Riffing on Mushrooms

I’ve never been someone at a loss for things to write about, but sometimes I wonder at my ability to overthink things. That’s a lie. I don’t believe there is such a thing as overthinking – at least not in a climate where people are egged on to abandon their own thoughts in favor of memes and outrage.

33503495This morning I was reading a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin called No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters. It made me think about details. One of the essays was called “Chosen by a Cat”. It was a rather long essay about her cat. At first, I felt an edge of disinterest telling me to move on. But I stuck with it and the more I read, the more compelled I was to finish. Why would an essay about a cat be compelling?

I have cats. One would think I’d have an innate interest, but my cats require a lot of time and care and attention. I’d rather not give my time over to the cat that is not mine to truck to the vet and not one whose random effluvia I encounter on a regular basis. Much like I didn’t want to hear about other babies while mine was keeping me awake all night long. Still, phrasing and details and perspective can make the most dull, inane subject seem interesting.

This post is a bit of a writing practice. Take something ordinary and write about it. Free associate. Meditate. See what comes to you.

Food with a View

Since I am up at 4am, breakfast is a solo affair. Lately, I’ve come to enjoy the slow process of slicing up onions, mushrooms and tomatoes. I toss them in a pan with an egg and some spinach. I eat with leisure, pouring over The Economist or reading essays as the coffee maker burbles out its magic elixir.

canstockphoto16338245When I was young and fantasized about what I’d do and be, I thought I’d be a journalist, traveling the world, taking on lovers here and there, and being an entity unto myself.  The snapshot in my mind of this amazing life was me, drinking coffee, reading a newspaper on a balcony with an ocean view.

Here I am, a married suburbanite parent. I love my life and my family. But a little part of me still longs for that sense of possibility and luxury. Making myself a fresh breakfast, reading the news, sitting in my quiet kitchen, my latest lover (of 18 years) dozing a couple of rooms away, a child I never imagined. I’m pretty sure I hear the ocean.

They Grow Them in Cans, Don’t They?

My favorite thing about slicing mushrooms is that they look like what mushrooms have always looked like in pictures. The knife slices easily through them like butter. I throw what looks like a half pound of mushrooms in the pan, but the heat makes them sweat away their size and color until they little resemble how they started.

canstockphoto17307371Until my late 30s, I’d never eaten a mushroom except out of a can. I remember watching an episode of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” in which elementary students could not identify common vegetables. But growing up poor can be like that. You get cans from emergency food shelters. Cans are often cheap and on sale in large quantities, and they last a long time.

Mushrooms that weren’t a greenish gray seemed foreign to me. I made no connection from them to the pictures, either in storybooks or cooking shows of white, perfectly sliced plant food. I’d never seen or eaten a kiwi, either. Economics and education and accessibility – these change one’s menu and palate.

Alice in Wonderland Shrooms

Once I was at a music festival in Canada. There was a small caravan of the Canadian versions of Cheech and Chong next to our campsite. Like a movie caricature, every time they opened their door, pot smoke would come pouring out. A Canadian being high is an odd thing – how do you get more mellow than mellow?

canstockphoto4458871Several people were eating “magic” mushrooms. They were seeing things and were subsequently paranoid and lost. They stumbled about campsites, disoriented and babbling. I’d never even known that was a thing. With my midwest upbringing (before the advent of rural meth labs and the current opioid crisis), booze and pot were the drugs of choice.

By that time in my life, I’d become a teetotaler. With a family history of alcoholism and a bad reaction the last time I’d smoked pot, I was completely sober amidst a crowd of drum-beating, mushroom-eating stoned drunks. It’s an odd experience, like walking through a circus. Your normal no longer seems normal and you become the oddity.


Sometimes I ride myself about all the navel gazing and self-reflection that I do when writing. The thing is, once you realize the details of your own life – the complexity, the stories within stories, the layers of history and habit, you see others differently. We’re in an age that chooses to gloss over individual details, to caustically lump each other into easy categories. To imagine one person’s life and all the details that make them who they are, we have to look past politics and geography and gender and economics. Details make the story and everyone has their own.

26 thoughts on “Riffing on Mushrooms

    1. I think, too, it speaks to curiosity. If you have curiosity about yourself, it can grow into more curiosity about others. Everyone does have a story, but if we aren’t curious and listeners, those stories get silenced or never told. I keep thinking about this when I talk to other people. Am I asking good questions? Am I listening well?

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      1. Those are very excellent questions to ask, and it’s good you remind us of same. And of course you are right, many people think their stories aren’t worth excavating or relaying. But it is always worth playing archaeologist, forensically revealing the layers, highlighting the key finds. But asking questions is surely the main key.


  1. I like that you chose this topic and angle for your post (because it’s an exercise in writing/blogging I’ve been doing for a time now, and I’ve recently decided to commit wholly to it). For me what I like about finding ‘the story’ or the interest in the seemingly banal is it challenges and helps me grow as a writer but also affects how I see the world and live. And I learn how the two go together, so I think I get better as a writer and live a more rewarding life. Great expectations, at least. Bill


    1. I think that’s absolutely true – finding the story, your own or others, changes how one sees the world. We’re rather self-involved creatures and for that reason we often only see our own stories in others. I think the real trick of a good writer is to just see, without straining others’ experiences through our own filters. I think we get there by learning how to step back and see our own experiences with less judgment and “spin” – letting the details fill in the story.
      Your style of writing has informed and enriched mine. I’ve come to think about writing as a tapestry, threading details in such a way that even if a reader doesn’t remember the minutiae, they’re left with an aftertaste – an impression. So all expectations aside, you’ve got my gratitude and appreciation, Bill.


    1. Very funny Donna! “Effluvia” is one of those words that seems like an onomatopoeia. I don’t know if it actually is one, but I’m always reminded of vomit when I hear it. I am enjoying the book – a friend who knows me well gifted it to me. It’s a collection of Ms. Le Guin’s online writings, so most of the essays are short, but good breakfast reading!


  2. HI Michelle 🙂 You are right, we all have stories and dare I say they are interesting stories. Oft-times when I get a little miffed with someone out in public I stop and remind myself that I am not seeing the ‘real’ them. They are more than what I am witnessing at this moment. It helps keeps me humble and reminds me how rich our lives are. Thank you for posting this today.


    1. Thanks, Eric. I think it’s helpful to use our imagination. It’s easy to dehumanize one another and it takes effort to remind ourselves that every car, every house, every checkout line, every body is filled with stories. I love the Buddhist idea of approaching things with curiosity. It’s a tough practice sometimes, since it’s easy to fall into the habit of reacting one way or another.

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      1. Thank you, Michelle. I like that approach., It is something I think I will consciously try when I go about town. It sure can change one’s perspective. Thanks for the tip. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Carla – that’s one of the tougher skills to master, I think. Listening sometimes gets mistaken for somehow being complicit at a time when lightning-quick reactions, especially on social media, gets the attention. Maybe it’s my age, but I think we’d all do better just slowing down a bit, listening, contemplating, and then speaking up if it needs to be done.

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      1. I start every year with high hopes and optimism, and then … it turns out to be just one more year, with highs and lows, successes and failures. It’s taken me 60 years to figure this out, and I’m depressed about it. But maybe that’s the weather.


        1. That is usually how I start the year and I’ve been doing that most of my life. This last year, though, I finally bought into the small habits/microresolutions idea and for the first time in a long time, I feel like I have a sense of control over where I’m headed. I wrote a series of posts in December, but the first one has a list of resources I’ve been using. I’m so flat-out tired of feeling like a failure that I finally was desperate enough to go small. I really had to upend how I thought about things and I’m still fighting old mental habits, but it might be worth checking out. All that aside, I wish you the best for 2018!


        2. I’ll go take a look! And yes, I wish you the best too. Small habits and microresolutions sounds like the way to go… Some days I’m so lacking in get-up-and-go I literally think only three steps ahead. As in, “Feed the dogs, then load the washer, then feed the chickens.” I don’t think beyond the chickens until I get there. I also don’t stop to stare into space until I’ve don’t the chickens. After that, all bets are off … although I do try to do another three things…lol.

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  3. A great post, and it just goes to show how interesting the ordinary – or small detail – can be. I enjoyed following your train of thought and like the idea of riffing off a thought, and the surprising depths that may follow. Thanks!


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