Monday, May 6, 2019

Missed Me?

She humbly inquired.

Well, I did have a pretty good reason. Approximately 7 lbs. of it. 

I'm a mommy now.  

The blessed little fellow, to be referred to as Ben, has cut into my extracurricular activities a bit. But I still intend to blog. 

Sand People couldn't keep me away. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Art vs. Supper

Today's culture puts little value on home life. Domesticity can be dully repetitive (as my Babi would joke, "You want supper again? I fed you yesterday!"), and for some, a barrier to more "lofty" achievements.
 
In my case, home life was always more appealing than anything else, work or vacation included (vacation, to me, is as much work as work). I've feel fulfilled when chasing after kinfauna. I find the noise of something substantial clattering up the vacuum hose oddly satisfying. And, weirdly, I don't mind doing dishes.
 
Yet these necessary and endless tasks can get "in the way" of "art," according to the standard narrative. As Bookends asked, "Are Domestic Responsibilities at Odds With Becoming a Great Artist?" The question was answered by Siddhartha Deb, a single father, and Dana Stevens, a mommy.
 
Deb argues that standard employment is not considered a barrier to art, only dish washing, because the latter is uncompensated and so, therefore, "unproductive."
Yet the reality is that art and domestic work are both likely to go uncompensated or poorly compensated, and under such circumstances, both have to be approached with love and rigor to be done well. In that sense, great art and domestic responsibilities are as like each other as my elaborate meal plans are like the chapter outlines of my maximalist novel.

Stevens provides examples of recognized authors who did not have children, and even gave credit to their art for that fact; however, she also lists those who did have children and succeeded. She also points out that many abandoned their families in the pursuit of "art" and did not become well-known.
. . . with time, my romantic vision of the uncluttered life of the pure artist has gotten agreeably cluttered by life itself.

She simply concludes that an artist must be more driven, that's all, in order to create, and that shows their devotion. No worries.
 
Yiyun Li reviewed Deborah Levy's book "The Cost of Living," as Levy describes her writing while also extremely busy with everyday life. The stereotypical artist escapes from the responsibilities of the mundane life, but does that make their work any better without those "distractions"? Levy's books were critically recognized, even with the millstones of everyday hanging about her neck.
 
For my own preferences, I prefer reading stories of "real life," of characters navigating the everyday, the mundane, and trying to figure out the best choices to make. In general, facing reality head-on instead of avoiding the inevitable is my jam. I don't find artists who abandon their families to float without care at all appealing; that art, in my opinion, is worthless.
 
It can be done.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

What's Love Got to Do With Cooking

The title of this article when it was printed in NY Times Magazines was "Cooking Like a Cynic.
With some frequency these days, you’ll hear talk of cooking “with love” — that supposed secret ingredient, the intangible something extra that makes a chef’s food so good. I am sure that is accurate for some, but I imagine that what is identified as love is probably thoroughness and follow-through and taking the time that work-done-properly takes.  
Whenever I hear of "cooking with love," I think of two sitcom situations: 

The first was from "Everybody Loves Raymond," when Marie acquiesces and teaches Debra her precious meatball recipe. However, there is a "weird taste" that Debra can't account for, no matter how she tries. Marie had begun the lesson by invoking the "love," and Deb concludes that she must not have it. 

She then discovers that the herb jar that Marie gave her was sabotaged. "Love" had nothing to do with it. 

The second is from "The Big Bang Theory," the first episode that the excellent Laurie Metcalf guest-stars as Sheldon's mother, Mary Cooper. Penny gushes about her apple cobbler, to which Mary responds, coyly: "You know what the secret ingredient is?" 

Penny, simpering: Love? 

Mary: Lard. 
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I think these two examples prove—along with the article—that good cooking has nothing to do with love. It's about being invested enough in the process to learn techniques, follow recipes properly, and occasionally follow one's gut in terms of improvement.  

Some people have no interest; their prerogative. Some people rush, make errors, and wonder why their results are politely ignored; again, also their prerogative. 

Ma would say that she did not like to cook. However, what she did enjoy was nourishing her family with healthy recipes that they would scarf down even though they had all the fat removed. Nothing gave her greater joy than an empty pot: That meant that whatever she had made was a hit. 

I wonder now if I like to cook. I can get excited at the prospect of trying something new, researching recipes, getting it right. There is something rewarding about taking the separate, the raw, and compiling them into a blended, magical creation. Perhaps I do like to cook; the process itself as well as how the results are received (which is not always well. But then I try again).

Monday, February 25, 2019

When They Don't Want You

I would think that by now, I would have cheerfully forgotten about those miserable dating days. But no, they haunt me still, that decade +. 

While the majority of my dates were obviously "he is not for me," there were occasionally fellows that ignited my interest simply because they were so much better than what I had gone out with before. In those situations, I believed myself smitten, even though after one meeting I could already tick off a number of "um" qualities.  

When they said no (after one or two dates), I would be so devastated, and think about them constantly until the next "better" option came along. Who would also decline, and then be the object of my affection for a while further. 

Then Han blew them all out of the water, and I realized how wrong I had been. 

I thought of this while reading "Lessons from a 12-Hour Goodbye" by Miriam Johnson. She was attached to him, but he did not return her ardor. She pleaded their case for 12 hours, but for naught. 

It reminded me of "He's Just Not That Into You"; if a guy really likes you, he'll do anything to keep you. He can't be talked or coaxed into having feelings that he doesn't share with you. 

Johnson was initially hopeful he'd return, but when he didn't, she realized how little we really know others. Not only that, she had hidden parts of herself from him. 

When we are on the search for a life partner, and then feel as though we are close, so close, it's hard to accept defeat. But sometimes those experiences have different meanings then we think. 

Johnson tells her therapist that it's been a year and she still thinks about him; she wants to know how to let him go. 
. . . she told me a story about a man she loved in her early 20s, nearly 50 years ago, whom she still thinks about to this day. Then she said: “You’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about getting over and letting go.”
I looked down at my hands and considered how this could possibly be about anything else.
“It’s about honoring what happened,” she said. “You met a person who awoke something in you. A fire ignited. The work is to be grateful. Grateful every day that someone crossed your path and left a mark on you.”
To be frank, it's kind of difficult to find gratitude in heartbreak. I would wonder what I was supposed to learn after trying so hard, willing to be vulnerable, only to have my efforts spurned. Maybe it's gratitude? Or maybe it's pain that one was meant to experience. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

My Mother's Armoire

Ma and I were of similar clothing size, and wore the same shoe size. 

Her one "vice," if that is what it can be called, was a love of beautiful attire. Our outings were usually shopping in nature, and the thrill of the hunt—finding garments and footwear that were stunning yet exponentially reduced in price—gave us such pleasure. 
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Cleaning out her closets was a difficult enterprise; I'm still only halfway. I have fantasies of altering her magnificent wardrobe for my own use, and I have appropriated what fits already. Will I ever give away her designer skirts, sweaters, suits? She would burrow in there on Shabbos morning, already liberally scented with perfume, as she tenderly selected her attire for shul. She would stride in, in stylish sunglasses and red lipstick that lasted overnight, whipping off her glamorous fur.

She also loved her bling. She had a right-hand ring that I always coveted, and I now wear it daily. It's a constant, comforting reminder of her. My sister-in-law said years ago of her "gam zeh yaavor" ring how looking at it, when the kids were misbehaving, reminded her that this too shall pass. Looking at my mother's ring, I recall her capability, her wisdom, her powering through even when it was difficult. 

While Ma could be the classy "lady," she could also strip down to the basics in order to prep for Shabbos and yuntiff. She loved the holidays, to the point that while there was effort, it was definitely worth it.  

Ari Scott's "Wearing My Dying Mother's Clothes" echoes my sentiments. Her clothing and accessories were an extension of her; wearing them keeps her close. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

UA Comedian Speaks Truth

Netflix is jammed with comedy specials, and I was intrigued by Ilina Shlesinger's Elder Millennial
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UA (Un-Aidel)? Um, YEAH. But I wept with laughter many a time. 

Newly engaged at 35, her material mostly deals with dating. And how it suuuuuuucks. And all the things women do. 

The calculating. The analyzing. The hoping. The yearning.

It was further proof for a previous post of mine, where I attempt to debunk the frum older single fantasy that if only she wasn't religious, getting a man would be a breeze. 

PEOPLE! It suuuuuuucks EVERYWHERE!!! 

I repeat: EVERYWHERE!!! 

Monday, February 11, 2019

What is Mess?

Having a roommate (spouse) has taught me that many things are in the eye of the beholder. 

In a flip of the typical script, Han is neater than I am. I never saw myself as a slob—that's what Luke is, not me—but Han's ways made me see myself in a new light. 

Not that I'm a slob. I'm careful with crumbs and immediately dispose of wrappers. I don't like dishes piling up in the sink. My produce is packed in the fridge with military precision. 

But Han likes to make his bed every morning. Ma didn't ask us to make our beds, and it had a sound logic to it; I'll be climbing back into it tonight anyway. He likes a sparkling bathroom mirror, as I do, except my toothbrushing tends to get violent. He adores a clean countertop, and I often arrive home planning on cooking only to behold a pristine kitchen (courtesy of Han) and I'll apologize that in order to eat, its prettiness won't be lasting long. 
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"The apartment is a mess," he'll say from time to time. 

I'll glance around, befuddled. "A mess?" I'll echo. I don't see a mess. OK, maybe one or two pairs of my sneakers are out. Newspapers cover the table. But doesn't everyone like a newspaper to browse through while nibbling breakfast?

I'm not complaining. If Han feels a need to clean, he will do it. Yet sometimes I feel guilty that I don't share the same sensitivity level that he does. I actually don't mind cleaning. It's just that he usually beats me to it.

On the one hand, we have "Letter of Recommendation: Mess" by Helen Holmes; on the other, "Making Marriage Magically Tidy" by Helen Ellis.   

Holmes, a mess-lover, focuses her target on social media as the oppressor, making us deny the messy side of our domiciles as we post about our "perfect lives." If cleanliness is strictly in the name of Instagram followers, booooooo. 

Ellis, a major slob, tried to reform for her husband's sake, relapsed, then made a successful comeback. She understood that her mess distracted her husband, and by mindfully keeping things neat and clean, he would see only her. 

Maybe I'll wipe down the stove tonight. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Conversate

"It's conversations," my sister tells me. "You have to be able to talk about things." 
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There's nothing more a conflict-avoider (like me) dreads than "talking." Not fun banter, or "how was your day" exchanges. "Talking" as in, "We have to talk." 

Yet I'm also a big believer in living in reality. If a relationship is based on fantastical fluff, it's not worth much. A commitment is only valuable if the nitty-gritty is acknowledged, and yet the couple remain happy and true. 

So disagreements are inevitable. Yet the method how to go about the disagreement is not.  Daphne de Marneffe, a therapist, tells us the best way ("The Secret to a Happy Marriage is Knowing How to Fight"): 
I’ve seen how the best marriages involve people who can deal with strong negative emotions — and who are cleareyed about how hard it can be. They don’t avoid anger, but they don’t indulge it. They tackle hard issues without shutting down. They apologize for their own bad behavior.
What will matter most in marriage is what’s possible on the other side of love’s first blush: conversations that are rewarding, intimate and real. It’s not that we come together in electric recognition and pure understanding, then fall away from that through conflict. Rather, we come together in a rush of passion, then we achieve love through continuing conversation.
Through that conversation we cultivate the essential emotional attitude in marriage: I can try to understand what you think and feel, without it taking away from my own experience. Your reality doesn’t cancel out mine.