Maybe it is possible to master happiness. I don't know. Gretchen Rubin certainly makes the case and while I resisted her whole premise and approach, at the same time I couldn't help succumbing to some of her recommendations. Which is why, over the weekend, instead of sitting in my pajamas on the sofa posting about what we ate for dinner and then going to see New Year's Eve, I decided to alphabetize our spices.
We have a lot of spices. Imagine all the spices a person could possibly own and then double that because the person is messy and can never find the spices in the disorder of his/her cupboards or pantry and so has to go out and buy more spices. Rubin is obsessed with order -- obsessed with cleaning closets and eliminating clutter -- and I couldn't help but think about my pantry when I read her sermon. The spice alphabetization involved a trip to the Container Store, the labelmaker and consolidating multiple jars of mustard seeds. It took many hours over four days and I finally finished yesterday. Question: would you file Aleppo pepper under Aleppo or pepper?
In any case, I'm not sure I'm happier. I do know that I now feel like master of a very tiny universe and this will continue for a day or two. And then some innocent making cinnamon toast is going to misfile the cinnamon and I'm going to detonate, which will make not just me but everyone else in the very tiny universe unhappy. This is the problem, I feel, with linking control and happiness. This is one major problem, I feel, with The Happiness Project.
Of course, there's more to the book. Rubin also has felt unappreciated by her family the way I did last week.
Rubin: "Whatever the reasons I knew I should get over my need for Jamie (husband) to applaud the nice things I did, and, even more, I should get over my need for Jamie even to notice the nice things I did. So I made the resolution 'Don't expect praise or appreciation.'"
Well, that's one approach. When you don't get what you want, stop wanting it. I'm going to try it out.
The other night I made this dinner:
pork tenderloin with oranges from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. (Very good, but overly fussy for a weeknight dinner because it involves cutting oranges into segments, ugh.)
contemporary take on creamed spinach from Nigel Slater's Tender. (Wilt spinach, puree with creme fraiche. Easy, grassy green, very delicious.)
crushed potatoes with cream also from Nigel. (Boil little potatoes, smash them, drench in warm spiced cream. Delicious.)
|The exceedingly unappealing plate of someone trying to diet.
poached quince yet again, from Nigel. (Peel rare expensive quinces you bought at Safeway because you never, ever see them and wanted to try them, then cook in butter and sugar in a skillet until soft. Delicious.)
For this fine meal, I got much polite praise and appreciation. Isabel said sweetly and earnestly: "I like quinces a lot; I like them more than I like pears."
It's nice when I get it, but I'm going to try not to want it.
Since then, I've hardly cooked. Sunday night, Owen and I went to a party thrown by my mother's beloved friends who have been throwing the same big, boisterous Christmas party for four decades or more. I have memories of this party from earliest childhood and have attended dozens of times. The hostess, as she always does, served egg nog in a big cut glass bowl, steak tartare, incredible shortbread and cut out cookies with tiny silver candy balls for eyes. My mother never missed this party; she basically planned her year around it and would stand at the grand piano singing carols, hoisting a little plastic cup of nog. We all loved/love that party. Attending last night for the first time since her death was very poignant and my sister stood facing the Christmas tree for a while and wept.
But it was healing, also. Because our mother is gone, but the world -- her world -- goes on. That was one part of it. The other part of it -- which will seem paradoxical -- is that things change for everyone. I had persisted on some level in thinking that my mother was cheated, had been singled out. It seemed deeply unfair that she had to suffer and die while everyone else from her world stayed exactly the same, which is how I imagine people I don't see on a daily or even yearly basis.
This is absurd, of course. There have been divorces and big moves and babies born and other happy and difficult developments that I would have heard of from my mother, but have missed entirely. Her world is the same and it is completely different. One of my mother's closest friends didn't recognize me, just gave me a blank look and a cool smile. I hadn't seen her since my mother's funeral 18 months ago, and I made a joke to a childhood friend: "X didn't recognize me. I didn't think I'd gained THAT much weight." Which is actually what I thought, being the self-conscious ninny that I am.
Then my childhood friend told me there was another reason my mother's friend didn't recognize me, a much worse reason that has nothing to do with me.
That was terrible. But I needed to know it. I talked to people I've talked to all my life, ate the shortbread I've eaten once a year just about all my life, listened to carols lustily sung by men and women drinking egg nog, could feel and hear and see the river of time which is sometimes hard to glimpse. It was poignant and beautiful and made me a lot happier than alphabetizing spices.