It’s been a minute. I’ve missed you!
I saw a post on Instagram of a writer at a photoshoot saying she was grateful for not being asked to smile. My initial response was, yes, great! It’s considered de rigueur for women to be accessible and inviting, to smile. I remember a time when I was about nineteen, in the midst of a busy waitressing shift, and an older (creepy) man called me over to tell me I’d be prettier with lipstick and a smile. I wish I’d had the nerve to dump a tray in his lap. Women have no responsibility to be pretty for the male gaze, or anyone’s gaze.
Taking a morning walk at my local park, I thought about the non-smiling writer’s portrait. It is beautiful and strong. Also, it got me to wonder about the cost/benefit analysis of a smile. Each time I caught the gaze of a fellow morning rambler, and we exchanged a nod, a smile, I felt a boost. What started as a brooding walk—thinking about the state of the world, AQI, rise of covid infections, upended plans—was lightened by the flashes of connection I felt all over the park. Returning a smile was a spark, a synaptic leap.
A smile also offers the benefit of the feedback loop. When we use muscles in our face that are generally linked to an emotion, we can stimulate the emotion. Hence, forming a smile may actually brighten our day, even if at first we don’t feel like smiling.
I’m not here to say anyone should force smile. Certainly we shouldn’t have performative smiles. But I will err on the side of a slight fake. Smiling doesn’t necessarily mean I’m happy, it means I’m strong, I’m here, and so are you.
My television is in a battle for my soul. Do I watch TED LASSO and call forth my better angels? Do I laugh at the silly and thoughtful kindness that is Ted, an American football coach brought to England to coach a premiere soccer team, about which he knows nothing? Do I ascribe to his folksy homilies? Like:
That last is the anti-thesis of the other show that is seducing me with its decadent, judgy, lascivious deliciousness. Yes, I experience schadenfreude watching the crumbling of the uberwealthy white guests on WHITE LOTUS. And yes, I recognize (and cringe) that I too, as a privileged white woman, am being skewered. There is a bit of a ‘take your medicine’ zeitgeist to the show, but the characters are so over-the-top horrible that watching them is a like a fan dance, we take our medicine with a spoonful of sugar, for we are never that bad, are we? Or are we? Here are some of the opposites of folk homilies that come from the mouths of the characters:
White Lotus has an amazing chaos agent in the character of Armand, the manager of the resort, who has not just fallen, but avalanched off-the-wagon, and whose behavior is responsible for delicious plot twists.
If you’ve not taken a peek at either show, grab a swim-up barstool at the White Lotus, and then cleanse your palate with an episode of Ted Lasso. Both are worth your time.
I’m halfway through listening to KLARA AND THE SUN, by Kazuo Ishiguro and I’m loving it. Set in a dystopian future, where some children are “lifted” or genetically engineered for enhanced academic ability, and where schooling is provided entirely at home by on-screen tutors (covid times?). Thus socialization is extremely limited and parents who are financially able buy their children androids as companions. The book is narrated by Klara, one such Artificial Friend (AF). While Klara is exceptionally empathic and intelligent, her knowledge of the world is of course limited. As I listen, I’m filled with slight dread for what is to come of her. Are AFs cast off, as so many childhood delights?
If you’ve not read Ishiguro’s novel, NEVER LET ME GO, I highly recommend it. Also set in a dystopian future, the novel is about, well I don’t want to say more in fear of spoiling the plot, but the story is beautiful, it’s about love and an uncertain future, the characters human and humane. Disconnection with humanity is a theme in both of the novels.
Also, in case you want a sweet and lovely bit of background music, the jazz singer, Stacey Kent collaborated with Ishiguro on this album, BREAKFAST ON THE MORNING TRAM, for which he wrote the lyrics to a few songs. There is one song entitled, “I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again” in which there is the line, “I want our waiter to give us a reprimand, in a language neither of us understand.” Man, I feel her.
Finally, my TBR stack is topped with my friend, Kate Nason’s memoir, EVERYTHING IS PERFECT. I had the pleasure of hearing excerpts of Kate’s book around my dining room table as she was writing it. Kate has a generous way of looking at the world, unsparing and unblinking, not failing to see beauty and humor in even the most untenable situations. Here’s a bit from the flap copy which describes her book to a tee: “her memoir uncovers the little-known side of a well-known story, unveiling a cautionary tale about the ways we deceive ourselves when we allow ourselves to be deceived by those we love. Nason explores the roles women inhabit throughout their lives, how they carry trauma, and the lengths they’ll go to protect their children and save themselves. Fierce and often funny self-reckoning, a meditation on learning to trust one’s intuition.”
Finally, do you know about Libby? It’s an App that lets you check out audio books from your library. Sign up!
Have you seen this recipe for gazpacho? Well, now that you have, you’ve landed in gazpacho nirvana. Samin Nosrat has something to say about it here. This is the only recipe you’ll need hence forts. Consider it a guideline that you can learn and then toss aside to riff on the theme with your own invention.
For the Gazpacho:
Cut half the onion, 2 of the cucumbers, 3/4 of the bell pepper and the jalapeño into 1-inch pieces. Place in the bowl of a food processor or blender jar. Add Sungold tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt. Blend at high speed until completely smooth. (If necessary, blend in batches, then stir together.)
Place a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl, and strain soup, using a spatula to help press the liquid through; discard the solids.
Finely dice remaining onion, cucumber and pepper, and add to soup; stir in vinegar. If desired, add water 1 tablespoon at a time to thin out the soup. Taste, and adjust salt and vinegar as needed. Cover, and chill soup for 45 minutes. (Chill 6 soup bowls now too.)
For the Basil Oil:
Finely chop the basil leaves. Place in a small bowl, and cover with the olive oil. Add the halved cherry tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt. Toss to combine, then taste and adjust salt. Set aside.
Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a tablespoon or so of the basil oil.
Thanks for spending a minute with me. Take good care. If you’ve not yet gotten a vaccine, please chat with smart people to hear all the reasons it’s a good idea. Also, be certain to mask up and protect the kids who aren’t yet old enough for a vaccine.
Stanley does not feel like smiling.
If you need a book, I’ve got all the recommendations from two years of this newsletter at my Bookshop.