this weekend was all about onions.
i have a history of publicly documenting all my crushes, from tony (h.o.t) to keira knightley to freja beha, and my crush on kristen kish has fared no differently. i remember hearing about her when she won top chef back in 2013, but, back then, i was going through a terrible time, dangerously unhappy in law school and trying not to think about dying all the time (and failing), and i didn't have the headspace to think beyond, oh, she's korean? that's cool, as i was dissolving in the cesspool my depression had made of my brain.
when you're trying to stay alive, the only thing you can do is focus on saving yourself.
last year, i finally watched top chef season 10, and it's the only season of top chef i've seen, and i didn't even watch it in its entirely because i only watched the episodes she was on-screen. even then, i didn't watch all of that first episode either, because, one, there were way too many contestants to keep track of and, two, i'm totally one of those people who will watch something for one person and that person only and, thus, have no interest when that person is not present. (sorry, sheldon, i liked you and your food a lot, too, but what can i say? i'm wired this way.)
i watched much of that season of top chef over and over last summer because i couldn't read much, couldn't really focus on books — or on literature, to be precise; i read a lot (and i mean, a LOT) of lucky peach — so i did the odd thing and watched a lot of television. (that's not a diss against television; i'm just not a big TV-watcher.) that's not to say i picked up a lot of new shows; my TV-watching is pretty much relegated to rewatching things, like SVU (until i have nightmares about being assaulted in my own apartment) (this is a real fear) or the x-files (until i have dreams in which i am an FBI agent shadowing mulder and scully) or the first three seasons of the gilmore girls (until all i want is to eat a damn burger) or friends (until i've reached my limit of the fatphobic, homophobic, racist jokes) (friends is a highly problematic show).
top chef, though — i've had friends think out loud that it's weird i never did watch it (or the food network either, for that matter) given how much i love food. again, though, i'm not a big TV-watcher, and it didn't help that top chef started airing a few seasons into project runway, and, by that point, i'd fatigued of the competitive reality TV thing, sick of all the contrived drama, the pettiness that was either genuine or generated for ratings (i still can't decide which is worse), the insufficient focus on the designing and clothes-making, which was the most interesting part.
(i loved season two of project runway and was peeved when daniel vosovic didn't win when chloe's collection was the same shiny prom dress over and over again.)
so, anyway, this is one long-ass introduction to i cooked from the kish cookbook this weekend!, but, yeah, so, last summer, i watched season 10. there wasn't enough cooking. there thankfully also wasn't too much stupid drama (i hear the earlier seasons were worse in the drama department). it helped me get through last summer because it made me smile and got me excited about food and cooking when i thought everything inside me was dead. i don't know why i wrote all that down, but, like i said, i've a lifelong impulse of publicly documenting my crushes.
random fact: i still haven't watched the judges' table when kish was eliminated.
okay, maybe no one needs a series of photos of onions caramelizing over 1 1/2 hours ... or maybe you do. i mean, look how pretty!
to caramelize onions properly, heat oil and butter in a sauté pan on medium heat until foaming. turn down to low heat; add sliced white onions; and cook on low for 1 1/2 hours, stirring frequently to prevent burning. your onions will go from white and opaque to soft and translucent before taking on an amber tinge that will darken as your onions shrink and caramelize. they will smell heavenly.
“i love you,” i say.
“do you love every part of me?” (machado, “eight bites,” 164)
over the weekend, i deleted instagram from my phone. i normally don't check twitter or email on weekends, anyway, and i'm not on facebook, so it's easy enough to disconnect if i want. this wasn't an attempt to reconnect with the world at-large, though, because the truth is that california compounds all my lonelinesses, so what i have mostly when i disconnect from the internet is nothing but everything in my brain.
it's not california's fault; it's more the inevitable result of returning to the place you were raised after having failed miserably in the place you consider home — and, not only that, but returning a different person — or maybe who you really were all along; you've simply learned to fit into your skin; and this you is not one the people from your past recognize, and you’re unwilling and unable to go back to that role you played before.
loneliness has been a lifelong struggle, and that, too, is maybe something inevitable because that's what happens when you don't know how to live in your skin. when you hate yourself, when you want to disappear, you make a ghost of yourself, and you can never thrive. you can never live. you can never make connections in any meaningful way, not when you can never be known because who you are has been buried away under all the self-loathing, the self-hatred, the resentment, buried so deep underneath all that crap that you don’t even know yourself, can’t even look in the mirror without feeling repulsed, without being frightened by how your reflection seems to be so ghostly, not really there.
it’s not easy to learn to forgive yourself, to accept yourself as you are, as you look, as you feel and want and hurt.
it’s not easy to demand you be seen as you are, that you be loved in the way you deserve.
it’s not easy to hope you will ever exist in the world as a whole person, not someone damaged beyond repair.
honestly, though? i don’t like hope. i’ve mentioned before (whether here or elsewhere) how much i hate hope, how i expend a considerable amount of energy trying to diminish it, to reduce it because i feel like, the more i hope, the more disappointment hurts, the more it cuts me down.
at the same time, my active attempts to diminish hope are maybe countered by my reminders to myself to live in the present. enjoy current successes. allow myself the joys of possibilities. revel in the accomplishments, big and small, and let myself hope (stupidly) that all this work is leading somewhere.
and, yet, the reminder to stay in the present is also this: stay in present hope; don’t invest in the hope of possibilities. hope in things that have a concrete, knowable foundation. that doesn’t leave me with much.
truth be told, i don’t have a whole lot of hope. part of that is that i don’t allow myself to hope in that future someday anymore; too many disappointments have taught me to avoid that. i don’t hope in things that might happen, not until there is a degree of certainty that they will, indeed, happen. i don’t write or create in the hopes that anything will come from any of this; i do it because i don’t know how to do otherwise — i do it in attempts to find meaning amidst drudgery, to find connections in loneliness.
and maybe that’s bleak, maybe that’s sad, but that’s survival. you could argue that we need hope to survive, but the truth is that, sometimes, all we can do is survive, and there’s no energy or headspace or room in that to hope. hope requires energy. hope, in and of itself, requires hope. it requires faith in something, that there is something better out there, that none of this (whatever “this” is) is for nothing, and, when you’re in that darkest, most insidious place, when you’re trying to extricate yourself from that and just get to stable again, sometimes, there is no hope, there is no faith, and there is no energy to generate either. when you’re trying your damnedest just to stay alive, staying alive in the most basic, physical way is all that matters.
so, i get through my life one task, one book, one meal at a time. i read, and i write, and i cook on the weekends when i can. i look forward to the occasional dinner with friends. i stay active on social media. i try to hold onto all the parts inside me that are still beating, even if that means stupid shit like watching a television show or listening to a song over and over again, and i try. i apply for jobs. i try to write. i think about future travels that have already been booked, to san francisco this weekend, portland next month, baltimore for thanksgiving.
i think about the present things i have to look forward to, but maybe here’s the catch: i never look past the end of this year because the future to me still does not exist. i do not exist in that future there.
the only thing i miss about summer is all the amazing corn ice cream.
in the bedroom there is a queen-sized bed, a raft in the middle of a great stone ocean. on the dresser rolls a light bulb that, if held close to the ear and agitated, would reveal the broken filament rattling in the glass. necklaces rope old wine bottles like nooses, frosted stoppers silence glass decanters. a nightstand that, when opened, reveals — shut that, please. in the bathroom, a mirror flecked with mascara from when bad leans in close, the amoeba of her breath growing and shrinking. you never live with a woman, you live inside her, i overheard my father say to my brother once, and it was, indeed, as if, when peering into the mirror, you were blinking out through her thickly fringed eyes. (machado, “mothers,” 53)
last week, i started reading carmen maria machado’s her body and other parties (graywolf, 2017), her debut collection of short stories that was published to huge amounts of acclaim and was, last week, short-listed for the national book award. i finished reading it on saturday night, and i’m a little of two minds about it — on one hand, i loved it; machado’s story-telling is hypnotic and astute, her prose lovely and haunting, but, on the other, i felt like my intense, burning love for the stories diminished as i read on.
i wrote huh. idk at the end of the last three stories, and i think it’s accurate to say the turning point, for me, in this collection was the longest story, “especially heinous,” in the middle, a story that took episode titles from law and order: special victims unit, wrote short episode summaries for each, and strung together an overarching story. while i loved the way that story was framed, it felt too long, spread a little too thin; i wondered how much more powerful the story would have been had machado done ten seasons, not twelve.
moving on from “especially heinous” (and going past “real women have bodies” which i liked), i wanted to love “the resident,” in which the narrator is a writer who goes to an artists’ residency in the woods, near where she want to camp as a girl scout but, ultimately, felt it lacking. i wanted something more solid from “eight bites,” a story in which the narrator gets gastric bypass surgery and finds a creature in her home, a thing without eyes and bones that is, what i presume, something symbolic of what she casts off with her surgery … but what, i’m still unsure.
and i think that’s the thing that’s left me tilting my head, that machado gives us these things that feel like they’re supposed to be symbolic but leave us wondering in what ways. i was blown away by the first story, “the husband stitch,” but i was also confused — what the hell is that green ribbon supposed to mean? i know it’s taken from another story, and is it supposed to have the same meaning as it does there? what does it mean that it seems to be a thing that other girls also have but on different parts of their bodies?
stories like machado’s remind me of a note my writing professor gave me once: i apologize for not being sharp-witted enough to understand this — and i don’t say this in any kind of diminishing way because i write stories like machado’s, stories that turn on a concept, a conceit, and get lost in the boundaries, that maybe wind around more in the liminal spaces between what is, what was, and what might be — stories that make the reader ask a lot of questions but in a maddening, what the hell?!? kind of way. editing, to me, is always a game in bringing things down from the more complex to the knowable.
oddly, though, none of this is meant to dissuade anyone from reading her body and other parties because it is an incredible collection. machado’s mind is the kind of dark, magical, cerebral place i want to occupy, and her women are the kinds of women i want to meet, complicated, weird, and present with their desires and madnesses (in ways) and bodies. maddening questions or not, these are stories worth your time.
seriously. i shit you not. read machado. let those first three stories in particular blow your freaking mind.
i’ve been baking for years as a way to deal with depression and anxiety, and, this year, i finally started making pasta. i don’t know why it took me so long to get into that; it’s the perfect act, really, for getting a handle on my anxiety when it starts running wild because pasta-making is everything i love about working with any kind of dough — you work ingredients together to make a dough; you roll it; you cut it; you shape it.
the first time i had cavatelli, it was may of this year, and it was at republique, one of my favorite restaurants, and i fell in love. there’s a springy, dense chewiness to it that i love, and cavatelli sops up flavors and pairs well with heavier, creamy flavors. that’s not to say you need a complex sauce; i tossed this cavatelli in butter, freshly-grated parmesan, onion syrup, and a raw egg yolk; and it was divine.
sometimes, the best things really are the stupidly simple ones.
i’ve been running high levels of anxiety all year, and it’s sometimes a little scary, realizing how my sense of what is a normal level of anxiety has shifted in the last twelve, eighteen months. anxiety runs under every hour of my day, whether i’m awake or asleep, whether i’m at work or at home, and it’s something i’m no longer cognizant of all the time, this constant, faithful companion of mine. it’s always there in the ways i’m always uneasy, always restless, always on this brink of feeling numb and feeling nauseated. it’s there in the ways i pick ceaselessly at the skin around my nails until my fingers reverberate with pain with such intensity i can’t sleep. it’s there in the ways i can’t sleep anyway, in the nightmares that whirl through my brain, that wake me to panic and sadness and fear.
some days are better than others. the end of the week is usually the worst, especially when i also find out on friday that kish will be at hedley and bennett for an event the weekend i'm going to portland, and this has been a stupid running joke for the last 18 months, and not one i enjoy. (/end rant.)
anyway, so, over the weekend, i stayed home, took benadryl to sleep, and cooked from the kish cookbook. i read her book non-linearly, reading the introduction backwards, hopping from section to section until i’d read it all and tabbed recipes i wanted to try. this weekend, i made the onion broth, onion syrup, and cavatelli, and i enjoyed how non-simple and slow everything was. the onion broth takes a few hours (it would also take an extra day if you were to make the chicken broth from scratch, which i normally would have, had i the energy and chicken bones). it takes 1 1/2 hours to caramelize onions properly. you have to let pasta dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour so the gluten can do its work.
sometimes, what you need to do is take the time things take.
and that’s the damn lesson of the year, isn’t it? things take time. a book can take 9 freaking years to write. it takes time for things to be considered. it takes time to build an audience. it takes time to learn to live with the shit in your brain.
it takes time to learn to live in your skin.
i called her two days later, never having believed more firmly in love at first sight, in destiny. when she laughed on the other end of the line, something inside of me cracked open, and i let her step inside. (machado, “mothers,” 48)
i believe in a world where impossible things happen. where love can outstrip brutality, can neutralize it, as though it never was, or transform it into something new and more beautiful. where love can outdo nature. (machado, “mothers,” 56)
when it comes to humans in general, i’m principally drawn to one thing: a striving for excellence.
it encompasses so much, i think, and it demonstrates a lot about a person because it asks, what are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want, where you want? some people have no qualms sacrificing relationships, love, stability all in that race to be the best, to accomplish what they want, to get to that point of success. some people give up their health, ruining their bodies by pushing them to their limits and beyond. some people sacrifice their integrity.
others manage to balance things better, and, yes, sometimes, that comes with a price. if you have less time, less energy to devote to pursuit of your craft, your success, then maybe you won’t perfect that skill or technique as quickly as someone else. maybe you won’t advance as quickly as someone. maybe you won’t scale that ladder as nimbly.
it’s all about priorities, though, isn’t it?
so what are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want?
to end on something awesome: KAZUO ISHIGURO WON THE NOBEL PRIZE.
i shit on awards all the time because, sometimes, they make really weird decisions (remember that year the pulitzer didn’t even award a prize in fiction and gave some stupid, bullshit answer in defense? or last year when the nobel went to bob dylan?), and, yeah, awards don’t ultimately mean that much in the grander scheme of things, but, damn, it’s gratifying when a deserving author wins something.
and, hey, maybe i’m biased here, but ishiguro’s damn deserving of this.
ishiguro was one of the first contemporary authors i read, and i didn’t start reading contemporary literature until 2005-ish, which is around when never let me go was first published. at the time, i didn’t think that much about the fact that he was japanese-british, that he wrote in english and not in japanese, that he was an immigrant. i forget why i picked up the book at all, but i did, and i remember that punch in the gut, the oof that came with every new revelation, the tears that started with ruth’s death and continued until the end of the book.
i still start crying when ruth completes. i still cry all the way through the end.
i read this book every year at least once, and it never stops stop sucker-punching me every time.
but then again, when i think about it, there's a sense in which that picture of us on that first day, huddled together in front of the farmhouse, isn't so incongruous after all. because maybe, in a way, we didn't leave it behind nearly as much as we might once have thought. because somewhere underneath, a part of us stayed like that: fearful of the world around us, and — no matter how much we despised ourselves for it — unable quite to let each other go. (ishiguro, never let me go, 120)
i’ve read all of ishiguro’s work except for the unconsoled now, and i haven’t read that yet because it’s really long and i have a decided aversion to long books. i tend to be loathe to name people as influences, and i don’t even know that i would call ishiguro an influence on me, except that he was the first POC author i read, one of the first authors who showed me that there were people out there writing now, in this present, and getting paid to do it.
and something i just really want to say is, being able to see yourself in the world matters.
in her memoir, blood, bones, and butter (penguin, 2011), gabrielle hamilton is forthcoming about her hesitance to be placed in the group of “female chef.” she doesn’t want that label; she just wants to be a chef; she doesn’t want her gender to matter. to an extent, i see her argument, and, ten years ago, i would have agreed with her. i would have argued it really shouldn’t matter, the color of our skin, our gender, our sexuality; it should just matter that we can do the work we do, whatever that work is, and do it well. we should be able to disappear into our work.
now, though, i see how naive that argument is, how wrapped up in privilege, whether its privilege that actually exists (as it might for hamilton as a white woman) or a privilege that is imagined but desired (as it was for me as a WOC).
and i can see the desire to escape from these labels, to be seen for the work we spend so many years striving to excel in, and yet, there is also this: it matters. it is important for us to own our labels, to be women, to be people of color, to be queer, to be trans, to be whatever the hell we are because it is important to be able to see ourselves out in the world, in media, in the arts. so much begins in looking out at the world and seeing someone and her/his/their work and thinking, that person looks like me, and that person is doing this. i can do that, too.
so i’m freaking thrilled that kazuo ishiguro won the nobel. he’s an incredible, astute, thoughtful writer, and few people write first-person narrators like he does. he writes books that are just his own, that go against the bullshit that the dominant white industry demands from its writers of color, that narrative that’s pushed on us, and obsessively explores the question of who we are in this world, of memory and its flaws, of what makes human. he does it all in these quiet stories that seem humdrum almost, prosaic, quiet lives lived by quiet characters, and he brings such poignant thoughtfulness to his stories that touch you in gentle but unnerving ways.
and that is important to recognize, that here is a writer of color who was born in one place but grew up in another who is doing good work, but, more than that, recognition is crucial for other aspiring writers of color out there, immigrant writers, writers who are children of immigrants, all of us, wherever we come from, whoever we are, because we carry multitudes within us, multitudes that go against the narratives the majority wants, and it means something to be able to look up and say, hey, i can do that, too.
that might be the kind of hope i do believe in.
(for the record, i love gabrielle hamilton and think everyone should read blood, bones, and butter. also, kristen kish cooking will be published on 2017 october 31 by clarkson potter. this book was not provided to me by the publisher. all thoughts and content and S:DKLFJ:KLDS;OMGILOVEYOU are my own.)