525,600 minutes etc., etc.

Featured525,600 minutes etc., etc.

I asked our students to engage in some self-reflection this week: think about yourself last August, when school started, and think about yourself today. How have you grown? What’s different?
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Day Two: Creating this cookbook

What started as a simple* project to preserve memories for my cousin, and to keep my work, has turned into so many questions, and a few regrets.

The book I chose to begin working from and transcribing at first looked like a messy compilation of jottings and scribbles and recipes my great grandma collected from friends and acquaintances. As I thumb through it, it looks more like a mother-daughter collaboration between her and my grandma. Grams has imposed some organizational structure on it — her lines are sharp and crisp and clear, written in her elegant, sloping script –multiple cookie recipes per page, and more cookies on the facing page, and more cookies after that. Great grandma fills in the gaps with stroganoffs and dumplings and shortcakes.

I doubt they would’ve undertaken it, but for a fleeting moment I thought maybe they toyed with the idea of putting together their own cookbook. Maybe they shared and swapped the book over the course of years.

Why wouldn’t she have ever told me about it? Shown it to me? Talked about it?

Maybe it was a vestige of a life she left far, far behind. One it was too much to go back to.

I have so many questions.

The great cookbook make

So I’ve undertaken this project.

After my grandma died, when we were dividing up her possessions and cleaning out her house, I asked for the recipe box. My cousin D let it go with one provision: I would make a book or somehow record the recipes and send it to him.

I agreed, and nearly a year and a half later finally feel like I’m in the mental space to be able to begin this project. I decided to include my great grandma’s recipes, too, and I have three books of hand-written, sometimes revised, jotted cookery notes. She didn’t fill all the internal pages of one book, for instance, but the front cover and title page are covered in recipes from chicken wings to pancakes to fish batter to “Drink” and “Punch. A photocopied recipe from her “beauty operator” was tucked into the cover, too.

I laughed at the recipe for “Pop Overs (good” because no one in my family has replicated her pop overs, nor has anyone even tried them since probably the mid-90s.

I began to cry at the recipe for oyster crackers, tucked under the headline “snacks” and snuggled into the whitespace next to “Stay in Bed Stew” from a Lucille K. My great grandma and grandma both made seasoned oyster crackers and I ate them faster than they could make them when I was a kid. My grandma would send bags of them to be in care packages during college. One set of the dishtowels I have is permanently stained with vegetable oil because a gallon bag of oyster crackers leaked in the shipment containing both. I still remember the apartment I lived in when she sent that box, and calling to tell her I’d gotten it and the bag had leaked.

So, yeah, it’s safe to say I’m not ready for this yet. But maybe it’s a good thing. Great grandma repressed and tucked things away, but grandma kept everything and tried to talk about everything. I need to open these books, and smell my grandmas again, and remember what their handwriting looks like — how different their lettering and spelling was from each other’s. One who was barely allowed to finish junior high school and the other, college-educated.

This is also a record of our culture, in some ways. I am descended from midwestern farmers and “townsfolk” and these recipes are a combination both of the food my great-grandma was raised making for the farm and dishes she and my grandma were given by other women. They faithfully wrote down the names of the women from whom they got the recipes, too, and for every aunt I recognize there are four more neighbors or ladies from church I’ve never heard of.

I need to test some of these recipes, eat the snacks and food they made with love and obligation.

My plan is to record some of this undertaking here. I can’t guarantee it’ll be step-by-step or thorough, but I can’t imagine there won’t be feelings or thoughts I’ll need to put somewhere, so — I hope you’re ready, I guess.

Maybe this is my final frontier with this grief. Doubtful, but maybe.


Writing November

Note: I joined M in a WriteNovember challenge, and may be posting some of those here. 

Over time I’ve realized I enjoy editing more than writing. I like working with something already crafted, even if “crafted” is being generous. Crossing out extraneous words and phrases is energizing. Have you ever felt the rush of reorganizing an essay or paper? Especially when you know you got it right? I’m not saying it’s better than multiple orgasms, but you don’t get to see orgasms in print, either.

Still, I read others’ work and yearn for the days when my turns of phrase landed as beautifully as do theirs. It’s like getting back into running after taking some months, or years, off. The first few months back are laborious and awkward and painful. Eventually, with variation in route and a reasonably set schedule, I fall back into my stride.

So in the quiet hours, I write for me. At times, the audience I imagine drives my fingers to type faster, and wittier, but usually it’s just me, and I wonder when that changed. I strain to recall who it was I used to write for, and come up blank, but there must have been someone. It’s possible it was Nathan.

I’d weave sophomoric tales of rekindled love between us after some time apart. I would have long, sunset yellow hair and a trim frame; he’d have grown more rugged-looking and handsome over the years. I’d be angry at his silence, and he’d give me his excellent reasons for his distance. Our eyes would meet and it’d be like all that time never passed.

There was a point in time where whatever I wrote down, in terms of my romantic fantasies, seemed to come true. That was the case for Nathan and I, at least. Countless stories I sketched out, though only a few I saw through to the end, and those handful in their own ways came to pass. The ending I imagined for us, and never wrote down, didn’t. We fell off the way many of those tales closed: in ambiguity, an uncertain future ahead.

I’m tempted to write a denouement to the last exclusive yarn that spun for me. It’s been nearly a year since it was over. I’ll be hard, but remorseful and tender. He’ll be rightfully standoffish. I’ll get angry at his response and remind him his selfishness and immaturity were what caused the split after I demanded some accountability. And he’ll ask me to reexamine my actions. I’ll apologize, and he will, and we’ll share the meal we were supposed to once. It will be fun and delightful and we won’t drink too, too much. We might even kiss. There will likely be confessions of feelings and thoughts held back. I will be vulnerable in ways I was not able to and will honor his in ways I know I did. We will delight in each other’s company and look wistfully at what might have been when I remind him that I live in Denver, now. And maybe we’ll explore the idea of a long-distance relationship. But he is not ready for that, and we have so much more to build before we could get to that point. Half a country isn’t upstate NY to NYC, after all. We’ll say goodnight, or maybe we won’t, but the next morning I will be on a plane back home, and every once in awhile we will check in on each other. Best yet, I will be able to read his work again.

The one who came before him is more difficult. What I’d like most of all is to know he still pines for me. That he is miserable and it is his own doing. “The freckles on your chest are the stars in my night sky,” he told me, once. I read none of his text messages after he dumped me by email so as not to dwell. It made moving beyond him so much easier. Still, in my wildest daydreams he somehow found out when my grandmother was ill and showed up at her door, to my deep dismay and eventual relief. I never wrote that down, and it never came to pass. I forgot, until some time after my grandmother died, that I’d even daydreamed that. When I remembered, I was disappointed he hadn’t been there. I’d keep our ending short and sweet. He runs into me at some event, somewhere. He’s taken by surprise, but of course, I am not. I am beautiful and tidy and wearing the scarf he once gave me as a gift. I barely acknowledge his presence; it’s very Mariah’s, “I don’t know her.” Pain pours from his face and eyes and my features are neutral but cold. I excuse myself into the night, somewhere better to be, contentment and purpose in front of, and guiding me.


This week, last week, always

This week, last week, always

I have this friend. You might know her, actually.

My friend, she writes beautifully and precisely about horrible things. She curates words with a clarity of mind that leaves you with no mistake as to what happened, who is to blame, and what was at stake. I envy her this.

All I can seem to do is ramble on. Write 9,000 words about things I’ve been parsing since I was 15, each year adding and compounding to the total. If our savings accounts accrued interest the way our bodies do harassment, we could make up the wage gap, and then some. We could pay for our birth control, our preventive visits, our maternity care.
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