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Ramblings On The Subconscious

I had a high school English teacher who compared the subconscious mind to an attic. Or maybe it was a basement. I suppose it could even be a storage locker if you're not picky.

It is a dark, dusty place full of boxes. Some of the boxes are labeled in black permanent marker. You know where they are. The one, for instance, labeled "Middle School" is back in the southernmost corner beneath two other boxes labeled "childhood pets" and "the river." You know where it is because there are memories in it that you do not need to unpack to know they are there. They shine out through the hastily-secured packing tape like small suns in a solar system gone dark.

Other boxes are unlabeled. This does not mean, however, that you do not know what lies within. Some boxes do not need titles. Some boxes, no matter how nondescript, are omnipresent. They are the ones you lay your head on at night; the ones you strap on your back before going to work; the ones you swallow with a tall glass of water at 8 p.m. every evening with your vitamins.

Some boxes are forgotten, crushed beneath other, weightier ones. In fact, these forgotten boxes are the majority. There are thousands of them. Sometimes, when you are brushing your teeth or listening to the radio or eating toast in the morning, one of these boxes springs open like a rosebud, flooding your senses, drowning out the hum of the dishwasher.

Sometimes, you are asleep when one of these boxes opens. You are walking in the mist, high in the mountains on a grassy bald. Broom sedge rustles dryly around your calves, and just up ahead there is a trail that parts the stones. You know you are going to take this trail. The scene would be ominous to anyone else, but it soothes you and you wake feeling like you were dipped in sunlight. The dream is part of you, but it is also beyond your reckoning.

There is nothing orderly about the subconscious, even in the minds of people like me--people who can't sleep until all the dishes are clean. In fact, it is an absolute mess. There is no order, chronologically or otherwise. None of the boxes are exactly the same size. Some of the tiny boxes weigh a great deal more than some of the biggest boxes.

I think the reason this metaphor stuck with me so readily is because of its unruliness and its familiarity. I grew up roaming my grandparents' basement, opening chests of drawers, poking through piles of the forgotten flotsam we seem to generate as we live our lives. The idea that the subconscious is a similarly organized space made complete sense to me.

We humans are in the business of forgetting. Forgetting allows us to live and expand into existence without a million little blips in time fogging up our experience. But the subconscious is the place where all these blips congregate. They are not all immediately accessible to us, but they have lives just the same. They are called forth at random--they are triggered, not accessed like a card catalogue. There is no accounting for these little bits of humanity. They are as fleeting as dust motes and half as substantial.

There is no harnessing this part of the mind. It is rich and wild. It is also unpredictable, and like all unpredictable things, can be frightening. But more importantly, it is powerful, and its power can cripple us or we can harness it like a draft horse; enlist it to help us do the work we all must do. The work of taking stock, of moving forward, of strengthening the mind, of healing.

Other articles you might enjoy: Roasted Rhubarb, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Rhubarb Chess Pie

Rhubarb Mostarda
Makes about 2 cups

This is in no way meant to be an "authentic" mostarda. Purists would perhaps call it a chutney. Call it what you will, it is a delicious accompaniment to cheeses and cured meats (or roasted meats of all kinds for that matter).

Combine in a saucepan or skillet and bring to a rapid boil:
           1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
           1/2 cup golden raisins
           1/2 cup sugar
           1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
           1 teaspoon kosher salt
           1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
           1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
           1/4 cup sherry vinegar
           3 tablespoons water
Reduce the heat slightly and allow the mixture to simmer until the rhubarb is soft and the liquid has evaporated. The rhubarb will stick to the bottom of the pan--this is okay. Simply stir frequently. The caramelized bits will impart more flavor to the finished mostarda. At a fairly brisk simmer the process will take about 10 minutes. Allow to cook completely. Keep refrigerated.

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This recipe is adapted from Cook Republic

Beat together in a large bowl:...