Ben and Jerry and Valentine’s Month

Originally published in the Chesterfield Observer - February 2012  

The other evening I was chatting with my lovely wife, Stacy, when I shut my mouth suddenly – not because I was out of words (of course) but because a large, un-chewed chunk of food that had been hiding in my mouth since lunch was about to fall out my face, mid-sentence. This happens to me, seriously, all the time.

About seven years ago I noticed an odd little numbness on the left side of my nose. Within a few months, the numbness had spread to most of the left side of my face, from my eye to my jaw, and including the left halves of my lips and tongue. My muscles all work fine – I just constantly feel like I’m coming off of Novocain.

I’ve had the thing checked out and the neurologists can’t really nail down a cause. They just know that whatever is going on, it isn’t killing me. So I try to ignore it.

This mostly works, except after I eat, because if some food sneaks up into the space between my gum and my cheek and I can’t feel it, I won’t realize it’s there until it makes a surprise appearance. Perhaps during one of my (hopefully humorous) speeches.

Nothing undermines – or enhances, now that I think about it – the humor of a speech like a fully intact peanut falling out of your mouth while you are talking. The other problem with this numbness thing is my taste buds don’t work as well on the left side, so the joy I used to get from a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has been reduced significantly.

(Why I’m not skinnier by now I have no idea. Well, I have a few ideas.)And that brings me to Valentine’s Month.(Well, it’s Valentine’s Day, technically. But not for long, because right now medium-powered lobbyists for certain greeting card companies are down at the General Assembly, doling out campaign donations and buttonholing delegates and senators. The goal: Convince the General Assembly to use the state’s power of eminent domain to condemn the presidents’ birthdays and force them to relocate elsewhere on the calendar, leaving February clear for commercial development as Valentine’s Month.)

You can’t swing a dead Pepé Le Pew on TV right now without hitting some clever man at a restaurant presenting his honey with a bauble (purchased from the correct store), which always leads to his honey abruptly calling for the check and throwing the man onto the table for some instant positive feedback.

Here’s the thing about Valentine’s Day: It is built on the idea that someone else is going to come in and make you feel loved. But that won’t work if your capacity to feel loved is diminished, in the same way that a pint of Ben & Jerry’s can’t make you happy if your taste buds don’t work right.

Unlike with our taste buds, however, there are things we can do to raise our self-worth. Start by being aware of that critic in the back of your head who is always telling you how worthless you are. Author Rick Carlson put a name to this little monster in his classic book, Taming your Gremlin, and I highly recommend it. Other taming techniques from Carlson include:

  • Breathe! Your breathing both reflects and regulates your level of contentment.
  • Feeling good is primarily an inside job. Events occur around you. Your experience of those events occurs within you.
  • Your past is not attached to you. You may be holding onto it. But it is not holding on to you.
  • Your Gremlin always wins a wrestling match, but hates just being noticed. Simply notice your thoughts, feelings, fantasies, memories and assumptions – positive or negative – and notice that the real you is not any of these.

So, while gifts from your significant other during Valentine’s Day are nice, it’s also nice to give yourself a gift: the permission and the ability to feel worthy of being loved.

(There are limits. Our dog Bailey will lick the floor where food might have fallen two days ago. If your emotional taste buds are that developed, you might be a little too willing to accept love, if you know what I mean.)

It’s also a good idea to avoid letting food fall out of your mouth during that romantic dinner. It really takes the shine off the bauble.


Retrospective Notes for Ben and Jerry and Valentine’s Month

  • Half my face is still numb. Still don’t know why. Still not dead from it though.
  • I still eat Ben & Jerry’s. In fact, I ate half a carton last night. I’m an idiot.


Chuck Hansen’s books are available at Nose-Sucker Thingees, Weeds Whacking Back & Cats in the Bathtub (a collection of humor essays) and Build Your Castles in the Air: Thoreau’s Inspiring Advice for Success in Business (and Life) in the 21st Century