We are what we eat

Israel is a fascinating place for those of us who are amateur anthropologists interested in man watching, as it is an ingathering of people with such diverse cultural backgrounds. One of my recent favorite pastimes is to watch people while waiting in line at the cashier in a supermarket, especially on Friday mornings, when many people buy for the whole weekend and sometimes even for the next whole week. To be more precise, I watch what foods they buy and how physically fit they look. Then I am reminded that in many respects we are what we eat, though regular physical exercises also affect our fitness.

Unfortunately, many people seem to have unhealthy diet, at least according to what they buy. Not surprisingly, those who buy a lot of foods that contain a large quantity of fat or suger are more likely to be developed horizontally ;-) in certain parts of their bodies. It also makes me so sad to see many children whose parents accustom them to two modern poisons, industrial fat and oil. Taste acquired in our childhood is one of our most stable daily habits. Even otherwise progressive people turn out to be very conservative in what (and how) they eat.

Since I started recently cooking not only supper but also lunch by myself (I have no custom of eating breakfast), I have become more aware of and particular about what I eat. My typical meals now consist of rice, vegetable or soy soup, a lot of steamed vegetables, fish or tofu, and yogurt together with some read wine or beer. Since I can control not only over supper but also for lunch now and can eat what I feel is good for my body twice a day instead of once a day, I have already started feeling a positive internal change in the way I feel in my body, even in spite of the fact that I can run and swim less frequently these days for a hectic schedule.

After I started living alone at the age of 18 away from my parents, my eating habits have changed several times. It is ironic that I have "returned", as it were, to traditional Japanese diet of my childhood in many, if not all, respects. This "return" is not because of culinary conservatism but as a result of constant pursuit of foods that make me feel better physically.


Suppressed negative emotions and how to release them

One of the psychological effects that drinking of alcoholic beverages has upon me, and probably on many other people, is that the feeling of shame diminishes or disappears. This psychological change often makes me eloquent, and I start making compliments or letting loose my suppressed negative emotions, be they toward specific indivituals or the society. This week I found myself (again) criticizing someone mercilessly for something that seems to have been irritating me for a long time. I was sorry that this way I spoiled the atmosphere, but I am not sure any more if this was a mistake.

Many of us, including myself, of course, seem to have many suppressed nagative emotions. In this sense we are like volcanoes. When the suppressed energy passes our limit, we erupt. And when we are drunk and can rationally control ourselves less, our limit is also lowered. Although I am not sure if this is the best way to release our suppressed negative emotions, we do need to do so every once in a while in some way or another.

Every eruption of this kind makes me realize what negative emotions I have suppressed toward certain individuals. This realization often scares myself. But on the other hand, I think that if I remain in contact with someone while suppressing some strong negative emotions toward him or her, that relationship is a fake one. The best way to evade such an unpleasant conflict would be not to remain in touch with such a person, but we are often forced to do so under various social contexts.

There seem to be many ways to release suppressed negative emotions toward the society even constructively, but when it comes to specific individuals, I cannot see many constructive ways to do so. The longer we suppress our negative emotions toward someone, the more difficult it becomes to release them without running the risk of damaging the relationship with him or her seriously. And unfortunately, being drunk is often the only condition in which we find ourselves allowing ourselves to say directly what we have been suppressing toward someone else.


Supervising a thesis or a dissertation

It is frustrating and depressing that even more than a decate after I finished my doctorate I still find it quite difficult to write academic articles. Although I have never given birth to a child (nor will I be able to), I feel as if I had undergone the pain of a childbirth every time I finish one article. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to write an academic book, which I would like to start planning during my sabbatical in the next academic year.

But no less difficult than academic writing is supervising a thesis or a dissertation among all the responsibilities of a full-time faculty member in the university. Of course, this does not mean that the other obligations, including teaching, come especially easy to me, either.

What makes it especially difficult for me to be a thesis or dissertation supervisor is that I have to take on so much responsibility for another single individual. This is in marked contrast to racking my brain to write my own article, which is totally my own responsibility for myself alone.

What I am not so certain of yet (or probably even less certain of) even after having two MA theses and one PhD dissertation I supervised approved is in which areas and how much I am supposed to "interfere" with a thesis or a dissertation. This difficulty derives partly from the fact that I received virtually no advice for my MA thesis and only general advice for my PhD dissertation.

But one of the few things I am fully certain of is that a supervisor is not supposed to be a coauthor of a thesis or a dissertation. This means that I am supposed to take care neither of grammatical or lexical mistakes or inexactitudes of my student nor of processing of data, which is the very basis of any academic work.

I have also learned a lesson from a mistake I made. I will never agree to supervise a thesis or a dissertation if a student comes to me with no precise topic in advance. In my opinion, finding a topic on one's own is probably the most important thing in writing a thesis or a dissertation, so someone who cannot meet this very fundamental academic requirement and asks his or her potential supervisor for a topic is unfortunately destined to fail.


Shtender 'portable pulpit' as a productivity tool for knowledge workers

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that those who remain seated while they give a lecture at the university and conferences seem much less energetic, hence less inspiring than those who remain standing (and sometimes walking around) during their lecture. Almost instinctively, I have always preferred to remain standing with occasional movements of my upper body, including arms in this context. But when I read a book or used a computer, I had no choice but to sit down at the desk.

This changed this week as I finally decided to look for a shtender at Mea Shearim in Jerusalem and did buy one. For those who have never heard of the word shtender or have never seen it before, it is a kind of portable pulpit with four vertical legs supporting a slanted board. It is widely used by rabbis and yeshiva students as their "productivity tool", as it were. The upper board is a little bigger than two opened pages of a full-sized volume of the Talmud. Many rabbis and yeshiva students use a shtender when they give a sermon and study the Talmud respectively.

When I first saw someone giving a sermon in this way at the yeshiva where I studied about ten years ago and will study again in the next Jewish year, I was almost electrified by the energy he emitted around himself. Since then a shtender remained in my memory as an excellent productivity tool, but did not take any action until this week.

I immediately started using it for reading books, if not all the time, and teaching an intensive summer course of Esperanto for beginners at my apartment. Reading a book with a shtender is to giving a lecture while standing what remaining seated while reading is to doing the same while lecturing. I feel that it helps me get more stimulated and inspired intellectually. My hypothesis is that if you engage yourself in some intellectual activity while standing, your legs are stimulated physically, which in turn stimulates your brain and leads to inspiration. I have already recommended the use of a shtender as a productivity tool for knowledge workers to a few friends of mine.