Letter to Home

One day we may wake up to find that the things that used to scare us don’t anymore.

Or maybe we find that they scare us less, those old fears, only to be replaced by profounder, less nameable fears. I am talking here about the kind of fear that makes us reckless, not wary, the fear that gives us nerve; the fear that keeps youths bouncing from city to city, that makes spouses stray, that makes thrill junkies and wanderlusters of us all; the fear that has me, this very moment, packing my bags with my eyes on another continent, a different world.

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On Coming Home

Today I ripped down a collage that has decorated the walls of my California bedroom for ten years.

When I was twelve I made this depressingly conventional bit of tween art clipped from the pages of tween magazines. Its guts was glitter and brightness and glue. Break hearts not curfews. Girl power. Work it, girl. Don’t be a statistic. Think, don’t smoke. Pictures of the men I wanted, but none of the women I wanted to be, and only the barest hints of the woman I’m becoming. Romance! True beauty. Sensationally beautiful. Love the skin you’re in. If you love someone set them free. Lover! Life is a blur. Fight your fears. Write on.

Across the top it said “Brave New World.”   Continue reading

An Empty Room

This week I have been craving the food of another season.

Spaghetti with yolk and cheese. Spicy, buttery Indian. Braised short rib stew. Oxtail. Rice and beans. Warm food. Stewy food. Gut-satisfying brown food. Food that fills in the empty spaces and puts us to sleep.

It is hot again for everybody. Dewy skin, wet sheets, happy basil, watermelon. Huge insects attach themselves to my window screen and chirp the deafening song of the season. But oh. Come August, summer starts to lose its wonder for me. This is how it ends: at the close of the season, we find ourselves pining for the next one. That is, unless our luck has run out. Then we pine for one that’s already passed.

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On Being American

I don’t really know what strawberry rhubarb jam is supposed to taste like.

The women in my family aren’t jam making types, and… do they even sell this stuff in stores? Either way, I had never tasted it until I made it, and once I did, I couldn’t tell if it was any good. It seemed yummy to me, but I’m sure I possess zero instincts regarding jam. So I kept shoving spoonfuls of it in the faces of the boys I live with. “Good?” I’d say. “Any good?” And for once, I really didn’t know.

I’ve been thinking about this for a little while. Not about jam, exactly, but about my impulse to make things I know almost nothing about, things my mother never made. Jam, pie, cheesecake, jell-o molds, chili dogs, baked beans, green bean casserole. You know, picnic food. American food.   Continue reading

Before the Zoo

I’ve lived in Chicago for almost four years now.

I’m leaving soon, probably. A bit of a panic is beginning to set in, or maybe not a panic, but an urgency, the urgency to do and see and taste everything I can of this city before I leave it. Last weekend, for example, was the first time I went to the zoo. And before that sad and awful visit, before we saw the ambling rhino and the life-sick ostriches and the sad apes, we ducked into a greasy spoon, and even though I’ve lived here for four years, it was only then that I had my first Chicago hot dog. Continue reading