Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hot Peppers, Haunted Houses, and Who Are You, Anyway?

So for the past few weeks I've been fussing about with the concept of, "self-identification." For example:

I am Emily.
I am a girl.
I am married.
I love chocolate.
I can't resist those little candy pumpkins even though they have corn syrup, etc. in them.

Ideas like these are how we place ourselves in the world. They give us a sense of security and belonging. Even if it's not such a good thing we're identifying with:

I have a quick temper.
I am self-centered.
I am not flexible enough.

We still have a sense of pride in that idea, because it is Us, and we like to think we know who We are.

To some extent, this is simply a manifestation of our psychology, neither good nor bad, just a natural tendency. The trouble is, if we ask ourselves who we are, and we answer with:

I am a yoga instructor.
I like to cook.
I have a vivid imagination.

we've sort of pacified the urge to get to know ourselves without actually having gotten to know ourselves. Those things are all things that we've taken on throughout our lives. Most of them are apt to change sooner or later. Does it make a lot of sense to put something so permanent and solid as "I am" in front of them? Hmmm...

Also interesting: we are sometimes quick to identify ourselves in a certain way, and slow to let go of that identification even if it is no longer accurate: The person who lost tons of weight, but still hides under baggy clothes, the person who used to struggle in school and has more than caught up, but will continue to proclaim her or his slowness in full view of a great grade card.

Also also interesting: The concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe you're actually struggling no less with math concepts than the kid next to you, but you keep telling yourself

I am bad at math.

Until you accept it, and stop asking questions, practicing, and working toward improving your skills.

Or maybe you keep saying to yourself:

I am a kind, and patient person

Even though you snap at your siblings more than you should, until one day you realize you don't snap at your siblings! At least not as much...

As with any grand and difficult concept, in my explorations I'm starting very slowly with a couple of deeply entrenched self-identifications that I'm not too emotionally invested in:

I can't eat spicy foods because I am a sissy and I don't like it when my mouth hurts.
I can't go in haunted houses because I am a sissy and will have a nervous breakdown, or at least cry in front of all my friends.

The beginnings of this mission began long before I put together what I was doing: back in June one of the first Farm shares I received for the season contained a few chili peppers. The gentleman asked me if I wanted them, and I said yes, because though I hate spicy foods, my husband is a big fan. I took them home, told my husband they were there, and promptly ignored them. The next week I picked up my share, and there were a few more. I put these into the drawer, and noticed the ones I had gotten last week were still there. Hmmm...I hated to see them go to waste...I pulled out my preserving cookbook and spotted a recipe for pickled peppers, which assured me that the pickling process would tame the heat in the peppers. It seemed worth a try. Since it would take me all summer to acquire the two pounds of peppers required for the recipe, I started slicing up and freezing the chilies as I acquired them.

They say you should wear gloves when you cut up chiles. I figured this was only if you're dealing with habaneros or something. Big miscalculation. I have NO natural resistance to capsaicin whatsoever, and by the time I seeded and sliced a handful of peppers all ten fingers were absolutely smoldering. It took bleach to remove the capsaicin enough to bring the burn down to a tingle. I was pretty certain I hated spicy foods.

But the next time I cut up peppers, the gloves were so obnoxious I took them off, and when I was finished, my fingers barely tingled. Which made me think I was building up a tolerance to capsaicin, which made me wonder if I could learn to appreciate spicy foods, which threw into question the deeply entrenched concept of my not liking spicy foods, which made me feel a little uncomfy, which reminded me that in yoga one of the ways that we get down to our real, enlightened selves is by peeling back the layers of what we are not: I am not my job, my preferences, my name, my relationship status, my religion, my political affiliation, my health status, etc. etc. etc.

So, ok, let's play with this idea that maybe one of my self-identifications is wrong.

I pickled the peppers, and tasted one the next day: oh man, so delicious. The sour brine really brought out the bright flavors of the peppers! My tongue burned a little toward the front, but you know, it wasn't really a big deal.

So the later on when I charred a handful of peppers that didn't make it into the canner, I tasted them...before they were charred. Ok, burny...but no major crisis. After charring, they were sweet, fruity, smoky, and still a little burny.

The next Friday at the Farmer's Market, I picked up a hunk of hot pepper maple sugar candy to nibble on the way home. That was a tough challenge because it was so delicious I wanted to suck it all down right away, but they weren't kidding when they said HOT pepper! I'm still working on whittling it away. In the meantime I'm cooking with the pickled peppers. Tonight we'll be using them to top our weekly pizza!

The haunted house challenge was sprung on me in an equally unexpected way: my dear friend who is moving far away early next month decided to celebrate her birthday with dinner with friends, followed by a trip to one of Manhattan's premier haunted houses, followed by drinks. She said that if I wanted to go I had to tell her so she could tell her Dad how many tickets to buy. My mouth answered before my brain had gotten anywhere near a decision. "Yeah, sure, we'll go!"

Now, the last time I went to a haunted house, I was, I think, ten or so. It was the premier haunted house of Galion, Ohio, population: 10,669. The town, not the haunted house. I hid my face in my Dad's coat and cried the entire way through. Everyone else had so much fun, and laughed about it later. I felt embarrassed and left out, and from that experience learned that I can't go in haunted houses because I am a sissy and will have a nervous breakdown, or at least cry in front of all my friends.

In spite of this, I wasn't actually too nervous about the haunted house outing, until we got in line for it the night of. Once again my mouth was way ahead of my brain, going on and on about how maybe haunted houses should have a safe word so you could get out easily, and you know, they can't touch you, right? Because you could sue if they did? I was equally quick to deny all allegations of being totally freaked out, which was a big fat lie.

The haunted house was Fairy Tale themed. It was supposed to be like a sick pop-up book. So when we got to the front of the line we were greeted by a clearly unhinged and emo Rapunzel. "Hold ON to my HAIR!" she shouted/wailed/lamented. We were one over the outside limit for groups permitted to go through together, a fact that was fortunately overlooked, but even with Rapunzel for a guide, there just wasn't quite enough hair for everyone to hang on to. I watched Rapunzel's wig slide half way off her head, revealing that she was in fact a he. She staggered back through the line: "Give me some SLACK!" she moaned. "I've ONLY been growing it for TEN YEARS!!" It took me a second to realize I was snickering. I was laughing, while holding onto fake hair, preparing to be dragged BLINDFOLDED into a haunted house! Of course, I defaulted to my old trick of burying my face in the coat of the person in front of me once we were inside, a trick all the more ridiculous as I was blindfolded.

I'll resist the urge to give you a blow by blow account of my adventures, in case, you know, you wanted to actually go to this haunted house and be surprised. Suffice it to say that, the blindfolds came off, I was separated from my group and beset by a couple of demons, clutched my husband's hand till I cut off the circulation, screamed with or without provocation, AND had an amazing time, and was a bit sorry to see it end. You should go. It was uber fun.
I'll also add, to be fair, that veterans of hardcore haunted houses a bit jaded in all things mock-terrifying may find this one less exhilarating than I did.

So, I won't be eating habanero relish anytime soon, or buying tickets for Blood Manor for that matter, but I've verified to myself that identifying as a person who can't or won't do things is usually not terribly accurate, and could be costing me a great deal of enjoyment.

"Hold ON to my HAIR!" Hahahahahaha...oh man, I wish I had a recording of that...

But what was I saying? Oh yes, to figure out who and what you are, begin with who and what you are not. Happy Halloween!

Live Omily,

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