lunes, octubre 20, 2014

Nostalgia kitchen

I inhale deeply. The smell of curcumin, curry, cumin, toasted caraway. These smells take me back to the small co-op in Media, PA that imprinted on my 5 year-old olfactory memory, three decades ago. The creaky wooden floor, the hemp-woven grocery bags, the tight aisles of teetering metal shelving, and the glass storefront...all this before it was hip. All gone with trickle-down economics... I can definitively say that if I never see carob chips again it will be too soon... but today, perusing an article posted by a friend from this same era of life, a friend whose family was delightfully large, and hippier than mine, and from which my longings of a farmhouse with scads of children scattered about me are most likely a product, I consider the health benefits of turmeric for cerebral antioxidation and I am struck that dinner can proceed.

Last week, driving home from California, world-weary, tense, a bit melancholic (the Eucalyptus in the fall always reeks of a broken heart, what can I say?), but also hopeful despite the throes of adolescent depression in my sweet girl child, we decided, the girl and I, that she needed to learn to cook. She has always left the kitchen to me, perhaps afraid of my imposing command of the small spaces that we've called home, perhaps just afraid of me, for my sharp tongue and biting exigencies, of her, of myself... But, after a particularly difficult bout of accusations, and my injured silence, somewhere between Chiriaco Summit and Blythe, with a blinking empty fuel tank light, we decided it was time for her to learn how to cook. We proceeded to enumerate dishes and types of food that I would teach her, me promising patience, and she promising follow-through. We have yet to cook together, but I am sure it will happen. In the mean time, I will write these thoughts for her, too. In case I'm not always around. In case this is all the family that I can ever muster around us for good. (That fear seeps out, the words push it back in).

In an homage to my mama and our typical Friday night fare, a few days of the week early, and eaten half-standing in the kitchen as is my custom (nasty habit? the child asks me to sit with her and I oblige), rather than with blessings and challah, and peanuts and shredded coconut and basmati rice.

Honey curry chicken with roast broccoli (my twist, of course)

A chicken breast (all I had) or two (if you actually plan meals, rather than rescue from your fridge), split.
A few pats of Irish butter... because grassfed milk is yellow and delightfully flavorful and worth it
A quarter cup of local honey (for immunity and to combat local allergens)
3 large tablespoons of madras curry powder (which was, admittedly a bit old and less potent than I would have liked).

Spread the thick honey curry paste over the chicken with pats of butter above and below. 350 degrees. 25 minutes, turned over, basted with sauce, and another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, roasting broccoli that has been laid on a lightly oiled cookie sheet and sprinkled with lemon pepper and Himalayan pink salt.

She didn't want to eat, but after I enticed her with my own three strips, she was the one that beckoned me to the table of our little house. I don't know if I will feel like a grown up, you know, the way that you are supposed to be, like I imagine my parents were when I was small, together, a united front. I failed to make that a reality for my girl-child, but, I do what I can. Patching things together with friend-glue where a family ought to have been.

viernes, octubre 17, 2014


My mind, unsullied and limpid from a relatively good night’s sleep, I open my portal to the vast pulsing universe to find myself confronted with more pain, fear, death. There is wild and irresponsible fear about the spread of Ebola, fear that lumps the hundreds (thousands?) of black African victims into nameless, faceless statistics, aggregating their lives out of meaning, and the blaming of other victims, female victims, who are caretakers, for their purported recklesness. There are Nobel peace-prizes for children that are survivors and champions of their own and other’s right, while these same children might be collateral damages in drone strikes that feed a gaping maw of greed, oil hunger, machines of industry, power and money that erase the individual histories of thousands, their broken bodies unaccounted for. There are other broken, burned, bruised and beaten. The 43 missing students in Mexico, the deathly collusion of government (or its absence) police and narco-war lords to punish those who speak for themselves and for others, the other mass graves, the unknown bodies, missing but unclaimed.

How to make sense of it all? My heart hurts, and I cannot will myself to do the detail-oriented tasks that call to me, the last minute details to make sure that my probationary review file is absolutely complete, with no inconsistencies or false claims. Crossing t’s, dotting i’s, tears streaming down my face for the injustice of it all. I tell my students, weekly, that there will never be a utopian happy ending, there is no perfect system. We are, after all, humans, and because of this, we are inherently flawed, sometimes evil, often selfish. Momentarily kind. There is not a love big enough, I know, to shelter me, to shelter my girl from all this pain. I wonder if I should allow her to go out to a fair. What if something happens to her? What if one of her friends is an addict? What if a boy, or a man, decides to hurt her? It is terrifying, but I tell myself that I can’t hide her from this world, cruel as it may be. I can’t wrap my arms around the universe and hold it tight. It is unbounded. It expands and slips past our reach. It becomes something else. Every. Single. Time. But I try, nevertheless, to push back. That’s what I tell my desperately disheartened students who week after week discuss the failings of a Western optic and supposed human rights frameworks. We push back because the evil will encroach, we push back because love is a powerful force, and even if human kindness may never do more than reach stasis in the face of human evil, maybe, just maybe, we can hold the evil at bay.

So, I debate how to approach my day. Friday. I arrived. This week, unlike the weeks before I was neither addressing a plumbing disaster, nor running an event, though I am preparing my home for another visitor. I was neither feeling my heart ache for the distance imposed by another person that I love, and whose needs at this time are simply in opposition to my own, nor the panic of work piling up (though that is more a function of sleep than of said work, trivial though it is in the grand scheme, being complete or diminishing). I will go to a café to work, I think. And I start to plan this, but the wind and rain are enticing in this desert city, and instead I take the dog, desperate for action, out for a constitutional. I allay thoughts of self-loathing, of an imperfect self, pushing back against my own overinflated ego. I come back, and I think, “I will work now” but then I discover that though I am trying hard to not waste, to not consume more than I need, there are vegetables and cheese that came from the farm, homemade, that if ignored will go to waste.

How to make sense of it all? I wonder, from within the walls of my temperature controlled space, clean despite its clutter, free of shrapnel, or land mines, though the ominous plane formation that coasted along in the morning grey made me and my girl nervous. If I waste, I think, then all those people that are struggling for fairness, for justice, for peace… I am letting them down. If I waste, it means that the water and energy used to produce these things, the nameless, faceless farmworkers who labored under the sun for miserable wages, but wages, I hope, nonetheless, will have worked for nothing. If I waste, I am part of the problem, not part of the solution. So, I cook. And in the cooking, and in the feeding of others, I will make a moment of sense. The narrative will relent, for a moment, and I will just be, immersed in the earthy abundance, free.

My mind plays with the possibilities, using mostly things on the edge of spoilage, and I come up with a new recipe that speaks to abundance and decay.

Casserole of decadence:

Toss together:
·      Tri-color (beets, spinach and wheat pasta) rotini – boiled and set aside.
·      Large crimini mushrooms, quartered and wilted in olive oil and salt over a high flame
·      Quartered roasted Brussels sprouts
·      Roasted butter nut squash, skin on, cubed
·      Sauce

Eggplant, garlic sauce added to fresh tomatoes on the edge of expiration. Add chipotle pepper and water let cook down over medium high heat.
Add homemade chevre and salt to taste, allow piquant sauce to marry flavors.

Crumble more chevre over top. And bake.

Sometimes the only logic is to not think too hard. To let yourself be. To practice self care. Sometimes there is no meaning, but we still have to eat, and appreciate the beauty. Sometimes, it is all we can do.

miércoles, enero 01, 2014

She twitches nervously. Her thin wiry body looks frail, but strong in new ways.

The last time I saw her she was wearing a bikini on the beach. There was barely a hint of a paunch that stretched her skin taut. She looked more threadbare then. In the sun.  The pacific ocean bearing witness. I remember her hopefulness, I remember my reservation. I remember our mutual friend, beautiful in the sunshine, surrounded by children, red-gold hair framing her in sunset flames. It is hard not to reach for one's empty womb at times like these.

Her fragility, now, in the sunshine, with dust kicking up and the golden-grass hills rolling behind us. There is a rusted out truck from the 1950s, with rounded edges and the hint of its one-time utility. It stands like a monument to failed endeavors, or, at least, that is how I choose to interpret this scene.  The colors are muted, antiqued, faded like cotton-dyed cloth that is whipped about on the clothesline.

She smiles and I wonder how the pain can end. How. When a child is gone. When there is no recourse for your actions. She was so damn hopeful, I think, and it puts my own pain into perspective. Her child was born, healthy, beautiful, strong, girl. She gave her child away. To protect her. To carve out a secret safe space, beyond the limits of his threats, his anger, his unrelenting rage. It makes sense at the same time it doesn't make sense at all.

She fled to another land, for a while, I am told. She doesn't tell me these things, but I know them about her. I think back to my other time, when I walked those vast open plains, olive trees and low-hanging oaks, much like the California landscape that lays itself before us. I remember other stories of mothers who let go of their daughters, for love, jailed, for foolishness, lost, forever. I want to tell them, now that those daughters are mothers, now that the distance of years makes such a trespass less offensive.

I offer her food, a soup that I made in an attempt to soothe myself, to soothe the demons that flare up about me.  I see them. Always have.  I don't want to be happy, I think, because happiness is too much of a burden. I am drawn to sadness. You have too much energy, too much joyfulness, too much. It was just too much for me, I think. I had to step off the roller-coaster at its lowest point, dizzy and delirious. I'm sorry.

I look at her and want to reach across that ocean of pain and offer her something, more than soup, to apologize for doubting. Not that my doubts had any effect on the outcome, rather to apologize for being right.  What starts badly, invariably ends badly. Isn't that what you said to me? Badly for some, worse for others. And for others still, it simply never ends.

My womb aches for her. My heart hurts for her. And for me. And for you, though you don't know it. Can't know it. Your happiness is deafening.

martes, diciembre 31, 2013

wish-list 2014

Ok, I'm taking a moment, a brief one, to do what I had promised not to do, which was revert to a self-indulgent pseudo-public diary. Why? you might ask... well... just because. You know. Chomsky.

Or something like that.

There is little wisdom to be sprinkled about these days. Not a little, as in, I have a few tidbits, rather, a dearth. There is not a lot sparkly going on right now in Ilana-world. Ah yes, deep into the self-indulgence we gooooooooooo.

Here's the deal. I had high hopes for 2013. Sure, I did some fun stuff. Mostly involving travel, bringing artists to Phoenix, meeting new friends, getting involved in some serious activism in the great state of Arizona, which is where, incidentally, I have been residing since late summer 2012, but since I skipped this indulgence last year... well, only the real world and some Facebookers knew about it. Anyway, despite making several wonderful new, sustaining friends, I've also made and subsequently lost a few (for reasons that will not be discussed in this forum) that have left a deep, wounded, blood-drenched hole in my heart... and I'm still wobbling, so... rather than a recap, or a list of resolutions, I'm going to put a personal wish-list out into the universe for the coming year.

In the coming year

1) I want to be able to speak with honesty (when it is important), and not fear the repercussions.

2) I want to don sparkles on a more regular basis. Especially glitter make-up.

3) I want to write something creative (and not self-indulgent) on the daily.

4) I want to keep my heart open, despite my overwhelming instinct to slam those doors shut.

5) I want to move to a part of the city that is more in line with who I am.

6) I want to let myself get angry and really feel it.

7) I want to set boundaries and defend them. For real.

8) I want to make music with others.

9) I want to be less of a perfectionist and send my work out, out, out...

10) I want to effect real political and social change in my community.

11) I want to help my aching child find herself, separate from me, become a happy quasi-adult.

12) I want to tear it up on the dance floor wearing the many new (gasp!) jeans that I just purchased on this last day of the year.

And with that consumer-drenched fantasy, I leave y'all.

2013, it's been real.  2014, let's hope you come through.

sábado, diciembre 21, 2013

Día 9

Así nomás, pasas de ser un ser anhelado a un ser de la nada, anonadado. No nadas. No te gustan las aguas turbias y profundas. Te asustan por peligrosas y desconocidas. ¿Y yo? soy hecha de agua, hecha de agua que se extiende a las profundidades más vertiginosas. Echa el agua.

Poco importa.

Hay accidentes. Hay hallazgos.  Hay hallazgos que parecen accidentes, y accidentes que parecen hallazgos. Hay abandonos. Hay destellos de luz que se reflejan por sobre las aguas, que las hacen parecer llanas, llamas. Hay fugacidades que duran mil años luz.

Y vuelvo a mi cueva subterránea, cojeando y herida, del accidente, del hallazgo. No hay quién me calme el dolor, ni quién me traiga alimentos mientras se me sane. Yo he aprendido a cuidarme sola. Es lo único, tal vez, servible que he aprendido en este largo camino hacia la muerte.

Poco importa.

Hay puertas que se abren, compuertas hacia lo más recóndito. Vos las encontraste de par en par. Husmeaste. Decidiste que lo que había allí no valía la pena. Measte en una esquina, cual perro, marcando tu territorio y te fuiste sin más.

Y yo, pequeña y mojada, temblando de susto, de rabia, de impotencia, cerré esas puertas que por casualidad no había cerrado con candado. Y dolorosamente, todavía cojeando, retirándome a los aposentos de mi soledad acuosa, apagué la luz, bajé la cortina, cerré con llave y me envolví en mis propios tejidos, los que hice hace años, esperando al Odiseo que nunca llegó.

jueves, diciembre 19, 2013

Day 8

And just like that, it is gone, vanished, burned up and released into the air like ash.

I'm left standing in the kitchen. There are broken plates shattered around me. Glass crunching under my bare feet. There must be blood, I think, but I don't examine too closely and I certainly feel no pain. Not in my bloodied feet, not in the skin pierced by shattered jagged edges shards of our former life, the possibility of a life, shattered.

You're a Phoenix, I tell my invisible self in the mirror that I hate. You will rise up from these ashes.

And I do, and I will, over and over, and over and over. But each time, there is something lost. And maybe something gained? How to know?

miércoles, diciembre 18, 2013

Day 7

And sometimes, there are just no more words.

The pain is so deep and so unutterable that it spills out over the edge. She says I don't listen, can't listen. She is often right. There is a limit and beyond that limit we just break.

She sits and bangs her feet against the door frame. She shrieks at me that she hates me.  Then her little girl eyes look up tearily and she asks if I love her. Why do I love her? What is the purpose? And it takes every. single. last. ounce. of. strength. to not simply dissipate. Melt into non-matter. Disappear.  And I hear myself saying, out loud, what feels to be true to me, right now, but is not comforting in any way. "We are all always alone. Always. We ARE ALONE. We are born alone and we die alone. NObody has any purpose."

I wonder, sometimes, why I can't stop those words and that pain from spilling out. I try to contain it, I try to believe some other world is possible. One in which we don't greedily stomp on the next guy. One in which we are able to listen to our children, without interrupting or getting angry.