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February 2020

Post image for A Better Way To Respond to Cravings

When I walk past the mural painted on the side of my local FoodFare, I often experience a very specific and compelling mental image: the silky underside of a Ritter Sport dark-chocolate-with-whole-hazelnuts bar.

I’ve spent a lot of time admiring this particular surface. It’s about three inches square, smooth except for the hemispherical bulges where the hazelnuts show through. The nuts are coated in layer of chocolate so thin it’s sometimes translucent. The top of the bar is less interesting: a standard grid of break-apart squares with a logo on each one. The much more charismatic bottom side is what speaks to me, and the manufacturers evidently understand this, seeing as they print it on the label.

This store offers thousands of items, but I associate it most strongly with this one chocolate bar, in part because it’s my standard “treat myself” item, and also because there’s a needlessly large display of them right beside what is often the only open checkout. This makes it almost impossible to buy anything without having to decide whether this is one of the times I will purchase and eat this 560-calorie ingot of fat and sugar.

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Post image for How to Create Gratitude

As a kid, whenever I stayed for supper at certain friends’ houses, I wasn’t sure what to do when they prayed.

My family didn’t say grace, but I knew a bit about the ritual from reading the Family Circus. I knew you were supposed to look down and say amen at the end, so I did.

I was familiar with the idea of God—how he made the world and watched over it, and all that. But I found it unlikely he would intervene in the pedestrian matters of cooking and groceries. Still, it made as much sense as Santa Claus and the impossible logistical feats attributed to him, so I went through the motions in the way kids do.

By the time I became an edgy teenager, I’d learned from USENET newsgroups that religion had caused all the ills of society. So I went from playing along with the grace ritual to silently resisting. I still looked down at my hands, but I didn’t interlace my fingers, and refused to say amen. It’s embarrassing to remember that phase.

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Post image for The Difference Between Getting By and Getting Better

When you do something the same way long enough, it stops occurring to you that it can be done differently.

I’ve begun making up for thirty years of mediocre interactions with clerks and cashiers. I was a very shy kid, so I often mumbled my way through retail exchanges. I wasn’t impolite, but I said nothing more than necessary, and didn’t always attempt eye contact. It didn’t feel great, but it worked well enough, and the cashiers didn’t seem to mind.

I’m much less mumbly as an adult than I was at eight, but I’ve apparently still been coasting on the same minimalist approach, navigating retail transactions politely, but not warmly. Hi. I don’t need a bag, thanks. Great, thank you. All in a low voice, sometimes verging on a whisper.

A few weeks ago, after apparently having acted through pure habit for thirty years, I suddenly became conscious of just how needlessly unpersonable I’d been that whole time. As I lifted my grocery bag and spoke my usual “Thank you,” my voice was so low that no sound actually came out. Rather than make a second attempt at speech, I nodded to signal thanks but the cashier had already turned to the next person.

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