Mountain Air

I’m in love with New Hampshire. It’s illogical and unrequited; there is love lost in this relationship. (A delightful turn of phrase, because how does one lose love they way they might their car keys? But I suppose it’s not love misplaced—it’s love lost, like you’ve sent your love into the woods and the sun is setting and it’s dinner time and even though you’re ringing the dinner bell and calling its cell phone, your love is nowhere to be found.) But it’s the truth, the reality.

This is all brought on by attending my friend Stan’s wedding with my buddy Bob up in Bretton Woods. It was a long drive, up from Boston, and it was filled with traffic and the remarkably active New Hampshire state troopers. But when we got to the White Mountains, full and lush with summer, I couldn’t stop finding the scenery utterly bucolic and romantic—even the quiet mountain towns just seemed so easy to live in. They were bursting with flowers and and a homey lived-in charm, as though they were even aging in an adorable way; even the dilapidated, decrepit  buildings with alarmingly tilted add-ons and boarded up windows spoke more about potentiality than they did morosity. The stars were so bright and prominent that we even mistook a planet for a plane; Bob looked it up on our evening walk around the hotel grounds and verified that we were in fact looking at Mars. It was simply breathtaking. (As was the wedding and the venue, by the way, and Bob and I had some fantastic conversations and run-ins that maybe I’ll explore more later in blog form.)

We were there for three days, and by the third day I really did feel as though I could live in this peaceful paradise; I started wondering about the kind of job that would let me work from home so I wouldn’t have to worry about a commute to anywhere, and with the advances in those food delivery services that provide you with the materials you would have gotten at the grocery store and cook from home, I wouldn’t even have to worry about what would likely become the 15-20 minute drive to the grocery store. (I even started envisioning the dog, probably a Barbet, running around in the yard.) New England winters are cold, but at the rate that I’ve been tinkering with fabric arts, I’m fairly certain I’d construct enough warm clothing to offer a since of hygge in the coming months.

But Bob—in his sensible way—popped that dream like a soap bubble. 

He noted how lonely it could be, up in the mountains, and in the countryside. Which is very much true for a multitude of reasons; there simply aren’t as many gay guys out in the middle of nowhere, where the traditionalism of heterosexuality reigns supreme. Or to put it in a more stark consideration, those out in the countryside are often the ones who, upon growing up, couldn’t get away for one reason or another. As much as I can romanticize rural America, I can’t make the spiked instances of opioid addiction disappear. And really, unless you’re busy running a farm or working in an all-time-consuming industry like restaurant ownership for example, I do feel as though you’d be more likely driven into some sort of substance abuse or addiction simply out of boredom. Every time we passed through the downtown of some New Hampshire village, I was shocked to see other human beings, and so many of them as well. Bob and I kept being puzzled at what was keeping the local economy’s socks up, especially once we left the tourist destination of the White Mountains. 

It really got me thinking about cities built on mountains, with Montréal being the largest I could think of. (Colorado kept popping up, but really for me it would have to be Montréal or one of the smaller Mediterranean towns like Ronda, Spain or Positano, Italy. Switzerland, if one could afford it.) In some ways, the drive to live in a city is a preclusion to living in the view of mountains; something about it seems incompatible. (Oslo, Norway, perhaps?)

One way or another, it feels a little like having a crush on someone I know doesn’t feel the same. The feeling is nice, but truncated.

Any Excuse to Wear a Cape

I’ve been thinking about existence a fair amount lately. (You know, the conception of everyone dying but only a few people living. Only, on a less melodramatic scale.) What is it to be present in a moment, and is it worth being present in every moment, or should energy be preserved for more engaging moments later?

I was at the local shopping outlet today, Assembly Row in Somerville, and it’s a hot day—some 90 and change degrees—and to stand outside on a crowded sidewalk where groups of people suddenly stop, or just as bad, phalanx down the avenue pushing passersby into the street, was a real chore. And the actual road rage even worse as drivers deal with oblivious pedestrians and fighting for a parking space and people who drop off their friends/family/loved ones in front of a store, but don’t leave room to let incoming traffic go around them or bother to put on their flashers or move with any sort of marked efficiency. It’s tough to want to be present then. 

This is a part of my ongoing understanding of what it’s like to be an extrovert and what it’s like to be in introvert, or more specifically my understanding of what it’s like to be an introvert that’s masquerading as an extrovert. Even in the air conditioned shops, when there’s only enough room for one person to get down an aisle but four people roving around the edges—and surprise children who don’t clear your knees but have the energy of three people and the listening capacity of none—when someone all of a sudden stops browsing and is looking directly at me, expectantly, it freaks me out. On one hand, the disorientating nature of public spaces can be fascinating; I was once nearly kidnapped by a woman in an amusement park who mistook me for her husband, laced hands with me and tried to start walking away. Any bright marketing and architectural researcher can use these kinds of spaces to their advantage to optimize their company’s profit line. Not all thefts are committed by thieves. On the other, to be on the receiving end of that disorientation, can be mortifying, like an out-of-body experience—what could only be the exact opposite of being present.

In moments like these, I sometimes think that if I could have any superpower in the world, it would be to read other people’s thoughts—ironically for my own peace of mind. Is the salesperson giving me the squint eye because I look familiar, or because they think I’ve stolen something? Is the guy on the train flirting with me or coveting me my shorts? How is it I can read people enough to know when I’m drawing their attention but not enough to know why? If I had that kind of knowledge, I could put waves of anxiety to bed: no, I wasn’t around last week, and yes they’re linen and probably still on sale. (I did, in fact, see someone today wearing the same brand of linen shorts I had worn yesterday, and was then one of those people who gawked at another person at an outlet mall, nearly stopping in the middle of the sidewalk because I did not think I’d ever be observant enough to ever notice something that specific.) 

Or, maybe my new superpower could be to distract them with conversation, and to listen and engage and learn something new about someone new, no matter how vital or insignificant.

 

Soft Skills are Skills Too

Having read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All be Feminists recently, I continue to be struck by her comment (it was amazing, by the way; the whole book is amazing) that more people should have the knowledge to cook in order to provide themselves with sustenance. Cooking has long been relegated to the realm of femininity (unless it’s monetized), which is bizarre as cooking is a learned behavior that offers no advantage or enhancement of either gender. Yet somehow, when it comes to college students, the expectation is that they are incapable of cooking their own meals. 

It’s fair to note that colleges are profiting on the fact that college students do not know, or simply prefer not to cook. That’s what (mandatory) food plans are for; that’s what they do. When I was in undergrad, I avoided eating at the cafeteria because the food was bland and unappealing (reminder: I love airline food) or the lines were too long, and at the end of the year I had a couple hundred dollars on my account that were wasted—that did not roll over into the next year—because whether or not I ate the food, I was charged for it. And, there is a safety aspect to consider in allowing college freshmen to cook: all of those teenagers packed into dorms, staying up all hours into the night studying (studying—don’t tell me otherwise, la la la, I don’t want to hear it). Does the fire department really want them to make eggplant parmesan at 3 in the morning? Unlikely. I had a roommate in undergrad who did manage to set off the fire alarm broiling a pop tart while he slept. He apparently tried to blame one of us, but I was out of town on a Model United Nations trip and our third roommate was out of town at a Rowing competition. It’s close quarters, and a very real possibility that someone could all but burn the building down, but shouldn’t the expectation be that as newly minted adults, they wouldn’t? Because they’d by then learned how to cook responsibly? Imagine that world.

College students are old enough to vote, to sign up to fight for their country, are deemed mature enough (well, sometimes just old enough) to live away from parental supervision; why is it we don’t expect that they can cook for themselves? Provide sustenance for themselves?

I think I’m particularly sensitive to the topic. My dad was always concerned that I’d grow up without knowing how to cook for myself. Both of my parents, and my grandparents who were present were all busy working, and I got on with TV dinners, breaking into my mom’s Slimfast supply (I thought they tasted like milkshakes—I’m still a little mortified that they were recalled), and having breakfast for dinner, which drove my mother nuts. I did not understand the hullabaloo on that one; the difference between 10pm and 1am is marginal, and largely emotional. My grandmothers made meals of their time and locations—pork chops, buttered carrots, sweetened apple sauce for one, and fish soup for the other. (Which always made me indignant—to make fish swim after death just seemed insulting to the fish. But every time she would make it, I would be reminded of the Polish proverb that a fish should swim three times: in water, in butter, and in wine.) I really didn’t enter college, or even my twenties, with an abundance of meals I could make on demand.

I could clean an oven like a pro, though. I still remember the day, having moving off campus, a roommate came home and found that I had lifted the top of the oven up like a hood and was wiping away grease underneath the burners. He was in awe that such a thing was possible.

And what with fast food, both healthy and not, I really didn’t bother learning how to cook anything spectacular until I entered the dating scene. The first time a guy invited me over for dinner, I was fairly confident it was a ploy to murder me and do something eyebrow-raise-worthy to my corpse. (The Perfect Host had just came out.) But instead he served the most delicious chicken, we had great conversation, and that was that. A couple more events like these solidified the fact that if I ever wanted to invite a guy over, I couldn’t just serve him tuna mayonnaise over rice, or black pepper and olive sauceless spaghetti. (I got tired of cleaning sauce off of everything.) So around 24, 25, I finally started to learn how to cook.

And I still have “incidences” to this day—having only learned how to use a zester two years ago, I zested my finger last Thanksgiving, bleeding all over the lemon I was torturing—but I have a better repertoire now than I did even a year ago, let alone five or seven. Learning how to cook strikes me as a vital life skill that really isn’t taught in schools; it’s a life skill, and I’m curious when people who go to college, who go for their masters, who go for a doctorate, are expected to learn it, and better yet, when do they get the chance to practice and perfect it.