Two weeks ago Kathy and I fixed Thanksgiving dinner for our daughter Claire, son-in-law David, and adorable 11-month-old granddaughter, Little Kathy, in Virginia. How is it possible that we got the cutest, sweetest, smartest grandchild on earth!?
I actually asked this of the continuing studies students in my memoir-writing class, grossly abusing my teacher’s mantle. Said with a wink, it was, sort of. They laughed, most of them grandparents themselves and getting the joke, even a woman with great-grandchildren.
Over the years, my Mom’s habit of slinging a quick roux of butter and flour over the bird has devolved into my practice. On Mom’s turkeys, little dough blisters erupted here and there on the golden skin. My logic that led to my practice is that roux is a sealant, keeping the meat moist. Thus my rouxing too often and too well. At Claire and David’s, before it was over I’d used 1.5 pounds of butter, with flour as needed, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and sage. I basted every thirty minutes, the crust deepening with each application. Our turkey resembled a crunchy blob. The drippings, plus leftover roux, make killer gravy. Literally. You can feel the arteries in your temples seize.
So baby’s first Thanksgiving was a success.
The classical pianist Seymour Bernstein says he didn’t feel comfortable on stage for most of his career. Terror and horror swept him, he fought blocks, felt inadequate. He increased his practicing from four hours daily to eight. This “integrated” him as a person and artist. As a result, at last he felt fine on stage, at age 50. He secretly arranged a farewell concert. Held at the 92nd Street YMCA in New York City, his last concert was in 1969. It was hailed as a triumph, and he exited public performance for good. He kept playing, practicing, and teaching. He simply quit the strain of the stage, and poured himself into his students.
This is the paradox and the man, now in his late eighties, explored in actor Ethan Hawke’s new documentary, Seymour: An Introduction. I streamed it on Netflix. In taking the title of a J.D. Salinger novella, Hawke alludes to Salinger’s decision to stop publishing, though Salinger lived on for fifty years as a recluse in a fenced compound. Bernstein has lived quietly but socially for 57 years in the same one-room apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan, sleeping in a hideaway bed. Like Salinger, Bernstein separates the practice of art from its public airing. There’s a lesson here for writers, loathe as most are to view any composition as mere practice or for its own sake. Publication is the thing!
Hawke, suffering a five-year bout of stage fright and a general artistic malaise, met Bernstein at a dinner party and adopted him as a mentor. “I have been struggling recently with finding why it is that I do what I do,” Hawke explains. “I knew that the superficial things—material wealth, the world thinking you are a big-shot—I kind of knew that that was phony. That that was inauthentic to build a career on. But I didn’t know what was authentic.”