The Devil Is Not In the Details
It's in the eggs.
I grew up in the South, the daughter of a United Methodist minister and a United Church of Christ (that’s the really liberal one, often called “Unitarians Considering Christ) minister. I have been to a lot of church potlucks.
United Methodists do potlucks really well, or at least they did back then. In the South in the 1980’s we called a potluck a “covered dish supper.” Even if it was at lunch.
Since I’ve never met a tangent I couldn’t go down, I’ll share a funny misunderstanding with you. In North Carolina in those times, if we said we were going to a barbecue, that meant we were going to a pig pickin’. North Carolina is known for it’s no-tomato sauce, vinegar barbecue. A pig being roasted outdoors is what you would find at a barbecue. If you were referring to an event where people cooked hot dogs and hamburgers outside on a grill, you would call that a “cook-out.” Not a barbecue. Got it?
When I got to Yale my freshman year (we called it “frosh” then, I wonder what they call it now), I saw a sign for a “Hillel Barbecue.”
I thought to myself: I know there are Jews who don’t keep kosher, but a pig pickin? Hmmm.
I figured out that it was a cook-out, not what I would call a barbecue.
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Many ethic or regional or religious groups are known for hosting events where you need to show up hungry and you will leave overfed. It has come to my attention that Zen sanghas (that’s our version of congregation) are not one of these groups.
That makes sense because we have this concept of “oryoki,” which means eating just enough. Just the right amount. Not too much, not too little. We lean on the side of not too much. This is great for the beautiful ritual of oryoki lunch at sesshin, a daylong or longer zen retreat where the food is planned, you eat what is served, and that’s that. I think it happened by accident at the sangha picnic we had on Saturday.
I brought deviled eggs. I love deviled eggs. I make my mother’s Southern covered dish supper recipe, which is as follows:
Eggs, a little mayo, a little mustard, and either hot dog relish or dill relish, with paprika on top. At least I think that’s my mother’s recipe. It’s just what I’ve always known. Here in the North you often can’t get dill relish, so I sometimes use sweet relish. The Northerners tend to like that better as I have noticed that they like their deviled eggs and their cornbread sweeter than Southerners do. While I identify as from Philadelphia, and this city has welcomed me as one of it’s hardboiled, unenthusiastic cynical and loving citizens, I still do laugh at Northern versions of Southern food.
One of our Zen teachers brought a baguette with a block of cheddar cheese.
The President of our sangha, a woman who is ultra competent, always has it together, extremely sweet, very detail oriented, has brought order and new activities to the sangha, and I love her, brought: tablecloths, plastic ware, napkins, hot coffee, hot tea, a CAMP STOVE to reheat the coffee and tea if need be (and need was!), homemade coleslaw and fresh farmers’ market apples. Plus a few cutting boards, plates, napkins, and a cake for the main Zen teacher’s 84th birthday.
A couple brought homemade hummus and pita with veggies.
A few people brought bagged cookies of whatever kind the Co-op was selling.
The guy who didn’t do his Tea and Talk the week he was supposed to so I had to fill in at the last minute but I am not bitter at all certainly not, not several months later, brought amazing homemade Polish cookies that were indescribable but somehow had oatmeal and powered sugar. Like an oatmeal donut hole. I went into a coma eating them.
But there was no real… food.
We had sent out a spreadsheet of who would bring what but only three people filled it out.
Zen people aren’t all that food oriented in our social events, I suppose.
Eventually the young couple with the baby brought a tomato pie, which is Philly or maybe northern in general for a cold vegan pizza cut into squares. Food! What might pass for an entree.
Mental note: next time there is a Zen potluck, bring a hearty, entree-like dish, such as vegetarian chili or sandwiches. We tend to do things vegetarian, so attempting to roast a pig on the sangha president’s camp stove is really not advised, but an entree, for sure.
Or eat before.
The details were good: everyone’s dish was nice, and sangha president had all the details no one usually thinks of, like keeping the hot beverages hot, figured out. But there was no big picture. No one thought, except the couple who brought the tomato pie, these people actually need to eat a meal!
The old saying goes, “The devil is in the details,” but I think that often, the opposite is true. The devil is in the big picture.
Take life, for instance. This things we are all trying to do. Hopefully we are all helping each other out just a little bit with this thing called life. I feel like I am quoting Prince in the beginning of “Let’s Go Crazy.” You still with me?
People get very caught up in the details. It’s hard not to. How to pay the rent or the mortgage or the health insurance are a big deal. How to survive in competitive fields, professional environments that are filled with personal and political landmines, attempt to live a somewhat healthy lifestyle without having enough time to sleep properly, eat well or exercise, waiting desperately for the Social Security check or the client’s check (freelancers love clients who pay on time!), wondering if the car will last another year or if business will pick up or where the hell are the air conditioners going to go now that they have to come out of the window and what am I going to wear for November 17 (Violet or sea green? Found a cute dress for $32. Feel free to upgrade to paid and you can pick the color of my dress), is Loviefluffy drinking too much or too little, how am I going to keep affording her cat meds if business doesn’t pick up, am I going to be physically assaulted as a result of something I’m about to publish, how many friends might I lose but how many more have I already gained?
The details start to flow into the big picture. And for me, the big picture is everything.
Standing up for what is right, doing something about injustice, and being an activist of some kind has been a part of any part of my life that has felt worth living. Many people aren’t like that, I’d say most aren’t. But I am. I’ve had so many conversations with so many people who have tried to convince me to be some other way, but I’m almost fifty and I haven’t changed. Some people’s big picture is their family, especially their children. I respect that. I have no children and I want to change the world. Or at least add my little contribution to the right side of history.
I am like a Halloween blow up skeleton that looked really cool on a front lawn when it was all lit up on Halloween night and for weeks if not months beforehand, but that becomes a dead, deflated and pathetic looking piece of plastic the day after Halloween if I don’t have meaning in life.
Dead Halloween skeleton? Well, it’s more creative than limp dishrag. Who uses dishrags anyway? I use sponges in spite of lectures on how they’re bad for something, and many of you no doubt use dishwashers. I have a thing against dishwashers but it’s purely personal, not political or ideological and I would not want to push my dishwasher beliefs on you.
The devil IS the details. Details can take up so much focus that you lose sight of the big picture, whatever it is. Life becomes one long slog toward weekends and vacations. I refuse to live that way. I won’t crawl silently into a corner, I won’t be censored by any employer (other than of course taking confidentiality extremely seriously - I am downright religious about that in all of my jobs), and I won’t give up freedom for the false sense of security that comes with being dependent on someone who pays you just enough that you think you can’t leave. Now more than ever, I am seeing why I have to make it as a freelancer with a few faceless man type part time jobs on the side (GOT ref - I refer to no one really caring who you are, not the… other part of that job.) As people I know face drama and even discipline and threat of firing on their jobs for falling just off of the accepted party line of their employer, I am glad I parted ways with my old job, even though I had a bit less of a runway to start this freelancing thing than I had hoped for.
I fight to keep the big picture, my big picture, solidly in my psychic sight. I start my days with the Petyr Baelish quote, “Whenever I’m faced with a decision…” that I discussed in this post. I work hard not to let day to day concerns, fears and anxieties, legitimate though they are (there is nothing imaginary about my health insurance premiums, aging parents, and expensive fish flavored medicated thyroid treats for my cat) derail me from pursuing the real goal.
I encourage everyone, if you haven’t already done it, to do the exercise I had my eight graders do. Write out your vision. Then write three things that you can do to get there, and three things that you can NOT do that you know hinder your progress or might outright prevent you from ever reaching your vision.
Then buy an air plant. Name it something that reminds you of your vision, maybe a fictional character you wanted to be when you were a kid or a relative who inspired you who has passed away or an old friend or a historical figure, like Ghandi or Bismark (who ate lobster with champagne every day for breakfast. My air plant is not named Otto, btw.)
Put the air plant on your desk. Extra credit if you can find an inspirational mug for free on the street to serve as a throne.
Refer to the air plant often when you need to be reminded of your vision. Pet it occasionally. Mist weekly and soak once per week but not for more than an hour and let it dry completely.
Consider ignoring the air plant advice, but put something somewhere that is visible to you most of the time, especially at times of stress, and use it like a magic magnet to keep you focused.
Hold the vision. Trust the process.
Make my deviled egg recipe.
Coming soon: our first Billy Joel songs to analyze, I explain why I would date a Mandalorian, and we all attempt to keep moving, one day after the other, while it feels like the world is collapsing.
Sending special love to all who as we say in our Zen dedication, are in ill health, lacking basic necessities, or experiencing humanities’ violence in the world in thought, word or deed. We need each other now more than ever.