When I think of leaping – I’m speaking metaphorically here – the literal image that comes to mind is standing several feet back from the precipice of the Cliffs of Moher. It’s a sweeping abyss so sublime that it warps any authentic sense of perspective. Nothing seems far for everything being so grand. I was re-calibrated only by seeing the gulls flashing along the stratified face, jerkily adjusting course like airborne seesaws to solve the wind’s puzzles. Diminished to the size of ants.
What I was good at was crouching down as I approached the unbounded edge until I was on my hands and knees, peering gingerly over the vertical corner. Not that running at full speed until there was no ground under my feet – literally – was ever my desire. But the limitation holds metaphorically. Momentum, momentum, momentum…crouch! In that split-second space before braking: “How many people don’t actually fly? And when they don’t what happens? To what degree are conviction and faith of that sort cultural myths? Are we just hearing from those who have taken off, while those who end up bloodied and disembodied lie in a silent pile at the bottom?”
In truth, I am likely far better at inspiring people to leap – literally and metaphorically – than doing it myself. I enjoy that about teaching. I consider it my job. But in truth I am also a hypocrite. For crouching. And waiting.
I'm still afraid. There's so much potential to do something worthwhile. Growing food and feeding people, for instance. Teaching folks about inclusive performance and play, and how those activities intensify the bonds within local communities. Forming economies of trade and mutual generosity. Moving across the earth to learn about different peoples; dispersing those experiences by the simple act of traveling to the next place and striking up a conversation. So much possibility.
Yet I remain afraid to unmoor myself from the steady job that accomplishes none of these things. I keep thinking: next year. Or someday. When the means present themselves, perhaps. But when will that be? Or, probably the better question: will that be? I suspect the answer is no. Without some sort of radical leap, it will not. As long as complacency – as long as fear – hangs in the air, there can be no momentum towards anything. So…how does one find the courage to leap?
Oh no! No no no no no no no please no. Today I saw a package of Hormel Compleats Chicken Alfredo sitting on the shelf of a local supermarket. Unrefrigerated. Intentionally.
For those of you unfamiliar with Hormel Food’s line of Compleats microwave meals, congratulations. Still, take a peek at the variety of meat-based dishes that appear to preserve themselves…for extended durations…at room temperature. I suppose it’s no marvel. Food scientists have been doing the same thing with horse meat in cans of dog food for decades. The experiment must have gone on long enough to prove such vittles fit for human consumption. Now look at this gourmet menu we have to choose from. Even kids.
If you are a food manufacturer, please don’t make things like this.
If you are a food vendor, please don’t sell things like this.
If you are a consumer and you encounter something like this, please don’t buy, prepare, or ingest the packaging or its content. Neither is food.
That should cover it.
This is not going to be specific. It’s a persistent feeling and doubtless vague. It also clearly represents an era as I perceived it from the vantage point of a particular age. I don’t care. I’m going to say it anyway and not worry about the need to justify it. Here it is:
We’re all going to be much better off as soon as our psyches can escape the 1980s.
Not to say that the era didn’t provide some great times. Of course it did. Culturally it often projected bliss. Back to the Future and Culture Club and Knight Rider required no critical thinking whatsoever. The Cold War was scary to consider in detailed terms, but we rarely thought about it in detailed terms. And when we did, at least it made everything seem polarized…and bi-polarized…which is a lot more pleasant than things seeming infinitely deconstructible and individualized. Envisioning life with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is somehow much more comfortable than contemplating a free-floating existence on McCarthy’s Road. Our political representatives postured and proclaimed back then, but if push came to shove we knew that we could all co-exist in that bomb shelter just fine. Even the repellent aspects held some modicum of allure. The self may have been as complex as ever, but we could always find our way like metal shavings clinging to the magnet if we needed to. Nostalgia for that level of moral, cultural, political, and social clarity is how we get so seduced by the 1980s.
We need to let it go. Blind unity at that scale is not coming back unless some global catastrophic event occurs, and let’s not invite that degree of devastation upon ourselves. We can do this. We can live as a world of radically diverse peoples and persons. We don’t need to be defined by a nation or a president or a god or – perhaps least of all – by a celebrity. We can cluster and re-cluster into groups that help us make sense of our identities. And those clusters should least of all be determined by what we reject. Hopefully they can be determined by what we rejoice in, and the energy we can generate through optimistic social mass. We don’t need the simplistic categorization of the 1980s. We don’t need categorization at all! Our political structures are desperate to hold on to the myth that association with a core group automatically aligns all aspects of a self. But you and I and each every other else is more complex than that world view allows for. We need to experience. We need to live. And listen. And converse empathetically. Consolidation of power by a very few depends upon generalized complacency. Hence, the 1980s. But we’re grown up now. And we can do this.
“Things will turn.”
“The market will turn.”
“It feels like things are so close to turning.”
I have heard these comments and dozens similar over the past twenty months, at least. Here’s what I can’t help wondering lately: will it? Will it really turn? Does anyone really believe that, and if so, what proof do they have? Or is this where we are now? Is this the new order that we must resign ourselves to march bravely forward into? Without turns.
I know that New Zealand is waiting. I know that goats make amazing cheeses. I know I might have some strange and resonant work within me to write. Worrying about return value may bring nothing at all. Comfort breeds anxiety. There are more books to be read than spare time to read them in. Tai Chi is challenging yet possible to master. Unwelcome work may bring more unwelcome work, but pursuing delight may cause flowers. Death is going to visit whether insurance is available or not. Somewhere there is a road.
What if it turns and we still don’t know who we are?
I really do love to cook. It has long been one of my favorite activities. From designing a set of complementary recipes to selecting ingredients from the grocery store shelves…from breaking down the parts with cutlery to assembling new wholes with heat…from sipping wine while cooking to sitting down for the first bite. Cooking welcomes contemporary innovation while leaning on ancient wisdom. It does more than forgive accidents. Sometimes it embraces them as the next delicious idea. It calms anxiety. It exhilarates the senses. It dares the imagination and sometimes it tests the belly. Cooking is everyday magic.
For a while now I have thought that the greatest thing someone could invent would be an olfactory camera. Imagine being able to capture aromas as easily as we capture images and send them off to a loved one. I have been at pains to explain to my mother over the phone the splendid and complex smells escaping from a pan full of curry-spiced apples and lamb shanks, which have been simmering long enough to have the meat loosening from the bone. Or, simply, the invisible waves of ambrosia yeast and flour as they recombine in a 475-degree oven. How wonderful it would be to vacuum up a capsule-full of those scents and ship them off to tempt other noses.
Despite this passion, each afternoon – I’d say right around 3:00pm – I find myself longing for happy hour food. Yesterday it was artichoke dip and pita chips from Gold Dust Meridian. Today it’s a ridiculously oversized pile of nachos from Matador. Tomorrow it might be a build-your-own-burger from Club 21. (I shall not link to the respective sites, so as to preserve one more hurdle between you and your own downfall into happy hour gluttony.) These lures are salty, fatty, and all too easy at the end of an exhausting day. And most of them are accompanied by your choice of discounted alcohol, which makes most people expert at rationalizing poor choices.
So tonight, in the presence of Beulahland’s full bar, as plate of sliders flies casually by destined for a nearby table, and an assortment of pies stares out at me from a refrigerated case…tonight I shall resist. I’m going to spin up a batch of pesto, add it to some penne pasta, and toss in a few sautéed scallops. Some crudités with white bean dip beforehand. Hand-buttered garlic bread alongside. A glass of Chardonnay that I pour myself. Maybe two. And tomorrow I’ll wage mental war on tater tot night.