January 2009

Why an open bag of potato chips is a very dangerous thing

January 30, 2009 11:54

I’m in the throes of a love affair and it’s really wreaking havoc on my life. The last two weeks were just terrible. Physically I was present for my family, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually, I was deep inside the fictional world of my novel-in-progress. To wrench myself away from it was agonizing; I am a shell of myself around other people when I’m like this. Conversely, I’m wild-eyed, irritable and over-sensitized beyond words. As this is my third novel, each with three discrete, equally intense drafts, my husband and son have learned to steer clear and speak in low soothing tones when they see that feral look in my eyes. 

But I’m lucid enough to know how these love affairs will go. If you make it the center of your world to the exclusion of everything else, when the flame burns out—and it always does; intensity like this is not sustainable—you go out with it. Which lands you in a cold, soulless abyss, a place to be avoided at all costs. So. After three fourteen-hour days with the novel last week, I grimly told myself to Get. Away. From. The. Computer. And go practice the violin. Which I recognized I needed, on many levels. It has rescued me before, this practice, and it will continue to do so.

Alas, not that day. Intonation was off. Everything felt hard, tricky, unfamiliar. Nothing was “taking.” When my writing is going well, it is not uncommon for the violin to suffer, but I nonetheless make a daily effort. Most of the time, I’m working on a piece that appeals to me musically and another piece that challenges me to grow. One or the other will engross me midway through practicing. If that fails, I’ll pull out an old favorite or a light fiddle tune, so as to end the practice on a good note.

Nothing took. Nothing. Everything felt too challenging or devoid of pleasing musicality. I blamed it on the novel-writing; I’d gone too deep inside it this time.

It’s not just a cliché that a lot of creative writers and artists hover on the cusp of madness or alcohol (or name your vice) addiction. The experiences seem to feed off each other, in their immoderation, their intensity, the way they unleash an unhinged feeling, destructive impulses. But I have, fortuitously, a anti-self-destruction instinct (which leads me to believe I’ll never be a truly great writer, but hey, fair trade).  My violin practice is one such self-protection device. So is exercising. Setting down the violin that night, I looked outside in desperation. Dark. Rainy.

I was left with no choice.

The potato chips.

There was an opened but mostly-full bag of them in the pantry, tucked in the back, where I couldn’t hear their siren call on a daily basis. But that night their call became too sweet, too musical to resist. Addictions are very clever, waiting for the right moment to fell you, slipping past defenses when you’re down and feeling beaten, whispering to you that you deserve this, you’ve been working hard, life is hard and yes, I know, you tried the more functional route, you did, you did. So, it’s okay. Try some. You’ll feel so much better.

I thrust my hand into the bag and pulled out a fistful. Hesitating only a moment, I popped two into my mouth. The percussive crunch of the chips, the explosion of flavor in my mouth sent any last bit of caution out the window and into the rainy night. The salt. The fat. The sensory gratification. I could feel my blood chemistry alter, right then. I fed the little folded chips into my mouth furtively, quickly, before my inner-schoolteacher could catch me and scold me back into submission. The flavors rushed at me, the pleasure synapses firing out of control. I grabbed another handful. A crazed delirium came over me, an awareness of not being able to stop right there alongside the intense satisfaction, the salt, the potato flavor. Because, mind you, we’re talking a good quality potato chip here. Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Kettle Cooked Potato Chips. With 33% less fat than regular potato chips. Which meant, since I was willing to feel guilty, after all, I could eat 33% more than the regular serving. Then again, as every handful constituted a serving, there was hardly any point in trying to keep track anymore, as my hand was regularly plunging in and out of the bag.

I could see the dysfunction of it all—I gain weight easily and strive for moderate, healthy eating at all other times. I saw what was happening, I watched myself slide. But even my fall from grace felt thrilling right then. Ah, so there’s a day of fat grams consumed. Ah, another day. Hey, let’s open up the red wine and toast my descent. And look, there’s a second bottle in the pantry too. Ooh, goodie!

My son came into the room then, and saw what I was munching on. This turned out to be a good thing, in truth, because he clamored for some, and bit by bit, the Mom factor came back into the equation, and finally I was back, Ms. Responsible Mommy, admonishing him not to take too many, have you read the nutrition label on those chips? Let’s get you some real dinner going. I was back, then, on safe ground.

Now, a week later, the affair is starting to recede. This is both a sad feeling and one of relief. Life is returning to normal. I’m finished with the core work of the novel and from now in, it will only be fine-tuning. In regards to my violin practice, I worked through the snarls in the music pieces that had stalled me that night. Impasses such as these, just like love affairs, do not linger forever. Passion, frustration, fire and ice—these are transitory, fleeting sensations that punctuate a regular, daily practice. I accept that. And for the times that novel and violin misalign so dramatically again, well, I admit it. I bought another bag of Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Kettle Cooked Potato Chips. They are hidden in the back of the pantry, sealed shut (an important factor in the potato chip addiction game). Because a new novel idea is cropping up already. And someday, the cycle will begin all over again.

The violin and I, we’re set for defense.


 © 2009 Terez Rose

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