On Banana Bread

My grandma can only eat unripe bananas because of this special diet she’s on. So, when the bananas got too ripe for her to eat, I made banana bread. Yesterday was tough for me because, the night before, I had a PTSD-related panic attack. The next afternoon, I was still dealing with the residual effects of my nervous system getting completely overwhelmed. Baking is often the only thing that keeps my body regulated on days like these.

I used Ruth Reichl’s recipe for Devil’s Food Cake, and totally revamped it to create an incredible baked treat with no added sugar. The sweetness comes just from the milk, butter and bananas. The whole thing is almost gone – my grandma and I have devoured it over the past 24 hours. I will admit that this banana bread was pretty much what we ate for dinner last night.

Here’s the recipe:

1 cup milk
2 tbsp almond flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cloves
2-3 overripe bananas
½ cup butter (1 stick) – softened or at room temp
3 eggs
1 ¾ cup flour
1 tsp almond extract
2 tsp vanilla
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Optional: replace half of the butter with ½ cup apple sauce

Preheat oen to 350 F.

Heat milk in a small pan until bubbles begin to appear around the edges. Remove from heat.

Put almond flour and all three spices into a small bowl. Feel free to go overboard on the spices. I always do. Slowly beat in warm milk (I just used a fork). Let cool.

Partly mash the bananas with a fork. Then cream the butter into the banana mash mixture using the same fork. Beat in the eggs, almond extract, vanilla, and apple sauce if you’re using it (again, all you need is a fork). Add milk mixture.

Mix remaining dry ingredients together and gently blend into butter mixture. Do not overbeat.

Turn into a well-greased 8×8 square pan, and bake 20-30 minutes, depending on how gooey you want it. 25 minutes creates a perfect, moist bake, but you could underbake even more for more gooeyness.

Eat it with your grandma!

Also, yes, I understand the irony of my grandma not eating overripe bananas but then eating them in a banana bread. Who cares. YOLO.

On Shrek

We all watched Shrek and fell in love with the characters, humor, and revolutionary animation style. I saw it for the first time in the theater with my grandfather. I was entranced. It was the first time I’d seen such realistic animation, and I was completely enamored with the fart jokes, hilarious donkey, and tale of fairytale romance. Shrek even introduced me to one of my favorite songs: Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen.

I’ve rewatched Shrek many times since then. At first, it was just a nostalgic activity. But recently, it’s turned into an anthropological study for me. What cultural values was the movie pushing? What had I unknowingly absorbed as a kid watching Shrek?

The answer? Shrek was one of the many movies I watched as a kid that normalized, and made light of, abuse.

On the surface, the movie does seem to subvert the misogyny that exists in most classic Western fairytales. Fiona is a strong, badass woman who can take care of herself. She fights for herself, saves Shrek and Donkey from thieves on the road, and finds her own dwellings at night. That’s how I saw it at first too. But, the deeper messaging of Shrek does NOT support that surface-level story. Here are a few examples, taken from throughout the film, that proves the movie doesn’t actually subvert the original misogyny/patriarchal system at all, but supports it throughout.

1) In this scene, Fiona says “who could love a hideous, ugly beast” when speaking with Donkey towards the end of the movie. She truly believes that she is unloveable as an ogre (which is to say, she believes that she is unloveable as she is). It is not until the very end, when Shrek (a male character) tells her that she is beautiful, and that he wants her in whatever form she takes, that she seems to accept herself as she is, in her ogre form.

Fiona does not even have the confidence to assert herself in the conversation with Shrek following her secret discussion with Donkey about her being an ogre. Because of her true belief that she is unloveable and ugly, she assumes he’s talking about her when he repeats her words back to her: “who could love a hideous, ugly beast.” She doesn’t dig deeper into the issue. Shrek confirmed her greatest fear – that she won’t get what she wants (love) because she is not enough. She doesn’t deserve love. She doesn’t deserve desire. She doesn’t deserve a self.

Fiona was NOT, prior to the scene where Shrek interrupts the wedding and confesses his love, confident in herself. She hid this terrible secret, that she was UGLY, from all the other characters, every single night. The fact that she was ugly was shameful to her. The movie depicts a woman who does not have a strong sense of self, and cannot validate her own existence. She only validates herself when a man tells her that she is valid.

2) Fiona DOES have to be saved at the end of the film. When she perceives that Shrek has rejected her, she leaves to go marry Lord Farquad. Because that is what a man told her she has to do. The movie gives her two choices: be with one man who despises you (as she thinks Shrek does) or be with another man who you despise (Lord Farquad). There’s no third option, and it’s very important to realize that the movie does not depict her creating a third option for herself.

At the end, Shrek has to save her from being with Lord Farquad by interrupting the wedding. She made no decisions, except to accept Shrek’s offer. This is key: before Shrek assured her that he thought she was beautiful, she was unwilling to put herself out there to be with the one she loved. She was so insecure that she was resigned to be with a mean, ugly man, rather than get what she wanted: to be with Shrek. She needed a man’s validation to feel she deserved what she desired. In this way, Shrek did actually save her at the end. Fiona did not have agency in their romantic relationship. Shrek did.

3) Who were the other female characters in the movie? There are only three. Princess Fiona, the Dragon, and the Old Woman who sells the talking Donkey. Snow White and Cinderella are not characters in movie 1, since they’re just depicted on a screen for a couple seconds. Princess Fiona is not shown in a community of other women who are equally strong and able to take care of themselves. If she was, I would accept the claim that the movie depicts a badass woman, and therefore subverts the fairytale image of femaleness. However, Princess Fiona is an outlier. She’s shocking. Based on the movie’s depiction of female characters, she could be the only woman of her kind in the history of the universe, and the only woman of her kind in the foreseeable future.

None of the other female characters do anything besides display the regular tropes of weak, untrustworthy, and helpless femaleness. The Old Woman who sells Donkey is not taken seriously by the guards. They don’t believe her that Donkey talks. She is manhandled by the guards and never gets rewarded for the Donkey because he (the male character) saves himself. We never see this woman getting what she wants – money to support herself. She has no agency. Instead, we follow the male character, the Donkey, on his subsequent adventure.

The Dragon is a promising female character, because she can breath fire and goes right for what she wants: a romantic relationship with Donkey. However, she has no agency in her own world, either. She is extremely unhappy, forced to remain chained in the castle all on her own. She is incredibly lonely, and after Shrek, Donkey and Fiona escape her clutches, we don’t see an angry, aggressive female character. Instead, we see a sad one that longs for a life outside of her chains. She is a slave until Donkey comes to rescue her.

In contrast to the lack of female characters, there are MANY male characters, with a variety of personalities and storylines. “Maleness” is very fleshed out in this movie. There’s Shrek, Donkey, Lord Farquad, The Three Blind Mice… the list goes on and on and on.

There are literally no other female characters in the movie. So maybe on the surface, Fiona seems all badass and capable because she can fight and take care of herself, but that’s not the messaging we’re really receiving. The messaging we’re receiving is that she is an unusual case – not the norm. The movie doesn’t normalize her supposedly strong female nature.

4) Take a look at this scene from the movie, in which the Magic Mirror presents three eligible bachelorettes for Lord Farquad to marry. The Mirror makes a blatant joke about abuse, describing Cinderella as a “mentally-abused shut-in from a kingdom far, far away,” as if being mentally abused is not something to be concerned about. Then, we hear that Snow White lives with seven other men, but “she’s not easy.” The Mirror’s casual judgement of Snow White’s sexuality normalizes diminishing a women’s worth to her sexual tendencies and sexuality.

Diminishing women to sexual beings makes it much easier to abuse us.

But that’s not all. The Mirror continues, inviting Lord Farquad to “kiss her dead, frozen lips and find out what a live wire she is! Come on!” Then you hear a drum set go “ba dum smash,” which officially turns this image of treating a dead woman like a sex toy into a joke. This image should be disturbing, but the movie turns it into something funny. Once again, Shrek normalizes powerless women without agency: easy targets for abuse.

Disguised in jokes, it’s easy to miss how dangerous this normalization is. Boys and girls watching this absorb the following messages:
1) abused women are funny
2) women are just sexual playthings
3) a woman who cannot consent is fair game for sexual activities

5) In another scene, Donkey and Shrek finally arrive at the castle Fiona is trapped in. Donkey asks, “So where is this fire-breathing, pain-in-the-neck anyway?” Shrek responds, saying, “Inside, waiting for us to rescue her.” I know it’s been discussed a lot, but I have to talk about the problematic message this sends. Shrek’s response assumes that there is a helpless woman inside the castle waiting for a man to rescue her. It takes away agency from women in our culture, showing us that we are not capable of taking care of ourselves. This is dangerous because it gives men permission to control our lives – if women don’t have any agency, we don’t have any right to say no or argue with a man’s opinion/action in our lives. It might be “rescuing” one day, but it could be something much less desirable the next. And what if we don’t need to be saved?

Yes, “rescuing the princess” is a classic fairytale trope. I don’t care. it needs to change. Luckily, movies like Tangled and Brave have JUST STARTED to unravel this dangerous message.

Then, as if that’s not enough negative messaging, Donkey delivers the punchline. After he asks “where is this fire-breathing, pain-in-the-neck anyway?” and Shrek responds “waiting for us to rescue her,” Donkey retorts, “I was talking about the dragon, Shrek.” This joke, laughing at a woman’s needs and display of anger, is so overused and so damaging. It’s the Eve story. Eve gives in to temptation and eats the fruit she’s not supposed to eat. This woman’s desire is the downfall of man. Women are evil. Women are a “pain in the ass,” in the words of Shrek. It’s not difficult to make the leap to “we should hate women” and “we don’t need to take any woman’s needs seriously.” Again, Shrek writers manage to turn “stripping women of their power” into a joke, as if it’s suddenly okay because they’re joking about it.

Shrek paints a truly disturbing image of what a woman is in our society. She is powerless, hated, needs others to validate her experience, and doesn’t need to consent to be touched by you. She is, in other words, extremely susceptible to abuse. This is a MOVIE FOR KIDS. And it’s contributing to abuse culture by NORMALIZING WOMEN WITH NO AGENCY.

I am not, by any means, discounting Shrek as a movie. I don’t believe in cancel culture – I think things are always so much more nuanced than that. The movie really does bring me so much joy, even watching it this new perspective, even after the abuse I’ve experienced at the hands of multiple men.

But. I think it’s important to recognize this dangerous, deeper messaging. Why is it important? Because I know for a fact that it’s watching innocuous movies like this, that hide true misogyny behind a surface-level strong female character story arch, that led to me thinking it was OKAY TO BE ABUSED. Abuse culture is serious and needs to be examined from every angle. Even a movie we all know and love so much. I’ve been rewatching a lot of the movies I watched when I was a kid, and noticing similar messaging popping up in almost every movie. Abuse culture was very prevalent in the media I consumed as a kid, and there was nothing my parents or school could do to reverse that. It was just…there. I just absorbed it.

And I haven’t even started discussing the way “Blackness,” as well as the complete lack of female Blackness, is portrayed in this movie. That’s a whole other conversation and blog post.

On Memory

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For the second time today, I’ve left the pot of water boiling on the stove. It sat there, bubbling away, until the last drop of water sizzled out, the kitchen filled up with a concerning hot-chemical smell, and the inside of the pot turned a sickly white color. I discovered this scene when I casually ambled back into the kitchen, totally unaware that anything was amiss…until I sniffed the air and caught sight of the pot.

Aaaand cue the shame and amusement. Ashamed because I know it’s dangerous to leave the stove on, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve forgotten to turn it off this week. Amused because it’s pretty hilarious to forget something so simple. Turns out everything is gonna be okay, because my 82 year-old grandma is teaching me how to not forget.

Apparently electric stoves can cause electrical fires, which you can’t put out with water. I did not know this before sitting down to write this, so yeah, I’m glad I know now. I guess you’re supposed to use baking soda. Who would’ve known. Side note: I am absolutely floored by the number of uses baking soda has. Almost every time I ask Google how to do some daily activity, the answer is “use baking soda.” Get a grease stain out of a shirt? Throw baking soda on it. Cat pee in the carpet smelling up your hallway? Shake some baking soda on that shit. Rusty pan? Baking soda. Gunky sink? Baking soda. Clogged garbage disposal? Make a volcano by dumping baking soda and vinegar in there! (This is not even a joke – I actually looked this up once, tried it, and it worked). Pro tip.

Anyways.

So I keep leaving pots on the stove until they boil out. The irony of this is that I’m living with my grandmother, who does not leave pots boiling on the stove, and who is dealing with the lasting effects of a stroke. She is fascinated with the ways her mind has changed in old age: she mixes up opposite concepts (lemons with limes, hot with cold, dark with light) and sometimes will do the thing opposite to what she wanted to do. She says that since our memory of binary concepts lives in the same part of our brain, it’s difficult for her to separate them. It’s like you’re reaching into a single dark cupboard, feeling around for two identical cups. They might be different colors, but they feel exactly the same. At least that’s how I imagine it might feel like.

She also talks about how it’s often difficult to recall words (I imagine this like trying to draw water out of a deep well full of lily pads and cattails with a small bucket, but she’s the only one who knows what it’s actually like) and how her short-term memory is less powerful than it used to be, and more selective.

So just to recap: who is the one leaving pots on the stove? It’s me. Me, the 25-year-old whose frontal lobe JUUUUST BARELY firmed up into its full-fledged adult form. I have a newly-minted brain. So what’s going on here? I have no idea, but I find it intriguing, so here are some musings on memory.

Memory is a fickle thing. It turns out that most of us remember in stories, not in concrete accounts of exactly what happened. Each time we recall something, dredging it up from our well of past experiences, we handle it, shape it, and share it. We mix up the memory while fitting it into our current belief systems and habits. When we put it back, it’s more of a story than before. It’s a reflection of our identity.

In The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk invites us even deeper into the confusing world of memories and recollection. He describes a study in which veterans were interviewed directly after returning home from the Vietnam war, and then again years later, when they were in their 80s. In their old age, the healthy vets gave very different descriptions of the war than when they were young and fresh out of battle. Over the years, they had moulded their memories to fit nicely into their current identity. They had a core self, and their recollections had become fully transformed by it.

Conversely, the vets who developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder gave THE EXACT SAME descriptions of the war when they were 80 years old as when they were 20. They told the same story. Their memories (of the traumatic event) were frozen in time. Here’s the crucial difference between the vets with PTSD and the vets without: for vets with PTSD, memory was not transformed by identity. In fact, the memory itself, stuck forever in its original form, becomes a permanent part of their identity. Not the other way around.

People with PTSD don’t just have trouble integrating our memories with our current core self. We also have trouble with basic memory functions. Specifically, PTSD affects the first stage of memory function: initially acquiring and learning information. This is very crucial when we’re trying to remember something in the short-term. Like returning to the stove a few minutes after putting the water on to boil to pour our tea, for example.

All this memory gobbledegook may have something to do with why my grandma is the expert on memory in this household (besides the fact that she has a PhD in psychology from Columbia). She’s had many more years of practice not remembering things. She knows the secrets. The solution? Don’t use your memory at all. Just use your senses. Sensory memory comes before short-term memory on the path to storing information in our brains. Use a physical habit that takes the place of needing to remember. Stay in the room. Don’t let yourself leave while the pot is on the stove. Keep it within sight. And voila! No need to remember a thing.

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On Dreams

Last night, I’m immersed in The Sopranos Season 1, Episode 2, and all of a sudden, Tony starts describing this bizarre dream he had. The dream involves a vicious bird, a lost penis, and an auto mechanic, and the whole thing makes me chuckle to myself, especially after Tony says, “and I’m holding it (his penis) up, and this bird swoops down, and grabs it in his beak, and flies off with it.” You see Tony gesturing with his hand to demonstrate the scene, then the camera immediately switches back to the therapist’s forced-imperturbable face. It’s perfect. You have to laugh.

This scene also makes me think. Why are dreams so mysterious, and so varied? Sometimes they’re ludicrous to the point of being comical. But the ludicrous can turn out to be sad. Like Tony’s ducks. He loved those ducks. He truly loved them, and truly felt a loss when they were gone. It doesn’t make any sense, and that’s okay. Sometimes (most of the time) life doesn’t make any sense at all. I know dreams are proof that we work through shit while we sleep. I also think dreams are proof that hardly anything we do, or decide, is rational.

Sometimes I wake up, terrified that what I’ve dreamed has actually happened. The feeling of relief is so magnificent when I realize I still have “control” over my life, and the terrible dream-thing did not happen. But my body has adjusted to the dream, somehow. My body has, in those few moments or hours of dreaming, accepted that the dream is real. And it takes a few moments after I wake up to readjust. Recalibrate to reality.

Sometimes I wake up with the name of a past lover still on my lips, the feeling of losing them so present in my body that it feels like we just said goodbye the day before. It is real longing, conjured up by a dream. And not only longing, but clarity as well. As if, through the experience of that relationship from the dream perspective, I have actually developed a fresh sense of myself in relation to that other being. The dream is not just some fantasy that doesn’t affect me in real life. The dream has transformed my life.

And sometimes, I wake up remembering nothing at all from my dreams.

Dreams are also tied up in memory and identity for me. I remember some of my dreams, from my childhood and teen years, as if they were memories. Fully-formed, tangible memories. You know how we change and shape our memories into stories as we remember them over and over again? Some of my older dreams are like that. I know them now like stories. They’re stories of myself. These dream memories help to form my understanding of myself, my current self, in the current world. They’re important to my identity. They’re resources for me to use, lenses through which I can filter new information.

Dreams are a portal into another realm. We might think that we’re rational beings with free will, but we seem to be operating based on much more ancient, and much less linear, program than we imagine. We like to giggle incredulously at our dreams, at the weird, nonsensical situations we create in our sleeping minds, but is reality much different?

On Flight

Scruffy, angelic white puffs blow in the wind outside my plane window. My sister says it’s an invasive species. It seems ludicrous that something so beautiful could be so violent. We take off, and the white puffs give way to dead grass, then an expanse of grey sky. I’m thinking about elementary school birthday parties in dimly-lit bowling alleys. I can taste the greasy pizza soaking through the paper plates. Huge sheet cakes with frosting so sugary the granules are rough on my tongue. Blue lettering. A barbie with hair that grows when you pull a string.

Now we’re over the ocean, spots of white littering the indigo blue water. I can still see the lines of tiny boxes on the shore, distant now. I’m thinking about how someone once described humans as a parasite, quickly spreading across Earth, taking and digging, extracting all the life out of our host. Sucking her dry. The CDC describes a parasite as “an organism that lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from or at the expense of its host,” so this seems pretty accurate. I wonder if I agree with this image of my species. It’s certainly romantic, but makes my skin feel too tight for my body, especially from up here in this plane, where our parasitic behavior is so clearly laid out for me to see. The Bay, taken over by human dwellings, along with all the necessary dwelling-accessories. Tiny lines, beige against green: roads. Lighter bits bunched together in squares: farmland. Chunks of sun reflected, glinting: office buildings leering up at me.

Now the mountains are below us. They are bare compared to the city we left behind. Strong in their solitude. It’s been awhile, a long moment of just spacing out in the general direction of the horizon, but I haven’t been able to forget the parasite analogy. Will these little pockets of human disease eventually spread to cover the entire surface of the earth? Will the faraway mountains soon be teeming with scurrying people, gardens, rats, parks, highways, restaurants, and chlorinated pools?

In the distance, the mountains have huge wrinkles. Elephants, heavy velvet. These mountains know deep change: they are not static. Constant erosion. Surrender. Receiving. Yielding to the rain that flows down their many faces. They are relinquishing and relenting. I think the mountains must have to fully know themselves to accept such complete and uncontrollable distortion, without protest.

I think about how often I used to yield to people and experiences. When I was 18, the thrill of that surrender was expansive. It felt like a dripping diamond necklace, or a huge, cool lake waiting for me to jump into the deep waters. The thrill was like water, flowing around me, through me. A womb and a river simultaneously. I was at home in surrender. I trusted that I, or something else, something benevolent and good, would pull me out if it got to be too much. If I got too chilled, or too wrinkled.

I didn’t know myself yet. Or maybe I knew myself too much already, and the world would not budge to accommodate my knowing.

The people I surrendered to were not ready for the trust I immersed them in. They were not the rain. Was I the mountain? Was I the rain?

These people submerged me. And I drowned. They told me I couldn’t swim, should not swim. So I stopped swimming. That was part of the yielding, right? I had to yield. To make the complete shift to embody someone else’s experience, I had to leave my own body and experience behind. And so I went still. My limbs atrophied, my mind filled with grotesque images of floating heads and penises, surrounding me in a suspended, tangled mass until I couldn’t breath anymore, and drowned.

What was the yielding, then? Suicide? Or was it just a big misunderstanding? Back then, I assumed that everyone was exactly like me. I saw a face and thought, “behind that face is a deeply-feeling, spectacular spirit that takes in everything, yields to everything, and knows itself fully.” I thought everyone was tapped into the huge, cool lake of it all. I thought each person would automatically wrap us in a warm, fluffy towel if things got to be too much, too cold. I thought they would notice these things. I thought they were like me.

But it was all a big misunderstanding, wasn’t it?

Now we’re moving through the clouds. I’m thinking about all those times as a kid, looking out the airplane window at the clouds and feeling like this is the one true experience. Like everything else in the universe was just a distraction from this moment. Like this white, clumpy, grey, writhing mass was the pure heart of it all. At the time, it felt undeniable. Now, the cloud is over much more quickly than I remember. Now, I watch it giving way to a clear view of Los Angeles below us.

Los Angeles, the parasite to end all parasites. The horrid, flat buildings weighing down the land. The football fields, skyscrapers, palm trees, languid universities, and sad little cars. The water shipped in from Yosemite. The clouds are above us now, back where they belong, suspended in chaotic little puffs. An ominous fog obscures the horizon to my right.

Suddenly, there are large piles of red dirt and tiny scruffs of bush along the runway. White paint sprayed on the pavement to mark our way as the plane lands. Houses in the distance jar me back to the parasite idea. “The parasite carrier touches down onto its host,” I think wryly. First stop down, two to go.

On Rage

quiet rage
beginning to announce
her speechless marriage

sweeping through, screaming
their Names

dancing then, after
only after
only after

Grammy

I’ll go to visit you 

In the green fields of my youth 

Your skin as soft as flowers 

That dot the hillside 

My mother she will hold 

Your hand until she knows 

That you will safely make it

Through her memories 

I remember summer treats

Blueberries between my teeth 

Raw cane sugar in a little bowl

Whole-oat oatmeal by the window 

I can’t recall the sound 

Of your voice while we sat around 

The dining room table full 

Of food we had to share

I loved that magnet on your fridge 

Of Jesus on a tie die binge 

I’d get him down to his underwear

Then dress him up again