Is love blind?
Compare: someone who is afraid they cannot love others vs. someone who is afraid they cannot be loved.
If you're invited to a party and have nothing appropriate to wear with you, what do you do?
What is the difference between arts and crafts? Between art and craft?
Can you change a habit for someone else? Would you?
Is this best you can possibly be? Why or why not?
My sister has a bird, a parrot, that was rescued from some old dude who wasn't really able to take care of it. Otis is an absolute beauty and quite gentlemanly in many ways. He has a collection of phrases from his previous owner, and sometimes we talk to him in that voice, as if it were his voice, Otis's, though of course we don't know what that would sound like. Otis is a bird, with a bird-sized brain, but because he can talk, it sometimes seems like he's really quite smart, smart enough to mess with you.
Like sometimes he makes the sound of the dishwasher being done when it hasn't even completed a cycle, and I come running to be a good houseguest for nothing; I think he likes the scurrying. And sometimes he uses my sister's or brother-in-law's voices to call out "hello" as though they have just come home and I get all happy because that means it's cocktail time except Otis doesn't drink and they won't be home for two more hours. Pavlov's parrot or something, this one.
Or like I sit down to work and Otis asks me "Whatcha doing? Whatcha doing?!" and I tell him I am working. And he asks and I answer until it seems existential, until I am almost crying about it, because I am sitting here in beautiful sunny California, there is a swingset in the backyard, there are rivers to raft in, and I am... well, Otis, I am working. Which is the right thing to do, but if you say it enough it can sound wrong.
So I am working. I am also taking some time for myself: I have been wine tasting; I have driven over the border into Nevada to win $60 on a $1 slot machine and walked away; I have eaten until all I can fit in are cotton pants with an elastic waist, and then I have heaved a giant sigh of relief and eaten more. I have been complimented on my "look" by a stranger and have in parallel noted with pleasure my increasing invisibility in the patriarchy. I have celebrated birthdays and anniversaries. I have mourned the deaths of 49 people I did not know and one who I did. I have visited some friends and will visit more. I have laughed until I cried, which is usual for me, and cried until I laughed, which is new and interesting. I have debated whether love makes us blind (I believe it does not). I have been flooded with memories of previous times I was here, previous longings and disappointments and delights.
I have not told Otis everything I am doing. I probably shouldn't tell you, either.
You want to believe what you want to believe. You want it so much, and in order to believe it you have to trust them. They tell you something, they tell you lots of things, and: they tell you the thing that you want to believe. That they are late because of traffic. That they're irritable because it was a rough day at work. That they love you, even. Ohhh, you want it so badly. There is a part of you that stands back from it, that doubts, that doesn't think you can have anything you want and so if it looks like what you want it must be a lie. But it's so convincing, this lie, and you turn away from the light that would reveal it, you close your eyes when they kiss you so you can't see the truth of the lie, you lie to yourself almost as well as they do, until to be honest you don't see the seams any more between what you know must be true and what you wish would be. You try out different positions and convince yourself that they make you happy. They don't come home at night and they say it's not you it's me and they promise I love you you have to know that and we just need to talk and everything will be okay, and it is: they pour the honey of words all over you, the cracks are filled with this sweetness, and in that moment you believe again, you believe what you want to believe, because you want it so much.
On the other side of the story are the people you've been lying to, the people who trust you and look what it got them. Part of what you wanted to believe was that you were a truthful person, a good person, a person who believes in and exemplifies honesty and openness. And it starts small, a misleading gesture, a gift that wasn't your choice, and your lie is so small against the truth that you want to believe that it doesn't look like a lie at all, practically. Although it is. Part of what makes you uncomfortable is that even if you are being told the truth, and you're not sure, you know that what is coming out of your mouth is definitely lies.
And now what happens. Now you have to ask. Now the exquisiteness of what you believe has to be tested, because this is who you are: you are a person who can only take it on faith for so long. You'd rather be hurt by the truth than believe a lie, in the end. Who are you? you say. Do you really love me? Did you ever? And then you sit there, ice pack on your heart, and wait.
Ok, so television. I like watching Orphan Black a lot. It started sort of in the realm of "who are you, really?" nature/nurture stuff, which is one of my favorite stories, and then it got sort of Fringe-y with the Neolutionist stuff, which is not my favorite story but since I would like to have tentacles I have empathy for people who want to have tails so okay, that's fine. Now I think it's gotten a little too "holy crap, we haven't been canceled? Better string this along then" with the plot, but I'll still watch Tatiana Maslany do just about anything and I like Jordan Gervais a lot too so you know, still fun. And I like playing "Which clone is the most like you?" with myself, where we would like to be Cosima, with her smarts and her pretty French girlfriend and her desperate desire to believe in love against all the usual odds, even though we know we are more like Alison with her pointy needs.
And I like Orange Is the New Black, and I'm putting them together here not just because they both start with O and end in Black, but because I again feel these vague identifications with the characters. I like Red's fierce loyalties, Boo's uncompromising sense of self, Norma's faith in kindness. I would like to think I have Poussey's moral steadfastness. But the other night we watched the episode when Caputo compromises himself over and over to be the "good guy". Gives up his dreams to help someone weaker, falls on his sword because he can take it. And I have done that; I have let my ability to see how to help other people and my pleasure in being able to do that interfere with even thinking about what I want, what pleasures I could take for myself beyond giving. But then Caputo started listing everything he'd given, and I thought: eww. Because I will give to the extent that I feel able, and then if the only reward is knowing I gave, well after a while it just gets boring. After a while, it's like sleeping on marble, pouring out the heat of my body into endless cold. And I did that, I have done that, but I can't do it anymore. After a while I have to get up and move around and find some place softer. I feel that the point of kindness for me is that I can, it is the pleasure of doing something I do well. When kindness is used as an excuse for self-pity, it's almost as ugly as being selfish in the first place. So not Caputo, me. Though it felt like a useful cautionary tale. And that is why I love television; these stories, the mythology, the promises and the warnings, the shoes I can walk in for 45 minutes at a time and see where I might wind up.
Things that have not changed:
I'm vacuuming the inside of the car at one of those coin-operated car wash places, and I only had enough quarters for one cycle, so I really have to be efficient if I want to get all the pet hair and crumbs out of the car before I go to pick up this person I want to impress, and it's a two-door car so the back seat is tricky; I'm banging my head in the door frame, and the suction is inconsistent so sometimes it adheres so tightly to the back seat that I have to throw my whole body backwards to rip it loose, and sometimes the hose tangles so that there's no suction at all, and I'm waving the nozzle ineffectively over a chunk of old...something, and the noise is awful, and I don't know how much time I have left, and I should have started with the passenger seat obviously, but now I'm wedged in the backseat so I feel like I should finish here first, the stress of how I should have planned this better is layering itself over the stress of running late, and the stress of knowing that the only way to get done is to focus on what I'm doing right now and not on what I should have done then or even much on what I will do next, and the noise is reverberating and deafening in the cramped space.
I'm running so hard and I'm faster than whatever is chasing me, I was running and their breath was on my neck and I was so scared but now I am arms and legs unified in a dance of escape and freedom and poetry, I am so nearly out of danger, I know they're behind me but I'm sure it's far, I'm a machine of nature, I'm power and flight, I'm not even out of breath, I'm past breath, I'm just running and running, my hair is spectacular ribbons in the wind, and I turn around to see how far behind me it is and I trip over the thing I forgot to see.
I'm so tired and I need to take a nap, but there's construction next door and I think I won't sleep through the banging hammers and the chalkboard scratch of the drill. Suddenly I realize that the noise has stopped. Are they taking a break or are they gone for the day? I give it fifteen minutes, twenty. It's still quiet. They must have stopped. I could have already been napping, what was I waiting for. I get into bed, I'm shivering with how tired I am, I'm asleep even before I get the blankets arranged perfectly around me, I need this so much. And suddenly the cat is crying outside the door, hungry even though I just fed her, and it wakes me up from my five minute nap and I don't like her in the room when I'm sleeping because she always knocks something over but the crying is so insistent and I can't think straight, so I get out of bed, the floor cold on my feet and it shocks me fully awake, I put more food in the bowl and I'm trying not to curse her because she's just a tiny old lady animal. I get back into bed but she's still crying so I get up and let her in and dive back into bed, the covers are a mess and I have to get up and straighten them so I can sleep, and I snuggle under the blankets which are still a little warm from my five minutes, I do the breathing that always helps me sleep, let go of the stress of the day, let go of the stress of the construction, the stress of the cat, let it go, let it go. The cat knocks the ukulele off the shelf and I want to get up and kick her out but I can see it's not broken and maybe that's her knocking things down and now I can sleep. Let the fear of her waking me up go. Part of my brain is waiting for my nap to be ruined by something but I'm really trying to just fall asleep, I'm so tired I can't think, I need to sleep. The hammering shatters through the shimmer of the dream that was starting.
Three parts: the ingredients, the kitchen, the chef.
We like the ingredients to be fresh, seasonal, familiar to the chef.
We like the kitchen to be clean, well-lit, stocked with all the gadgets that are necessary and none of the ones that are not.
We like the chef to be capable, adaptable, knowledgeable, creative. And it does come down to the chef; I mean they don't make reality shows where the kitchens or the ingredients compete. It is the chef's ability that determines the quality of the meal, ultimately. You can't entirely blame the chef for coming up with a sub-par meal with ingredients purchased entirely from gas station vending machines, but it's definitely the chef's fault if the meal is burned or unpalatable.
I have no idea why this metaphor, which was so brilliant after a few glasses of crisp white wine the other night, is so hard to shape into words now.
What I want to say is that YES the ingredients matter, YES the kitchen matters, I don't think they don't, but I'm looking at the chef, and my judgement of the meal is there. Because that's the person who combined raw elements and environment and their own personality to make something that worked. Or that's the person who failed to. And anyway that's where the narrative is: how the chef read every cookbook available, how they tried different spices, temperatures, cookware, ways of pressing garlic, whatever. Some chefs go into the kitchen and flip a switch and don't care, and it shows. Sometimes the ingredients are so fresh they can't be ruined by such a lazy approach, but when the ingredients are ruined... well, you get my point.
Chefs that interest me: they love food. They care about how the food is received, and they think about the guests as much as they think about their own tastes, not because they want the guests to love THEM, the chefs, but they want the guests to love THE FOOD; they want the food to be as delicious as it can be. I like chefs who can adapt, I like the ones that say, "Gas station vending machines? That sounds interesting!" I like chefs who take what they learned at home and keep what works and don't hesitate to throw out what didn't. I like the ones who care so much about what they do that you can see it in the way they hold a knife, the way they put the plate in front of you.
Chefs that don't interest me: the ones who want to talk about how much they love food; the ones who want to discuss their preparation process with anybody other than other chefs unless they are asked; the ones who praise their own cooking instead of letting the food do the talking. The ones who consider gadgets necessary, rather than just helpful; especially especially the ones who want to talk about the gadgets more than they talk about the ingredients themselves. Too much ego in the game. I know I've said the chef is the interesting part of the narrative and the most responsible for the outcome, but I like the ones who pretend that's not true, who let the ingredients speak for themselves.
Maybe this doesn't work because it's not just one thing, it's everything. I see the assignment, the software available, and I'm interested in who does the work; I see the characters and the plot but I'm interested in how you write it; I see your children and the environment but I'm interested in how you parent. The question maybe is: if you don't see it this way, why don't you?
There's this old woman who lives in my neighborhood, across the street. She has to be in her eighties, maybe older. I see her almost every day, usually doing the shopping. She is tiny and frail and a sharp dresser, often with heels. Sometimes she doesn't wear make up, and some days she wears more than I do in a year; I get the feeling that she's doing her best but going blind, so to her the giant clown circles of rouge and the smear of bright red in the general area of her mouth probably look just about right. Her hair is a crazy mop of gray, usually styled up quite deliberately in the front and then basically like a windstorm hit it in the back. What you can't see can't hurt you.
We often see her with a man, I assume her husband, even more frail than she is. They hobble around the block together. Lately he's been using a walker. When they get to the door, he opens it for her, but he's so weak it takes a really long time, because he has trouble holding the weight of the door and moving forward at the same time. Sometimes Squire wants to run across the street and help; sometimes we just stare out the window and admire them. The determination, the eventual success. It's hard to not think about aging.
I do not want to be old and frail, though as long as I can still toddle down the hill to the store and back, I won't feel frail. Or even if I am frail, I expect as long as my mind keeps working I won't be too bothered. I don't imagine I'll make it as far as these two, anyway. Into my eighties? It seems unlikely. The thought of thirtyplus more years seems kind of exhausting. I mean, I like my life very much now, but what would I do with thirty more years of it? Would I, in thirty years, finally master the art of applying lipstick? Or would I finally have given up? Would I still suck at the ukulele? Would it make a difference if there were somebody to hold the door open for me? Would the teenage boy across the street come running, if I baked him cookies? Should I learn how to bake, sometime in the next thirty years?
There is a child who has been learning to swim and is actually getting pretty good at it. The water an unfamiliar thing for so long, and the child still doesn't much like getting her face wet. She swims chin up, eyes determinedly fixed ahead, legs pumping, arms swooping in mostly graceful arcs, in small and certain bursts. Every few minutes she drops a foot down to touch the bottom of the pool, just to touch it, not because she needs to stand but because she needs to know she could, at any moment. Swoosh, swoosh, foot tap. Swoosh swoosh, foot tap. You're in the ocean now, beside her, beyond the soft sandy beach that slopes gently down into waves. Just out past the waves, where the water is about waist high, you start swimming together, parallel to the shore. You're not, honestly, a much better swimmer, and you also hate getting your face wet, and you both sputter and laugh whenever a little wave splashes up your noses, but the salt water is so much nicer than the pool and the buoyancy is incredible and you feel, oddly, safer. Suddenly the child's head dips under the water, just for a second. You realize you've drifted a bit out, and the water is now over your heads. But it's so easy to move back, it's just a few feet, it's not like you're in a riptide, but oh, she's panicking. She's flailing and splashing, too afraid to cry out. It's hard to reach her and pull her back when she's striking out like this; her fear infects you, because on the one hand you want to smile and calm her but also she has to stop hitting you or you won't be able to pull her back to where she feels safe. It's not like you can sit down and rationally explain to her that she WAS swimming, that she CAN swim, that she hasn't needed to touch the bottom for a while; there's no time to explain anything. The water is frothing around her, you've finally caught hold of one hand and you're tugging her towards you but she treats you like a sea monster intent on her destruction. The blue, blue water. Her terror. Your knowledge that all that will save you both is staying calm, even while you feel your own feet checking, reflexively, to see if you're back to where she can feel safe. The small part of your brain that wants to think about that, how we're actually both always safe and never safe. The white sand of the shore only just out of reach. The sting of the salt in your eyes.