Leftovers And The Cult Of Hardship

There’s a special satisfaction one gets from eating the same thing four nights in a row.

It’s roughly the same kind of satisfaction that I used to get as a child from running the bathwater as hot as I could possibly stand it. I only started doing this after, at the age of about 12 or so, reading Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon. Like other girls my age read ‘Seventeen’ or maybe ‘Cosmo’ to figure out how to please boys, I read cold war literature and figured out what to expect if I was ever interned as a political prisoner. To this day I seem to gravitate naturally to the role of defendant in my relationships.

But back to the stew. It was a stew that I ate for four days in a row. Four days of lamb stew. One day for every woolly little leg. The various successes and failures one registers in the execution of a given recipe are given ample time to reveal themselves over four consecutive visits. One would, therefore, do well to get it right. Don’t let the chili sit in the broth for too long—same goes for the orange peel. Keep the heat low so as not to make the lamb tough, and don’t be shy with the salt.

This is a problem, methinks, especially common among bachelorettes. We want to cook—we want to nest—but we have no little chicks into whom we might barf our food; no man-birds to eat us out of nest and home and so we are left to devour our own efforts slowly, one day at a time—for waste is also a sin.
Somewhere around day 3, the meal we so enthusiastically prepared begins to seem like a bit of a punishment—our options are limited, particular cravings are ignored: the stew must go on.

My mother was never the kind of mother who forced me to eat anything I didn’t want to; she attempted to cobble together a nutritious child, but she retained an unusually deep well of sympathy for personal tastes and finicky appetites.

At the same time as I was benefiting from my mother’s depth of understanding and affinity for chocolate, I was becoming increasingly interested in the plight of political prisoners—an interest that would narrow (or broaden, depending on your viewpoint) over time to focus on the USSR and Russia both before, and after communism. Key to the experiences I was ingesting was the ability to ‘make do’—to accept what one was given. I looked at my comfortable life and forgiving upbringing and feared that I would be at a particular disadvantage in such a circumstance: I had to toughen up.

So began the uncomfortably hot baths, and the black coffee; (feel free to laugh any time now) the inclination to sew up holes in my clothes and cut open tubes of make-up to extract the last possible bit of liquid before buying a replacement. Now that I live on my own, I see my fridge as a game of Tetris—the contents therein constituting a challenge of parts to be most efficiently fit into meals before they go bad.

It seems important to note that this mindfulness of darker days never stopped me from buying shoes, or kept me from buying particularly high-quality make-up (all the more reason to squeeze out the last drop). Growing up in the 80s Of Plenty, I adopted the materialism, but I was also fascinated by the Specter of Want. They wanted in Ethiopia; they wanted in the USSR; they wanted during The War; they wanted as kids. Everyone wanted but us. On top of all that I had, I wanted want.

For years now I’ve read the most upsetting stories in the newspaper out of a sense that I should be able to handle the information—no matter how disturbing.

On a whim, I bought a cheap compass a few months ago, and felt immediately relieved that—should I find myself stranded somewhere far from civilization (should I attempt to escape from the prison, that is) I could at least orient myself.

Which brings me to the sense of satisfaction to be found in eating something long after you’ve tired of it. I suspect that it resembles the satisfaction felt by runners when they hit the wall and keep on going. I suspect, but I do not know; running—literally running—has always struck me as a bit of a pointless exercise (rather to hide, and let them run past me….).

And yes, I know that there are those like Camille Paglia who would choke on their self-satisfaction reading of my little Marie-Antoinette-style Cold War mise-en-scènes. Nevertheless I will continue to scrape the pot, and to cut up my tubes of make-up. I will read the scary stories in the newspaper, and consider the dark side of life. I will have my cake and eat it too, for then I can want it all over again.

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2 Comments on “Leftovers And The Cult Of Hardship”

  1. Contributing Factor Says:

    You should watch Mad Men. I’m totally addicted. It tells of people in a more miserable time. And is freakin beautiful. You can get it on itunes.

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