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Terez Mertes

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

January 30, 2009 at 6:54 PM

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


From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 6:58 PM

A minute on the lips, forever on the hips...

(I have a chocolate problem.)

Next time you have one of those "Nothing Goes Right With The Violin" practice sessions, instead of playing something old, play something new.  Sightread something a little easy for you, for instant gratification.  Baggage free, calorie free.


From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 7:06 PM

I understand where you are coming from.  Chocolate is my comfort food of choice, but potato chips will certainly do.  Anne's advice is good. 


From Terez Mertes
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 7:11 PM

 >Sightread something a little easy for you.

That would be like, um, "Twinkle, Twinkle?" : /  I am such a poor sight reader - it just does not come naturally to me. I am the musical equivalent of a kid that moves his lips when he reads and uses his finger to follow what he's reading. I blame it on being a lifelong choir singer. So easy to wing it.

And yes, chocolate is definitely one of my top snackie delights, as well. Interesting to note, though, that I can make a box of chocolates last a month, which amazes my husband. It just doesn't trigger that "gotta have more gotta have more, omigod I can't stop gotta have more" impulse. Thank goodness.

Dang. I'm getting hungry here. Thanks for the quick replies, Anne and Tom. Talk about instant gratification. : )


From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 7:19 PM

Well, it is lunch time...


From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 7:19 PM

(picking Rold Gold cheese pretzels out of teeth)


From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 7:20 PM

And Terez, sightreading doesn't come "easily" for almost anyone.  I practice sightreading everyday, sometimes a page, sometimes a whole movement.  As you learn new patterns, (pieces, etudes, scales, etc) and have pattern re-enforcement, it does get easier.

What are you working on right now?  I can make some suggestions...


From Terez Mertes
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 7:22 PM

 >Well, it is lunch time...

Only snack time for me - I eat lunch late. Time for a nice orange or a handful of blueberries. See? I'm a healthy eater. Yes I am. And no, it is not necessary to bring up that créme brulée I had at Hayes Street Grill at 11pm that night, following the SFS performance we both attended. I walked a mile back to my hotel that night, after all.

Okay, and replying to your other reply, yay, it's not just me on the sight-reading, then! My teacher's got me on a mix of odds and ends; we're using four different books. Which actually works in my favor, b/c I'm not getting burnt out on one or the other.


From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 7:32 PM

You had the creme brulee, I had the chocolate ice cream.  And I had to send it back--remember?  That sweet waiter brought me out vanilla by accident.  VANILLA.  Oh, the humanity.

That was a year ago, come to think of it.

Good times.

So, what are you working out of?  Enquiring minds want to know.


From Jodi Bernard
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 7:39 PM

I loved your blog!!

A sidenote here, I have been upscaling here. I am turning empty (clean) potato chip bags into purses. and the small ones into pencil bags ... I could go on, but I don't wish to bore.

 


From Terez Mertes
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 7:44 PM

>I am turning empty (clean) potato chip bags into purses. and the small ones into pencil bags ... I could go on, but I don't wish to bore.

Ooh, I want to see, I want to see! Post pics. Wait... maybe it wouldn't be a good idea for me to see the charm of it all, because then I'd have to empty the bags to make them and... oh, dear. The demons are stirring.

Anne:

Beautiful Music for Two String Instruments, volume II, Samuel Applebaum

P.L. Bytovetski, Scale Technic for the Violin, Carl Fischer

The Doflein Method, Volume II, Development of Technique

English, Welsh, Scottish & Irish Fiddle Tunes, Robin Williamson

Just ordered: All for Strings, Book 3 (G. Anderson, R. Frost)


From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 30, 2009 at 8:01 PM

Excellent, excellent batch of learning material.  If you want a super easy instagratification tune book, get a copy of Kid Fiddle.  It has simple, well known tunes, with many in several keys, and would be a nice little stress buster.  No guilt involved!

I want to see the chip bag purses too.  Talk about a minute on the lips, forever on the hips!


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 12:19 AM

Do violinists have a tendency to become addicted to some kind of comfort food?  I have often notice that hard prcticing and all the thought part makes bizarre effects on us...   We sometimes so deeply need to change our minds!

Anne-Marie


From Paul G.
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 12:31 AM

You have such intense lyricism in your writing. And the way you provide descriptions...

BTW, I love how all over the place the comments are on this one. Lol.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 2:57 AM

Anne-Marie - I think the whole "comfort food" issue is big for anyone who reacts to stimulus with passion, which I'm inclined to think covers most classical music fans/violinists. There is such an interesting correlation, I realized through this experience, with food and classical music for me. They both provide something crucial, and when one doesn't produce, the other will. But, hey. I enjoy having both on my plate on any given day!

Paul - thanks for your nice words, and I'll certainly agree with you on the "intensity" aspect of this post. I reread it a few hours later, when I felt calmer, and dang, I think I did a good job of transmitting the intensity I was feeling last week. And as for your enjoyment of how "all over the place" the comments are going here, I'll echo that! : )  I love it when one of my blogs becomes a spot to digress and/or mull over all sorts of subjects, from choice of snackies, to what lesson books I'm using, to a reminiscence of a shared dessert, to life, to the minutia (sp?) of daily practice, etc. But mostly, right now, I welcome the opportunity to talk about FOOD. 

In light of that. Okay, folks. Tell me your favorite addictive snack. I know for my husband, it's ice cream. Ben and Jerry's. French fries rank high, as well.

We have potato chips, chocolate, ice cream, French fries. Anyone else? Anyone? (Dang, I'm getting hungry again.)


From Ray Randall
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 3:11 AM

Never mind the chips, etc. You write very-very well.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 3:07 AM

 >Excellent, excellent batch of learning material.  If you want a super easy instagratification tune book, get a copy of Kid Fiddle.  It has simple, well known tunes, with many in several keys, and would be a nice little stress buster.  No guilt involved!

Whoops, almost let this one pass w/o commenting. Glad to hear you're liking the mix, Anne; your opinion means a lot to me. I'm a very slow adult beginner, but I'm okay with that. My teacher has produced a good mix of material and that really suits me, although the Doflein is the one that ultimately challenges me into a frenzy. (Yes, that was an ingredient to what I will now forever refer to as "that potato chip incident.") But you know what I just thought of: I could go grab some of my old books from a year ago, and voilá, I've got easy, sight-readable tunes that we simply bypassed last year b/c they were too easy even then. Perfect confidence-booster. So, hey. Thanks!


From Terez Mertes
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 3:13 AM

>Never mind the chips, etc. You write very-very well.

Aww, Ray, thanks. : ) ((Writer's cheek's are warming prettily as she types.)) Glad it's not coming off as over the top.


From Paul G.
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 3:39 AM

I've been obsessed with red grapes lately. They can't be squishy. Nor sour.

That's my addiction food lately.


From Mayra Calvani
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 7:50 AM

Hi Terez,

I so can relate! In fact, there has to be a connection between frustrated writers and overeating. LOL

As I was reading your post, I kept thinking: that's me!

I also keep the violin on the table where I write. When I'm stuck or just hate the words that are pouring out on the keyboard, I grab the violin and play (scales, etudes, whatever--rather desperately). When this doesn't work... the kitchen is just a step away! Which is not good.

At times like this is best to just get out of the house. Take a walk. The muse loves to walk! :-)

Mayra

 

 

 

 

 


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 11:45 AM

I'm with Anne and Tom, chocolate is a big one for addictive foods for me.  And yeah, B&J's ice cream.  Or pretty much any ice cream.

There is a Christmas cookie recipe that's been in my family for several generations that is essentially meringues with chocolate chips, dyed red or green with food coloring.  My grandmother poetically called them "kisses."  Once I made them and there was something wrong with the brown sugar and so they lacked that light and fluffy texture and looked a bit congealed.  My husband referred to them then as "alien droppings."  But they still disappeared very quickly.  Maybe the aliens ate them . . .

And, it's Girl Scout Cookie time again.  I will have to exercise whatever passes for willpower to not eat a box of Thin Mints in one sitting.

But potato chips, surprisingly, I can pretty much take or leave.    


From Terez Mertes
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 2:04 PM

 Paul - I love red grapes - the right textured ones - too. In fact they were the subject of my September blog. (http://www.violinist.com/blog/Terez/20089/)

Mayra! Hi, good to see you here! Yup, I'm not surprised you can appreciate the writer-violinist connection. And exercise, yes! Daily exercise for me is my sanity. I call it Nature's anti-depressant.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on January 31, 2009 at 2:07 PM

>There is a Christmas cookie recipe that's been in my family for several generations that is essentially meringues with chocolate chips, dyed red or green with food coloring.  My grandmother poetically called them "kisses."  Once I made them and there was something wrong with the brown sugar and so they lacked that light and fluffy texture and looked a bit congealed.  My husband referred to them then as "alien droppings."  But they still disappeared very quickly.  Maybe the aliens ate them . . .

I loved reading this, Karen. : )  Alien droppings - that's hilarious. Reminds me of the time I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and they never rose - maybe too little flour, and they were just like hard little puddles at the end. I was disappointed, but darned if they didn't all disappear from the kitchen in no time anyway. (And the last time I made a batch and they turned out fine, my son was disappointed, and wanted them flatter "like that last time." Ugly still equals tasty, I guess!) 

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