I Just Can’t Handle It

 

 

It's a trap!

Pete and I found this bracelet on a garden wall on New Year’s Day, like an offering to the gods or a crow.

News happens faster than I can blog anymore. I gave up years ago in real life, but I do think about it. Can I take apart news stories and put them back together with bloggy masking tape and spit? Yeah, but I’d rather have my hands in bread dough and not have a nervous breakdown. So here we are.

Years ago, Dad died and left me homework: learn how to bake decent bread. I’ve been working my way through Dad’s cookbooks, but none has been as interesting as the late Carol Field’s The Italian Baker. Many recipes begin with a starter called a biga. If you want to bake bread tomorrow or in a few days, you gather yeast, flour, water in the right proportions, mix them and leave them on the counter overnight. The next day, if you’re not baking, you refrigerate the biga. You can freeze it if your dance card fills up and you just can’t watusi toward your loaf pans. Anyhoo, making a biga is effortless.

My daughter Miss Sasha asked me a few days ago what made a good cookbook. I said there were certain principles involved in baking and if a recipe writer asks me to depart from them, I’m immediately suspicious. Most cakes and cookies work this way: cream together butter/oil + sugar; add eggs one at a time; add flavorings; add some flour + some liquid, flour + liquid; add chunky stuff. If a recipe starts with flour in my mixing bowl, our relationship is off to a rocky start and our product will be inedible. A baker must trust a recipe writer. A recipe writer must offer directions for basic, medium and more complex recipes, let the baker work her way up and develop confidence.

Field does this. I can’t follow a recipe to save my life, but every one I study lets me produce decent loaves of bread. We eat them at home! I take them to work and foist them on my unsuspecting co-workers! When they dry out, I feed them to the chickens! I buy flour by the bale at Costco, but it’s all good. I’m not just baking bread, I’m stimulating the economy. Thank me!

And speaking of me, my daughter – again: Miss Sasha – wrote a book, which you can buy on Amazon. It’s called This Doesn’t Make Me An Expert, it is very interesting and full of surprises. Once chapter in particular blew me away, but they’re all good and I learned a lot reading it. You can buy it in print or in electronic form, and you should because reading is fundamental and you can’t spell fundamental without fun and mental.

Faith And Hope And Charity

Wut?

I’ve always been afraid gravity would lose its grip on me.

Here we are in the dark of January. It’ll be another two and half to three months before we can quit thinking of murdering people who touch us with cold feet. They deserved it! No jury would convict us! COLD FEET!

But I hope you will curb your murderous urges. Spring will come soon and you’ll think you were out of your mind to take out the garbage in January wearing flip flops. Shoes were a hassle. You were just taking out the garbage and you couldn’t find your other boot. One of the cats was probably wearing it, to go with the gloves you find everywhere, migrating around the house at night like there’s some sort of glove exchange you don’t really understand. By you, I mean me, and I’ll bet my feet are cold.

The Rhythm of Your Heartbeat

Please fix your nails, lady.

One December afternoon.

Kind, thoughtful people send me scrap yarn by the bagful for the cat blanket project. I can’t thank those enough – or, in some cases, at all, since I have no idea who they are or were. Every year, though, donations arrive with unfinished projects, piles of knitting needles and crochet hooks, notions, patterns, shopping lists; these are the last effects of a stitcher. This year, packages like this arrived twice: once, from a very elderly hoarder I didn’t know, but the second time, the late stitcher was a friend and mentor. She was a much better knitter than I will ever be, and her unfinished projects were daunting. I put them away for another, braver day. Yesterday was that day. It was also Christmas Day, and Christmas cheer might’ve had something to do with it.

My craft room has been disastrous since these donations arrived. Yesterday, I took out a giant homemade knitting bag full of unfinished throw blanket and laid it out on my dining room table to look at it. If I thought I could finish it, I was determined to try. If I could not, I’d tear out the stitches and reuse the yarn, but I was trying to avoid that. After a few minutes’ examination, I realized to my relief the blanket was crocheted. I didn’t know my friend crocheted, so that came as a surprise. My friend was right-handed. I am left-handed, and that matters. I was unable to figure out what stitches she was using or how she had made the very pretty dual colored pattern. Pete said, “If you can finish it, why don’t you give it to her granddaughters?” That was the encouragement I needed, and I decided I would, if not finish the blanket at her degree of skill, finish it to the best of my ability. In retrospect, a strong holiday cocktail might have boosted my confidence.

The blanket was about 7′ long with fringe on both ends. I worked out how she did that, but not why. She had started a row with single crochet. Her stitches slanted right. Mine slanted left. I couldn’t do anything about that, but on the second row, I figured out a solution to the problem that blended my stitches with hers and made the two edges a closer match. No match would be perfect, but this was pretty good.

It was Christmas Night. I texted my friend’s daughter, who is also my lifelong friend Trout, to say the blanket was finished and did she want it? At that moment, her niece was plopping gooey green slime into her hands, so my timing was somewhat off. Trout burst into tears and we agreed to meet up next weekend.

A couple of weeks ago, Paulie Gonzalez and I renewed the blog’s domain name for three years. As a writer and artist, I am not sure where I’m going or what I’d like to be doing, but finishing the work of a beloved stitcher gave me a feeling of satisfaction I haven’t felt before, and this brings us to the photograph above. Here, I declare defeat.

Buoyed by yesterday’s success, I pulled a bunch of sweater panels out of a garbage bag and found my nemesis at the bottom: a zipper. As bad signs go, that one said “Bates Motel.” The bag contained no pattern and no clue how the panels should be assembled. Worse: one of the panels stopped a few inches in. I laid this out on the dining room table and waved the white flag: these cream-colored panels were beyond my ken. After that, I spent two hours pulling out stitches and rolling the yarn into balls. Two hours. Come to think of it, a refreshing adult beverage might’ve helped with that, too.

Three years offers a lot of possibility. I might finish yarny stuff, garden or string words together. I might think the funny thoughts in public places or say serious stuff where someone might hear me. The future is wide open.

 

We’ll Be Able To Fly

Months ago, one of little Swedish Black hens and sometimes Chicken Chicken started kicking up fusses just after dawn. Local ordinances forbid residents from keeping roosters because sunrise squawking makes the neighbors cranky. Anyway, In June and July, I found myself running down the stairs before dawn and out the back door to shush chickens almost every day. Andie, who is not an early riser, was calling the little hen “Chicken Soup.” I developed a plan: we would identify which of the hens was the complainer, if there was only one, through the clever use of chicken jewelry. Yes, I bought different colored plastic leg bands. Andie and I chased the nearly identical chickens until we caught them and gave them name tags. Sort of. We determined that the tiny hen with the white leg band, LaVerne, was our vocalist.

As a matter of fact, those are hot dog rolls on the ground.

LaVerne, in the corner, evading capture. Chicken Chicken, nearer, acting nonchalant.

The professor from the organic farming course of last summer agreed to take LaVerne to the Chicken McMansion on her farm. When the day came, Ellen arrived with a cat carrier. Andie was working, so I resigned myself to chasing LaVerne without backup.

You haven’t lived until you’ve climbed halfway into a chicken coop in your street clothes. Remind me to burn these garments later.

Note: no part of this is not gross.

Of course I’m dressed badly. How should I be dressed to chase a chicken through gross shit?

This went on for quite a while. Before I climbed in here, I’d warned Pete, “You have two jobs here: take pictures and heckling.” As you can see, it’s not easy to photograph a chicken roundup. Or my butt.

So glamorous!

I am literally chasing a small chicken around the coop with a cat box pooper scooper.

Finally, I got my hands on the little bird, who pecked my hands, but settled right into Ellen’s arms. After a few minutes, we stuffed LaVerne into the cat carrier and off they went. I still get up before sunrise most days, but with the solstice behind us and the equinox ahead, that time is a bit later every morning. Chicken Chicken, without the goading of her sidekick, sleeps in. This morning, I didn’t see her in the run until just after 7.

Wait, I'm not your real Mom?

The recipient of this chicken finds her charming. Her feelings are reciprocated. I feel left out of this lovefest.

Ellen says she holds LaVerne in her arms all the time. I could never get near her. It was obviously meant to be.

The Village The Peaceful Village

We’re about to have houseguests and chaos and July is my favorite of the months. I am trying to enjoy every July day, because I miss it every day that is not in July. Like, every one. That’s quite a few, so every day, I am saying out loud, “It’s July, which is my favorite.” If this sounds to you like I’m brainwashing myself, you underestimate my ability to argue with me, because I am also like, “August is boss, Ta.”

Don't forget to floss!

Pride Month brought out all the dudes.

Obviously, there’s a lot to be said about June, too.

Our Best Wine Is Clotting

I’ve been staring at the blank page for some time now. Here, you look at some pancakes:

Ever seen pancakes look hungry?

My pet sourdough starter Frothy, Jr. needs regular feeding. So do chickens. Guess who ate these rhubarb pancakes?

On Friday morning, Anthony Bourdain died by suicide in France, devastating news in many ways. If you’ve ever suffered depression, you know someone else’s suicide can make you think itchy, uncomfortable thoughts. I won’t go into difficult detail, in case you have suffered depression, but please understand: I know. Also: other people know:

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today we explore the righteous anger of Hole’s 1994 album Live Through This.

Oh boy. Live Through This was the soundtrack for my years-long swan dive into the dark. It completely captured my rage, anguish and inability to make sense of my life.

…for Love, who watched grunge break through to the mainstream only to find that the freedom and rebellion it promised was reserved for her male counterparts. In grunge, men could be scruffy and rude and defy gender norms—they could be rawer than the men modeled in synth-pop music videos or hair metal concerts a few years prior. Women, for all the space afforded them in the subculture’s spotlight moment, might as well have been Lilith.

By then, I was already Lilith, flying off the edge of the earth (that link references Enid Dame, whom I knew and loved.)

The album’s pummeling opener “Violet” baits the ear with a jangling guitar tone cut from the same cloth as R.E.M., and then drummer Patty Schemel churns the song into a fury. “Go on, take everything/Take everything/I want you to,” howls Love, her bitterness oxidized into defiance.

In a second profile of Love, published in 1995, Vanity Fair conducted the first-ever interview with the singer’s mother, the therapist Linda Carroll. “Her fame is not about being beautiful and brilliant, which she is,” Carroll said. “It’s about speaking in the voice of the anguish of the world.” That the anguish of the world would have a female voice was an idea new to the music industry. It’s still new. Love makes a bid for universality on Live Through This in that it’s hard not to get swept up in her energy, but she also acknowledges that female pain is marked, that it is compartmentalized and dismissed because it is felt by women, not people.

Siobhan, between jobs briefly and camping on my couch, saw me come home from a terrible job to a failed relationship in a disastrous living situation, howling this song  and remarked, “Oh good, you have an anthem.” Violet was my anthem, but when I lost my home, my memory, my artwork and my man, it didn’t seem incidental that I also lost my singing voice and my ability to write by hand after decades as a prolific journal writer. I lost everything I recognized about me. Essentially, I spent four years in absolute darkness, six years building a new self and a new life, and the last eleven years teaching myself how to learn again, and a new way of living without much of a past.

This morning, I listened to Live Through This to find out how I felt, more than twenty years later. Busy at work, I found there were songs I didn’t remember and songs I wished I’d heard recently. Credit In the Straight World is a fantastic song. I have little idea what the lyrics are about, but I love the jangly, swooping guitar sounds and Love’s voice skimming their surface like a skipping stone. “I don’t really miss God, but I still miss Santa Claus,” from Gutless, for my money, sums up Love’s ambivalence about men and authority figures. God punishes the people He supposedly loves, and giver-of-gifts Santa has no respect for personal boundaries. Either one could have behaved a little better if he tried, but at least Santa leaves presents.

Blind cats rock!

Adorable Wednesday is adorable, but also brilliant and ferocious. And adorable!

Live Through This was released four days after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. On She Walks On Me, Love sings:

Hold you close like we both died
My ever present suicide
My stupid fuck, my blushing bride
Oh tear my heart out, tear my heart out
She walks over me
I don’t know what this song was about, and that never mattered. He was dead and she was absolutely wrecked by his death and everything that followed. You can read about her life anywhere; I don’t have to repeat that for you. This is almost prophesy.
Few people get up in the morning and decide to kill themselves. Most people who commit suicide think about it for a long time, make decisions about how and when and who will find the body. I understand the state of mind of a person who feels he/she cannot live this life anymore and is looking for a way out. I don’t blame them at all. I feel in the lyrics Love wrote before Cobain died that someone was not committed to surviving. Maybe it was her. Maybe him, but he beat her to the finish line.
___________________
I stared at this page, at words, at pictures, for two weeks, not sure what to say. I’m still not sure. Bourdain’s death kicked my ass. After some dark days, he finally seemed to have gotten into shape, come to terms with the failings of the food industry, found the right ferocious woman, mentored the right people, met his heroes, and gone to places that he loved and that needed him. Essentially, he appeared to have gotten his shit together. If you’ve ever been depressed, discovering that wasn’t 100% true was like a shot to the gut. He wasn’t lying. He was just holding it together in a way that was invisible to me, and since we’re now talking about me, I felt deeply shaken by his death. The following Monday, I felt like I’d gone back to work too soon after a death in my family. I can’t explain that.
I’ve been staring at this page for two weeks now. I’m going to hit publish and move on to the next thing. I have to. I’m still speechless, but there are other things we have to talk about, and we have to talk about them now.

The Goat Won’t Stop Shrieking

 

They hardly suspect I brought scissors.

A lot of people will tell you carrot greens are not edible. Those people are full of shit. Carrot greens – especially young carrot greens – belong in salads and soups.

I was taking miserably bad pictures of my garden for a few weeks. Why? I don’t know. Inspiration left me and joined the Foreign Legion or something. This morning, I weeded the garden of plants I didn’t remember planting and plants I regretted planting. It was pleasant for me to spend time in my garden on a Monday morning. I suspect the plants on the compost pile might offer a different report.

The garden, as it is currently constituted, is difficult to photograph, by which I mean I suck at photography. The soil is dark and rich. The plants are vibrant shades of green. The chickens are surly and demanding, the neighbors are full of crazy and Andie’s garden cat Kitty refuses to come in the house since it stopped snowing. I go out the back door and have no idea what I’ll find, no matter how many times a day I crack open the door.

 

I cannot overstress how tiny this garden is.

It’s rained every day or every other day for about two weeks. The ground is saturated, the river is high and lettuces laugh maniacally.

Tomorrow is a big day at my job. All Hell is going to break loose and for the next little while – hold onto your hats – I’m going to try staying calm and being reasonable. STOP LAUGHING! I’ve been reasonable once or twice. Probably. I mean, it could happen, or we could have blocks of chocolate delivered to my office, for general gnawing purposes. I guess therapy dogs don’t drive themselves places, but I can’t rule out ordering them from Amazon.