Measured Extravagance

2001-03-27 - 11:40 p.m.

I know that I ramble and rave and rhapsodize about food almost constantly in this journal, but it isn't always Scotch and sushi chez Mechaieh. For instance, tonight's dinner consisted of mac-n-cheese out of box, a brick of frozen spinach, and some sale asparagus. It's a good thing I didn't attempt anything more complicated, either, given that I accidentally dumped the cheese packet into the boiling water, as well as mistaking the flagon of balsamic vinegar for the bottle of sesame oil.

This, after locking myself and the cat out of the house earlier this morning. This, I fear, is going to be one of those weeks where I simply take everything one plodding step at a time and repeat "first do no harm" to myself over and over again and congratulate myself for simply being functional. This is not the week to get ambitious...(which, put another way, is how I'm justifying to myself having spent yet another night in front of the computer instead of tackling my to-do list, which included attempting various chores and drafting deathless poetry. Trust me, you don't want me near either cleaning products or a thesaurus when I'm having Concentration Issues.)

I must say, however, that I did improvise a pretty tasty curry last night. I used Mark Bittman's recipe for the sauce, with pine nuts and onions, and added okra and shrimp to the mix. I reserved some of tonight's spinach to mix with the leftovers, which I'm looking forward to consuming as tomorrow's lunch.

Ironically, I wasn't much of a cook before I got married. I did take home ec in high school. I knew how to boil rice, fry eggs and follow recipes when I left home, but I wasn't yet interested in cooking. In grad school, my friends cooked for me and I reciprocated by taking them out. I lived in an efficiency with three pots, two loaf pans, two knives, one microwave and zero counter space.

When I married the BYM, several things happened: his apartment had counter space and a dishwasher. We acquired assorted kitchen tools. His mother gave me The Fannie Farmer cookbook, and I purchased several others. He didn't expect me to cook, but when I did, he was appreciative - and so were his parents, and so were our friends. Before long, I found out that, with the right tools and the right audience, I actually enjoyed cooking. Although I greatly admire them, I don't aspire to be anywhere in the realm of Madeleine Kamman or Charlie Trotter or Alice Waters or Johann Splichal - but it is quite satisfying, this having enough experience to improvise dishes, to modify and reshape recipes with confidence, and to laugh off dinner party mishaps (the most recent one was just a month ago - I'd forgotten that I'd removed the shaker-cap from the container of red pepper flakes. When I shook the spice-jar over the green beans, its entire contents hit the hot oil - sending everyone fleeing from the kitchen in record time).

The rest of the week is pretty full, so it may well be chips, salsa, canned soups and frozen dinners until Saturday. I do enjoy cooking for myself and the BYM, but I also know that I'm lucky: if I'm busy, or overwhelmed, or exhausted, the BYM knows how to fend for himself. There's sometimes some whining and whimpering involved, but more often than not he just shrugs and pops a Stouffer's into the oven.

* * *

In addition to being head chef, I also take out the garbage (because I'm the one who remembers) and balance the checkbook (because it bothers me more than it does him). He handles almost all of the car and motorcycle maintenance, as well as mowing the lawn, but he's also the one who wields the vacumn cleaner, and he launders and irons his own shirts. He brings home the larger paycheck for now, but I'm confident that his ego wouldn't suffer if I jumped back onto the corporate track (especially if it meant that he could retire and fiddle around with bikes all day) - his older brother is married to a higher-salaried engineer.

I sometimes wonder whether our marriage appears traditional or avant-garde to our friends and acquaintances. I know that it surprised several people that I got married at all - and I suspect it disappointed some people that I chose to adopt his surname, given that I consider myself a confirmed feminist.

I've identified myself as a feminist as far back as I can remember. I don't know why I'm still saddened and surprised when I see the movement for gender equality being defined by the behavior and rhetoric of the lunatics. After all, back in high school I was already encountering (and countering) the assumptions that feminist=man-hater, feminist=Amazonian ball-buster, feminist = separatist, etc.. I considered myself a feminist even when going head-to-head against more extremist agendas in college and graduate school - and I still define myself as a feminist now in that I support the continuing struggle towards equal pay, equal opportunity, equal Congressional representation, etc.

I'm a feminist even though I have very mixed feelings about "women's studies" (I do think it's important to celebrate non-canonical authors, but I've endured reading and listening to assorted theses where the author was bent on producing either hagiography or proof of oppression). I'm also a feminist who adopted her husband's surname when we married, but I'm always hugely delighted when I discover my male college classmates reporting their new surnames and hyphenations to our alumni magazine.

I worked one job where the manager kept two Bibles by the time clock and delighted in reading out the passages "proving" the inferiority of women. My mother once told me, "I guess it'll be okay if you major in English [instead of becoming a doctor or lawyer] since you'll get married anyway." I still know people who firmly believe a woman is a failure unless/until she becomes a wife and a mother. These arethree reasons why I continue to consider myself a feminist.

But I am more and more troubled about the negative baggage the word "feminist" carries. It's not a term I want to relinquish to what I consider the lunatic fringe (I'd call them radicals, except that that's what people called me in high school when I openly rooted for Mondale and Dukakis), but I do wonder if it hasn't gone the way of the word "gay" - that I've actually lived long enough to see the words' less provocative definitions become obsolete/pass from common usage.

I've been musing over replacements, but none seem satisfactory - the problem with calling myself an "egalitarian" is that, in most circles, I'm going to get "what's that?" as often as I do when I answer "Are you a Christian?" with "No, I'm a deist." I suppose it would be just as precise to call myself an "anti-misogynist" - but I suspect that wouldn't solve the "what's that?" boondoggle either - in addition to my disinclination to define myself in terms of what I'm not. (My husband - an engineer who aced his English classes - has a similar objection to being categorized as an atheist or non-believer- but again, "rationalist" or "empiricist" are too much jam for small-talk...)

I will 'fess up to buying books in the Herotica series, and to using "wimmin" and "womyn" in certain circles - but I will also observe that I took my share of flak for choosing to specialize in the works of dead white European men (Chretien, Langland, Shakespeare et al) instead of women or Asian authors. Frankly, my real problem with revisionist spellings/grammar is not so much the principles that inspire them but the practicality of implementing them - I'm not going to use "womyn" in any context where people might assume it's a misspelling, or when I don't want them to prejudge me on my spelling instead of my content - just as I tend to refrain from using "ain't" and "y'all" and foul language in formal writing. I do use "hir" in lieu of "his/her" in my informal writing because I find it both clever and economical, but again, how many people know/accept that alternative usage outside of left-wing socio-literary circles (and even inside, for that matter)?

What people do seem to "know" is that "chick" and "babe" are not considered politically-correct terms, judging from the gasps I get when I describe myself in those terms. (Okay, so it's immodest to call myself a "babe" - but y'all can debate over whether I possess "self-esteem," "confidence" or "obnoxious arrogance" amongst yourselves) A conservative acquaintance of mine took great pleasure in addressing me as "Office Chick" after he got over the initial shock of hearing the term drop from my lips - all meant in fun, of course, but it did underscore my impression that the people who make the noisiest fuss over "politically correct" speech are the ones who feel it's a radical imposition - and who are least likely to understand that by focusing on what I'm saying rather than how I'm saying it,they're actually lending support to the content-trumps-intent argument of the proponents of PC speech.

Especially since I don't go around correcting people's usage unless I'm feeling especially irritable or especially impish: I do enjoy reminding the guys from time to time that the phrases "to suck" and "to blow" have their roots in certain, er, amatory techniques that are considered desirable in a lover's repertoire, and that they really ought to find less, er, gracious behaviors to devaluate as vulgarities.

Martial's diatribe to his aloof and prudish lover comes to mind. After complaining about her bedroom demeanor - too many clothes, too little enthusiasm - he chides her with examples of classical, um, horseplay:

Yet every time Andromache went for a ride
In Hector's room, the household slaves used to masturbate outside.
Evenmodest Penelope, when Ulysses snored
Kept her hand on the sceptre of her lord.
You refuse to be buggered; but it's a known fact
That Gracchus', Pompey's, and Brutus' wives were willing partners in the act.
And that before Ganymede mixed Jupiter his tasty bowl
Juno filled the dear boy's role.
If you want to be uptight - all right.
By all means play Lucretia by day. But I need a Lais at night.
    -translated by James Michie

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