Paula Deen hasn’t got a thing on Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher

Man, I hope I don’t get in trouble for posting that excerpt from Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me. But it would be worthless to write about her if I didn’t.

This is how I know I’m an English major. I came across her story in my Art of Reading Non-Fiction class, and I’m not going to forget her anytime soon. And man, as much as I hate to do this.. but read up! There are some people out there that need to be known. Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is one of them.

Her story carries the kind of mystique that can’t help but inspire. Strikingly independent and beautiful, this woman is larger than life. And her writings on the art of eating and cooking are straight legendary. She was extremely prolific, putting out more than 20 books and along with a collection of journals, some posthumously published. Singlehandedly she changed the face of California cuisine, living the rest of her life out in Wine Country.

Born in July 1908, she grew up in California, one of four, and her father a journalist- predating her writing prowess. She studied at the University of California where she met her first husband, Alfred Young Fisher (which you’ll see she has kept his name until her death in 1992). The earlier days of her marriage took place in France, spending time at the University of Dijon, then a focal point for the arts and cuisine.

They returned to California in 1932, largely unprepared for the effects of the Great Depression. Turning to odd jobs, the couple pushed through, until fate worked it’s way into her life when she left her husband for another, Dillwyn “Tommy” Parrish. Parrish, a writer, illustrator, and painter – another true artist. Their marriage was extremely short-lived, lasting only three years from 1938 to 1941. But it was intensely passionate. Again, I can only imagine how those nights went, dominated by art and a lot of, I mean a lot, of passion. And again, fate came into her life and took away her husband. Contracting Buerger’s Disease, necessitating the amputation of his leg, Parrish was left defeated- his paintings towards the end of his life being ruled by visions of angels and demons. Faced with the prospect of losing more of his body, Parrish shot himself in the countryside near their cabin in the San Jacinto Mountains, leaving his wife.

His death sent Fisher into a terrible depression- pushing her to write more and more. I like to think her dedication to writing as a legacy to Parrish, who helped her to write and publish her first collection of stories in Serve it Forth (1937). Since then is history. She is survived by two daughters, Anna (who Fisher has refused to identify the father) and Mary (a child she had in a short marriage with David Friede). She raised them both as a single mother.

I’ll leave this with another couple of excerpts:

“It might be good if you could go to them, quietly, and say, “Please sir, stop a minute and listen to me. Can you imagine eating bananas and Limburger cheese together? You have never thought about it? Then think. Taste them separately in your mind, the banana, the Limburger. Taste them together. Ah! Is it horrible? The now about mutton chops with shrimp sauce? And try herring soup with strawberry jam, or chocolate with red wine.

Some of those ten million men would listen. Some of them would eat with their minds for the first time. You would be a missionary, bringing flavour and light to the taste-blind.

And that is a destiny is not too despicable.” – from Serve it Forth (1937)

“But anyone in the world, with intelligence and spirit and the knowledge that it must be done, can live with her inspired oblivion to the ugliness of poverty. It is not that she wandered at night hunting for leaves and berries; it is that she cared enough to invite her friends to share them with her, and could serve them, to herself alone or to a dozen guests, with the sureness that she was right. 

Sue had neither health nor companionship to comfort her and warm her, but she nourished herself and many other people for many years, with the quiet assumption [this is very important] that man’s need for food is not a grim obsession, repulsive, disturbing, but a dignified and even enjoyable function. Her nourishment was of more than the flesh, not because of its strangeness, but because of her own calm. [And this, too, is very important.] –How To Cook A Wolf (1942)

Man, who is Anthony Bourdain? Just a dude who puts meat where underwear should be.

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What you didn’t know about Hellen Keller

I’m watching that History Channel special, America: The Story of Us and it’s basically a textbook with a hot soundtrack.

Now I’m aware of how these sort of things work. I’m aware of how textbooks never give the full picture, and how history is always distorted. Did you know that Woodrow Wilson wanted to expatriate Hellen Keller for being too outspoken? Yeah it’s ironic, but you didn’t know that did you? She was laying amazing groundwork for the rights & services we take for granted today: she helped found the ACLU, was a strict pacifist, and she was seeing Mark Twain on the side. She was dropping bombs on Woody harder than Nas did on Jay-Z (See Example 1: “Ether”). And all of you thought her biggest accomplishment was learning to spell “water” with her hands. Do you even know how hard it is to even sign language?

Grab this book and get reading!

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Narcissistic lyrics linked to a narcissistic generation? Well call me Lil’ Wayne. I’m goin’ in.

Finally, I have a reason to take a dookie all over today’s pop music. And listen. I bolded all the important parts so you can tell your friends what’s up.

In a recent study by Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky, it was revealed that, through linguistic analysis of songs from 1980’s to 2007, narcissism has emerged as pop music’s most salient theme. And it is the purpose of this study to study the link between this shift in lyrics to the shift of narcissism prevalent amongst young and old adults. 

According to DeWall and other psychologists, there has been a significant trend towards narcissism and hostility in American popular music than in previous generations. DeWall’s team had hypothesized correctly: the words “I” and “me” tend to appear along with anger-related words, while there’s a corresponding decline in “we” and “us” and positive emotions. To make a correlation between changing lyrics to cultural changes in individualistic traits, DeWall points to his co-authors’ research, which showed that people of the same age scored higher in measures of narcissism on some personality tests.

Researchers found that popular songs in the 1980’s emphasized “happy togetherness”, citing artists such as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, and John Lennon. These artists released hits that highlighted a sense of group compassion. Conversely, today’s songs are likely to be about the singer his/herself.  Look at Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back”, where Timberlake claims he’s solely “bringing sexy back”, or Fergie’s “My Humps”, whose song claimed she could get prospective males (presumably male) “love drunk” off of “all that ass inside (her) jeans”.(Yes. I highlighted this to show how referential and funny I can be. Get at me.) Early 80’s lyrics emphasized love as easy and positive, about more than one participant. In recent hits, the music is all about individual desires and how she or he has been hurt. Also you should note that DeWall limited the genre analyzed as to not include rap and hip-hop.

So where the ish is the correlation?

Well apparently, DeWall’s co-authors found that narcissism has been increasingly prevalent via findings from a questionnaire called the “Narcisissm Personality Inventory”. The level of narcissism found from these questionnaires has been rising since the 1980’s according to college campus data analysis. Also, during this period there have been reports of higher levels of loneliness and depression. The correlation here being that higher narcissism has been linked to increased anger and problems maintaining relationships. (Their song-lyric analysis found a decrease in words correlated to social connections and positive emotions, and an increase in words correlated to anger and antisocial behavior.)

In terms of making a solid connection between changing song lyrics and changing attitudes.. well it’s a bit shaky. Psychologists are doubting the study’s aims.. citing many other reasons for this spike in narcissism. Obviously, however, these hits are being consumed which inherently reveals a market for their individualistic themes. And the truth is, correlation or no correlation, narcissism is at an all-time high amongst young and some older people.  

My thoughts? 

I do feel like this generation has its share of narcissistic tendencies. As expressions of individualism has reached an odd, odd pinnacle, we must wonder why.

While I do agree with the study’s findings, I share some doubts as well about the attempted correlation, largely in part to the study’s exclusion of the rap and hip-hop genre. Never before has such a genre influenced other forms of music. Pop music employs many musical techniques hiphop brought into the game such as sampling and a new take on referencing other artists (“And a Jay-Z song is on.. And a Jay-Z song is on…”). I also believe that the attitude hiphop portrays, with heavy emphasis on the individual overcoming societal obstacles, has also been a heavy influence on pop music. I mean, damn, since Run DMC and Aerosmith changed the game, it’s been history since. I don’t believe pop music is responsible on its own right as a harbinger of a narcissistic point-of-view, especially with American pop culture. In simpler terms, I feel that leaving out hip-hop’s hand in transforming pop music is to leave out some points that could expose some potentially salient points. But I’m no psychologist, no. I’m just a dude who grew up listening to the many iterations of the “I”, namely T-Pain’s celebration of the “I”. I’m on no boat, but I’m (we’re) definitely cruising through some uncharted territory.

I know I may be jumping the gun by inherently stating the study says pop music is responsible for a shift towards higher levels of narcissism amongst our generation — however, isn’t this question we all want to solve?

What is it that makes our generation feel inclined to scream the “I”?

Are the kids really alright?

Gavin McInnes surely has something to say about it.

Do you?

Link to New York Times article: “A Generation’s Vanity, Heard Through Lyrics,” by John Tierney

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Some parting thoughts

It’s now that I’m sitting here, watching my roommates play basketball from our backyard portico, that I’ve realized how amazing these past four years have been. For now I realize, that to any stranger who would happen upon our private celebration of youth and ambition, others would be so jealous. Perhaps this is the historical slice the older generation looks fondly upon. We should be so grateful.

For today, in the mild spring, is a day for living for the sake of living. Tomorrow, well. Tomorrow will bring tomorrow.

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Spirit Animal

I have found my anthropomorphic spirit animal. It is colloquially called the “chinstrap penguin”. This guy’s so fresh. Makes me want to put on a fitted hat and get down to “Ignition” by R. Kelly.

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English Major Armadillo

Via fyeahenglishmajorarmadillo.tumblr.com

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The importance of being understanding

One of the best quotes I’ve heard was quoted by Professor Michael Olmert in his Intro to the Novel class: “To understand all is to forgive all.” Of course, the actual origins of this idiom are muddled. Internet research have pinpointed it to an old French proverb or from Siddharta himself. Either way, it’s a powerful quote.

On our quest to seek what life has to offer, if you have any sort of moral compass, that quote is great to live by.

To add to this axiom is the idea that fear and then hatred stems from not understanding the other. That is, when someone says, “I hate [insert racist/sexist/whatever-ist slur here]”, consider their position and, if you can, find out why they feel that way. As much as “love” is such a perplexing word, “hate” is almost as perplexing, yet, oddly enough, easier to understand. I say it’s easier to understand because to hate is a less pressing issue to justify than love. I know that I am being somewhat reductive, I mean look at Hitler. That guy was the hater of the haters. Maybe if the guy spent as much money on therapy than he did on his baller military then we would have avoided that whole ordeal. (On a personal note, I don’t mean to trivialize history.)

Be careful, however, of being understanding. Understanding brings together both thinking and feeling. Understanding all will hinder your ability to actually go out and do something. This is the Catch-22 of being educated. Unfortunately those who have this quality are too bogged down with the grandness and shame of it all to act. This is why all the great thinkers and writers off themselves. It’s too much. As if it’s too hard to forget, here are the words of Horace Walpole: “Life is a tragedy for those who feel, but a comedy for those who think.”

As you’ve just read, the importance of being understanding is paradoxical. My only advice? Balance it out. Of course it is an ideal, and maybe I am being too idealistic. But aren’t we all striving for that same ideal?

I apologize for the srsness I’ve been writing on for so long now. I promise plenty pictures of dogs with computers in the future.

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