Do People Say You’re Crazy?

First of all, they may be right. If everyone tells you you’re crazy, you should be concerned. Especially if those you trust the most are convinced you’re unhinged, you should probably be evaluated by a psychiatrist.

However, even when you are 100%, bona fide sane, you may have to deal with the misperception that there is something off kilter in your perceptions or behavior. It happened to me.

I’m not too concerned, since there are even maniacs out there who consider C.S. Lewis to be a tad daft due to his counter-cultural (i.e., Christian) views.

In an article measuring his legacy a half century after his death, James Como said, Lewis’ “long and unrelenting resistance [to civilization’s decline] yields a commanding perspective that is not only not cultural, not only not trans-cultural, not only not merely counter-cultural, but almost anti-cultural; in a word it is supra-cultural . . .”

Surely Lewis’s sharp-shooter’s application of the phrase “enemy-occupied territory” to Western culture must come to mind.  Of course, from inside the culture, it is Lewis who must seem crazy: if not quite as febrile as  Jeremiah out there in the wilderness, surely close enough?  And so his genius – the application of his transcending individuality – is to present us with a choice: in or out?  We, with Lewis, might escape, leaving the Zeitgeist behind.

I’m with Lewis, which I understand makes me suspect in the eyes of the worldly. But it’s not my faith that has caused me to be labeled as crazy for many decades, even by family members whose love for me is beyond question.

It’s all about that despicable herb some people sickeningly regard as delicious – cilantro. As early as I can remember, I would sometimes have a meal where I found a dish had been contaminated by soap. It was horrible. Not just unpalatable, but inedible.

Everyone would praise the food and call me crazy. Especially when I told them why it tasted so bad. It was because it tasted like the chefs had grated a bar of soap over the meal. They would all laugh, look at each other with that “he can’t be serious” expression, and resume their dinner. Meanwhile, I’d basically go hungry, since I was unwilling to eat the perfectly “good” food.

After many years, as an adult, I finally was able to analyze the problem and identify the culprit as cilantro. This did not, unfortunately, restore my mental credibility. Now everyone was certain I was insane, because the whole world knows cilantro is delicious! My case was weakened by the fact that I thought the seeds of the plant, coriander, were just fine. Ahah! That inconsistency proved to them that I was faking my dislike for some unknown reason.

During the decades that followed, I would try to avoid the herb. Occasionally I would bite into something only to unexpectedly encounter the dreaded flavor of a bar of soap. If it was minor, like mixed very lightly into the salsa, I could force myself to ignore, but it was still there, robbing me of the opportunity to really savor my meal.

If I mentioned that I had tasted the cleansing residue, I’d get the familiar quizzical looks and drop the subject. Until one glorious day when one of the other people at the table said, “it tastes like soap to me too.” And I learned they too had lived under the stigma of being a nutcase.

Over the years (I’m not young), I encountered a number of like spirits who shared my alleged dementia. I delighted in assuring them they were not alone. Like most people who truly are crazy, we had learned to try to mask our aberrant tastes and blend in with the cilantro-enamored masses . . . lest we be treated as outcasts.

Still, I wondered why only a small number of people shared my experience, when the taste is so pronounced it can taste literally like biting into a bar of Ivory.

Thank God, I was finally rescued by genetic scientists. Per Brittanica, “for those cilantro-haters for whom the plant tastes like soap, the issue is genetic. These people have a variation in a group of olfactory-receptor genes that allows them to strongly perceive the soapy-flavored aldehydes in cilantro leaves.”

And, in a related article, they warn about one member of the aldehyde-family you will want to steer clear of: “formaldehyde (HCHO), also called methanal, an organic compound, the simplest of the aldehydes.”

Pure formaldehyde is a colourless, flammable gas with a strong pungent odour. It is extremely irritating to the mucous membranes and is associated with certain types of cancer in humans and other animals. Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).

Cilantrophiles be warned. It may be cilantro is just a gateway aldehyde. Now who’s the crazy one? The lesson – don’t be hasty in judging the mental acuity of others. (With the single exception for contemporary Americans, who feel compelled to say the absolute worst about anyone who has different political opinions.)

On a serious note, actual mental illness is no joke. Whether it’s genetic, accidental, or degenerative, it can destroy the life of the victim and all those who care about them. If you don’t have any acquaintances suffering in this manner, there are plenty of places you can volunteer to serve these various communities.

Providing love and encouragement to others is always admirable. When we do so for those unable to “repay” us in any way, it’s doubly rewarding. Jesus had something to say about that, and you can read it in Matthew’s Gospel.

Chocolate Mushrooms

mushroomThat’s right, chocolate mushrooms. And it gets worse.

Some flavors are not intended to ever be combined. Years ago, some friends who knew I loved chocolate and despised mushrooms found the perfect gift for me. Chocolates shaped like mushrooms.

There was only one small problem. The chocolates were actually mushroom-flavored. Imagine a chocolate bar melted into a can of cream of mushroom soup, and you get the idea.

Even people like my wife who love both distinct tastes, couldn’t stomach the blend.

Well, a new product has entered the market and it immediately reminded me of that unsavory fiasco.

A company in Hawaii has capitalized on merging two very flavors that are popular in many locales but just sound a wee bit incompatible. They have taken the delectable taste and gentle crunch of macadamia nuts and accented them with the aromatic zest of spam.

That’s right. Spam-flavored macadamia nuts. They sound irresistible, don’t they?

Probably not. But then, most readers of Mere Inkling aren’t in the target audience of Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company. The fact is—and those of us who’ve experienced the joy of living in the Pacific and Micronesia know this well—there are vast numbers of people who absolutely love spam.

I actually don’t have an objection to either of these products . . . individually. Spam casserole was a staple in the home of my youth, and I can eat it with pleasure today. Macadamias still seem a bit exotic and shipping costs make them a bit pricier than most of their competition, but they taste great.

Two wonderful flavors. Logic tells us that if they are both good alone, they’ll be even better together!

But some things were never meant to be combined.

Then again, some different qualities are magnificent when they are brought together. This is especially true when it comes to the art of writing.

Evelyn Underhill, a gifted author in her own right, composed a letter to C.S. Lewis in 1938 praising him for his recently released Out of the Silent Planet.

It is so seldom that one comes across a writer of sufficient imaginative power to give one a new slant on reality: & this is just what you seem to me to have achieved. And what is more, you have not done it in a solemn & oppressive way but with a delightful combination of beauty, humour & deep seriousness. I enjoyed every bit of it, in spite of starting with a decided prejudice against “voyages to Mars.”

“Beauty, humor, and deep seriousness . . .” Traits those of us who love Lewis’ work have come to expect. In great quantity. And we are not disappointed.

Good writing can excel in a single dimension. Great writing, it seems to me, earns that appellation by weaving together a variety of strong “flavors.”

It’s like comparing a superb violin solo to a flawless symphony. Part of the wonder of the latter is the skill with which each disparate element combines into a glorious whole.

Or, returning to the culinary realm with which we began, powerful writing properly combines distinct flavors that complement one another . . . such as chocolate and peanut butter, or spam and . . . Well, I trust I’ve made my point.