“Dare” to Not Buy Crappy Makeup!

My last few attempts at posting were made while my son was napping, or sort of napping, and were about his naps (or lack thereof). But describing the minutia of our sleep travails (suffice it to say that they have been many and excruciating) has gotten really boring. And, while it’s not inconceivable that someone, somewhere might want to read about them – I’ve certainly drawn comfort from other people’s accounts of a baby who only naps while being nursed/held/rocked/worn in a sling in a pitch-dark 71 degree room while their parent does squats and recites The Iliad from memory – I’m sick of writing about them. So, I’m going to at least try to write about something else. (Although, at the risk of jinxing this miraculous event, my son is, at this moment, asleep; in his crib!)

So. Hi! It’s been a while. In the time that has elapsed between this and my last post, I’ve experienced the sublime agony of childbirth, become a mother, moved in with my parents, and reacquainted my liver with alcohol. I’ve made a buche de noel, savory phyllo pies, a Swedish tea ring, chocolate truffles, a Sachertorte, and innumerable cookies, breads, cakes, and pies. (Baking and eating are strong contenders for my favorite pastimes; although I style myself an artist, I probably spend ten hours cooking for every one drawing.)

Over the past (almost six!) months, I’ve exulted in my baby’s smiles, blamed myself for his sleep difficulties, and learned why it’s so damned hard to write about the love you feel for your child in anything other than unctuous cliches. I’ve experienced a previously unimaginable fixation on another person’s poop. I’ve discovered the wonders of breastfeeding and the joys of babywearing.

I’ve also listened to a lot of Brian Eno on Youtube (it’s great nap music). According to my demographic profile, Youtube thinks I wear makeup, which I guess I do – but it’s confined to a single tube of lipstick, a mascara that I bought five or six years ago, and a little 99 cent thing of gold glitter. I am not what you would call “in the market” for Maybelline’s “The Rock Nude” eyeshadow palette (do they have The Rock‘s blessing for this travesty?). That doesn’t stop this one particular ad from popping (I initially typed “pooping,” which isn’t much off the mark) all over my video feed.

Why do I hate this ad so?

Let’s start with the obvious: in no way can these colors be considered “nude.” There is, granted, the deep blue of dark circles under under a light-skinned person’s eyes after an all-nighter. But, last I checked, human skin doesn’t come in metallic purple or silver. So, why nude? Annoying.

Next up: the nauseating voice-over. “Dare to Rock. Nuuuuude,” intones a female voice as cloying as margarita mix from a pouch. I gather that this voice is meant to be scintillating, to make me feel adventurous and frisky and incite me to put on my tiniest skirt and most towering heels in the endless quest for beefy, Axe-scented manflesh. But its syrupy. sing-song artificiality is essentially sexed-up motherese. Ew.

Finally: I gather that the waifish, vacant-eyed teen models are supposed to represent an all-female band who Dares! To Rock! I know that makeup is aspirational, that advertisers are selling fantasy, blah blah blah. But seriously? What, exactly, is so daring about caking on makeup designed to maximize your conformity to an oppressively narrow standard of beauty? How is it rock n’ roll to flaunt a socially acceptable body in revealing clothes? The women in this ad, far from fierce and sexy rock n’ roll badasses, are mere props, ciphers embodying a flat, cookie-cutter beauty, a bland and bloodless sensuality calibrated to the male gaze.

I’m not impervious to artifice, nor immune to aspiration: I can be (and am) moved by conspicuous displays of hotness. Every image of Grimes, for instance, makes me want to do something wild with my hair and abandon my earth tones and simple lines for the dadaist flamboyance she wears so well. Perusing Beyonce’s instagram account makes me lust, I’m sorry to say, after the lush opulence of her fabulous life. And I’m sure that I’m affected by advertising. And yet, the mockery that this ad makes of women in rock and roll really chafes. The rich domain of music is thickly peopled with brilliant, innovative, weird women. People who defied the misogyny of rock and roll culture and mainstream society to create on their own terms. I know that “authenticity” is a very slippery concept, and that folks have been co-opting and sanitizing rebellion since before Constantine took up the cross. But still… this ad absolutely galls me.

And now my poor babe is awake and screaming. See ya!

Signs of Distress

There’s this guy who I see sometimes, on a bench by the canal. He has an old-fashioned radio, complete with twiddly knobs and a broken mirror taped to the top. He holds this ensemble very close to his face, while he raps along to the music quietly issuing from the radio and grimaces into the mirror. Sometimes he does this for hours at a time.

There’s another guy who I often see walking the canal trail. He may be carrying grocery bags, or he may be empty-handed. He is extraordinarily thin, he walks very fast, and he is always dressed for cold weather. Yesterday, it was in the mid-eighties; still, he was wearing a wool hat with ear-flaps, a winter coat, and bulky black pants. He never looks at me, or as far as I can tell, at anyone. He appears entirely single-minded in his walking.

The behavior of the first, I find incredibly disturbing, whereas that of the second elicits curiosity, pity, a strange sense of protectiveness. I dread the thought of Mirror Man observing me observing him, whereas I would welcome an acknowledgement from Walking Man, the opportunity to meet his eyes and smile. Why should this be so? Each man exists apparently outside of the social world, absorbed within his own reality. Both exhibit signs of what is commonly understood as mental illness. Why, then, does one man provoke feelings of threat and revulsion, whereas the other strikes me as completely innocuous?

I have a story that I’ve made up about Walking Man, most likely wrong. In this story, he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, which is the impetus for his walking. Although he’s skinny and worn-looking (he does, after all, spend his life walking briskly from place to place), he has a home that he returns to, where people—probably parents—love him, and make sure that he is fed and clothed and sheltered at night. In reality, he’s probably homeless (though he may well have OCD.)

I don’t have stories about the other man—yet. I haven’t seen him as frequently, for one thing. Also, because of my response to him, he’s remained, thus far, an Other, not a person with a history and a family and a context. I assume he’s in the grip of drugs and delusions, feeding and enriching one another in a continual cycle of disordered fixation.

The walking behavior seems innocent. With his slight frame swaddled as if for winter, his hands occupied by paper grocery bags, his posture upright, Walking Man projects a kind of harmless self-possession, a stoic vulnerability. Mirror Man, on the other hand, seems like he’s practicing for a confrontation. Shirtless, hunched over his radio, head jerking, gaze fixed on his own image in the broken mirror, his performance seems like a metaphor for the aggressive solipsism to which so many of us succumb.

Of course, I know nothing about these people. My assumptions have no factual basis, and my instincts might be all wrong. I’m used to having my perceptions shown to be grossly distorted—reflections of myself, as much as of those I’m perceiving.

the walking man walks
the walking man walks

Please don’t take my pastry away.

I wanted to avoid medicalization of my pregnancy. I’ve chosen to work with midwives, to give birth outside of a hospital setting, and, as far as possible, to avoid interventions.

Now I’m sitting at my midwives’ office, just having chugged a foul, cherry-flavored syrup, feeling betrayed.

During the routine screening for gestational diabetes (GD) they gave me at 28 weeks, my blood glucose measured 139—over the cut-off of 130.

The only risk factor I have for GD is being over the age of 25. Everything else—my ethnic background, family history, and BMI—puts me solidly in the “low risk” category. According to my research, 3-14% of women develop GD during pregnancy. Of those women, 40-60% have no risk factors.

I could go on. I’ve been drowning in percentages and probabilities for the last few days, scouring medical journals and pregnancy forums (fora?) and WebMD. My (perhaps ill-advised) internet trawling only led to increased confusion and anxiety. Last night, I dreamed of the test.

After finding out that I *might* have GD, I reduced my consumption of carbohydrates dramatically and completely eliminated added sugar and refined grains from my diet. I’ve felt envy and resentment and something approaching grief upon seeing anyone eating pastry or an ice cream cone. It’s certainly much healthier to avoid refined sugars and starches, even for people who don’t have diabetes. But, if I’m honest, that wasn’t my real motivation: I was hoping (irrationally) to influence the test.

Now I’m sitting at home, eating granola with fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market and organic, non-homogenized, grass-fed whole milk (which I’ve learned, since embarking on my hypothetical-diabetes journey, actually contains a fair amount of carbohydrate in the form of lactose). It’s delicious.

They told me today at the midwives’ office that they weren’t worried about me; that the three hour test was essentially insurance to prevent my baby from being immediately whisked away in the unlikely event of a hospital transfer and treated as if it had been born to a diabetic mother.

I’m all for minimizing risk, but being consumed with anxiety for several days, then forgoing food, drinking a toxic-looking beverage made with 100 grams of glucose, and sitting still for three hours felt distinctly unhealthy. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t necessary, probably for the best, etc. I just really, really didn’t like it.

I probably will try to be more conscious of my diet now (although I’m certainly no slouch when it comes to healthy eating), replacing my beloved conventional pasta with whole-wheat and eating smaller portions of it, cutting down on my gelato consumption, upping my protein intake.

Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get good news tomorrow; I don’t want to be petulant when my partner tells me he made peach pie at work. And although sugar is the nutritional boogey-man du jour… YOLO.

Everything in moderation, including moderation... right? (Goat cheesecake with blueberries <3)
Everything in moderation, including moderation… right? (Goat cheesecake with blueberries <3)

ugh

These days, all I want to do is take naps and baths and sit around reading.

I don’t want to go outside.

I don’t want to go to work.

I don’t want to write.

Although these activities are essential, seasonal inertia (in addition to other weird things happening in my body – more on that later) has engulfed me, and I feel exhausted and uninspired much of the time.

I have a dog who must be walked, so I go outside, reluctantly. The sky is moist and grey and mocks whatever nascent optimism dares to rise within me.

I like living in a safe, cozy apartment and having food to eat, so I go to work. The job that once filled me with rapturous excitement has begun to feel repetitive and routine.

I desperately long to feel effective in the world, to reconcile my creative stirrings with my actual output. And, who am I kidding: I’d love to “make it” as a writer. Trouble is, there’s nothing forcing me to write. Nothing as compelling as an exercise-hungry dog or the need to keep my job.

I know there’s really no such thing as “writer’s block”: just a lack of discipline. And while this seems like a really poor premise for a blog post, I have to write about something. Anything. Just to do it. Just to write.

Occupational Hazards

I love Ayla in a way that transcends reason, but sometimes I resent her for taking over the only comfortable chair in the apartment, rendering it unsittable with her copious hair and doggy smell. When I wake early and want to drink tea with no heed to my posture, needing a transition point between fully asleep and fully awake, a wobbly wooden chair is a poor compromise. Especially since I sleep on the floor.

a beast enthroned
beast enthroned

Yesterday I went to the coffee shop and forgot to bring the goat cheese and onion biscuit I’d planned on taking with me as an emergency snack. By two thirty I was ravenous. The walk home brought me dumpster chocolate, tiny grapes. More sugar.

foraged bounty
foraged bounty

Every day, I tell myself it will be different. That somehow, in the midst of stress and huger and distracted inchoate longing, I’ll find the ability to deny myself the small nibbles that add up to a really unhealthy amount of sugar. Kourambiedes, little buttery crescents of shortbread dense with Marcona almonds. Oatmeal cookies with apricots or currants and a judicious sprinkle of nutmeg. The streusel I keep on hand, pre-baked, for topping  fruit crisps – “cookie pearls,” as my coworker dubbed them yesterday. The preternaturally irresistible chocolate chip cookies of which I’m rather proud. All of these end up in my mouth, en route to becoming part of my constitution.

I made macarons the other day – my first attempt. To my surprise and delight, they turned out. They’re a bit “rustic” – the food processor wouldn’t get the pistachios fine enough. But their nut-flecked chew is a pleasing counterpoint to the filling of rose buttercream that I colored pale pink with beet juice. Something about turning out a sheet of little cookie circles, piping on pastel-colored filling, making them into dainty sandwiches, satisfied my soul and made me feel like a real baker. Overall, a delightful enterprise: they’re going to enter my repertoire for sure.

 

kourambiedes
kourambiedes, aka my downfall

Soylent: It’s Not People

My life revolves around food, and it pretty much always has. When I was a little kid, I gravitated to instances of food and eating in books and TV shows and movies the way other kids get excited about cars, say, or ponies. When my parents took me to a restaurant, I always wanted to see the kitchen. I was the opposite of a picky eater, ever eager to try new things and experiment with novel flavor combinations. I ate briny nori sheets with Nutella and raw oats with cream. Whenever I went somewhere with my parents, I was disappointed – crushed, even – when there was no food. I sought the reassurance of a gumball machine or a little dish of hard candy in the midst of the grim sterility of banks, car dealerships, doctors’ offices.

These days, my routine is punctuated by the pleasure of mealtimes. My disposable income gets spent at restaurants and bars. Cooking is a joy that never grows tiresome. I love reading about food, talking about it, writing about it. I think about it incessantly. As with any obsession, sometimes it’s slightly burdensome. But, for better or worse, it’s my thing: Food is inextricable from my identity and my experience of the world.

That’s why I felt personally affronted when I read a recent New Yorker article entitled “The End of Food,” about a food replacement substance called Soylent, created by a twenty five-year-old tech entrepreneur. When I started seeing stuff about Soylent popping up on my Facebook feed, I assumed it was a joke and didn’t give it a second thought. I grew up with the understanding that “Soylent Green is people!”, and it didn’t occur to me that someone might try to market a real product under that name.

But, as I learned from the New Yorker article, Soylent, is, in fact, a thing. Rob Rhinehart and a few of his buddies had funds for a tech startup, but their plans to make inexpensive cell phone towers fell through. Instead, Rhinehart, who finds food – procuring, cooking, and eating it – an onerous chore, came up with the idea of a food substitute. According to the article, before the advent of Soylent, he and his roommates subsisted on frozen quesadillas and the like, purchased in bulk from Costco. But they were broke and unhealthy; despite their best efforts at frugality, food was a major part of their budget. Wanting to cut costs, save time, and optimize his nutrition, Rhinehart decided to make a food replacement from vitamins and minerals procured in bulk from the internet.

Soylent’s formula is open-source, meaning that anyone can access the recipe, tinker with it, and come up with their own version. The New Yorker article describes a group of engineering students at Cal Tech who subsist almost entirely on their own iterations of Soylent.

Can you live on Soylent alone? The evidence suggests that you can. According to the article, Rhinehart has been consuming Soylent pretty much exclusively for a year, and is in glowing health.

My visceral reaction to the piece – feelings of anger and defensiveness – don’t have to do with the health claims made by Soylent’s proponents. If anything, I find the idea of a nutritionally complete meal-replacement slurry more compelling than the numerous fad diets that extol the life-changing health benefits of ditching gluten or dairy or corn. Instead, I felt that Rhinehart was attacking the thing I love most, dismissing it as inefficient and superfluous.

Don’t get me wrong: I can see how eating can be perceived as inefficient. Sipping all the nutrients and calories you need, without having to take the time to prepare and eat a meal, is a huge time-saver. Food can be troublesome: Many people, me included, have complicated relationships with food and eating. Food is messy: ethically, health wise, literally. Agriculture accounts for many of our contemporary environmental woes. Many diseases are the result of improper eating – too much, not enough, the wrong kind. In my own life, I struggle to strike a balance between enjoyment and health. Sometimes I eat too much and loathe myself for it. I eat more sugar and butter and refined flour than I probably should. But these challenges are far outweighed by the pure joy of food, and vastly preferable to the bland utilitarianism of drinking beige sludge.

I know that there are many people who feel differently than I do. People like Rhinehart, engineers, scientists, artists, so caught up in their work that eating is a distraction. Or, people like a former coworker of mine, who claimed that he just didn’t like to eat. Unlike me (and most of the people I’m close to), they eat food as a strict necessity, consuming it for fuel, rather than for pleasure. I, on the other hand, would eat even if I didn’t have to (and often do).

Some people are obsessed with optimizing their nutrition and perfecting their bodies. I can understand that too; as a person who loves to be physical, to feel strong and stay active, (not to mention one possessed of a mile-wide vain streak), the allure of a diet that lets you precisely control your caloric intake while giving your body exactly what it needs to stay strong and healthy is not lost on me. There have even been times in my life when I’ve resented my body’s need for food, and wished I didn’t have to eat.

Here’s the thing, though: The times when I haven’t cared about food have been my lowest times. Deep in mourning for a lost friend, crushed by the end of a long relationship, reeling from the loss of a job I loved, I felt disconnected from my self, from my body. I didn’t want to eat, just smoke cigarettes and get high.

My true self, my healthy self, the one that embraces joy and wants to be in community and is kind and empathetic and seeks justice and strives to drop judgment in favor of compassion, loves food. The sensual enlivenment it brings, the power it has to solidify allegiances and bring people together and bridge differences, the love that’s expressed through it.

I don’t deny that food is problematic, that food insecurity could be (at least partially) addressed with a product like Soylent (although that in itself is an extremely dicey proposition, as thoughtfully addressed in this article), that there are some who might legitimately choose to give up eating in favor of pursuits that are more meaningful to them. My argument is with the idea of food as the enemy, food as a sub-optimal, inefficient anachronism, or as a guilty indulgence.

At one point, the author (who experiments with a Soylent-only diet as part of her research) sees someone at a coffee shop ordering her former regular breakfast, a bagel with butter, and remarks on “how many daily indulgences we allow ourselves in the name of sustenance.” Sure, I guess you can look at eating a bagel as an unnecessary indulgence (you could, after all, have a kale smoothie or a bowl of quinoa or a glass of Soylent instead).

By that logic, though, romantic love is also a mere indulgence that’s not that great for us. It’s highly distracting. It is responsible for a massive amount of inefficiency and grief and hardship and poor decision-making. It causes people to lose their minds! And yet, it’s an irreplaceable part of the human experience, one I wouldn’t want to forgo, despite the pain and disruption it often causes.

Soylent represents an asceticism that seeks to systematize a feature of human life that is unfathomably complex. Food is central to culture, to memory, to a sense of family and home and identity. It is freighted with profound meaning, a barometer of our collective preoccupations and aesthetic tendencies. It is a rich vein running through literature and art and science.

In this way, Soylent is a posthuman project. It aims to optimize something we need and obviate all of its inefficient trappings. People could drink Soylent in space. Soylent could feed a hungry, resource-scarce, culturally and aesthetically impoverished Earth. But food and eating are an intrinsic feature of our humanity, and the end of food also represents the end of an essential feature of human life. Soylent isn’t people; without food, neither are we.

Sweet Seattle Suntime

For a moment I forgot what year it is, and started to write “12” instead of “14” in my journal.

Sitting at the coffee shop, the sun is glorious and the birds are going crazy. Noisy fans from the coffee roaster downstairs and the roar of passing cars don’t dampen the paradisiacal aspect of the scene, but throw it into relief. A smell of roasting coffee beans, of old cracking plastic waking up in the sun.

My unwashed hair stands out stiff and goofy-looking from my forehead. I’m wearing leggings in public. I don’t care.

I imagine going to dinner with friends, sitting outside on the patio at Revel, drinking cold bubbly wine, eating spicy dumplings, and my heart soars.

Sometimes I anticipate meals with mingled excitement and dread. Excitement because, duh. Food is the best thing on earth, the greatest joy of my life, a transcendent pleasure that sings of timeless magic in the midst of temporal embodiment. Dread because each meal must come to an end. Because my gluttony often fills me with regret. Because part of me (the worst part) wants to have zero fat on my thighs.

But today, I feel only excitement. The sun is out. The air is warm. Ayla is sprawled peaceably under a bench. I like my job and don’t mind that I have to go. I’m really lucky.