Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Glad To Be Tomato Sauce

Sometimes I get dark. The words, concepts and feelings that circle through my mind are incredibly negative, overly worrisome. My day dreaming is more like a nightmare. I feel incompetent and unable. I feel like I have no energy. I feel angry about everything, no buoyancy or humor to be found in my thoughts and feelings. I feel like drinking wine, eating chips and watching t.v. And if I do any of those things, then, handily, I feel bad for wasting my time with escapism.

The anger that crops up as a part of this cycle feels like it is there as something to do, something to feel during the day. Something with some adrenaline and drama. Something that is also numbing in its way. The numbing of drama and anger is that it also takes you away from your feelings, like any other compulsive behavior. I do not want to face first thing in the morning that I feel tired, lonely, overwhelmed, scared, concerned for the future or our family and out of touch with my creativity. I’d rather just go hard on myself, tell myself I am a loser, get short and irritated with the constant demands of the kids, get short and irritated with Craig’s clothes piled on the chair or his music playing loudly.

That is endlessly fascinating to me, this trust of anger and of feeling badly. Why this long cycling away from good habits that feel emotionally and spiritually uplifting, and down into long, dark corridors of self loathing and emotional disconnectedness? So here I am, writing in the morning. The house is sort of clean. There are no pressing errands. I think, in part, what brings me back to finding myself and my well feelings again is embarrassment. I feel too embarrassed to keep doing self destructive stuff. I feel some pull again and again to do what is right for myself. I like to think that the cycles get shorter, but I am not sure. I might dwell in these zones of misery for longer than I realize.

What pulls me back upwards again is a desire for the real feeling of happiness, namely creative satisfaction. To feel that an essay really says something, that is much, much more satisfying than numbing myself and dwelling in anger. It is a subtle negotiation, the conversation with oneself. In the last couple of weeks I first noticed the slow return of anxiety, coming over my thoughts and feelings like nightfall. But a nightfall with no stars or moon, no light at all. After the anxiety, anger edged in. I noticed Coral mimicking me saying, “God, stop it!” in a clenched, breathy tone. If she has heard it enough to repeat it exactly like me, and in context, then I was saying, and feeling, that too often. Then I start to feel angry towards Craig. About two weeks of noticing these things, I finally take the time for a walk in the morning. Then, time to write the next day. Slowly I grope my way through the dark place, this cold cistern, and find my way again. Find my breath. Find my ability to put myself first in constructive moments.

Last night Craig asked what I wanted for dinner. On a good day this leads to a fun conversation, a back and forth on what needs to be eaten, what we had the day before, how the girls have been eating and what they might like to have. On a less good day, like recently, it leads to me feeling put on the spot, left to decide for the family, alone. “Pasta,” Craig said.
“Sure, but not too rich, no Carbonara.”
“I could do rice?”
“The girls might like that, but is there time? Pasta is faster.” It was getting dark and Colby already looked tired.
“I could do the shortcut version, since you don’t want pasta.”
Blood starts to boil. “I did not say that, I said pasta is fine, but I do not want anything totally rich.”
“Garlic and anchovy?”
“Yes, that sounds good.”
A few minutes later, “Tomato?”
My body perks up, no analytic moment, “Yes!” That really does sound great.
“That’s the reaction I needed, thank you.”

That long, annoying moment mirrors the way negotiating with self can go too. I bicker back and forth over something important, like taking time to write, there is a not so constructive back and forth. Then suddenly there is an answer. Just in the act of keeping a conversation going, not shutting down, despite boiling blood and deep annoyance, with self as with partner, just keep talking, keep paying attention. And the answer comes. You will find the dinner idea. You will find the creative moment that makes your heart feel once again buoyant and glad. Glad to be.

Crowd Pleasing, Glad To Be Tomato Sauce

1 28 oz can of San Marzano (or other plum) tomatoes
3 cloves garlic finely minced
1 onion finely diced
sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 salted anchovy rinsed and filleted (oil packed work but salt packed have cleaner taste)
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

In a large stainless steel skillet, sweat the garlic and onions in a glug of olive oil over low heat until soft. Toss in the black pepper, bay leaf, thyme and anchovy. Turn up heat and mash the anchovy with a wooden spoon until it dissolves. Empty the can of tomatoes into the skillet smash each tomato with a fork. turn heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened to a paste-like consistency. Remove from heat and add a splash of olive oil. Serve with you favorite pasta. NOTE: do not use too much sauce, lightly coat the pasta, then put a small amount on top.


  1. I love that moment when you break through your feelings of malaise and feel something that brings you back to life, that makes you feel enthusiastic, that makes you shout Yes to life. Buoyancy!

  2. Elvina, your writing can be difficult for me to read, as I often feel the waves of darkness you describe. But reading your posts makes me feel less alone, and the light you find is inspiring. I don't need to say that you are a gifted writer, and and even more gifted mother. You are truly amazing. Thanks for all your beautiful essays.

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  4. I love this piece - I think most women can relate to this space and can understand that feeling of happiness coming out of it.

  5. I feel this piece in every cell of my body. Thank you Elvina.

  6. You have given me a gift. An insight, a way out. This is how I feel exactly and too often as well.

  7. this one was hard for me to read because it was too close to my own heart. in spite of that, because i that, i love it. thank you for this one and the recent treasure trove of essays. it's been delightful to have a full on feast after the mini famine...

  8. Hi Elvina, I arrived at your blog only recently and I can't remember how I arrived here. In any case, I started reading your "recipes" from the beginning and am inspired by your writing, and the incredible strength that perhaps you may not always realise you have. I cannot relate to your journey, but the emotions you express so eloquently are universal to many. Thank you for sharing and putting into words feelings that I sometimes cannot articulate myself. I was never one to spend much time in the kitchen, but have found a new love in cooking this year. It is my daily meditation. Look forward to more of your and your husband's recipes... :)

  9. Vene. I love this. Thanks for being brave enough to share the dark and the light of you. They are both so beautiful. xoxo

  10. Remembering that there is a choice...there is almost a parallel reality to the dark one that I often choose. This one definitely brought tears, and amazement of your strength to be able to articulate this internal experience, thank you Vene.