Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dana Solves the North Korean Situation

Every once in a while someone will convince me to try Korean food. I always state clearly that I don't enjoy Korean food, but they will always say "Oh you just haven't had it at THIS particular restaurant, or done THIS special way", and I'm sure to like it if I just give it a chance. And it's always the same.

First off, I'm a vegetarian, so maybe they do meat just fantastically and I truly am missing out, but the vegetarian experience is horrifyingly disgusting. Here's how it goes:

You come in and look at the menu. Because you're a vegetarian, there is only one thing on the menu you can have, and that is the tofu hot pot. The ingredients sound innocuous enough; tofu, vegetables, noodles in broth. "How bad can it be?" you ask yourself. So you order it.

While you are waiting, they bring out like 13 little dishes of various foods. These are your appetizers, and they give them to you whether you ask for them or not. They are all different colors and textures, and it looks just delightful. But then you start tasting them.


I suppose that's fantastic if you like pickles. But I hate pickles. And that's all it is. Pickled carrots and pickled cabbage and all kinds of stuff soaked in pickle juice. The first few you try will just amuse you. You'll say "haha so many pickles! But that's ok, there are still 32 things left to try. I'm sure some of them will be good". But as you try your 8th and 9th dishes, suddenly you're not laughing anymore. Suddenly your stomach is turning from all the nasty pickles you just ingested, and you worry that there's no end in sight. You lift your hand heavily to the 10th dish, fingers shaking ever so slightly, because you know, YOU KNOW, in that deep down part of you that this is going nowhere good. And sure enough, the last dishes are also pickles.

Now you're angry. Where is your meal? You did not sign up for a giant plate of pickles. Now your stomach is upset and you may vomit and your tofu hot pot is taking forever.

But they do bring it out. To get the pickle taste out of your mouth you dig in immediately, but it's boiling magma hot, so you can't eat too much yet. Just enough to determine that it is blissfully free of pickle juice.

You wait the 20 minutes or so that it takes to ice down your tongue burns and then you begin. What you taste is this: boiled, unseasoned vegetables, uncooked, unseasoned tofu, and some kind of super spicy broth. I don't mean spicy like Indian spicy, where it's hot but intensely flavorful and wonderful. It's just hot. All you taste is burning. Burning and boiled vegetables and uncooked tofu.

Are these people high? Who eats that? This is why North Koreans are so easily kept under government control, I am convinced. With no good food to look forward to, they have no hope for their futures. Let's say their country was liberated. Great. They're still stuck eating pickles and unseasoned lava.

This is my plan to liberate North Korea. We open up an offshore restaurant. On some island off the coast of North Korea. And we cook those people some real food. No pickling spices in sight. We give them flavors that are sort of familiar, like gourmet Chinese food and sushi, but we do it WELL. No proselytizing. No criticizing the government of North Korea. We simply allow them to eat there and send them back home. After all, we don't want to get them in trouble. We provide the food free of charge of course.

Well those North Koreans will go home with full, satisfied bellies, knowing that something good just came to them, NOT courtesy of the "Great Leader". They'll realize that life can be something better, something different. The seed of revolt will be planted. And that's all it will take. Probably.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"The Memory Keeper's Daughter" or, "The Giant Book of Overreactions"

For those of you who have not read "The Memory Keeper's Daughter", here is the plot. A couple gives birth to twins. The girl has Down's Syndrome, the boy does not. The father gives the Down's Syndrome kid away to a nurse, who raises the child as her own. The father tells the mother that the Down's Syndrome baby died. Shenanigans ensue.

I thought the plot sounded pretty interesting, so I read it, only to find myself hating most of the characters or being bored by most of the characters or both. Mostly what bothered me about this book though is how everyone overreacts to everything throughout the whole book. Here is a list of the most egregious overreactions.

1) Faking the Down's Syndrome baby's death.
Look, I get that having a baby with Down's Syndrome is bound to be upsetting. And I KIND of understand why he wanted to give it away, though that is not how I personally would handle the situation. But to pretend that she died? To let your wife think her baby is dead? To have funeral for the baby and tell everyone that the baby died? This is the first, seminal overreaction in a book that is essentially filled with people making mountains our of molehills.

2)The mother sinking into a twenty year depression over the baby's death.
Again, losing a baby must be devastating. But the mother didn't even know she was carrying twins. So it's not like she was expecting and planning for this baby, only to have her hopes and dreams dashed. She got a healthy baby boy out of the deal.

I'm not saying she shouldn't be sad, of course she should! But she sinks into a twenty year quagmire of depression over the situation, which in my opinion is unreasonable. Yes, losing a baby is sad, but it died at birth and she wasn't expecting it anyway. Essentially she just had a miscarriage. Which is sad. But not "I'm going to drink myself stupid and mope and ruin everyone's happiness for the next twenty years" sad.

3)The father/son drama.
The healthy son was supposed to be some kind of guitar virtuoso. The dad gave the son what to me sounded like very measured, reasonable advice. Essentially his advice was "Pursue music if that is your dream, but keep your options open, because music isn't a stable career choice". Not exactly "knock it off with that faggy music shit, you worthless squirt". Actually he was pretty supportive overall. But the son's reaction was basically "My dad doesn't love me. My dad hates me and can't accept me for who I am. Screw you dad! I'm gonna get high and destroy all your photography stuff". Overreaction.

4)The son's reaction to getting into Julliard.
The son eventually gets into Julliard. He tells his father. His father says "Good job son. I'm so proud of you". The son, in the biggest overreaction in the entire book, storms out of the house, STEALS A CAR, drives off and then GETS ARRESTED FOR SHOPLIFTING. Yes. Because his dad told him congratulations for getting into Julliard, which apparently was very confusing and upsetting to him.

5)The dad's reaction to the son's arrest.
When the parents come to bail the son out of jail (he was arrested for the aforementioned car theft and shoplifting) the dad sternly tells the son that he can come home, but there will be consequences. (Basically he will be grounded, have extra chores etc.) To which the son, predictably, responds by shouting something like "You can't stop me from playing the guitar!! Why can't you accept me for who I am?" though the father didn't say the son couldn't bring up the guitar. But that's not the biggest overreaction in this scene.

After the irritating son's outburst the father says "I'm sorry I failed you both" and storms out of the jail. But that's not all.


Really? OK, yes the marriage had problems. And yes, his son is a total d-bag, to the point where he would probably rather have Down's Syndrom girl around, because at least she's really sweet and nice through the whole book, unlike his ungrateful horror of a son. But why is this what makes him move out? Not his wife's cheating. Not the fact that his son hates him for no reason. This just makes no sense to me.

So yeah. The whole book is full of strange overreactions perpetrated by boring people. I recommend the book if you like separated at birth type stories and aren't at all annoyed by the above depictions of irrationality, and feel like those types of reactions make sense.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In Defense of Repressing Your Emotions

I'm not very good at discussing my feelings, unless those feelings are annoyance, boredom, hunger, or amusement. Anything more weighty than that makes me feel uncomfortable. In fact, a lot of the time I'm not even truly aware of what I'm feeling or why. This is a source of great bafflement to poor Phillip, who can sometimes tell that I'm upset, which upsets him, but I'm completely unable to explain why I am upset without a lengthy process of self examination. I'm not doing the "chick" thing where I say nothing is wrong when something is definitely wrong. I honestly don't know why I feel unhappy until I sit and think about it for a long time. I have to be quiet and alone to determine the cause of my distress; I rarely know or can explain it before that.

Phil wants me to talk about my feelings, but that's difficult for me, since I'm so out of touch with mine most of the time. It requires a lot of effort for me. Other people don't have this problem though. I see people emoting all over each other all the time, with seemingly no effort or thought or shame. And here is where I come to my point. I don't believe that these promiscuous emoters are more emotionally healthy than me. I don't think their way is better than mine. Here is why.

You've frequently heard me discuss "The Biggest Loser" as an example of over-emoting. They cry through the whole dang show, over things that seem silly to an objective viewer. But "The Biggest Loser" is only one example of this over-emoting. Any talk show is a good example too. For instance, let's take "Jerry Springer". Those people have no trouble expressing their emotions. They may not be eloquent or witty, but they know what they're feeling and know how they wish to express it. But would we say that the guests on Jerry Springer are going through a cathartic, therapeutic process? Do the guests on Jerry Springer feel better about themselves and their situations when the show is over, and their venting is complete? I would wager that they do not.

But we don't need to go to a talk show as extreme as "Jerry Springer". What about a "more classy" talk show, like "Maury Povich"? They don't fight on "Maury", and they keep their clothes on at all times, so that must be better, right? No, no it isn't. The women sit and cry and cry because they can't locate their baby daddy, no matter how many men they force into paternity testing. Sometimes Maury Povich locates the father and sometimes he doesn't. But either way, the woman should feel better right? Because she expressed her emotions and cried and "got it all out there". Being open and honest is always helpful right?

I submit that it is not better. The woman is still promiscuous, her baby still has a reluctant, irreponsible father at best, and now everyone in the country knows that she had to have 8 men tested to determine the father of her child. I would state that these problems are just as horrifying after the woman has expressed her feelings and cried. Discussing your distress doesn't make the causes of the distress disappear. Now you just have a new problem - dealing with the shame of degrading yourself on television.

Another example of people expressing their emotions is the show "Cops". The people on "Cops" express their emotions a lot too. If they feel angry, they hit someone. If they feel lonely, they hire a prostitute. If they are bored, they make mischief. They never repress their emotions, or stifle themselves. So these must be the most psychologically healthy, enlightened people in the world right?

No. Obviously not.

Let's move away from TV examples. I'm sure many would say that TV emotions don't count, as they are often faked or enhanced to increase ratings, etc. But many also argue that in real life, people shouldn't repress their emotions either. They say that holding it all in will hurt you emotionally, and turn you into a neurotic, twitchy person. Whereas expressing all your emotions leads to openness, honesty, and free spiritedness. Let's explore why this is retarded.

Let's say I can't stand someone. For argument's sake we'll call her Jasmine. I can't stand Jasmine, but I have to deal with her on an almost daily basis. Let's say she's my coworker or a family member. Someone I can't avoid. Well, if I'm in the "expressing my emotions" camp, of course I will notify Jasmine that I don't like her. I will do this verbally and with my actions. I will make snotty comments about her, mocking her appearance, telling her to shut up whenever she talks, making fun of her foibles and generally being horrible to her. What's wrong with that? I don't want to repress myself after all. That would be dishonest. It's wrong and hypocritical to pretend to like someone when you don't, right? So I make a miserable working and/or home environment for Jasmine. Of course, our other coworkers and/or family members have to get involved and take sides. Maybe they think I'm totally out of line and they turn against me. Or maybe they agree with me and we all gang up on Jasmine because we hate her so much. We all discuss our emotions freely, telling each other exactly what we think of each other and why.

But let's say I'm a person who sees nothing wrong with repressing my emotions. This is what happens. I see Jasmine and she annoys the crap out of me. I ignore it and keep my feelings to myself. The workplace/home environment is perhaps strained from time to time, but overall everyone gets along and there's not much drama.

Which environment is healthier? Where would you rather live/work?

Also, it's important to remember that not all your feelings are valid. I know that is close to blasphemy for some people; who believe that there "are no good or bad feelings" but there are. There definitely are. You should be ashamed for having some of your feelings, and so should I. Here is an example: I once knew a girl who applied for a management position at her company. She was not hired. They hired another person instead. Well, the girl decided that the person who was hired was now her mortal enemy, and she unleashed a totally irrational barrage of hatred upon the new manager. That is an irrational, bad feeling and she should have been ashamed of it, rather than "expressing" it all over the place.

Have you ever felt happy seeing an asshole get punched in the face? Have you ever decided that you hate someone simply because you're jealous of her? Have you ever been angry at someone who didn't deserve it? Of course! We are all guilty of having irrational, bad feelings from time to time. But I maintain that these feelings should be repressed, not expressed.

This applies to memoirs as well. I understand that it can be therapeutic to write about your life, especially any bad experiences you might have had. But think what you're doing to others in the meantime. You are depressing all your readers with your horrible story, and you're badmouthing people in a format that makes it impossible for them to defend themselves. Yes, you have expressed your emotions. Yes, you might even feel better for a while. But you have only added to the world's misery by spreading your internal misery all over the place like an oil spill. I'm not suggesting that you need to be positive and perky all the time - I would be the wrong person to take that stance - I'm just saying you don't need to express every emotion you have without regard to how it will affect others.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Obedience School

Those of you who have met our dog, Molly, know that she is not the most obedient of animals. However, her infectious happiness, exuberant love for all people, and heartbreaking cuteness prevent us from drowning her. We have sort of learned to deal with it. It no longer makes me scream when she gets into the garbage can and drags smelly things all over the floor, and I've learned my lesson about leaving toilet cleaning brushes where Molly can get them. But it wasn't always that way. When we first got Molly, I was determined to make a good, obedient puppy of her. So we enrolled her in obedience school.

The school met at on outdoor park on Saturday mornings. Phil, not being a morning person, came along only grudgingly, but to his credit, he did come most of the time. We would all gather in an open, large area and practice walking our dogs in endless circles, making them "sit" and "heel" etc. For an hour. In the beating summer sun. All that was fine. Here was the problem. The park had a pond filled with water fowl. Ducks, geese and all kinds of birds would swim and frolick in the pond, crapping and squawking and being birdy. Do you see the problem? An untrained 5 month old hunting dog cannot be expected to focus when surrounded by ducks, just begging to be chewed. Any time we went near the ducks Molly would lose her freaking mind, pulling as hard as she could to get to the birds. I would give her leash a sharp tug and say "No Molly" in my most authoritative voice. She would look up at me, her big puppy eyes filled with anxiety, as if to say "But they'll get away if we don't kill them immediately". Disgusted with my lack of hunting skills, she would eventually be persuaded to return to the obedience class circle, where she promptly proved herself to be the class retard.

The other dogs were all calm and collected. They stood patiently by their owners' sides, heeling and sitting and downing like show dogs. Molly had no interest in these kinds of activities. She strained and strained so she could sniff the other dogs. If a dog was to her liking she would prance and pounce all over the thing, barking joyously, wagging her tail with delight. "No Molly" I would belt in my most intimidating voice, giving her leash a jerk. At this point she would begin sniffing the ground, finding intriguing smells and rolling in them, wiggling on her back and grinding the scent into her fur. I would sigh. "No, Molly" and then I would physically pick her up and make her sit, which she would do, until something - anything - distracted her.

It's bad enough that our dog was the class dunce. But there was this other dog there - a German shepherd - that made everybody's dogs look like dunces. I hated that German shepherd. The German shepherd never, ever barked or pulled on the leash or left his owner's side. The German shepherd had no interest in bird murder. Not only could he perform all the basic commands flawlessly, he could do tricks and obstacle courses like some kind of furry robot. The owner just watched nochelantly, drawling out commands as his dog scrambled to obey him.

Here is my question: Why did he even bother to bring German shepherd to obedience school? Why? The dog was already obedient. I will tell you why. He was a show off. He just wanted to make us all feel bad, me in particular. He wanted to show everyone what a great dog owner he was, and how skilled he was at training dogs. He was just a big show off. As I watched the German shepherd, week after week, I became more and more angry with the situation. Because you know what? Yes, my dog is a retard. And no, I am not a good enough dog trainer to remedy the situation. But you know what else? German shepherds are ugly, and yours is especially ugly. The only reason he's obedient is because he knows you would have to take him out back and shoot him for being ugly if he disobeyed you. MY dog is cute. MY dog is adorable, and charming and funny. MY dog doesn't have to be as obedient as yours, because she's BETTER, overall. So go home Mr. Showoff, with your ugly dog, and enjoy bossing him around all day.