the effect of embarrassment on the teenage psyche

Many moons ago, in this very classroom, I happened to have open on my desktop two photographs – one of a popular pop singer, and the other of some¬†weird¬†baseball player from my school. I don’t recall what their names were exactly, but the whole point of the exercise was to examine the similarities in their facial structures and their overall looks.

It was determined that they look remarkably similar.

And JUST as this experiment was winding down, my Journalism teacher called my name from the back of the classroom in a rather alarmed and concerned voice, obviously confused, and I shrieked at the top of my lungs and immediately darkened my screen. My friend sitting next to me, who had suggested the experiment in the first place, buried her face in her arms and started laughing – most probably at herself – out of sheer embarrassment and shock. I joined her moments later.

Since then, both of us have been extremely careful as to what we let our teacher see on our computer screens during class. All because of one little incident that said teacher probably doesn’t even remember. Surely, a more mature adult student would not be deterred by such an occurance and would continue as they normally would, browsing fandom blogs on Tumblr and tweeting their favorite celebrities.

But not a teenager. We are, for some strange reason, more emotionally fragile than our elders – more fragile, perhaps, than we let even ourselves believe. Such a thing as embarrassment still has a surprisingly strong effect on us, though we are almost adults.

My question is this: WHY?

What is so powerful about embarrassment? Why does a single embarrassing occurance from our first day of third grade stick with us for the rest of our lives, but not our first A on a science test? Why do we remember when Jimmy put glue in our hair on the playground when we were eight, but we forget how awesome it felt to make a new friend in middle school?

In fact, why do the negative memories of our lives stick with us while the positive ones fade away relatively quickly?

I’m sure a psychologist of some kind will comment on this post with a scientifically accurate answer to that question, but while I’m waiting for that to happen I am going to put forth my own answer.

I think we remember the negative stuff in life more vividly than the positive stuff because it’s the negative things that define us in the end. How we responded to Jimmy putting glue in our hair is more important than the glue attack itself. The sadness we felt when a loved one died changes our lives forever, and affects how we react to future losses. We might pray as hard as we possibly can for something bad not to happen, and it will happen anyway if it’s meant to happen. The universe makes no exceptions; it corrects itself.

Maybe this makes no sense. But I’m thankful for all those unanswered prayers. Because without them, I wouldn’t be me.

Why Italian Food is the Best

If you know me at all, you know that I have somewhat of a particular palate – and by “particular”, I mean “minuscule”. I’m a picky eater, always have been, always will be, and this unfortunate trait of mine is perhaps the one thing keeping me from being a food critic. For while I may not like most food, I am fiercely passionate about the foods I do like. And I definitely like Italian food the most.

There are many reasons for my bias towards this delectable category of Mediterranean cuisine – the texture of it, the flavor, the way it looks – and I could write about it for pages and pages, I’m sure. But perhaps the thing that blows me away the most whenever I sink my teeth into a slice of Pizza Margherita or twirl a forkful of spaghetti out of a bowl is this: the simplicity of it all.

I mean, look at this picture:

bruschetta 2

This is bruschetta, an Italian appetizer. It’s usually served heaped on slices of toasted, oil-soaked bread, and the main ingredients are as follows: diced tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. That’s it. And it’s just about the tastiest thing I have ever had the privilege to consume. You probably don’t believe me for a second, but it’s the truth.

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garlic bread 2

bruschetta

Just look at it. I can almost taste it if I close my eyes. It’s positively irresistible; if you own an Italian restaurant and you’ve got great bruschetta, I’ll fork over any amount just to get a plate of 4 slices – I don’t care if the rest of your menu consists of nothing but calamari and shrimp, I will be your loyal customer for as long as I am able.

Also, there’s this stuff:

pasta 4

Pasta. This stuff is amazing. All it is is flour, water, and salt, but even if you scoop it right out of the boiling water and into a bowl without adding any sauce or anything, it still tastes amazing. And the Italians – the brilliant, inventive, fantastic Italians – have the power to make it fifty times better by adding just four times the toppings: vegetables, olive oil, cheese, and herbs. Even though it’s the same basic ingredients as bruschetta, it somehow manages to taste completely different when coupled with the floury, mildly salty taste of pasta. It’s astounding.

Most cultures heap loads of stuff on their pasta until it’s just a mountain of fish, leaves, potatoes, chicken, broccoli…and a teensy bit of pasta, drowning in different juices and marinations at the bottom of the plate. But not the Italians.

pasta 5 pasta 2 pasta 3 pasta 6

They manage to do so much with so very little, and it’s enough to make me feel like crying when I find that I’m on my last forkful of fettuccine.

Finally, there’s the desserts:

gelato 2

flourless chocolate cake

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gelato 1

Tiramisu, gelato, flourless chocolate cake…ugh, it’s almost too much to handle in one group of photos.

Tiramisu is a fairly common dessert, and flourless chocolate cake is pretty self-explanatory (chocolate cake without flour, topped with powdered sugar and served typically with strawberries – it’s so rich that even a piece as small as the one pictured is difficult to finish in one sitting), so I’m gonna explain the concept of gelato to you.

Gelato is ice cream, but it’s just…not. There’s something different about it that is impossible to explain, really. It tastes fresher, creamier, and generally better than American ice cream. This is because every gelato shop in Italy makes their own supply of the dessert, so the chocolate from the shop near the Trevi Fountain tastes completely different than the chocolate from Mariotti’s outside Piazza Navona (which just so happens to taste like melted chocolate chips and fairy dust). Fruit flavors are pretty popular, and the chocolate strawberry happens to be my favorite. Also, as you can see from the pictures above, the Italians sure know how to display their desserts in such a way that you will be hungry for them even after a huge meal of pizza and pasta.

Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that the Italians have a knack for taking something ordinary – like a basil leaf, a tomato, or a scoop of ice cream – and turning it into something positively unforgettable. How a simple combination of herbs, olive oil, and diced tomatoes can taste so good on top of a simple slice of toasted bread is a mystery that I will ponder for the rest of my life.

Or perhaps I shouldn’t. Perhaps I should just stop wondering and accept Italian cuisine for what it is – divine.

One thing’s for certain, though – when I walk through the pearly gates, I’m gonna strut right up to God’s throne and thank him right there for that little boot-shaped country in the Mediterranean. And then I’m gonna ask him where I can find Heaven’s best tortellini.