“The Pea Soup Andersen Story” talks of how the patriarch Anton Andersen came to California from Denmark, with his dream of opening a restaurant with a brand new electric stove. On the menu, the most popular item by far was his wife Juliette’s recipe for pea soup. And there it was–first down south in Buellton, and then where I am now, in Santa Nella, where Hap-Pea and Pea-Wee are diligently splitting peas on on roadside billboards for miles down and up road.
Inside, I ask if I can grab a seat at the bar, which I do. Thank goodness. I ask for a coffee and a bowl of soup and enjoy a bit of atmosphere and air conditioning. It’s hot outside. There are a hundreds of miles behind me, and hundreds in front of me, but the I-5 is being its usual Goldilocks self, too long, too short, and sometimes even just right.
The pea soup is its usual, dependable, super yummy self. It is that it is. No frills, but really well-made, and the recipe is there for everyone to see, but there’s something yummier about having it here. Do something. Do something well. Do it so well, that people can depend on it. Not the entire recipe for success, but definitely a huge part of it. I think of my own work, my own writing, and my own community. Do I have the confidence in my work to match this amazing and unadorned pea soup? Can my work be there for others, whenever they need it. Am I dependable as a writer? As a person? Do I have all the ingredients I need to make a recipe of my own?
Of course, if I worry too much about such things, the pea soup gets cold. So, I try to pull back from my own writing thoughts to what is going on around me this early afternoon. I wonder about queer identity, and what it would bring here, and the best answer beyond all the art stuff that I can give is perhaps added appreciation for pea soup. Because again, no rainbows in sight. To a large extent, I know what it is like to be alone in crowds as I am here. But being awkward is a different thing than being discriminated against, and although they often coexist, it’s so darned vital that we know the difference. There are same sex couples in here, eating soup–and though presence alone does not mean all is well, I wonder if there is a point, especially for a queer writer, where you just have to see this as a chance to get to know more people?
At the bar, I am having a conversation with an older couple from Livermore, who are driving south to see Catalina and their grandkids, not necessarily in that order. They always stop for soup. Or they eat at Harris Ranch (near Coalinga) “but service can be slow there, so be careful if you are in a rush.” It is a short conversation, but a sweet one, and I think we are all delighted to be connecting with someone we might usually never talk to.
And that is so wonderful–I mean, that is something I dream for my work, as well. To engage with readers I did not now were there, while coming away not only with more knowledge of someone else, but with information that applies and illuminates our own travel. I am thinking to the best thing that happened to my writing all year.In my novel He Mele A Hilo, I have a character who uses an artificial leg. He is loosely based on my uncle, who broke his back, but was still my uncle, and also a really good fisherman.
And a really cool person from Easter Seals Thrive put it on the Easter Seals reading list, and said how great to have such a disabled character in the book. And it touched her. And I swear… To hear my work reflected in the eyes of a reader in a way I had never thought. I swear, there is nothing better than that. I am so grateful to her, to Easter Seals Thrive… For reading a work they might not ordinarily have read, to engage with it, to search for a common thread…then to contact me, thank me, even as they made my story part of their own.