Times like these, writing is difficult. I have an idea. I ponder the idea, rolling it around in my head until I think I have a solid start. I sit down to begin and...
Shootings in Orlando. Horrendous murders. Terrorist attacks in Baghdad, Nice. America ripping itself apart in Dallas. Baton Rouge -again, Baton Rouge.
A melee of gruesome acts filling the screen. And I want to sit down write about my life? "Hello, my name is Elise Ottenfeld and since the day I was born I have lived a life of wonder, intrigue and extreme privilege being born pretty and smart to a white-upper middle class family. Aside from a small handful of fuckups -and I assure you, they have been fuckups. There is no other fitting title- brought about specifically as a result of my entitlement, my life is a continuing magical parade. Let me sit down and tell you about these things in between your daily dose of horror."
It just doesn't seem tasteful.
But life goes on. I think about how far we've come. How many horrors of our past we've solved. No doubt we're entering the Golden Age of humanity with the most people living happy, productive lives that have every lived happy, productive lives. Artists still create. My stupid TV shows don't stop their comedy. My musicians don't stop their music. My photographers still turn to beauty. And I have a strong belief it's the duty of writers to continue telling stories. Making up the collective narrative of the world can't stop because of sadness. That's letting the terrorists win.
So let's talk about something else. Let's talk about love. Love is redemptive and healing. One of our only respites in troubled times.
I am Scientist, E -for Elise. I am scientiste -scientisty, science related and interested. I study love the way only a scientist can -I want predictors. Correlation Coefficients between specific variables indicating success or failure. I once found an article stating the perfect marriage match was 1. Neither should have been divorced. 2. The man is at least 5 years older. 3. But the woman is more educated (My standard seems to be 6 years, but otherwise we're gold). Conversely, articles tell me I'm more likely to be single because of my intelligence. With the daily torrent or articles claiming "Science says!" Who am I to believe? Whose correlations and data are better?
In 2006, National Geographic published an article titled "This Thing Called Love" and introduced me to Helen Fisher. Helen Fisher, the Queen of the chemistry and biochemistry of love, granted my first introduction to love as a drug. Dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline creating a cocktail for madness in your cortex. Of course this idea is appealing. As Americans of the modern pharmaceutical era don't we sing, "It's not me, it's my chemicals!"? And as a chemist, one of my favorite things is to slip away into the madness of love thinking "Ah yes, there's my dopamine and norepinephrine." I do hope you have had the experience. You know when it's different. The ability to stay awake until 2am talking over wine, then wake up at 6 in the morning to go to work feeling alive and refreshed is yours. The -can't eat, can't sleep, can only daydream. Cocaine and heroin? No, thanks. I just need a new pretty face.
But our chemicals wane as our tolerance grows. Fisher says that after two years -theoretically how long it would have taken to meet, mate and partially raise a child in the olden days-, our chemicals shift from the "high" ones to the "low" ones. (Google: Why do relationships end after....2 years is the top result). We're left with whatever else we had to see if it can be grown into attachment.
That gives me the physical pathology of love and some predictors for the "whatever else we had" to make it last, but what about the initial fall? What makes my classmates stare at the quiet handsome stranger in class, gossiping "Is he gay? Does he have a girlfriend back home? Why doesn't he try to come hang out with us?" And I grin thinking, "I know why." and go on to solicit stolen kisses on the train after talks of "What is sin? Isn't it good to fall in?" (Hint: If handsome men are quiet, it's normally because their minds having more to say than the average listener is willing to hear). Or at least, that's how love is for me. A sudden overwhelming which arrives a la the gods on my lap. Here I am living my own happy productive life, then, whoosh, it's all gone.
But, an adrenaline junkie, I'd have it no other way.
For this, I have no explanation. I secede from the knowable into Malcolm Gladwell's principle of "Blink" : Sometimes you just know things and you don't know why. It's a sum of neurons firing you can't begin to understand. Trust your brain; it's made to integrate like this. And there are some people who come to know these things in time. They start out at a different base, and it takes time and interaction before the lights start sparking in their heads. Why be one or the other? I have no articles for that. C'est la vie.
This has been a pondering on only one type of love, of course. I think there are many others -we're just not great at distinguishing between the different shapes and forms via the English language nomenclature. Perhaps next time.
Everyone has their own opinions on how you should spend your money. Different sites offer different strategies assigning numbers and percentages to the physical -or abstract- items of your life. How much for shelter? How much for transportation? Ho much for food?
Ah, food. Poking around the internet, you'll find many recommendations, but generally the numbers give you between 10 and 15% of your budget should be spend on food. And as this article so charming claims "If you number-crunch and realize you're spending 30 percent of your income on food, put the food portion of your budget on a diet."
My shelter comes in low, a paltry 16% to the recommended 30% with the difference devoted to one day upgrading my unowned condo living space to a owned and sprawling house. My transportation comes in high at 23% compared to the national average of 17%.
And my food....a whopping 29%, kissing the top of that "diet-level" limit.
I'm typical of my millenial cohorts. Eve Turow has recently penned "Generation Yum: How the Millenial Generation's Love for Organic Fare, Celebrity Chefs, and Microbrews Will Make or Break the Future of Food" in which she describes the phenomena of our recent food obsession. While food overall has been making a comeback, for the older generations, its popularity among millenials is astonishing. Why at this point when the majority of a population was finishing college during a recession, struggling to get jobs in their intended fields, did they decide to devote the portion of their income typically allotted to a home to food? .
In her book, she explores across the globe talking to millenials as well as foodie staples like Anothony Bourdain or Aziz Ansari who represents both. I haven't gotten far enough in the book to offer you their opinions, so here are mine.
Why did I walk around the corner to get a lox and cream cheese bagel with french press for $10 when I could have taken the free Community Coffee and boxed cereal offered free by the hotel? Why do I make a lunch of spring salad with goat cheese and homemade candied pecans and harvest bread fresh from the local bakery with ricotta and honey to take to work? Why don't I just make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and eat that? (My apple slices are here to stay either way) Why don't my friends do these things either?
My answer, I think, resides in another philosophical factoid purported science has offered us. Experiences make us happier than things. Good food is an experience. I couldn't tell you the last time I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because the moment did nothing to solidify its space in my consciousness. But good food? I can tell you the 10 best things I last ate. I can tell you where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, wearing, all of these things. Good food makes us feel things and the feelings produce memories we can forever hold. There are meals I dream about from 5, almost 10, years ago because they were just so damn delicious. Isn't having those memories worth something extra in terms of living a life?
Good food is also an experience because of the kind of good it makes us feel. You may have heard cheese is addictive. Indeed, not just cheese but many kinds of good food set off the same "feel good" chemicals that lead people to addiction. One of my favorite first date questions is "Would you rather have good food or good sex for the rest of your life?" Perhaps this is a trick question because they're similar brain experiences. (Perhaps unsurprisingly also, my beaus normally choose the latter despite my coaxing protests to lean to the other side of the argument.) Maybe after we get our first fix, there's nothing we can do but go in search of another.
I wish I could remember that first fix, but if I had to place it, I'd say spring of my 21st year. My parents have excellent taste though far from consistently fancy, so I know I had had good food before. But finally I was of age. I was recently converted to the "good food" craze in terms of natural and organic. I'd just gotten a job at Whole Foods, mecca of the decadent "good is good for you" natural foods craze and was surrounded by new things to try. Plus, it was good money and though I'd been out of the house for a while, I'd never had a wealth of disposable income. Or as my schooling approached its end, disposable time to sit at fancy restaurants savoring bites. And I lived in Birmingham, home to a surprisingly outstanding host of first class food. When people think of "foodie" cities, it's certainly not the first to come to mind, but as I've come to learn, the people in the know are aware of Birmingham's strength of cuisine. It was the perfect storm. Good food, good money, and the time to spend it with both. Then I was caught.
.And so, we return to Eve's question: Is the current trend of millenial food experience here to stay? Will we continue to have generations of people more devoted to their food than to their living situation? I'm not sure, but I can say that currently being in New Orleans with a crowd devoted to good tastes, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon.
Laissez les bon temps rouler.
Yesterday I polished off my most recent journal. The beautiful blue, marbled book you see up there obtained on the Rialto Bridge in Venice Italy quite near this time two years ago.
I started on spiral notebooks stripped of their school notes. Then I received my first official black leather one for Christmas in 2004. I preferred the black leather journals for a while. Moleskine I tried but the margins are too close so with my atrocious handwriting, I had to forsake them. Then people started giving me journals, and I used those instead. A light brown, leather skinned cover with interchangeable inserts you could remove to store on the shelf as you completed them. (And thereby use the same journal for the rest of your life? How dull!) Another, dark brown leather. Sturdy leather but still not a hardback with heavy metal clasps to seal away your memories. Then my exotic purchases start. A baby blue leather hardback from Poland by way of Etsy. My beautiful marbled Venezia book. A more coarsely artistic hardback from Costa Rica -but apt, Costa Rica is more coarse than Venice.
And two beautiful dark brown leather hardbacks from Barcelona, Spain and Florence Italy which are not journals but make up my personal "bible" collection. Books of quotes and commentary I've acquired throughout the world and think offers guidance for those ultimate questions of "How does one live a good life?"
I write to understand the world.. I write to take an idea in pieces and make it whole. Especially for the journals, those insane emotional ideas. The wantings of the heart, confusions of the mind, general chaos and discord. I declare, "I need to know how I feel about this." I take them out and unwind them, binding them onto paper instead where they're easier to follow and track. Easier to trace back to a common cause or new revelation.
While I've always known the writing is my own personal therapy -heaven help the therapist that ever has to deal with duplicitous me- I didn't realize how it has also likely the cause of my good memory. Several days ago my boyfriend discussed breaking up for two weeks in November. "Two weeks? We broke up for like two days." I responded. In this modern era of technological time stamps, I have the data to prove it. But I don't need the data because I have the memories. I can hit play from the minute we broke up to the minute we got back together and watch the film of what I did, where I was, how I acted. Why do I remember and why does he not? Perhaps you think a breakup's significance is what makes it solidify in your brain space. But there are many nights, many kinds of nights, many kinds of facts, data and figures I can do the same thing with. So many I think it's beyond happenstance and merits the title of "skill".
With a family linked to Alzheimer's, I'm always on the lookout for a way to build a better brain. It would seems that the act of writing things down, while initiated for emotional relief, has lead to a competitive advantage in this arena. Science agrees. People don't often think of "exercising" the brain the way they do a muscle, on-demand and effective, but perhaps it is that simple. Write to build a better mechanism of remembering.
At soccer practice while doing ab workouts, my soccer coach commented. "I like watching Elise do workouts because she just goes somewhere else. Everyone frustrated or in pain, and she's not even there."
My memory palace is where I go.
A memory palace, as introduced to me by Hannibal in "The Silence of the Lambs" and as officially titled "Method of Loci" definition offered by Wikipedia.
"the method of loci', an imaginal technique known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and described by Yates (1966) in her book The Art of Memory as well as by Luria (1969). In this technique the subject memorizes the layout of some building, or the arrangement of shops on a street, or any geographical entity which is composed of a number of discrete loci. When desiring to remember a set of items the subject 'walks' through these loci in their imagination and commits an item to each one by forming an image between the item and any feature of that locus. Retrieval of items is achieved by 'walking' through the loci, allowing the latter to activate the desired items."
And so you start by writing to remember. Then you build a memory palace where all your memories reside together in ordered environment to explore at your leisure.