It’s springtime, which means one thing in a reasonably practicing Jewish home: cleaning. Like obsessive, Silkwood level cleaning. Every nook. Every cranny. Every closet. Every drawer. No exceptions.
The desperate search for every trace of leavening, or chametz, to prepare for Passover.
The psychological metaphors for this search are so multifaceted that it’s hard to imagine even the least self-aware Jew on the planet not getting something from this exercise in humility.
Removing that which puffs us up. Searching the narrow places in our homes for it. Working like a slave to remove it. Creating a blank slate.
Now that I live a grain-free existence, this cleaning is really more metaphoric than necessary. If it wasn’t for my love of shellfish and pork, I’d keep Kosher for Passover year round. Not by choice, mind you, but since my body decided that corn, wheat, and dairy are the enemy, and rice and beans are really more frenemies than friends, I’m locked into a new way of eating. If I could kick my love of traif, I could keep Kosher without any effort at all. But I do love me some shrimp, y’all.
When I did have actual, real chametz to remove from my home, I have to admit, that I cut a few corners. Three, to be exact: my studio, my vanity, and my sock drawer.
The remnants of my music studio were a dusty disorganized mess and cleaning it meant facing the fact that I no longer make music. That was not a fact I wanted to face, so I simply closed the door on the first day of Passover and didn’t open it until it was over. A perfectly halachically acceptable practice. That it allowed me to avoid the self-reflection cleaning that hot mess would have caused, allowed me to avoid a very narrow place in my life.
But last summer, without warning, and without contemplation, I announced to my family that we were remodeling the studio over the Fourth of July weekend. We took everything out. Ripped out the carpet. Installed a new tile floor. Painted the closet and turned it into a reading room and a library. I wired up all my gear. We pulled the foosball table out of storage and, by the beginning of August, the narrowest place in our home became a functional, usable space for the entire family.
And I faced those years of ignored chametz while grouting that fucking floor.
I’d taken the day off of work to do it. And while I was on my knees, pushing the rapidly drying grout into all those nooks and crannies and feeling lower and less accomplished and more of a failure by the minute, someone knocked on my front door.
My dad. In his work clothes, with a bucket in his hand. My mom had brought me another bag of grout in the middle of my rapidly compounding failure and told him his daughter could use an assist. We finished the floor in about an hour, silently working on the last third and cleaning up all the stains I’d made.
When you hide from a narrow place full of darkness and so much bad juju for so long, sometimes you need help to finish pushing out the darkness and letting in the light. And when it was done, this marvelous thing happened, I felt better. It was as if making that physical remnant of my old life whole again, made me whole again and I was ready to face the other narrow place in my life: my not-so-narrow waistline.
I stopped drinking alcohol. I cut out dairy. I did the Whole 30 diet and I worked out four times a week. And now, here we are, seven months and forty pounds later and it’s time for the search for the metaphoric chametz to begin. And this year, I started with the corners I used to skip.
I cleaned my vanity this weekend. Organized my necklaces and creams and tossed old lipsticks I don’t wear. Spent an afternoon untangling all the things I use to puff myself up and make myself feel beautiful on days when I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. And it was while I was untangling the dozens of necklaces that I rarely wear that I realized how I’d been cheating all these years. How I’ve been honing denial and avoidance into an art form even while cleaning for Passover.
And it stops. Now.
Q had the same problem. Still does, to a large extent. Sometimes I’m working on a Clementine Toledano Mystery and I think nobody could be this obtuse. Then I remember the closed door to my music studio with a sign that read ‘Do Not Open during Pesach’ and I realize that most of us are exactly that obtuse.
In That Old Devil Sin, Q avoids telling Ben that she’d been raped ten years prior until she absolutely can’t avoid it any longer. She describes how it changed her, like this:
“You know, it’s a funny thing, when something bad like that happens, it changes you so fundamentally, it’s hard to recognize the person you were before. I remember that girl. I do… She was fearless, so fucking fearless.”
I wrote that four years ago and it’s taken me until this past weekend to realize that I was writing about myself. The bad thing that happened to me wasn’t as dramatic as an attack, but it hurt me in ways that I refused to admit.
Losing New Orleans to Katrina and losing my band at the same time.
That’s what I used to think pushed me to the brink. But that wasn’t the bad thing: it was the crushing disappointment of failure.
Not the failure itself. The loss of potential. The weight of knowing that future that I envisioned for myself was never going to happen.
In audio, there is a term for starting over: Zeroing Out. When you zero out a piece of gear (usually a mixer), you return all the functions to their default state so that you can start a new mix.
And that’s what the search for chametz does. It resets your home. Resets your mind. Resets your disappointment and your frustration and reminds you that every day is a chance for a new beginning. You can’t avoid the narrow places in your life, they will always find a way to bring you to your knees eventually.
Tonight, I'm tackling my sock drawer.