I’m at work on a novel and one of the joyous surprises is how frequently magic appears on the page, unbidden. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, but out of the threads of the story I’ve been weaving with a conscious awareness of the plot and where it is going. Coming from screenwriting, I’d imagined, before I started writing this book, that I understood the shake and rhythms and pacing of the book and that the plot I’d outlined was more or less the plot I’d follow. What I’d learned, however, is that the plot of this novel is just the skeleton and that the writing itself is the flesh and the spirit that animates.
So yesterday, as I was making good on my pages, some words found there way onto the page that weren’t expected, and it wasn’t just the words. It was the ideas, the concept, the metaphor that I realized would add another bit of texture to an already texturally rich book. This, I realized, is what language is, it’s how it weaves its magic, it’s why story imprints itself so deeply into the imagination. Words have one meaning. And, then, through story, they have another. Whole layers of meaning piled on top of one another — or, more accurately, woven into a tapestry – until a world is made. In my story, my protagonist is weaving a tapestry from the many disparate experiences of his life. He is, in other words, as we all are, consciously or not (and most often not) weaving the story of his life from all the things that have come to him unbidden, and all the things he’s chosen, and all of his passions and longing and pains and disappointments, all of it grist for the mill, or threads for his loom. And that got me thinking…
I’m a Southerner by birth and upbringing, and even though I left the South a long time ago, my approach to food is still heavily influenced by my time in the South. For whatever reason, we didn’t do a lot of Soul Food cooking in my house (my heart and my arteries say thank you for that), but we did do a lot of what I think of us Good Down Home Cookin’, and the heart of Good Down Home Cookin’ is good, farmer’s market ingredients, though when I was growing up, it wasn’t as fancy as all of that. We would just stop whenever we saw a food stand on the side of the road and buy whatever yumminess they had: corn, sweet red tomatoes, pecans, which some folks pronounce pea-cans, as in pea-can pie. I am still a sucker for farm fresh ingredients. In the summer, I can make a whole meal of them. I was a vegetarian for ten years, so I don’t even have to have meat on the side to feel satisfied, though if I’ve got a hankering for meat, I can always put some on the grill. Summer and summer cooking is all about making life easy-peasy. It’s about lounging and relaxing and turning food prep into a moving meditation.
One of my favorite summer recipes is Zucchini Mint Salad. You can make it a lot of ways, using whatever you have. The recipe I’m going to share uses mint, parsley, pecorino and green olives, but you can make it with parmesan, goat cheese or feta if you have those on hand, and you can totally substitute black olives for green ones. I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but it’s one of my all time favorites. I hope you enjoy making it and eating it as much as I do.
8 young zucchini
handful of parsley leaves, torn by hand
handful of mint leaves, torn by hand
1/2 c pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
good quality pecorino cheese
extra virgin olive oil
I am a fan of The Elder Statesman, the California-based, homemade-luxury brand from designer and CFDA Fashion Fund winner Greg Chait. Not surprising, since I’m a fan of anything original, and the idea of building a luxury brand around knits that, in another context, and with a lesser execution, might feel merely “outdoorsy,” is not just original, it’s audacious, and I love people who have the audacity to do whatever the heck they want, so expecting the world to stand up and take notice that the world goes ahead and does.
Tomate, the film embedded above, captures everything that’s quintessentially California about The Elder Statesman brand. It makes me want to crawl right in and take up residence in this Elder Statesman life, where silly and sunshine seem quite enough. It’s a mood movie, and just the right inspiration before I dive into a day of my own creative work.
FILM BY THE ELDER STATESMAN
The grand, the great, the beautiful Maya Angelou is gone. We are richer that she walked this way as this obituary makes so very, very clear.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mama Maya — for living every chapter of your life with dignity and for teaching the rest of us that our stories matter, no matter how dark, no matter how tinged with tragedy, and that we too can weave the experiences of our lives into a beautiful tapestry.
One afternoon last week, I sat in the living room of my father’s best friend, looking out at Lake Michigan from the penthouse floor. It was the four of us, my father’s great and lifelong friend (and schoolmate from the University of Chicago, where they both earned earned political science PhDs), his wife, an accomplished academic in her own right, my husband and myself, and we spent two of the most glorious hours talking — about Dr. Hamilton’s life and career (which intersected with my fathers as if they were the rhythm sections in each others’ bands), about his wife, the other Dr. Hamilton’s career, about their daughter and my father, who have both gone on to the great beyond, his daughter having left us in the plane crash that also took the life of Ron Brown, and my own father having lived to the ripe old age of 80, about the losses that shape a life and also the gains. It was cerebral and emotional and connected in a way that conversation so rarely is these days. It was a great reminder of how lucky we are when we have an opportunity to commune deeply with our minds and hearts engaged.
Dr. Hamilton and my father had the rarest of friendships. They were great admirers of one another, as human beings and as grand intellects who shared a deep commitment to social justice (they both played significant roles in the Civil Rights movement and in racial justice and human rights in the years beyond). Hearing him speak of my father with such love (and later hearing of my father’s great love for him from my stepmother), I was reminded of the proper role of the intellect in both public and private life. It is a lost art, this routine almost ordinary use of the mind through which we engage the big and meaningful ideas that turn our world.
I thought of those hours in Chicago when, upon my return to La La Land, where some of us work as hard as we can to pretend that nothing real matters, I turned on the telly and watched a couple of episodes of Showtime’s excellent if poorly titled series on global warming, The Years of Living Dangerously (you know a title’s a poor one when you can’t remember it to save your life).