The beauty of spring lies in the little things. Feeling the warmth of the sun on your face. Seeing the daylight hours creep longer and longer. Being able to wear open toed shoes for the first time in months. Watching the spring blossoms as they begin to appear. As I said in my last post, spring gives you the ability to take your time: no more rushing between buildings to shelter from the rain, and less time hiding away inside away from the cold. These are some of the things I’ve been trying to embrace of late: caring for myself by taking things slowly, eating plenty of greens, getting some sunshine.
Over the last month, many of these little moments have been spent with Lydia Davis. Lunch breaks sitting in the sun, tram rides to meet friends, quiet weekend afternoons, even whilst waiting for water to boil to make a cup of tea. Having never read Davis’ work before I was quickly captivated, sneaking opportunities to read her perfectly formed short stories whenever I could.
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis publishes together four of Davis’ collections released over twenty years: Break It Down, Almost No Memory, Samuel Johnson is Indignant and Varieties of Disturbance. It gives readers both new or more familiar the opportunity to see a span of her career and with it her life. Much of Davis’ work are little snapshots of the every day that read like day dreams as you stare out the window and wonder. They often seem like our own inhibited thoughts: the little conversations we have inside our own heads, or late night revelations with friends after too many glasses of wine. Each piece is tightly written, the stories simultaneously relatable, funny, heartfelt and punchy. Many of the works are only a few paragraphs long, but nothing is lacking in terms of narrative. All of Davis’ stories, whether they be just a sentence or twenty pages or more, show Davis’ wonderful imagination.
Though overall I found myself preferring the pieces that told more every day stories rather than the few attempts at historical style fiction - such as in ‘Marie Curie, So Honorable Woman’ in Samuel Johnson Is Indignant - I was captivated by Davis’ writing. There are incredible pieces that talk openly about illness and a fear of ageing such as ‘Thyroid Diary’ and ‘Happy Memories’, both from Samuel Johnson Is Indignant. As someone with a complicated medical history, I was grateful for Davis’ ability to explain the pain and fear that comes with illness, such as in this powerful first line of ‘Happy Memories’:
I imagine that when I am old, I will be along, and in pain, and my eyes will be too weak to read.
Earlier on in this collection - Almost No Memory - holds another incredibly powerful piece ‘Fear’, where in just one paragraph Davis’ tells us of a neighbour who every morning runs out onto the street to yell “Emergency, emergency”, staying there until someone from the community is able to calm her down:
We know she is making it up; nothing has really happened to her. But we understand, because there is hardly one of us who has not been moved at some time to do just what she has done, and every time, it has taken all our strength, and even the strength of our friends and families, too, to quiet us.
Amongst these incredible emotional punches are also brilliant shots of humour. Davis does not shy from self-deprication and her ability to find the awkward moments in the every day are joyful. But she also writes with heart and an emotional truth. One of my favourite pieces within this publication came right at the end in Varieties of Disturbance. In ‘Helen and Vi: A Study in Health and Vitality’ Davis brings us a survey of two elderly women. The story is broken up as a report, offering topics such as Physical Activity: Work and Play, Religion, Physical Appearance, Conversational Matters and this beautiful moment from Personal Habits where the voice is truthful, heartfelt and funny:
When she goes home after a day of work, she says, she makes herself a nice dinner. In the cold weather she likes to start with a bowl of soup. “A little bowl?” “No, a medium-sized bowl.”
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis was an absolute joy. In many ways it feels like a bible for short story writers with Davis’ enviable technique for such powerful narratives within small, tightly written pieces. But it’s also book for readers to hold dear: to savour little moments of humour, imagination and emotional intelligence. It’s easy to race through these small works but the real pleasure comes from taking your time, rereading, pondering, letting them soak in.
When my partner asked me what I was making for dinner and I explained to him the idea of the ‘abundance bowl’, he replied “this is exactly how you eat!” My friend Tash has also pointed out to me recently my propensity for eating a series of tiny picnics at my desk in lieu of a more conventional lunch. Sarah Britton of My New Roots seems to understand this too. Her abundance bowls are designed to capture the best of the season, providing small bites of a range of produce, balanced between raw, cooked or pickled, alongside grains, punchy dressings and big colourful plates of vegetables. Sarah has now posted four seasonal abundance bowls - winter, spring, early summer and late summer - but they’re also easy to adapt as you wish too. Of course I was drawn to the spring abundance bowl as I was finding joy in the start of spring vegetables in season and the desire to boost my intake of greens, but given that it was early spring with cooler nights I chose more cooked vegetables than raw, brown rice over quinoa, broad beans over peas. (I found broad beans in their pods at my local market and then used these instructions to prepare them). But the joy here is being able to pick and choose as you wish. The quick pickled radish yielded enough for plenty of meals to come, but the yoghurt dressing was so flavourful that it was gobbled up quickly. There are plenty of small bites to keep you interested, but the joy comes in experimenting with different combinations slowly, mindfully, as you take the time to wonder.
The start of spring has been a great motivation to finally plant some vegetables for the balcony kitchen garden I’ve been planning since my partner and I moved to our current apartment eighteen months ago. To my astonishment, after reading this great guide to growing your own seedlings and this clear guide to jobs to do in the garden over September, even this black thumb has managed to sprout seedlings that will slowly grow into vegetables for meals to come. The site these articles come from - The Slow Poke - has a great philosophy of taking your time and making things by hand and I’ve loved stumbling across their site recently after they featured the local duo behind Grown and Gathered. I’d love to also try making this scrub as a treat or make my own almond milk for the first time. Pottering away in the soil, in the kitchen, little treats for yourself: all lovely things to do no matter what the weather, but particularly right for spring.