Rainy Sunday morning, the first weekend of spring break, and wow, is it welcome. The rain and the break, I mean. Rain because it means the temperature is finally climbing back up, and break because it has been an incredibly stressful semester so far. We found out in early February that budget crises across the university are going to have major implications for the English department (really, for all departments to one degree or another), and that those implications are rippling out to create less-than-favorable conditions for employment.
Notice how vague the above statement is? That’s what we’ve been dealing with, too. Nobody can tell us (and by “us,” I mean the non-tenured faculty) anything definitive except that things are going to change and not for the better. What we have been told is dire enough: class sizes are increasing; certain courses that are the life’s blood of the department may be going away; and the fixed term faculty (me) will no longer be allowed to teach in the core of the English department. This means no more literature courses. No more creative writing courses. We are all being pushed back to composition. Even those of us at the highest level of adjunct, the senior lecturers. Me. The worst part of all of this is that many of our ranks –we don’t know how many yet–will be laid off in the coming weeks. My position is not at stake because of my high rank, which is a small comfort. For now.
There are other ugly things afoot too that might impact the very existence of creative writing in general that are too awful for me to ponder right now, but, basically, job security and job satisfaction are at an all time low. I have been frantically applying for jobs as program director and at the assistant professor level, but even with my vast admin experience, my terrific publication credits and my stellar teaching evaluations, the odds of even getting an interview are slim to none because 1. I don’t have a book published, and 2. Every other writer in academia (plus many who are not) are scrambling for the handful of positions open. The job market is abysmal. It’s hard to see the upside. So hard, in fact, that I am beginning to toy with the idea of work outside of the academy, the very prospect of which is exhausting and demoralizing. To have spent this long working toward a particular (beloved) career only to have to abandon it for an entry-level position in something else? Makes me want to crawl back into bed on this rainy Sunday and pull the covers all the way up.
Last Thursday concluded the bone health/weight loss study I’ve been participating in for the last six months. Thank goodness for something positive to focus on in the midst of all the above angst. And it was a hugely positive experience for me. I lost 30 lbs, established an exercise routine that works well with my life, learned a ton about nutrition and the psychology behind eating. Plus I helped science! Win!
I remember the class we talked about emotional eating–“comfort eating”–and the many questionnaires I filled out over the course of the study that asked things like “When you are feeling anxious or stressed are you more likely to indulge in unhealthy foods? Are you more likely to turn to food for comfort?” I know that the answer to these questions is supposed to be “Hell, no! Food is fuel and nutrition, not an escape. Not a balm.”
I get it. But I’m going to say it here without fear of reprisal: food can be a balm. It can be be the thing that, as my grandfather might have said, “cures what ails you.” I’m not talking about overindulgence or closet eating; of course those behaviors are fraught and volatile for one hoping to reach a place of mental and physical health. I’m talking instead about the comfort that comes with the ritual of cooking and eating. The comfort that comes with connection to our families and our memories.
We all slept in a little this morning, which was lovely but which also made me ravenous almost immediately upon waking. My first impulse was just to stick something in my mouth to stave off the hunger pangs: a hunk of cheddar or a piece of whole wheat bread spread with Nutella. And there would have been nothing wrong with either of those choices, but this morning I needed more than simple sustenance.
This morning I needed eggs cracked in a porcelain bowl, olive oil swirling in a hot pan and the leftover curry from last night’s dinner: potatoes, lentils and brown basmati rice infused with cumin seed and cloves. I needed to hear the sizzle and sear and feel the spatula press the mixture thickly against the bottom. I needed to pour the pale yellow liquid over everything and watch it seep between the rice and lentils, glaze the potatoes. This is the meal I prepared and shared with Paul this morning. I heaped mango chutney onto my plate and he drizzled Sriracha onto his. I forgot the cilantro but it didn’t matter. Spicy, sweet, unctuous and filling. Warm and comforting. Perfect.
Rice and eggs for breakfast are eaten all over the world in the form of congee and rice porridge, fried rice of every ilk. Poached eggs over seared rice cakes. Good, lasting fuel for the day ahead. I remember that my grandmother used to make rice & eggs for breakfast for my father as a boy. It was one of the peasant foods of his childhood that he elevated to iconic status. And I know she made it for me, too, but I cannot say that I remember exactly what it tasted like. I think hers had a ratio of more eggs than rice, something like a porridge. Maybe she used cheese? Likely there were seasonings though I can’t remember what they were. But it hardly matters. I remember the feeling of the dish. The way it felt in my mouth and in my gut. The way it promised, in my grandmother’s voice,
“There, now. Everything will be fine. Here, my baby. Have another bite.”