Friday, August 30, 2013

bread and cheese; or, the memory of eating

This week I was on my own for the first time in a long while. My family had gone out of town and I was responsible for only me. I could cook and eat whatever I wanted. I could watch tv, or read uninterrupted, I could, of all the luxuries denied a caretaker, just sit quietly. Life on my own was vastly different than the one I live on a daily basis. While I did still have to mind the chores and tasks of three houses. I felt free of the burden of other people's preferences. This freedom mainly showed at my table. For the first time in a long time I only had to please me. I could buy what I wanted. I could eat what I wanted. On shopping day, I wandered through the market just choosing whatever appealed tom me. I didn't think about meals or planning, or who won't eat what, I just bought what I wanted. I ended up with a basket full of fruit, cheese, wine, and bread. It was not until I had to cook for my family's welcome home meal did I even realize that I had not bought meat.

This week turned out to be one of luxurious indulgences: British television, re-reading poetry from my college days, Camembert and blackberry sandwiches, honey and figs with wine, bounteous salads. It was also a week of nostalgia as each bite seemed to be laced with memory. For reasons that I cannot explain the freedom this week returned me there. To being 19, to a year spent at a vegetarian Seventh Day Adventist College where I was introduced to so much of what is now at the core of my identity. It was a seminal year for me and much of who I am was formed there. It was the first place where I felt like I fit in and was accepted and understood. The first place where the tastes cultivated by a childhood of reading classics and watching the BBC were reflected in the lives and ways of those around me instead of feeling utterly fictional.  I can honestly say it was my first *happy* year. That can be a powerful experience for anyone, but for a girl who had grown up in a community that felt too small, too unsophisticated, and just too wrong it was a rare feeling.

As I age I see bits of myself from every place I have lived come leaking through (the mountains of northern California, northeast coast of the US, New York, Boston, Oklahoma, London, both sides of the Sierra Nevadas, and more). My love of all things whole wheat and sustainable are from a childhood spent on a small family farm eating our own homegrown produce and meat. But on top of that is another layer of tastes and flavors that is not shared by my family. My grocery basket and my menu for those three days was an unintentional homage to that year.  As I traveled on a nostalgic journey of tastes this week I began having flashes of memory.  Memory that can highlight preference and predilection to it's exact birth. Unlike my vague sort of knowledge that my appreciation for all things country comes from a childhood in the country, I can remember exact instances of identity formation, the second of inheritance or penchant in a memory of cheese, fruit, or wine.

The career I have chosen, English professor, is in entrenched In that year in Boston, I began the year majoring in Psychology. A career that I probably am well suited for. But, I changed my major to English after falling in love with an English major. I can remember lying on a grassy slope, after a picnic of fresh fruit and cheese, with my head on his knee as he read classic poetry to me. To this day, there is still a magic in poetry that is measured in those memories. In a classroom full of students I have to rein in a visceral feeling that is more about the timbre of a young man's voice than any academic or literary value. That lovely spring day commingles with new words and sounds of the Romantics and the sensual fluttering of the wind on my hair, his hand on my belly, and the taste of brie and apples on our tongues.

One of the inheritances of living a life so different from your own--even if only for a year--is in cultivating a desire for things out of reach. For a woman of no means, I have an unhealthy desire for the good life. I was exposed to wealth and class after rubbing elbows with people who had money, family money--which, as I learned, is a vastly different kind of money altogether when a friend brought me home Martha's Vineyard for a holiday weekend. I wonder now that I was not insulted by my first lessons in the ways of the wealthy, Perhaps, it was just so obvious to me--and to them-- how much better it all was that I wasn't worried about letting go of the old ways.

In that brief weekend I cultivated a taste for expensive clothes, salty sea air, and fancy chocolate. We were shopping for clothes for dinner (mine were not suitable for the social events) I was trying on a sweater and my boyfriend's sister had bought chocolates. I remember her offering me a bite of French chocolates and I said, 'I don't like chocolate" and she replied, "I don't think you've had THIS chocolate." She was, of course right. And to this day, I am still a snob about chocolate. That whole weekend was like that. I learned to stop relying on my own past experiences of the world and did not refuse anything after an afternoon lunch at sea. Before that, my only exposure to sailing had been on my cousin's fishing trawler and the smell of the docks was overwhelming to me. It became obvious to me that I hadn't been on "this kind of boat" before. I can still close my eyes and feel the ocean below me, the soft fabrics of expensive fabrics enveloping me as I feasted on figs and wine mixed with the smell of the sea.

There is likely a lesson here. Something about life and Carpe Diem. Something important about how we only get one life and taking advantage. But for now, I will just be satisfied with enjoying this last bit of bread and cheese washed down by the remnants of the last bottle of wine, before I need to make hamburgers for dinner.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Two Steps; or, Unlearning

This week was a tough one. As is so obvious, it almost does not need to be said, change is hard. When faced with the same set of circumstances it is likely that we will respond to them the same way each and every time. I did that this week. I had a minor emotional setback when I learned that some people, who were not very nice to me, and, in fact, cost me on so many levels as to remain forever uncountable (especially emotionally & professionally), were living  by all accounts a happy ending on par with fairy tales and Disney films.

I don't really know why people do what they do; every time I feel I have finally figured out human motive, people do things that I cannot figure out at all. This week a woman I went to graduate school sent me an email (out of blue, we are not friends) updating me on people from my past. It read as an indictment of my past mistakes. And, buried in the middle was a little nugget of gossip that brought back worlds of pain and humiliation. I was overwhelmed, struggling, and finally went under. At the core was jealousy and bewilderment that someone could feel the need to send me an email that was essentially salt on an old wound. A salty shower that felt intentional.

The pain was only part of this story. It was my reaction that is the topic here. You see, I am not living my ideal life. I am struggling with money, health, and happiness. A quicksand of depression that does not need stoking by past "frenemies." I could not control the message, but I lost control of the even the things within my grasp in the way I responded. I fell back on my standard coping strategies: Eating and spending money. Coping strategies that have in some sense led me to be in the situation I am so desperately fighting to get out of. At the end of the week I am two steps backwards from where I was a week ago. Money carefully hoarded is spent, and spent in ways that cannot be undone. Healthy eating and exercise were abandoned and replaced with the emptiest of calories masquerading as comfort.

But really, while for a few days the binge-fest numbed me to my pain, it didn't solve anything. The marriage of a past flame to his mistress was not undone. My life didn't improve. Past wrongs remain wrong, past wounds are still scars, all is as before. Except my little nest egg is smaller, my road to health and exercise a little longer. This lesson to control my world in the face of emotional attack is a hard one. One that is more about unlearning a lifetime of using food and money to numb me to the world rather than just dealing with the pain, than it is about change.  This lesson is important because I cannot predict what people will do, but I can control how I respond to them.

Oh, and I can delete emails, instead of reading them.