Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bananas Gone Bad...

They are the first solid food many of us eat and one of the last. Bananas. Such a fun word to type, fingers just mirroring micro-movements on the keyboard. Just the word itself sounds comforting, all repeating soft A’s and gentle consonants. Bananas are both sterile and wildly propagating, soft fruit protected in a tight jacket. Bananas are found in smoothies and pies, frozen in chocolate and (heavenly, yes) even a sauté. Did you know that a cluster of bananas in a tier is called a hand and the individual bananas are called fingers? Isn’t that even more endearing?

But sometimes good bananas go bad. The lifespan of the average banana on your kitchen counter may be, oh, two to four days from solidly yellow to mottled brown, but for some bananas of a more Type A nature, it is a much more brief shelf-life, and a much more ugly demise. They would prefer to burn out – or, rather, brown out – than to fade away. How many times have this happened: you give your banana a knowing little smile one night before you go to sleep – to dream of smoothies and custards and round or oblong (what is your preference?) slices on your morning porridge – and then you get that sinking feeling when you pick it up in the morning. It feels funny. It is browner than it should be and maybe one of its seams is unzipped a little. It is weepy and oily and sad inside. As you try to figure out what to do with it, the banana seems to decay by the second. Before long, it is fully committed to its decomposition cycle. Taps is playing in the background. The mood is somber.

So what do you do with a banana like this, inedible in its present state but being someone who is disinclined to waste? Some suggestions…

Twenty-five Uses For A Nasty Banana

1. Draw a sad face on it in Sharpie and mail it to Anthony Bourdain, Dick Cheney, the latest Fox News assclown who you can’t be bothered to learn the name of, or your favorite pick. Mail it fourth class. From Death Valley.

2. Puree it and use it as egg replacer posthaste! (One half large or one small banana blended until smooth equals one egg.)

3. Start a fruit fly colony. Study their complex and highly nuanced social behaviors. Name them. Become the Jane Goodall of fruit flies.

4. Prop the banana up and use it as a surrogate for an adversary in a debate. Bananas are famously slippery: stay on top of your game so that you are not trounced.

5. Take a picture with your cat or dog and the banana. Can you think of a good word balloon to accompany this? Something very cute? “I Can Has 'Nana?”

6. Dingdong ditch. (In other words, put it on someone’s doorstep, ring the doorbell and run.)

7. Stuff it in your pants just to see. Extra points if you then hug a friend.

8. Write a long and involved and adorably quirky story about this banana and its relevance to your life, list it on eBay and see what happens. Add cleverly crafted footnotes to ratchet things up a notch.

9. Stick some earth-toned soy wax candles in it for a raw foodist’s birthday party.

10. Begin your career as a prop comic.

11. Hone your still life painting skills. Quickly.

12. Take the banana on a last trip around the world, or at least down the block.

13. Start a write-in campaign for your banana to run for state senate. Platform ideas: hard on the outside, soft on the inside. Scratch that. Beloved by babies and senior alike? Neither very important voting blocks. How about this: Because everyone loves banana bread. It’s simple but golden.

14. Knit it a banana cozy to stave off further decomposition. Become the darling of the indie DIY crafters set with your useless but adorably retro creations.

15. Purchase some baby bananas for it to see if they make your banana feel younger. Warning: it could easily have the opposite effect.

16. Mash it up and invite your one friend with the baby over.

17. Stunt! Figure out some blog-endurance stunt featuring the banana and keep it going until you can’t see through the swarm of fruit flies or you have a book and movie deal. Ideas: dress it up as boyfriends from your past and create re-enactments with it and a peach [your surrogate]. Or travel with the banana back to its country of origin, fall in love with a swarthy, earthy stranger there who mocks your neurotic, complicated Western life and, in the process, find yourself. Eat banana pancakes along the way.

18. Bronze it.

19. Send in a video audition to The Real World, 2010. Play up the foreign bad boy angle.

20. Contemplate its banananess until you have reached a state of nirvana.

21. See if banana peels really make unsuspecting people slip, especially when two workers are carrying a long, clear piece of glass across the sidewalk.

22. Do bananas float? Find out. Do they burn? Find out. Do they splatter when dropped from great heights? You know what to do.

23. Pretend that you’ve mistaken your banana for a phone and talk into it to make your toddler laugh while making a funny face. This never stops being funny.

24. Watch an episode of The Banana Splits with it for old time’s sake, just the two of you all cozy. Order in Chinese food.

25. Accidentally leave it on the bus.

What are your ideas for downturn bananas?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The switch inside...

If you have been vegan for any significant length of time, you have undoubtedly asked yourself several vexing questions during your tenure. You may have wondered why your mother persistently mispronounces the word, nearly fifteen years later. (Or maybe that’s just me.) You may have speculated over why the omnivorous world seems to view you as a priest in a confessional as they lay their souls bare about their flesh-eating ways (“It-is-not-much-it-is-just-fish-I-tried-to-do-the-vegetarian-thing-but-just-couldn’t-resist-my-grandma’s-brisket”) seeking absolution, like you are some sort of God proxy figure. And then there is the Eternal Question, the one that has nagged at us since the word vegan was first coined by that English gentleman in 1944. It usually sounds something like this: what makes me different from my omnivorous and even vegetarian friends? Why do I tick when they tock? How can I see something so very clearly when it remains obscured to my friends, my family? Further, why do I see this when others do not and how can I get them to see it, too?

We all have friends who are so progressive in every other way but for whom the diet part of the equation does not factor in much. They eat whatever is in front of them, no or few questions asked. But then there are those who are aware of their consumption habits within the context of what they eat. They may scrupulously avoid food that is out of season or shipped too far or artificial or over-packaged or produced by horrible companies, Many even will avoid the most infamously torturous “delicacies” like veal and foie gras, but the line they will not cross is a broad one and one that is very clearly rolled out in front of them. The line is more of a wide gulf, really, and it separates the vegans (a.k.a., The Crazies) from everyone else (a.k.a, The Sane Ones). Vegans have good intentions but they take it too far, they may say or broadly hint. We are absolutists, extremists, people who wake every day with the sole purpose of wrecking everyone else’s good time. My question is this: when we are trying to live our lives with integrity and a certain measure of consistency, veganism could be seen as the natural extension of a general point-of-view, an intuitive conclusion to draw when taking into consideration one’s whole path and perspective, right? It would be ignoring the elephant in the room for many of us to not adopt a vegan lifestyle. It is rooted in the same desire to live compassionately and mindfully, therefore it would be radical and extreme to pretend that it wasn’t natural. It entirely natural if you are trying to live compassionately, are concerned about social justice, believe in your power to effect positive change.

Knowing this further compounds the confusion I feel when those who are so clearly on a similar path as mine take an entirely divergent route right exactly here, where how we live our lives and food intersect. It is as though we were walking along together, really enjoying one another’s company, compatible as peas in a pod until my feet just want keep following the path – the one that seems to be the most natural one – and my non-vegan friends take an abrupt turn and bid me adieu. “You’re on your own with this one, friend. Good for you but not for me,” they say as they skip off and I am left baffled once again. I can think of so many examples right off the top of my head and after almost fifteen years of wondering about this, I am no closer to understanding it. There are friends who won’t purchase any new clothing because they don’t want to support the brutality of the sweatshop industries. They are not vegan. There are people I know who will go on a hunger strike at the drop of a hat to draw attention to the military violence overseas. When they resume eating, they eat the product of violence. There are feminists, artists, freedom seekers, peace workers, culture jammers of all variety who actively reject the consumerist-patriarchal-military-industrial-you-name-it complex but feel no conflict with eating animals and even more who do feel that inner-tug but decide to live with it anyway. How is it that our moral compasses are so out-of-synch on this single issue, but return to being coordinated once we leave it? I know that people disagree all the time on core issues – we all have our own path, it is part of what makes us unique, blah blah blah- however when things are lined up to point in a certain direction, and then that direction takes what seems to be a random, hairpin turn, it is only natural to look back and say, What on earth just happened there? Where did you go?

Except it’s not really accurate to say that I am totally confused because I do have an idea, even if it’s fuzzy and only a metaphor. I tend to think of vegans as having had their switch turned on. Imagine the switch as the mechanism that turns on a light. Either it’s the kind of switch that turns on a blast of light at once (the equivalent of a mental epiphany) or it’s a dimmer switch, slowly illuminating a room over time (the equivalent of a slow dawning). This light switch reveals the arbitrariness, brutality and injustice of our dominion over non-humans. Occasionally people have the light switch engaged but then decide that they no longer want to see all that it exposes, or that they still do see but it doesn’t affect them the same way any longer. (They can see but have turned off the corresponding feeling switch.) For most of the vegans I know, though, I would say that once that light switch turned on – either as an epiphany or a slow dawning or somewhere in between – it is stuck on. From that point on (the point being where recognition leads to an inner- and outer-transformation) our new perspective has fundamentally altered us. The veil has been removed and we can clearly see. The challenge is in coexisting with those for whom the practice of eating animals is still shrouded, either intentionally or unintentionally, and that we are asked to suspend seeing what we do so the rest of the world can continue maintaining the status quo, which is that animal parts and products are neutral and harmless, no different than broccoli or apples or kidney beans. To us, this is being complicit in a deception we have already identified and rejected.

So this is how I’ve come to think about vegans, as patronizing as it may very well be to omnivores: somewhere along the line, our lights were switched on. This doesn’t mean about everything, that we are above reproach in all matters. It also doesn’t mean that I think omnivores are entirely in the dark, Gollum-like creatures lurking in the shadows. I don’t think this, never thought that. (Okay, there was probably a period in the spring of 1995 when I did, but no longer.) Vegans are just regular people who have our lights switched on. Once the light switched on, we made changes accordingly. We can be approachable and helpful, but it is a tall order to ask us to pretend not to see what is plainly obvious to us.

How do we activate this switch in another? We can’t. We can leave a trail of clues to locating that switch but the other person’s hand has to be on it herself. You cannot force anyone’s hand, you can just sort of coax it along.

Helping others find their light switches is our work.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I have had insomnia off-and-on since I was nineteen or so, and it's been in mostly-on mode for the past few years. When it occurs to friends of mine that I send lots of correspondences at around 3:30 in the morning and that the status updates on Facebook at 5:43 a.m. are not from someone who just woke but from someone who had been awake for the better part of the night, they are justifably concerned. When one imagines an insomniac, I think the picture that emerges is one of a neurotic, jangly-nerved basket case. My friends - I have wonderfully caring, nurturing friends - look into my eyes sympathetically and ask if I need to talk about anything. They tell me that they are here for me. They offer ideas - yoga, chamomile tea, meditation - that are lovely, nourishing and enriching but always remain simply nice things I can do for myself prior to spending another night awake. They advise me not to drink caffeine (as if!) and to not eat late at night (I don't). I joke that I am transitioning, on my way to becoming a vegan vampire, though my adoration of garlic is still intact and my commitment to nonviolence remains unchanged. They want to help me but my internal clock is frustratingly, unintentionally defiant. It wants to rouse me in the middle of the night.

Nothing seems to help for more than a day or two or at a time. Over the years, I have tried black cohash and every other herbal remedy, homeopathics, Sleepytime Tea, acupuncture, going without sugar, cutting out spicy foods, blocking out the sun with black cardboard on my bedroom windows (again, training to become a bloodless vampire), not drinking for three hours before bedtime, not turning on any lights when I do get up in the night, counting backwards from one hundred, and counting blasted sheep jumping backwards from one hundred. I get plenty of exercise and not too late in the day. To my knowledge, I am not engaging in any habit or product that facilitates sleeplessness. Oh, except for my inability to turn my brain off.

When people ask why I have insomnia, my immediate thought is, Why don't you? The fact that anyone can sleep for more than four or five hours in a row is pretty shocking to me sometimes. There is a theater playing newsreels, distant memories, revisited conversations, to do lists, nagging worries, funny thoughts, weird ideas (and I can tell you firsthand that the ideas that seem brilliant at three in the morning don't usually have much going for them in the unforgiving light of day) and on and on in this overactive mind of mine. I remember when I was little - in the time of my life I was a blissfully unknowing pre-insomniac - I had this fantasy that I could program my brain shortly before I went to sleep to screen episodes of The Monkees and The Banana Splits as dreams. Sort of an early, biological Tivo. It never quite worked like that, but this sort of thinking, that I must be productive with everything, even when I have clocked out, that I must not waste my time on something as patently inefficient as sleep. I know the flaws of this thinking (sleep is healthy! sleep is necessary!) and yet I still can't stop seeing it as a big ol' waste of time. Please don't send me messages about how healthy sleep is, how necessary it is for our functionality. One part of my brain fully agrees and recognizes this: it's the other part of my brain that causes such a ruckus.

I thought I'd list here some of the random things that one can get done during three or four hours while the rest of the world is supine. Sure, insomnia has its drawbacks, like, for example, stinging eyes for the first hour or so of the next day and being ready for lunch at around 9:30, but being awake in the middle of the night also has its pluses. For example I could:

Check my Facebook. I can look up ex-boyfriends and examine the tiny square photograph for signs of aging. Things that feel like self-indulgent time-wasters during the daytime are excused when the sun don't shine.

Mentally set the next day's goals, even though they may be totally thrown off by these hours spent planning them.

Wonder what my son's teacher really meant when she said that he was having trouble concentrating. Did she mean to intimate that he has ADD? Oh, God, does he have ADD? Look up symptoms of ADD. Decide that my son may not have it, but I definitely do. Adult-onset ADD perhaps? Ponder suing Facebook.

Try to figure out how on earth I could coax more clothes storage space out of my 1920s-era home. Go through each room in my mind and come up pretty much without solutions. Except! Hangers on ceilings.

Wonder if there is lead in the flaking-off paint of the sunroom where I spend most of the day in front of the computer. Does lead poisoning cause insomnia? Or maybe I'm getting radiation poisoning from the computer? Look up radiation screens online. Also, write a note reminding me to get a blood test for lead poisoning.

Decide on a lark to bake mini-loaves of banana bread because my son is not getting cute enough snacks at school and I am losing my opportunity to properly promote veganism to his first grade peers.

Plunder the depths of Wikipedia.

Plan this year's bulb plantings and next year's garden. In the process, discover last year's lost garden plan for this year. Become chagrined.


Skim through the magazines that have been occupying space in the second bedroom for the purpose of being read late at night. Ponder a Venus Zine for old ladies like myself without tattoos and who never go out but still love Cat Power.

Read some David Foster Wallace. Get really, really sad about his suicide. Look up interviews online.

Come across a picture of Sissy Spacek as Carrie. That picture of Carrie with her eyes wide, fingers all splayed out, and blood pouring down her must surely rank as one of the scariest images in the history of cinema. Shit. Now I'm scared. Decide that Carrie must be reviewed again by me for a feminist analysis. Try to get the image out of my head. Think about that girl in seventh grade who everyone said looked like Carrie. Wonder what she is doing now. Try to her up on Facebook but there are 318 others with the same name.

Write a meal plan. Write a grocery list. Sort through cookbooks. Make up recipes. Throw out old spices.

Contemplate Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, other hideous men. They're probably sleeping like babies. "Yeah, they're probably soiling themselves," you think and laugh out loud. Status update?

Hormone imbalance? Search symptoms.

Pick up the craft project I abandoned six months ago. Now what was it I was trying to do here?

Jot down ideas for new articles to shop around, then decide that they are all idiotic and this has been a totally unproductive time and now I'm sleep-deprived, most likely rendering my day less than

Is that the sun coming up? Damn...[Did you know that there's a sound just before sunrise? I swear that there is. It's a sound sort of like the sky opening up, if you can imagine that. It always makes me feel a little sick to my stomach because it means that I've likely missed my window for falling back asleep.]

So this is a lens into the nightlife of an insomniac, not all insomniacs, but this one. A thrill a minute as you can see.

(Sorry for the lame post, honeys, but I'm tired...)