I just baked a cake so ugly that I will never think of a “Yo’ Mama” joke ever again.
No, really. This thing is UGLY. I should have realized the endeavor was doomed when it was OOZINGCHOCOLATELAVA from one side of the pan while it baked, but I was lulled into a false sense of security by the smell of its chocolatey goodness wafting throughout the kitchen. (Chocolate-cake-aroma-lulling, next on Geraldo.) I mean, the recipe (Amanda Hesser’s Chocolate Dump-it Cake, from Cooking for Mr. Latte and the new New York Times Cookbook) said it might leak– but it didn’t say there’d be half the cake left on the drip pan when it was done.
Delicious half a cake lava spill, but still. HALF A CAKE. (Okay, maybe only a few tablespoons. But still. ITWAS A LOT at the time that I looked into the oven five minutes before the cake was supposed to be done and did the Homer Simpson Gasp of Horror because of the impending Great Chocolate Cake Flood of 2012 going on just behind the glass and steel door.) Thank goodness the bits of the fossilized lava are insanely moist and don’t even need frosting. Though a sprinkle of powdered sugar? That would be awesome.
Okay, okay. It can’t be that bad, you say.
I’d say it’s the Derpy Hooves of chocolate cakes, but that would be paying this ugly thing too much of a compliment. Also, Derpy Hooves totally rocks.
I’m not going to blame it on the recipe, though, because did I mention the fossilized bits are delicious? I will blame it on my Dad’s weird-ass oven, because the gas heat fluctuates, hand-to-God, though not so badly that I’ve called the plumber despite how badly all my baking comes out since I’ve moved in. Either that, or, well…
Nah. It has nothing to do with the circa 1920’s Alzheimer’s aluminum pan that I baked the thing in rather than spend two hours looking for my perfectly useful, perfectly awesome silicone tube pan out of one of my 90 boxes in the basement. (The boxes are labeled. I swear. There are just a lot of them.)
Why on earth would a crooked pan make a crooked, lava-drooling cake? YOUSOCRAZY, YOULOGICALINTERNET, YOU.
Yeah. Next time, I’ll go pan-spelunking downstairs. That doesn’t mean I’m not still serving Chocolate Derp-it Cake with the recommended chocolate sour cream frosting, since too much frosting is never enough and hides an excess of sins behind its two-ingredient goodness.
Sunday mornings, I make a big breakfast. Sometimes it’s quiche, sometimes it’s just a lot of bacon and eggs, sometimes it’s David Eyre’s pancake (which, alas, does not adapt to gluten free– it’s still worth it.) My local grocery store (Market Basket in Chelsea) has lots and lots of Hispanic and “international” groceries. And their fresh produce is great. But as I went up and down the dairy aisle a few weeks ago, I noticed: Fresh Quail Eggs. $2.99 for 18. They came from Canada, so clearly they were quality quail eggs (despite my never having eaten them before in my life, anything from Canada’s usually good.) And they bore Spanish labeling, which makes me wonder why they’re attractive in the Hispanic community.
Fresh quail eggs.
Did you know they hard-boil in 3 minutes? And they’re ever-so pretty?
They are, however, a bitch to peel.
It’s easier, though, if you have a heart-shaped Beleek dish from your grandmother’s china cabinet. It’s clearly the highest and best use of that dish. And the pale blue insides are a delight.
Obviously, the appropriate condiment is some kind of wild-caught American fish roe. Salmon roe looks pretty in Nana’s Waterford olive dish.
And then, of course, you’ve got to make a whole pile of small crepes with fresh herbs in the batter. (My recipe came from Amanda Hesser’s Essential NYT Cookbook, gluten-full and all. Try their cocktails. So yummy.)
Put some sour cream, chopped red onion, and more of the herbs from your pancake batter on the table, cut up the little eggs you’ve so painstakingly peeled (Hint: Pinch the bottom of the egg, where the air pocket forms. You’ll only curse twice per egg.) and assemble your crepes. They might look something like this:
Guzzle a lot of champagne for me, since we don’t drink Chez Waldorf and Statler, as you assemble each little crepe and decide: eh, they taste like regular eggs, just smaller but still decide to buy them again because gosh darnit, small food is cute, and you really ought to be eating more fish roe, despite the tremendous expense. Then you can swan around all day knowing you’re probably the only person of your acquaintance who had caviar for breakfast, and, well– some days that’s validation we all need. (Baby, you’re worth it.)
I didn’t like the books all that much. (HERESY. Still. The love triangle and the way it resolved felt forced, and don’t give me the “But it’s YA, they can’t talk about some things” BS, and I would have been happy with a less happy/pat ending.) I thought that some of the text/events they edited out in the movie (SPOILERALERT: WHEREISTHEBREAD?!?) were things that should have been left in, especially to foreshadow Katniss’ role in the books to come. But. I thought it was visceral, the battle scenes and chases in the Arena were perfect, I loved the ever-loving hell out of Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland, and while Wes Bentley is a new and fascinating figure to me (MUSTGORENTALLHISMOVIES, even if he lacks the facial hair), in the end, I thought it did what it ought– as a movie– put into pictures things that can be hard to imagine on the page, even if you’re an avid reader and fantasist/fandom nerd/artist/writer/whatever. I thought Josh Hutcherson was especially brilliant, and made me want to go back and re-read because his smiling slickness and couth at the “star-crossed-love” made me re-think Peeta. I thought the other actors all brought layers to the characters that I could tell were there in the book, but sometimes you need to see someone’s jaw clench, their eyes steel, before you think “Yes. That’s the story, right there.”
Plus, Lenny Kravitz. Gold eyeliner.
Spread the Lenny love if you like.
P.S.: I have the books in e-format if you would like me to email them to you. Leave me a comment.
P.P.S. If you don’t want to read the books, just a hilarious spoilerific summary of the first one, you should read this. And if you have read the books, do go read this now. You will LOL. For reals.
I can concede the last point, even as I argued with her (again) about how I know and understand that there’s an intersection between genetic predisposition and my situational triggers and how I cope/choose to respond– but that sometimes I do better than others.
What Waldman says in the article, though, about the intense feelings of relief that the bipolar diagnosis gave her because it explained some of her more intense behaviors– her rages, her hypomanias, all of those things– those are things I’ve had too, even as it’s been true that no mood stabilizer has worked for me for more than a bit and unpacking the question– am I medication refractive?– or is it just that coming off one med and onto another works an equilibrium/placebo effect in me for a while before I hit another major depression, and I’m “simply” subject to major anxiety and depression, as she suggests?
I don’t know what to think. I’m going to be working with a new psychiatrist starting next month because the one I’ve worked with since I was first diagnosed is changing to a different type of practice and won’t be able to continue to see me– and I’m certainly beyond the efficacy plateau on the Topamax at the 2-ish year mark (suicidal ideation will kind of make you see that light), just like the rest of the mood stabilizers, just as I’m feeling better now that I’m on SSRIs and reducing the mood stabilizer in my system– but there are things left to explain.
It makes me sick to my stomach to think I have to start from scratch in trying to understand the whys of my crazy again. Shellshocked, even.
The Guardian of London has an occasional column, anonymised, called Diary of a Separation. (They have lots of wonderful features columns, the way few American papers do, anymore. It’s really a wonderful paper.) This week’s was particularly good, as she talked about her own fears of the future, her self-image, and then– this bit, right here:
“Are you really OK? You look a bit …” he trails off and raises an eyebrow.
There’s something about that question, from him, the real concern in it, that engulfs me in unmanageable emotion, a wash of sadness I had no idea I was feeling. Suddenly, I’m blinking back tears. There really isn’t anything terribly wrong: life just seems quite hard at the moment, and sometimes a little sympathy is a dangerous thing.
I attempt a casual shrug.
“Ah, I don’t know. I’m just feeling really, really old. And looking really old,” I add. I rub my eyes with feigned tiredness, to get rid of the tears, the heel of my hand grinding into the thin skin under my eyes. When I look back at him, I feel exposed, vulnerable.
I can’t say how many times I’ve walked that precipice of feeling like I’m a wide open window and everyone knows– and desperately wanting someone to ask, so I can say “No, I’m not okay,” just so I have someone to talk to, but needing the excuse of someone to ask– and feeling like I don’t want anyone to acknowledge what we’re all completely aware of, that I’m more than a bit of a wreck, clingy and prone to TMI blurts, because if someone’s kind to me at just the wrong moment, I’ll lose the tenuous grip on myself that I’ve managed to find and that– that’ll be it, maybe not just for that moment but for– well, forever, because some days are more desperate than others.
Some days, I say– “No, but thank you for asking.” Some days, I blatantly lie. I don’t expect that it’s anything except known for gospel truth that I’m telling a falsehood when I say I’ve got a bad headache or I’m just not feeling well because of my arthritis– I almost always have some physical hurt going on, but there are some pains you get used to. Still, they are kind enough not to press. Some of my closer friends (boy, are they saints) even let me get away with ignoring the question and pretending like I didn’t hear them/ changing the subject/ working on in sullen silence. I try to return the favor when they’re having bad days, though there are days/weeks/months when they/I/we will say– “Ok. But if you change your mind…”
One day, though, when the blame, blame, blame and just the sheer volume of daily mundanities to be gotten through was too much, someone asked me if I was okay at work and for once, I said no, I was pretty depressed, but I was working on it, and thank you for asking. I intended to leave it there because– well. Burdening people with TMI, versus telling the truth? It’s a hard balance. Still, we ended up talking a bit when this person pressed the issue, shared an experience of their own. It made me feel a lot better and also made me see the person who asked in a different light– not that I hadn’t liked them already, but– nevertheless. And the world hasn’t imploded– yet– for admitting aloud that I’m human.
Maybe I’ve reason to believe/ We all will be received.
“I have just the thing to do with those chicken thighs that you bought,” called his voice up the stairs. ($0.99/lb family pack chicken thighs, bought in gross lot and broken down into four-packs, stuck into ziplocs. It is a measure of progress in the Waldorf/Statler Curmudgeon household that Waldorf now buys Ziplocs, after a lifetime of generic flimsy plastic bags and twist ties. Joan Crawford? Wire hangers. Me? Twist-ties. The freezer-quality ziploc, it is a wondrous multi-purpose kitchen gadget Worth The Investment, especially if you buy the econo-pack of 100 they sell at Target.)
“Oh? What’s that?” I was going to make them into a cacciatore-style dish based on a rabbit recipe I’d seen oh, whenever ago, from a columnist in the NYTwhosecookbooks I’ve coveted but never actually bought.
“A curry. You know, I have always wanted to make a curry, and yet, I never quite do.” (He seems to forget, he once did. There’s a jar of Major Grey’s still in the fridge. I think I was 10 when he made it, an elaborate dish out of the 1974 Joy of Cooking, because back then, that was what passed for an “international cookbook.” Over the years, despite multiple refrigerator purges, I’ve left the chutney in there as a science experiment, because as far as I can tell, the stuff simply doesn’t go bad. I tasted some when I first moved back in. Still sticky and completely sweet and disgusting, just like I remembered.)
“Sounds fine to me.”
I went back to reading, glad he was showing interest in the day. He’s had a bad cold and been very lethargic, plus out of it from the cold meds– he just sat there and played solitaire when I came in hours before with all the grocery bags and did nothing as I put them away. I kind of wanted to Hulk/Spock/superhero/rageoid metaphor of your choice-smash. Instead, I may have slammed the non-slammable freezer door rather vigorously. But by this time, I had calmed down. SSRIs are awesome that way. So is deep breathing.
Ah. He’d been using the paternal-indirect first tense, the one that actually meant “Would you please cook that curry recipe for me?”
I looked it up, stifling annoyance since I was feeling a little cold-ish myself, and he’d been lounging around all day, why couldn’t he do it? (Because I’m the better cook now, that’s why, he would say. I didn’t ask the question aloud.) Conveniently, it was by the same cookbook author whose recipes I’d been meaning to try. I put on my fleece and went out to get the cilantro at the corner meat market (we have one, it’s good, and they’ve actually got enough produce that fresh cilantro can really be had…) along with cat litter and some other sundries he couldn’t recall when I’d made the grocery list first thing this morning, then came back and started the curry.
No. Wait. I get ahead of myself. First, I set the table with this week’s flowers to myself. I also set it with the red provencal tablecloth I’d bought Waldorf for Christmas, after he very subtly said “I’ve always wanted one of those Provencal-type tablecloths from Williams-Sonoma.” In some things, he is direct.
Then, I brought the recipe up on the web browser of my beloved e-reader gadget, the one my husband kindly got for me when I said, not-at-all subtly, that gee, I would really like to drink my employer’s Kool-Aid, now that the thing came in color and had a web browser and had a touchscreen. (I still <3 it, even though we’ve got a newer, faster device.)
I engaged in the deboning of chicken thighs and marinating of meat in dry spices for the minimum half hour that the recipe called for.
In hindsight, I found the curry to be a little bit bland. That may have been because it only marinated for 30 minutes, but I think, too, it just wasn’t spicy enough for my taste. It was tasty– just not tasty enough. Next time, I would double the cumin and make sure to use a tsp. of tabasco (I used 1/4 tsp. this time), as well as the double the amount of fresh ginger and garlic. I would also make sure to use at least 2 tsps. of salt, since the recipe doesn’t specify an amount and I find that when you’re dry-brining meat, 2 tsps. is the minimum amount you need to get the flavor absorption going. I’ve been a bit spacy myself, though, and I only added a generous pinch of salt. It wasn’t really enough.
While the meat was marinating, I made the carrot raita. Really, this was the best thing about the recipe, refreshing and crunchy and sweet and tangy– and I added more tabasco to mine at the table, so it was also a little bit zippy. I did leave out the mint and chives, since my meat market didn’t have any and I pretty much loathe mint in any event, but I did chop some cilantro (pardon the fuzzy focus):
I added it to the raita right-a before serving. (Sorry.) It was awfully pretty, in addition to being quite tasty.
I also made some basmati, adding some salt, butter, white cardamom pods smashed with the butt of my knife, and tabasco to the water.
After I’d browned the onions and chicken like the recipe called for:
I started some frozen peas, tarting up the water with equal pinches of salt and sugar and a small knob of butter. Because it’s curry, and you’ve got to have peas. (Well, Madhur Jaffrey may have something different to say about that, but not at the places where I get takeout.)
The rice came out nicely fluffy & moist.
I don’t recall where I read the trick or the ratio (maybe Mark Bittman?), but I used 2 1/2 cups water to 1 cup of rice, didn’t bother with rinsing, and turned the heat off while there was still some water left to be absorbed into the rice, maybe with 3–4 minutes left in the cooking, and then just left the lid on while everything else finished up. I’ve found this trick works with pretty much every kind of rice that I cook (jasmine, Carolina, Uncle Ben’s, veeeeery occasionally brown), and that way I don’t burn it.
The curry looked pretty, too.
It was tasty enough with a little more salt and tabasco at the table. If I’d had fresh limes, those would have been improving as well. Following my lead, Waldorf surreptitiously added both to his dish, then helped himself to seconds.
“That’s a pretty good curry you made.” I do a pretty good deadpan, sometimes.
Waldorf nodded. “It is. More cumin or something, next time, I think.”
I agreed. “You could toast the spices a little bit longer, maybe.”
He forked up another mouthful and chewed. “Maybe I could.”
I’ve been on staycation this week– I have ridiculous amounts of vacation that on my cruddy retail salary I can never use up and go someplace useful, and I’ve been feeling more than a little bit burnt, that whole recent wicked bad depression thing to the side.
So– I stayed home, helped the electrician find the wires in our old (1901) house’s walls, did streaming Netflix (that Stan Lee, he may be on to something with that Marvel dare I say franchise?) as I glutted myself on the BBCSherlock Series 1 and the pre–Avengers movies (superheroes and shit blowing up YAY, although Iron Man 1 was by far my favorite), start/read/finished a whole bunch of books (George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge and The Osiris Ritual (steampunk Victorian mystery series with a smattering of romance), W.S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius (poetry, oh, I love Merwin so), Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule (amazing, a little hard to slog through until you get into it, but the voices and the world that she builds, it’s like McCarthy’s The Road in the challenge it presents to the reader but it’s so very rewarding), dipped some more into The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (the perfect bedside book, really, because it’s big and yet the stories tend to be very short), and discovered a poet called William Matthews via The Writer’s Almanac, whose Selected Poems I downloaded onto my Nook (his poems are taking my breath away, daily.) Then, I totally wallowed in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series through #4, because you’ve got to have a little Napoleonic naval captain and his sentient, literate dragon fantasy-action-adventure to break up all that serious reading.
I also saw The Artist. If you don’t see any other Oscar-nominated movie, see this one. There’s a dog, who does all the silent movie dog things to utter perfection. And James Cromwell. (Worth the price of admission alone.) And John Goodman. (Also worth the price of the ticket.) But oh. Oh. The main actors. And the story. The silent movie paean, while still being utterly modern. It’s just– everything that they say and more.
Yesterday, I met up with Jen from Knitting Interrupted. I’ve been meaning to meet up with Jen for, oh, I don’t know, I’d say … forever. She lives about a three hour drive from my house and so it’s long enough to give serious pause– and she’s got two boys, so her making the haul up to my place is even more of an issue. But. She’s moving to Florida, so there, that was it. The fire under my butt to drive the six hour round trip to see her. Because the thing with this blog thing is– we’re all friends who just haven’t met yet, and I’ve known Jen practically since the start of my blogging, back when I used to do this more regularly and was funnier, cooked more, whined a lot less, and was better about minding blog etiquette, including visiting commenters’ blogs, commenting back, responding to comments– you know. Blog 1.0 stuff, not to drive traffic, but just because it’s simple good manners. I need to do more of that.
It was an awesome visit, not in the least because her precocious boys treated me like a visiting anthropologist and needed to show me Everything That They Do during their homeschooling day, at least until her oldest got bored with me until he wasn’t. : ) I’ve yet to meet someone I’ve known through this blog (or, with a few I-knew-it-would-be-like-that-in-advance exceptions in my online dorky fandom adventures) who hasn’t been someone with whom I could just sit down and say– “Yeah. This is cool. You’re even more you than I already thought you would be.”
We talked of many things (though not ships, shoes, sealing wax, cabbages or kings), including the ups and downs of blogs, the proliferation of content delivery means (FB, G+, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, Livejournal) and how it can all just get overwhelming in terms of what to keep up with and the decision of how much information about yourself to put out there. We talked about self-editing when we post, the desire to be fair, and the fact that the Internet Contains All Useful Things, so the pedagogy about memorization and rote knowledge is something that maybe educators should question– though I do love, love my books, not just my Nook (which is bright and shiny and awesome and lets me carry more books than I can ever read in a week in my bag), and there’s a secret part of me that believes in belts and suspenders and lives in fear of the Zombie apocalypse and eyes the Storey’s Country Skills and otherbooks of that ilk at work with booklust bordering on weirdness. (What? I don’t eye the back corner of my Dad’s yard and think CHICKENS and then check the zoning laws. I totally don’t.) I mentioned how I’ve been mulling over this interesting NYT article in terms of my own FB feed and trying to decide how to use my G+ feed, since I don’t, really, and I don’t Tweet or Tumble at all and have no desire to, and the “ham sandwich” posts on FB? IDK. I need to condense stuff, figure out what I really want to say, and not Use All The Platforms just because they’re there. I need to figure out who I want in my FB, whether to link my blog there, rethink my “anonymity” here, where I backlink this blog. I need to prioritize my content. God, that sounds fucking pretentious. But isn’t winnowing one’s online accounts an extension of life, deciding what levels you want to engage your relationships on? And then doing it, because that’s the hard part…
We talked about our various life changes, the universe, everything. It was great, and far too short a visit, considering that I’d have to brave traffic on the way home– but also because I was starting to feel a little aaah these kids are really adorable but boy they want a lot of interaction Jen is a HERO gee I really love Jen a lot this is a great conversation I kind of really need to leave now and process all of this input before I explode. I wish like hell I hadn’t put my visit off for so long.
On the ride home, in the rain, as I listened to Florence and the Machine’s Ceremonials, Foo Fighters’ Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, then flipped radio channels and waited to see what the radio gods sent me (I do love it when they send Diana Ross)– I mulled over the theme I’ve been thinking about a lot recently– denial and self-denial, even when there’s no reason for it. Those emotions/coping skills are separate from fear/anxiety and attendant procrastination, though I’ve also got those in spades. But it brought up the question, one I wrote down on an index card and posted on a corkboard I have on my wall, along with other things I try to look at and inspire myself with (including a nifty, nifty Dalek washcloth Jen knitted for me).
What are you waiting for?
I’ve been writing here about how I’ve felt lonely– that’s no one’s fault but my own. I have lovely friends– all of you, and in real life, and I do socialize, do make appointments so I get the hell out of the house and out of my head. I need to make more friends, however, single ones I don’t know from work or from my marriage, because in the end, I’ve got to re-learn how to put myself out there. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on my own, without any buffer. My edges are raw. I have no pretensions that it won’t be anything but painful and awkward, and that sometimes I’ll have to shoot someone an email (or a blog post) after that says “It’s not you, it’s me.” (Oh, HAI, Jen.) I am someone who takes a long time to open up for all that I blah blah blah here– but these posts, too, are carefully crafted, and I do leave things unsaid. (Yeah, hard to believe.)
I can be anxious and twitchy when meeting new people, even ones I’ve known online for years. I get overwhelmed in large groups pretty easily, and whether that’s a cognitive thing or a function of shyness or my anxiety, well, I don’t know. I just know I need buffers, sometimes. When my brother-in-law used to hold his big Thanksgiving turkey fry-up, I’d go hide in the kitchen and carve up the turkeys because that gave me something on which I could focus– and I only then had to make small talk with the few people who could fit around the carving board, so– whittling down my options to something I could handle. My husband is charming and funny, able to make small talk with just about anyone, and able to draw me into the conversation with what I always felt (and still feel) was overly effusive praise of my merits. I’m not all that sterling, and his praise of me always made me feel squirmy because my self-esteem issues aside, I’m just not that awesome. Still, though. Going to events with him was far easier than going alone.
One of my favorite authors is Haven Kimmel– and she wrote a book called The Solace of Leaving Early, in which the main character, who’s had a breakdown, (crankily) falls in love with another misfit. I don’t recall the exact passage and whether she’s trying to explain it to someone or just recollecting some time– but there’s this pitch-perfect bit about leaving while the getting is good and she, the shy person, is still feeling engaged, even though the evening/event isn’t nearly over.
I’m going to find that passage and write it on the Corkboard of Inspirational Stuff, because next week I’m going to my first support group meeting for divorced and separated people and I am terrified, even as I inwardly snark that it’s AA-Divorce. I bookmarked social groups for single women looking to make friends, single and divorced loser ladies, my self esteem says, but. Baby steps. I will eventually try them out. I will. Really.
If the meeting gets overwhelming, I can leave early. But at least I’ll have gone. And who knows? Maybe it won’t. Either way, I can try. I can leave early. I can always go back. But I won’t meet the friends that might be there if I don’t go.
My friend Becca is the editor for a local Patch paper here in the Boston area– and she put together this lovely, lovely video a la “When Harry Met Sally” about what it takes to make it through marriage. One of the oldest couples talks about it taking 100% and 100% and– oh. It’s just perfect, and full of advice that works whether you’re married or not. Happy Valentine’s, all. May you have a wonderful day.
I joke that my Dad is the picture of curmudgeon when you look up the term in the dictionary, and in my head, it’s true. But I’m not easy to live with either, these last months and more. (The bipolar diagnosis was really only official confirmation of the coaster one rides when you roll with me on a regular basis.) You could call me moody, to put it lightly. Subverbal at the end of a workday, often. Don’t ask me for input on supper (much less ask me to take over the cooking of it at 8:30 at night when I walk in the door because I’d rather have cheese sticks and whisky) at the end of a long mid-shift. And don’t prompt me for conversation at table, much less expect me to continue my explanation after Dad in his Waldorf mode interrupts me with one of his rants about how the world should be rather than letting me continue with my explanation of how it actually is (much less how my day went) …. No. Like a puppet whose strings have been cut, I fall back into the habits of childhood, feeling disanimated and slumped, at least when I don’t have my full crank on and give back my best Statler, my own internal eighty-year-old fully engaged as we have at one another. (And yes, there are parts of the house upholstered with gilt fringe and velvet, in case you wondered.)
So there are times when I say “No. Never mind.” I don’t always have it in me to yell at him for interrupting me yet again or going off on a rant at the stupidities of the retail world in general or my store in specific—because I don’t have the heart to explain how I’m yet too heartbroken to muster the courage to find someplace new, someplace where he thinks (and I don’t disagree) I could put my legal/intellectual skills to better use but where I– on days where I am less inclined to think I’m a general failure and yet—think I will be challenged enough, paid more and yet not be too stressed to burn myself out before I can recognize (unlike the last time(s))—“Hey. I’m getting burnt out.” Having a conversation with him about the camaraderie of other-job-misfits, my fellow manager-nerd-artist-heroes, the tiny victories of real customer service, the thrill when the thousand small gods of bookselling help me find the answers the customers need and get all the stock out—those are lost on my purely intellectual papa, a man who’s never lived outside his own head or heaved freight for an underpaid living. The gardening pickaxe, the gentleman’s heirloom tomatoes, the power tools in the basement… that practical know-how, transmitted to me and used up cherry pickers and girders and in too many shitty college and grad school apartments to count as I rewired Salvation Army lamps and re-sanded and repainted floors and ran new phone extensions– they are all transmissions of knowledge, of sorts, an expression of love in its way. He can’t just come out and say so—but he can show me something he thinks is useful to know.
It’s why I don’t have it in me to yell at him for repeating the behaviors I found so hurtful (intentional or not, and I knew that they usually weren’t but habits—goddamn them to hell…) in my husband, and because—after all—isn’t it often the truth that we marry our fathers? (“It takes us until we’re at least forty-two to get over the things that happened to us with our parents,” he announced one night at supper, recounting a conversation he’d had one day at work with a coworker. “Forty-two, hunh?” Waldorf sipped his horrid caffeine-free Diet Coke. “Give or take a few years.” He knows. We just don’t talk about Waldorf v. Statler outright that often.) I do, at other times, try to mention when I am calmer, less overtly hurt, that I find it hard to respond to certain ways of his behaving because of (whatever reason du jour). He tries. He tries awfully hard. He buys gluten free brownie mix for me, and buys my protein bars. If I show the vaguest interest in something concrete, he is an enthusiast for it, even when my energy flags (and then I feel guilty about disappointing him… a bad circle to get in. Still, though, he tries.) So. I try in return.
I tried with my husband. It didn’t work then, though the open questions of when I should have realized what and what and how I should have tried will be questions I’ll ask for … who knows. Right now, I am trying to set them aside and just say—I tried. I don’t imagine I’ll get that far with my father. But I can at least say my piece and (sometimes literally) retire the field if I get too aggravated. Sometimes, I even get an apology in the morning, even if I get a splutter or an accusation of sulking at the particular moment when I put my foot down and say no. Stop it. You hurt my too-tender, stupid bipolar feelings. I would like to not sulk, not to retreat into my clamshell or get sullen or slam things—but short of that, at least being honest is something better than saying nothing at all and working myself into the sneaky hate spiral.
He said not long after I first moved back in—“I wish there was some way you could find to not feel things so badly.” I know that it’s part of it (at least, that’s what I’m hoping that’s what I pay my therapist for), aside from the whole thing of being bipolar– though where the pathology ends and my inherently romantic and sensitive, anxious personality begins is an Ourobouros, a Gordian Knot, an Icarus no matter which inept tradition I try to analogize to. I am too sensitive to his brusqueness that is nothing but his habit of living alone and his own social ineptness. I am too sensitive to the fact that everyone has their own shit and the universe is generally indifferent. I know it’s not about me 98% of the time. And yet, that’s precisely what hurts so very much, and why that Auden poem is both exactly right and totally wrong. I have been both the more loving and the more indifferent (entirely self-involved/depressed/obtuse/take your pick) party. It hurts, either way, to realize, later, that the people about whom you’re supposed to care have been ignored when they needed attention—or at least that’s how I feel. And I feel it intensely—prolongedly. Too long—and yet, I’ve not so far in these 37 years, learned quite yet how to stop caring so long or so much.
He’s said, too, that he would have done better if he could be more patient with people or make some effort to like them—but at his age (pushing 70, hard) he’s not likely to change. There is something to be said for the Irish personality type/essential belief that work occupies a soul and one should simply keep one’s self busy—but down time will happen, and he’s prone to loneliness, too. I know that I am his only real friend. I need to buck the hell up and force myself to conversation despite the fact that I feel crushed, often. The mere fact that I’m not committing suicide because it would probably give him a heart attack finding my body isn’t enough. I need more self esteem, damnit. (Rereading those two sentences makes me laugh-snorfle-cry. I think that’s probably good, at least the laugh part.) I need to pretend to be cheery until I can learn to do it again. I need to be more patient even when I am depressed and exhausted and feeling heartbroken, still, over something I need to just—not ever forget because you don’t forget love and the way that it hurts when you no longer love and are loved in the same way you were at its first blush– but that it shouldn’t spoil the memories of that first blush, either. I need to accept that there are new stories to write and that while this one didn’t end happily, it doesn’t make it a bad story, not overall. I need to accept that this story is over, and I’m starting a new one.
Aren’t all stories love stories of one kind or another, either the finding or losing, the having or lack, the loss or the gain or something the cycle of all of those things? There are all kinds of love, all kinds of ways it can be subjected, objected to and objectified—but those people and things we desire and loathe and thus form our actions in response to—of course we write our stories as ballads of love.
“Love’s awfully hard,” he said, about a month after I first moved back in and was willing to actually talk a bit about things. He never came out and asked, and I wasn’t ready to volunteer very much. He never pressed. “Marriage is one of the hardest things two people can do. You have to not be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t work out, because there are two people in it, and if you’re both not pushing toward the same point, even when you’re both trying…. And if there aren’t children….” He shrugged, looking off to the side of my face in the way that he has of never looking straight at me that he has when discussing emotions, because they make him squirmy. “You have to take some time off and know that loving another person is just rough.” And then we went outside and hacked the privet hedge in the front into shape.
I love my husband very much. And he loves me. And I know him well in some ways, and he likewise. And in other ways, both of us have failed to know one another in critical ways, either because we have changed, or because we never knew one another as well as we hoped, or because we were scared to tell one another about the scariest parts of ourselves, or because we were or are scared to know what those parts are and share them, and they have to be shared if we’re going to move forward. We had lots of fun. Laughed. Showed up places dressed in the same colors. Finished one another’s sentences, often. Tried to give one another considerate gifts. And yet, the story ends sadly because once we discovered the facts, we discovered that the things that were scary about me and the scary things that I needed and learned about me were not things he could know, no matter how well he knew and loved me (and was often the more loving one, oh, he loved me and loves me so well, better than anyone else has, even Waldorf) in so many other ways—and those things were decisive. We couldn’t just go back to our corners and hack privet hedges until the next morning because at some point, we’d gotten past the point where that would be useful. I could tell the story as a Russian-length novel with all the banalities of everyday life and worries about property, or Eliot-esque in the ways in which people change, age, fail themselves and the people around them, Flaubert-like in the hyperbolic obsession with feeling and striving the heroine has, though the parallels aren’t so close upon too close a scrutiny (no infidelity, for starters) and I wouldn’t like anyone to compare my husband with poor, put-upon, oblivious Charles.
So when the person who I love the most in the world doesn’t love me in the ways that I need to solve that story’s problems, that story has to end. A new one begins. It’s not a sequel. Call it a new chapter—whatever—but there’s a discontinuity as I break both our hearts and wallow a while and Waldorf and I elbow each other as we try to make room for each other inside this new novella of curmudgeonly grumbling about who fed the cat and who’s going to make dinner and why can’t you put the spatulas back where they belong even when Waldorf can never put them anywhere but in three different crocks his own self. Meanwhile, I reread the book of my marriage and try to learn lessons about how I should proceed differently in the future– without dwelling too much on the happy parts that will make me cry because I am lonely, or becoming too bitter about the things that didn’t work and so I could be angry at me or at my husband (two to tango and all) as I remind myself– books are for learning, not just enjoyment. I try to tick off the lessons.
Asking for help. Speaking my truth, even if it’s of anger and hurt. Doing things for myself and not waiting for them to be done unto me– even if I think others should know, even if I have asked. Being grateful when the nice things do happen—and not expecting them otherwise, because—indifference is the norm, and I shouldn’t let it reduce me to tears, though often it does. I’m awfully lonely, and not just because I miss my husband. But there are things I can do to remind myself that I am deserving.
To wit, I can buy my own flowers.
Every week. Without fail. Sometimes two bouquets a week, if I can afford it. Symbolic and therefore inherently meaningless in some meta sense? Yes. Symbolic to me, and therefore subjectively meaningful to me? Absolutely.
I like flowers. I like watching them unfold and all that possibility happen. Yes. They’re going to die, such ephemeral things. But while they live– oh, but the beauty. I like watching them across their life cycle, even like watching them in their dishabille as they wilt and flutter and die, dropping their petals and browning, like a debutante developing wattles and liver spots as she becomes a matron—but the fine bones of her coming-out photo are still visible under it all.
Waldorf has never asked about my flowers—but at my birthday, he gave me a Waterford vase. “For your floral habit,” he said.
And not every week, but some, he brings me home tulips. Or roses. Or cheap daisies or mums. I fill them with white flowers a lot, because I love how they glow against the crystal. It isn’t a vase I would have chosen myself, but Waldorf’s old-fashioned lace-curtain Irish and a Waterford vase is part of a lady’s dowry, I suppose. It’s a vote of confidence, too, I guess. I still get dowry presents.
Those semi-occasional grocery flowers (and the replacements for the protein bars of mine that he eats, the Friday night dinner dates that we keep) offset the grumbles and sighs and interruptions, the feelings that I’ve become a worry and disappointment—feelings that, if I said them aloud, he’d probably refute but which I’m not (not yet) brave enough to be a Statler curmudgeon and get testy about, state my piece and my intentions as a way of getting my nerve up to actually do it. (Would that it worked that way, hmm?)
Along with the camera (that Waldorf bought me, because I like to take photos) I need to do a better job about taking pictures of my weekly flowers. It’ll remind me not to miss a week. And to use my camera, because if I can’t have a long conversation with Waldorf with eye contact that says—thanks, Dad, I love you, too?
The least Statler can do is take some damned pictures.