WHAT I’LL MISS

One thing I feel like I’ve learned over time is that you can’t really experience things before they happen.  That may sound patently obvious, but oftentimes we’re called upon to report our feelings related to an event that hasn’t yet happened.  Whether it’s a graduation, a marriage, a birth, a death, or a cross-country move, you can’t know what you’ll feel until you feel it.

 

I am starting to feel things.  With all of our major logistics in process, my list of immediate tasks has gotten a bit smaller, leaving me with time and space in my day to actually experience my experience.  We are beginning to have “goodbye” meals and coffees and playdates with our people here in Houston, who are, of course, what we’ll miss most of all.

 

The daily-ness of life’s goodness is impossible to quantify, the moments that lodge in our memory often unexpected and somewhat mundane.  When I think about leaving Houston behind, what I feel sorry to be leaving behind comes to me mostly in sensory flashes: grackles shaking their feathers in the puddles that form in the HEB parking lot after the rain, the sensation of being so close to Rice campus and the four years of undergraduate memories it contains, driving home at dusk from our friends’ farm and watching the big Texas sky change colors, the view out the window onto the backyard of the house where Jill was living when I fell in love with her, where we brought Shiv home from the hospital, where we’ve thrown Diwali party after Diwali party.  The kitchen where I really learned to cook.  The oven that’s churned out a ridiculous quantity of baked goods.  The couch where our now-gone dog, Dolly, and cat, Reece, would huddle protectively around Jill during her long slog through chemotherapy.

 

A week ago today, we drove down to Galveston, our last trip down there for the foreseeable future.  I relished the smell and the sight of the shore, the brightly-colored Victorian-style beach homes, the feel of the sand, the sight of the gulls and pelicans, the company of friends and the sleepy feeling of being post-swim-and-sun, full of food, and on a breezy patio.  We are so lucky to have had such a good life here.

 

Knowing that I’m about to leave has allowed me to appreciate my adopted home more: making sure to eat favorite foods, see favorite pieces of art, cross things off the “Houston Bucket List,” and to simply pay better attention to what’s around me.  Since I’m not sure quite what I’m going to miss, I am trying my best to soak it all in.

 

To miss something affirms that you loved it, that it has shaped you, that it’s part of your history, a piece of your narrative.  Maybe I won’t miss the traffic or the construction, the humidity or the mosquitoes, the fire ants or the hurricanes, but I will, without a doubt, miss Houston.

 

PROUD

Last night, at the recommendation of several people we really trust, Jill and I watched Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix Special “Nanette.”  If you know us, you know that we don’t really watch TV—we only got a Netflix subscription a few months ago and rarely use it—but I’m so glad we made an exception for this.  Gadsby’s work is like that of no other stand-up comic I know, and I can’t remember the last time I watched an artist be quite so brave on stage.

 

At one point, Gadsby speaks about her own shame in the present tense, a shame that isn’t intellectual, but an emotional remnant, a default piece of programming that cannot be so easily undone as the mind might like.  As I listened to her, I realized that, despite every indication otherwise, I do still carry shame about my queerness.  I tell a lot of lies of omission, particularly in conversations with strangers—“we” instead of “my wife and I,” that kind of thing, and though I had previously convinced myself this was about convenience, I’m not sure that it isn’t also about embarrassment.

 

Pride month just ended, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what it does or doesn’t mean.  I still get an internal thrill to see the rainbow banners hanging in downtown Houston, but while the experience of Pride can be cathartic and important, it’s easy to sometimes feel like we get our month, and that’s it.  Enough talking about that!  You had your month, shouldn’t you be grateful?  There also plenty of important critiques about the commercialization of Pride, reminders that Stonewall was a riot and that being mainstreamed isn’t necessarily a good thing.

 

Three years ago, Jill and I went pretty mainstream—we got married, six days after it became legal to do so.  It was a joyful occasion, every bit of it, but even then I knew that our new access was no panacea.  I worried, and it seems rightly so, that others would decide that it was.  Game over!  All done!  LGBTQ achievement unlocked!  But it doesn’t take much more than a glance at the news to realize that we’re not even close.

 

Even though my family has the paperwork and the legality to back it up, we still encounter all kind of reminders that, despite the clever #loveislove hashtag, our love, our relationship, our commitment, our being, is seen as secondary or derivative or in some way “other.”  I can’t tell you the number of people who have asked, upon learning that I have taken a new job in Phoenix, if Jill would be moving to Arizona, too.  My mom’s neighbor cautioned her not to combine households with us, because, “How do you know they’ll stay together?”  As if we have not been committed and partnered for sixteen FREAKING years and have been raising a child together for almost six.  But you know, just the other day, a colleague referred to my family as a “lifestyle,” so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

 

These examples may seem small, minor in comparison to the legal status we have now attained and the rights we enjoy.  Believe me, I am grateful for the latter—but I’m also mindful that I should have had them all along.  As a nation, we should have learned by now that the changing of our laws does not equal the changing of personal sentiment, habit, or bias.  As a culture, we are still very, very attached to categories of gender; we are still deeply entrenched in our expectations of what is considered a “norm,” and still very much convinced that normal = good.

 

Which is what I really believe makes Pride so important.  We still have it, not because we’re “done” and not so straight girls can dress provocatively while ALSO getting “I’m so woke” bonus points, but because Pride is a difficult thing for those of us who are queer to feel, let alone broadcast.  For some of us, or in certain situations, it is physically dangerous; it can threaten our livelihoods and compromise our health; it can tear apart our families and wreck our support systems.  And for all of us, to some degree, shame is a factor.  Which is what makes being proud such a radical act.

 

 

SUMMER FOOD FAVORITES

One of the things I love about summer is the time it affords me in my kitchen; it’s ironic, I guess, that while everyone else is “20 no-cook recipes for summer!,” I’m all about spending full days working my stove, oven, & stand mixer, filling the fridge and freezers and showing up to friends’ houses with pies, cobblers, cakes, and jars of granola (this recipe is still my favorite).

 

But this summer is different.  While I’m still spending a lot of time cooking, my aim is now to empty the fridges and freezers (yes, plural—we have a house fridge, a garage fridge, & a fridge-sized deep freezer).  I really, really hate food waste, so I have been cooking what we have and either eating it ourselves or gifting it to others; I’ve only got a few weeks before two out of those three fridges & freezers need to be emptied and thawed…

 

I quite enjoy this kind of cooking—it’s improvisational, creative, and a little bit scrappy.  The results are sometimes a little strange, but luckily my family isn’t picky.  My only chagrin comes from the fact that there is a whole slew of summer favorites that I probably won’t have the chance to make this time around, as I have sworn to keep grocery store trips to the absolute essentials.  Therefore, I thought I might share some of the recipes that I would be cooking if the circumstances were different; I can’t, but you can!  I hope you’ll try one or two, and please do let me know how they turn out.

 

SWEET THINGS:

One of the best things about summer is that the fruit is so gorgeous, it needs little by way of accompaniment.  But if you want something a little more formal than a bowl of cherries or wedges of watermelon, simple fruit cakes are my recommendation.  Here are some favorites:

 

-Have you ever roasted strawberries?  It’s so easy and they get really jammy and concentrated in flavor, perfect for adding into things.  Hull and quarter them (or halve them if they’re small), then toss with a little bit of lemon juice & sugar (for a pound of berries, I’d say 2 T sugar & 1 T juice).  Roast on a parchment-lined baking sheet (that part is essential, otherwise you will have a HUGE mess) at 400 F for 15-20 minutes.

Use your roasted strawberries in this simple cornmeal cake from Domenica Cooks or for this delicious, dairy-free coconut ice cream from Sprouted Kitchen.

 

-Shiv and I are both nuts for summer stone fruit: peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums.  Since we always have them on hand, they’re an easy go-to for dessert; you can mix and match fruits, so you don’t have to have a certain quantity of any one kind.

I made this stone fruit tea cake (recipe from Hummingbird High) just last night and served it with some brown sugar whipped cream – it’s an unusual recipe in that it has a bottom layer, gets filled with fruit, and then topped with more dough, but the dough requires no rolling and is perfect for someone who is intimidated by pie.  Just note that the dough requires 30 minutes in the freezer before you can assemble the cake.

 

 

FEEDING GUESTS:

Summer is a grazing season – no one wants a heavy main course—so I tend to think of dinner more tapas or small plates style, setting out olives, cheese, and some cured meats along with one or two homemade dishes, preferably those I can make ahead.  Here are my go-tos:

 

-I’ve raved about Saltie’s Focaccia before, but if you haven’t listened to me before, please make this now.   There’s no kneading, you make the dough ahead of time, and it yields a huge quantity.  Oh, and it’s DELICIOUS.  Think of it as the perfect cornerstone for a summer spread and build from there.

 

-There is a jar of these pickled shrimp (recipe adapted from Saveur) in my refrigerator right now; I splurged on some fresh-caught Gulf beauties a few weeks ago, because I know we won’t be getting them in Arizona like we do here.  You can make these several days in advance, if you like, and honestly the most labor-intensive part is peeling & deveining the shrimp, so if you want to pay extra, you can get that out of the way from the get-go.

 

-Should you end up with a surfeit of zucchini in your garden, or gifted to you from a friend’s garden, I highly recommend this Zucchini alla Scapece (also from Domenica Cooks).  You cut the zucchini into rounds, fry it (no batter or breading required), and then pour a mint-basil dressing on top and let it hang out.  I added capers to my dressing, as part of my clean-out-the-fridge effort, and we loved the tart pop they provided.  These zucchini + that focaccia = yes.

 

-Last but not least is this roasted tomato pasta salad from Smitten Kitchen.  I’ve leaned on this one in the past when we had more cherry/grape tomatoes in the backyard than I knew what to do with (see above picture); roasting them, as with the strawberries, concentrates their flavor and gets rid of excess moisture, making them little flavor bombs in this pasta salad.  With basil, black olives, a salty cheese of your choice, and a garlic-oregano dressing, this pasta salad is worth splurging on the ½ cup of pine nuts it calls for.  If you have a potluck to show up to, I recommend this!

 

HOPE

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

 

Summer is always a strange season for me.  It’s the exception to my school year norm, and I am keenly aware of the clock that’s ticking a countdown to the start of the next year; nothing sets a summer teacher off quite like a premature “back-to-school” display at the office supply store.  But while there is an urgency about what I want to accomplish (and grudging acceptance of the fact that my goals are almost certainly too ambitious), the days feel long, long enough for me to come untethered.  I am not in my familiar environs.  I am not on my familiar schedule.  I am wearing jeans each day, as I longed to for nine months, but there are not nearly enough teenagers in my daily life and that is an alien, disconcerting sensation.

 

Perhaps everything is heightened right now because this is not just any summer, but one full of conscious transition.  (After all, how rare is it to know that a particular season is going to change you before it actually does the changing?)  The contrast between my daily concerns and lists, the overwhelm I sometimes feel when mentally scrolling through the tasks involved in selling and buying and packing up houses, and the gut-twisting horror and anguish that lives on the other side of even one minute of fully considering the current news—what do I do with that gulf?  How do I hold any of it responsibly, thoughtfully, compassionately?

 

I really don’t know, and I’m not certain that I ever will; in fact, I might argue that it would mark the detrimental loss of my plugged-in aliveness if I managed to reach some sort of equilibrium with this human mess, to be “okay” in it.  I am not okay.  I don’t want to be okay.  I want to be outraged and outspoken and exhausted but not to the point of being useless.  I want to remain open to the world inspiring me as much as it devastates me.  I want to feel as if I am doing a pretty good job with this living business while also knowing that it will never be enough.

 

There is a distinction between hope and wishful thinking; a friend taught me that a few years ago, and I’ll always be grateful.  I carry that distinction around in my back pocket, pull it out when I am trying to determine which is charting the course of my behavior.  Wishful thinking feels like an escape, like a way out, like a relief.  Hope feels like a practice, like a rigorous discipline, like sitting down to work your way through something difficult but necessary.  Reading smart authors who challenge me gives me hope.  Being in community gives me hope.  Holding brand-new babies gives me hope.  Writing gives me hope.

 

In that vein, I am offering a journal class that begins next week, one that I have designed to hopefully speak to this particular moment, one inside which many of us are struggling and searching.  You can read more about the course here; if you’re interested, I’d love to have you join.  Please note that $5 from each registration will go to the Family Reunification and Bond Fund at RAICES, which you’ve probably heard of by now.  I also plan to make the course materials available for purchase later on in the summer, if you want to work through them on your own or at another time.

 

Tell me you’re reading or thinking about that you’re finding useful these days.  How do you practice hope?

 

 

 

HOME

“The earth never tires, 

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first, 

Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d, 

I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.” 

-Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road, Part 9

 

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I flew home on Monday, just a quick trip, less than 48 hours.  I say “home” even though I haven’t lived in Memphis for nearly two decades.  I say “home” even though I am about to live further west of the Mississippi River than I ever have in my entire life.

 

It’s funny—Houston is the city I am about to leave behind, but driving around Memphis in my rented Mitsubishi Outlander I felt as if I were saying goodbye to my hometown instead.  Perhaps this is due to the distance required to see something fully; I know, intellectually, that I will miss Houston, the city where I’ve spent the majority of my adult life, but without separation from it, I am unable to predict the shape that missing will take.

 

Memphis is different.  The whole city is animated for me by memory, brimming with nostalgia and obscenely full of feeling.  Driving around alone in my hometown is a cinematic experience, which I alternately delight in and mock myself for; listening to Nina Simone’s “Memphis in June” while visiting Memphis in June, Nishta?  Isn’t that a little too on the nose?  Add to that the fact that I showed up just a few days in advance of Father’s Day, one of the most emotionally loaded days of my personal calendar year.

 

Believe it or not, the timing wasn’t intentional.  I booked my flight so that I might attend a few meetings for Just City, the Memphis-based nonprofit on whose board I am privileged to sit.  (More about them in a future post.)  And I had planned the trip long before I knew I’d be moving to Phoenix.  But if I’ve learned something in these nearly twelve years of being tenderized by grief, it’s that you’ve got to make time to let yourself feel.  Though it would have seemed unfathomable to me in the beginning that I would ever need to schedule time to grieve, the truth is that we human beings are rather adaptable, and we are good at building our lives like brick walls around the inner sanctum that is our vulnerability.  I am as guilty as anyone of busy-ing myself into an artificial sense of being “fine.”

 

As is almost always the case, I find myself needing the exact advice I just finished giving my students.  “Try not to fight off the feelings!  Stay present in this very special moment of your life.”  Ummmm….hi.

 

Since my very first day of teaching, my guiding principle has been: don’t be a hypocrite.  (This may seem like a low bar, but given the hypocrisy of many adults, particularly those in positions of authority and power, it still feels like the right place to start.)  And so, while I was in Memphis, I resisted the urge to schedule a million things for myself.  I didn’t fill my free time.  I didn’t make a bunch of appointments.  Instead, I spent time alone, mostly with my phone in airplane mode, and let myself feel whatever I felt.

 

I drove around my old neighborhood and got out to smell the magnolia blossoms in the yard of a stranger.  I went to my old coffee shop haunt, got my usual order (a cup of Earl Grey & sourdough toast), and did some writing.  I drove down to the river, to where we scattered my father’s ashes, and wrote him a letter.  I didn’t cry then, but I did cry later, when I spotted fireflies in my friend’s driveway; we don’t get them in Houston.  I think I had forgotten they existed, and the sight of them was like a revelation.