Now I am reading Mary Gordon, a hardcover of three novellas my mom sent to me. Maybe I’ve already mentioned that. It’s difficult for me to know what I’ve mentioned and what I’ve only thought to mention. I can spend a lot of time thinking through the details of mentioning a thing, so much time that afterward I wonder if I actually did mention it rather than just think of mentioning it.
Biffy doesn’t know what a novella is, thinking that’s the title of the book. She thanks me, saying that’s good information to know, learning the definition of novella. Biffy is like that, generous with her gratitude. We are all trying to be more gracious these days. To help, Biffy wears a mail-order bracelet that she is suppose to move from one wrist to the other every time she complains. But it’s not always clear whether a comment is a complaint or just an observation.
Example: The other day she told me that her husband was in a foul mood because she had left some things on the counter the night before and that things left on the counter make him very upset and that she can not understand what his deal is. She apologized for complaining and moved the bracelet to her other wrist. But then she wondered if that was more of an observation than a complaint. She moved the bracelet back to the other wrist. I pointed out that moving the bracelet implies that a complaint has been uttered and therefore moving the bracelet from one wrist to the other can not also be a retraction of a falsely identified complaint.
“You are such a dork” she says.
“Is that a complaint?” I ask.
“No, it’s an observation,” she says, but moves her bracelet to her other wrist anyway.
The reason Biffy had left things on the counter the night before was that she has a tremendous difficulty making decisions and this makes cooking torture. I had never considered that, the number of decisions that go into cooking a meal. First you have to decide what to make and whether or not to use a cookbook. If using a cookbook, which one? Then, there’s the shopping, a myriad of choices for every ingredient, low-fat, non-fat, mild, medium, spicy, large, small, organic, conventional, vegan, non-gulten, farm raised, wild, local, imported. At home it only gets worse. When to start? What pot to use? With which utensil to stir? It exhausts Biffy, this constant battle of possibilities, each senerio rolling out alternative futures, to be considered in full. And inevitably, no matter what choice Biffy makes, it is never the best one. Biffy thought if she could divide it up, pick a recipe one day, shop the next, lay out the pots and measuring utensils the night before, that maybe she could manage to cook a meal without a major emotional breakdown. But as it turns out, avoiding her own emotional breakdowns causes her husband to have his own.
So Biffy decides it best not to cook.
But women, especially us second generation feminists who don’t cook because our gender informs us to, but who cook because it’s the healthiest choice for our children, we find it curious when a woman, especially a woman who doesn’t work but stays at home, a former kindergarten teacher no less, does not cook. And since we are all so busy trying to improve ourselves, it is no great stretch to assume that we can improve Biffy as well. But Biffy is easily bored. When her visual cortex is not being stimulated, such as during conversations about cooking, she spins every comment into a shocking sexual inuendo. Once, at a Pampered Chef party, she returned from the bathroom, quietly rejoining the group, her pants unzipped, a curly black wig billowing from her open fly. She claims she doesn’t want to be the center of attention because it is so exhausting, but that she has no other choice, given that she is so easily bored. But no matter how dirty it gets, at some point the conversation always comes back to cooking, and even women who have heard her say it before are startled anew. “You don’t cook?” they ask. “Why not?” But it’s too much to explain (even I didn’t learn the answer until very recently, when I pressed her on it, one afternoon when were very bored), so Biffy always throws out a line about how her man does all the cookin’ in this family, which is true actually, but she says it in such a way that we all laugh and catch someone blushing, and then we laugh even harder like mean little school girls.