Mosaic: Laid Off in the Land of Career Lovers*

To be “chosen” is a gift.

We are taught from childhood. Women wait, princes come. Women position and design themselves to be the best choice, princes choose. For the “gift” of being chosen the new princess is whisked away to a better life with the prince, to learn the ways of his people. Choosing you, and choosing to forsake all others, was his compromise. Folding yourself into his world is yours.

What is the cost of building a life?

Too often the work of building a life involved a man with a plan and me, left to draw plans. And those plans always involved a detour. Even the most equitable of partnerships required an adjustment that set my plans back. Now, the choices were mine. My mistake was not discussing the cost.

So what is the cost of building a life?

If I were to have children, it would have been with this man. Already a father, I was secure in his ability to parent and had already squeezed myself into his home, the majority of my possessions that weren’t sold off in storage. My job at the time had plenty of work lying around to gain experience to bring to a new company in a more senior position, but no upward trajectory. However, the benefits for partners and parents were unmatched. I chose to stay. He changed his mind. I moved out. Shortly after, I was laid off. With experience but no job title to match, I took a significant pay cut to re-enter the work force at entry-level. Cost: Five years.

*****

I stood in front of the ocean with the weight of my choices; it was always easier to listen to the Universe by the water. Taking on something as uncompromising as school made cultivating new relationships challenging and my interest in them did not match the effort that would be required. I stood in front of the ocean and handed the Universe my remaining “prime” years of romantic availability in exchange for this “selfish” block of time.

The Universe handed me a relationship in return.

Regardless of my much- negotiated need to be self-focused until I reached my goal I made some small concessions; I adjusted my class schedule to allow for more travel, and held off on redecorating my apartment as we discussed the particulars of an eventual move. Our pairing we learned was to be a seasonal one and while we remain quite fond of each other, our season eventually ended. Shortly after, I found out the last of the required courses I put off would not be offered for another year, pushing back my expected date of graduation. Cost: One to two years.

*****

So what is the cost of building a life? Where do those that chose to wait their turn go when their turn never comes up? How many times can one fold into another person? How many times can one start over?

These are the questions I asked when I decided to make a few non-negotiable life choices for the foreseeable future that will render me exponentially less malleable to “fit” into another life. While I still desire companionship and experiences, what that looks like when my autonomy is non-negotiable is drastically different from the partnership model I craved at 25.  I am not a “savage”; I simply have lost the desire to share in the structural work of living. I am a princess out of time.

I have been told a great many things about myself since expressing this choice; either I will be alone and bitter for life or the “perfect” man will come to change my mind now that I am no longer looking, as that is usually how it works in the movies. I have been told my choices were not necessary (please point out where I blamed anyone else for them, or their result) and I simply need to choose smarter when building a life in the future. A worldly, attractive and nurturing woman cannot *want* this life, not when she would make such a wonderful (helpmeet) wife. Your table cannot permanently be for one.

To be “chosen” is a gift.

It is a gift I choose to give myself in this third season of life. For many this is not a revolutionary way to live (hello, only children!) but I just got here. You can ride along, or not. But for now command of the steering wheel is not up for negotiation, and I can’t tell you if it will ever be again. I no longer lead with my nurturing foot. I no longer brag all that know me are made better for it. I do not race to prove utility in the hopes you will see me as a worthy choice. I’m just…here, starting over, with a table set for one.

But if you’re cute, I do have an extra plate.

*This post was brought to you by The Skinny Black Girl, who stays reminding me my best thoughts have no business being wasted on twitter.

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Winter

“The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go.”

I think about that phrase often, when I’m in my quiet spot in the park. The release of dead thing weighing down, making room for colors in the Spring. For new life, beautiful blooms marking New Beginnings. I think of possibilities anew.

But mostly I think, “they never speak of Winter”.

The long quiet moments left with nothing but the space the Dead Things left behind when you set them free. The agonizing stillness, time refusing to move as you cocoon in the darkness wondering if you will ever see the sun,. If you will ever bloom again.

It is Winter time for me. The Belly of the Beast; the moment before the first blade of grass pokes through the snow, when most folks say “fuck this shit”. The time when you have nothing left to report and your days are an endless slog of dues and your friends stop asking because your answer is always the same. The part of the movie they shorten to a  montage because months of daily training and vomiting bile do not a blockbuster Hero’s Tale make.

They never speak of Winter.

When you have been laid bare; left to weather the harshest of the elements and cannot bear yet another day of waking up to darkness. They do not tell you the final leg of your journey is to be navigated in Darkness; the shortened days make the light at the end of the tunnel shine for too short a time to be a guide.

There is a patch of grass by my tree now, much greener than the rest of the dry earth around it. It must be new here. I look above, I did not notice the branches now bear the fainest beginnings of bulbs. The sun, while low in the sky, peeks just long enough for me to not go home in darkness today.

But still.

They never speak of Winter.

Shoe-Dropper

“Ok how about this-tell me what would be the best possible outcome for this situation? Like, what would be a ‘happy ending’ here for you?”

I had no answer, and I realized I was back in the same place getting the same lesson once again.

My name is Maris, and I am a card-carrying member of the League of Shoe Droppers; head-dwellers stubbornly transfixed on every possibility except the one in front of them.

I used to wonder why I was somewhat envious of Holly GoLightly-types, hopeless romantics, extreme yogis and other such flighty life-surfers. Their ability to live in the present, or otherwise continuously imagine the best outcome regardless of how logical or likely that outcome seemed-sometimes to their detriment-was a thing of wonder. Even more incredulous was their ability to do it all over again if things did not go as planned.

Meanwhile it seems I spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for the other shoe to drop- despite leaps of progress, improved situations and hard-earned achievements. It creeps past my morning gratitude exercises and evening meditations. It tugs at every blessing. It will not let me be whenever I find a person I enjoy being around. If pragmatism was a sport, I’d be Olympic-level.

At the core of this of course is perfectionism and fear-it is easier to give up and prepare for the worst outcome than to do your best and deal with the uncertainty of a circumstance you cannot control.

So since this ugly habit of mine has found its way into my daily thoughts once again and I don’t really give advice here, I’m just gonna share old posts of things I have done to overcome it. Because recognizing this is an ongoing challenge and not something that is one-and-done cured might help someone other than me:

That time I dedicated my Lent to giving up control

That time I did a 30-day challenge to own my desires

That time I made myself identify my motivation

That time I celebrated myself as a perfect work and dropped the “in progress” part

That time I embraced the uncertainty of change

That time I learned to speak up

This was a completely selfish endeavor to remind myself that I not only can live in the present, but that I have enjoyed getting out of my own head before. So, feel free to add an experience that, whatever the ending, went much better for you because you allowed yourself to fully experience it!

 

Mosaic: The Birthday Post

“Imagine that one day you accidentally knock a treasured vase off its perch. It smashes into tiny pieces. What do you do? Do you try to put the vase back together as it was? Do you collect the pieces and drop them in the rubbish, as the vase is a total loss? Or do you pick up the beautiful colored pieces and use them to make something new – such as a colorful mosaic?”

~Stephen Joeseph

For the last few years, I’ve celebrated the day of my birthday sans company.

Of all the plans and assumed trajectories for my life that I’ve given up on or allowed to die, this leftover idea has been the most peculiar. Puzzling because at no point has this scenario ever been close to a reality, so I do not know why it still occasionally tugs at my heart.

A significant other, so enraptured by my existence that the day of my birth, to them, should be an event.

Full-disclosure: I have not had a get together orchestrated by another living human since I was five years old. I have never been surprised. I tend to gravitate towards the type of men that consider no holiday worth getting worked up over, including their own birthdays. More years than I’d care to mention birthdays were celebrated with a mutual cancelling out of the responsibilities associated with being a significant other whose mate had a born day. To make things sound even more ridiculous, I’m not a giant fan of parties.

And yet still.

It is not to say I have not had some rollicking birthday celebrations; a favorite being a four-day romp that included a spa day, a beach day, a dinner and two brunch parties. Events all orchestrated by me; which often left me breathless and happy, but tired in a way you should not be on a set of days dedicated to you.

So at some point I decided doing whatever I wanted instead trumped being an event planner and host, and simply turned off my phone and walked outside on my birthday. Usually whatever I wanted involved food, so this approach evolved to an annual food adventure where I’d throw a dart at a tasting menu, hand them my card, tell them it was my birthday and worry about the bill later. If you consider my IG account you’d understand how quickly this became my most treasured way to celebrate anything.

And yet. Still.

While making my way in life to the eventual point where this blog was born I’ve formed an e-circle of writing friends of whom I affectionately refer to as “Ladies, Interrupted”; having each experienced an event that abruptly, devastatingly, killed off the trajectory of life we imagined and left us to make sense of the life we were now given. I’ve had many a conversation on the subject of rebirth with Rae of Untitled, 1975 (an aptly named blog born of the ashes of another), where we share a joint interest in the concept of kintsugi, which she beautifully details in “The Art of Mending Broken Things”.  While inspiring I’ve found the concept never truly spoke to me. There are aspects of my life, once broken, that are impossible to be remade whole in the image of what was, gold fillings or not.

Which is how I came across the mosaic. Specifically, this piece from Mari Andrew (yes, we do indeed have the same name).

While there is beauty in the cracks some dreams are just shattered beyond repair. And there is something wonderfully healing in simply allowing it to remain forever broken and creating a completely new life out of it, something even lovelier than you had imagined the first time. This is the space I occupy. A mosaic allows you to simultaneously mourn that forever broken and celebrate the new life that came together from the bits.

Which brings us back to my birthday celebration. An elaborate event orchestrated by a loved one, platonic or otherwise, is something that is just not a realistic possibility in this lifetime (yes, I still have years to live. No, I have no interest in doing that to myself). I can’t even tell you why I wanted it in the first place, so I definitely cannot explain why this really insignificant thing in the grand scale of all that has got-damned happened and not happened in my life still occasionally stings. But allowing myself to acknowledge it, mourn, and also really fucking enjoy (and quite likely prefer) the traditions I have created instead just..it just brings me peace.

Now I have ranted about the need to make your own traditions that are not “consolation prize” versions of the traditions you wanted to make before, but never really delved into the “why”. Because I love to make series (I should really call them novellas because of the way I abandon them after three seasons), the discussions surrounding will be labelled “mosaic”. Let’s make some beauty of the bits, shall we?

What about you? What beautiful new life emerged from something you let completely fall apart or die?

Mother

To the loved ones that have expressed their bewilderment 

With my decision to remain childless

Is the mothering ability you believe me to have

An aptitude you see that I do not

Or do you believe it my calling

Because for you

Unrequited love and unanswered effort

Seemed to spring so naturally from my untiring body?

Stag Hacks: Trader Joe’s Lobster Mac and Cheese

I really wanted this to be a #PostYourRecipeAndGo post. I did.

However this is a blog about solo living, so I do feel obligated to explain how I arrived at mac and cheese for one.

Angela Davis (at kitchenistadiaries.com) is one of my fave comfort foodies on Twitter, and I adore her site (and e-books! Go buy them!). However, she cooks for family, and I am just one person. So I end up furiously adapting recipes to fit my lack of enthusiasm for the idea of eight servings of leftovers.

Which brings me to mac and cheese.

If you scroll back far enough on my Instagram, you’ll note there was an entire month where it seemed all I posted was mac and cheese. Creamy mac, cheeseburger mac, Cajun mac with shrimp, I did it all (I also gained eight pounds). I became obsessed with figuring out how to shrink the recipe, reduce some of the labor-intensiveness of it (because all that grating for 2-4 servings?) and still make it tasty.

Enter Trader Joe’s, and a random surplus of their “crowd cheeser” cheese platter after having friends over.

I have no idea what made me think “I have just enough for a tiny bit of mac and cheese!”but it was enough to make me try it. I’d long started using sliced block cheese (that I hand-chopped) from the deli for the larger pans, so why not mini-slices from TJ’s? Turns out the entire process was just within my labor intensive comfort range and within my time/pots limit. And since we’re all about hacks here (as in, how do we not have to buy a ton of fresh ingredients that will go to waste), I present what I’m now calling “Trader Joe’s Lobster Mac and Cheese”!

(I’m sure this recipe could be tripled or quadrupled to accommodate larger servings or more people, but please don’t ask me. This is a FUBU production.)

Lobster Mac and Cheese (Click HERE to print)

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Servings:  1 Meal-size serving

1 oz Sharp Cheddar (or 2 slices of TJ’s “crowd cheeser” cheddar)

1 oz Pepper Jack  (or 2 slices of TJ’s “crowd cheeser” pepper Jack)

1/2 oz Gouda (I used one slice of TJ’s Sliced Smoked Gouda)

1/2 cup Dried mini Elbow or Mezze Penne noodles

1 tbsp Salted Butter, plus additional for baking dish

1 tbsp All-Purpose Flour

1 cup Whole Milk

1 Dried Bay Leaf

1/2 Shallot, sliced in thick rounds (do not substitute w onion)

1 Packet TJ’s Savory Broth Reduced Sodium Liquid Concentrate (or low-sodium bullion, must be under 500mgs of sodium)

1 pinch dry mustard

1 pinch nutmeg

Black pepper to taste

1 shake of Worcestershire sauce (this is for one, remember!)

1/4 cup TJ’s Langostino Tails

Kosher salt (for pasta water)

Old Bay Seasoning & Chopped Parsely(for garnish/topping)

 

Place cheese slices in freezer for 5-10 minutes for ease of chopping. While the cheese firms up, bring 3 cups of water to boil in a small saucepan. Add kosher salt and dried bay leaf, simmer on lowest heat for 10 minutes or until leaf begins to soften. Turn off heat and cover until ready to boil noodles. While the water boils, slice 1/2 of the shallot into thick rounds and place in a microwave-proof bowl with the milk, microwave on high 2 minutes. Set aside to steep.

Pre-heat your oven to 350. Bring water back to boil, boil noodles till 1 minute short of al-dente (around 5 minutes). While the noodles boil, remove cheese slices from freezer and chop as finely as you can, put back in fridge. Butter your baking dish (I used a mini-ceramic cast-iron pan, but an aluminum mini loaf works well here), set aside. Drain the noodles (reserving the water and bay leaf), rinse in cold water.  Remove shallot slices from milk (the remaining steps go fast and the roux requires your undivided attention, so make sure you get your mise en place!).

In the same saucepan, melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium-low  heat until foamy. Add your tablespoon of flour and stir with a whisk to combine. Lift the pot slightly away from the heat and continue to stir for two minutes or until the roux turns a little golden and the raw flour smell turns toasty. Once your roux is ready, return pot to heat and add a splash of the pasta water (about 1- 1 1/2 tbsp), continuously stirring. Add the milk in a small stream as you continue to stir. Bring béchamel to a boil and turn the heat to low, stirring often. Simmer until it thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon (this goes much faster than you think), turn off the heat & grab your cheese. Add the chicken broth concentrate, pepper, dry mustard, nutmeg and Worcestershire sauce. Stir 3/4 of the cheese mix into the béchamel until melted, then add your noodles.

Pour 1/2 of the mixture into your baking pan, add 1/2 of the langostino tails, top with remaining noodles (this recipe makes about 1/8 cup too much cheese sauce, but I won’t tell if you won’t). The mix will go all the way to the top, but I love the look of cheese bubbling over the pan! Top with remaining cheese, place on a baking dish to save your oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and brown in spots. Remove from oven, top with a healthy shake of old bay, remaining langostino tails and parsley. Eat right out of the pan with no regrets, and make sure to take a few pics to make your friends jealous!

How to Be Single: Get your own Sh*t

***This entire post is a petty party, so if this is not your thing please scroll on by to the next post for your inspirational message fix.***

While I am not a big jewelry person I do love the occasional ring. Unfortunately, all of the rings I own are either linked to a relationship or look too relationship-y for me to wear without getting the usual run of intrusive questions. So to treat myself after a particularly rough semester I searched for a good right-hand ring.

This is one of the first things I stumbled upon.

 

*rubs temples*

While I’ve written of the pressures to always look “happily single” before, this particular piece of un-married-un-parent life irks me.

I just want my own shit.

I’m tired of being marketed to as an alternative to a “normal” life. It annoys me that mass marketing packages living unmarried or childless as some sort of consolation prize to find the upside in. I want to set every list of “why being single is awesome” on fire. I do not need to counter every parent appreciation hashtag with a childless version, or every engagement photo with the patriarchal downsides of marriage. I have no interest in living life as a half of a sandwich.

My life is my choice, not an accidental crisis.

One of the things I appreciated about being in a relationship was it took a lot of pressure off me to fit everyone in for the holidays. Because it was assumed I was starting my own family, I was given freedom to start my own traditions. It was the one thing I chose to take with me back into unpartnered life as a hard line item. Why should I only be allowed to have a ritual or tradition of my choosing when I had a husband to share it with?

I want my own shit.

I just don’t want it to be the poor man’s version of a couple’s tradition.