Sunday, January 6, 2013

Shopping from List and Writing from Formula

There is much to be said for taking the time for a snack if not a complete meal before embarking on a trip to the market.  Sated and comfortable, your mind off the potential gnaw of hunger or admission of interest in yet another piece of pie with your coffee or cracker with anchovy paste, or even "liberating" some of Sally's Camembert cheese to top off that remaining heel of a baguette, you are then able to shop from list, a term intending to mean you are less likely to buy more than you require and even less likely to buy exotica.

There, you have already introduced relevant terms from some of your other lives, lives lived simultaneously to the writing life.  "Shopping from a list" reminds you of your mother, who not only had to feed a family, she had to do so first as the daughter of wealth, then as the wife of your father, whom she sought to please, then as a mother, then as a mother feeding a family during not just any old Depression but a depression of enough significance to bring into the house those two boarders, loss and being broke.

You never got the full details, but somehow, when you were still shy of double-digit age, your father came into possession of two cartons of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup and two cartons of Kraft Dinner, a euphemism if there ever was one for macaroni and cheese.  Not any cheese.  Certainly not Tilamook cheddar.  Kraft cheese, which was any body's guess what.  Your father was probably being offered barter for insurance premiums, just as he was being offered a barter account at Slater's gasoline station on Third Street near Martel, where at the time eight gallons of gasoline could be had for a dollar.

Shopping from list introduced another word to your vocabulary,"staples," which meant such things as milk, eggs, flour, fresh vegetables, breakfast cereal, bread, butter, and fruit.  If your father were involved in compiling the list, staples would include bacon and coffee.

Shopping from list now includes empties of such things as laundry soap, dish washing soap, Pine-Sol, and other cleaning implements from Lupe, although there are occasional notes  requesting hojas para la secadora, which you assumed to mean freshener leaves to be put into the dryer with the damp clothing awaiting drying.

Without a shopping list to guide you, one shelf in the kitchen has become a repository for such things as liver pate, pickled watermelon rind, French gherkin pickles, cornichons, sea salt, vegetable pate, anchovy paste, cous cous, a flour made from ground chick peas, three grades of olive oil, two of balsamic vinegar, exotic crackers, self-rising corn meal, Medjool dates, Mexican chocolate, a tin of instant espresso, Japanese soba noodles, and such spices from India as pan Masala, pan behar, and, as a real distraction, instant poppadoms flour, along with Major Grey's mango chutney.

There is a bottom shelf in the freezer reflecting similar non-shopping-list excursions,whims by any account, some of them sensible in terms of protein content, but nevertheless whimsical, which is, after all, the intent of this essay.

Lists for shopping have the major focus of insuring you do not return from an outing with the realization that you have forgotten a new mop head or tube of toothpaste.  Such lists are also a guide to expenses and an index to make sure such events as the surplus of the ruby chard will occur, causing you to have to find imaginative ways to use all the ruby chard you bought in the first place because you so enjoyed the manner in which it was displayed.  (There are only a few things you can do with ruby chard beyond pastas, omelets, and salads.)

For the writer's life, you wish no such control, in fact welcoming all manner of diversity and distraction, anticipating special shelves in your imagination where exotic experiences and impressions are stored. The matters of impressions, improvisations, and impulse merit some thoughts of restraint when it comes to shopping, but not as they relate to life outside the super market or the farmer's market.

You need to be more alert to the truffles and pickled watermelon rinds of life as you wend your way through the aisles or Reality.

When you began wearing contact lenses, going on twenty-five years ago, there was an adjustment time in which you found yourself constantly flinching at peripheral visions of things lunging or lurching at you.  In fact, you were experiencing a greater peripheral vision than your accustomed wearing of glasses afforded.  You wish for the constant sense of things jumping out at you, your vision alert to, even anticipating the staples of life as well as the exotica and, most important of all, the things you've missed to date.  You need them to bring them into your narrative, urging them to become not mere details but the sorts of relevant detail you've been pounding the bully pulpit for, all these years you've been obsessed with telling story.


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