Monday, March 28, 2011

dream nests

Here, dear friends, are a handful of the houses where I could happily live out my life in a glory, a wealth, an abundance of sex 'n' art 'n' sunshine. I mean, who doesn't dream of treehouses and hobbit-holes who dreams of warmth and comfort and a sense of home? Almost nobody actually goes out and lives in one, it's true. But this magical spiral-ceilinged cottage was built by ordinary people who say fiercely and with great certainty: you, too, can have this -- and for almost nothing in comparison to a "real" house. They built this marvel for three thousand pounds, apparently -- that's a little under four months of rent on the apartment I have now. The land is borrowed, but with savings like that, why, I could almost buy a couple acres...

As it turns out, the most beautiful houses are also often the most environmentally friendly -- for example, the woodland home above is made of dead wood and straw bales, and straw bales make up most of this exquisite little cob house, which is so unbelievably beautiful and warm and welcoming that it makes me feel a little weepy. And all this for once more almost nothing -- the figure I read said about $6,000. That's less than a hundredth of what a family friend sold his one-bedroom in San Francisco for five years ago, and what you get is not only a home but a singular, handcrafted work of art. Imagine raising kids in these homes (the folks who built the cottage above have two kids who were delighted to help with the building): they would grow up bathed in the radiance of  craftsmanship; environmental responsibility would be taken for granted; and above all, they'd have total faith in the peculiar and dangerous possibility of making a life wholly and truly according to your own spiritual, intellectual and aesthetic values. Yikes. (And just in case you weren't already totally in love, here's a video!)

And who doesn't daydream of a treehouse? I found this beautiful thing somewhere in the depths of the internet; I have no idea who built it or where it is, but I want it desperately. For all I know it isn't even real, just somebody's digital daydream -- but whoever has reveries like that can be my friend, no questions asked. To live in a house that is a manifestation of a joyous and inhabitable creativity is just about the greatest and most potent hunger of my life. I've been dreaming of magical dwellings since the age of eight or nine, when I first discovered Julia Morgan (I've already rhapsodized here on one of her buildings, the Chapel of the Chimes). This summer's project is to build my little downtown apartment into one lovely beehive of the marvelous, the first step to claiming this embodiment. Anyone else who is working on making inhabitable art, sacred spaces, magical nests or dream gardens, talk to me. I'd like to add your reveries to my language of the imaginable.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Miraculous thistles

...that is, the artichoke: so fierce is its capacity for "taste perversion" that in my family we gave our own name to the imagined molecule that grants all food eaten after an artichoke its greenly sweet and fragrant flavor. Artichokine, alchemical transmutation if the tastebuds, turning even water to a milky golden honey on the tongue, a blessed savoring like a kind of salt for sweetness. So wholly mystical is the power of the artichoke upon me that it was not until last week that I discovered not everyone is set in gentle raptures by its flavor; its peculiar science is such that only some of us are sweet-struck by the spiky purple blossom. For some, an artichoke is a pleasant green beginning to a meal, soaked in butter and sopped up with happy gusto, but besides the fine flavor of the thing there is no special magic; a few, poor souls, find it makes things bitter to the taste. But surely Pablo Neruda's mouth was melted into divine and mellow alteration by its burnished leaves: his 'Ode to the Artichoke' almost makes me weep, so purely does he love the soul of this proud plant. (My favorite translation is by Stephen Mitchell; I can't find it online, but it's from the book Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon and there is nothing I can say but that I, too, love to 'eat/the peaceful flesh/of its green heart'...) Like me, he finds the artichoke a strange and mythic beast, gentle under its close-spiraled crown of thorns...

Whatever your spiritual inclinations to the flower, if you like artichokes at all, for any reason, on a cold night when you are contemplating loneliness something almost as good as a stew and much more simple is this warm and tender recipe:

Artichoke Soul Pasta

All you need is a handful of mushrooms, a few cloves of garlic, plenty of butter and a can of artichokes -- whole, quartered, whatever, it doesn't matter as long as they're not marinated -- and a pot of the pasta of your choosing. Something pleasantly chunky like farfalle works best, so the sauce can seep into all the cracks and you can take nice satisfying heavy forkfuls of it without any silly twirling... 

While the water (well salted and dashed with olive oil) boils for the pasta, melt a lump of butter, maybe a couple of tablespoons, and chop the mushrooms into little bits and throw them in. Salt and pepper liberally. Mince the garlic, toss it in too, and give it a good stir; put the pot on medium low and leave it there.

Drain the artichokes -- not into the sink, however, for the juices, saved for later, make a wonderful delicate broth for all tomorrow's soups -- and chop as many as you like, perhaps a heaped cupped handful. I can never resist eating a couple right out of the tin tube of the can, just to feel the singing on my tongue as the marvelous chemicals get down to their alchemical dance...

Toss them in the pot, stirring occasionally until the pasta is done. Mix it all together in your favorite bowl, the one that is most satisfyingly heavy, solid, reassuring. If you are an artichoke dreamer, do not put cheese on it. Just have a glass of water to sip dreamily, and a book from your childhood to read...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Joy is One Big Fuck You to Oppression

Emily O'Neill once quoted me as saying that every moment of joy in the face of oppression is an act of revolution; I will die believing that, and I don't know about you, brothers and sisters, but I think revolution's what we need right now, and bad. These last few weeks have been scaring the holy hell out of me: every day it seems like some new horrific thing is happening in this country, and I mean scarier than usual, big big scary, rights being stripped from women, an eleven-year-old implicated by a New York Times writer in her own gang rape, the travesty of justice in Wisconsin, the peculiar happenings I just don't understand around shutting down the government, and last's night's last straw -- the right to declare martial law in Michigan on the whim of its governor, who may then appoint anyone he likes as "administrator" of each town, accompanied by the right to shut down school boards, fire elected officials, sell off public property, and call in security forces. I've had a bad morning. I've had a bad month. Right now it's either write a goddamned manifesto or break down in tears. So here it is, folks, the articles of my revolution:

This country is two countries splitting every moment down the center. It is the private property of a scant handful of fanatics in the grip of a fear and greed I think so far unequaled in the chronicles of humankind, the natural heirs to the country's history of violence and oppression, the moral great-grandchildren of those who slaughtered the native peoples of this place and called it their own by right of conquest.  And it is also a place where now queer folk can marry and Dear Abby columns hold advice about the etiquette of threesomes, where slowly but surely the right to live outside the restrictions of an archaic "norm" is flowering, a country where people still allow themselves to dream.

Each news story I hear about some small and shrunken soul trying to wrest our rights away from us makes me cry out in anger because I believe in this country, in the magnificent artists and the dedicated peace workers, the healers and the thinkers, the farmers raising happy chickens and the musicians in love with the glory of a chord progression, the poets and the storytellers, the teachers, the true spiritual leaders, every person in this country who remembers what gratitude feels like, who knows what it means to give thanks for what you have instead of thinking that there is not enough happiness or food or love or money unless you take it away from someone else.

I believe that anger is a force for justice, and I believe in the power of protest, the strength of voices; but I also know that lashing out builds nothing, and you cannot break the stranglehold upon your dream by flailing against the fingers on its throat; the only way to break its grip is to make your dream bigger, to swell it, to make it grow and open and unfold like a tree damn well exploding full-fledged from an acorn. If you have got the shakes like I do, if your tongue lies heavy in your mouth with horror, if you want to lie down and cry or break everything in sight and yell this is not the world I believe in,  well, it is up to us. So make love. write music. paint something so gorgeous it makes you want to weep. go out and dance. cook for someone. make one stark raving lovely moment just to say: right now, this country is beautiful. right now, you cannot have my joy. Because they will take everything from you, from me, and they will have nothing when they're done as they had nothing when they begun, and this is the heartbreak of it all: it would be so nice to call them evil, to think they will be satisfied when the world is in shards around them. But they will be just as bewildered and impotent and lonely then, just as afraid of dying, just as frightened and completely empty. And all that taking and taking and taking will have been for nothing, you understand, for nothing.

So become a fountain, a spring, an underground river of creation. Go put some joy into the world. Go dance and thumb your nose at them, pity them, for they can make nothing, for they are starving and you have this great big beautiful soul to make the world larger, to fill it so full of fresh bread and and blessings it can't be eaten up. Go sing hallelujah and praise God if you have one, praise the skies, praise your mother, praise the page you write on, praise the pen and the tongue and the body and its blisses and its strangenesses, go praise the mysteries, praise your teachers, praise memory and longing, praise the smell of the air after rain. The one thing that is incomprehensible to those who seek to take is the act of giving. If you fill yourself up with bitterness, choke on your fury, get up from your garden to go throw stones and curses, they will just smile: already they've stopped you from making things, from giving thanks, from bringing joy. Remember this. They can squash your rebellion, they can silence your protests, they can gag your cries for help. They can't shut you up if you know how to sing.