hangry in Antigua

As my boyfriend and I walked down the cobblestone streets and alleys of the ancient capitol of Guatemala, a dusty, colorful and quaint remnant of Spanish colonialism, I grew quiet.  Everything around me faded as if the world beyond a five-foot diameter was an undefined white miasma.

Then I blurted out: “Just to let you know, I’m going to need to eat in the next five minutes.”

The ‘oh-shit’ look transformed his features as we embarked on a not so pleasant adventure to find the closest eatery that had: 1) food; 2) vegetarian options that wouldn’t cause vomiting or severe intestinal cramping; and 3) had a chance of being delicious and heathly.

Here’s the confession:  I am one of those people. You know the kind. The ones who go from 0 to scary in five minutes if they don’t receive immediate nourishment.

It’s embarassing, and causes its share of problems. As my boyfriend has pointed out, food is the source of 95% of our arguments.  Considering we don’t fight often, that’s  significant.

So what is it that drives me to become the explosive ice queen whenever I get hungry?  Or ‘hangry’ as some people call it.

As it turns out, there’s a science-backed answer in the giant morass of the great intergalactic library called the Internet.

That’s right … Science is on my side.  (And my physiology is to blame.)

Hungry is an emotion

Some things are happening in your body when you get hungry.  The concentration of glucose in your blood is depleting. Once it achieves a certain level (from 3.8 to 2.8 mmol/L), your brain, which survives on glucose, initiates a desparate cry for help.  A progressive SOS goes out to the pituitary gland, pancreas, and adrenal glands who in turn respond by releasing growth hormone, glucagon, and adrenaline and cortisol, respectively.  The body releases these hormones in stages.  Early stages are supposed to trigger glucogenesis, a process whereby the body converts amino acids into glucose so that your greedy, gluttonous brain doesn’t have to stop bingeing.  Adrenaline and cortisol come into play when the glucose levels further drop.

Being low on glucose is a bit like being drunk.  Muddled thoughts, slurred speech, and difficulty concentrating are some typical symptoms.  Being really low on glucose is dangerous, and can lead to seizures, coma and death.  Seriously.

The link between adrenal, cortisol and anger seems obvious, however it’s not the only thing driving this irrational behavioral response.  You know how genes provide the basis for our programming.  Well, the one controlling hunger also controls anger. Neuropeptide Y (benign name for such an implement of destruction) is found to be significantly elevated in the cerebral spinal fluid of some lucky individuals, together with a higher incidence of the Y1 receptor. [ASIDE: Neuropeptide Y, like many things in the body, has  different functions, and can induce various responses to diverse stimuli.  For example, it plays a role in obesity, aids in dealing with PTSD, enhances performance under stress, and may provide protection against alcoholism.]

Is anger ever a good thing? 

Evolutionarily speaking (because who doesn’t like gazing back on those knuckle dragging days with misty-eyed nostalgia) increased aggression while hungry probably served a very important biological function… like making sure you beat out the competition and didn’t die of starvation.

As it turns out, my irritating habit of losing my rationale mind when I get hungry may have been beneficial in some kind of yesteryear.  I imagine my ancient self racing across a muddy savannah, flecks of earth sailing through the air like miniature bombs against the smoke-filled sky.  Spear in hand.  Prey trying to escape me, but turning its sharp tusks at me once I finally corner it.

*sigh*

It’s no excuse, nor is it fair to my amazing friends and family to become she-hulk when my blood sugar drops.  How do I combat evolutionary biology?  I haven’t quite figured that out yet.  Some basic tricks are always having a healthy snack on hand, no matter where on the planet I am.  Maintaining blood sugar levels requires a bit of vigilence, as well as a deeper knowledge of our own internal bio-rhythms.

Perhaps the main thing is to remember a moment of hanger is temporary, and to stay grateful for my boyfriend, who is so patience with me, and keeps an internal map of all the closest eateries.

Samurai Noodle Bowl

The way of the Samurai is honor, duty, and loyalty.  The code of ethics a Samurai lives by is so pure, it is unattainable for most.  And in the end the only real response is to either leave a path of annihilation behind you, or to die by seppuku.

The way of the Noodle is to nourish and sustain.  And to dominate the world.  Noodles have been feeding people for millennia.  La mian, ramen, spaghetti, spaetzle, erişte, and dozens of other incarnations have touched our plates and our lips.

The way of Date Night is to mash them together in gory, delicious bliss.


A and I spend time together in a variety of different ways, but one that became an instant tradition was Samurai Noodle Bowl Night.  It’s hard to say what takes longer, cooking the food, or picking the movie. We delight in both tasks. On the movie side of things, we vacillate between the absurd and the haunting.

The recipe changes, too. We’re experimental kinds of folk, ya see, but here’s the basic gist:

I’m in charge of the broth.  I take scraps of all kinds (mushroom stems, onion, garlic and carrot bits, serrano chili nubs, cabbage cores, chunks of ginger) and simmer them in water with soy sauce (or liquid amino acids) for as long as we can stand it. We add other things along the way, adjusting the flavor until we’re both satisfied.

We both take on chopping, and a good noodle bowl is completely encumbered, practically overflowing, with veggies. So, that’s a lot of chopping. Every once in a while, I fixate on how the pea pods look like rice paddies, with the way they’re stacked together.

Pea Pods

snow pea stacks

The flesh of a bell pepper is equally intriguing.  The internal striations reveal the shape of water-packed cells.  I love how crispy it is, and how a fresh piece bursts when you bite into it.

red bell pepper

crispy tangy flesh

Usually I get regular carrots.  Every once in a while I’ll go crazy and splurge on the exotic rainbow carrots.  Of these, the purple carrot is the most intriguing.  The first time I cut into one, I was mystified and delighted. It resembles a jeweled kaleidoscope, an exploding star, a dragon’s eye.

Rainbow Carrots

kaleidoscopes of color

And the tofu seems a invading army, ready to storm the pan.

Tofu swarm

the horde

A is soundly in charge of all things fire.  He mans the fire pit, barbecue grill and stovetop.  Which is probably for the best, considering how accident prone I tend to be.  The sauté is a parade of ingredients.  Each vegetable has its own distinct aroma, which erupts as soon as it hits the surface of the pan.

First Casualties

A can also flip.  This would totally backfire on me.  As in food would be stuck to the countertops, cabinets, ceiling, and floors.

Flipping

I love really intense flavoring in my noodle bowls.  One of my go-to mixes is liquid amino acids, sriracha, rice vinegar, and sesame oil.  A healthy dose of the pungent aromatics, ginger and garlic, don’t hurt either.

The joos

We put in the noodles first (this time udon), then the stir fry goodness and broth.  Toppings vary, but there’s something really satisfying about the spicy crunch of fresh green onions over the top.

Green Onion Bombs

And one must not miss an extra dose or two of Srirachi. For A, a dap of Reaper hot sauce does quite nicely as well.

Finished Noodle Bowlz

On the surface, date night is hanging out with the most important person in my life. (ASIDE: Date night is not just for romantic partners.  I believe in date nights with friends and family, too.)  But there’s more.  We get to craft this temporary world of flavor together.  We’re not only connecting, we’re also collaborating and creating. Which is to say nothing of how we interact with the movie, and discuss motifs, themes, direction, and more.

Rituals are repetitive acts imbued with meaning.  They are built around a time or place, and ingrain memories stitched together with feelings (think of any holiday spent with your family; it’s gonna conjure something).  Samurai Noodle Bowl night is an intentional ritual.  It is elaborate, and it’s creating a rich matrix of shared history.  May the Noodle Bowl be with you and your loved ones.

Random Trivia

  • The Japanese swashbuckler:  The Japanese refer to the samurai movie genre as Chanbara, which signifies “sword-fighting”.
  • Buddhism and Zen philosophy heavily influenced samurai culture and training.
  • The oldest bowl of noodles was found in China and dates back 4,000 years.
  • Akiro Kurosawa’s Ran is based on Shakespeare’s King Lear. (Aside: this movie is an excellently staged tragedy.  The cinematography (lighting, camera angles, set design) is so beautiful and poignant.)
  • La Mian is the OG.  That’s right.  Archeological evidence supports this type of noodle as being the oldest known preparation.  Slurp it up.
  • The first Samurai movie, “Orochi”, was produced in 1925. The full-length film is available here.
  • Orochi is a mythical serpent said to have eight-heads and eight-tails, with a body long enough to sprawl over eight peaks and valleys.  Need to do battle with one?  Get its heads drunk.
  • Eight was considered to be a holy number in ancient Japan.  Scribes also used it to signify a grip load (many, multitudinous, millions).
  • Samurai follow Bushidō, “the Way of the Warrior”.

and then life happens

Nothing is quite as jarring as when your expectations for life and what actually transpires don’t match up.  It can be something simple, like thinking the clear wet stuff you’re about to take a big drink of is water, only to realize that it is in fact gin. Then there’s this little example:

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend (A.) and I were in the midst of a lovely day.  We only see each other twice a month right now, which is hell, but we make the most of it.  We had met my mom for breakfast, and were on our way back to the condo to get ready for our next adventure:

  • strolling through the Natural History Museum to see skulls and Mayan artifacts, followed by
  • a picnic by the botanical gardens watching ducks waddle and koi fish carve elegance in the reflecting pool, followed by
  • a production of Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night under the stars.

Sheer bliss according to our nerdy standards.

Between breakfast and skulls, reality crashed into our expectations. Check it out. At 18 seconds is where it gets good.

I felt like I was in a movie; because seriously, how could this be real? Let me explain, we were driving (through an admittedly roughed neighborhood) when a green mini-van screamed out of an alleyway and almost pulled out into oncoming traffic, but the driver  stopped in time.

Crisis averted? I think not. Car two blew by the mini-van, INTO the intersection. I saw it at the edge of my vision, and all I could think to do was speed up and get out of the way, otherwise it was going to t-bone us right where A. was sitting. The car ended up hitting me, all of the impact of which my poor right rear tire and axel absorbed.

I pulled over, because that’s what you do when you’re in a car accident. And it looked like that was what the at-fault driver was going to do. But no. The bastard was just waiting for me to get out of my car so he/she could take off. In two seconds, the white car and green minivan executed a series of risky maneuvers and sped out of sight. Chasing them was too complicated, not to mention the acute feeling I had that some major shit was going down, and my little bump was probably tame in comparison to the bigger story.

We inspected the damage and photographed the scene while trying to get through to the non-emergency dispatch. After 15 minutes of ringing and no caring voices asking me how the police could help, I figured what was the point. The driver and his/her crazy sidekick (or victim or tormenter) were gone. As in scot-free. But at least we got that cool video as a souvenir (thanks tire place).

The bumper saga continues

This is the 3rd rear bumper I’ve had to purchase for this car. Alas, not meant to be.

Grrr

I ended up with a bent rim and wheel bearing. It could have been way worse.

Fast-forward.  We worked through our adrenalin high and low, and decided to claim the day as ours.  No crazy woman in a turban, or some unknown phantom of destruction behind the wheel of a white car was going to take from us any more than they already did.  It happened.  It’s over.  Aside from my car, no one was hurt.

During the picnic portion of our sojourn, I realized I had a series of texts from my mom. Urgent care, emergency room, admitted for sepsis.  Surgery. The car accident was nothing compared to finding out my mom was admitted for an infection that went septic.  And of course in the absence of information, the very best thing to do is dwell on the very worst case scenarios one can conjure (this is an awful exercise for writers and creative types by the way; torture).  After making sure she was being well cared for, and was doing okay morale-wise, we decided to stay the course and watch the play.

The rest of the weekend was doggy duty for my mom’s dog, allergy attacks, sleeplessness and hospital visits.  A. breaking his arm the month before and other urgent family matters combined with all of this— well, it felt like too many things were going wrong at once.  We could have despaired.  In fact, it was awfully tempting to play the self pity card.  But no; we did not.   This whole series of events had a different  effect.  “The world breaks everyone,” said Hemingway, “and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

I don’t mean to imply we were broken by these recent events (because let’s face it, by some standards this was a proverbial walk through the park), but we were challenged.  And together, we met the challenges and moved through them.  After having these experiences, I do feel stronger and more capable. And you know what?  A man who carries a cay by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.  (Thanks Mark Twain)

PS-Mom is recovering quite nicely.

protocols for being human

Holga, Take 1, 2

Holga Play ©JL Colomb and AE Welch

We got a new toy.  It’s a plastic camera called the Holga.  The thing is primitive and cheap, and looks like it’s about to break at any point.  The Holga we have is best designed for 120mm  film, but I wanted the ability to also shoot 35mm, and low and behold they had an adapter.

For 35mm, there is no counter for winding film.  Maybe you’ve manually cranked it a full frame; maybe (most likely) you haven’t.  The end result was— well, upon initial viewing it was a mess.  In some cases, we had 4 overlapping frames.  Once my brain was able to read the images, I was in love with this imperfect little camera.  The Holga is a good device for reprogramming someone who is perpetually concerned with doing the right thing perfectly.

But what is the right thing to do?  A step further, what is the right thing to do when you’re the person who never wants to offend?  Which would be me, by the way.  Should I probe and ask someone what’s really going on when they seem upset?  Should I have said or done X instead of Y?  Should I be as dry as a rice cake at work, or reveal a little of my personality? When something is wrong, how do I handle it?

The problem is this, I find myself so overly concerned with “what is the right thing to do”, that when there isn’t an immediately evident protocol on how to behave I often either become paralyzed, or silent, or somewhat one-dimensional.  A couple of examples:

  • I received an email from someone I hadn’t talked to in years.  Accusations were made, questions were asked.  No I hadn’t done A, and I have no idea if B happened. The thing I wanted to say but didn’t was that on the other side of the threshold of a major life change, this person was better off, deserved so much more, and that the person’s previous life was more of a fabricated fairytale than a reality.  But how do you say something like that? (Hint: if you really need to say it, you just say it.  With love and kindness and without any selfishness.)
  • Outside of the written world, face-to-face with real live people, things run pretty much the same.  I was in DC a few years ago for a meeting, and I met a colleague for dinner. An innocent dinner, which was not code “come onto me, please, I have sex with anyone.”  An hour into the situation I knew I had to extricate myself, and fast.  I also knew I never wanted to be in public or in private with him again.  But did I confront him?  No.

There are a couple of things to unpack here. A major one is that rather than being absolute, notions of right and wrong are conditional.  What we put in each category depends on our cultural and societal norms.  How we assess and react to right and wrong depends on what we have observed in our individual lives, as well as how our reactions have been shaped by feedback from others (both negative and positive).

Self confidence also plays a role.  We have the capacity to be strong and absolutely have thoughts and feelings, which are just as valid as anyone else’s. But we have to recognize our strength, and when the situation calls for it, rely on that strength.  We have voice, both what we use to communicate with other people, as well as an intrinsic voice, i.e. instinct.  If we listen close enough, we might find our own internal guidance system.  We can ask of ourselves not only what is the course of action I can live with, but looking back, what can I be proud of.

So, instead of being fixated on right or wrong, instead of being fixated on doing things perfectly and without offending anyone, pick up that crappy camera and just do.  Do passionately and to the best of your ability, but for the love of water, do and be without too much of a filter.  Yes, it can be a risk.  Hell, it can be terrifying.  But shedding the veil can also bring unexpected beauty and fulfillment.

Holga, Take 3, 4, 5, 6

Holga Play ©JL Colomb and AE Welch

Behind the veil

Surfaces come in a variety of flavors. Smooth, glossy, and slick. Some are rough and tear through skin upon contact. Others still are chameleon-like. Flicker and glimmer, they change with their surroundings. But what does a surface say about an interior? Furthermore, how does a surface change how we interact with the object (or person)?

I’m thinking of two specific experiences. One was just before Thanksgiving, at the San Diego Airport, and the other was this past weekend at Presidio Park.

SAN:
The airport was crowded. Bodies filled chairs and sprawled on the floor, along the walls. The line for coffee was 30 people deep, and non-stop the PA system squawked. My mom and I settled in, waited for the flight. A woman, about my mom’s age sat next to me. Average clothes. Round face, blonde hair. We smiled at each other. I kept reading my book. After a while, we made eye contact again. This was when she leaned over, pressed a hand to her lower abdomen and asked, “Do either of you ever get a pain? Right here?” She demonstrated on herself.

I frowned. “Uh, sure. Sometimes.”

“Well, see, here’s why I ask.” She was a healer. “Going into hospitals is the worst. All those feelings, all that pain just floods right into me.”

My mom, the psyche nurse, promptly checked out of the conversation. I have to admit, I was a little intrigued. She went on about her healing work, asked where we were going. She nearly poured out of herself to learn our destination was Santa Fe. “That place has so much energy. Are you sure nothing’s wrong? You don’t have a pain right here.” She also read auras. “And honey, yours is so bright.” Sure. Appeal to my ego. “Oo! It just got brighter.” At this juncture, she blessed me, asked the Universe to fill me with light and love and creativity.

Presidio:
Fast forward a few weeks. My friends, Heather and Tracy, were setting up for their birthday party at Presidio Park. A few minutes after I got there, a man walks through. He was wearing a grey and black striped sweatshirt that kept riding up and exposing his belly as he waved his arms. Long black hair, threaded with grey, waved down to his shoulders. He had a beard, too. He talked endlessly without making a sound, and his arms. They moved constantly as if he was conducting an orchestra. He took a bow, peered into the trash can. Upon finding nothing satisfactory, he moved on to the next.

I composed stories about these strangers. Upon seeing them (surface), I crafted childhoods, heartaches, chemical imbalances, and maybe a little bit of brain damage. I relied on those stories to make judgments about both of them. Even though some observations could be considered empirical, the consequence of them is still conjecture. In other words, I made shit up. I might have been right. There is also the chance I might have been wrong.

It makes me think of the issue of appearances versus reality. Of how we present ourselves to others (and to ourselves, frankly). How can we tease back the veil and reveal something that is closer to true, closer to authentic? And will we recognize when we see it?

[ASIDE: Life is never quite what it appears. It is more.]

Photo note: This is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, or at least part of it. Taken in November in DC.

in the wilds of vermont. or, what is home?

June 2012, Vermont by InkSpot's Blot
June 2012, Vermont, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

Funerals and weddings. These are the rituals that give some shape to life, along with holidays and those quirky events some families invent. These are the things that usually draw those of us who have left back to our hometowns. Except for me. I hadn’t been back home since 1993. There’ve been a few funerals, and quite a few weddings. My own even (never mind the divorce). And all this avoids the obvious. Nearly two decades passed before Meme’s death forced my Mom and I to return home.

Three thousand miles is nothing. Two decades, however, make for some rough travel. Landing in the Burlington Airport was surreal. Meme’s body had arrived hours before us. We were renting a car, and so insisted no one meet us at the Airport. Stepping off the plane, retrieving luggage, taking the shuttle; it all adds up to mundane, something we’ve both done before. Once we turned the rental North on Route 89, the routine flickered and reality peeked around the edges.

The roads were wet from a rainstorm. Color saturated the sky, and the thick clouds sopped it up, too. Green surrounded us, which is actually an understatement. I almost felt like the trees were infusing me with light, trying to counteract the darkness, which was not sadness but nerves. Family was waiting. So was grief.

When we reached St. Albans, Mom drove around town, pointed out the things she remembered. All the while, crazy thoughts were looping in my head. My cousin—who I remember as a kindergartner—is pregnant. The one in elementary school has facial hair and lives with his girl friend. My Aunt and Uncle are gone. My cousin has served umpteen tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hard core tripping.

As the week unfolded, however, some of the awkwardness faded. Many of us faced my grandmother’s funeral together, as a family. It was painfully small. Most of her friends have passed, and there aren’t many of us left either. But we shared memories, our grief. We shared moments under the stars, in the pool, drinking and watching the lightening bugs dot the edge of the forest. It ached. It was wild, and full. And it was home.