“My eyes fell upon the grey linoleum floor and I wondered how many other women had sat on this toilet and stared at this floor. Each of them the center of their own world, all of them yearning for someone to put their love into so they could see their love, see that they had it.”
I’m rarely in step with reading an author’s work within a year of a new release, much less their debut novel, but Miranda July is a writer that I both admire and who’s work I relate to on a subconscious level. Thus, I couldn’t let too much time pass before feasting my eyes on her first novel. No One Belongs Here More Than You , July‘s first book is a series of short stories that, for whatever reason, took me a few months to get through. Don’t misunderstand my lengthy drought in reading for exhaustion with her writing. More than anything, I just wasn’t in the right head space, nor did I devote as much time to reading as I do now. I go through phases. All this to say, these stories are not the easiest to digest; they are tormenting and at times confusing. They resonate because of their raw and intimate understanding of the darker side of the human condition. My confusion came from trying to understand why July would write such pitiful fictional characters into the world and leave them their, waiting. The answer? It’s reality. Life doesn’t tie itself up into perfect bows, most of the time. July’s writing is the gritty dirt under your toenails and the dried booger you find as you graze your hand under the multi-generational office desk chair that squeaks every time you move. Now that I’ve left you with this delightful bit of imagery, let’s move on to the novel at hand.
“I had spent years training myself to be my own servant so that when a situation involving extreme wretchedness arose, I would be taken care of.”
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
July’s first full-length novel is the kind of book that makes the confident, self-conscious and the self-conscious, wildly neurotic. I was bewildered and engrossed in this book and in Cheryl’s– our protagonist’s–world, if only because she made me once again question why it is we use the word insane to describe those individuals who are mentally disordered, and the word sane for those who are in their ‘right’ mind. I was once a barista, and one of my lady barista co-workers and I would talk about the sane–insane topic and spout scenarios to one another wile frothing and stirring. Any book that makes you question ‘things’ has redeeming qualities. July reveals nothing but fearlessness in her writing and distinguishes the idea that women cannot write wry and honest material.
The text did feel unpredictable at times, but this too felt like a purposeful act by July to create a character within the tone of the book. However, I cannot say I enjoyed this aspect of it the book. Countless narratives have a moment of truth and muddy sadness by the middle of the book, and though July took no restraints in making her characters suffer, it felt as though she herself may have been a bit lost in the structure of the book by mid-way. Fortunately, the story remained intact and the uncensored nature of her writing races you through the rest of the text. July eloquently, and without excessive crudity, exposes the rigid nature by which many humans handle matters of sexuality, and the gross dishonesty that’s tied to instinctual behavior. July also presents a realistic impression of the sexual subconscious as a being that’s wild, unwieldy, fickle and unpredictable. By the end of this book, I felt as though July was setting up a challenge for me to dig a little deeper into the way I manage my perspectives and realities, and for this, I’m grateful.
“I had accidentally been cruel; this only ever happens at times of great stress and my regret is always tremendous.”
“‘I think I might be a terrible person.’ (he said) – For a split second I believed him–I thought he was about to confess a crime, maybe a murder. Then I realized that we all think we might be terrible people. But we only reveal this before we ask someone to love us. It is a kind of undressing.”
“There had been options, before the baby, but none of them had been pursued. I had not gone to nightclubs and said ‘Tell me everything about yourself’ to strangers. I had not even gone to the movies by myself. I had been quiet when there was no reason to be quiet and consistent when consistency didn’t matter. For the last twenty years I had lived as if I was taking care of a new born baby.”
“But as the sun rose I crested the mountain of my self-pity and remembered I was always going to die at the end of this life anyway. What did it really matter if I spent it like this–caring for this boy–as opposed to some other way? I would always be earthbound; he hadn’t robbed me of my ability to fly or live forever. I appreciated nuns now, not the conscripted kind, but modern women who chose it. If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist most of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have?”
As for edibles, I chose to make a simple kale dish as a dedication to Cheryl and her system. I even used the same white plate I served this kale on to eat another dish later, before cleaning it. We must have a system! No matter the season, there’s nothing more savory and satisfying to me than wilted greens and I thought there could be no better time to share my recipe with you all than in conjunction with this book.
Wilted Kale for Cheryl
- 1 large bundle kale of your choice (rinsed, ripped into pieces and massaged by hand; I used purple kale)
- 1 bulb shallots (thinly sliced; mine worked out to about three ‘cloves’)
- 3 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp fleur de sel
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- Heat olive oil over medium flame and toss shallots and garlic gently for 2 minutes (take care not to burn garlic)
- Add kale in handfuls, and using tongs, shift kale around to coat all leaves with oil
- Once kale is bright and shiny, begin to add fleur de sel, red pepper flakes, and vinegar and use tongs to mix everything together until kale is bright green or mildly wilted
- Turn off heat and enjoy!
- I like to use my cast iron skillet to make wilted greens because it adds to the flavor and they cook down perfectly
- Feel free to use whatever salt you have on hand if easier and cut out the spice if you’re not into spicy foods, but be aware that the flavor will not be as bright and tangy
After reading Miranda July in the month of July, I feel happy to know that I’m on target with new releases and with an artist like her. I hope you all got as much out of this book as I did! What are your thoughts? Did you chow down on anything in particular while reading this book? Share some of your #noshedinabook photos with me and check out what else I’ve been reading this year. Join me in my next reading selection, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton. And remember…bite responsibly!
Good morning everyone,
Over the weekend, I found some time for nestling into a corner of our sofa to leaf through the pages of a magazine. I never expected to find what I did, but as is certainly the nature of life, something pops up when you least expect it to. The best part was, and call me superstitious, but it felt like the universes’ forces and energies meant for me to see this particular article. What a wild world! (Thank you Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, for the 1970 hit “Wild World“.) What was I reading? The bimonthly magazine, Alcalde that is distributed by Texas Exes. The article I read was “Uncommon Sense“, written by Rose Cahalan, which can also be found on the Texas Exes website or in the hyperlink above. Below you will find an excerpt from the piece.
One day in fall 2007, Christine Ha tried to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—and she couldn’t do it. A year earlier, Ha had prepared an elaborate Thanksgiving feast for her family, but now she found herself throwing the sandwich away in frustration as she wiped jelly off her hands. “It was so depressing to go from making fancy dinners to being unable to make a sandwich,” she says. “I thought I would never cook again.”
Ha was losing her eyesight. It started after her sophomore year at UT, when the computer screen at her finance internship had unexpectedly gone blurry. The next four years were a haze of doctor’s appointments and inconclusive tests. Eventually Ha even had to quit her first post-grad job in software consulting.
After she was finally diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder called neuromyelitis optica and told she would lose nearly all her vision, Ha says she felt a measure of relief. “I’m the kind of person who needs a game plan,” she says, “so finally getting a correct diagnosis after four years was a starting point.”
She decided to try cooking again, with the help of a vocational counselor who coached her as she relearned basic skills. Before long she wasn’t just making peanut-butter sandwiches, she was cooking multi-course dinners—only this time with the aid of a talking thermometer, Braille labels on her stovetop, and extra-long oven mitts. The diagnosis also spurred her to change careers.
Read the rest of the article HERE!
In this article, Rose Cahalan–the author–begins by explaining Christine Ha’s experience with making a peanut butter sandwich with just enough detail that we are able to immediately empathize with the story. We continue reading to find that not only is Christine a lover of the culinary arts but she is also a lover of the written word. Because of this, I knew I would be thinking about this story for days and I had to find a way to share. My blog seemed like the perfect place!
One of the first aspects about this story that struck me was the most obvious subject-matter, cooking, but more to the point, cooking without sight. Though my knife skills are improving daily with more precision and ease, I certainly make mistakes and I’m able to SEE those mistakes. Christine’s ability astounds and encourages me to challenge my other senses more. Yes, I’ve seen videos of big name chefs who speed dice without looking, but the ability to artfully use their knives takes confidence that is built up with years of practice coupled with the ease of knowing they could look down for accuracy at any time. All of this to say, when you love something enough–however illogical it may seem to others–find a way to make it work!
Next, I was struck by the manner in which the piece addresses, subtly, that we are all forced to relinquish power at some point in our lives. There are times when the circumstances that surface this ‘release of power’ are more unpleasant for some than others, and oftentimes, not our choice. In the world of food, there are many certainties–produce tastes better when it is in season– and uncertainties–will the frost this winter ruin the crops? However, it occurred to me while reading this piece that very few of us recognize what an amazing gift it is to be able to transform a semi-ordinary bundle of veggies into a gourmet meal for yourself or a group of people. And aren’t we all convalescing due to the abrasions of day-to-day life? It would be easy to let such a traumatic event turn oneself into a surly person, but Christine’s story implies just the opposite.
On a more personal level; I can say I have not yet experienced anything as traumatic as what Christine Ha went through, however I have certainly had, and still have, obstacles on my food journey. Reading her story has made me all the happier I haven’t thrown in the flag. We only have one life, and it is our choice to make the most of it, whatever that means to you. Close your eyes and envision the role food plays in your life, whether it’s on an activism level or right in your backyard. Allow yourself the gift of self-appreciation, as we all do this too seldom.
I hope when you read this culinary adventure tale, you will be just as captivated and moved as I was. Inspiration shows itself when you least expect it and in the strangest places. Thanks world for not letting me down!
Tell me about a hardship or road block that interrupted your food journey and how you were able to move beyond it or what you are still doing to overcome the set-back. And remember…bite responsibly!