I don’t have the reflexes for this.
I find myself thinking this phrase for the fifth or sixth time as I stare at a pizza pan in the kitchen supplies aisle at Target.
For the past seven years, I’ve had the luxury of a lifestyle with in-built limitations. If I acquire a possession that doesn’t fit in my bag, I’m forced to decide between getting rid of something that’s already in there, or crossing the treacherous threshold into dealing with checked luggage.
This framework works in tandem with the traveler’s philosophy of rolling with the punches: you make do with what you’ve got. If you cannot find the necessary accouterment or resource, you MacGyver together an acceptable substitute, ‘live off the land’ by asking a stranger if you can use theirs, or perhaps most common, change your expectations so that you enjoy whatever you end up doing instead.
The philosophical expectation of planting oneself in a given location is somewhat different. It presupposes certain infrastructural wealth, meaning that if you need to open a bottle of wine but don’t have a corkscrew, you don’t stop by a nearby restaurant to see if they can help you out — you simply buy a corkscrew. And put it in a drawer. And now you have a corkscrew.
It’s a system predicated on the idea of security over flexibility. By purchasing a corkscrew, you’ll never find yourself going without one. You’re good to go, corkscrew-wise. All corkscrew-related problems, solved.
I’ve been staring at this pizza pan for probably ten minutes now, trying to decide if the $5 price tag and space it’ll take up in my home would be worth the pizza-related security and peace of mind it would offer.
I don’t have the reflexes for this. This isn’t how my brain works, anymore.
Sometimes I’ll pay more, in time or money, for a resource — say, pizza — because I lack the rooted framework that allows some people to own such pans, and to have access to the necessary ovens, which grant them cheaper, faster, circular foods.
The tradeoff is that now they have this structure, this oven and pizza pan and little rotating pizza slicer resource trio, taking up space in their lives. They’ll use it how often? Maybe once a month? Less than that? And yet it’s always there, occupying physical and mental real estate.
This is the price of security. Of knowing, should you find yourself with a pizza that needs baking, you’re all set. You won’t find yourself embarrassed or hungry, lacking the proper preparatory resources.
This is something most of us take for granted, as it’s packaged and sold as the singular, correct way to live. Why wouldn’t you want that pan? Why wouldn’t you want an oven, which grants you so many new and exciting cooking options? Why wouldn’t you want a corkscrew in the drawer, for popping all the corks life will no doubt bring your way in the future?
I’m still standing in the same aisle, looking at the pizza cutter, the corkscrew, the spatulas of varying shapes, the whisks, the measuring cups, the knives, the peelers, the corers, the silicon oven-mitts, the aprons, the can openers, the pan scrapers, the cutting boards, the pepper grinders, the cutlery organizers, the coaster sets, the at-home popsicle molds, the garlic presses, the meat tenderizers — the many material compositions and colors of each, the varieties of quality (or implied quality) of each, the dozens of in-store brands and implicitly-better-brand-name brands of each.
At what point am I secure?
When do I get to feel prepared?
And in that preparedness, am I playing into some bigger system? A culture of fear that has us scrambling to be ready to bake pizzas, because it’s something we can control in this large, unpredictable, often-scary world in which we live?
What scares me is the weight of these things, and what it means for my options; for my ability to change direction.
The space a pizza pan takes up in my life is relatively negligible, but its weight is added to a tidal wave of stuff, of acquired appliances and furniture and duvets and everything else, all bought with the intent to add something to my life, be it luxury or practicality or security.
That weight creates momentum, and that momentum means that I’m a lot less capable of changing direction quickly.
I want to bring what I’ve learned from travel — owning only what I need, things that add value — into this incredibly unfamiliar, uncomfortable, disorienting lifestyle that I’ve decided to tackle.
To try this heavy, protective, padded, comparably restrictive clothing on for size, after years of running metaphorically naked through the world, not needing or wanting the enfolding security of a consistent home; of a consistent anything.
I’m learning to cook while here in Wichita, and among many others things, I want to learn to make pizza from scratch. This object, this weighty possession, this pizza pan, will likely be useful for that, rather than becoming a purposeless cabinet-filler of the sort I’m trying to avoid.
I add the pan to my basket and move on to the next object, and slowly, oh so slowly, the next. And the next.
And the next.
I don’t have the reflexes for this, but I want to develop them.
I just want to ensure I don’t develop the wrong ones along the way.
This essay was originally published in my newsletter.