Monday, November 22, 2010

A Breakfast Crisis.

[ So, I know I promised the Bowiethon—but this post happened in real time—& I felt so strongly about it—& then I made graphics—& I think we could use a little levity 'round here, yeah? So, here it is. Bowie next. Swear to Dog. ]

In a particularly good (& therefore memorable) episode of The West Wing, Josh Lyman's ever-eager assistant Donna informs him that "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over & over & expecting different results." While I'm not sure if anyone aside from Aaron Sorkin actually defines insanity in this way,* it provides the perfect framework for a discussion I've been meaning to have with my brain for some time—but which I put off, of course, until directly confronted with it this morning.

To begin: I stayed up through woke up bright & early at 8:30 AM, perfectly primed to stretch, shower, & get in a hearty breakfast before my 10:00 class. Brimming with goodwill & cheer, I practically bounced up Broadway, waving & smiling, for all the world like a modern-day Belle greeting her small, provincial town—&, lo & behold, upon entering the dining hall, I morphed to awestruck Charlie in his Chocolate Factory: this was the fare before noon?! This glorious spread of fruit salad & frittatas!—yogurts & chicken sausage!—cereals upon cereals!—large to-go coffee cups!—&, then I saw it: the perfect, protein-filled start to my day, steaming, quietly, in the corner: Oatmeal. My eyes brimmed: it was as if the gods themselves had shone a beam of pure, distilled Glory on my day—nay, my life—with such a patently ideal offering.

So, of course, I forewent the home fries & granola, the quickly dwindling scrambled eggs, & jumped for this beautiful, brimming cauldron of— Okay, well, it looked a little like something regurgitated by a colic infant, but still! I was not about to be thwarted by mere appearance! My breakfast experience was about so much more: it was about substance & health & deliciousness—&, well, so what if it also tasted a little like something coughed up by a really, profoundly unhealthy infant... A Garbage Pail infant, who has spent a lot of time chugging Elmer's glue & sand... A mutant Garbage Pail infant with 30 phlegm glands, who has experienced turbulence coming from the planet Terrible in the galaxy of Oh My God What Is This Demon Food???

My point—exaggerated, perhaps, by recent experience—is that I hate oatmeal. I hate it with the burning passion of a thousand neutron stars. I find it utterly repugnant in every aspect—& yet, I find myself eating it, again, & again, & again. For some reason, despite all evidence to the contrary, I still, in the moment, consider oatmeal the most awesome of breakfast foods. If you were to offer me a bowl of Lucky Charms, in which the marshmallows were Mario immortality stars & the milk was unicorn tears & all the cereal pieces joined in a chorus of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" with the basso profundo of Robert Goulet—this, in exchange for some generic oatmeal, I guarantee you, I would choose the oatmeal every time. &, of course, three bites later, my day would be ruined, because I would realize, for the 8 billionth & yet somehow the first time, that I hate oatmeal.

It's eternally perplexing: for whatever reason, my brain has built up this Platonic ideal of oatmeal that just absolutely refuses to be disproved, no matter how many counterexamples I present. Now that I'm reflecting, I have only dour oatmeal memories from early years—the same three hopeful bites, followed by an unfailingly cartoonish frown. In fact, if we're talking childhood touchstones: in the musical Oliver!, there is an entire dynamic opening sequence in which a massive chorus of sympathetic orphan boys simply beg to eat anything but oatmeal—&, to top it off, young Oliver is banished from the workhouse for daring to request some more! & did I mention the mutant infant demon?!

It gets back to this idea of Sorkinesque insanity, I suppose: for whatever reason, I've developed a mental block when it comes to this puke-y breakfast cereal, & therefore decide, like Nancy returning to her Bill, that past wrongs aside, this time has got to be different. & yet, it's worse than a justification: it seems decisionless—amnesiac—like Leonard in Memento, who can't tell crazy, trash-talking Natalie from the victim he ought to protect—who, within a gap of only a few memory-lost seconds, mistakes the bruise he was provoked into giving her for the act of an enemy. It's a total brainwash, an irresistible Siren song: when approaching that steaming cauldron of snot, the only thought in my head is how much I love oatmeal, how I've always loved it, how lucky I should consider myself to have this rare chance to taste it once more... Honestly, it's important that I write this entry now, because I guarantee you that in a matter of hours, I'll be bounding back eagerly to ladle all over again.

I can't explain it—really, I can't—but I can identify plenty of other phenomena that conform to this Insanity pattern, at least in the life of Me. Here are a few:

The only way I could think to illustrate this properly was in graph form, because this is just how I think sometimes.

Napping before class.
Because sleeping always—always—seems like such a good idea at the time. Luckily, my internal alarm clock has learned to seep into my dreams—often in the form of a plotline about the homework I should be doing—so now I don't so much nap through classes as right up until them, meaning I usually show up looking a bit disheveled, with sleep-hair & fabric grooves in my face.

Watching Law & Order: SVU.
See, even now, my lobes are whispering, like Grima Wormtongue, "But Anneliese, you love crime shows! & Law & Order is the greatest invention since fire! You should watch EVERY EPISODE, RIGHT NOW, RIGHT NOW." &, inevitably, someday, I will listen—head over to Netflix Instant & watch at least half a season—before I run into one of the countless episodes that engages in really unconscionable conservative moralizing (often revolving around crazy Elliot & his enormous, aryan family), at which I will become enraged, then despondent, realizing that there are a million, billion other things I could have been doing with my time—or, at least, a million billion better shows.

The Family Circus.
As edgy-scrumptious drug dealer Todd Gaines (played by my beloved Timothy Olyphant) articulates toward the end of Go:
Okay. You sit down to read your paper, & you're enjoying your entire two-page comics spread, right? & then there's the Family fucking Circus, bottom right-hand corner, just waiting to suck, & it ruins your whole experience.
So, why doesn't he just skip it?
I hate it, yet I'm uncontrollably drawn to it.

Preach, Todd. Preach.

* [ POST-SCRIPT: My post mortem research shows that someone besides Aaron Sorkin does, in fact, define insanity like Donna. His name is Albert Einstein. He did math or something. ]

Today's Headphone Fodder:

This is one of those songs that just magically ended up in my iTunes; I'm really not sure how I acquired it. However, it's pretty great: cheeky lyrics (someone should've told her that pretty ain't a job), interesting variation between chorus & verse—&, la pièce de resistence, an ORGAN, which has been massively underused in rock/pop music these past few decades.


  1. Have you tried it with fresh apples sauted in butter and cinnamon and toasted pecans

  2. In fact I haven't—& that sounds totally delicious.
    Still, I think it's comparable to chocolate-covered bugs or that Killers song that features Lou Reed. The dislike of the unaugmented base remains the same.

  3. i don't care what those boys in "Oliver" say, i ADORE oatmeal!!!! it's what got me through breakfast at various summer camps when i was but a stripling (albeit a somewhat heavy-set one). sure, it looks amazingly like barf (barf it up &, presto, it looks exactly the same!). but, really -- like life, for which oatmeal is ultimately a metaphor -- it's what you make of it: your very post here suggests that your gustatory take on oatmeal is deeply ambivalent, not purely negative. you have recurring fond thoughts that subsequently are disappointed. i say, GO with the recurring fond thoughts! oatmeal is the very definition of bland food! if your imagination can't make palatable something so bland, than what can it make palatable, huh? chocolate sundaes?

    i of course followed out yr link & re-watched (for the 2 thousandth time) the opening of B&tB, confirming my view that it's the most satisfying opening to a b'way-type musical i've ever witnessed. really! it makes me sooooooooooooo happy! and a HUGE part of my response is to Gaston's spine-tingling voice (whose spine-tingling quality doesn't really make itself apparent until the mob song).

    "it looked a little like something regurgitated by a colic infant." hmmmm. i believe i used to know a "colic[ky] infant." what was her name again?

    "with the basso profundo of Robert Goulet" omg, i so totally wanna see that movie again -- while completely insanely stoned. "hey, teacher! leave those kids alone!" it makes me happy just thinking of it!

    I LOVE YOU!!!!!

  4. p.s. i neglected to praise to the skies your fabulous xkcd-style graph. totally fabulous! :)

  5. See, I don't think it's ambivalent. I think it's deeper than that—more primal & infinitely more stupid. I think that, where oatmeal is concerned, I am that caveman who sees the pretty orange & red thing crackling on top of the wood, & so decides to touch it, only to find out that touching it really burns, so I turn my back, only to see the flickering shadows on the walls, which are so interesting—& what's making them? Oh, it's that crackly orange-red stuff! So pretty! I should probably touch it...

    Put simply: I am an anomaly of natural selection. Without the cushiness of modern living, I would surely be dead.

    As to imagining taste into bland food: it's an interesting suggestion, if only because it proves how differently our taste buds function—in that mine are connected in no way to my imagination. If there is food product in my mouth that looks, tastes, & feels like joke plastic vomit run over several times with an 18-wheeler, then that's what I'm going to experience, no matter how hard I wish I were eating, say, an ice cream sundae.