Widgets Magazine


Alternative Living…Without the Naked: Divesting Repression With Cookies

The thing is, I am repressed. Having grown up in a small city where hugs and signs of affection are rare, I came to Stanford having never openly and uninhibitedly hugged another person. Little was I to know that this was all to change. A couple of years, several cuddle parties and a daily incidence of massive, full-bodied hug-contact later, the hug is now gaining in my mind a status of unprecedented importance.

I miss hugs. In Paris, the greeting is the bisou, the sophisticated cheek-kiss. We say hello, lean in and press our faces together – first one cheek, and then the other. The action is often accompanied by gentle kissing noises, and in general, it is a delicate, reserved and urbane affair. Yet, the roughhousing boor inside me craves something a little more enthusiastic. Like how I prefer my bacon, tater tots and chunky eggs in the morning to a tiny croissant buttered and jammed, I prefer the hug, the body-encasing clutch that expresses so much more.

Adapting to a foreign culture is one thing, but adapting wholesale is another. As the Americans in our program begin only to bisou, I am determined to bring the hug back in some shape or form.

So much of this is symbolic for me. As someone who always wanted to hug, but never really could, I spent many a long year desperately trying to. I progressed from little nods of acknowledgement to pats on the back, and from that to the brief and awkward hug. And some time in my third year, I finally learned how to accept, graciously and gratefully, the longer, affectionate cuddle. The hug and I have a history, and this history has provoked a deep reflection on my part on the bizarre and unnecessary nature of inhibitions. After all, so much of what we believe in and so much that dictate our behavior is habit. And so the question arose: if we all began doing something each day to push the boundaries of unfounded social inhibitions, could we improve our lives and the lives of others? Even the slightest improvement, I concluded, was still one and that was the root of my Conditional Cookies project.

Last quarter, in a melodramatic search for happiness, I baked 200 peanut butter cookies. Placing giant tubs out in my house’s dining room, I made a sign-up sheet and a list of instructions. “CONDITIONAL COOKIES,” it read. “If you take these cookies, do something tomorrow that you have never dared to do before that will make somebody happy.”

I sounded like somebody who still believed in Santa and unicorns, but I was at peace with that. Santa and unicorns could exist briefly if they could change something for the better.

The best part was what the plan did. People ate my cookies, but also acted on the condition. One told his coach that he liked his workout circuit; another told a stranger that she liked her shoes. Some told their friends how special they were; and others, their parents. In one case, two people found out that they liked each other, and in another, that his parents were still in love.

Nobody was Mother Theresa. I never expected anyone to be. Yet, I found something precious in the seemingly meager and insignificant. So much of what we do – or do not do – is self-constructed, and often with the most unnecessary of barriers. Here in Paris, where habit is making the hug a stranger, I am determined to tear a wall down before it becomes an Iron Curtain.

With a tray full of freshly baked, toffee-crusted fudge brownies, stuffed to edge with hazelnuts, I am about to embark on a new kind of conditional cookie. I once said that instead of drugs, I do hugs. Having spent 19 years deprived of liberal cuddles, time is too short to make up for all that I’ve missed. Now, even Paris, with all her elegant cheek kissing, cannot stop me.

Give Sam a cuddle at samtoh@stanford.edu.

  • Steven

    : )