October 28, 2015
My mom has religiously read The Sun magazine from cover-to-cover since I bought her a subscription about a year ago. Occasionally, she passes issues back to me, with pages dog-eared to indicate “Read this,” and now I do the same to you, pointing you to this piece, “The Geography of Sorrow.” It is a powerful conversation—technically an interview—that cuts wide swaths through issues such as our cultural responses to grief, the impacts of trauma and shame, and the power of ritual. All in all, the piece makes a lot of damn sense while also being quite beautiful. Can any of us writers hope for much more? To make a lot of damn sense while also being quite beautiful?
At one point, the subject of the interview, Francis Weller, quotes Kahlil Gibran: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” The quote appears as part of a discussion of our cultural compulsion to narrowly limit what feelings we will acknowledge, instead choosing to numb or deny in order to keep ourselves from fully experiencing our lives:
“In this culture we display a compulsive avoidance of difficult matters and an obsession with distraction. Because we cannot acknowledge our grief, we’re forced to stay on the surface of life…We experience little genuine joy in part because we avoid the depths.”
Our relentless emphasis on positivity and insistence on seeing “the bright side” of things has the unintended effect of keeping us on life’s surface, like the buoyant toys Shiv tries unsuccessfully to force to sink to the bottom of the bathtub. Why is it that we are so afraid to go under, when under is where the depth is, where the gratitude originates, the only place wisdom can be born? As a parent, I want to make sure that my son has the courage and trust in himself to confront the darkness of things, whether inside himself or in the world around him; I want the same for my students.
And that, of course, means being willing to dive in myself, and to let them all see me when I do.
Recipe barely adapted from Apt. 2 Baking Co.
2 cups whole milk ricotta
½ cup Parmesan cheese (I used shredded mixed Italian cheese, because that’s what I had)
3-4 T olive oil, plus more to finish
2 T chopped fresh herbs (I used rosemary & oregano), plus more for garnish
Zest of half a lemon
½ tsp. salt & generous grinds of black pepper, plus more to taste
Preheat oven to 350°. Stir the cheeses, olive oil, herbs, zest, salt & pepper together until smooth. Tur the mixture out into an oven-safe dish and bake until everything is warm and beginning to brown on top, approximately 20 minutes. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and garnish with additional herbs, if you wish.
I served ours with toasted slices of this homemade bread (with a cup of rye substituted for AP flour, to add a bit of heft). We all gobbled it up this way, as part of dinner of meatballs and glazed carrots, but baked ricotta would also make a wonderful party spread with crackers and olives. I plan to recreate this during the holidays!