Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thematic Circularity in a Bowl of Egg Drop Soup

You have attended numerous sit-down dinners and buffets in your life time.  On each side of the memorable for good/memorable for bad spectrum, there is a balance, like the rat tails of the famed bell curve.  Such a display leaves that vast hump in the middle, hundreds of so-so dinners and mediocre buffets to show for it.


There is comfort in the memorable-for-good examples in both categories, a sense that something as necessary and nourishing as a meal can be something beyond a trial to be endured.  In a grander analysis, there is the comfort of knowing how many sit-down and buffet meals of memory took place in the home of your parents, while you were under their wing or when, with some measure of independence, you returned to their home for an occasion.

Depending on seating arrangements, sit-down meals can be hazardous, a delicate way of acknowledging the potential for the lack of chemistry with your seat mates.  In such cases, the meal has even more of a burden placed on it.

The buffet allows you to pick your spots, even your dinner mates and, thus, those with whom you converse.  The last remarkable buffet was on the occasion of The Los Angeles Review of Books wishing to make a presence in Santa Barbara.  

When you found your assigned table, you were delighted to discover some chemistry with the other seven table mates, nor did you have to use tack to remove yourself from uncomfortable conversations when coffee and desert drinks were served.  Thinking back on that time, you realize you were able to bring to the table the sense of the you that you were able to bring to your parents' tables and buffets.  

Such thoughts of thematic circularity are comforting because they reach out to other aspects of your life, aspects such as conversing with persons unknown to you as well as old acquaintances, having perhaps a tad more confidentiality to share with old friends but offering the potential for meaningful honesty and exchange with persons you might see again, but might never see again.

As a writer and teacher, such nuances are important to you.  For periods ranging more or less from ten weeks to fifteen or sixteen, you are in many cases sharing conversation and beliefs with strangers--this applying to the student-teacher connection.  Some students will return.  Some,to this day, send you Christmas greetings, news of new publications, added news of teaching assignments or new areas of research and interest.  Some are in and out, remembered names and faces, remembered projects, then gone.

Spending some time this evening, after a class, with the chef of one of your frequent hang-outs, in discussion of what would satisfy you, then awaiting the result, this came to you.

Novels and short stories can be like sit-down dinners or buffets, many courses or a select few.  A good deal depends on the interaction of the reader/diner with the end result.  You find comfort in thinking the chemistry between you as a writer and teacher and a reader or student is profound.  You hope the reader will wish to finish the story or novel or essay.  You hope the student will wish to return for another quarter, another semester, another subject matter.

You shook you head, listening to Carlos describe his tomato-basil bisque.  He was listening to you for clues.  "How about,"  he said, "stracciatella? Eh?"

You liked the sound of that, the classic, simple, Italian egg drop soup with a chicken stock, and ribbons of spinach, a sprinkle of Parmesan.  When the soup arrived, the metaphor was completed for you as an equation, indicating some of the most willing chemistry available in life.  The chef.  The writer.  The teacher.  The hungry customer.  The hungry reader.  The hungry student.  

The only thing missing is the lover aspect.  The chef has to love the chemistry and potential of food.  The writer has to feel the sparks of excitement as the elements and characters interact.  The reader has to feel drawn in, concerned for the welfare.  The student has to feel enough excitement for the subject to know with certainty that more is coming.

The lover smiles at the moon on nights such as these.  Moons of any degree are things to be cherished, but gibbous moons, moons at full orb, they remind us of who we are.


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