Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Comfort food

It's been too long! I almost couldn't remember the password for my blog! I cannot claim to have been really busy this past 6 weeks. I've been writing and coaching and marketing both endeavours. I finished my novel - not in time to enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel competition - but in time to allow me to focus on whether to self-publish it or find an agent. Keen on seeing it in print (sooner rather than never), I opted to self-publish. Rather than read it a 387th time (even I am weary of the font and the characters now), I hit the "make public" button and it is now available

Much as I would love to extol its virtues here, I will save my rantings for another post. Suffice to say - I think it will amuse and entertain. Anyone who would like to review it - you would be more objective after all - I would be delighted to hear your views. Anything favourable can be posted to, or emailed to me at If in the unlikely case that you read it and take issue with it or have negative comments, I suggest you give it away to someone else. 

As a little aside, a good friend told me that she leant my first book "Spring to Mind" to a work colleague who was in fits of laughter and floods of tears as she read it at her desk at work. It was very gratifying. Right up there with the views of my neighbour who told me I was "ballsy" to write such a novel...

So where to start and what to say on other matters. I would love to comment on Libya, the tsunami in Japan, or nuclear reactors (or "nuke-ular" ones - depending from where you hail), but I am not qualified to venture a view. My heart goes out to all who have lost loved ones, homes or livelihoods and who face that loss and the eternal "why?" that accompanies it and the long and perhaps never-ending road to recovery. The devastation is incomprehensible.

Rather than confront that misery and the huge imponderables that natural disasters and armed conflict give rise to, I will focus on more pedestrian things - for which I am grateful. You see, for now, all is well. No chicken pox blights us as yet this Spring, there is no ghastly news from family abroad. We are well and safe and basically happy. We have merely the pedestrian concerns of the ordinary urban household (that pays over the odds for good chocolate and is fed up with the chewed up gum left on every spare surface in the city). 

But we are thankful nevertheless for only having such worries. I will not labour the point about perspective and gratitude yet again - been done to death. If you are new to me - read these earlier posts.

No - for today the topic is - Limits and Ambiguity.

I read some research today that said that people eat chips and chocolate because these foods give them comfort and alleviate feelings of loneliness - like a social connection might. Indeed the report stated that comfort eating is similar to the way people connect and bond with their favourite tv show. 

Well obviously! This is not news (so little is these days - but that's another post).

Suffice to say that favourite tv shows provide a rich seam of social connectedness. The cast of "Friends" are almost as dear to me as any real life friend. For a time my constant companions were Don and Betty Draper ("Mad Men") and the casts of "NCIS" and "The West Wing" are more than a de facto family. I care about Josh Lyman as I would a brother.

And yes - it will come as no surprise to any reader of Spring to Mind to learn that Green and Black's dark chocolate praline mini eggs are the greatest source of comfort in my life.

Read my blog and most trends in lifestyle research will eventually be analysed and revealed - and more cheaply and without nearly the same hoopla and publicity. Hey ho...

So, where was I? Limits and Ambiguity?

Yes - relax  - there is a link to the topic. Given that tv provides us with rich social bonds - I refer you to "Damages".  This show is a real find. In the legal, crime drama milieu this show is unique in that every villain is likeable and capable of garnering our sympathy. "The Good Wife" does this to some extent - but one feels this is deliberate - a moral lesson, if you will. In contrast Damages seems real - less contrived. Every hero is flawed and corruptible too. The cast is superb, the acting consistent and likeable and even in their darkest moments we somehow relate to the actions of the characters. They are very human and vulnerable - like us. Not mere goodies and baddies through and through. And their behaviour is not attributable to some deep, dark, lurking, yet buried childhood tragedy, the revelation of which we eagerly await season after season. Rather, it would appear that people are complex and ambiguous and even "good" people make bad choices. 

We, the audience, are credited with the capacity to wonder and think and reflect - albeit in a different way to that required of devotees of "Mad Men" *(which draws on a time in history and the personal struggles of the characters with issues of authenticity and identity within that context) or "The West Wing" (which was as much about a system and the working of bureaucracy as it was about individuals within it). But it is very flattering to be treated as capable of reflection and thought. Perhaps I am naive or easily manipulated - but watching gripping drama in which the villain is likeable at some level is compelling, even addictive. 

Every day in ordinary social interactions we meet people who may also struggle with internal conflicts, moral grey areas and huge decisions that are plagued with ambiguity and uncertainty. Indeed, perhaps we face such situations as well. 

We raise our children hopefully to know and choose right from wrong, to have an internal moral compass to guide them through the trickier times. Yet, even in the playground, in primary school, they face dilemmas that are ambiguous. They grapple with choices every day - to tell or not to 
tell, to forgive, to trust, to be vulnerable. And they face them alone. 

And they survive.


Which is where "The Brady Bunch" comes in. 

How many times does one think back to childhood days when memories of what Marcia or Jan would have done guided us through a tough period at school. Children today need more of that! Once a week I coach two boys whose primary source of entertainment is "The Simpsons". I have no issue with this - though 17 hours a week (as they claim) may be excessive... But, the fact is - I am no stranger to sitcoms and tv drama, movies and books, and in all that I have watched, read and sampled over some 30 years - nothing much beats "The Brady Bunch" for good, sensible, family oriented entertainment. Yes, it's dated, But Marcia is still cute, Greg is still annoying, Peter is still compelling and Mike and Carol, still "real". While we know that everything will end up basically alright, in each episode the characters face a challenge or an opportunity and must make choices which have consequences.  

A timeless lesson.


A new film is released in the UK this week - "Limitless". I hope to see it. I know nothing about it apart from what is revealed in the trailer. The premise - what would you do it you were offered a pill that would make you super human - to see connections, understand the mysteries of the world, make shedloads of money... and so on.

A fictional romp... and yet...

What would one do?


Truth is, I quite like limits. I like knowing that if I run too fast I will fall down panting, at least based on recent evidence. I like learning from my mistakes and finding new ways of doing things. Yet, I also like not knowing something and trying to find out. I like ambiguity and the opportunities it provides for challenge and self-discovery. But I also like chocolate, writing and good tv. I like knowing where my pineapple comes from and knowing what might happen tomorrow. 

So there is a fine line between control and limits; between uncertainty and ambiguity; between comfort and loneliness.

Perhaps that's why the makers of "Damages" give the viewer a glimpse of the end of the season in the first episode. We already care and are bought into what happens. We have 12 weeks to come to terms with the how and the why. Not to say this is the only formula for TV success - the tension and suspense in "The Brady Bunch", when we only discovered at the last minute whether Cindy would conquer her fear of magic tricks and be Peter's assistant or whether Mike would keep his job after Carol insulted his boss - is second to none.

But these are not our real lives. These shows are our escape, our fantasy land where time can stand still for 39 minutes. So is it any wonder we turn to chips and chocolate? In the face of tsunamis and dictators and air strikes, random and chance events that steal families of loved ones, what else do we have to provide us with solace and a small, fleeting and illusory sense that we are in control and are safe.

Frankly - those praline eggs are not comfort food - but survival rations!

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