The Portobello Needs to be Diced

I am alone in Spokane, fending for myself. There is still six inches of snow on the ground. There is a heighten sense for the need to find warmth and food. I have a really nice, comfortable room, but I am in search of food.

Of course this is more than just a travelogue. The take-away is finding the analogy that lays deeper.

I find a grill with lots of hanging lights, giving a warm holiday sort of vibe. And it doesn’t disappoint. It has a varied menu with interesting sandwiches, appetizers and entrees. I’m thinking that my red meat quota for the week is done, and the fish or chicken doesn’t grab me. So, it is either Mac & Cheese or the Portobello Parmesan. I go with the Parmesan. The soup was a tomato basil that made me want a grilled cheese sandwich, but I must accept the Parmesan instead.

It’s funny how some “parings” are based upon tradition and personal life experience. Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese is probably the most general comfort food that exists. But I’m only half comfortable.

The Parmesan comes in a bowl with a side of baby broccoli. The broccoli was first rate. The bowl was a challenge. On the plate, behind the bowl, was the largest steak knife that I’ve ever seen outside the kitchen. It could have been presented with its own sheath. Hmm, I didn’t order steak, I ordered the mushroom.

Hiding below the marinara was the mushroom. It neatly covered the mozzarella and pasta, being exactly the size of the bowl. I first tried the fork, but the mushroom completely blocked me, only allowing a thin taste of the marinara. It was good, but I needed the mozzerela and the pasta. I also needed the mushroom. I viewed the steak knife with new appreciation.

After briefly considering lifting the mushroom up to scoop the delicious underneath, I picked up the knife, tested the sharpness, and prepared to go to work. It was a disaster.

This mushroom was grilled wonderfully, but it was also resilient to attack. The more pressure I exerted, the more it slid out of the way, causing pasta, marinara and mozzarella to be displaced almost like an eruption. After many tries to cut the mushroom into manageable bites I gave up. I couldn’t see the mushroom anymore, it was buried and laying at the bottom of the bowl.

Not giving up on my consumption, I exchanged the knife with my fork. The broccoli was handled, the Parmesan was eaten. And here is the analogy. Because the mushroom was not professional diced, the pieces that I could fork were larger than normal. The mouthful was at times mostly Portobello, at other times is was pasta and mozzarella, rarely was it the balanced portions were the taste was designed. In the end I ran out of mushroom and the rest of the Parmesan was left uneaten.

Why wasn’t the mushroom diced before serving? The chef was trapped into the cute and creative “covering” quality of the mushroom. True, dicing was also another step, but should I ever order a grilled portobello again, I will ask for the dicing.

Don’t let style or coincidence take you away from the original intent.

(Okay, so maybe at my age I need my steak cut by the chef as well.)

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Agony & Ecstasy

The 1965 film was a masterpiece, detailing of the life of Michelangelo and his relationship with his patron Pope Julius II. It was my first introduce to Michelangelo and began my sincere appreciation to this day.

The title has always intrigued me. It describes a vast amount of emotional range, almost the perfect picture of bipolar. It’s no accident that an artist can feel this so deeply, and sometimes so quickly. After hours of working in stone, ecstatically carving just the right line, then a miss hit with chisel, and a chunk flies off into the corner. The agony comes quickly. I have experienced this first hand. Well, maybe not the ecstasy, but certainly the agony.

This range of emotion is not for the faint hearted, and for some it is crippling. What has been intriguing me lately is the more common and less dramatic range of comfort and discomfort. It is the lesser cousin of agony and ecstasy.

I’m comfortably walking to the store. I feel a chill because my jacket is unzipped, this makes me discomfortable. I zip the jacket and it is resolved, I am again comfortable. I sit in my recliner expecting the comfort of raising my feet, only to find that my wallet is poking my right butt cheek. I adjust it and I’m back to being comfortable.

This is generally the case, comfort can come quite easily. All one must do is remove the source of discomfort. I’m not sure that ecstasy is created by removing agony.

I think perhaps the potential ease of being comfortable is the trap that causes so many people to chase comfort with such vigor. Ecstasy is so far away, too much effort, but comfort? Comfort is just a simple adjustment. Why not be comfortable 100% of the time?

That is a reasonable question! And take a look at the efforts of most folk to be more comfortable. The opioid crisis doesn’t come from the desire to remove pain. It comes from the desire to attain comfort. Alcohol is perhaps the first historical example of seeking comfort. Even Noah succumbed to the desire. Life was harsh, why not grow a few grapes and remove the discomfort with the fermented juice?

I suppose the answer to the basic question is… Would Noah have built the ark if he had fermented the grapes first? Metaphorically, if he didn’t build the Ark, there would be no people. That’s a fairly large consequence to the desire for comfort.

I have taught art for many years and have experienced the creative process of thousands of students. Mostly it is hard work and persistence. Often it is breathtaking. Some of the most breathtaking have been from students describing their concepts beforehand. Sometimes this conversation is just “smoke talk”, from students who regular smoke a little creative encouragement. Unfortunately the art concept never finds reality, except as smoke.

The projects that get done are the result of dedication, planning, and painful practice. Musicians are used to this practice, visual artists also need training to master their tools, so we call them “studies”. Hehe, I guess writers call them blogs.

The point is that creative folks understand that discomfort is part of the process of bringing art to life. So many other examples exist, that I’m a little confused why discomfort is so avoided. Maybe it is an issue that our lives aren’t bouncing between comfort and discomfort. Maybe we spend far too much time in the region between, “the Great Dull Void”, where nothing is done, and nothing is felt.

It’s not that we are comfortable there, we are just not uncomfortable enough to move. The Great Dull Void keeps us captive so that even in our activity we move as automatons. We derive no comfort from work, or social interaction, but it’s not awful either. It’s almost like we are in line, waiting for life to happen.

One of the quotes on discomfort I like particularly well. “Discomfort is very much a part of my master plan.”

Two things that I bring from my life lessons…

1. It may be fine to have milk from “contented cows”, but contentment (comfort) rarely creates art.

2. Often we enjoy the beauty of art, but we don’t see the discomfort behind the creation.

It suddenly struck me one year, that most of the photographs that I really admired were taken by photographers in very uncomfortable places. Not only was there the years of uncomfortable training for the skill, but now they were kayaking in icy Arctic waters to take the one special iceberg image, or hanging out of a plane at high altitude to shoot storm clouds.

It adds to my appreciation to see the possible discomfort behind the beauty.

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10 Quotes on Discomfort

This was discomforting. I hadn’t recognized any of the names, (well, one seemed familiar), yet I was drawn to their quotes. A little Wikipedia check has made me very interested to read more.

1. Discomfort is very much part of my master plan. –Jonathan Lethem

2. All discomfort comes from suppressing your true identity. –Bryant H. McGill

3. I often feel a discomfort, a kind of embarrassment, when I explain elementary-particle physics to laypeople. It all seems so arbitrary – the ridiculous collection of fundamental particles, the lack of pattern to their masses. –Leonard Susskind

4. We’re so preoccupied with protecting children from disappointment and discomfort that we’re inadvertently excusing them from growing up. –LZ Granderson

5. I think art comes from some sense of discomfort with the world, some sense of not quite fitting with it. –Yann Martel

6. I wish for a world where everyone understands that discomfort is the price of legendary. And fear is just growth coming to get you. –Robin S. Sharma

7. Emotional discomfort, when accepted, rises, crests, and falls in a series of waves. Each wave washes parts of us away and deposits treasures we never imagined. –Martha Beck

8. If you’re never able to tolerate a little bit of pain and discomfort, you’ll never get better. –Angela Duckworth

9. Still today, I cannot cross the threshold of a teaching institution without physical symptoms, in my chest and my stomach, of discomfort or anxiety. And yet I have never left school. –Jacques Derrida

10. Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort. –Peter McWilliams

Jonathan Lethem- American novelist, Gun, with Occasional Music

I must read. Never heard of him but the Wikipedia article was fascinating.

Bryant H. McGill– His articles have reached more people on social media than any top shared article, by any other writer or media outlet including the New York Times, Barack Obama, Huffington Post, or CNN. 12+ MILLION Social Subscribers!

I should check him out!

Leonard Susskind- is an American physicist, who is professor of theoretical physics at Stanford University, and director of the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Okay, clearly I missed the boat here, and I need to read more about him.

LZ Granderson- is an American journalist, a contributor at ABC News and a columnist for ESPN.

Nope, never heard of him, but I will look for him now.

Yann Martel- Spanish Canadian author.

Yes, I finally remembered one. Life of Pi author

Robin S. Sharma- is a Canadian writer and motivational speaker known for his The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari book series.

Sounds interesting!

Martha Beck- is an American sociologist, life coach, best-selling author, and speaker who specializes in helping individuals and groups achieve personal and professional goals. She holds a bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in sociology, both from Harvard University. Beck is the daughter of deceased LDS Church scholar and apologist, Hugh Nibley. She received national attention after publication in 2005 of her best-seller, Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith in which she recounts her experiences of surviving sexual abuse. In addition to authoring several books, Beck is a columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine.

Wow, I just had to paste the whole Wikipedia article.

Angela Duckworth- American academic, psychologist and popular science author. She is Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania,[1] where she studies grit and self-control.

Grit and self control? Well okay!!

Jacques Derrida- was a French philosopher best known for developing a form of semiotic analysis known as deconstruction, which he discussed in numerous texts, and developed in the context of phenomenology. He is one of the major figures associated with post-structuralism and postmodern philosophy.

Applied and sociolinguistics, psychoanalysis, political theory ??? I should have known about this guy.

Peter McWilliams– American author of self help books, and a prime advocate of the legalization of marijuana.

Hmm, I let his quote in, even though he mentioned “comfort zone”. I disagree with him but I should read what his argument is.

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10 Quotes on Comfort

I went to BrainyQuotes on the net to cull the best quotes on comfort. I did use a filter, anytime anyone used the phrase “comfort zone” I immediately rejected the quote. Probably unfair, but to me, it just sets my teeth on edge. Interestingly, using that filter allowed the following gems to stand out.

1. Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. –John F. Kennedy

2. The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort. –Confucius

3. Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always. –Hippocrates

4. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. –C. S. Lewis

5. The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master. –Khalil Gibran

6. A scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar. –Lao Tzu

7. The unhappy derive comfort from the misfortunes of others. –Aesop

8. Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. –Finley Peter Dunne

9. You can’t comfort the afflicted with afflicting the comfortable. –Princess Diana

10. Today the tyrant rules not by club or fist, but disguised as a market researcher, he shepherds his flocks in the ways of utility and comfort. –Marshall McLuhan

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Shibboleth

Every now and then I recall an unusual word. It is generally a word that I once knew, but also a word that I haven’t seen in quite awhile. I suspect that there are books and articles that have all these words, but they are lost in the “garage library”, and I haven’t seen or read them in thirty years.

You can get a little confused after thirty years. Take the word “shibboleth”. It wasn’t a word that I read or heard recently. If i had I might have used context to remember what it means. By the way, using context is sketchy, maybe the author doesn’t really know the root of the word.

The word wasn’t read or heard, it just popped into my head, and seconds later all I had was a big question mark. Shibboleth? What was it? A Jewish dagger? A tower of stone? No, that didn’t seem right. There was some sort of negative context. A pejorative of some sort. Shibboleth? Yeah, clearly a Hebrew root.

I was stumped, so I naturally did the reasonably thing, I asked my wife. No help there, she had the same quizzical look that I had. She had once known this word but now it was lost.

I really would like to know if certain words, perfectly good words, just go out of favor. Is this the first stage of a word going “archaic”. Well, I can’t allow that. I will bring it back as a perfectly good, valid, word. As soon as I find out the meaning.

When the wife does not help, I generally turn to the dictionary. Oh, how thankful, it even had a spell check feature because I was looking up something that I wasn’t certain I was spelling right.

And there it was! I read the primary definition and it wasn’t anything close to what I remember. A shibboleth is something that a particular group of people use as a bonding element. Veterans share war stories, Scots/Irish like bagpipes. A shibboleth is a shared item or tradition, of a group of people.

So where is the negative? Well, someone once wrote about a tradition that they felt was no longer valid, or important and suddenly a new context was given to the word. How unfair! It was a perfectly good word that changed because of some critic who had an opinion.

Then I read on, and found a darker side of the word from it’s Hebrew root. There was a war between Ephraim and Gilead (Judges 12), and Gilead won. The stragglers from Ephraim we’re trying to cross the River Jordan to go home. Gilead controlled the fords and asked each man to pronounce “shibboleth”. In the dialect of Ephraim the word sounded like “Sibboleth” . Somehow the “H” disappeared. Over 42,000 men were killed. Tough times in the Old Testament.

I don’t know that I ever remembered that background. I’ve read Judges several times, and I have no memory of “shibboleth”. This is another separate issue that I need to resolve.

So how do I use shibboleth in the future. Even though it probably is unfair, I think I will use it to describe an outdated tradition that no longer has meaning.

Hey, shibboleth is almost a shibboleth.

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Stones That Speak

There were piles of stones throughout the Middle East. Stuccoed flat walls were hard to come by, graffiti traces unknown. But when you came upon a pile of stones you knew there was a story, a reason behind the arduous work of setting stone upon stone.

In the high Sierras, glacial swept ground leaves very little soil to mark a trail. Small piles of stone dot the granite to lead the way. “Look here, a human made this for a purpose.”

Stones of remembrance.

How much easier if the stones could speak? Annie Dillard once write a book called, “Teaching a Stone to Talk”. A character in the book had selected a likely stone from a nearby creek, placed it on his mantle, and for five to ten minutes each day, he patiently tried to teach the stone to speak. My guess is that he is still trying.

I just read an article where the writer had recently re-read books from his past. He had read Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” twenty years ago. He freely admitted he thought it was a bit “nutty”. Now, he re-read it and found it wise, funny and delightful.

The book hadn’t changed. Was something added to his life during the past twenty years to cause him to see the book in a new light? Or was something peeled away?

What is true about a creek, may also be true about people. “You can never cross the same creek twice, the water is different.”

Time changes everything, even people. “You can never meet the same person twice. Time passes.”

People are also used as “touchstones”. Things are falling into chaos, but one individual is still there, connecting the past to the future. They are trusted, they may even have some answers. Mostly you don’t ask them, their presence is enough assurance that things will work out.

They are given credit far beyond their actual abilities, but that is fair, because they are there, and they have given their “pound of flesh”.

We need our piles of rock. We need our touchstones, even if we both change, because changing together is a powerful bond.

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Inspiration

“What happened was… I nearly lost my cat Louie, which meant I nearly lost my mind. He’s back now and OK. So I wrote a book.”

I read this in my morning newsfeed. As part of my morning routine, I drink some coffee, have some toast, and I thumb through the newsfeed on my phone. I know I shouldn’t do this. I only get confused.

It started when I didn’t recognize the individuals they were writing about. Obviously they were important, their opinions mattered because that was the whole point of Buzzfeed/Vox/Politico’s story about them. But I didn’t know who they were!

So months go by, and I still don’t know who they are, beyond the fact that they keep being quoted by various newsfeed articles. It’s like they are famous by being famous.

I just read about a restaurant in London that was invented by a blogger. It was called “The Shed” and it had a unique menu of serving the ingredients of dishes before they were cooked. The guy just made up the whole thing. It made the top of the list for the best restaurant in London by TripAdvisor.

I thought perhaps that I was losing grip on reality. I’m ready to take the blame. I’m entrenched in old school thinking, so most of this new reality seems odd to me. Famous people who have done nothing, restaurants that have no menu or food, and people who write an entire book because a cat was nearly lost.

A cat was nearly lost? All cats are nearly lost everyday. They go out, they disappear, no one knows where they go… and then they come back when they are hungry. That’s the definition of nearly lost.

So the world has another book written. I can’t wait to add it to my bookshelf.

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