Saturday, June 30, 2012

writing about writing

Recently a friend of mine blogged about his "bucket list," things he'd like to experience in his lifetime.

He divided them into realistic and unrealistic objectives, but as I read, I also noticed that some of them were within his power -- "Visit all 50 states," "run a marathon" -- while others were things he'd like to see happen in the world -- "true equality," for instance. (There were only three things on the "unrealistic" list, though, so he's got a pretty good shot at checking things off his list.)

I like how John writes, and his blog post got me thinking too. I came up with a few things immediately, while others occurred to me gradually.

My initial thoughts fall into two categories too, but mine are more like

1. Have a lot of money

2. Change my personality

Immediately, I thought, boy, I'd like to own a home someday. For years I've dreamed of getting braces on my teeth. Wouldn't it be nice to live somewhere with a dishwasher? If only we could travel. I wish I could get a midlife crisis sports car. Get those dental implants my husband needs. I wish I wish I wish ... these aren't things I haven't made time for or have to practice for; they're things I wish I had money for.

And secondly, I wish being shy and introverted and socially awkward to the point of borderline Asperger's didn't hold me back. Any time I'm invited to anything, every single time an online friend wants to meet, whenever there's a tweetup, anytime anyone asks us to dinner, my mind immediately starts racing, instinctively trying to think of an excuse to get me out of it. Mind you, these are things I WANT to do. These are fun things! These are going to the local ball park and having a few beers, dropping by for an afternoon cookout, meeting another couple for dinner, arranging to donate blood at the same time as a friend as a pretext for hanging out -- things I simultaneously want to do and dread. I love hanging out with people, talking, laughing, having fun. And I dread it! It gives me crazy anxiety, and I habitually weasel out of fun things I'd really enjoy.

Some of you will see yourselves -- your events -- reflected in that last paragraph. I'm being very honest. I want to hang out with you. I'm horrified at the idea at the same time. It's all true.

So I want wealth, and to be a totally different person.

These things have always been true.

The other thing I started thinking because of John's blog is that I'm really, really, REALLY bad at Goals. As in, I've never had them and I don't really know how.

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I dreaded the question. I still don't know! I'm not sure what my strengths are. All I see are weaknesses. I don't really know what I want out of life, and I don't know how I'd get it if I did know. (see 1. and 2. above.)

I've been taking an exercise class, a small group led by a personal trainer. I'm still fat and weak by any standard, but I've come a really long way. My trainer keeps encouraging me to set goals. What do I want out of the class? What are my fitness goals?

I have no idea. I don't know HOW to set a goal. For me, a goal is more like scoring great tickets to an upcoming concert.

What do I want out of exercise class? I want to be less humiliated by my appearance and fitness level. I want to be able to keep up. I want to feel less old and obese. I want my feet to not hurt all the time. I want to lose 80 pounds! Become a runner! Buy a bicycle! I want to have the kind of body that nobody in my family has ever had and that I could never have without serious surgery! Then I will wear wonderful things! I will have clothes that fit me and look great and are easy to find in stores! They will take up a lot less space in my home and luggage, too!


And to be totally different.

Those are pretty shitty goals, man.

So even though "goals" have always been synonymous with "pipe dreams" to me, I guess I'll come up with better ones.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Childhood sucks

I feel guilty for many, many things in my life. I have a lot of regrets, times I should have taken a stand, times I gave up too easily.

You see, I was brought up to obey unquestioningly. When I was a kid, adults weren't on your side, and they weren't supposed to be. They weren't there to help with your problems, and they didn't really want to hear about them. You were supposed to do what they said and, insofar as you didn't do so, or didn't think what they thought, you were supposed to stay under the radar.

When my school started a gifted program when I was in fifth grade, we were pulled out of regular class to go to Gifted. We couldn't miss math or history, obviously, so the classes we had to skip were music and art.

I didn't mind missing music so much - it was pretty much just singing without having been taught to sing, and I was in band anyway. But I loved art. I wanted to be a visual artist of some kind when I grew up, although I knew better than to share that particular gem with my parents. (Once when I was drawing - this is a gem! - Mom complained that I was "wasting ink.")

No art in fifth or sixth grade. When we started junior high, we still went down to the Gifted classroom in the elementary building for a period. Which period? Art. In high school, there weren't any more gifted classes, so I signed up for art every semester. Every semester, I wasn't allowed to take art, because you only needed one arts credit, and - again - I was in band, so I'd end up with at least four of them.

My point is, I didn't think to formulate an argument and take it to my parents or to the principal. They weren't on my side. In the same way, I had to take an advanced math class (based on the track I was in, based on my grades in other classes) when I really needed the basic math class. My individual needs weren't a concern. In fact, adults didn't really think we had individual needs, as far as I could tell.

They finally let me take Art I when I was a senior, but by that time I was performing at about a third grade level, and it was really too late.

I'd still love to learn to draw someday.

By the same token, I quit piano lessons after the new male teacher persisted in sitting too close on the bench, leaning from behind with both arms to show me things on the keyboard, etc. I didn't tell anyone why I quit; my parents wouldn't have cared. I didn't confront the teacher. Nothing in my experience had given me the impression that I even had the right to say "Hey, you're making me uncomfortable; think you could back off? I'm trying to play piano here." That would be akin to challenging an adult's authority over me, and I didn't have the right to do that. In fact, a couple of years later, an adult male my mother was having an affair with, did put the moves on me in a very real and potentially scary sense. I told my mom. She said that I must have misunderstood.

I had a lousy education. I feel like I should have advocated for myself - asked to take that basic math course, for instance. My school didn't have AP classes. We didn't have final exams. There was one English class called "college prep English." that was the only class we had to write an essay in.

The thing is, this is the kind of stuff that really haunts me. My failures and losses. I can't get over how stupid I was to quit piano. What a passive loser I was. What a loss music and art were to me. I honestly get tears in my eyes in the art section of crafts stores. When I think about being able to draw, or paint, I honestly get depressed and have a crying jag because I'm such a failure at something I wanted so much.

But the other thing is -- I was a kid. A KID. I shouldn't have had all the responsibility here. Someone should have been looking out FOR me. My parents. Teachers. School administrators. For gods' sake, there were less than 50 people in my high school graduating class. It's not like they had to keep track of hundreds and hundreds of us. Someone might have realized I ALWAYS tried to take art. Someone might have noticed that my math scores were way below my other classes. The closest I got to individual attention was when the superintendent, who could see the playground out her window, called me into her office in elementary school and told me not to play with the boys any more. (In retrospect, she probably thought I was going to be a lesbian if not for her intervention.)

We were all fools.

The other thing is how passive I was with my father. He got sick when I was about ten (although he lived another 20 years), and from then on he didn't join the family for meals but instead ate by himself in the living room.

One might wonder why I didn't sometimes take my plate in there and eat with him. That probably would have made him pretty happy. I can't stand to think about how it really didn't even occur to me. Part of it was the "no eating anywhere but the kitchen table" rule, but most of it was that I was a fucking idiot.

But sometimes I think maybe I should try to forgive myself. I only really realized lately that the stuff I feel the worst about - the stuff that really makes me want to punch myself in the face - is stuff I never should have had sole responsibility for in the first place.

I mean, I won't forgive myself. I'm pretty sure I'm constitutionally incapable of forgiving myself. For anything, ever.

But sometimes I think maybe I should try.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Amps 4 Sale

(I wasn't sure where else to park this so I could link to it, so here it is.)

Victoria 512
Hand-built clone of '50s tweed Champ in 1x12 speaker cab.
5 watts
Controls - volume
$900 (neg.)

Fargen MiniPlex
Hand-built version of Marshall amp.
Switchable between 12 and 7 watts.
Controls - master vol.-volume-Treble-Bass-Mid-Decade switch ('60s '70s '80s - switches between different eras of Marshall tone)
$900 (neg.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Resistance: Fall of Man; or, White Guy Gets All The Credit

Husband and I have been playing a first-person shooter RPG called “Resistance: Fall of Man.” We’re both loving the game. It’s a traditional split-screen cooperative mission-based game featuring soldiers trying to fight off an alien invasion (in a nutshell).

However, it’s a game with one main character. Husband took Player 1 and I took Player 2 and, as I said, it’s a first-person POV, so we’re looking out through our character’s eyes. Fairly early in the game, we saw that Husband’s character is a white male soldier and mine is a black male soldier.

At the end of various stages, the narrative – sometimes another character in dialogue, sometimes an explicit narrator – explains how there was only one survivor, or only one soldier accomplished something, or the protagonist was the only man who … meaning Player 1, of course. The white guy.

I’m making a real stink about this.

Narrator: “He was the only surviving soldier from that unit …”
Me: “Hel – LO!! What am I?? Oh, I get it, I’M not important!! Sure, acknowledge Whitey! Typical! Etc.”


It was especially hurtful after a couple of levels during which I had some great marksmanship and was, like, shooting the robot drone bombers while husband was turned around or not yet at the battle scene or just a bit slower on the draw that particular time or whatever.

Our playing styles are pretty complimentary, but there are times when our personalities really show through. We’ll be doing the same mission at the same time (of course), but there’ll come a point where we’ve looked carefully through a room and husband is still methodically looking around the perimeter while I’m standing impatiently at the door ready for the next room.

Husband tends to find all the clues that are just sitting there waiting to be picked up.

I tend to trigger most of the ambushes.

Works for us.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chickpea tikka masala

I read something like this recipe in a blog a few months ago, which is why I had the jar of sauce on hand.

Olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
up to ½ bell pepper, chopped
up to ½ smallish onion, chopped
1 can chickpeas
1 small jar Tikka Masala sauce (from Food Fantasies)
Spices to taste

In saucepan, saute carrot until softened. Add pepper and onion and sauté until softened. (I used a red pepper because it’s what I happened to have on hand.)

During the vegetable sauté, add salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste.

Drain chickpeas and add to pan; sauté until hot. Add sauce and simmer briskly for five or ten minutes. Season to taste. (This is where I realized the sauce wasn’t quite as spicy as I’d imagined, so I added a bit of “Cajun seasoning” and chili powder, along with more salt, pepper, and garlic.)

That’s it! Serve over rice or pasta or whatever.

The good: pretty easy to make and super yummy. Also versatile, depending on what veggies you have on hand. This could be a great “don’t waste that last tired carrot” kind of dish. You could also try it with one of the other jarred Indian sauces available.

The bad: The only thing I can think of is that you have to chop up a couple of veggies.

Verdict: Awesome, would make again, looking forward to leftovers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Posole adventure

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law gave us a can of hominy. She was cleaning out her pantry, didn’t want the hominy, and thought we might.

I hadn’t eaten hominy in … I don’t know how long; perhaps since trying it once or twice in elementary school and deciding it wasn’t for me.

Years later, there aren’t many vegetables I still don’t like (I’m looking at you, turnips), so I did some searching for hominy recipes. (I was hesitant to just dump it in a bowl, microwave it, and call it a side dish.) Many of the results were for posole, a Mexican chicken and hominy soup.

Coincidentally (OR IS IT?), not long after, a blogger acquaintance of mine posted all about her own posole discovery, complete with recipe.

Well, why not? I decided to give it a try, making very few changes to her recipe.

8 to 9 cups chicken stock
2 cups chopped onion
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each cut into 4-5 pieces
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 30-oz can white hominy, drained
16-oz jar tomatillo salsa
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped cilantro if desired

My modifications/comments:
I had less onion than that on hand (oddly, for me), but used what I had
*I used about 2 pounds of chicken, not 3
I used about 5 garlic cloves, but you really couldn’t taste it in the end
I used about 1 ½ jalapenos, but would use more next time
I had a 15-ish oz can of white hominy; I bought a similar can of yellow and used both because, in the store, I couldn’t remember which color I had at home or which color I was supposed to use.
The tomatillo salsa I used was labeled “medium,” the only type I found at the store, but the soup was by no means too spicy.

*backstory: Around a year ago I started eating meat after being vegetarian for 10 years. I was surprised to see how expensive chicken was, even the non-organic kind. We decided to go with two pounds instead of three based on cost. I was glad we did when I saw the meat counter guy piling up the chicken for me! It was a lot. I could cut it down still more if I made this again. Raw chicken was just as disgusting as I remember. I feel like I ended with a trash can full of veins and fat. Yuck! And that’s the clean, skinless, boneless, pristine meat counter specimens.

Put first 6 ingredients (stock through hominy) in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 35 minutes or until chicken is done. (The original instructions allow for chicken on the bone, which is then removed, boned, and shredded at this point. I fished out some of the bigger chicken pieces and shredded them up, but I wasn’t totally sure if I should or not.) Stir in tomatillo sauce and salt; cook for 5 minutes or until hot.

The recipe said to serve with cilantro, sour cream, and lime wedges.

The good: Usually when I make soup I make “freezer soup,” which has no specific recipe and has everything in it. It was nice to make a specific kind of soup from a recipe. It seemed extremely full of chicken even with the reduced quantity. The tomatillos added a nice flavor. It was a very comforting dish; a Mexican version of chicken noodle soup? This soup was very hearty but seemed very healthy at the same time, had great if somewhat muted flavors, and provided lots of leftovers

The bad: It seemed like this soup took forever to make, mostly because I work more slowly when making a new recipe, was paranoid about working with raw chicken and had to switch knives, had to scrub after chopping the garlic and again after chopping the jalapenos, etc. The proportions seemed a little odd, but I’m not sure in what way – maybe just that the chicken kind of floated, the hominy kind of sank, and everything else seemed to get lost. It didn’t seem spicy at all aside from a nice tomatillo whang, and I would have used more garlic, more onion, and more jalapenos next time. We both felt like it needed something, perhaps beans or more veggies? Bell peppers?

We had cornbread on the side for a yummy bonus.

Even though I’d bough cilantro, we skipped it because, by the time the soup was finished, I was tired of standing around waiting for soup and didn’t want to rinse and chop anything else. We’ll probably have it with the leftovers tonight. I didn’t serve it with lime wedges or sour cream because I didn’t want to buy either one just for this. If you could purchase sour cream in two-tablespoonful-packages, I would!

Verdict: I’m not totally sure I felt like it was worth the prep work, especially dealing with chicken, which totally grosses me out. Your response to chicken may vary. When it was done, though, the chicken was nice and flavorful. I would totally eat this in a restaurant if available, or make it on a weekend instead of weeknight.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

U2, human nature, hope, and stuff

When I was younger, I was a raging optimist. Well, with qualifiers. I guess I didn’t think things would be okay for everyone, or for the whole world, but everything always worked out okay for me personally. I wouldn't change a thing. When I got my heart broken, I cherished the pre-heartbreak experience and tried to look at the whole thing as a learning experience. When I wasn’t sure what path to take, I tried to relax, secure in the belief that things would pretty much be okay for me if I listened to my heart, or to my gut (most of my other organs are smarter than my brain, with the possible exceptions of my lungs (asthma) and my appendix, which committed suicide).

When I got out of college and had to live, though, I started to feel differently. Paying for college left me flat broke, and starter-level salaries didn’t do anything to improve my situation. I lived in small, sad, telephoneless apartments, learned what “Murphy beds” were, accumulated debt, and tended to despair. Over the years, I came to believe that life was a frustrating sequence of mindless tedium punctuated by refreshing periods of bleak despair. Unless you’re rich, or have a much bolder personality than I do, you’re pretty much going to drag yourself to work, drag yourself home, and most likely plant yourself on the couch with a bag of Fat Rind and wait for oblivion while trembling in fear at the thought of your retirement budget. You get less and less healthy and realize gradually that not only do you have no idea how to accomplish any of your youthful dreams, but you hardly even have dreams any more. Your life slips away, and you miss large chunks of it, and then there’s nothing.

I don’t mean to drive anyone to despair with reading this, but hey, it’s been a long winter!

Anyway. One of the things that’s always helped me out a little has been music. My parents were uninterested in music, for the most part. Occasionally my mom would listen to the gospel station while ironing, but otherwise the radio was used to find out whether we had a snow day from school. They didn’t own a stereo, didn’t listen to records, didn’t sing in the church choir, didn’t attend my high school band concerts – nothing. To this day, my mother will set out on a road trip and never turn on the radio.

What saved me from a musicless existence was really my big sister. We shared a room and she had an old pink radio that got better reception if you piled things on top of it. Three cheers for 1970s album-rock A.M. radio. From earliest memory, the Beatles, Queen, and, God forbid, Black Betty (blam-a-lam) were my companions.

Unlike my husband – whose parents both liked music, and whose father in particular accumulated albums by the score – I feel like I had to start from scratch in my popular music education. In many ways, I feel like I’m still struggling to catch up, but it’s a labor of love. I listen to music every day; I subscribe to a number of concert listing e-mail services. It’s a passion.

I’m the type to rebut political speeches on TV with side remarks along the lines of “yeah, right” or “sure, if you don’t count THOSE civilian deaths” or cheery remarks of that nature. I’m not as intelligently cynical as many of my coworkers in the news industry, but I have a pretty low opinion of human nature.

Except at U2 concerts.

It’s impossible to be cynical at a U2 show.

When I go to a U2 show, I get a general admission ticket, if possible. U2 always charges less for floor – remember when you’re sitting in those $200 seats that the people on the ground paid a quarter as much to be much closer. What that means, though, is a lot more work getting there. For the Vertigo tour, we tried to get to the venue around 6 or 7 in the morning. For the current stadium tour, it’s more like 5 – and that’s just me, just the lazy, same-day experience; the best I’ve ever gotten with that is around 25th in line, and for that I had to stop by the stadium the night before and be numbered. So, travel to a strange city, stay in a hotel, get up around 4 a.m., rush to get ready and assemble your daylong needs – money, camera, ticket, food, water – grab a cab, get in line, and wait. And wait. And wait. If you’re lucky, you can grab a few Zs. Depending on the weather, you might be uncomfortable; you’ll almost certainly be uncomfortable depending on where you’re sitting. Starbucks isn’t even open yet. You spend the day pacing yourself. I know I need to eat and drink – some folks tough it out, but I’m too old for that. You might need sunscreen and a hat, or rain poncho, or even long underwear. Toward mid-afternoon you have to regulate your liquid intake and output – remember, you’re going to be unable to leave the line, and inside the stadium and probably unable to leave your post, from maybe 4 or 5 to about 10 p.m. By the time you enter the venue, you’ve been in line for 12 hours. Hungry, thirsty, sleepy, oh so tired. And you still have to run, run toward the stage and hope for a spot at the railing, and then wait while the setup gets finished, and wait through the opening band (usually bad), and wait during the set break. And then.

I do it for those couple of solid hours completely free of cynicism and anger. Free of criticism and negativity. Just me and 50,000 or so of my closest friends. Maybe this is the kind of ecstasy that charismatic church members feel, the shared passion and uplift. Something to believe in. Me and my kind, jumping up and down to “Until the End of the World.” Screaming to “Vertigo.” Crying during “MLK” and “Walk On.” Raising our hands and vowing to sign, to vote, to click, to text, to help, to hope. Hoping together that group passion can translate to group power; believing in it, for the moment. Impossible to be negative. Things that make you cringe later on the bootleg, or on the DVD – you believe in them utterly in the moment. No political speech seems overly long or out of place, no appeal to act seems misguided or wrong. It’s all the same thing, the same experience. It’s not jarring, not intrusive, it’s part of the experience. Because you believe.

I’ll be a gloomy cynic again soon enough.