Shrinkucci's Ramblings

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I was born at a very young age and...bud um boom...

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Bambi Dilemma

My mom took me to see Walt Disney’s Bambi when it came out in 1942. I was six years old. I still remember sitting with my mother and watching it in the Hobart theatre on Steinway Boulevard in Astoria, Long Island. I wish I could say it was a wonderful childhood experience but it was not. I was stricken when Bambi’s mother was killed by MAN in the meadow and for years I remembered with great sorrow how little Bambi cried: “Mother? Mother? Where are you mother?” I cried for Bambi that day in the movie theater as I am sure hundreds of thousands of children have cried since.

Over the years, I have discussed this film with generations of parents and almost without exception they have reported having had, as children, the same experience. Almost all of them have wondered: “How could Disney justify such a traumatic encounter with the death of a mother in a movie made for children still so powerfully attached to their own mothers?” To this day I am mystified and offended by the decision.

Sadly, this one overpowering and traumatic event in Bambi kept me from taking my children to see the film. I could not justify putting them through the same experience. Yet, the wonderful scenes of Bambi as a faun meeting Thumper and Flower and having his first experience with snow and ice are some of the most cherished of all my movie memories. Unfortunately, I did not think it was a workable solution to take my daughters to the movie theater and then try to cover their eyes and ears when the death of Bambi’s mother occurred and so I did not take them at all. At some point, of course, all three of my daughters did finally see the movie and they all agreed that the loss of the mother was very painful and that it blemished their memories of the film.

And so, Lars, my almost three year old grandson, came to stay with me for a couple of days this week. He has seen, I believe, all of the Disney movies except Bambi. I was faced with the Bambi dilemma—what to do, what to do. Then, It occurred to me that if I rented the film on DVD I had the option to simply skip over the painful segment using the DVD remote. I decided that I could pull it off and rented the film.

I did a sales job on Lars about Bambi prior to watching the movie with him. He is currently enthralled with Spider Man, Superman, The Hulk and The Fantastic Four and I was worried there would not be enough action scenes in Bambi to keep him satisfied. But then I remembered the fire scenes and the episode where Bambi saves his girlfriend from the dogs and thought that perhaps I was selling the movie short. I explained to him that the movie was about a baby deer that lived in the forest with his mother and all of his nice animal friends and that Bambi and his buddies had lots of fun playingtogether. Lars agreed to watch the movie and we proceeded to do so.

I was thrilled as Lars giggled at Bambi’s difficulty learning to walk and I was overjoyed to watch his face as he roared at Bambi’s pratfalls on snow and ice. It occurred to me that he himself was not so far removed from learning to walk and that he was probably remembering those same trials and tribulations.

Watching the film with Lars, I was again struck by the genius of the cartoon work. Bambi’s facial expressions are even more sweet and adorable; Thumper’s voice is more charming and Huck Finnish; and the leaves falling on water and the birds’ songs of spring are as magical as I remembered. I watched Lars’ face as the movie unfolded and he was as enthralled as I had hoped.

Already an experienced DVD watcher, Lars can pick up on film score cues. And so, when the music became ominous the first time we are introduced to the danger of MAN in the forest, Lars said: “Uh oh—bad guys.” I said to him: “Yes, there are men with guns in the forest who want to shoot the animals.” Lars’ eyes got big and he looked worried. I knew that the first run-in with the hunters worked out safely for Bambi and his mother and so I allowed Lars to see it. He handled it well and was relieved when they escaped unharmed.

Then, when the second run-in with MAN occurred, as Bambi and his mother began to run away, I skipped the traumatic section using the DVD remote. Lars searched my face to see why I had done it. I said: “Lars, Bambi’s mother got shot in the foot and had to go and get it fixed, but Bambi’s okay.” He seemed a tad troubled by this but pretty much bought it at face value. As the rest of the film played he stayed involved and did not ask any more questions about Bambi’s mother. I felt that I had successfully protected him from the film’s unnecessary trauma.

Lars had a strong positive reaction to Bambi’s father. He kept pointing to him and saying: “Papa, Papa.” I agreed and pointed out that the Papa in the movie was not only Bambi’s father but also a “good guy” who protected all the animals in the forest.

The part of the movie that Lars seemed least interested in was the “Twittilated” sequence showing all the animals falling in love during spring. I do not think that at this time he has enough information to figure out what it all means. I tried to explain that Thumper, Flower and Bambi each “found a girlfriend to play with.” He seemed to accept this but I could tell by his face that it was not adding up. His experience playing with others does not include the lovesick looks, the kisses and the other strong flirtation stuff in the movie. But, he hung in there and found enough interesting things—he was quite impressed with the forest fire scenes and Bambi’s dash to safety--to offset this somewhat mysterious part.

Naturally, Lars will see this movie again at some point and it is likely that he will probably see the entire movie and have to deal with the loss of Bambi’s mother. But, he will be older and more able to handle it. All things considered, I feel really good about his first Bambi experience and of course am honored to have been there for his first viewing. True, it was the Grandfather’s Expurgated Version but I believe I found a suitable solution to the Bambi dilemma.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Innies and Outies

A psychology professor once explained to me a fascinating theory he had developed about people and their interpersonal style. He believed that almost everyone fell into one of two groups and guessed that the differences between members of the two groups were probably genetically determined since he saw these differences manifested in little children. He called one group “Outer Directed” and the other “Inner Directed.”

Outer directed people (Outies), by his definition, are those who from a young age are aware of and sensitive to the needs of others. Additionally, they are, for the most part, oblivious to their own needs. This pre-disposes them to take care of others at their own expense. They rarely make waves, seem to instinctively know how to please people, do not impose their will on others and prefer to let others lead. They do not recognize their internal emotional states and if you ask them what they are need or are feeling at any given moment, they will stare at you, confused, and respond: Gosh, I don't know. They are almost always well liked. This makes sense since they spend a lot of time pleasing other people and are conflict avoidant. They are often labeled by mental health professionals as sub-assertive.

Inner directed people (Innies) are the opposite. From an early age they always seem to know exactly what they want; they impose their will on others; they are, for the most part, insensitive to others' needs and feelings and often appear to be self centered. They recognize their internal emotional states and feel free to talk about them. They also are not shy about telling you what you can do to make them feel better. They rarely inquire about others’ internal states. I once heard my professor friends say that “Innies “assume that the party does not start until they get there.

Being a member of either group has its advantage. Outies are well liked and get along with everyone. Innies know what they want and get their needs met. The problem, of course, is that the members in each group have the same problem. They suffer from poor social awareness but are operating at opposite ends of the awareness continuum. On one end the Outies are unaware of their own needs and feelings and at the other, the Innies are unaware of others’ needs and feelings.

For example, when, as children, the members of these two groups attend grammar school, Outies rarely get into trouble because of their generous Outie behavior. They are people pleasers and there is nothing that a grade school teacher likes better than a class full of Outies. All they want to do is please the teacher and others. The children who usually get into trouble are the Innies. They know what they want and if it conflicts with the teachers' needs, so be it. Teachers want order and predictability and Outies deliver in these areas.

Over time, there are important additional distinctions that come about within these two groups. As individuals age they experience difficult and challenging life experiences, suffer the ups and downs of competition and the pain and joy of relationships. As a result, at least ideally, hey learn additional awareness. And so, Outies learn to be aware of their own needs and Innies learn to be aware of others' needs. After these years of life experience, any individual may now now fall into one of four groups:

1. Outies without awareness
2. Outies with awareness
3. Innies without awareness
4. Innies with awareness

However, Outies will always tend to be givers rather than takers despite having learned to recognize what they want. And, conversely, Innies will always tend to be takers despite learning to recognize others’ needs and feelings.

What are some of the advantages to knowing which category you or your children fall into? If, upon reflection, you determine you are an Outie without awareness, it is important to begin asking yourself what it is you need from your relationships and from life in general. You may discover that you are consistently taking a back seat to everyone around you and missing out on getting your needs met. Outies without awareness, in my experience, do not have much to look forward to each day.

If you determine that you are an Innie without awareness, it is a good idea to begin
paying more attention to others' reactions to you during interpersonal dealings. You may be dominating relationships or losing friends and not know why.
Be clear, being either an Innie or an Outie without awareness is not a crime. It is merely a state of undeveloped awareness. Personal growth is, after all, an awareness issue, not a static, pass-fail situation.

As far as relationships go the ideal couple is a combination of an Innie with awareness and an Outie with awareness. This recommendation, if you think about it, is really based on the old Giver-Taker theory of relationships. What makes it more sophisticated is that both the giver and taker have added awareness so that no one gets ripped off. It is not enough to say that givers and takers are a good match. Unless there exists the necessary added awareness , the giver-taker relationship is fraught with peril. There is a huge difference between an Outie with awareness saying: “No biggie—I truly don’t care if we eat Mexican food two nights in a row,” versus “My gosh…I wish I had the guts to say no to Mexican food again…but I don’t want to displease my spouse.”

The most painful type of relationship occurs when two Innies without awareness team up. All one hears is "Me, me, me." Screams of outrage and accusations of selfishness are the norm and both individuals feel ripped off 24 hours per day. Combine an angry, pseudo-liberated feminist with a rigid, self-centered chauvinist and you have the Double Innie prototype relationship.

A very frustrating relationship also occurs when two Outies without awareness team up. Since neither knows what he or she feels or wants, nothing ever gets decided. Their dialogues go like this:

He: What do you want to do tonight?
She: I don't know, what do you want to do?
He: I don't know, do you want to see a movie?
She: It's okay with me if you want to. Do you?
He: Do you?
She: If you do...etc.


Such relationships usually die of boredom over time. One individual, admitting to involvement in such an Outie+Outie relationship, described it as analogous to two people trying to drive a bus down a sandy, not very steep hill but the bus has no steering wheel, no engine, no brakes and all the windows are blacked out. After a not very exciting ride, the bus eventually comes to a stop.

Parents, once acquainted with this theory, often become intrigued with its implications for child rearing. They often discover that they have unexamined prejudice toward their annoying Innie offspring. Further, they begin to see that their Outer directed children are not getting their needs met, despite being well liked by others for their pleasing ways.

There are scores of scenarios that this little theory generates that have interesting and important implications for relationships, child rearing and friendships. And so which of the four categories do you believe you fall into? Are you an Outie without awareness, an Outie with awareness, an Innie without awareness or an Innie with awareness.

This piece is dedicated to James Mikawa, Ph.D., a wonderful teacher, a fine man and a good friend

Monday, April 17, 2006

On Being Italian: Statali, Autonomi & Dependenti

Italians can be split into three classes based on their job. These three classifications do not include people born to wealth or the super affluent, successful businessmen such as Silvio Berlusconi.

The Statali: These are people who work for the government. Statali cannot, for anything short of murdering their boss, be fired. They have absolute job security until they reach retirement age, which is in their late forties to early fifties. They have superior benefits, including paternity leave with pay; very generous retirement programs and the absolute right, after a few years on the job, to be transferred to the same job back in their home town. They work a 35 hr week but do not have to show up if they do not want to and because they work such short hours they can moonlight and make extra, unreported income. They have many paid days off each year, get special government rates at hotels and resorts, receive higher earnings on their savings and pay lower loan interest rates. They are both envied and despised by the Italian general population. One of the most egregious stories of Statali benefits involves elected office. When an individual is elected to the Chamber of Deputies--that is, becomes an elected representative of the people (there are 620 such positions), he only has to serve one term (less than 12 months) in order to receive a lifetime state pension that is significantly greater than that received by school teachers and lesser state officials who must work 35 years before reaching retirement.

The Autonomi: These are the self employed. They own their own business and have one great advantage over both the Statali and the Dependenti; they can avoid paying income taxes. In Italy, it is a fact of life that, if possible, one avoids paying taxes by under-declaring income. The Autonomi say to themselves: “It is a given that since the government babies the Statali workers and wastes money on them, it is furbo (clever) of us to figure out as many creative ways as we can to cheat the government since it will only waste our tax money on the Autonomi.” It is also a given then, that the Autonomi, since they do not have the benefits or extra perks that the Statali have, chronically gripe about how they are forced to lie and cheat to avoid paying taxes to support the Statali who live off the government’s big tit.


Our experience of an Autonomi member in action was Marisa, the woman who rented us our apartment in Rome. Within minutes after meeting us she asked that we sign a letter stating that we were paying only half the amount of rent that we were actually paying. Since she makes a living renting her apartments, she is self employed and part of the Autonomi group. Thus, she believes it is only fair that she cheat the government out of taxes in order to survive. That is also why she was not at all self conscious asking us to sign an untruthful statement.

Also, when we bought books at either of our two favorite bookstores in Trastevere, we were almost always given a hand written receipt because Autonomi store owners, for the most part, do not run sales through their cash registers. Predictably, both book store owners complained mightily about taxes and how they have to cheat to survive.

The Dependenti: These people are the employed; they work for others. They have limited benefits, work long and rigid hours, cannot moonlight, make far less money, and are the unhappiest of the three groups. They are the ones who are most angry and who are most apt to complain about the lousy work ethic of the Statali and the cheating, tax avoiding Autonomi. They complain that they alone are carrying the nation on their backs because they are paying high taxes and the other two groups are either gobbling the taxes up with their benefits or almost completely avoiding paying taxes and coasting.


When the Autonomi and the Dependenti talk they complain about the Statali and their easy, lazy life. When the Statali and the Dependenti talk, they put down the Autonomi because they pay very little taxes. When the Automoni and the Statali talk, they make clucking noises about the “poor working stiffs” who have it so bad. Bruno, our Florence, physician-surgeon friend, falls into an interesting category in terms of these three groups. He is technically a self employed professional (Autonomi), but since his surgery and practice hours run through a hospital and a group practice, he does not have the option to launder and hide income and so he is taxed as though he were part of the Dependenti group.

Despite all the anger and resentment directed toward the Statali by two thirds of the working population, most Italians would give their last pot of sugo for a Statali job. The general belief among Italians is that: "Once you get on the big tit you never have to work or worry again."

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas

This week I decided to call a college friend of mine that I have not seen or spoken to since 1958. His name is Ed Kulkosky. He and I always got along well and were fellow journalism majors at a New Jersey commuter college. A couple of years ago I found his email address on-line and we began to exchange occasional emails. He has had an interesting life. He has been a NY Times newspaper editor, a financial journal writer and editor, a standup comic, a singer and entertainer and is currently writing songs for a musical as well as working weekend gigs as a professional Santa Claus.

I called him because I had recently sent a number of emails to which he had not responded. Since we are both at that age when bad things can happen very quickly, I decided to check to see if he was okay. It turned out he is fine and that he has been having trouble with his email address and so we talked for a while. He mentioned that he had been very busy this past holiday season doing Santa gigs and as our chat unfolded, some interesting stuff came out about the job of playing Santa. Ed said that most of his work comes through “party planner companies” that book entertainers for events like birthdays and Christmas parties. He said that at one Christmas party a father, as he placed his daughter on Santa’s lap, said: “Don’t is shy sweetie—tell Santa what you want for Hanukkah.” He also said that he can tell which toys have been pushed by TV advertisers because every little girl and every little boy pretty much wants the same stuff. When I asked him what the parents expected from a Santa at these parties he said: “Oh—the predictable things. They want Santa to be mellow, patient and to be a good listener who really focuses on what the kids are telling him. The problem is that there are usually so many kids that it ends up being a more cursory thing with each kid—you know--get on Santa’s lap, take the photo, tell Santa which toys you want and it’s over.

I asked him where one would buy a Santa suit and he said that there are a fair number of companies that manufacture and sell them. An off-the-rack Santa suit runs three to four hundred dollars and one that is custom made could easily cost a thousand to twelve hundred. I expressed surprise that there would be such demand for Santa Claus outfits and he said: “In that vein, let me tell you about an event I’ll be attending this coming July. I’m going to Branson, Missouri. A group of businessmen in Los Angeles have put together a Santa convention in there. Branson is a little town that has become famous in recent years. A number of professional entertainers—Dolly Parton for one--have opened theaters and nightclubs there and are drawing crowds. This convention is called The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas. As you can tell by the title, the only requirement for taking part is that each Santa must have a real beard. Beard length is not spelled out, it is essential only that the beard be authentic.”

Ed said he was looking forward to the convention and then our conversation turned to other things--old mutual college friends, the passing of the years, our health (of course) and our wives and families. It was good catching up with an old friend. And afterward, I sat there in the glow of this really fun conversation, wondering how many other old friends have led such creative and fascinating lives and, sadly, how infrequently I have found out about them. Ahhh--it is an interesting world we live in.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Perry Como and Courtly Love

Recently, I purchased a couple of Perry Como CDs. I bought them because I wanted to re-capture a taste of early home life. During the fifties my mother adored Perry Como and played his LPs by the hour. She would get starry eyed when listening to him and his versions of “Till the End of Time,” “It’s Impossible” and “I Surrender Dear” would melt her heart. I can still remember her reaction as she listened to his crooning: “Awwww—I just love him.”

Until now I have never really thought too much about Perry and his effect on my mother but after listening to his CDs for the last month I have come to believe that Perry Como’s RCA Records A&R man, Tommy Loftus, truly understood women. His formula for Perry was simple. Perry’s albums and singles were always about one thing—a 20th century version of courtly love.

His songs fall into two categories. Straight on love-adoration tunes—e.g., “I Surrender Dear,” “Till the End of Time” and lighter musical vehicles with the same message but not so emotionally laden—“Find a wheel,” “Mama Loves Mambo-Papa loves Mama”. He alternated these tunes but the message was always the same--a man adores a woman with undying love and devotion and will never, ever, veer from his loyalty and commitment. This is feudal courtly love at its most stereotypical.

Marriage among the affluent during feudal times was about family mergers, not love. It was too loaded with reality and women needed the fantasy of being adored not for their estates and dowries but for their souls. Courtly love, known at the time as “L’amour courtois,” was a highly stylized, artificial and forbidden affair that was characterized by certain attributes.

It was aristocratic and practiced by noble lords and ladies. It was ritualistic and the woman was constantly courted with poems, songs, bouquets and gifts. The man was painstakingly attentive and the woman need only return a hint of approval to keep his love. She was kept on a pedestal and adored. It was secretive and the rest of the world was excluded. They were in their own special universe. Finally, it was extra-marital but sans sex. The ultimate objective was not crude physical satisfaction but a sublime and sensual intimacy based on absolute adoration of the woman by the man. Then, as now, there was nothing quite as exciting as unfulfilled sexual desire.

With these courtly love guidelines in mind, jump ahead to the fifties and think about the needs of the many financially trapped women married to men who had not yet been exposed to the liberating sixties ideas allowing them to examine and express their feelings and to begin actually listening to their women and treating them as equals. Given this context It is understandable why Perry was so adored by women during his fifties heyday. Additionally, it did not hurt Perry Como that he was a devoted family man. It made his songs' messages more believable and as important, it made him unobtainable, an important characteristic of courtly love.

And, so, following my need to reproduce a musical mood that I lived with in my parents’ home in the fifties, I bought and listened to Perry Como’s music. And as I listened I began to realize why his music was so powerful for my mother. She and my dad had an emotionally empty marriage. Neither knew how to share their feelings and each felt unloved by the other. My mom also read romance novels (the courtly love principle runs through all of them--"Man cherishes woman, man and woman have a dilemma, love conquers all, woman is still cherished, they live happily ever after")—and my dad put his energies into work. And so when I listen to Perry sing there is a bitter sweet quality to the experience. I hear not only his songs but I recall what satisfaction he brought to my mother and I smile at her swooning response to him.

Grandma Zsoka's Gomboc Dessert Dumplings (Szilvas Gomboc)

When I was a little boy I used to go with my mother to Masury, Ohio during each summer and stay with Grandma and Grandpa Zsoka for a few weeks. Grandma’s house always smelled of freshly baked bread and Hungarian pastries which she kept covered with crisp, white linens.
She made a particular dessert, which at the time, I believed was called “Gumboat.” I have recently learned that its correct name is “Gomboc” and it is essentially the Hungarian, dessert version, of an Italian gnocchi. It is stuffed with either a sweetened whole prune or prune filling (lekvar). I loved this dessert and whenever we visited with Grandma Zsoka or she visited us in New Jersey she would make it for us. It can be eaten with a knife and fork, or held in the hand and eaten like an apple.

Ingredients:
One small can of prune filling (lekvar)
4 medium sized potatoes
1 large egg or two small, beaten
4 level cups of sifted flour (through a strainer is fine)
1 tsp salt
½ cup butter
1 cup of bread crumbs
½ cup of sugar
2 tsp of cinnamon

Directions:
Toast breadcrumbs in the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. With a spatula or tongs, continually turn them over until they turn a medium brown color. Do not over toast or they will get bitter. Mix the browned bread crumbs and the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and put aside.

Peel potatoes, cut up and cook in salted water until tender, then drain and mash them. In a large mixing bowl, combine the potatoes while warm to the sifted flour and salt. Add the beaten egg and mix all until a dough like consistency is reached. Place the ball of dough on a floured board and roll out to a thickness between ¼ and ½ inch. Cut the dough into 4” squares.

Place a teaspoon of prune filling (lekvar) in the center of each square and turn into a ball by doing the following: Connect two corners in center over lekvar and pinch together. Connect other two corners in same manner. Now bring four resulting corners in and pinch them as close to the center as you can. As you are doing this, you are working your way toward a round shape. Keep pinching any seam that does not seem closed. Once all seams are sealed by pinching, roll the ball between your palms, bottom palm facing upward. Once all the dough has been turned into gumboc balls (you should get 20 to 24 balls) do the following.

Drop four or five gumboc balls at a time into boiling water. Let cook for 10 minutes and adjust heat so that water boils but not too violently. Early during the boiling time you may need to separate each ball from the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Lift each batch of gumbocs from the boiling water with a slotted spoon or ladle and while the next batch is cooking do the following.

Roll each gumboc in the bowl of breadcrumb-sugar-cinnamon mixture until thoroughly coated and place on a buttered cookie tray in the oven (200 degrees) to keep warm. Repeat this with each batch.

Gumbocs can be served as is or with a dollop of sour cream on a dish. They can also be frozen, after cooking, until needed. Let thaw completely at room temperature (don’t use the microwave) and re-heat in oven until warm.

Carmelina's Limoncello Recipe

In August of 2002 I went to Italy with my three daughters. We had the opportunity to visit Mirabello, a small mountain village North of Naples, in the Abruzzi-Molise area, where my Great-Grandparents, Amodio and Rose DiToro, were born and lived before coming to America. While there, we visited with newly discovered family relatives, Marina Volpacchio and her parents, Giovanni and Carmelina. At the conclusion of a five course dinner, Carmelina served her wonderful home made lemon liqueur. Because I enjoyed it so much she gave me a bottle to bring home. We have since gotten the recipe and make it often. Here is some of Carmelina's Limoncello. I hope you have as much fun making and drinking it as we do.

Ingredients
One liter of Everclear Grain Alcohol (190 proof—be sure it is a 1,
000 ml liter bottle)
10 lemons
1 ½ quarts of filtered water
3 pounds of sugar (2 cups = 1 lb)

Directions
Using a potato peeler, take all the yellow rind off of each lemon, trying to avoid getting the white, bitter pith on the thin lemon peelings. Combine the Everclear and the lemon peelings in a clean one gallon glass or plastic container. Cover and store in a dark place for one week.

At the one week mark, make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a large sauce pan. Bring it to a slow simmer, and let cook for 20 minutes. (Note: the longer you simmer the syrup, the thicker it will get because only the water boils away). Next, allow this simple syrup to cool to room temperature. Do not add warm syrup to the vodka-lemon peel mixture.

Strain the lemon peels from the Everclear and combine the simple syrup and the Everclear alcohol. It is now ready to drink. This recipe yields close to four quarts. Its alcohol content is about 30%, thus it can handle being stored in the freezer. The bonus is that freezing gives it a delightful, slightly thick consistency.

Notes: This drink, made by infusing grain alcohol with the oil from lemon peels, is very popular in Southern Italy, particularly on the Amalfi coast. It is excellent splashed over vanilla ice cream or fresh strawberries. It also makes a fine martini, two or three parts vodka to one part Limoncello. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Wince Memories

For many years, psychologists have been using the phrase “old tapes” to refer to those things we do or think that are the result of early life experiences. For example, I have an old tape about the tie between food and company. If company comes to my house, my early life experience of living in my parents’ home and watching them entertain, leads me to believe that I would be akin to a serial murderer if I should happen to run out of food and someone could not enjoy a second or third helping at the table.

Recently I have become aware of something similar to the idea of old tapes. I have noticed that when I am tired or when I have discovered that I have made a mistake either interpersonally or professionally, for a short period afterwards I am prone to fall into the trap of going into my memory banks, pulling out embarrassing incidents or immature behaviors, picturing them and then literally wincing at the images. These “wince memories” can be six months old or 30 years old; their age does not seem to matter. Each has the power to make me want to close my eyes, shake my head and try to wipe away the image.

I find the depth of the embarrassment intriguing but I also think it is fascinating that memories do not seem to lose their power with time. Here is a specific example of a recent wince memory. Forty five years ago, as a young man, I was a guest, along with seven or eight other folks, for a long weekend at the home of a professional chef. I made the mistake of telling her that I loved to cook. The fact is, I was enamored with the idea of cooking but had actually cooked very little. She generously asked me if I had a favorite recipe that I would like to cook while I was visiting. By coincidence, I had recently had a long discussion with my father on the phone and he had explained in detail how to cook his special Sunday spaghetti sauce. I had not yet cooked it but I was sure from our phone conversation that I knew how to do it.

Foolishly, I told my host that I would like to cook my father’s recipe for spaghetti sauce and added that I had cooked it many times and that it was a very special recipe. I then proceeded, in front of her, to butcher the recipe so badly that the sauce was practically inedible. Worse, I was very outspoken about how the sauce should be made and blew her off when she tried, during my cooking attempt, to give me some tips to get me out of obvious culinary trouble. Despite my attitude, she very tactfully bailed me out at the end by doctoring the sauce to an almost acceptable level. Worse, the guests, who had seen my entire act, were kind enough to compliment me on my bad sauce. There is no doubt in my mind that my host and the guests saw me as a fraud and that all of them knew by the way I had approached cooking the recipe that I had no experience in the kitchen and that I was simply showing off. When I picture me trying unsuccessfully to make this sauce, transparently bluffing and ignoring the chef’s attempt to help me, the reality of how I must have appeared to everyone is painful and I literally wince and try and wipe away the memory.

Naturally, If we live long enough and take enough risks, we will have many such embarrassing memories in our banks. It is not enough to merely try and wince them away. We must also have something we can do and things we can say to ourselves so that they do not bring us down. What I say and do is based on the following premise. Depression resides in the past with mistakes and regrets. Anxiety resides in the future with performance worries. Joy resides here in the present. So, when I wince at old memories and am temporarily residing in the past, I do two things. I say to myself: “Yes, it is embarrassing to have done that but if I had not done it I would not be the person I am today. Such mistakes teach humility. Thankfully, I have learned from the experience.” Then I pull myself back into the present by getting involved in an activity that I enjoy.