Month: April 2017

Black Bean Soup: On the Gift of Impermanence.

I am thinking about the impermanence of my black bean soup, again, and it is sneaking into my death thoughts.  Even on a night of fried tofu and brussel sprouts, my mind wanders to the miracle of the black bean soup, all while chewing the impermanent tofu and sprouts.

“People always ask me for my recipes, and they make them,” Ms. Vicki had said, “and then they inevitably call me after and say– ‘Vicki!  I did everything you said, and it doesn’t taste the same!'”

I was standing in her kitchen, shoveling one hot bite of carrot soup down and quickly slurping her homemade chai tea, breathing intermittently and feeling a little like an orphan on a curbside with a hardened bread crust.  I was grateful to be eating.  And everything tasted so… perfect.

“And I have to tell them,” she continued, “I say, ‘It’ll never be the same!’  Like this one you’re eating– it has leftover basil broth and leftover oregano, some potato water and Pat only just this morning pulled and peeled those carrots.  How do you replicate it?  You can’t.  You just have to enjoy each one for its impermanence.”

“My miracle black bean soup!” I blurted out, dripping a little carrot soup down my dress.

As if omniscient, she repeated back to me, “Exactly.  Like your black bean soup.”

There’s a fancy ramen place back in Nashville that we’ve heard does not allow customers to box up their leftovers for home.  We’ve rolled our eyes and groaned, lamenting yet another uppity snob-nosed indicator of our old neighborhood turning into a lavish, throw-it-out-if-it’s-not-new marketplace for white people with skinny jeans and fat wallets.  We made plans that, should we ever go there, we would sneak in our tupperware and dump the cooled ramen and walk out covertly with what we rightfully paid for.

“How can they tell us what to do with what is ours now!” I said.

“It’s like giving someone a record and telling them they can only listen to it on a special sound system!” my Someone said.

How cruel.  How unfair.  How pretentious.  That someone takes such pride in the time and place and demands that people remain in that time and place to consume, not merely sustenance, but a moment.

I thought about my black bean soup.  Then, I thought about the first time I listened to the new Regina Spektor album on headphones, on a front porch in North Carolina, crying, laughing, and knowing that I could never have this moment back again.  We would listen to it endlessly in the car and in our camper, but every listen after was just me eating out of a take-out container reliving the steaming bowl presented to me the first time.  Maybe there is something to listening and tasting in the way the creator wanted you to listen and taste.  Maybe there’s something to stopping our claim on what inevitably will come to an end, and trying instead to be there– here– relishing in the impermanence of now.

Living on the road means that my whole life is impermanent.  As of this morning, we were parked on a secluded spot that allows you to take up residence for only 14 days out of 30.  Everything is with an expiration date, even with places to live.  And all the impermanence has my Someone and I lately talking about more permanent roots.

“What about Jonesborough?” he said last night.

“But it’s still Tennessee,” I said.  “I never thought I would be someone from Tennessee.”

“There’s always Dillsburg,” he said.

“There is always Dillsburg…” I repeated.  But then I remembered the problem with settling down just yet.  It’s not the feeling that stopping would mean quitting.  Rather, our little culture of impermanence means that we are always in the process of being about-to-see-our-friends and saying-goodbye-to-our-friends.  A house with a garden and a few little goats had me missing all of my friends at once– they with their permanent structures and backyards and increasing number of children.  My own impermanence keeps me permanently loving each of their own shifting, impermanent lives in their still places.  And the hello-then-goodbyes has me sucking to the marrow each impermanent moment with them.  And filling my to-go containers to the brim with the love of them.

I wonder if it is in this way that we crave so badly a Heaven.  Where every old face is restored to their young self, every missing family member has returned, every impermanent thing is given a permanent home.

I wonder if it is in this way that I am so rarely grateful for a moment with my Someone that I am not also afraid of losing him to the great dark mouth of death.  And then I wonder, which one of these feelings comes first?  And then I re-remember my fear of Heaven– that permanent place where time is gone and there is no hurry to be all in on love.

My black bean soup was a miracle.  An effort of leftover potato water and Himalayan pink rice that was gifted to us, some broken dried black beans from the bargain bin, and a concoction of spices and celery and… I can never remember.  But we ate that soup for three days, and each time wished for more.  And then it was gone.  And while I have tried again and again (maybe it was the Michigan water?), it hasn’t been replicated.

“You have to stop trying,” Ms. Vicki said.  “Even if you had it all over again, you wouldn’t be able to love it the same.  The impermanence is what made it so spectacular.  It is better to celebrate it than to replicate it.”

She must have seen my defeat.  She smiled.

“I once made a magic curry,” I said.

“I know,” she said.

Wabi-sabi: On Broken Baskets and Glue.

Wabisabi (侘寂) is a concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics constituting a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

It is important for me to remember that sometimes the things we carry that are broken are not direct representations of ourselves and our relationships.

I told this to my Someone as we both looked in the Broken Basket.  The Broken Basket was the basket we keep on the bed that moves to the couch when we sleep and back to the bed when we are traveling.  Its constant movement is to be a reminder that the broken things in the basket need fixing, and the sooner we fix them, the sooner we can put the basket away.

But the broken thing in the basket had been broken since the time I began to wonder if we were broken, and its continued brokenness culminated on a snowy Friday morning in April in Canada.  Here, a country away in strange weather, the little piggy bank shaped like a camper that my mother had given us for Christmas was still in pieces.  It had been broken for almost four weeks, and was a regular topic of conversation.

My Someone had broken it, accidentally, and was intent on being the one to fix it.  But somehow, picking up glue became harder and harder to remember.  We joked that the little bank camper was just like our own– often in pieces but still keeping us inside.

So over coffee in the snow I began to cry and be angry that the camper was us, and that we will never take the time to fix ourselves because we cannot take the time to fix our things in the Broken Basket.  And that maybe our whole life was a Broken Basket that will be endlessly tossed from the bed to the couch and back again at the start of each day.  My Someone bristled.  I got quiet.  I left to change over our laundry down the street at the laundromat.

When I got back, my Someone was gone.  I worried that he now believed we were in the Broken Basket, too.

When the door opened, my Someone was smiling.

“We are not broken,” he said, rummaging in a plastic bag, “I got the Crazy glue!”

And there, we pieced together what was left in the broken basket, some pieces missing, some of our finger sticking together, and a little white tape to cover the disparities.  Just like our real camper.  Just like ourselves.

Birthday: On Where I Am So Far.

Today I am 31 years old. I am the kind of person who leaves the hotel tv on for her dogs in case they get lonely. I am now vegan and gluten free because of my poor eating habits for too many years. I like wearing dresses even though I sometimes feel conflicted about the gender norms they indicate. I am getting better at looking people in the eye instead of looking around or down because I feel inconvenient. I am comfortable with the amount of space I take up. I like walking my dogs every day even though my knees hurt more now when I do. I do yoga every day because of my knees and a few other aches I didn’t know I would have at 31. My favorite color is yellow with brown as a close second. I am in love and married, even though I didn’t think those two things could happen at the same time. I prefer winter over summer. I am missing a tooth and have for a few years, which makes me chew mostly on my right side and makes me worry that my face will go lopsided. I am beginning to accept compliments rather than be nervous by them, especially the kinds that have nothing to do with how I look. I started eating chia seeds and taking magnesium supplements. I am learning to breathe deep to alleviate stress. I live on the road and don’t see signs of stopping. I don’t have any children and don’t think I will, but really love my friends’ kids. I still pick up pennies and I call my mother every birthday to wish her a happy giving birthday. I love eating and don’t feel embarrassed to take seconds anymore. I am really happy. It’ll be a good year.