Saturday, September 29, 2012

Memoir


I sat in a sterile room at Detroit Children’s Hospital listening to the doctor take roll call: Cellcept, Plaquenil, 81 mg Aspirin, Levoxyl, Naproxen, Vitamin D supplement, and Prednisone. I consumed these words practicing for the pills to come, but my heart sank as he fell down the list. Each interval bearing the weight of the reality that more pain loomed around the blank walls of sickness. Looking back, stomaching this information seems easy; she didn’t know what was coming.

Wave 1.
Fast breath and wake. Confusion. A rampant dream I can’t control. Its deadly grip forcing me to comprehend that this is real. There is nothing dreamy about this nightmare.

I began a regiment that lasted for the next year. Nearing ten pills a day, none affected me as much as Prednisone (a steroid that is used to subdue the immune system.) This is where my affair with food began, a lust affair. Everything on steroids looks tantalizingly edible, and any snack turned into a meal. We had just gotten our kitchen redone, and I had found a sanctuary within it. Pomegranates, apples, and oranges reflected off the beige granite begging for a taste of my mouth. The fruits on the counter were a mere offering of what the sub-zero refrigerator had in store. Milks, cheeses, lunchmeats, veggies, dressings, and more found their home in this chilled box. I ate all the time because I was always hungry, and it filled the gaps of confusion. The mist surrounding my life needed to be solidified by something, and food was satisfying.

Wave 2.
An epicenter becomes clearer. One knee, two knee. A pain so searing there must be a bomb inside my legs. I stagger to find my mom, but mothers don’t always know what to do.

The constant procession of food that fell into my mouth did not continue without consequence. Soon the weight of the food began to find permanent residence within my body, and the side effects of Prednisone became visible. My cheeks began to swell, and my embarrassed eyes hid beneath them. The structure of my face elicited comments like, “Are you packing nuts for the winter? Your cheeks are huge!” I could tell when kids at school were talking about me. The side glance in my direction and a whisper in a friend’s ear. Distance grew between me and the other kids. I started to personify food. It felt sorry for me and consoled me because I had lost the game.

Wave 3.
“Mom kill me, please just kill me. I can’t take it. Fuckin’ kill me.” She is sweeping my hair back. It sticks to the top of my head, matted by sweat and tears. I’ve never felt this pain before; I couldn’t have even comprehended if I tried.

My favorite food at this time was granola crunch. The sweet nodes of honey and sugar were followed by the deafening sound biting into the mixture. I would listen to the inside of my mouth, and tune out whatever stresses my parents released. The kitchen that year became the hub of all information. Everyone passed through and left an opinion lingering there to be kneaded, mixed, and cooked. As the toll keeper for the kitchen, I tasted everyone’s problems, but none stung as much as my father’s. The constant drain of the economy had made him a tired, jaded man. Financial hardships were his only topic of conversation. He didn’t understand that a house was supposed to be filled with love. He didn’t know I didn’t want that negativity and that the only toll I needed was a hug.

Wave 4.
Scream, bloody murder, SCREAM.

I had given up on academics at this time. The school shortened my schedule to a half-day so I could attend all my doctor’s appointments. Lucky me. In my half-day, I walked through the halls knowing that I was the ugliest thing in the world. People had a hard time looking at me; my friends couldn’t shoot me a straight stare. After a few hours of classes, I headed back home, walking parallel to the troop of students driving off to lunch with their friends. Upon my arrival home, I would sit in the kitchen waiting for my mom. My mother could always give me a straight stare, but I hated her stares because she would get teary eyed. There is nothing more pathetic than having your mother cry while you’re staring at each other, absolutely nothing.

Wave 5.
Two floors down, my brother has heard me cry. Seated on a chair across from my mother’s bed, he catches my eye. I can see him through my tears. My brother has always been overprotective, yet he just sits there. A helpless adult. There is nothing anyone can do for me. My mom and brother watch as my body is tortured, killing itself from within.

I had lost the game a while ago, positive that I had nothing left. I stopped any effort toward school and even tried to facilitate an imminent end. Sometimes, an end means a beginning of something new. Other times, it means that you’ve come to terms with things and you keep living them.

Today, I’m in the kitchen making dinner and writing a memoir. I watch as the steam escapes the rows of kernels on my corn; I am reflecting. What started as a prompt of my dietary restrictions, quickly transformed into a wave of emotion that was my life. I am better now, and sometimes I’m even happy. Sure, I have Lupus, but if I eat right and find control in life, then I can manage. Making sacrifices to preserve my health is a small compromise. I eat more vegetables, cut out most dairy, and relieve myself from stressful situations. Another flare up can always be around the corner, but everyone has pain. And this is my battle to fight. Although many people will try and offer empathy in times of pain, I’ve found the most important virtue is understanding. People want to be understood by everyone, or someone.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Cook's Tour Response (3)


Anthony Bourdain has a rich personality that is mirrored in his writing and TV show. His spirit is captured so well in the show, and his honesty in the book reinforces my respect for the guy. I absolutely adore how Bourdain is so well received by the cultures he immerses himself into. Of course, the camera crew, publicity, and celebrity of the situation add to his reception, still the guy is damn charming. I really enjoyed his piece on Tokyo, and watched the subsequent episode to be able to compare the two.

As I began to watch, I couldn’t help but smile at the parallels between the book and show. It was almost if the words were put into animation, and my imagination and reality collided. I usually find that the opposite often happens to me with books turned movies. Your expectations challenge those of another’s vision, with often a poor outcome. (“The book was soooo much better.” “OhMyGawd, they left out all the good details.”) To be honest, my expectations were on the same plane as what was actually shown. I enjoyed Bourdain in the book, and the show only enhanced that.

There is no doubt that the translation from experience to print is masterful. However, I could make one distinction that would be quite impossible for him to describe in his book. One of the main differences I did notice from the two was the spectrum of emotion and uncertainty I saw from him. In print, he can describe his hesitations, yet it can’t compare to the raw footage. For example, at the fish market Bourdain’s words flow with certainty. He has had the time to reflect on his experience, and therefore has more confidence in his words.

“All that unbelievable bounty, spread across acres and acres of concrete, wriggling and spitting from tanks, laid out in brightly colored rows, carefully arranged like dominoes in boxes, skittering and clawing from under piles of crushed ice, jockeyed around on fast-moving carts, the smell of limitless possibilities, countless sensual pleasures – I am inadequate to the task of saying more” (140).

His feelings are sure footed; he can give exact descriptions of the setting and the happenings that are playing out before him. Watching the footage, I see a slightly different man. One in awe, questioning things and absorbing all that is happening around him. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have a grip on things. He does mention that the chef gave him a lot of self-assurance in the market. Yet, watching the man I see a kid in a candy store.

As much as I enjoy Bourdain for his badass approach to life and his competence as a chef, I his passion for cooking was more attractive. He is so eager to learn and enjoy experiences that might make others uncomfortable. I used to be really uneasy at these situations as well, preferring a vanilla life. However, I’ve come to appreciate the value of exploration outside of the daily norms. In my opinion, I believe Bourdain captures a different kind of American spirit, one of expectance and drive.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hare Krishna! (2)


I go through a ton of phases, really too many to count. I justify my erratic behavior by the fact that I’m young. It’s what you are supposed to do, you know? You get really messed up, and then find yourself. Boom.

Well anyways, my phases are sometimes impulsive and a little na├»ve. I think the thing is that my mind is very crazy, comparable to a Baz Luhrmann film. A lot of ideas, but you have to watch the whole thing to understand it. My life isn’t as romantic as Luhrmann’s films, so not too many people actually stick around. But, so far, I’ve been able to tough it out, and I’m even enjoying my recent adventurous phase.

A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain really touched a nerve with me, it was that try anything attitude/ go get ‘em energy that I identify with. This attitude that has led me to pop my little bubble. In this thick air of adventure, I found myself biking to the Hare Krishna Center in Detroit.
I was reading Steve Job’s biography at the time, and I was yearning to find my guru. And by that I mean that I wanted to become an enlightened tech god like Jobs. Of course I didn’t have the expenditures to travel to India, so I settled on Detroit, Michigan. Also, I probably should have driven there but whatever (for context, the phrase YOLO was popular this summer.)

On a beautiful summer evening, I biked the shores of East Detroit with my friend and her family. My friend is Indian and her father practices Hinduism, so he was knowledgeable about the religion. We rode past vacant houses, through overgrown sidewalks, along the Detroit River, and finally to the Fisher Mansion. Donated in the 1970’s as a Hare Krishna Temple, the Fisher Mansion is a beautifully architected building. Upon arrival at the temple, we were greeted by the sounds of music singing “Hare Krishna” (“Praise Krishna”), a culturally diverse group of people, and the smell of curry.

Every Sunday, they have a feast at the temple were they serve a meal in exchange for a small donation. My meal was some of the best food I’ve tasted: bananas, a bright highlighter colored mixture (yum, curry), a sweet mushy dessert, fried bread, and fruit juice. This is what I wanted. A meal that felt foreign, but I appreciated it and tasted it without stereotypes or preconceived notions about the culture. All I had to do was close my eyes and listen to the music and everything went blank except my taste palette infused with exotic mixtures.
Hare Krishna Center
Detroit, MI

Through Bourdain’s travels, he always mentions the context of the food because the experience surrounding the food can make a meal. In his chapter on Vietnam, a particular line peaked my interest, “The astounding freshness of the ingredients, the brightly contrasting textures and colors, the surprising sophistication of the presentation – the whole experience is overwhelmingly perfect” (58). This sums up my experience at the Hare Krishna center. No, okay so I realize I’m not going to invent the latest tech gadget or become a Steve Jobs. However, I did realize the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone. To be completely enamored with your surroundings, and your senses engaged within an experience that is unique, foreign, and authentic… little can surpass the excitement of immersion and learning. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's all about the lunch. (1)


Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen was at first hard to reckon with. As I sat reading the book, I was overcome by guilt thinking, “Dang, I was that white girl.” I prayed at every meal, wore my Sunday best, my mother kept our house spotless, and, of course, we had a living room that was reserved for adults and special occasions. As I read reflecting, I looked for something to tie my life to Bich’s. Of course there is my love of processed foods, but I couldn’t compare to her strict options because I always got whatever food I asked for. It wasn’t until the birth of Vinh until I really started to draw parallels between my life and that of Bich’s.

I was eight years old when my sister was born, and I remember being so excited to have a little American Girl Doll of my own. She was small, cute, and had these little bumps on her head that I liked to peel off. Sure, it was gross, but I wanted my sister to be perfect. Perfect because the last nine months had been kind of terrible. It wasn’t actually so bad living it, but in retrospect, I probably have a lot of mommy/daddy issues because of it.

My mom and dad took our family out to dinner at Coney Island in the late fall or early winter of 2000. I was really not a big fan of the establishment, (I preferred the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club) but who was I to judge, I mean free food and milkshakes, c’mon! So as we sat there talking about God knows what, actually we were probably talking about God, my mother broke the news. They were going to have a baby. This news was shocking; first of all, I was sure they were done. I mean they had to be; they had filled up all of the bedrooms. So, I was not pleased because this meant that someone (me) would have to share a room.

What became of the pregnancy was even worse. My mom ended up being really sick for the majority of it, and I was on my own. Little second grade Katherine, the shortest kid in the class, started to figure things out. Like Bich, one of the most important things in the world was the content of your lunch. I started packing my own lunch, which meant a hot pocket, every single day. Obviously, this did not make me a hot commodity in the second grade where it was a dog-eat-dog world…a place where it was either Lunchables or bust. So I adapted, I started beating the boys in arm wrestles and inventing games during recess. I probably had some type of Napolean complex, trying to rule the world from below four feet.

This is a picture of my siblings during happier times. Me? bottom left. Yea, I was a ham.
What I learned is that sure, it is really great to fit in, but normal people like the weird ones. They like the crazies that go out of their comfort zone, and put on a show. I know that Bich had a more difficult time doing this because she felt really isolated, but after reading the first nine chapters, I can tell she grew into a wild adult. After all, its not the content of your lunch that really matters, it’s more of the content of your character.