lunes, enero 16, 2017

Week 2/52 January 15, 2017

I want to write about food, but I realize that such a broad undertaking will require more than a single, pithy eleventh-hour essay (who am I kidding? the only deadlines here are those I have self-imposed, and yet…). So let me begin, somewhere. Anywhere, really.

For me, food is love. My relationship with food, and love, has always been somewhat anxious, not because either of them were ever less-than-abundant, but because, somewhere along the line, in my child-mind, I must have equated food and love with the notion of “deserving” and somehow, I simultaneously feared that I didn’t deserve, or that there was such a thing as scarcity, and that I must gorge myself on both. I realize as I write this that there is a pattern to be dissected, but that will be a task for another midnight writing session.

My earliest memories of food are inflected with love, the familial and familiar kind, but also with competition, a sort of a sibling rivalry. The anxiety and competition stemmed from my position, perhaps, as second child, always trailing, always furious about a perceived injustice. I would keep eating at the table just to make sure that my brother didn’t get more than I did. Later, when we were teenagers, I would run home to make sure that he didn’t eat what I had saved for myself from dinner the night before. It was a losing battle.

I think of the summer of 1982, in Madrid, on the Plaza Mayor, playing soccer and wondering why I could not play shirtless like the boys… at age 4, questioning what seemed like an asinine and unjust convention, the pleasure of running up to the ice-cream man and ordering a popsicle in bright blue aquamarine shark-shaped glory. I remember the glorious bubbles of coca-cola. I don’t remember, but I’m told, that I wholly rejected (and subsequently vomited) a fancy, hand-crafted cream of mushroom soup in the Andalusian countryside because I claimed it didn’t taste like Campbell’s, though I was sickened, it would seem, from sucking my thumb that had played in public fountains, filled with pigeon poop and the desperate hope of wishes sunken into the deep in the form of abandoned coins. I’m fairly certain that my parents were more traumatized than I, considering my abiding love of cream soups, and mushrooms, and a curiously bookendish ending to this particular episode a quarter century later, in Chiapas, in which I rejected a cream of mushroom soup because it purported to be a hand-made soup of local hongos, but was, in fact, Campbell’s. I didn’t fall ill, I just, not without certain chagrin, returned the soup to the kitchen and had an unmemorable dish instead.

I have distinct memories of my Zaydie cooking scrambled eggs and lox and singing in the kitchen in some mix of English and Yiddishy sing-songs that he would make up. Sometimes, when my grandparents would visit, he would pull out what looked like a briefcase, but was really a portable cocktail mixing set and I would watch him joyfully move about the kitchen. Food was love for him. He would buy me Planter’s cheese puff balls… colored as they were with yellow #5, I would never buy them or consume them at this stage in my life, but oh, I can still remember the buttery melt-in-your mouth joy that they would bring with each crunchy ball that I savored.  I remember my father cooking bananas flambé on Sunday mornings, the rum-orange butter flaming before being served to the clamoring masses (ie: my brother and me). And I remember my Mimi serving up stick-to-your ribs American fair, skittish to make sure that my Puggy’s meal was ready at the 5 O’clock hour. When they would visit on their tours around the country, hauling handicrafts in their truck, she would always find the time to make a double batch of merengue cookies with chocolate chips, my father-her son’s favorite, and she would leave them in a massive plastic bin in the freezer for us to consume in her absence.

Of course, it was my mother who prepared the vast majority of meals, but as history is unfair with those who perform invisible labor, so too are my memories of her in the kitchen. They mostly blur together. I do remember cooking spaghetti sauce and beef stroganoff along side her. Later, when I decided I would be a vegetarian (mostly prompted by my misguided need for control and food restriction due to deep adolescent self-loathing, but also, nominally, because, let’s be honest, when one really considers that eating meat is eating animals, it is rather nauseating… and then we forget), she insisted that I make my own meals, a wonderful lesson in self-sufficiency, in which I ate a copious amounts of broccoli and macaroni and cheese, and some variation of split pea and carrot soup, and quesadillas with salsa for quite a number of years. Like I said, misguided.

Since then, the meals I have shared and cooked with my best friends, and for my family, and lovers and loves have been some of the most salient moments of joy in a life that, though punctuated with a certain fundamental sadness, has been overwhelmingly fortunate and overflowing with if not satiety, then an abundance of curiosity and the means to scratch the itch of wanderlust that accompanied my penchant for emotional thrill-seeking.

And so we return: If food is love, then why isn’t an excess of food a warm bath of self-love, a balm for the soul? Or maybe it is? This is the point at which we consider that our pleasure centers and our physical embodiment are often-times at cross purposes, but that, too, is a topic for another day. When one euphemistically “struggles” with her or his weight for the majority of their adult life, it isn’t uncommon to hear the sage advice: in order to change yourself, you must change your relationship to food. So easily said, but, how? And what part of the relationship must we modify? And, must we stop loving food? Stop loving others through the preparation of this ultimate act of care-taking? I’ve never gotten that far, that is, I never manage to change my relationship beyond forcing a regimented rigor that is never pleasant, but usually effective.  And so it is, to this topic, I will undoubtedly return, but for now, there is a big pot of black beans (my version of Guatemalan style) that require attention, and into which I will pour sautéed onions, garlic and a dash or two of pure love.

sábado, enero 07, 2017

And so it begins... week 1/ 52 January 7, 2017

Where does one put pain? Physical pain or psychic pain, it doesn’t matter: our bodies preserve it, in the interstices of our nerve synapses, among the weaving  fibers of our flesh. Our minds spirit it away into dark corners. How do you chase the pain away? There are metaphors that can be used: put it on a shelf, set it aside, table it. Postpone the pain until it isn’t so raw… and there are so many trite platitudes like “no pain, no gain” or worse, “something better is waiting for you” or even, “it gets better” or the Mexican one I love, “no hay pena que dure cien años ni cuerpo que lo aguante” (there is no sadness that lasts 100 years, nor a body that can last that long) and in some cases, in certain company, the ever-unhelpful “God has a plan for you.” And while it is true, we aren’t capable of bearing the pain of disappointment, abandonment, failure, or just plain loss interminably, it is simply the not knowing when you will feel better that adds to the weight of grief. So, where do you put pain? I tend to put it into writing, and though this wasn’t my intended starting point for a new writing project, here I am, facing a blank page, and facing my own demons. Again.

The idea: a personal essay once a week for the entirety of 2017. I have misplaced my joy, it seems, and when that happens, I recognize my need to create. Sometimes cooking is an outlet for this creativity, and sharing food with friends brings the added joy of bringing happiness to others, but, in the spirit of honesty, I have lost my appetite for food. Of any kind. That’s when you know the joy has been sequestered and the pain has taken hold, and maybe, just maybe, it is time to do something about it. In years past I have undertaken photo projects, a daily self portrait (to try and be kinder and more loving to my physical likeness, and thereby, my physical embodiment), then a weekly one, then a daily portrait outside myself. This is to say, there is a theme. If it is the renovation of the imposed Gregorian calendar, or the lunar/ solar universal laws, the winter season often finds me in the doldrums, full of fear and pain that are, perhaps explicable, but certainly not often acknowledged. And the only cure is to write. Or to travel, but sometimes the pain travels with you… with writing, it always just pours out onto the page.

So here goes, a 52-week love letter to myself, to my friends,  to  future love, or to my child, or to you, dear reader, who may not yet exist, a window to my soul (thus, after all, Paul Simon reminded us, is akin to losing love).

A week before Christmas, 1994.

Miramar, Argentina: Province of Buenos Aires and as the name suggests, a balmy beach town in the summer.

For months Leo and I had met, clandestinely, at the Petit café and then under the boardwalk, among the wild dunes. His kisses tasted of tobacco and his skin of salt, his hair a bit shaggy, and salt burned in the style of the young men in this country not my own. I was afraid. Always afraid. What if Freddi found out? What if they sent me home? What if I lost the school year because of carelessness? What if? What if? What if?  But never “What if he stops loving me?” Never “What happens when I inevitably have to leave?” I am 16 and nervous, sensual, he is tired of kissing and grinding me to orgasm through his thick jeans, he is ready. Insistent, We are in the dunes among the trees of the forest where later I will find myself screaming to fend of a would-be date rape, but here it is all the heady drunkenness of teenage love. Or so I thought. He pulls out a condom. I say no, fully aware of the consequences of an accidental pregnancy on my future, in a place I don’t know, where I trust no one, where I cannot fully navigate the social mores nor the knowing looks, nor the expectations, nor the scolding tongues.  I am alone. Leo is with me. I think. I push his hands away: “I’m not ready,” I say, believing fully that he will understand, must understand, that I am simply afraid of the unknown. I knock his hand and the bright pink plastic falls to the side, on sandy ground. He grows angry and it is in this anger, and subsequent withdrawal that I understand that I might lose this man-boy that I love, that is my lifeline, my only friend. But I’ve gone and done it, and I can’t take it all back. So, I do the next best thing, for which I am, apparently, already known, the slutty yanqui, though only because I have a big mouth and talk a big game. He finishes and I gag, and spit. The blue sky spins around pine trees and I know, like a prescient pit in my stomach, that I didn’t fix anything, that maybe there was nothing I could have fixed. We walk the flat city grid back to my temporary home on the central plaza in stony silence.

He doesn’t call me all week. On Christmas Eve day, on the hot street, filled with throngs of summer beach vacationers from the capital, we meet. He asks if I plan to go out that night to a club. I have been moved to a new house, where the mother tells me she will protect me from the clucking tongues, and the eagle-eyed gaze of my German guardian. I feel scared and I know something is wrong. He doesn’t hold me the way he usually does. Doesn’t stop to play on the swings at the diagonal corner to discuss the linguistic nuances of querer and amar, 

We have a midnight dinner on the esplanade, drink sparkling sidra, champagne’s sychophantic cousin, and the young folk teeter our way to the coastal clubs at the far end of the beach, at the edge of the vivero. The music pulses and throbs, and I feel nauseous and disoriented, and utterly alone. I try to dance, which I find slightly easier while tipsy, but I am overheated and frustrated because Leo is nowhere to be found, and cell phones were not a pervasive nor portable technology at the time. So I stood on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the lapping of the black-night sea, when I feel a tap on my shoulder. It is Leo. He has a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, “Che, Ilana…” he says, and the lilting tone in his voice is a tell. My heart jumps to my throat, but before I can be engulfed in dread, a girl, whose factions cannot reassemble themselves in my mind, comes bounding up behind him  and demands to know, “Have you done it already?” and then I am fully engulfed in dread, shock, terror, humiliation. I feel the floor move, but there is no earthquake. He tells me it is over, though I don’t even know if he says the words. I ask him how long, and he says, “a week.” Of course I know now that this was a pious lie, meant to shield me from additional pain., but then, all I could think about was, what if I had just offered up my virginity to him? What if? What if?

All out of the fear of consequences, I grabbed the first blond-headed, long-haired boy that crossed my path (to whom I had been introduced earlier that evening) and promptly made out with him very publicly in the middle of the dance hall. It was a mild version of revenge sex. I don’t remember how he tasted, but I think it was of mint gum and smugness.

Weeks later, after I had made out in an alley behind the clubs with Leo’s best friend the following week, just for an extra dose of spite, I found myself desperately ill, and under the care of the family that was meant to “protect” me.  That’s not what happened in the throes of my fever, but that’s a story for another day.


There is no moral. There is only pain. But it can go, I don’t want to hold it anymore. I learned my first lesson in mistrust, having previously never experienced neither deep love nor deep betrayal… nor violation of the sanctity of my sleeping body. I want to reverse this miseducation. I want to heal my fear. I want.

domingo, marzo 15, 2015

Upon becoming an adult

I am in pain. We all are, really, I think, to some degree. Some of us are more prone to acknowledging it, feeling it, inhabiting it, and others numb and severed from their inner selves, unaware of their alienation from emotion, or their insatiable hunger to consume...but we are all acting out our own traumas, over and over, until we burrow ourselves into an empty center, or we die. Whichever comes first. Or maybe it is just me.

And I consider carefully the concept that what brings me joy must also always cause me some pain, because without the pain, how can I recognize the pleasure? And yet...It seems to me that this thinking is flawed, that somewhere along the line we collectively fell for a ponzi scheme in which only the people at the very top of the heap are allowed to reap happiness, we're always scaling, reaching, pushing for that coveted spot on top, and somehow we forget to rejoice in the companionship, the compassion, of those that are all around us, bearing the burden of a towering pyre that burns uncontrollably above, shoulder to shoulder. There is safety in solidarity, there is strength. And even that being in ourselves, even that pushing back against tremendous pressure, can be more pleasure than pain, if we refocus our attention. And in the refocusing, we are not pulling towards the unattainable tower that crushes us all under its weight... we are linking arms, walking across forbidden bridges, we are not alone.

So, I ponder such things as I find myself alone. Or almost alone--for the first time in 6 months, and I take stock of the silence. My darling child, to whom I shall return below, is away from me, brief respite, and my house is still. She is silently stewing in anger, I am silently giving her space to be with her anger, and let me be with my loss. There are no urgencies, though the pressing deadlines of my profession rarely cease to nag. And I realize just how much of a cog in this neoliberal wheel I have become... despite my recognition of its existence, despite my critical stance against the commodification and filtered (re)distribution of everything under the sun, despite my repudiation of abusive power structures and the collusion of politicians and educators, military and industry, police and the media,  despite, despite, to spite... I release myself and imagine an existence in not-so-much free-fall, but the eternal agitation of a laundry tumbler, with no real sense of top or bottom, but with clearly and painfully palpable limits, against which I am periodically jolted. I let my mind wander, and I listen to the pain.

I try to step off the gerbil wheel, pull myself back out of the tumbling, eternal cycle of dirty-clean-dirty-clean-dirty, breathe into the immense pain that I am carrying, have been, dragging it along like an anchor, my bruised and battered shell of an ego. The same sense of ego that drives my fervent behavior for "fear of missing out" or fear of disappointing others, that propels me forward in my career and profession towards the easily quantifiable goals of both economy and prestige, that prohibits me (through internalized self-censure) from speaking too loudly in protestation, lest I be ungrateful for the things "handed down" from above... that ego also sends me underground, away from my own words and thoughts, into an absence of writing when the things that I need to be writing about will neither flatter me nor find me favor. I don't write them because they are the ugly things, the ones we don't dare speak, because to express deep dissatisfaction with our own belief motor would be high treason to our sense of self.

Dirty little secret: I rarely read any writer or canon or periodical systematically. Or perhaps my system is just apparent chaos? I let words find me, I follow the paths of connections less traveled, and I don't know if it has made all the difference, but I do know that it leaves room for some out-there ideas, woven together by a sharp, but perhaps unrigorous mind. So, to say that the other day, I followed a cybertrail into a world of mommy-blogs that left me both nauseous and bereft, should come to no one as a surprise. What did, perhaps, surprise was the overwhelming acid reflux that was caused by the sycophantically sweet, cloying cooing over one's offspring, one's choices (always the best! or the worst! never just... default.. not in the mommyblogosphere--that I know only tangentially, and therefore my sweeping judgment should mean nothing to anyone, but myself, and this lucid, if at times lurid mind in which I reside). But, I digress... I do firmly believe that everyone has a right to write/ express themselves in any way they see fit, and if some profit as false prophets, I shouldn't care (at least not according to my obedient, rule-following, card-carrying (neo) liberal ego)... and yet...

I remember for years, when paper diaries were still in vogue, and I wrote, truly, for no one but myself, I silenced my words. I didn't want to have to look back in the future and read my words, read the anger and pain and humiliation to which I was subjected daily, through harsh words and unkind gestures. I was hopeful still... then... that my marriage would "get better" and it wouldn't "fail," that my future self (or perhaps my child's future self) shouldn't be subject to the harsh reality that was a "tiny little portion" of the (imagined future) whole narrative... But, see, the story isn't just in the telling, it is also in the framing... and that hurting, small, injured and bewildered self, damaged but still optimistic, wanted to give that other person, the relationship, the family, its *best possible chance*. What's wrong with that?, you might wonder, or I might, at the very least... What's wrong with that is that the erasures that we impose on ourselves fundamentally skew the story, they leave holes in the foundation of the house, they allow us to fill in the holes with lies or assumptions, and to smoothe it all over with a veneer of success.  So the stories that I did tell, they were never the most painful, most shameful, most full of failure ones. The words describing sheer and utter exhaustion, exasperation, terror... those words got lost in the shuffle. They got set aside to further the bigger story, the one to feed the ego, the success.

I had my daughter at age 21... I got married, because it made the most sense... and because of asinine and unjust geo-political borders that circumscribe human existence. I wanted to show her, I wanted to show everyone that I could do it. DO it. That all the clucking about how I would ruin my life was wrong. I wanted to prove something to myself, I guess, but then, also, I wanted to believe that through sheer force of will, and let's not forget raw love, I could win. We could win. I didn't realize then that we can't win, that there is no such thing as "winning," no end point at which we get to stop to bask in our glory. I know now that those were thoughts and feelings that while I wouldn't have articulated them as such, are an accurate representation of my motivations at the time. I don't want to pass judgment on my past self, but I see now that some of these beliefs set me up to perpetuate perennially painful decisions, and to lose sight of the forest for the trees. I am not remotely unique in all this, nor does that cause me grief, but maybe in my singularity, we can extrapolate community. I stopped writing when she was a year and a half, and I didn't begin again until I opened this very (public) writing space in 2004. When I started writing again, it was like opening the floodgates, it was like coming home, back into myself after an extended exile.

However, I find again that my absences outnumber my presences. These days, I write for no one, not even myself, (except as a trained monkey in the circus to which we affectionately refer as work/ life.) Why? Have I not achieved my goals? Have I not attained a certain level of professional success? Have I not progressed financially? Materially? Even emotionally? What could I possibly be hiding from myself? What deep truth am I trying to suppress for the sake of the ideal narrative, rather than embracing the full spectrum of the kaleidoscopic reality in which we exist? And I realize that while the circumstances are different, the feelings of unending crisis, of desperation, of hopeless hopefulness that I embodied all those years ago have taken over, once again. And my response has been to retreat into myself, pulling in my tender limbs to shelter under my turtle shell. But, with no limbs expose, I will also be paralyzed.

When my daughter was a delightfully precocious, adaptable child: "look, isn't she great? She'll take a nap anywhere without a fuss, even if the band is plugged in as long as she is nursing...she'll sit quietly while an ex-presidential candidate from her other country speaks, at length, in a room of uncomfortably contoured wooden chairs, and draw pictures... she'll carry on a marvelous conversation about the particulars of a Heineke film, and weep disconsolately for the loss experienced by others... she's so sensitive, so perceptive, so charming, so brave..." it was easier to write about our interactions. Back then my mama-heart would swell with pride and I would want to share or record the triumphs and tribulations, always overcome, by my strong girlchild--before she began her process of individuation. Now, my heart still swells with pride, but the roller coaster of rage seems to be moving too fast to take stock. I recall one friend, in particular, childless by choice, would then smugly admonish me to not enjoy myself too much because "any day now" I would have hell to pay. In her teenage years, all this attachment would come back to haunt me. He was right, but he was also wrong. I should have enjoyed every one of those moments more, lived inside of them, really let the full weight of their ease and joy settle in on me, so that I could draw on those reserves in the case of need. I should do that now, if I can.

The problem with raising a smart, sensitive, clear-thinking, free-willed, razor-tongued child with opinions of her own, is that one day, that same child will come to the distinct conclusion that not only do you not know the answer to everything, you are also to blame for most failings, because you are simultaneously the de facto enforcer of a system that pummels the creativity out of us, and then feeds it back to us in bite-sized pieces, that ravages wonder, and replaces it with neatly packaged culture, in synthesized sound bites, and electronically-altered images. She will, eventually, call you out on your hypocrisies... and they are legion, because you aspire not to perfection but rather to impossibility, you juggle more than you can handle, bite off more than you can chew, and wear yourselves threadbare, flapping in the wind, like abandoned flags in your sovereign nations of one. And then, in your radical solitude, you hear words coming out of your mouth that you don't even believe, or you think you don't believe, but then, you must, in some place hold onto those horrible credences if they are to come out of your mouth like they just did, marching down your tongue, and prying open your teeth, pinching the tender inner cheek, just to make you sting a little, while parroting: "people will think you're a--(fill-in-the-undesirable-blank)--if you go out of the house looking like that." WHO is this?!!! You want to scream at yourself, WHO have I become? Because these borrowed words, the ones that you release into the atmosphere while hiding behind the shield of "others'" opinion, are a direct result of painful years of punishment that were doled out onto you, and you want to give your child "every chance in life to succeed." So you feel, at some level, that giving her a heads up about the way others will police her, tell her who she is, cordon her off behind ugly epithets, and corral her in dark corners, real and perceived, is in your unofficial job-description.  But the problem is that somewhere in the well-meaning, somewhere in the protective mechanism, something went wrong... and you fear that you have become the very thing you wanted to protect her from. You are the monster, and there is nothing you can do but embrace the horror of the death-grip, ax-wielding battle of the wills that leaves you feeling pummeled, spiritually destitute and morally bankrupt. If you embrace it, maybe you can move through it, maybe you can hold her slight body against yours until the electric tension relaxes out of her body and into your arms, if you could just. absorb. her. pain...maybe you could release some of your own, too.

I guess my point is simply this: some days are bad. And, at a personal level for me, lately many days feel bad.  Nevertheless, in certain arenas, the bad has brought more solidarity, more intimate safety than I had ever imagined existed, much less that it was something that I deserved. There is no shame, I insist now, in lifting up our voices, my voice, albeit tiny, a pitiful wail against a darkening sky, to snap ourselves out of our very own hypnosis, out stasis, our treadmill of tragic obedience, whatever it may be. We can refuse to be enslaved by an ambition to achieve perfection, and we can do it, or I shall attempt to do it, at minimum, by acknowledging the imperfect, one day at a time.

miércoles, diciembre 31, 2014

New Years Intentions

I tend to do these yearly reflections, mostly for myself, though in some ways imposed by culture: Holidays, birthdays, new years, they make good taking-stock moments in any case, and there is the sense of calendaric wonder, that, by the magical art of the clock striking twelve, we are given permission to re-invent ourselves, project a better self without having to explain why we are suddenly so moved.

These days I feel rather short on resolve, in some earth-shattering sense, to reformulate myself in the image of some other more perfect version of myself, or of someone else entirely. I likewise don't have any powerful predictions for this coming year, I can't guarantee outcomes, though I do feel a twinge of hopefulness. And quite a bit of gratitude. I am grateful for the people who have come into my life and helped me grow, shown me kindness, reciprocity and care. I am grateful too for the people who have left me, in search of their own truths, their own salves to heal wounds. And I am so grateful for the possibility of becoming...

Thus, I have a few intentions.

The first is to focus more on what I want for me, rather than what I want because someone external to me wants it.

No, no, I'm not declaring a year of graceless selfishness, but rather the opposite. I want to make the next cycle around the sun one in which I say an enthusiastic yes! to projects, ideas, adventures that are born of love, discovery and that align with my personal goals first, and take a step back, even sometimes saying a firm, but gentle "no" to those activities that I know will drain my energies and reserves. Even things that sound like fun, you know, like the concert Friday night! or the fascinating talk on Tuesday at 7! or, you know, the anxiety-driven binge-watching of 90s television shows on laptops in bed. I want to remind myself to take a deep breath and say, I'm gonna sit this one out if I need to. And I am not going to allow guilt trips to cross the threshold of my door.

I also have an intention that it is not about looking better, or being more lovable, or productive, or brilliant or giving, or patient, or... no.

My wish is not only for myself, of course, but I will start with myself, as an act of training: I wish for, and will willfully practice my own mental processes so that I may be less critical and more able to see first what I am doing right, rather than what I am failing to do. I am tired, so many of us are. Tired of being angry and outraged, tired of being overworked and undervalued, tired of participating whether willingly or under duress, in a system that strips us of humanity, commodifying our most intimate behaviors. I intend to look for the flowers rather than the cracks in the sidewalk, search for the beautiful turn of phrase on the page, rather than the typo, focus on the spirit of collaboration rather than conspiracy.  I intend to look at myself through eyes of love, look at my daughter, my family, my friends... and be grateful for everything that we do for each other, even when it is hard, even when it feels overwhelmingly heavy.

My final intention is to ask for what I want from the universe despite my fear, and accept what it offers.

I have the hardest time believing that I deserve even the things I have worked tirelessly to achieve. I know I am not alone in this. So my last intention on the cusp of this yearly shift is to stop punishing myself for things outside my control, and focus on the things that I can cultivate, instead. I want to strive for the things that I most want, and not be ruled by a fear of rejection or failure. I want, rather to be guided by the love that I have poured into them. I want to believe that I am meant to find peace, that the same humanity and kindness I see in others, the dignity that I fight for, is in me, too. So, even when confronted with the ache of a lost friendship, or the sting of a rejection, to let it roll off, not burrow down into my soul and lay waste. I want to absorb less pain , and ask for more love. And of course, I want to give it, too.

May the coming year provide a clear path to your deepest desires, one of self-reflection and challenge, one of care and gratitude.

domingo, noviembre 23, 2014

Pork is nothing to be trifled with, tacos and Thanksgiving thoughts

"¡Con el puerco no se juega!" (or, "pork is not to be trifled with") I wittily proclaimed to an audience of friends and congress-goers, and "Not just another orgy" (as a collaborative tagline to a conference, any conference).  I'm at my wittiest, I'm told, when the world is spinning crazily out of my control, and pain is searing at my pleural interstices, pain in my chest, either physical or metaphorical. Or as Cabrera Infante infamously claimed, "puns hide pain." I think I agree. Thus, weeks back, stiff from sitting in conference chairs, I made quite a few snarky proclamations, aphorisms, or snotty retorts, if you prefer.

One of my sharply cruel punchlines was, "Lady, I didn't sleep with your husband, but I know who did." And another, in response to a colleague chiding some of us for hitting the wine a little hard, "Aquí los alcólicos anónimos" to which I replied, "Qué anónimos, somos alcólicos bien balcónicos" (roughly translated in rhyme as, "what do you mean anonymous? we're alchoholics eponymous" or, more literally, "nope, we're openly alchoholic."

You'd think I would remember that pork is not to be tolerated, at least not by my enzyme-lacking self (divine justice?! genetic engineering?! You choose). But no... yesterday I found myself sicker than I have been in... well... since the last time I chose to eat pork pupusas... or perhaps since I had tacos al pastor in  Tijuana... maybe both. I don't know, I just know that the day after I make the terrible choice to eat delicious tacos de cochinita pibil, I am doubled over in the worst kind of body-rending pain and cursing myself for not remembering my easy jingle. Next, time, dear GI tract, next time I will not forget. Never Again. (About as useful as that phrase has been, I admit, when referring to atrocities of human carnage. Never again, actually never really means Never Again... it just means... next time it won't be me! But, I digress).

So, this morning, once again feeling myself, and after a long sunny walk with the child and our porcine puppy (one need only look at his speckled pink belly, or hear his snore-grunts as he flops in my arms at night to draw such a conclusion!), I set to a more vegetarian-friendly set of activities, swearing to myself to recall that meat is not so kind to anyone involved, and setting about my mostly vegetarian thanksgiving prep.

Between grading papers, and washing dishes (how do the piles keep on piling?) and laundry (ni hablar), I set about making gluten-free cornbread so that it will have time to be dried in cubes for a few days and integrated into the basis for the stuffing (or "dressing" as my Mimi used to call it) for Thursday next.

It was a simple recipe, and while I don't necessarily recommend it for eating as-is (it can be doctored with more honey and butter while still warm, of course), it makes for a great stuffing:
2 cups corn meal
2 cups buttermilk (I knew there was a reason my sub-conscious made me buy it the other day! Yes!)
2 eggs
2 Tbs. butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp soda
1 Tbs raw organic honey (well, that's what I had)

I actually 1.5'd the recipe, but it worked perfectly. I mixed the wets and dries separately, melting the butter and honey apart, and beating the eggs and buttermilk thoroughly before mixing into the dry ingredients. I added wet to dry, stirred, allowed the soda and the acid from the buttermilk to interact in fabulous bubbles, and then added the honey-butter melted into the center and stirred for a few minutes. The oven was set to 400 degrees, and I baked for about 20 minutes in the pre-buttered pan (makes for a lovely crisp brown edge to the crust).

The stuffing, for those interested, when trifling with pork, will use roasted brats, or chorizo, but... since I'm being good to myself and my vegetarian guests this Thanksgiving, I will make it with the following modifications:

My makeshift stuffing recipe:

1 large 9x12 in pan of cornbread, cubed and dried for a few days (see above recipe, 1.5x)
1-2 cups vegetable (or chicken stock)
two bulbs roasted fennel (oh, yes...)
sauteed large onion
3-4 garlic cloves
8oz. sauteed quartered crimini or other delicious mushrooms
1 cup roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped
3-4 stalks celery, sauteed with onion, garlic and mushrooms
1/2 cup organic unsulphered apricots (or dried cranberries, or fresh apple, or all)
vegetarian chorizo, about 1/2 the package
oil
fresh thyme and/or sage

Sautee herbs, chorizo, onion, garlic, celery, pre-roasted fennel, chopped, celery, and mushrooms. Add chopped apricots (or dried cranberries, and/or apple), pre-roasted chestnuts, chopped, and finish the sauteeing. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss the sautée with cubed bread, add broth until the entire mass is tender but not mushy and bake for 20 minutes or so. Can be reheated by adding a bit more liquid and reheating in the oven.

So, here's to a productive Sunday, in which work will happen, on many fronts, and I will give thanks that I have a mantra meant not to forget, until the next time tacos wink at me, and I think, "it wasn't so bad last time, was it?"

domingo, noviembre 16, 2014

Pilfered lemons and other adventures in self-care on a sunny Sunday

Never is one more keenly aware of their singleness in the world than when one is in the grips of the grippe... too sick to care for oneself, too sick to even care... and yet, still managing to... somehow...

This illness, if I may cheer victoriously, perhaps prematurely, was as intense as it was short-lived, and required mostly sleeping, ingesting liquids, and consuming copious amounts of BBC television shows, including Call the midwife! Because. Midwifery.

But I digress. This keenly felt singledom is most trying at these times, when there is no medicine left in the house, and there is a delicate child who still needs her needs met, and one's brain is in a fog, and there are midnight emergencies, and it just feels too hard.

So, obviously, my response to mildly encroaching self-pity is to cook. It doesn't make me less single, or more lovable, but it does make me feel soothed, for a moment... and when one suddenly remembers that they have body parts heretofore unnoticed, such as a throat that feels like it has been grated with a cheese-grater, or sinuses that are akin to a pressure cooker (ah! note to self! must procure a new pressure cooker as the old one may have seen its last pressurized days), and bones that ache, not with sadness, but with actually metallic blue-lightning pain of activation of armies of white blood cells, or whatever it is that our bodies, mostly healthy, not as perfect as we are told they must be, but our bodies nonetheless, do in such circumstances, feeling soothed, is, perhaps, all that we may hope for.

In any case.

There were lemons, not the pilfered ones, which will come in later, but ones gifted kindly to me by my erstwhile gardener who sometimes comes, and often shows up at odd hours with flowers for me, and waters what I forget, when I forget it. Upon dragging my sorry self home from Friday morning school run, with less-than-typical agitation because my ability to give-a-fuck was impaired by my cotton-filled headache, I promptly juiced all the lemons in the house into a half-gallon's worth of homemade lemonade. These lemons were from various friends' gardens, truth be told, my ability to utilize such gifts surpassed by their sheer abundance and shelf-life. But, agua de limón, it was, and a pot of chicken soup that is the cure-all to ailments of both the physical self and the psychic fallout that abounds when our bodies fail us.

Boiled in a pot:
chicken (with bones is better, but I only had frozen breasts)
salt
bay laurel leaves (they're old, so I just throw in a bunch and hope for the best)
onion (it was left out and dehydrated, so, what better recycling than a pot of stock!)
4-5 garlic cloves, halved
many organic carrots (I no longer bother to peel carrots, it feels liberating)
salvaged celery (the slightly discolored and wilted outer stalks that would be inedible if they weren't boiled to all hell)
brown rice thrown in for sustenance

While the soup made itself I pretended to be healthy and met with students via Skype, sipped mint tea with honey and cursed my work ethic. When 2:30 hit, and child was fetched, medicine procured ("mom, I have a run in my leggins... but oh well..." "Yeah, whatever, it's just a body" "mom!you aren't wearing a bra, you can tell!" "Meh. Fuck it." "Yeah, why care what anyone else thinks?!" "(unintelligible snuffle-grunt of agreement") I stumble back to bed, and sleep from 3 to noon the next day. 

But noon brings with it a child who wants to see friends and a kitchen that once again calls... I must be feeling better, dizzy-self muses, and shuffles pantsless to the kitchen, remembering to close the shades before parading across the dining room window-stage. Lentils, she thinks... because, lentils... and a tortilla española.

Tortilla:
Sautee in olive oil;
a few potatoes, sliced thin so as to lose their rawness more evenly and quickly (I stopped peeling potatoes a while back too...)
half an onion chopped and sauteed, along with the potatoes
garlic cloves (crushed and added after onion is translucent)
add a bit of salt to potatoes as they cook... makes for a much better tasting tortilla

In a separate bowl:
crack 6-7 eggs, add a half tsp or so of salt, scramble with a fork

Add fully translucent potato mixture to eggs and let sit for a while.  Clean pan and add more olive oil.

On low heat setting pour egg mixture back into pan, let cook until it is almost fully dry on top, then, using a skilled, burn-resistant hand, place a plate over the top, flip the omelet, and slide the wet side, face down back into the pan and cook for a few more minutes.

Lentils:
A cup of green lentils
A half potato, cubed
Carrots
Onion
Garlic
Celery
(You see the pattern)
A large, juicy chipotle in adobo sauce
1/4 cup tomato sauce (non-seasoned, or homemade tomato puree)
boil the above in 2 cups of water, with salt to taste, and a bay leaf or 7 (remember, old spices lose their potency, but I hate throwing anything away)

So, I had the energy to cook, but not really to eat very much... and so, we ended up caving, ordering an amazing thin-crust pizza margerita with mushrooms (because... mushrooms are one of life's basic staples, obviously), crawled back into bed, snuggled with sympathetic child and sleepy-protective-dog by my side.

But? The pilfered lemons, you ask... ah, the pilfered lemons.

After another mostly-bed-ridden day (I always think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I spend too much time in bed) I slept another long night... awoke still dizzy, but determined to feel better. What is this? I can no longer feel my throat-grated... I am healed!

The windows are flung wide, though a momentary flash of fear crosses us, as the dog goes wild and there is a man with a machete climbing our back wall and then tip-toeing his way across our neighbor's roof.

I think, what better time to take the dog out for a walk to explore such madness, and maybe warn the neighbors. But, lo! the machete wielding white dude is still on the roof of the neighbor's house, my body relaxes just a bit and I call the kid to tell her of my discovery.  All is well in the enchanted barrio. So I wander with the dog, through a neighborhood built in the late 40s and early 50s, and muse at the wholesomeness of it all. There are still people everywhere, couples doing yard-work, a woman cradling a baby as her husband gets into a car with a Grateful Dead sticker (I think it is a black BMW, and by association, my twisted mind plays a Don Henley retrospective, much to my chagrin). There is an old man sitting with his eyes closed and his upturned face to the sun, and I think... well, this is glorious, and my dog doesn't poo, because I forgot the bags. Things are going my way! No room for self-pity here!! And I calculate the ways in which I might improve my house, making mental notes of the others, much like my own, and the creative solutions that neighbors have come up with to enhance vegetable growing, or car-storage, or mother-in-law accommodations (not that I have one, but maybe one day... my sappy hopefulness embarrasses even me. Full stop.)

Lemons! there are lemons rolling about, lolling listlessly on the opposite side of a cement blocked contention wall. They are technically on the sidewalk, and so, I help myself to one. Just one. I don't know if I need it, but I think, I am fresh out of lemons. And one can always use lemons. And then there is the secret thrill of taking something of the earth but not entirely one's own...

And then, as if by magic, the lemon serves to complete my previously unplanned emergency hummus:
 I prefer to cook my own garbanzos from dry, but, as previously noted, my pressure cooker is semi-out-of-commission, and I only have canned organic garbanzos, so they will do.

1 can, rinsed and then heated back up in water on the stove.
A quarter cup sesame tahini (just ground sesame, nothing else added)
A few cloves of garlic
A pinch or two of salt added to the garbanzo water and a few more added after the fact to the food processor
The juice of one pilfered lemon (or slightly less)
A quarter cup water added to all of the above
A tablespoon or so of olive oil
Cumin

All of these should be processed in a hand-held wand food processor or a larger one (if one has one handy, which I, shockingly, do not!)

This can be savored with a swirl of harissa, or topped with pine nuts...

And so, I credit the copious amounts of sleep, and the neti pot with hot salt-water, and the mildly good work news, and the cooking for my speedy recuperation. And though there is no abiding wisdom in a day spent cooking, and talking on the phone with my darling friends, and pacing in my socks on the sidewalk in front of my house while conversing, (with pants!) there is something about the lemons that makes the rest of life a little bit less sour, a little bit more sweet, even.




lunes, noviembre 10, 2014

It is strange. I just came "home" to my house, a house I bought, a house that exhausts me, a house that feels like it is not enough and is too much all at once. I came home from Santa Barbara, from a conference that was at once both nourishing (for the intellect, for the spirit) and exhausting (for the body, for the soul). We are at once humans, fully in our bodies, incapable of allaying psychic and physical exhaustion, to be pure mind, unable to inhabit our bodies, however, without the razor sharp critical view from the panopticon of our own structural apparatuses of failure.

I had few tasks that HAD to be completed today, and yet, I failed to complete them. (The chiding voice claims that the night is not over yet, and the other voice, the one that whimpers meekly, but stands its ground firmly nonetheless says, just... rest... tomorrow... tomorrow it will all hurt less). I don't know why some days are better than others, some days, that open door to the world's sorrows is less open, or is partially obstructed by the bellowing laughter that we have stuffed, like feathers in a cotton-clothed pillow, into the threshold, pushing back gently, solidity made from the stuff of nothing, to keep the pain at bay. Some days, though, like today... the news makes me weep. Makes me despair. Makes me want to die.

I won't, of course. I mean, I will, of course, but not today, not of this pain, which is so unfathomably remote, and yet it permeates the seemingly sealed spaces that I have caulked myself into. I come home to a reconstructed bathroom. The walls are painted the color I had asked for. A panic-inducing emergency, that has become an opportunity for change, for peace, and for personalization... and all I can see is the slightly off-kilter angle at which the medicine cabinet was hung.  This is my problem, I think... I always see the cracks. They scream at me. I see the good things too, (that small meek voice offers, in my defense) but they are noted, and duly dismissed. The cracks... Oh, the cracks come out, and they glare at me. They taunt me. They remind me of why it is never good enough. I am never good enough. Why I don't deserve to be loved.  But you are loved, my wonderful loving friends will say, and I will concede this, briefly... but it isn't enough. The voracious hunger tells me isn't enough because I am 36 years old, and the only noise I hear, the deafening noise, the white noise that is like the ocean crashing around my head, is that I have failed. Ignore, for a moment, that I have raised an amazing child to almost adulthood, alone for the last 10 years, ignore the graduate degrees, the job-seeking success, the consumption of goods... (I am such a good consumer-citizen, except I'm not even... I am reminded several times recently, because men see my poor, sweet, functional, but ugly car and offer to buy her... they see my slovenly vehicle, and I see my failure to live up to some standard of... who knows fuck all what). I only see the ways in which I have failed.

Leaving Santa Barbara, I congratulate myself for my progress, my emotional successes, my standing up for my own self-worth in the face of those who would unwittingly wrest it from my clenching fingers. I have finally grown up, I think, for a brief, shining moment, floating in the Pacific ocean... but then, the waves of loss come rolling in. And then, the pain of the others bursts through the door, and I can't fight the tears, of loss, as if it were mine. Loss of life, loss of limb, loss of love... and what I feel isn't so much emptiness, but an endless pit of despair. The laughter cannot fill this hole with feather-cement, I cannot push the anxiety away. So, I only manage to cook soup, and pierogies, remembering how my once-upon-a-time partner, used to like this meal, and how that didn't stop the belittling, the anger, the rage. It is strange to think that one could be nostalgic for that, but sometimes, one still is. Not for those things, of course, but for the sense of belonging to someone, to something, somewhere. I don't know if I know how to belong anymore or if I ever did, but I do know that my edges are worn thin, and my emotional reserves, that sometimes appear endless, are running low.

And I think. Maybe this is it, maybe this is the reason that adults grow more conservative and less idealistic. Sheer exhaustion. Pragmatism. Such an ugly idea, and yet... so practical.

Tonight I am tired, and instead of being held, or holding someone, I will be enveloped by the blank page, a page that once offered so much relief, and still, from time to time, resurfaces as a reflecting pool that can assuage one's ego, allay one's pain. My pain. My ego. The nasty, vicious voice reminds me that I have no right to compare my insignificant discomfort with the real, tortured, suffering of millions, and yet... their pain is real to me, it wakes me in the form of a crying child that isn't there. It bores into my bones, it reaches into my chest and teases me with choking, wavering on the edge of life and death, knowing that death will not come so easily, knowing that I will soldier on, shouldering the boulder, climbing back up the hill to be pushed back down again tomorrow.

Must we push back against impunity? I wonder. Aloud and inside my head. What difference does it make? But it does make a difference, the tiny, shuddering, whispering voice urges from her corner, shackled to the walls of a prison of my own making. I suppose it does. Push back we shall. Even when our elected officials fail us, even when our compatriots vote for bigotry, even when our governments use their power to kill other people's children. To destroy them, beat them, maim them, burn their bodies in prisons, ditches, ravines, deserts, with drones, bullets, bombs, poisoning their food and water supply. It hurts. Too much. There are no words, but the words become the balm, they stand in for the love that I need to smooth over those cracks, to fill them in, to make their harsh, angry, ugly, gaping maws shut. Once and for all. Until the next time.