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A Transition Worth the Wait
And Cornbread Worth the Chili
On my morning commute the other day, Sting’s “Fortress Around Your Heart” came up in my playlist. Transition is both delightful and weird because, even years after realizing I’ve always been a woman, that awareness makes me see things anew. For instance, this ‘80s hit didn’t mean anything to me when it came out other than that, for me, it was a badass song and a fine bit of poetry.
The other day, I heard it no longer as a ballad of lost love. Perhaps I’m just narcissistic, but it told me about me, of how I’d once built a fortress around my heart. I’d built high battlements around Bethany, laid mines, and dug a chasm around that castle prison. I’m not going to analyze the song because you can do that yourself. It’s one of many seeing-things-anew that I experience on a routine basis. Except that there’s nothing “routine” about it. I see the world with new eyes, for the me I once thought “me” has been shed.
“I came out of the fog and said. I am what I am.
Then I thought: What have I been before?”
Carl Jung said this^^ to himself when he was 11 years old, recounting it in a 1959 interview when he was 84 years old, as told by Albert Garcia:
he was walking to school, and a thick fog enveloped him, and just as he came out of that fog, he also went out of his mental mist and was fully aware of his existence.
It’s funny; until I listened to Jung, I had never asked myself that question.
I realized it during a vacation in the Canary Islands when I was nine years old.
I looked at myself in the mirror and discovered that I was me, but what was I before? I have no answer, and I found it disturbing.
Your turn, when was the first time you realized that you were you?1
It’s a necessary question of being a person, as fundamental and basic as cornbread. But we aren’t cornbread (as good as that can be, when well made). We’re dynamic, without the need for chili.
Though, the chili’s nice. And yummy. Like the experiences I have that level me with revelations dropped by a mushy Cosmic hammer. Oh! That’s what that was all about. Hmm, way back then, I was wonderin’ if I’d ever figure that out.
Empty Belly, Empty Heart
No I wasn’t. Back then, that shit just happened to me, and I went with what I knew, except that, in my younger mind, I insisted to myself that what I knew was rock-solid, objective truth. Turns out it was no more substantial than chili-soaked cornbread. Which, again, is a good thing. But at the time, I was always looking for another dish, another meal to conquer and thereby left myself starving for meaning.
It’s not like I didn’t have people telling me otherwise. Why was it I so got into all the descriptions of tasty, tummy-tucking food by Tolkien in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? He and his pal, C.S. Lewis, set out to write the kind of stories that they appreciated. As it turns out, there were a lot of empty bellies out there who scarfed up their fare.
Back in the days when I kept Bethany walled up in a fortress, I mostly ate to give myself sustenance for the next challenge, the next unforeseen existential enemy I had to stare down with machismo and bro-ism. I allowed myself to be interested in brewing and barbecuing shit in the backyard (ironically, both invented by women eons ago), ‘cuz that stuff was the mark of a man, supposedly. Cornbread was for filling my face. I had a back forty of unresolved angst to bear arms against, and I needed quick energy, people.
Musical Fear and Loathing
Where am I going with this? Not quite sure. Oh, yeah! The mushy-hammer realizations that hit me on my commutes or in other activities. Presenting as a dude, I hated musicals, which put me in a weird position, seeing as how Pam and all my children participated in approximately 60 or so productions at our local theatre company. See, the thing about musicals is that they were way too busy for me, to no purpose, I then thought. (This coming from the gal who’s all about making her writing and paintings so busy they’re hard to focus on.) But to me, the busy-ness of musicals seemed forced and impossible. The damn things wouldn’t let me suspend my disbelief. I’d just be getting into the story when some heavily painted bastard would break into song about something that could just be said with a lot more effect (and a lot less glitter).
And that’s the thing about musicals that I now mushy-hammer get, post-transition. The whole point is to break the fourth wall and make me bloody sing and dance! Hell, presenting as a bro, the last thing I’d allow myself to do was break into song about impossible dreams and Dulcineas. Shit. Everything was impossible to me, especially being myself. And the biggest terror of it all was the creeping suspicion that the real me was all about breaking into song for no shitting reason, just ‘cuz of joy and the mushy-hammer delight of looking into the mirror and loving me.
Mind you, I have not and most likely will not audition to be in any musical productions (the day is still young, though, my Padawans). Ask Pam every morning when I strut out of my walk-in closet (uh, there’s a metaphor there) and say, “Voila!” to her, regaled in that day’s outfit. Ask her and my posse about the crazy voices and theatric puns, jokes, and anecdotes I spout at the drop of a hat. Read my books or look at my paintings, folks. I’ve freakin’ made my life a musical!
With one difference from the Broadway renditions—I savor my moments like a good cornbread, chili or no. They’re yummy. And I put semolina in my cornbread because I like that eensy crackle in my molars when I slowly, ever so slowly, strut from the wings, chewing and tasting the life that is cornbread.
Finally, I’m not just reading some author’s description of soul- and belly-satisfying food. Baby, I am it! This girl’s cornbread is worth her chili. Or just to savor it as is.
Cornbread Worth the Chili
Prep Time: 20min Cook Time: 30-35min Total Time: 1hr Difficulty: Easy Servings: 8-10 wedges
Lg cast iron skillet (cook pan)
Stand mixer w/ bowl, plus whisk & beater attachments
½C (60g) instant grits, cooked in milk (not water)
1C (125g) all-purpose flour
1½C (180g) yellow cornmeal
¼C (40g) semolina
1C (200g) granulated (caster) sugar
⅓C (70g) brown sugar
4t baking powder
½C (1 stick/100g) butter, melted
2T vegetable oil
1½C (350ml) milk, whole
1t vanilla extract
2 lg eggs, beaten
1. In saucepan, cook grits per manufacturer's directions, subbing milk for water. Set aside to cool.
2a. Grease cast iron skillet well and set aside.
2b. Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C (425°F/210°C, High Altitude).
3. In mixer bowl, hand whisk flour, cornmeal, semolina, sugars, salt, and baking powder, till combined. Form well in mixture's center.
4. At med speed (KitchenAid 4-5), whisk in butter, oil, ¾ of milk (reserving some to adjust consistency, if needed), vanilla, and eggs, till mixture comes together with only a few lumps.
5. Hand whisk cooled grits (adding a little milk as needed if they have thickened too much).
6. Change mixer attachment to beater and gradually pour in grits at med speed (KitchenAid 4-5), till thoroughly combined.
7. Pour resulting batter into greased skillet and bake for 30-35 min, till top is deeply mystically golden brown. (Internal temp should be 200-206°F/93-97°C, or toothpick poked in center comes out clean.)
8. Cut into wedges and serve 'em slathered in chili!