Author: mallorygaylegraham

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.

Ominous Silhouettes: On Nothing and Someones.

I don’t remember if it was he who said it to me, or me who said it to myself.  These days, it doesn’t seem to matter much.  It’s the kind of thing that can be said only once, then takes years to undo.

I remember it now as an ominous silhouette standing above me.

“Nobody is going to want you after me.”

With a Leap Year Anniversary, it was hard to tell if I was one day before, during, or a day late to the celebration.  But somewhere between February 28 and March 1, there is the memory of a year before, where my Someone and I said, “Okay, for good.”

Somewhere in the space of missing time, a year was collected.

My smart pastor friend Bryan told me this week about how Taoists believe that you cannot gain something from something.  Contrary to our popular belief that you must work for everything you have, he explained the belief that in order for Something to come in, you must first have Nothing.  Otherwise, there is no space for the new Something to exist at all.

“No one will want you after me,” the Ominous Silhouette had said.

No one did.  And then, where there was No One, years later there came my Someone to fill the space.

I am spending a lot of time in the in between again.  This time, between an Ominous Silhouette and an ever lighting up Now.  And there is space for years counting half my lifetime spent filling with Something to avoid the Nothing that was left from an Ominous Silhouette.

And one year ago, on Leap Year Day– a mythical day of sweet Nothing in time– I became someone that Someone would want.  Or rather, I was given just enough space to agree that it was who I had been all along.

Tight Leashes: On Loosening Grips and Starting Again.

My Someone is so cross with our littlest dog.  She is the pulliest of all the dogs, and she is pulling him down every sidewalk.  When this happens, we learned, we are to stop completely and wait for her to step back.  When she steps back, we are to continue walking.  In this way, she is to learn that no matter how excited we are, we will get there no faster if we are not together.

This is a tough lesson for all of us.

Sometimes our shoulders ache with the pulling after long walks.  She is tireless.  Sometimes we wish to not stop and want to let her pull to get where we are going faster.  But then, we are not together.  And our hands hurt.  The leash gets so tight with the pulling and the stopping and the more pulling.  By halfway through our walk, my Someone yells, “You are making my hand hurt so much with the leash because of your pulling!”

She looks up at him and waits for him to move again.  He unwraps the leash and rewraps it.  She sits.  He walks.  She walks.  They are a few steps in, and she is pulling.

“I’m afraid we are broken, now,” I told my Someone last week.

We have been bickering for weeks.  I am sorting out dark things.  My Someone is sorting out insecurities.  We keep missing each other.  One steps outside while the other starts talking.  One checks their phone and misses the other one looking.  One makes a small move to not refill the other’s glass of water when they are getting their own.  One asks a question while the other one is finishing their thought.  They are smalls tugs, but conscious ones, and ones we have grown lazy to remedy right away.

“We would not have jumped to use those bad words before,” I continue.  “Now, they are our first words.  They are losing their meaning.  We are jumping to fight first.”

“I am tired of the fighting,” my Someone says.

I realize my hands are clenched.  They are hurting with the pulling.

It is not so much that I believe she will stop the pulling soon.  She is a puppy.  It’s going to take years.  But lately I find that when I am becoming most angry, my jaw grinding and the top of my brain ready to spark, I look at my hand.  The leash is so tight.  To unravel it and rewrap it would be to unravel it again and rewrap it again at the next block.

I stop.  She stops.  She looks at me.  She steps back.  I furrow my brow at her.

We walk further.  I get angry.  I look down to yell at her.  And this: she is not pulling.  I have not taken the time to unwrap the tight leash from my hand.   I unwrap it.  My jaw relaxes.  The fuse at the top of my brain becomes confused and putters out.

“Good girl,” I say.  She wags her tail.  I take a deep breath.  It is so important, no matter how much pulling, to unwrap the tightness again and again.  If we don’t take the time to unravel the grip on our hands, we may not be ready to feel the small victory of two creatures finally stepping together.  Even if for only a block.

We clink glasses.  It’s martini hour.  My Someone takes a sip.  I become agitated.

“What?” my Someone asks.

“We used to cheers to something.  Every time.  We don’t cheers to anything, anymore,” I say.

He looks up, a little angry.  Then, he unravels and rewraps.  I wait and take a step back.

“To never cheersing to nothing again,” he says.

I unravel, too.

“To never cheersing to nothing again,” I say.

Snow Day: On Reruns.

It snowed in Grand Rapids, and we were the first to alter it with four feet and eight paws.

It was our second walk of the day with all mittens and scarves and a tennis ball for losing in the snow.

“I am so homesick,” I tell my Someone.

“For Pittsburgh?” he says.

“No.”

“For the camper?”

“No.  For nowhere and everywhere I have been and haven’t been yet,” I figure.

“Ah,” says my Someone.  “It is the time for you to miss every toy you’ve ever owned.”

We walk to the place we romped with our two dogs that morning.

“Look,” says my Someone.  “Just think, all of these tracks are only ours from today.”

We unleash our dogs.  They run to make more.

“This is my favorite rerun,” I yell.  My Someone follows me following the dogs, to everywhere and nowhere we’ve already been and haven’t been, yet.

Puppy Love: On the Expectation of Hell.

My littlest dog is finally in love, and I am heartbroken by the consequences.  It took only a few hours for me to love her, but she is a floppy creature with a short attention span, and needed a few extra meals and treats and pets to turn her face from mindlessly following mush to puppy love.  And she is suffering because of it.

I am uncertain how to explain to her that being in love is not enough to keep us together for every waking and sleeping moment.  That being in love doesn’t change the closing of the bathroom door.  That being in love is no matter for separate beds and occasional hours without the sight and sound of me.

She is taking the news badly.  She is chewing on the back of the couch.  And she is in big trouble.

My fear of Hell is decreasing, and I have been worried.  It goes that I do not love what I can’t be afraid of losing.  Here, when my Someone leaves to pay for gas, I push down fear of a hold up inside the station.  When he is gone with the dogs in the woods, I am willing bears and coyotes to stay tucked in their dens.  But that love goes also like this–

“Where were you?” I ask.  I am crying.

“I was almost done and forgot the peanut butter,” my Someone says.

“But you didn’t answer my text!” I say.

“I didn’t feel it buzz in my pocket,” he says.

I am angry.  I am scared.

“I thought you were dead,” I say.

“I’m not dead,” he says. “I have peanut butter.”

This time is wasted time.  The wringing hands, the waiting.  And what I am afraid of losing, I lose for these moments.

“You are a bad dog!” I yell.

“You are a very bad dog!” my Someone yells.

We put our littlest dog’s face to the back of the couch.

“No!” I yell.

“NO!” my Someone yells.

We send her to lay down.  We have seen her for only a minute, and she is in big trouble.  The couch is not going to make it through this year.  She tucks herself down on her bed.  She waits.  My Someone and I discuss couches.  We throw up our hands exasperated.  She has never done this before! we say.  Why is this happening? we wonder.

It goes like this: that I have loved a God so long who would send me to Hell for the damage I’ve done to his couch.

“We have done a very bad thing,” I tell my Someone last night.  I am researching, I am learning, and what I have found is that my puppy is in love.  What I have found, is that the splinters of plywood and stuffing are the chew-chew-chewing of a puppy who does not know why her love is not enough to keep her with me.  And our anger at the chewing before our love-showing at the sight of her is making her chewing more chewy, and her fear of me more important than her love.

My anger has sent her to Puppy Hell for the crime of wanting to be close.  And she has been paying in shame for days.  She stays curled on her bed.  She does not look at me.  She waits.

“Good girl,” I say.

“Good dog,” my Someone says.

She looks up.  The smallest part of her tail wags.

I prepare treats to give her when we leave.  She will not chew the couch.  She is safe.  We will be back, and we will not be angry.  She is not afraid.

If I believe my creature is so smart, that she is complex with feelings that need assuaged and with boredom that needs attended, would my anger slow to look first at her and second to the broken couch?

I am becoming less afraid of Hell, because I am smart and complex and occasionally bored.  Because I am working first to believe that I am good, and God cannot believe I am these things if he overlooking me to first check the couch.  I cannot believe in God if I believe in Hell, and I think these days that I am preferring to let Hell go.  But if God’s couch is more important, I will let him/her/it sleep with the decision.  I can’t lose sleep over stuffing and few flames, anymore.

The Liar, The Witch, and the War: On Remembering What We Never Learn.

“And then I couldn’t stop thinking– what if a witch just appears here?” he said.

Ryan was testing his drone in the wilderness, again, and found himself alone in the Appalachian woods.  We had been filming for an entire day on top of what is speculated to be the convergence of two ley lines at a Center dedicated to healing by the power of light, a building complete with a big dome hat on its head.  People pop in and out all the time, mostly unexpectedly, and mostly under the stealth of a pastel Prius.  It’s easy in the Blue Ridge Mountains to wander into enchantments, imagined or not, but this particular point on the map lends itself to the extraordinary.

So as Ryan laid out his question, following it through to its logical conclusion, wherein a witch claws at him as he drives past, complete with shivers in his spine and a raspy “Hah!” of the witch, we ask– and then what?

And then, he would try and convince us, of course.  If we didn’t believe him, we would stay in the home across the street where we were, blissful and ignorant until the witch appeared, while Ryan wrung out his hands worrying.

And if we did believe him, we would go into town and tell others.  And whether or not they believed us, we would wait until dark, realize we have nowhere to go, and come back to the house we were staying across from the speculated appearance of a witch.  And there, just as in horror movies before, we would wait for her to appear again, wringing our hands together and barricading doors.

Because for as much screaming as we do at our television screens to RUN! and DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR, YOU IDIOT!, it is difficult to imagine when confronted with the possibility of a witch how things might look different.  After all, this is where we are living.  After all, this is where everyone we love is sleeping.  After all, maybe it could be different this time.  And when we scream, we will scream together to fight her off.

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It goes like this–

A fair maiden or a young buck or an innocent child or a mother down-on-her-luck need something to be kept forever.  Usually their beauty or their identity or the safety of the children or, the real clincher, the love of their life.  And just as with all questions needing answers in fairy tales and myths, the Answer appears: usually in the form of an angel or a demon or an old mystical book.  You will never die.  Your children will be safe.  Your love will love no one but you.

And then, the cost.  Sometimes the cost of your life.  Sometimes your identity (what a twist!).  Sometimes you must carry around a single rose in your right pocket.  But always, there is more to the deal.  Never does the fine print become clear until the blood is exchanged or the voice is given up or the hands are shook.  Never does the loophole slip itself around your crisp neck until the deal is done.  And then, the regret.

If only, if only, if only she had simply loved what she had, she would have had love.  If only he had seen what was in front of him, his mother would still be alive.  We purse our lips and close the back cover to the story we could write better with our own lives, should we only have the right sorcerer to make it so.

But then, here, this morning, with my Someone sleeping this extra twenty minutes with me, and me awake, I begin the bargain.

Please to not take him before I go.  I’ll give anything…

Maybe a witch or a god or a magician heard my prayer.  Whoever they are, they have already won 20 minutes from me, and the deal has not yet been struck.

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So maybe this: maybe it should not come as a surprise that someone who has read history the same as us all cannot see that he is repeating it.  Maybe banning an entire group of people based on their religion somehow looks different this time in 2017.  Maybe the writings of the smoking chimneys and the poetry and movies and conversations is not enough to stop the story from taking place.

But this is where we live.  This is where the people we love are sleeping.  And though we may not have the ability to stop the story from starting again– though we may find ourselves stuck in a house across from the Devil himself– we can still scream.  We can barricade the doors.

And in the meantime, bargain with no Wizards.  The deal will always cost too much.