Tag Archives: Individuality

The Quinoa Experiment

Ah, the office pot luck! Not since junior high school have I been so keenly aware of how absolutely well I do not fit into mainstream society! As a pescetarian who can’t eat 95% of cheese and dairy products out there, I’m rather problematic for the typical potluck buffet. Generally I wind up eating chips and dip (if my coworkers remember not to add shredded cheddar or mozzarella), dinner rolls, and desserts.

Deciding what to bring is not that easy, either. Desserts tend to work best, but a girl gets tired of eating nothing but desserts for lunch on potluck days. Same with chips, sodas, crackers, and plates. (Okay, I don’t eat plates, but they are a good thing to bring if you’re broke and don’t really cook all that well.)

The other day my team at The Day Job™ held a potluck for a coworker whose wife just had a baby. Normally, I would have brought some cookies or chips. But a coworker had given me a zucchini from her neighbor’s garden that I was trying to use up. (Seriously, this thing was like a Junior Louisville Slugger. I’ve made three meals from it, and it’s still hanging on.) I also had a package of quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wha”) I’d been wanting to use in the cupboard. I’d tasted quinoa at some of the higher-end Louisville restaurants and I loved its earthy flavor and unusual texture (better than couscous by far, but not quite as hippy-granola as brown rice.)

Now, for those of you who are not familiar with quinoa, here’s a little write up from the University of Wisconsin-Extension site:

Quinoa or quinua (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) is native to the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. This crop (pronounced KEEN-WAH), has been called “vegetable caviar” or Inca rice, and has been eaten continuously for 5,000 years by people who live on the mountain plateaus and in the valleys of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. Quinua means “mother grain” in the Inca language. This crop was a staple food of the Inca people and remains an important food crop for their descendants, the Quechua and Aymara peoples who live in rural regions.

The grain contains more protein than corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, and wheat, and more fiber than barley, corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, and wheat. It’s also lower in carbohydrates than pretty much anything besides buckwheat and oats, putting in a very good place on the glycemic index.

So, as I said, Zucchini-zilla needed attending to, and I had that quinoa burning a hole in my pantry. I found this pretty awesome recipe that looked easy enough for even a cook at my level to make, and got to work. The whole thing cost me about $1.50 to make, so it was no big financial risk. When I was done, it tasted pretty darned good to me. I got Fey to try it, and she added some spice and salt (I always tend to undersalt…), and it tasted even darned better! When it passed the Mundane Palate Test (aka, Fey’s Mom thought it quite tasty), I made the decision that this would be my contribution to the office potluck.

As I drew nearer the office the morning of the potluck, though, my decision to bring quinoa to the table began weighing on me. After all, this is the Heartland. They don’t really cotton to strange food here (unless it’s local strange food). By the time I hit my desk, I was already preparing the hard sell—explanations of the grain’s odd appearance, a recitation of the health benefits, sworn affidavits ensuring the flavor and general non-toxicity of all ingredients.

And then it hit me—why was I apologizing for my contribution? Nobody ever apologized for the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding, which can cause a diabetic coma from sheer proximity. In a heartbeat, a plot was hatched. The plot quickly became a plan, which rapidly evolved into…

The Quinoa Experiment

Instead of a pre-emptive public relations strike on behalf of my potluck dish, I did the unthinkable. I merely placed the container of quinoa among the other potluck submissions, without comment or explanation. I then returned to my desk, which had a very good view of the buffet area, and proceeded to observe the reactions. Not to sound too Jane Goodall here, but it was truly a fascinating experiment, watching adults encounter a food completely different from anything they’d ever seen. Here are few notes I jotted down (why skip the opportunity for a fun blog post?)

8:05 am: Placed quinoa in buffet setting.

8:53 am: By now, almost all coworkers have surveyed food. No questions yet on the quinoa.

9:00 am: Personal survey of buffet area reveals quinoa untouched by coworkers. Placed small amount of quinoa on my plate so that coworkers could see it was nontoxic, then arranged the fork purposefully to see if it was disturbed.

9:10 am: Observed coworker (female) hovering over area where quinoa is placed. There is some hesitation before coworker reaches over quinoa to scoop cheese dip onto her plate. Quinoa remains untouched.

9:15 am: Observed two coworkers (male) at quinoa site. Coworkers are engaged in conversation, with meaningful glances in the direction of the quinoa. Both regard the dish, with occasional bouts of uncomfortable laughter, but neither touches the dish. Younger male coworker leaves with two donuts and a plate of fruit. Older male coworker takes nothing. Quinoa as yet untouched by coworkers.

9:24 am: At last! A female coworker inquires about the quinoa. Confirms she has discussed the dish with other workers prior to asking me, but still does not partake. Gives assurances she will “try some at least.”

It took almost an hour and a half before anyone even asked about the strange-looking food on the counter. It was almost the end of the day before any coworkers tried it. Two female coworkers each had “one spoonful” to try. One hated it, and the other thought it was “interesting, but not my thing.” But at least they tried it.

The Lesson Learned

So what lesson can we bring from this little social experiment? That people in offices don’t want healthy dishes at their damned potlucks? Well, yeah, that’s a no-brainer. But an even deeper observation can be made into the nature of people and their resistance to change.

Most of us are so deep within our comfort zones that we not only resist change—we barely even register its existence! We go through our lives (all of us, to some extent) by rote—eating the same foods, having the same conversations, experiencing the same annoyances, cheering the same teams—for so long that we don’t even realize we are doing it. We become so entrenched in our habits that we are unable to even see something outside our comfort zone.

When applied to finding your life work, this tunnel vision is toxic. It limits not only your options, but your ability to become aware that options exist. It’s what Steve Pavlina calls learned helplessness:

That voice tells you that settling into a job where you sell widgets the rest of your life just won’t cut it. That voice frowns at you when you catch a glance of your oversized belly in the mirror or get winded going up a flight of stairs. It beams disappointment when it sees what’s become of your family. It tells you that the reason you have trouble motivating yourself is that you aren’t doing what you really ought to be doing with your life… because you’re afraid. And if you refuse to listen, it will always be there, nagging you about your mediocre results until you die, full of regrets for what might have been.

So how do you respond to this ornery voice that won’t shut up? What do you do when confronted by that gut feeling that something just isn’t right in your life? What’s your favorite way to silence it? Maybe drown it out by watching TV, listening to the radio, working long hours at an unfulfilling job, or consuming alcohol and caffeine and sugar.

But whenever you do this, you lower your level of consciousness. You sink closer towards an instinctive animal and move away from becoming a fully conscious human being. You react to life instead of proactively going after your goals. You fall into a state of learned helplessness, where you begin to believe that your goals are no longer possible or practical for you. You become more and more like a mouse, even trying to convince yourself that life as a mouse might not be so bad after all, since everyone around you seems to be OK with it. You surround yourself with your fellow mice, and on the rare occasions that you encounter a fully conscious human being, it scares the hell out of you to remember how much of your own courage has been lost.

When we were kids, we were insanely brave. We tried things no rational adult would even consider, and somehow, we survived. And when we were kids, the world was ginormous—filled with adventure and possibility and joy. Sure, we found things we hated (algebra, lima beans, etc.), but we found even more things that were just plain freaking awesome (wheelies, punk rock music, Pop Rocks).

Now, we’re afraid to try a stupid grain?

Getting Beyond the Grain

I’m not saying your whole life is going to change if you eat quinoa. But seriously—think about the things you do, and what you’re willing to try. When was the last time you just went for it and tried something weird? When was the last time you truly went beyond your comfort zone? By rigidly sticking to what you know, you block entrance for all those wonderful things you don’t know about (but really would be happy to know if you did!)

If you really want to push through the ordinary into an extraordinary life, you need to be willing to go past your comfort zone. Here are a few easy tips to get you started on the road away from your Comfort Zone.

  • Try a new flavor of ice cream (I tried Grits & Sorghum ice cream tonight. It was actually quite delicious.)
  • Listen to music from an artist you’ve never heard of before (Spotify and Pandora are great places to start).
  • Learn a new language.
  • Take an online course in a subject you know nothing about (like Physics or Electrical Engineering).

These are cheap (or free) ways to stretch the borders of your comfort zone. By expanding your comfort zone, you expand your world—and your opportunities for thriving within it!

The Gamer’s Guide to Life

Games have rules; everybody knows that. There are certain acceptable ways to play, certain strategies that have stood the test of time, and certain rules you just don’t break.

Uh, yeah.

Recently I’ve come to a conclusion watching Fey demolishing pixels on City of Heroes, an extremely popular MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) she’s been participating in for a couple of years. Fey, being Fey, has never been a cookie-cutter type of girl. Even her cookies aren’t cookie cutter.

Like pretty much everything in her life, Fey approaches her game the way a chef would (or a good scientist). While she is aware of the recipes others have suggested for success, she is more interested in learning about the component parts and figuring things out for herself. Each skill set, each defense, each attack protocol, has its own characteristics—much like an herb or spice has a particular flavor and reacts differently in various combinations.

Fey’s approach to City of Heroes (and cooking) is to think about the component parts and explore the potentials they have in various combinations. And just like in her cooking, she has an almost uncanny ability to predict which combinations will produce just the right effect.

But Defending Paragon City from Evil is Not Baking Cookies…

Certainly baking and online gaming are not the same thing, but it does bring up a point that I’ve been considering lately. In both disciplines, there are two main styles of play.

The Rule Follower: The Rule Follower is that person who wants clearly delineated guidelines for success, straightforward steps to follow that will guarantee the outcome they desire. The Rule Follower wants order (usually enforced from the outside) and structure. Mostly, they want a definite brand of Right and Wrong. Here are a few things you might overhear a Rule Follower saying at any given time:
• That’s not the way we’ve always done it.
• Nobody can possibly make that work. It just isn’t done.
• I don’t want to rock the boat.
• That’s not my job.
• Nobody told me I was supposed to_____.
The Rule Follower is not bad, nor is he or she a weak person. So much of civilization is driven by the Rule Followers. These are the people who pay their taxes and work their jobs and live their lives according to the accepted rules of society, and they are the bedrock of civilization.

The Alchemist: The second type of player is one I call The Alchemist. Now, The Alchemist is no less addicted to order and structure than The Rule Follower. Order, after all, is what makes the Universe tick. The Alchemist, however, cannot and will not accept an arbitrary system of order that is imposed upon them from an outside force. The Alchemist must find this order for themselves. They are the misfits, weirdoes, geniuses, revolutionaries, and explorers. Life for an Alchemist is rarely typical. In fact, many of them experience great difficulties fitting in to a society that glorifies the average and predictable. Here are a few things you might overhear a Rule Follower saying at any given time:
• How can we do this smarter?
• I wonder how this would work out…
• But their way makes no sense!
• If you take this and add this…
• I don’t care how many people do it; it’s still wrong.
The Alchemist is not obstinate, nor is he or she a purposefully contrary person. It’s just that The Alchemists simply cannot resist their overwhelming curiosity about life, ideas, people, and things. Where The Rule Followers are the bedrock of civilization, it is The Alchemists who fire the imagination and quite often are the impetus for cultural burst of evolution.

We Can Work It Out

As you would expect, the two groups rarely play nice together. The Rule Followers consider The Alchemists to be dangerous radicals would wouldn’t know common sense if it bit them in the Mensa ID card. And The Alchemists often see The Rule Followers as mindless sheeple blindly following the status quo without ever putting forth an original idea.

Well, they’re both kind of right. And they’re both very wrong. As with everything in nature, society depends on balance if it’s going to have any kind of longevity. It is the combination of tradition and innovation that keeps a culture thriving; rule out one or the other, and you’ve put that culture in danger of stagnation or unraveling.

So the trick is to find a way to honor the styles of both sides—the traditionalists and the progressives—without either group having to sacrifice their views and values.

Steady as She Goes

Fey, my gamer Alchemist, does not reach the high levels of gameplay by ignoring common sense and tradition. She is actually very much a follower of rules…if they are practical and make logical sense. She believes in consistency and accountability and all those other things Rule Followers so adore.

But she has discovered that if when you do what everybody does, you tend to get what everybody gets. It’s much more interesting and challenging to look at the game as a series of components that can be combined in various sequences to create a vast array of different experiences.

My life is like that, I think. I’ve spent years looking for the right recipe, the right skill set so that I could Be Happy™. Go to the right school, take the right classes, get the right job, learn the right skills…all these lead in the absolutely unshakably perfectly right direction of Right.

But in life, as in cookies and MMOGs, if you do whatever everybody does, you tend to get what everybody gets. My dear friend is a New York Times best-selling romance writer. To all external criteria, she has the life I want. Bless her, I wouldn’t trade with her for a moment. Not that I don’t want to be a professional writer. But that is her path, which is blissfully perfect for her, but would be a nightmare for me.

Fey has taught me a good lesson with all of this City of Heroes she’s been playing. Life is a series of component parts, ingredients we put together to create the life we want. There are guides and rule books and recipes for putting those ingredients together which will produce predictable, and these are wonderful things.

But sometimes, if you want a life designed specifically for you, not a copy of someone else’s life, then you have to break things down into their component parts. You have to put things together and take them apart and risk getting messy or bad data or the occasional exploding hard drive.

Life isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s downright hard. But there is a joy to it, when you remember that it’s just another sort of MMOG– massively magnificent organic game. No matter how you choose to play it, the game is always challenging, creative, and lots of fun.

Why I Won’t Leave: An American’s Pledge to the Country She Loves

Recently a Canadian friend broke one of her own rules and suggested it might be best for me to consider moving north to Canada with my partner. In Canada, she said, not only could I legally marry my partner of 10+ years, but I’d have access to universal healthcare and Social Security that actually means something. In addition to the legal and financial benefits, I’d be out of this insanity that seems to have gripped my home country by the throat.

I have to admit, the thought is alluring (especially when she assured me Canada is not all ice and snow, 365 days a year). I’m currently a resident of my third U.S. state, and I still haven’t managed to live anywhere “blue.” I went from conservative Catholic country to conservative Mormon country, only to land up most recently in conservative Baptist country. And despite the various differences between the three groups, they all seem to be agreed on one general belief: people like me are dangerous, offensive, and definitely going to hell.

Then there is the matter of corporate takeover of our entire way of life, from government to the quality of our food to the music we listen to on the radio. There are the increases in crime and decreases in income to consider. Bigotry against minorities, erosion of educational standards, pollution and a crumbling infrastructure–oh, my!

Let’s face it–the United States of America in 2011 is a freaky kind of place. And my Canadian friend is not the first person to suggest I might be better off leaving America for a more stable, rational locale.

It Wasn’t Always Like This (Was It?)

I was born in the mid-Sixties, just as the Movement Generation started gearing up in earnest. The Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, and the GLBT Equality Movements were the soundtrack of my formative years. My earliest lessons were about how you shouldn’t exploit the migrant workers, how girls should have the same opportunities as boys, how we were here, queer, and everybody should just get over it. Gloria Steinem, Sally Ride, and Joan Baez were placed before me as the Feminine Ideal. Sesame Street was my summer home, that glorious rainbow of education, kindness, and creativity.

Somewhere, though, it all started changing. Somewhere the peaceful voices singing folk tunes switched to greedy songs of misogyny and racism, hatred and aggression. Somewhere the idea of saving the world turned to dreams of owning the world, and everything in it. Politics became meaner, society became harsher, and that American dream we all were taught to believe in started looking more like a drug-induced nightmare.

Maybe I Should Leave

In the wired up world, it’s become more and more clear to me that America is not exactly like the rest of the world. This craziness of hatred and financial devastation may exist in many countries, but not all of them. There are places in the world that are not overrun by this rabid, polarized ideological zeitgeist that continues to rip my country to shreds.

Some places are better. Safer, for people like me. Some places seem very much like a haven, a refuge for the weary American worn out by the fighting and the drama and the fear pushed on us by individuals and institutions that prosper from chaos and terror.

It’s hard to say no to the chance at a peaceful existence, where half the population doesn’t consider me a sinner, a pervert, or a nutcase.

It’s Really That Simple

When I look around at the state of my country, the promise of democracy, “the greatest country on Earth,” as we were taught in school, I want to weep. In the richest country on Earth, over 43 million people live in poverty, with a third of them under the age of 18. In 2009, according to Feeding America statistics, over 50 million Americans lived in what they call “food insecure” households. As of September 2010, over 50 million Americans did not have health insurance. One in four American women has experienced domestic violence in her life time, and there were over 6,600 hate crimes in 2009, based on race, religion or sexual orientation.

This is not the America I love. This is not the America I believe in. This is some Mirror Universe America, where the bad guys win, hate is the order of the day, and people just get stupider every year.

At the bottom of it all, though, no matter how much greener the grass may look in Canada or the UK or other countries, I am an American. I was born here. I grew up here. I get the jokes. I know the terrain. I understand the people–at least, I think I do. And I know that we are not seeing the best of America. I know that within this cauldron of diversity and conflict we can find an amazingly complex and potent combination of values and ideas–if only we have the courage to move beyond our fear and prejudice.

As long as I’m here, paying my taxes, casting my vote, contributing to society, I have a voice and the right to use that voice to speak up. I cannot fight the good fight from the outside. Once I leave this country, I leave it for good. I’m no longer “one of us.” My voice will lose its potency, dimmed by the fact that “I turned tail when the going got tough.”

Just like no American has the right to bitch about the government if they don’t bother to vote, I don’t have the right to bitch about what’s going wrong in the country if I move away. (It may not seem logical, but it’s an American thing.) If I want to have a voice in the future of my country, the country where my nieces and nephews will grow to adults, I need to stay here. I need to stick it out, no matter how unwelcome my fellow Americans sometimes make me feel.

The Thorn in the Paw

America, my home, my beloved country, will never pull itself out of this self-destructive quagmire until its citizens stand up and speak clearly. Until voices of reason and compassion rise up to drown out the hatred and propaganda that threatens the true values of America–freedom, integrity, and justice–the fight will not be done. Until human life has more value than corporate profits, and respect trumps hatred, I can’t leave the United States of America.

To my friends in other countries, I love you. I thank you for your concern, and for considering that I might be an asset to your homes. You can’t know how honored I am to know that you would welcome me, were I to turn up on your borders. You don’t know how grateful I am, when I turn on the television and see yet another story on how things are going to hell in a hand basket, to know that the entire world hasn’t gone mad.

But this is America, and I am American. This is an amazing country, filled with beautiful, amazing people. I am a citizen of the world, yes, but this is my home. This is where my family is, where my memories were made, where my values were formed. I won’t abandon it now, when it needs me the most.