One of the orchids flowered this last month and produced this new plant. It was the last on the card for the month.
I slouch around in loose dock pants, a slouchy beret, or a leather seaman’s cap. No one goes to a museum store to buy replicas of my gear!
So you wonder why my usual demur, sometimes inscrutable style of writing has become agitated? It’s the bloody New York Times.
The Times had an article on people buying replicas of famous artists’ gear. Want to look like Warhol – there’s a platinum wig. You can get Picasso’s shirt if it’s your particular kink. Klimt’s painting smock is also available. They suggest that it’s no longer enough to buy notecards with art reproductions or wear T-shirts with artists peering out at the world. Now you can dress just like the artist. You can be an avatar of Pablo or Gustav.
They have all the panache but none of the angst of trying to create, no sitting there looking for motivation, struggling with technique, and worried about if it will sell.
It’s the ultimate in an already fake society. You can’t or won’t try to create, but you’ll fake it till you make it.
Humans have a prodigious ability to create and destroy. The very concept of culture ( big C or little c) is something that we are continuously developing and eliminating. So traditions exist as a process; we continually reshape them even as we celebrate them. I’ll have to beg the reader’s forgiveness; although I no longer work as an anthropologist, I’ll never shake the orientation.
Family traditions offer a look into the processes of development and loss. In October of 2023, I’ll initiate the 50th anniversary of the Carreras family fruitcakes. Were fruitcakes a Carreras family tradition before then? Nope. And I honestly do not remember why I settled on making fruitcakes that fall fifty years ago. But every fall since I start on the family fruitcakes – which after baking, settle in for a long rum-soaked gestation before being shipped off for family eating during Christmas.
I was looking for something to replace my grandmother’s Poppyseed bread. Grandma had died years before without leaving a recipe and without taking apprentices. So her tradition, dating back generations in her family, effectively died with her.
Replace a traditional Hungarian treat with fruitcake? As a family, we tried to duplicate her recipe without luck. She had always been elusive on her secrets, a sort of “pinch of this, a pinch of that” description of the process that guaranteed it could not be duplicated. So as a family, we eventually threw in the towel on reproducing it. A family tradition lost.
That was where we were the year I first made my rum-soaked fruitcakes. The first year I only made two; one for myself and my wife and one for my parents. Things evolved. Over the years, the recipe evolved; ingredients were added, quantities changed, and the rum-soaking technique matured. Eventually, I reached about twenty cakes and distributed fruit cakes in early December to any family member who appreciated them. There is a bit of drudgery involved in making that many. but commitment is part of tradition.
At fifty years, I can look back and see how the tradition started, developed, and is being passed on. A few years ago, my oldest son apprenticed, transcribed the recipe, and can now make the cakes. I fully expect that, over time, his cakes will vary from the ones I made. That’s part of what makes traditions alive; they change and develop while staying steady parts of our expectations in life.
About seven years ago, I was able to replicate grandma’s Poppyseed bread. I now bake this for the family at Christmas time and tell the story about how she rewarded and punished family members by giving them loaves with more or less filling. After all, it’s not only the food that makes the tradition; it’s the telling of the stories surrounding it.
Families are microcosms of culture, and family traditions connect members across generations leading back to the past and forward to the future.
What’s worse than failure? Or makes a bad situation worse? And what turns good advice upside down? It has to be apathy.
I don’t think a single emotion is useless, but apathy crawls as close to the finish as possible.
OK, take a look at these optics; the Peaceable Kingdom. Kitty and doggie share a minute of peace over a shared family meal. Who’d guess that most of the last nine months have been spent growling, hissing, and swatting at each other? Perhaps the tedium of enduring dispute became too much to bear? Nope, a need to get lazy humans to get their dinner to them by the contractually dictated five PM.
You see, pets in our house have a union. The union has a contract, and woe is to a mere human to violate the agreement. A contract magnifies the God-given rights of Cats, Dogs, and other creatures as defined in the contract.
However, unity is essential. It took some months for Xenia, the Local’s combined Shop Steward and Business Agent, to get the new talent to start paying dues.
So this is how it goes down around quarter to five in the afternoon. The cat strolls into the kitchen. Obstructs traffic, begins to look first at the clock on the wall, and glares at whatever human is in the kitchen. A few minutes later, the dog wanders in, sits in front of the fridge, and starts looking at the clock and then at the humans. Eventually, the thickheaded people get the idea before the grievances are filed, the wildcat strike is called, and the International Teamsters are notified. This flurry of activity typically ends before five, as soon as they are fed. After this, they saunter off to warm themselves before the woodstove, another victory by organized labor over management. I swear I can see the copy of the “CONTRACT” sticking out of the cat’s rear pocket.
It’s important to note that no human in our house speaks cat or dog language. We’d love to. It might explain how two enemies communicated and came to coordinate against management. One can only imagine the closed-door sessions in the kitchen when the house was asleep.
Unity is powerful!
Carl Hiassen is my favorite author, and when I started writing the “Adventures In coastal Living” stories and the stories about the “Folkie Palace” on Boston’s Beacon Hill, I was inspired by him. Hiassen insists that you can’t make up stuff as bizarre as real life. True life is better than fiction. Looking back on the inspirations for the short stories I’ve written, I agree.
So in writing the short stories about my experiences living in Coastal Maine or on Beacon Hill in the 1960s, I always try to start with factual events, people, and the pure idiocy that entails. I am sometimes surprised at how little I have to invent or exaggerate, all I have to do is copy what happened.
It’s true. Fiction is not as amazing as real life; just look at national politics these days.
At a Library Association luncheon, I sat with a slight acquaintance just hired by a library system as an assistant director. A smaller system hired me.
Ostensibly, our engagements were motivated by impressive resumes. We were competent professionals. But we both agreed our hiring was inspired by an organizational need to show diversity. He was the first African American hired in a senior position. I the first Latino-American.
He mentioned that his new office was being built custom for him right out in the central circulation area. A principal feature of the office was a glassed-in front. The office design placed him on view continually. I was greeted with an important-sounding title and name for the center I would head. We both snickered.
The typical hamfisted American mode of looking at race and ethnicity had missed the true diversity we represented. He – descended from African Americans, Cherokee, English, and German ancestors. Me- descended from Catalan, Hungarian, German, British Caribean, and Scotch. Neither of us planned on being in glass cages for long. We snickered again; both sides could play at manipulation.
Our organizations took count.; That was tokenism.
The future was recognizing diverse heritages. We were the future.
Overcoming fear is a tricky thing. Not having driven until my early thirties ( It’s New York City thing!) I was leary of driving. Not frightened, but just leary of it. Living in coastal Maine, I found that driving was a great skill to have. Previously I had only lived in urban areas where public transportation made most local traffic easy; friends made up the slack by taking me where busses and trains didn’t run.
My first wife was willing to teach me to drive, but it didn’t take long to learn that she was terrified of it. She drove daily, sometimes for long distances, but was intensely fearful of it. Not being a driver, her fear, as my teacher, passed on to me.
It took a lot of driving to learn to be a careful but not continually frightened driver. It was many years, however, before I appreciated how brave my first wife was. She successfully mastered great fear daily to drive her car to work, social events, vacations, and stores.
I gradually overcame my fear, but for her, it was a question of mastering it daily.