I’ve always been a nostalgic person—which is really just a much nicer way to say that I’m absolutely horrible with change. When I was in high school my grandparents changed the wallpaper in their kitchen from a brown and orange floral pattern to the same floral pattern in shades of gray, and I cried for a week (this is an exaggeration, of course, but not a huge one). Fear and avoidance of change has dictated the decisions I’ve made for most of my life. Certainly it has played an enormous role in where I am at this very moment—poised on the precipice of a sea change brought on by years and years of changing nothing. Isn’t that a lovely term? A sea change. If you happen to be afraid of change and terrified of the deep ocean like me, though, it’s not quite so lovely.
I’ve been a lot of things in my life, I’ve worked very hard, but I have never ever been brave. I mean that. Toughness and bravery are two very different things—I can say for sure that I am tough, but I am not brave. My only bravery is my willingness to tell you all that I’m afraid of this next chapter, that I’m up most nights afraid, and that I’m tired to my bones of being afraid.
When I was a kid and the clock struck midnight and New Year’s Eve turned into New Year’s Day, my sisters and I would run around touching things and eating things and making faces, declaring it the first time we’d done it that year! For me it was twofold, because my birthday falls on New Year’s Day—here is the first time I listen to this song or drink this drink or do this particular dance move as a ___ year-old. I still do it to this day, in my head at least, I’m sure a lot of you do the same. Lately I’ve been doing an opposite kind of meditation—here is the last time I make this walk, the last time my face is hovering over this particular vat of steaming chicken livers, the last time that one customer insists on telling me how tired I look and when I look in the mirror later I think “this is just my face,” before thinking that it doesn’t look quite like I remembered it to.
Two things keep running through my brain during this meditation, like a song that gets stuck in your head during a break-up. One is Joan Didion’s assertion that “it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair.” It repeats over and over again in my brain while I’m drinking in that regular bar or trying to scrub that same corner of my kitchen that never ever gets clean.
Clips from Seamus Heaney’s poem “Oysters” have been running on a loop in my head, too–I think it was the thought of sea changes that put the poem in there. It’s a gorgeous poem, one of my favorites, have you read it?
Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.
Alive and violated
They lay on their beds of ice:
Bivalves: the split bulb
And philandering sigh of ocean.
Millions of them ripped and shucked and scattered.
We had driven to the coast
Through flowers and limestone
And there we were, toasting friendship,
Laying down a perfect memory
In the cool thatch and crockery.
Over the Alps, packed deep in hay and snow,
The Romans hauled their oysters south to Rome:
I saw damp panniers disgorge
The frond-lipped, brine-stung
Glut of privilege
And was angry that my trust could not repose
In the clear light, like poetry or freedom
Leaning in from the sea. I ate the day
Deliberately, that its tang
Might quicken me all into verb, pure verb.
It’s those last words that gut me, and that have been rolling around and around lately—“I ate the day//Deliberately, that its tang//Might quicken me into verb, pure verb.” It’s a call for bravery, for action rather than thought, for a sea change.
1 small beet, scrubbed
¼ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup water
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
¾ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ a small red onion, cut into thin strips
2 dill sprigs
Preheat oven to 450F. Wrap scrubbed beet in tinfoil and roast until fork-tender—about 40 mins.
Once the beet is tender, let it cool slightly. When it’s cool enough to hold but still warm, peel the outer skin off by rubbing it with a clean towel. Quarter the beet, set it aside.
In a medium saucepan, add your cider vinegar, water, garlic, sugar, black pepper and salt. Bring the brine to a boil, whisking occasionally to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow brine to cool 15 minutes.
In a sterilized pint jar, layer onions, dill sprigs, and beets. Fill jar with warm brine and let it sit, uncovered, for two hours. After two hours, cover and refrigerate until completely cooled. Shuck oysters and top with pickled onion and a splash of the pickle brine. Top with microgreens if you’re feeling aspirational.