Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Santa Cause: Imagination

Listening to my children play superheroes:

My eldest says to my youngest: You can’t do that! He doesn’t have that power!

My youngest responds: We can pretend he does.

My eldest responds: That’s silly then it wouldn’t be real!

It sort of stabbed me in the heart. I was raised on the Isle of Can’t -

Don’t be silly! You can’t be a writer! Chinese aren’t writers! Be an accountant!

Don’t be stupid! You can’t be a baseball player! Chinese aren’t baseball players! Be smart! Be a lawyer!

I worked hard to instill “possibility” in my children. So where did I fail? When did they move onto the Isle of Can’t?

Two of my favorite holiday movies are Miracle on 34th Street and Bass and Rankin’s The Year Without a Santa Claus because they address issues of the imagination - What we tell our children they are too old to do anymore.

In parenting, because I believe we would rather be safe than sorry, our kids hit a certain age and it seems the very same make believe world that made them adorable makes them frustrating, impractical, and possibly impossible.

Somewhere along the course of our maturity, we devalued a vivid imagination. My favorite example of the power of a great imagination is the Wright Brothers, who without formal scientific training did what the many experts in their time could not – or worse believed was impossible! They flew. Something we take for granted today.

I think this time of year in particular it is important to cherish a really good imagination. In this season it’s easy to get lost at the store or the mall. So many people you need to buy for. It’s easy to confuse what’s really valuable about getting together for the holidays.

Church’s words to Virginia remain poignant despite the progress we’ve made through the years:

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fatherhood: Imagine 30 Years on Today

Writing about the 30th Anniversary of John Lennon’s murder I came across a somewhat snide Bloomberg article by Mark Beech who asked his readers to “imagine there was no shooting.”

Imagining John Lennon was never shot is a good thing – Imagining nobody getting shot is even better -  But Beech’s imagination belittles John for choosing fatherhood over the music business.

He writes:

On the sugary “Double Fantasy” LP, he told his son Sean “I can hardly wait to see you come of age,” a line now heavy with irony -- at the time just cringe-worthy.

The best hope is that some headline or another would have shaken Lennon’s complacency and fueled feverish bursts of music.

I am reminded of something I heard Jessica Hagedorn say years ago when asked how motherhood had impacted her writing. I forget the exactly how the question was phrased. However, I remember how she replied. She said it made her much more conscious of time and how she spent it. It made practical sense back then when I was single and childless. Now a parent myself still wanting to pursue my own writing her statement becomes much more meaningful.

A good friend reminded me when I bemoaned self-pityingly about how I’ve let my own artistic pursuits fall to the wayside that being a good dad is probably the most challenging but definitely the most rewarding artistic pursuit. And I’ve come to learn just how right she was. I haven’t felt anything as exhilarating as when my children take my hand.

Beech is right. John might have fallen out of the public light. But he is wrong in assuming that John would have given up his writing and his music. Fatherhood changed the paradigm I use to assign value to things - including the grudges I keep and those I abandon. I imagine it would have done the same for John. Holding my children’s hand to cross the street or staying up with them when they’re sick gives life new perspective and meaning.

I know Sean isn’t his first child but his life as father to Sean and his life as father to Julian are quite different. The main difference being he was older and more experienced when Sean was born. So I concede to Beech that John had “mellowed” at the time of his death.

Most enticing was the prospect of a Beatles reunion. Paul McCartney, carrying a guitar, showed up at the Dakota during Lennon’s “househusband” years and was turned away. John was baking bread and looking after the baby.

Like Beech it’s easy for me to imagine John as a “househusband” but in my scenario he doesn’t turn Paul away. He invites this very important person from his past in and they bake together and play a song for the baby afterwards. They talk about the past, the chores of the present, and the potential in the future.

I imagine John drawing from the best interpreted influences – European, American, and Asian. I imagine he would have pioneered the current real world social trend of empowered Stay-At-Home dads.

The Today Show ran a series of stories on Stay-At-Home dads in their Parenting section. One of the reoccurring messages is that Stay-At-Home fathers are as able to raise their children as the Stay-At-Home mom. And that it isn’t a novelty. It’s natural. Like Rice Daddy Jason Sperber says in his Today Show segment: “It’s not babysitting. It’s called parenting.”

Just a dad celebrating time with his son.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday egg rolls

Shanghai style eggrolls under construction

Happy holidays, Rice Daddies!

It’s that time of year already, and its been a while since I’ve blogged about my favorite rice daddy topic: great food!  After all, nothing connects you to a culture more than eating your way through it.  Also, an old high school friend recently emailed me for a recipe (hi JS), so I thought this would be the best forum for sharing it.

This recipe almost, almost brings me all the way back to family holidays when I was a kid, where the table was always loaded with an overfull plate of my Shanghainese grandmother’s eggrolls.  I didn’t get this recipe straight from her, but its fairly close to what I remember, and good enough where we have them on special occasions in the thisislarry household.  I invite you to enjoy some this holiday season, and bring a little bit of Shanghai to your table:

    Shanghai style eggrolls
    Makes around 2 dozen

    1 package egg roll wrappers. Thin kind is the best
    2 lb pork, julienned
    1lb shrimp, coarsely chopped, can be precooked
    10 shitake mushrooms, destemmed and thinly sliced, can be dried mushrooms resoaked
    1 medium head of napa cabbage, julienned
    4-8 oz glass noodles, soaked to soften, then drained, and very coarsely chopped.
    Salt, garlic salt, pepper, soy sauce to taste.   

    1. Sauté the pork & shrimp together until both are cooked, drain the liquid.
    2. Sauté the napa cabbage and mushroom until the cabbage is cooked.  Press out ALL the liquid.
    3. Toss together the meats, veggies, glass noodles.  Drain any remaining liquid.
    4. Season to taste.  I use about 1t salt, 1t soy, 1/2t pepper.
    5. Wrap em up, fry em up, eat em up!  I like mine with sambal olek & soy, or mustard! 

    Note: draining the filling is crucial, otherwise the eggrolls will leak and come apart while frying.

Alright, get your holiday eats on, everybody!   And, please, if you've got some holiday recipes that would make my grandmother jealous, let me know, I'm hungry already!