It’s COVID-19 USA 15-16 April-2020.
In Peru, I had an inkling of why combat reporters get so addicted to combat. Not that I was experiencing anything remotely like combat; we were safe, comfortable, and just constantly trying to figure out next steps while being as patient and accepting of the situation as possible.
I realize that it’s the first part of that last item—constantly trying to figure out next steps—that lent my life an urgency it doesn’t normally have.
And I have to ask myself: Why doesn’t my life feel urgent when I’m home? Should it, even?
Purpose. Mundane purpose, but purpose nonetheless.
I go to work on some basic blog housekeeping. The travel/food niche I hoped to crack has stopped mattering. Basically, I’m coping with COVID, just like everyone else, for now and the foreseeable future. I’m just doing it a little more publicly.
But not that much. I’m sinking down to my pre-#strandedinperu numbers. Looking at them, focusing on that aspect of blogging will depress me if I let it.
For a while now, I’ve been learning to be ok with not having a huge reach. My hero is Patience Gray. In her late 50s, she hit big with a book on foraging, Honey from a Weed. Prior to that, she had an active correspondence with about 50 people. She maintained that she wanted to write what she wrote, and that 50 readers who really understood her and enjoyed the correspondence were plenty.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve tried to adopt her measure of success as mine—particularly now that I’m older than Patience when Honey from a Weed was published.
WordPress, however, makes not caring about numbers a little difficult; the first thing I see when I show up is my dashboard, showing me a graph of how many people are reading me. And no matter how diligently I unsubscribe, I continually here from marketers telling me that I can Exponentially Extend My Reach!! Make Money!! Sell Things!! These helpful messages continue even in the midst of the current reality. They sound even hollower now. Many of them seem worse than tonedeaf, just crass as hell. I’ve unsubcribed to a bunch, which only shows me how many of these folks I’ve subscribed to over the years, and how much I’ve bought into somebody else’s definition of success.
Then, today, I receive fan mail. The person tells me I’m in her top 5, along with Barbara Kingsolver. Who could ask for anything more?
I make the decision to utterly ignore my stupid dashboard.
A part of This New Life that I genuinely look forward to is teaching. As I write, I’ve completed 3 sessions, one with my local niece’s group of 3, one with Mr. SF, and one with my local niece’s oldest on his own. Yesterday, at the end, Mr. SF said, “I think we should do this every day.” A profound measure of success.
On Thursday, I plan for Friday’s lesson, one with local kid 2 and Mr SF, both of who are in first grade. Red Riding Hood and Lon Po Po, a Chinese version, are probably on the docket. I wondered how I’d share my love of learning about the world with the world at large. Now, I’ve found a way. Starting literally small, which is probably the best possible way to start.
Love Is a Puzzle
Steve and I bust out the Edward Gorey jigsaw puzzle that I bought in New York when I tried out for Jeopardy (autumn, 2017, ancient history). I found Gorey in college and joined his massive unofficial fan club. A ballet freak, he apparently never missed a performance of New York City Ballet. I have no interest in reading the recent biography of Gorey; everything I need to know is in the pictures. Although I have been tickled to learn that, upon hearing of the news of Agatha Christie’s death, he wrote to friends that his first thought was, “I can’t go on.”
I don’t know what it says about a person if they love doing jigsaw puzzles, but when Steve and I found out, by accident, that each of us were crazy about them, we swooned a little. Now, we end up setting the timer so that we don’t become obsessed and spend hours lost in assembling the swoopy, decrepit looking curtains that surround the Gorey scene. Steve isn’t super familiar with Gorey. But I delight in the tropes: multiple cats, multiple mice because the cats are too busy indulging themselves to notice, a devil who looks more like an attention whore than like the Prince of Darkness, a hapless child or two, dapper men in Victorian regalia, flappers with dead eyes, and a lazar holding another cat, dropping from a rope between two angels resembling prim, tight-lipped Victorian aunts.
Steve says, “I love this picture. I never would’ve known about Edward Gorey without you.” And I never would’ve known about so many things without him.
Love is lovely.
We focus on separate areas, our Spotify Best of 2017 playing in the background.
I decide to bake a bit, making this superb carrot cake from Bon Appetit. It has pistachios, which Steve is happy to shell, cardamom, and a glaze that you are instructed to cook until it’s “like lava.” If you have someone who will shell pistachios and grate carrots for you, it’s easy and man, is it good. Once again, not the most perfectly styled picture I’ve ever shot, but, as Mary on the Great British Baking Show would say, “You’ve managed a lovely shine.”
I work out. After Steve returns from shopping with ground turkey in tow, I plan to make a couple of meatloafs on the morrow, one for us, one for the kid.
I attempt a vegan paella, but since I don’t have short grain rice, I use barley and end up with a Vegan Spanish Barley Bowl (recipe at the link). The only thing it has in common with paella is the spices, but it’s really tasty. We eat it two nights running, the second refried with egg and Asiago for a sort of scramble; it doesn’t hold up nearly like my Spaghetti Pancake from Lima, but it’s still really good.
The Marcus Aurelius Moment* of April 15 and 16
From Patience Gray, that for a real writer, a book contract is superfluous. All that matters is that you write from your heart. Or maybe just that you write.
*In the first part of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman ruler details what various people in his life have taught him. To read the full intro to why I care about Marcus Aurelius, click here.