Feeling Cool, Missing Summer

A few years ago, L and I had dinner in the city after work in the summertime. Up to that point, I’d only ever gone with friends an ex, and while the dinner had been nice, the event had been strained. I’d felt pressure to choose where we ate and how late we’d stay before going home.

With L, the city suddenly felt like an open book of secrets. L lived in the city. He knew the side streets and passages and all the best places to eat.

And such were the spots he showed me.

It was, by far, one of the best meals I’ve ever had in the city. And one of the best trips. We went to an Irish place in the South End and sat for two hours eating and talking. He ordered small food to try and explained what each was. Around us, coworkers had beers and tiny families squeezed into booths.

Maybe it was the lighting — dim and orange and high in the ceiling, among black-painted pipes exposed around dark-stained wooden walls. Maybe it was the noise level — just enough to talk without having to scream, but loud enough that you didn’t feel intruded on if you’re having an in-depth discussion about a future in art (as we were). Maybe it was the general set-up of the place — tables spaced enough apart so that you could walk around, but close enough to feel cozy.

Dear god, did that place feel cozy.

I had my back to a wall so I could see everyone come in the door. Groups large and small filtered in, trickled out, hovered around the bar and the grill, and disappeared through a hall to my left where the kitchen and bathrooms were. I don’t remember what I ate, but I know it was a sandwich and I’m pretty sure it had pork and a sweet vinaigrette and lots of purple, shredded cabbage.

There was a milkshake involved, too. I was living on the edge.

It was the most relaxed dinner I’ve ever had, especially while in the city. We shot the shit, compared notes on our respective industries, and swapped family war stories. I just about put my feet up on the table and reclined in my chair. It was old times again.

After, he took me to his friend Maggie’s art open. Most of it was over my head. I wandered around with my huge black backpack, trying to make myself small and flustered by my inability to shrink the way I’m used to. I’m pretty sure I bumped a few people, but turning around to apologize would’ve meant bumping a few more.

L didn’t let me feel bothered. He waved off half the stuff and told me how half the art world is just imitation and the other half is genuine. That I didn’t have to understand. It’s okay, he said. He didn’t understand it all, either.

And besides, everybody’s bumping into everybody. That’s what being in a city building is like.

He was even kind enough to walk me to the train without brushing off my fears of being a lone woman in a dark, strange place. Leaving the party and entering the quiet felt like walking into a different world, or one of those worlds where musicals come to life (Guys and Dolls, in this case, even though he’s talking early morning — which usually is my time).

The sky was spilled ink. The stoops were empty. Rooms glowed behind brick-faced walls where curtains were drawn tight, or flung open, or plastic shades were half-closed. Lights flicked on and off in the distance in offices and buildings and intersections. The street glittered, already mysteriously wet from some rainstorm, or dew, or whatever it is that gives it that shine. The passage of a hundred thousand feet, and tens of tons of cars, maybe?

For a second, I thought, I could live here.

I felt like I’d been wrapped in a giant blanket. If I wasn’t careful, I’d close my eyes and walk blindly to the train. L and I didn’t talk much — we both had long, separate trips home. I didn’t want either of us to take them.

At the time, I wanted to rub it in my ex’s face. I wanted to show him the night I was having and have it be the most impressive, intelligent thing a person could ever covet. I wanted him to curdle with jealousy.

That lasted until I got home. After that, I didn’t care. I was on my own by then. I had routines to go through and preparations to make for the coming day. I was still full and letting off the last burps from dinner. I felt like kissing my fingers at the night, Italian-style, and dropping a maraschino cherry on top.

It honestly felt more amazing than any date. I felt like L had revealed a secret world inside the city, where the grime was mad beautiful and the rough edges turned out not to be so sharp. I was with family and family knew what we were doing.

It made the city friendly. Leaving that to go home made me feel like I was walking out of the coolest party, but the partiers are so good and casual that they don’t even know how cool they are. They just exist that way. Flickering illusions of something tangible to me that only appear in the warm afterglow of a hot summer’s day.*

I’d like to do that again. I hope someday, I’m able to do that for one of my siblings.

*I could very well be remembering this part wrong, but it’s been frigid here for almost two months and it definitely wasn’t cold when we had that dinner. I’m longing for warm nights again. It’s impacting my memory…possibly.

What’s the best night out you’ve had in a long time?

#WW: Pros and Cons of Reading Goals

CL Mannarino:

For any readers who struggle with keeping up their reading goals: you’re not alone!

Originally posted on Shannon A Thompson:


Normally, I have guest bloggers on Mondays, but today is an exception. (Shannon accidentally overbooked her website for March). That being said, today’s guest blogger is discussing a topic I’m sure many book bloggers and bibliophiles can relate to: reading goals. We’ve all seen them, the 2015 reading goals, the reading challenges, the reading lists. CL Mannarino is an avid reader who has found herself facing many of these lists, and her enlightening discussion brings up the question of why we read in the first place.

Pros and Cons of Reading Goals

Last year, I had a goal to read 35 books. It was going to be brilliant: I had a whole list of books/series that I would tackle for that year. Each one was designed to either clean out my bookshelf (10 unread books for every 1 book I’d already enjoyed), or round me out into a…

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looking for love clmannarino

Food for Thought: Looking for Love

looking for love clmannarino
In love, of course, the shift starts with vulnerability, not calculation. The people involved move from selfishness to service, from prudent thinking to poetic thinking, from a state of selection to a state of need, from relying on conscious thinking to relying on their own brilliant emotions.
When you look at all the people looking for love and vocation today, you realize we live in a culture and an online world that encourages a very different mind-set; in a technical culture in which humanism, religion and the humanities, which are the great instructors of enchantment, are not automatically central to life.
I have to guess some cultures are more fertile for enchantment — that some activities, like novel-reading or music-making, cultivate a skill for it, and that building a capacity for enchantment is, these days, a countercultural act and a practical and fervent need.
David Brooks, NYT Op Ed columnist
yes, that's a cloak.

DIY and Procrastination

I like Doing Things Myself — DTM-ing instead of DIY-ing. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s why the idea of self-publishing appeals to me so much. I like control. No, I love control. And if I can take the reigns in something, you can bet your ass I will.

So I make my own peanut butter now. Yeah, you read that right. It’s surprisingly easy, too. It’s one of those “going natural” things I was putting off for weeks…and weeks.

I’m also cheap. And I’m surrounded by healthy people, or just people who pay attention to health crazes, or just people who want everyone to know everything that’s in their food all the time.

So I bought the peanuts, right? I went shopping with my mom because we needed to go and I grabbed a basket and I stayed in the natural foods corner (literally, it’s a corner. It’s got a label and everything) for probably twenty minutes. Maybe less.

Probably less.

You’d think it was more by the way Mom kept texting and calling me saying “I found peanuts.” “You want peanuts? I just found more.” “Come to the snack aisle, there’s peanuts here.” “Where are you? Did you get those peanuts yet?”

“No, I’m still looking for…other stuff,” I said and went back to staring in near-total-incomprehension at the lines of whole food products. I’m so bad at this stuff. It’s easy when you know what to look for: you just take out your list or your photo and you find the aisle and you laser in with your focus until you find what you need.

I needed peanuts, but I’d also settle for other snack food that was healthy. Because here’s the thing with me: if I’m trying something new, unless I have a deadline (yes, really) or someone guiding me, I take forever to do it. Everything, it seems, has to be just right. The stars need to align.

It must be perfect.

Nothing’s ever perfect. No, that’s wrong; it’s perfect while it’s in your head. Once it comes out of there, it’s as human as you or I. Unless you’re an alien, in which case, I’m sorry.

It took us the prescribed 1.5 hours to get done, but then I left the peanuts on the fridge for a while. I kept just not using them. At long last, Mom went out for something and I went to the food processor.

Fun fact: I’ve never used the food processor. I’ve used everything else — Kitchen Aid, stove, microwave, coffee maker (once, maybe, but not for me, I don’t drink coffee — cue gasps of horror from all caffeine-addicted writers out there), blender, Oster…we’re a food-oriented family. We’re the kind of people who have spoon rests. So this was daunting for me.

Oh, and another fun fact: the instruction manual didn’t know how to work the food processor either. I Googled it after ten minutes — five of frantic fiddling and trying to understand why it wouldn’t work when everything was closed up the way it should be. Five more after asking Little H for help and being told to ask someone else in the house for help before I finally resorted to Google, which resorted to YouTube.

After finally getting the machine to turn on, I thought I remembered the instructions for making peanut butter saying it needs to process for 18-20 minutes.

Seems like a lot… I told myself, pressing the “pulse” button so many times I probably drove Little H nuts with the sound of it.

Maybe fifteen second later, the crushed peanuts started compacting. They formed a weird ball that flipped over the processor blades with frantic leaps and bounds. The processor started jiggling in place.

Yeah, that’s done.

It didn’t need any oil. It stuck together all right, but it also crumbled pretty damn easily. The directions said you could add peanut oil if needed, but I’m impatient. It said it would be quick and I wanted it done now, so I could use it later.

And at long last, I finally had something to put in my little princess snack containers. Remember when I said I put things like this off without someone holding my hand? Yeah. When I started going natural with my hair, I bought a bunch of containers: some for vinegar, some for baking soda, some for the dry shampoo I was going to make while going natural and didn’t (but I used those containers for DIY lotion), and some for the body spray I decided to make.

(My favorite perfume lately has been Vanilla Lace. TK introduced it to me our freshman year of college, so it reminds me of that time and our old dorm and I love it. Sadly, nobody’s copycatted it and I’m not sure if it’s because it’s hard to, or because nobody likes it that much. I am no good at making fragrances, so I won’t touch it. I just improve on what I already know how to do.)

I like having stuff. I also like having stuff to do with that stuff. I like making things useful. So this has been a decent success.

Also note: I never used to like doing things myself. Growing up, I would groan and roll my eyes and be a general, all-around brat whenever Mom would say “we can make that, you know” about something I wanted.

But why? I wanted to know. Why make it when you can buy it and it’ll be better because it’s from the store?

That was a legitimate thought process. The stitches in my cloak — and yes, I did make a cloak once — never came out as tight as they did in the clothes hanging in the store. I was so afraid it would just fall apart if I touched it the wrong way.

Also, you can’t see the holes as well when you buy something. If you make it, you know there could be problems.

It might also be because I get bored with shopping. Or because I like having tactile, tangible things to do when I spend all day writing and spinning around in my head. Or because I like having one project that gets finished in the same day I start it, one that I don’t feel the need to compare against other peoples’ creations.

Or all the above.

Do you do anything yourself? Do you prefer it that way, or do you enjoy getting stuff from the store?