Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Wordle Tips

I think I've cracked the code on Wordle, the rare trend I'm full-heartedly conforming to.

I've guessed correctly in row 3 three days in a row now. Here's Saturday's result:

...and here's Sunday:

...and here's yesterday:

Here's my actual screen for yesterday:

1. I always start with "Early", to start pinning down vowels. I used to have an even more vowely word, but it is, alas, lost.

2. "Tries" was not a guess. Don't guess! It's not that game! Tries has "S" last (very common), and adds one of the missing vowels, plus the common "T". It also tries to locate the "R" and "E". Your second row should have no wasted letters. Every letter should introduce new common letters and/or reposition known letters (in this case, two repositions and three introductions).

3. By row three, if you followed the above strategy (no guessing!!), you have more info than you might initially think.
Obviously, "I" is #3.

"R" is #1,#4, or #5. We can eliminate #5, as I couldn’t think of a common word that worked with these included/excluded letters. So "R" is either #1 or #4

"S" is #1, #2, or #4. I can't think of any words that would put it #2. So "S" (like "R") is either #1 or #4

"E" obviously can't be #3. And it can't be #1 or #4, because they're occupied by "I" or "S" (one way or the other). So "E" is either #2 or #5. It was unlikely to be #2 (“EI”), so it's #5. I got lucky that it wasn’t “reign” (and “deign” and “feign” don’t use an “R”, and also are too obscure for Wordle).
So here's where we’re at: (S/R) (?) (I) (R/S) (E).

There are two possibilities: SPIRE, or SHIRE (it can't be RAISE because "A" is excluded).

Wordly only uses common everyday words...and spire's a bit obscure. Shire might seem uncommon, too, but remember: the puzzle's produced by a Brit.

Update: I just did it again today. I won’t spoil todays puzzle for you, but here is my result:

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Projection Booth

I used to assume that people who thought highly of me saw the real me. Women who smiled at me saw something deeper. People who satisfied my needs were good solid people.

Those who took a dim eye to me, or refused to give me what I needed, just didn't get it. They didn't get me. They were too occupied with their own narcissism to see clearly. To see me.

I'm not sure, but I think this is universal. And it's self-obviously cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs.

I've previously noted that fame's a phenomenally superficial thing. You - the substantial real you - can't be famous. Only your name can be famous:
[Fame can feel] quite disturbing and artificial. For one thing, it's never truly directed at you; it focuses on a facet of a layer of a static image which happens to have your name affixed to it. And you play little part in choosing which facet of which layer of which image is focused upon. The assignment process is remarkably similar to the way children get dubbed with nicknames.
The first three paragraphs, above, explain why many people are nonetheless quite happy with fame. The whole world - by virtue of a fuzzily imprecise, intrinsically fickle positive predisposition to the letters of your name - appears to really GET you!

During the years I spent with that perspective, it never occurred to me that I was the narcissist; too occupied in my own head to recognize that people don't need to see me correctly, or clearly, or even at all, much less smile or meet my needs. You're just another turkey in this farm, bub.

Eventually, I caught on (I'm slow). And my comprehension helped immeasurably. I'm far more accepting of being ignored, distrusted, or disliked. I respect everyone's right to hold whimsical preferences and to ignore vast swathes of the world. I myself do it all the time!

But there's a downside (in this binary zero-sum world, there's always a downside): by learning to blithely accept neutral and negative reaction, I've lost my zeal for positive reaction. I no longer project fine and noble qualities onto those who agree with me, like me, smile at me, etc. I don't feel better "seen" by such people.

In fact, some of my most unpleasant life experiences have been with people who a few moments prior pronounced me AWESOME.

It doesn't take penetrating observation to recognize that, for most people, AWESOME is one chain link from ASSHOLE. Neither is a very meaningful assessment. AWESOME is when I just said something you agree with. Or told you you're right. Or smiled at you. And ASSHOLE means I didn't.

Under the hood, it's truly that goofy and superficial. People are actually that narcissistic. And I strive for consistency, so, when I learned to blithely accept "ASSHOLE", I felt obliged to become equally blithe about "AWESOME". In either case, it's just stuff they're saying. Human assessment is not super meaningful! Just relax into it and take it all lightly!

So where do I go from here? There are people for whom I feel genuine respect. They are magicians who can conjure wholes greater than the sum of their parts. Or they're courageous, doing the right thing even when it's hard or counter to self-interest. They're risers-abovers. Or they're just quick-witted or interesting. And I can't help but smile at them, and say nice things to them...which, quite unavoidably (and unintentionally on my end), makes them find me awesome. So I let that assessment blow right past me, but still stick around because, again, I respect them. That's the best I can navigate this house of mirrors.

But what about love? Well, per the old Palmolive commercial, we're soaking in it. That's the default state, period. All the drama and the rich people problems and the egoic neediness and willfully frozen perspective - all the games we play and movies we pretend to star in help us forget that we're soaking in an eternal and infinite field of love. That's what the sunlight is. That's what the oxygen is. That's what it all is.

And, in fact, we are not foreign objects in that field. We are in it and of it, radiating while basking. Disgustingly sappy though it sounds, the truth is that at our foundation - beneath the pretending and the stories and the grippy fear and stress - we are love loving love.
But that's not what you meant. You were asking about earthly love. Red pill choosers: pray proceed.

I may be the only human who registers that when someone says "I love you" it has nothing to do with you. It's a statement of mere preference. And while it's a very nice feeling to be on the receiving end of the news that you're someone's preferred thing, that nice feeling is also impersonal and autonomous. Parallel lines all the way.

The best human beings can do is to say "You're my favorite figurine in my glass menagerie", and, if they're very lucky, the other person will declare them their favorite figurine in their glass menagerie. That's the height of human relationship. The best it can apparently get.

It's even more troubling than "parallel lines". It's co-narcissism, like binary stars self-servingly leveraging each other's gravity to accommodate their respective trajectories. "She says she loves me, and it feels nice, and to be loved is to be seen and understood, because people who think highly of me see the real me."

Why did I love the women I loved? In retrospect, I have no idea. They were attractive, they smiled at me, and they told me I was their favorite. Honestly, I think that's about it ("Isn't that enough??"). I felt seen, because I ran on the conviction that those thinking highly of me saw the real me. They were good solid people! So those who made me their very favorite figurine, well, those people were, obviously, paragons.

Am I renouncing love? No way! Again, we're soaking in it!

Dale Carnegie deconstructed things rather nicely, but did not go far enough. If you keep pulling the thread he found, the whole thing unravels. Which, again, is fine. This is not a deep ride. It's a light and delightfully varied entertainment (our baseline - eternal sea of infinite love - gets boring), and we literally wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

What Atrocities are They Hiding?

Yesterday's posting, "Healthy Cooking vs Mouth Hacking", made the case that healthy cooking needn't be austere. We need to flip our perspective on expedient shortcuts - the traditional profusions of grease, salt, and sugar so frequently resorted to in order to cover up mediocrity.

A reader on Chowhound responded:
I had my 13 year old read it. I'm hoping that one of these days he learns to differentiate between tasty-because-it-is-well-made i.e. good quality versus cheap and loaded with unnecessary crud to mask the junk.
Excellent. But that's only halfway to the flip of perspective - the reframing - I was suggesting. Let me explain.

For decades now, the rap has been "Stop eating that awful junk full of unhealthy crap!" But it's pretty clear that this won't persuade any teenager. Hell, it won't persuade anyone who hasn't bought into nutritional sanctimony. Smokers realize they're inhaling cancerous gases, and many of them even like the idea.

There's another way to frame it that's less primly virtuous, and which jibes better with our actual experience of pleasure. Here's how I arrived at that perspective.

I noticed that from-scratch chocolate chip cookies taste good. Even if they're talentlessly baked from a stupid recipe and lackluster ingredients, they're still pretty delicious. So if someone sells ones full of artificial flavors and chemicals and stuff, what atrocities are they hiding? How unthinkably awful are the cookies to need all that stuff? Someone would need to, like, defecate in the batter to require such desperate cover-up. The ingredients are veterinary-grade. The nuts are rancid. The cheap awfulness must be beyond imagining to necessitate such a level of fuckery.

That is the core problem. Not the xanthan gum or high fructose corn syrup in and of themselves. Strident lectures re: "food additives are bad, m'kay?" are unpersuasive outside organic cult circles. But "what atrocities are they hiding?" (WAATH) is a whole other line of attack, and it stands up much better to scrutiny.

From there, I made the small jump to recognizing that the melt-a-stick-of-butter trick mid-priced restaurants wield to justify their premium is, likewise, a cover-up. And same for gratuitous blasts of sugar or salt. It's not that butter/sugar/salt, or even additives, are deadly neurotoxins to be avoided like sunlight to a vampire. That's crazy. Much more sane: Real food tastes delicious without extreme measures, so WAATH?!?
I can make string beans taste awesome with a half tablespoon of olive oil. Exactly how icky are your stick-of-butter string beans that you need to cloak them so desperately?

And I've had fresh donuts that were absolutely delicious - and pleasingly sweet but not viciously so. So when they gob on sugar, WAATH?

And I've eaten nearly saltless food that slayed me with scrumptiousness. So WAATH with blizzards of salt?
The assertion that additives, butter, salt, and sugar are demonic agents of evil is ineffective. And kooky. Those things are perfectly healthy in moderation, and even acceptable in occasional profusion (e.g. croissants). We need to stop parsing it as "That Awful Junk", and start framing it as "The Atrocities Being Covered Up Via Extreme Measures".

I found the donut experiment and the chocolate chip cookie thought experiment transformational. And I'm not a stern nutrition cultist who'd never let his kid eat a cookie or a donut. Let's expunge the notion of "virtue". This isn't a clash of Good vs Evil. Let's pay more attention to the cynical mouth-hacking; the "turd in the batter" proposition. Then, to yesterday's point, from there it's a question of how healthy you, as a home cook, can make it without sacrificing deliciousness.

This works better than holy war against THAT AWFUL JUNK, which exasperates the normies, makes for cooking as horrific as health food has tasted for time immemorial, and entices kids to walk miles for the cheap embrace of Dunkin Donuts.

Interesting connection. When someone arrived at Chowhound in the early days, enthusing over, say, Olive Garden, I tried never to shame them. Rather, I'd coax them to try other places, realizing that snobbery and shaming don't help. What really helps is exposure to greater deliciousness. I don't need to kick your Cheesecake Factory appreciation in the teeth. Once you've experienced how good food can be, naive infatuations drop away on their own.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Healthy Cooking vs Mouth Hacking

The Bad Donut Experiment

Want to learn something useful about food? Here's an easy fun experiment.

Buy a crappy chocolate donut. Entenmann's, Dunkin, any supermarket brand. Anything mass-produced and other-than-fresh. Take a scientific bite, paying attention to only one aspect: sweetness. Pretend it's your job to tweak the recipe. Could we get away with less sugar? Exactly how much less?

I think you'll find 35-50% of the sugar unnecessary. Counterproductive. Ugly, really. Isn't it odd you never noticed before? We're accustomed to blasts of grimly unnecessary sugar. We just are.

Keep visualizing. Use your detective skills! Why, exactly, have they overdone the sugar?

Perhaps it might help to probe for non-sugar flavors, for a fuller picture of the situation.

What? You can't find any? Yeah. That's the problem. Remove the sugar and you're left with nothing because these are junk. Not food. And that's why there's way too much sugar. Without it, there's nothing to reassure the mouth that it has reason to chew, swallow, and repeat.

It's not that people love "too much sugar". We enjoy sweet things, sure, but the excess isn't the prize. It's the cover-up! So this isn't a food experience so much as a hacking-your-mouth experience. And the sugar's the hack. Let me map it out for you:
Sugar? Ok, you may pass.
Sugar? Ok, you may pass.
Sugar? Ok, you may pass.
Etc. etc.
Thus the donuts get eaten. Despite how much they suck.

Mouth Hacking

No one ever ate a shitty mass-produced chocolate donut and went "Mmmmm!" "Mmmmm" is beside the point. We do not expect to glory in such things. But they do get eaten. Because they hack your mouth.

"Hack your mouth" is what a lot of food does. Not just donuts. Say you're a lazy, grindingly uninspired chef working in a shmancy restaurant. You're sautéing string beans, for which the restaurant charges $14. Those babies had better convey a premium $14 experience, but it's not like you're going to kindle stunning magisterial beauty via masterful nuances. No, you're standing in a hot kitchen with flop sweat, and you need this job to pay gambling debts, so what's the easiest way to convince customers their stupid string beans are worth 14 bucks?

You hack their mouths. You melt a stick of butter all over it. That'll get the bastards. Enjoy your $14 string beans. Customers, registering the greasy jolt, feel like they've had a premium experience. Mouth-hacking is the most efficient means to evoke the dopamine hit that opens wallets.

Home Chefs

Among the myriad problems currently blighting our society, home chefs these days try to emulate restaurant chefs. And restaurant chefs hack mouths. So lots of home chefs are clobbering with the butter, salt and sugar so they can evoke the cheap dopamine hit and feel like rock stars. And they invariably work from cookbooks written by authors with similar flop sweat.

Recipes are Bullshit

HUGE FOOD WORLD SECRET: if a written recipe could result in sure-thing deliciousness, MacDonald's would be churning out splendiferous burgers, and a night at Olive Garden would be like a trip to Naples. Recipes (as the great food writer John Thorne insightfully explained) are, at very best, loose roadmaps to be read off-handedly and set aside while you pretty much go back to your usual thing, only perhaps folding in the egg whites a bit earlier in the process.

Cookbook writers have flop sweat for the exact same reason chefs do. Readers paid $35 for your damned book, so they expect to produce something noteworthy, however unaware that no recipe is sure-thing. So cookbook recipes are designed to hack mouths. And it's always that same trinity of coverups: sugar, salt, grease.

We've all had our mouths hacked so many times that excess no longer bugs us. Much as we expect to wince in pain at the volume of rock concerts, or cringe at the crippling bitterness of a New England IPA, the hack becomes part of the experience. We accept the hacking, and few of us expect to go "Mmmm" much (though we do sometimes text "Yum!", much as we "LOL" while stone-faced).

We've lost "Mmmm".

Feast, Not Famine

The best food I ate in the 20th century was cooked by an Italian grandma in Queens who used virtually no salt. There was no effort to hack my mouth, and my "Mmm"s were pornographic. Her unforgettable lunches left me with an unusual attitude toward low-salt cooking: it needn't taste like austerity. It can be full and luscious and to-die-for.

I've spent years trying to reconstruct her magic. And it's surprisingly easy. First: stop cooking like restaurant chefs. Second: stop following recipes. Just keep iterating with constant improvement. Taste your food the way you tasted that crap chocolate donut, asking yourself how much you can reduce the hacks: the sugar, the salt, the grease, without losing the soul. The answer, you'll find, is a lot. And as you keep pushing, you'll keep finding more space to push into.

You needn't flail with compensatory moves. Don't shake all sorts of spice into your food, eager to offer your palate something to grab hold of. Make your food foodlike - way better than the insipid commercial donut under the globs of sugar - and palates will be more than happy. Good food makes you go "Mmmmm." Nobody misses the coverup. Nobody even likes the coverup. We're just inured to it, that's all.

But you have to actually do it. You need to cook with great care. Because careless cooking requires coverups. Blotchy skin calls for tons of makeup. When food doesn't taste food-like, that's when the mouth starts feeling empty, probing for the grease, the salt, and the sugary sugar. We don't actually deeply enjoy those things. But, as any addict will attest, a paucity of love turns one's mind to seamier, less subtle attractions.

Concentrate on Sucking Less

Hi. So, yeah. I've reached a pretty banal conclusion. Hey, deep insights often reduce to banality. Salt covers problems....so don't make problems.

Then keep easing back further, firm in your faith that while we're accustomed to "way too much", that's not where the deliciousness ever was. That's just cover-up; saving gracelessness; copious spoonfuls of sugar to make the medicinal go down.

Healthy cooking is not an austere xerox-of-a-xerox of good food. Rather: unhealthy cooking is a cheap move to make mediocrity palatable. Frame it that way.

Follow-up here

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

When to Up-Spend

Carpenters should always buy the most expensive hammer. That's obvious, yet few of us seem to really internalize that lesson.

For example, it’s crazy that most people spend a third of their lives nuzzling a cheap uncomfortable pillow. Even at my financial low point as a freelance jazz musician, I slept with a $$$ down pillow (with fancy hypoallergenic cover). The same people will jump to buy a BMW the moment they can afford one. I don't understand their priorities.

I use a portable vacuum several times per day. I want to encourage that habit, and for it to work reliably well. So I own a Dyson - which, even at its blow-out sale price, was still a luxury purchase. But I've never regretted it.

Here's the counterintuitive formula: Up-spend on items used most frequently. Not your most enjoyed or valued things, nor the things you most depend upon. I immensely enjoy my bottom-of-the-line iPad, greatly value my second-hand dvd collection, and depend on my house's merely-decent water heater. None were spendy. But the scrub brush I use on my back in the shower every day is the best one. I use it daily, and it never does anything to erode my joie de vivre. Over time, that adds up.

Anything that delivers daily irritation or disappointment gets improved if possible. My doors shut well and my light switches make a nice noise. This may seem petty, but improvement of improvable fine points is far more sane than rumination over the unavoidable. People mess up both sides of the Serenity Prayer.

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Husk

I just watched the 2000th person from my past bug their eyes out, gasp slightly for air, and scramble to compose themselves after the shock of seeing how poorly I've aged. This, to their shock, is what I've been reduced to. Haplessly vacant, grimly detached. Sad! Yet, discordantly, also highly-intense and unwaveringly present (I'm eleven). The striking discrepancy makes for the creepiest possible affect. Yikes.

I appreciate how concern for my feelings compels them to recompose themselves, rather than simply gape in horror at the poor sad man. And I do sympathize with their gut reaction. Hell, I'd react the same way if I met me. But here's the thing: I'm proud of it.

You know in sports when they talk about "leaving it all on the field"? I've done that.

Everyone tries hard, even slackers. Life is hard; an upward march into a headwind. We meet resistance at every turn, eerily sensing some omnipresent strata of malice. Many of us collapse. I look like I collapsed. The poster child, perhaps, for Psychological Collapse But, no, that's not it. I didn't collapse.

The very opposite, in fact. This is how it looks like when you've applied yourself with the heat of a thousand suns to every task. This is the Energizer Bunny at 59. Depleted, yes, but from massive effort, not crestfallen collapse (like many opposites, they closely resemble one other). This explains my odd combination of wasted countenance and simmering aliveness.

Remember when I realized that my cooking was merely excellent because I keep forgetting that merely trying fervently is nowhere close to sufficient? Remember how one of my most striking epiphanies was the recognition that people work very hard to attain mediocrity ("Authoring a shitty book takes a year off your life, turns your hair grey, and gives you ulcers")? Remember my advice for people who want to succeed in pursuits like cooking ("However good you are now, get way way better, and then, when you're certain you're good enough, get way way better still. And then get better. Finally, realize you absolutely suck and triple it.")? That's a taste of it.

If I had anything to show you with my presentation - with my facial expression, or the jaunty angle of my hat, or sparkle in my eye - that would mean I'm not spending it all. No, I'm not showing, I'm occupied with doing. I suppose my image collapsed, but that was inevitable. Full-out trying requires undivided attention. You're not truly giving your all if you keep pausing to glance at the mirror. Or reposition your hat. Or cultivate sparkly eyes. Presentation - looking the part - is a cheap graft-on. One can be smart without seeming arrogant; successful without seeming superior; sympathetic without uttering the emblematic words; etc. etc.

When I die, I aspire to amount to nothing more than a pile of dust to be swept up and tidily dumped in the nearest waste receptacle. Forget "good-lucking corpse", I don't want the slightest consideration for my remains or even my memory. I tried just because...and not as a ploy to be treasured as "The Guy Who Tried Just Because". I'm fully wary of the trap. If I hadn't been onto that bullshit from an early age, that might have been me.

Ferocious doing takes a toll, and leaves no energy for cultivating image or status. "Looking good while you do it" is a whole other level of doing, and it's not my level (nothing wrong with it; we're all here to work our chosen realms!). Don't expect conjurers of real magic to look great in a tux and smile big cheesey smiles for the people. Dividing energy and attention means only part of your effort goes into the actual doing. And that's not how magic is made.

Real magic is contriving a whole to exceed the sum of its parts. Fake magic is the mastery of trickery and deception. Very different! Real magic is messy, and its practitioners are far too occupied to concern themselves with image. Fake magic is suave, and its practitioners look absolutely fantastic.

I look like a dried-out husk because there's nothing here. No doer at all. Just the doing. Insofar as I'm anything, "empty husk" suits me fine.
"Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing."
But wait....if I've renounced self-consciousness, then how can I account for this self-conscious posting? As I've explained, my mind desperately needs to have things verbally explained to it - stuff that's understood intuitively - or else it makes a fuss. That's what this Slog project mostly is: My mind laboriously deconstructing and explicating intuitive knowledge.

I'm describing karma yoga. You can look it up on Wikipedia, or read a bunch of books, or even go live in an ashram in India and have some wizened swami explain it all, but you will understand it progressively less and less. You'll keep getting colder. Above is the unadulterated low-down, baked fresh.

Friday, January 7, 2022


Casper the Friendly Ghost, in his heart of hearts, felt great shame for his neurotic need for widespread approval and admiration.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

LEFFtovers: Perfecting and Applying Pan-Toasted Tortilla Shreds

A trio of recent LEFFtover treatments, all building on the same tortilla move:

Chunky Central American-Korean Breakfast Hash
  • Egg white omelet.
  • Pan-toasted torn shreds of thick leftover Guatemalan tortillas.
  • Morsels of leftover Korean whitefish pancake.
  • Leftover broccolini.
I should have started by pan-toasting black mustard seeds, South Indian style. My bad.

LEFFtover Goat Curry
  • Leftover Goat Curry
  • Leftover tortillas, torn and pan toasted
  • Baby spinach

Punjabi Chole with Guatemalan Makki di Roti*
  • Leftover Punjabi stewed chickpeas
  • Leftover tortillas, torn and pan toasted
  • Coarsely-chopped baby bok choy drizzled with olive oil and zataar
* In case you missed the droll witticism, Punjabis actually make corn bread (makki di roti, most often served with sarson da saag, or soupy greens).

Making Of

Several things coming together here:

1. Frying is the dirty route to crunchiness
I thought I liked fried foods, but I mostly just like crunch. Some may get off on the overpowering oil flavor and heaviness of frying (and while I'll acknowledge that elite soul food chefs wield copious lard for results lighter than light itself, good luck finding cooking like that). I've always considered the oiliness to be something to tolerate if you want crunch. Which is insane, health-wise.

I perennially have loads of leftover thick Guatemalan tortillas in my fridge, because Guatemalans descended a few years ago and are everywhere and I love them. But their tortillas are so thick (ala Mexican gorditas) that I just can't finish a pile of them....along with the humungous mound of rice accompanying everything. Guatemela's just not super keto.

So in pursuit of giving them crunchy highlights, I've been working on alternative crunch production (ACP), finally settling on this formula: low heat, very lightly oiled cast iron (i.e. quick rub with an oily paper towel), and plenty of patience and care and timing. To create fast easy crunch, chuck your food into a vat of hot oil. But if you want nuance (bit of chew 'neath the crunch) and a >6 decade lifespan, you need to work harder.

2. My Carb Problem
Between the aforementioned Guatemalans and the Indians and the Dominicans and the East Asians, I ingest rice like a rural Chinese serf from a Pearl Buck novel. And most rice contains arsenic, which is cumulative in your system. So I'm trying to diversify carbs.

My go-to standby would be bread, but since I'm already way into panini, I don't have open bread slots. And potatoes take time to cook. So corny Guatemalan rounds seem more and more attractive. But I don't crave spongey, stale, leftover tortillas. I want something more appealing. Something a bit crunchy. But without the frying. So, yeah. This is where I'm headed with that.

3. Stew + Rice = Nice...but Tedious
I'm getting righteously tired of stewy stuff on rice. If I had more time to make mashed potatoes, I'd head straight there. But this is faster and lazier. I do need to buy some kasha, now that winter's here. And, of course, there's always pasta, but I can't imagine kasha or rigatoni would serve toothsomely in these contexts. So viva Guatemala! 

4. Fatah and Fatah
The "Yemen" section of my smart phone app, "Eat Everywhere" ("Your personal eating assistant in any restaurant at home or abroad") describes their much beloved Fatah:
Yemenis go crazy for both bread and butter, and fatah is the ultimate expression of both together. It's easy to remember the name - the more you eat it, the fatah you'll get. These buttery, bready croutons are moistened with broth and cooked with meat or vegetables until totally soggy. Really, it's a way of reusing stale bread (Yemenis go through a ton of the stuff).
Fatah is cousins with the better-known (hereabouts) Lebanese fattoush, which I've been told predate French salad croutons by like sixteen thousand years. So this toasting-torn-leftover-bread trick is done all over the Middle East, and northern South Asia. Also: Mexico. While this may not be precisely the move a Mexican grandma would make (i.e. chilaquiles), abuelita would surely nod her head approvingly.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Where Do I Go When the Charade of My Identity is Dropped?

Completing the trilogy that began with "Unifying Framing, Learning, Creativity, Depression, and Narcissism" and continued with "Improving Your Foreign Language Accent"... 

In "Improving Your Foreign Language Accent", I described the existential terror driving us to stay in character:
People imagine that if they're not THIS PERSON (this character they made themself forget they chose to play) they'd be lost or erased or snuffed or fallen-off-a-cliff into a dark pit of non-existence.
This wasn't true, but I published it anyway. Sorry. Lazy. Let me try to do better.

No one imagines they'd die or fall of a cliff or be erased. It's a deeper terror; much more murky and unconscious. In a posting titled "Jnani Train", I painted this picture:
You arrive in the midst of the story, like in a dream, finding yourself standing in the aisle of a speeding train, greatly stressed from carrying a titanic load you can neither view nor explain.

Your hands clutch many handles, your shoulders tremble with unseen weight, and the burdens on your back, hips, trunk and neck are impossible to account for - you have no idea where your body ends and the load begins. And you've been here a very, very long time; since before you can remember.

Two things seem certain: 1. The burden is nearly unendurable, and 2. It's crucial that you not drop any of it.

Why must you not let go? Strangely, you'd never considered the issue. Here you are; self-evidently the bearer of this load! Does Atlas, who holds up the entire world, ever take a moment to ponder the necessity of his sacrifice? Of course not; he's got a world to hold up!
We can't remember how we got here, and we can't say exactly what we're afraid of, but the visceral certainty resists all questioning. If you point this out, you'll only irritate them:
With all they've got to struggle with, there's no patience for your nonsense.
In "Memory Trick #2", I pondered why brain farts are so uncomfortable for most people to endure:
The brain's spigot normally gushes effortlessly. Information simply arrives. When it doesn't, deep-seated issues of control and identity arise from the subconscious. If my thoughts stop, where does that leave me? A curtain has pulled back to reveal my impermanence!
Since people are terribly confused about who they actually are, these gaps freak them out. This explains the counterproductive impulses. Feeling as if we've crash-landed in an eerie silent abyss of non-existence, we flail for a sense of control, trying to reboot our mental continuity like a smoker frantically flicking her empty lighter. We’re engaged not in data recovery but in a struggle to restart the ticker tape of mental narration that establishes our sense of continuity.
What's the fear? It's hard to say, but it must be real, because I’ve been here all this time, grabbing and grasping to maintain a continuity which might halt if I let go for one second!

Like Atlas, we stress ourselves unnecessarily with the absurd notion that dropping character means oblivion. How did we get into character? The same way we identify with characters in novels or movies or dreams, daydreams, fantasies: suspension of disbelief followed by eager immersion. It's what humans do, the way beavers build dams and squirrels collect acorns. We live to shift perspective into this character or that, but it doesn't work unless you really buy in. And buying in means you shudder to let it go; to lose the continuity of this glorious self-story you're so invested in.

This is the primal fear, too ambiguous and visceral to articulate, much less justify. And it’s hilarious nonsense, because everything happens around you, not to you. Not only are you quite obviously continuous, you are the very continuity! We are our pattern of framing; of attention-paying. We are subject, not object.

To add meta-commentary, hopefully without confusing things too badly (and only because if I get hit by a truck I may never get the chance to bury this Easter egg)....

What I'm doing here, and in other postings, is a fresh thing. Zen and other mystical traditions address the persona/character, breaking the news that you don't exist. It's notoriously difficult to articulate, for obvious reasons, and even harder to swallow. In fact, those guys concede that it's all entirely incomprehensible. Yet they nonetheless offer, in the spirit of hope, a higher viewpoint for any edge cases who happen to be ripe for casting away facade. If you're already teetering, maybe their stuff will push you over.

I'm going the other way. I've flipped that script . Rather than speak to the pose, explaining its nonexistence, I speak to the underlying awareness (nothing distant or trippy; it's the most intimately familiar you), reminding it of its primacy. This way is more comprehensible, requiring fewer contortions.

Awareness always knows, at some level, that it's posing, no matter how committed it may be to the charade. Even the most diehard Yankees fan recognizes, in some deeply repressed strata, that he's deliberately heated himself into a furor over a trivial thing. He might not confess it in words, or be made to waver in his staunch devotion. But, in his core, he knows he's pretending. The control room lights have dimmed, but it's still his shop. He's the prime mover. It's all whim, and he's the Whimmer.

And you know, too. And this knowing awareness is the strata I address. I'm speaking to the depreciated real you of pure awareness - and doing so informally so it doesn't seem like some fancy/holy big deal. Because it's not.

I didn't quite invent this move. Dzogchen Buddhism, little known in the West, attempts something similar. But they make a grievous error by supposing everyone needs to awaken fully from their posing and storytelling, which they see as disease. That's wrong. A newbie mistake. No, we're here pretending because it's fun, even when (especially when!) it's sad or horrible. This is the greatest show of Earth, and it would be rudely disrespectful to shake people awake as they entrance themselves. As I wrote last week:
If you imagine that the truth really heals, the joke's on you, asshole. You’re like the lunatic in the audience who rushes to the stage to protect Caesar from the stabbing knives. There's no denying that falsehood would be thus dispelled; the sham nature of the enterprise entirely illuminated. Good job on that. However, you'd ruin the experience for all present.
Layer by layer, I make the case to peel away gratuitous suffering; the unnecessary assumption of stress and burden. I don't force it, and I go gently, not to spoil the pretense for those still enjoying the drama. I know better than to oppress a crowd with a blinding flood of houselights.

But fewer and fewer of us in the unimaginably rich and comfortable final level of this massively multiplayer online role-playing game are enjoying it. It's soured. The rich feel poor, the entitled feel bitterly victimized, and nearly everyone seems bored and depressed out of their skulls. There's more and more self-destruction as everyone scrambles to crank up the difficulty amid all the First World's comforts. My god, they're even starting to see it! It's fraying! A fourteenth century yogi or sufi would be astounded to see that everyday people these days have some insight into the notion of "rich people's problems" - the delusional self-inflicted stress that's been humanity's vexing problem all along. We’re beginning to ask for the check…and we really mean it this time!

I think this is the best response. Help induce some litheness of perspective - mild unfreezing - to soothe and salve people so they can can run back to the ballpark and howl in pain as the Red Sox pull ahead. Operate a well-disguised rest stop. That's the most that can be done (you can flip that if you'd like: the good stuff is found in well-disguised rest stops, not atop shiny spotlit center stages. Don't fall for highly-composed self-confidence; haggardly shellshocked, discordantly overheated nonconformists are the real truth-tellers, though damnably tough to distinguish from crackpots and losers).

It's not much, but this meager purview came at extraordinary expense. It's the modest nugget that ultimately popped out of a machine I’ve spent decades feeding all my quarters. This is as messianic as the world will stand: quietly urge modest shifts.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Conspiracy Theorists Overestimate Intelligence

It's been noted that conspiracy theories make stupid people feel smart.

This explains the appeal, but not the belief. Here's my explanation for that: Stupid people believe conspiracy theories because they overestimate smart people.

Smart people recognize the severe limitations of intelligence. They know human beings are nowhere near competent enough, visionary enough, or discrete enough to pull off big conspiracies. If you're smart, you understand that smart people are slightly less oafish...but still oafish. Earth's where they put the oafs.

In my recent posting, "How to Respond to Conspiracy Theorists", I made this comparison:
How have our trillion dollar attempts at nation-building panned out? That’s a pretty useful high water mark for societal orchestration skills. In the end, I think Gary Larson had it right. We are slightly clever livestock. And often not even that clever.
Convincing stupid people that intelligent people aren't all-knowing and that powerful people aren't all-powerful is like trying to convince poor people that billionaires experience discontentment and frustration, or homely people that the highly-attractive can be lonely.

My plumber's super short. We were in my basement last week and I conked my head on a lead pipe. He winced in sympathy, and I boomed "See? It's not all it's cracked up to be!" He assumed I was being witty, but I saw no flash of recognition in his eyes. He figured I enjoy an elite "tall person" lifestyle, and a few errant head conks are a small price to pay. To me, it's nothing but head conks.

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