There is something about a slow madness that seems normal. It doesn’t descend upon you so much as it sneaks softly, quietly into the recesses of your mind. And because it’s gradual you don’t notice it. You don’t see it coming like a freight train until it arrives. Then smack on the tracks there you are.
That’s how I’ve felt the past couple months. Like a sane person on the verge of insanity. Acutely aware that something is not right but not knowing what it is or how to change it.
All my life, I have somatized my stress. When I was 7 and my mother and I moved from Honolulu to Hollywood, I suffered from stomachaches and became a blinker. For those of you who don’t know, having a nervous tic in third grade does not help a child make friends. Then when I was 17 and applying to college and a guest speaker on Warren Olney’s Which Way L.A. and about to take my SATs, I ground my teeth so badly I dislocated my jaw. I have the embarrassing senior portrait to prove it. Bless whoever it is at Marlborough School that granted me another. It’s the portrait my parents kept. Sometime last year I started blinking again. The reason I noticed was because my toddler started doing it. It took me less than a second to realize she was copying me. Soon after, my body felt like it was falling apart.
Since summer I’ve suffered from phantom pains, insomnia, exhaustion, recurring lumps in my lymph nodes, decreased lung capacity, etcetera and so on. Per my doctor’s orders I had a massive blood panel done. Everything came back normal though my problems persisted. Then after my daughter’s birthday party in December, I came down with a case of bronchitis that lingered. Several weeks and some antibiotics later, I still feel weary. But I’ve decided, unlike my doctor who is looking for patterns to detect a larger systemic fail and a potential diagnosis for some auto-immune disease, that I have just been suffering from low morale.
Don’t get me wrong. My little family is amazing but being a full-time-stay-at-home-mom is exhausting. Being so far from family and friends is sad. Especially during the holidays. And not working in any significant capacity for several years has made me feel useless.
Recently, I got news about being runner up in the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing and I cried. I didn’t even win, but out of happiness for just being recognized, I out and out bawled. For the first time since being in London I felt multi-dimensional. I felt like I was more than just my husband’s wife or my daughter’s mother. Two roles I love, but still, a woman needs more. Or at least this one does.
For the past four years I can’t tell you how many people have asked me what I do and when I tell them that at present I don’t, they have immediately dismissed me as not being important enough to talk to anymore. What’s worse are the people who know I used to act and treat me like I’m stupid because well all actors are, right? Once after meeting me, a woman described me to someone else as “Extremely well groomed and behaved,” like I was a Pomeranian show dog or something. It hurt my heart.
Anyway, I’ve had enough. Of grinding my teeth, of feeling ill, of feeling like I only live to serve a two year old, order groceries, or make things beautiful for the holidays. I’m also recovering from my fear of not being able to ever be seen as anything other than a housewife. When I left Los Angeles for London, I had no idea that a hiatus from my career and starting a family would later make me feel so pigeonholed. It has. It does. Though one of the most heartening things for me is knowing my husband doesn’t see me that way and that I have his support to go be more.
I don’t make resolutions but I do make lists. My docket sheet this year includes finding theatrical representation in London. I’ve grown up a bit and want to try my hand, as an adult and not a kid which is how I used to be cast. I want to finish the script I’ve been writing. I want to start a novel with the help of an encouraging agent who just before Christmas, like a deus ex machina, approached me out of the blue because she thinks I can do so. I want to keep cooking. Mostly I want to be a better version of myself. For Henry. For Helena. For me.
So here it is. In the great tradition of women who yearn for change, I have cut my hair. As nothing says to the world, “I’m different than I was before!” like shearing seven inches from your locks. I also have a mouth guard to keep my teeth in tact while I sleep at night. I have enrolled into a yoga course to remember how to breathe and I have stocked my kitchen full of anti-oxidants and amino acids. This isn’t the end of Chagrinnamon Toast. Far from it. However, it is the first of what is going to be more and more sporadic posts. I thank everyone who reads and don’t blame the people who take me off their rota. That said, I’ve got stuff to do. But first here’s a recipe. And a picture of my haircut, of course.
Rigatoni Alla Vodka for the Mean Reds:
In Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Holly Golightly describes the mean reds as the anxiety she feels. “A feeling of being afraid yet not knowing what you’re afraid of.”
Just like using fire to fight fire, the red pepper flakes in this recipe cure any case of my mean reds. The cream helps soothe while the vodka acts as the sweet emulsifier. The flat leaf parsley provides a freshness that reminds me of spring and a hope that springs eternal. It’s an optimistic flavor note that any heavy dish like this deserves.
500g bag of rigatoni (De Cecco is one of my favorites)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 shallots chopped
3 smashed and chopped garlic cloves
2 cans of crushed tomatoes, each can 400g
1/4 heavy cream or double cream
fresh flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Start by boiling a large pot of water for the pasta. Add a teaspoon of sea salt. Cook noodles until al dente as directed on the packaging.
In the meantime, melt the butter with the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Sauté the shallots over medium-low until caramelized. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook another 30 seconds or so before adding the tomatoes. Cook for about ten minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken. Once this happens, remove the pan from heat. Stir in cream, vodka, and seasonings.
Pour the drained pasta back into the large pot in which it was boiled. Pour the vodka sauce over the noodles. Serve with fresh parsley and parmesan.