Happy trance

I want someone to do to me what I do to lobsters.

Years ago a young friend named Rachel came to visit me on Nantucket with her brother and her parents. She was about 12 and a budding greenie, though I doubt if she knew it then. Because it was Nantucket and because it was New England, a lobster dinner was a required activity. Rachel looked at the squirming creatures, claws banded, fate sealed, as they scrambled helplessly to free themselves from the kitchen sink. At one point she made the crucial connection between the steaming pot on the stove and the five crustaceans. Her eyes grew wide. The color drained from her face. ‘NO!’ she would have screamed if she had not been well brought up and if she were not also cowed by adults she barely knew. Instead, she swallowed hard and turned away. The line was drawn in the sand: she was not about to watch as we sacrificed them to the boiling water; she was not about to eat the poor little animals she had practically named and adopted in her mind.

Why does my Headspace app fail to hold my attention? Why can a room full of college students fall under the sway of hypnosis, all except one, me? Why am I rejected for biofeedback and other homeopathic stress management techniques? How is it I can rewrite my dreams if I don’t like the direction their taking? Or even go back a night or two later and pick up where I left off if the dream interrupted was an especially compelling one?

I believe the answer is that I have a love affair with consciousness. Since I was a squirt, I hated to think I was missing something. So acute was this malady that it did not matter how excruciatingly boring the ‘something’ was. When I had to go to bed and my older siblings didn’t, I would wait up until they came in and settled down for the night. When a lack of a ready sitter forced my parents to take me along to one of their endless bridge games, even then, when sleep would have been a reprieve, I refused to nod off. To this day I recall how painful the struggle was to keep my eyes open, my head falling off my neck, then jerking upright, only to loll again the moment I let down my guard. Sleep, the enemy. Sleep, the oasis.

Which brings me back to lobsters. We had lobsters for dinner tonight and I demonstrated to some Down Easterners, believe it or not, how to tranquilize the critters, manage their pre-pot stress and reduce their execution anxiety.IMG_1709


In other words, put them in a happy trance, one that is said to damp down the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. That nervous system is not called sympathetic for nothing. It’s what operates the flight/flight response in all organisms; it’s what shoots adrenaline into the blood which, in the case of lobsters, is believed to toughen the meat. Ergo, a relaxed lobsters is a calm lobster, and a calm lobster is a tender one.

So, I’ve been doing this as a kind of dinner party sideshow for years. Do I believe it? Let’s just say I reserve judgment. My young friend Rachel didn’t buy it, not for one second. Our guests this evening did not weigh in with an opinion but they were duly impressed by a counter-full of lobsters in the “Claw Position” (sounds like a yoga pose, doesn’t it?)  and were not shy in their compliments to the chef.

What I can tell you is that this insomniac would welcome such a happy trance. Especially one that lasts seven or eight hours at a stretch. Perfect prep for a swan dive into the roiling pot of everyday adult life.

— Belle Songer