Friday, December 05, 2008

First of all, thank you Marian N. for sending us the copy of Lilith in which your essay appeared. It was great--and I devoured the whole magazine.

Next, I have received permission from my beloved to write about the Great Turkey Hotline Debacle, which I had discreetly edited out of last week's Thanksgiving post. Not that I lied. We did have a great, warm, musical, friend-filled Thanksgiving. It's just that it was preceded by the sturm und drang that comes from two people who have each developed their own style of doing things that has worked for them just fine lo these many years, and who now find themselves yoked to a person who does things completely differently.

To wit: holiday prep. I've been making turkeys for Thanksgiving for years now, big dinners that feed at least a dozen people, and everything has been fine. I pride myself on my ability to feed people. I can throw something together for any number of guests with hardly any warning and it will be tasty and plentiful. If C was in the habit of bringing home unexpected company for dinner he would appreciate this trait in me.

But C doesn't bring home guests with no warning. C makes plans in advance. And C sees dirt. I mean, he literally can perceive dust and dirt where I don't. In this, he is in the majority, and I am in the minority (especially for a female.) Usually, the man is the one who leaves the toilet seat up and his dirty socks on the floor. With us, it's the opposite. I am Oscar, he's Felix. Not that I leave the toilet seat up. But you get the idea. I just run my eye over the room, note that there are no dead bodies on the floor, no pools of blood, no piles of excrement, and that last week's New York Sunday Times has been put in the recycling. Great! I think, and turn back to the food.

So C is the one who vacuums, dusts and mops, and gets me to put away all my products and make-up so he can clean the bathroom. Okay, fine. I'm a hell of a lucky wo,man and many many women would love to have this problem, this man. I'm so sorry he's taken. And also that it's part of God's cosmic joke that most women would be all-too-grateful for a man who cleans and cares about details and many men might appreciate a woman who was relaxed and would gladly entertain their friends at a drop of a hat, but that's not how it works. I'm sure that that's not even how it's supposed to work.

Anyway, a clean house is not my beef. (And, turth to tell, my friends have complimented me on the newfound brightness and shininess of our house and I have been mpore than glaqd to accept those compliments although I always do give credit where credit is due.) My beef is that all this is done accompanied by teeth-gnashing anxiety about whether the turkey will turn out alright, whether everything will be done on time and simultaneously, etc.

This is where I know I'm in the wrong: I take C's anxiety as a personal affront. What, you don't trust me? You don't think I'm a good hostess? Because he was anxious that I hadn't checked the minutes of cooking time per pound ratio on the turkey--I think it's 20 minutes a pound and anyway it's always come out before, and anyway we can check it as it goes along--I put it in the oven early, on 425, a much higher setting than what I usually use. Result: the turkey was well-done--on the verge of being overdone--three hours early.

Then C had a new anxiety: what if the turkey meat breeds bacteria if it just sits around for three or four hours? So he called The Turkey Hotline (I did not even know such an organization existed,) to ask them what to do. The lady told him to put the cooked turkey in the fridge, which he did. I was convinced that this would ruin the flavor/texture etc of my turkey and started crying. Yes, I admit, I was crying over refrigerated turkey. (I was also having a bit of a hormonal meltdown, which I didn't realize at the time. One of the things about being 50 is that these things can no longer be clocked with the same predictability as in earlier years.)

I think I was also crying for Thanksgivings past, for making the dinner with a bunch of women roommates and friends in the kitchen, giggling and laughing and wrestling with the brine and the stuffing and not worrying, just enjoying the time together, the anticipation, the holiday build-up. I was missing the warmth and disorganiization of shtetl life, the way Bethie came over before my birthday party and helped me get ready and how fun that was, and how C said afterwards that we should have had everything ready by ourselves by the time the guests came.

I don't really think of my guests as "guests." I think of them as extended family. I was crying for the stupidest of reasonbs, because it wasn't fun, "This isn't fun!" I cried--all the hile I know only a child needs everything to be fun. But another, stubborn child part of me was thinking this could be fun, this should be fun, why isn't this fun? I was scared of being swallowed up in a grim sterile atmosphere of good housekeeping with gritted teeth. I was missing the presence of children underfoot, Marci coming by with a shopping bag full of bowls and spoons the way she did for one party when I ran out of cutlery and dishware. I wanted it to be okay to improvise, not a sign of not caring, not something that we had to fix.

This is a primal struggle between me and C; his very strong need for order, cleanliness, peace and privacy pitted against my equally intense need for improvisation, family, foolishness and transparency. On bad days I don't know how we will work this out. On good days I think we can learn and grow from each other's differences.

I admit, there is unfinished business from childhood behind my need for imperfection and my violent resistance to being corrected in the kitchen. It makes me feel dirty and ashamed when my cooking is criticized, and I know C never intends to do that.

We took a long walk in the woods the next day and talked about our different ways of handling anxiety. I often don't even know when I feel anxious. I tend to block that emotion, or numb out around it. My mother had M.S. and I had depression from about the age of eight, so I developed the attitude that the worst had already happened. I was most scared that evil lurked within me. I thought nothing outside myself could compare with that fear.

C is much more present to and in touch with his anxieties about the world. He is anxious about averting disaster. He wants to protect and take care of all beings under his care, from his cat to his students to me. He notices all the things that could go terribly wrong in any given situation, scenarios I don't even think of, and does his best to ward them off.

Paradoxically, we trigger each other's worst fears. My fear is of being criticized, and C's acute sensitivity sometimes makes him critical. His worst fear is of having the security of his home broached, or letting people down and my open-door policy and casual attitudes sometimes exasperate him. I think this is normal, and part of the divine plan for marriage--that you marry your worst fear in order to become intimate with it, and learn to love it. To wrestle with the angel until it yields up its blessing. He was attracted to me because of my spontanaeity, my warmth and hospitality. I loved his caring and thoughtfulness and conscientiousness and integrity. But all of our good qualities also have a shadow side. And dancing with each other's shadows is painful.

I admit that the turkey turned out declicious, despite being refrigerated and then reheated. And I am going to get the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker, which comes highly recommended from my IMPACT Bay Area teachers. I want to learn when it's appropriate to be anxious and when it's not. To stop worrying my one big fear, that I am incompetent and shameful and a Bad Person, and begin to channel that fear in a healthy way, to put it where it belongs.


Anonymous said...

the best combination:
opposites attract

don't forget it
you happy, smooth lovers
of this truth!

all best....

Elizabeth said...

Alison, what a beautiful, honest, heartfelt post. rewarding, so much hard work.


Alison said...

Thanks for being able to read between the lines and justifying my faith that if I put out the honest truth, people will appreciate it for what it is.


Vicky said...

Alison, I have been away from your blog too long - what a deeply personal and moving post. You make so much sense, and what you say resonates very much with me. You wrote: "I think this is normal, and part of the divine plan for marriage--that you marry your worst fear in order to become intimate with it, and learn to love it. To wrestle with the angel until it yields up its blessing." A dear friend recently wrote this to me in an e-mail: "There is no true love without sacrifice and/or compromise. In fact, I think love requires that we give up something of our selves in order to connect." I think the divine is trying to tell me something, tell all of us something. Life is work, but the pay-off can be rich.

Alison said...

Hi Vicky,

So great to hear from you! Yes, that question of what and how much of oneself to give up is a hard one for me, and I suspect for a lot of other women. In my first marriage there came a point where I felt I was being asked to give up my own inner knowing, my ability to choose right and wrong for myself. I balked. the marriage ended. I was devastated. years later, I think I did the right thing. Sometimes we women get so caught up in how good it feels to divinely surrender that we forget that in true love both parties are giving up something important--as well as retaining their most cherished values. Not just one person making all the sacrifice. 'Nuff said. I love you and am so glad for you your boys are back in town! It must be great being able to be close!


Anonymous said...

Hi Alison,

I just came by to catch up (we've moved and I am in the midst of .... "moved" and all that entails) and cracked up when I came to this post and the thank you to Marian N.

Isn't Lilith great? And the women there--I worked with the best.

Wonderful post--and the call for men to work at Impact made me want to be a man, so I could sign up.

Good luck on the essay, it will come, as you know.