Friday, March 27, 2015

A Lesson from Marie Howe

A few months ago, a voice so rich, so full of goodness, came through a podcast I listen to so I listened to it again. The voice belongs to Marie Howe, the poet, who just so happens to be at the Spring Lit Fest at Ohio University.

Howe's talk of poetry akin to spells got to that funny place inside me where the light can pierce the dark. Oo oo, I thought when Howe said, "... we all need to walk around with, a handful of counter spells, you know. And, and poetry, when you think of its roots, you know, is that." I bought her book The Kingdom of Ordinary Time so I could sit with her words on my search for counter spells.

Today, Marie Howe gave a talk at the fest about writing and poetry. I had missed her poetry reading on Opening Night so in hopes of arriving at the start time, I hustled to Alden Library- in case you noted a black blur streaking up East State Street. Except she wasn't first so I was alright, and Brian Doyle was wonderful, but I'll save that thought for another time.

Marie Howe told us that poetry holds a silence at the center of it, "the what that cannot be said or reduced." Though I'm no poet and know nothing of the craft, her words rang with truth. She read poems to us, and then she talked us through the fine words and quiet places.

Howe gave us a writing assignment to contradict ourselves to force ourselves from where we want to go. The writing prompt? "I did not know...."

I wrote this when I got home:

The Man Who Could Not Hug

I could not imagine myself sitting and sitting and sitting.  I became a nurse full of busy-ness, action,  stuff to do. Sometimes I watched the dying or listened to the pain. Sometimes I held a hand or shed a tear. Sometimes I polished old skin until it gleamed. Sometimes things smelled awful but still the moment was tangible with presence and ripe with palpation, it was real stuff.

Now I sit here with words. Words do not smell or weigh of anything and yet with my words I want to take you to a hospital room where a man’s blood pours out, gushes like a spring river, from every cavity. The smell of lead or maybe something dying permeates the moment. The rustle of blue plastic pads and the hum of fluorescent lights are punctuated by the color of dark red as hands and arms disappear into deep cavities of a man's body.

Someone at every limb pours something back into him. Still his insides seem to be faster than us. We press on, we dump, we’ve got replacements, we can keep this up.  In my memory, there are ten of us to the one of him. The senior nurse tells me, we can do this. I nod my head unsure, but keep my eyes on my hands, my work. I have never seen anything like this. I will never again because I choose other work, later, but in that moment I am appalled at how close to the edge we are.

We fight, each on our front, with his body at the center in hopes of restoring him, of calling him back. Our weapons are blood and fluids and medicines. It goes on and on for hours. When I leave at the day’s end, empty plastic bags liter the floor.

Almost a year later, he returns to us. He walks into the Surgical Trauma Unit to say hello to a place he can’t quite recall, but his family can.  He comes back to see the place that saved him only it never works quite like that. We, doctors, nurses, techs, aids, and other personnel, instead gather before him. I remember wondering what do we expect from him? Turned out that it was as if he knew that we had played a part in saving him. We did, but then it was if he had returned to save us with his words.

This man with no arms, not anymore, he tells us this, “I miss being able to hug someone. I didn’t know how important that was when I had arms, but now that I can’t, I know it is the greatest thing I’ve lost.”

I turn and walk away so I could stuff my heart back down into my stomach or under it or wherever the hell it is supposed to go or stay.

My damned heart sneaks out when I’m busing doing other things. I’m that weepy soul that cries over every little thing if I don’t keep a collar on it. I pull, it tugs, shimmies, and morphs as if Houdini. I keep telling the story of the man who could not hug, but until now, I did not know that it is because I’m hiding from the pain.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Spring Lit Fest Stops My Heart

I walked home in a drizzle with my lit fest friend filled with a sense of hope after listening to the voracious drawl of Dorothy Allison tell us things about writing and being a writer like, " My moma loved terrible books. She consumed them like candy." She told us the airplane version of why she became a writer, "My career as a waitress wasn't going that well."

Allison did go on to tell us the real reason she became a writer. Debt. She had a debt to repay, "It was books that saved my life." She followed this shortly thereafter with a quote from Nabokov about wanting to write to produce, "that little sob in the spine of the artist/reader." My heart quivered with recognition as I thought,  Oh yes, that's a worthy place to aim for.  Then Allison said, "Fuck that. I want to stop your heart." 

I left with a book or two to read,  hoping my heart will stop.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


 "It is better to be high-spirited even though one makes more mistakes, than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent."

Van Gogh

Monday, January 5, 2015

Making Ramen Noodles

It took the new year and several days off to chill for motivation to spike for an all out ramen fest. We used the recipes from the Ivan Ramen cookbook (they work great!) and enjoyed the feast.

Ramen refers to the noodles and soup which in our case was a triple broth mixture including chicken stock, pork stock, and dashi. We purchased back up frozen noodles from the nearby Asian store. My honey bunny did most of the work as he made the roast pork, stocks, menma (bamboo), and sofrito. I made the noodles, steam buns, and assisted with the dashi.

The ramen noodles were made using my kitchen aid mixer with a pasta attachment. These were the first try of Ivan's Toasted Rye Noodles.

Ivan's Toasted Rye Noodles

75 grams of Rye Flour
620 grams high protein bread flour
300 grams cake flour
10 grams Kansui powder (bake baking soda at 275ºF x 1 hour)
430 milliliters cool water
13 grams salt
Cornstarch as needed

1. Bake the baking soda x 275ºF x 1 hour. Cool.

2. Toast the Rye flour in pan over medium heat about 4 minutes, until you can smell the aroma. Use 70 GRAMS in the recipe.

3. Mix water, salt, and kansui until fully dissolved.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, combine flours and add water mix. Mix for 10 minutes-- add a spoonful of water if it isn't coming together. It will be on the dry side. Dough should form into a ball of sorts. Cover the dough and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

5. Flatten dough into pieces and cover with a damp cloth.

6. Set up your pasta machine and adjust for largest size. Pass piece of dough through, fold onto self making a double sheet, run through thinner setting, and repeat for the thinnest setting. Run through 4th time without double sheeting for the thinnest you can get them. Set aside and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

7. Pass thin dough sheets through a cutter or cut by hand. As you work, toss the noodles with a little cornstarch to keep them from sticking together, shake off excess before cooking. Store the noodles in a container wrapped tightly with plastic (or individual portions in ziplock bags) for up to a day.

8. Cook in boiling water for about 50 seconds (varies with water and flour used). Drain. Place into bowl of hot soup broth. Garnish.

Making ramen noodles

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Put Your House in Order

This time of year my friends in Japan are cleaning or at least thinking about it-- the house, office, car, buildings, just about everything, gets a thorough cleaning before the new year. The idea is to make room for the new.

I love a clean house, but I'm lazy or rather, busy, so I focus on organizing things and ignore the dust. The real war is with stuff. This year, inspired by Marie Kondo's new book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I have literature to support my approach.

You start by putting like with like, make a huge pile, and then go through every item where you physically have to pick it up and see if you feel the joy. Kondo talks you out of keeping a ton of crap that I know exists somewhere in my house. She has recommendations on where to start and some pitfalls to consider so read the book for further details.

Letting go of stuff is the key and this idea of holding it in your hands and sorting by vibes is great especially for stuff being kept out of obligation. I'm feeling for love, and if it isn't there, the item is thanked and discarded. It could be my familiarity with Japan, but this method works for me. 

I'll be working at this for months which is better than never dealing with it. Let's face it, the gains I've made over the past two weeks will dissipate Christmas Day-- I've got kids. 

If you're surrounded by stuff or keep seeing piles that need to be dealt with, start with her methods to dig into the real root of a happy home life-- surrounded only by things you go wowza over. Then stuff the rest into the culprit's room. Maybe inspiration for a clean space will come to them in a dream.

One housekeeping tip I can pass along to those of you who suffer with living with Legos, everywhere, is to sic a rat on them. The Mule's rats love the Moose's Legos. Nothing like the threat of an imminent rat attack to get the Moose to clear out the Legos!

"Discard anything that doesn't spark joy." 
Marie Kondo

There's space on my book shelves!