Peanut Butter Jelly Time


I am an absolutely miserable judge of my own stress. In real time, I am generally blind to what might be bothering me, as well as how much. In many regards, this weakness has served me well. If, in fact, my lens on the causes and levels of stress was clear and focused, at some point in the first six months of having twins I am positive I would have bored a hole in the back hatch of the minivan and gone Malvo. Hell, if my internal View-Master was in good order I am not sure Max would have made it through this last weekend.

I like to view mild dissociative disorders as evolutionary, not psychotic. I am, of course, in no way qualified to hold such views.

Amid modular, air-conditioned, ergonomically correct work spaces, a disconnect between the causes and effects of stress is actually quite useful. As crises arise, I can absorb the initial blows, stuffing them deep inside my organs where they can fester into some unnamed mid-life ailment while I address the immediate issue with an unhealthy level of calm. Sometimes, I sort of feel like Kobe dribbling up the floor with 7.3 seconds left in the fourth, no doubt that some seam is going to open up for that game winning shot. Of course, Kobe sucks at PowerPoint and I lost my three-point touch a decade ago, so that arrogant fantasy really does no one much good.

On the flip side, each significant mistake in my life has occurred under the influence of misdirected stress. Eventually the seams on over-stuffed and forgotten mental Space Bags start to leak, and the evil little Pressure Gnomes glom on to some completely unrelated, and usually minor, stress of the day, piling on -- my view askew to what does and doesn't matter, my judgment poor on how to react. I stub my toe on some forgotten corner of metastacized stress poking out from under the bed, and some unrelated decision or reaction inevitably goes really bad.

That's just how I roll.

There are these moments, though, when the Pressure Gnomes get a little too cocky and their usually silent mocking laughter blows their cover. Having spent the better part of the last month navigating a swirl of airports, cars and train stations, my filters got reset. Walking through my front door and back into My Life, the stresses hit me as palpably as those curtains of hot air that office buildings throw down as you enter on cold days. I spent last night staring at the ceiling, a little stunned by it all, suddenly feeling the true weight of things left for another day.


The latter part of high school and pretty much all of college was spent tripping merrily down what seemed a clear, noble -- somehow inevitable -- path toward one or another well-known law school. At some point along the way, however, opportunities to teach and counsel combined with some truly amazing teachers to plant doubts, to insert buggy code into this program. A more self-actualized person would have thoughfully considered these nascent misalignments among outside expectations and internal drives, but I grew my hair out and joined a fraternity.

I still wince at many of the decisions and misguided goofiness of the Late College Era. I am sure I owe several apologies, and I can think of at least one situation for which I solemnly bow my head and thank our Founding Fathers for their wise and righteous insistence on the statute of limitations. My insides had gyroscoped to face a completely different direction than my outsides and I was a mess. Those more qualified might have some more technical term for it, like, "growing up."

One morning, mid-senior year, I inexplicably woke up around 5am (you'll have to trust me on how truly miraculous such an event was...and is), made some tea and went, for the first time ever, and sat on the front steps of my deco Westwood apartment building. I had an oddly clear head, but no thoughts to fill it. As LA began to pulse and shake off its collective hangover, I wandered back inside (of course, as a sensible senior, my earliest class was, always, like, the next day or something).

To this moment, I remember each step of the walk down the hall, up the stairs, fumbling with the lock that never worked right. I stepped into the tiny but functional kitchen, mechanically pulled out some bread, Jif, and Welch's grape. I assembled them according to the Ancient and Honored Rites of PB+J...took a bite. With no connection to the usual flows of causes and effects, at that precise moment, my Space Bagged anxiety about what I did not want to do took an Escher turn to something I...did...want to do. Within 24 hours, I had shelved the Law School applications and had the duck-and-cover conversation with my dad to let him know I was going to apply to grad school.

In philosophy.

(Oh, and I will need a year off to do that, so if you could clear out my old room, that would be much appreciated, kthxbye.)

I still remember everything about that mouthful of peanut butter and jelly.


Being a grown up requires energy and will, and I am generally willing to drink it from whatever well ain't yet dry. With no regard for the consistency of metaphor, I have spent a couple decades running rich on stores of misdirected stress. But, inexplicably waking up at 5am today, I am equally without cause recalling how much more octane is found in moving-toward than can be sucked out of running-away.

I hate to overplay coincidences, but as someone who has lived with little regard for sensible expectations of cause-and-effect I would be somehow hypocritical if I simply wrote them off. While Max was not conscious even ten minutes this morning before his first time out, his absolute most favorite food in the world is peanut butter and jelly. Welch's grape.

Has to be Welch's grape.

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