Tuesday, July 26, 2011

the book of flying

in the novel 'the book of flying' by keith miller, there is the legend of a book that, once read, will give the reader wings. literal wings, for the purpose of flying. (half the population in the town from which the protagonist, a questing poet, hails was born with wings. pico was not. hence, his quest.)
anyway, the point is, there is this book. a book in which the reading experience is life (and anatomy) -changing. a book that contains within it a story more true and satisfying than any other book that's been written. a book to end all books.

this sort of legend is a ubiquitous one and has always caught my imagination in its grip. so much so that the feeling of stepping into a library or bookstore contains within it the belief in the possibility of finding said book. or, that the combination of all the volumes under one roof can simulate it--or metaphorically create it. if you could dump all the words from all the stories in this room out onto the floor and stir them up to let all of the story lines intersect and all of the characters meet, maybe the jumbled structure the would result from pushing them into a one big pile would be the story that we all want desperately to read. that everyone dreams about at night. that feeds every desire we have to be fed when we pick up a new book ready to be incorporated into its world.
maybe the idea that there is one book that can satiate all of us is the part that is fabulous--the stuff of fable, of lore and legend. but the possibility that there is one book that will do that for each of us and maybe no two people need the exact same story, that might not be so outlandish. of course, this explains the existence of writers and their purpose in life. tho, not publishers. cuz what is each person spending their life writing but the book they themselves most need to read? are readers who don't write just lazy questers? are publishers just mountebanks passing off one person's life-blood as some else's elixir of life? or do some stories, ones that authors craft truly and well that actually are full to the brim of that which sustains their own life, (cuz there are plenty of authors who don't come close to their one true book, either thru lack of skill or lack of courage) do those most true stories for one person actually sustain others on some level? can they keep us going for a time, inspiring us to move closer to our own stories, showing it is possible, giving us hope to carry on trying? cuz it's a lifetime's worth of work to find the story within each of us and accumulate the courage and skill to tell it well.
the books that i love most in the world are the ones that have the largest portions of that one true book (or my personal version of it) within them. which means that through them, i'm compiling a map of what my book looks like. at the moment there are still gaps in the puzzle leaving entire roads on this journey dark in the realm of conjecture, surrounded by the aura of fairytale. one of the reasons i love writing is that it means plunging into one of those uncharted forests and seeing what i can find. armed only with the compass of my knowledge of lore and the flashlight of my pen, i am happy to explore the wilds of the imagination with just the illumination of my feet as i go. what keeps out the fear that i'm headed off into the complete unknown is the cartographic proof that the surrounding landscape is favorable to questing and the fact that resourcefulness is my middle name. besides, who's ever heard of a quest that utterly failed?

so, folks. i'm off. headed out to find that book. the one that i unconsciously search bookshelves for, knowing somehow that i won't find it till i see my name on its spine. i already see a couple paths to follow, and my plan for the next 12 months is to do less physical traveling through the u.s. and more journeying through the imaginative landscape that spans many pages and dreams and hours staring at the pictures in the mind's eye. wish me luck.
better yet, send me off with the title of a book that contains within it the biggest piece of your version of that one book. cuz the only things i'm packing for this trip are the stories that will get me where i need to go.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

for becky, with love and savor.

strawberries are summer sun solidified. picking one off the plant still warm from the morning rays and biting into it is the best way i know to rejoice in the miracle of food from photosynthesis. if i had to name a taste for summer, that would be it, much more so than watermelon or hot dogs or even tomatoes.
growing up, june meant strawberries. even though i lived on the edge of a major metropolis and knew nothing of country life, every june my family would drive out to the boonies (i.e. wisconsin) and pick at least six gallons of strawberries. it would take us all morning, and then we would stop off at a restaurant (the same one every time--the brat stop) for lunch and head back home to sort and process our bounty.
we would turn the picnic table in our backyard into the sorting station, with bowls for over-ripe, 'now' ripe, not-quite-ripe, and 'wait a bit' ripe berries. the the over-ripe ones we ate right there or threw out if need be--sometimes the most perfect looking berries on the plant don't last the car ride home, what with the back of the van turning into a green house in the brat stop parking lot, and making the whole car smell like summer baked in a pie. the 'now' berries we cut into fourths and stirred a 1/4-1/2cup sugar into, then let them sit in the fridge to macerate. those mom would pour over freshly baked shortcakes (from the recipe on the back of the bisquick box) topped with a dollop of home-made whipped cream. there were usually so many 'now' berries (short for 'you gotta eat them now cuz they will be too ripe tomorrow') that we were eating strawberry shortcake for a week after picking. it was my favorite week of the year. (the only other times that got close were the weeks around dad's birthday when farmer's market peaches meant peach pie was in season and the month in the fall after we went apple picking and apple pie, crumble, and -sauce were on the menu nonstop.) the not-quite-ripe berries were the ones we cut up, sugared, and froze for a bit of summer sun in the wintertime. see, the name is misleading--these were really more like 'by the end of the week these will be close to over-ripe' berries. that said, the 'wait a bit' ones were just that. they could wait till we dealt with all the other more ripe berries before we ate or froze them. there really wasn't an unripe or even under-ripe strawberry to be seen in our harvest.
i just remember that every year, what felt like tons of fresh strawberries needed to be consumed over a very short period of time. cuz it's really hard to keep them for more than a week or so. and i know i felt (and still do) that they were never as good baked as they were fresh. apples and stone fruit are better for baking. so eating and freezing were the only options we felt we had. this was partially because once you have eaten a strawberry as perfect and ripe as you get right off the plant, (and not picked early, sprayed with crazy chemicals and shipped across the country) you will never want to go back. that early experience has ruined me for store-bought strawberries forever. and i can't tell you how grateful i am.
nowadays there are things like strawberry, pecan, bleu cheese, and spinach salad, or strawberry lemonade slushies, or strawberry rhubarb pie (my friend kayt's specialty) or mixed berry coulis spooned over vanilla ice cream, or simply a fresh fruit salad.
i've even known friends to make strawberry jam and/or preserves. one of those doesn't take much (or any) pectin...or is that freezer jam...? i'm not as well versed in preserving as i want to, or will be, once i have a kitchen again. but when i was young there was only one thing god put strawberries on earth for. well, two. one, was to be eaten right of the plant (as described above) and two, was strawberry shortcake. in my mind there was no need for anything else. i guess i still believe that.