Saturday, October 25, 2014

Precision of Language and the Power of Voice

I am self-conscious about a number of my traits: physical attributes, personality quirks, and things that are uniquely me. The one thing I am most self-conscious about is my voice.

There are a lot of reasons I'm so self-conscious about my voice. My voice, for what it's worth, is not only uniquely me, and not only a significant expression of my personality quirks, but my voice is what it is precisely because of the unseen physical attributes of my vocal folds and diaphragm.

My voice tells people more than I want it to. Others hear my anxiety when I am trying to keep it together; others feel my excitement when I'm trying to express something important without overwhelming; others hear the irritation and impatience when I'm trying to be polite and respectful while explaining for the fortieth time in this conversation that I do know what I'm doing and I do not have to justify my knowledge to anyone; others hear and know and sometimes they even understand when my voice goes silent.

My voice has gotten me into trouble in nearly every place I've ever been. My voice has been a source of immense pain in every relationship I've ever had.

I was repeatedly silenced and made invisible as a child when I used my voice to speak out again abuse and injustice in my home.

I remember clearly one moment when I was about eight years old: though I did not want to, I was forced to give voice to sacred hymns that felt like lies and tasted bitter in my mouth or risk public humiliation and chastisement from my grandmother in the middle of a church service.

Once, in my teen years, I stopped speaking entirely for two weeks because I was in so much pain all words were lost to me. I received praise from those closest for the fact that I had begun to whither and fade.

In college I was told to stop asking so many clarifying questions when a professor would make two completely contradictory statements in the course of a lecture, leaving me to wonder how we ought to weight the information he was providing us.

I used to like some forms of music in some contexts and I used to love singing. Until I was told, every single time I sang for the pure pleasure of engaging the music, that I was flat and could sound so much better if I'd do a little work. This was told to me by a vocal coach who even offered to give me a few lessons. When I sought to accept this gracious offer, I was turned away. The criticism, however, continued, until I stopped singing entirely.

I do not sing now. And I rarely listen to music.

At work, my boss greeted me early one more as he came into the office. I greeted him back quite cheerfully and within two minutes received an email that if I continues to be disruptive in the work environment corrective action up to and including termination would be issued.

I've never greeted my boss again.

A few months later, I received a call from a very angry individual. Rather than get caught up in the anger and anxiety, I chose to modulate my voice, speak soothingly, and try to maintain control of the call so as to find a satisfactory resolution that met both the caller's and the company's needs. In the middle of the call I received a message from my boss telling me I wasn't being loud enough and he expected me to be more myself immediately or HR would be involved.

Those two incidents occurred in the same work place; the remarks were made by the same boss.

I hate my voice in almost every context in which I use or refrain from using it.

I am careful and intentional in how I use it in almost all situations.

It is not just the tone and volume that I seek and so miserably fail to modulate. I am also incredibly intentional in the words I choose when I give voice to my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and needs. Perhaps because the tone of my voice is often misinterpreted by so many I have become more careful and intentional in how I use my words.

I had been uninterested in reading Lois Lowry's The Giver because the synopsis read like a teen-ified, watered down version of George Lucas's THX 1138.

By happy accident, my niece and I were at a book store and upon seeing the book, she passionately urged me to buy and read it. She had enjoyed it immensely and thought I would love it as well.

So, I picked it up and when I was done with two books on my "Next to be Read" list, I started it.

I loved the book and perhaps if I were younger or less well read or completely unfamiliar with Utopian fiction, I would not have known what was going on from page one. As it was, I enjoyed it despite the fact that I could see the big reveal coming from the start.

Though I knew what was going on, I was actually quite drawn to the community Lowry had created. After all, release seemed a small price to pay for a community that operated so smoothly and in which precision of language was such an extraordinarily high value.

I began to feel drawn in and even found myself desiring such a community in my own life, where people say what they mean and mean what they say; where words are chosen carefully, intentionally, and precisely; where tone and feeling are less important than sentence structure and diction.

Until I read Asher's review at the ceremony for Twelves:
"When the committee began to consider Asher's Assignment," she went on, "there were some possibilities that were immediately discarded. Some that would clearly not have been right for Asher.
"For example," she said, smiling, "we did not consider for an instant designating Asher the Instructor of Threes."
The audience howled with laughter. Asher laughed too, looking sheepish but pleased with the special attention. The Instructor of Threes was in charge of the acquisition of language....
The punishment used for small children was a regulated system of smacks with the discipline wand: a thin, flexible weapon that stung painfully when it was wielded. The Childcare specialists were trained very carefully in the discipline methods: a quick smack across the hands for a bit of minor misbehavior; three sharper smacks on the bare legs for a second offense.1 
Honestly, even at this point, I was still enamored of the community Lowry had created. Though the discipline seemed harsh for one so young, the payoff for precision seemed well worth it.

I continued to read:
Poor Asher, who always talked too fast and mixed up words, even as a toddler. As a Three, eager for his juice and crackers at snacktime, he one day said "smack" instead of "snack" as he stood waiting in line for the morning treat.
Jonas remembered it clearly. He could still see little Asher, wiggling with impatience in the line. He remembered the cheerful voice calling out, "I want my smack!"
The other Threes, including Jonas, had laughed nervously. "Snack!" they corrected. "You meant snack, Asher!" But the mistake had been made. And precision of language was one of the most important tasks of small children. Asher had asked for a smack.
The discipline wand, in the hand of the Childcare worker, whistled as it came down across Asher's hands. Asher whimpered, cringed, and corrected himself instantly. "Snack," he whispered.
But the next morning he had done it again. And again the following week. He couldn't seem to stop, though for each lapse the discipline wand came again, escalating to a series of painful lashes that left marks on Asher's legs. Eventually, for a period of time, Asher stopped talking altogether, when was a Three.2 
I cried. I cried for Asher. I cried for myself. I cried for all those whose voices have been silenced through the years and whose voices continue to be silenced today. I cried for all of the words that are used in place of discipline wands and which leave scars much deeper on the soul.

I sought out my partner and a hug of comfort.

The next morning, I went to church, a place where my voice is not only accepted and encouraged but sought out for the purpose of reading scripture.

I feel at home in this community that sees my greatest weakness as a strength and a gift. I feel grateful to have found this place.

*****

1. Lois Lowry, The Giver (New York: Laurel-Leaf, 1993), 54.
2. ibid., 55.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Therapy Session that Wasn't

I am confident that I have a self-confidence problem.

I am also confident that my former therapist would COMPLETELY agree with me on this point. Though she considered it her job to challenge distorted thought patterns in our sessions, I considered it her job to assure me that I was doing it "correctly" when I challenged my own distorted thought patterns. Our sessions often looked something like this:

Me: So.... This is the thing that happened, and this is how I felt, and I realized this is what I was thinking, and I realized that wasn't accurate, so I changed my thinking to this instead, and then I felt better.

Therapist: That's exactly how healthy people confront their thoughts. Therapy is for people who need someone else to challenge their thoughts. WHY ARE YOU PAYING ME WHEN YOU'RE DOING MY JOB FOR ME?

Me: Because it's worth it to me to have the assurance of a trained professional that I'm doing it right?

Therapist: And it's worth the cost to you?

Me: Absolutely.

Therapist: Okay.... If it's really what you want to do, but you do not need my services.

I haven't been to see my therapist in quite some time. Life was plugging along at a good pace and I had nothing going on in my life that made me think seeing my therapist might be necessary to manage distorted thoughts and resulting negative emotions.

Then, I met the most incredible man. And we talked and talked and talked. And then we decided to go on a date. And then he asked me to go on a second date. And then he asked me to be in a committed, mutually monogamous relationship and see where things go. And I said yes. Because when a kind, gracious, brilliant man who makes your brain light up like a Christmas tree clearly states his intentions and is as attracted to you as your are to him and whose relationship interests and life goals are compatible with your own, and when he wants to pursue a relationship with you and you want the same with him, and he's clear, direct, and honest about all of it and asks you to date him, the only answer one can give is, "YES!"

Add to this the fact that he's perfectly beautiful and an excellent cook, and exceptional communicator and willing to have awkward conversations, and he's so unbelievably respectful, puts up with all of my annoying quirks (I talk to my books when I read, I'm not overly fond of music outside of a car - and then low volume, and I ask really awkward questions on a regular basis) and he loves cheese as much as I do, and it was only a matter of time before the freak out started.

I was on the brink of calling my therapist this week. "I can't do this," I thought, a bit panicked. "I'm not made for it. I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never done it before. And it's not as though this kind of thing has ever been modeled for me in healthy ways. I'm going to fail and it will the most terrible thing ever!"

I pulled out my phone, because I could feel the panic rising.

Then, I stopped to consider just what a conversation with my therapist would look like.

Therapist; What brings you in today?

Me: I've started seeing this guy.

Therapist: How's that going?

Me: Amazing! He's fantastic and we're highly compatible, and I enjoy spending time with him. He's kind and smart and funny! What's more, he's super supportive of me and my life goals and encourages me regularly. He asks good questions and invites me to share myself with him. He doesn't shy away from my questions and he's willing to share himself with me. We're both aware that it's new and we're in the early stages which means everything is wonderful, but we're both committed to being open and honest with one another about our needs and expectations and addressing conflict in an open, honest, healthy and respectful way when conflict does eventually come up.

Therapist: That's fantastic. So, why are you here today?

Me: Because I'm dating this amazing guy.

Therapist: So, you came in to tell me that you're dating an amazing man? I'm happy to celebrate this news with you. What do you want to talk about for the next 45 minutes of your 50 minute session?

Me: Ummmm.... You know, that was it. I'm dating this amazing guy. And.... I don't know. You know, I don't know how to be in a relationship. I'm terrible at these things. I've tried before and it's never worked out and so clearly I can't do this.

Therapist: But you ended your relationship with the butcher because he was disrespectful and violated your boundaries despite you telling him in a clear, direct, honest, open and respectful fashion what your boundaries are.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And you ended your relationship with the mustache because he wasn't interested in being in a relationship with you and he was simply avoiding talking about it, so you called him out on his lack of interest and ended things.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And you have other relationships in your life that are deep and committed and emotionally intimate - with your best friend for instance, and your friends from grad school, and some of your co-workers.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: So, you clearly know how to engage in intimate relationships. You clearly know how to be clear, direct, honest, open and respectful in communicating your needs to your partner. You clearly know how to respectfully end a relationship that isn't healthy.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And from everything you've said, you're still in the early stages of a relationship, you're cognizant of the realities of the "honeymoon" phase of a relationship, you're committed to engaging in this relationship in a healthy way and your partner is on board. He's demonstrated kindness, respect and clear, direct, honest and open communication with you to date?

Me: Yep.

Therapist: So, why are you here to see me today?

Me: So you can tell me that I'm doing this right?

I closed my phone and put it back in my pocket. I've decided it's time to trust myself and my skills and my abilities. It's time to affirm my reality for myself and stop relying on a professional to tell me I'm healthy. It's time to stop listening to the voice of self-doubt in my head and trust both in myself and in my partner, that even if I haven't had great role models for healthy romantic relationships, we can work together to figure out how we work together.

And I'm going to trust that I can do this thing, because I've done millions of things before that no one ever modeled for me, things I had to figure out on my own, and it wasn't always easy, and it wasn't always pretty, and I didn't always manage such things with all of the grace I wish I had, but I did them and I learned and I grew and I love the life I have and nothing can change that. And this time, I'm not doing it alone (not that I ever did any of the other things alone, despite what it felt like at the time). I'm doing it with a kind, brilliant, respectful, incredibly sexy man at my side.

I could not be happier to trust in myself and to trust in someone else.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Key Lime Bars

It was a citrus themed weekend.

Key Lime Bars:


For the Crust:

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour blend (I like Domata brand)

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 1 lb key limes
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

While the crust is baking, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Add juice, zest, and eggs. Mix completely.

When the crust is finished baking. Immediately pour key lime filling mixture over the crust and bake for an additional 20  minutes.

Remove from oven. Cool completely.

Passionfruit Bars

In line with the most recent recipes I've been working on, this weekend I stopped by the grocery store to pick up eggs in order to make lemon bars and key lime bars and saw that passionfruit was on sale! So, I bought several with the intentions of making passionfruit bars as well.

I love the tartness of passionfruit, but it's quite a delicately flavored fruit otherwise. As such, these are a very mild bar, which I liked less than the key lime, but which one of my hosts favored a great deal. I also altered the crust and cut back on the total sugar in the recipe. It could still be tweaked, but all in all, it was pretty good.

*****

Crust:
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour

Filling:
Pulp (seeds removed) of 10 passionfruit
1 cup sugar
3 Tbls cornstarch
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Combine butter, sugar and flour until it resembled course crumbs. Press into a 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add pulp and eggs. Mix completely.

Pour filling over hot crust and bake an additional 20-25 minutes.

Cool. Cut and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Savory Thyme Lemon Bars with Raspberry

Having made lemon bars last week which led to some experimentation including Margarita Bars earlier this week. I also felt inspired between making and delivering the lemon bars to make the lemon bars with some herbaceous goodness in the crust.

As such, I present to you the recipe for Savory Thyme Lemon Bars with Raspberry.



For the Crust;

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour blend (I like Domata brand)
Leaves of 15-20 thyme stems

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 2 large or 4 small lemons
4 eggs

10 oz  raspberry cake and pastry filling.


Preheat oven to 350*.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

While the crust is baking, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Add juice, zest, and eggs. Mix completely.

When the crust is finished baking, remove from oven and dot with raspberry cake and pastry filling. Immediately pour lemon filling mixture over the crust and bake for an additional 20  minutes.

Remove from oven. Cool completely.

*****

I continue to think I may need to bake the crust longer. Maybe 25-30 minutes. I was using a different oven, so it may be a matter of equipment.

I also did not have lemon extract on hand, and this is quite regretful. The extra tsp or two really makes it great.

In the future, I would double the thyme and halve the raspberry filling. More likely, I would double the thyme and fresh raspberries instead of filling. But, as first attempts go, this wasn't terrible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Margarita Bars

Someone I know, who also happens to be quite special to me, loves lemon bars. And because I love to feed people I love, I made a big batch of lemon bars for this individual. While I was in the process of transporting the lemon bars, it occurred to me that there are numerous ways I can alter a basic lemon bar recipe to make it more spectacular.

As a girl who loves lime and tequila and all things margaritas, I decided to adjust the recipe to make margarita bars. And since several people have told me how much they enjoy these bars, I'm including the recipe here for you, my faithful readers.

Margarita Bars

Crust:

1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups gf flour (I like Domata brand)
1 tsp kosher salt

Margarita Topping

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 6 limes
4 eggs
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp orange extract
3 oz good silver tequila
6 pkgs True Lime (optional)

Preheat oven to 350* F.

Line 9 x 13 cake pan with parchment paper.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.

While crust is baking, whisk sugar and cornstarch until thoroughly combined. Add the remaineder of th fill ingredients. Mix completely.

Pour over hot crust and return to oven. Bake an additional 20 minutes.

Cool completely. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Cut into squares to serve. If you like a saltier margarita, top each individual bar with a sprinkle of kosher salt.



These bars are super tart, the tequila comes through nicely, and the salt on top adds a delightful contrast to the occasional bitterness brought by the lime zest.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Supernova

The English language is woefully deficient for the purposes of communicating emotions. It is particularly stilted in expressing love. Love comes in so many forms and fashions and ways of being, that a single word could never adequately express the nuance of this emotion.

I mean, I love cheese. I really love cheese.

I also love my dog. While I would run into a burning building to rescue my dog, I would not be willing to run into a burning building to grab a chunk of cheese out of the fridge. I can always buy more cheese. There is only one Liliputian.

I do not love Liliputian more than cheese because she's irreplaceable. I love Liliputian because she's Liliputian. And I would be willing to risk life and limb to save her because I love her.

That's just the way it works.

I love panties. They're my favorite accessory. I don't wear jewelry or make-up. I don't do much with my hair. But I have got a collection of panties that rivals the stock at the local Victoria's Secret. I'm willing to invest a ridiculous amount of money that could better serve the world elsewhere because I love panties. Though they could certainly be replaced, dependent on the degree of conflagration, I might be willing to run into a burning building to save my panties.

I love my best friend. My best friend is amazing. An extraordinary human being who has been by my side through some of the worst shit a person can endure. I love my best friend more than cheese. I love my best friend more than my panty collection. I do not love my best friend more than my dog, if a choice had to be made, I'd drag my best friend from a burning building first and then go back for my dog.

All of these are prioritized differently: cheese, my panty collection, my dog, my best friend.... Yet, I use the same word, love, to express my feelings about them.

This is where the English language falls short.

Greek does a better job.

There are four words in Greek which are translated into English as "love."

Eros - the root word from which we get "erotic" refers to sensual love. Often times, when people discuss the Greek term "eros" they liken it to "lust," but this isn't the case. Eros is about far more than strong sexual desire. It's the creative force of life.

Storge - familial love. Oh, family! How we love our parents, our siblings., our aunts, our uncles, our cousins, our children if we have them. In some ways, it might be the (dare I write it?) obligatory of shared genetic material. It's a natural affection born of familiarity.

Philia - friendship! Brotherly love! It is the root of our words for many fetishes or sexual obsessions, though this is a misuse of the term, in my opinion. This is a love typically based on common interests or shared intentions. This type of love is most often symmetrical - reciprocal levels enagement and investment on the parts of all parties involved.

Agape - the divine love. This is a love for which no definition could ever suffice. To understand agape, you have to have experienced agape. It's simply the way it is.

Even with these four do not encompass all ways of loving and experiencing love.

The whole of my adult life, I've been reasonably closed off from others. I do not share myself. I am not vulnerable. I do not engage emotionally outside of very carefully constructed and demonstrably safe relationships. And this is not good.

So, about three months ago, I decide to start exercising my vulnerability muscles. Whoo! Terrifying.

To be emotionally open with myself and others; something I've never done before because being open means being vulnerable and being vulnerable means (gasp) I might get hurt.

I never expected to be someone who could understand different types of love (apart from the rigidly defined and carefully constructed relationships and love explained above). Nor did I ever expect to be someone who could be okay with less structured loves; to feel safe in learning new ways of loving even and especially if everything isn't even-steven.

Yet, in practicing openness and vulnerability, in exploring greater intimacy, I have found that rather than being scary and hard and painful, opening myself has been freeing and expansive and good.

And I've found another type of love that does not fit the aforementioned types.

I call it "Supernova" love.

Supernovae happen when stars explode, are reborn as a new stellar expression of light. The energy they emit is so intense it briefly outshines every other source of light in an entire galaxy. Supernovae are intense.

Supernova love is intense as well. Incredibly shortlived. Full of passion and energy and spark. It's that moment when you meet someone and everything falls into place and the energy is right and you fall in love for an instant. But that kind of energy is not sustainable longterm.

When the moment is over, there are remnants in our soul. If circumstances do not permit that love to grow into another (philia or agape) one might be tempted to pull in upon themselves and shrink away from further vulnerability. Because once you've experienced that power and it's no longer present, what do you do with the space left behind?

Rather than a loss to be mourned, however, when that love has passed, if we permit, it can carry us forward and remind us that for a moment, we touched and were touched by the most powerful force in the universe and we survived. It will have shaped us and changed us and lighted the way for the next encounter.

And the next encounter is sure to come if we open ourselves to that experience and hold it lightly while it's ours.