frogg files

"She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." --Flannery O' Connor

Sunday, January 31, 2010

M&M Overdose Imminent—Intervention Please!

OK, seriously, I think I am addicted to M&Ms now.

I blame my roommate (in, of course, the nicest possible way). She came home the other day with a giant plastic tub filled to the brim with M&Ms—a prize she had won at an anniversary party for some friends of hers. So maybe I should actually blame her friends. Anyway, there are enough M&Ms in there to last til Doomsday. Or whenever North Korea decides to fire their rockets at us, whichever comes first.

Er, wait.

Whatever, the point is, I can't manage a simple walk through the dining room without taking a scoop of M&Ms out of the little glass bowl that sits on the table. Or sit in the living room without having a few—or a few too many—out of another glass jar on the coffee table. I can't even eat oatmeal anymore. I mean, by itself.

On the other hand, I've been wondering what to give up for Lent this year. Maybe I have my answer.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Breakfast of Champions...

...can get a little old after a few days in a row.

Not that I would know from personal experience or anything.

In other news, I'm off for a hike near Malibu today. A much-needed opportunity to get outdoors and clear the brain after a tough week. Hope you all have a wonderful Saturday! With love, as usual, from the frogg princess...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Oatmeal + M&Ms

= the breakfast of champions. Strange champions, perhaps; quirky champions that you almost kind of wonder if you should maybe worry about their mental health, but champions nonetheless.

Although I should clarify: you have to actually put the M&Ms in your oatmeal to qualify. Besides, if you don't, you won't see how many pretty colors your oatmeal can turn, and then what fun is it?

I'm going to go now.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Time For Another Frogg Award

Haven't handed one of these out in a while, but I'm proud to announce that, in the "Most Embarrassing Moment of My Life" category, we have a winner. For those of you too lazy to click on the link (and honestly, how lazy are you, that you can't click on a link?!), our recipient was participating in a guided tour at the Met in New York when, for some unexplained reason, she stumbled and fell. On a painting. By Picasso. And tore it. In front of many other people.

Yikes.

As an expert in embarrassing moments, having played a starring role in more of them than I care to remember, I just have to point out that there's really no good way to ever live something like this down.

I also have to point out that the article kind of leaves a lot of unanswered questions rolling around in my mind. Not least is the question of what on earth Picasso was thinking when he produced that painting. And if you'd just click on the link like I said, you'd know exactly what I was talking about. But also right up there is the question of how the docent leading the tour reacted in the moment of the accident. I mean, museum docents have kind of perfected the art of looking vaguely threatening even at the best of times; i.e., times when you are not falling on an irreplaceable masterpiece and destroying it. So really, I can only imagine. After all, we're talking here about a painting which had been negotiated for a sale of $139 million.The woman is no doubt thanking anything but her lucky stars (which were clearly asleep on the job that day) that the museum did not enforce a "you break it, you buy it" policy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thoughts On A Rainy Night

The long, stormy day is done. Earlier this evening I saw lightning through a heavy rain as I drove the streets near my house. Now I'm home again, sitting in my room with a cup of chamomile tea, the light dim and a few candles burning. Just thinking. I make a few false starts on the ol' blog, but nothing flows. Sigh.

I pick up my old journal and flip to the entry for this date last year. Turns out that on January 21, 2009, I was on a plane headed to Thailand. Strange. Seems a lifetime ago and then some. In a way, I suppose it was. Just over two weeks after getting back from that trip, I'd find myself starting chemotherapy. Life is full of surprises.

My hair has grown back very thick, and curlier than before. Darker, too. Meanwhile, the biopsy scar at the base of my throat is fading. I doubt anyone would notice it anymore, if they ever did. I see it, though. Every day.

I pause and listen. The rain has stopped. I wonder if it stopped a long time ago and I just never noticed until now. Everything is quiet outside. Inside, well. That's another story.

A Quote For The Day

The following made me smile, for a number of reasons.

"God is not without mercy," said Toma vaguely.

"Toma, when you first came here three years ago, the year Annushka was born, you told me you were an unbeliever."

Toma's face relaxed into the creases of leathery goodwill which were a preparation for hours of aimless discussion.

"Not an unbeliever, sir, a free-thinker. Perhaps you've never thought about the difference. As a free-thinker I can believe what I like, when I like. I can commit you, in your sad situation, to the protection of God this evening, even though tomorrow morning I shan't believe he exists. As an unbeliever I should be obliged not to believe, and that's an unwarrantable restriction on my thoughts."


-- from Penelope Fitzgerald's The Beginning of Spring

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hope, Truth And A Dose Of Something That Might Be, But Probably Isn't, Quantum Physics

I've been reading Rob Riemen's Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal and today I came across a passage where he quotes Camus, who wrote to a friend,

Only one thing on earth seems to me to be a greater good than justice—and that is, if not truth itself, the pursuit of truth. We don't need hope, we just need truth.

I'm not so sure I agree. Can hope and truth exist without one another? Or no: better to say, can we as human beings exist without both? That is, exist in a way that does honor to what we are? Although even as I write that, I hear Jesus' words in my head, when he said to the disciples once, "You know not what manner of spirit you are of." So that leads me to the question, what are we anyway? Can we find out the truth without hope? I would think that hope provides the motivation to seek out and pursue truth. But what if we do find truth, and it teaches us that there is nothing to hope for?

Ouch, my brain hurts.

On a tenuously related note, I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day on Gchat. We were talking about God and he was telling me about how his idea of God is inspired somewhat by his understanding of quantum physics (and here I'm pretty sure I'm about to mangle both my friend's understanding of God and whatever quantum physics is really all about, so I apologize in advance to my friend as well as any scientists who might, however improbably, be following this blog); that is, that God, existing outside of time in the realm of infinity, thus contains everything that not only has happened but that could happen. Every conceivable possibility is in God. So when I responded to that with, "My head just exploded," my friend said that somewhere, I guess in a parallel universe or something, that really happened and that in that parallel time and place, he felt bad about making my head explode and then HIS head exploded. Which made me laugh, in this universe.

Quantum physics is nothing if not very strange. And somewhat entertaining, at least if it's anything like the way I understand it, which I admit is highly doubtful. But anyway, I just hope I'm always living in the universe in which my head remains firmly attached to my body, intact. And that's the truth.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Not Comforting

Just when I think I'm getting somewhat of a handle on the concept of prayer, something like yesterday's Haiti disaster happens and I'm at a loss. How do you pray for something like this? If I say, "God, comfort these people in their suffering," it sounds like I think He won't do it unless I tell Him to, which is absurd, unless He's generally as mean as we try to convince people He isn't. On the other hand, I wonder why He let it happen in the first place if He's as loving as we try to convince people He is.

Then I think, maybe it happened because God isn't actually omnipotent. Or because He doesn't exist in the first place.

I seem to lose my faith every couple months or so. The duration of my atheism, or at the very least agnosticism, varies, and I can't say for sure what brings me out of it. Each time is a bit different. At this moment, I happen to believe. I have my reasons and for now they are sufficient. But then there's Haiti.

The question of why evil and suffering exist in the world has been around for, well, pretty much as long as the world, I'd guess. I don't have any answer for it. What I do have is a weird little story in Luke's Gospel where a bunch of people come to Jesus to tell him about some Galileans who had been rounded up and murdered by Pontius Pilate for some unexplained reason. Here's Jesus' response:

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Uh, gee, Jesus, thanks for clearing up the problem of suffering and all. Oh wait, you didn't. Boo.

OK, so obviously this is not one of the warm-fuzzy Jesus sayings that gets inscribed on plaques and keychains and God knows what else, like, "Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I'll give you rest." But to be quite honest, most of what Jesus said was strange or scary or very uncomfortable, or a combination of all three. This statement here falls decidedly in the uncomfortable category, if you ask me. He's saying, look, death comes to all of us. Maybe it'll be cancer, maybe it'll be a car crash, maybe it'll be a devastating earthquake. But frankly, when it does come, the reason why really won't matter.

From where I'm sitting right now — coming up on the 1-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, looking through images of what's left of Port-au-Prince, pondering the unpredictableness of life on this crazy planet, and feeling kind of sad and freaked out — the only thing that could possibly matter is summed up in another question:

This whole Christian thing, is it for real? Is Jesus for real?

And all I can say right now is: I sure hope so.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Madness, I Tell You

Today I read a fascinating article called The Americanization of Mental Illness. Here are a few key quotes for your consideration:

For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world. We have done this in the name of science, believing that our approaches reveal the biological basis of psychic suffering and dispel prescientific myths and harmful stigma. There is now good evidence to suggest that in the process of teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well. That is, we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them — now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases.
[...]
Cross-cultural psychiatrists have pointed out that the mental-health ideas we export to the world are rarely unadulterated scientific facts and never culturally neutral. “Western mental-health discourse introduces core components of Western culture, including a theory of human nature, a definition of personhood, a sense of time and memory and a source of moral authority. None of this is universal,” Derek Summerfield of the Institute of Psychiatry in London observes. He has also written: “The problem is the overall thrust that comes from being at the heart of the one globalizing culture. It is as if one version of human nature is being presented as definitive, and one set of ideas about pain and suffering. . . . There is no one definitive psychology.”
[...]
Some philosophers and psychiatrists have suggested that we are investing our great wealth in researching and treating mental illness — medicalizing ever larger swaths of human experience — because we have rather suddenly lost older belief systems that once gave meaning and context to mental suffering.

Interesting stuff, yes? But as I read the article, I found myself thinking more about another Americanized idea that has been exported to the world, also with perhaps mixed results — Christianity.

Understand, I have no problem with people proselytizing on behalf of the religion I believe in (though I may not always agree with the methods employed to do so). No, what I really take issue with is the way Christianity has become co-opted by such uniquely American ideas as the pursuit of happiness in the form of material wealth and the manifest destiny, if you will, of the individual. Ideas, I might add, that are antithetical to the Gospel as presented in the New Testament. (Joel Osteen, I'm talking to you.) And I don't like the idea of this particular brand (ah yes, the language of commodity—also very American) of Christianity making the global rounds.

But hey, it's not just problematic theology that gets spread out into other cultures. What about our institutional formats? When I was in Thailand I went to a church service one day and it was both comforting and disheartening to discover that it looked and sounded just like so many services I've been to here in the States. I even recognized many of the worship songs as ones written by Westerners (if not Americans), though sung, of course, in Thai.

Er, but wait. I just realized I'm talking about Christianity and mental illness in the same post, and the same context. Which, granted, many readers may find perfectly appropriate, but which bums me out a little, even though it's my own fault. On the other hand, it also reminds me of a funny story. I was living in the Bay Area some years ago, and the church I attended at the time would usually include a traditional hymn along with a set of more contemporary tunes before each service. One Sunday morning, I looked at the program and was startled by the title of the hymn for the day: "Come, all Christians, be committed."

Freud would, no doubt, be pleased.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Trickle of Consciousness

The following series of random thoughts were inspired by actual random thoughts I had while driving home after brunch with a friend near Hollywood.

1 Why does Robert Downey, Jr. look like Dustin Hoffman in all the ads for Sherlock Holmes? Did he look like Dustin Hoffman in the movie and I just didn't notice? I'm pretty sure he looked like himself. Also, why did they leave the comma out after "Downey"? Hmm. Jude Law is hot.

2. Is "judgemental" spelled with the "e" after the "g"? I'm pretty sure it isn't. Who proofed that billboard? Or could I be wrong? I can't believe I'm going to have to look this up when I get home.

3. I should blog these random thoughts.

4. It's kinda cool to see the Hollywood sign ahead of me while driving along the street. Wait. Argh, why did I drive up Highland instead of Cahuenga?

5. Why do I always take the long way to and from Mani's?

6. Writing in a notebook while driving is not a good idea.

7. I should really update my blog with something more profound than a series of random thoughts. After all, it'll be the first post of 2010 and... hey, a billboard for the "FINAL SEASON" of Lost! I wonder if I am the only person alive who hasn't seen even one episode of the show.

8. There's a The Simpsons ride at Universal Studios? How boring would that be.

9. Oh crap, did that cop just get me on his radar gun? How fast was I going? What's the speed limit on this street anyway? I hate L.A.

10. Does it make a lot of entrepreneurial sense to sell flowers on the same stretch of road as 10 other people, all within 15 feet or so of each other?

11. Seriously, why can't anyone in L.A. drive?