Friday, September 29, 2006

Reclaiming Good and Evil

I wanted to recount a story our rabbi told on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

Basically, the story goes that some townspeople tracked down and trapped the yetser hara, the evil impulse, and imprisoned it in a big lead pot so that it couldn’t get out.

For three days it stayed there. For three days, none of the town's chickens laid eggs.

The townspeople figured out that not only was the evil impulse truly evil, but it was also the root of creativity and fertility. While they didn’t want to let it out because it would create evil, they also couldn’t kill it, because that would be the end of the human race. So they ended up blinding it and setting it free.

The idea is that at the root of many evil things can be good things, and vice-versa (going to the point that someone made above earlier about the fact that many folks who do evil do so in the name of something ‘higher’).

In this sense, at least from a Jewish perspective, it is impossible to do away with evil. That which is truly evil must be broken down, debilitated, refashioned into something good.

Now that’s what I call recycling!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

You Are What They Eat

My 1 1/2 year old thinks it is uproariously funny to ceremoniously, one-by-one, drop organic peas onto the floor. The first time I said "No!" he cried. The second time he laughed hysterically. Then, without prompting, the food started to fly. Literally. Every single meal.

Ask any group of toddler parents what their biggest challenge is regarding food, and you'll hear a mouthful. Between pickiness, playing with food, throwing food, and the existential angst caused by the thought what the hell am I going to make him that he will actually eat? it's enough to give a parent their own eating disorder, not to mention a cooking disorder.

A peek into my refrigerator last friday produced the following (by no means exhaustive) list:

one tub of hummus
mini pitas
carton with two beets
carton with one latke
carton with one small piece teriyaki salmon
carton with leftover pasta with pesto and black-eyed peas
small tupperware with zucchini sauteed in olive oil with garlic
carton with two marinated italian white beans from the olive bar
grapes bananas strawberries raspberries blueberries gala apples pears peaches plums

Nevermind (or perhaps, because?) all of this was selected and bought at "Whole Paycheck", carefully singling out the organic brands (when available) and then prepared and served with "mmm" and "yummy" big smiles. Wanna try? It's yummy. Mommy wants it all to herself. OK, you can have one little bite. Grimace. Gag.

All aboard the guilt train!

Not only am I playing the food version of the boardgame Twister everytime mealtime approaches, but I am feeling horrible about it. I feel horrible when he doesn't eat. I feel horrible when he wastes good, expensive organic food. I feel horrible when I give him even an organic chicken nugget. Anything that comes in nugget form can't be good.

It used to be that I felt bad only about consuming an unhappy chicken myself. Now I am unhappy because I cannot get my child to think any chicken is a happy thing, except sporadically and in aforementioned nugget form. Which makes me unhappy. I can't remember. Are the chickens happy in this scenario now? Oh hell.

You Are What You Eat

...and the starving kids in China, and the unhappy cows, and your mother would be so happy if you would only eat (but not raw spinach). Mangia!

Why is it so hard to shake these old, tired phrases? Theoretically, the organic system of farming (or marketing) is a way of trying to assuage the guilt of the consumer. It is (at least meant to be) a way of shortening the supply chain, assuring that animals and people are treated fairly, that vitamins and biodiversity are maintained and that the world is one happy place if you buy it and eat it. And what happens if it ends up on the floor? Do the happy hens slide down the chutes to happy chicken purgatory?

To try and save the situation, moms and dogs across this great land end up sucking it up. Literally. I have eaten more peas from my floor in the past year than you probably care to hear. The good news is that I am now blissfully indifferent to the idea of germs, germs everywhere. On second thought, is that really good news? And how do you feel good about the fact that your toddler is sitting there, has only eaten two pieces of cheese, and you're exhausted from trying everything and sick from eating the peas yourself?

Let Them Throw Cheese

Let them eat cake said Marie Antoinette. You get more with a carrot than a stick. Let the chips [sic] fall where they may.

There is unlikely to ever be a tidy answer. I envy those who were raised with and continue on with strict traditions about food, like the rules of Kashrut and Hallal, as at least the "too much information" of food today can take a backseat to cosmic order and ordinance. (Though watching holy food being thrown on the floor is probably just as unnerving).

I have to continually remind myself that all I can do is promote a healthy relationship to food. (Freaking out about normal a normal toddler pea-throwing phase will only serve to reinforce it. Getting a rise out of mama adds texture and, shall we say, a certain comic interlude to the day). Also, if my son isn't eating, one of the best things that I can do is ignore it. Perhaps sit down with a magazine at the table and eat something myself. With not much ado. With no num-nums or exquisite eye-closing dramatics.

The other thing to do is get out of the damned house and let them throw cheese somewhere else. There's much more to look at in a busy restaurant (i.e., more opportunities to shove food into the mouths of distracted, ever-curious toddlers) and at least you won't be tempted to eat the stray food off the floor.

Yes, my friends, as with many things the best answer is not "somewhere in between" (see discussion of "moderates" and "centrists" in previous post), but rather finding a balance. On one hand, I'm a nutjob about shopping for food, be it happy chickens or organic bunny crackers with no trans-fats. On the other hand, food is a form of love. One should be generous with it, not counting and prodding, not forcing, but offering.

As a famous Aunt once said, want some chicken?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Terrorizing the War on Winning

Just a quick reference to two interesting articles about whether liberal candidates can win the mid-term election. Both address and debunk the idea that liberal politicians should move further right in order to court swing voters or "moderates".

The first, from a political perspective:
Arianna Huffington's blog D.C. Fear Face-Off: It's GOP's Fear of Reality vs. Dem's Fear of Perception I heard Huffington the other night on the NPR's On Point and was amazed as a former ESL teacher how eloquent her English is, and how fiercely correct her appraisals are. Along with many other Democrats, I am both exhausted by the Democrats' naivte when it comes to creating perception and their inability to shape the public debate that is going on in this country.

The second is from a linguistic perspective:
Also from the Huffington Post is a blog by the linguist George Lakoff called Biconceptualism in which he debunks the myth of the "centrist" or "moderate" voter and portrays a more compelling and complex view of how people create their world-views and how this effects their voting patterns. Obviously understanding how people create their world-views is part and parcel to connecting with them and building political capital (oy). It never ceases to amaze me that life always seems to come back to English Composition 101: Know Your Audience. I will now be accepting flowers and gifts from the former students of U of M English 101x.

Oh Mother, Where Art Thou?

Yesterday the babysitter came. She is, well, there's no way to avoid saying it, she's cute. She's got stripey highlighted hair and was wearing a bright red t-shirt that said: Dating a Theta? The back: Lucky You! She calls my son sparky. He runs to her with his tongue hanging out.

Watching this demonstration I feel like a long cane enters the picture to pull me off stage, underscored by some ridiculous kazoo music. It's 3:46 and I have three hours and fourteen minutes to myself. Or should I say t-h-r-e-e- h-o-u-r-s- a-n-d... f-f-f--- uuuuh. What? Oh. Hmm.

There's nothing scarier than driving 50mph in a new white car and not knowing who you are. I am thinking shit if I know what to do with myself for that long.

Truth be told, however, this is probably not a new predicament for me. Those of you with longer memories than the speaker of this text probably remember her former life as a poet (the predicament of poetry for me being I can't concentrate on anything for more than a few stanzas BUT I can't stop obsessing about these three things).

My brain is still in my head (at last check). My life, however, is a somewhat uneven dice. I go by the time of a 1 1/2 year old, which can be judged by the following algorithm:
truck-truck-put small object in mouth-truck-grab cat-offer truck to cat-find dirty binky-suck dirty binky-put binky in truck and so on...
That is to say, I have no ability to follow my own internal rhythms because I spend all of my time charting, trying to follow and/or modify the internal trajectory of my son.

What I have gained in sleep at this point, I seem to have lost in any ability to be self-directed.

And I am not saying this necessarily as a complaint. Just perhaps as an observation with a tilt of the head and a question mark. Perhaps like this ^? Shouldn't there be some sort of a suggestion above that diacritical mark? Or perhaps a telling comment, like "insert life here".

I find a way to piddle away the time anyway. I look in shops where I know my son would be A)bored out of his mind and/or B)pull everything off the shelves and try to use them as a teething implement for those hard-to-reach molars lurking beneath the gums. I eat at an "asian-fusion" restaurant where their idea of "fusion" is garnishing the pad thai with planter's dry-roasted peanuts.

I guess this is what it is like to try and get reacquainted. It's awkward, the silences. Nothing seems the way it did. Why would you expect it to? Lucky You.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A is for Asperger's

Just a quick reference to this article that I keep citing in conversations about the theory that autism is becoming more prevalent because of mate selection.

From an article written by Simon Baron-Cohen, director of autism research at Cambridge University and published in the NYT on Aug 8, 2005:
Nonetheless, my hypothesis is that autism is the genetic result of "assortative mating" between parents who are both strong systemizers. Assortative mating is the term we use when like is attracted to like

Deer in the headlights

I was just talking with my cousin the other day about deer. I live somewhere out "in the country", down a street that the pizza delivery woman described to me as "the deer road". This led to discussion between my cousin and I about the proper procedure when one is driving down the road and sees a deer. She says that common knowledge states that one is not supposed to swerve to avoid the deer (thus adding another unknown into an already complex situation), but rather to continue along the regular trajectory.

All of which makes sense. But why is it, then, that it is so hard to do so? Our first instinct is to do the OPPOSITE, that is, to swerve, to avoid, to react?


I just thought of this conversation again while reading an interesting article in today's NYT about hysteria. (It's not called hysteria anymore, they call it "conversion disorder", which deserves its own humorous meditation, but we'll save that for now). Then along came this little gem:

"Both its persistence and its pervasiveness suggest that hysteria may be derived from an instinctual response to threat. Total shutdown, in the form of paralysis, for example, is not an entirely untoward or unheard of response to an untenable situation. (Think of deer in the headlights.)"

It never ceases to amaze me how wonderfully intricate our wiring is, how reliably it seems to function. And yet at the same time the proliferation of ways that our minds, our wiring, DOESN'T work. How our instincts can save us, or they can drive us into greater peril.


Another side-note on the article about hysteria: It is also interesting to me that there is no mention of whether conversion disorder is still considered to be more common among women today, or if somehow symptoms that may be classified as conversion disorder vary by gender (but are, in effect, manifestations of the same disease). It is, for instance, already common knowledge that medicines have different effectiveness on men and women (though most medical trials of pharmaceuticals still posit the male as the normative patient). For more on sex differences in the male and female brain, read this fascinating Scientific American article.

The child awakens from the nap, off to make lunch.

Diving in/The Great Experiment

I can't believe I'm doing this. I have thought about having a blog for a long time, but there is a list a mile long as to why I have never done it. Most of it can be filed under the dual neuroses of "I'm too smart for this"/"I'm too insignificant" I've freed myself enough from the dualities to just TRY IT.

To be honest, rather than some existential victory, it is perhaps wise to note that one of the main reasons that I am sitting at my computer RIGHT NOW is that A) My child is napping and B) I found the blog of an ex-boyfriend on the web and I have a lot more to say than he does. AND my spelling is better. So there!