jazz concert that the Dayton Philharmonic was playing at a venue just across town. He didn’t go because he didn’t feel we could afford the gas to drive 10 miles. Maybe he’s right. The thing is it doesn’t matter if he’s right or not; that “sky is falling” outlook is persistent and contagious. It’s true that there’s a lot of month left to go with $100 in the bank. But ever the grasshopper, I think there will be some solution around the corner, and there generally is.  But he’s right, too. What if there isn’t?

I don’t want to be so poor that we can’t drive 10 miles.

That level of austerity chips away at my sense of freedom. Even to continue the research for the book, I’d have to drive out to the University. Eight miles. There’s a bus, but that’s too expensive as well.

So I go on eating bologna sandwiches.

Which is, in itself, ridiculous. Friends gave us fresh asparagus last week, it was delicious. The cherry tree in the yard is heavy with ripening fruit. There are still cartons of my favorite yogurt in the fridge. A pork roast in the freezer. Potatoes, always useful in salads. We should have planted a garden- I wonder if we still couldn’t get a few things in the ground.  Eggs, of course, lend themselves to a thousand guises. The white bread is the biggest sin of all since one of our best friends is an artisanal baker, and we could simply ask him. But asking is hard. The concern that I will ask too much never leaves me.

There are 17,908,343 “food insecure” households in the country. That’s not people. That’s households. Using the U.S. Census bureau statistic of 2.55 individuals per average households, this figure represents 45,666,175 hungry people. Or about the population of California– all wondering where there next meal is coming from.

We don’t even really meet the threshold for “food insecurity.” We certainly have too much money and too many assets to ever qualify for Food Stamps. Think about that the next time you’re judging someone using food stamps to buy a birthday cake or soft drinks in the check out line in front of you. Isn’t it bad enough to be hungry much of the time, do they deserve scorn too? The rate of food insecurity changes by household type: more than twenty percent of households with children don’t have enough to eat.

Our household falls into a kind of gray area that the U.S. Government calls “marginal food security.” That means we worry that we’ll run out of food before we have more money. That we consume food faster than we thought we would. (Well, hell, there’s a 19-year-old boy-man here, of course we do.) That our diet is not as varied as it should be because of our very limited food budget.

So. I’ve decided to trade off a little of this bountiful freedom for a bit of precious security. I am going to see if I can’t find very part-time work; 10 hours a week would make a difference. I probably waste that much time noodling around on the internet. And if I can’t find something, I’m going to make Chicken Little look for a bit of work. He’s earned his retirement, certainly, but without work, his world has become quite small.

And tomorrow I’m going out to lunch with a friend.

We All Shine On.

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Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~Anton Chekhov 

 

Thought I was gone, didn’t you? Yeah, some days I did too. Certainly this won’t go back to being “Twelve Moons”– no more accounts of how many steps I took, or what I had to eat. Though I will still write about food. And aging. And self-image. But the narcissism that it takes to write about your own struggle with weight, day after day after day, was dull.

It was already starting to peter out. Then I hurt myself. I don’t even remember doing it– a foot put wrong somewhere along the way– and badly strained the Achilles tendon in my left foot. I am not quite recovered still. Some mornings I have to hold on to the walls so I don’t fall down.  For good measure, throw in a round of illness, and I wish I was talking metaphor. The day after my birthday in January, I was laid flat with the flu (I think it was the flu) and didn’t get out of bed for three weeks. I wasn’t fighting for my life. And it was a good thing I didn’t have to, as I hardly had the energy to walk six steps to the bathroom.

So to say I lost my mojo is to speak the truth.

I know I have to get back to writing. Every time I start a new blog I think my friend David Esrati must shake his head. He is most definitely of the opinion that one should have one blog and one blog only. David wears many hats, but he is a wizard at marketing, and he may have a point. Every time I have a blog that picks up a little momentum, I kill it. It comes to an end of its pre-ordained life and I start the next. I told him that the different blogs are like different books (he’s not a writer per se) and though that’s true, I missed the lightbulb going off over my own head.

So I didn’t start a new one this time. I re-kindled an old one, sputtering and smoking and creaking along.

Every time David introduces me to someone he refers to me as the best writer . . .   and when he says it I generally am the best writer in the room. I hardly ever go into rooms with other writers. But lately even that’s felt like false advertising.

A few weeks ago sitting with another friend I said “I don’t think I can write anymore.” Though I was deeply embarrassed to do so, I began to cry. It was the truth of the statement leaking out, it was the fear, it was the absolute desolation that I felt inside. I know I still have the skill to write, it’s the willpower that worries me. The discipline. It’s always the discipline.

I thought at the time that it was our precarious financial situation that left me paralyzed. And there may be some truth to that. But I choose this so that I won’t have to give up 40 hours a week to further someone else’s Big Dream.  So why have I stopped writing? My mother, self-styled expert on such things, would  (and has) deemed me depressed. But the depression is because I’m not writing. And of course it’s hard to get back to writing because I’m depressed because I’m not writing.

I’m just lying here in the sawdust.

But I’m going to try to clamber back up once again. I hope you’ll find me here, most nights, writing by the light of the moon. We’ll see how it goes.