Recently, eggs and baskets keep coming up in my life. I had someone I care for say those words to me, as in, “I’m afraid to put all my eggs in one basket.” Since then (just like when you buy a new car, and that model suddenly appears to be everywhere) I keep hearing that phrase.
I had a date use the line about baskets as his opening salvo, over which I ribbed him mercilessly (he was such a good sport, he got a second date despite himself). Less amusingly, I had another friend whose lover said that to her. Turns out, her lover’s basketphobia was so extreme that she bailed on her chance with one of the most amazing ladies I’ve met in a long time. And the baskets kept coming. I had a friend make a job into a basket. Another made a lifestyle choice into a basket. I heard a colleague refer to a new church as a basket. Another referred to a diet as a basket. Someone on Twitter called her ex a basket, and one that very obviously broke. A FB friend commented on a post about how an entire gender was a basket, and I have it on good authority that all dating sites are baskets.
Baskets, baskets, everywhere.
Now, as an English Lit person, I recognize that saying “I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket” is a perfectly acceptable idiom, if a bit of a cliché. However, as a human being, I’ve always assiduously avoided the phrase for the same reasons I currently avoid “it is what it is.”
They’re both so entirely self-abnegating.
It’s not that I don’t understand the real meaning behind calling something a basket. We’re all terrified of putting our faith, our love, our will, passion, and being into another, be it another human, or a job, or a dream. We’re afraid of rejection, of failure, of the aftermath if it all goes tits up, or of losing ourselves if it doesn’t.
At the same time, we’re referencing emotions we have all felt when confronted with that which really matter to us: that we’re so fragile, so easily breakable, so defenseless and vulnerable.
Meanwhile, it’s not like I don’t have any metaphorical eggs, or that I’ve never been tempted to turn something into a metaphorical basket. For me, the temptation has always been to turn lovers into baskets. And believe me, I’ve met some beautiful baskets. Sturdy, dependable, with surprisingly elegant weaving for such stalwart construction…
And, I admit, I have given away my eggs. I have thought (as we are taught to think!) that love is something you lose from within you; something you give up–a skin you unpeel in order to crawl inside the other person and set up shop, like some reverse Buffalo Bill. Needless to say, my lovelies, I was so very wrong.
The trick to love and life, you see, is to keep your eggs.
They are your eggs. Never give them up. And never make another human being, or a job, or a dream into a basket. It’s unfair–it makes that thing responsible for your happiness in a way that must, inevitably fail. It’s a scientific fact that in giving them away, our eggs transmogrify into a metal so heavy no basket could ever hold them. And yet we give them away anyway, and then we have the audacity to blame the basket for doing what no basket could ever do.
Which is shelter us from a reality that doesn’t care whether we’re baskets or eggs or peasants or kings–reality can smash us all. How can any basket withstand such force?
Now, please, don’t misunderstand me. I respect my friend for admitting his fear. He has legitimate reasons for being where he is, emotionally, and one of the reasons I admire him and care for him is that he’s fighting the good fight in trying to overcome his experience. But every time I hear him say those words, I cringe. “I’m not a basket!” I want to shout. “And you can keep your eggs!”
But if we keep our eggs, you may be asking, what do we do with them all? Do we just sit on them, never giving them away for fear of weak baskets, or faulty handles, or clumsy basket-carriers?
No, my pets, never that. Just because you don’t give your eggs away doesn’t mean you should hoard them. In my English Litty way, I simply turned the metaphor into something more delicious. Eggs are one of my favorite foods, and it wasn’t a great leap to figure out what to with my very own eggs, rather than keeping them close or dumping them in someone else’s poor li’l basket. Because whether in my own basket’s or someone else’s, unattended eggs will do what eggs do–they will rot.
So I’ve learned to share my eggs.
For friends, for my career(s), for my fans, for my family, for myself, for this boy I care about and the new opportunities in all of these areas that keep on coming, I crack open a few eggs. But no one thing gets all my eggs. That would be, after all, a lot of eggs to juggle. Far too many to keep safe or to be responsible for.
Sunny-side up with a runny yolk is how I eat mine (and yes, I eat my own eggs–often and with great pleasure). For friends, I scramble them, with cream cheese and butter and freshly cut chives. For my career(s), I make wholesome omelets with fresh spinach and avocado and Havarti, served with whole-wheat toast and marmalade. I love to soft-boil my eggs and serve them with toast soldiers, if my lover is British, and on top of a piece of toast if he’s not. For my friend to whom I’m trying to prove I am not a basket, I model a better method by serving his the way he likes them: over easy, as part of a fry up. I’m not sure if he’s ready for the lesson, but he sops up every bite of breakfast.
Ironically, since I made that conscious decision not to give away my eggs, it seems as if every time I turn around I’m given an opportunity to learn a new recipe–frittata, strata, quiche, shirred. I have finally mastered my deviled eggs. I think I’m almost ready to try poaching, again, the great bane of my egg repertoire. I am, in other words, in a good place.
In sharing my eggs, rather than secreting them away in strange baskets, I’ve figured out how to do with love what I’ve always done with my career, my dreams, my goals. My brilliant friend Juliet Blackwell wrote to me in an email recently, “Dating is like publishing. You should always be writing another book.” It was the perfect advice between writers–after all, most of us got here because we knew, instinctively, to always be writing that next book and never to put our book eggs in one bookish basket.
And that, if anything, has always been the secret to my successes in life (also the reason I’ve failed at soooo many things, sooooo spectacularly). In my careers or with my dreams and goals, I never give away my eggs–instead I lob them, rapid fire, at everything I’m passionate about until one of them hits its target. As the yolk drips into its eyes, I then leap on it and attempt to ride it into the ground. Sometimes it bucks me off (hello, Rhodes Scholarship!) but sometimes, just sometimes, I get a saddle on it.
I’m only now understanding how to do this with love. As is often the case, I knew something had clicked for me but I didn’t understand what, exactly, until someone much smarter than me figured it out. Esther Perel, who I’m more than a little obsessed with at the moment, writes in Mating With Captivity, ““Eroticism thrives in the space between the self and the other.” Indeed, Esther’s whole thesis is that if we entirely give away our eggs, our selves, in a relationship, we lose the “secret gardens” in which we foster our own erotic and creative individual existence. Her thesis is that we need to be individuals to be happy in commitment, an idea that flies in the face of Western (and especially American) conceptions of romantic love, in which we’re supposed to lose ourselves in the other.
Keeping our individuality, recognizing our need for our own space and selfhood, does not mean a lack of passion or of commitment. If anything, it helps create passion. I know that, as a writer, I recharge Nicole the Professor every time I go to a convention or finish a book. And Nicole the Writer finds constant inspiration from teaching. These two identities strengthen one another, as does Nicole the Admittedly Rather Terrible Belly Dancer and Nicole the Rather Good Cook and Nicole the Lover and Nicole the Friend and Nicole the Daughter/Aunt/Sister/etc.
It is through keeping myself interested in and engaged with the world that I can share that interest and engagement with those I care about, my working life, and my dream life. Everyone wins, and rarely does an egg get smashed. So keep your eggs, lovelies. Do not give them away. But feel free to share them.
I like mine, as I said, sunny-side up.