Breakfast

According to the cereal commercials of the 1970s it’s the “most important meal of the day”. (TV commercials were the definitive source of information.) As it turns out, breakfast is only the most important meal of the day if you make it yourself. If you’re going to have frosted flakes or captain crunch or honeycombs, you’re better off skipping breakfast.

(I have this information on the slightly more reliable reporting from NPR. I like that the original headline for this was, apparently, “Breakfast Blowback”.)

After hearing that story on the radio, I decided that I’m up early enough most mornings to pull off a home-cooked breakfast. Why not give it a try?

The first morning at it, I managed to get together cream of wheat. Not the instant kind in the little packets. The kind you stir up on the stovetop.

Day 2 I did spinach and mushroom omelettes. Day 3, hash-browns and scrambled eggs with spinach and onion. Day 4, fruit salad. Day 5 I upped the fruit to a parfait with Greek yogurt and granola.

About a half hour of focus on the job seems to do the trick.

It helps that in this part of the world it’s light at 5:30 this time of year. I wake up when it gets light out. I’m not sure if I’ll be capable of such things in the winter months when the sun doesn’t come out until 9 and I’d rather hibernate.

On the other hand, maybe having something to focus on will help the morning drill once the darkness sets in again.

Ask me how breakfast is going again in November.

Good Books

One book leads to another. Here are a few that were worth the time I spent with them:

  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari. The biggest idea in this book is that our ability to deal with fiction is what got us to the top of the food chain.
  • Switch. Chip and Dan Heath. Lots of things you can try to help change happen, based on three simple ideas from recent research: (1) What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem; (2) What looks like laziness is often exhaustion; and (3) What looks like resistance is often lack of clarity.
  • Decisive. Chip and Dan Heath. Lots of things you can try to help make better decisions. For example, the Vanishing Options Test: “What if you couldn’t pick any of the options you’re now considering. What would you do instead?”
  • what if? Randall Munroe. Entertainment for geeks. Scientific answers to dumb questions from the guy who draws the xkcd comic.

Shrinking Frontal Lobe

It’s a well known fact that the teenage brain lacks a frontal lobe.

As the kid approaches 13 and the official teenage years, I can almost see his frontal lobe shrinking.

For instance. He had a friend over and they were going to record a fan video based on the Avengers Civil War movie. For whatever reason, they needed to have bloodshed in the scene.

“We’re going to use ketchup,” the kid tells me. (They’re preparing to shoot this scene in the living room.)

“You can’t use that inside,” I say. “You’ll get it all over the place, and ketchup stains.”

“We’re going to use it just on our faces,” he says. “It won’t get on anything else.”

Right.

“Yes, it will,” I tell him. “If you want to use ketchup, you’ll have to go outside. And take some paper towels so you can wipe it off before you come back in.”

“We don’t need paper towels,” he says. “We’re just going to have it on our faces, and nowhere else.”

“You’re going to need paper towels, because it’s going to get on things,” I say. “Take paper towels with you.”

“But we’re only going to have it on our faces,” he says.

“Do as I say,” I say. “Or forget using the ketchup.”

“Ok,” he says. They go out with the ketchup. They don’t take any paper towels.

A few minutes later, they’re back inside. Covered in ketchup. It’s everywhere. Not just on their faces. They do not consult with me for the next phase of their makeup plans. But I hear them discussing it in the kitchen.

“Ketchup’s too gloppy,” they say.

They’re rummaging through the fridge. “Hey, what about this?” the friend says.

“That’s Sriracha sauce,” the kid says.

“I can squirt that on my face,” the friend says.

“It’s pretty spicy,” the kid says.

“Yeah, but it has a nozzle that’ll get it just on my face.”

I’m picturing him getting it in his eyes. It’s going to hurt like hell. Do I say anything? I remember, they have no frontal lobes. They will not listen to my advice. They will not even obey my command not to use it. Remember. They’re not using paper towels.

They decide to try the scene with Sriracha. No paper towels.

A few minutes later they’re back in. The friend is in pain. He wants water. Lots of water. He has given himself a mouthful of straight Sriracha. He says his face feels tingly.

I let them deal with it. Fortunately, it’s not in his eyes. (I was prepared, had it been in his eyes, to take over and do the eye-wash thing.) They drain the water from the Britta pitcher. They use nearly a whole role of paper towels. The kitchen is a mess.

Later that afternoon, after the friend is gone, I find my cell phone on the floor buried under the costumes from the video shoot. The kid already lost his own cell phone. I see now that mine is the next to go.

Good thing it’s just a $5 burner.

From what I understand, this sort of thing is typical with teenagers. I suppose I was pretty dumb, too, at that age. Losing your frontal lobe is part of growing up, and I’m told that most people find theirs again in their mid-20s.

What’s miraculous, though, is that so many people survive their teens.

What If A Miracle Happened?

I came across this question in a book by Chip and Dan Heath, Switch (Broadway Books, 2010).

More specifically, the question goes:

“Suppose you go to bed tonight and sleep well. Sometime in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all the troubles … [you’ve been brooding over] are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign that would make you think, ‘Something must have happened — my problem is gone’?

As it turns out, if you answer this question very specifically you’ve probably just given yourself the first concrete step to solving the problem.

Superheroes Behaving Badly

I had zero interest in seeing the latest Marvel Avengers movie, Captian America: Civil War last weekend, but the kid has been looking forward to it for weeks. So we went.

It seems the superhero movies this spring are about “the good guys” fighting each other. First, Batman vs. Superman. Now this.

I suppose it was just a matter of time until characters whose only way of settling differences is by beating the shit out of people and blowing things up would eventually start beating on each other.

Even so, it was a depressing 2½ hours to watch so many icons-of-might-makes-right behaving badly on the big screen. On the walk home, the kid asked us, “So, who was your favorite character and what was your favorite part.” And I had to tell him I thought there were no winners in that movie.

Movies represent the times. The first Star Wars, with its evil empire, reflected the cold war of the 1970s. The later movies in the franchise (episodes 1-3) reflected the post cold-war struggle to hold together a fragile republic against the terrorist threats of the Sith. Now, in the latest episode, the rise of a terrorist state out of the ashes of the old evil. (Hummmm. I wonder what that’s about.)

It’s hard not to draw connections between the silver screen this spring and the mood of the American landscape.

  • A battle between the protector of Gotham City and its “New York Values” and the champion of “truth, justice and the American way”.

  • A Captain representing the virtue of the American Spirit from its heyday of World War II predominance pitted against a powerful corporate wonk in the employ of a bureaucratic indecisive government.

Can these plots be coincidental? I don’t think so.

Are our superheroes telling us that we’ve lost our way? Or are they warning us about the tragic possibilities inherent in a legacy of using force to resolve differences instead of taking the more difficult but promising path of seeking a more complete understanding of one another?

More worrying, though, is that if our superheroes, our role models, are behaving badly, so might the rest of us.

The trouble with the gods and other immortals (“enhanced humans” as Marvel’s bureaucrats call them) is when they behave badly you cannot kill them. But you can consign them to impotence by ceasing to believe in them.

After the latest 2½ depressing hours of nonstop gratuitous violence, I’ve become an unbeliever hoping a new generation of superheroes — a generation worth believing in — might be just around the corner.