Spaghetti Sauce

I'd run myself right out of time, so I couldn't do what I love doing, which is groping big onions in the produce section. I have a Thing for big spanish onions; they feel so satisfying in the hand, all that heft.... But there wasn't time for more than a quick once-over; I still had to pick out mushrooms and peppers and whatever exotic veggie I was going to smuggle into my menfolk (eggplant this time). All these to the express cashier, with a package of hamburger, and home through a rainy November afternoon to get my sauce made up. He Who Keeps The Freezer (not my job) reports that we're out of spaghetti sauce. Which is just fine with me, because spaghetti sauce is one of those things I love slinging together, especially in Mud Season weather.

So the big onion, chopped, was softening nicely in some olive oil, and I had the peppers and mushrooms washed and diced and the eggplant under the broiler and the meat cooking in a skillet, and then there came the small matter of garlic. Actually, it's not a small matter. I am not going to say how much garlic goes into a decent-sized pot of spaghetti sauce. All I'm saying is that if you're a vampire, eat elsewhere. I do the Only Proper Garlic-Chopping method: put each fragrant clove on the cutting board, lay my chef's knife across it, blade parallel to the board, and bang down on the flat of the blade with a good strong fist. The garlic gets beautifully mashed, ready to be reduced to pulp by some rapid chopping.

So I did the fist-bang bit to quite a lot of garlic, and it reminded me of other activities I enjoy: smashing late-winter rotten ice with my boot heel, for example, or pulling down really bad plaster, or breaking up sticks for kindling. I would be both a fool and dishonest if I didn't admit to liking the odd bit of sanctioned destructiveness. I think just about everyone has a touch of this. Those who deny it in themselves are the sort of people who never, ever pop bubble-wrap.

Of course this can go too far, and very quickly. There was a nasty story in this morning's paper about vandalism in one of the city's big cemeteries: 200-odd tombstones knocked down. Most likely kids or young adults being destructive "for the fun of it". A lot of nasty teasing happens for the same reason: it's fun to get Susie really riled up, in tears maybe, even. There really are people who get their jollies from pulling the wings off flies, God help us. And then there's gossip.

But if destruction can be fun, creation isn't always. I do love putting together a big pot of spaghetti sauce, but it is work and it generates a large load of dishes. Normally for me, putting a book together is not a big deal, but I've done one (in the works now) in which the creative process felt very much like being pulled backward through a bramblebush, twice: I don't think I've done anything more exhausting or painful in my life. Maybe for some, childbirth is exhilarating; that wasn't my experience. Creation can be joyous--intensely joyous, in fact--but fun? painfree? easy? Maybe sometimes, when it's creating something that comes easily, but as often as not, creation is awfully hard work, and it can be intensely painful.

If we want to understand why malice is prevalent as it is, while goodness often seems to be in short supply, this may be one of the reasons: that malice is fun while goodness is gawdawful hard work much of the time. Human nature being as it is, easy-and-fun tends to beat out hard-but-possibly-joyful all too easily. It takes a conscious decision, repeated over and over again--because this is a choice we face daily--to set that particular fun aside in favour of the longer, harder reach towards joy. And we don't always make the best choice. Malice is simply too appealing for that.

Tearing down is so much easier and more entertaining than building up--anyone who's done home renovations knows that one. Tearing down another person is so much easier than building up a stronger sense of self, one that doesn't require that sort of pseudo-superiority to feel good about oneself. The Sin of Anger, properly indulged, can be exhilarating and refreshing, a real battery-charger. Backbiting is a great way of gathering two or three together, enjoying the companionable in-ness of putting another person on the outs. Scapegoating another is the easy, rewarding way out of dealing with our own problems and failures. And garlic-bashing really is a whole lot of fun.

I've always felt strongly that the whole point of having a decent sense of sin isn't to feel lousy about yourself all the time; it's quite enough to feel lousy about yourself when that's clearly indicated, and only to a reasonable extent. No: the point of having a sense of sin is that you keep your worser side where you can keep an eye on what it gets up to, instead of pretending that it doesn't exist and letting it bite the neighbours. If I speak of the joys of destructiveness, it's because I know I can enjoy them, just as I can be competitive and ... well, let's not go there. It's too close to lunch.

I'll try to keep my zest for destruction limited and controlled. Bubble-wrap-popping is a pretty small misdemeanour in the great scheme of things; ice-cracking and garlic-smashing and similar small-stuff don't do any harm to God's creation. The important thing is to know what you're up to and to have some sense of what the fallout might be. Not just because destructiveness is so damaging, but because real joy lies in exactly the opposite direction. And that's where God is.

It's going to be a good sauce; I know because the wooden spoon I stuck upright in it is still where I left it. Now to get at those dishes....

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 11 Nov 2000
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