Sauerkraut

Back in my college days–my first set of college days–when I was just beginning my struggle to fit in, to feel as though I belonged in the world and mattered to anyone in particular, I started reading books about relationships and emotional health. It seemed to go hand-in-hand with my studies of 19th Century Russian poets and novelists; Pushkin and Tolstoy were actually my first therapists. I remember reading several books by Leo Buscaglia and from them I managed to glean a few points that offered cold comfort to my often dejected and shriveled heart at the time. Among the bits of self-esteem fodder that I brought with me through my early adulthood was that a decision by someone to not date me wasn’t necessarily an indication that there was something wrong with me; rather, it could simply indicate that he harbored preferences for a profile that I didn’t possess.

The way I understood it best was to draw an analogy to my own disinterest in sauerkraut. I did not care for sauerkraut. My earliest memory of sauerkraut was from the age of five or so, visiting my aunt on my father’s side, being served sauerkraut with its awful rank smell and its flavor akin to sweaty socks. I did not care for it. I did not want to swallow any more than that first, musty bite. I left it on my plate, hoping my father would be too involved in the latest bellow-fest with his mother to notice that I had not complied with the always-clean-your-plate directive. But no. He was much too shrewd to miss an opportunity to wield power, and he ordered me to finish my sauerkraut. I timidly requested a waiver from the directive on the grounds of certain death by toxic ingestion–or whatever the five-year-old version of that plea might have been. Pleading and timidity only enraged my father, and he LOUDLY sentenced me to remain at the table until I finished the sauerkraut. My mother and grandparents were already accustomed to backing away from his tirades, so no rescue was coming from that quarter; I sat in the dining room, alone, for over an hour while everyone retreated to the family room for whatever sufficed as must-see-TV in those days. At long last my aunt crept in and removed my plate, whispering that she would tell my father I had done the deed. To this day, I’m not certain how much of my antipathy toward sauerkraut was a genuine response of my palate and how much was induced by fatherly terror.

At any rate, I maintained my distance from sauerkraut for many, many years. It was really the only food I could honestly report to my disliking. So it came naturally that I would use it to better understand the mindset and valuation model of personal rejection. I may not care for sauerkraut, but it didn’t mean that there was anything wrong with sauerkraut; it was simply my preference to avoid it. The sauerkraut was held harmless and allowed to continue expressing itself to the rest of the world in the hope that others would embrace it in ways I had not.

It came as a bit of as shock to me several months ago when a fella introduced me to sauerkraut again. At first I demurred, but then I acquiesced and tried it–mostly to appear relaxed and unburdened by childhood trauma, which is never counted in one’s favor within the dating rituals. To my great shock and horror, the sauerkraut was NOT repugnant to me; quite the contrary, it was aromatic and delicious in the most curious ways, and I felt neural pathways being circumvented in my lizard brain. From a culinary perspective, the experience was quite an uplifting breakthrough.

From a social-relational perspective, however, the experience sent me spiraling in turmoil. All this time, through several heartbreaks and a monstrous vocational setback, I had survived by the retelling of the sauerkraut rule: just because you don’t like sauerkraut, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the sauerkraut. Just because I was rejected by a lover or fired by an employer, it didn’t mean there was anything wrong with me–I was simply not what was preferred. Suddenly, in the span of a chewing, I realized it was really the sauerkraut MYTH. Sauerkraut likes to think of itself as a neutral entity, a judgment-free zone, a relational equivalent of Sweden; but the truth is, it’s not just in the minds of those who consume it. Some sauerkraut is empirically superior to other sauerkraut.

This realization has played itself out now on the landscape of my two most significant romances in the last decade. Both Two-Year-Ted and Seven-Year-Sammy have attached themselves to women who are not me, who are not even close to resembling me in any way, shape, or form. Had either one of them chosen a woman with similar characteristics in any realm–physical, intellectual, occupational–I could be persuaded that it was as simple as the sauerkraut rule as I previously understood it. But no. The branding is too far removed for it to be anything other than a taste on their parts for a completely different sauerkraut.

What a sad day for sauerkraut. Sauerkraut sadness is the worst.

Online Dating

A friend of mine is dipping her toes into the pool of online dating–except she is severely limited in her comfort with computer use. She got as far as setting up her profile on Match.com a few months ago, but has done little to further her cause since. So every week I’ve been going to her house to provide tech support and encouragement, but usually she stonewalls and we end up talking instead of finding her a mate.

Tonight was different. Tonight she made no excuses, and we got down to business. She logged on and had 35 messages! Honest to goodness messages from fellas who had obviously read her profile and not just looked at the pictures. Messages that were actually polite, even sweet. (Mind you, my friend is certainly attractive but not a knock-out; I consider us both to be about equal in the looks department. Not that I’m keeping score.)

So she began replying to some of these messages. Not just some; many. She replied with simple messages, inviting more conversation but not desperate for it. I expected her to be nervous and anxious and filled with trepidation, but she seemed to be taking it all in stride, with the tacit understanding that this was just the casual introduction to the possibility of dating. No big deal. One after another, she responded. She must have sent more than a dozen messages. She didn’t even need my help thinking of what to say, she just made a comment on something they’d written, or else she’d ask them which super-power they would choose if they could be equipped with one. (Okay, THAT was my recommendation.)

Her facility with this task was amazing to me as I compared it with my own utter paralysis undertaking the same task two years ago when I was on eHarmony. To be clear, I had nowhere near the quantity of interested fellas seeking my attention–and the majority of those who did seek it lived in the far reaches of Timbuktu instead of within the 100-mile radius I specified. Still, the trickle of souls who dared smile at me forced me into a state of complete apoplexy; I would do a thorough search of their profiles to glean any hint of possible deep connection, and most would fall far short of what I knew to be a compatible realm of date-worthiness. I responded to practically no one. I wasn’t able to take a light-hearted approach to the whole dating scene; the idea bored me. No, I was seeking something special.

And I found it. There was a fella who smiled at me, whose profile was well-written and thorough and real. A fella who answered all the questions–all 1,200 of them, just like me, and came up matching 65+% of them. Not bad odds in my book, considering all the ones that were complete bullshit (like “Which Katy Perry song is your favorite?”). The clincher was our mutual response to a question about whether our pets understood what we say to them: we both answered “Duh.”

I knew he was The One.

And he was. We were together for two years. It was the best and worst two years of my life.

Seeing how my friend worked her Match.com account, I wondered if perhaps a different approach to the whole dating thing would have produced a better outcome for me–one that kept me warm under the covers and provided me with a ride to the emergency room when my retina detaches. It doesn’t matter, of course; we love whom we love. And I wouldn’t want to have missed what I had.

The Price of Getting the Chores Done

I am having a helluva time making Bible study a daily habit. In years past I was much better able to establish a routine for it, but right now (and for the past several months) I have allowed myself to fall victim to the tyranny of the SEEMINGLY urgent–chores and tasks that really ought to take a back seat to quality time with the LORD, but that present themselves in my brain as things that require immediate attention. Invariably, the few things that may, indeed, be urgent are dispensed with quickly but then lead “naturally” to other, non-urgent matters and soon I’ve used up all my waking hours. What my brain really needs is the 15-30 minutes each day reading God’s Word, savoring it, reflecting on it–but instead, my brain races to its own to-do list that grounds me to this world. I am thankful to know that the Creator of this same world (and its constructs of time) loves me and knows my frustrations and desires, but I miss the deeper fellowship with Him that is so readily available, were I to merely take it.

Speak Now

​Should I continue to wait, now that you are silent? Must I also remain silent? No, I will say my piece. I will speak my mind. For I am full of pent-up words, and the spirit within me urges me on. I am like a cask of wine without a vent, like a new wineskin ready to burst! I must speak to find relief, so let me give my answers.

Job 32:16-20

Dear Diary

I started keeping a journal in 1978, when I was twelve years old and entering seventh grade. Whenever I filled up one notebook, I started writing in another, saving each one and collecting them in a box that has traveled with me through many iterations of self.

Every now and again I will open the box and lightly sift through worn memories, stopping just as my synapses begin to overheat with emotion of one sort or another. There are letters in the box as well, and a few pictures, along with several artifacts from my not-so-wayward youth. From time to time I resolve to study the memories, in search of a missing puzzle piece to complete some picture of myself that is, undoubtedly, lacking.

Now I am bringing the box into the real light for no other reason than to  remember what I am bound to forget someday soon. Onward.

The Tyranny of Genius

There’s a scene in the movie “Broadcast News” where Jane, the producer, is trying to convince Paul, the executive producer and Jane’s boss, that he is making a terrible mistake in judgment by selecting a particular anchorman to present a breaking story. Paul rebuffs her: “That’s your opinion; I disagree.”

“It’s not opinion,” Jane responds boldly.

Paul stares at her for a moment. “You are just absolutely right, and I’m absolutely wrong,” he says. Jane purses her lips and delivers a single nod of agreement.

“It must be nice to have all the answers, to always know that you’re the smartest person in the room,” Paul quips with sarcastic annoyance.

“No,” a somber Jane replies, “it’s awful.”

Jane is my kindred spirit, and you’re in my world now.

Vulnerability

Two nights in a row I have made myself exceedingly vulnerable with people to whom I have given vast control over my life and livelihood. In return I have received support, encouragement, gratitude for all I’ve done and all I do to keep the fires going; only time will tell if my honest revelations and requests will result in something different for my future.

I do not like my vulnerability, as it has never produced anything except pain in my life. But lately I’ve been reading things that say my most authentic self will emerge when I own my story of vulnerability rather than bury it in my heart. As I lay here alone in bed, thinking about all these people of the last two days who are laying in bed with THEIR own people, I begin to vanish. I erase my story, cross it out, wad it into a crumpled ball, and throw it away with all the tear-soaked tissues I have tossed on the floor. I don’t want this story. I want a different story, one where my life is not just my own, where I don’t climb into an empty bed each night. I want a story where somebody sees me, and I can’t fathom that vulnerability is its preface.

Maybe none of this matters. Still, there is a deep sense of injustice about my being all alone. How can God make me strong enough to withstand anguish and yet not strong enough to overcome the desire that precipitates it?

There are no answers and no solutions. There is only time. Time and distance and solitude. I feast on these objects of my starvation.

Soldiering Through

Well, I think I made it. I went through all my motions today–taught Pilates at the Y, did a private Pilates session, drove to Brighton and met with my Mastermind team, spent an hour of drive-time on the phone with my first boss, rode the bike for 18 miles at dusk in 45-degree weather, made a vat of soup, had the girls over for Stitch-and-Bitch, and cleaned up the kitchen. Consumed as much wine as possible during the Stitch-and-Bitch part, and while cleaning the kitchen, but have managed thus far to hold off the anguished weeping. I soldiered through–isn’t that appropriate for the Veteran’s Day weekend?

I was aware throughout most of it that I was putting my proxy out there today. She did a fine job–much better than I would have done. She has more experience interacting with my exterior life than I do, and I’m recognizing how often I send her out in my stead. It’s just easier.

The thing I really want tonight is to connect with C, but I’m also aware that little Lizzy is still waiting for my attention. Why am I so much more reluctant to seek her out than I am to reach out to C? Is he a shortcut, a diversion, a distraction? I can’t fathom such things with so much wine in me.

My proxy is telling me to go to bed. Maybe she’ll get in touch with little Lizzy while I sleep.

Red

Where it all breaks down for me is the wine. I come home looking for it like a lover, and there it is–waiting for me, always attentive, always available. I love how it looks, I love how it smells, I love how it tastes; I’m not certain I can qualify all my many boyfriends, husbands, boyfriends, lovers, and mistakes in like terms. After I finish one glass, another one appears–with the “clink” of a single ice cube the lush liquid fills the glass and my pleasure is fulfilled. I can relax. This is what I know of myself, and I recline into it with an ease unattainable elsewhere in the confines of my obligations.

The Pile

I’m sitting in the basement, in self-imposed exile from the living room, so Helen and her boyfriend can enjoy some privacy while watching reruns of “The Office” on Netflix. Cat #3, Coco, is frantically rubbing herself all over my laptop and apparently trying to make sweet, sweet love to the hand that I will not give her. I really should play with my cats more often; they are starting to get bellies like Sneetches.

At my feet lies the box, from which I have extracted all my old journals. It’s been down here, journals exposed, for nearly a month–ever since Cameron sent me all the biking clothes to say, in effect, “Here’s what you need to wear when you bike in cold weather, since you’ll be doing it on your own this fall–and perhaps forever.” He meant well, I know. But it got me thinking about Joe, my old Joe, from the 90s, and how he couldn’t make it up to me when I discovered he’d been cheating on me all along with HIS former “true love.” It got me curious about how I process these things–these cases where someone to whom I’ve entrusted my heart lets it fall to the ground as they continue with their first choice. I wanted to find the journal where I put all those thoughts, so I could pick apart the precise incident or angle where I took the wrong turn to keep hanging on through the heartache and indecision wrought by these fellows.

What I discovered, the one night that I was able to flip open a few of these notebooks, is that I have always spent a great deal of effort trying to “be right” in a relationship–trying to be whatever girl I needed to be in order to completely enchant a man. It was never enough for him to simply care for me; no, I wanted him to be completely devoted and utterly in love with everything about me. I worked on myself, I worked on my man, I talked and analyzed and reasoned my way through every situation–and in most cases, I gave very little thought or energy to why I was so determined to make things work. For that matter, I gave even less thought to what I felt, beyond determination. Why couldn’t I just hang out and see what course it took? Why didn’t I ever define my own needs and pursue my own happiness, independent of a man? Why did I always try so hard? Certainly the phrase “in love with love” comes to mind, and that I was. But there was something else.

I’m not sure I was ready to figure out what it was that night, because I only flipped through a few notebooks before I turned my attention to the envelopes and packages filled with letters and mementos given to me by each man whom I considered to be, at some point, “the” man for me. The box of letters and whatnot from Joe was clearly the most precious. I remembered his handwriting, how beautiful it was, to match his poetic ability to convey romance and delight in everything he wrote. Only now do I see it as a way to distract me from the obvious fact that I was only his backup plan. But distract me, it did. Even reading some of his notes and letters now brought back the allure he had for me. Until, that is, I looked up the passages in another journal related to the breakup and my desperate attempts to stitch together our unraveling. More than desperate, I was juvenile, even childlike in my belief that it could be mended.

That child is starting to interest me. I see her and feel her at each point of pain and loss–and not just in romantic relationships. I remember her presence after I got fired from PSC, and often in church and at Bible study. I made an appointment with my therapist after a five-month hiatus to try to explore who she is and whether she holds the key to my unknowing.