Thursday, October 21, 2010


The moon is bright bright and full, making sharp shadows in the garden. And as often happens at full moon in October, it looks like this is the first night we'll have frost. So I was out there in those sharp shadows an hour ago, pulling up, with regret, the huge strong basil plants in the garden. I have two Med basils and two Thai basils. They've kept us aromatic and intensely flavoured all summer. If I don't pull them up, I thought this evening, they may freeze and then be wasted, blackened and gone. If I DO pull them up then they'll last a little in water in the house and I can use them mindfully and process the last leaves in olive oil for a pesto base that I'll store in a couple of glass jars.

This really feels like the end of the garden... even though there are a few last tomatoes clinging on, not getting any larger but slowly ever so slowly changing colour.

I've been thinking about change these days... well truth be told change is often on my mind, but in this case I mean social change and social and economic mobility, what it means and what's involved. I have been talking to everyone, perhaps tiresomely, about Doug Saunders' new book Arrival City. Here's the link to the site for the book. A friend who heard the author interviewed on the radio said, "Well it's a pretty easy theory to understand so I don't see any reason to read the book." But I found it riveting, details about what works and almost more importantly what doesn't work in some "arrival city" situations, are clearly explained. And the history of places where immigrants land, immigrants from the countryside, or from other countries, and how they help each other and navigate their way into better lives, over time, if given the chance, is fascinating, from Teheran and Istanbul to (failed) arrival cities in Paris and Germany, etc.

I have lent the book out, and it's probably in the library too by now, but it is really worth owning, so you can dip back into it at intervals.

Another recent book is Sheila Heti's "How Should A Person Be?" She has such a distinctive voice on the page, it's so artful while seeming effortless. I heard her read the prologue aloud at a book launch and it was fabulous read aloud. Maybe the best books are? Not sure, but it's a good test of writing, to hear whether it is happy and interesting being read aloud.

On another topic, the unexpected, I had a quick brush with "disaster" the other day. I was running in the sunshine last Saturday, the leaves bright and my spitrits too, doing a long loop to end up in Kensington Market. I saw some guys far ahead of me in the middle of the street working on the street, but didn't notice what was right in front of me as I stepped off the curb to run across a side street... It was a deep patch of fresh cement, and there I was one foot, the second foot in to the ankles and then out again onto "dry land". Yikes! The guys working said apologetically, "We watched you run toward us - sorry not to warn you!" I assured them I'd be fine. "No they said, Go right over there to the cement truck (huge and rumbling). "There's a water hose on the back. Get those guys to help you. And so with a lot of running water I cleaned off all the wet cement and then jogged on squelching a little!

If only all unexpected "bad surprises" could be resolved as easily! I ran on feeling lucky to be unscathed, and able to laugh, rather than wretched. Not sure why I'm telling this story except that as always when events take an odd turn, it was a reminder not to take any joyous moment for granted. And also I guess a reminder that change is one of the few constants in life. Thus if things are going well they can and will turn, and we need to accept that and be ready for it. SImilarly, and sometimes very hearteningly, if things are bad, depressing, rotten in some way, then they WILL change, evolve, get easier. Keeping a reasonable equilibrium in all this up and down and unexpectedness is one of the main challenges and, with luck, the main pleasures of life.

And to turn another topic corner, I find, now that I have been pushed to tweet and participate in that 140 character hamster wheel, that it is sometimes rewarding (when there's an interesting link posted) but more often it is just another place to check, another way of procrastinating.... If I have enough places to check (two email accounts plus Facebook plus Twitter) that means that by the time I have engaged with each of them it's time to recheck the first one again. Do you find yourself doing that? It becomes a reflex, like smoking another cigarette used to be.

Are we just destined to fritter away the privilege of free time and choice on often-meaningless repetitive behaviours? Or are these just highly evolved or hi-tech work-avoidance techniques?

The first check of email in the day, like the first cigarette, can be pleasurable and fruitful, but the subsequent ones?

Some days I avoid the computer altogether, or else I label the day or the morning a non-internet zone. It's amazing how much else I can get done, then. And it's a little scary to find how long it takes me to settle into more focussed thinking or writing or reading, like a kind of necessary withdrawal period.


With colder weather arriving, and so less outside time, the risk of getting even more squirrely and online-hooked is real. Books are one great antidote, for sure. And that's one reason to be grateful that publishers are still, despite the warnings about the end of publishing, printing books, acquiring new titles, enticing us into deeper longer thinking and reflecting.

Some things don't change much, and one of those is my simple roast chicken. I've written about it before: I wash and dry the bird, then prick a lemon and put it inside, then drizzle on olive oil and scatter on salt. It goes in breast down for the first while, then I turn it, all at 425 or 450. Around it are sliced potatoes roasting, and also drizzled with olive oil and salt.

And this same old- same old is always a pleasure, succulent and satisfying and full of flavour. Next day's broth is also a treat to look forward to. Usually this roast chicken and potatoes combo is my Thursday night meal, after a heavy day for Tashi and before a heavy Friday for Dom. The guys cook other days, but Thursday it's my turn, a nice anchor in the week. I've come to enjoy this sense of routine, despite my dislike of predictability. Is this old age? Or is it just a realisation that some habits and routines are so pleasing that altering them would be a foolish waste of effort?


Elizabeth said...

Like your description of tweeting!

Northmoon said...

I've avoided facebook and twitter partly for the reason you mentioned - it would be so easy to get caught up in them and waste time. I already spend more than enough time on the computer with the blogs I follow and my email account.

riceandwheat said...

I definitely get sucked into the continuous cycle of checking and rechecking email/facebook/twitter and then, like you said, finding that i've gotten no real work done at the end of a few hours. i've been trying to limit myself to checking them once in the morning, once at lunch, and once towards the end of the day. but ultimately, since my work is on the computer and requires the internet, i end up breaking my rule more often than not. :(