Sometimes, when I get too happy, I start to freak out.
It’s as though there’s a part of me watching my life from the outside, waiting to pounce on a perceived moment of bliss. Suddenly, everything starts to fall apart. Anxiety creeps in. I start thinking about all the things that could go wrong. That will go wrong. All of the reasons that my happiness is temporary.
It’s not something that I enjoy or that I do on purpose, though the frequency with which I do it is alarming and may make it seem like a purposeful thwarting of joy. In fact, after so many years of living inside my own head, I’ve started to be able to anticipate it, which has led to something entirely different. A third me is watching, waiting to fend off the feelings of dread as I sense them building up.
It’s very confusing to be in my head.
I had a moment of these entwined feelings — a moment of the panic that leads up to panic — as I sat, contentedly, in the library this weekend. I was working on my thesis while waiting for my sister to return from Fontainebleau, and then we would go get a drink and dinner together. It seems like an ordinary situation, except that I was immediately aware of one thing.
This is, in its very essence, a temporary situation. My sister being here is temporary. The rhythm we’ve found of existing side-by-side, in our own lives but brushing past one another just the right amount, will cease to exist in a matter of short months. I need to forget — during my real life — how much I actually miss my family when they’re gone. I’m enjoying my sister being here, but it’s not just that. There’s a symmetry between us, a similarity that is by no means carbon-copied, but just enough of the same temperament and the same memories and the same habits so that she is there exactly when I need her and yet has exactly the right amount of her own stuff to do the minute I need to be alone. It’s hard to wrap the feeling up in words, no matter how much words are generally a comfort. I think that this is what people mean when they say, “We were like sisters.” Except we are sisters; we just never got to be sisters in the same place.
But I’ve abandoned what I intended to say, which is that I didn’t allow myself to spiral this weekend. I didn’t let the feeling of dread take over. Instead, it was a completely new feeling. A feeling of power: the power to decide to be happy.
I’ve found, particularly in the past year, that I need to learn to see the beauty in the temporary, if only by virtue of the choices I’ve made in my life that have led me to here. As a child — a period that I define alternately as continuing up to (and perhaps through, it’s hard to say) very recently — I wanted all things I enjoyed to last forever, a principal influence behind my repetitive desires and subsequent decisions to move instead of visit, sell instead of put away, break up instead of step back. Black or white. All or nothing. Always or not at all.
And yet, as I decided a month and a few days ago — on New Year’s Eve, just before I climbed up to go to bed next to my sister after a New Years’ party on the brink between sleep and awake –, I’m going to be happy this year. Whatever this year decides to offer me. I’m going to take advantage of the temporary. I’m going to let beautiful yet fleeting moments be beautiful first. And I’m not going to let that panic of missing out, of time running too fast, of things passing me by catch up with me. Because it’s only when I give in to that panic that I truly miss out on what’s important.
I may have mentioned before — I don’t quite remember — the cyclical view of time that was popular during the Renaissance. As opposed to a straight line of points marching forward, leaving the rest behind for eternity, Renaissance thinkers believed that time was a circle, a series of points that always came back. I think that this might be closer to reality than the standard past, present, future line that I use to illustrate verb tenses to my ESL students — although I’m also inclined to believe in “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.” Whatever the truth of time may be, moments always come back to us, and often when we least expect it. Like the seasons, things are never truly over; the past comes back to visit in very unexpected ways. The end isn’t always the end.
Maybe that’s what I find so interesting about seasonal food. There’s just enough time to fall in love with something before it’s gone, but it always comes back again. I made a similar chausson a bit more than a year ago; it’s still a favorite, though it’s different every time. I think that’s pretty much what I want, anyway.
Potimarron, goat cheese and caramelized onion chausson
1 Tbsp. butter
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 potimarron (or butternut squash), cubed
100 grams goat cheese, crumbled
1 prepared puff pastry
Heat the butter over low heat and add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally and adding tablespoons of water as needed, until the onions are deep mahogany in color, about an hour.
Halfway through the onion cooking time, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the squash with the olive oil and salt. Place in an even layer on a baking pan, and roast 30 minutes, tossing once. The squash should be browned and caramelized on the edges. Reduce the heat to 350.
Line a cake pan with parchment paper and unroll the puff pastry in the bottom, with the edges hanging over the sides. Pour the roasted squash into the pastry. Top with the onions and the goat’s cheese. Seal the pastry edges by squeezing them together.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the pastry turns golden. Savor.