Just a little more on the meaning of life, real quick

The odd thing about being a human being is that we mostly live out our lives in a state of absolute mad delusion. We set arbitrary boundaries and apply them as if they’re real. We create representative concepts and then treat the representation as if it’s real. We dutifully perform rites and rituals that have been handed down to us, which are totally divorced from any actual purpose they might have once served. And our standard for mental health is to be someone who does all of these things cheerfully and unquestioningly, as if being anxious or depressed is necessarily a state of dysfunction, rather than perhaps telling us something really important about the dislocation between the lives that our minds and bodies are meant for and the way that we most often live today.

Of course, what we’re “meant for” is an interesting question too. I think the question of whether God exists is really a question of meaning, and the meaning of meaning. That is, really, positing the existence of a divine creator and arbiter is really a declaration that meaning is inherent in the universe, that it wells up from a source like water from a spring. And I think that’s a comforting thought for people who are afraid that otherwise the world is cold and meaningless. But actually, you don’t have to believe that meaning springs from the font of a beneficent divinity in order to believe that meaning exists in the world. Because we can find meaning, make meaning, with the shape of our lives. And to me that is a much lovelier and friendlier concept than meaning being in the charge of some ineffable deity who hands it down from on high.

And since we’re social beings whose primary impulse is to create and sustain relationships, you’d think it would be an easy sell that the meaning of life is to love and be kind to one another. But there’s that wrinkle of the mad delusion, where we also have an unfortunate tendency think that imaginary concepts are as real and important as actual beings and the actual world around us.

So I think that’s maybe the root of good and evil, right there. We do good when we act for the benefit of each other and other living beings. And we do evil when we harm each other and other living beings, whether that’s for selfish benefit or for the sake of abiding by some arbitrary schema or to pay alms to the altar of some imaginary construct. That’s what corporate greed is, in a nutshell. That’s how the glass spires of financial empires are built. And of course the same could be said of any institution whose primary purpose is to serve its own interests first and its constituents second (and innocent bystanders not at all).

Jealousy, envy, and …assumption, maybe?

Over the past couple years, some roller-coaster personal circumstances have given me a lot of opportunity to think about jealousy and envy, what they are and what they’re not, and the difference between the two. I’m not an especially jealous person by nature, but I know all about envy. I used to conflate that with jealousy because it was what I understood. I could see jealous thinking as a trap, but I couldn’t really get how people were caught in it.

But here’s the distinction as I’ve come to understand it: Envy is wanting what someone else has. Jealousy is wanting someone else not to have something. That could be something they do have, or it could be something they might have. You might want the thing for yourself, or you might not, but you definitely don’t want them to have it.

More recently I’ve been thinking about the subtler trap of thinking that you want something because other people want it, or want it for you. Is there a word for that? There must be, right? It’s the feeling that exists somewhere in the intersection between gaslighting and FOMO and comforting familiarity and normative assumption. I’m not really talking about broader cultural normative assumptions (e.g., “girls want boyfriends” or “boys like sports”) but individually-specific assumptions, like I’m good at math and I want a career, so I ought to study accountancy, or everybody puts red onions in salad and that’s how I’ve always made mine, so I’m going to keep putting red onions in my salad even though somehow I always end up with a lot of onion left at the end that I then throw away. And then one day you look up and think, you know, I actually fucking hate accountancy, or hey, these onions are crap.

And it turns out the upside of envy is that it’s one of the triggers that can wake you up to this type of trapped thinking, if you’re paying attention. Because if I envy so-and-so’s career or their choice of salad, maybe that’s a feeling I can learn from. I don’t have to be hung up on that — I can just use it to understand myself better.

On the fundamental nature of love

Something I’ve been thinking about lately: I don’t believe that there is a “meaning of life” in the sense of a master plan or a grand design, but I do think that life has meaning in that we are ourselves creatures who are deeply engaged with meaning. It’s inherent in the way we construct the virtual reality we live in (for which we typically use words like society, economy, culture, etc.) — in order to be able to engage with conceptual constructs as if they were real and tangible, you have to have a capacity for meaning. And we have worked out a bunch of different cultural frameworks over the millennia for what we say gives meaning to life, which we also then typically muck up with a bunch of unnecessary rules and prescriptions and exhortations and taboos.

But I think you can actually simplify radically simplify it that the meaning of human life, the purpose of our existence, is to love. Not love as a noun, but as a verb: to love. To love each other, the world, our selves. It’s fundamental to what we are as social creatures, and it’s always our best and highest calling.

Life as a fruitcake

It has been a basic defining fact of my life, since I was a pretty small kid, that I don’t like fruit. I’ve had a million iterations of this conversation: “Yes, all fruit. Haha, yes, I know that covers a lot of variety. Oh, a few exceptions, like I’ll sometimes have raspberry jam or orange juice. Yes, haha, I do eat tomatoes, you got me there.”

I’ve also spent most of my life feeling at least a little unwell. I’m a little embarrassed by this, and it feels totally self-indulgent and maybe melodramatic to talk about. I’m not going to enumerate a full list of petty complaints, but suffice to say I could come up with one that would make a hypochondriac blush. But, for instance, I recently mentioned to someone that I remember repeatedly having the experience in childhood of almost throwing up, pretty much at random — feeling my gorge rise and swallowing hastily, and being pleased with myself to catch it in time. I thought this was a common childhood experience, so I was a little unprepared for her reaction of complete horror at the very idea. So, huh, maybe not normal.

I was aware of the phenomenon of fructose malabsorption, in part through reading up on the low-FODMAP diet. Some people have less ability to absorb free fructose directly through the gut lining, which means that it passes down to the lower intestine. Too much excess fructose, or a bad balance of gut bacteria, and fermentation of that fructose can contribute to significant digestive distress.

I also probably had encountered the common caveat, “Fructose malabsorption should not be confused with hereditary fructose intolerance, which is typically diagnosed in infancy and can cause kidney and liver failure and even death if left unrecognized.” So, ok, I’m not an infant, and I’m not dead, so that can’t apply to me, right?

Except now I’m wondering.

Hereditary fructose intolerance is indeed a very different problem, where fructose is absorbed just fine but cannot be fully metabolized due to an impaired ability to manufacture the necessary enzymes. It’s not a gut issue at all. It’s an inability to efficiently clear partially metabolized fructose, which can cause liver and kidney damage if left unchecked.

There are known examples of HFI remaining undiagnosed until adulthood … because the affected person developed a strong aversion to fructose- and sucrose-containing foods from childhood. Aversion to sweets limited their exposure, and it only came to light later in life.

Now, that’s not exactly me. Because although I have a strong aversion to fruit, I also have a sweet tooth for sucrose-containing foods. I am definitely not an obvious candidate for classic HFI, having seemingly eaten enough sugar in my life to have killed me several times over.


I started to wonder, is there such a thing as partial fructose intolerance? And with some careful sifting and poking around, I was able to turn up an article from ten years ago that suggests this might be possible. The authors include a reference to a case study from the 1990s where a patient experienced severe effects after being given fructose intravenously during clinical-surgical management of other conditions. A liver biopsy of that patient showed that F1P aldolase activity was 30% of normal, and FBP aldolase activity was normal (where typically in HFI patients, these values are 0-6% and 10-50% of normal, respectively). The authors tie this to other unspecified examples from their 20 years of clinical practice to suggest that acute symptoms of HFI may appear only after massive fructose intake in previously asymptomatic patients who carry an incomplete set of HFI gene mutations.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s me? Because maybe “asymptomatic” can also mean “nothing that has landed you in the hospital.” If you’ve had years of relatively mild complaints that could be attributed to any number of things, then I can’t see how you would ever be tested for this particular genetic condition, unless maybe you happened to have a family history. Whereas for me, the only hint in this direction is that I have a lifelong visceral aversion to fruit.

And the thing is, I suppose I could take all this to a physician and see if I could, what, see if I could finagle some advanced genetic testing? Get a liver biopsy? Do a fructose tolerance challenge and see how my body reacts?

Or … I could just cut out sugar.

I mean, really cut out sugar. Militantly. Not just fruit and fructose, but anything with sugar in the ingredient list, or where sucrose is the main component sugar (because sucrose = fructose + glucose).

Have you ever tried to do this? God almighty, so much label reading. So much repeatedly looking things up. So much having to question and rethink every assumption that goes into making food choices.

But my birthday is coming up at the end of the year, and I’m going to call this my birthday present to myself. I’m going to the hard work now to give this a shot. I mean, from a health perspective, there’s really not any downside to meticulously cutting out sugar for a couple months. And maybe, just maybe…

Maybe I’ll end up feeling…good?

Short story #1: August’s Story

I’ve been trying to get motivated to write some short stories.  Here’s story number 1 for December:

My name is August because I was borned in August.  I am almost nine and my birthday is next week, but my brother says that I can’t say I’m nine until my birthday.  But I’m almost nine.

I am supposed to write a story for class but not a made-up story.  I must describe a time when I witnessed a random act of kindness.  Which I think sounds like a crime show.  But then I remembered when I was little and we lived in a house where Mom was a witness for Jesus, and everyone says he is nice and definitely would not do a crime.  Except he got nailed to a tree and it seems like THAT ought to be a crime, in my opinion.

So here is my story: One time I was at a park with my brother.  His name is Hank, and DO NOT call him Hankie or he will punch your arm.  (Except he won’t punch our Mom, but she just calls him Hankie sometimes for teasing.)  We were at the good park with all the climbing stuff, just my brother and me. There’s some bushes at that park, not by the street but on the other side by the alley.  And we saw a dog there, by the bushes.

This dog was real skinny, and patchy black because some of his fur was kind of missing which maked him look even more skinny.  Hank said, “I think that dog is lost.” And he pulled off some of his peanut butter sandwich, like the size of a chicken nugget, and went over by the dog.

That dog looked scared but Hank makes friends with animals all the time.  So he just waited a minute, and sure enough the dog came right to him and ate his piece of sandwich and then tried to sniff his pockets for more, but Hank had left his sandwich on the bench with me.

So after Hank petted the dog for a minute, he said it was a boy dog, and I said what’s his name, and he said, maybe Comet?  He didn’t really know, though. But we called him Comet and I let Hank take the strap off my purse to make a leash, which was blue.  I only had seashells in my purse, so that was fine.

What kind of dog was Comet, you may ask.  He was a terrier-shepherd mix. Hank figured that out because he researched LOST DOGS and all the ones that looked like Comet were terrier-shepherd mix dogs.  At first I thought Hank said terror-shepherd, ha! But if you didn’t know it, a terrier is a kind of dog. At our old house, they said Jesus was a shepherd, but I guess dogs can be shepherds too.  Which makes sense because dogs are really nice, even though my old babysitter got bit by a dog. But Mom says she got bit by Jesus when we lived in that old dumb house, so there you go.

Ok, so this story is a long one!!  But here is my random act of kindess example: because Hank actually did find the real owners for Comet, whose names are Jason and Angie.  And they were so happy to get him back that they were crying when they came and got him from Hank in our parking lot.  Not like babies bawling, but like adults cry where they scrunch up their faces and get squeaky voices and have to blow their nose.  They had a blue Outback which I remember because Comet rode in the back. Plus Comet was so happy to see them and tried to lick their faces off and did the Crazy Wiggle Dance, but like times a thousand.

So I was a witness for my brother being real kind for that whole thing.  And also it turned out that Comet’s name was actually Corbet. But that’s pretty close.

On oils (the cooking kind)

I’ve read a ton of stuff over the last couple years on cooking oils — some highly credible and research-based, some full of witch-doctory, all extremely sure of itself. I have developed some opinions, naturally, both as a person interested in nutrition and as a home cook whose chief priority is making tasty food. Here are the top things I think about when deciding what oil to use:

1. My current go-to all-purpose cooking oil, if I had to pick just one, is avocado oil. It’s a monounsaturated oil like olive oil, and (unless you’re buying a farm-to-table bright green version) it has a very neutral taste and smell. You can cook with it, use it in baking, or make it into salad dressing — definitely a jack of all trades. Having said that…

2. You can use olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee for just about anything, and the results will also be delicious. Sure, they each have a distinct aroma and might go especially well with certain recipes, but don’t fuss too much about what oil to use. If your recipe calls for one, and you substitute in another, just take note of any difference and see what you think, but don’t worry that it’s going to “ruin” your results. Sometimes a little hint of different makes it that much better.

3. The above four oils are the ones I use. I like sesame oil and peanut oil just fine, too, but I no longer bother to buy them. Oil has a shelf life — it needs to get used. Ideally you want to use up that newly opened bottle of olive or avocado oil in, say, three to six months. (Depends on how big your bottle is, right?) Monounsaturated fats aren’t quick to oxidize and turn rancid, but they won’t stay good forever. (You’ll know when it’s gone off, as rancid oil has a distinct musty odor. Trust me, you will notice.) Coconut oil and ghee are both rich in saturated fat, which makes them shelf stable for longer — making either a good pantry back-up option.

4. In general, buy oils in glass jars or bottles. I don’t make this an absolute rule (e.g. we buy big bulk containers of coconut oil from Costco, which are plastic), but I definitely would prefer glass wherever it’s an option, especially for liquid oils. I think there’s both a campaign of misinformation defending plastics and a circus of “clean eating” scare-tactic nonsense around the dangers of plastics, and I have no idea where the truth lies. But have you ever pulled an old, cheap bottle of oil out of the back of a cabinet, and it’s weirdly sticky and crumply? That’s the result of the oil slowly degrading the plastic as they sit in contact. Oils and plastics seem to interact in some funky ways. This is a non-issue with glass.

5. Don’t worry too much about cooking temperature. It’s true that a really good olive oil will be most nutritious unheated, but you’re not going to “ruin” it by using it to cook. Use what you’ve got. To get the most virtue out of your cooking oils (and your food in general), don’t cook over high heat. High heat is for boiling water. If you’re sauteing or pan-frying, medium to medium-high heat is all you need. I prefer coconut oil or ghee for frying, but I consider that a matter of taste. If you’re roasting oil-tossed veggies or potatoes in the oven, no need to crank it up to 400F+. You can roast veggies beautifully at 350F, better for the veggies and the oil you’re using to roast them. All the high-heat warnings around oil aren’t so much a warning about the oil as they are an indicator that cooking at very high heat is hard on food.

I wrote a poem.

The rock and the river.

They say that a rock in just the right spot

can change the course of a river.

It’s a nice idea.

Probably gives too much credit to the rock,

but we’ve always got to name a protagonist.

What the river was up to, well,

who can say?


This sure seems like an age for rocks in the river.

See that blockhead carrying on over there?

His rhetoric says, I CANNOT BE MOVED,

while the waters tumble him sideways and upside down.

What’s upside-down to a rock anyway?

He might as well go sideways

— who could tell?

So sure he’s moving the water,

but the river was here before him.

It knocks us together in the unlikeliest ways.


Still, a little course correction wouldn’t be amiss.

I hunker down in the place I’ve chosen

and hope for the best.



I’m co-organizing a series of learning events at work in honor of Pride month.  One of them is on the topic of intersectionality.  In feminist literature, this originated as looking at the way that race and socioeconomic status interact with gender to create systemic disadvantage that is more complex and more intractable than just any of those factors alone.  More broadly, we’re using it to capture the way that different aspects of identity come together to create experiences that may be very different from what others may see or understand.  That might include other aspects of identity like sexuality or veteran status or disability, or even things like being a parent or non-parent, or being tall, or an only child, or musical.  Some of these are things that we can see at first glance, and some are things that you can’t know by looking.

So when I saw this post earlier this week, I thought, this dude is my new icon of intersectionality:

Look at that guy on the left — he’s huge!  Apparently this attracted some notice and a follow-up:

A master chef who does cake decorating and ice carving!  Because you can be a huge muscled veteran who likes to feed people attractive food.  People are complex.  And because everyone has a unique set of experiences that they’re dealing with, we all have the opportunity to be each other’s allies — to listen and learn and be respectful and supportive.

Breakfast Hash

Everyone has a few foods that are objectively terrible but are seasoned with such nostalgia that they still hit the spot. For me, this includes Chef Boyardee ravioli (for a lazy couch-potato day), chocolate Zingers (on a road trip), and a late-morning breakfast with corned beef hash, the kind out of a can. If you’ve never had corned beef hash, it looks and smells rather like canned dog food — only it’s got about 5,000 times the sodium. I’ve had house-made versions at chic breakfast joints and nice diners, always with some disappointment. Some things just aren’t meant to go upscale.

Right now, I’m taking a temporary stab at eating a Paleo AIP diet, which eliminates a whole bunch of things including nightshades like potatoes and peppers, as well as eggs, dairy, nuts, and other common allergenic foods. The idea is to try to clear the slate, then slowly add things back one at a time to see how they make you feel. It has also been a good kick in the pants to get more creative with cooking and try some new things.

This morning I made a breakfast hash that I swear to God is one of the most satisfying, lush and delicious breakfasts I have ever had. Corned beef hash it ain’t, but I’ve finally found a superior substitute. I chopped the veggies in a fairly fine dice, tossed in chopped homemade meatballs (essentially, seasoned ground beef), and then stirred in chopped avocado at the end which gave a superbly creamy mouthfeel to the dish.

Veggie-Beef Breakfast Hash

  • 1 Tbsp. avocado oil (or other oil for cooking)
  • 1 c. chopped broccoli (I used two roughly peeled stalks and leaves, but of course you could use the crowns like a normal person)
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • Salt, to taste
  • 8 premade meatballs, chopped (or 1 c. cooked seasoned ground beef)
  • 1 medium avocado

Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add broccoli and carrot and cook, covered, for a few minutes. Add zucchini, toss together, then add garlic and turmeric. Cook a few minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add meat and continue cooking until veggies are tender and meat is heated through, then turn off heat. Remove pit and peel from avocado and roughly chop, and stir into the hash. Plate and serve — serves two (or one of they’re very hungry).

Pumpkin-Beef Meatballs

  • 1 1/4 lb. ground beef
  • 300g canned pumpkin (about 2/3 can)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried chives

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine all ingredients. Using a small scoop or tablespoon or your hands, shape into small meatballs and arrange on one or two baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through and starting to brown. Makes ~45 meatballs — eat some now, freeze some for later.