Monday, January 16, 2017

Comfort Food

The designation of comfort food is apt.

However sophisticated and diverse your culinary tastes may have evolved, you find an unchanging wave of assurance and satisfaction after a meal of creamed tuna on toast or cottage cheese pancakes. However welcomed the personalized instructions on pasta making from Julia Child are, there is still the comfort food aspect of Franco-American canned spaghetti and, even more louche, Chef Boyardee ravioli.

To supplement these gustatory comforts, each of which you are able to provide for yourself--one can Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, one can (yes!) Del Monte peas, one can Chicken of the Sea tuna, and one can or bottle of mushrooms--there are the literary equivalents, designated as comfort literature.

High on your list of comfort literature:

1. Any essay from Roughing It, The Innocents Abroad, or Life on the Mississippi, by Mark Twain.
2. Nearly any essay by Mr. Eric Blair, who wrote as George Orwell, with special emphasis on his essays on Charles Dickens and, of all things, coal mining.
3. Any page from Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey
4. Any page from The White Album by Joan Didion

You resort to comfort literature when, as William Wordsworth put it:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, 
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Comfort literature settles you back into the assurance that you can not only produce a sentence or two, you can find yourself alert and tingling to the possibilities of those sentences, no matter where they might lead you.

On a recent spell of having the worlds of thought and clutter too much with you, the time was ripe for George Orwell's essay on coal mining, which reminded you of those few years in which you were excited by the excitements and perils of writing as your sole source of income.

In keeping with your fondness for the place and times of the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada, and your curiosity about the Gold Country in and about California's State Highway 49, you spent time panning for gold, using the large, deep-sided pan employed by the early miners.

You spent hours rereading Mark Twain and Dan DeQuille's The Big Bonanza.  From your efforts at panning for gold, you learned of scraped knuckles, the pervasive presence of iron pyrites, also known as fool's gold, wet boots, and, even more to the point, a stiff, notional back.

You never thought of the wild, ebullient lode finds nor, in mixed metaphor, the look on James Dean's face when, as he portrayed Jett Rink in the filmed version of Edna Ferber's novel, Giant, he "struck it rich" as an oil prospector.

Like the miners in Orwell's essay, you have mined and explored for the literary lode, moving vast cubic feet of words from their striated depths within your stony imagination.

There are similarities between you and the sun-addled and crazed miners of cliche, each of you in search of the big bonanza, that cornucopia of matter that was neither fool's gold nor any other form of dross.

Today, at this remove, each word or image you bring forth, each time some inner voice prompts you to believe what you see before you is a memorable detail, perhaps even a story, you engage those early and later mining days and your digging through the terrain for traces of the illusive pay dirt.

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