Thursday, December 11, 2014

Italian Lemon Cookies and the Mindtrap of The Culinary Graveyard

Picture me standing on a kitchen chair with my arm elbow-deep in the top shelf of our kitchen cabinet. Each item I move requires a little extra muscle to unstick from the peeling, likely lead-rich paint of the shelf, especially the molasses jar. All the necessary ingredients are present: lemon extract, shortening (one large container, one small), various bags of white sugar and flour, baking powder, sprinkles.

Also present and accounted for: panko crumbs (never used), almond flour (opened but barely used), crystallized honey - maybe two tablespoons-worth, and half a bar of Trader Joe's milk chocolate. I chalk these up as a perk of the roommate cohabitation experience and shove them aside for someone else's enjoyment.

Despite the plenitude of foodstuffs, a short grocery list forms itself in my head:


A glance outside reminds me that it's snowing steadily, great big fluffy flakes that melt as they splat on any surface like half-assed snowballs from heaven. Do I really want to go out there? Is it worth suiting up and limping eight blocks to the local StopNShop?

A glance at the "use by" dates on the shortening cans assures me that it's unavoidable. The big can: July 2012. The small one: March 2011. I'm not certain that the use of yellowing vegetable lard will harm my project or my friends' stomachs, but it's not quite in the spirit of the holidays, is it?

Upon closer inspection, the opened bags of sugar are all about one-third full of crusty, hardened clumps. The sprinkles are crumbly and the white ones have taken on a pinkish hue.  While I'm absent-mindedly sorting I find several shakers of sprinkles, all of them sticking to themselves in permanent candy colonies  or badly depleted (who decided not to use the last 8 chocolate sprinkles on her last project? Does this really absolve you from the duty of replacing them?).

And so I find myself zipping up my sweatshirt, stretching my knit hat over my haphazard morning ponytail, wrapping my scarf twice... and thinking.

Dammit! Not thinking!

The whole point of this baking adventure was to avoid thinking. And doing. And calling. And filling out forms. And, most of all, worrying.

But everything leads back to this place in my brain lately. I could be saying to myself, "Good for you, Jo! Go out into the world and get groceries! Get baking! Do something cheap and kind for others and join in the holiday celebrations with some kind of happiness!" The circle of thoughts (really, the Circle of Thoughts) at this point) pulls me away from those self-wishes and turn me back to the questions: "When was the last time you did something good? Why haven't you been useful at all? What is the point of you? Remember the Jo who used to do things? Make things? Enjoy things? What have you done to her? Do you even deserve to enjoy ANYTHING?"

My journey through the graveyard of the baking shelf seems to prove the self-doubt: it's been so long since I've baked anything. It's been years since I've even wanted to try. I used to love trading recipes and having friends over for dinner. I used to save my pennies for culinary treats, especially around the holidays. This time of year used to bring on a mess of cookie sheets and mixing bowls, not to mention sketch books of Christmas card designs and piles of stamps and ink pads and embossing powders.

Where the eff did JoBiv go?

Here's my promise of this moment, and I know it will require reprinting and repetition on my part: I will try, and I will remember that trying itself is progress toward something... more solid, I guess? More familiar, at least.

So I'm buying the damn sprinkles. I'm buying the tub of Crisco and the big bag of sugar. I wish I were getting paid for something at this very second, but I will fill this space in time with lemon cookies made for sharing. And, knowing me, I will probably wind up enjoying myself, even if it's just a leeetle lemony bit.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The cake incident of 1982

cake incident
Originally uploaded by JoBiv!.
People are always clamoring for pictures of JoBiv. Why, clamorers? Why?

Well, the day has finally come. I chose an oldie but a goodie, and I hope you like it. There I am in the middle, with Cripps on the left (funny, he's left-handed) and Smacks on the right. This telling photo comes from what was likely to be someone's birthday, because we didn't have cake often in our house. Can you imagine, three boys and a little girl in one house. Would you give us sugar? And you shoulda seen Smacks on sugar. Alarming, I believe, is the most accurate term.

Anywaysss, my evil mother always kept the camera on hand just in case we broke down in tears, or this is what I've come to believe after sifting through our albums. Many a life-affirming moment has been caught on Kodachrome - Smacks' head stuck in the next-door neighbor's deck rungs, Smacks post blue chalk-eating experiment, JoBiv giving herself a bath in the bathroom sink and getting stuck there... etc. Okay, Cripps and Tom didn't cry as much. Cripps wasn't on Earth with us, and Tom was high. Or somewhere else.

In this case it's impossible to know the true prompt for this bout of tears, but my brothers sure do look guilty. Happily guilty. I mean, could I really be that miserable when I was given a piece of cake and free reign - sans utensil or parental help - to shove it into my mouth? And my ear canal and nostrils, apparently. Perhaps I was protesting the busy wallpaper, or the hand-me-down pants, or maybe I was simply being a two-year-old pain in the ass. If it weren't for those smiles and the strategically hidden hands, I could believe it was just a moment of artistically inspired tempestuous moodiness on my part.

Or perhaps this is early proof of my disdain for posing for cameras.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Go outside!

Can't claim ribald health when I have to carry this card on me at all times.

Also, I now have a plastic port-a-cath in my chest. And a massive bruise on my boob, and two areas with super sticky bandages that are meant to keep the stitches in place. And a general, all-encompassing confusion when people say, "You look great!"


And my ex (Sir Knight) decided we should get together to catch up and talk. About him. We did get together. We at least went to see Guardians of the Galaxy or whatever it's called - amusing, big-Hollywood style theater enjoyment - and that soaked up some time from my infinite, underutilized day. We talked, or rather he talked, about his upcoming schooling in Massage Therapy. I'm having difficulty comprehending... Well, he didn't like touching me, after all... I don't know. Something doesn't connect.

Not much connects at the moment. I'm just not capable of anything heroic, even in my own interest, and going outside seems heroic at this point. (Thus the reminder.)

I'm so easily hurt at the moment. I think hibernating may be wise.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Oh, manboys.

The manboy I'm trying not to love was sleeping with everyone. EVERYONE. I have been trying to salvage whatever was salvageable, discussing misunderstandings (apparently I wasn't clear about expecting him to reserve his body for me), attempting to spend time together, and it seemed to be going well. I tried to reach him yesterday, suggested hanging out, and lo, he was unavailable for hours. He tells me today, "Sorry about that. I was with someone."

"I'm thinking of giving up on you," I say.

"Honestly," he says, "I think you should. The more chances you give me, the shittier I feel about the whole thing."

The shittier HE feels. Hmm.

But, the timing... I had finally trusted him enough to talk about some Big Scary Things (psych history). I trusted him enough to talk about my family a bit (forced to, due to an impromptu trip to Rottenchester to see my brother who had drunkenly fallen into a fire pit and required surgery). I let him keep a toothbrush here. I let him keep deodorant here. I introduced him to friends and invited him to parties! Me! I did!

So, what now? Oh, right, obviously, stop talking to him forever.

But, what if the rest of your life is pukey (totally a word) and your friends are all distant and you have no steady income and your Dad is harassing you about abandoning the medical supports you have? What if you haven't left your apartment in three days and your symptoms are worsening and you're avoiding your roommates so you don't have to speak to other humans? What if you're getting a subcutaneous port surgically placed into your chest this week and already feel like you don't have much support, even a ride home from the hospital? What if you just need someone to hold, just for a minute... Just for a second...

Doesn't matter. Stop talking to him. Forever.

Or at least until he grows up. (Which could be Forever.)

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Lists help.

Since firing the family I nanny for (doesn't that make me sound empowered?):

1. I've written most of a short story! Fiction! Creative-like! And I've been drawing, and mostly NOT crossing it all out in a self-hating fury!

Yes, that's a cyclops standing in a rudimentary rendering of the Frog Pond. Yes, it's gotten a bit beat up from being toted around in my journal. Yes, there's a story idea linked to it.

2. I've pulled out a ton of my own hair. Subconsciously, usually while watching Netflix. Don't blame Netflix, however. I do have strategies I should be acting on to prevent and/or reduce this nasty habit.

3. I have had phone conversations (note: plural) with my brothers and Mom. The phone rings and I answer it! Like an adult!

4. The man-boy I'm growing attached to has gone on a trip and I have noooothing to dooooo... besides tear my own hair out, paint my nails in needlessly elaborate patterns, weed through my entire wardrobe

4. I weeded through my entire wardrobe, which needed a good thrashing! I have picked out all the junk that was too big, was made out of that polyester blend that makes me sweat in public, or that I simply never wore, consigned about half of it and donated the rest. Aww yeah!

5. Dad and I are emailing and texting, despite his persistent attempts to make me abandon all the psychiatric support I receive in Boston. His latest evangelizing crusade; Robert Whitaker's Anatomy of an Epidemic, a book detailing how dramatically mental illness, and disability status, has increased in the United States, and positing that misuse of psychiatric medications is at the root of this epidemic. Considering one of my main hurdles in the course of my treatment has been the feeling that I lack the support of family and friends as I attempt more difficult - and life-interrupting - therapies, my father's rather loud proselytism is decidedly unwelcome at this very moment.

6. I had an appointment with my foot doc. He's leaving MGH forevs. Jerkface. But, I did get my brace refitted, and had a new one cast (by a veeery sexy dude who had no qualms flirting with me while casting).

7. Why not have 7? Hmm... now I have to think of something...  I'm missing Shane lately, and trying to work against my natural proclivity to doubt the friendship we had. Trying to simply celebrate and enjoy what we had. I made this to share for his birthday:

Yay lists!

The end.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Because who doesn't love rhubarb?

Oh yeah, lots of people. But isn't it beautiful? And the aroma is just lovely... Yes, I do have strawberries, but I feel it's somehow unfair to the rhubarb to force it to share the recipe with strawberries. I think of Rhubarb as the nerdy older sister, dependable and forthright, perhaps a little opinionated, while the Strawberry is the pretty little sister with natural talent; she gets all the praise and attention, and Mom insists that Rhubarb let her tag along every time she takes the car. Folks dutifully come up with semi-sincere praise for Rhubarb, but they go on and on about Stawberry with unsuppressed enthusiasm. How cruel.

Well, Rhubarb, I appreciate you for your own beauty and value, and I believe you can stand on your own. I've spent some time with Strawberry and can tell you; she may be pretty on the outside but she's only available at very short intervals and not consistently sweet.

Also, I'm crazy.

But! Writing about rhubarb has successfully distracted me from manymanymany current (and damaging) difficulties. So while I'm at it, let me report the following positive realities to which I am choosing to direct my attention:

1. My bed is covered with clothes that are too large and have volunteered to be donated. I'm losing weight. Somehow.
2. I have a new roommate who is lovely! (And makes life in this apartment far easier and generally happy.)
3. I am back in touch with several dear and positive people from my strange life, and I am enjoying being semi-social. Whodathunk?
4. I have additional nannying* gigs!
5. I have impending writing gigs!
6. I may not have to sell my body to keep paying rent!

Okay, back to baking. The rhubarb has soaked in sugar long enough, and I need to get my ass in gear for today's nannying gig.

*Nannying is a term I use to reassure myself that I have grown up to be something more than a babysitter. Yes, I am aware that it's a semi-pathetic self-deceptive triviality, but I'm fond of it. So there.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Longevity and brevity

Buying a new bedspread. Why? Because the current quilt has stains of depression all over it, literal and figurative, blood and tears. How do you explain that to the next man you allow past this threshold? Ha, like you'll be around long enough. Just make a gesture to live cleanly, away from these things. But what's the point? It will come back, in a fierce wave. It always does. Don't spend too much, because you may need money if you are to continue living, possibly without much income. Might as well get a nice one, though. the softness on your skin... that will feel good. In the moment. They're always saying to be in the moment. Don't be reckless. Don't screw yourself. Take the next step, knowing there are millions more to take. That's right. Don't do anything to alarm anyone. Act as though you're planning for life, for living. Just act, in the moment.

Buy a calendar, at least a new insert for your daily planner. To pretend to be living? To plan what you have so far. January work dates. Should you really be working? Yes, I guess... it makes the moments pass. Makes days pass, little breathers from solitude. You could sustain that! Maybe you could sustain that! But maybe you can't, and a little kid would be depending on you. A family would need you. Being needed sucks. Being needed is salvation. To be saved for what? Buy the damned calendar. Live and plan and see it all visually stretching out. Birthdays in April and May and July... Of people who keep forgetting you exist. Stay forgotten. Don't let the roots grow. They want me there for birthdays and graduations and weddings. I should be there for celebrations. Artificial celebrations that are actual torture. Does any day matter more than any other? Make it matter. It's on you to make it matter, to notice the bigger patterns and consciously enter into them. It will be easier once you decide to join in. Easier for a while, but the long-term always disappoints. I always disappoint.

Make dinner, enough for leftovers. Seriously? Why? You need to eat something, even if you don't feel like it. Sure, cereal maybe. Why cook? You need meals for the week, especially if you're feeling this way. I should just use up what I have. A cup of Rice Krispies is fine. But you should eat something green, something with protein. Why? To nourish a body I don't want? To encourage this disgusting mass to keep growing? I don't think so. Your nails are splitting. Your hair is falling out. You can't keep this up. I'm not planning to "keep this up." I'm not PLANNING. You should be. Just let me get a handle on the current moment. Let me breathe a little bit and see what it's like. You let a whole year pass while you were trying to breathe. It just passed, and you're still struggling. Start with something little. Make yourself dinner. I can't. I need to breathe. You can. Make some pasta, something easy. I can't right now... just for right now, I think. It's so easy and small, considering things you've accomplished, things you WILL accomplish. Just boil water and you'll have food for the week. The whole thing strikes me as pointless. As pointless as putting one foot in front of the other.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Home is where the ______ is

If I tell you about my annual journey home for the holidays, I will:

1. Cry
2. Hate myself for crying
3. Feel terribly guilty for any written attacks (direct or subconscious) that would inform you on the difficulty of being around my family

Instead I will tell you things (hopefully benign) that I remembered while I was home.

1. We used to have nougat at Christmas. Apparently this is an Italian thing, according to shops around Boston. My parents don't remember.

2. My mother developed a brilliant system for socks and hand-me-downs that she should have patented. It's not too late, actually.

3. Sunday mass, and waking, dressing, and getting there on time, was a predictably epic battle of Kids vs. Dad. Dad always won but he fought dirty. (So did we.)

4. Our phone would ring off the hook on holidays. Relatives and friends would call and whoever had the phone would call the next person into the kitchen to take a turn talking. It was torture, but it was explicitly forbidden to dodge the two-second conversation. Reluctance was tolerated. Hiding was not.

5. After we were already off to school, Mom would make herself a mug of tea with milk and a little sugar. Presumably she would carry it around the house while she put away laundry or cleaned, because we would find it on a closet shelf or a windowsill, half-full and cold. I use to love sipping it before I brought it downstairs to the kitchen.