If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (or, How The Hunt For Happiness Ends In Crumbs)
I somehow got roped into going to an Indian buffet the other day with my friend Kate. I always say yes to anything she says because I have no will power and am susceptible to strong influences regarding food.
Conversely, on the same day, I started to ask if Kate wanted to go with me to get a head massage, and before I finished the sentence, "Hey, do you want..." she said, "I already don't want to go to whatever you're asking me to do."
She's the worst.
Anyway, there we were, in the *nicest* part of our little city, right behind the boarded up night club, the corner store that has black tarps in the windows, and next to a "comic" store that clearly sells guns and drugs. I was taking a bite of something that looked like soylent green while Kate and I were talking about something very important (that neither of us can remember) and she said, "...if you give a mouse a cookie...."
I had no idea what she was talking about, and she pretty much flipped the table over with anger. I remember rice pudding flying and chicken tikka masala thrown. She's absolutely volatile. And I've never exaggerated in my life.
Long story short, it's a book. If you give a mouse a cookie, it will want a glass of milk. If you give a mouse a glass of milk, he'll want a straw...it goes on for like 400 pages I guess, until eventually it comes back around to if the mouse draws a refrigerator, he'll be thirsty, want milk, then you have to give him a cookie.
As Kate was belligerently (and violently) explaining the concept, she stopped and said, "Oh my God. It's the cycle of addiction."
Since I don't listen to anything Kate says, I ignored her, poking at my lentils, and thought, "Oh my God, it's the cycle of searching for happiness.", which is pretty much the same thing, I guess.
I'm nothing if I'm not a proficient researcher, so I did what all good writers do, I Googled. Some say the book is a political message warning against the consequences of altruism. Some say it's the reason that the Millennials are so....millennial.
I don't know because I didn't grow up with this book. I proudly read the DSM: V during recess.
You're right, that is an exaggeration...we didn't have recess.
Anyway, my extensive research whilst on the John tells me that this book is adorable...until the mouse asks for a mirror to see if he has a milk mustache. (But I thought he was drinking out of a straw?) Then he notices in the mirror that he has a hair out of place, and asks for scissors.
A great article (that I'll likely forget to cite) deconstructs this and asks the question: How did we get from a cookie to self image issues?
I have a thousand questions about this book's message: Where's the balance between totally loving the cookie, and allowing yourself to ask for more in life? Is it wrong to ask for some milk? Buddhists may say yes...be content. Republicans say that we should have milk if we earned it. Democrats want to give my milk to you. Donald Trump invented milk...and it's fantastic.
But what if we're always searching for more? What if we're ruining a good thing, like a big fat cookie, by wondering how we look? What if it is a cycle? The more we get, the more we want?
What if in the searching for the thing that I think is going to make my life complete, I keep bypassing the things I come across in the hunt? What if that search is so discouraging that I keep going in circles, ending back and the original cookie? What I never find the cookie? What if I die never knowing that I had the cookie all along?
Who knew an Indian buffet lunch on the hottest day of the year could be so existential or depressing?
As we scarfed down our plate rice pudding (because they ran out of bowls), Kate said, "It's probably Kozy Shack, but who cares. It's rice pudding."
And this is why I keep Kate around. Searching for the perfect cookie It doesn't mean I won't love a homemade bowl of rice pudding should I come across it...and it doesn't mean I shouldn't go look for it. But if in my search for the perfect cookie (read: perfect family, home, car, job, weight, house, day, friends, sobriety, mental state, hair do, cookie or pizza), I can rest my mind a little, and savor the moment.
If I stop being discouraged that I didn't have a perfect bowl of homemade rice pudding, I can see that it was still delicious, and that I was with a friend having a great day.
Here's the thing, I, like all of us, have all spent an inordinate amount of time looking for the perfect amount of calm, or happiness, or mental peace. Desperation and discouragement is really heavy, and I'm exhausted.
I get really bummed out that I keep digging and digging, and I keep finding that a good life can be really hard to maintain. It's is absolutely worth the work, but it can really feel like work.
Recently, I tried taking my own lame advice while spending an evening with a cousin at a concert. I dragged her to go see my favorite opera singer (Renee Fleming) ((!!!!)) at SPAC. I made a commitment to myself that I would let the day go, and try to remember every detail I could, as if I was going to have to write it down.
That's when I found the cookie (or rice pudding - pick a metaphor). I found it when we were sitting at our favorite local joint and a beautiful light rain started, but, we were protected under an awning. I found the cookie when the moon came up behind us, and I could hear the crickets trying to out-perform Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet". I found the cookie AND the rice pudding when Renee made me tear up during "O mio babbino caro". So many cookies.
Well, I know I'm going to keep looking for the perfect cookie, and I'll probably forget to look up along the way. I'll disappoint myself, but eventually I'll remember that I'm ok...I hope.
This book has been very jarring. And I don't even have any actual cookies in my apartment.