Wednesday, January 11, 2012

VOTE PROSTALGIA IN 2012: ruminations from a hospital bed

Let’s face it, people: not all calendar years are built alike.  We have just entered into one, in fact, that carries with it the weight of great expectations.  To add to the excitement, soothsayers are (once again) suggesting that the end is nigh.  And if it isn’t nigh, it is surely moving nighward, our planet having been battered by a litany of wars, droughts, famines, natural disasters, man-made disasters, economic vortexes, reality TV programming and other cataclysmic crap that is certain to bring us all down.  It’s enough to make you want to surrender to the inevitable…or rise up and meet it head-on, perchance to alter the fate of the world.  I would like to place myself in the latter camp.

Not to wax sanguine about the whole mess we’re in, but I can’t help feeling an unfiltered ray of hope about it all.  In fact, I am going to tilt my head back and let the extra-potent violets and ultraviolets from the man-hewn fissures in the atmosphere warm my face while I stretch my becalmed brain around the idea of a self-cleansing universe.  And I urge you to do the same.  Not only is this stance easier on the sphygmomanometer than anxiety; it promotes long-term happiness.

The truth is, perhaps more than ever before, I am looking forward to looking back at this year.  When the Mayan calendar ends and we weather the fin de siecle tempests that ensue, and after we survey the post-apocalyptic landscape, we will—I think—see 2012 as a pivotal year, the beginning of the post-post-postmodern Renaissance.  We can draw our inspiration from the sybarites, Sodom and Gomorrah, Atlantis, the court of the Sun King, the Roaring Twenties, the Nineteen Eighties, The Lorax, pre-mortgage crisis America and other eras of wanton human excess as examples of coda crescendos in the epic worksong of humankind.  

All good things must come to an end to make way for the birth of new good things.  But, in order for that to happen, we have to let stuff go, and—for those of us lucky enough to face this choice--we have to be OK with minimizing luxury.   If I were a politician—and thank God I’m not--this is where I would lose my audience.  And I get that.  Unlike the Mayans, I have trouble with the idea of sacrifice, too.  I like my modest luxuries: iTunes, massage therapy, smartphone apps, vacation.  I want to keep those things.  But, in the end, they are extras, ornamental contrivances designed to cushion the blow of living in a sometimes real world.  I denounce thee, driver’s seat warmer!  I shun thee, New York Times Travel section!  And you, social media demons!  You know how I feel about you….But I’ll keep my smartphone for now, thank you very much.

I propose that we Earthlings need to draw the line between pleasure-seeking and gluttony.  Likewise, ambition and greed.   Finally, I’ll throw in ingenuity and technology.  In order to make any real progress, we will have to release our baggage and be ready to make short-term sacrifices for a much greater long-term gain.  This will be the revolutionary idea that changes the world in a single generation.  With my head still tilted back in the carcinogenic UV rays, I envision a world that can feed itself, regulate its growth and begin the long, shameless walk back to the sheer naked bliss of Eden.  Which is to say, growing biodiverse organic gardens in every suburban backyard and urban rooftop can actually feed the world.  I swear.  I counted backyards and rooftops, and I can prove it.  Besides, John Forti at Strawbery Banke agrees with me on this point, and he knows everything.

I hope 2012 will be the first year humans work together irrespective of race, creed and nationality, to fix the broken planet of which we have appointed ourselves stewards.  I predict that the retro-progressive agrarian movement will continue to grow like a hardy perennial despite the many industrial, economical and political obstacles that still clog its path.  More and more school gardens will breed more and more home gardens, and from there I expect the idea to spread like a Monsanto GMO shot from a tractor beam.

So, I’m wistful yet hopeful.  It’s like raaaaaain on your wedding day.  What I mean is, I really can’t wait to survive the bleak end and look ahead with a new hope on the horizon.  I dub this idea “Prostalgia,” and I invite you to join me in making our immediate future the kind of past our children will be proud of.

Most of these prostalgic perambulations came to me along with a low fever while I lay in a hospital bed.  Nothing’ll make you feel prostalgic like an overnight hospital stay on the eve of a major holiday with a misdiagnosed hernia that ends up being an advanced, unidentifiable bacterial infection in the soft tissue of your right leg.  I was supposed to be cooking for the masses on Christmas Eve, not brooding over Mother Earth’s (or my own) mortality.  And despite my children’s exhortations to the contrary, how could I not be home on Christmas morning to play Père Noël?

After pleading with the doctor to let me go home for Christmas, I finally got released from the hospital—on Christmas Eve night—with one major caveat:  I had to have an IV catheter called a PICC line inserted into a vein in my arm that would snake its way into the upper chamber of my heart.  Twice a day for two weeks, the doctor mandated, I would have to hook up a balloon full of potent antibiotics and let them slowly drip into my heart, where they would battle the bacterial beast that was threatening to take over my body.  The radiologist—later described as an eccentric genius with an unorthodox approach—had no support staff due to the holiday, so he asked me to help with the procedure.  After some fumbling around for the requisite equipment, he (actually, we) embarked on the insertion.  Blood spattered all over the dropcloth as the little tube went into my arm.  I continued to perform the tasks required of me by the doctor as he conducted a play-by-play of the little tube’s travels through my arm and torso.  We watched it on X-ray television.  It was pretty cool and in some ways more suspenseful than watching a holiday bowl game.

Erin & RJ in full 1920's character!
Thankfully, this story—in spite of a few subsequent mishaps—had a happy ending.  I got to watch my kids open their Christmas presents, and I was pretty much back to normal for the hectic onslaught we call New Year’s Eve.  I even got to participate fully in our annual holiday party, which began as a 1920’s murder mystery with each member of our staff and their partners playing a role, and ending with a fabulous meal at 50 Local in Kennebunk.

When I got home, I sequestered myself in my office to wrap some last minute presents.  There, on the wall, on a wrinkled and faded sheet of construction paper, was my son’s footprints from a few years ago.  Under the words “HAPPY FATHER’S DAY,” and above my son’s name scrawled in blue marker, is a poem called Footprints.  I have read it hundreds of times, and I keep it up on the wall by my desk for a reason, but two stanzas of the poem on that occasion leapt out at me and gave me my New Year’s Resolution:
“’Walk a little slower, Daddy,’
Said a child so small.
‘I’m walking in your footsteps
And I don’t want to fall.
Sometimes your steps are very fast.
Sometimes they are hard to see.
So walk a little slower, Daddy,
For you are leading me.’”

Top Ten 2011 Highlights (in no particular order)
1. My daughter’s Columbus Day Lemonade Stand
2. Heirloom Harvest Barn Dinner (televised on Chronicle)
3. A Winter’s Tale: another spoken word paean about my love of wife
4. The James Beard Award nomination
5. Guest cheffing at events, most notably at Gracie’s in Providence
6. Pecha Kucha Haiku about my life in food
7. Chef’s Collaborative Summit, New Orleans
8. My new relationships with Archer Angus and other farmers
9. Our  Kitchen Farm Garden at Meadow’s Mirth Farm
10. Working with Slow Food, Chef’s Collaborative, Seacoast Local, UNH and other food-based local organizations motivated to continue our path toward a sustainable and self-reliant food community.

2011 Lowlights
1. Overbooking my September calendar
2. Overbooking my October calendar after overbooking my September one
3. The beginning of a high voltage line that will, by virtue of eminent domain, cut right through our tranquil, rural woodlot behind our house, effectively bisecting our property and carving a 100-foot-wide scar through wildlife habitat and mushroom foraging nirvana
4. Advanced Bacterial Infection to Soft Tissue landing me in the hospital two days before Christmas, followed by a PICC line I helped guide from my bicep to my heart. 
5. Accidentally snipping the blood line that led to my heart with dirty scissors.  (Medical personnel had a field day with that one.)

Evan’s Top Ten for Twenty Twelve
1. Holiday Party!
2. Doing the RPM Challenge with my kids
3. Going back to Gracie’s in April
4. Tough Mudder in May
5. Refurbished Wine Bar!
6. Cookbook?
7. My son’s passion for TaeKwon Do and geography
8. My daughter’s National History project, soccer exploits and screenplay
9. Black Trumpet’s Fifth Anniversary
10. Slowing down and spending more time with my family

Happy New Year!