I’m reading and doing the exercises in Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. By “reading,” I mean I picked up the book yesterday. By “doing the exercises,” I mean I’m thinking about the first prompt. The prompt is uninspiring: “I am looking at…”
I’m looking at the three-room apartment that Z and I are renting in Seattle. More specifically, I’m looking at kitchen cupboards that are open and in disarray, after last night’s attempt to cram the two sets of dishes I registered for into their recesses.
The dishes are beautiful: a set of dark blue ones from France via Crate & Barrel that look like they just emerged from a potter’s wheel, and a partial set of Fiestaware (turquoise and lemon grass) that will eventually be united with other pieces in a variety of hues that are currently residing in Indiana. They’re all pristine and unused, and though I suspect the hodge-podge of Goodwill dinnerware we had been using was better suited to the dorm-style living we’ll be doing in this small space, I’m happy to finally see it out of the box and stacked together.
While we were registering for wedding gifts, Z kept wondering why I had such strong opinions about dishes and kitchen utensils when I intend to spend as little time in service to food preparation as possible. He is the cook in our little family, and if it were up to me, we’d be eating off of Swanson’s TV dinner trays every night. Or better yet, eating out.
I could come up with a reason for my proclivities. It’s a chick thing, maybe. Or maybe I’m a sucker for the marketing campaigns in various decorating magazines. Or I could even offer up an extended metaphor about the kitchen being the heart of the home. But like most things in my life, it’s really all about the story. Dishes have better stories than towels and throw pillows. The trajectory of bath mat’s life really isn’t one worth charting.
But a bowl’s life story? As long as it is one at the top of the stack, it’s probably going to see the light of day a few times a week. There’s the food that goes into it. The public conversation over it while soup gets ladled out one spoonful at a time. The private conversation about the now-departed guests as it gets bathed and placed back on the shelf. It’s day-to-day presence.
While I took the plates, bowls, and saucers out of their boxes last night and washed them gingerly, trying not to clank them against each other, I wondered what their stories would be. At home, when my mother and I would do the dishes, I’d often get tales about who this bowl used to belong to or where that serving dish came from or which color of plate was her preference when she was growing up and eating off of my grandmother’s original set of Fiestaware.
Will Z and my dishes stay shiny and unpitted since hand washing is the only option in this 1920s apartment building, or is there a dishwasher in our future (please God) that will leave the dishes lusterless and me happier? Would it just be Z and me eating off of them on into infinity, or would we have a lot of houseguests and dinner parties? Which of the dishes will be the first to chip, crack, or break into a hundred pieces and what will the circumstances of that be? (I can’t imagine a scenario in which I will be winging a saucer at Z’s head, but we’ve only been married two months—anything could happen.) Will I turn the shards into one of my misguided art projects or just sweep them into the dustbin?
What I see is the beginning of that story. Anything is possible.