follow tali on ...

the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
NOV
12

When You Want Shortbread

When I went to Scotland a few years ago, I had this little shortbread shop on my list of places to go while in Edinburgh. It's certainly not what I would call a tourist destination, and in a city full of museums and castles (and Arthur's Seat, for crying out loud), it may seem strange that this was such a must-see. It would seem less strange if you knew how much I love shortbread--I just have to sort of ignore the fact that it's pretty much straight butter--but still, one might say an odd choice. I did those other things too, the museums and castles and even Arthur's Seat, but perhaps my favorite moment of the entire trip, at least the one I kept trying to re-create as I continued exploring the handful of Scottish cities I'd chosen to visit, was when I opened the door to Pinnies & Poppy Seeds Artisan Shortbread Shop and stepped inside. To this day, and for the rest of my life, I will never have smelled anything so delicious. 

I was late to the game when it comes to international travel, something I didn't start doing until later than most, but that I was able to do consistently in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. My goal was to keep the trend going and take one big, foreign trip every year, a plan that was of course foiled by this blasted pandemic. While I want to make clear that the most tragic aspect of COVID-19 is the lives that have been lost and the grief and suffering endured by those who have felt those losses most dearly, for those of us fortunate enough to only be dealing with the side effects of quarantine and lock-down, one of the saddest things I've witnessed is a general abandonment of our various shortbreads. We all have those things and places that speak to us, that compel us to try, to visit, to see, to achieve. It's not just that the pandemic can make a person feel like these things are no longer attainable, it's that they are in many cases actually no longer attainable. Worse, it can make a person feel foolish for even thinking such a pursuit was realistic in the first place. I have listened to the tears of friends and family who worry their windows have closed, and, in some cases, don't have it in them to try again. To the world I say, is there to be no more shortbread???

My own opinion on the matter is that shortbread is not over. It may be changed or different. It will certainly be delayed. But it is not gone. On good days, you can even convince me that my quest to visit the shortbread store would have been no less noble had I arrived to find the door locked, the store closed. On bad days, such a thought breaks my little angel cake heart, but let's focus on the good days. Let's remember that things will get better and that if we had the courage and gumption to pursue a thing once, surely we can summon the courage and gumption to pursue it again. Or even again after that. And for those whose windows truly have closed with this pandemic, do not for one second think yourself foolish for trying. Trying already sets you apart from those who assumed it impossible from the start. The effort is success already, see?

This is not to say that I'm immune to the pandemic blues, because they damn near paralyze me sometimes. I found myself looking up the Pinnies & Poppy Seeds website today just to cheer myself up, only to find that they have had to close their store. A reminder if ever there was one of all the dashed dreams, ruined fortunes, and overall melancholy that has seemingly enveloped the world. I'm glad I have the memory, is something I suppose I could tell myself. The memory not just of that initial inhale inside the door, but also of selecting the flavors I wanted to buy, of watching my selections be placed in a small box and tied with string, of schlepping the box around a beautiful new country, and of curling up in a different hotel room each night with a cup of steaming tea and a piece of shortbread. Yes, I'm glad I have the memories, but if you want to know a secret, without the shortbread store, I'm fairly certain the trip would have been just as amazing. I know that's hard to believe when all you want is shortbread, but in times like these, let's do our best to re-imagine what shortbread can be. 

 

DEC
31

The Letter

Every New Year’s Eve I write a letter to myself. I type it, actually, on the vintage typewriter I bought with my tax return while living in New York City. I do this partly because the typewriter was expensive and I’m still trying to get my money’s worth. And partly I suppose because I love the look of typewritten letters. I want ink on a page. The clap of letters being lined up together. The ding of running out of space on your current line. To me it is charming, and somehow more meaningful than simply pushing print.

The letter I write to myself each year is usually one of advice and encouragement. There are things I want myself to focus on, to do better at in the coming year. There are things I want myself to let go of; to give myself a break on. The letter I wrote a year ago today may be one of my favorites so far, despite the majority addressing a certain personal goal I had for 2017 that I did not achieve, the result of which was a much more difficult year. On the eve of 2018, then, I encouraged myself to own it, accept it, and to do better in the new year.

Which I did.

And I have my letter to thank for that, as it sat on my nightstand table and reminded me on a daily basis of what I deserved. I'd had Scotland on the brain when I wrote it, having returned from a vacation there a couple of months before. I had climbed to the top of Arthur’s Seat, in a windstorm, and taken in the one of the most beautiful views I will ever see in this world. And so I leave you with my favorite line from last year’s letter, a sentiment that I have perhaps only in 2018 come to truly understand.

“You saw the greens and blues of a world too beautiful to be spent alongside those not battling the wind just to stand next to you.”

Here’s to a new year, a new letter, and a new chance to do/get/be what we need most.

OCT
30

Scotland

Since fiction has thus far proved to be out of my wheelhouse, all the characters in my books are real people. And there’s a character in my latest book who passed away before I had the chance to visit him in Scotland. I made a promise when he died that someday I’d make the trip, and while there were other reasons why I wanted to go (the beauty, the piece of my heritage), I found myself thinking about this person the most. I’d wonder if I was walking down any of the streets he walked or seeing any of the things he’d seen. Weird, isn’t it? This person who has been gone from this planet for almost a decade. This person with whom it probably never would have worked, as it hadn’t in either of our previous attempts. But there’s something about the unfinishedness of it all that made me extra pensive as I strolled along Scottish sidewalks.

Scotland was, in a word, breathtaking. I kept trying to define the bright shade of green that covers all the hills. It’s in the kelly family, surely, but so much more striking than any kelly you know. And complemented perfectly against the rich aquamarine tones of the sea that hug the shoreline. So if you get high enough, the combination of green against blue is one you’ll wish could be re-created in your regular life. It won’t be though. And that’s what gets me about this trip. See, someone close to me explained it once. After having witnessed something beautiful, she wept when it was over. This happens to many of us from time to time, being moved to the point of tears. But her explanation for the tears has stayed with me, in that she said she was crying for herself, for the fact that she would never witness this thing again. In that moment, it seemed too much to bear; that there could be such beauty in the world yet her exposure to it so limited. And that’s really the only way I can describe how it felt to drive away from the Highlands, having just stood alone in the Quiraing, nothing but a sea of this unnamed electric kelly green all around. Gaelic music played as I followed the path of the Loch Ness back into town, a few tears hot on my wind-burned cheeks. Because I would never see this again. And how was that fair? How could I exist knowing it was there and I wasn’t seeing it?

It’s a question I would have asked my departed friend, over pouches of greasy food and a couple of weathered notebooks open between us. And while it doesn’t make me wish any less that he were still here, I suppose the upside is that he never has to stop seeing it. And I bet the view is spectacular.