Living Alone (or, Egg in a Basket)

Living alone has its advantages.

At dusk on Sundays I turn on a string of lanterned Christmas lights. During the week I work as hard as I’ve ever worked. Twice a day I ride the train, alone but not. Twice a day we’re all pressed together like swaying sardines in suits, and sometimes I look at the others, and sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I think, here we are, little fish, flying through this city in a train on stilts, and then I find it impossible not to laugh.

My thoughts have been running this way often. Here we are. Here I am. When you live alone it’s easier to recognize a life as your own, to locate your life in the noise of other lives.

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Heart

What you’re seeing here are stills from video I shot while driving cross-country with my mother.

There were things that didn’t make it onto the camera roll. There were 21st century teepees with signs that read Jeronimo! and signs that read Authentic!!! Indian Crafts. We passed many signs promising many differently punctuated authenticities. We passed signs for “Palin for America” and other signs for things “for America.” We were driving through Arizona the day the congresswoman, the judge, and the little girl were shot in Tuscon, and knowing this colored everything. We listened to talk radio. We felt appalled.

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A Destination

“Perhaps the hardest thing about losing a lover is to watch the year repeat its days.”

That’s Anne Carson on loss. A quote for the first days of the new year. And if that quotation does not sing to you the kind of swaggering, obvious, the-past-is-the-past, dead, caput; the-future-is-now New Years zeitgeist we’ve all loved and trusted and grown bored with, or worse, wise to, well, you’re welcome.

“I can feel that other day running underneath this one like an old videotape.” My mother has been running through the tapes. Last year she lost a great love, the great love, her mother. There we were in January a year ago. Here we were. “On the 2nd you took a red eye to Chicago. The next day we took her to the hospital.” The year after is the freshest. Next year, we’ll say two Januaries ago, and we’ll feel emptier about it, somehow, maybe. The tape will play in fading colors. But still it will play, on and on.

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Grand Marnier Truffles, Orangettes

Today, truffles. This wasn’t the plan.

The plan was to take a drive, to visit my grandmother’s grave. But it’s been raining in Los Angeles, and last night at my aunt’s house we put our plans on hold. You see Grandma’s spot is on a hill, and my mother and her sister had some concerns, something to do with tumbling down a muddy slope.

“We could always sled down, whee,” I said, and my aunt laughed before she stopped abruptly, like she remembered something, because she had: her poodle had just eaten eight pretty sizable chocolate truffles, and that is serious business, doggy-death business, and she was feeling sad, sad as a peeled orange, and that meant she wasn’t allowed to laugh.

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Grilled Winter Pear Salad

So it’s winter, apparently,

and the Christmas songs are playing, and somewhere in the country it’s snowing thickly, dreamily, but here in Los Angeles it’s sunny and warmish and breezy, so I say–Christmas who?–looks like grilling weather. I have spent every Christmas in memory out here in the sunshine, and every year around this time I begin to suspect that I’m being robbed of something essential, essential to the inner life maybe, and to call that thing snow would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

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A Kind of Nourishment

Do you know what time is?

In Thailand this question was put to me often. Now, before you go accusing the Thai of philosophical heavy-handedness, know that the askers of this question always, always meant to ask for the time–what time is it?–but their muddled English sometimes achieved a kind of unintended profundity, if you were looking for it.

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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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A Good Thing

So here’s a good thing:

Skin-on fatty pork simmered with ginger, soy sauce and rock sugar until the skin is supple and shiny and the meat falls apart. Before my grandmother died, we had this all the time. Now, less. Chinese women of her generation believed that eating a small hunk of pork fat each day was the secret to a long life. Chinese women of my mother’s generation believe in eating as little meat as possible, and fill in the gaps with French pastries. Go figure. Guess which view I have more sympathy for.

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