There is something missing in the San Jacinto Valley this spring.
The sunflowers are missing.
Where I would normally see sunflowers I am seeing small yellow flowers. This time last year sunflowers were all over the place. This year we had an unusually wet winter and (with the exception of a few hot days) an unusually mild spring with a lot of clouds and a robust marine layer. Maybe sunflowers don’t like that.
Sunflowers represent hope and new beginnings for me. In the spring of 1971 I was a senior at Hemet High School. There were sunflowers all around that year. I was enjoying the final semester of my coursework (all electives I wanted to take!) and looking forward to attending Pitzer College in the fall. I also spent some time with a marvelous young woman named Peggy. We went out a couple of times. Hemet’s lone single-screen theater was showing a Sophia Loren movie called Sunflower. It was an awful movie, but I got to spend some time with Peggy. I regret that my social ineptitude meant that the relationship didn’t really go anywhere.
So sunflowers have always been a symbol of expectation, moving forward, and happiness to me. I miss them this year.
As a result of my surgery I have one really big dietary restriction: no red meat. Not for three to six months from the date of the surgery. Now exactly what that means depends on who you talk to. When my surgeon’s assistant tried to clarify that for me she got varying responses. She told me that two nurses said that it meant only beef, while two doctors told her that it meant both beef and pork. The nurse who removed my staples and who is very familiar with my surgeon said it meant only beef. But when I finally had my follow-up with my surgeon he couched the restriction in the broadest possible terms: no beef, pork, lamb, etc.
Now as a practical matter only the first two affect me (I never eat lamb), but that still creates a huge impact on my diet. It means I am restricted to poultry, seafood, and vegetarian dishes. Given that I’m not keen on a diet based exclusively on chicken and turkey, and since a diet heavy on seafood is not practical, I have to open myself up to more vegetarian food.
Long time readers of this blog may recall that I have flirted with a vegetarian diet in the past, and more than once. This is not exactly new and unfamiliar territory for me. I know a vegetarian diet is healthier for me as an individual and it’s far better for the health of the planet. That is one thing that has not changed a bit since Frances Moore Lappé first published Diet for a Small Planet in 1971.
The question, then, is how to eat vegetarian. It’s the same question I have asked intermittently since the 1970s. The easy path, the path taking the least amount of thought, is to go with meat substitutes. I bought a package of veggie bacon strips which were awful. Some of the meat substitutes aren’t so bad, however. Soy crumbles make a great vegetarian chili when properly seasoned, and black bean burgers can be very tasty.
A vegetarian snob, however, and even a serious vegetarian who is not a snob, would say that one ought to cook vegetarian dishes that stand on their own and which do not try to emulate meat dishes. Perhaps that’s not as easy as it might first sound. Mollie Katzen admits that in her first edition of The Mousewood Cookbook she tried to create recipes specifically so the meat wouldn’t be missed. But that was decades ago (1974) and a lot of vegetarian cookbooks have been published since then, a good number of them with some very tasty, savory dishes. Martha Rose Shulman, one can make the case, is a master of this sort of recipe in her cookbooks.
It’s not an easy journey right now, but it is one that is highly manageable.
La lucha continua, if I may be so presumptuous as to borrow from those engaged in the fight for social justice.
The book Silences was originally published in 1978. This edition is a 2003 reprint with a long introduction that page homage to Tillie Olsen and gives her credit for broadening the scope of reading lists in college curriculum.
The book is a strange hodgepodge conglomeration. The first two pieces are reconstructions of talks Olsen gave in which she calls out the marginalization of women authors and writers of color. Points very well and clearly made.
This is followed by Olsen’s very long afterword to the 1972 reprint of the nineteenth century expose, Life in the Iron Mills by Rebecca Harding Davis, a marginalized writer writing about marginalized men and women and their horrific working conditions.
The book then includes excerpts from a variety of authors, many of whom were not at all marginalized. Olsen also writes about the poor pay authors receive and the lack of recognition given women writers.
This is a book of the 1970’s. I was in the book business in those days and when Olsen writes that most publishing houses “are now owned by” conglomerate corporations I can only think that is nothing at all compared to the consolidated state of publishing today.
If nothing else Silences captures one worldview in the 1970’s and for that it is worth preserving.
Have a safe, festive, and fun New Year’s Eve!
Here’s my recollection of my trip to the 1975 Rose Parade.
I have had a long-term relationship with Joyce Maynard. It goes back to the 1970’s. Joyce does not know me and has no idea as to who I am. Yet she has influenced my life and thinking for over forty years.
I first became acquainted with Joyce shortly after I graduated from Pitzer College in 1975. It was not long after I went to work at B. Dalton Bookseller when I read her 1973 book Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties, expanded from an essay that appeared in the New York Times Magazine. I felt an immediate and deep connection with her and recognized that we shared many of the same values about growing up, leaving home, and heading out into the world. The book touched me deeply as I was leaving the sheltered world of academia and figuring out how to buy my own groceries and pay my own rent. At that time I had no clue that she was the 18-year-old who had moved in with J.D. Salinger.
I was disappointed, therefore, to hear Joyce’s commentaries for the Spectrum series on CBS radio. Back in those days CBS radio had a rotating group of commentators who offered short audio essays on current affairs. Joyce always took the conservative perspective, very much at odds with her viewpoint in Looking Back. I was further disappointed, devastated, and hurt, I felt stabbed in the back, when I read a piece of hers, I don’t remember where, in which she wrote that what she said in Looking Back was not what she really felt but what she believed readers of the era wanted to see. Joyce, how could you?
In spite of this betrayal I paid attention when I saw her name, and I was compelled to buy and read her 1998 “tell-all” book about her life with Salinger, At Home in the World. I felt sympathy for her naiveté and ineptness, but she wrote nothing to heal the original betrayal.
Joyce resurfaced recently, when I turned the page of the September 9 New York Times Book Review and saw her name on a full-page essay. She notes that twenty years have passed since the publication of At Home in the World. She reminds me that we are very close to the same age (there’s only three months difference, in fact). She writes of being ostracized by the literary community for the perceived betrayal of Salinger in her book, and about how, after all these years and after all of the novels and other books she has written over the decades, she is still most remembered, by some at least, for her brief relationship with Salinger.
I feel a certain sympathy, even some empathy for her. But Joyce, you still betrayed me more than forty years ago. I should be over all that, I know. The truth, nonetheless, is that I hardly knew ye.
The options these days for entertainment are overwhelming. If you have cable or satellite, in addition to the basic channels you have the option of HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, Starz, and Epix. If you like to stream you have Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and a whole range of other services. These are services that you can get through your Smart TV, your Blu-ray player, your Roku device, or your tablet, smart phone, or computer.
It was not always so.
My senior year in college, 1974-75, I rented a room off campus in a beautiful old house on College Avenue in Claremont. Somehow I managed to get a portable black and white TV. I think perhaps my parents bought it for me. Claremont sits at the eastern edge of Los Angeles County, so I had access to all of the L.A. television stations via my rabbit-ear antenna and my loop antenna for UHF.
I could flip the dial for the VHF stations or set the VHF tuner to “U” and scan the UHF stations on the separate UHF dial. I think I was able to get three, maybe four, PBS stations. How incredibly cool was that?
I had no complaints. I didn’t think I was missing anything. (Except for a sex life, but that’s a different story.) It was a simpler time.
An Olive Street recollection.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been forty-three years since I graduated from college. As the Wallace Shawn character in the movie Princess Bride kept saying, “Inconceivable!” (“I don’t think that word means what you think it does, boss.”)
When I moved into the Olive Street apartment after graduation with my roommate George we kept expenses down and our needs were simple. Our dining room table was a pice of plywood on two saw horses. Georges’s desk was a door from the lumber yard (long before Home Depot and Lowe’s) on four orange crates. For compartmentalization and document storage he used empty Pringle’s potato chip cans.
I had a small desk that I had acquired from my patents and slept on a roll away bed from the same source.
Orange crates, by the way, weren’t what you might expect. Originally they were in fact made to hold oranges. But when Sunkist switched to cardboard boxes from those wooden crates a smart entrepreneur moved into the Sunkist warehouse by the railroad tracks and started making orange crates that never held oranges. He astutely priced them so they were affordable to college and post-college folks like myself who, almost universally, used them for furniture and shelving.
So when it came to candle holders we were equally frugal. An empty wine bottle made a great candle holder. And sometimes, as now, I simply need to go back to that place.
It’s not such a bad thing, really.