And on the 30th day, she looked forward to Indian food with a friend.

I was in the laundry room, folding mounds of towels and sheets and listening to one of my favorite doctor-writers, Atul Gawande.

Mr. Gawande was talking about how he recently spent time comparing operating room procedures to kitchen procedures at The Cheesecake Factory. He was impressed with the fact that within weeks, all the items on a brand-new Cheesecake Factory menu had been memorized, mastered and turned into an instinctive, practiced set of skilled motions by each of the Cheesecake Factory chefs nationwide. (I’m paraphrasing, but this is how I understood it.)

I listened carefully to everything he said, because I love Atul Gawande. He’s the guy who, years ago, wrote an article that entranced me. This article still entrances me –I still read it over and over– with everything that it has to say about how an ordinary person can get really, really good at something.

Becoming good at something, no, not good, great at something is not, according to Mr. Gawande, dependent on talent so much as a combination of endless practice, endless striving, a refusal to set a limit on yourself, and something else that I think of as an intuitive leap.

You trudge, you trudge, you trudge, you make miniscule progress that you can barely measure, you grow discouraged and disheartened, and then one day you wake up and poof!, you’ve vaulted onto a whole new plane of existence.

Listening to Atul Gawande talk about how the Cheesecake Factory kitchen is highly organized in terms of quality control, with an overseer who checks every single plate as it leaves the chef line, correcting the chef for every tiny aspect of the dish that’s not perfect, which results in incredibly fast mastery of each dish, made me think of another article he wrote a few years ago, about appendices and where to get them taken out.

The best place to get your appendix removed, as it turns out, is not the hospital with the most brilliant surgeons on staff. Nope. If you want your appendix taken out, you should go to a clinic that does nothing but take out appendices (appendixes?), one after another, dozens and dozens a day, by surgeons who do nothing else.

When I got my eyeballs fried I went to a doctor who does nothing but fry eyeballs, day in and day out, dozens a day. He’s an eyeball-frying robot and he does a great job, at least in part because the operation is so utterly familiar.

When I studied Chinese I spent hours forming characters over and over and over and over and over, one to each little box on the character-practice sheets. I don’t write Chinese anymore, but sometimes, if I need to calm down, I’ll sit and trace certain beloved characters over and over and over until the rhythm once again becomes automatic.

I think that great writing –great art, maybe– is a combination of a practice so ingrained and so familiar that it’s in your bones, along with a longing for, what, transcendence?, and an undying push toward perfection.

That perfection can’t be attained doesn’t make any difference. You just keep trying. The trying itself, along with the longing and the practice, will, eventually and often when you least expect it, vault you into a new level of mastery.

When it comes to writing, I’m pretty sure I know what I’m good at, and I also know what I’m bad at. (Apologies for that sentence, but I see no reason why we shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition.)

Most of the time, I choose to focus on what I’m good at and camouflage, distract from, hide, or eliminate what I’m bad at.

Listening to Atul Gawande gave me the idea for my final never done before challenge of the month: Identify an aspect of writing that I’m bad at, and get better at it. Do this by devising a process that combines rote practice with the possibility of a serendipitous Darwinian leap.

So, that’s what I’ll be doing this coming month. I’ve identified something specific I’m bad at and I’ll be working on it every day for at least ten minutes. You’ll have to trust me on this, though, because the official part of the Never Done Before challenge is, as of today, OVER.

I began the challenge on my birthday, one month ago today, in a what-the-hell mood following the consumption of both a Sidecar and an Aviation at Jax Cafe in northeast Minneapolis.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, in a what the hellish sort of way. And despite the fact that I had no idea how much time it would end up taking, it still seems like a good idea. I’m glad I did it, dead mouse detonation and all. Thanks.

Day Twenty-Eight: Ashamed to admit it

It’s been a long day, and my challenge –to learn how to hula hoop at long last– was completely thwarted by the fact that the only hula hoop in the house, the one that I’ve tried and failed many times to hula with, was apparently constructed for a toddler.

When I went to research the art of hula hooping this morning, preparatory to mastering it, I immediately ran across a website run by a very stern woman who informed me that it’s essential to buy the right size hula hoop, and that “the kind of hula hoops you can buy at Target” are way too small. Oops.

Who knew that I was supposed to have a hula hoop that, when stood on its side, comes up above my belly button? Not me. And I didn’t feel like heading out and trying to procure a regulation-size hula hoop today.

So the dog and I have just returned from a long walk, during which I was determined to do something new. There was a trail of brightly-colored gummy worms all the way down Dupont Avenue, and I thought of photographing them, but that seemed lame.

I’m tired. Sometimes you just don’t want to do anything new, you know? Sometimes you just want to go lie on your couch and listen to music and try once again to get into Wolf Hall, the novel that everyone but you seems to have no problem not only getting into but understanding without a flow chart. Nay, not only understanding without a flow chart, but loving to obsession.

The dog and I were only a few blocks from home, getting ready to cross the street, when we saw a nun on the other side of Dupont about a block away. There was something about this nun that gave me the willies. I don’t have anything against nuns, nor against clowns for that matter (why does everyone hate clowns these days), but my radar went up.

As the nun got closer I saw that she wasn’t a nun. She was a woman with long black hair wearing a pitch-black, long, swirling cape-robe. It’s close to 90 degrees out, but there she was, walking down the street with a big black bag clutched to her side.

And I’m ashamed to admit this, but all I could think of was that movie theater in Aurora and that high school in Columbine, and the black-robed gunmen. I told myself not to be ridiculous, that my neighborhood is full of people who wear anything they want and that’s part of the reason why I love it.

But still, I stood there watching the woman in the swirling black robe. Crossing the street would have meant walking right past her.

I didn’t cross the street. I turned and walked in the other direction. And so far as I can remember, that’s the first time I’ve done something like that.

Day Twenty-Seven: We enter an unfamiliar world

Last evening, led by my youthful companions, who know that my hatred of shopping is outweighed only by my love of spending time with them, I entered a never-done-before alternate world.

In this alternate world, I observed many things, such as bureaus hung on walls three stories high, giant signs which admonished us ominously to “get a cart” because we would “need one,” and an enormous escalator lifting countless passengers skyward.

Huge blue and yellow bags were seen everywhere in this world, and lo, huge carts were pushed grimly through mazelike aisles.

A caged chair was observed to be undergoing what looked like a crude form of electroshock therapy.

Giant bins were filled with things so cheaply priced that we began to feel panicky, as if we should buy them all if only because of their absurd cheapness.

Many conversations were overheard.

Conversation #1

Man to woman: Downstairs you can get a hot dog, chips and a soda for $2.50. They’re giving away food down there. Giving it away. And no line.

Woman: I don’t care. I want the Swedish meatballs. That’s what they’re famous for. We’re staying here.

Conversation #2

Woman to small child pushing cart: Honey, you’ve got to stay on the path and keep moving. We’re like buffaloes in here. We have to go where they tell us to go.

Small cart-pushing child to woman: We’re like buffaloes?

Conversation #3

Me to youthful companions as we shuffled through a labyrinthine cafeteria line: Why are all these people using walkers?

Youthful companions to me: Those aren’t walkers, Mom. They’re tray carts to hold your food.

 

In the end, there was a plate filled with Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and for $2 extra, soup or salad and a fountain beverage of our choice.

Everything in the ordinary world, once we managed to find it again after literally getting lost in this alternate world, seemed beautifully small.

Day Twenty-Six: Inspired by that guy with the giant red paper clip

Dream: to climb Machu Picchu the long, winding, non-touristy way.

Dream: to live for a while (or maybe forever) in Montana or Colorado or Wyoming.

Dream: to build a rock or stone terraced wall-garden-thing along the sidewalk in my front yard, fill it in with dirt and then re-plant the insanity that is my perennial garden back into it.

Dream: to get really good at swing dancing.

These are just a few of my many, many, many dreams. I was thinking about some of them at dawn today, and then that guy with the giant red paper clip popped into my mind.

Remember him? He began with the huge paper clip and bartered his way up the ebay ladder until he owned a house, in Canada as I recall. This was in the news a few years ago, and the whole idea intrigued and delighted me.

Barter: it’s the new money.

I used to do a food exchange with another family. Once a week, sometimes more, we would cook twice the amount of dinner, package it up and then go leave it on the others’ doorstep. This was an idea I dreamed up out of a (probably false) sense of imaginary nostalgia (imaginary because I never experienced it myself) for the way little communities used to work, or the way I imagine they used to work, in which everyone took care of each other and each others’ children.

The other family, as I recall, was initially hesitant, but game to try. The food exchange was a huge success from the very first day. There was no pressure whatsoever – if you were flat out one week, you didn’t have to cook extra. If you were in a cooking mood one week, you could leave food two or three times.

We already knew that we each liked each others’ cooking, so there were no unpleasant surprises. The food exchange brought us closer together as friends, even though most of the time the only interaction was coming home and finding a big shopping bag by your front door.

There was something about the fact that someone else had done the cooking, then carefully wrapped it up and taken it over to the other house. It made the other family (and me, when it was my turn to find food on my doorstep) feel as if someone else was watching over them, taking care of them.

That was a long time ago, and the food exchange has been over for many years. But I was thinking about it, and missing it, as the dog and I made our way around the lake at dawn today. The food exchange was a form of barter, and barter intrigues me.

Therefore, today’s never done before challenge: to offer up something possibly barterable in return for something that I would like to do/go to/experience.

What could I barter, though? The only potentially interesting thing I came up with to offer was naming rights to a character in a future book. But that idea, for many reasons, is a dicey proposition, so I rejected it.

But wait!

It dawned on me that I do have something of actual value that can be bartered, which is a one-week stay, for yourself or your family or your friends, in the charming little hotel apartment partially owned and operated by me and my youthful companions. Right here in the heart of a famously artsy biggish city, no blackout dates other than Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Uptown Art Fair.

Got anything interesting to barter in return? If so, let me know.

Day Twenty-Five, in which we fulfill a long-held dream.

Today’s challenge: To develop a signature cocktail.

I’ve been trying to develop a signature cocktail for years now, or rather, I’ve been saying that I want to develop one without ever trying, unless you count the rhubarb margarita I concocted a couple of months ago, which tasted so horrible that I threw the whole thing out.

Old-school cocktails are so cool, aren’t they? The specific glasses they’re made in, the muddle this and swirl that, the various specific garnishes. Even the name “simple syrup” is elegant.

Because the still-fresh memory of that hideous rhubarb margarita was so galling, I decided, out of spite and/or stubbornness and/or stupidity, to create a signature cocktail with a rhubarb theme.

As with most of these challenges, I turned to my trusty friend Mr. Google, and after spending an hour or so perusing the many great ideas involving rhubarb and alcohol, I made a list and headed out to do some shopping. My list:

Bitters (another great name)

Gin (which I know virtually nothing about)

Tonic (can’t remember if I’ve ever actually bought it before)

Some kind of garnish (to be decided on last-minute in a zany moment of inspiration, and which ended up being a lime, which is neither zany nor inspired, but I like limes)

Hennepin-Lake Liquors, my neighborhood liquor store, which is cash-only and a little sketchy but cheap, had lots of gin. I wanted Boodles, because of the name alone, but it was too spendy. Basing my decision on name recognition within a mid-range price alone, I got Gordon’s.

There was a small but interesting selection of Bitters (again, what a great name!) and I picked the one that was made in New Orleans because I love New Orleans.

Tonic: Why is a big bottle $1.49 and a six-pack of tiny bottles $5.49? This makes absolutely no sense to me.

Back home. Straight to the rhubarb patch I went, armed with a big knife. This rhubarb patch began life as a clump that my mother dug up for me in upstate New York and which I carried onto an airplane, dirt and all, in a duffel a couple of years ago.

Like all rhubarb everywhere, it thrives no matter what I do or don’t do to it, here at the side of my house between some lilies that I planted from a bunch that someone had set out on the curb with a FREE sign and a rhododendron that was here when I moved in.

Chop chop chop, off with their heads!

Back into the kitchen. Chop chop chop some more, on the big wooden cutting board that began life as a twenty-five cent hunk of wood at someone’s garage sale and which I decided to call a cutting board.

Into a big pot with you, rhubarb, along with lots and lots of sugar.

After a long time I soaked the rhubarb, sugar and all, in some boiling-hot water, whereupon I strained it into a big bowl and tasted it. YUM. I boiled some of it with more sugar for a few minutes and tasted that. ALSO YUM.

The rhubarb was now transformed into a kind of rhubarb simple syrup, although that name lacks pizzazz.

Then I got out various accoutrements and lined them up on the counter so as to feel like a bartender, which is a secret dream job of mine despite the fact that I need a lot of alone time, barely drink, and until just now didn’t know the first thing about making a drink.

What I love about bartending is the way bartenders move behind the bar, tossing all those bottles around, dipping and scooping and filling clinking glasses with various combinations of ice and alcohol and talking and smiling the whole time. Beautiful to watch.

I used a little, non-regulation glass because I figured, given the haunting specter of the undrinkable rhubarb margarita, that it would take me a long time to create the signature cocktail.

But I figured wrong! One try, people, and it was so tasty that I quit while I was ahead.

Now I need to have a party.

Day Twenty-Three: You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out.

The hour was growing late and the never-done-before crowd-sourced dance mix challenge had yet to be completed, or even begun. The list of tunes, in exact order of receipt, had grown frighteningly long, and if the dancing did not commence immediately, it would end up spanning two days.

Nay, not only two days, but two months.

No matter that the only living beings in the house were me, the dog and the cat. Plus a bat or two, probably, but I prefer not to think about them. I cued up the Spotify playlist, thank you, friend who told me I could save a bunch of money by doing it that way, and laid out some provisions on the dining table.

As the evening wore on it became clear that the correct food/ouzo/water ratio was 1:.5:1, with one gulp of ouzo = half a glass of water + one chip loaded with guacamole. Follow this formula and you will not go wrong.

It was strangely relaxing not to have to think about any of the below selected songs, as I had nothing to do with any of them.

They were crowd-sourced, so I didn’t allow myself to insert a single song that I personally wanted, such as Hey Ya, which ordinarily would be #1 on any dance list I had anything to do with, even snuck in in the form of the wordless Booker T. version, and which every one of my friends is probably sick of listening to.

Nope, I stuck entirely to the mix that was handed to me, and I danced each song in the order in which it was received, and I managed to squeak in just under the wire, at 11:56 p.m. Here goes.

1. Johann Froberger’s harpsichord “Meditation sur ma mort future.”¬†M.T. Anderson, this has got to be the worst dance tune ever. What were you thinking! Dancing to this song is impossible. It was like going on a date with a nap, as a friend would say. Honestly, it was all I could do remain upright during the entire 6+ minutes of this awfulness. (Sorry, Mr. Froberger.)

2. Rock Lobster, by the B-52s. Thank God that Rock Lobster followed MT’s awful meditation on a dead future, because this is a song I can get behind. I love this song so much that it was all I could do not to play it five or six times in a row. But there were lots of songs to go, so I exerted huge willpower and moved on.

3. I Don’t Feel Like Dancin, by the Scissor Sisters. Great tune! But Scissor Sisters, you do make me feel like dancin. (Dancing to this song is like fighting with yourself the whole time: “I don’t feel like dancing.” “But wait, I *do* feel like dancing!”)

4. Bad Romance, by Lady Gaga. Who can argue with Gaga? This one came via one of my sisters, who’s a late, very enthusiastic discoverer of Gaga. It’s a good song, and as I danced to it I took the opportunity to imagine how a meat dress would feel. Heavy. Damp. Bloody. Steak-like. Interesting.

5. You Are My Sunshine, a “popular song first recorded in 1939,” according to Wikipedia. My friend Absalom sent me this one, and he could only have meant it as a wicked joke, a la MT Anderson, but guess what, Absalom? I loved it. As I danced to it the images of my three youthful companions kept floating through my mind, and I imagined I was giving each one a hug: the 6’4″ boy in Chicago, the tall curly-haired girl working the late shift at Tilia, and the short blackhaired girl currently staying up all night comforting wee homesick campers in Wisconsin.

6. The Hokey Pokey. This one came in via my friend Kay, who, like Absalom, no doubt meant it as a subversive joke, but again, guess what, Kay? I plugged in an amazing version by The Puppies and I put my right foot in and my left out with abandon. Take that!

7. “Anything Motown,” which I chose to interpret as Super Freak, by Rick James. This is a fabulous song, and Rick James is a fabulous guy, but I have to admit that the whole time I was dancing to it, all I could picture was that little girl in that Little Miss Sunshine movie, crawling forward on her hands and knees. (I still love the song.)

8. Pick Up the Pieces, by the Average White Band. This one brought me right back to high school, and I completely enjoyed dancing to it.

9. Go Your Own Way, by Fleetwood Mac. This one, too, brought me back to high school, or maybe college (I stink with dates), and I had a hard time interpreting all the emotions that came along with it. As I danced to it I couldn’t make up my mind whether this particular song makes me feel happy or sad. A combination, maybe. Stevie Nicks, I salute your bring me your leather take from me my lace self.

10. I Will Survive, by Gloria G. This is one of those anthemic songs that make you feel strong and powerful and full of strength. Yes, I *will* survive. Thank you, Gloria Gaynor.

11. Truth Is, by Brother Ali. Whenever I hear a song by Brother Ali I picture him as I sometimes see him, making his way down Lyndale or Nicollet, one of his kids in tow, and at the same time I picture him on stage with his head thrown back, singing his heart out. I don’t know Brother Ali, but I feel as if I do. Truth Is!

12. The Time Warp, from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yes! The Time Warp! This brought me right back to when Rocky Horror first came out: the toast, the squirt bottles, the raincoats. What a weird, fun, bizarrely sexy movie. I had to resist playing this one more than once too. Thank you, person who sent this one to me. Exclamation marks indicate happiness.

13. Boogie Shoes, by KC and the Sunshine Band. Oh, dear other sister who sent this one in, how happy you made me. First by sending it in like this, in your completely unabashed capital-letter+exclamation marks way –BOOGIE SHOES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!– and second because I got to dance to it. Who can resist such a song? Not you, and not me.

14. Last Dance, by Donna Summer. This one starts out so slow and sad. But then she jumps it into a real dance tune, and because of that, and because it reminds me of high school and college, and because she died recently, I danced this one with all my heart.

15. Lonely Boys, by the Black Keys. It’s the Black Keys! and they’re great! and so is this song, which is impossible not to dance to.

16. Brown-eyed Girl, by Van Morrison. This was a tough one, since to my mind, dancing to this song = dancing it with a boyfriend. No boyfriend present = figuring out how to dance to it alone. This could have made me sad, but I decided not to be sad, and it all went down pretty well.

17. “Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners. Great tune! Brings me back to many a late-night party and much late-night fun. Thank you, person who sent it to me.

18. “You Spin Me Right Round” by Dead or Alive. When I first read the name of this song and the band who wrote it, I drew a blank. But the minute it spun up on the playlist I recognized it, and with great happiness. Love this song. Thank you, Jake.

19. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, by Billy Joel. This one, like Brown-Eyed Girl, seems to require a slow-dancing partner in order to make the most of it. I did my best, but I admit to taking a few ouzo breaks as it spun itself out.

20. “I Like the Way You Move, by the Bodyrockers. Oh! How I love this song. Who couldn’t love this song? Someone once put it on a mix he made me for Valentine’s Day, and as I danced to this song, I can’t deny that the memory of that made me cry. But still, I wouldn’t trade it away.

21. Red Alert, Basement Jaxx. So I’m 99% sure I never heard this song before I listened to it on youtube, but wow, does it fit my personal definition of a Great Song, in that one-third of the way through it felt familiar, as if I already knew it. This is a fabulous tune! I would tell you that it took all my willpower not to play it through five times in a row, but that would be a lie, because I did, in fact, play it through five times in a row. This tune has instantly vaulted to my top 10 dance songs. Thank you, Nick.

22. Jump, by the Pointer Sisters. Another classic, wonderful tune. By this point I had turned out all the lights, so that my 88-year-old neighbor wouldn’t be freaked out by the sight of me leaping about my dining room late at night, and so I felt free to jump –JUMP!– as high as I wanted.

23. Love Shack, by the B-52s. Can you imagine my delight at another B-52s song? Two in one night. First Rock Lobster and now the Love Shack. My cup runneth over.

24. Lord Tanamo, Matty Rag. SKA! I wouldn’t even have thought of putting ska on my dance list, and I loved swaying around my living room to the gentle beat of Lord Tanamo. Thank you, Sandy.

25. And last but certainly not least, Salt Shaker, by the Ying Yang Twins. All I can say about this one is a) it’s a damn good thing I had all the lights off (it was near midnight at this point) so that my 88-year-old neighbor didn’t have to witness me mimicking the moves of the official video, and b) I kind of hate to admit how much I like this song.

I hereby proclaim Day Twenty-Three the most fun never-done-before challenge yet. Thanks, crowd-sourcerers.

Day Twenty-Two, in which we fall far, far short of our stated goal

The goal of yesterday was to 1) compile a dance mix consisting solely of favorite dance tunes submitted by those who responded to the following question: “Favorite dance tune? Weigh in please,” and then 2) dance the entire mix through without stopping.

There were subsidiaries (not the right word, but I like it anyway) of this goal, which included things like “compile the dance mix in the order in which it was received,” which got that robot-lady voice going in my head all day (“your call will be answered in the order in which it was received. your call will be answered in the order in which it was received. your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.”), which impeded my progress.

There were interruptions, such as the fact that several of my friends –that would be you, Stinky and you, Tobin and you, Kay– submitted, respectively, the following tunes: You Are My Sunshine, Johann Froberger’s harpsichord “Meditation sur ma mort future,” and The Hokey Pokey.

Thanks, friends!

Especially you, Tobin!

Anyway, the whole second part of yesterday’s goal –to dance the mix all the way through without stopping, even to go to the bathroom– got completely derailed because I ended up youtubing all the songs, including¬†Rock Lobster by the B-52s, which is a song I love so inordinately that I ended up playing it through twenty or thirty times and dancing to it alone.

I wish myself better luck today.

Day Twenty-One: We go on an outing

I live in the middle of a biggish city, a city known for its theaters and art galleries and museums and music and literature, and this means that every single day and night multiple artsy things are happening all over the place.

This means that every single day and night I could be out enjoying something artsy. The choices! The variety! The endless opportunities!

But the part of me that stands in the shampoo aisle, needing to buy shampoo and gazing from one shelf to the other, trying and failing to take in the dozens –hundreds– of species and sub-species and genuses (is that the right term?) of shampoo, and then walks away exhausted, overwhelmed, and shampoo-less, is the same part of me that tends to end up most nights lying on my porch swing reading instead of heading out into the cauldron of artistic activities that boils city-wide.

Wow, that above paragraph is a big mess, isn’t it. I’m not heading back in to change a word, though. I’m plowing on to tell you that instead of lying on my porch swing reading, my friend Kingsley and I headed out to the Kinship of Rivers Festival, held yesterday at the Soap Factory art gallery in NE Minneapolis.

This was something that I had never done before, Kingsley had never done before, and no one at the Soap Factory, given that this is the first year the Kinship of Rivers Festival has taken place, had ever done before. It was all new to all of us.

We watched a Tibetan Buddhist monk work on a mandala made of colored sand. All day long he would pray as he made the mandala, and at 7 p.m., long after Kingsley and I were gone, the mandala would be dedicated and the sand dispersed, half to the audience members and half to the Mississippi and Yangtze rivers.

We watched a huge wind chime installation being made.

We saw a lion sculpture, and Kingsley posed beside it for a photo.

We stood in a huge room strung with small cotton flags, each containing a handmade painting, inscription or poem, each of which will be offered up to a river somewhere in the world.

Finally, Kingsley met my friend Ping, who initially mistook him for my father. Which he is not. But in the car on the way home, he said, “I sort of am, though, if you think of me as having adopted you.”

Day Twenty: In which we sit on a porch swing late at night

I read something last night that made me very angry.

That sentence alone —I read something last night that made me very angry— is something I’ve never done before. What I would usually write is something like this: I read something last night that made me very sad.

Or, I read something last night that upset me.

Or, I read something last night that frustrated me to no end.

Or, That’s ridiculous, you have no right to be angry over something so stupid. Stop it.

Or something more convoluted, like “I read something last night that made me angry, but then I thought it through and I wasn’t angry anymore.”

Anger, in general and directed at me, and especially coming from inside myself, has always terrified me. It’s something to be done away with as quickly as possible. Usually that means turning it into something else, changing the word itself from “angry” into “sad” or “frustrated” or “upset.”

That doesn’t get rid of it, though. What that does is turn it into something else that attaches sticky hands to your innards and stays there making you feel awful and shoving other things aside. I finally realized, a while ago, that the only way to get rid of it is to look at it and say its name.

Then it just sits there and eventually turns moldy and disappears. Like everything else.

Being angry is no more powerful than, say, being happy. So late last night, after I read something that made me very angry, I sat on my porch swing being all pissed off. And eventually the pissed-off-ness went away, on its own and in its own time.

Day Nineteen: Can you bake (an apple) pie?

Something I’d never done before last night: sat up late at my kitchen table with my friend Kingsley, looking at the family photos he’s brought with him from his home in Queens.

Kingsley: And this was taken at my father’s 70th birthday party.

Me: Look at that cake. And look at his smile!

Kingsley: He was so happy that night.

Me: He was a wonderful man, wasn’t he?

Kingsley: Everyone loved him.

I’m drinking a glass of water. Kingsley is drinking a cup of tea. The dog is asleep under the table. Hobbes the cat is prowling about, trying to sneak the dog’s food when he thinks I’m not looking. We’re going through the photos one by one.

Me: Look at your cousin Sally in this photo. She’s laughing, isn’t she?

Kingsley: She has so much fun. She laughs so loudly sometimes. Once in a while you do too; that’s how you and Sally are alike.

Kingsley, who is 78, is in his nightclothes: an old t-shirt and worn shorts. His house flipflops, which are jeweled and which he bought in Chinatown years ago, are on his feet. It’s been a long day for him. I picked him up at the airport, we went grocery shopping, and now it’s late and we’re sitting up in the kitchen so that I can see the family photos.

Most of the people in the photos, with the exception of Sally, who is 92, and Kingsley’s younger brother, are gone now.

I take my time going through each one. We come to a series of three photos, none of which feature family members and all of which are very Kingsley in that they feature food, in this case, a pie in various stages of creation.

Me: Were you making an apple pie here?

Kingsley: Yes. I was experimenting with apple pie-baking. I wanted to see if I could create a pie that wouldn’t end up with that soggy crust.

Me: And? Success?

Kingsley, nodding: Success. I used apples, walnuts and a lemon. You can see them here in the first photo. Then, instead of a top crust, I spread the pie with sour cream and grated lemon peel on top. That’s the second photo. Then I baked it, and some of the apples turned dark, which gave them a nice texture. The sour cream melted in and the pie turned out great.

Me: Hang on. I’m going to take a photo of each of these pie photos with my cell phone.

Kingsley: No, no. You can have the photos themselves.

Me: Are you sure?

Kingsley: Yes, I’m sure. Just keep them. I don’t bake pies anymore.