Step 1: Bring egg whites to room temperature in a glass or metal bowl.
Life feels just that much more ephemeral and baffling with the internet in every square inch of my house. I often deliberately leave my phone in another room to “charge” when I’m at home, otherwise I’d be bombarded with a steady stream of texts from family members too restless to not ask me what I’m up to twice a day and too afraid to just call me already.
Sitting at the local zendo every week was, since my husband got sick, a cornerstone of my mental health, the staid rock I could moor at and around which I could arrange the rest of my otherwise unpredictable week. At least I had that. But not anymore, not since British Columbia leapt off into the realm of 2000 new COVID cases per day after everyone decided that surely the virus could make an exception for Halloween? Off we go like Rider-Waite’s Fool as he carelessly traipses his way off a cliff.
So the zendo has closed again, after only being open for a month or two. Sits over Zoom are offered several times a week, but it defeats the purpose for me. I’m not interested in depending on the internet to deliver to me an experience I explicitly sought out to get me away from it. And the synergy falls apart.
Step 2: Sprinkle a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice onto the egg whites, and begin to beat with a whisk.
I recently made the decision to really ramp up efforts to keep my mind healthy and organized, instead of sort of just slogging through the days, letting everything catch me at unawares. I need very firm organizational structures in my life – working two jobs for an especially chaotic workplace in an otherwise already chaotic (and essential) industry, and with a robust art practice on the side, I was drowning in the minutiae of things. I woke up one morning and realized that I had grown far too much surface area, that I was overstretched between too many other people, obligations, that my points of contact had fast outgrown my ability to maintain them all. It was time to trim the sails or be ripped apart.
But what is there to do when you’ve already cut down on social media, though? When most of your stress comes from showing up to work in a retail environment during a pandemic, and working less is hardly an option? I’ve discovered that there are always more and better work-life boundaries that can be enforced and negotiated. There were times earlier this year where I was the first number anyone would call when something needed taking care of at the store, or a shift needed filling, because I was one of the few people who would actually follow through to help. After a few months of running myself ragged doing favors for everyone else, I had to institute a One Good Deed policy – I’ll do one good deed a week, I told the guys in the office. Use it wisely.
Step 3: Whisk until a stiff foam forms. When tired, you may take short breaks.
Other areas of my life had become unruly without my even knowing it, also. I had started using Reddit a little too often, and because it didn’t “feel” like a social media site, I had succeeded in tricking myself into thinking that it wasn’t one. Even offline, I was “like butter scraped over too much bread”. Too, having a studio space seems to make one giddy with excitement at the prospect of furious and pointed art-making. Irons in the fire: paintings for myself, paintings for family, a painting for a client, page #502 of my graphic novel, two pieces for my home shrine which I don’t meditate at nearly enough. I’m also trying to jumpstart an art collective.
So unless I’m especially exhausted or aching from some hitherto undiagnosed chronic condition, I keep the laptops out of bed, the weed smoking to a minimum, and my phone – a very old smartphone until the Mudita Pure ships – blissfully ignorant of our home wifi connection.
Part of the anxiety that I have at home is being dogged by the constant feeling that I “should” be doing something else, that there’s an important task that’s slipped my mind, or a laundry list of slightly less important tasks that I haven’t forgotten but am putting off. In this way, my mind is constantly someplace else, and it makes it difficult to focus on the here.
“This is exactly where I need to be right now” is a summary of an affirmation spoken by one of the guiding teachers during my first visit to the zendo, and is one of the mantras I recite in my head whenever I feel myself beginning to break from the here/now and think about doing something else. My mind is a lot like a dog; if it notices something, its first inclination is to follow it at full bore. The mantra is like a leash; not an ideal technology, but it works until I get back to be able to maintain a more naturalistic order.
Part of that order is whipping my bullet journal back into shape. I used Ryder’s philosophy of organization quite effectively when I didn’t have a smartphone. The new inserts for my leather notebook are on their way from Singapore (next time I’ll order domestically, even though I’ll be paying twice as much).
The other part of that order is settling back into domesticity, which I never really got to do since my moving here so neatly coincided with my husband’s health crisis. I’m re-learning how to decompress by keeping kitchen counters clean and taking out the recycling before our little bin starts overflowing. I’ve started making staples regularly again, like mayonnaise.
Step 4: Beat in a tablespoon of powdered sugar per egg white, one at a time. Continue whisking until stiff peaks form.
This past non-Canadian Thanksgiving (because I celebrate both) I made eggnog from scratch, and it was the most decadent version of a store-bought holiday favorite I’d ever made. Even if I could find a diabetic-friendly eggnog around here, I don’t think I’d buy it.
I was left with 4 egg whites, though. I’ve never successfully used up egg whites before they go bad. Food waste is a major bummer, though, so I was determined this time. Having a mission helped propel me into the moment and keep my mind “exactly where it needed to be right now”. The result was meringue, which I had never made before, and whisked into light, fluffy perfection by hand. And as a result of the meringue, there was chocolate meringue cookies. My arm is tired. But the kitchen is still clean – because when you’re in the present you clean as you go along – and there are cookies to show for it.
I’m not as much of a fan of the lemons and lemonade aphorism – rarely are things “bad” in such a way that work needs to go into making them “good”, I think. Instead, I find myself coming back to the Stone Soup story much more often. The difference between them can be felt in the approach to the starting circumstance – what appears to be a “bad thing” versus “no-thing”. The one focuses on transforming misfortune into pleasure, while the other meditates on coaxing scarcity into plenty, or disorderliness into unity. I have everything I need, and life is mostly good; I just need to bring the scattered parts together in harmonious conviviality and trim the fat. Not everything will fit in the soup pot, least of all more stones.
There’s a Zen koan for this – what isn’t there a koan for? – and along with the stone soup parable, this one also involves food.
A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”
Joshu asked: “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”
The monk replied: “I have eaten.”
Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.”
I left out the line about enlightenment because that’s the least interesting part of Buddhism to me. Everyone’s experienced enlightenment at some point in their life. And then they move away from it. And then they reach it again. And so it goes.
I just continue making meringue by hand and washing the bowl afterwards. There’s a cosm in that, and there are worse things to spend your life doing than gathering pieces together and making mayonnaise or cookies or stone soup.