Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seasons

[I don't like the way these pictures are hanging indecently over the edge of the page here, but despite my vast knowledge of HTML, I can't manage to put them right.  The other alternative seems to be making them miniscule, which is worse.]
I don't think I ever posted these collections (taken over a 7-month period or so, at one of our favorite places, Red Butte Garden).  I've been flipping through them over and over today, thinking about the strangeness of time passing.  I can't see the changes in the boys from month to month, but over half a year's time, they become obvious.  And even then, it's only through pictures that the changes are noticeable: I certainly wouldn't be able to remember how they looked a year ago well enough to compare it with how they look now.
So that makes me wonder, how does the fact that we have photographs influence our memories?  Do we, generation of the digital camera, remember our kids' stages more accurately than our parents (forced to be stingier with photos) remembered ours?  And then did our grandparents and great-grandparents (with few or no photos at all) have even sketchier memories of the way their children changed over the years?  Or does all our record-keeping just give us a false confidence in the accuracy of our own memories?  Maybe memory is tricky enough that even with pictures documenting each stage and each change, we still can't re-capture the REAL PEOPLE behind those pictures, and maybe our grandparents knew that better than we do?

It does seem like if you have 200 pictures of some little guy talking to you one day, you are more likely to capture in one of them (or in the sum of all of them) what that little guy really was like at the time.  Whereas if you have one picture of that guy per year, taken at Kiddie Kandids on his birthday, the photo may have been taken at some odd moment, with some odd twist of a facial expression, and it may not really show HIM at all.  But later on, it is all that will remain of HIM as a two-year-old.  So when I look at pictures of me as a baby, how do I know if that's really ME or not?  Or even my mom, who at least kind of remembers it---how does she know if the picture is right, or her memory---or if her memory has been re-written by the picture?

[Side note, kind of: I still can't help but wonder if all our obsession with "capturing" people through photos is a little misplaced.  Aren't we just as likely to "capture" someone in words?  Or really, just as UNlikely---since it seems improbable that we could accurately reduce a whole person to any one dimension, whether visual or verbal or anything else.  I'm afraid that maybe I'm going to be lulled into thinking "Look how well I know my kids!  I have 17,000 pictures of them!" and then someday I'll look at the pictures and be surprised because I can't actually remember the people that went with them---or at least, I won't be sure if I'm remembering RIGHT.  Which is partly why I try to write down things about my kids, even if they're inane: just so I have attempts in two media instead of only one.]

Well, so I wonder what's the real benefit of even having these point-of-reference-type pictures, then?  I feel like they do HAVE benefit.  I guess they can serve as a trigger for more extensive memories.  That could happen even if they were inaccurate, really.  And they can give form to the kind of formless recollections I often have ("it was a warm day . . . and it was quiet outside . . . and Daisy wasn't crawling yet, was she?")---something on which to hang the collection of feelings and sounds and impressions my brain manages to call up as I try to remember an event.  These specific pictures make me feel warm again (no small task), and hopeful that there will be Spring again.  And a little bit sad, to know that the cuties in these pictures have already turned into slightly different cuties.  But mostly happy, because I love remembering happy times together.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Breakfast and Robert Frost

Perhaps you were unaware of my credentials in the little-known field of Breakfast Poetry Scholarship?  So was I myself, until my recent appearance at the Breakfast Symposium (SBAMR, as we refer to it).  My presentation focused on the poetry of Robert Frost.  My dad, Frost-lover that he was, would have been so proud.  Or would he? . . . Yes, I believe he would have felt these new discoveries were true to the spirit of the "originals."  I include here the text of my remarks about the provenance of these newly discovered Robert Frost poems, as I feel a little historical background only improves their impact. 


“And Mounds to Eat Before I’m Filled”:
Breakfast and Human Appetite
in the Poetry of Robert Frost

by Marilyn Nelson-Nielson

The poet Robert Frost is well-known for his poems about nature and rural life. He often used natural settings in New England to introduce more complex themes about human nature and social philosophy.

Much has been written about Frost’s early poetry coming out of his time abroad. Less well-known, however, is the spiritual awakening he received after visiting the Shrine to Breakfast in Dorsetshire, England. While historical details of the experience itself are few, its influence on Frost was immediate and profound. Mere weeks later, he was introduced to, or sought out, the group of English poets calling themselves “Pastriests.” Led by essayist Ezra Poundcake, this group fostered a lively exchange of ideas and commentary on Breakfast Pastry, and indeed, Frost himself took on the name “Robert Frosting” for a time. During this period, Frost wrote several donut-themed poems, notably “The One Not Eaten,” which is thought to be based on biographical experience.

Although certainly influenced by the Pastriests, upon returning to the states, Frost declined to ally himself with any one movement. Instead, he began to explore his own themes of the rightful place of breakfast in society. While not wedded to the idea of one specific type of breakfast food [see, e.g., his use of eggs, toast, and ham in various poems], Frost had definite opinions about the necessity of breakfast itself as a societal institution. He stated, famously, that “Going through the day without breakfast is like playing tennis with the net down.” The forms and structure he favored in his poetry mirrored what he saw as a fundamental need for the formal, three-meal structure of daily American life.

Frost further showed his independent spirit by resisting the impulse which was in vogue at the turn of the century to romanticize breakfast in poetry and prose. For instance, consider the lines from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,”: “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices/Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” Frost disapproved of this sort of lofty lumping together of “tea and cakes and ices”—a kind of Platonic Ideal of a meal rather than the nuts and bolts of actual refreshment. Instead, in his own work, Frost insisted on depicting what he termed “meals as they are actually eaten.” Thus, we have phrases like “frosting and apple lumps” or “the egg yolks give a little sway”—details that take us into the real essence of the poetic meal without pretense or ornamentation.

After the First World War, Frost began to experience somewhat of a crisis of faith. His poems, always meditative, now became darker in theme and tone. His “Stopping For Eggs on a Hungry Morning” is a bleak commentary on endless human appetites, encapsulated in the haunting final lines, “And mounds to eat before I’m filled/ And mounds to eat before I’m filled.” This period culminated in one of Frost’s most famous poems, the starkly titled “Nothing’s Good Post-Brunch.” Here Frost muses on the inevitability of decay in a Fallen world, using the descent from day to night, from breakfast to dinner, as a metaphor for man’s expulsion from Eden.

While Frost’s work remained contemplative, some critics think that later in life he drew away somewhat from this darker view of human nature. In “Ham and Toast,” the tone is seemingly less strident and more tolerant, apparently allowing for alternate views in man’s definition of breakfast. However, others scholars disagree with this reading, seeing instead a deep derision in Frost’s citation of mere physical functionality (“I think I know enough of wheat/To say that for digestion, toast/Is good to eat”) as a defense of toast. They cite Frost’s final line, “And would suit most,” as a repudiation of the “any breakfast goes” view, and a wistful cry for breakfast purists to reclaim breakfast’s moral high ground. The speaker’s deferential phrase “though I do not like to boast” is in this reading filled with irony, and reflects Frost’s own belief in the superiority of his own breakfast attitudes.

After Frost’s death, tensions in breakfast politics continued to escalate, to the point that his estate hired a legal team to re-write many of Frost’s most controversial poems and make them less overtly food-related. By republishing these expurgated versions, the Frost estate hoped to avoid the anti-breakfast backlash that was spreading throughout so many other parts of the country in the 1960's. For the most part, they were successful; so much so that the changed poems became the standard in many collections and anthologies. However, thanks in part to a grant from NOCAB, scholars have been able to find and restore the original content of these so-called “Breakfast Poems.” We are pleased to be able to present, side by side with their more well-known versions, the original texts of four of these poems today.
 

SBAMR 2010 (Or, A "Holiday Party"!)

I'm think I'm pretty good at resisting the typical marketing efforts I always get emailed/mailed to me by various retailers, but there's one I am always drawn in by: the Holiday Party.  If anything says, "Stock up on dishes for all your holiday parties!" or "Sparkly dresses for your Holiday Parties!" etc., I can hardly resist.  But it's silly, because I always realize (after thinking "Yeah!  I need this for my Holiday Parties!") that I don't really ATTEND any Holiday Parties.  Not fancy ones that require sparkly dresses, anyway (more's the pity).  Sam used to have a fancy work party but it's morphed from "Fancy party with Spouses and Drinking" (not that the two necessarily go together very well) to "Sort-of-Fancy Lunch for Employees only" to "Free Brunch from 11-2 in the Break Room!"  But I digress.

There is one Holiday Party, however, which I can count on attending.  It's an annual party Sam's family has for Adults Only (and only if you know how many kids a big Mormon family can amass do you appreciate the significance of that statement) at Christmastime, and this year we were in charge of it.  We are given great freedom in choosing foods, themes, etc. for this party, so it turns out differently (and wonderfully) every year.  I assume you know by now how much we love to be in charge of things: well, more accurately, you know how much Sam and I like to have A Project we can work together on.  Yes, indeed.  And so, I give you:

The 2010 Symposium on Breakfast and Ante-Meridian Repast (SBAMR 2010)
Sponsored by the Neo-national Association for the Conservation and Advancement of Breakfast (NOCAB)

Egg wreath!  Festive.  I found this craft in Martha Stewart Living.  (Joke.)

Invite letter.  Click to enlarge.  I suppose this was believeable enough because several siblings said they nearly threw it out as junk mail.  Rather hasty of them, don't you think?

NOCAB newsletter (enclosed with the registration letter).  Touches on historical roots of current controversies in the Breakfast Movement.

Decor

Place setting

Part of the buffet spread

It really was quite a feast.  If I may say so.

Name badges (distributed at the door)
As good as the food was, the real delight of the evening came when we began the symposium itself.  We'd mailed out the above schedule and hoped people would come through with some entertaining presentations, but we could not have POSSIBLY foreseen how amazing those presentations would prove to be.  AMAZING, I tell you.  As I set up the stage/podium before the party, Abe asked me if I wanted him to put the box of Kleenex by the podium.  I thought it was a funny idea (very observant, that boy; he knows what is required when Public Speakers are present) but I never envisioned us actually needing/using them.  But it turned out we DID---not for tender emotional moments, but for the sheer hilarity of it all.  We were WEEPING with laughter.  We couldn't even breathe at times.  Or, as President Monson would say: Many, many tears were shed.

I wish I had a transcript (or a video!  If only we'd thought of it!) of everyone's actual remarks.  The presentation titles in the schedule above can only give you a glimpse of the varied and informative topics which were touched upon.  We enjoyed:
originally composed Beatnik Bacon poetry

A heartfelt call for relaxation of our Cultural Biases in the selection and scope of Breakfast Food (and proposals for government subsidies/trade agreements encouraging same).  Oh yes---and did you note the egg-festooned Christmas tree?

An enlightening quiz covering facts and fictions about the History of Bacon

A re-written children's classic incorporating 15-minutes' worth of Broadway showtunes, impeccably timed and sung

A glimpse into the shocking secrets of breakfast-related murder and violence in the Great Beyond (complete with contemporary news accounts and a thrillingly revelatory seance)

 An impassioned plea for greater tolerance and diversity, including de-segregation, in Egg Color

A discourse on Breakfast in Art History, with stunning new discoveries from the field including deeper x-rays of the Mona Lisa and early sketches of Dali's "Persistence of Memory" (early working title: "Persistence of Yolks")

That intrigues you, doesn't it?  All right, I'll include those slides here:

And there was more.  Much, much more.  (Usually when someone says that it means "There was one more thing, which wasn't that great or I would have already listed it."  But in this case, believe me when I say that each presentation was equally stunning in its own way, and only space considerations and lack of pictoral/written images keep me from sharing them all.)  I will share my own contribution, for the sake of space, in its own post shortly.

To sum up: My only regret is not indulging in a sparkly dress for the event (Sam and I both wore "business pajama" attire, as we felt was more fitting).  But it was indeed a Holiday Party to remember, and one of the most enjoyable evenings we've had the pleasure of hosting.  Thank you to all those who had a hand (or mouth) in it.