So, life can be pretty boring. Fine. Taking out the trash, scooping the cat litter, walking the dog, doing the dishes -- they're all tedious and tiresome and if you let them, these tasks and the inherent drudgery could just be the ballast that sinks you into some form of interminable depression.
But if you try, and it's not that hard, you'll see that the sum of these activities, these daily challenges and chores, is life, and in some strange sense, that's a relief. There can be a subtle, quiet pleasure in the simplicity of it all. What's more, if every single day were filled with monumental events like graduation, marriage, childbirth, and the like, then just imagine the pressure that would befall you every morning. For me, the relief is in the satisfaction of knowing that today will hold at least some mild excitement. But, even if it doesn't, that's not going to be all that bad.
Maybe at the heart of all this is the midwestern sentiment expressed so succinctly in the following, oft-uttered reply to most greetings:
"How ya' doin'?" someone will ask, and you'll reply, "Not too bad."
And that's the honest truth. Really, life could always be a good deal worse. In Sweden, the sentiment has its own dedicated word -- lagom -- which means something close to "good enough". Okay, but clearly some out there are not going to settle for just fine and dandy and they're going to want more.
This brings me to the next attitude that people adopt to make it through the day, one I can relate to, but only barely. I'll call it the slant of the "hyperbolic sharer". This is the guy who comes back to work on Monday and when people ask about his weekend, he goes into some envy-inducing monologue about how spectacular were the things he did:
"It was fabulous. We took out the sunfish and criss-crossed the bay, doin' like six or eight knots, and just had a tremendous time! My kid did an amazing job at the tiller! You should've seen her! Just wonderful! How about you? What did you get up to?"
That's just fine; I'm happy for the guy, sincerely. But, did you notice all the exclamations? This is the person who's living life while consciously making every day something to rave about and brag about, like he or she had been just plain waiting for you to ask. I have nothing personal against this type of person, but this guy really makes it tough to measure up when you start to tell about your walking the dog or taking the kid to the playground.
Along with the happy-go-lucky, glass-half-full optimism of the "hyperbolic sharer", there is an accompanying sense that this person is better than you as a result of his or her actions which are always so supremely excellent and thus deeply gratifying and fulfilling on every level. When we converse, we compare ourselves to one another, consciously or not, and mostly this is natural and harmless. However, when the joyful, ego-maniacal narcissists come around, they can have a fairly toxic impact on others who aren't so self-assured.
In the end, if the Swedes were to weigh in between the aficionados of banality and the self-promoting embellishers, you probably could guess what they would say. Some statuesque blonds would smile, only slightly, and calmly suggest:
"Follow the Buddhists on the Middle Way and be happy...but not too happy. Lagom."
The clear truth is the more we hurry through life, the more we tend to miss. With chopsticks, and especially for the non-proficient operator, each and every bite is an individual process of combining ingredients (as the chef intended us to do) and then delicately but accurately delivering those items for tasting -- the best part!
How many times have you gotten that perfectly assembled mixture just millimeters from your mouth when - schlop! - the whole delicious thing plops back into your bowl or onto your plate? This is the crucial moment: If you sigh and let frustration dominant, then you've lost the battle with the noodle bowl, but if you concentrate and try again, you'll get it and all the careful picking with the chopsticks will have been a success!
Just imagine what this does for the ego of the eater; each bite that reaches the mouth is, in essence, a tiny "job well done" for the diner with its own built in reward. On the Western side, the fork is nothing short of forged, mechanical efficiency. There is nothing romantic about it and the task it helps the user to perform is completed with little grace or skill. Sure, the handhold is critical, as with the chopsticks, but even tiny toddlers can incorporate proper posture into this early expression of fine motor skills. For me, watching the same age kid handle chopsticks gracefully is a completely different, and thoroughly impressive accomplishment.
Even with the accompanying slurping and smacking, chopsticks and their efficient use help someone like me to slow down, taste and savor each bite for the world of flavors contained therein. If not for a little natural clumsiness, I might revert back to my primeval self and simply gorge without relish.
So, pass me the chopsticks, and I'll dive into the dish, even if it's only one grain of rice at a time! After all, I learned in third grade with a wonderful, patient teacher, Mrs. Fidler, and that was Cheerio by tiny Cheerio (yes, hooking through the center hole was considered cheating!).
Radiolab - a fine set of science-based podcasts from WNYC that each explore a particular theory, notion, or subject such as memory, laughter, chaos, and so on.
Downtown Soulville - Mr. Fine Wine spins selected soul records (mostly 45's) for New Jersey's WFMU and he does it well - see related blog post from this summer for a direct link to WFMU.
NPR's Planet Money - some of the best explanations (in laymen's terms) of the current financial crisis -actually makes credit default swaps and mortgage backed securities comprehensible!
Daptone Jukebox - a nicely presented blog from the folks at Brooklyn's Daptone Records including excellent soul, funk and afrobeat podcasts with informative playlists, artist backstories, and more -sounds and looks slick!