OtterChristmas 1.6-PieHard

The Muse has become a master pie maker. She does not, however, ply this trade casually. The anticipation of pie-making seems to drive her into a careful and calculating place where good enough isn't quite good enough, where ingredients and conditions just have to be perfect, and where otherwise normal distractions become a kind of encroaching evil. She prepares as scrupulously as any star athlete. She can be difficult to be around when she's making pie.

I love pie, in sparing and occasional spurts. Come the Fourth of July, I'd much rather eat pie than watch fireworks. My birthday cake? I always ask after pie instead. Thanksgiving? It's always all about the pie, so The Muse and I, in terms of this single metric, might be perfectly matched companions.

The Grand Otter's here for Christmas, so an opportunity to pass on the pie-making instinct from generation to generation appears, and I yell up the stairs for The Otter to drag her tailpipe down into the kitchen to help her grandmother create this year's centerpieces for our celebration.

After supper last night, this being a more secular household, The Muse lit the menorah beside the Christmas Tree, then set about to accomplish some more baking. I'd retired to my basement lair to finish up the last of my Christmas poems, that last two kicking and screaming breach birth miracles, hesitant to enter the world. I hear something rather like a rhinoceros herd tap dancing on the ceiling above me and realize after a quick moment of alarm, that The Muse must be beating the pie dough. She'd cooled it down, that leaf lard wonder, and was beating it with a stick—well, with a goofy European-style rolling pin. This, to properly subjugate the stuff, to make it humble enough to properly work.

The Otter has little to do but witness these activities, and busies herself munching goodies and making herself a mug of tea, which, of course, puts her sometimes in the path of the master unconsciously going about her work. There is a recipe, sure, but I speculate that pie-making might be more or less pure technique, and technique, employed by a master, might be the most pre-conscious of any activity. There could not possibly be any step-wise exposition involved, because the actions come from muscle memory more than thoughtful recollection. One should never ask the caterpillar how she walks, for the very act transcends explanation and the attempt to respond cripples the critter. To watch, in some mysterious way, becomes an act of sabotage. Some work simply must occur solitarily, unobserved. The innocent act of asking why when The Muse's whapping the bejesus out of her otherwise carefully-crafted dough might well break the trance essential to properly rendering it. Such was the dilemma facing our Grand Otter.

There must be a right way and a wrong way to create anything, and I well understand the subtle imperatives surrounding any creative act. One must, and mean MUST, hold one's mouth just right, so to speak, engage in small cargo cult rituals which, logically speaking, could not possible affect the outcome, but seem to, at least to the creator. There's a reason I flee to my basement lair to complete my Christmas poem cycle. Witnesses inhibit the commission of any crime, and creativity is, was, and always will be a kind of crime committed without malice, and must, it seems, be a solo affair.

I hear an explosion of expletives roaring from the kitchen and recognize the rage that accompanies a disappointed master. Even Babe Ruth struck out more than half the time, and though The Muse's track record far exceeds The Bambino's, ass-a-dents can and DO happen. I could have determined from miles away that a thermo-nuclear accident had happened. A melt down was in process. The Otter flees back upstairs to text and tweet. I cower in my basement lair, though I'm aching inside to rush in and at least offer to help put out the fire. Best, though, in these times, to avoid sauntering into the epicenter. Nobody can more thoroughly disappoint any master than that master herself and nobody, and I mean nobody, can effectively assist in the resulting recovery effort. I peek around the corner from the living room to see a warm crust crumbled into a hopeless pile that would never become a chocolate pie. The remorse filling that room felt like spines on the back of kitten.

Later, I peek into the Otter's room to remark that watching grandma make pie could be a dangerous undertaking, and apologized for insisting that she be present for the affair. My heart seemed to have been in the right place. She nodded, saying that it was okay.

Well, I suppose it was okay. The unconditionally masterful mentor might be the most worthless kind. We, The Muse and I, even at our now advancing ages, certainly qualify as masters of many activities, if only because we've repeated them so danged many times that we'd have to have been life-long morons not to have achieved at least the distant appearance of mastery. But even we could not possibly be above sometimes stubbing the innocent toe. No performance could possibly guarantee satisfactory results, which might be part of the reason why we swarm to see live performances, for the possibility that we might see a true master perform some face plant beneath Klieg lights. We are a nasty species.

The master plumber should perhaps revel in revealing his butt crack. The writer might well appreciate his failed attempts. Pilots train hard to bring in their passengers under emergency conditions. That's what mastery entails. I suppose we should revel in our little passion plays The Otter witnesses while we're gathered in loving communion to celebrate a holiday. The fireworks displays might not be completely optional. I wonder what could possibly qualify as memorable without the stumbles and pratfalls inevitably involved in properly celebrating.

Making pie's hard. Growing up's even harder. Serving as a role model for anyone still striving for maturity, perhaps the hardest of all. The Muse and I are sometimes crappy grandparents. We lose what little patience God granted us. We neglect to attend to even glaring necessities. We are, in short, way too human. So far, we've not managed to chase The Otter off. She still, so far, asks to visit and seems genuinely grateful for even our lamer attempts to teach, entertain, and connect more deeply with her. Thankfully.

We have much to be genuinely grateful for this holiday, not the least of which might just be the generosity we seem capable of exchanging shortly after everything falls apart. These might be the greatest gifts, beyond any Magi's ability to bestow. We have not yet mastered the curious skill of always, unconditionally appearing masterful, but we continue learning how to forgive these small and sometimes huge trespasses against ourselves. A Christmas miracle, indeed!

©2016 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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