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Episodes: Chopsticks


Emily VanDerWerff

Dec 06 2016

4 min read



I set far too many New Year's resolutions. Only informally, to be sure. I'll get to the first week of the New Year and idly promise to, say, lose some weight, or work on a personal writing project every day, or stop eating out so much. And maybe I stick with it for a month or two, but inevitably, I run into the buzzsaw that is winter TCA (coming to a hotel ballroom near you this January!), and I backslide.

In January 2016, though, I made a very simple resolution: I was going to learn how to use chopsticks.

I didn't grow up going to Chinese restaurants. I hated the lunch room chow mein that I had as a kid, and I was never a fan of things that were more sauce than food. My mom always had a thing against MSG, and, well, in rural South Dakota, there just weren't a lot of Chinese food options.

When I started dating my wife, however, Chinese food was a big part of her family's rituals. So we would go out for Chinese often at her favorite places. She could use chopsticks -- somewhat haltingly -- but when she saw I had to use a fork and/or spoon, she would join me, so I wouldn't feel embarrassed.

And over the years, I would take stabs at learning how to use chopsticks and always fail. They'd get into my hands and flail around, and I'd feel like an idiot. I could sometimes stabilize them enough to eat sushi -- which is relatively rigid -- but that was about it. Eating a big pile of rice or something? Forget it.

When I would go to restaurants around LA that served Asian cuisine, I would watch all of these kids, of all manner of cultural backgrounds, just shoveling food into their mouths on two wooden sticks, and I would always feel stupid, left behind even. Yet no matter what, I couldn't figure it out. It was like the skill just evaded me.

So, I thought, if I can change one thing about my life in 2016, let it be the chopsticks.

The sad thing is it didn't take that long. I just had to really stare at the instructions on the little paper wrapper, and then really stare at my hands to get them to work right (my brain and the rest of my body sometimes feel like they run on parallel tracks), and then slowly but surely, I started to figure it out. After a couple of meals at Chinese and Thai places, I was on track. After all of the sushi served at TCA, I was pretty much done.

Don't get me wrong. I still look like an ungainly fool. Those little kids with their preternatural, almost offhand grace with the things? I'm never going to get there. I'm always going to look a little like a very large man poking at his food with sticks. But where I once poked at that food and came up with nothing, I now come up with some tasty morsel or another. I used to be hopeless, and now I'm sort of hope-ish.

I keep hoping this will leech out into the rest of my life, will make me become better organized, or help me focus on keeping clean, or help me rebuild relationships with friends and family that I've let wither for too long. I like to think that I will unlock the magic code inside myself that starts me down the road to self-improvement. And yet here I am, with the same flaws that I started the year with, with the same long list of things that I wish I could change. I'm the same person, still me, still trapped in my own head.

But, and here's the important part, now I can use chopsticks.


Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

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