Tag Archives: pioneer woman

Stifled by Comfort

18 Aug

validatorI spent a week on the beach, was romantically dismissed via text while aboard a train to Camarillo, and all I got was this lousy revelation. I have a deep-seated fear of comfort. Apparently, somewhere along the way through my 37 years, I became a person who only realizes growth in adversity. Even though I’ve always felt like the most risk-averse person on the entire planet, evidently I thrive on tribulation.

That would make the perfect personal ad.

Let’s take this apart. A few weeks ago, I was preparing to board a flight to Baltimore, and in a rare fit of wild abandon, I procured a copy of a magazine I never read: Time. The cover story was “The Pursuit of Happiness”, and it was a marvelous scientific tribute to why Americans are particularly adept at this activity. But I didn’t read it that day, because I loaned the magazine to my seatmate on the flight, a young Nepalese engineer on his way to DC, and he fell asleep, cradling the magazine against his chest. As much as I liked the guy, I kinda didn’t really want to touch the magazine after he returned it to me.

Weeks went by, and in another airport, this time on my way to Huntington Beach, I picked up another issue of this never-read-by-me magazine. The cover story was “The Childfree Life”. This story I read immediately, seeking solace in the knowledge that other people were choosing a life like mine. Clearly, Time‘s reporters have been following me around and consulting my therapists for editorial topics.

Then, like I said, I spent a week at the beach, swam in the ocean, learned how to surf(!), hiked in Griffith Park, and spent days and days and days talking to my most effective therapists and life coaches, my two best friends from high school. My most recent romantic dismissal was a tiny blip on the radar as we examined the larger questions of why I am still single. The overwhelming conclusion was that I definitely need to move back to New York City. I’ve held myself in suspension in inappropriate climates for far too long. It’s time to return to my people, my career, my brother, my Yankees, my U.S. Open.

So. More time passes and I finally read the happiness article in Time. As it turns out, Americans are genetically predisposed to the “pursuit” aspect of happiness more than anything else. Because our forebears risked everything to leap from the known to the preposterously foreign, our genes instruct us to do the same. But discontent has flourished as we’ve evolved into a tame clock-punching society.

I confess that my initial conclusion after reading this article was that I am clearly an American anomaly, as the writer of the article noted that the genes for anxiety and risk-averse behavior are in the minority in our culture. Well, I got a huge dose of those genes, thanks!

But then, let more time pass and cue epiphany. This morning I was walking along the river behind my apartment in Texas, and my mind synchronized all of the aforementioned data and arrived at this conclusion: I am stifled by comfort. I seek growth in adversity. Why else would I break up with every wonderful man I dated in my 20s, move to Utah with a guy from London I’d only met a few months previous, live there for seven years while dating mostly horribly inappropriate people, and then instead of taking myself back to New York, veered off course and ended up in Fort Worth, Texas to take care of my ailing mother, who is my anti role model?

Yes, people, as much as I claim to crave understanding, I prefer to place myself in adverse scenarios where I can prove that I will once again thrive. And I always do. I make amazing friends, I find all the best art museums and restaurants. I feel happy. BUT, I never find romantic attachment. Instead, I choose impossible dating scenarios that involve tremendous gaps in age, distance, or demographics.

Earlier this year, I attended a workshop where a session leader talked about hidden beliefs. Things we “didn’t know that we didn’t know that we didn’t know”. Guess what I didn’t know that I didn’t know that I didn’t know? My parents had a horrific marriage in which my mother gave up any attempt at a career, settled into what she thought would be a life spent coasting in domestic comfort, realized she married an abusive alcoholic, and then set about moving us to a new town every few years in pursuit of the best educational opportunities for her children (I thank her for that). She never earned more than minimum wage and she never dated anyone again. Now she’s destitute and alone, claiming that her children are her greatest achievement.

As a born over-achiever, what do you think my greatest fear is? That I will settle into a comfortable romantic scenario where I am cared for, coddled, understood… and then just like my wonderful father demonstrated in early childhood, that love will be arbitrarily and completely withdrawn.  There is no sustenance in love, only false comfort that lulls you into a dangerous sleep that will ultimately lead to your failure and bankruptcy. Oh, and for my father’s part, even if you say you don’t want children, they will be forced upon you.

Take a deep breath. These are not truths. These are my hidden, secret, totally unfettered beliefs. Now that I’ve seen them, all I have to do is dispel the myths and move on. And I’m going to do that the old-fashioned American way. I am going to place myself on one more risk-taking adventure. I’m moving back to New York City on November 1.  Maybe if I place myself in a city that to me represents the most discomfiting of comforts, I might be able to seek solace in romantic attachment again. Or at least put myself in a position where I might meet someone who makes sense for me.

This Place is Bugged

8 May

bugShaking out a crumpled black silk linen sweater that was half-committed to a laundry pile, I felt a piece of lint or substantial fuzz land upon the top of my foot. Looking down I saw nothing, but definitely felt the presence of a small morsel of weight, maybe a few grams, so I used my other foot to persuade the object to leave me and join the other bits of fuzz on my carpet.

But then there was an argument, and removed object scurried back toward foot. And  object was identified as insect! And scream was emitted from deepest diaphragm through throat and mouth.

A secondary whinnying whine emanated as I bent to contemplate the shape of a crawly thing unlike anything I’d ever seen. Some sort of prehistoric relic, pale white, probably because it usually lives in the dark, wriggling in an apparent negotiation with my kinder, more benevolent self. No, sir, no, sorry, you are strange and have a much larger head than your pointy remainder of posterior, and you seem to be articulated and shelled, but you are not here. You are not to be here!

“What are you, anyway? You’re some terrifying creature! Get me out of Texas!”

Poor thing, if it had an auditory nerve, it was traumatized. And, sure, it was convenient to blame Texas for its insect life when in fact that sweater has been crumpled since I returned from New York some time ago. Clearly it’s this partially adopted homeland that is the source of all multi-legged trauma. An escape from here means… roaches… like the one that enjoyed spending time on the shower wall while I was in New York. Or worse, like the giant one that was in my living room two weeks ago, which my dear neighbor and bold friend had to destroy on my behalf after I squealed in her direction via text message.

Uncrumpled sweater now on my person, I walked out the front door, past a newly discovered wasp nest, and wondered at my new status as crazy bug lady. I’ll have to contact maintenance about the wasp nest, of course. It will be my fourth insect-related complaint to the main office of my apartment complex. Because I am a hopeless and helpless female, alone in this world, and I absolutely refuse to contend with flying things that sting.

Alone in this world. Not really. Because my dear friend did leap to my rescue when I just sent one or two syllables her way. And there was the time the girl from the front desk of the apartment complex actually came upstairs with a clutch of paper towels to remove a wasp from my living room. To prove that I am not a parasite myself, I brought her some chocolate sea salt cookies as a thank you later that afternoon.

I did manage to remove another wasp one afternoon, via a dishtowel which I tossed onto the patio and left there on the concrete until the winged devil could leave by his own volition.

Just what is the message that I need to receive here? I’m strong enough to contend with creatures that for all intents and purposes are “more scared of you than you are of them”? Should I be proud that I no longer cower in fear and wait for my boyfriend to come deal with a spider that I’ve trapped under a glass under my desk? Is this a good thing? Or further proof that I really am gonna have to handle everything from here on out?

I guess I’ll contact maintenance in the morning. They may deem me inadequate in pest control, but they didn’t see the dinosaur bug that once haunted the sweater I am now wearing. That’s a battle won by me, and me alone.

Alight and Remain

5 May

I sit before you now the builder of a failed fire. The white charred bits of unburned logs are the brightest parts of the pitch-black firebox in my living room. Over the past hour, I stuffed three weeks’ worth of Sunday New York Times in there, trying to coerce two lonely logs to say farewell to winter with me, but they just wouldn’t catch.

The now-petrified hunks of crackling timber were porch dwellers until this evening, and I suppose they were probably damp with Texas humidity. Also, I didn’t have any kindling of any kind, not even dryer lint, which the son of a cowboy told me is a reliable fire starter.

My fire structure technique was way off, too. Sure, I opened the flue, step one complete. But I didn’t do a bed of newspaper on the grate, instead I just stuffed it underneath the metal bars. The aforementioned absent kindling was just a vestige of my imagination. And then the two logs… well they popped with laughter when I used my extra-long fireplace matches to try to introduce flame to the scenario.

So, at this moment, my apartment is the site of the world’s foremost exhibition of “all smoke and no fire.”

I always think I am about to set something on fire, but then I discover a lack of kindling. Eager to witness controlled destruction, I persist in my attempts to immolate, but the feebly arranged paper burns in huge gulps of flame without inspiring long-term ignition of the real wood.

“I’m unwilling to set this thing on fire and push it out to sea just yet,” I wrote but didn’t send to my love. He received the missive anyway and refused to annihilate “this thing we have so nicely and easily put together.”

When I prodded more and shoved more newspaper under the grate, piling on printed words twisted into vain attempts to mimic kindling, he shrugged it off. “I’m not worried about anything between us.”

He is the kevlar and I am the flint.

High-Altitude Training

27 Sep

My first steps in Utah fell on the point of a mountain. It was one of the littlest mountains at the south end of Salt Lake Valley, but the perch was high enough that it looked down upon a cliff where paragliders from all the around the world flocked to hurl themselves off rock into thin air. Somehow New York me and London him thought we’d want to cohabitate in an environment completely opposite to the ones we’d known thus far in our lives.

Oops.

It snowed the first millisecond we arrived, and every single millisecond thereafter, and I spent the duration of the winter pressed up against the second-story window of my home office, watching for signs of frozen precipitation. Weather reports for Salt Lake City did not apply up there at 7,200 feet, so I found a website linked to an amateur weather station around the corner from where I was trapped in oblivion, 45 minutes away from the nearest cup of chain-store coffee.

Our driveway was a vertical cliff face, an icy amenity which probably guaranteed the property’s rental status for the duration of its existence on this planet. Despite these living circumstances, we did not procure cars with four-wheel drive, opting instead for matching VW Golf TDIs, his in black, mine in indigo.

Neither of us could ever, ever hope to park in the garage unless the driveway was completely bone dry, cleared of every last snowflake. So, I being the champion worrier and professional procrastinator that I am, took hours away from my editing job and transformed myself into a hardened pioneer woman. Unafraid to slide down the driveway in shoes meant for city sidewalks, I shoveled and shoveled in my strange new habitat. I could feel the stay-at-home moms staring at me through slatted window blinds, wondering at my ineptitude. Sometimes I looked up and smiled, hoping I looked more like a happy movie montage than some sort of misplaced, rage-filled Brooklyn DeNiro in a witness protection comedy.

Weekends were more relaxed. With no returning workaday man to worry about, I was able to indulge in a pioneer activity in which I actually held some competence. Baking. Girl can bake, and has done booked ever since she was seven years old.

So when all my batches of brownies and cookies refused to rise above a syrupy scrum of molasses-like disaster, I stood in the perfect white of my kitchen tucked into a white hill, and cried clear tears. Why. Had I lost this skill.

Dramatic irony tells the wise reader that altitude was the issue, but it wasn’t until my fifth batch of failed brownies that I realized that at the conclusion of every recipe were “high-altitude directions” I’d been ignoring my entire life. Ahhh. Ahhh. A new skill to apply! Research to embrace. Proportions and measurements, reduce sugars and leavening this much, increase liquid this much. Soon a slightly warped version of baked goods was coming out of my oven, and I was surviving in a strange new land.

Over the course of eight years, I got used to certain disappointments in Utah baking. My brownies never did quite set right, no matter what I did. Cookies always laid as flat as the dead cowboy centered in a painting that still adorns my walls. Cupcakes… well, I hated them, but Unrequited said they were just fine. Friends always ate the heaps of baked goods I dropped at their front door. I bake only to go through the comforting motions. Then I take a bite and give it away. Trust me, I’m not some disciplined dieter from the 1950s. Sugar just arm wrestles me into total collapse, so I tend to avoid it.

Cue new home at just about sea level in Fort Worth. Months go by while my baking implements rest in their new pantry, waiting for the familiar caress of their sugar-fearing mistress. Autumn tries to impress me with some darker mornings that keep me pinned in bed longer, and temperatures sinking to a crazy 91 degrees in the daytime. And it’s time to bake.

No adjustments to recipes necessary, I was vaguely curious about the results of my first brownie endeavor on the prairie. I doubted it could be very different. Sure that my recollection of childhood baking endeavors must have exaggerated the cakieness of brownies and cookies past. I needn’t expect to experience the exhilaration of good texture again. Temper your feelings, dear Bunky. Temper, temper.

Timer goes off. Brownies come out of the oven a full 15 minutes earlier than in Salt Lake, adhering to recipe directions for the first time in nearly a decade. Cool, cool, let the damn things cool. Slice, and good gawd, they are even crumbling differently! They are crumbling ferchrissakes.

One bite, and I knew. Everything in life was now completely different. Order had been restored. Joy returned. I am a baker again! I am soft and fluffy and I am the cookie of contentment. Thank you, dear Texas. Now please, who will take all these brownies off my hands?

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