Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Zinnias and books and food and adventures of an immigrant

I was listening to Steve Roberts on the radio today talking about a new book he's written, well, compiled from student accounts, about immigration. He is the son of the first generation, and his interviewer, Diane Rehm, is too. His family from Russia and Poland, hers from Egypt. So they were talking about the huge undertaking of emigrating from the land of your forepeople, and leaving behind all that is familiar, food, friends, maybe relatives, definitely scenery, and all the hardship it entails.

Which is very sympathetic of them, but I think they missed a HUGE piece of this. HP and I are immigrants ourselves, came here on our own initiative in my twenties, his thirties, as a newly married and dead broke couple. We had to sell stuff in order to raise the cash for the sailing tickets! and make a credit union loan before we even landed, in order to be able to actually get overland from New York, our port of entry, to Wisconsin, where HP was to do postdoc. work with other atom scientists. And the day after we got to Wis. I had to go out and find work for rent and groceries, since HP was not going to be paid for another month. In the middle of January. In Wisconsin. Aie! walking everywhere, neither of us either drove or could possibly afford to at that time.

Anyway, I don't want to go on an on in my worn out cardboard shoes and whine, but did want to make the point that we were quite alone, no family nor friends there, we simply broke our own path in life, never took a loan after that credit union one, owed nothing to anybody, created our own careers in different fields.

And it has all been the most amazing adventure! there is nothing, nothing, as exciting as starting over, remaking who you are and what you're about, free of the expectations built into your origins, in a country where we literally have been able to find opportunities to do practically everything we wanted to.

Where my northern Brit accent was not a liability as it was in England, and my religion was not a regrettable fact, as it was there, and where I could breathe the air, which I couldn't back there, either. There was no work there, for people with posh degrees, and I had a short life expectation, I was told by my doctors, not beyond the age of 30 unless I got out, into a place where there was actual air, not the black stuff lying around where we lived. Which unfortunately was where our education was available.

So anyway, that's ancient history, but I wonder if people who have never done it can grasp the excitement of taking your own life into your own hands and deciding where you will be and what you will do. And succeeding, and often failing, on your own terms. Judged as what you are, not who you are related to.

Well, I'll calm down now, and leave you with this paean of praise to the joy of Getting Out and Doing Better!

Oddly enough this program came right after I'd finished reading Hilary Mantel's Giving up the Ghost, a memoir I read while Im waiting for her Booker Prize book, Wolf Hall, for which I'm approximately 254th in line at the libe. And I found that I wish I'd known about her before.

Reading her is like riding a power drill -- she just blasts right through the emotions and memories of her childhood, sometimes funny, sometimes elegiac, always shiningly intelligent and with a huge respect for the intelligence of her readers. In fact she mentions this in passing, that writers need to be able to trust that their readers are smart enough to get what they're offering. She doesn't say, but I think might imply, that if the reader doesn't get it, it's not the writer's job to hammer it home! You practically need a seatbelt to stay with her, going at warp speed through many layers of experience and thinking and dreams and fears and ambitions.

And there are parallels between her life and this reader's: growing up working class in an area where Protestant and Catholic knew who was which, and Catholics heard themselves described in less than happy ways, first in her family to get beyond high school in education, struggling against ill health for years on end.

But here's the truly eerie, woowoo music part: I kept on wondering why her refs. to Bankbottom, and Hadfield, and Hyde, Cheshire were familiar, and realizing, I'd written that address many times in correspondence with an old uni friend I kept up with for many years -- she lived on the exact same street as Mantel grew up on, about ten doors down. Mantel was born much later, so I doubt the families knew each other, but if that isn't eerie...

Speaking of trusting your reader's ability to get what you're saying, Mary Wesley does this all the time. In A Sensible Life, which I have just reread, she does this in wonderful scenes. There's one in which the protagonists are talking at the side of a river where an old trout is lurking, having escaped capture for years by the man in the scene.

The woman after a while indicates that she can see the trout there, though the man had assumed she had no idea. And we know that he thinks he's hooking her, and she knows he is trying to, and is not planning to be hooked. But this isn't shoved home at us, it's just lightly touched on with the few words describing the trout, no need for more. Mary Wesley can not write a bad novel, and I think I've read all she's written.

I thought about that trusting the reader notion, right before I read it in Mantel, so I was kind of pleased that I'd noticed, gold star for me!

And I close with three nice things: one is a view of today's lunch, cooked in one of the many terrific pans I've rescued from the dumpster lately, and a new adventure i food for us.

Mustard greens, sauteed in olive oil with garlic, onions, turmeric, black pepper, with chunks of flounder sauteed separately, then added. Then I finished it in the oven, so the mustard greens were not quite as hot as they started out. It went over big, and fast. So we'll do this again.

I saw a food show about mustard greens and though, hm, must try this. I did blanch a whole bunch of them the day before, and froze several batches for future use like this or in soup or something yet to be invented..

The second thing is a scarf I'm making from the Yarn Harlot's recent blog, although hers was her homespun and mine is harvested lambswool, being created for a friend who has hit a great big snag in life and I think she needs a little present.

I made another scarf, last week, different friend, different sort of present, different yarn, different needles, same stitch, which came out interestingly unlike this one. If you want the pattern it's: cast on 26, or any number divisible by 4 plus two, then a single row is the whole pattern, which you repeat till distracted, namely knit two, knit one in back of loop, purl one, repeat these four stitches all the way to last two stitches which you knit. That's it. Amazingly complicated looking, considering.

And last, not at all least, the last zinnias of summer on the patio.

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