On Cooking and Remembering

A few books and thoughts this year made me revisit this.

I used to love cooking and I might have even been not so bad, even though my family hounded me for years. I kept ignoring them, until years later I suddenly stopped. I can't remember when or if there was anything leading up to it, but I stopped cooking. I still liked reading cookbooks, but the act was left to Ben and takeaway establishments. Then some yeaers later I picked it up again; and again I can't remember when or why, but I did, and now I enjoy simple seasonal, gluten-free, vegetarian, or fussy slow meaty winter dishes. Or just cleaning and reorganizing my spices and herbs. And we like cooking together.

It was a most strange episode taking place over several decades, and I see how it happened only in retrospect.

This past May, Joan had her annual writing retreat and I really wanted to go but couldn't because of schedule conflicts. Extraordinarily she had another in October and I was determined to go, except I couldn't. I couldn't think of anything I wanted to write and after years of attending, I wanted a focus, a purpose, other than a pleasurable whipping up of a first draft of yet another short story.

After I left the path to academia/writing, after I became a free-lance weaver, I worked hard to make my life simpler, and subsequently things I knew and could write about became fewer and mainly autobiographical. For the last few years I noticed I can't remember much of my past, childhood, student days, work life or travels, except perhaps a dozen episodes. Back in October, I couldn't make sense of this vast vacuum and I couldn't focus.

I used to have great memory; horrible before exams, but treasure trove of folks' birthdays, anniversaries, maiden names, and the many episodes of their everyday lives, all far more interesting to me than history books.  In a normal family, I would have been designated family chronicler, but not in mine; my parents couldn't hide their mild distaste for my penchant for retelling, often suspicious of my making things up. Pertaining to my own stories, they scolded me for skewed, paranoid points of view. As I grew up, as they got tired of repeating the same lecture, their shorthand to stop me became, "That didn't happen," "It didn't happen like that," "You remember incorrectly," and "That's a lie." Except I knew I was right.

Even just a few years ago, I recollected when we moved into our family home in 1970, my parents told me behind my grandfather's next door was a wild bird sanctuary. I still see my parents sitting across the dining room table telling me I made that up, that they never said such a thing. Except I knew I was right because I learned the word and concept of "sanctuary" on that occasion. And for the last years they lived in the old house, there was even a sign up the hill.

And yet, and yet. And it's not only because of aging. I'm less sure of my certainties and declare too often, too loudly, I could be wrong. I feel less confident about my past existence, of how much I know myself, of whether I know myself accurately, in case I've been wrong all this time. It's a little like rubbing my eyes because my extremities look blurred and I wonder if I've experienced phantom pain. So I rely on things outside myself, my weaving, because those I know I made, I remember how I made them. And what I might forget, I record here.

Sad, eh.

When I turned 40, when I turned 50, I told myself to stop fighting and blaming my parents for what hasn't worked out in my life; I was desperate to have  some years of peace and harmony in our remaining years. Then came a decade of mild-to-moderate depression and counseling, and I took them seriously; I read, studied, prepared in writing before each counselling session and attempted to learned about me, so I could explain to medical professionals so they could cure me. Immediately. Except in retrospect it was a whole lot of looking for causality in a most childish manner on my part, and not a lot of prescription on theirs. There is family history of depression, so it was inevitable I went searching, and I take solace this was also meant to be part of my path, but it was heck of a detour.

I take responsibility for who I am. But I can't stop being influenced by my past, and the people in it. I'm not the kind of person who can stop investigating, searching, wondering. And I find myself as interesting a subject as van Gogh, because I happen to have a bit more inside information on me.

* * * * *

A sample of books I read this year that lead me to thinking about this cluster are:

"The Art of Memoir", by Mary Karr; she covers the inaccuracies of our remembering in a general way.

"Uncle Tungsten", by Oliver Sacks; on his childhood and obsession about science. I've just got his "On the Move: A Life" which may dispel his fairly tale ideal of childhood family life. I was terribly envious of his encouraged, intellectual upbringing; although I grew up on a college campus, my own family wasn't intellectual in the sense nobody but I read, and we were more often commanded rather than trained to think/solve problems. Simultaneously I was happy we didn't have a family business, as Sacks and brothers were expected to become doctors.

"Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women", by Harriet Reisen; on growing up "knowing" one is not good enough; Alcott apparently kept writing in her journals she needed to be a better person. it reminded me of my constant writing "I need a new personality" from third grade on.

"The Writing Class" and "The Writers' Festival" by Kiwi author Stephanie Johnson; good funny read. Hers was the very first writing workshop I attended, two months after we came to New Zealand, a month before I met Joan. They were entertaining reads if you like writing classes, writers' festivals, or private lives of authors.


Cate Rose said...

Maybe you should become a Buddhist...just sayin'. Therein we eventually come to realize that our life is entirely about us, individually, and really has nothing to do with our parents or our past except insofar as things worked out the way they did because we each have things to learn in this human life, and we basically choose our birth time, place and parentage in order to learn those things. NOTHING outside ourselves is or contains the answer. Peace and blessings, my friend.

Meg said...

You know I tend to be five to ten years behind you in a lot of things so maybe this is where I'm heading, but I find I am too practical to hold on to any set of beliefs. I find doing thing tend to solve problems, or at least make them not as important in my mind, as I get older, so I'm becoming more like my mother. Which is not a bad thing, considering the amount of stash I have left At any rate, I would like to be even more convinced that I am solely responsible for myself as I think currently I'm shouting myself down at every stage to make me believe it. That is not to say I don't, but the knowledge is not part of me as much as I'd like just yet.

Cate Rose said...

Buddhism isn't about beliefs at all. There's no dogma. It's not religion. It's about each person recognizing the truth of our being. So please don't throw it away as a possibility because of any preconceptions. Again, just sayin'...

Meg said...

I respect what you do and what you find in Buddhism, Connie. But for me, it's been a different experience. We had some contact with Dad's ancestral temple, one of Mahayana tradition, and also went to a Zen session, in Japan in 2013 hoping to try out meditation within a prescribed environment. I was especially disappointed because of all forms of Buddhism Zen was supposed to be the most introspective but not really. Almost everything I know about Buddhism is about Zen, a renegade faction almost, and I learned from books from the West. Compared to my experience in Japan, Buddhism is closer to transcendentalism/self-help with incense, while in Japan, though still not theism, it's still His Teaching with a strong Confucian flavor, so it's for harmony, for the good of the group, and a few steps over, the negation/subjugation/disappearance in case of Zen of the individual/ego, which happens in Japan more as customs/traditions rather than philosophy/cognitive effort. Which then in my mind exonerates/eradicates personal responsibility. This is where it gets tricky for me because a) Japan is basically areligious philosophically (in my Western understanding) but heavily so in customs, b) and because of it even though by classification Japan is supposed to be Shintoist/Buddhist/even Taoist, Confusionism is at the base of everything so I have to read some more to understand Buddhism separate from Confusinism there. But with any religion my biggest problem is the abdication of personal responsibility, ergo I guess of the ego and individual. And I have no idea where I'm going with this, except my experience of Buddhism was as much religion as Catholicism, just not theism. And look, I've got to leave it here for now, my coffee is staring at me getting cold, and wow, this was some real thinking at the start of the year. Thanks, Connie! I'll have to pick up more books when I go home in Feb!!