Sheet music is not the patriarchy.

So much for my recipe rant. When it comes to the kitchen, I deplore fussiness. 

But why do I bristle so much at recipes (such that even the word itself in my head sounds a little mocking: rEciPeee) but I love to follow sheet music?

Sheet music straightforwardly tells me which notes to play when, for how long, and how loudly. It doesn’t explain why. Often I’ll be struggling and counting aloud and finally get the hang of a polyrhythm and then I go oh, that’s what you were asking me to do. Why didn’t you just say so? And then I smile and try it again. Contrast that with the cursing that resulted when I realized I was making barbecue sauce from scratch when I could have just saved the time and saved Ian the dishes and used the perfectly serviceable Sweet Baby Ray’s languishing on my refrigerator door.

Could it be because playing along with sheet music is somehow more creative than recipe-following? This theory doesn’t seem to hold any 115-degree water to me. Some people find cooking to be a wonderful creative endeavor. Just look at what they make on the Great British Baking Show.

But, to my point, think about how stressed and furious they are at Paul during the technical challenge (for the uninitiated: this is when they are given a highly fussy, unexplained recipe to make an arcane something-or-other) compared to when they are making what they chose to make. And I dare you to find me a better human encapsulation of the patriarchy than Paul Hollywood.

I think when it comes down to it, I like cooking okay, but only about a half-hour’s worth a day, maximum. If you keep me in there for 35 minutes, I expect a pretty good explanation as to why my time couldn’t be better spent reading or writing or exercising or sleeping or talking to my loved ones (end of 2020 list).

But if I’m playing piano for more than 30 minutes, it’s because I chose to. Even if I was following instructions as closely as I could that whole time.

Really that’s all I ask: just the tiniest bit of autonomy and I’ll resonate like a perfect chord.

Recipes are the patriarchy

Recipes are the patriarchy. Hear me out. 

Have you ever had someone basically Simon-Says you in your own kitchen without telling you why?

Have you then been gaslit when things didn’t turn out well because you must not have been obedient enough?

Sounds like every time I try to make a fancy dinner. Also sounds like patriarchy. Coincidence? (And in case you’re wondering, yes I may be trying to excuse some of my recent oven explosions on the basis of equality.)

I’m not above following instructions. I just like to know why I’m doing it. If you tell me to heat water to precisely 115 degrees Fahrenheit, I might get annoyed and text my friends about it. But if you tell me to heat water to a given temperature range that promotes yeast activation without scorching the poor beasties—at that point, I’m down to follow. 

Think of it as a corollary to that rule about teaching a man to fish. Don’t tell me how to bait my hook; tell me why I need to do it this way. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a better way to do it. Or maybe I’ll decide to go to the fishmonger instead, or skip the fish entirely. Big fan of informed options.

So that’s my first hot take: go ahead and give a gal some instructions to follow, but at least fill her in on the logic. Let her decide which steps are for her and which aren’t. Maybe she doesn’t want to make barbecue sauce from scratch without being informed that that’s what she’s up to.

Which brings me to you and your ilk, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

If you aren’t familiar, this many-cleped man is one of several chefs on Serious Eats. He and his co-conspirators are always finding the “best” way to make everything. If you would like to make merely tasty—even merely exceptional—food, don’t bother. If you want the A/B-tested absolute best, go there. You will have to buy four different kinds of chilies, inexplicably, for a recipe that will involve microwaving chili water until you have essentially created poison gas inside your apartment. Your eyes will burn for days. But the end result will taste about two percent better than other bean chili recipes you’ve previously had.

I admit, I’m a little salty (unlike the beef stew I tried to make, which may or may not have called for salt; I stopped obeying at step one when I realized that they were calling for me to use three pots and a baking sheet for a stew.)

Anyway, it needed a lot of salt, but I suppose I have only my rebellious self to blame.

Times when it’s too difficult to work

I’ve been doing some analysis for productivity’s sake, and I’ve figured out that there are a few times during the year that it really doesn’t make sense to expect much output. If you manage these times appropriately, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck at the times with fewer obstacles. Let’s take a look:

November? You must be joking. That’s almost Thanksgiving, which means there’s holiday prep to do, and early Christmas shopping.

Obviously December is out for the same reasons.

January? Are you mad? We’re recovering from the holidays. 

February is too short to work. Why get started when you have to stop right away?

Pretty soon after that you get into that sweet, all-too-rare shoulder-season time when it’s far too pretty to work. 

Then it’s Memorial Day, and you’ll want to take some time out for that, because you worked hard this spring.

Then it’s peak summer vacation time, so you’ll be off for that, as well as the post-Labor Day time when you can actually go enjoy the places that were too touristy all summer.

After that you’ll want to take some time off to enjoy the beauty of the fall leaves, and then it’s about time to bow out to get ready for Thanksgiving again.

So I’m just penciling this out—it looks like we have a solid week in March that is looking pretty good for productivity. Not that Monday, though, because it’s healthier to wind up slowly from a nice rejuvenating weekend. Same with Friday; you don’t want to brake too hard at the end. Wednesday you’ll want to take some time for a mid-week breather.

Tuesday and Thursday should be good. Obviously you’ll need the morning for exercise and errands but it looks like roughly 3pm (after post-lunch nap) to roughy 4pm (tea break and dinner prep) should work great.

See you from 3-4 pm that Tuesday and Thursday in mid-March.

i heart my piano

I used to play the piano long after my parents went to bed. It was a digital upright with a headphone jack, so I could pound away and all anyone else could hear was the hollow atonal thunks of the keys. I liked to change the octaves and the volume and the speed for emphasis. No song could be too emotional. It was my little universe under the painting of the stormy ocean. 

Like a lot of people in my precise micro-generation, I spent a lot of my time on AOL Instant Messenger back in those days. My screen name was iheartmypiano.

Then I went away to college, and after college my roommates hated the idea of having a piano lest drunk people keep the whole house awake with it, and then I went to law school, and I say all this to excuse myself for giving it up.

They say emotions are stored in the body. I had never heard this until about two years ago, and now I probably hear it once a week. It’s a very on-trend idea. The first time someone asked me where I felt that in my body I thought they were nuts. I feel emotions in my head, of course, where my brain lives. But it turns out this is not exactly true, and your body has a lot of information and it is the only way “you” ever experience anything in the world, no matter how logical or brainy you fancy yourself, and it needs to discharge emotions because if you button them up and shove them down for years on end (as I am genetically predisposed to do) you may literally make yourself sick. 

For that reason and many others, I’ve gotten back into the piano. I play at least a few minutes a night. It’s one of the only times that I can guarantee I’m not looking at a screen during this screen-dependent pandemic. 

The piano works different parts of the brain than my screens do. It’s physical. It stretches the skin between my fingers. It’s logical. It’s math. It’s trivia as I remember which sharps go with which key. It’s hand-eye coordination. It’s emotion.

It’s paying attention, which is to say, it’s being alive. 

Over the years men have been competitive with me about it, which I find odd. Men who don’t play it tell me how to play it better or that I should not play it at all as it is a dumb instrument.

And maybe it’s their voices I hear when I play, because that’s when my inner critic gets loud in a way that she doesn’t when I cook or work out or do my job or write for fun or see my body. I hear voices as I work my way through the sheet music. You’re so hesitating. It always sounds like….duh……..duh….. And how can you say you love something you never do? And I play anyway. 

For a heavy stationary instrument it’s an amazing teleportation device. It lets me be anywhere I want in time or space. As I play Anthem I’m floating over the lake at twilight like the geese and ducks that vee over the dam in winter. Or I’m driving down some treelined parkway in my hometown. Or I’m inside a grassy lea in some film I’ve seen a thousand times. I’m anywhere home. 

I haven’t tried astral projection proper, because who has the time?, but I think this is somewhat similar. 

When I stand up my lower back pops like nothing else and if I believed just a little more in somatics I’d go ah, what a release. 

Two years ago I turned 30

Two years ago today I turned thirty.

Two years and one day ago I was a bit angsty about it.

I was traveling for work, which meant dropping myself off halfway across the country between West-Coast Thanksgiving and East-Coast living. I had dinner in a strip-mall cafe with someone I hadn’t seen in years, and she said oh, I must look older too, which didn’t help assuage the anxiety I suffered obligatorily as a woman entering a new decade alone.

I was allergic to the dinner I ate so I was up half the night with punishing stomach cramps.

I woke up on my 30th birthday in the dark, puffy and trembling with exhaustion, and drove myself fifty miles to the airport as the sun slowly rose over the flattest flatness of Colorado.

But there was no angst left at all, just a joy as calm and wide as the plains, now that the day had come. It’s impossible to say it in words that aren’t cliches, so suffice it to say that you will know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever felt quite a lot like the kind of woman they write country songs about.

When I landed I took the train home and watched the late-fall swamps as they fell away. Houses hidden in suburban woodlands whipped by the windows. Houses always look so cozy from the outside, even dismal ones, at least they do to me when I’m in a home-seeking mood like that.

As I got close to my stop it was nearly five and I hadn’t heard a peep from him. Think of it: I’d heard peeps all day from people who love me and he wasn’t among them anymore. It still contorted my brain. But it was a growth pang, not a death pang. Or it was both at once.

When I was back in my little place it was dark. I unpacked and got into comfortable clothes. I ordered a pizza, the kind I like, and drank the kind of lime seltzer I like, and I watched a tragic romantic movie I alone wanted to watch, and I put myself to bed,

and a year after that my life was extremely different, and a year after that as I write this now my life is extremely different from that difference, and both of those years’ differences were ones I would not have predicted, so I guess you never know where the next year will find you if you are fated to have it.

The Dustbin

Some of my ideas weren’t ready for prime time (or, perhaps, I am still not ready for them).

Witness some blog post ideas I wrote down for myself, ever so helpfully, at some point in the last year and a half or so:

  • Crickets: do they sleep?

Truly no idea where I was going with this.

  • Why do we care about who actors are? I’m enchanted by F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law. I google their personal lives while I watch them pretend to be other people.

This is a true fact but not a terribly interesting one. While I watch TV I tend to compulsively Google the actors and scroll down reliably to the “Personal Life” portion of their Wikipedia page. I get some bizarre kick out of knowing all about their romantic lives, their addictions. Meanwhile, I often find Ian beside me scrolling through the same person’s IMDB page to find out what he recognizes them from. Different strokes.

  • Thoughts 
    1. Thought 1: everyone is doing their best
    2. It may not appear this way
    3. We don’t know what their best is
    4. Let’s therefore assume they’re doing their best, with whatever staggering limitations they may, admittedly, suffer from. 
    5. (But this is my problem: I hate villains. Not in the sense that I boo and hiss at them, but in the sense that I cannot bring myself to write or imagine one)
    6. Sigh 

Now, this one is just mystifying. An incoherent list entitled only “thoughts”? The first half looks like the beginnings of a sermon about assuming the best of people, and then it turns into some reflection on how I don’t like to get in the head of villains. What? We’ll never know.

  • Jobs that might not exist but that I’d be good at 
    1. Traffic/parking sign editor
    2. Gah there was another one and it was so good but I didn’t write it down last night, more fool me 
    3. Editing influencers’ content
    4. Really obscure crossover content generator:

On that last one, I ended with a colon. I think this means I was about to include a funny list within a list, but, alas, I became distracted, and that is the death of the idea. And on point 2, I do remember cracking myself up at an example I’d thought of but, because I did not immediately write it down, it evaporated forever.

Indeed, distractions are many these days. I have just finished baking a pecan pie for tomorrow’s minuscule Thanksgiving, which will consist of far too much food for just two people. I am (as usual) sitting next to the book I’m reading, which is far too scary to read at bedtime, yet which I struggle to read before bedtime because there’s so much Internet to scroll.

Ah, well.

I will continue to keep my little lists. One never knows when one might have its time to shine.

What if my childhood wound is true?

I am a Nine on the Enneagram. If you buy into this sort of thing, you may know that every Enneagram type is said to have a “childhood wound,” a message the person received explicitly or implicitly as a child. The whole personality type is a distorted lens through which we tend to see the world because of the wounding message that sunk so deeply in that we can barely even imagine it not being true. 

For the Nine, the childhood wound is something like: You don’t matter very much. Your needs and your opinions are not as important as everyone else’s. Nines respond to that wounding message by becoming agreeable and numbing themselves to their own pesky opinions and needs, to avoid being a bother. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last few weeks as the pandemic is (as predicted) raging tragically, infuriatingly out of control in the United States. The moral thing to do is to behave as though our individual desires are less important than the health of the community. This means that my desires to see my friends and my family and to travel and to eat in a restaurant have to yield to the public health guidelines. We all have a duty to put ourselves second, to put our neighbors and strangers first, just as we hope they do for us. 

It strikes me that this belief is reinforcing my childhood wound. You don’t matter. Who do you think you are, anyway? Why are you so special? But my personal “work” is supposed to be the opposite—learning how to put myself and my wants and needs and opinions first, even if others don’t like it.

It’s a puzzle! It’s a pickle!

Truly, even the most evolved, emotionally magnificent part of me believes in the truth that individuals must yield to each other in a pandemic—at least when it comes to their desire to engage in behaviors that put everyone at risk. (Of course, individuals matter a whole lot when it comes to their material needs being met, and their right to stay alive, which you really wouldn’t know from the way our leaders insist that we’re taking care of each other by buying beers in a bar that’s open only until 10, for safety, because, what, would you rather those bar employees starve? As though those are really the only two options, and if you can’t tell, I am livid about this, but anyway…)

Here’s where I’m coming down: waking up to the hell that is my own personality has involved learning to identify and express my own needs and wants and opinions, even when others might not like it. That work continues. But that in no way means it is my right to harm others. I grow to recognize that I matter as much as everyone else, but not more. And everyone else matters as much as me, but not more. We are equal in dignity and importance. We belong to each other. We must all sacrifice for each other. We must not live only to please ourselves. 

Does this sound a bit like relapsing? Maybe.

But I’m still developing increasingly spicy opinions from the safety of online, so all is not lost. 

How to Make Friends as an Adult: Volume 1

Tips for making friends as an adult, volume 1: post-pandemic edition. It might not be wise to use these tactics yet, but some of them require planning so now might be the perfect time to get started.⠀

☝️ Go on reality television. You may need to marry a stranger or do a punishing obstacle course in the nude, but it will maybe be worth it, because you’ll meet your people.⠀

☝️ Apply to grad school. Hear me out: if you can’t actually leave your job and/or afford to attend grad school, apply anyway. Think of the associated fees as down payments to a lifetime of group hangs. Apply to several safety schools, attend their admitted-students gatherings, find some bosom buds, and then pretend you ended up attending the University of Guam instead, but you’d still love to join the girls’ trip next spring break! ⠀

☝️ Go to the dog park. No dog? Adopt one! No dogs to adopt? Borrow one with consent from its human! No humans want to lend you a dog? Haunt the dog park without a canine companion! Probably no one will ask which one is yours. You’ll blend in with all the other strangers standing awkwardly while waiting for their dogs. It’s the perfect time for some unstructured social bonding. Caution: if anyone notices you leaving alone, you may have to find a different dog park, unless you want to go through a pretend-missing-dog routine, which I can’t recommend.⠀

☝️ Comment heavily on some high-profile person’s social media page. Up to you whether you go high or low, but consider what kind of friend you want to make. Can you sustain the positivity? Can you sustain the negativity? After several months of harassing/haranguing, maybe you’ll connect via DM, and then in real life. It’s happened before, I hear!⠀

I’ve done the research and these are the only options. Choose wisely. ⠀

November 11, 2014

They barricaded Five Mile Drive today. I parked at the zoo and ran in on foot. 

Five Mile Drive was covered with little branches and leaves and pine needles, as though no one had disturbed it for weeks, even though I knew that all the debris probably all came down today in the high winds. The winds that, an hour before, had pulled my ajar car door out of my grip and sent it crashing into the next car over in the parking lot. It didn’t leave a dent, and the little stripe of my car’s telltale chameleon green-grey paint came off with a quick panicked scrub of my forefinger. Relief.

I pulled my hood up against the worst of the wind and staggered into it. 

I let myself run slowly. I let myself just stop sometimes and look at the way the light was filtering through the trees today, at this time. Daylight is such a treat at this time of year, so I cannot squander it. The late light was firing up the tall pines bright golden. It was the kind of light I saw when I took that picture earlier this year. “Evergreen,” I’d captioned it, and it got a lot of likes, while meanwhile he and I wandered in circles in that little park on Bainbridge and argued and I couldn’t stop starting to cry. Evergreen. To me that picture is all about dead and newly born things. Nothing perpetual. I suppose those trees have watched a lot of things rise up and fall away.

Today I jogged slowly along the cliff on the western edge and thought idly, detachedly, of what it would be like to fall off it by accident. Would I slowly tumble or just drop? Would I be able to cling to a tree and heave myself up to safety? Even if I dropped, could I swim in the Narrows? But no crisis came. 

At some point I removed my headphones and let the wind overpower me. It was pulling down bits of trees all around me. Leaves were swirling and flying everywhere, even in the relative calm of the deepest part of the woods. Large branches would come cracking down the trunk of a tall tree. It occurred to me I might be crushed. In places there were even whole trunks freshly broken in two. 

The only person I passed was a friendly older man with the brilliant smile of a mid-century politician. Together we watched a massive branch tumble from on high. “Keep your eyes open,” he said, and smiled.

At the end I wandered out to the eastern edge where the Sound was bright with white caps and big waves threatened to inundate the promenade. The sky was buzzing with the reflected pink of the sunset. The whole place was deserted, but the ferry still approached steadily from Vashon. By the water, outside the curtain of trees, the wind whipped at me more fiercely. Partly using my muscles and partly relaxing into the great force, I raised my arms and the wind raised my arms and I cried a prayer. 

It’s easy to be full of gratitude when all illusions of power are blown away.

When it happened

When it happened in 2008, there were somewhere between forty and eighty of us in the house—sixtyish residents and a grab-bag of hangers-on like me, as usual. We all ran into the street and down the hill. Our flood mixed with the flood of others from all the other big houses. We clustered together down Ridge and Euclid and through North Gate and down to Telegraph. One guy with a bowl cut took all his clothes off in glee. (I recognized him. He did that a lot.) We cried that night in each other’s arms, I’ll never forget it.

When it happened in 2012, I was in the living room of my friend’s house. We were watching CNN quietly while we did schoolwork on our laptops. We yawned and then I walked home in the cold.

When it happened in 2016, I opened another bottle of wine, as though that was going to help, and there were people on FaceTime but I didn’t want to talk, and I woke up the next morning with a momentary sigh of gratitude that it was all a nasty dream. Then reality, and the hangover, reared up.

When it happened in 2020, it took a while. For the first bit I was so tense that I created a cave of comforts, ice cream and an apple candle and a hot water bottle wearing its very own tiny sweater, and I watched a costume drama while my stomach ached. But then it became a slow math problem. It became obvious what was going to happen.

And what happened? It was far less good of news than it ought to have been, by a mile. But it was not a vindication of the worst of the dread. And after the years we’ve had, after the year we’ve had, a non-vindication of the worst is cause enough for celebration.

How it happened at last is that I opened the door coming in from my run, my head pounding from the heat (all 75 degrees of it; I am very fragile) and Ian cried out to tell me the news, which made sense of all the people I’d heard whooping outside, and we sat down together and smiled and eventually I made an apple pie.

There’s much to do. But today I had pie for breakfast.