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Spoiled For Choice
If you could, would you pick the option to choose to make a choice? Yes or no?
As usual, we have a lot to say! This e-mail exceeds Gmail’s post limit, so open it in a new tab.
It’s me, Sophie! How are you all doing this week? I myself am enjoying the endless expanse of light and possibility waiting for me in the future, LOL, inspired by this beautiful view I saw on my walk last week:
I’ve been watching the hit show Nashville that ran from 2012-2018. It’s scratching a random itch I have right now to watch a somewhat mindless country drama… as I plunge myself deeper into the pop-country music genre. 😛 The music from the show is actually so bad it’s good sometimes. Also, does anyone remember how bad the style was in 2012? Cause I was recently reminded!
(More on country music in an upcoming newsletter. I’m really excited about this!)
Lately, I feel as if I’m measuring the days passing solely by calculating the stream of endless choices that I must make, rather than hours stacking up upon one another. I know things in life sometimes feel harder or easier, fluctuating based on a combination of arbitrary factors: a shaky mindset because of a lack of sleep, trouble focusing because of something you ate… but lately, the choices I have to make each moment seem to be adding up in a stressful way— I’m feeling paralyzed by indecision, to the point where regular choices during the day begin to feel monumental. It’s likely a result of my brain being at its maximum bandwidth. It’s also potentially a case of winter claustrophobia sprinkled with social distancing. I woke up on Saturday immediately overcome with the sensation that my internal productivity timer was going off. I couldn’t seem to decide whether or not the day was meant to be lazy or productive: should I finish all the hobbies/reading/cooking (weekend activities I don’t get to during the week because of work), or should I give my brain a break from all that and do…nothing? But then, nothing is something, so is nothing watching TV? I decided to get a coffee and couldn’t seem to decide if a latte or a plain drip coffee was what I wanted in the moment. Likewise, deciding what to have for lunch seemed like a big deal, too. There were too many open possibilities.
I know these are the most trivial moments, the puzzle pieces that make up a day, that make up a life, but I think the zoomed-in focus on small things that are getting me through the endless winter makes each thing I do seem overly intentioned, and for some reason it adds pressure to every decision I make. In certain situations, making the simple choice between A or B can make a larger wave that affects other choices in life. There’s a recent trend on TikTok and Youtube creators, in which they will let their followers choose what they do in a day as a fun activity to entertain their viewers. I can’t decide if that’s the peak of boredom, or if it’s just a little creepily meta for me.
Sometimes I tend to linger too long in the existential mode of thinking about the overarching effect of the choices I make as it relates to my own life, in an overly poetic way. Like, how I might not have been in the “right” place at the right time if I hadn’t decided to say yes to that one thing? I know there’s many movies with plots that hinge upon this topic. (Time Traveler’s Wife? It’s something with free will or time traveling…Oh. Back to the Future??) Maybe it’s just that I indulge myself in revisiting this topic in nostalgic conversation with significant others, in search for some sort of unique meet-cute or hollywood-tinged validation, a search for meaning: “if I hadn’t made that choice to go to that party that night…what if I had decided to stay in instead—I wouldn’t have met you! blah blah”. Definitely Barf @ myself! Also that doesn’t really happen that much during ~this time~ but you get the idea. Anyways, you can always just opt to use this logic in any mundane situation and end up with a romantic result. What if I hadn’t made that wrong turn at the grocery store and seen the sale on grapefruit juice?? If only…
No, but I do love vulnerability! I haven’t long forgotten about Vulnerability Questions or the 5 Love Languages Quiz. I try to remind myself in weird moments where I feel like I don’t want to make a choice, that I have a choice. I can choose where to go next, what to focus on, how I treat others, how I treat myself, how to make way in a hard situation, how to move towards a future I envision for myself. Even when it feels like I don’t, I do. So instead of moving…no…frantically charging through my to-do lists without thinking as an avoidance tactic (a favorite pastime of mine), I set time in my day for thinking and space for doing random things if I can.
This quote from the article What Was Fun? by Rachel Sugar (A really amazing name) really puts this whole idea into better words. Maybe it’s just that there’s a lack in breadth of choices for things to do lately that is the problem, with decision fatigue being a symptom.
The problem I am having in my own kitchen is that cottagecore diversions start feeling remarkably like labor very fast. I liked domestic hobbies better when they were my personal quirk, and not the only option.
Until mid-March, I hadn’t realized how much of what I did was possible because I had the freedom and resources to get out of the house. I would have said I didn’t do much, but in fact, I did things all the time. I went to the gym and sat in coffee shops and browsed in bookstores and in drugstores and in stores selling “home goods,” and so much of what read to me as fun was in fact commercial leisure, which I’d depended on for formal permission not to work.
I did have the thought recently that recurs every year when I order the next year’s agenda that I will just have to buy another one again (Cuz I’m a die-hard agenda girl) and I save them so they really start to stack up after a while. As a result, I have a pretty detailed record of everything I did on every day in the past 8+ years. Which reminds me of How-To With John Wilson, which I recommend watching if you haven’t already!!, in which he keeps small notebooks with a list of everything he did that day as a way of remembering his life, rather than for posterity. There are no ways to remember what I felt, said or actually thought in a week other than the random shards in my sketchbook which are uhhhh…. scarily cryptic.
My takeaway here on choices is that I’m comforted by the fact we’re all in the same boat and at least there’s no FOMO. I have trouble really visualizing what following my gut means, a phrase that’s thrown around so much. I feel not great at following my gut > my brain. So I’m practicing making small decisions from my gut within a couple of seconds as a cure for my indecision. Lmao. I love you guys! Ok that’s all 💋
What I have been up to this past week:
The “weddings” section of the newspaper
This poem by Anne Waldman (a quick worthwhile read)
The Last Children of Down Syndrome (a not-so-quick, very worthwhile read)
but also this:
A cold glass of grapefruit juice with breakfast (my grapefruit obsession has come full circle from almost a year ago)
Heart-shaped York peppermint Patties from the Valentine’s section at the store
Smelling my lavender essential oil
The ice cube emoji
That’s it for me!
This week we have a segment written by none other than our friend and roommate, Liza!
In November, the New Yorker published a piece by Helen Rosner called “The Joylessness of Cooking”. When I first saw this shared on Twitter, I was honestly scared to read it. I didn’t want to be convinced that cooking, a practice that had really grounded me in 2020, was now a dejected task. But, obviously, I read it. I identified with Rosner's own thoughts on cooking:
"To cook, as a home cook, isn’t just to cook—it’s to plan, to shop, to store, to prep, to combine, to heat, to serve. If I don’t love all those things, all the time, I can at least reliably expect a jolt of pleasure from one or two: the bland labor of chopping onion is paid for, more or less, by the rich smell of the stew as it simmers. But what I love most about cooking (in theory) is that it’s a puzzle to be solved. In its best form, cooking is a practice measured not in individual dishes but in days and even weeks—a strategic navigation of ingredients, expiration dates, uses and reuses, variety and sameness."
Okay, yes yes. That's me!
But, then Rosner talks about how, over the past year, the pleasure in the simplistic labor of cooking had dissipated for her. She even considers the arguments for meal replacements like Soylent. At the time, to my relief, I didn’t align with Rosner’s sentiments. After finishing the article, I just hoped that Rosner wasn’t one step ahead of me.
Yet, sure enough, in the past couple of months I too have had some profound moments of discontent with my own ritual of cooking, something that used to be a source of so much motivation for me over the past year. I burned 3 batches of cookies IN A ROW, made the ravioli pasta too thick, undercooked bread pudding, overcooked artichokes, and made many subpar dishes that took multiple days of prep and planning. I spent so much time comparing myself to food social media influencers who mysteriously had what seemed like unlimited time and money to cook and bake. I found myself scrolling through the internet and watching videos of people cooking completely unappetizing dishes (or, more appropriately, food stunts) like this one, that made me wonder what cooking was anymore in a shock value obsessed, view-centric model of food social media (read: “Watch This Disgusting Food Video Right Now. It Explains Everything” in the NY Times Magazine by Rosa Lyster). All the while, I was writing a food newsletter, waking up and immediately heading to the kitchen almost daily to make soups to order, and replacing novels with cookbooks for an entire year. Yet, I couldn't seem to get excited anymore by the idea of making myself dinner. I kept catching myself feeling a wave of shame during my bi-weekly internal debate on whether or not to just call it quits and get drive-thru fried chicken. I'm supposed to love this! Cooking is supposed to be my passion!!!!!!! (For the record, I ate a lot of fried chicken).
At the end of 2020, I began consolidating my cooking-related resolutions in my head and they were lofty: learn lamination, make panettone, become an expert at pie dough, make brisket, finish a cookbook. I wanted to make goals that would somehow reconjure the feelings of enjoyment I used to have when cooking, and all I could focus on was identifying the most rigorous tasks possible. This seemed like an obvious dead-end. So, I scratched that in pursuit of a new perspective on what cooking would look like for me in the new year.
How to feel joy in cooking again
My friend Piper recently posted her “2021 Kitchen Resolutions” on Twitter:
1) Unlearning insecurity in the kitchen ... (nervous cook/baker!)
2) Pick out a recipe once a week to start
3) Bake something every Sunday!
4) Become acquainted with more spices
And the following additions she texted me later…
5) Eat more celery snacks
6) Purchase a good long serrated knife
I’m really thankful for this list because it reminded me why I actually enjoy cooking. And, it’s not through pushing myself to make the most complicated, time-consuming, and expensive recipes possible. It’s that the simplest skills, most attainable ingredients, and patience can result in really satisfying and nourishing food. I’m also grateful to even be able to consider cooking a passion and have the means to experiment with trying new things. It's easy to forget that. So, inspired by Piper and with that sentiment in mind, here are a few guidelines for crafting your own kitchen resolutions:
✻ One thing that I learned last year was that I really love reading cookbooks. The best ones give cultural and personal contexts for the recipes and offer tricks that can be applied to so many other dishes. Buy a new cookbook and try to acquaint yourself with as many recipes as you can.
✻ Acquire one new kitchen tool (possible options: a long serrated knife, like Piper; a wooden spoon that feels nice in your hand; a scale if you're a baker and don't already have one!).
✻ Learn how to make a pantry staple – something that can be used in many different dishes and doesn’t spoil quickly.
✻ Buy something that you’ve never tried each grocery store visit. This week for me was a Meyer lemon (peak citrus season is right now, if that’s your thing!)
✻ Use what you have. I sometimes get so caught up with trying news things all the time that I go crazy at the store and neglect ingredients that have been in my cabinet forever. Pick something in the back of the cabinet to use in a recipe each week.
✻ Keep a food journal or log of some kind. Going back in my notebook always helps me when I get into a rut on what to cook as I like to jot down things that I want to try in the future. It also reminds me of past successes when I get discouraged!
I hope this list helps inspire some of you in your kitchen journeys this year. Thank you Piper for letting me share your resolutions and Daily Enjoy for having me. <3
—A big thank you to Liza for such an amazing contribution! Make sure to check out her newsletter, food notes.
It’s Sunday, and I’ve just removed our sad, dead Christmas tree from our living room. I didn’t want to let go, but bits of it had begun to snap off and scatter the floor around its stand, and it finally looked at me and said Jess, it’s time. I had started to have anxiety visions of it bursting into flames, as we essentially had a pile of dead wood and brush sitting just above a heating vent covered in electric lights.
Yes, Sophie and I have been thinking about the idea of choice, and more than just the act of choosing, the immense amount of energy it seems to require when I try to come to a decision. With all that surrounds us feeling miles outside of our control, one would think that it would be easy to embrace the small moments in which I can still determine that more minuscule pathways of my life, but I’ve lately found myself not feeling up to it and instead have begun doing things like letting our roommate Liza choose what I make myself for dinner (and she’s always right). I wake up on Saturday morning with a calm that takes about an hour to turn into restlessness and anxiety, because even though I look forward to this free time every week I don’t know how to handle it when it actually arrives; I can’t decide what to do and the openness is paralyzing.
Turns out there’s something called decision fatigue, which is basically the exhaustion of your brain’s ability to choose between multiple items or outcomes. It’s a big reason why every grocery/retail store shelves products adjacent to the point of sale, like candy in a grocery store or those weird racks of hair accessories and jewelry at the Gap. The ordeal of shopping has already asked so many decisions of you (what do you need, what do you want, what brand do you want it from, etc.), and companies are squeezing that last dollar out of you when you’re at your most mentally vulnerable. People like Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama have also actively worked to delay decision fatigue by wearing the same outfit everyday.
The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain.
— From Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? by John Tierney
I’m holding decision fatigue responsible for a truly horrendous night a few weeks ago during which I started 4 (!) movies and went to turn something else on after the first 15 minutes of watching each them. I was basically having FOMO towards the other versions of myself that had opted to watch or do something else, and at the same time I was so sick of being so in control of my own destiny. In our small quarantine pods we seem to sit just outside of fate’s delightful reach, and everything has to be more intentional which, sure, maybe creates more purposeful actions, but has dimmed the thing inside me that used to wake up saying maybe this is a day where something truly unexpected will happen.
With so much control, I feel left with a view of the future that seems to be a product completely of my own making. Of course this isn’t fully true, there is room for serendipity even in times that feel particularly monotonous, but this headspace has left me in a state of doubt when I think about the direction of my life. Is there some sort of greater dream that I should be using to drive my actions? I don’t even really know what that would be, and it makes me think of an article that Sophie had sent me over break, knowing that I was having a pretty endless internal conflict about this. The TLDR is basically that we are all, at times, haunted by what ifs, and tempted by the allure of the alternative, but in the end our only true reality is singular and a combination of choices, external events, and perhaps fate.
We all dwell in the here and now; we all have actual selves, actual lives. But what are they? Selves and lives have penumbras and possibilities—that’s what’s unique about them. They are always changing, and so are always new; they refuse to stand still. We live in anticipation of their meaning, which will inevitably exceed what can be known or said. Much must be left unsaid, unseen, unlived.
— What If You Could Do It All Over by Joshua Rothman
Whew you guys, I hope to god I don’t sound like a total downer today! Not emo, just reflective. Like Sophie said, I’m going forward with the objective to lighten up when I need a break, to cultivate some small routines that save my decision-brain-feature from myself in the future, and to remember that the moments that I choose against kindness are consistently the decisions that I most regret. For better or worse, there’s still plenty outside of our control, some being on the level of global disaster, and some of them being amazing unexpected things. Maybe in a parallel universe the Jess that had stir fry instead of tacos is happier, or maybe she’s been hit by a car. I’ve recently switched from corn to flour tortillas and have seen some improvements in my agility. These other versions of myself—created by the choices I didn’t take—accompany me always, because in all that I am, I am also all that I am not!
A few other things
First, an incredible song:
Sophie and I watched Josie and the Pussycats this weekend which was an incredible experience and all that I was hoping for. Check out this McDonald’s-themed bathroom:
We’ve also been spending Sunday afternoons playing Super Mario Odyssey and the kingdom characters are very cute! These guys live in the snow kingdom and they are obsessed with cake: