The Menu

A menu in a cafe or restaurant both facilitates and constrains our choices. Constrains, because there are a finite number of items – though as chefs are keenly aware, a good menu will make choosing one item rather difficult. Even given a wide array of dishes, chefs also understand that choices are often made on the basis of what seems familiar; or at the very least, what is within the cultural norms of cuisine in a given place. Developing and writing a menu is an interesting and complex exercise, and I wonder, my imaginary friend, how many people think of how their dining choices are formed by chefs and cooks? We are more accustomed to believing it is ourselves that choose, even in spite of the limitations of choice by what is on the menu.

I have spent much of my time these past few weeks pondering the mystery of why people should be content to live life as if it were limited, rather than a vast smorgasbord, and the menu analogy immediately comes to mind. One may accept a rudely-slapped-together peanut butter sandwich (on white bread!) given circumstances or necessity, but does one then accept that is dinner, now and forevermore? The more interesting question is how such came to be on the menu…This by way of introducing you to the menu I am writing – it’s a work in progress.

 

Life Cafe Menu

Fresh and crispy greens with a froth of courtesy and attention, garnished with spiced tidbits.

Soup to nourish: a gentle wake up to the taste, or a larger serving of comfort. Served with rustic bread baked in house, and a genuine smile.

Appetizer platter with particular attention to a variety of tastes, textures and styles, and a plenitude of sauces, dips, and salsas to surprise and delight.

Handmade pasta with a sensuous sauce, shavings of affection and regard, and a frisson of piquant.

Lively picatta, pan fried with the richness of experience, seasoned simply and presented with love.

Roast of life essence, all the trimmings, in measure to satisfy, and a feast of joy.

Luscious curd in a flaky shell for contrast, decorated with sparkle and wit.

Delicious pie of friendship: homey, satisfying, essential, and deeply moving. A la mode?

Nuances of meringue with delicacy and sensitivity, and candied moments of the new and exotic.

 

 

Oh! Well, I confess this is fun, and I did warn you it is a work in progress. I would be delighted to choose any of the items on this menu, which is hardly surprising as I wrote it for myself. Really, when I see Roast of Bore on a menu I run for the exit…And now my imaginary friend asks, what exactly is the point? Just this, I suppose, that we ought all write our own menus (borrowing from the professionals as seems fitting), and change them often, and opt for the buffet at times…because life, and love, and adventure are all out there beyond the Roast Bore Diner.

 

Art of Naomi TeWinkel

Art of Naomi TeWinkel

Find more of this delightful art work to inspire your menu  here.

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What Dreams May Come? Originally posted November, 2011

I have unabashedly borrowed my title from the movie of that name; the film had some delightful scenes of the afterlife, imagined. My favourite was the scene of walking through a mountain meadow, as paint splooshed up from the flowers – but here, you can take that journey yourself, briefly.

Our hero finds himself in heaven, and his guide informs him that his world is anything he can imagine. Which is true, really, in some basic way in our own world, is it not?

 I find myself wondering about dreams that die, or are forgotten or laid aside, dreams that can’t be resurrected, dreams that just refuse to come true. For there seems to be essentially two kinds of people in my life: those that have realized their dreams, but now think they are a sham, and those that have come to realize that perhaps they did not dream largely enough. I expect there are more variations on the theme, though maybe my imagination is not up to the task. Here are those who have married and had children (or not), built homes and careers and friends and lifestyles and accoutrement, and now appear to be bored and tired of it all and unwilling to build new dreams. These people say that this is a function of getting older and wiser: you know, you just can’t have it all. Never the less, there is something weary and dispiriting and soul-destroying in that message.

 The most interesting people seem to recognize when it is time to let a dream go and to dream a new one, but not at all in the practical sense of giving in, dreaming smaller, or limiting the imagination – just the opposite. That perhaps their original dreams simply weren’t big enough, or grand enough, or imaginative enough, that their dreams didn’t, and don’t measure up to the kind of person they were and are. There is an old saying: Be careful what you wish for. What you wish and dream may come to define you in ways you cannot foretell, I believe, whether or not they come to be.

 Me, I have lived with a dream that has been present for as long as I can remember, and I have been ruminating on giving it up. In one sense I am very fortunate; none of my dreams have been very conventional, that is, what my friends and peers and population cohort have been dreaming, so I have always had to explain my dreams to others. Why I dream of this, and not that…I have never dreamed of having children, for example, and I do not have them; that particular choice used to engender intense questioning and accusations of selfishness. I suspect that this scrutiny led me to very sure of my dreams: I had examined them, after all.

 Everyone has had dreams that did not come to fulfillment, of course, although for me it is harder to acknowledge that most of my dreams did come true…and so, here I am, not done dreaming, but neither satisfied. I must further illuminate this: I hope and believe it is the true human condition to never be satisfied, although this has nothing to do with material things and everything to do with things of the heart and spirit. And also, I do not berate myself or have many regrets, only one sincere regret of a hurtful thing I did that I would erase, if I could. No, it is not about failure, it is about choosing the dreams that will define me for the next few decades, and so, I think, one closely held dream has to go, for I am becoming sure that I would not like the way it might define me.

 I am not up to the task, I fear, but let me limn a new outline of what dreams may come for me. I should like to walk through painted landscapes of beauty. I should like to have had some part in creating that beauty, with hands and heart and eyes and pen. I should like to cook delightful meals for friends and family, and make new friends, many new friends. I should like to inspire others to dream of their true calling, and how that might invigorate both work and play and even the ordinary, prosaic tasks of the day. (It could also invigorate politics, banking, and neighbourhoods, but that is a subject for another day.)

I should like to imagine the world the way I wish it to be.

 It is no small task, my imaginary friend, I know. For the constant drone of the unhappy and deadened spirits in the background take both largeness and loudness to overcome, and they must be overcome, lest we slip into a world of their making, horror of horrors. For their world is outlined by such words and phrases as practical, common sense, not possible, not sensible, idle dreamers. Not idle, we dreamers. We are busy making the world.

The Substance of Words

words

A vast array of words and images and sounds flow to us and around us, indeed, saturate us with their possibilities, but we cling to the superficial for reasons unfathomable. The great mysteries and wonders of life: the building of a home, the crafting of a living, the making of love, the finding of joy – these are reduced to the banal. As if the purchase of a sofa will have to stand in for the idea that home is the centre of life, the place that nurtures us and nourishes us to take our place in the world with confidence and quiet certitude of own worth. That a paycheque should take the place of a slow mastery of craft or trade or vocation, of years spent in the immensely satisfying pursuit of knowledge or technique or art. That celebrities become the models for desire; love does require a willingness to enter in to the spirit of discovery over and over again, while desire requires only a new object for itself. That entertainment is the way we persuade ourselves we are happy, rather than finding joy in the day’s, or season’s simple pleasures…

We are mostly all in the same boat, we humans – life is a mystery to be experienced. There is no prescription, no playbook, no golden road to follow…but we do not talk about these things. We do not talk about these things in significant communal or cultural ways; indeed, we do not much make a habit of talking about these things as individuals, except perhaps in the most intimate of conversations with carefully-chosen others. And this seems to me to be a matter of great sorrow and distress.

There are those who would have us believe that there is a rule book, and perhaps that is why we have come to accept words over substance…or why some of us have, at any rate. As for me, my imaginary friend, I want the meal that follows the menu, and I want the substance of what the words convey. We must have some notion of what home, work, love mean to us as individuals, and to have meaningful conversations about this as individuals. Without the conversations, we feel ourselves playing outside the rules – we mark ourselves as unhappy because we have not followed the rules. Truth is, western culture is deeply unhappy…and if the rule book once existed, it has become obsolete. It is clearly so pervasive as to be far beyond the individual…and yet, the paradox is that we can perhaps only resolve this by the individual conversations we create and participate in.

As always, your conversation is welcome here.

Make It Happen

Is it just me, my imaginary friend, or do others weary of the rhetoric surrounding International Women’s Day? “Make it happen” is one slogan I encountered, along with “Empowering Women – Empowering humanity”. I am quite sure that millions of words have been written in support of the idea that women’s equality is oh so close…More women in business. In government. In the highest positions of power. Opportunity for education and training. Equal pay. Freedom from fear of violence. More attention to women in sport. Yes, yes, we need merely fix these things (ahem, there are a few more items) – and half the world’s population will be equal to the other half.

If I sound a little cynical, friend, I remember International Women’s Year; yes, an entire year devoted to raising awareness of such gross inequalities as the lower rate of pay for women, stunning domestic abuse and sexual violence statistics, the lack of equal opportunity in an array of professions. That year was 1975, and these basic inequalities are still with us …even in the most progressive countries. And in many ‘developing’ nations, the lives of women are nasty and brutish. Four decades on, and oh so little progress is an anguish for half the world.

Of all the images of the day, this one stands out for me – this picture of Kubra Khademi armouring herself against unwanted touching, in a truly magnificent piece of performance art. Magnificent or not, I’ve read that Kubra Khademi has now gone into hiding, for fear of her life.

The-Armor-Performance-by-Kubra-Khademi

The banality of slogans in the face of such reaction is outrageous, frankly.

Kubra’s performance of wearing body armour is uniquely personal to her and her story. But it is also much larger than that, for it is the metaphor that half the world’s population understands in the most intimate way, for women carry out the act of armouring every day. It may be as physical as wearing a burqa, or as routine as applying make up to conform to some cultural notion of beauty. Perhaps slipping a gun or a can of mace into a purse for ‘protection’. Maybe it is the girl desperately trying not to provoke the rage of a father and his bruising blows. The women walking quickly and purposefully down dark streets – because you must have a good reason for being out after dark, or appear to have one. It is, of course, of all these things, and far too many more to recite, but mostly, it is the daily armouring against simply being ‘woman’ and not ‘man’.

There are obvious differences between men and women, and then there is the accumulated cultural conditioning, the stereotypes that resist being laid to rest, the persistent notion of otherness. (Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Apologies to John Gray.) “Other’ is a forceful cultural construct, and it seems women are other. Well anyway, dear men, we’d like nothing better than to take off that armour, to immerse ourselves in that delicious sense of freedom that comes from knowing yourself, being yourself, and having that self valued for its uniqueness. And I say, dear men – I really do love you – because let us be clear, you are the gender that holds almost all of the positions of power, whether in government, or business, or many other spheres. Kindly stop blathering slogans at us and make it happen, would you?

I think Gloria Steinem’s words say it best:

The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

Mark that very important phrase, “human rights”, for it is the crux of the matter. We are all human, first and last, and we must find the humanity that insists that half the world’s population must not be compelled to armour themselves. Happy International Women’s Day.

February

February 1st has been celebrated as a seasonal holiday by a variety of cultures, most familiarly in the northern hemisphere as the harbinger of spring. The trees begin to bud, while deep underground the first stirrings of plant growth come to life, even under cover of snow. That most loved and useful flower, the violet, is the flower of February, its delicate beauty a charming evocation of both tenderness and hardiness. It is a month of quickening, of becoming alive to possibilities. The energies of winter slowly disperse and we prepare ourselves for the burgeoning time ahead.

I prepare myself for change, not knowing what the future holds, yet anchored in the seasonal changes all around me in a sure and certain way. It occurs to me that older cultures rooted in the time and tide of nature and her seasons must have experienced much less anxiety than we, simply because of this intimate knowing of what the seasons hold, if not the intimate details of one’s own unfolding. Quickening is surely a most apt word for the life not yet born, yet preparing itself to be born.

violets

The violet, again, symbol of constancy and faithfulness and willingness to take a chance at happiness – ah, frail flower, you are worthy of a meditation. Unfolding, becoming alive to the possibilities, feeling the yet faint pulse of seeds planted long ago, trusting that the seasons will bring forth their treasures and beauties in the fullness of time…I find that February is a lovely place to be. I hope it is so for you also, my imaginary friend.

Love Letter to a Cowboy

Why do I love you? You, the very particular you, cowboy?  Ah, you are funny. You are kind. You ask questions about what you don’t understand, which shows a depth of intelligence many do not possess. You have a quiet confidence – oh, I am not sure if that is the right word – a sureness, maybe, of yourself and what you can do that is so very marvelous. You pick up on emotional nuances – I would say you are sensitive, though I wonder if you will like that word. Your voice is beautiful, and makes me shiver. Your honeyed sweetness washes over me and I desire you, always.

Love between men and women in this western culture is suffused with ideas of romance that prove hard to dispel. “I love you” means “I want to marry you.” Or, “I want you to provide for me.” Maybe, “You will take care of all my emotional needs.” Sometimes it merely means “I do not want to be alone.” Romantic love is supposed to be gifts and surprises, roses on Valentine’s Day; diamonds, sexy lingerie, and flowers for no reason…oh, I could go on and on. If happily ever after is the goal, no wonder so many romantic relationships fail: the weight of cultural shoulds and expectations smothering the wild joy that arises in being held by love. That love becomes mere role playing to a set of gender-specific, culturally-mediated behaviours…

Well, anyway, my imaginary friend asks, why is this important? Because my love is very personal, yes? Yes, my love is personal to me, but my love, your love, his love, her love, all loves, really, are one. It is the essence of love, I believe, to make oneself vulnerable. The vulnerability of sharing one’s deepest regret and shame, as well as one’s greatest elation, the most prosaic aspects of our daily lives. To be exquisitely vulnerable: to say what one wants and needs, knowing that one might not get it. To be open: not closed off, fearful, or bound by rules of romance. This is when we become most human, most ourselves…and both life and love become sweeter beyond measure.

I do not know what the future holds, though I say this: let’s do that wild joy thing and see what happens. Flowers are optional.
XOXOXO

220px-Loveletters1

Forest Alchemy

Late afternoon as I sit in my favourite library chair to write, and there is some wistfulness in watching the gathering darkness, for the day has been sunny. While it is mild in January, on Vancouver Island, it can also be grey, and even the weak sun dispersed through clouds enough to bring heightened pleasure, and a sense of lightening, if not quite the friskiness of spring. The forest that I hiked this particular day was thronged with people, in contrast to its usual vast emptiness, and I confess that the experience that I go to seek was somewhat lacking. I find myself pondering the meaning of that experience, for me.

I encountered only one other solitary hiker, a man I see often enough to recognize and we share only nods and smiles, nothing more. Every other group is noisy and talkative and somewhat overwhelming with their questions and chit chat and neon-bright human presence that seems to shout a spastic greeting at me. I’ve been known to hike with selected friends: friends selected for their quiet conversation, and enjoyment of the forest sights and smells and sounds. I also prefer hiking companions who don’t wear neon colours, but this may be a prejudice I should strive to overcome. Perhaps neon would be disquieting to a bear or other wildlife, and surely it would help in not getting lost. And rather mean of me to poke fun at neon-wearing, smelly-with-fragrance, shouting humans. But clearly the experience they seek is socially constructed, whereas I – hmmmmm, I seek other.

I am conscious of my body in the sense of its pleasure in movement, and, at times, super-conscious if I must cross steep terrain or ford a stream. But mostly, my body, like my thoughts, settles to a background song to the delight and joys of the forest – the fifty shades of green of the temperate rain forest, the creak of the forest canopy, the rustlings that tell of foraging birds or squirrels or what have you. The moist and fragrant air – the fragrance of loam, and branch, and decaying vegetation that builds the forest anew. The sights that unfold slowly, at a walking pace, slowly enough to take it all in and to find new details even on a well-familiar trail.

Often, when I return to my truck at the end of the trail, I must sit for a few moments to awaken to my return to the busy world. My consciousness needs to shift into doing, instead of being – which seems paradoxical, as hiking is doing of some sort. Nevertheless, too abrupt a transition is disquieting to me. It may be that my ramblings have given you the impression, my imaginary friend, that I am just an introvert seeking solitude. But truthfully, I sit squarely in the middle of the introversion/extroversion scale, being a seeker of solitude while enjoying the social immensely; indeed, with a need for both in my life. I find I can come up with only one word to describe what I seek – which is intimacy. I become intimate with my body, my thoughts, and my place in the wider surroundings in a way that seldom happens elsewhere, and which also seems to be a kind of alchemy. To become, for a time, truly wild and free.

I am left with this last reflection: that this thrilling wildness and freedom I seek comes through a deep intimacy… which strikes me as a lovely metaphor for both life and love.

Forest Alchemy of Another Day

Forest Alchemy of Another Day