Thursday, February 28, 2013

Banana In The Sky

A few months ago, a friend suggested that we should go sky diving together. At the time, I had responded with a resounding: “No way!” adding, “I like to think I’m a little kinder to myself than that. There is just no good reason to subject myself to the inevitable terror of jumping out of an airplane… except maybe if the airplane is about to crash.” I don’t actually recall ever coming up with a GOOD reason for it, and the plane I’d been sitting in for the last twenty minutes did not seem to be in any imminent danger of going down, yet there I found myself last Sunday, wind blasting in my face as I peered down from the open hatch of an airplane at the beautiful fields of California’s central Valley 13,000 feet below me, poised to jump.

An hour earlier when my friend and I pulled up to The Parachute Center, an old tin hangar in front of a small air strip a couple of miles off of highway 5 near Lodi, CA, I felt a single flutter in my stomach before an unexpected calm settled over me. “Do you think I should bring my jacket?” my friend asked me casually as we got out of his car. “I’m pretty sure they’ll give us a jump suit or something to wear” I told him. Then, after surveying my surroundings, I added, “but it couldn’t hurt to bring it just in case I’m wrong.”

We made our way past the beat up living room furniture that was strewn about under an awning on the back side of the building, wove our way around the half dozen or so scruffy dogs roaming around and strode up to a dusty old counter set in the corner of the vast open room that served as the base of operations for the sky diving facility. “We’d like sky dive” my companion announced to a kindly gray haired man who stood behind the counter.

 “Ok, which video and photo package would you like?” the man asked, casually handing us a paper with a list of the options we could choose from if we wanted to hire a videographer to jump along with us. Despite my having told my friend several times that I did not wish to be videoed or photographed that day (due to the unctuous cold sore that had decided to erupt from my face a couple days earlier), he told the man that we BOTH wanted the video package, handing over his credit card before I could protest.  The gentleman behind the counter ran my friend’s card then handed us each a release of liability waiver and a “boarding pass”: a neon pink post-it note with a number and a letter scribbled on it.

“You can get a clipboard and pen by that TV over there, so you can sign off on the waiver while you watch the safety video and wait for your diving instructor to call your boarding number”, the man behind the counter explained before turning his attention to the group who’d assembled behind us.

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as I grabbed a clipboard and plunked down in a dingy red movie theatre seat in front of the TV that sat near the left wall of the room. I’m not sure exactly what I had expected signing up for sky diving to be like, but the exchange that had just transpired was startlingly casual considering what it actually was we were about to do. There were no questions about existing health conditions. No warnings about possible injuries or death. We just placed an order for two tickets to jump out of a plane with a side of two videographers as if we were picking up fast food, they took my friends money and shuffled us off so they could take the next order. No big deal.

I barely skimmed through the waiver and only half paid attention to the video about how not liable this sky diving company would be if I died as I blindly initialed my form. About the time the video was starting to get informative, talking about the actual protocol for jumping, I heard my boarding pass number being called.  Even as I rose from my seat and strode through the doorway to meet my “sky diving instructor”, to whom I would soon be strapped ass-to-crotch while plummeting through the sky, I felt calm. I seem to have developed the ability, in the last few months, to go emotionally numb when I find myself in situations that are extremely stressful, so rather than being excited or terrified, I just accepted the situation with objective curiosity.  

My instructor was a tall stout thirtyish looking guy with unkempt brown hair, a face full of stubble and a wild look in his eyes.  He introduced himself, and I believe he said his name was Mike, but as I beheld this crazy looking guy, in whose hands I was entrusting my life, I still didn’t FEEL nervous, but I couldn’t help but WONDER to myself at that point, if I wasn’t doing something really stupid. I was so caught up in that thought that five minutes after we’d made each others acquaintance, I couldn’t remember if his name was actually Mike or if I just thought he looked like it should be. He, on the other hand, latched onto my name and had addressed me by it several times by the time I figured out that I wasn’t sure what the hell he’d told me to call him, so to save myself from potential awkwardness of asking him to repeat it, I decided not address him by name for the rest of our time together.

Might or might not be Mike, told me I’d want to zip up my jacket all the way and empty my pockets (apparently I would not be provided with a jump suit after all). He then took me over to a harness and told me where to put each of my feet as he pulled the straps around me, all the while joking about how poorly he’d done on the harnessing lesson in his parachute instructor training school. “Yeah, I got a D in this part of the course” he explained, nudging one of the straps off my shoulder and exclaiming “oops! That’s not very tight is it?” before gingerly setting the strap back on my shoulder without tightening it and then moving on to cinching up the nylon straps near my crotch.

 While might or might not be Mike was working on that, my videographer came running into the room stopping right in front of me. He enthusiastically introduced himself as Tommy before inquiring: “Hey what’s your name and what are you doing here today?” I fired back as energetically as I could muster: “I’m Jillian and I’m here to sky dive!”
“Really, why would you want to do a thing like that?” Tommy jibbed.
I laughed and fessed up: “my friend goaded me into it.”
“What friend? Are they here?” he asked
“yup, that Indian guy over there” I said, indicating my sky diving companion who was being harnessed up a few feet away.
Tommy raced over to my friend and then disappeared to get some footage of the plane.

Might or might not be Mike seemed to be done with my harness at that point, and though I had figured he’d been joking about the shoulder straps, he still hadn’t tightened them yet, so I decided I’d rather come off as obnoxiously lacking in faith in him than have my shoulder harness obnoxiously come off of me and leave me to plummet to my death. “You know, you never tightened that shoulder strap, don’t you need to do that?”  I reminded him. Another instructor appeared at that moment and mockingly chastised might or might not be Mike for using one of the old retired harnesses again. My instructor shrugged and replied: “shucks. I’m always doing that. Oh well!” The two instructors had a hearty laugh, to which I added my own nervous laughter, while silently wishing they’d at least toss me a tiny bit of UNsarcastic reassurance.
“Come on, let’s talk about what I need you to do when we jump” my instructor said leading me over to a small poster, taped to the outside of a metal cabinet which depicted a banana above a picture of a person who was apparently assuming the shape of a banana. “Ok so when we jump out of the plane and we’re free falling,  you should bend your legs back and make your body look like a banana so that you don’t interfere with my steering or opening the chute or anything” my instructor explained as he cocked his head towards the banana/ person poster. Then he added: “Oh and Tommy, is going to jump right before us to video you, so after we’ve cleared the plane you can wave at the camera or blow kisses or do swimming arms or whatever. It’ll make the video better.”

“Ok. I can handle that” I said as I glanced at the picture of the banana shaped person, politely, waiting for might or might not be Mike to live up to his title and offer me some more INSTRUCTION as to what else I needed to do to make this parachute jump go down safely. However, as he stood next to me, idly looking around at all the other folks in the room, it became pretty clear that this was the extent of tutelage I was going to receive that day.

I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised that my lesson on sky diving had been so simple and concise, after all, jumping out of a plane is a completely ridiculous thing to do in the first place, so it stands to reason that the instructions could be reduced to the simple maxim: one should be a banana shaped person when one jumps out of an airplane, but one should also be vivacious and entertaining if one has purchased a video package. Simple. Easy to remember. Even if you panicked, you just needed to visualize the bright yellow banana picture from the poster and look at the videographer prompting you to mimic his own lively gestures and you’d know all that you needed to.

I looked over and saw the friend I’d come with holding a pair of goggles, so I asked my instructor if I should have a pair of those as well. “Oh yeah” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to be funny or if he’d actually forgotten the minor detail of protecting my eyes (and more importantly my glasses) from the wind that would soon by blasting me in the face.  I didn’t have too much time to worry about it though because as might or might not be Mike was adjusting the straps of my goggles, a man stuck his head through the door leading to the airstrip and announced, “The Plane’s almost ready!”

“Nervous?” Might or might not Mike asked, as he grabbed me by the front of the harness to hurry me outside. “Nope” I said blandly as I matched his pace and headed out into the late afternoon sunshine.

A plane taxied towards us on the small runway of the airfield behind the hangar building. A man ran out to the plane with a small staircase which he set down next to the aircraft. My instructor once again took me by the harness and began striding towards the plane. Warning as we approached:  “watch your head because the metal bar at the top of the door isn’t actually as cushy and fun to head butt as it looks”. I crouched as we bounded up the stairs and stepped onto the plane. We were the first ones aboard. Two long benches that ran parallel to each other stretched from the hatch where we’d entered to the back wall of the aircraft.

Might or might not be Mike sat against the wall of the plane straddling both the bench and me. Tommy, my videographer sat in front of me. In the close quarters of the airplane, I noticed for the first time that my videographer was quite a nice looking kid. The pickup line enthusiast in me thought for a split second that I should mention to him later how much I’d enjoyed going for a ride with him between my legs, but Tommy was technically working and it was the middle of the afternoon at an airstrip, not the middle of the night in a bar, so I decided that it wasn’t a suitable time or place for such a line.

As the other sky divers, instructors and videographers began to file into the plane, I got a happy cozy feeling. I liked being nestled so close to my sky diving companions. (I guess I’d been craving the comfort of human closeness more than I realized). As everyone was settling into the plane, my instructor clipped his harness onto mine. “We were going to be on the plane for about 20 minutes before we get to our desired altitude” He explained, adding: “I’ll start tightening up your harness in about 15 minutes and go over what I need you to do.”

My friend and his instructor were the last ones on the plane and within seconds of taking their seats, the plane lurched forward. It wasn’t like being on a commercial flight where you taxi the runway and wait until it’s your turn to go. There was no ceremony or propriety like that. The second the hatch was closed we were off. No one checked seat belts (there were none). No one talked about safety (we were jumping out of a plane, so clearly we were not the kind of folks who worried about that). We were going sky diving, we were obviously thrill seekers who craved speed, so I’m sure they felt they needn’t bother with mundane trivialities like a safety lecture… Or maybe that was what the video I hadn’t really watched was about.
After a minute or so we were soaring up above the farms that surrounded the airfield. Tommy did an impromptu interview with me as we coursed up to our desired altitude. “Everything’s starting to look pretty small down there, are you sure this is a good idea?” He asked. “Yup” I said… and then immediately wished I’d said something cleverer like I actually NEVER thought this was a good idea. But, maybe it’s  better that I was immortalized in my video as being the type of person to give of a single word of enthusiastic excitement as opposed to a sentence of dour wit.

As I looked out the window at the fields and houses below, I was startled to feel might or might not be Mike ratcheting my harness behind me.  The 15 minutes had passed much quicker than I’d realized. “Tight enough?” He asked when he was finished. I wriggled around testing the harness before declaring “It could be tighter”. He cranked it a bit tighter and asked again. I told him again to tighten it a bit more. I still wasn’t over the loose harness jokes he’d been cracking down in the hangar, so I wanted to be damn sure nothing was going to slide off my shoulder now.

By the time I felt sufficiently strapped in, I looked up and saw that my friend and his instructor were standing in front of the (now open) hatch door. A moment later, they sprung forward and I watched them fall out of view.  My instructor rose, pulling me up with him and we slowly followed the other jumpers down the aisle as they made their way one by one out of the plane’s hatch and back down towards the airfield we’d taken off from twenty minutes earlier.  

When it was my turn to stand in front of the hatch, the only thing I had a chance to think was:“golly we’re high up” and “gee it’s windy out there” before might or might not be Mike plunged out of the plane, taking me along with him. As I hurtled towards the earth, my life in the hands of a man who less than an hour earlier had told me jokingly (I’d hoped) that he’d gotten a “D” in the part of the course where they teach you how to harness in your sky diving “pupils”, all of the fear and panic that I hadn’t been feeling up until that point suddenly struck me square in the gut.

The sky diving mantra was forgotten. The rapidly approaching world below me was all I was thinking about as I flailed about in a most un-banana like fashion. When I felt my instructor wrap his legs around mine to still me, it jarred the sense back into me and I suddenly remembered that I was not going to die and I was supposed to do something cool for my video. I tried to waive at Tommy, who was energetically blowing kissy faces at me, but it was very hard to move with the wind rushing around me. Then I tried to “swim”, but again, that was something easier said than done. Even breathing was difficult with the force of the air in my face.

It was cold and loud during the free fall. After a couple seconds, I was no longer “breathing” but was hopelessly gulping air down like water.  As I got increasingly concerned about the amount of air I was not swallowing, I started to slip back to panic mode. Then suddenly, it was quite. I could breathe. The chute had opened. My feet were below me.  My jacket inflated with a poof, like Alice’s dress in the cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland (when she’s falling down the rabbit hole) and I immediately started giggling. I was so overcome with relief and tickled by the ridiculousness of the situation. I was just  dangling thousands of feet above the world strapped to might or might not be Mike’s chest.  The whole thing was absurd. I loved it!

I was suddenly an inquisitive preschooler. “Were those people on our plane too?” I asked, pointing to some parachutes way off in the distance. When might or might not be Mike confirmed that they were, I wanted to know how they got all the way over there. “same way we got here” he said. I looked down and asked, “Is that our plane” indicating an aircraft zooming away below our feet. “Yeah, good eye.” My instructor praised me before changing the subject, “do you want to steer the parachute?” he asked?

Hell yeah I did. He told me to grab the chord looped around his right hand and pull down. I did and we spun in a tight circle. I giggled. Then he had me pull the left side, spiraling us in the other direction. I was giddy. It was pure delight to spin around thousands of miles above the earth, wind in my face and feet dangling below me. I still could not get over it… we were just there… just hanging around in the middle of the sky, playing with our parachute.  

I was disappointed when my instructor said: “We’re going to be landing in less than a minute, so when we get close to the ground, just lift your legs up and we’ll land on our butts.” I wasn’t ready to come back down to earth, so there was a hint of reluctance in my voice as I replied: “Ok, I can do that”. A few seconds later, I kicked my legs up and we skidded to a stop in the grass behind the airplane hangar. I lay there grinning, as Tommy ran over with the camera and asked “What was your favorite part?” I’d forgotten about him so I was taken off guard. “The part after the freefall I said” after thinking for a moment. “Really?” he said with genuine surprise, offering me his hand and pulling me to my feet. Three months ago, I never would have thought I’d be disappointed to be back on the ground after having just jumped out of an airplane, but there I stood last Sunday afternoon, looking up at the heavens longingly, already dreaming of my next chance to be a banana in the sky.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A gift for your mouth

The other day, just  as I was putting the finishing touches on the Channa Masala, (a garbanzo bean curry), that I was making, I realized that I didn’t have any rice or naan to eat with it- Totally dismaying right? A lesser person might have just thrown a fit, chucked the curry against the wall and gone to bed without dinner at that point, but I am slight neither in appetite nor character and I certainly am not easy to deter when it comes to dinner, so I hopped up on the counter plunged elbow deep into my cabinet and quested for an appropriate accoutrement to escort my Channa Masala into my tummy. “SCORE!” I exclaimed, when after a couple minutes of rifling through the various pastas, canned goods and cereals in my cupboard, I stumbled upon an unopened bag of tortillas, which I had no recollection of ever buying.

Having taken a botany class in college one time, I happened to know that, like traditional burrito fodder:  pinto and black beans, Garbanzo beans are a member of the Fabaceae family. Since Garbanzos and Mexican beans are just cousins from different continents, I figured my Masala’d chick peas wouldn’t mind snuggling up in a nice warm flour tortilla that night like their black and pinto bean brethren. As it turned out the tortilla and Channa Masala got along famously. It was cross culturally scrumptious!

 Since the Channa Masala had made such a mighty fine burrito, and since I had discovered that bag of tortillas, which according to their packaging would have been “best” eaten a couple weeks prior, I decided I better make use of them quickly. Thus a week long international burrito festival ensued. Despite the fact that I was the sole attendee of said festival, it was a delight!

On Tuesday, I had a veggie-burgerito  (veggie burger + cheese and coleslaw wrapped in a tortilla), which, if you can believe it, was even more delicious than the Channa Masala had been! The night after that I had another curryito: Thai style yellow curry with potatoes, peas, cauliflower and coconut milk in burrito form – yum!  And I think everyone can already guess what I ended up with on Thursday when I raided my fridge and wrapped up scrambled eggs,  cheese,  Greek yogurt, sautéed bell peppers and onions inside a warm tortilla… If you guessed ONE BAD ASS BREAKFAST BURRITO FOR DINNER, then you’re right!

Once I figure out a way to make cereal and milk into a burrito that doesn’t leak or get soggy, I think I will pretty much just switch over to an all tortilla all the time diet. I feel like I’ve been depriving myself for  years by eating food with forks and spoons when I could have just been using a tortilla to swaddle all of my main courses. Not only is wrapping foods up in a tortilla like a gift for your mouth, but it also eliminates the hassle of washing cutlery which in turn saves on water.  Burritos are just magical-The perfect combination of food and vessel in one! Hooray for Burritos!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Language and Food

When I went to bed on Saturday night I promised myself I was finally going to catch up on some much needed sleep, so when I woke up at 6:00 AM Sunday morning, a mere five hours after I’d gone to bed, I lay still with my eyes closed for about an hour, trying all the tricks I knew to re-induce sleep. I mentally retraced every tedious detail of what I’d done the previous day in my head, counted down and then back up and then down again from 100. I tried to completely void my mind of all thoughts and imagine nothing but darkness. Nothing was working though, so I decided maybe reading for a while might lull my brain back to a state where I could nod off.

I perused my bookshelf in search of something that was interesting enough to pull my brain away from all of the random thoughts that were gripping it, but not so enthralling that I wouldn’t be able to put it down after 15 or 20 minutes and fall back asleep. I figured something along the lines of a text book or self-help might be in order, so I selected On Writing by Stephen King. My parents had given me the book for Christmas or my Birthday a couple years earlier and I’d never even opened it, so I figured now was the perfect time to dive in.

However, as I finished the “introduction” of the book, in which Amy Tan expressed to Steven King that she was disappointed that language is something that interviewers never asked her about, but she wished they would, my brain was wide awake, whirring with my own thoughts on linguistics, so rather than sleeping as I had planned, I found myself very much enjoying the fact that I was awake, sitting in my cozy bed, sipping Jasmine tea and writing at 7:49 AM on a Sunday morning.
Amy Tan's right people do habitually take language for granted, yet it's so vitally important. (She was thinking more about why we use the language that we do), but in general, I think language has shaped human society more than anything else, (except perhaps food). Not only has language allowed people to achieve the wondrous things we have thus far, but it is still the most vital tool we each possess to obtain personal success as well as being the instrument that ensures the survival of our species as a whole.


The mere fact that people can communicate through language is almost magical. How did language even begin? Was there just 1 super genius cro-magnon that thought of a way to express ideas and then taught others and then it just spread? Or were there multiple geniuses around the world that somehow came up with systems of language at the same time? What makes us humans so unique and special that we have the capacity to develop and use complex languages while other animals seem not to – at least not to the same extent?

Language must have started out simple. Nouns probably came first because you can just point at a thing and make a noise and then you have equated that thing to that noise. Verbs would probably be a lot harder because you’re never doing just one thing, so it would be hard to isolate the exact concept you were trying to communicate…Take the verb, run, for example. While you’re “running” you’re also “lifting your foot”, “moving” and “getting farther away” etc… those are all different things that you could be indicating when pointing at an animal that’s running. Plus with running there is an implication of a certain speed as well as the motion itself, so even seemingly simple verbs would have been very complicated to define without already having an extensive arsenal of other words at your disposal to really explain what you were getting at. Which is why I say, it’s miraculous that people can speak and write with such intricacy today.

No matter how we came to possess our language skills, the fact that we can communicate so well with one another allows us to dominate the Earth the way we do. At first, language was mostly just used to help people transition from a lifestyle as wandering vegetarians to working together building more complex tools and developing strategies for hunting and protecting early man from the elements and other animals. Simple concepts were preserved and passed on to others and to future generations, so the more people there were communicating the more new ideas were developed and passed onto successive generations to build on, so even though individuals died, with ideas preserved and transferred through language, human society as a whole lived on and has continued to become increasingly complex. Civilization has been advancing on its path from generation to generation ever since the development of language…  almost as if we people are like individual cells in in the giant organism that is human society… we all work together in our own capacity to keep our society functioning… but when we die we are replaced with others who can take our place and know exactly what we knew… and the language we us is like DNA for the giant society being. Words and books preserve the coding that allows each new human (cell) to learn his/her role in society and carry out his/her function.

Besides the mere fact that the human race as a whole has benefited from our capacity to use language, the aptitude with which an individual of our species wields language can be greatly important in determining where that person fits into society. If you are able to conjure up the right words at all times, you can talk your way out of trouble and into prosperity. There are limitations of course, but in general the more masterfully you use language, the more prosperous  and successful you'll be in your life. Linguistic charm can make up for short comings when you're pursuing a love interest (esp. if you're a guy who is seeking the company of a lady), if you can turn a phrase in the right way you might nail an interview and land a job over someone who may actually be more qualified for the job itself and if you're a lawyer your entire job revolves around delivering and manipulating language in just the right way to make existing laws say what you need them to say. It's amazing the power you can possess with a masterful command of language.

The profound importance of language is also evident in the hostility and hardships that can result from misuse of words. Misunderstandings about the intent behind a statement can cause people to come to blows and has been known to cause larger conflicts or even war.  "Language barriers" between people of differing cultures can make assimilating into a new culture nearly impossible and can pigeonhole a new comer to a foreign land thus reducing his/her job prospects to mostly menial work because precision with language is increasingly necessary the more complicated a career is... and anyone who has tried to communicate with someone without a mutually fluent tongue between you, knows it is just exhausting and frustrating when the language you were raised with, that would so easily explain something, has to be replaced by a drawn out series of pantomime gestures and facial expressions. Because the modern world demands so much human interaction, its extremely difficult to get along in a place where you cannot properly communicate with those around you. 

The other aspect of human society (besides language) that I find to be the most vitally important is food. Language and food may seem, at first glance, like two completely unrelated things, but they both have grown in complexity in a parallel way.  After all, it was through language that humans were able to coordinate with each other to make tools and collaborate in hunting which then led to development of agricultural systems to raise food and later, with a consistent source of ingredients, culinary development became possible.  Thus food procurement and cultivation was one of the first practical applications of language which in turn spurred on the need to propagate language. 

Food is vital to life in general – if you don’t have enough food nothing else matters. You simply cannot care about things or have any sort of enjoyment in life if you are starving. Food, unlike language, is a basic necessity and so people have always made it a central part of life. For those people who are fortunate enough not to be starting, food is a central facet of society and culture.

The daily schedule of people (or at least of most Americans) is structured around when you eat. Eating provides an occasion for you to take a break from whatever else you are doing 2-3 times a day. For me, eating -lunch is the only reason I am allowed to leave my office each day. Sure it’s a biological necessity to have food, but for me, it really doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes to prepare and consume something that will give me enough calories to adequately continue to work efficiently through the day. However, it’s something that’s considered a basic human right (at least in America) to be allowed enough time to procure and consume something that tastes good as well as nourishes you and most companies also allow, for the occasions of lunch, enough time off from work to relax and socialize while eating.

For most people, dinner is something that is an even more important part of the day than lunch. Eating dinner may be the only occasion for many families to gather around a table and talk. Most “dates” involve dinner or at least some type of food or beverage. Traditional gender roles revolve around the “the dinner table”, where women use the money that men bring home to cook and set a meal before their family. Such roles may not be so strictly observed anymore, but there are still some implicit roles in a household that are defined by food preparation. In short food is important to the most vital daily social interactions.

The TYPE of foods you choose to consume or not consume can be very culturally significant and can indicate your values. Sometimes the types of foods you eat are simply a reflection of the resources available to you, such as consuming regional fruits or vegetables, but in other cases the foods you consume (or foods you choose not to consume) can be very significantly tied to your moral and/or religious beliefs. You may choose to be a vegan or vegetarian for ethical or religious reasons, many Jews keep Kosher, many Muslims seek out Halal foods and fast during Ramadan, Catholics often choose to give up a certain food for Lent and many people choose to seek out organic or Fair Trade foods or avoid certain foods like coffee or peanuts etc for various reasons because of the way they are cultivated. Each of these dietary choices is made conscientiously with consumers dedicating time and effort to align their diet with their beliefs and because of this, persons who observe these sorts of dietary restrictions often seek to associate more or exclusively with others who both have the same beliefs and observe the same dietary practices.

Certain delicacies are so hard to procure and/or expensive that they have become associated with a prominent social status. Caviar, lobster or truffles, for example, are things that most people in the world will never consume because they are so costly. However, the very fact that they are considered to be so luxurious, makes many people willing to spend more than they should on such things just so they can have the same experience as a really wealthy or famous person. To many people, special occasions are made even more special when you overspend on pricey delicacies at dinner time. (I don’t happen to prescribe to that particular line of thought, I’d take reasonably priced food that tastes good over fancy food that tastes good any day… and though I have dined at some swanky restaurants, I am yet to find a restaurant in any price range that beats my favorite $10.00 per plate Burmese joint).

Beyond the necessity, daily significance and cultural importance of food, the actual cultivation of food has had a tremendous impact on the world- especially as global population continues to increase so rapidly. It seems like people who are involved in the more scientific development of food are so completely concerned with being efficient NOW that they are creating huge problems that will damn all future generations. It’s so great in the short term that we can produce an over abundance of food using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but the fact that we have to keep upping the dosages to keep up with soil depletion and chemical resistant pets should be a huge red flag.  Mass producing food in general is just  bad science. Things are genetically modified and “products” are kept as uniform as possible in order to ensure that consumers will have consistency  when they purchase certain types of food, which just goes against the entire concept of evolution. By eliminating genetic diversity you reduce the ability of plants and animals to have long term success in adapting to the changes in the world. Use of chemicals and pesticides is like “trying to get one over” on nature, but the natural order that existed long before humans (and will continue after we obliterate ourselves in one way or the other), is so beautiful and perfect in its function.

I wish scientist  would use their skills and resources to create a system that draws on the lessons of nature rather than fighting against it… individuals doing small scale organic farming in their yards or on patios and sharing, trading or selling crops amongst each other would be so much better in so many ways, but it’s so hard to imagine it as a concept that would ever actually take hold because capitalism seems to demand that we 1 continue to move forward  and expand, 2, sell products to consumers / create a demand for whatever supplies we have, so if for example, the product you have a supply of is chemical fertilizer, you should have a sales pitch that accentuates the positives and minimizes the negatives (in short ignore the long term consequences to society in order to maintain the immediate health of your company). Thus at the end of the day, you end up serving money rather than society. Focusing on the bottom line so often comes at the expense of things that actually matter. I suppose the way lobbyists and chemical co. spokesmen present information to politicians and the general public in order to push their own agendas  is just a good example of how using the right words on the right people can  impacts the whole of human society.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Fear and Confidence

The other day, my friend asked: “What’s your biggest fear?” I automatically responded: “dying alone”, cringing as I heard the words leave my mouth. It’s such a cliché response! And of course my friend immediately pounced on me and gave me the cliché retort to my answer:  “every man dies alone… blah blah blah.”

I wasn’t thinking of literally dying alone though – as in not having someone physically by my side while the last remnants of life slipped away from me.  I’m not too worried about the dying part of dying alone. It’s the alone part that scares me. I fear that by the time I die, I will not have found true, unconditionally reciprocated love.

The fact that I felt like “dying alone” is a cliché of a fear, is reflective of how common it is for people to fear loneliness.  All people seem to have a natural aversion to loneliness, after all, humans are beings who need each other. From the time we are born, we need more care and protection than any other animal I can think of. We are fragile and don’t have the same natural protections as wild animals. We have no fur to keep us warm. We’re not fast enough to out run most predatory animals. Except for some impressive par-corers, we don’t have the reflexes and agility to make a fast escape in the trees, nor do we have wings to fly or fins to swim away when we’re in danger. In short, if you take us away from all of the collaborative efforts of the other people in the world, we are going to die in the most pathetic lame way possible.

A while back, I watched a video of a Giraffe birth. The first moment of this creature’s life was a four foot drop onto hard pact dirt. The little Giraffe not only handled the fall like a champ, but it took its first steps within minutes of its crash landing. A human baby can barely sit up without help for the first 6 months of life. Clearly, we humans need each other in a way that most animals don’t. Our relative frailty and dependence is a weakness to the individuals of our species, but a strength to the species as a whole. The fact that we bond together - care for, share knowledge with, teach and cooperate with one another, is the only reason that our frail, hairless, uncoordinated species has been able to survive and thrive. It’s through our social interactions that we’ve been able to develop language to preserve and build on knowledge and through cooperation have used that language and knowledge to manufacture our own versions of fur, fins and wings as well as compensating for any other natural endowments we lack. Thus, it seems like having a fear of being alone just makes good sense.

Most people therefore seek out other people. I on the other hand, spent most of my life dealing with my aversion to loneliness by avoiding people. I’ve always worried too much about what people think of me -because I’ve always liked people. (I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever met that I couldn’t see some relatable or endearing quality in… even people that I don’t like or get along with, I feel like I can at least kind of see why they are the way they are). Ironically the fact that I cared so much rendered me painfully shy. I would put so much pressure on myself to think of the perfect thing to say to people to make them like me, that I couldn’t think of anything to say to them at all and then I would chastise myself internally for being so awkward and lame. At the same time I never wanted to put myself out there too much because I worried that people would reject me and I wouldn’t be able to recover from it.  I think most people experience social anxiety to a certain degree, but I had it bad.

I worried that if I exposed myself too much and was rejected by people, what little faith I had in myself might be shaken to the point that I would just become this dull cowering ball of mush. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy though because whenever I was in a social situation I would freeze. 
I lacked faith in people. I didn’t trust others to accept me and appreciate me for who I was and at the same time I didn’t trust myself to act in a way that was worthy of appreciation or acceptance.  I would be the very lame person that I was so afraid of becoming, so I thought that was who I was. 

In the last couple of years, I’ve really started to come out of my shell though. My job requires me to interact with people all the time, so I was forced out of my shell and I translated that to my social life as well. I knew that I could force myself to speak competently and confidently with clients at work, so I made myself talk to strangers outside of work too, willing myself to just fire out the first thought that was in my mind before I had the chance to muddle my brain with self-doubt. When I wasn’t diverting so much effort into protecting myself from ridicule, I let people I’d normally be guarded around see what I was actually like and it turned out that most people liked and appreciated me.

I started to really enjoy talking with people. I started to seek people out and my life has only become better as a result. Every once in a while I do get ridiculed to varying degrees for stupid things that I’ve said or done. People sometimes glare at me when I make a bad choice while driving or biking and I’ve heard a sharp “what did you say?” or two when I’ve blurted something out that was probably not phrased in the most sensitive way. There have, of course, been instances where I’ve been rejected – be it getting turned down for a date or struggling to find tenants to rent my house etc. Each incident that cast light on my imperfections, would make me cringe, but it hurt less and less to be rejected or ridiculed after a while because I realized at the end of the day, I was ok. My life went on despite the fact that not every person I met adored me. Enough people understood who I was and appreciated me for it, to make me feel assured that I am a worthwhile person.

The more I put myself out there, the more I realized I wasn’t as fragile as I’d made myself believe. As I tried new things, I discovered new capabilities I had which made me feel more assured of the fact that I could rely on myself. I could walk up to a guy and strike up conversation. I could fix the webcam on my laptop. I didn’t need someone else to call and complain on my behalf when the repair shop didn’t fix the issue with my car. I found out that I could fight my own battles and take care of myself.

Now I am striking out on my own and taking charge of my life in ways that I never have before, and though I do feel the nagging ache of loneliness at times, I have enough self confidence to believe that eventually my perfect man will want to be with me the way I want to be with him. For now though, I feel that I can count on myself to bounce back after rough patches and press forward to make my life what I want it to be.