Reverse Darwinism

July 15, 2011

“I look busy, but I’m just drawing pictures.”

Huh. So, having been discussing animal collective nouns with my darling male companion last week, it caused me to remember I had once given conquistadors a collective noun classification. So, in search of the reference, today I stumbled across some old blog entries I had drunkenly or hungoverly pecked out back in those years, before I started keeping this blog, on a site no one ever visits anymore *coughMyspacecough*. Oh, I’m sorry, something in my throat. On Myspace, which no one ever visits anymore.

Anywho, if you’ve read these already several years ago, both of you, feel free to be excused to go have a smoke outside until I’m finished. All the rest of you must staaaaaay. 

Until then, I’ll post one a day for the next few days. Good? Good.

Note: it is entirely appropriate to accuse me of laziness for not wanting to write anything new right now. I actually have a good rant sort of worked out in my head, and also another ongoing bloggity project that’s been sitting dusty on an invisible shelf (that apparently collects real dust) for months. But, again–lazy. I’m getting there.

In the meantime, I give you Reverse Darwinism. Me, circa 2007. You lucky person, you.

Ahem.

“Hi!”

“Sources claim that Henry J Heinz began making ketchup in 1876. The recipe has remained the same to this day. Heinz was neither the inventor of ketchup nor the first to bottle it commercially. The tomato is a native of the Andes, and early in the 1500s, while living in Mexico a group of Spanish conquistadors discovered it, and the tomato followed them back to Europe.”

Evolution rears its ugly head yet again, apparently. Here I am looking up the history of ketchup (as one spends one’s time doing during one’s lunch break), only to read here that the first tomato ever discovered apparently had the ability to follow (and keep up with) a group of conquistadors… (Shit. is that right? Myriad of conquistadors? Gaggle of  conquistadors? An invasion of conquistadors? Let’s see….murder of crows, pride of lions, school of fish, silliness of Republicans, herd of sheep, bellowing of bullfinches, flock of camels…)—we’ll say ‘disco of conquistadors.’ Why? Because it amuses me.

BABY! My heart is full of love and desire for you!

Moving on… I believe this suggests that the original tomato had, at least, legs, and then certainly arms for balance, likely opposable thumbs for wielding weapons (so as to survive when conquistadors get into a scuffle, as conquistadors tend to do), and a prehensile tail (clearly for hanging onto branch and limb when attempting tough terrain). Which just makes you wonder, I think, how we as humans have affected the evolution of the tomato so much that we have simply caused its appendages to fall out. Clearly our global footprint is deeper than we thought. This concerns me very deeply.

Pow!

My message to you is this: before we can inflict any more harm on the state of the world’s vegetation, quit pulling the vine off the tomato, or else someday—if evolutionary history repeats itself—our tomatoes will simply be red, round balls, inherently vineless and incapable of forming their distinctively pleasing shape. For the love of god, people, do it for the Earth. Okay? Who’s with me?

This is all true, by the way. Don’t bother looking it up.

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How the hell did I do this?

So, I went about trying a new recipe for an upcoming barbeque. Actually, I had six new recipes to try out for this thing. Yes, six new recipes for one barbeque. Because, you see, in my world there is bored, and there is overly bored. And when I get overly bored, I tend to go overlyboard. Oh yeah–when overly bored I tend to go COMPLETELY  Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell  on your ass. That’s accurate.

And I’ve been bored with the things I’ve been cooking lately, plain and simple.

So, I stumbled across some new recipes, among them–PB&J cookies.

Ahhhhh-ahhhhhhh-ahhhhhhhhh!

What’s that you say, God? Peanut butter and jelly cookies? And also, that despite certain patriarch-influenced depictions, you’re actually a gloriously curvy, blue-singin’ woman? I KNEW IT! Well, all except the PB&J cookie thing, though. That was a new thought. A delicious, delicious new thought.

So, my first order of business before any of the rest of the recipes was to make the PB&J cookies. And then another set of experimental cookies that night, and several new dishes to follow the next day.

Right. So, I get to mixing this recipe I had found on some woman’s blog. I get all the way through mixing before I realize this recipe hasn’t called for any flour or sugar or butter or anything like that which one might find in a non-imposter cookie. No, this one is mainly peanut butter, with a dash of baking soda, brown sugar, vanilla, and egg white. And jelly, of course. Mmmkay. That doesn’t seem right, but I’m on the phone with a friend of mine at the time who’s an AWESOME baker, and she suggests I might as well put them in the oven and see whether they come out.

And so the recipe (already hearkening back to the foreboding feeling I’d experienced with a previous dessert incident–The Great Cookietastrophe of ’09) told me to put the mixture into little balls and place them on the cookie sheet before placing a divot with my thumb in the middle of each for the jelly.

Only, these things, as you’ll recall, are mostly peanut butter. You know what? You try sticking your hand in a peanut butter jar, pull it out with a handful of the stuff, and try to make shapes out of it. Yeah. Good luck with your new nickname, Grossyhands. These did not shape into a ball of any sort. They didn’t even suggest balls. They just sat there, little abominations staring at me accusatorily through the unseen eyes of their agonizing, grotesque, amorphous blob-type figures, as if to cry out, “What. Have. You. Done?!?

And then I filled their piteous craters with strawberry jelly.

I popped these sad saps into the oven, waited about 8 minutes, and then decided to check on them once they’d stopped screaming. I pulled them out, and…

Someone took a bunch of craps in my oven!!

AGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!

What the blue hell?

They are monsters!!!!! I’ve created monsters!!!!!

I mean, they are as enormous as Grand’s biscuits and a sickening light brown color. Why??? They were little petite globules with jelly in the middle! And now they look like an entire steaming tray of Mastiff feces, with traces of blood at the center of them. Honestly, if I ever saw this come out of a Mastiff, I would have the heart to put the dear creature out of its misery.

THIS IS NOT OKAY.

What the hell went wrong? I didn’t miss any steps or ingredients. I checked the blog to look at her picture of the finished product.

Her cookies:

“SCREWWWW YOUUUUU,” I yell at the image on the screen. My darling male companion now ran into the kitchen for the second time in ten minutes, thinking I had undergone some awful culinary injury due to my continued Tourette’s-like verbosity.

I take the offensive, little piles off the stove and set them in my dining room to cool while I calmly try to figure out my next move. I send a picture of them to my friend who had earlier said to just pop them in the oven and see–my friend who then proceeds to laugh so hard she almost has to pull over, and immediately tells me she’s coming right over because she just has to see them in person.

When I go back to the dining room table to peer at them again, once more they have decided to astonish me and alter their disgustingness into a totally different image of bleghh.

Mmm. Lunch?

Now they have completely flattened, as if someone had stopped pumping air into them and had forgotten to put the cap back on the hole, and the jelly has gotten, well…frothy. Frothy.

At this point, figuring “What the hell,” I cut a cookie-like thing out of the solid cookie sheet hulking mass and taste it. I mean, it slops partly onto my spatula and partly back onto the pan like ingredients that desperately miss flour, but the taste? Actually, quite brilliant! Taste just like peanut butter and jelly. And you know what? If I had just placed it between two slices of bread rather than deciding to expose it to 8 minutes of 350-degree heat blast, it might have been an acceptable thing to put in my mouth.

I ended up scooping up the whole thing–both already baked and still “dough”–with a giant spoon and dumping it into a great, big bowl, which I then put a fork in and handed to my darling male companion. Who, of course, was only too happy to eat it.

And you know what? I do believe he rather liked it.

And that is my epic cookie fail for this year.

The Great Battle

June 10, 2011

Things I find it nearly impossible to do while in a relationship:

1.)    Lose any significant amount of weight. Not a few pounds here or there, but significant weight.

2.)    Well…no, that’s really about it. Truly. It is a crazy phenomenon brought on by a number of things, and after talking to many others about this, I’ve found it isn’t singular to me. Not nearly.

3.)    Yeah, no seriously—just that.

Now, there are a number of factors that go into this phenomenon. Because when single, despite certain genetic—oh, we’ll call them “gifts,” but they will refer to things like curves—I find I tend to lose weight pretty easily by tweaking any number of behaviors. When I’m putting even moderate amounts of effort and/or money into it. Not that I wish to get rid of my curves, mind you, gentle reader. I usually quite like them, and I think they’re highly undervalued in this society’s media. (Curves in general, not mine in specific. Actually, you know what? Fuck. Mine in specific. YOU WILL APPRECIATE MY CURVES, AND YOU WILL LIKE IT!) But my healthier ideal weight is probably around the one I lied about on my driver’s license, so I’d at least like to get to that place.

But when I’m single, I have more money and effort to put into keeping a certain weight.

And aside from having effort and money to put into losing weight when single, I also find that I just lose some weight in general as a singleton, even without the added effort. This is because when I’m bored or anxious/tripping on the paranoia one can only achieve while living alone and realizing that having not left your apartment all Sunday means you haven’t actually heard the sound of anyone’s voice—not even your own—for over 24 hours, I tend to spend all my free time walking. I do love walking to alleviate unpleasantness. It’s so cathartic.

For example, my anxiety and paranoia while single might manifest like so: “Dear god—I haven’t had sex in two months. TWO MONTHS! Wow. Like, I don’t even really miss it…I just didn’t notice. Oh my god, come to think of it, I read once that there’s a pheromone you emit when you’ve been having sex regularly that attracts the opposite sex. Can they smell my sexual inactivity? Is my singleness repelling people??!”  (Said in my apartment alone, talking to my plants.)

And a walk—ooo, a walk just takes all the nasty craziness away and replaces it with sanity and clarity of thought. Like, “Ahhh. Much better now. Frightening paranoia has ended; I’ll just suck on these juicy beta endorphins for the next hour and go sweetly to sleep.” It just clears the air. A walk is like the Glade air freshener of my fetid psychological miasma. That’s poetry. I may stitch that on a pillow.

Only, since being in a relationship, when I’m feeling anxious, there is another sentient being in the apartment at most times who tends to quell the emotional baddies much better than my plants ever did (who still have yet to put a nice arm around me when I’m sad. So, you know what? I quit watering them. Yeah, screw you, you heartless bastards). And when I’m bored while in a relationship, my sig’ o’ and I just do something or watch something together. I’m not complaining; it’s lovely. I just now have no motivation to go walk out of general malaise until I’m too tired to remember what was bugging me. And that seems to rule out just losing weight without really trying.

In in a relationship, there never seems to be enough of anything to accomplish significant weight loss when I am really trying: free time, money, superfluous energy, etc. Even when I feel like I’m putting lots of energy and focus into it, it does not happen. And it’s so irritating; I eat sensibly. My portions aren’t large; I almost never like fried foods or things in butter; the only meats I usually eat are chicken, turkey, or fish—again, not in butter or fried; I seldom go back for seconds; I don’t often fancy dessert; I like vegetables and healthier options generally whenever possible; and I’ve cut out copious amounts of drinking. Hello, body. I’m torturing you with sensible, healthy eating—you’d think you’d shape up.

But I think I’ve boiled it down to a fair number of reasons.

1.)

First, age. I was 24 when I got into my current relationship; I am 27 today. Now, I’m not exactly a card-carrying member of the local gomer club (despite a rather misleading name for my blog), but I’m no spring chicken anymore either. Maybe like a summer chicken. And I’m thinking my body has decided to prepare me for the joys of bearing children and carrying them on my hips whether I make the active decision to procreate right now or not. Much like happens with chickens’ bodies in the summer! True story…

And I’ve come to this conclusion because, most specifically, it used to be easier to lose weight in certain areas of my frame than it is now. Ergo, I’m going to go ahead and say age is one of the villains of this piece.

2.)

Things can’t get any freakin’ better!

Secondly, happiness. It is damned difficult to worry about fighting myself with health food and annoyingly long hours of exercise when I’m too happy to notice. Not that I disliked myself when I was single, by any means. I was just more honed in to the task at hand, you see. The battle with my instincts of “tastes good = is good” and “feeling of laziness = well-deserved sleep,” if you will. I was a warrior in the body fight. And now I’m all, “Tra la la…whatever. Sugar bomb? Meh. I could really go for an orange pop…” I’m all sleeping in on weekend mornings rather than going out for a walk because the bed is such a nicer place to be with my partner there. Damn this insufferable, infernal contentment! What is it getting me?

3.)

Thirdly, I do not live in the constant fear of never having sex again. Say what you will about this statement, but that panic button for me and many others is a big, shiny, red one. It will make you do things you have absolutely no desire to do (when being totally honest with yourself)—things like going out at all hours of the night to packed bars booming with music so loud that you nightly lose your voice just trying to ask the name of the random sweaty person whose hand has been on your ass for the last half hour rather than just staying home with a hot toddy and a decent, quieter, more satisfying form of entertainment. Or suffering through torturous first date dinners with people you wouldn’t want to talk to if they were the only person who spoke English in a 1000-mile radius. Or regular small talk. Or going to comedy clubs for amateur night. Or, I don’t know, jogging. Point made.

4.)

An actual shot in my kitchen last week.

Next, I spend most free time I do have (which is precious little, let me tell you, and that is no understatement) doing relationshippy or couply things rather than at the gym. If I do get a night free, it’s so much nicer spending it at home with the darling male companion. So that’s how I spend most of my free time. And again, “most of my free time” is a small percentage of an already small percentage of my composite time, so have perspective. (I work a full-time job, do freelance work, commute 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, go to meetings and appointments most evenings, and see people constantly.) Also, see “not living in the constant fear of never having sex again.” This fear would trump wanting to spend free time at home if it were a certain reality, but it is not.

5.)

Cakes!

And finally, cooking for two. It has always been really easy for me to lose weight when cooking for just myself because I’m willing to eat some remarkably unenjoyable things. When I was single, since I don’t care about meals terribly much, I would often just make sure I was hitting certain food groups and stayed below a certain calorie/fat content amount. And then I’d eat what I’d made, regardless of whether any of it went together. It wasn’t about the pleasantness of the experience. It was about having fuel, and …doing math, and …eating nearly indigestibly healthy, tasteless things. But now that I cook for two (we have a nice system where I do all the cooking, he does all the dishes), I cook entirely differently.

It’s not that he’s picky; he’s said numerous times he’ll eat whatever I cook. And let’s just all pause now and appreciate a good’un when we see one. He’s a good’un.

But even though he assures me he’s not picky, I don’t want to inflict bad meals upon him. I prefer to give him a nice, balanced meal (taste-wise as much as health-wise). No, I don’t know why. I just do. So I cook things we both want to eat, which immediately ups the starch intake, at least. It also puts more meat where I normally wouldn’t put it, since he works on his feet all day, and I feel he should have a good intake of protein. I still cook things without putting them in butter and have other healthy cooking habits thoroughly ingrained. Still.

But furthermore, healthy food is often fresh food, which as you probably know is pretty damned costly. Health food generally does not consist of things that come out of boxes and cans. And therefore, making meals of healthy food for two people is even more expensive than…well, than making healthy food for one. Which is already fucking expensive! So in order to cut costs, we eat more things like pasta. More bread. More rice. These carbs add up, don’t ya know.

So, despite my continual work to overcome these obstacles, so far, aside from the small weight losses here or there, my efforts to lose significant weight have been fruitless as of late. Similar stories from many, many of the shacked-up people I’ve talked to. Damn. And combined with back problems I’ve had over the last two years that make it difficult for me to do any workout more athletic than walking, I think it might just be one of those things that will continue to plague me for quite awhile.

As will my plants not responding to me.

Heartless.

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For maximum effect, play this while scrolling down…slowly.

da daaaaaaaaaaaaaa…

da daaaaaaaaaaaa….

DA DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA…


DA DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!

BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM


As promised, I did get my egg-dying episode documented. It’s with film, not a digital camera, so the quality promises to be what we’ll go ahead and call “retro.” Voila.

Darling male companion, painting away

Me, attempting great art

 

I assume this happened since we were attempting to make deviled eggs for the first time. And, to be fair, his is a picture of a witch (which is conveniently glared out).

 

Masterpiece!!!

Also, desecrating Easter lamb cake. A time-honored tradition in my family.

Do I tell you, sir, that I hid an egg on your chair before you sat down? Nah. I’ll let that be my little secret. With the egg. And the chair.

Voila l’oeuvres! That is all for now.

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It was a hell of an Easter weekend for me, I have to say. For various reasons. I got to have an MRI. That was fun. I got radioactive goo injected into my veins during it; perhaps this is why I’ve pissed myself every time I’ve gotten a cell phone call or sat too close to the TV in the last two days? Huh. Dunno. Mental note to look into that.

And if you’ve never had this whole MRI process done, do try. It’s thrilling. They wrap you in thin white blankets up to your neck like a sort of sterile mummy and keep you as cold as possible, I assume because the unholy giant mouth machine into which they’re feeding you prefers the kind of sub-zero room temperatures featured in heart-warming classics like Alive. Then they give you earplugs and put enough sound-muffling cloth around your head to keep out the worst of the clamoring bedlam noise, which I find akin to an angry mob banging on the machine with wrenches and sledgehammers. And they bury you into the unholy giant mouth machine up to around your hands, with the sides slightly too snug for your arms on either side and the top a couple inches from your face. Taphophobics everywhere, pop your Xanax—this is your coffin for the next hour. And then they tell you they’re going to begin (which sounds like a command from one of Charlie Brown’s teachers), and here descends the angry mob banging on the machine with wrenches and sledgehammers. Or so I figure. Then they pull you out of the unholy mouth coffin machine after you’ve contemplated your own death for 45 minutes, inject you with the radioactive goo—and I’m a notorious fainting, vomiting needle-phobe, so this is extra special—and shove you back into the machine for another 15 minutes. This is to let your brain cook a little longer. Finally, you get out and put the metal jewelry back in your body. You look at the nurse warily when she says, “Drink lots of water the next few days to…uh…flush that stuff out of your system quickly,” and check your day planner just to see if it is, in fact, Phobia Day, and you had simply forgotten. Sign up today! See what you’re made of.

…No, literally, you get to look at what your brain is made of.

But mostly, it was noteworthy because I got to dye and paint gorgeous, sexy, wonderful Easter eggs with my darling gentleman companion. And then make deviled eggs for the first time. Bedeviled eggs. Well, I guess my sister made part of them. Or most of them. But I boiled the eggs, damn it, and I’m pretty sure I was the one who bedeviled them.

Deviled eggs. This needs a more dramatic name. Hmm. Sataniceggs? Lucifeggs? Beelzebeggs? All superior words. While my sister was I was working on making the deviled eggs, I got to wondering why they’re called that. They seem harmless enough, and eating one has never whipped me into a hedonistic, clothes-ripping-off, sexually depraved, demonic and shrieking frenzy. Not like eating apples…

Apparently it’s a cooking term that dates back centuries, and it merely refers to the eggs having a little spice to them. I guess spice = hot = devil, and so these eggs with spice were deviled eggs (or feel free to term them divinity eggs now, if you wish to bring them to a church picnic or something).

Interesting. Well. Had I known that it was simply about spice, I wouldn’t have invoked the dark forces into the sweet relish. Really, this should be a special note in the recipe directions. I mean, sorry, relatives, for that unpleasant evil egg experience. Honestly, it would have been fine if someone had remembered to get the salt blessed this year. So, I blame you guys.

Tangent. Back on track now. So this whole eggy process was a totally fun one. The thing is, I haven’t dyed eggs in years, so it was really fucking lovely. My darling gentleman companion and I had about 15 eggs to play with, and we dyed, and sponge-painted, and then hand-painted egg after glorious egg. This was such a charming good time, I might just coax him into doing it every weekend. We’ll have cholesterol problems that could take down horses or other large, sweaty beasts, but we’ll have created 52 batches of perfect, gleefully temporary edible art. Good plan.

By the by, I will post pictures as soon as I get them developed, probably this week. See, back in the day, people used to use cameras that were run on this thin, shiny stuff called film. You could go to the store and buy a cardboard-covered camera with film in it, and take pictures. Then you’d wait for your pictures to come out of a machine all overexposed and crappy, and you’d gladly pay too much for them. Being the antique-lover, I used one such product to capture our magical Beelzebegg day, so I have to wait for them to be ready to put online. Next post. Promise.

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Haven’t been contributing much lately. I’ve had a headache that’s lasted for weeks, on and off now, and I’ve been curling up in a sleep hole every opportunity I’ve gotten. Who needs a vacation, huh?

I can say this—it doesn’t take too terribly much to make me happy right around this time of year, when Chicago winter is turning to Chicago spring (except maybe this headache kicking it and my brain going back to normal consistency for a brain. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s attempting to leak out my ears when it feels like this. Headache going away would make me deliriously happy. But since every time I get my brain fixed I just go ahead and break it again, this is clearly why we can’t have nice things). But, yes. Doesn’t take much to make me happy in April. It’s the little things, you know?

Yesterday I saw that all the restaurants in the city have put out their little dine-outside patio furniture for the season. It was, to my knowledge, the first day they did this. Seeing this puts me instantly in a better mood. This is like a big, warm brain hug. Maybe with more energy than a hug, though. Like being goosed. A big, warm brain goose.

Well, that just sounds like the freakiest animal ever.

Ahh, the promise and potential of a miserable, sweltering, wonderful summer to come. Happy spring, Chicago! Iiiiiiiii loves ya.

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Last night I accompanied two friends to a $20 All-You-Can-Eat sushi dinner, and let me tell you. If you’ve never tried it, go. Do it. It’s like freaking endurance training. Remember in Fight Club when Tyler says, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” Yeah. How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight with your own body?

When you go to All-You-Can-Eat sushi, you pay the flat fee and start ordering delectable-sounding menu items, Boston roll after futo roll after spider roll. You can order as many as you want at the same time, and that includes appetizers like tempura and edamame. The thing is, so you’re not just ordering the whole menu and letting a bunch go to waste as soon as you satisfy your craving (since that shit costs dollas, son), you pay extra money for every additional piece you leave on your plate. Some restaurants are as costly as $5 per remaining piece. Ouch. So you eat the whole damn thing. And if you cannot, you desperately try to lure other people at your table away from their own Japanese-cuisine cross to bear in order to help you finish off the rest of your fish, rice, and seaweed little bundles of joy.

If you are a sushi junkie like I am—the kind of person who would put a dragon roll directly into your veins if you could figure out a way to liquefy it on a spoon—you cannot resist the urge to use a sweet maki deal like this to figure out the limit of your physical tolerance. And oh god—it is eye-opening. You go in daring to find out what you’re made of, and you stagger out highly suspecting you’re now at least partially made of Japanese delicacies.

I can report that I survived. I can report that it was uncomfortable after two Sapporo’s and the second roll, and highly uncomfortable after I pushed beyond the third roll. The fourth roll was past the point of good-reasoning and might have been easier to take if I had removed a vital organ to make some room. Note for next time.

But I can say this—totally worth it. When I die, skimp on the fancy coffin and cover my grave with sushi. Please, and thank you.

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This Post May Kill You

March 3, 2010

So take it on a full stomach.

Well now, the thing is, I had been writing an entry that began with a discussion of the popular phrase regarding the definition of insanity—you know the one. The one that’s been floating around in common usage since about the mid-90s, often winding up in business seminars as a means to promote other businessy things, like “thinking outside the box.” It is as follows, and note that its wording has been paraphrased many times over the years, so it possibly bears the wear and tear of conversational license: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Various sources will attribute it to the likes of Albert Einstein and Mark Twain. Long-dead, very learned guys with (surprisingly similar) crazy white hair seem like incredibly trustworthy originators, don’t they? (Can’t you just see the first moron to create this mix-up: “Einstein said it. Hmmmm, yes. Or was it Mark Twain? Dammit, their pictures are SO SIMILAR!   They’re pretty much the same thing.”) Other sources will say that both of these are incorrect, and that the origin is likely Rita Mae Brown in her 1983 book Sudden Death. Which puts its inception much more recently, not shockingly.

Ya see, from my tender teenage years, I was practically raised on this phrase. My dad does tend to recite it like a mantra when the situation calls for it, and while I understand how it’s a helpful reminder to try something new (calling to mind images of silly people who realize a foreigner can’t understand English, so they just continue to repeat the same English phrase at the foreigner, only louder), that particular bit of paternal dogmatic endowment always stuck in my craw. Do I have a craw? I’m not sure. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I have a craw. That is where that phrase has embedded itself.

And my profound apologies for the discrepancy, father, if you read this. I just never happened to like this one.

I had started this entry off that way, intending to make some point, and then I put this entry—half-finished—off to the side to cool for a few days. I was about to pick it back up again, when wing-nut Joseph Stack decided to do a kamikaze off his good judgment and steer his airplane into an IRS building last month, effectively killing himself and tragically one other person who worked inside the building. The reason this had tripped me up is that he had written a suicide “manifesto” before going through with his actions, as I’m sure you’re aware. In it, he had said, “I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”    …Mmmhmm.    O_o

Well…crap. Since this was plastered all over the news, discussing this phrase now possibly falls under the “too soon” category, or potentially will not be able to stand on its own as a separate discussion, because people are all focusing on his message. Furthermore, I am generally not in favor of giving this guy any more spotlight than was necessary to simply report the tragedy of his innocent victim, nor do I wish to seem like I’m having a rational discussion about the recent words of a kook with an airplane.

And then I decided to—you know what? Fuck it.—finish it and post it, since really the phrase is only the initial part of this entry. And furthermore, I think this guy actually illustrates why this phrase sort of sits ill with me. And that reason is that it is an over-generalized phrase which is not literally correct. “Insanity” is a strong word, and an important one, considering that it’s accepted a sound reason to completely dismiss a person’s statements or actions as unintentional or unable to be helped, ergo rendering the originator inculpable. Weighty stuff. So it somewhat irks me when it’s lobbed about to fit whatever little thing people deem silly or possessing of a low ROI. And god knows we’re a society obsessed with ROI. (Though, of course, my annoyance refers to formal or didactic uses of the word “insanity,” not when people are using conversational connotations of it. I’m not about censoring things that make language colorful; like, it really affects me very little when people are all, “Dude, did you check out the wicked hot bartender? His body is insane!” Sure, whatever. Why not. I refer to people using it when speaking with authority on something.)

Yeah. Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting to get different results is the definition of redundancy with a learning curve. Or something along those lines, not insanity. By contrast, the actual definition of insanity is, usually, unsoundness of mind often affecting legal responsibility. To illustrate—giving money you don’t wish to give to the IRS for your entire adult life and expecting the system, which you find unfavorable, to change on its own is “redundancy with probably a steep learning curve” (the “steep learning curve” bit lying in the expectation of change part, not the recurring behavior. You are, sadly, legally bound to continue paying your taxes, I am sorry to inform you). Alternatively, Mr. Stack’s assumption that the way to clearly break this dismally futile pattern is suicide/homicide with a side helping of structural demolition of a government building is “insanity.” Note the difference. (Also note that when a legally insane person utters, “I am finally ready to stop this insanity,” it means they are about to take a bath in it.)

Okay, so the real purpose of this entry, aside from my nitpicking over this modern definition not being the definition of insanity but rather an occasional indication of it, is that this definition of insanity phrase has gotten so oversaturated in popular American culture that we forget sometimes that doing the same thing over and over again is the definition of “practice.” In that, sometimes it merely makes you better at whatever behavior you’re repeating, and that leads to different results, too. I think the prevalence of this definition of insanity phrase is a great indicator of how the notion of patience has completely slipped through the cracks of our modern, instant-gratification society, but that’s neither here nor there. Really, it had me thinking about the Tower of Hanoi.     …and why wouldn’t it?

The Tower of Hanoi shows us the importance of doing something over and over again, because it illustrates that we build muscle memory. Even if our psychological process isn’t learning anything from repetition—although it often does—our physical process learns for us. Which is all kinds of neat.

https://i2.wp.com/mathworld.wolfram.com/images/eps-gif/TowersofHanoiSolution_700.gif

The Tower of Hanoi (above) is a puzzle where one has to figure out how to get the four ascending-sized pieces of a puzzle from their pyramid shape on the first nozzle (in a set of three nozzles) to the third nozzle in that same final pyramid shape, one piece at a time (see the link for an illustration of how it’s done and hopefully a less ridiculous understanding of it than I was able to give you).

This puzzle generally takes awhile for people who aren’t Good Will Hunting to figure out. What was interesting here was that they found that amnesiacs doing the puzzle day after day eventually improved their ability to solve it competently, when they didn’t ever remember doing the puzzle before, or even the person administering the puzzle. These experiments were used by psychologists to show that we have muscle memory: increased levels of physical precision through repetitive behavior, in addition to our experience-based memory. Cool.

And then a barrage of existential questions hit me (and pardon me if they twist about in a rather labyrinthine way here). Aside from building muscle memory, which we seldom do intentionally, why do we do things again and again when, the probable majority of the time, it isn’t yielding results? I assert that doing this is not insane (as some would prefer to hyperbolize) because repetition is such a common human behavior—common enough that a vague cultural definition-of-insanity phrase had to be created and reiterated ad nauseam to discourage it. Is our proclivity toward repetition derived from a desire to preserve the action in our memories, rather than from stubbornness or stupidity?

And what is the purpose of making memories, other than merely learning to avoid danger—or is that it? No, certainly there’s something having to do with a memory’s purpose that distances humans’ minds from those of mere animals, which operate on instinct. We strive so hard to preserve certain memories, even ones that are ultimately detrimental to our health (whether we do so consciously or not), so surely there’s more to our collecting of memories than the instinctual survival of the species.

I consulted an interesting article on cryonics (of all things), about how memory intertwines itself with identity and whether preserving memory is the most important part of sustaining life, in the hopes of better understanding why we make and keep memories:

“To some people, preservation of memory is the most essential task of cryonics, whereas others regard feeling as being more critical. I am somewhat skeptical of both these views, but I do not have an alternative thesis — I am searching for one. If memory is critical to identity, why do I perceive that in the last year I have added memories, but not altered my identity? If some memories are more critical for identity than others, what are those critical memories and where do they reside? It may be true that to abolish all my memories would abolish my identity — but it is also true that stopping my heart abolishes my identity. That does not prove that my heart is the essence of my identity.”

I don’t know that I agree with this person’s dismissal of the firm bond between identity and memory, but at least it got me thinking of how they were interrelated. If the reason we do something again and again actually is moreover to make a memory, as I had hypothesized, are we doing it therefore to extend or preserve our identities? Isn’t that why we say doing menial tasks again and again builds character? Or is that just a platitude to alleviate the unpleasantness of it?

Memory is altered over time, as we know, and it is often shaped by personal perception. Does this indicate that over time my identity actually shifts, and that’s what causes my memory to alter? Could be. A progressed or evolved state of personal identity yields a changed perception in me and accordingly adjusts my memories to fit that perception? Or even, adversely, if my memories simply modify over time due to other factors—and many will—will it cause my identity to correlationally shift over time if memory and identity are inseparable? I mean…my tastes change over time, and they are integral to my identity.

To give an oversimplified example, I used to like to wear lots of dangly, clanky jewelry hanging all over myself. It made me happy. It made me feel comfortable. Now I like less stuff hanging all over me. So my tastes have evolved. How I prefer to present myself has evolved. How I see myself has evolved. And ergo there’s been a slight shift in my identity, right? I would testify so. Our tastes are just an expression of who we are or who we want to be—identity. And clearly identity has the ability to evolve. Again, I realize this is over-simplified, but it accomplishes my point.

On the other hand, certain aversions which memory has taught my body to create have evolved over time. For example, I got sick once eating tuna and couldn’t eat it for about a year, even though I know that all tuna isn’t going to make me sick. It’s a common defense mechanism of your body. But now I love tuna again. This indicates to me that my unconscious memory had created a taste aversion to preserve my body from whatever in that tuna made me sick, and that the particular unconscious memory seems to have left me along with the aversion. Bam!—memory alteration. (Oh god. Did I just become the Emeril Lagasse of mind-numbing conversation topics?) So, considering that identity and memory both evolve and assuming that the two are interwoven, does identity alter memory, or the other way around? Is it the chicken or the egg?

Furthermore, assuming identity is attached to memory, if I wish and wish for a painful or uncomfortable memory to be erased from my mind, is it because I merely don’t wish to carry it with me, or is it, more deeply, because I seek to alter myself?

More importantly, can identity exist without memory? Think of amnesiacs, for instance, or Alzheimer’s patients. Are they without identity? Much of our identity has to do with how we uniquely react to circumstances, our individual process of doing things, how we learn, and how we grow. While memory strongly affects each of these, the absence of memory wouldn’t leave us without these abilities. An auditory learner who gets clunked on the head by a falling ACME anvil may become an amnesiac (…you know…if they live through the subsequent cartoon-like effect of being hammered a full meter into the ground with just their appendages sticking out in alarm, the 4-inch bald lump that later rises from their head, and, naturally, all their teeth falling out like so many piano keys), but I would wager they’ll still likely be an auditory learner (short having incurred brain damage beyond amnesia) after the anvil event, as opposed to a visual learner (on the heavy assumption that their ability to see, hear, or learn hasn’t been altered by the cranial reception of an anvil). That’s because it’s ingrained in their identity, I think, the way their genes have determined they’re neurologically wired.

Dig it:

“Spiders can weave intricate spiderwebs, but this complex behavior is not learned — it is built-in neurological machinery. A female bird that is hatched and reared in isolation from other birds is still capable of building a perfect nest…”

“Even when learning does occur, neurological wiring may dictate which experiences result in learning and which do not. Many birds learn to form a strong emotional bonding at birth to any nearby distinctive and animate object — a process known as imprinting. Many animals develop strong aversion to a tasty food following a single experience of nausea after eating it.”

Our actions are a part of who we are, and they are present whether or not our memory is. Like the Tower of Hanoi. A person who had lost their memory midway through life was able to ingrain a behavior without neurological or psychological memory—their muscles learned to do something, and to do it a certain way. The person has no accessible memory of ever doing this.

Does this person have identity? Is their identity forever stunted from altering itself after they quit making new memories? Or does a neurological wiring to perceive muscle memory show that their hard-wiring is crafting an identity for that person, accessible memory or not? Are their behaviors, reactions, and sensibilities being stored somewhere other than the “tangible” memory, thus perpetuating who they are without their consciousness? Are we then predestined to be who we are, at least somewhat? Clearly our genetics can’t account for the circumstances and events in our lives that will occur and spark a change in us, but does our hard-wiring determine which of these experiences we will learn from and which we won’t on an individualized basis—whether we’ll experience pain, pleasure, or fear from the experiences?

The answer, darling class, is I don’t know. Possibly our identities can remain somewhat intact without the aid of memory. Possibly they’re also strongly influenced by memory, and we continue to make memories or strive to memorize in order to have a more well-rounded shape to our individual selves. Perhaps doing the same thing over and over again is comfortable for us because it triggers the feeling that we’re memorizing, which gives us the psychological ease that our identities will be preserved. Or maybe we do it because practice makes perfect. Regardless, repetition is not the definition of insanity; it is very human and very common. And sometimes, it’s the only thing that yields progress.

Whew. Who needs a nap?

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During my past three years of pocket-draining adventures here in Chicago, and also likely due to our city’s charmingly constant atmospheric conditional variances (often inclement, which has frequently left me indoors to cook for myself rather than going out and braving the weather), I made the very fortunate discovery that being fantastically financially unstable will lead to many wonderful food and drink items being created out of necessity. Yes, my lovingly and laboriously concocted feasts are the veritable trash fires of the gourmet world—they do the job, they have unusual smells, and they often contain resourceful (and/or harmful) materials. And to the forcedly thrifty, they are glorious things. Objectively glorious. I mean, who could argue?

Cooking with only the odd ingredients I’ve had left in my fridge and cabinets until pay day (see my previous blog post, The Peter Pancake Syndrome, for an example of past ingredient resourcefulness), I’ve managed to pioneer for myself a whole new, exciting culinary experience using the nourishing and satisfying value of what I affectionately call “hobo meals.” True, it’s probably not technically politically correct, but anyone else who’s ever attempted la vie en rose with very limited fundage—surely you get me here, darlings.

Hobo meals: my gastronomical opus (and please allow me my moment of grandeur, here). Much like penning the elusive Great American Novel, I have perfected the thing I will leave behind as my major worldly contribution after I perish, nourishing all free-thinkers who stumble across it (thank you; that felt good).


And so, for years the kitchenette in each of my adorably dim and small (short, but not too big around) apartment hovels became a delightful bistro for … oh … remarkable originality, culinary … uh … improbability, character-building digestional challenges … and, well, satisfying solitary dining. “What the hell? You don’t want to join me for hobo Dijon tuna rice surprise? Brilliant. Leftovers! This is good for half a week’s meals. A week, actually, if I wish to test the endurance of my stomach and immune system to handle potential E. coli threats. Come on, white blood cells. Don’t crap out on me, now.”

Get it? No? Fine.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, as Plato quite rightly noted. My resulting cartes du jour of original, sometimes absurdly convoluted, sometimes craftily minimalist items were always an avant-garde smorgasbord of condiments. And garnishes, like sandwich pickles, canned olives, or store-bought guacamole. Or cans of non-perishables, like cans and cans and cans of tuna, condensed soups, anything Franco-American® or Chef Boyardee® (Saint Boyardee, really), or beans. And carbs that take a long time to fuzz up, like crackers. Oh, and food substitutions that were based solely on color: “No sour cream left. Damn and piss. …Hmm. But mayhap ranch dressing works.” “This calls for milk … unless there is no milk. Mayo, it is!” “Kraft macaroni and cheese. Well, last week I used the cheese powder packet for my cheese-flavored condensed mushroom soup Cornflake bake on graham crackers. So … macaroni and mustard?”

The results were innovative and not entirely unpalatable. Frequently. And despite the hearty richness of the description of these meals, my dear readers, they can be crafted for breakfast and lunch, too! Mustard sandwiches are delicious for before you run out of bread. And you can draw faces on them with the mustard. Who doesn’t want to be smiled at by something they’re about to eat? It just kind of makes my day. Or try a sliced turkey pepperoni and sun-dried tomato hummus sandwich. Treat yourself to a fancy lunch in and toast it. Or crack a fried egg on top of it. Or both! And careful not to lose yourself in the positively sinful indulgence of it all.

Now, note this, because it is tremendously profound: bacon is cheap and can be added to anything. Write that down, write that down.

Or revel in the simple brilliance of cooking up all the vegetables you have left —peppers, onions, tomatoes, Shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, sprouts, etc.— in any oil or non-sticky stuff you have at your disposal and some soy sauce packets from the Chinese place down the street. Add Tabasco® for a delectable kick. Want chicken with it but don’t have meat? Spice it up with chicken seasoning. Or chop up hot dogs and cook them up along with it. Same thing, really. I mean, who honestly knows what goes in hot dogs? Might as well be chicken. And then serve up this masterpiece delicately on a lettuce wrap. Put a baked potato on the side for a luxurious “full” feeling. Ketchup works beautifully on a potato when you’re out of butter, like putting ketchup on French fries… only fancy. *wink*

And then there are the hobo pastas. These work well for entertaining. Throw on a little Sinatra, light some candles, and prepare a group of like-minded individuals for some culinary sparkle. To begin with, tomato soup or medium salsa are practically the same thing as marinara, and don’t you let them tell you any different. Actually—pro tip: any condensed soup can go on pastas. And if you have any cheeses whatsoever—especially a shaker of grated Parmesan—that goes in there, too. As much as fucking possible.With enough cheese on it, people will eat a leather handbag.

Ooo. Hadn’t considered my handbags yet… Hmm.

Oh, but my favorite is probably hobo rice. Yes, gentle readers (both of you). My darling epicurean thrill-seekers, positively whatever you have in your pantry can go on hobo rice, and therein lies its genius. Pancakes, mustard, hamburger pickles—it’s all gustatory gold. Because, you know. Gold tastes awesome.

Additionally, absolutely anything goes on bread or a wrap, if you have them. And if your meal is too much of a liquid to put it on bread—like soup—never fear! Bulk it up with some crackers until it’s a solid. Now you have something that will stick with you for 12 hours. And on your hips for the rest of your life. Now that’s staying power!

Lastly, hobo drinks can even be beneficial to your health. Don’t have mixers on hand to hide the taste of your bottom-shelf liquors? Search your medicine cabinet for other flavored delights that mix well. For example, I sometimes give whiskey a boost by treating myself to a Theraflu®-toddy (note: actually very much not recommended by the American Medical Association, or my liver). But do try an Airborn® cocktail (with vodka). Who’s getting that office virus? Not you, sir. Not you. Or a Special K® pink lemonade-flavored protein mix cocktail (with gin or vodka). And you’ve got your nutrients for the entire day, my loves. Woo-hoo! Feel the health trashing about in your kidneys.

As an epilogue, I’ve since moved out of my Chicago apartment and back to my parents’ house for a bit (amazingly not due to financial reasons), where there is Oh My God always crazy amounts of food at my disposal to make more traditional meals. Still, it’s hard to break the habit. Beware that once you start out on your frugal meal-innovation experience, it is difficult to ever look at ingredients the same way. Living at my folks’ place, I still occasionally make hobo foods. And sometimes, when no one’s looking… I indulge my lusty thirst for the nostalgic taste of Airborn® cocktails.

At least I never ate a shoe.

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