March 24, 2009

Mediocrity In a Friendly Universe

I've done a lot of work on thoughts like "I'm not important" or "People should see me as important." Sometimes I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. If, on the one hand, people don't see me as important, then I don't get writing assignments, people don't reach out to me, my family doesn't invite me for holidays. Conversely, if they do see me as important, then I have an image to uphold, which is difficult. People depend on me when I'm not feeling dependable. I get attention all right...and sometimes—oftentimes—it's unwanted.

The word mediocre means "poor to middling." I can certainly find that in myself in many areas. I'm a mediocre housekeeper. I'm not a good improviser and comedienne when I'm performing my own creations, but I'm not a great dramatic actor and certainly not terrific at working with a director. I'm downright poor in some areas; I can't do math or put together a piece of furniture from a diagram to save my soul. I haven't been terrific at romantic relationships. Mediocrity seems good in comparison!

If, as Byron Katie asks, the universe is friendly, why is mediocrity a good thing? Well, I don't have to pretend myself beyond my evolution, so I can relax. "Mediocre" also means "barely adequate," but still adequate. Good. Enough. We'll do.

Besides, "mediocre" is a thought; no better or worse than "superior" or "inferior." The ordinary can be beautiful, whether it's a stray tabby cat happily rubbing against the fence, or one gray cloud among many in the South Bay winter sky, or an awkward painting of someone's grandchild displayed, slightly askew, on the wall of the senior center. We can tell the story of "mangy cat," or "bad weather," or "no talent," or we can appreciate what is: the behavior of a content animal. The earth's seasons. Familial love expressed.

Every so often, I love to make a Russian sorrel soup, called schav, a humble peasant brew of tangy field greens. I chop onions and sorrel haphazardly, throwing the mess into the pot of boiling water, cooking it down into a dark green sludge, adding a dash and grind of course salt and pepper, a squirt of juice from a bumpy lemon wedge, an egg added at the very end to "farveissen" (whiten) the dish. It tastes divine and brings back memories of my grandmother in her gray bun and faded apron, who served this soup with rye bread, sour cream and uneven chunks of cold potato. What an oxymoron: mediocrity at its best.

Grandma's schav was not the best, some would say. Gourmet magazines have updated versions of the grassy soup, garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche, thin slices of seedless cucumber and a side of brioche. In this picture, my un-photogenic grandma is replaced by a French chef in a toque. In another picture, we don't bother with the lowly sorrel at all, substituting spinach or cress. At my local farmer's market, what used to be seen as a weed now sells for $2.00 for a small bunch; to make a medium-sized pot of peasant soup now costs me $10. Mediocrity?

In a world of duality, where there are comparisons and opinions, we need placeholders such as these: excellent, good, not so good, terrible.

There is only a problem when we mistake mediocrity with "not good enough." Who or what cannot be good enough? Who or what can be?

A classically "mediocre" schav recipe can be found here.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

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