old voices hold us back, saying, “you can’t”

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by carolee bennett

friday night downtown. not what you think. the boys are here, and we have been taking it slow. the humidity is ghastly, and i don’t have air conditioning. even still, we’ve managed a little cooking, a little laundry and a round of dishes. soon, i’ll settle in with a book while they watch a movie. if life downtown is wild and dangerous, someone forgot to tell me.


for dinner, i made a summery pasta: noodles with homemade pesto and carrots, zucchini and yellow squash cut into ribbons. the squashes and the basil for the pesto came from my roxbury farm CSA. it was my first ever attempt at making pesto, and i assure you that even though it could have used lots more basil, it was much more flavorful than it looks in the photo. i am clearly no food photographer/blogger.

of course, i’m no great chef, either. when tossing basil, walnuts, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil in a food processor and stirring in romano cheese, salt and pepper challenges you, you may not want to aspire to food network fame.


the kitchen was a battleground. the decision of what to have for dinner and who would make it paralyzed us.

i went through phases where i martha stewart-ed holiday menus or party plans, but mostly i lacked enthusiasm for cooking. and so i was a big disappointment in the marriage. and once i discovered it wasn’t me that my ex wanted but a decent steak or a bubbly lasagna, i hung up my apron entirely. i’m extremely stubborn and hard-headed. i’d be damned if i’d do kitchen duty to make him happy when everything else i did irritated him so profoundly.


as i moved toward divorce and started dating, my story became this: “i can’t cook.” i believed it. it was far easier to swallow than this: “i wasn’t good enough for someone, and i’m probably not good enough for you, either.” and so two men i dated did all the cooking. a couple didn’t make it past the eating-in-restaurants-only phase. with two or three, we restricted interactions to the bedroom.

everything’s different now. the kitchen is an extension of my current relationship. it’s playful, and we try new things. sometimes we cook together, and sometimes one of us surprises the other with a favorite meal or something new with ingredients we know to be favorites. i still find myself saying, “i can’t cook.” but it feels like an old story, one that belongs to someone else.

and i find myself less fearful. it feels safe to fuck up a recipe. it feels safe to have no idea what i’m doing. and it’s exciting to think of the possibilities.

yes: we’re still talking about food.


the pesto was delicious. and if i’m being honest, it probably won’t be as challenging the next time around. so much of what holds us back is our own mind (and old voices) saying, “you can’t.” it takes more than time to replace them. it takes actual effort. it takes building a solid case to the contrary. and contrary? that’s one thing i’ve always been good at.


  1. yep, sharing the kitchen I like doing with my partner when we can. me, don’t care so much about cooking, but the process, yes. food that way is a quiet intimacy.
    a friend used to say our social environment, both people and history, can act to hold us in place, like who we’ve been, or been perceived (including by ourselves), determines next-possibilities. sometimes a break is necessary. my history “here” includes a major element of shyness. yet when I visit my friend several states away, the board is erased, and actually I’m the one open to easy conversation with new people there. one place is reasonable, the other, genuine.
    amusing too. and apply that howsoever you wish.
    aside. for as many years now as I’ve known your name, neither of us really knows the other. and yet I feel a fondness and appreciation for what scratchings of words where we sometimes intersect. is that genuine too? I can hope. (and) write or don’t write (words do matter for me too) it was never (and isn’t now) really about the words.
    wish you good cooking – and no, not just about the food.

    1. hi, neil! so good to ‘see’ you here. blogging with people for years does create fondness & appreciation. as much as i miss the words when i step away, i miss the people more!

      1. Well, I haven’t heard of it but I also hadn’t heard of zucchini pesto so thought I would ask. Yours looks great.

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