Eating habits

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot long ago, a friend and I were discussing where to go for dinner. We were still in a getting-acquainted phase, so we hadn’t gotten familiar with each other’s eating habits yet. In the course of the conversation, he gave me a wry grin and said:

I’m not a vegetarian, but sometimes I eat like one.

While that gave me a chuckle and helped us pick a restaurant, I liked the phrase so much that I tucked it away to chew on it later. I’ve been picking little morsels from its bones ever since.

Lately, the phrase has me thinking about labels. Vegetarian. Omnivore. Picky eater. Heck, you can take it way beyond food. Think of any label you’ve casually slapped on a person. Musician. Artist. Businesswoman. Foodie. Scholar. Curmudgeon.

What do they all have in common?

Although they may help paint a picture, they’re also confining. Usually we hear one of those labels and jump to conclusions–good or bad.

If I told you my friend is a meat-eater, a red-blooded, American dude whose favorite cheat food is hot wings, you’d probably never guess that he packs his lunch box with veggies and superfoods and sneaks flaxseed into his kids’ oatmeal, or that he might trip you so he can make it to the salad bar first.

If I told you I have a friend who is a musician, you might assume she has an artsy free spirit and miss that she has a head for details and numbers like you wouldn’t believe.

We have to be just as careful when we assign labels as when we hear them ourselves. There’s so much more to a person than the meaning–or assumed meaning–carried in a single category. Using a label to define someone confines our understanding of that person.

I’m a meat-eater, but I’ll usually choose a black bean cake or a lentil stew over a steak. One of my favorite solo meals consists of sautéed zucchini, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Eggplant parm? Sign me up.

You see, I’m not a vegetarian, but sometimes I eat like one.

Crunch time

IMG_5559Two perfect puncture marks, accented by a spiderweb of cracks, adorn the screen of my son’s new, only-had-it-since-Christmas, please-Mom-I-really-need-it smartphone. It actually doesn’t look that bad; I’ve seen people using phones that look as if they’ve been on the receiving end of a sledgehammer with nary a hiccup of service. Even so, those two marks that perfectly match our dog’s dentition are enough to ensure that the screen won’t respond at all.

Of course, my boyo is mad. His best buddy in the world took a bite out of his social livelihood. What a jerk, right?

I’m not so sure. After all, Wallace is a puppy. Chewing has been etched into his DNA since before time began. At seven months old with new molars erupting, the urge is stronger than ever. He might know he’s not supposed to, but that beautiful, shiny toy was just lying there in plain view on the couch like an open invitation. And the fact that it smelled like his favorite human-brother must have sealed the deal.

Wait. It was lying on the couch unattended? In an environment where we have to put shoes on high shelves to avoid Wallace’s mouthy attention? Where boyo insists on keeping his bedroom door shut so his favorite puppy can’t wander in unattended and chew stuff up?

Hmm. Who should have known better here? Whose fault was it really? The dog’s, for doing what he has been genetically programmed to do? Or the kid’s, for failing to take Wallace’s into account puppydom and properly safeguard his possessions?

Boyo didn’t like that when he called to plaintively report the transgression, my first question centered on why he had left his phone unattended–and the second on why he had left the dog unattended. I would have reminded him of Aesop’s fable about the snake (You knew what I was when you picked me up, so why did you do it?), but he wouldn’t have listened.

He wanted to kennel Wallace for the rest of the night, shame him on the internet, and refuse to talk to him for weeks. Sorry, bud, but it doesn’t work that way. Punish him in the moment to deter future bad behavior, but the responsibility rests on you. It’s your job to take care of your stuff. YOU knew better.

He doesn’t want to hear that. He wants to whine and point fingers and lash out. He’s mad, but deep down, he’s really mad at himself, and here’s the reason, whether it involves a puppy or anything else:

Placing blame is easy; shouldering it isn’t.

We could all use a reminder of that from time to time.

When you point your finger ’cause your plan fell through, you’ve got three more fingers pointing back at you. –from Solid Rock, by Dire Straits

puppy

The extra mile

IMG_4773Okay, I screwed up. I missed the mark, so to speak, with yesterday’s post. As soon as I hit publish, I knew it didn’t feel right. Something was missing. It’s this:

A milestone, by definition, marks progress; it doesn’t make progress. The travelers do that. And the progress they mark completely depends on what’s left in front of them.

So that list I made yesterday? It’s hollow. It doesn’t say anything about the work it takes to get to each milestone. The individual conversations. The refueling after an argument. The rest stops for alone time. Switching drivers.

It also fails to take into account the type and distance of the journey. Some milestones might be a big deal along a short path, but they might not carry as much weight when there’s a long road ahead. Think about it. It’s usually not very exciting to know you’ve traveled five miles when you have 1000 left to go.

All this just makes the whole concept of earning intimacy more nebulous (see my Snowshoes post for that discussion), and I fear that my list may actually foster exactly that which I intended to guard against. It risks becoming a checklist, and just because you can tick off each event doesn’t mean you’re as far along the path to cozy connectedness as you think you are. It’s a feeling, not an accomplishment.

In truth, the milestones along the way are relative, contextual, and difficult to define. I can’t say specifically what counts as an indicator of relationship progress, but allow me to borrow the words of former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.

Which leaves me humbly knowing that I must appreciate each moment for itself, embrace natural connections, and hold myself back from forcing situations or pushing relationships beyond their natural progression.

Now I wonder whether the only way to compile a list of relationship milestones is in hindsight. Looking back, I can tell you what moments have been important in each of my relationships, but no two were the same–and sometimes neither were the broad categories. Things that mattered in one relationship had no meaning in another. The pacing was very different and never consistent. Most importantly, I didn’t always recognize them as they came.

So be careful with milestones. Don’t presume to know what is important to each relationship. You’ll know it when you see it–but sometimes you’ll be looking through your rear view mirror as you speed off to the next.

(And now, dear readers, I promise to move on to a new topic!)

Milestones

Mijlpaal_Wateringese_VeldLast week in my Snowshoes post, I pondered the concept of unearned intimacy, that is, when we race toward a relationship destination without marking the usual milestones. Of course, my mind has been whirling ever since as tried to label those milestones.

I’m pretty sure they must be different for everyone, and probably even for each relationship, too. Some friendships are cemented by time; one day you wake up and realize that person has always been there for you–and your heart glows. Other friendships are instantly sewn together by an intangible connection; you just “get” each other–and your heart glows then, too.

No matter the nature of the relationship, I still believe in the milestones. You may not realize they’ve come and gone, but when you look back, I’d bet you can find them.

A heartbreak.

A triumph.

Rejection.

A 2am (or 2pm) meltdown in your kitchen.

The joy of reaching a goal.

An awkward moment.

Looking at the person’s parents or siblings or kids and seeing the past, present, and future.

The moment you felt safe sharing your biggest hopes or your deepest fears.

The time you let your guard down and realized it was okay.

Not having to fill the space between you with words or deeds.

When the silences aren’t awkward.

Knowing when to come and when to stay away.

There’s no specific formula for earning intimacy and you can’t force the milestones. You have to let them come in their own time–and here’s the hard part–accept it when they don’t.

When I started writing this post, I intended to make a list of specific milestone moments. I thought I’d ask you for yours and figured they’d line up, at least in broad strokes. As I worked my way through, I realized I couldn’t. My milestones are mine, and yours are yours. Some relationships require miles of milestones, while others need very few.

So I’ll still ask the question: what are your milestones?

But you don’t need to tell me the answer.

Food fancies

IMG_5693I fancy myself to be a foodie. I like dishes that awaken my palate, juxtapose flavors, surprise my senses. Buttermilk basil sorbet. Brussels sprouts tossed in homemade pomegranate molasses. Duck meat loaf. Stinky cheeses. Anything with arugula. Latte art.

There’s not much I won’t try–unless it features goat cheese or a nasty orange vegetable–and in fact, I relish any chance to tickle my taste buds. I’ve tasted a lot of dishes, and I know my food.

Or so I thought.

Last week, to our surprise and delight, my brother and I stumbled across a multiethnic grocery store. We marveled over the unusual vegetables (would you believe that it was the first time I had ever seen a chickpea in its natural hull?) and ogled new species of fish. We piled our arms full of assorted Japanese mochi. We admired the rows of live frogs, sitting at attention like Kelly green soldiers waiting to meet their fate. We laughed at buckets of pig snouts.

The deeper we got into the store, the more items we found that we didn’t recognize. Puck cream. Freekeh. Basil seed drinks. Black silkie chickens, frozen whole and feathered.image2 We even found things we hadn’t considered food. Seagull meat. Beef blood. Beef bile. Goat heads.

We had a ball poking around; the colors and smells and packaging–and the items themselves–were fascinating. They were also humbling.

I may think I know a thing or two about food, but outside my comfort zone, I don’t know jack squat.

Twenty aisles in a Florida grocery store taught me that I still have a lot to learn. Even when I take pains to expand my horizons, the world around me stretches far beyond my field of sight. How arrogant of me to think I could master any subject.

 

Color me beautiful

Colouring_pencilsThe past several months have held quite a few losses for my family, and I’ve had several opportunities to observe and participate in our grieving rituals. As I joined my family yet again this past weekend, I learned something important.

You see, unlike the other recent funerals, this one had less elements of pre-planning. Most of the decisions about what to do and how to it were left to the survivors. And before I go any further, let me emphasize that it all came together beautifully. It was a very appropriate tribute to a life well-lived.

As a (long-term) step-relative and a bit of a sideline-sitter anyway, I spent the days leading up to the service taking in the family dynamics. Through lots of fun memories, laughter, and tears, I noticed tiny pricks of tension. Nothing big, just now and then, I’d sense a digging of heels or an undercurrent of friction. Everyone had an idea of how “it” should be, and though they were similar, they didn’t always align perfectly.

And then a couple of events started my gears whirling. In a private family moment, we shared adjectives and descriptors of our loved one. I was quite surprised that many of them didn’t seem to line up with the ones that popped into my head. I realized there were facets of our loved one that time, distance, and life phases hadn’t allowed me to see. As I listened, I also became aware that it wasn’t just me. Although there were common themes, everyone had different insights, saw her just a bit differently.

I chewed on that until the memorial service, where the feeling became even more pervasive. As a series of people took turns remembering our loved one with words and stories, I kept seeing different sides of her. Although her sweet, caring demeanor shone through everyone’s tributes, each one had a personal spin that left me thinking, “I never realized that” or “I didn’t think of it that way.”

On the trip home, I finally figured out what was going on–what is always going on, in life or in death. It’s so simple that it often eludes understanding: we see things through our own eyes. The traits and words and events that define a person come at us through our personal filter, and we translate accordingly. The tension I felt came from each of us struggling internally to defend our own memories.

My view of a person is unique; it has to be, since it comes through filters only I have. Everyone else’s view of that person is unique, too. It is only through the sharing of stories and remembrances that we can start to understand the wholeness of a person. Each person’s narrow view alone can’t encompass the richness of a life.

It took me awhile, but I finally realized that other people’s perspectives don’t erode my own. Rather than taking something away, they add richness and fullness and color.

Log jam

Photograph_of_Log_Jam_-_NARA_-_2129372Communicator though I am, I have my issues, too.

Sometimes when faced with a problem that seems beyond my reach, I’ll actually *gasp* ask for help. That’s great; after all, haven’t I espoused–right here in this blog–knowing your limits and reaching out to those whose strengths complement your weaknesses? The issue is that I often don’t wait for the help I’ve summoned. I dive in and work to figure it out myself.

Like the time I was faced with a tax issue that didn’t make sense to me. I asked a couple of accountants, but before they could get back to me, I worked it out myself.

Or the time I needed to redirect a URL to another domain. I put out a cry for help, but before I could sit down with my expert friend, I had it all worked out.

I could go on, but you see the pattern. These scenarios happen more often than I’d like to admit.

Here’s my problem. I think it’s fine to ask for help. I also think it is admirable to work things out for myself. Either one is a great way to solve a problem. Is it such a good idea to keep a foot in both camps, though? If I ask for help, I should probably give the person the opportunity to deliver. If I were in his place, I’d probably find that insulting–or at least annoying.

I’m not sure why the cry for help dislodges my logjam of thought and allows me to proceed on my own. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to look as if I don’t know something. Maybe it’s because it turns my issue into a competition to finish first. Maybe it’s just cathartic.

Whatever the case, I haven’t been able to solve this one yet. I know I’ll be better for it when I do.