Standing at the edge of the island in the middle of her kitchen, I was looking for something to do. I had just chopped 3 onions while a playful young man scooted a bowl around the edge of the circular table while sputtering car noises as though his bowl had an engine of its own. Holding a large, sharp slicing blade, I felt nervous about his speed as he approached over and over again, getting closer to the chopping block ever time. He was diverted by his mother, and soon after that needed discipline for disobedience. She asked me what I thought about little boys who utter defiance at their parents. I was thinking that we should just add him to the chili, cause he’s so delicious, but that’s not what I said. I said that I don’t like it when people yell at me.
Uncle intervened, via telephone.
When she offered me a bag of cheese, she asked me if I would like to put the cheese in the bowl. I responded, “do you want me to empty the bag, or fill the bowl.”
[record scratching sound goes here]
Her response answered my question, but the way she hesitated before offering the answer confused me. Why was that such a difficult question to answer? It took me a good minute to realize that the question I had asked made absolutely no sense. It didn’t make sense to her, and it didn’t make sense to me. But, she was able to answer it regardless.
In the moment, I had no idea what I was trying to say, and then about five minutes after the fact, I figured it out. You see, there was plenty of cheese in the bag, but I didn’t connect that fact right away. My logic was thinking two things. a) either there’s not enough cheese in the bag to fill one bowl, or b) there’s enough cheese in the bag that I would need another bowl. It wasn’t exactly clear to me that there was enough cheese to actually fill the bowl which means that if the assignment was to “fill the bowl” and there wasn’t enough, then I would need to search for more cheese, and if the assignment was to “empty the bag” then it would either not matter if the bowl was full, or I would have to search for another bowl to handle the overflow.
The reason I didn’t know how much cheese was required was directly tied to the lack of experience and knowledge. It may sound like a silly thing, but these little experiences are very important for me. They build confidence, and when I know how to do something, I have more confidence. That’s nothing new for you either, I suppose.
I was helping Susan with Crème brûlée last Christmas for a party at Mike’s house, and when I offered to help, aside from forgetting that I have no idea how to make Crème brûlée, I was given the task of pouring hot milk into a mixer with eggs. I had never done that before, and I really didn’t know why I was supposed to pour it in so slowly. “Am I supposed to do it like this?” I said. “Slower,” she replied…”don’t go so fast,” she assumed I knew why. I didn’t. Now I do. It’s like the first time you learn why you aren’t supposed to pour a cold glass of water into a glass that just came out of the dishwasher.
This thought process of analyzing the bag of cheese and the bowl is an example of a very taxing exercise that my mind goes through in the moment. I think out loud. This becomes a bit of a double edged sword, because it can confuse people who don’t understand how to communicate with me and make them impatient or if I don’t think out loud, I may come across as someone who is non-responsive.
Either way, not understanding how to do something is far greater a challenge than unerstanding that something needs to be done.
I have believed that I have to experience it before I understand it. I am wrong.
Could this pose some pretty serious problems? I think so. If I were to wait around to experience everything I’m not an expert at I would be waiting for ever. Pudding-proof: I’m not married because I thought I had to figure out marriage before doing it. The consequences of pouring the hot milk into the eggs too fast is cooked egg whites. The consequence of getting married before I’m an expert at it is a broken heart.
The committment issues that I face, as cliche as they may sound coming out of any woman’s mouth, had to do with fear of not achieving perfection prior to experience. Just pour the cheese, Jon, and don’t ask questions. If the bowl is too big, the bag will be empty. If the bag is too big, then stop pouring when the bowl is full. It’s that simple.