We all find comfort in different places.
Sometimes these places are easy to find. Sometimes all it takes is pulling out some frozen bananas that you have cleverly hoarded for this very occasion…
…and letting them sit on your kitchen counter until they look really, really disgusting.
Yep, totally gross. Ready to go.
Now we’re getting somewhere. You mash up those bananas and mix them up with various other kitchen items like butter and sugar…
…eggs (to make it totally awesome and neon yellow)…
…vanilla and buttermilk…
(And let’s be honest, no one ever has buttermilk in their house. Just mix up a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with whole milk and pretend that you are on top of your life enough to have fresh buttermilk at all times.)
…flour (both all-purpose and whole wheat, just so we can pretend it’s healthy), baking soda, and a little bit of salt.
Grease up two loaf pans, and be pleased with just how clever you are by saving all of your butter wrappers for this specific purpose.
And then realize that your house might have a bit of a butter problem, because this box of butter wrappers isn’t running out any time soon.
Sprinkle those future banana breads with some oats, just so that we can pretend that they are healthy some more. Stick them in the oven and let that banana scent reassure you that the comfort is coming soon, especially on a rainy and cold day in the middle of April in New Orleans, which makes absolutely no sense at all.
Now, while that bakes, we’re going to take a little break to talk about comfort coming from totally unexpected places. About a year ago, I was listening to This American Life in my car, and I had a moment of such surreality that I had to pull over to finish listening to the show. It was an episode called “Tribes” (you can listen to it here), and the segment named “A Tribe Called Rest” pulled me out of my usual passive listening state and blew my damn mind.
Done listening to it yet? Good. As a middle-schooler, I loved watching painting shows on PBS more than anything else in the world. Bob Ross was an utter joy for me. His calm and lovely demeanor, combined with the scratchy sounds his paintbrushes made when he was tapping out some happy clouds, would give me the chills every single time. I would feel tingles run down the base of my skull into my neck, and for some reason in the backs of my knees, just hearing him talk. There was another woman I used to love as well, who wore lots of turquoise rings and painted her acrylics with lots of different weird mediums mixed in, like sand and other crazy textures. The sound of her palette knife scratching in those artfully rendered sand dunes, and her rings clicking together…I have the feeling that if you would’ve have walked by my room when I was watching this, you would have seen tiny-Jinger, sitting completely still on the very edge of her bed, eyes tilted up to the screen and glazed over with quiet joy. I was so into this that when I went to high school and the times for these shows changed, I set up my VCR to record them for me while I was at school, so that I didn’t have to miss them and their head-tingling goodness.
It’s probably getting a little awkward in here, so let’s check on that banana bread.
Looking good. Right on track.
I started watching QVC and HSN soon after that, rigging up my old push-button TV with the UHF dial to catch the jewelry shows whenever I could. There was just something about the quiet reverence with which these people displayed and measured earrings with their tiny rulers that would keep me entranced for hours. My favorite memories of summer camp involve sitting in a circle and playing tracing games (where another person traces words on your back or sings a little song that involves tickling and trying to give the other person the chills…you ladies know exactly what I talking about) or braiding each other’s hair. I love going to get my hair cut, not because I care anything about the state of my hair usually, but because the tiny scissor sounds and personal attention give me tingles the entire time. I’m always a little let down when it’s over. My favorite movie scenes involve those of quiet intensity, where the person on screen is performing some sort of delicate or complicated task, and we get to watch it quietly.
Confused yet? If you didn’t listen to the episode, you might not realize that my life almost exactly parallels the one of the producer, Andrea Seigel, author and screenwriter and general all-around interesting lady. She too was entranced by painting shows and the Home Shopping Network, and goes in pursuit of attaining more “triggers” via YouTube, finding out that she loves watching makeup tutorials. I did the same exact thing. She had no idea that there was a whole community of people dedicated to this phenomenon, and neither did I. Turns out, it has a name. ASMR. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. And it’s simultaneously awesome and really, really weird.
Immediately upon getting home that day from listening to that This American Life episode, I went in search of these ASMR videos and fell down a crazy YouTube rabbit hole (like everyone does) of people just like me. People speaking quietly and intently while folding napkins. Or leafing through books. Or practicing calligraphy. Or decoupaging coasters. Or pretty much anything else that you can think of. I discovered that, while I do not like going to the dentist in general, I absolutely cannot get enough of someone pretending to be my dental hygienist, speaking to me quietly and executing a complex series of maneuvers to make it sound like they are realistically cleaning my teeth. It sounds bizarre, I know, but these videos bring me comfort in a way that very other few things do.
I have always had an overactive brain. I would never claim that it was out of control in any way, but I have a very difficult time not hearing and internally commenting on everything that is going on around me. At night, I usually have to make myself fall asleep (I have come to think of it as “turning off my brain”) by reading until I find myself asleep with my face in my book somehow. I have a never-ending string of useless trivia winding itself around at all times of day, and most people have no idea unless they try to tell me something that I just know is incorrect, and it takes more self-awareness than I usually have to keep my mouth shut.
I tend to do everything fast. I tend to speed-read, not the skimming of information just to get the gist of something, but just reading incredibly fast, so much that I cannot share reading materials. I type fairly fast. I work out math in my head quickly. I usually only have to hear something once to remember it for far longer than I ever will need to. This type of ridiculous way of thinking usually doesn’t do much harm except in making me look like a smart-ass, but I really can’t help it. Baking and knitting are seriously some of the only things that I can do at a reasonable speed (and some people who watch me knit even accuse me of stitching too quickly), and they tend to bring me comfort in that fact that they remind me that I am physically capable of slowing down sometimes, and that when I do, good things usually happen.
Speaking of baking…
Done! Let’s let them cool down a bit before we slice them up.
Even though I am not the type of person who dives obsessively into fandoms (yet), I have found another tremendous source of comfort in this community and this (it sounds weird to say it) way of life. ASMR is not just about sitting in front of the computer, listening to people make clicking noises (although, let’s be honest, that’s a lot of it). It’s also about slowing down and appreciating simple activities. It’s about finding pleasure in small things. It’s about breaking down a task that brings you joy and making it last as long as possible. It’s about treating yourself delicately and kindly. It’s about taking care of your brain.
Let me let Heather Feather, one of the greatest people making these videos, break it down for you:
That video right there has helped me to…not to fall asleep really, but to turn off the part of my brain that keeps me from relaxing like a normal person on more than one occasion. It’s fairly goofy, but it’s also kind and sweet and full of amazing creativity. Just like the rest of the ASMR community.
I didn’t think that I would ever post about this, or really ever tell anyone other than Dan, but last week, one of my clinical instructors apparently listened to the same episode of This American Life that I did and came away with a slightly different opinion on the matter. I’m not saying that what she said was…insulting, but she told our clinical group about ASMR in a way that started with something like, “You wouldn’t believe what some people do for stress relief. I heard something on the radio the other day about this weird thing where people like to listen to clicking sounds and people talking quietly on the computer, and that’s how they relax. Isn’t that bizarre?” Not exactly the most ringing endorsement. I took a cue from my totally amazing friends, both online and in real life, and decided to take control of the situation and love the things that I love out loud and not feel weird or shamed by it. I said, “Yeah, that’s ASMR, and I have it.” And I proceeded to relate much of what I have already typed to 7 pairs of very bewildered eyes. And it felt great. Not just owning up to it and defending something I love, but how I surprised myself in disclosing such information to a group of people that I have not known for very long.
Let’s slice up that bread, okay? It’s waited long enough.
Want the recipe? Here we go.
Simple Comfort Banana Bread
adapted from Ms. Betty‘s recipe, of course
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened (plus, don’t forget those butter wrappers for greasing up your loaf pans!)
4 large eggs
3 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 6 from the freezer, where everyone who can’t eat a whole bunch of bananas before they turn brown should be throwing them, right?)
1 cup buttermilk (again, who are we kidding with this? 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar plus enough whole milk to equal 1 cup works just fine)
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
old-fashioned oats, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make sure that the oven rack is positioned so that the tops of the loaves are around the center of the oven, to ensure even heat distribution. Grease up your two loaf pans with your butter wrappers.
Mix softened butter and sugar together until well-mixed and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and blend until well-mixed. Add the bananas, vanilla, and buttermilk all at once and mix until smooth. Then dump in both flours, the baking soda, and the salt and mix until just moistened.
Divide the batter evenly into your two loaf pans, and then sprinkle the tops with the oats. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Allow the loaves to cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes to an hour before attempting to take them out of the pans. Run a butterknife along the outer edges first to ensure that the loaves are sufficiently loosened from the pan before flipping them out. Then, wait until they are fully cooled, at least 2 more hours, before slicing them up.
You will make a mess.
I usually slice these up into 12 pieces each, wrap them up in aluminum foil, and put them in the freezer so that they are ready for breakfast and lunch emergencies whenever.
If you take one out of the freezer before you drive to school, it will be defrosted and perfect when you pull it out of your bag for lunch. It will make everyone jealous.
So, why combine ASMR and banana bread?
Maybe it’s just that I’m constantly reminded how much I need to slow down and enjoy life. That the best things in this world are the ones that we take the time to craft for ourselves and truly appreciate. That we all need to take a break and relax, and whether that involves sitting down to enjoy a slice of banana bread with a cup of tea or putting on your headphones to enjoy the fact that someone cared so much about you and your weird loves that they pretended to be your dentist or your spa technician or your travel agent or whatever…it’s your thing.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that it’s dumb. It’s totally awesome, and so are you.