Saturday, January 05, 2008

Working it out

Settle back. We're talking on the order of That Bruise on the Face one of the more intimate posts (January 31, 2007).

Meaning this one's embarrassing.
As in,

Do I write about this? Shouldn't I be embarrassed about this? What will my friends think? Won't my mother worry? Shouldn't I worry? Such a clutz to let this happen.

Aw, here's the story.

On Thursday nights I usually try to let everything else go, concentrate on cooking and baking for Shabas, the Jewish sabbath, which begins on Friday an hour before sundown whether we're ready for it or not. We can't do any cooking, no work once the bell rings, metaphorically speaking, although there is a siren in Jerusalem. In truth, after candle-lighting, all semblance of work stops.

I love it, the Thursday night preparation. I cook, talk on the phone, blast the radio, maybe take a break to watch The Office when there isn't a writer's strike. FD is playing basketball or at shul or both. Friday will be a work day and although leaving work early enables me to get most everything done by sundown, it's soothing to know that the meal's in the bag, the table's set, the chala baked, everything's ready. There's less pressure. It's terrible being so neurotic, but if you live your life on Jewish time, there's no alternative.

Sometimes I have it so in the bag there's time for a manicure on Friday afternoon. Right, and if you believe that. . .

No, really. And in the summer, when sundown is really late, I'll grab FD and we'll take in a movie on a Friday afternoon. Now that's fabulous.

Anyway, back to the story.

We've got a simple 4-burner range, a GE self-cleaning electric double oven, that was popular in the eighties. The smaller of the two ovens hangs about 11 inches above the range that's just above the larger of the two ovens. The thing looks a little like a crane, like it belongs on a construction site.

Sometimes having that smaller oven just above the stove makes cooking a little awkward, too. You can't get to the back burners easily and have to remove a pot from the burner to see what's going on inside. Tasting can be a challenge. You stick that big spoon in there and inevitably spill the soup on the way to your mouth.

So Thursday night I started a lovely vegetable stir fry on the right front burner and was about to make some popcorn. For corn I use the left back burner, the most powerful, reliable, if less accessible burner on the stove. This stove is about 22 years old, so the thermostats require a little mental accommodation. But if I want to cook something fast, I'll use that back burner, the one that always works and burns consistently hot like it should.

I added the oil to a 6 quart pot that I use mainly for popcorn, but didn't add the corn.

Somehow I got it into my head to check comments on the blog.

New metaphor for life and foreshadowing: You don't see electricity unless it's glowing.

So I get that urge to check comments and go upstairs, log on, scan the mail. I don't know about you, but when I post a comment, I might visit the person who commented if she/he has a blog, read a little. I love this stuff, love this community.

Suddenly I hear a crackling sound. That's all I can say. It's literally crackling. Something's crackling. I rush downstairs, worrying about my stir fry even though I'm sure I left it barely simmering. But I'm wondering, "What's That Noise?"

There's a foot of smoke under the ceiling in the living and dining rooms.

That noise is fire. It's always fire. You know it, you really do, before you see the smoke.

I dash into the kitchen, scared but tough, not panicked. It's surreal. There, on the stove, I've got a bonfire going in the popcorn pot. I'd left that burner ON, obviously, and the oil did what oil will do. A bonfire is blazing on the stove, flames licking upwards to the top oven.

You could have roasted marshmallows in that thing. Forget marshmallows. You could have roasted a chicken. It's smoking, flaming eight by 15 inches within and above the pot.

Plus, the top stove caught, the fan's ventilation grate is dripping flames. Apparently I don't clean as well as I think because the oil on that grate caught mightily. The fire glowed right through. That was the Extra Crackle. This is fire.

I grabbed for the salt. My mother taught me long ago to use salt to put out fires, and it works. I've put out lesser fires in the kitchen, the types most of us have if we're not careful when oil splatters. (I use a lot. The kids joke that if I can't stir fry something, then I won't bother eating it, and there is a grain of truth to that, except for a baked potatoes with butter. You know about my sandwiches already).

I completely forgot about the fire extinguisher, but the salt worked.

And I spent the evening washing walls, ceilings, cleaning the stove. It was penance, surely, for my carelessness, and many times I thought to myself, Am I losing it? What's wrong here? Can I even tell anyone about this? I'm so embarrassed.

FD came home and I told him. He said, "Yeah, you have this tendency of cooking and leaving the stove. Maybe it's not a good idea, huh?" Then he raised an eyebrow. "So what distracted you this time?"

I could end this right there, of course. But I won't.

The stir fry, you should know, survived. It was really good, too. I was careful about throwing the salt, didn't want needless clean-up. And food is food. We don't waste it.

We were actually invited out for Friday night dinner. I was bringing over the veges, a sliver of a Friday night Shabas meal that's generally a 12 course spread. There's nothing more wonderful, by the way, than having one of your kids cook for you. Cham did an amazing, amazing job, and it's rumored that Duv helped, too. I saw him cutting the melon.

Anyway, I found myself telling the story about the fire at the Shabas table. This wasn't my intention, you should know. And as I'm telling the story I'm aware that I'm still working it out. I'm doing what we all do in therapy when we tell over something traumatic. We work it out. Get rid of it. Leave it, leave some of it, at least, somewhere else. Even knowing that the story made me look like a scatter-brained, terrifically flawed individual, I HAD to tell it.

Big deal, right? By repeating stories, word for word, sometimes over and over again, we work them out.

Now. That's the psychological piece.

But a religious person has an even greater test, a more important mind-game to wrestle when something bad happens. Just getting rid of traumatic events, purging them from the psyche by telling them over so often that the brain literally gets bored isn't enough. Stories will lose their intensity on the twentieth take, usually, so retelling works for post traumatic or acute trauma disorders. Wonderful. But. . .

It's not rich.

Indeed, it can become a So What if you let it. For some people the There but for the grace of G-d go I thing means Take a deeper look.

A religious person will look at something bad that's happened in two ways. (Wait a minute. Now that I think about it, you don't have to be a religious person at all to think about it in these two ways!)

Okay, so I take that back. Everyone can look at an occasional traumatic event in the following two ways. It's called making cognitive sense out of the trauma. Again, mastery.

(a) What am I supposed to learn from this? (b) What does it mean for all of humanity?

Notice I didn't add, (c) What did I do wrong to bring this on? or Why am I being punished?

It's really not up to me to tell you that the Old Mighty isn't punishing you when things go south. How am I supposed to know? I personally think, however, that it's more functional and accomplishes the same purpose to ask, What am I supposed to learn from this?

I'm not going to tell you the things that went through my head on Thursday night after the fire, but they weren't too far off from Don't Leave the Kitchen When You Have Something on the Stove. I'm not very deep when it comes to self-reflection.

But the bigger question, the one about humanity hit me at the synagogue this morning as that image burned itself deeper into my imagination, that vision of fire on the stove, the distinct crackle of burning metal.

Fire, destructive fire, should make us think. Maybe about ourselves, and how we should be more careful in general, but maybe simply about the BIG FIRES, how people use fire destructively.

I'm thinking about the fires that blazed in Europe during various regimes, over several centuries, burning martyrs a stake and books and scrolls, and even ordinary people, too, culminating with the ovens, the crematoriums of WWII.

Or the fires that blazed across the South when the KKK burned down homes, burned(s) crosses in the name of White Supremacy.

This kind of insanity still reigns. Terrorists make fires. They bomb buses, restaurants, hotels, ships, embassies. Suicide bombers burn people. Is this culture ever going to die down? I'd like to know.

So yeah, sure, it starts with a kitchen fire, and now it's an anti-terrorism rant, ostensibly to educate young children not to blow themselves up in the name of . . .what? There are these anti-terrorism campaigns going on. We should support them. I'm voting for the first candidate who talks about re-educating would-be, wanna-be terrorists (blee neder, no promises on the vote thing).

Catastrophes happen, often intentionally. My little kitchen fire is nothing. It's only something to me because as I wipe the soot off the kitchen ceiling (I'm not finished) and am thinking we'll have to paint again, I have to say to myself, perhaps pray, Lo Aleinu.* No more.

The good news, of course, is that the pot is about as kosher as it's ever going to get.**

copyright 2008, therapydoc

*Lo Aleinu means, It shouldn't happen to us.
**One of the ways of making a cooking utensil kosher is by heating it until it glows. Jews use blow torches for Passover, a closet pyromaniac's favorite holiday.


Anonymous said...

The good news, of course, is that the pot is about as kosher as it's ever going to get

Oy vey. I tried that with the kids' dinner the last time DH was out of town, but at least it was only smoke. And that was on the new oven that replaced the one that did catch fire on Simchas Torah - B"H the fire stayed inside the oven!

Did you bentch gomel? Be careful!

therapydoc said...

That means you thank the Old Mighty for rescuing you, officially in the synagogue.

No, I wasn't out yet :)

therapydoc said...

Well I was, I guess, but not to everyone. This is working it out, it's a process.

Anonymous said...

Aw, so you didn't get a new oven and stove out of the whole ordeal?

therapydoc said...

Sure. New floor, some new cabinetry. But it can wait a little.

Jack Steiner said...

So we can add house fires to the list of incidents caused by blogging.

therapydoc said...

Pretty scary, right?

Anonymous said...

The last line made me laugh right out loud.

And thanks for the reminder of why why WHY I feel the need to tell some of my stories to many different people. Sometimes a little thought goes through my head when I'm telling the third or fourth time "why does this person need to hear this? It's you needing to tell. How selfish."

So now, I can tell that voice. "Yes. It's me needing to tell and if being healthy and taking care of myself is selfish, OK, I'm selfish. (But I'm not.)"

Anyway, Happy New Year (and I'm really happy you were able to get that fire out!)

Anonymous said...

This is why Yac is not allowed to cook.

therapydoc said...

RAC, it's not that I didn't teach him. He kept insisting that Snickers and M & M's ARE of the legume family.

Anonymous said...

how do you get rid porn wounds? I know this should be on the P article but that is far back.

therapydoc said...

I'm getting to it. But it would help if you could be more specific. Do you mean the personal trauma of seeing porn that you wish you never saw?

April_optimist said...

Thank God you're okay!

I've had more than one close call when I set something cooking then went back to writing.

I'd add one more question to your two. When something happens to me that's scary or very difficult, I try to step back and ask myself: What good could come out of this?

Interesting how many times that quickly changes my whole emotional reaction as I realize that something good can.

therapydoc said...

I'm sure that it would have died a natural death (the fire) even without the salt. I think.

You're so right. I get a new stove, a good thing :)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you and your stir fry were ok. And I appreciate that you thought to look at fire from a more profound perspective instead of just replenishing your supply of Kosher salt (although that too could have meaning).

I think of fire as both a danger and a great blessing. I guess it depends on who is holding the match and what (or who) gets burned.

therapydoc said...

Thanks for the support. I still feel totally dumb.

ANONYMOUS AND PORN-- I didn't publish your comment because it was too graphic for my sensibilities, crazy as that may seem, considering I'm writing about porn.

Hang on. I will get to this. It's the fourth and I've only posted two.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry. What I wanted to say is that your posted answer was good, but i had in mind was more related to dealing with child trauma relating to seeing porn at a young age which I said probably plays a part in my struggles over how i think about sex and sexuality today.

linrob63 said...

I am glad you are ok. I do not use microwave popcorn either, so I recognize the scene. I am fortunate enough to focus only on popcorn when anticipating the fluffy, hot treat.

I do have a comment though. I understand that the telling and retelling helps work it out. It is so very challenging when there is shame accompanying the event.

Maybe that is the reason that what I can learn from it or how humanity can benefit never occurred to me and only ever thought what I had done to bring it on myself or why I was punished.

You think?

therapydoc said...

LR, absolutely. The shame thing bites us every time. Therapists sometimes distill that down to trust issues. If we can trust people to love us anyway, we can tell them anything.

It's why people can tell therapists things they can't tell anyone else. At the end of the day, if you want to ditch us, you can.

Anonymous said...

Having lived through a major house fire (propane truck caught on fire in my driveway and the flames shot to my house)I can relate to how scary even a fire on a stove is. And the smoke damage...! No one would know the amount of cleanup unless they'd been through it.

Glad you're okay.

linrob63 said...

I know you prefer WSJ but this piece in todays New York Times is on point -- well close anyway...

therapydoc said...

It's a nice piece. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Re: my comment on Dec. "Back At'cha." Case in point, Doc! I see the flames leaping up out of the pot; the smoke floating across the ceiling; your startled body language as you enter the kitchen; more and more I won't describe; and finally, a glowing orange pot and torch flame, dispelling darkness to limn figures clad in welding masks and gloves.

Nice sketchin,' I says. ;-)

Very glad it wasn't worse, by the way, and that you shared with us your pondering on it.

Anonymous said...

Good thing you have lots of salt in your kitchen and it’s really great that you didn’t panicked. You’ve done the right thing!
Very literary! It’s really amazing on how you transcend the kitchen fire (a dangerous one) to the real fire (much dangerous); the correlation of small issue to big issue. Oh, how I’m missing my Lit class…

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts