Saturday, November 1, 2008

Invisibility Theme, Part IV: Dalai Mama Has Left the Building

(Alternate title -- "Hello & Goodbye: A Long, Impassioned Ode to Catherine Newman, Blogger Extraordinaire...With a Few Ramblings and Pithy Comments Along the Way")

The Dalai Mama, one of my all-time favorite blogs, is undergoing a major change. Catherine Newman, the blogger behind it all, explains everything in It's Not Goodbye -- It's Bon Appetit! *

Have you discovered this amazing blogger yet? I've had her links on my sidebar all these months, though I've never singled her out for recognition. I certainly hope that some of you have wandered over there at some point and had a look around. It's a place so comfortable and warm, you'll probably want to go back and visit regularly. It's the kind of place you can sip a warm drink and spend an amiable afternoon without even realizing what time it's gotten to be. Where it's nice and nest-y, though you're constantly inspired to remember that you, too, can fly.

I think of Catherine as the mom I thought I would be...before I got too tired, or cynical, or just...took too many shortcuts. (Well, minus the vegetarian co-op part, and the loving-the-family-bed part,...and the husband-is-a-masseuse part, because THAT is something I didn't even think to dream of!) It's not that she's perfect, though, either. (Which makes her all the more wonderful, in my opinion.) She's not a robot or Stepford Wife, not Bree Van de Kamp or Martha Stewart. She talks about feeling overwhelmed & wondering if she's doing it right, but -- and this is key -- she remains mindful of these things. She somehow manages to maintain her focus on the big picture while simultaneously zooming in to note the microcosms along the way.**

She's a great writer, too. It's hard to pin down exactly what it is that makes her writing so wonderful. She's sincere, thoughtful, focused (mostly) -- in both her writing and her mothering, tender & funny, but it's more than that. She has that special something, that umami writing, that strikes a deep, rich chord beyond the bitter/sweet/salty components. Each post is something to savor slowly, and is uniquely satisfying.

So that blog, which I have eagerly read each Wednesday morning (although in reading her goodbye comments I discovered the new post was up on Tuesday afternoons, actually, and I could have read it 8 hours earlier!), that blog is now GONE.

Well, sort of.

She will still be there writing, only now she will be writing about recipes (mostly). I say mostly, because as she herself points out, it's not really about the pear cake.

I will be missing her old column greatly -- though of course, technically she is still there, both in archives AND in the new Dalai Mama Dishes. And of course I will keep visiting weekly, browsing through recipes and planning hypothetical feasts (much like flipping through an IKEA or Pottery Barn catalog), while reading between the lines for glimpses of Ben & Birdy and fall melancholy and pants and undies falling down.

So far, I've been surprised at how much I'm enjoying her new blog, and by how lovely her recipes sound -- they really are more than pear cake! And, because, let's face it -- I'm not the wholesome, unprocessed foods, & barrels-of-granola kind of mom that she is. (Read the otter pop post to read see why we differ...and why we mesh.) Her pot roast recipe with accompanying photos and comments actually had me giggling aloud. (How someone can take such unappetizing photos, then sprinkle the paragraph liberally with the words "placenta", "severed torso", "stool softener", and "barfing" and STILL make you want to try the delicious pot roast recipe tomorrow night -- ?? Well, that, my friends, is precisely why you should be reading her.)

But, now that I think about it, perhaps you should actually read the plum cake recipe first. Because that is the kinder, gentler, crunchier version. No bodily emissions or organs there! (Although there are reminders of motorcycle boots & fierceness layered with the wholesomeness of baking & motherly love that goes into the Catherine Newman parfait, so to speak.) And once again, while I can truly say that plum cake has never even occurred to me, I was moved to want to try the recipe. Both because it looked so tasty, and, simply, as a nod to Catherine. A sort of sweet goodbye -- and hello! -- to the blog(s). Plus? Butter. Real butter and sugar and simple goodness. I will overlook my usual chocolate bent and give plums a chance.

So anyway, once you've said hello to Catherine's new blog, go back and read the old blog archives. They are gems. Diamonds sparkling from the depths of an old mine shaft. An old mine shaft that is being deserted because it's getting unsafe. Or it's no longer environmentally sound. Or it's got some new owners. Or something. Whatever the metaphor, they're down there. Those posts are treasures waiting to be discovered, but they are going to be invisible from the surface. Look for them.

Each post is a lovely stand-alone essay, but taken as a whole they speak volumes. In between the great things and gulag days, there are summer fevers and gymnastics classes and dozens of other posts, each with moments or metaphors or individual sentences that take my breath away. I think nearly every week I was moved to laugh AND blink back a tear. And while that might simply say something about how I'm typically fairing mid-week, I think it really says more about Catherine's ability to witness the events in her life, to sift through them with an uncannily sightful eye, and to create such powerful written records of the meaning she finds therein.

The pear cake metaphor has been on my mind all week. "'It's not that I want pear cake, Mama. It's that I don't want you to leave.' Indeed." Indeed! I can't tell you how many times during this last week I've whispered "pear cake" in my head, as a gentle reminder to myself.

And it's often this way -- Catherine's words stay with me. They're filling. She's the fiber in a sea of bloggy junk food. I crave both, delight in both, savor both...but know that the fiber is what will keep me going. Or...not. (heh, heh.) (Which then makes me recall the stool softener pot roast recipe.) Perhaps she's the protein. She's meaty; gives you lots to chew on. Or a complex carb? Energizes you for the long haul. Meh. Either way, we're back to the power of Catherine's words. And food!! And --Ta Da! -- I neatly brought it all back full circle!

So back to the point I was starting to make, which is how her words have staying power. For me, one of the most powerful posts in the old blog was The Invisible Woman. I remember this description well, all this time later, because it's just so accurate for me. I feel myself blanking intentionally, mentally exiting my body,...the building, life. And it's so shocking to have someone name it, to call me out on it, because even though it's accurate, I hadn't fully realized I was doing it. (And once I saw it, I was additionally ashamed to realize how much resentment and annoyance filled my invisible moments.) Thanks to that post, I have become more aware of my tendency to disappear. I do it less. And when I do still find myself really needing to slip away, I now try to do it more gracefully, floating off to a quiet place where I can reflect & recoup for a moment, returning ready for the next round.

I browsed through The Dalai Mama archives to find the link to the Invisible Woman post, and was surprised to find it all the way back in November 2006! And it had something to do with a copper cylinder, which I certainly didn't recall. And I was surprised to find it was much shorter than I remembered. (And, actually, much more positive than I remembered.) But the concept was there. The wanting to disappear during the mind-numbing moments of parenthood. So, I'm almost certain that's the post I'm thinking of. And, plus -- really, how many entries on INVISIBILITY can one person write? (cough, cough)

Which all just goes to show how meaningful blogs can be. (When you get deeper than fanny packs & crazy talk, that is.) How reading someone else's thoughts can open up your own. How finding the right words at the right time truly is "as if a hand has come out and taken yours," like she said (which someone else said). How a person you've never even met can inspire you to become a better you. How amazing this internet stuff really is.

But don't just take my word for it. Go. Read.*** You'll be glad you did.

*I made a last-minute attempt at color-coding my quotes & links here, because I am referencing SO MANY and didn't want to send you off on so many wild goose chases, impelling you to click hither and yon only to find you had already been there. So...if the color is the same, the link is the same. Just trying to provide a few "footnotes" and to simplify. (any other spots that sound suspiciously lovely were probably supposed to be color-coded, too; not intending to plagiarize, just trying to get to bed)

**I deleted the following paragraph, because it is so over-the-top. But it kind of cracks me up, and it is sort of how I see her. So I'm pasting it here:

It's as if she's determined to put together a puzzle that she is absolutely loves -- not only because of the completed image it will make, but because of all the beautiful shapes and colors of each distinctly individual, vitally important piece. Some days she can't get many pieces to fit easily, or doesn't have enough time to work on it, and
gets frustrated. But she's able to say -- "Wow, this is a challenging puzzle! That took so much concentration & patience today, but I really just love this puzzle! Tomorrow I'm going to try to put another lovely piece in place. But if I find I still can't get very far, I'll just make a pot of tea and hum a tune and spend some time fondly gazing at
the amazing pieces!"

But me? Well, I'm more likely to have a small fit. To dramatically brush all the pieces to the floor with my arm. To break up the sections I already completed and throw them, hostilely, back into the box. To curse the ridiculousness and wrongness of certain pieces. To sigh and turn on the tv. So, yeah, she's a pretty great role model.

***Don't be put off by the baby-ish avatars accompanying the comments section on her new blog. It's an odd little quirk on that site -- and though I have never added an avatar of my own anywhere, I'm highly tempted to do so over there, just so everyone understands I'm not actually 5. Although that would require me to comment, which I have possibly done ONCE (?) over the years. I prefer to stay quietly hidden over here and then write long, rambling, gushing, then rambling again posts about how much I love her. Hmm. Again, one of the differences between her & me; she would TELL people she loved them -- or at least bake them a plum cake! -- where I would just crack a joke and then go check the local weather. So, ok. I'll leave a comment! (Because did I mention she's great? And a good influence?) I will comment and cook.

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