First Day Food

It was the first week of my first year at college, and I had made the mistake of asking for an allergen plate at the cafeteria. Later, I would learn how to balance on the precarious knife’s edge of…


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I inherited a swivel lounge chair from my father-in-law and researched almost every leather shop in San Diego before re-covering it in a soft, tawny leather. A good sit. I hadn’t missed a day all spring break and had completed the entire Colum McCann novel Transatlantic in it.

The chair sits before the large French doors and a double window cornering the southeast of my house, where I get the best sunlight on many mornings. But today breaks grey and white, the trees, mostly liquid amber, beginning to bud, looking weepy and thin before a muzzy sky. I turn on the water for coffee. I put on a station playing morning piano jazz, softly, get out some blackberries and rinse them, and prepare my side table for the read.

Before tackling a James Joyce story, sort of my goal for the morning, to hang out with his rumpled, impractical Irishman never far from a bottle of stout, I mindlessly wander over to my desk, clear it off, cull a journal to find some short pieces: an article from University of San Diego (USD, my doctoral alma mater’s) Magazine, features a recent alum who has set up a non-profit in the Peruvian Andes.

The article revealed how society has developed some narrow views of poverty: people who take time to experience things like weather and natural environments. That’s poor. People who make their own clothing. (Chinese people, warehoused in gigantic factories and making pennies a day, make most of ours, which is why 50 million Chinese have been forced out of their traditional villages and into high rises.) The Peruvian non-profit shows how misguided our efforts are sometimes when we impose our own definitions of success and happiness and efficiency on foreign and traditional cultures — when we impose them on ourselves, maybe.

I send the article, filled with graceful people in colorful hats and thick, brown hair, to the director of Give & Surf in Panama, where I am on the Board of Directors, where we work with native cultures at risk of losing their souls and gaining life-saving, connecting technology. I hope he won’t think I’m meddling. I light a candle and put it on the fireplace mantle.


I wander over to the kitchen counter, take time to find a little cinnamon and vanilla and mix it in the coffee, a sign that spring break has worked its magic. It feels like a rainy day, but there is only the heavy sky pressing down. The YouTube “Live Better” music series is soaking the room. There is a little chill in the air and I might make a fire later, but I know little chores won’t end. And I want to read the story. I’m warmed up.

The James Joyce stories from “Dubliners” are filled with sentences that make me smile on their second read, the characters are always noticing things I might not notice, and the descriptions employ ponderous adjectives I sometimes look up, like lugubrious. They pay attention to silence, and tone, subtle things I am normally too distracted and hurried to notice. Before I can sit and read and drink my coffee, the phone rings again. Twice so far today it’s been people with accents from India, with unknown phone number prefixes, and I’ve said, “I’m so sorry,” and hung up. This time it is an agent from the school’s teacher retirement plan. It’s not spring break for him. I think: I’d rather notice silence and tone than this, and I feel vaguely bad that I’ll have to drink my coffee talking to him rather than reading the story, a story called, “Grace.” But I have to I take care of business. Next, a notice pops up on my handheld which alerts me. I have no sense of what the alert is for, but I’m starting to feel more for my students who have to navigate through two hours of homework in the frothy sea of diversion where we are all living. I am done with the getting ready.

Presently, book sunk on a pillow on my lap, the exact position I wanted it, I commence reading in earnst. The main event. The candle is streaming up an orange light, a jazz piano is low in the background, and I commit to setting this whole account straight, assuming the dogs remain asleep on their pad on the floor.


Fiction is where I learn a lot of what I know about true human motivation and behavior. Almost everything and everyone is lugubrious in “Dubliners,” in witty desperation. At the end of “Grace,” I sit there a while deep in the leather chair. Little white down feathers from the pillow have spread all around my feet, like snow. I watch the candle some, pull a pillowy blackberry from the plate, and wish for unfettered times for my students and teachers, in class, at school, at home, unmeasurable and impractical old-world times of atmosphere and tone. At this point, it can take half days to access time like that, trending towards full days.

Discussion Question: How can we claim time for authentic individual development, or does everyone feel like they have to be productive in order to feel successful? Please comment.

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