Tuesday, September 30, 2014

This is where I tell my stories

ingredient of the week: blue cornmeal

Yesterday, I fixed a ticket at the police station, mailed a present to Owen’s “friend who is a girl” in Wausau, Wisconsin, bought groceries, unloaded groceries, received a press release suggesting I sample and write about camel’s milk (!), turned in a story I wrote about ramen restaurants, inspected the chicken coop for mites (still there), and sewed a button on one of Mark’s shirts. I also made a batch of tofu that wouldn’t coagulate and decided to change the ingredient of the week from soybeans to the blue cornmeal I brought home from Santa Fe last spring. Didn’t have a choice.

I was feeling glum (tofu, mites) when I picked up my sister and we headed off to an open mike storytelling event, part of a long-running San Francisco series called Porchlight. Dark, pleasantly and intentionally grungy bar in the Tenderloin. Hot peanuts and shells all over the floor. I ordered a diet Coke because I was driving, though I could have gotten away with a glass of beer. As I said to Justine, “Too apathetic even to drink.” 

Impossible to be apathetic about the storytelling, though. I didn’t know what to expect and the event was both wildly uneven and completely magical. From the minute the first guy started talking, I was rapt. I think everyone was. These stories had the rough edges of real life and real feeling that have been sanded off almost everything you see on TV or in a movie theater. One big, deadpan guy in his 50s told of losing his wife and trying to find romantic partners on Tinder. A wild-eyed younger, man spoke about kicking drugs in his late 30s, meeting a woman, and timing their first kiss to the lyrics of Don’t Stop Believin’. A girl shared her tale of a bad crush. A kid told of the night when he bought a prostitute a donut.

If you’ve been to storytelling events, you probably already know this, but there’s a primal satisfaction in listening to ordinary live humans tell their unmediated stories. It took me by surprise. Porchlight  doesn’t need my plug, but if you’re ever in San Francisco and the stars align, give it a try. 

This morning I picked up the bag of blue cornmeal and said to Owen, “Tomorrow we’re having blue cornmeal pancakes.” 

He said, “Maybe you are.”

31 comments:

  1. That sounds like such an invigorating event. Next time I come to the Bay Area, I'm going to time it to coincide with Porchlight and take you with me. And there will be cocktails.

    This:
    This morning I picked up the bag of blue cornmeal and said to Owen, “Tomorrow we’re having blue cornmeal pancakes.”

    He said, “Maybe you are.”

    Fantastic.

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    Replies
    1. I look forward to your next visit!

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  2. Many years ago, when my kids were very little, I used to buy a blue corn pancake mix from a "health food" store called Mrs. Gooch's. Unlike Whole Foods, they carried no products that were sweetened with actual regular sugar (honey- and fruit juice concentrate-sweetened cookies abounded.) I loved the blue corn pancakes, so much so that I would buy several bags of it to take back to Ireland with me. I don't like regular pancakes though, so I'm no judge. I always found pancakes to be too sweet and soggy, and without texture. The corn meal made slightly gritty pancakes (which I liked.) I don't think blue corn would have been any better than regular corn meal, and truthfully, it made pancakes that were more gray than blue. I bet Owen will like them despite himself. Maybe you could pass them off as "johnnycakes."

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    Replies
    1. That's funny, bringing blue corn pancake mix to Ireland. I've never been a plain pancake fan either, so bland and starchy. Oh, and fattening. I'm sure I'd like pancakes a lot more if they weren't fattening. Typing the word right now -- "fattening" -- I realize that it sounds antiquated to me. Have people stopped using it? Or is that my imagination?

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    2. these days pancakes will give you "wheat belly" and cause all the gluten insensitives discomfort and "inflammation."

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    3. Exactly. A few years ago pancakes were "full of carbs" but even that's going away now, replaced by the health-oriented criticisms you mention -- which sound much less frivolous than "full of carbs" or "fattening." I'm not disputing the validity of those criticisms, but it's interesting that while people are as concerned about getting fat as ever, the word "fattening" has fallen out of favor.

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    4. Exactly! And this is why I suddenly realize how much I like the word "fattening." Modern diet writers would also say pancakes are "clogging" and, more acceptably, "induce insulin resistance."

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  3. And this is where I go to "hear" your stories -- thank you for all of them!

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  4. Live storytelling is magic, isn't it? I highly recommend Storytelling Days in Jonesborough, TN, if you are ever close when it happens. And, as the person above points out, you could participate easily. You are a fabulous storyteller!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Too shy -- not a performer -- and would be dumbstruck on a stage.
      Joseborough, TN -- I had to look it up. Maybe if Isabel goes to college in North Carolina. I bet a storytelling event in Tennessee is very different from one in San Francisco. I want to go to more!

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  5. Do you ever listen to The Moth on NPR? I think you can listen on-line. Real life, real stories, really good. I too come here for your stories.

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    Replies
    1. You know, The Moth is one of those things I've heard about for years and years and years and never bothered to check out. Now I will.

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    2. I think you can download it in podcast form. That's how I listen to This American Life, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, Freakonomics, etc. Putting on a podcast makes cleaning the kitchen, separating 60 eggs, or pulling weeds into an acceptable task.

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  6. Ditto on coming here for your stories. thanks.

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  7. Camel's milk? And, the price? Last time I had camel's milk was when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Somalia and, being a guest, had to drink some. I have had no cravings to repeat the experience. Ever. Love your family talk!

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  8. Yes, you are one that I always come back to...in fact, I've been "saving" the archives, so as to not have read everything already...

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  9. There is nothing any better than a good storytelling event. I used to go all the time. I should get back to storytelling (and Editorial: so should the schools!)

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