Sprezzatura

Because neurotic is the new black....

Ann Nichols

Ann Nichols
Location
East Lansing, Michigan,
Birthday
December 31
Bio
I write, I read, I clean up after people and I worry about things. I have a chronic insufficiency of ironic detachment. My birthday isn't really December 31; it's March 22 but it won't let me change it.

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Salon.com
JANUARY 17, 2012 9:29AM

Control, Anxiety and Pork Fried Rice

Rate: 22 Flag

I am a control freak of the highest order. Since birth, I have vibrated to some internal frequency that requires that questions are answered, clutter is removed, and lists are prepared against any wild card fancies of the universe. I don’t require that things go my way, necessarily - there is nothing I enjoy more than corralling and tranquilizing an irrational situation into submission. Or, more accurately, believing that I have done so. Since control is generally illusory, all of my lists, sub-lists, plans, recommendations, admonitions and resolutions are no more solid than a bridge of damp Kleenex across a pit of starving alligators.

Prevention is good, planning is beneficial, but in the end there simply things that can’t be controlled. In my life, those things include the health of my parents, the moods of my teenage son, changes at work, the national economy, and the changes in my body that come with age. I try to control what I can, but that’s a mixed bag; no one is terribly bothered if I resolve to take my daily pills, do some yoga, and try to get more sleep. On the other hand, my parents and son are notoriously unwilling to live under the glass cloche of my loving supervision. They will accept my help, all of them, but none of them sees it as a quid pro quo arrangement in which my support triggers a reciprocal obligation on their end to do what I say, when I say it. With the kid, there is the option of Consequences, but to date I have not been successful at sending my parents to their rooms, taking away their computers and cell phones or grounding them.

At the root of all of my planning, spinning, and attempts to weave the irrational into a tidy pattern is anxiety. I am a person who is often complimented on how “calm” I am, and how serene and accommodating is my demeanor. I am actually a tooth-grinding, tight-shouldered migraineur with a recurring tic and a tendency to break out in hives when the heat is turned up high enough. I know that the holistic solution to all of this is to give up the illusion of control and just be with whatever is going on. Sometimes I can get there. Other times, though, I slog through the mess closest to me and promise myself that if I can get everything under control, there is a valley of Peace and Completion just ahead. If I make the calls, make the lists, read the fine print, clear up the misunderstanding with the bank and turn my receipts in at work, I can…relax. I can sink deeply into some robin’s egg blue pouf of anxiety-free heaven with the faint scent of lavender in the air, a book in my hand and all phones disabled. It is the ultimate illusion: the end of my to-do list throws a vast, disparate universe into complete immobility until such time as I finish reading a really good novel and take a nap.

Lest you should think me a rigid martinet, there are times when I am singularly and spectacularly out of control. I lose control, and the ship begins to sink. I remain bravely at the wheel for as long as I can stand it, and then I flee. By the time the bow goes under the cresting waves, I am lost. I am eating all the waffles in the freezer, I am on my way to Walgreens to buy the 102d tube of undetectable beige lipstick, or posting some ridiculous status on Facebook to get confirmation that I am Fun and Interesting.

All of which leads me to pork fried rice.  Last week, as part of my compulsive one-woman ordering of the universe, I braised a pork loin in Hoisin sauce and served it with rice. The plan was to make pork fried rice later in the week. When Pork Fried Rice came up on my calendar, I balked. I didn’t feel like cooking that, or anything else. I was getting a cold. I was grumpy. The Menu List was clear and assertive, but I balked. I looked at my husband who is, most of the time, far saner than I can ever hope to be. “How would you like to learn to make pork fried rice?” I asked him, testing the waters.

“That would be great” he said. And so I outlined for him the mixing of the cold rice and leftover pork with a bit of egg for binding, the necessary additions of scallions, onions, peas, sesame oil and soy sauce, and the making of a flat egg pancake to cut into thin strips. I retreated to the bedroom to read my book, and felt as cosseted as a beloved child as I relaxed, smelling delicious smells, knowing that someone else was doing the doing. Cooking is my thing, at work and at home, and I have always been the planner, the cooker, and the supervisory hoverer when food was prepared. I let it go, and was rewarded with a hot bowl of perfect pork fried rice. The kitchen was not as clean as I would have left it, and the dish was spicier than mine, but everybody was happy.

As I maneuvered a last pea between my chopsticks, I had the kind of inspiration that comes only from a free and unclenched psyche. My son was sledding with two friends, and I texted him to ask if they might like to come over and share the remaining mountain of rice. “Delivery?” he texted back. I considered. I was un-showered and in my pajamas, and it was a frigid night with icy roads.

“Sure.” I replied. “10 mins.” I packed up three containers of rice, three forks and three napkins, shoved my feet into boots, threw my coat on and drove to the parking lot near the sledding hill. Three cold-pinked faces appeared outside my window; I rolled it down and handed out the bag. “Daddy made it” I told my son. “Be sure to tell him it’s awesome.” I invited them to sit in the warm car to eat, but they liked the idea of sitting at the top of the frigid sledding hill clutching hot food and sharing some Iron John bonding thing.

I would get no credit for the food. I would never see my Tupperware or my forks again. If my car spun off the icy road I would end up at the hospital unwashed and in unmatched pajamas and Ugg boots. I was off book, out of control, letting life unfold as it would.

It felt wonderful.

 

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I am a control freak of the highest order. Since birth, I have vibrated to some internal frequency that requires that questions are answered, clutter is removed, and lists are prepared against any wild card fancies of the universe. I don’t require that things go my way, necessarily - there is nothing I enjoy more than corralling and tranquilizing an irrational situation into submission. Or, more accurately, believing that I have done so. Since control is generally illusory, all of my lists, sub-lists, plans, recommendations, admonitions and resolutions are no more solid than a bridge of damp Kleenex across a pit of starving alligators.

SISTER!
Funny, pork fried rice made its appearance on our menu this week as well. And by weird coincidence, my husband also cooked it while I pampered a cold. Must be a Michigan thing.
(our version wasn't worth carry-out, however)
This is a great piece of writing, btw. I had to comment about that opening paragraph because it just knocked me socks down, being as it were, the story of me.

But yes, growing older makes it better, easier to let it go. There are some areas where it is near impossible to do this, but in so many others, its getting easier and easier to simply let go and let someone else.
Like Monkey, I'm busy pulling my socks up as usual. Nicely penned. I find the control freak in me only emerges when I'm in company with incompetence. If I can trust someone else to do it right, I have no problem delegating. Would that we could all spend more of our lives "off book."
I am not sure if it is a good thing that I have a control freak sister out there, but I loved this post. Great story and great writing! Thanks for sharing!
I love this piece. I don't think I'm a control person, but I certainly recognize the lack of control that comes with getting older, be it kids, parents, or are own bodies and set ways. There are lessons for all of us in here. "Letting life unfold as it would." I think I'll try it.
A delicious post from start to finish. I discovered a whole new level to my own control freak-ed-ness this past week and absolutely relate to your habits and accompanying feelings. I admit you had me in suspense at the end (The control freak in me envisioned a fire in the kitchen and some random unplanned carnage born of the aberrant decision to let go. ) Your ending is far better...perhaps there is hope for me too! Another wonderful piece of writing Ann...off to share! R
one of these days you need to post on making an "egg pancake". sounds good. I usually just pour an egg into my fried rice and mix it up right when I turn the heat off on the wok (same technique that I use for spaghetti carbonara).
Beautiful, as always Ann. Letting go is very, very hard, but sometimes good.
Totally awesome. I have never been the perfectionist, as I realize now matter how often I clean and tidy, it still gets dirty. I just do it on a much, much slower schedule. Seems like we blogged about similar things, from another angle, though I was thinking yesterday about my cloak of care that is received but rarely reciprocated with the enthusiasm I generate for it. I would love to try your pork fried rice, or just the braised pork, either way, sounds delish.
If I can file our federal and state quarterly taxes on time, I consider it a successful year. By the way, how far west do you deliver?
Even when your narrative seems humorous, self deprecating and offered matter-of-factly as a slice of life, it's intensely resonant, filled with evocative images and genuinely deep thoughts. I am so totally with you in this one (on all but the pork)...

Sandwich life is hardest on those of us who Must Control. Smart, kind husbands and good kids often keep us sane.
You describe that dish so well, I'm salivating.
If I had known you were heading out I might have tried to wish a flat tire on the way home for you just to add to the perfection.
I just love the bridge of wet kleexex and the alligators. Today, I am poised on the bridge! And the whole sit-with-a-book-amid-the-lavendar thing? Totally get that too. Did it Saturday in fact. Loved this one!
Ann - I think we were separated at birth! When you get to the valley of Peace and Completion, please send me the directions! Meanwhile, The front door still hasn't been painted from the guy moving some furniture out gouged, there are leaves in the back yard that need to be raked, the photos should be scanned and put into neat folders on the computer, and 3 other things hanging about that I set myself as needing to do....
I'm so proud of you!! You got no credit but you were free. I am the consummate free spirit who was raised by a control freak. Sometimes I take control now and get applause and sometimes she relaxes and takes a break. But then we go back to our true selves. Trying to balance here and your post helps so much!
I got near to the end of this, and wondered if you'd go sledding in the dark, wearing your pajamas, barreling downhill and screaming like a thirteen year old :-)
Loved your post - though not too much of a control freak, I can certainly relate to the "sandwich generation".
Way to embrace spontaneity, and such a great story!
I love knowing you people in the north can go anywhere in pjs or comfortable unwashed mismatched clothing as long as you have Uggs and a trench coat. I've got to bathe off sweat then contemplate how best to harness the chest jiggling without digging a metal stayed bra from the bottom of the laundry, picking the lint off a rumpled pair of leggings, and finding a shirt with sleeves long enough to hide my upper arms but not cause a hot flash and ... you get it, right? And there's that year round leg shaving too. I looong to dash around outdoors in my pjs and I'm so glad you did. (the one time I did that I had a flat and a passing fireman fixed it. He avoided looking at me from the knees up and Ma'am-ed me over and over all the while.) Learned a valuable lesson there... no more 10pm burger runs for me.

I was reeled in here "I am actually a tooth-grinding, tight-shouldered migraineur with a recurring tic and a tendency to break out in hives when the heat is turned up high enough." and sank into the rest of the piece with the usual satisfying moment of bonding I feel with your writing, Ann.
Oh, and I haven't the first idea as to how one would go about making pork fried rice. Would you think about giving us a lesson? I love it but our local takeout is so greasy most of the time. I could practically taste this from your description of the boys, eating it warm out of Tupperware... nice night for a memory.
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♥╚═══╝╚╝╚╝╚═══╩═══╝─╚for showing us how you can really let go.