Everything hints of autumn now. The drought has so stressed the plants and trees, many of the leaves have started to turn. Yesterday's windstorm dropped a carpet of leaves, the colchicum are in bloom early, and the garden seems ready to hunker down for winter. And yet, the rhubarb continues well past spring, the butterfly bush has new blossoms, and an hour ago we sampled our first grape harvest. Tomorrow the beloved and I celebrate 12 years. We feel at once like newlyweds and two people who have been together (and will be together) forever. Spring, summer, fall, winter. Time is nothing more than the mechanism by which we measure, and often hope to forestall, change.
A sense of adventure requires something of a sense of humor, too. When our friends up the street, who live in a small enclave of artists, invited us to a Mad Max costume party, I wasn't terribly excited about it. After all, costume parties and I have never gotten along very well, and some small disaster seems accompany them. Plus, I wasn't that keen on the latest Mad Max, which, to me, felt like one big car chase in the desert. I kept expecting the characters from that 70s kids' show, The Banana Splits, to pop out at any moment. Not to mention that after making breakfast, cleaning rooms, and our usual crazy days keeping up with the B&B, we were headed to a poetry reading by Marvin Bell (it was incredible!) on Shaw Island earlier in the evening. But I decided not to be a spoil sport or a prude or just plain boring, and pulled together what I thought was a pretty respectable Mad Max costume.
Picture goggles, black, post-industrial clothing, including the funky shoulder armor they wear (okay, mine was made of fabric, not repurposed tires, but stay with me here). I was pretty much geared up and decked out, right down to the black makeup around one eye.
My husband refused to play dress up, despite all my warnings that he would be the only one not in costume. We got to the party, and--yes, you guessed it--no one but me was in costume. They'd postponed the costume party to celebrate Matt's birthday, which I also didn't know about.
Deciding to make the best of it, I cracked jokes about starring in the next film until one guy said to me, "I didn't know you were in costume. I just thought you had a black eye, and I didn't want to say anything."
The real party is now planned for September. This time I'm going as myself, but with a large and belated birthday gift for Matt.
Eating is an act of trust. When I walk into the room, my cat, Aengus, often heads straight for his food bowl. You see, our very large goofball of a dog had once dashed over to Aengus's bowl, while the cat was eating, and devoured every morsel. We were all relieved because at first it looked as though he intended to eat the cat. Aengus certainly seemed to think so. Now, Aengus waits until my husband and I are present before eating his food. My guess is that he trusts us to watch his back, and that this perhaps mirrors the behaviors of, say, a pride of lions, each taking turns eating and watching the horizon (or, in this case, doorway) for other potential predators.
In humans, the act of eating triggers our bodies to produce oxytocin, which affects our ability to trust and form bonds with others. The communal table truly does contribute toward building community. When I think of how, for years, I spent lunches alone at my desk, catching up on work, I regret the missed opportunities to get to know my co-workers and form lasting bonds. At least now my husband and I can form bonds with the guests who eat breakfast at our place each morning.
Red Rabbit Farm on Orcas Island, owned by Bruce and Christina Orchid (of world-renowned restaurant Christina's fame), serve family style dinners at their place near Westsound on Orcas Island. At a long farm table, under an open-air canopy, and with views of the water and islands, the setting is sumptuous. Friends and neighbors--some longtime, some just met--savor course after course of farm-fresh and organic dishes prepared by the Orchids and their amazing staff. Dining in this idyllic setting, I can't help but wonder what would happen if the people of the world had the chance to dine regularly with strangers from strange cultures. I suspect we would all feel a little less foreign to each other, that we would bond, learn to trust one another, and develop true friendships. What would happen if you invited someone culturally different from yourself to dinner with your friends or family? Would it be the equivalent of, "I've got your back. You're safe here. Relax and enjoy." Would you be contributing toward world peace? Want to give it a try?
Inspired by a recent trip to one of my favorite bakeries, The Bread Farm, in Edison, WA, I baked bread today. Sourdough dill. Their motto, "Make bread not war" (thank you, John and Yoko), elevates baking to a higher social and political realm. Can one be an activist in the kitchen? We certainly think so, but not only by baking bread. Ever since my husband (who prefers not to be named, so I will call him C) and I made the commitment to choose local, non-GMO, and organic ingredients in our cooking whenever possible, we have felt good about supporting those food growers and suppliers who share our commitment. And we have felt good about protecting the earth in small ways. It's hard to say whether the guests at our bed and breakfast appreciate that their food is organic and local. Some do. We're careful not to jump on the soapbox with our guests, after all, they didn't pay to stay at our place and hear our political opinions.
But should that caution spread to my writing? When do political views in writing cross the line into proselytizing? Last week I had dinner with a fellow writer who is interested in democratic processes for protecting the environment, and I told her many of the writers I know feel they can't or shouldn't be "too political" in their writing. Of course, we all understand that our values become apparent through our talk and actions, so it's not as if we can sanitize writing of politics. The question is how much is too much? And for me the questions are also how much courage do I have to share my social, political, and environmental ideas and ideals? Will anyone care to read those things? Will anyone care to read work without them? If I shy away from expressing what's important to me, do I strip the core and gravitas from my writing? One of my biggest fears is that I will offend others. And yet, by engaging in a democratic dialogue, one is bound to express ideas others don't agree with, and any offense taken is perhaps indicative of an unwillingness or inability on their part to listen as part of the democratic process. Though, truth be told, most of the time I have more questions than ideas, so maybe the listening role is more up to me.
Certainly writers do considerably more "listening," including research and reading, than actual writing. I guess I'm just talking myself through (and perhaps into) the idea of being more honest in my work, and not letting fears dilute the writing. The opposite end of the pendulum swing would be to write something with such a blatant political agenda the art of the writing suffers. I'm about 100 pages into Dave Eggers' The Circle, and wondering if he may have done exactly that. Pages and pages describing the corporate culture of the the Circle, but, as yet, minimal plot. Obviously, there's a balance, but having the objectivity to recognize what is or isn't working is the tricky part. Insert the predictable comparisons to bread dough and finding the right balance of ingredients, temperature, etc., etc. Or simply write with candor and trust the story or essay or poem more than any political movement that may be trying to assert its influence. Then bake. And make bread, not war.
For years I have studied (and practiced!) the tradition of walking and writing, tracing its origins in poetry back to the medieval French poetic form, the chanson d'aventure, where poets walked into new environs for inspiration and sometimes enlightenment. Starting this blog is a bit of a chanson d'aventure. I hope to walk--and sometimes sail, ride, fly, and drive--into new territory, sharing my adventures in images and words along the way. This photo from a recent ferry sailing between Anacortes and Orcas Island, WA seems an apt beginning. The view looks west across the Salish Sea into the sunset from the Washington State Ferry system's newest vessel, the M/V Samish. Often the best part of an adventure is the return home, so I begin there, as a reminder to myself of my chosen home and the home I always carry with me. May your adventures be ever full of inspiration, enlightenment, and the best parts of home.
Jill McCabe Johnson's research and writing practice follow the tradition of the French Medieval poetic form, the "chanson d'aventure" or song of adventure, where a writer walks into a new environment for enlightenment and inspiration.