Happiness is a Four-Letter Word (The Diet, Day 88)

CAKE. Happiness is cake. Happiness is the pursuit of cake. When TJ said “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he undoubtedly meant cake.

This is a philosophy I have adopted this afternoon after a moment of reflection and a few minutes of reading this blog post by my new favorite blogger at Hyperbole and a Half, whoever the heck she is.

I have been on a diet for 88 days. I have not had cake during that time unless that one strawberry cupcake a couple of weeks ago counts. I’m not sure it does. It had real strawberries in it. I believe that moved it from the cake group to the fruit group.

I am feeling down and out. My back hurts. My head hurts. I am depressed and in every way outdone with the world. I have attempted to fix this with sleep and exercise and salad and deep reflections on right and wrong. Nothing works. That’s because I have not yet tried to fix myself with cake.

I have been in a world without cake for 88 days, but I have a birthday in 21 days. I have 3 weeks left to make a very big decision.

Red Velvet
Caramel
Italian Cream
Carrot
German Chocolate

These are the top five cakes of all time, at least in my estimation. In a normal year, picking among them is nearly impossible. This year I am positively catatonic at the prospect.

After much deep reflection, since I started writing this about two or three minutes ago, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is only one right: pre-Birthday tastings.

21 days. 5 cakes. Only one can be The Birthday Cake.

This is going to be harsh.

Smile or Die

A. I believe I could easily become addicted to these RSA Animate videos.

B. I thought this was going to be about some sort of feel-good message that might cheer me up. Silly me.

C. I’m going to have to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided. I did read Nickle and Dimed and thought it was great.

D. I do indeed agree that making people believe they’d better be happy or else (i.e. they’d better not complain or else) is moral callousness. A happiness ideology is still an ideology with every bit the risk of oppression and destructiveness as any other ideology.

E. I probably need to read the book before I say any more.

The chicken got my supper

Your daughter is two and cooking an invisible casserole
in a pink plastic oven when disaster strikes.

“The chicken got my supper,” she yells,
running to you like the life of everything depends.

This chicken–her first imaginary playmate–is trouble.
It makes messes in her brother’s room,
loses her grandmother’s earrings, and spills anything
worth its salt in spilling across newly mopped floors.

She is two with eyes lit up in outrage–
“That chicken bit my toe,” she says.

You load dishes and tell her to work it out
with the chicken. “Be nice,” you say.
“Don’t tattle if you want the chicken
to be your friend.”

She is two and funny.
Already, you know how to get a laugh
out of this from your friends.

But inside, you too rage against
your own imagination.

Life is not easy or fair, and the casserole
does not always work out the way you want.

Go ahead. Blame the chicken that earlier
stood clucking and happy beside you.

You might as well. Whatever else happens,
supper is ruined, and you’ve got nothing better to do.

Education is not a commodity

This video is great. There is a whole series of them that keep showing up on my friends’ blogs. This is the only one I’ve found time to watch so far, but I’m looking forward to the rest. I’ll probably post them as I get to them, but in the meantime if you are curious you can go over to Alex Reid’s blog to peruse through the post where I found this.

Millsaps College has had billboards around and about for the past few years that say, “Education is not a commodity.” Every time I see one I think, “Yeah, right.” Millsaps might actually be one of the best places in this state to get a true introduction to academic inquiry as something beyond a simple commodity, but that doesn’t come cheap. It also has one of the highest tuitions in the state. Everything is a commodity, even idealism.

But the point is, as this video asserts, education is not at its best when it operates on an industrial, assembly line model. Our attempts at standardizing what people ought to know often do end up diminishing what they do know or what they are capable of doing with what they know.

I love the example of divergent thinking here. I have told people before that I have never met a four-year-old who wasn’t a creative genius. Everyone is born with a kind of individual genius that is taught out of most of us in school.

Teaching divergent thinking and creative genius out of people works out okay, we might argue, in an industrialized, cookie cutter economy.

I wonder if we’ll ever have one of those again.

Verve Lost (The Diet, Day 83)

This is about exercise, but honestly, I don’t understand my own labeling system on this blog, and I’m feeling too lazy to add a new category, so I’m just going to call this a diet post. If I had some verve, you see, I’d probably be able to do a little better than this, but my verve has gone missing, so you get what you get.

I believe it was only a few days ago when I made some sort of new resolve to exercise better and smarter and all that crock of sense and nonsense. The short version is I didn’t do it. I meant well, but I just didn’t follow through. I am verveless.

My back hurts. Maybe I mentioned this before. In fact I believe it was the source of my earlier resolve. And by back what I mean is not really what people who know what they are talking about mean by back pain. I don’t mean the lower back. I mean the upper back, which is actually not about back pain but about neck and shoulder pain. I’m also talking about pain in the muscles around my rib cage. This is not back pain either, though it is what I’m talking about when I say back pain. Really, it’s just a next door neighbor having empathetic pains on behalf of my shoulder.

This is not a new thing. These are recurring pains I’ve had for years. I have been to doctors. I have been to chiropractors. In the past at least. Right now I’m just self-treating.

I am doing that because my encounters with medical doctors have for the most part led me to believe they are idiots. I have spent a lot of time with them, you see. I have more than one chronic condition. I have spent time with whole teams of specialists. During those times, I have listened, and I have sat there thinking, “You didn’t spend any more time in school than I did. I’ve got a lot of education, and I’m still an idiot. Clearly, you are too.”

Once, my foot hurt for three years. I had three different rheumatologists tell me they had no idea why. One of them said, “Hmmm, that’s really interesting.” Then one day I bought a new pair of sport sandals and started wearing them every day. My foot quit hurting after about a week. Those doctors and I, we were all idiots.

Another time, I said to a rheumatologist that my shoulder hurt. He ran an expensive test on my wrist. Then he said, “This doesn’t show anything wrong.” I didn’t even bother to say, “But what about my shoulder?” I just walked out and never went back.

So, I have been experiencing excessive physical pain this week, and I have been dealing with it the way anyone who has broken up with so many doctors she’s lost the heart to try again might. I’m looking up my symptoms on Web MD and grouching at myself. Maybe I’m grouching at others too. I don’t know. That part is a little foggy.

I know the problem. I am straining my neck by sitting in front of a computer all day in inadvisable, yet unfortunately habitual, positions. My arthritis is joining the party by kicking in some shoulder pain for that little something extra. Not to be outdone, the muscles around the ribs are spasming in response to the pressure put on the nerves by tension in the neck and shoulders. These are all considered to be separate body parts by medical science at large, but to me it is just back pain.

I have no intention of consulting anyone other than Dr. Web, and so I really need to recover the main thing I have lost this week–the verve to cope.

There are strategies I could be employing here. I could be taking extra care with posture, working on relaxation, drinking extra fluids including those that would add extra minerals and electrolytes to my system. But mainly I could be stretching out some of the knots and working on strengthening my core muscles so that my back and all of its neighboring parts will have more defense mechanisms.

I tried that the other day. If I could just manage to scratch up a little bit of verve, I might get back to it. If you happen to see any, send it my way.

Lady Lazarus Rising

We have a newly discovered Ted Hughes poem about the death of his wife, Sylvia Plath.

And I have newly discovered that I can listen to Sylvia Plath reading Lady Lazarus on YouTube.

Haunting, I’d say is my best response to both.

I’m tempted to develop a minor obsession with Ted and Sylvia for the next few weeks. This might be a fitting approach to Halloween for a poet, but I’m afraid people would think I was suicidal rather than simply celebrating the macabre.

Also, it crossed my mind to say something like “I wish people would blog about a newly discovered Sharon Gerald poem.” Only, I’d have to make it clear that I do mean without the normal prerequisite of having to die first. Unlike Sylvia, I don’t believe the art of dying well is a particular skill I have.

And then this whole question of newly discovered poems has me wondering why this particular poem is one Ted Hughes did not choose to publish in his lifetime. He did publish lots of poems about Sylvia Plath, and in his later years, I don’t imagine he was a man who got a lot of rejection letters.

Our fascination with posthumous discoveries about writers is fairly morbid in itself. Not that this would keep me from participating in the morbidity and/or passing it along.

Enjoy.