The ruin of vanilla ice cream

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

We wait in a Switzerland-branded coffee and ice cream shop. It’s hot outside, Houston hot. We grabbed a taxi from our hotel to Doolies’s parent’s neighborhood, with the hope of meeting them after they finished their lunch meeting.

Doolies reads a New Yorker article on the development of obstetrics. It’s an interesting article that shows medicine, in its purest form, is about improving success rates against failure rates. Medicine is not so much an art as a mechanical process. Obstetrics has shown the greatest improvement of all modern medicine. The percentage of baby mortality has had a precipitous drop compared to the rest of the medical specialties. One of the driving forces was the introduction of a way of measuring success. A scale was introduced that measured the baby’s health at various stages after birth. The doctors were measured against the success of the babies on the scale, and the delivery processes continuously evolved through competition to improve the doctors’ scores on this scale.

We dig into a single scoop of vanilla ice cream. I sip a coffee while Doolies drinks tea. Except when I order mochas, I don’t drink my coffee with milk. I alternate black coffee with sweet, creamy ice cream. Vanilla ice cream has received a bad rap. People use vanilla as a way of describing a boring, conventional choice. Vanilla is my favorite flavor of ice cream. What people fail to realize is that vanilla is a flavor. This is most apparent when you eat vanilla verse plain yogurt. Vanilla has a wonderfully intense taste. It’s different from other flavors in its singularity. For me, it’s about the contrast of flavors: the black coffee followed by the sweet vanilla ice cream. The comparison is severe and delicious.

Today is a holiday in Taiwan. It has something to do with wrapped rice and the suicide of a nobleman as his way of protesting corruption. From what I’ve gathered, the story goes something like this. Two thousand years ago, a nobleman drowned himself in the river to protest the government’s corruption. When the people heard of this, the races their boats to try and save him, and threw rice wrapped in leaves into the water so he would have something to eat. To celebrate this occasion, people in Taiwan and Hong Kong race dragon boats, where large teams paddle downriver in long boats to recreate the attempted rescuing of the nobleman. People also throw the wrapped rice into the river. The symbolism of food survives even beyond death.

We had planned on reviewing a few Dr. Julie Show music videos, but with the holiday, we settled for a lazy day of wandering, long naps, and television watching at the hotel. We shopped around Doolies’s old neighborhood, dodging from shade to shade, and air-conditioned store to air-conditioned store.

I’m proud of my corporate master. The pen I write these words with is blazoned with its logo. I want people to glance over and know I’m one of their minions. It’s the ego again. I want to be seen as belonging to something bigger than me. Perhaps it’s more than just wanting to be seen: I also want to be part of something bigger, something more important.

We sit at the window of the coffee shop and watch as mopeds zoom from place to place, probably doing their parts to contribute to the overall warming of this tropical place. People walk back and forth in front of the coffee shop, visiting the surrounding shops. I watch the same three girls pass the window five times. After we leave the coffee shop, we do the same thing, passing in front of the coffee shop’s window a number of times as we wander the streets.

People write stories about great people hoping to capture some of the greatness. What makes people great can never be bottled or taught. It is the instinctual reaction, the deep thoughts and analysis, the desire for power and the grasping of the lightning rod at the moment of the strike.

Everything has its plan, its providence. We sat at the coffee shop and I threw my New Yorker at Doolies to keep her occupied while I finished The man in the high castle. She found the obstetrics article and she is reading it. It seems more than chance that brought it to her. Or maybe I read too much into everyday events. We humans are excellent at seeing patterns where there is only randomness. It’s either that or there is no randomness, only apparent and mathematical randomness.

It’s these times away from words, these times alone with only my thoughts that I miss while working. When I work, my creative energies are subjugated to the job, even more so over the past few years as I my job began to interest, entertain, and bring me great satisfaction. What I lose, however, are these quiet moments of reflection, where I dig out the built-in crud and begin exploring the more important and harder to find parts of my life.

Perhaps that was what I was getting at yesterday with my discussion of writing and doodles: I can doodle without reflection because the doodle is my reflection. But to write I need quiet moments where email isn’t dinging and I’m not anxiously waiting for the next fire to ignite so I can run over and stamp it out, lose myself in the familiar activity until only a smoldering heap remains as evidence of my efforts, evidence of a life. I don’t want to judge that life right now. Perhaps it is for the best to concentrate on small fires and not worry when the forest burns.

Doolies’s parent’s lunch meeting went long. We ate a delightfully modern Japanese lunch before grabbing ice cream. We window shopped for a bit before catching a cab back to the hotel. We met her parents for a late dinner and went to sleep early. It’s morning now as I type up the notes. I slept well last night. It’s always the second day where the jet lag hits. I like to think I’ve beat it, but I won’t know until tomorrow.

As I reread the musing, I realize that I’m too hard on myself as usual. I have to realize that life is not a zero sum game. Doolies finished her article—and with it my musing.