Terminally Jangled

In a 1979 Latham’s Quarterly article, Hunter S. Thompson gave advice on maintaining sanity- he described his breakfast routine, which he engaged in regardless of location or situation, saying:

“Anyone with a terminally jangled life needs at least one psychic anchor every twenty-four hours.”

I like that phrase: “terminally jangled.” It’s so much more descriptive than the ubiquitous “stressed.” Jangled calls to mind an untidy mess of broken guitar strings, twanging discordantly every time jostled. Know that feeling? When the little jostles are impossible to deal with?

We’re all terminally jangled here. Everyone I know has more on their To Do List than they can possibly manage–mine has become a drooling, thrashing monster under my bed–I lie awake at night and imagine it splitting and multiplying, like the experiment from some midnight double-feature science fiction movie. The dream of that peaceful life–slow, sun-dappled mornings with coffee and a novel–seems to have been stolen from a commercial to sell table linens.

Yep, terminally jangled.

That’s why I like the idea of a ritual–any ritual–to use as an anchor. I’m not about to propose that Hunter S. Thompson become your next lifestyle guru. I can do without imaginary kamikaze bats, thanks all the same. But I could use an anchor, something to turn the whirling centrifuge of my brain into something a little more peaceful, a little more manageable.

I don’t have a sun-dappled piazza to laze around, nor the time to spend hours relaxing into a novel. But I can find five minutes during which I can sit quietly, watching the clouds roll in on this stormy Monday morning, and drink my coffee.

And that will suffice.

Calm-the-Crazies Chili

Chili in August, you ask? Have I gone completely around the bend? Well, perhaps. My semester started out with a bang, a deluge, an avalanche…I spent the weekend much more diligently employed than I usually find myself this early in the semester. I’m a bit more comfortable with the marathon research sessions coming at the end of the semester—so I’m feeling perhaps just a tad overwhelmed at the moment. But shall survive, shall struggle on, shall prevail.

Onward and upward and all that crap. 

So, to fuel the next ten hours at my desk, I need to make dinner from things in the pantry, it has to be really quick, and (ideally) it will provide enough food for me for several days. So yep, chili in August.

Here’s what you need:

    1. Ground beef or turkey. Somewhere between half a pound and a pound.
    2. An onion, chopped
    3. A can or two of diced tomatoes
    4. A few cans of beans

Here’s what you do:

1. Toss the beef and chopped onion in the skillet, let the meat brown. Photo2

2. Transfer meat and onions to a soup pot, add (liquid and all) all of your cans of stuff. Photo1 (2)


3. Stir it up, add about a can and a half of water. Photo4

(I also tossed in half of a green pepper that was getting ready to go bad, a shake or so of Mrs. Dash and some paprika. And half a beer. Because I wanted the other half. But none of that is strictly necessary.)

Leave all of this simmering on the stove and go do some homework. Come back in an hour, three hours, whatever. It’ll be ready when you are.

And it takes about 10 minutes (I timed myself. Because I’m cool like that.) and you have food for a week. Aren’t you fabulous? Yep, you are.

Now get back to work.

You can take your dinner with you.

Thinking about stress as an identity marker

Michel Foucault tells us that the end of the Victorian era marked a shift in how we view sexuality. Our sexual choice (same sex or opposite sex) became an identity marker (homosexual, heterosexual). Engaging in sex with another of your own gender became a marker of your entire being–your childhood, your present beliefs, everything–where as before it would have been viewed as a singular action. Sexuality became an identity marker.

A note on the difference between identity marker and individual action: an action is an action is an action–I read a book, I ate too much. An identity marker takes an action–possibly a habitual action–and turns that into a characteristic of the entire person. I am a nerd. I am a glutton.

Why is this important? Well, identity markers get imbued with all sorts of stereotypes that aren’t heaped on individual actions. The statement “I read a book” only informs you that I’m fortunate enough to be literate. It could be Dr. Seuss, it could be Michel Foucault, it could be Oprah’s latest favorite. The statement “she’s a nerd” or “she’s a bookworm” asserts that that action (reading of book) is not only habitual but it affects more than just that action. What does a nerd wear? What does a bookworm listen to? You might not be able to answer those questions correctly, but you have an image in your mind– a stereotype that is implicit in the identity marker but not in the individual action.

Take it one step further, if I say “I’m a nerd” or “I”m a bookworm,” I’m accepting that identity marker. I’m saying yes! this action (of reading a book) is really one that defines me.

Ok, back to Foucault. He says 

As defined by the ancient civil or canonical codes, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts; their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them. The nineteenth-century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology. Nothing that went into his total composition was unaffected by his sexuality…. It was consubstantial with him, less as a habitual sin than as a singular nature…. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species. (The History of Sexuality, Foucault, p. 43)

Basically, he’s just articulating the idea that we haven’t always assumed a person’s choice of sexual partner is a way to categorize them. The action (gay sex) was changed to an identity characteristic (lesbian/gay) which then was thought to explain or clarify that individual’s entire life.

I think the same move has been made to feelings of stress. Instead of experiencing moments of tension, or times when we have to “buckle down and get to it”, the  assertion of “being stressed” has become a characteristic of identity. 

I am stressed. You are stressed. He, she and it are stressed. We and they–yep, also feelin’ it.

Feeling it always. All the time. I go to bed stressed and I wake up stressed. I think about my to-do list while I’m making the bed, filling up my car and scratching  my dog’s belly. It’s always there–insistently reminding me of what I need to be doing.

But that’s a little ridiculous, isn’t it? Am I–are any of us– actually going to be working the entirety of our waking hours? I know–ideally: yes! otherwise I’ll never get it all done! Ohmygod (cue hyperventilation)–but honestly. Can you–can I–actually be researching while making coffee and feeding the pets? What about while driving to school? Or walking from the car to the library? Or from the library to class? Or any of the other five million little things that I’ll get done today that aren’t intrinsically linked to the projects that are pending? Not really.

So right there, I have at least two hours (likely quite a bit more) in my day that I can determine. I can be impotently stressed and tense, feel my stomach twist and kink the entire day, completely focused on getting to the library as quickly as possible (hurry-hurry-hurry-can’t get it all done)… or I can let it go, refuse to let stress be my primary identity marker this week, acknowledge that I’ll be spending a good 8 hours in the library today, during which I’ll have to focus…but that’s later and not right now. There’s no reason to allow stress to engulf my world in burning acid.

At least, that’s how I see it.