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July 26, 2002

Omelets from the beyond
Posted by Teresa at 08:23 AM *

There’s a weird thing that happens to me when I’m immersed in a text: I sort of absentmindedly cook while I’m thinking about what I’m working on.

This is not a normal value of “absentmindedly”. It’s more like Patrick comes home and surprises me by asking about the quart jar of preserves that’s cooling on the kitchen counter. Preserves? When did that happen? And then, if I think about it, I can vaguely remember that yes, at some point I was standing in front of the stove, stirring a pot of something-or-other. I have no memory of thought or volition; just a hazy sense that it happened.

It happened again yesterday. What you’d have to know is that the knack of making omelets has always eluded me. But late yesterday morning when I was working at my table in the kitchen, I suddenly got up and made a perfect three-egg cheese omelet with bits of spinach, green onion, and tarragon snipped into the egg mixture. It not only folded in half properly, it quartered, too; and there I was, blinking and bemused, with a plated omelet in my hand.

Reader, I ate it.

This morning I made omelets again. They didn’t come out as easily and perfectly as the last one, but my wordless memories of what my hands had been doing yesterday were very helpful.

Comments on Omelets from the beyond:
#1 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 11:58 AM:

Cooking can have a mystical element.

When Matt and I were traveling in Italy three years ago (it was our honeymoon), he made his first risotto. He had asparagus we'd bought at the local outdoor market, some vegetable stock, cheese, olive oil, and a box of arborio rice with the instructions for making risotto printed on the back in Italian, which neither of us reads well. It was an exquisite risotto, and he's made many more since. I've never learned to make risotto myself; I figured that the gods had spoken.

#2 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 12:53 PM:

Unfortunately, the only thing I do absentmindedly in the kitchen is take my pills and forget that I took them, and then worry that I haven't taken them, and worry what will happen if I take them again if I already took them...

Or worse, I make another seven and seven, or another Beefeater and tonic as I read. They're dangerously easier to make than omelets...

#3 ::: Damien Warman ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 01:39 PM:

I understand that people no longer give much credence to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

#4 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 01:55 PM:

Before I started using an insulin pump, I would sometimes forget whether or not I'd given myself my pre-meal insulin yet. This was extremely nerve-wracking.

I don't understand how Sapir-Whorf applies, though.

#5 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 02:06 PM:

Teresa, NOW you're listening to your inner voice!

Seriously, maybe it's one of those things you know just how to do, but are too nervous to do well if you're paying close attention. Dance like nobody's watching, right? Well, maybe we should add Cook like nobody's eating, or something.

On second thought. No. :-)


I have that problem. Some of the meds are for ADD, which means if you forget to take them you're REALLY solution is a pill organizer. I felt all elderly buying it, but with all my pills for the day organized, I don't have to remember what I took. I just LOOK. It has saved me beaucoup distress.

And worse. Right before I got the p.o., I forgot that I had already taken my heart medicine and took it again. Left work in an ambulance the next day (the EMT claimed he couldn't find a pulse...and that was after I started feeling better).

#6 ::: Scott Janssens ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 02:43 PM:

I wish I could do things while immersed in text, preferably house work. How cool would it be to stop reading and notice the house was clean?

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 03:05 PM:

I'm confused about the Sapir-Whorf thing too, unless it's somehow connected to Le Guin and the ones who walk away from omelets.

Chris -- oh, drat! That reminds me a day late. Yesterday was the feast day of your (I continue to insist very interesting) name saint.

Anyway, if my wordless inner self wants me to cook, who am I to object? It's been known to terraform gardens, build furniture, and perform small emergency auto repairs, and I have yet to notice it doing anything particularly objectionable, so I might as well go with it.

Scott, I've tried telling myself the house needs cleaning, but so far it hasn't worked.

#8 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 04:28 PM:

Arggh. Love your UK LeGuin pun.

And yeah, I noticed yesterday when I got home that it was St. Christopher's Day. Notice they never call him Chris? No, he gets respect. :-)

I prefer to call him Anpu, of course. The title Christophoros was added later. AND it's a cheesy half-translation to say that it means "Christ-bearer," since "Christos" means "the annointed one." "Bearer of the annointed" is better, and I've always said that Janet failed in her duties when she said "I'll oil you up and drop you down." We're supposed to oil them and NOT drop them.

I suppose this accounts for my tendency to um, lift (in the ballet sense) my lovers...

#9 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 04:56 PM:

There's probably a story somewhere about a group to whom catch-a-greased-pig contests are a religious rite.

#10 ::: Damien Warman ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 05:47 PM:

In re S-W, I suggest that tnh has provided further evidence for thought-without-words: the ability to perform complex actions without (self-)conscious internal muttering.

Referring to Le Guin seems apposite: this is as fine a description of the experience of wu wei as I have read since the last thing of tnh's I read.

(I avoid lengthy digression into memetics, determinism, free will, and go playing, because I must drink a margarita.)

#11 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 05:50 PM:

Christopher and John: You guys need a galloping case of gastro-esophegeal reflux disease (Affectionately known as GERD because nobody can remember how to spell esophageal, oesophagueal, uh, oh, never mind). They give you this little purple pill called Prilosec. Train yourself to take all your other pills at the same time as it. If you forget to take your Prilosec, you will be reminded shortly after your first meal. At which point you go take all of them and an OTC antacid. Works for me


#12 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 06:25 PM:

Um, no thanks, Mary Kay.

My wordless inner self isn't nearly as helpful as yours, Teresa. Mostly it seems to like to listen to music and doze in the sun, whereupon the rest of me gets sunburned.

#13 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 07:00 PM:

Under a strong interpretation of Sapir-Whorf, one could make a frittata without access to the language centers, but it wouldn't taste like anything.

This is distinct from the Sapir-Murphy Hypothesis, which is that you can always make an omelet, but then you have to kill someone with it. (Assassins' Cookbook, "Egg Fu for the Young at Heart.")

I think the most interesting part of this exchange is that nobody has asked, "Whorf? Whatrf? And how do tapirs come into it?"

I could also point out that Prilosec, like Prevacid and Protonix, is a proton-pump inhibitor, but you need not worry about nuclear reactions interfering with your digestion. Nor are they to be confused with Proton Energy Pills, which . . . I could, but it would be wrong.

#14 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2002, 09:11 PM:

Christopher, Wow! I'll stop feeling sorry for myself. My pills (as Mary Kay guessed rightly) are only for acid reflux--but they're not Prilosec, Mary Kay (well, not yet anyway), they're zantac.

I keep resisting the organizer because my dad uses one and it makes me feel...well, old...

#15 ::: Anita Rowland ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2002, 04:31 AM:

After the church decertified him, we always called the statue on the dashboard *Mister* Christopher.

But actually, I think he was only removed from the roll of saints with saints' days because of lack of historical info, and to make room for modern saints. oo, I like this Robert Lentz Icon of him!

#16 ::: (Not-Saint) Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2002, 09:22 AM:

Mary Kay, got it. Protonix is in my first p.o. compartment, along with the Cylert I take for ADD. I had to put my alarm clock across the room in order to take them on time.

Anita, I think that was the official excuse, but saying he wasn't historical was another way of saying he was mythological (i.e. from another religion's stories).

Here's the story I heard.

In Hellenized Egypt, Anpu had already started being called Anubis (he's the jackel-headed one, as I don't have to tell anyone who's reading this). When Christianity came there, they just put saint stories on all their gods, just like happened in Ireland and lots of other places.

Anubis Psychopompos was waiting by the entrance to the land of the dead, waiting to guide the spirits of the newly deceased down to their final rest, when along came a new person, clearly a god, whom Anubis had never before seen.

"Greetings, brother god. Who are you, why have I never seen you before?"

"I am Jesus Christ, and I am but lately ascended to godhood. I come to release the dead from Tartarus and bring them to Heaven."

"I will not oppose you. Moreover, I will bear you, for the road is long and rough, and I see that your feet are injured." And so Anubis bore the Christ, down along the Road That Lies Along A Serpent's Back, past the Eater of Souls, and into the Land of the Dead; and when the work there was accomplished, bore him out again.

And for this deed Anubis earned the title Khristophoros, the Bearer of Christ, and the right to be numbered among the saints.

OK, I've creatively embellished at a couple of points (the rationale for deciding to not only guide but carry, for example, is new here). But this story was one of the things brought back (along with the domesticated cat) by the Irish when they visited Egypt in the 4th, 5th, and 6th Centuries.

The traditional Irish story of St. Christopher begins, I'm told, with "The first thing you have to know about St. Christopher is that he comes from the race of Fairies known as the Dogheads." (Fairies are what the Irish call what everyone else calls gods, as far as I can tell.)

I have all this from Alexei Kondratiev. My SCA name, btw, is Criostoir Concheann. Concheann is a warrior name (hah), and means "Doghead." I otherwise make no claims to sainthood.

#17 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2002, 06:56 PM:

"Brooklyn? At this time of day? You kidding?"
-- inscription on the Christopher Medallion

#18 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2002, 01:37 PM:

St. Christopher is sometimes depicted as having a dog's head because the earliest Greek and Latin descriptions of his life refer to him as coming from a "tribe of dog-headed barbarians". Most Latin sources after the earliest change this to "dog-like"; some even change it to "Canaanite". The Greek church kept the "dog-headed" as an iconic identifier.

The earliest descriptions of his life don't make any reference to carrying Christ, or carrying anyone; he was a soldier who converted and was martyred. I believe that only the Latin church has the story of Christopher carrying Christ across a river.

In other words, the Eastern church has Christopher as dog-headed, and the Western church has him as carrying people across a river, but no one until modern times had the two together. As such, it's fair to say that the Anubis story is a much later retcon, about as factual as The Mists of Avalon.

A detailed account of the life and cult of St. Christopher can be found here.

#19 ::: ers ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2002, 01:50 AM:

And to think, I've been grieving lo these many years that Lord Peter Wimsey was fictional, and Dorothy Sayers was dead, and his like would never be known on earth.

I had yet to reckon with the Collective that comments herein. I am much relieved, and just a trifle spooked. (And now I wonder if that last would be dead-lady-fingers, sherry, and cream? No, couldn't be.)

I've been trying to get my wordless self out on a weekend pass by playing with watercolors and colored pencils and suchlike. If I get very involved in visual work, it does affect my ability to use language simultaneously. Same with music -- I can be too tired to carry on a decent conversation, but still able to play recorder quartets. Weird.

And yes, I too have spaced out on taking ADD meds, ain't it just ironic? I once asked my sweetie to pick up my new prescription and drop it off at the school where I was substitute teaching. I figured that 20 fourth-graders vs. me unmedicated was Not A Good Idea, no way.

#20 ::: steve ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2002, 10:57 AM:

I'm confused by the version of Sapir-Whorf that seems to be current on this thread. My understanding of it (from my former existence as a linguist) is that it states that our thoughts are conditioned by the languages we speak -- for example, a speaker of Hopi, which has no tenses, will think about events in a very different way from, say, an English-speaker. I don't see what this has to do with "thought-without-words"; in fact, it seems to me to imply you *can't* have thoughts without words. Damien? Anybody?

#21 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2002, 11:51 AM:

My understanding of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that it states that the grammar of languages shapes and determines thought. This is the aspect of Sapir-Whorf that's now in disfavor -- the more general idea that language shapes the way people think is more widely accepted, but the focus these days is more on semantics (vocabulary, metaphors, etc.) rather than grammar, as you'd expect in a post-Chomsky linguistic universe.

In any case, I don't accept the idea that there are no wordless thoughts.

#22 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2002, 12:03 PM:

The earliest descriptions of his life don't make any reference to carrying Christ, or carrying anyone; he was a soldier who converted and was martyred. I believe that only the Latin church has the story of Christopher carrying Christ across a river.

Um, hello? Then what was his name? The name literally means "one who carries Christos." If the earliest stories don't have this element, they simply fail to explain it. Unless you're saying that the "carrying" was metaphorical (carrying in his heart or whatever, literalized later), and that he was just a Christian martyr whose actual name is not recorded. I suppose that's possible.

As such, it's fair to say that the Anubis story is a much later retcon, about as factual as The Mists of Avalon.

Gee, most god-to-saint stories haven't got much factual basis. Neither does anything in the Bible (yeah, a few events vaguely like some of the ones in there might have happened, but e.g. there's no evidence that Israelites were ever captive in Egypt). So what? The comparison to MZB's novel strikes me as a gratuitous snipe.

#23 ::: Deborah Green ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2002, 01:53 PM:

To get back to omelets...

I find cooking a little like a threshold experience. Sometimes I have to make a dish incorrectly a number of times before I understand what I'm supposed to be doing. Then once I've crossed the threshold, a whole new arena opens up to me.

It took me a year of cooking my Black Bean Vegetable Turnovers before I could get the black bean sauce to be fragrant in the 15 seconds the recipe specified. Once I understood that, I lost my fear of cranking the gas. This has led to much more fragrant food.

Of course, since you weren't quite there at the time you made the omelet, the understanding might prove a little more difficult. Now that you know you've done it, that should lead to more and improved omelets.

Bon apetit!

#24 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2002, 02:02 PM:


If you read the link I posted, you'd see that, yes, Christopher's original name is not known.

My comment on "historical basis" wasn't about the idea that St. Christopher was "really" Anubis. Rather, I was talking about the idea that the legend of St. Christopher was really based on the myths of Anubis. I'm not commenting on the historicity of the legends, but rather about what legends existed when. There's no evidence that anyone before modern times believed that St. Christopher was both dog-headed and a river-crosser. The Eastern church revered him as a dog-headed martyr soldier; the Western church revered him as a river-crosser. The idea that these two very disparate elements both have their origin in the myths of Anubis strikes me as incredibly improbable, given that only the phrase "dog-headed" exists in the earliest written account of Christopher, and the two streams don't occur together until, I believe, this century.

#25 ::: ers ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2002, 02:10 PM:

re: Janet's explanation of Sapir-Whorf:

First, HI! (note: we're old friends from college days).

Second: Thanks for *defining,* or at least summarizing, the theory. My mind had gone scampering after Klingons, which was not helpful (and yes, I know it's spelled differently). I know not from linguistics.

However, I do know people who do not think in words. I'm dipped as to what it is they DO think in, since I'm very verbal myself. But I can hear the translation lag between the thoughts and the speech (and I've learned to sit still and wait and try to avoid finishing sentences for them!). When I query them explicitly, they agree that they don't think in words -- some use images, some think more in abstract concepts and relationships (??). I can just barely imagine it. And as I mentioned in my previous comment, I have some limited experience with my own thoughts that don't translate well to words, too.

When I was substitute teaching in a music class, I found it very hard to read music and the "cheat sheet" annotations that named the notes (F,C, etc.) simultaneously. I'm used to reading music notation -- actual letters (if they aren't lyrics) force me to use another part of my mind to process them, and it's not quite comfortable.

As a tech writer, I try to find illustrations for abstract ideas and/or relationships between objects and concepts. It can be very hard to prune the words out of my diagrams, but redundancy isn't what I'm after -- I want to use graphics to do more than just repeat. I find it difficult to use the right graphic representations to group things by similarity and difference, too. Hence my deliberate attempts to get my wordless self out and about...

#26 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2002, 03:17 PM:

I am one of those people postulated above who do not think in words. Okay, I live in a very verbal culture so sometimes I do, but often I do not. Especially when I'm learning. I understand concepts in a completely nonverbal way. It's as if the concept, idea, whatever is a physical object hanging before me in space. I grasp it with my mental hands and pull in into my brain which flows around it incorporating it into the structure of my brain/thoughts/understanding. Or I fit it into place with my mental hands like a putting a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. This can make it amazingly hard to be atriculate about what I know, and think, and believe. Translating this almost physical understanding into words takes a lot of time and effort. I'm doing this particular one relatively fluently because I've done it before on rec.arts.sf.fandom and the same discussion is currently going on on alt.polyamory as well. So I've had some practice.

I've got Suzette Haden Elgin's book TRY TO FEEL IT MY WAY, about touch communicators, which I also am, but haven't read it yet. I suspect this touch communication thing goes with the wordless thought thing. You know, sometimes I wish I could sit down with experts in the fields of linguistics, neuropsychology, and other stuff and discuss the ever fascinating subject of me.


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