As I have mentioned on several occasions, my memory is shit. However, by expanding my understanding of memory beyond mere recounting of facts, I have been able to embrace new forms of remembrance. For example, by making a meal I associate with comfort, I renew (or reinvent) the feeling of mom’s loving embrace. I may not recall particular conversations, but I can acknowledge that my present needs often determine the way I remember the past, making my relationship with my mother always active, real, and fulfilling. Short of believing in an afterlife, this is not bad!
I’ve been inviting sadness in for tea instead of letting it howl outside my door. With the decade anniversary of my mother’s passing coming up in February, I’ve been resisting my tendency to deny the feelings of despair, self-loathing, and loneliness that often come with my experience of sorrow. Because I’m very unseasoned at this (and much more comfortable with more seemingly active feelings, like anger), I’ve decided to engage a couple of strategies to make this process more palpable: (1) With one of the loves of my life, I am re-reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey, my mother’s favorite book and the source of inspiration for her funeral theme (“love is the only survivor); and (2) I’ve been revisiting my relationship with the piano/keyboard.
Perhaps you know this about me: I’ve long conflated enjoyment with mastery, hobby with obsession, skill with worthiness. As a child entered into many a competition (piano, voice, flute, you name it) and as someone who has clearly internalized the idea that my value as a person only comes through increasing proficiency and validation, I’ve had a hard time approaching activities for “fun.” But recently, I’ve been drawn to the keyboard in my husband’s studio. Not because I want to be as good as I once was, or to impress anyone, but because I have some MAJOR feels when I do. Those emotions are both indescribable and unascribable. Though I’ve only been playing for 20 minutes at a time to relearn pieces I already know I love, I am feeling so much more moved and centered than when I used to practice for three-hours at a time in my youth. It’s possible that when I now play, I remember how my mom used to sit in during all of my lessons to take notes, not about technique, but about phrasing and feeling. Maybe I recall the ways in which my mom would help me visualize sections of Chopin nocturnes by color, to help me sort what it is I wanted to express and articulate. Perhaps I consider the ways in which my mother continues to help me figure out what I want to express and articulate. And, maybe it’s none of these things.
All I know is that when muscle memory starts to take over, my eyes close, tears arise, and I feel both closer and further from my mother than I ever have. I remember and don’t remember. I feel sad and grateful, cursed and blessed, lonely and loved, rejected and embraced. It’s weird and it’s great. I used to think sadness was simplistic, that it made me passive/useless. But through my mom, music, and memory, I’m finding that this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever thought. Sadness is both beautiful and complex, and invites an intricate interweaving of active revelations and dormant feelings.
My musician friends and boo may disagree with me here, but I think food and music hold similar possibilities of emotional, intellectual, and visceral transformation. Nico and I recently watched Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film Youth. It was both fiercely intellectual and emotional, and I felt moved by this particular quote, stated by Michael Caine’s character:
You were right, music is all I understand. Because you don’t need words or experience to understand it. It just is.
I feel this way about food, too. What I sort of love about my new approach to re-membering is that I no longer need to keep it literal. To taste my mom’s tenderness, I don’t need to recreate a dish that she used to make. To remember the way she always supported my expression, I don’t need to play the exact pieces she helped with. Instead, I can open my eyes, ears, mouth, and heart to new things and invite her into new moments, new foods, new music.
For some reason, the meal below (steamed cod with soy/wine sauce + farro) reminds me of my mom’s tough and lecture-y love (“how are you supposed to fight with other people and communities when you can’t even be kind to yourself?”). Sometimes I need that kind of love. Maybe you do, too?
(For the musical rendition of this feeling, I listen to this:
And now, for the recipe.
- 1 thick slice of Fresh Cod Fish Steak (About 1 inch thick)
- 2 slices Ginger
- a dash of pepper
For the Sauce
- 1 tbsp Light Soy Sauce
- 1 tsp Rock Sugar (You could use normal sugar if you don’t have rock sugar)
- 1 tbsp Water
- 1 tbsp Hsao Xing Wine
- 3 bulbs of garlic, finely chopped.
- 1 tbsp Cooking Oil
- some spring onions, cut into 1 inch length
- Clean fish, pat dry. Place ginger on a steaming dish, place fish on top.
- Bring water in the steamer to a boil and steam fish over high heat for 6 minutes.
- While the fish is steaming half way, heat sauce ingredient in a pot and bring to a boil.
- Remove fish from the steamer, pour away the steaming liquid .
- Add a dash of pepper and drizzle sauce over.
- Fry chopped garlic with oil in another pan until golden brown. Don’t burnt it.
- Pour the hot garlic oil over, garnish with golden brown garlic and spring onions. Serve!
Coming Up…Announcing a 6-week “Diet” for 2016 (that I won’t hate!) and Knowing My Body