Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ultimate Winter Couscous

I delight in the preparation of ingredients before I start cooking. leslie is on her way over. When she arrives, we'll drink, chat and cook this dish from Mr. Ottolenghi.

The recipe calls for Harissa and hot paprika; I had to purchase both items. So I texted Costin that I am making this dish and that I have these obscure ingredients so that he knows and if he wants to make it too — he is my Ottolenghi guru — he can access my ingredients.

Notice the glass shot glasses? They are ideal containers for my measured spices.

Under the saran wrap is chopped preserved lemon. I could not believe it, but I had that item in stock in my kitchen. I was introduced to it in Morocco and my friend, Leslie, gave to me.

Disappointment Land

When I was a kid, as I have often written here before, things were not great at home and when they weren’t I would often find myself alone in my room where my feelings could overwhelm me in private.

Obsessed with my feelings I was blind and numb to my surroundings. Until I could stop thinking about what was bothering me, I was safe in my room. But I was in pain.

When I started falling in love with others, the objects of my affection could send me back to that emotional place introduced to me by my parents. I called it Disappointment Land. It’s where I would “go” to lick my wounds; that’s how I understood it.

Then one day I had an accident and both my arms were broken and Dr. Spohn and I wound up having an interesting talk while he put the casts on my arm. He said his patients were either “avoiders” or “indulgers.” Some patients, he said, did anything to avoid thinking about their pain. They were stoic carry-oners who used distraction as a coping mechanism and there were those who “went into” their pain to cope.

I realized I was in the second group. I would focus on the pain. I felt by focusing on the pain that I could “get control” over it and it seemed to dissipate. I would focus on my breathing too to make the pain rhythmic. I would “let’ it hurt more as breathed out, and it would hurt less as I breathed in. I did the same thing with emotional pain.

I often wondered how different I would be if I had a sibling. I grew up in a war zone; my parents were the enemy. It wasn’t that bad, but in my world of extremes it felt like war. I was very “sensitive.” If I’d had a sibling, I would have had an ally. I would have talked out my issues.

Instead, I went to Disappointment Land. There, I felt like a volcano spewing red-hot anger out of the top of my head; anger created by tectonic friction with the enemy. And with every eruption, Disappointment Land got bigger.

Home is supposed to be a safe place. Mine was not, so my room became my safe place. And this is funny considering I turned out to be gay: I spent a lot of time in my closet. It had a window and being alone in there behind a closed door and being quiet as a vacuum gave me comfort. I was sure that if the enemy came into my room, they might conclude I’d gone outside.

As I matured I learned to manage my feelings better. I could say that or I could say that as I aged, I became numbed by life. Accept and adaptation to disappointment became part of life. I didn't need Disappointment Land any more — until yesterday.

Yesterday a friend called to criticize something I had said to him. He was offended by something I had said to him often before.

Once, many years ago, I called my friend Ross to invite him to dinner. He declined my invitation because, he said, I picked on him and he was right, I did. For some reason, I did do that, but I really liked Ross. So I acknowledged my behavior, apologized sincerely and said to him, “Now, shouldn’t you come to dinner and give me a chance to change? And if I fail, then you can dump me.”

Ross came to dinner and I have never, ever, once picked on him. We remain good friends to this day and on the tenth anniversary of that event, I took him and his wife out for dinner to celebrate our friendship and our success at overcoming a challenge.

I mention that because I was not offended by my friend’s criticism yesterday. My experience with Ross tells me that I can make constructive use of criticism.

I felt ambushed by my friend.

This is funny: When my dad was demented, his doctor told me not to worry about his delusions or to correct them, but to work with him. He said doing so would make my father’s existence a happier one. So I resolved to do as the doctor said.

One day, my dad asked me to revel with him in the view of the Fraser River with him that he saw out his window at St Paul’s Hospital. There was no river view from his room, but I said I thought it was lovely.

He asked me if I could see the coloured barges. I said I could. My mother’s family had owned a tugboat and barge company and my father admired their wealth. I assumed his hallucination was relevant to our family history so I said I could see the barges.

He asked me if I could see the red one. I said yes. He asked what I thought of the blue one; I said I thought it was beautiful. He nodded. Then he asked me if I could see the green one way in the distance. I said I could.

“You fucking faggot liar,” he said and he lunged at me. I was in my fifties and all the emotions of my thirteen-year old scared-to-death self came back and filled me up and I fled to Disappointment Land.

Yesterday when this friend called to express disappointment in me for saying something we had discussed comfortably several times before, I felt I’d seen the green barge and off I went to Disappointment Land.

And here’s the point of this post: I had an odd response to finding myself back in Disappointment Land: “Oh, I remember this place. I’ve been here before.”

It actually feels good to be back. I feel confident here now and I know how to survive here. My friend and I will work things out, but yesterday I turned off my phone and put it away. I decided to go on retreat to Disappointment Land because now my island isn’t barren like my closet; it’s fully loaded like my condo.

Last night I took my first nighttime photos of cozy Disappointment Land.

Meanwhile in another part of the world, Steve, my ex, woke up to the view below. He took the photo from his hotel room in Tahiti where he flew in order to catch a flight to Easter Island where he will celebrate his 60th birthday. He will return to Tahiti after his stay on Easter Island for a longer visit.

Our endless grey wet winter makes me pine for warm sunny weather like Steve is having right now with his new partner Tim. From the extreme drought of last summer, now we are thinking about Noah.
* All is well with my friend, by the way. We had a good chat this morning. I had no doubt things would easily heal. I love and value my friend.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Millefeuille choco-framboise au café serré.

Carte Noire makes seductive videos about patisseries. You gain weight just looking at these minimalist instructional films. This one is about how to make Millefeuille choco-framboise au café serré.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Art Beans

Mr. Westenberger

In 1952 my mother and father and I moved to West Vancouver. I was four. My best friends were siblings: Dougie and Marilyn. There were lots of other kids in the neighbourhood, but Dougie and Marilyn felt like my brother and sister.

On kid we played with was Teddy. Although I liked him as much as anyone, I was wary of being alone with him. Teddy was born tough. I met him when we were five years old and we were friends until I was eleven. Teddy spat and swore. He called everyone by their last name and he started smoking when we were really young. But Teddy had a huge pool in his backyard.

Besides the pool though, Teddy was important in my world for another reason and so was his sister Honoré. Teddy and Honoré were adopted like me. I felt kinship with them and their parents. We were “family.”

One day, I overheard their mother, whom I called Auntie Jean, say to my mother in our living room: “You never know what you are going to get when you adopt, do you?” They were talking about Teddy.

Honoré got top marks at school. Teddy quit school and by the time I was graduating from UBC, Teddy, who had been hurt in a dreadful motorcycle accident and had a permanent disability, was working as a night clerk in a skid row hotel.

When Teddy moved out, his parents had fallen on hard times. His Dad had lost his job. I remember because it gutted my Dad and I remember Dad saying how humiliating it must be for them to have to take in a lodger. They had rented out Teddy’s room.

Because Auntie Jean was an artist and because Honoré and I were both scholars, we stayed in touch. I was invited to visit and to bring my bathing suit and when I did I would hike up the stairs to the house to change before coming back down to the pool deck where there were lots of lounge chairs and the bar-B-Q. 

The change room was in their basement right beside the room of their lodger, Mr. Westenberger. He smoked and looked like a character from a film noir. He was thin and old. He dressed in old dark clothes and walked hunched over and he smoked so much that his fingers were orange. I was frightened of him but I have never, ever forgotten him.

I went to St. Anthony’s church every Sunday until I was thirteen. My loathing of attending church services was the strongest emotion of my early life. It was in Latin and I was bored to tears but one man fascinated me and I had no idea why. I would just watch him if I could — not a lot, but if I saw him.

I met than man when I was in my fifties. His name is Norbert and he is gay and I think that at some level, I knew we had something in common. I have been struck of late, to realize that like Mr. Westenberger, I am a solitary senior with no family.

I hardly ever think about Teddy. I bring up things Dougie and Marilyn and I did periodically in conversations with friends so they are never far from me. I see Norbert every summer at the beach and I hear about Honoré from a mutual friend.

I don't know what happened to Mr. Westenberger but I have never forgotten him. As I get deeper and deeper into the more challenging years of my life, I think of him often. Yesterday, he came vividly to mind as I walked the wall; I wished I'd asked him a question instead of being afraid of him.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I made a List

These Crusty Orange Briches are new to my
local French bakery. It's only a block from
my place, et ça me plaît beaucoup.

I made a list on Tuesday. It contained all the little things I needed to buy and all the little tasks that I’d been putting off around my place that needed doing. It was comprehensive and once I complete it I will be able to exist every day knowing that absolutely nothing is wrong or missing chez moi.

I’ve been on the go ever since with errands and jobs. My only indulgences have been watching Inside Llewyn Davis on Wednesday night and walking the seawall this morning (early, so I could do errands all the rest of the day).

I have culled things from my kitchen cabinets and drawers — things I’ve had for decades and never touched. Pants are hemmed, aquarium plants have been dramatically pruned, order has been brought to all the places chaos lived. Plus, I have new glass kitchen containers so I do not use saran wrap and so I can see what inside all the things in my fridge. A

All that remains to be done is to have a plumber come in to do some work. I have no idea where the impetus to do all this has come from, but I love the outcome.

Below is a post about Oscar Isaac who so impressed me in Inside Llewyln Davis. Here is my friend Beth’s response to my digital swoon about the movie: “Have to tell you, I hated that movie so much I walked out. An entire film focussed on a whiny self-important self-involved loser with not a social skill to his name - God, it made my flesh crawl.” (She liked Oscar Isaac's performance though not the Coen's roles.)

Inside Oscar Isaac

The Death of Queen Jane

Last night I watched Inside Llewlyn Davis. Made in 2013 by the Coen brothers, it stars the truly unbelievable Oscar Isaac. This guy can seriously act and he is stunningly photogenic. Plus, he gets to play an interesting complex character.

This is a film that follows a formula I love: A story with few players that unfolds chronologically and occurs in a relatively short period of time. And, little happens of consequence. There are no big moments; it is simply a glimpse of life. I loved it.

I watched this whole movie, set in the Greenwich Village heydays of the 1960s with nostalgic eyes. I lived through the folk music era and loved many of its practitioners and this film very effectively captures the time and the music. It is a very musical film.

There are two particularly powerful and moving musical scenes. In one, Llewelyn sings The Death of Queen Jane at an audition that goes nowhere. It is, Isaacs is, absolutely perfection; you totally believe it is Isaacs singing. And when he sings Shoals of Herring for his disappearing father, the world stops.

Isaccs is in nearly every scene. It is a tour-de-force performance so I watched the credits with interest to see what I could learn. I was gob smacked; Oscar Isaacs not only did the singing, he plays the guitar and he did a lot of the arranging. Is there anything this guy can’t do?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Rita: The Script

I started writing Rita November first of last year. And here’s it’s non-compelling log line: It’s a play about people. I don’t need a compelling log line for this project because it’s only for me. It feels kind of creepy to be honest.

I feel like the man in Room. However, instead of keeping a woman captive in a shed for my sexual purposes destined never to see the light of day, I have a script in a file that will never be seen and which provides me with an obsessional outlet for my needs.

I began writing Rita with an idea for its arc but I never got past its first scene. Every time I opened the file, I re-wrote the first scene and during all my walks I would think about how I would change the subsequent re-write.

I never changed the basic premise of scene one: A man and his friend, pregnant with his child, come home from a day at work to eat take-out together and when they arrive, there is a phone message from the man’s step mother, Rita, that shapes the content of the scene. It’s a set-up scene, slightly humorous, with an expository purpose.

But yesterday I opened a new file  and started fresh. I had a date with my friend Tim to see Anomalisa at one thirty. That meant I had seven hours to write.

Although the scene still involves eating take-out food and the same two characters, I added another character and removed the phone message that shaped the entire scene. I did not do a re-write, I wrote an entirely new scene and I am so happy with it I am writing about it here. (Don’t forget: This is a project being written by a forthright blogger who posts almost daily but has not written about this project since its inception.)

What thrills me is this: I have read interviews with several great writers in which the writer has said that their work often goes in directions that they do not anticipate. I have lived for decades believing some very good writers have produced masterpieces by developing characters, not plot. They let their characters determine the plot, and that is what is happening with me and Rita.

I could never afford this approach before retirement. It’s too risky and I needed a guaranteed income. I wrote formulaically to exploit niche markets. I do not aspire to greatness; that is not the point of telling you about how great writers have said of their writing.

What I have always wanted to do and been afraid to do is write fiction. But magic happened — well not magic, Warren Kimmel. Warren spent a year convincing me that my autobiographical play, Knock Knock, should become a movie and once convinced to try, I found myself having to write dialogue and I had never written dialogue before. Knock Knock was a series of monologues interspersed with songs.

Fictional literature and dialogue were things I was afraid of. But the screenplay passed every test on its route to being successfully sold to Convergent. Its sale gave me confidence and ignited a passion in me for writing dialogue. That passion is the impetus for Rita — the kind of writing that has the potential to fulfill me more than anything I have ever done.

I love this project because its not about me or for me to perform. It has absolutely nothing to do with me. Yes, it’s inspired by my experience with Rita Ferguson, my late father’s fairly recently deceased partner but its not about Rita Ferguson or me; and for me, that is its greatest value. Dave, Karen and Ross are entirely fictitious.

When I took creative writing at UBC I had a zillion assignments, each one addressing a different writing or challenge. One of the hardest ones was to write a set of instructions for a blind person about what a screw is, what a screwdriver is and how to use one. But the hardest one of all for everyone was the last one. It had the most weight in marks, too.

It was one we had to make up ourselves. Every aspect of it was up to us. It was hell.

First we had to submit our idea. It had to be compelling. Once accepted by our prof, we had to write it. Then a surprise: We had to decide who, of all the faculty at UBC, should grade it. We had to write an essay for our prof explaining our choice of evaluator (deductive explanatory copy) and then we had to write to our chosen appraiser to earn his or her agreement to adjudicate our work (persuasive copywriting).

All our assignments were like my career: purposeful writing tasks designed to earn an essential reward. The last assignment gave us an exquisitely accurate experience with speculative writing — hard and a huge risk but with the potential for big reward.

I aced my last assignment. (It was about personal hygiene.) I aced everything really — my courses, my marks and I had a very economically and emotionally satisfying career.  But I never reached for the top. I never tried writing pure fiction until now and boy it feels great because this first scene is good and I don’t need anyone else’s validation to know it.