Ingredients for a fabulous afternoon. Discussed: whether lengthier, more decorative eyelashes are better or worse for keeping small flying debris out of one’s eyes; how I have consumed so many bananas lately that I (myself!) am probably now banana-flavored; and parental walking-stick foibles.
” ‘Come along in, and have some tea!’ [Bilbo] managed to say after taking a deep breath.
‘A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to you, my good sir,” said Balin with the white beard. “But I don’t mind some cake – seed-cake, if you have any.’
‘Lots!’ Bilbo found himself answering, to his own surprise; and he found himself scuttling off, too, to the cellar to fill a pint beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.”
–The Hobbit (An Unexpected Party)
Those two beautiful round seed-cakes fascinated me as a childhood reader, but I had nearly forgotten about them until I was presented with a caraway seed bundt cake at the Jane Addams’ Hull House Museum’s Seed Swap this afternoon. The seed swap reminded me of a sheep or rabbit show, as people crowded around the table looking at the descriptions of various seeds. “I think these are snapdragon seeds” one packet was labeled. Around the square of long plastic tables, someone had piled some dirty and broken dried beans still in the pod, writing “These are probably green beans. Please only take two!” Unlike the county fair atmosphere at rabbit shows, though, the seed swap had a hint of avarice. Individual packets of organic arugula seeds were snatched up early. Envelopes went fast.
The Hull-House Museum holds a seed library, though, so any card-carrying member can “check out” seeds to grow in exchange for bringing back the story of who grew them, who they fed, where they went. One pack of sunflower seeds told a story of remembering summers in the Dakotas and a vacation with the donors’ mother in 1989; “fields of flowers!” the story page exclaimed.
I left the seed swap with 20 of Grandpa Ott’s morning glory seeds and many mung beans. The morning glories bear a “beautiful small deep-purple flower with a red star in its throat” and can grow up to 15 feet “if given proper support.” They’re Iowan flowers, one of the original varieties in the Seed Savers Exchange of Decorah, IA. The seeds themselves are dark and angular, almost pyramidal in form. Some Seed Saver labeled individual small plastic ziplocs with the variety and filled them with 20 seeds each. The Seed Savers Exchange‘s mission is “to save North America’s diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations” by “collecting and distributing thousands of samples of rare garden seeds.” Who knew? I’m thrilled by my new morning glories, in large part because I can greet them every day with “What’s the story?”
[I am the only one amused by this plan.]
The mung beans are somewhat less communicative. They sat, smoothly python-green, in a white plastic bowl. They are certified organic, and from Mumm’s. I do not intend to eat them as sprouts, but would rather grow them to full size then pulverize them into a sweet paste for bao and other exotic desserts.
An Open Letter to My Thesis, Potential Employers, Missed Blouse Buttons, and other sources of anxiety
It’s been 3 months and one day since my last post on this well-beloved blog. I blame you. I blame the five-page-a-week goal set by my seminar. I blame the constant need for business outfits at interviews. I blame all the people who I’ve met and who’ve told me to join another social media site, learn another skill, and most of all meet more people.
But you know what? Thank you. Three months ago I felt 80% fear about graduation. Now, especially after a quarter without classes, I feel 80% hope and excitement. Everything is possible! I can move anywhere and do anything! My anxiety now comes from people having hopes for me that are too high – but I know without high expectations I won’t thrive, so hurrah.
One of the things all those people told me to do was keep a public record of my efforts (aka, an internet record), so I’m going to try to revive this blog. We’ll see how it goes.
I’ve been thinking about the stories we tell about ourselves and to ourselves. Last week my friend MM told a story at Second Story. It was fun, funny, sexy, sweet. I wondered what story would I have told?
A few days later I watched “Conversations With Other Women,” a story that felt familiar to me, though I’d never seen it before. The whole movie is split-screen, divided between the two main characters. They share a history, but the stories they tell themselves about it are quite different, and have shaped the rest of their lives.
So, if we’re going to tell these stories and define ourselves through the narrative that we choose for our lives (which I would argue that we do), what do we choose? For the past five years or so I’ve been able to tell a story that goes like this, with changed details:
So I fell in love, and my heart overflowed its cup. Then I fell out, or was pushed. Now my heart is broken.
But what does that story do for me? Really all it has to say is that I want to be loved, needed, adored. And don’t we all? Everyone can tell this story. While I may find it endlessly fascinating, you do not – or not after the first few times. If I listen to your version it’s only so that I can tell my own. Isn’t it? Here’s another story:
I’ve always excelled, and done what I was supposed to, and I didn’t drink or do drugs or even listen to that much rock n roll in high school and so basically I’m just following the script that someone told me I should and here I am and now I’m going to be done with college and I keep looking at the script and it just says get a good job with benefits and stuff but it doesn’t tell me what kind of job to get or where or when!
I’m exaggerating the breathlessness of this story, but it’s similarly useless and hackneyed. Again, many people can tell this story. It might make me feel better about my uncertainty about the future, but it doesn’t alleviate that uncertainty. While the next story might not be useful either, I like it a little better:
People always told me I was a nice person. Sometime I realized that I was actually not a very nice person, and that briefly bothered me. Now, I realize that what I have is the ability to make small talk easily and show an interest in other people’s lives. This doesn’t make me nice, but I’ll take it.
Obviously I could give you more on that one, and I’m still figuring it out. What about a story about my ambitions? I think those are more interesting than the “I fell in love” and “Society misled me!” stories.
What story do you tell yourself about yourself? Where is it leading you?
Overheard yesterday, on the Garfield bus, a big family sitting in the back with us. “This bus all full of roaches!” Mom: “That’s why they tell you not to eat on the CTA.” Another child: “There’s roaches!” One of the older sons: “You know the song. Shake, shake, shake your cloooothes out! We don’t wanna separate the family.”
We got off to cross the street and catch the 9 and I found myself still singing softly shake, shake your clothes out! S laughed at me.
Being on the CTA lately just reminds me of how much more at home I feel in Chicago these days than I did a couple years ago. I used to be so afraid of waiting on the sidewalk for the bus in a strange neighborhood, even at a busy intersection in the middle of the day. I felt on edge, as though I didn’t belong. I jumped if anyone spoke to me on the sidewalk, and tried so hard to be inconspicuous that I’m sure I stuck out like a sore thumb. Yesterday S and I walked through Back of the Yards, statistically speaking one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, and all that happened was that someone gave me a free churro (granted, the churro wasn’t very good and only cost “cincuenta centavos” in the first place, but still). What’s more, I felt relaxed. This is my home. Something bad might happen, yes, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t belong here, can’t walk down the street freely.
The CTA, and overhearing families talking about roaches or school or anything has helped me with that. Commuting isn’t great, but at least on the bus I’m not alone. There’s always the roaches.
I almost overlooked the chair growing out of the desk that issued a leafless tree beneath a sprouting dome lamp.
The Southside Hub of Production (SHoP), the new and permanent home of Hyde Park’s Op Shop, hosted Beats&Pieces for an art show/concert/seeing-everyone-I-know-party called Origins. I went with G and on our way there she said, “I don’t really know what this is.”
Me: “Me neither. It seemed like something we’d go to.”
G: “Community art, music…yeah, pretty much.”
The front hall sported signs: PARLOR, LIBRARY, PANTRY, DINING ROOM. From outside we’d heard the first band – I love brass, and they didn’t disappoint. G loved the loft built above the pantry. As soon as I went behind the self-serve bar, people started asking me to make them drinks.
The house itself stretched upward like the camp chair on stilts in the stairwell. G and I climbed up the back stairs (“FLOW: For the Love of Water. This way ->), looking for a thrift store, a room covered in hats, and a woodshop. Two out of three. Short beeps sounded each time we entered a new level.
Upstairs we found the expansive Red Thread room – a quarter mile of hats joined by a thick red wool rope. The thread was hung up and down the walls. The hats will be donated after the Red Thread Dance at the Chicago Cultural Center on December 3rd. G and I sat in the rocking chairs in the dark room surrounded by hats for a few minutes. The big windows at the curved front of the room let in some streetlight.
Next door was a nook full of handmade, wooden replicas of vintage stereos. Fittingly, we were right above the performance space and the floor vibrated under our feet. Gabrielle loved a stereo that looked like an upholstered lunchbox, and my favorite was modeled after a little woodstove, complete with feet.
The Zoo, in the back of the house, was eerie. One exhibit had one of those giant crinkled silver tubes run into the shelter, with a sign FEEDING IN PROGRESS. Another looked like nothing so much as a bloody headstone. I made G leave The Zoo and go back to the party.
The party! The food was almost all olive-based, so I loved it. The music was fantastic, particularly Zamin. G, despite claiming to be “feeling anti-social,” made friends with two recent SAIC grads. We tried to dance, but it wasn’t really that kind of time. tune.
Ed: The novel remains overly autobiographical. I’ll do better. This is kind of a fun paragraph though. (for me anyway)
The tomato greenhouse in August was repulsive. Entering it was to be immediately bathed in sweat and cough over the must, mold, rot of all kinds, and strong scent of the tomato plants themselves. That last stuck, so she would go home still smelling of tomato leaves and covered in yellow pollen. In the rows of tomato plants, she searched for ripe tomatoes (rare by that time of the summer), stepping on the molding-rotten-infected specimens, former tomatoes, ex-tomatoes, that fell from the branches with a splat-sploosh-thwack and burst, spilling seeds across the black plastic floor fruitlessly, vegetablelessly, because these were hybrid tomatoes anyway, couldn’t reproduce if they tried.
And oh, they tried. The swelling fruits (as the etymologists tell us the tomato was called by its first cultivators – tomatl like axolotl – have you read that story by Julio Cortazar?) grow on nightshade vines. Beginning in March the vines strangle the strings hung for them, the posts and beams of the greenhouse, and each other. In May and June they glow, Spanish love apples, and one understands why in 1929 the rakes idling on the corner would have called a passing flapper a hot tomato. In July the corruption starts, and by August the entire greenhouse might as well be filled with one organism, a hot, putrid, vital Tomato, reproducing itself endlessly in shiny tiny green globes that blushed red under the sun and swollen, cracked, silver fissures webbing from the stem.
She crawled through the tunnels neglected by the Tomato, stealing its future, laying out the swollen fruit on tables at the market to be pinched, weighed, sold, sliced, chewed, slurped, drooled, disliked, adored.