"Like the study of science and art, accounts of historical events can be intrinsically fascinating. But they have a wider significance. I believe that people are better able to chart their life course and make life decisions when they know how others have dealt with pressures and dilemmas---historically, contemporaneously, and in works of art. And only equipped with such understanding can we participate knowledgeably in contemporary discussions (and decisions) about the culpability of various individuals and countries in the Second World War. Only with such understanding can we ponder the responsibilty of human beings everywhere to counter current efforts at genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to bring the perpetrators to justice."
"...we humans are the kinds of animals who learn chiefly by observing others---what they value, what they spurn, how they conduct themselves from day to day, and especially, what they do when they believe that no one is looking."
----Howard Gardner, from The Disciplined Mind, published in 1999

Friday, July 13, 2007

Like Nacha for Tita; or, Just Do It (Getting Over Yourself)

Those happy days when Nacha was with her seemed so distant now. Nacha! The smells: her noodle soup, her chilaquiles, her champurrado, her molcajete sauce, her bread with cream, all were far away in a distant past. They could never be surpassed, her seasoning, her atole drinks, her teas, her laugh, her herbal remedies, the way she braided her hair and tucked Tita in at night, took care of her when she was sick, and cooked what she craved and whipped the chocolate! If she could bring back a single moment from that time, a little of the happiness from those days, she could prepare the King's Day bread with the same enthusiasm she had felt then!---Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

One of the reasons for my procrastination of yesterday's homework was my feeling of intimidation. Or, to put it into behavioral terms: I engaged in procrastinating behavior (form) to avoid my feelings of inadequacy and intimidation (function).
This is a pattern that sometimes emerges for me. It's an old monkey that, though banished, will sometimes attempt to drop out of a a tree, and land squarely on my back. Every now and again, he'll try to keep a hold, but usually slides off and hits the dirt in short order; and by that time, my coordinates have already changed. As monkeys-on-the-back are, he's a lazy sort; so he'll take his time getting back up into the tree. The other side to that particular coin is that one never knows when he'll drop out of the trees again. So being ready for it is essential.

To deal with this particular monkey-on-the-back, I need to employ tactics which will decrease my thoughts of inadequacy and intimidation, and therefore my behavior to avoid the task and the situation triggering these behaviors.
The best tool in the toolkit for me when this occurs is a tandem one: the one-two punch of dedicating the merit of others (the "rejoicing" limb of 7-limb practice) and mudita. Quite simply, I contemplate upon the good qualities in the people that seem to trigger my intimidation. I think about how these qualities are not cause for anxiety, but rather, for real joy and excitement. And just as Gardner's MI theory or Shantideva's Engaging in Boddhisattva Behavior or the New Testament would tell us, that good stuff that we recognize and rejoice in others is also ours. We all have the good stuff: how we manifest it to ourselves and to the world is what matters.

I use this tandem tool for all manner of situations. For example, on one of the most hot and humid days of the summer thus far, Little Guy and I picked cherries. Upon returning home, LG asked for a cherry pie. I must tell you that the making of the pastry for pie has always been an undertaking with uncertain results in my hands. Though I have been enjoying more consistent results since using my long-gone grandmother's recipe, hand-written, well-worn, the results are never completely assured. As it should be, I suppose, in life and pastry; and there's some joy to that.
With my love for LG as primary agent, I began to think about my grandmother, my Almeda, and how well she loved us: how she taught us to bake, to do needlework; how she let us fill her bathtub to the brim and soak until we were wrinkled as raisins; how from her hands we received cakes, and pies, those plump cookies pressed together like hands in namaste: how, Almeda, can I make pie dough on such an infernal day?

With clarity, I unfolded her tattered recipe. I placed a metal tray into the freezer to roll the dough out when it was complete; I filled an enamel roaster with ice and placed the mixing bowl into it. Without thinking, I measured out proportions of white cake flour, whole wheat flour, and chappatti flour into the freezing bowl, as we were out of our usual pastry flour.
As I pressed the tines of my pastry fork against the sides of the frosty mixing bowl, smashing the butter into the flour, the gentle insistence, that scritch-scritch-swish sound of the fork, bowl, and mealy-butter-flour-meal that was to become dough was as sweet as if I had heard Almeda speaking to me. The pastry began to come together, just so.
Chill for fifteen minutes, Almeda wrote in her recipe.
After rolling out the pastry and assembling the pie, I took a little paring knife to cut vents into the top crust. I cut a heart-shape in the middle, with lines radiating out from it in all directions, Radiant Baby-style, and put the pie into the oven.
It was so very beautiful and good when it came out, and we devoured every juicy bite.

After my procrastinating behavior yesterday, I finally returned home and seriously turned my mind to work. I thought about the wonderful qualities of the people I've just met. I thought about how LG and BG were so happy that afternoon. I thought about the wonderful qualities of my grandmother, my Almeda, and how they made themselves present for me in the here-and-now in the making of LG's cherry pie. And how we did benefit from the sweetness!
I gathered all these things together, whipped the chocolate in my Chocolate Mainline, and did my homework. And that, dear reader, is How I Got Over Myself.
Thank you so much, dear reader, for your kindness.

Have a wonderful day.

Almeda's Pie Crust

Sift together:
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
Cut in:
1 1/4 cup shortening
1 beaten egg
5 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon vinegar
4 tablespoons of mixture
Mix with fork
add 4 more
continue till
pastry holds
chill 15 minutes


swamp witch said...

Just flew over for a second to thank you for your visit today. I will be back to read in depth this evening. I am excited that you liked my MI Lesson Plan. And of course, collaborating with Min about anything is fine by me.

The Artist formerly Known as Purpleworms (!) said...

I can't believe you would be intimidated by anyone else - you are so competent and thoughtful!

neroli said...

Dear Swamp Witch, I look forward to reading more of your excellent work!
Thanks for allowing the group---Min is so very good at picking those faces out of the crowd.

neroli said...

Dear Artist, thank you for your kindness---you know I respect you as an authority on just about everything!