Toast

A number of years ago, I watched a film simply entitled Toast. It was about the childhood of a famous British chef whose mother could literally only make toast–she struggled with heating up cans of beans on the stove. Anyway, she dies when the main character is fairly young, maybe ten, and his father eventually remarries, this time to a woman who is an excellent cook. I honestly don’t recall much else about the movie, but I remember how special the toast was because it was made with love. Not even that, because it was often made in frustration. But something about it was special because it connected him to his mother. Supposedly, studies have shown that the smell of toast puts people at ease–during state testing in eighth grade, my teacher made toast beforehand to help us perform better (much like cinnamon in real estate).

Food is necessary. And delicious. Usually. But it is remarkable in so many other ways as well. Food is identity, comfort, culture, connection, memory. And more. Sharing food with someone is a mark of friendship (or charity), being invited into someone’s home for a meal is in many cultures (and certainly in my estimation) a major mark of relationship. As a human being, I think about food a lot and as a social scientist, I think about what food means. Let me tell you, it can mean some pretty incredible things.

This past week, some friends and I were talking about what we would want our last meal on death row to be, should we find ourselves there. Then we decided just go with last meal in a general sense–what do you want the last tastes in your mouth to be? We gave ourselves three courses. For an appetizer, I went for steamed gyoza from Kinza. The entrée was to be porcupine meatballs (which are not made with porcupine meat) as prepared by my mother. For dessert, it was no contest, a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake as prepared by my step-mother. Then I cried for like ten years because I don’t have access to any of those things. I have to settle for Tesco doughnuts. Anyway.

Isn’t food incredible? I bet, reading my choices, most of you were thinking, “No way, I’d have to have this.” And that’s exactly my point, we are (in more ways than one) what we eat.

I have a couple of quotes for you from a reading we had this week in one of my classes. One author, Minkenberg, said, “Government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ is not at stake, but the concept of ‘the people’ is.” This sums up both a lot of what I study (who is the people) but also is super relevant to your life–particularly you fellow Americans with the presidential election process at full force. It’s a big political debate about who counts and it has major effects for every one of us. Some people say, “Illegal immigrants don’t count because they’re here illegally.” Others say, “People who don’t speak our language or share our values don’t count.” Still others argue, “People who aren’t citizens don’t count, even if they’re legal residents.” It makes me feel very much like Esmeralda, thinking to myself I thought we all were the children of God.

Another writer, Mudde, in talking about the supposed rise of the far right in Europe, used the phrase “tabloidization of political discourse.” This, too, is super relevant and deceptively straightforward. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I demonize the media kind of a lot. But also, the media is kind of crazy. Particularly at issue here, for me, is the idea of simplification. It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that really anything in politics is simple. Reading headlines, then, provides an absolutely ridiculous understanding of politics. This is super evident with this presidential campaign, surprise, everyone’s oversimplifying their opponent’s ideas. It’s easy to say, “Ah, he wants to make everything free and so we’ll be in loads of debt.” It’s harder to actually explain tax plans and fiscal reform. It’s easy to say, “They want everyone to own guns and shoot first and ask questions later.” It’s harder to explain the actual complexities of crime and the legal system. Not that either of these necessarily reflect my own views. But like I said last week, it’s absolutely crucial to consider everything thoughtfully and critically–including things you already agree with. And to listen to other people’s explanations. And to do your own thinking.

Ugh, I was hoping that this week would be a more upbeat post because the last few have been so serious. But I can’t help it, the world is a serious place. Ugh. Also, sounds a great deal like last week’s post. And sorry, critical thinking is such a buzzword.

I honestly just wanted to talk about food this post. It is what it is.

I am typically a ravenous toast-eater, I must confess. Truth be told, I like my toast mostly just warm bread, only toasted to the point of barely having gotten that slight firmness on the outside. Not really even brown. But. Since being in Ireland, though, I’ve had remarkably little toast. I don’t know exactly why. But this term, I’ve stopped making sandwiches for lunch and so now rarely eat bread. I’ve sort of developed an alternative eating pattern of sorts. It’s been interesting. Anyway, so there you have it. Food. Thoughts. Food. A good pattern, if I do say so myself. Which I do.

Next post, I’ll have put two more pins into the map of my travels (figuratively speaking). So look forward to that! See you on the other side.

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Strange Dinner

This week has been pretty laid back. It’s crazy to think that there’s only one more week until reading week. Last term, it felt like it took forever to get there and this term it seems like it’s coming a month early! Before I know it, April will be here, classes will be over, and I’ll be writing my dissertation full time. Sort of insane. Anyway.

Last Saturday, we had a board game night with some people from church. It was a grand time (good craic). There was also delicious food, so that was obviously a bonus. We played Cranium–which was a trifle tricky with lots of non-native English speakers– and this weird German card game about beans. It was called Bohnanza (which is punny because bean in German is Bohn) was it was literally about planting and harvesting different kinds of beans. It was surprisingly difficult for a game about produce, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hopefully we’ll be having more game nights, we just barely scratched the surface. Catan is waiting in the wings.

Tomorrow, our program is having a murder mystery dinner. I’ve wanted to do one for years and years and I’m absolutely ecstatic. The setting is a 1920s jazz club and my name is Eugene Goldberg. I won’t say any more than that. But it’s going to be terrific, I’m sure. Very exciting. I’m not sure if I’ve been able to convey how much I’m looking forward to it. A lot. I can hardly contain myself.

Also, here are some pictures of my brother’s cat who is awesome. I rarely get to see him in person (and he hides from me when I visit) but he’s very cool.

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How can you not be cool when you pose like that? Snuggly cat pictures are my favorite. I feel like I can virtually snuggle with them. And it makes everything better.

Not much else to report from here, so I’ll move on to thoughts from this week.

A friend recently wrote a post about heretics in which he describes an exhibit in a museum which presents various theologians and philosophers as having dinner together and explaining their various ideas (you can read his blog here). If it had been reality, it would surely have been a strange dinner indeed. The post (in accordance with his blog in general) was really interesting and got me thinking about who we listen to. Typically, we think the worst of our enemies and the best of our friends. But my educational journey has time and again reiterated how important it is to think critically about everything, even (and perhaps especially) things you agree with. This course at Trinity has built on that idea, but expanded it to thinking critically not only about ideas but also identities. Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? Who are they? These are really socially charged questions that have a lot behind them. Thinking critically is crucial and is often abetted by listening. It’s like that little rhyme: “There was an old owl who lived in an oak; the more he saw, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. Why can’t we be more like that old bird?”

I once read a collection of short stories about mythological half-humans–centaurs, selkies, birdmen, and the like. In the forward, the editor said these stories lift up a strange mirror, revealing to us the dark as well as wondrous aspects of being human. I do not think, though, that such creatures are necessary (as fascinating and wonderful as they are). We can learn plenty from the people people who surround us every day. People who are like us, but not quite. So I challenge you to have a strange dinner. Eat a meal with someone different from you and listen. Listen honestly, openly, and earnestly. Hear what they have to say. Listen actively and think critically. Speak yourself but little. Gaze into the strange mirror of another face and learn what you can.

A Wish Your Heart Makes

First things first: I had my first sort of preliminary dissertation presentation today in Research Methods. It went really well, I thought. The class was very supportive and interested (in my pretty obscure topic), I got some useful feedback, and I just generally felt much more prepared than I had going in. So either I am, or I’m kidding myself, but I can live with that.So that’s Nightmares in Dissertation Writing: Episode I over and done with. Obviously, there’s still loads that’s nightmarish, but I’m over the first hurdle and it is, at least for now, a good feeling. I’m going to withhold details on my topic until they become a bit more solidified and I’m able to talk about it more succinctly and plainly. For everybody’s reference, I will be submitting a 3,000 word full proposal on 18 March, after which I will officially be assigned a supervisor. Then I read and write crazily all summer. Woo.

Right, other things. In choir this term, you may recall, we’re singing Mendelssohn’s magnificent Elijah, including the rousing movement Help Us, Baal! Now I’ve sung a variety of religious music in my time, but I’ll admit that this is my first hymn to Baal. My favorite line is, “Baal, let thy flames fall and extirpate the foe!” What an excellent use of the word extirpate. I feel like pretty much every use is a good use for a word of that caliber.

I’ve also never done a Throwback Thursday before, but my mother sent me this precious picture of the cats from 2008. It once again highlights everything about who they are as people. I mean cats.

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Also, there’s this contemporary portrait of my gorgeous. You can hardly tell she’s cross-eyed.

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The other one wouldn’t sit still for his portrait. No one was surprised.

Cue thoughtful musings for the week. Things since coming to Ireland have been tricky as I come more and more to understand where I see myself in five or ten years. In many ways, I feel great because I do actually have a vision of what I want (at least sort of) and that’s an empowering thing. It’s also been very scary, though, because it’s not what I would have said even six months ago. Those of you who have known me for a long time know that I’ve wanted desperately to live in Croatia. Not for any particular reason, but just because I thought that was where my soul belonged. These past few months have given me a different view on my love of the Balkans. Now, I see it more as an interest, a fascination; the history, culture, language, landscape are entrancing (ensorcelling, even). But as I’ve developed an idea of the sort of work I want to do, it becomes increasingly clear that the Balkans may not be the place for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love them and am up for living in Croatia–but holding more to my fantasy of working in a bookstore, keeping bees, having an orchard, and living in a seaside cottage than doing the work that stems from my education.

It’s sort of a gross feeling, knowing that my dreams are slipping through my fingers. And that I’m not really doing anything to stop their departure. I’ve clung for so long to the version of myself that wanted to live in Croatia that it’s difficult to face the version of myself that doesn’t really. I feel like I’m betraying my past self and, probably, ruining my future self by succumbing to the normalizing influence of the world. I don’t want to be normal, I want to have dreams. But maybe dreams are meant to be more fluid, like literal dreams, than we often allow. It’s not abandoning particular dreams that breaks the heart, but abandoning dreaming altogether. And so.

One way or another, I will continue on. My vision of myself will have to change and, I suspect, this will not be the last time. In fact, I suspect that one never gets it ‘right’–rather, that we keep changing right up until the last. More or less visibly, more or less radically, but changing. It’s like the old adage, “Do not be afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”

And another thing. Some people might be like, “Oh, but I don’t want him to squander his potential.” Firstly, I love the word squander, so nice work on that. But also, I have a lot of issues with that. I think perhaps the idea of potential is the wrong way to look at it because you’re sort of doing your thing wherever and however you are. The idea of wasting potential is sort of ridiculous, it’s not like I have a box with potential inside and I can either use it judiciously or pour it on the ground and jump in it like a puddle. Perhaps more to the point, though: is life about living up to your potential (real or imagined) or about finding meaning, fulfillment, and cats? I mean, if I end up in middle management for the city of Gillette, Wyoming but am happy and fulfilled, who is to say that I oughtn’t be there because I am capable of so much more? Not that I really foresee Gillette, Wyoming being my long-term destination in life. But what if I did?

I don’t know, it is what it is. This got a little heavy (read: juvenilely philosophical) even for me toward the end. I almost used the phrase ‘human condition’ which obviously would have been a disaster. I hope you’ll forgive me. Anyway, until next week.

Keep dreaming, my friends. Keep dreaming.

That Song Is Actually About Me

Here we are, the first week of February, the beginning of the end. End in every sense: the program is turning toward the dissertation and so one thinks of what’s next, my mind is turning toward the dissertation and so I’m going insane, and February’s basically August, yeah? It’s a dark time coming home on Thursday evenings this term. It’s dark out (though this week we celebrated sunset after 5 o’clock!), I’m super hungry, and I’ve just finished Research Methods which is, obviously, incredibly depressing in a way that my other classes are not. Anyway, it comes down to this: I’m presenting next week in Research Methods, detailing my dissertation question, background, relevant theoretical literature, methodology, and anticipated difficulties. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Because those are things that I know here, in the first week of February.

I’ve never been so upset to be a native English speaker. And I only have myself to blame, but still. I desperately want to be at least bilingual. For so many reasons, but at the moment, at least, because the topics I have in mind are all about minority European languages. None of which I speak. Ugh. Whatever, I’ll get over it. I hope.

Anyway, this past week. Australia Day (observed) was a great success, I thought. My truffles went over swimmingly, which was a relief because their making wasn’t quite heartening. I also had a toothpick worth of kangaroo which was delicious. It was rich and flavorful and just wonderful–sort of like steak, in my estimation. Also, there was Vegemite. Now I’ve never had Vegemite, but I’ve had Marmite (the English version) and while some may contend that they are significantly different, I would contend otherwise. They’re the same, I promise you. Anyway, there were these Vegemite-Ham-Cheese rolls that looked like cinnamon rolls (so you have a visual). They were fabulous in every way, I never expected to like them but I ate like four. So that was all-around lovely.

Now because these posts seem to be so dark lately, I’ll catch up a bit on my bloggerly duty and include some cats. Because cats cats cats cats cats.

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They were feeling cooperative, apparently, and managed to get in one picture. Though I will say that, while far from chummy, they do snuggle near each other with some frequency. So I hope you’re feeling a bit better, I know I am.

I don’t know about you guys, but I certainly get a lot out of this blog. Not necessarily because I say anything much, but because I just really enjoy it. I’ve at various points in my life fancied myself a fledgling author (fiction only, friends) and while this is no novel, it is fun to have a place to write willy-nilly each week. Also, just so you know, willy is underlined as misspelled but nilly is not. What does nilly mean. Anyway, I’m sure it takes some amount of vanity to write for a real audience, and certainly I’m a bit vain, but hey, love the skin you’re in. I really do enjoy writing this blog and I look forward to it all week, mulling over titles, fun facts, and various other points I consider writing about. Of course, when it comes to it, the vast majority of that either utterly escapes me or I decide to do something totally unrelated. But I really do enjoy the whole process. So I hope you’re getting a little something more out of this than the occasional life updates and cat pictures. If you aren’t, though, I’m kind of over it.

Also, some of you may know this already (shoutout to my AP Lit class) but there were originally eight deadly sins, the eighth being vainglory. As I understand it, vainglory is essentially pride or vanity, though I also think there’s usually an element of other people involved. Like, you’re seeking approval or you gain pride by putting other people down. At some point along the line, some pope (who I’m assuming was super vainglorious) was like, “Nah, that’s not really a deadly sin. Let’s just have the seven.” So there you have it. That’s a verbatim historical account of how that went down.

Not much else to report this week (as ever). I’m getting pumped for a trip to Amsterdam at the end of the month during reading week. That should be a lot of fun, might also take a day trip down to Antwerp because it’s handy and fun to say. We’re also celebrating the Chinese New Year this weekend, year of the monkey. Lots of holidays, yay. In other news, the weather is still sweater weather (as predicted) and generally chilly and rainy and windy.

That’s all I have. Enjoy the cats and I’ll be back next week, same bat time, same bat channel.