Monday, December 14, 2009

All in Your Head: Chocolate and Perfectionism

It's the end of the semester here at Pitt, which means I'm reading a lot. Reading more than usual doesn't increase the pleasure you take in books but it ups the chances that you'll encounter a piece of writing in which the material, the argument, and the voice (and the interaction of all three) make organic sense to you.

Here are two examples from my recent reading life:

"Monsieur," Madame d'Arestel, Superior of the convent of the Visitation at Belley, once said to me more than fifty years ago, "whenever you want to have a really good cup of chocolate, make it the day before, in a porcelain coffee pot, and let it set. That night's rest will concentrate it and give it a velvety quality which will make it better. Our good God cannot possibly take offense at this little refinement, since he himself is everything that is most perfect."
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, "Official Way of Making Chocolate"

There is certainly what doctor's call a "migraine personality," and that personality tends to be ambitious, inward, intolerant of error, rather rigidly organized, perfectionist. "You don't look like a migraine personality," a doctor once said to me. "Your hair's messy. But I suppose you're a compulsive housekeeper." Actually my house is kept even more negligently than my hair, but the doctor was right nonetheless: perfectionism can also take the form of spending most of a week writing and rewriting and not writing a single paragraph.
Joan Didion, "In Bed"

The juxtaposition is intentional. Does chocolate trigger migraines? Lots of people say so.


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