Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Envy is often the fountainhead of unhappiness. We’ve all experienced it. A neighbor’s shiny new car. Their figure, the clothes they wear. What they get paid for the wonderful work they do. It starts on the playground as children and continues, I suppose, until dementia or death. It’s so prevalent and part of who we are it is the steam that propels even many fairy tales.

Mirror, Mirror upon the wall, Who’s the fairest of them all

Soon I’ll have that little mermaid, and the ocean will be mine

And someday, I’m gonna be a real boy!

While not all bad–think positive motivation: envy can encourage us to reach for the sky–overcoming a desire for a thing we don’t have (or in the case of malicious envy, wishing that someone else simply didn’t have it) is not easy. It is part of the human condition and ingrained in our nature to feel this way, as much as is self-preservation or procreation, or as Charles Darwin famously put it: our struggle for existence.

Coping with the green-eyed monster involves altering our perception of what happiness is. It helps if every now and then a thought or antidote comes along that makes reshaping our attitude easier to do, some reminder perhaps that acceptance of who we are is more important than our possessions or appearance or achievements. Unfortunately, such outside influences don’t come along very often. We usually have to find them for ourselves.

But not always.

This personally works for me. To fully appreciate the clip you could use some background if you haven’t seen it, but I’ll spare you. Watch the movie. It is one of the best ones ever.

Embrace. Kiss. Love.

How Can I Tell What I Think Till I See What I Say

I have mentioned before a particular fondness for a quote by the British writer E.M. Forster (and of which assumes the title of this post). It comes from his book on writing, Aspects of the Novel, which he penned in 1927. In this particular chapter, Forster is concerned with the subject of plotting and begins the section with a quote from a well-known Greek philosopher:

Character, says Aristotle, gives us qualities, but it is in actions–what we do–that we are happy or the reverse.

Forster then goes on to argue against Aristotle’s position, at least in terms of how it relates to what a novelist is charged with doing: illuminating the subconscious. Instead, he contends, happiness and misery exist inside the individual, a sort of a secret life of which there is no “external evidence”. He suggests that for a novelist to do this well, he must have command over all emotion and know in what direction the story is heading, what to leave in and what to take out.

I believe that, but to get to the point of why I think this is worth sharing on a blog that deals mostly with diabetes and raising a family, I should explain the context from which Forster drew his now famous line. In the chapter, he highlights the plot found in Les Faux Monneyuers, by André Gide, in which one of the characters, Edouard, a novelist, expresses his intent to write a character story about the struggle between reality and what we make of it, or as he puts it, a “slice of life” that leaves nothing out. A story about everything.

“My poor man, you will bore your readers to death,” a friend responds. “And what is the subject?”

“There is none,” Edourdo retorts.

“Have you planned out this book?’

“Of course not…I am waiting for reality to dictate to me.”

If this scene sounds similar you might recall the Seinfeld episode where George proposes to pitch a show about nothing. In Aspects of the Novel, Forster — and to some extent George — uses the moment as a means of suggesting that artists should become mixed up in their work, let it move them along, subdue them and tote them away, as it should the observer. The problem that Jerry points out, as does Edouard’s companion, is that truth in life and truth in art are not identical. All that is prearranged, Forster suggests, is false.

It’s a fact that he finally illustrates with the anecdote of an old lady who stood accused of being illogical. “Logic? Good gracious! What rubbish!” the lady exclaimed. “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?”

This is, of course, at the center of what many of us who write about living with diabetes are after. To cut open, peel back and lay bare the truth of what life is like for us, to make sense of it and embrace it. To not let it hold us back. After all, to quote E.M. Forster once more, We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

Food Envy

We recently had the pleasure of having my mother in for a long weekend. She is an interesting case, one you will read more about one day soon as the story she is writing for herself of her golden years is one every adult, young and old, should hear and if, possible, embrace. My only wish is that she hadn’t taken so long to get to it, but as I said, that’s for later. This post is about food, or, I should say, it’s about love, happiness and taking care, and mostly it’s about pleasure.

My mother starts it off because she was the one visiting and sitting at our kitchen table and asked, “So, what’s for dinner?”

From America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

It was a simple enough question, one posed every day of the week, I dare say, in most traditional households. In fact the answer, my mother most probably knew and had already read for herself, was written on the whiteboard menu we keep on the door of the fridge (in this case, Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps from one of our favorite cookbooks, America’s Test Kitchen).

But dinner at our house is not just about sustenance, you can get that anywhere, especially if you’re willing to push health, taste and sustainability aside. At our house food is a centerpiece, as much as any artsy heirloom or family artifact passed down through generations. It is the meal, or the experience of eating real food, that has become our handiwork and our pleasure to create — thanks entirely to Franca, who embodies the ancestral spirit of cooking that can transform a kitchen into a blank canvas and beg of a visitor to ask, What’s for dinner?

Next week on Food Envy: Baking bread. It’s easier than you think..