Watching: Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk on creativity, where she says that, in Roman times, it’s not that you were a genius but that you had a genius. Like a little helper who lived in your walls and spread inspiration juice on your projects. That. Is. Amazing. And would make me feel so much better about being a dunce, if I could just pass off those moments of staring at the blinking cursor as “My creativity elf is NOT doing its job today.”

Listening: to This American Life on Saturday and learned about another aspect of human oddity, i.e., how people dealt with the closing of Circuit City. Customers tried to squirrel away their merchandise under other products and shelving until the last day (which the employees found and re-shelved) and they frequently uttered the refrain: “That’s why you’re going out of business” whenever they felt customer service, amidst the liquidation frenzy, was less-than-ideal.

Reading: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I only started it because of the first two pages, which begin, “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. He’d been dead for ten days before they found him, you know…”

Singing: Bohemian Rhapsody. I woke up with the tune in my head and started singing little scraps of verses, between making coffee and pilfering the laundry for wearable socks, until I realized (a kid riding a first bike, wobble wobble, go go go!) that I knew pretty much all the words. Maybe I’ve been doing karaoke in my sleep.

New things

1) The word “corker”. My grandmother said “Oh, he’s such a corker,” to describe someone funny but slightly intolerable.

2) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document has been around since 1948. I am coming late to the party. Perhaps because it was not “disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.”

3) I bought my first Cadbury Eggs of the season yesterday. (I’d seen the single eggs sold for a while, but I just found one of the four-packs.  The loose ones develop minor cracks and the foil sticks to the outside and that’s a no-go.)

4) I went to my first yoga class yesterday morning and saluted the sun.

Buffalo, news

Buffalo, New York is a one-newspaper town. When I was visiting my parents recently I tried to explain how in Chicago, people don’t really read printed newspapers anymore, they get their news online. My dad sounded surprised. It’s not that he doesn’t use the internet or email, but a printed newspaper is part of everyone’s day.

When I was growing up, the newspaper arrived by 3pm, so I could always pick it up  along with the mail in the box at the end of our driveway, when I got off the school bus. When I walked in the door I tossed down my backpack and spread out the newspaper on the kitchen table. I mostly read the Lifestyles section, which was a mish-mash of people-centric features, advice columns, travel stories,  and whatever was less tedious than police reports, sports and politics. I learned about worlds outside of my suburban town.

I read at least some portion of the newspaper every day, and so did my parents.  At 4am my dad was just getting home from work at the GM plant. If I woke up early enough, or stayed up late enough, I could tiptoe downstairs and find him at the kitchen table eating leftovers and reading the newspaper. I grabbed whatever section he wasn’t reading, and the messy stack of paper united us for a moment.

We had a drawer of “important things” in the dining room in the bottom of the china cabinet, and that’s where we kept the last copy ever printed by The Courier-Express, which used to be the other newspaper in town, along with a few papers printed right after the biggest storms, the headlines screaming BLIZZARD.  Next to the cabinet we kept the most recent papers piled on a chair, in case you missed something.

I am enamored of paper  itself — something that began as a living and growing thing.  I spent a summer interning at an alternative weekly that had its offices next to the printing presses, where I could watch the huge rolls of newsprint spin on their spindles; the smell of the warm ink made me feel that work and knowledge permeated the building. People say newspapers aren’t practical anymore. But there are things we will miss, if everything is online: The communal stack on the kitchen table. The binding of the organic object with the human thought.  Maybe I will carve a story into the skin of a red pepper and we’ll all sit down to lunch.

Things in my bag right now

One copy of How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fischer; one copy of What Should I do With My Life? by Po Bronson; one small glass jar of tomato soup from my FreshPicks box last week (lunch!); the nice red wallet my dad got me for Christmas because he said my tattered one would make airport security search me for drugs; the 2009 day planner I’m finally getting around to using; the journal I got in Guatemala — now with just a few blank pages left;  four creased pieces of  white computer paper that I scrawled a bunch of notes on and have been meaning to type up for a month; the remains of the plastic bracket that’s supposed to attach my new ULock to my just-tuned-up bike but a part snapped off yesterday on my first ride of the season; the bit of paper with Mara’s email address, tucked away while we shared her mug of coffee with soy milk and waited for a lancha on my last day in San Marcos; a pen.

Every March

Maybe it’s something about March. When the ice is gone  but the gray remains, the cold bites at your neck because you forgot to wear a scarf because it’s sunny — but upon closer inspection it’s that weak-ass sun piped in like tinny elevator muzak, the only cut-rate sun they could find and are trying to foist off on us like the Cabbage Patch my mom got me one Christmas that only had one shoe and was a boy doll, besides.  

To me the most important holiday in March is First Nice Day. I know, I know, there’s St. Patricks Day. But First Nice Day is a Chicago holiday that doesn’t exist on any calendar, and usually someone on Clark St. hangs out the window of a second-story apartment and plays banjo and I don’t need to wear a coat.  This year on First Nice Day I took a long lunch hour and walked over by the train tracks.

Now it’s back to regular March, and it’s enough to bottom me out. I feel like the prisoner in those movies who was given a bit of meat (a little bacon this time) in the usual gruel, just for added torture. If I indulge in extra existential crises, am cranky from too much or too little coffee, look at you with weary resignation instead of empathy, write in my journal a lot, stay in bed a little longer than average… well, it’s March.

Fuego redux

On Saturday I was toasting pine nuts in the broiler in preparation for a dinner with friends. I love making dinner for people. It is my excuse to indulge in extravagant new recipes and flavor combos, in this case: chili pepper peanut spinach pine-nut pasta. But distracted by a domestic kerfuffle with K, I forgot the pine nuts, and returned from the living room to a smoke-smelling stove. I turned off the burner, thinking I’d scorched the spinach, and then realized the whole broiler was on fire. The pine nuts.

My brain became a calculator: What puts out fire? Flour will smother it. I started flailing through all the cabinets; where did that bag of flour go? I  located a bag of white sugar. Brain said no: Sugar = charred carmely mess.  Kevin opened the broiler and tried to blow it out and the flames licked back at him like in some action movie. I dumped a plastic dish tub of water in the oven. But the broiler was just a little cupboard of flames. And I saw why it’s important to keep your fire-fighting supplies close at hand, with the flames growing exponentially larger and more and more black smoke crawling up the walls and along the ceiling. 

I ran upstairs to see if our landlord had a fire extinguisher. They did not, but the landlord and his son rushed downstairs to help. Keeping the oven door closed helped put it out, and soon we were flame-less. We walked through every room opening windows and doors to the chilly evening air.

Dinner guests (hi, SJ-Y and Robin!) arrived  a few minutes later and were good-humored enough to go with us to a BYOB Thai restaurant down the street. Plus take us out for karaoke afterwards.

We were lucky. I’m not sure if our oven still works. 

But nothing seems so bad, on the other side of a put-out fire.

The one place you want to be

Yesterday Caitlin and I brainstormed future lives — in other countries, with other professions. Maybe their winter will be our summer. We’ll forget that it gets cold in June. Maybe this recession is a depression. We should be saving milk bottles and bits of tin foil. Maybe we should be: watching the pale winter sun stream through the dirty plate-glass window of a coffee shop on Clark St.; rubbing the salt stains off our suede sneakers with windburned fingertips, sharing recipes for bread and yogurt made from scratch — bacteria is your best friend — and thinking this $2.50 for an espresso will be the last one of  the week. And the sun through the dirty plate glass window pools under the smooth pine table like a dog at our feet, today is warmer than yesterday, and everything seems possible — bread, yogurt, and everything.

Muffin time

I waste a lot of time. Like, this weekend I spent — no kidding — two hours looking for the perfect muffin recipe to solve my ever-present breakfast dilemma.

 I was envisioning wheaty but not cardboardy, moist, crisp, hot, sweet but not too sweet. And it’s nearly impossible to judge that based on a list of ingrediants and directions. This would be a risk. So I chucked multiple hours into the time-grinder while I sifted through recipes: some required too much: whole overrripe bananas — who has the patience to wait for a banana to go bad? Some were too cupcake-y. I turned them away, this is no job for you, sweetcheeks. Finally I cracked open my trusty Moosewood cookbook that I’ve had for like 10 years and found their Multigrain Muffin recipe. Kevin accompanied me on a trek to the grocery store through the sideways-blowing snow and picked up ingrediants we lacked. We added a half cup of applesauce and a half cup of crushed walnuts to the proceedings.

And friends, I have to tell you, it was worth it: wheaty but not cardboardy, moist, crisp, hot, sweet but not too sweet. This morning I packed up two of these and — abracadabra — portable breakfast.

But it is really easy to spend way too much time on muffins.