The idea of creativity is one that I think about quite often, although I don’t necessarily agree that it means having the ability to bring something into existence, as it is defined by the Oxford American Dictionary. To me, this interpretation implies that creativity comes from nothingness, but I tend to see it more as a passionate reordering of the raw material we’ve been given in such a way that something new emerges. This reordering is totally governed by our imagination. I will concede that this way of thinking may be one hundred percent related to the kind of work I do. What is the exercise of making cocktails, after all, if not exactly that? I take ingredients and think about them (rather passionately, I might add) in terms of flavor partnerships or symbolism, depending on whether my motive is to simply make an appealing drink, or to design one that represents something on a much deeper level. Either way, the individual parts sit in front of me until I reorganize them into a cohesive whole. From a collection of citrus, sugar, water, herbs, spices, and spirits, a cocktail is born, standing up on its wobbly legs, ready to take on the world. A similar thing happens with the posts I write on this blog. Ideas move around in my head, unformed, until I gather them together and give them a structure built from words. In both cases, I find the process to be immensely satisfying, and when the final version of a drink is poured or a post is written, there is a moment that always feels deeply moving and profound.
For many, many years there has been a poem by Robert Frost that has always been in the back of my mind, its words sitting there patiently, waiting for me to finally understand them and the meaning I’ve always sensed they had for me. I originally read it in college and dog-eared the page in my book of Frost’s poetry that I have sitting here next to me as I write this post. I forgot about the poem for a long time after graduation, and then it resurfaced when I came across the final stanza in the introduction to a book by Wallace Stegner called Crossing to Safety. That was probably 20 years ago. It happens to be one of my five favorite books, but that’s a post for another day. The poem is called “I Could Give All To Time,” and it appeared in the collection entitled A Witness Tree, which won the Pulitzer in 1943. I’ve always thought it was rather telling that Frost wrote this particular group of poems after he’d suffered several personal tragedies, one more devastating than the next, and yet still managed to find hope and love again in their aftermath. The final stanza reads as follows:
One of the ways of looking at love, romantic or otherwise, that has always resonated with me the most is related to the concept of being a witness. Back in 2017, I wrote a post called Can I Get a Witness? in which I considered this idea in greater detail. I talked about the movie Shall We Dance? and quoted a line from Susan Sarandon’s character that is specifically about the reasons why we marry, but is easily transferable to understanding any deep commitment that we may have with another person. Beverly Clark maintains that what we are seeking from committed relationships is to find someone who will be a witness to our lives, someone who will say to us, “your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.” We certainly seek these things from our life partners, or from our closest friends, but we can quickly see how these thoughts can also apply to our children, in the sense that we are the witness to their younger selves, and to our parents, who often need us to become their witness in their later years. Or it may simply be that we share a particularly intense time with a person or a group, during which we witness something together, and a deep bond forms as a result. As many of you who read me know, I can go down a bit of a rabbit hole with words and their meanings, and I found myself doing exactly that with the word witness. As it turns out, the term has multiple meanings, some of which are borrowed from the legal field, and while I truly love the Beverly Clark quote, it seems as though the type of witness we’re looking for is fairly specific when it comes to love.
On the 18th of February, I wrote a post called Interwoven for my wonderful friend and work colleague Matt Kelley who was grieving the sudden loss of his dad. I offered up some thoughts from the eulogy I’d written for my mom thinking that they might give him a different perspective and a certain measure of comfort. I will admit to you that I poured my heart into that post. I wanted so much to be helpful, and I do think that I was, even if only in a small way. In what feels like a very cruel twist of circumstances, I learned last Friday that Matt had died in the same sudden way as his dad. The post that I’d written for him now became a post that could just as easily have been written about him, and I found myself in need of the same comfort that I tried to provide on that February morning. It seems unbelievable. It seems inexplicable. It seems wildly unfair. I use these words to describe my experience of losing him as my friend, and I know that I am echoing the sentiments of everyone who stood on either side of the bar with him at Recklesstown. What I cannot imagine are the words that describe what his wife and family are experiencing. If those words exist, I do not claim to know what they are. One of the main things that Matt and I had talked about and that I tried to capture in Interwoven, was the idea that death, in one single instant, takes all the deeply loved details of a person’s physical presence away from us. Yes, their spirit remains, but there is an undeniable hole left behind, and we struggle to find a place for all the love we still actively feel. In the case of losing a friend, this same difficulty still applies, but there are also questions for which we seek answers. Because we’re not held together by family ties, is the bond we formed broken, or does the friendship still remain? In what places do we look for it and, when we find it, how do we hold it close to us and continue to honor the memory of the friend we’ve lost?
I recently spent a day in Burlington City that climbed all the way to the top of the perfect scale: the company of my favorite person, lattes from Evermore Coffee Roasters, a late lunch at the Union House, and a marathon browse session at the Burlington Antiques Emporium. As you can imagine, I am always on the hunt for really cool glassware, dishes, or other accompaniments for my cocktail photos. As I meandered past a booth packed with old vinyl, there was a stack of 45s, or singles, depending on which terminology you prefer, that stopped me in my tracks. I was immediately taken over by my 11-year-old self and transported back to the record department of Woolworths in 1972, trying to decide which recent radio hit deserved my hard earned three dollars. Unfortunately, and much to my chagrin, it was probably the decidedly awful Alone Again (Naturally) by Gilbert O’Sullivan that ended up being the winner. But this was how we purchased 45s back then. We were focused only on the hit songs and rarely paid attention to what we’d hear if we flipped the record over. It didn’t matter. For the most part, we fell right in line with the record companies’ intentions. We were pulled in by the A-side, or the one that received the most airtime on the radio and thus generated the most sales, and we never gave much thought to anything else. The B-side was usually a song that was not expected to ever be a hit for a multitude of reasons, most having nothing to do with quality, and there are many examples of those that became exceptions. One of the most notable is God Only Knows by the Beach Boys, which just happens to be the B-side that surpassed Wouldn’t It Be Nice? in popularity. As time went on, vinyl fell out of fashion and was replaced by CDs, which had no B-sides, of course, and eventually the term became more about the rarity of particular songs rather than where they were placed on a record. In fact, many artists began releasing entire albums that were filled with new or unusual material. In this way, B-sides allowed us to discover fresh music from our favorite bands, even the ones that weren’t playing together anymore, and they attained a new level of music geek coolness.