Today I listened to Anne Enright reading her short story “Night Swim” on the New Yorker’s The Writer’s Voice Podcast. It starts simply, a mother in her Hyundai, driving her eight-year-old son to a sleepover. I too was driving my son, but to school. I drop him off and circle through a round-a-bout, listening closer now to a narrative of a son playing ‘would you rather’ with his mother, a game I’ve played so many times with my youngest son. (“Would you rather crawl up a scratchy tree, naked, or swim in the ocean with an open wound, followed by sharks?” was his best to date.) I head south beneath the town clock, and the narrative abruptly turns darker, more dramatic, and suddenly, I’m swept away. I sit in my car in the driveway to listen to the end as rain drops blur my windshield.
Afterwards I stay there, soaking up the feeling of being captured by story. I try to see the world outside, but fat raindrops distort my view, blurring what I know is there into shapes I can’t pull into focus. Lately my creative life has looked like this: shapes I can’t pull into focus.
So I search around me for the things I can see clearly: The house. Meals. The boys, their needs. The book I am loving. Exercise. Whatever is in front of me.
A few days ago I joined my friend at her Japanese class. The teacher was hosting a lunch where she shared a taste of Japanese culture, followed by lunch to accompany the lesson. We took off our shoes, slipped into slippers and sat down to cups of green tea. It felt good to be in a different world, just a few kilometers from my house. We talked about pandemics, about her family in Japan, the global shortage of hand sanitizer, and the importance of hand washing. We talked Japanese traditions, symbolism, and the cherry blossoms that would be out soon in Japan. And then, in honour of ‘girls day’ on March 2, she presented us with the prettiest bowls of Chirashizushi, a rice dish topped with colourful toppings often served during festivals and special occasions. I spotted thinly sliced omelet, steamed sugar-snap peas, mushrooms, smoked salmon and thin strips of seaweed. It was beautiful.
“Chirashizushi means scattered,” said Yoko, our teacher. Scattered beauty, I repeated, as my creative life suddenly came into focus. There’s beauty in the scattered. It can exist in rice, topped with colours, shapes, flavours and textures, tossed together and enjoyed wherever they land.
I loved the carwash when I was little. The darkness, the rumbling sounds, the deluge of water, the slap slap of rubber tentacles against the glass, and then, the powerful rinse. I would sit and stare at the water streaming down the window in fat ribbons, distorting the world outside. But then, a blast of hot air propelled the droplets backwards until everything was dry and clear. Finally, teeth beneath the car grabbed the wheels and pulled our blue station wagon into the light.
And like always, the world came back in to focus.
The day after Japanese class, I recreated chirashizushi at home. There are many recipes for chirashizushi online (this one looks great). But really, it’s more of a scattered method than a recipe.
Start with a bowl of cooked rice. If it’s sushi rice, season the rice with a little rice vinegar and salt while rice is still warm. Top rice with whatever you’d like. If the aim is beauty, think about colour, shapes and textures. Or, just use what you have. I chose thinly sliced omelette, sliced green beans and mushrooms sautéed in sesame oil, a combination of candied maple smoked salmon and cold smoked salmon, pea shoots, green onions and a sprinkling of dulse flakes. I finished it off with a quick shake of soy sauce.
I’m choosing to embrace the scattered. The world will come back in to focus someday, but in the meantime, there’s colour, flavour and texture to be found, often just a few kilometers away.