Cheating on Guy Fieri with the New York Times crossword

You Are What You Habituate


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Up until my high school graduation, my life felt somewhat scripted — my parents generally guided my decisions, and my only real prerogative was to go to school and make friends. Of course, I had the option to break this linear path and forge my own by becoming a Disney Channel star or running away from home, but for the most part, I lived what most might imagine as the typical American lifestyle; I went to class, played sports after school and had some jobs and internships in high school.

It was not until college, where I had the freedom to pick my academic concentration, live on my own and begin my “adulthood,” that I really began to view my decisions as a tool to write my own life story. What once seemed like a regimented array of options now seemed like an infinite buffet of life choices. As I’ve taken on this new, manifest destiny attitude toward my future, I have become more deliberate in choosing which particles of my personality I wanted to foster and which of those I wanted to grow out of. But since coming home from the summer, away from UC Berkeley, I have wondered how much of 18-year-old me is preserved in this meat jar I call my now-20-year-old body.

One of the quirks I have picked up while in university is my addiction to Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, or, as it is otherwise known, Triple D. During the mornings in college, between classes or before bed, I would watch Triple D unironically. I thought the old-school diner theme song and the greasy host’s exclamatory catchphrases made for excellent background noise. While half-consciously binge-watching episodes, I was mentally footnoting food pit stops for my family to check off the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” restaurant map during our next vacation. I never considered it a waste of time or of any mental degradation because it always gave some ambience to the time in between classes or doing my chores or brushing my teeth.

But while I was upstairs, dancing around in my room and watching reruns of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” my housemates spent their mornings on other ventures. All huddled, still and quiet around the New York Times crossword puzzle, my housemates exchanged colloquialisms, trivia and riddles. The clues they read to each other and the pieces of knowledge they exchanged sounded so esoteric and foreign to me. It was a house routine and a common bond between my housemates that I never had the agility to participate in.

When I came home for summer vacation in July, I downloaded the New York Times crossword puzzle app, hoping I might increase the capacity of my cultural knowledge. Hopefully, by the start of fall semester, I might be up to the standards of my trivia-buff housemates.

Playing the daily crossword puzzles has now taken the place of the time slots that I used to fill with reruns of Triple D. Unfortunately, now my parents are subjected to the honeymoon phase I’m experiencing with my new favorite pastime —  long car rides and breakfasts are now filled with disconnected questions such as, “Who are the Philadelphia Eagles’ biggest rivals?” and “What was Lucy’s pet name for Ricky on ‘I Love Lucy?’ ”

As I spend my mornings beefing up my fun fact library with crossword trivia, I wonder how much of my personality has departed with my old “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” habit. Have I abandoned a love that has overheard my FaceTime calls with parents and morning scrambles to finish homework with the speed of Fieri’s red 1967 Chevy Camaro SS Convertible? And if so, with what intent? To fit in with my housemates?

As my hobbies became more aligned with those of my fellow co-op residents, I wondered whether this switch was an act of growth or conformity.

I’ve always known that I do not watch Triple D for anyone else but myself. Cooking television is my mental comfort food. Sure, it became more of a guilty pleasure after I learned how caricatured/meme-ified Guy Fieri is as a TV host, but that never made me reconsider my YouTube channel subscription to Food Network. But we are all subject to change — it’s the reasons why we change that are more important

As I make the switch from Triple D to crosswords, I am not concerned about how much of my high school self I am leaving behind. I am growing and learning from the people I meet and choosing which pieces I want to integrate into my own life. It is not imitation; it is inspiration.

I don’t know how different I really am from my 18-year-old self, but I now think it is an irrelevant question. I am living and adopting new habits for myself, not for anyone else. Integrity does not demand constancy or stability — it welcomes change, and being thoughtful in the change is what determines honesty.

Layla Chamberlin writes the Friday column on how routines create character and delineate personal politics.

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