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Jamón and the Secrets of Salamanca

A few weeks back, Boris and Julia were watching a Disney Documentary featuring a mountain of knobby crabs amassing in the deep dark sea while I cried. The alien creatures flashing neon colors in the deeper darker sea made me cry even more. I looked over at Julia’s pile of treasures (featuring broken plastic spiders, my mother in law’s broken earrings, seashells, pebbles, pieces of chalk and geodes) and felt the same emotional river washing over onto her dusty eclectic hoard.

What does it mean that some of the world’s most beautiful and precious things exist in places that are or were once inaccessible? And now I have been questioning - why did that make me so emotional?

I was six months pregnant when we flew to Salamanca, Spain to present a collaboration at a Noir Conference at the University of Salamanca. I had a toddler permanently perched on my belly. The jokes of mother nature weighed heavy as I plugged my nose and dodged the ominous swinging legs of red jamón while my eyebrows hairs blew out mercilessly in the breeze and the pressure of my heavy body walking so many miles caused sores on my toes that wouldn’t heal for over a year. The payoff of our trip was by many standards unsuccessful - I waited outside of all the other presentations with our baby, and the night of our back alley bar performance brought in just one professor couple from Argentina and an enthusiastic drunk table in the back. We flew four performers and our 1.5 children out halfway across the world for that night.

I’ll never forget standing in the back of Ferdinand’s (in case you are new reading - AKA Jonny Stallings) thesis work performance the day after giving birth. A sweaty summer evening crowded with over 100 people. As his collaborator and writer of the libretto, there was something equally tragic and comforting about standing - raw, heavy, and slightly nauseous - behind everyone then slipping out quietly after the first ten minutes to go feed our baby and rest.

These quiet moments, with many other memories even less seen and more precious, seem to be the theme of my life and millions of others. Most of us will never have our deeds or happinesses advertised on a big screen or our face on a billboard. We live in a time of so many half-fames and overnight flash in the pans. But Geodes don’t form in giant caves for us to gawk at, and glowing jellyfish don’t float in the sky. Many of nature’s treasures lay undiscovered for thousands of years.

My ongoing question for myself, and anyone reading, is what kind of treasures do you have to offer and how will you share them? Sometimes in our culture we focus so much on the idea that if you have anything good to offer then it must be shared with the whole world or it is some terrible tragedy. But maybe it just needs to be shared with your father, or child, or neighbor, or random person on the internet on the other side of the world.

Some of us are like a grain of magnesium - glowing hot and blinding for five seconds. Some of us are like the sun - omnipresent and slow burning. Many provide filtered light in a slew of endless foggy days. I often feel like a bunch of fourth of July rockets that have been lit and tossed under a damp rag, the corner of which is sometimes nudged aside.

Whichever kind of person you are, it’s worth sharing what you have. But what I am trying to convince myself, over and over, is that it doesn’t matter how big or little you can share. One of my favorite literary quotes of all time is from J.D. Salinger’s novel “Franny and Zooey”. Lifting his sister out of a bout of cynical depression and withdrawal, Zooey expounds on a popular phrase in their family reflecting the idea to do your best even for the least, “do it for the fat lady”.

“But I'll tell you a terrible secret- Are you listening to me? There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his goddam cousins by the dozens. There isn't anyone anywhere that isn't Seymour's Fat Lady. Don't you know that? Don't you know that goddam secret yet? And don't you know who the Fat Lady really is?...Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy."

I imagine that includes the phytoplankton in the sea, the walls of your own home, the neighbor that yells at your dog, and your very own self.