I like it when a writer says what I would say, only better. I had that experience with Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable, a collection of essays.
A few of the essays had me nodding my head in recognition, especially “On Not Being a Foodie” and “Invisible City.”
Boulder was named as America’s Foodiest Town by none other than Bon Appetit. That was in 2010, but if anything, it has gotten foodier since then, if foodier were a word.
Like Meghan, I am not a foodie. She says,
Being a nonfoodie isn’t necessarily the same as being a picky eater. In many ways, it’s the opposite. It’s about not being discriminating. It’s about being willing to eat pretty much anything. It’s about being just as glad to dine on Lipton onion soup casserole in Southern Illinois or raw octopus in Tokyo.
I’ve never dined in Southern Illinois, but I did feast on the scrambled eggs (or “eggs”) with salami at summer camp in Northwestern Connecticut. We ate family style, so that was the best meal precisely because it was the worst meal; I could eat as much as my hungry little stomach desired.
Another of Meghan’s observations that echoes my lowbrow food sensibilities:
Possibly until my early twenties,…[i]f you had asked me…what cake was made out of I would have said cake mix.
Yum. And frosting in a tub.
I also loved the essay “Invisible City.” In one story, Meghan is rubbing elbows (playing charades, actually) with Hollywood elite, including Rob Reiner, Larry David, and Nicole Kidman. Someone pantomimes Days of Thunder, a race-car movie starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. Rob Reiner (of When Harry Met Sally fame) and Larry David (of Seinfeld fame) are incredulous that this could be the answer and outspoken in their ignorance: they have never heard of such a movie. Nicole Kidman is standing right there, I assume feeling mortified.
This once happened to me, sort of. I was at an academic conference. Academia, like Hollywood, and other societies, has a pecking order. I did what I knew I was supposed to do at a conference dinner, which was sit down at a table with some people who might be good to get to know (i.e., higher on the pecking order), as uncomfortable as that was. Let’s call those people in question A and B. I had met A a couple of times. He is a friendly person. I had met B, too, but probably only once or twice. Sitting a seat away from me, B is looking over the roster of conference attendees and complaining to A: “Who are the people at this conference? I don’t know any of them. For example, who is Laura Kornish?!” Sigh. It’s too bad this was 2008, and Meghan’s book hadn’t come out yet. Otherwise I would have just thought to myself “Nicole Kidman” instead of “please let the earth open up so I can jump in.”
But I digress.
I also really enjoyed the parts of The Unspeakable that didn’t resonate with me. In “Matricide,” Meghan joins the unsentimental Michael Lewis in ambivalence, or worse, about family members.
If you asked me what my central grievance with my mother was, I would tell you that I had a hard time not seeing her as a fraud. I would tell you that her transformation, at around age forty-five, from a slightly frumpy, slightly depressed, slightly angry but mostly unassuming wife, mother, and occasional private piano teacher into a flashy, imperious, hyperbolic theater person had ignited in her a phoniness that I was allergic to on every level.
Whoa. This passage reminded me of something Anne Lamott wrote about her mother in “Scattering the Present” in Plan B:
While she was alive, I spent my life like a bitter bellhop, helping my mother carry around her psychic trunks. So a great load was lifted when she died, and my life became much easier. … In the many months it had taken me to retrieve the [crematory] box from the closet, I discovered that I had forgiven her for a number of things, although for none of the big-ticket items like having existing at all…
I love a gal who is not afraid to admit that she would be better off without someone or something. (“Remember that you own what happened to you,” another pearl of wisdom from Anne Lamott.) The language in these passages makes me grin with admiration. Frumpy and unassuming to imperious and hyperbolic. Allergic. Bitter bellhop. All genius. Say it, sister!