In reversals of fortune of any scale, there’s a tension for me between giving myself a break because I’m going through something difficult and doubling down because the work is unfinished. And as long as we’re on this side of the grass, the work is unfinished: the work of grief, or recovery, or redress, or of just attending to life in general. Whatever work there is, it certainly gets an assist from rest and recharge. But the personal ‘by’ is tricky tool to employ well. There’s a big risk of letting the self miss important opportunities.
There’s no shortage of fresh horrors to compound the political news that seemed to reach its apex on November 9th, but re-grouping from the wallop of the election results is not something we can really afford, as citizens, to drag out. Because that wasn’t the apex. It was the opening bell of the next round. Good people are out there doing the work of resistance, and they need help.
[If you have not already done this, please click here for simple instructions on how to add your representatives’ contact info to your address book, a genius move that means you can pipe up easily any time you feel the urge to be represented by your government. Calls rank way ahead of electronic petitions (and face-to-face contact way head of calls), so by all means keep signing petitions, but build up the muscles in that dialing finger, too.]
My righteous rage gets fueled by reminding myself of the gulf between me and a red voter. That’s useful to the extent that it keeps me fighting, direct-dialing my senators’ offices and signing petitions and so forth. But its utility is limited by the fact that admiring the depth and breadth of the gulf–Isn’t it W I D E? Is it not so very very deeeeep? look at all those nutjobs over there on the other side, in their stupid hats!–is what got us here.
We need to cross it. We need to move off of ‘HOW can you POSSIBLY think THAT?’ (as tempting and itch-scratching as it appears to be) to a genuinely curious ‘how did you come to think that?’ We need to cultivate curiosity and get more comfortable with discomfort—the kind that comes from acknowledging we don’t know something and the kind that comes from being in unfamiliar settings and the kind that comes from trying new things we are sure in advance that we won’t like.
A few years ago I read Anne Fadiman’s gorgeously-written and compelling book, The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down, which to me grabs the very nut we seek here: how do we cultivate understanding and cooperation across a perceived divide? I just bought twelve used copies of the book. I’m seeding the landscape with them. Message me if you’d like one.
In this way, we come quite naturally to the topic of food. As if she heard me thinking that I was going to commit to kicking myself out of my own wheelhouse and being a student in 2017, right around peak New Year’s Resolution time my friend Marisa launched her Mastery Challenge, inviting readers to pursue a new food preservation skill each month. I trotted right over to Food In Jars HQ and signed myself up, because in my twisted little head, these acts of resistance and changes on a grand scale have to at least thread through (even if they don’t dominate) every aspect of our lives. I can’t Become A Student Of That Which Lies Beyond The Known and still keep everything in my little bubble world just so. The toast in the morning could be doing its part to remind me.
She heard me a little too well, it seems, because then she announced Challenge One.
I loathe, detest and despise it. I resist, refuse and revile it. I am a big lemon lover, a devotee of citrus generally, and passionately fond of bitter things like broccoli rabe and endive and so forth. But marmalade: no.
I had that feeling one gets when one has signed up willingly to do something that one knows will test one–even in the hopes that it will test one–and then one finds oneself tested and one does not like it. Not one little bit.
Marisa helpfully provided lots of information on how to make good marmalade. And she did remind us that we could use free license to interpret each challenge in such as way as to make something our households would enjoy.
The thing is that the Venn diagram of “marmalade” and “something my household would enjoy” does not exist. When I googled up “marmalade for people who hate marmalade,” I arrived at this lovely place, and the thing I made was in fact pretty delicious (remember I told you that I heart citrus?).
Which is how we know it also wasn’t marmalade. (Remember I told you that I hate marmalade?)
YOU HAVE TO DO THIS THING, I told myself sternly.
I remembered that a friend once gave me a jar of yuzu marmalade, which many Asian cultures prize as a health aid in winter; a spoonful of it dissolved in hot water certainly makes a person happy, whatever contribution that or its nutrients have for health. Maybe I can reproduce that, I said encouragingly to myself, despite the fact that I lack any kind of reasonable access to an actual yuzu.
Right on cue, my mother’s Meyer lemon tree obligingly produced some tiny lemons and our local market had a lovely variegated pink lemon on offer, which I highly recommend you try if you come across one, as well as some very lusty looking kumquats. I whanged them all up together. I made marmalade.
I really, really wish I could say that I liked it.
I did not.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a yuzu. I don’t think it’s because I made it wrong. I was inclined to think it was because I went about it wrong, because obviously if I was doing this whole thing correctly I would have blasted through my wall of resistance and become a marmaladist.
OH, WAIT. I was going about it wrong.
A Green Eggs + Ham result is not guaranteed from these exercises of adventure. It’s not just new things to like, 2017—it’s the art of graceful (yet engaged) disagreement. That’s what I’m aiming for. (If you’re going to click on any of the links in this excessively linked post, please click on that one.)
“You don’t have to like it, but you do have to try it.” It sure beats 2016’s mantra, which devolved for me to a muttered “I hate everything’ as that year made its final, greedy grabs.
Message me if you’d like a jar of marmalade. It’s homemade!