Zen and the Art of Meat

Cooking was definitely something I grew up with, but I wasn’t interested in doing it myself until well into my 20s. I knew homemade food was good and sometimes better, but I didn’t care. There was a McDonald’s under the Loyola stop and a value menu with my name on it, Gharweeb Nawaz with one-dollar lentils and saag paneer, and about six million good Mexican places. I was set.

(if you don’t care about food or cooking, now might be a good time to revisit some other posts)

But sometime around my third apartment I started to miss it. So I started doing it, and long story short I am an okay cook. I don’t do anything fancy but my cookie and casserole game is solid. I don’t suck at vegetables either, especially the roasted and slaw variety. Every once in awhile I’ll bust out the food processor and make my own crackers. They’re basically teeny cheddar pie crusts and make me feel a lot more “foodie” than I really am.

The term “foodie” makes my teeth hurt, like to the point where I don’t want to say I like to cook because people get all oooooohhhh do you make your own seafood broth with leftovers from your homemade beer-steamed mussels then save them for later? (no, though I’ll happily eat the delicious bi-valves at Revolution or Hopleaf). And okay, I went to Sean Brock’s pre-fixe dinner at The Publican and I still think about those freaking heirloom carrots and crab-studded hushpuppies. I like herb-flecked artisanal goat butter as much as the next guy. But copping to making your own food and not blowing at it feels like aligning with a sanctimonious culture that doesn’t have a lot of room for being human or White Cheddar Cheez-Its, my one true love.

Despite not worrying too hard about the origins of my asparagus and a deep and abiding affection for Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Golden, I like cooking. I read a lot of food blogs. The abundance of Mariano’s excites me. I think it’s taught me some things too, which I will now share with you in a hopefully non-preachy manner.


The Dress

This weekend, a friend of a friend posted a dress on Twitter and I fell in love. Parrots and palm trees on smooth white polyester. Size 8. H&M. Shift cut. Dreamy. It made me think of bare arms and good times. Pool parties and Lost Lake. Not waking up in icy darkness with a head full of dread.

That dress was a tropical vacation in a long and shitty winter.

It’s at the Unique on Irving and Kimball, she tweeted back. If you go it might still be there. I went back to her post and looked at it. Looked at it again.

And I went. And I ruffled through a million other inferior and just plain weird dresses but I got it. It was $3.40 because Unique has half-off days. And then I got fancy cat food for my fancy cat and the bus came on time and it was perfect.

Sometimes when I’m in a particularly bad one, I complain to my dude that I need a big win. A really big win, a windfall, my ship finally coming in, a Powerball-level punch to my racing heart and sad sack mind and all the things I want to change or go away. And then I realize I’m an educated white girl of average build with features in a more or less okay arrangement – my whole life is a win. (I still want to win the lottery. I still want everything to suddenly work out all at once.)

But sometimes it’s not the big win. It’s a three-dollar dress. And sometimes it’s not even that, although yes it is perfect. It’s the walk there, the anticipation, going slightly off path and succeeding. It’s breaking routine – a reward and more often, a necessity.


Damn Good Coffee

I’ve had a rough month and I’ve been watching a lot of Twin Peaks, and it’s got me thinking about coffee. Making coffee at home is one of my favorite rituals, to the point where drinking it unrushed on Saturday morning is the smallest, most awesomely dull vacation.

And I make a damn fine cup of coffee. Intelligentsia whole bean that I grind myself, because I’m fancy. Tiny coffee maker because I’m the only one in the house that drinks it, the guy and cat are more into Diet Coke and water. One sugar cube. Lots of whole milk.

I don’t think you have to be used to the worst kind of surprises to appreciate boring, but it helps. Growing up wasn’t good sometimes – sometimes a lot of the time. Realizing things can be pretty okay is still a novelty, a party I thought was invitation-only and I still sort of feel like I’m crashing. Pretty okay is kind of amazing.

I make coffee in the house where I live. I like to come back here at the end of the day. I like the other person that lives here. Sometimes there’s fights and tension, but they’re not the default. I know how good things can be, and that it’s not impossible to get there. It’s not even always hard. And that still boggles my mind.

The coffee is hot and good. I feel it wrap around my brain like a caffeinated hug, clearing the fog from my head and sleep from my eyes. I think more clearly. Everything is a little easier to handle.

Mundane activities are small and sacred. Making coffee reminds me that things are all right. And let’s not get started on pie.


Difficulty Falling or Staying Asleep

Alternate title: Insomnia Vignettes

It starts like a pimple: a faint irritation just under the skin that’s barely there but one noticed, unmistakable and unavoidable. Instead of redness and pain, it’s a creeping sensation that lurks in the corners of the brain, sending subtle signals that translate to No, you’re not going to be able to calm down and Don’t even try to stop thinking about everything that worries you.

(I like acne metaphors because I have the first-hand personal experience to back them up, and I think they’re appropriate for what results from anxiety. The build-up, the pressure, and finally the gross yet satisfying release. The shitty unfairness, and feeling that you can’t control any of it.)

Five hours later the subtle signs of sleeplessness come to a pus-filled head and you’re sitting on the couch with a thousand-yard stare while the cat headbutts you, excited that someone’s up to keep him company while he tears up and down the hallway, nails catching and releasing the carpet in faint rips that set off another spiral of stress, thelandlordthecarpetourdepositourdepositfuckingcat. The fuckingcat is back on the couch, looking at you and meowing anxiously, and you scratch his head as tears well up. He purrs and kneads as a new trouble pops into your bullshit cranium, tomorrow is going to fucking suck. And it’s really today that’s going to suck, because it’s 2am.

Insomnia is an asshole. It feels like physical, obvious proof that my brain is trying to take me down. That anxiety is winning. I can do things to manage it, and they all help: going to sleep at the same time and not too late (for me, that’s, stop staring at the Internet or television an hour before bed, exercise and yoga and I know everyone says those two, but they work. This all makes it less likely that I’m going to be a sweaty couch zombie with a friendly nocturnal kitty familiar, but doesn’t hit the problem at the root. I can’t calm down and let things go. Even for a few hours. Even when it’s really important. Even when I’m sabotaging myself by letting my thoughts churn in spiral after destructive spiral. I’m better at it than I’ve ever been, which is encouraging, but it’s still hard. I don’t know whether intense apprehension is chemical makeup, environment, or both, but it seems like it’s here to stay – a constant companion. I’m working on turning it into a sometimes guest. But until then, it’s enough to keep me up at night.




Season of Social Excuses

Alternate title: I Want to Hang, but I’m Anxious and Broke

What I did on my summer vacation:

  • Got a new job.
  • Started this business you’re reading right now, which I hope makes you 1/8 as happy as it makes me.
  • #1 and #2 started the same day.
  • Got multiple IT certifications. I know. I might be the most interesting person in the world.

How I dealt with it:

  • Freaked out, over and over.
  • Fought with my dude.
  • Slept really badly.
  • Made a lot of lists, because they’re soothing.

What I didn’t do:

  • See much of you.
  • Go to your event.

So yeah. I’m sorry. I would love to do that thing with you, but when I turn into a wad of nerves (see “How I dealt with it”), all I want is space, time, and plenty of it. I will not enjoy what we’re doing because I’m thinking of the 10,000 things I should be doing, and it’ll make me even more squirrelly and awkward than usual. I’ve been like this since I was a kid – it’s hard for me to like something if I think I’ve left something unfinished. It’s neurotic and lame. I’m this guy incarnate. Plus, I’m in a bucket of debt. It makes it even easier to turn down that beer, that dinner, that fun and money-sucking thing you want to do, because I can always fall back on “I shouldn’t.”

But I like you. I think you’re pretty and smart. I want to hear about what you’re doing and like, be supportive in the way you are of me – our only interaction shouldn’t be hey you should come to my show and yeah I can’t make your thing. I don’t know if I’ll ever get good at being busy, new challenges, or not running a mental hamster wheel of anxiety, but I’ll keep trying. For you – for me – for that thing we should do in October. Also, you should come to the show next week.


Ponytail Panic

Anxiety has been my friend as far back as I can remember. Even as a kid, my default state was nervous at best, full-blown dread at worst. In some ways, not much has changed in 20 years: it’s not hard to make my blood pressure spike and brainwaves stutter incoherently, though now I’m more terrified of things like job security and creative accomplishments and less scared of German Shepherds and ponytail bumps.

Ponytail bumps were serious business. At age eight or nine, I was obsessed with having a perfectly smooth scalp. I’d stand in front of the bathroom mirror for up to an hour, brushing straight back, watery eyes locked on my own reflection. Slowly, hesitantly, I’d pull the rubber band around my fine, dirty blonde hair, tentatively looping the tight elastic once, twice. I held my breath, praying for perfection and the salvation from my racing heart I was sure doing it right would bring. If my hair was perfect, my new classmates would like me, my parents would stop yelling at each other, my life would be a pleasant Lisa Frank-Sanrio dream. There would be teal unicorns, and a cute frog with preternaturally large, round eyes, and maybe a real friend. Turning my head, I’d inspect each side carefully. Inevitably there was a bump, a lump, some ridge throwing everything out of place. I had cowlicks and wasn’t great at doing my own hair, but all that registered was failure. I was ugly and I’d screwed up, and ugly screw-ups got made fun of more than I already did. Frustrated rage and despair quickly followed, usually in the form of tears but sometimes more. Once I broke a hairbrush. Another time, a mirror.

I’m really glad to be a grown-up. Even though I’m still not great at doing my own hair.

Anxiety remains a constant, permeating everything from daily interactions to long-term plans and goals. Or put more simply, I freak the fuck out about a lot of relatively minor daily things. Mostly in my head, sometimes in epic meltdowns around people I trust, and every once in awhile in public, which is pretty much the greatest. Maybe it’s family dysfunction, maybe it’s how I’m naturally wired, maybe some super villain with mind control wastes their powers on making me cry when I don’t bring enough cash for guacamole. I don’t care at this point. I just want it to be better.

And after years of trial and error and more error, it is better. Even manageable. There is still a part of me that believes beyond the shadow of a doubt that I’m going to screw everything up, or that everything is going to go wrong — that things will inevitably be terrible and there’s nothing I can to do stop it, and that doubting everything good makes me safe. But that part is smaller and less convincing (if not gone entirely). I’m better at gently telling myself I’m being ridiculous, or that I need to shut the hell up. And in case this doesn’t sound self-helpy enough, there are things I’ve changed in my daily routine that make a big difference. Stretching every morning. Regular bedtimes. Talking myself through it when my thoughts start spinning. Not drinking to the point of blackout. Revolutionary stuff.

Believing life is going to go to hell with no notice feels natural, a preset that I can’t switch. But I’m trying. It doesn’t always go well. I’ve come a long way from breaking mirrors when I can’t get my hair right, which is good because I regularly get owned by 16-year-olds from La Jolla on YouTube. I go to bed on time, most of the time. I do my homegrown yoga. I have a good man, I have good friends, I have a huge terror that they’re going to disappear and it’ll be all my fault. But it’s less powerful, and I’m getting better at dealing with it. Someday, it might shrink even more.

I keep telling myself that everything is going to be okay. Some days, I believe it.