I should have turned this corner years ago, but I am just now shifting focus from what should matter to what does matter.
I’ll spare you the steady diet of all the ways the world should be that I was fed by wonderful and well-meaning people. The problem came when the all of the plausible and well-meant ways things should be reached a point where they were…inconsistent. Each on their own made sense, but put together…not so much.
A single, clear solid explanation for how things are, should be, is gold. Two solid explanations for how things are, should be, begins to undermine your faith in what you think is a solid explanation. Add a third, and well, I’ll meet you at the bar.
I’m not sure why, but a month or so ago, I decided to stop thinking so hard about what my life should be like and focus more on what in my life I actually like.
I like to cook. But only on certain terms. I suck at recipes, and I live in a part of the country where exotic ingredients are not readily available, so I often have to substitute even some of the most basic staples. I’m much more jazz than classical in the kitchen. The other night, I was cleaning out some of the nether reaches of the house and ran across an unbreached dim sum cookbook that was a gift of some occasion or another, and in it was gold – the promise that I could, at home, make those exquisite pork dumplings I feasted on for lunch when working south of market in the dot com days. Their magic went beyond just the non-standard ingredients. There was an art to their cooking that gave you this wonderful crusty crispy fried side while the rest of the dumpling was light, moist, and just perfectly steamed. I had no idea how this freakish ju-ju was achieved.
But then, there it was. A simple technique used by Chinese street vendors for centuries. You crimp up the edges of the wrapper around the filling and then drop it, crimped side down into a little oil in your wok. And leave it there. You don’t turn it. You don’t touch it. Just…leave it there. And as it crisps, you pour about a third of a cup of water into the…oil. Really. And just let it steam off. The loose ends of the dumpling seal and crisp and the rest of the dumpling steams…perfectly.
Oil and water…totally counter-intuitive, but perfectly obvious once done. A simple truth revealed. A new basic way of doing things learned. Gold.
I also like coffee shops. Now, I’m good with a Starbucks, though I prefer a Pete’s, long for the early days of the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Westwood, and, in a pinch will, alas, suck down a Dunkin Donuts styrofoam mess just to get me to work. But what I love are hit-and-miss quirky hung-over-hippy-coffee-slinging joints that may or may not be open each morning you stop by. I love crappy art on the wall by the current girlfriend of the owner. I love people bring in their own CDs or plugging in their iPods when the music gets lame.
My goofy little New England town has this wonderful coffee shop owned by a couple that also owns a swanky restaurant around the corner, catering to locals and regulars in both joints. I stop by, sink into a comfy chair with a newspaper or a book and often have to wait 20 minutes for a cup of coffee as the owners and staff bullshit with the locals. All. Totally. Worth. It. They are constantly tweaking and moving and adjusting the furniture, adding some questionable artwork to the walls. Sometimes good, sometimes…not so much. But the coffee is exquisite and eggs and scones and homemade bagels are so very worth it all.
The best bars are the same way. The beer and the cocktails are always pretty much the same. The essence lies in the folks that they attract, the wondrous alchemy that comes from glimpses of might-change-your-life folks shaken, stirred, or whatever gets them going. But real knows real, and the best scenes arise where there is a personality, for better or worse, behind it all. (Rob, if you read this, you were Goff’s in all your anal quirky wackiness. I made you money, but you made the bar.)
The upshot? What does matter to me? The inspiration that comes from a simple truth, a simple fix, a simple method so clear to someone with a different perspective than mine. A new place or time or way that is driven by a well-meaning if stumbling soul.
The point? It is important to distinguish between the inevitable and the obvious. I am coming to inevitable conclusions, perspectives that, for folks wiser than me are, well, obvious. But inevitable speaks to causes and effects and forces outside of our heads. Obvious, well, that is something earned and achieved by grasping the realities of our world within our tangled heads. Making the inevitable into the obvious may simply be what is meant by…growing up.
My point? I’ve tried most every other path to fulfillment and wonder and perhaps other stuff, but in the end…my three most wonderful kids bring glass-shattering new perspectives every time I see them, in ways that are simple, straight forward and real. Each moment, I watch their personalities…evolve, develop, reveal. Their achievements and strengths make them valued by others. Their imperfections and scars and fears make them…mine.
Inevitably, my kids are the end all of what does and should matter. I’ve always known that.
Now, it is obvious.