Friday, March 11, 2011

Rice Reversal

In my last post, I thought about the part of a person that never changes (the word “part” somehow diminishes my point, but I won’t linger on it). This week, a bowl of rice shifted my attention to the part that does.

Monday night I came home after work and made myself dinner. I didn’t have much food in the house so I made my fallback meal: a bowl of rice. There’s hardly anything I find more comforting than a big bowl of grain topped with plenty of olive oil and salt. And I can put away a surprising amount of rice for my size. At dinner I’m the last one fingering sticky globs of it from the rice cooker, long after I’ve abandoned the half-eaten steak on my plate. It’s not that I don’t like steak—nothing could be further from the truth—it’s just that rice is so easy to eat. I could eat rice forever. I’m a bottomless pit, and a happy one.

But on this particular night, something wasn’t right in my bowl of rice, something that no amount of fancy olive oil or salt could remedy. The rice tasted dirty, it tasted empty, it tasted sour. It tasted like a premonition of itself sitting in my stomach, poorly digested. I poured more oil, sprinkled more salt, but by some black magic the rice refused to accept any flavor. Still, I finished it all, and all night I could taste it from the inside out.

The next morning, stomach still reeling from the aching betrayal of my old standby, I had another problem: what to pack for lunch? I’m a runner; carbs are a mainstay. I felt lost; I longed to fall back on a tried-and-true rice-based meal, something I could assemble by rote. But no—the memory and the sensation of the rice persisted persuasively.

I made bacon and eggs. At the office, I dipped the crispy shards of pork fat into the oozing globes of yolks, and all was well. I made it again the next day, and enjoyed it just as much. And when the bacon ran out, I fried chard in its leftover fat, and poured some heavy cream on top for good measure.

Now, I should stop here for a minute, because I don’t want to sound like one of those nutritional naysayers waxing poetic about deep-fried pork belly in a show of challenging the low-fat dogma. That’s all well and good, but it’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about knowing what serves you—in the Nietzschean sense—and enacting it.

This is not always a simple thing. Rice served me quite well until a distinct moment on Monday night when, suddenly, it didn’t. Perhaps it will serve me well again tomorrow. But I’m not content to just leave it at that, at listen to your body, and it will all work out.

Listen to your body. I’ve always had trouble with this maxim. For one thing, I’ve listened to my body all the way to a couple of stress fractures. Of course, each time I ended up in the MRI tube I berated myself for not listening to my body: why did I go on that long run when my shins were sore? Why did I do that race when I was tired? But there have been plenty of other times when I indulged the urge to run as much as I pleased, and nothing broke.

But the even larger problem with listening to your body is this: how can I listen to what I am? Wouldn’t that make me separate from myself? Isn’t that like saying: listen to the listening?

Listen to the listening. I’m not sure if I mean that as a way to prove that listening to your body is preposterous, or as a kind of zen koan, something that sounds impossible but makes sense on some deeper level.

And that’s all I got.


  1. First of all, it's great to see you blogging again — you have a great voice, a great style: thoughtful, smart, sincere, emotive, witty.

    And, perhaps needless to say, I love the subject matter. But I do think listening to one's body is more complex — although less paradoxical — than a koan. We need not be seduced by the figure of listening. We could try: heeding. Or doing what's best. There is a Buddhist concept here somewhere about mindfulness, being attentive to oneself in the world, to one's state.

    Does that double us? Sure. But such interactions of will and body happen all the time — such as the itch. What's different about consumption? About food or dancing?

    But all this begs the endlessly, infinitely, complex and impossible question of what's best — at least knowing what's best before the fact.

    Food is the most lucid juncture of need, desire, instinct, world, past, present, and future.

    That's all I got.

  2. dc: thank you.

    And yes, koans are perhaps not the most helpful tool here. They've always stopped me in my tracks, paralyzed me. I'm not sure this is the effect they're supposed to have, but regardless, paralysis may not be not an ideal starting place for figuring out the best course of action.

    Sometimes it's a simple matter of heeding, of mindfulness — of the rice clearly not sitting well. But more often, as you say, it's endlessly, infinitely complex and impossible to know what's best. My dad always says "there are no wrong decisions," and this has always been comforting, because the stress around choosing what's best might be worse than making the wrong choice.

    But still, where does that leave me? Choosing at random?

    And another thing: It's even harder to discern what's best when we identify ourselves by our habits. As in: I don't simply dislike mascara — I am a Girl Who Does Not Wear Mascara, and when one night I get a sudden urge to coat my lashes in that gross clumpy gook, it's hard to just get out the wand and do it, because it means I don't know what kind of girl I am anymore. Except for an indecisive one.

    And there's something about that indecisiveness that both captivates and eludes me. I think you were getting at with "philosophy is a life." I'd like to hear more.