August 18th, 2009:
On Thursday evening, I'm hosting a dinner at Maitri for 21 people most of whom have never been to the residence. As my life has moved from middle age to later, I have increasingly stepped back from entertaining other than having maximum two other people at my apartment. I don't host dinners although I love to cook. I don't invite a group over for stand up visiting. My excuse has been no formal dining room, but that sure doesn't get in the way of other people I know.
While I was growing up, my family enjoyed party-giving. My Mom was a fine cook and whether it was outdoors in the summer or indoors through the rainy winters, she loved to invite other families or groups over for dinner. And we often were invited to dinners and occasions with other families. During my group living with Stu and Cris in Portland we did a lot of our communal bonding over food and used the meals to explore the Pacific Northwest bounty: chantrelle mushrooms, fresh salmon, etc. Plus, we started a tradition of legendary Seders for Passover. Food and intimacy were well established for me.
However, when I moved to San Francisco, I scaled down in the numbers of people I invited into my various apartments. That's when the one to two person limit started. Plus, I got swept up by the tsunami of exciting restaurants on both sides of the Bay. It was much more gratifying and theatrical to order off the menu at Chez Panisse or Masa's than anything I was likely to muster at home. So cooking became a private event and my talents were focused on that most difficult of accomplishments: cooking for one.
As an adult, I've always felt comfortable in the kitchen. I love the prep, touching everything and smelling it before heat changes the texture and aroma. I typically review a recipe the first time I cook something and that's the last time I follow directions. Once I've cooked something, it's in my body memory and I start improvising. As a result, I am both reasonably fearless and highly limited; meaning, I don't look at a lot of new recipes so my repertoire is held back. I have good manual skills, but have never taken the next step of going to cooking school where I could really expand my dexterity with food and utensils.
So out of the blue about two months ago, my friend David Goldsmith suggested that I host a party where I get all of my friends together. He said that he'd been hearing about all these people I know for years, but never met any of them. As my health declines, he wanted to know who else would be involved in my care. I have to say, my response to this was really churlish. I thought, "Sheesh, it's not my job to organize a support group. I'm moving into Maitri where I'll be cared for. It's everyone's responsibility to have their own support. I'm busy. I don't wanna." Something like that. I was not receptive to his suggestion.
A few nights later, I was having dinner with my friend Traci Teraoka who I'd served with on the Maitri Board. "If you're going to move into Maitri, why don't you have a dinner there for your friends before that happens?" she suggested. I listened and thought, "What's knocking on my door here? Two pushes for creating a group in one week." Although I eagerly initiate one-on-one contact with people and have a vigorous schedule of lunches and dinners, I have never exercised my talents for gathering groups together. For groups, I expect to be invited.
As David's request rubbed against Traci's suggestion, I rethought my posture. Why not do something new? If I were to have a dinner what would be the pretext? And who would I invite to cook the meal? Answers were immediate. I wanted to mix two groups of friends. First group were my inner core of caregivers such as Eileen Lemus, Ed Joy and Gaetano, people who I've asked to handle my medical and financial affairs. The second group were people that I wanted to visit me at Maitri once I move in, but who had probably not been to the residence. The dinner would be a celebratory time prior to deep decline in my health. We would be at Maitri but none of us would be overwhelmed with my illness. Everyone could hopefully step into the beautiful environment, enjoy the vibes and not be overly stressed. As for the chef--no contest--I wanted to ask Amaryll Schwertner whose cooking at Boulette's Larder had been knocking me out for the past two years.
And so it has come to pass. This Thursday, 21 of my friends many old, some new will converge at Maitri for an hour of stand-up meeting. Then we'll proceed into the dining room for a very fine meal. I would have invited many more people, but the tables had a limited number of seats. I am looking forward to this evening in so many ways. I know from personal experience that when an interesting collection of people gather, chemistry happens. David will get what he wants. I'll have fun. Other people will have a chance to say, "Oh, I've heard a lot about you..." And off we'll go.
I was talking with my therapist today about the creativity that has been surging in me since I started to accept my terminal diagnosis. I've been on the Maitri Board for many years now, and I've been to many Maitri dinners. During all those years, I've adamantly refused to organize a dinner myself. Didn't want to do that at all. Now, I've changed my posture completely and feel wonderful for it.