The remarkable coincidence that this blog entry is posting on my birthday encourages me to share that on the first birthday I remember, I hid under a table at the Wharf Theater in Monterey, California, while the actors serenaded me. I was five and had never before had a room full of strangers sing my praises. Now it happens all the time.
Or not, which brings me to David Sedaris. Birthdays need laughter, and his newest painfully comic essay collection, CALYPSO, is about aging. He thinks about it while recalling his family’s never-less-than-dramatic beach vacations. Sedaris reads in his famous tongue-in-cheek manner and with a vivid ability to dramatize a range of characters. Listen for the mirth and cherish the honesty.
In the interest of honesty, here’s a question. Am I the only woman who has occasionally been jealous of men’s ability to grow beards? Not that I really want one, but they do cover stuff. Wrinkles, blotches, sagging, the lack of my mother’s fine chin. (She gave it to my brother, who grew a beard. Go figure.) Listening to Nora Ephron read her classic, I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK, is better than longing for chin hair. So sharp, so truthful, so very very funny. Just don’t listen in public. People will look askance when you grip your stomach and cackle.
Okay, enough of edgy, hysterical honesty. On birthdays, we also need inspiration, even when — particularly when? — the calendar says we are real grown-ups. I recommend Marlene Wagman-Geller’s delightful GREAT SECOND ACTS, which nudges us with brief and engaging bios of women who did not stop. Pam Ward’s winning narration makes everyone from Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Mother Theresa a must-meet. Even Margaret Thatcher, whose policies I didn’t adore. Really, though, she was something.
I find inspiration in fiction, as well, and the totally grown up Mma Ramotswe of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is one of my favorite people. Alexander McCall Smith’s 19th addition to the series, THE COLORS OF ALL THE CATTLE, read as always by the marvelous Lisette Lecat, reminds me why I love her company. Her acceptance of all kinds of people; her truth-telling combined with good humor; her appreciation of herself, including her size; her calm in the face situations that would unnerve me. Speaking of unnerving situations, in this book, Mma Ramotswe runs for office. That calls for some bush tea.
And for me on this birthday, some of the food that enslaved Africans carried in their memories and reinvented as “soul food.” What formidable people. What delicious food. CARLA HALL’S SOUL FOOD, read by the author in an Earphones Award-winning performance, is my gift to myself this year. An audio cookbook? It works perfectly because the author, a well-known chef, has a warm and enticing voice that’s filled with joy, and her book blends the story of soul food with clearly-described recipes. My menu tonight will include her amazing Short Cut Deviled Eggs, Chopped Salad with Buttermilk Dressing, and the Plum Cobbler. Mm, mm.
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