Said and read – November 2018

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“I love the idea of reading books as a brotherly, sisterly moral obligation to one’s people.” – Flights, Olga Tokarczuk 

Has November spawned a monster? I’m at the threshold of two major submission deadlines (and several smaller ones) in one study program (by the time I publish, all of this will be submitted) and should be polishing off a master’s thesis in another study program – both of which, it should go without saying, have required time, thought and a lot of reading. I will get through all of this but wonder at my own motivations. Why would I believe this was a good idea?

I am tired, possibly dispirited (which I know is temporary and largely tied to the moment in which I write this… update, yes, in fact, it was temporary… by the time I started to finish this, my mindset was completely different), and even though a couple of things will end in December, new things will start. I will not take the luxury of resting. I feel a certain dread about that. (Tomorrow I will probably feel elated about that.) The momentary dread arises because it’s all quite unknown, less because I don’t get a break. It’s still reading I turn to for “breaks”.

I don’t always read something ‘easy’ – in fact, I rarely do. But it makes me happy, regardless of the subject matter. I don’t think it’s the topic that is uplifting necessarily. And I stumbled across an article from 2015 that nods along with this assertion: reading may contribute to your happiness (I had no idea but apparently there’s something called bibliotherapy, but it’s a fascinating discovery for someone who is delving into psychology and therapeutic approaches to mental health. It’s an awful play on words perhaps to say that I found this particular approach novel).

If you find yourself curious about what I was reading, liking, thinking, hating and all the rest throughout 2018… here’s your chance to find out: October, SeptemberAugust, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.

Thoughts on reading for November:

In November I found that I read much more than expected, perhaps something like 50 books. A couple of months ago one of my university classmates got in touch to discuss my blog posts on reading/literature and share his thoughts on reading Russian literature (we were in Russian studies courses together), and this brought many memories of that period in my life flooding back. Actually, it’s truer to say that being back at a university and interacting with people who are young (as I was then) started me on this trajectory, but that ended up being the first of the nostalgia triggers that led me to some unsettling news as November ends.

In September after I’d begun studying, a young woman asked me if I am still in touch with friends from my undergraduate years. I don’t think she realized that my undergrad years are almost as far away from us in years as her entire lifespan so far. It dawned on me that, no, in fact, I am friends now with only one woman from college. I formed a few very close but very brief friendships during that time, which, if I am honest, were, in the sum of it all, painful. One such friendship developed during the same time as/in the course of the Russian studies, and it ended with what I can only now call “ghosting” even if I could see the ways she backed off from me.

When I exchanged a few messages with the guy from the class, it opened the door to this distant past. It made me think of the Russian class, of very detailed memories of that whole period – the foods, the characters, the schedules, particular moments and vignettes, and most powerfully, I remember the fragile, vulnerable nature of a classmate/woman/friend, K, who hid beneath her retiring exterior a fierce intellect and emotional abundance. I wrote a few years ago about a few very specific memories – a day that our very small Russian class took a field trip together to Victoria, BC, Canada – and as those flooded back to me, I found myself revisiting some of the Russian readings, the music from our field trip day (Cowboy Junkies), and finally, today I thought that I’d look K up. I had tried once or twice to find her online in the past, but it seems all the friends from my past who disappear tend to be the types who have absolutely no online presence. As such, I never found K in my previous searches.

Until last night when I did just a small amount of digging and found…

She died two years ago.

And I was, to borrow a word from someone with whom I shared this, “floored”.

Worse yet, as I was processing this information, I happened to learn that someone else I had just been talking about had recently passed away. Learning about this kind of death – something about someone who is now distant but who was once a vital, important, daily fixture, someone who was once so meaningful – is like immersing one’s entire head in ice water. I am awake, so aware of my limitations and the limitations of time. But is it changing how I do things? Is it making me any less selfish?

Living’s mostly wasting time/and I waste my share of mine/But it never feels too good/ so let’s not take too long…/I’m soft as glass/and you’re a gentle man/we’ve got the sky to talk about/and the world to lie upon/days up and down they come/like rain on a conga drum/forget most/remember some/but don’t turn none away/everything is not enough/nothing is too much to bear/where you’ve been is good and gone/all you keep’s the getting there” – Cowboy Junkies (covering the late, great Townes van Zandt)… a song that will always make me think of K (1974-2016).

Highly recommended

*Application for Release from DeathTony Hoagland 

I started reading Hoagland last month (and loved that book also). It turns out that I started reading around the same time that he died (October 2018). I’m going to read the rest of his work in in December. Poetry, of course.

*Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World – Suzy Hansen

I can’t say enough about how good this book is for challenging American blindness and brainwashing about the world and the American(‘s) place in it.

*Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs – Johann Hari 

I’d intended to read Chasing the Scream for over a year; I was going through a phase of reading books on addiction and new takes (scientific and otherwise) on the nature of addiction. Somehow I never quite got to this one until now. It’s extraordinarily well-written in a gripping narrative form, and it ties, strangely, to one of the books I read this month and hated (The Culture of Narcissism – see below). I am not drawing a parallel between addicts and narcissists, if that’s what you’re imagining. No, instead, I think of some points Lasch made in The Culture of Narcissism and see their applicability.

From Hari’s book:

Bruce came to believe, as he put it, that “today’s flood of addiction is occurring because our hyperindividualistic, frantic, crisis-ridden society makes most people feel social[ly] or culturally isolated. Chronic isolation causes people to look for relief. They find temporary relief in addiction . . . because [it] allows them to escape their feelings, to deaden their senses—and to experience an addictive lifestyle as a substitute for a full life.”

and

Bruce says that at the moment, when we think about recovery from addiction, we see it through only one lens—the individual. We believe the problem is in the addict and she has to sort it out for herself, or in a circle of her fellow addicts. But this is, he believes, like looking at the rats in the isolated cages and seeing them as morally flawed: it misses the point. He argues we need to refocus our eyes, as if staring at a Magic Eye picture, to see that the problem isn’t in them, it’s in the culture.” 

and

If we think like this, the question we need to answer with our drug policy shifts. It is no longer: How do we stop addiction through threats and force, and scare people away from drugs in the first place? It becomes: How do we start to rebuild a society where we don’t feel so alone and afraid, and where we can form healthier bonds? How do we build a society where we look for happiness in one another rather than in consumption?” 

* Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book – Susan M. Love

I wish I had been able to read this book a long time ago. Detailed but simplified for the layperson. It is also sad to see the part on practical considerations, e.g., about American health insurance and financial constraints. That is, can you afford your treatment, and whether you can or not, are you one day away from being unscrupulously discriminated against for having cancer? Ugh.

*Le sanglot de l’homme noirAlain Mabanckou

A series of essays/reflections on being black, on prejudice, on colonialism.

Tu es né ici, ton destin est ici, et tu ne devras pas le perdre de vue. Demande-toi ce que tu apportes à cette patrie sans pour autant attendre d’elle une quelconque récompense. Parce que le monde est ainsi fait : il y a plus de héros dans l’ombre que dans la lumière.

Good – really good

*Sarajevo MarlboroMiljenko Jergović

There’s no point in not letting a fire swallow up things that human indifference has already destroyed.

Stories of Sarajevo and the diversity of life found there.

Life is only valuable because you know you have it. Death always finds you unprepared, without tangible proof that you ever lived.”

*The Panther and the LashLangston Hughes

*HumJamaal May

*HiveChristina Stoddard

I loved all the references to the Pacific Northwest (Tacoma and surrounding environs!)

*Search Party: Collected PoemsWilliam Matthews

Because poetry, as always. It doesn’t really need much more explanation than that (particularly if you read this blog; I rarely post my own writing on a regular basis, but I post a poem daily).

*This Boy’s Life: A MemoirTobias Wolff

I can’t really say why I read this or why it makes my list of something I really enjoyed. It probably comes down to how characters and scenes are described, which is the only way a piece of writing comes alive.

Entertaining/informative/thoughtful or some combination thereof

*Flow: The Cultural Story of MenstruationElissa Stein

*New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of MenstruationChris Bobel

Technically I finished both of these right at the end of October, so they didn’t make it into my October write-up. These are not necessarily books suited to everyone but they formed part of my thesis research on period poverty and thus were informative and might be useful for people (particularly men) who have no clue about menstruation and the unequal economic (and other) burdens it places on women. Most surprising to me is how many women know so very little about their own bodies and the economic situations of others (i.e., period products are taxed in many countries as non-essential luxury items, meaning that a lot of women struggle to afford them and are often making choices between tampons or food).

*Communication and Social Change: A Citizen PerspectiveThomas Tufte

This was something that informed my thesis work, but as someone interested in how we communicate about and for social change and justice, this is an essential volume.

*Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be StoppedGarry Kasparov

Kasparov’s work really speaks for itself. The only issue I had was minor and factual; the book made the mistake of confusing Slovakia and Slovenia, which had nothing to do with the overall content of the book. But a basic fact check or proofread should have caught this.

And there are valid, timely warnings for what we’re going through now.

“Despite the attempt to rebrand the method as “engagement,” the smell of appeasement is impossible to mask. The fundamental lesson of Chamberlain and Daladier going to see Hitler in Munich in 1938 is valid today: giving a dictator what he wants never stops him from wanting more; it convinces him you aren’t strong enough to stop him from taking what he wants. Otherwise, goes the dictator’s thought process, you would stand up to him from the start.”

When I am asked if Putin was inevitable, this is why I say you have to start ten years before anyone knew his name. By the time Yeltsin made Putin the heir apparent, Russians were demanding stability and looking for a tough guy to stand up to the criminals and to the Western influences they’d been told were damaging the country and their pensions. To prevent Putin, or a Putin, from coming to power, the 1990s would have required a very different script with less appeasement of Yeltsin and his entourage and stronger support for democratic institutions.”

*BecomingMichelle Obama

I had seen all the publicity around this book and had no intention of reading it. But one Saturday or Sunday morning, tired of reading social psychology papers and even more tired of the embarrassing, frightening circus that is the contemporary political landscape,  I decided to latch onto the bittersweet nostalgia of the Obamas via the former First Lady’s autobio. While it mostly read as expected, the moments around the first Obama presidential victory re-awakened the emotion I felt on election day 2008. I want to scream about our current dilemma/disaster, “How did we get here?” except that I know the answer: we were always here.

Coincidences

*The Culture of Public Problems: Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic OrderJoseph R. Gusfield

This is not exactly a coincidence, but more of a “crossover”. I suppose it’s inevitable that if you’re doing two study programs simultaneously, even if they are in entirely different disciplines, you will stumble across topics and theories that have some applicability (even possibly novel applicability) in the other. I have to say that the vague, esoteric nature of one of my fields has made it more difficult to engage fully with and apply theory adequately, but the much more grounded and detailed nature of psychology studies (and research methods) has helped. I came across Gusfield in some of my psych readings and realized that there are aspects of his work on making private/individual problems public that could be an interesting angle for my other line of inquiry…

I had never really thought about drinking-driving, as he refers to it, in the way he frames it. While I certainly do believe that the individual does have responsibility for drinking-driving as a choice, I can appreciate Gusfield’s analysis that the rest of society has been built in a way that doesn’t offer many choices. (It’s more complex than this, of course, but that’s why the book was worth reading.)

Biggest disappointment (or hated/disliked)

I read quite a few independently published books of poetry this month, and most of them were pretty disappointing. I won’t call any of them out because they all offered something worthwhile even if, on the whole, I wouldn’t buy these books again.

Also, I was writing a paper about narcissism and democracy, and found a book that seemed like it might be interesting as background information:

*The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing ExpectationsChristopher Lasch

The narcissist has no interest in the future because, in part, he has so little interest in the past. He finds it difficult to internalize happy associations or to create a store of loving memories with which to face the latter part of his life, which under the best of conditions always brings sadness and pain. In a narcissistic society—a society that gives increasing prominence and encouragement to narcissistic traits—the cultural devaluation of the past reflects not only the poverty of the prevailing ideologies, which have lost their grip on reality and abandoned the attempt to master it, but the poverty of the narcissist’s inner life. A society that has made “nostalgia” a marketable commodity on the cultural exchange quickly repudiates the suggestion that life in the past was in any important way better than life today. Having trivialized the past by equating it with outmoded styles of consumption, discarded fashions and attitudes, people today resent anyone who draws on the past in serious discussions of contemporary conditions or attempts to use the past as a standard by which to judge the present.”

I was wrong. It had interesting parts but I suppose I had bigger expectations for it than it could have lived up to and had no applicability to the paper I was trying to write. To find the good points, you’d have to read very carefully and ignore a lot of unsavory moralizing.

It’s my own fault for not looking at anything about Lasch before reading it – he leans heavily conservative on social issues, and many good points are masked by this moralistic tone. For example, he argued that the unshakeable and often unrealistic American clinging to the idea of “Progress” (and its inevitability) makes Americans deaf and resistant to (his) warnings or ideas – but frankly, it, by extension, makes Americans deaf and resistant to all ideas that don’t fit in with this uniquely American and blind construction of the world.

A denial of the past, superficially progressive and optimistic, proves on closer analysis to embody the despair of a society that cannot face the future.”

said and read

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My goal, as stated, was to read 26 non-English-language books in 2018. I am on track, but I didn’t really intend to keep reading other books like a total fiend.  I suppose it’s like when you avoid something over which you have no self-control. (My grandmother might have called this lamentable lack of discipline ‘a potato-chip effect’. She could entirely avoid potato chips, but if she ate just one, she was not able to stop. Then again, my grandmother would also have found this kind of obsessive reading to be intoxicating and its own form of discipline, so I doubt she would have faulted me for it. Books are not, after all, potato chips.)

For nearly a decade I didn’t read much of anything. But crack open a book (or a screen in the case of an e-reader), and I’m done. You can’t pry me away from it. That’s not to say I don’t do anything else. It’s just that I never go anywhere without the Kindle. Every spare moment waiting or riding a train or plane or lying in bed trying to fall asleep is occupied with reading.

To achieve my actual goal I need to read two non-English-language books per month, and I am well into the second of the two. But I guess there must be about 18 other (English-language) books on the go at the same time. I really didn’t anticipate this.

And my one unequivocal recommendation is Masha Gessen’s The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Sure, you kind of have to be interested in Russia, Russian history and non-fiction for this to appeal to you (although she has used several people’s journeys as ways into the story, making it feel more visceral and urgent than a lot of fiction). Several other books have been noteworthy: Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (Bohumil Hrabal)… because it’s Hrabal. There’s no way to explain why it’s good or worth your time (and it might not be if this style doesn’t appeal to you); The Best We Could Do (Thi Bui), which is not my normal style. I don’t care for graphic/illustrated novels (this is more an autobio than a novel), but this was a moving exception. If you have interest in Vietnam, the refugees who left Vietnam after the long conflict and the way these people adapted in their new surroundings and how their children then adapted, this is a fresh and deeply humanizing take on a familiar story (familiar, perhaps, in a firsthand way to Vietnamese and American people at least).

So far I have not read anything I considered truly bad, but there were a few repetitive time wasters (e.g. a handful of books by comedian Frankie Boyle – not time-wasting per se… more just semi-lazy rehashing of his comedy material mixed with some semi-thoughtful left-wing opinions, and the inane autobio of Lauren Graham, whom I dislike anyway, so I can’t explain why I read it. It may just be an extension of my “hate watching” of certain TV shows, notably and related in this case, Gilmore Girls and Parenthood). It could be that I read these because they were readily available as e-books from the library. Yeah, sometimes this potent mix of lukewarm curiosity and convenience/availability will do it. Not just when it comes to books.

Random abandon – I am a wee marshmallow fox

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I can’t sleep. Checking out the ridiculous Eastbound & Down and overdosing on cute pics of twin baby polar bears. Thinking I will switch over to news even though I am tired of hearing about Crimea now. How is that story a surprise to anyone?

Reading about the talented and alluring Yasmine Hamdan – always wish I knew Arabic.

Love – I never knew I needed or wanted to hear sweet words. You can just call me a wee marshmallow fox. I have completely melted.

I like multimedia, multitask, multithought, multifeeling multistories that are as full of random abandon as I am.

And poetry, of course. Uncertainty.

ДРУГОЕ

Белла Ахмадулина, 1966 / -Bella Akhmadulina

Что сделалось? Зачем я не могу,
уж целый год не знаю, не умею
слагать стихи и только немоту
тяжелую в моих губах имею?

Вы скажете – но вот уже строфа,
четыре строчки в ней, она готова.
Я не о том. Во мне уже стара
привычка ставить слово после слова.

Порядок этот ведает рука.
Я не о том. Как это прежде было?
Когда происходило – не строка –
другое что-то. Только что?- забыла.

Да, то, другое, разве знало страх,
когда шалило голосом так смело,
само, как смех, смеялось на устах
и плакало, как плач, если хотело?

 

Unexpected turns – So far from “home”

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I am asked all the time why I live so far from “home” – but people don’t understand when they ask that “home” is a relative term. Where is home? I feel at home in Sweden now. Iceland was always home in my heart. But time does change things.

Sooner or later everyone asks how I would end up in the woods of rural Värmland, western Sweden – most of the people native to this region think I am weird and/or exotic… the neighbors apparently could never work up the nerve to talk to me so they just talked to each other about me, making up stories. They were convinced I was German because of my name (and there are a lot of Germans and Dutch people around here in the summertime). Eventually one neighbor came by and told me all the “theories” the neighbors passed around. I can see how they thought I was quite an anomaly since everyone here seems to have been born within a 30 kilometer radius of this place. And my moving here a handful of years ago was the most dramatic thing to happen in ten or more years.

I had a little fling with a local guy – never met people more vanilla in their tastes and experiences – and so in awe of the smallest things that they perceived to be outside the norm. The local yokel tells me, years after the fact, that he was also in awe and still sometimes looks back on these little dalliances together as though they were some kind of dream. It was so “Hollywood” for some glamorous (HAHAH) American to turn up and actually express some kind of interest in him. And to his delight – not even interest in him for something long and drawn out but rather just in a few light-hearted conversations and a bit of casual sex here and there. I didn’t need or want something else, nice as he was. Sometimes he agonizes that maybe he used me, even though it has always been clear that I took and got exactly what I wanted from knowing him. It was mutually beneficial, and apparently this is outside the norm as well. It seems people in this neck of the woods jump into committed relationships with everyone they sleep with. That would explain the inexperience and the awe.

My ending up here is no mystery. I am a practical and pragmatic person. I lived and worked in Oslo. I disliked it. I started looking for places to live outside Oslo, and the area I covered in scoping out suburban and rural areas within a reasonable commuting distance from Oslo grew wider and wider until I might as well have been in Sweden. Sweden offers an abundance of benefits – much lower cost of living in every way. Being part of the EU, it also is not subject to all the taxes/customs when buying stuff online from other European countries (one of the banes of my existence in Iceland and Norway). Also, as a citizenship collector, I could get Swedish citizenship (since Sweden allows for multiple citizenships) but Norway is one of those countries that makes you choose either/or – Norway or “nothing” (whatever you have already). I found a liveable house and land not far from the Norwegian border. I worked at home most of the time. It was the best of all worlds. Many years into what started as an experiment in cross-border living and working, despite not working in Oslo anymore (for the time being), I have not once regretted this choice. If anything, my connection to this place has become so much a part of me that, despite my wanderlust and nomadic tendencies, I always long to go home. And when I think “go home”, I think of this little house in the Swedish woods.

Part of the torment of the nomadic mind is that it can occasionally fool me and make me start to wonder whether I should try out some other place. For a while I thought maybe I really wanted a balance of country and city life. So I took a job in Gothenburg (which is not a huge city but is a big enough city to qualify in my experience) and originally planned to live in both places (coming home on weekends). Things have not worked out quite as planned, so I have spent much of the last year living in hotels and succumbing in every unfortunate way to a life of commuting misery. At this point it is not just the hotel life and lack of “settling in” for me – I realized that I just don’t want to be there. At all. No matter where I lived in the city, I just want to be at home.

Who could ever have imagined that this concept of home – this longing for home – would mean a life in Sweden? As I discussed and wrote about recently, I used to laugh at people who opted to be Scandinavian studies majors at university – what on earth could they possibly do with that? Turns out, seeing as how I have spent almost my entire adult life living and working in Scandinavia or for Scandinavian companies, I might have benefited from studying Nordic languages rather than Russian and Serbian-Croatian (as I did). Sure, I can read Anna Karenina in the original now – but speaking everyday Swedish is a silly challenge. I had a couple of pen pals from Sweden in my high school years – seeing written Swedish and hearing all these place names, it felt even more far off than a place like Vladivostok or Khabarovsk, which were like second nature in my academic brain. When a college classmate (which almost makes it sound like we were friends – she was hostile toward me from the beginning for absolutely no reason) told me she had been an exchange student in Sweden during her high school years, it struck me as perplexing – why Sweden? (Of course I remember that everyone I know who became an exchange student had the “dream location” for their studies abroad – and all of them ended up somewhere else. The girl who dreamt of fluency in French was sent to Adelaide, Australia; the guy who wanted to advance his Japanese studies was sent to Germany….)

It’s funny now when I talk with Swedish people about locations in Sweden, it dawns on me now that I know exactly what they are talking about and where they are talking about. First and foremost because I live in just such a remote place and thus have become intimately familiar with a part of Sweden that a lot of Swedes don’t even know particularly well. Secondly I suppose this is just because I am so portable – carrying bits of my life to and fro, driving all over Sweden, discovering all its towns and hidden places. It is like my experience of Canada – most Canadians have not even seen as much of Canada as I have. Sweden, despite being so much smaller than Canada, seems to suffer the same fate. Swedes seem to know where they came from and then seem to know the place where their summerhouses are. I suppose that is one way to know one is at home.

And the living is easy …

On a similar note, you can always tell how “Swedified” a foreigner is by what prepositions they use when they speak English. When a native English speaker repeats, “He is on the table” instead of “at the table”, you know they have been here too long and their native language has been infected (and inflected) by their adopted language. I’ve been saved from this – slightly – by the fact that I wasn’t a Scandinavian studies major and spent so much time reading stuff like Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don (Тихий Дон) or Ivo Andric’s The Bridge on the Drina (Na Drini ćuprija/На Дрини ћуприја).

Crushing and cruising – Lazy man food – Sesame noodle prawn salad

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Salad that brings haunting memories to life

Salad that brings haunting memories to life

The lazy man food that is a cold salad of some sort has traveled with me through life from the potluck culture of America (and especially my university, The Evergreen State College). I cannot count how many of these salads I made during those few years – you would think that I would never do it again, considering how often it was required of me in those years. I have one particular memory of having made both of the salads I made tonight (tomato green bean and mozzarella and the sesame noodle with prawns, as shown below). I was taking a “field trip” to Victoria, British Columbia with a couple of classmates and our Russian teacher (who was in the US for a year or half a year or something). Our class consisted of three other students and me – and one of those students, a Polish woman, could not attend. Thus, I did all this cooking, all the driving and off the four of us went. I got the worst, most brutal sunburn of my life on that excursion – on the ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria on a deceptively overcast day. I also realized the perilous depths of my propensity for seasickness. The one guy in my class, a nice guy apart from his hopeless, shameless and relentless flirtation (presumably one factor that may have led to the demise of his marriage), talked me through the seasickness very sweetly, talking, telling me stories, trying to distract me by singing Marlene Dietrich’s “Lili Marlene”. “Crush” is not something compatible with my aloof, indifferent personality and often laissez-faire attitude toward pretty much everything. But he is one of the few people who caused me to feel the real ache of crushing on someone who is completely out of reach.

It was on the trip home from what was a beautiful day in Victoria that we stopped to have a picnic of sorts and ate these lazy salads. We contentedly sang together the rest of the way back to Olympia. We started off with songs we all knew (the Russian songs we were learning in class, for example) and moved on to the entire Cowboy Junkies’ catalog (although by the end of that I was the only one singing since no one else knew the songs).

Usually songs capture moments and events in a way that vividly awaken a hear-taste-touch-smell-feel sensory overload that cannot be replicated in any other way, as though you have been transplanted back into that moment. In this case, though, it is a noodle salad taking me back. I briefly relive the beauty and ache of that day – and then my memory shuffles through a few other memories of that year, those characters, the prickly, painful moments that shine a bright light on my awkwardness during that period. I cannot call it anything other than “trying too hard”. I tried so hard to be likeable that I am fairly sure I wasn’t. I kept giving and volunteering and twisting myself into someone I wasn’t and someone I did not even like. I remember spending a lot of money buying gifts for these people (the Russian class, among others), somehow imagining that that would make me more endearing, memorable? It didn’t, of course. I actually lost touch with all these people within a year of the course ending. The other girl in the course, with whom I thought I was close friends, was apparently bullied by her boyfriend not to be friends with me (or anyone who might encourage her to think for herself). The instructor went back to Russia. The flirtatious guy went on with his studies, I suppose, got divorced (maybe remarried and divorced after?) – but I did not really keep up. (We briefly connected on Facebook before he disappeared from there.)

Reflecting on this – thanks to my noodle salad – it’s interesting to compare how people so often meet their life partners in college. I cannot even begin to imagine. (Scarier still that people who meet in high school manage to pair off. To each his/her own. I get it but at the same time don’t get it.)

Interested in making your own salad – whether or not it ends up being inextricably linked to stirring and sharp memories, made while eating it – follow the recipe below.

Sesame noodle salad with prawns

A large package of Asian egg noodles or four packages of instant ramen noodles
One packet of seasoning from a ramen packet
1/3 cup rice vinegar
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 clove of minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Cooked prawns (as many as desired)
Chopped green onions

Mix all ingredients together (other than noodles, prawns and green onions). Cook the noodles according to instructions (or very slightly undercook them, as they will soak up more of the dressing). Cool the noodles, rinsing under cold water. Drain well. Mix the dressing into the noodle and refrigerate for a few hours. Cook the prawns, chop the green onion, toss into the noodle mix. Refrigerate overnight if desired as it helps flavors develop. Or eat immediately.