Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Woman who Invented Macaroni Salad

The Woman Who Invented Macaroni Salad
Or
What Business Do I Have Writing about Shakespeare?


For some reason, I seem less able to settle in and write my thoughts around the plays than to think about writing about my thoughts. It suddenly intimidates me. I teach in college; I even get to teach the occasional Shakespeare play (I’ve taught Twelfth Night numerous times: Othello two or three times, Much Ado two or three times). For those works I have at least done some googling and read a bunch of articles. Over the years, I’ve read various books and articles about all the works; seen all the major plays many times, and most of the minor ones at least once.
The thing that seems to intimidate me now is that I haven’t done deep studies of any of them, and I suddenly fear I’m going to be presenting as original ideas I have come up with, never knowing that they’ve been said often by many people, and that my brilliant insight is in fact well known and even banal. I think of the woman I met in the 1960s who invented macaroni salad.
This was a sophisticated woman in her 30s, an artist who had moved to New York from a small town a few years earlier. When she first arrived, she got interested in food, and made various and possibly exotic pasta dishes. One afternoon, as she was about to heat up some leftover macaroni, a brilliant idea came to her: this might be good cold. The more she thought of it, the more excited she got. She put some mayonnaise on it, tasted it, decided onion would add a lot to the flavor, and chopped up the onion, along with a bit of celery. She added some spices. Then she settled down to lunch. The macaroni thing was delicious. She had invented a wonderful and simple dish. She was exhilarated.
The thrill lasted a few days, maybe a week. Then, wandering down a Village street, she stopped into a delicatessen for a few cold cuts. And there, through the glass behind which lived the salami and baloney and sliced ham—there was a sign that said “macaroni salad,” and behind it, a great mound of...her invention.
So here I am, about to commit to cyberland my profound realizations about Shakespeare’s plays. And I’m fairly sure that I’ll present some new idea that has come to me, and feel very clever indeed, and my readers (if indeed I have any readers) will look at it and say, “Nice idea—I liked it the first time I read it, when Lionel Abel explored it. Of course, he later realized he had been wrong when The Shakespeare Review showed that Hamlet couldn’t have meant that, because ....” And I’ll feel like an idiot.
So why bother? Well, it’s just possible I’ll come up with something original, or at least original to a reader who, like myself, loves Shakespeare but doesn’t have a PhD in Shakespeare studies. And even if my idea turns out to be unoriginal....well, I think again of that woman long ago who invented macaroni salad. She was, after all, right about one thing. Macaroni salad really is terrific.

3 comments:

Ken G. said...

The thing of it is; none of us has had an original thought for at least 500 years. We just rearrange what the universe put in front of us in a way that makes sense to us, and hopefully makes sense to at least one other person.

karen lindsey said...

thank you!

karen lindsey said...

sorry, that last brief note was to find out what this box means, which you may or may not see, but it's next to your comment and it says above 'leave your comment. please let me post. i can't post so far.' then shows up after your comment---bizarre since obviously it isn't you, since you in fact can and do post, and isn't me, b/ i can and do. cyberland is a strange place...