“Life happens too fast for you ever to think about it. If you could just persuade people of this, but they insist on amassing information.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Not two weeks ago, I tried a new pie recipe called “Cranberry Peek-A-Boo Pie”, which was basically cranberries, cherries, orange zest, sugar and lemon juice. It was quite a pretty pie – I used my brand new mini cookie cutters to cut out patterns of fall leaves in the top crust so the berries could “peek” through. I was rather proud of such a thing as this – until, of course, I cut into it and realized the innards never quite solidified; it was more or less a cranberry soup within a buttery semi-flaky crust. It tasted okay…but was overall, a disappointment. I was a little embarrassed serving it, but at least had the excuse of saying, “I’m new to this whole pie-baking thing. Really.”
So it goes.
And then we come to the final week of January, and I read (on Facebook of course, since that seems to be where I get most of my news these days) that J.D. Salinger has died. What does he have to do with Cranberry Peek-A-Boo pie? I’ll get to that.
I find it saddening that two of the authors I’ve looked up to since I was a wee-Chelsea, J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut, have managed to die within the first three years of my post-college life. “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Slaughterhouse Five” are my most prized literary property on my bookshelf – and certainly the works I’d most likely take on a desert island with me (partly, perhaps, because they would simultaneously make me feel joyous for being away from this so-called civilization, while at the same time making me miss it terribly, to the point of tears.)
Both these writers managed to fit a lot of emotion, a lot of philosophy, a lot of thought into a small space, while creating compelling characters, breaking through censorship barriers (both authors have been banned from any number of school libraries), creating their own edgy voices, and leaving their mark on literature while making it all seem very…easy.
The point is, no matter how reclusive, angry or crazy J.D. Salinger supposedly was, or how out-there Vonnegut’s sci-fi worlds seemed to be, they both managed to be truly authentic. I judge, of course, on their bodies of work – they went with their gut and, I feel as a reader, never lied to me. Even when telling me fiction.
So…after I served my Peek-A-Boo pie, my mother’s friend Liz (who happens to be a rather masterful baker herself – double jab at my ego) gave me some advice not only on how to salvage it (or try to by draining the excess liquid and baking it some more), but on how to avoid these things in the future. Basically, she told me to not be afraid to go with my gut. Recipes are guidelines (at least when it comes to pies) – so don’t be afraid to break out of the bullet point rules an listen to what you feel. If you think the pie needs to be baked longer, it probably does. If you don’t think the filling is bubbling enough, it’s probably not. If you think the crust is getting too brown, it probably is.
So, I’ll try to take the lesson from my Peek-A-Boo pie and two of my literary heroes – be authentic, be true and go with your gut. Life’s too short not to.
I’ll leave you with a few words from the authors themselves:
“If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still–if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of those moments are nice.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, Chapter 10
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 22, spoken by the character Holden Caulfield