Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Recipes return! Vegan split-pea and fakin' bacon soup

I used to post more recipes than I do now, mostly because I got in a kind of cooking rut this past year. But now, just in time for the Bay Area's unprecedented spring heat wave, it's ...

Vegan split-pea and fakin' bacon (or fake cured meat of your choice) soup!

2 tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
salt and pepper (smoked salt if you have it)
4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups water
2 cups dried split peas
3-4 medium carrots, diced
2 large or 4 small potatoes, diced
1 package tempeh bacon (e.g., Fakin' Bacon) or similar fake cured meat

Heat olive oil in stock pot. Saute onion till transparent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, and pepper, and saute another minute. Add broth, water, and split peas. Bring to boil, then simmer 30 minutes, partly covered. Add carrots and potatoes, and simmer another 30 minutes, till potatoes and carrots are tender. Add "bacon."

That's it!

No photos, it's kinda ugly. But good!!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

On paying yourself first (in your writing)

Years ago I read an article on how to make sure you have enough money to retire before you die, or some such. Not likely at this rate. But anyway, one piece of advice was: "Pay yourself first," which meant that with every paycheck, you should make sure you were putting all you could into your retirement account before you did other stuff with your money, like buy things.

Talking about finances makes me anxious. Talking about writing also, lately, makes me anxious. But we're going to talk about writing here. 

For a long time I was writing in the late afternoon, after finishing up my paying work for the day. And that went OK. There was a certain upside to already feeling mentally and physically drained, so that I would just bang out my page (my goal at the time) and get on with napping or making dinner.

But sometimes, it was just too easy to blow off my writing, having spent most of the day writing for someone else. So now, at this point in my writing life, I think it's better to pay myself first--to get my own writing done and out of the way before I tackle anything else.

Of course this works best if:
  • you are a morning person
  • your morning schedule is somewhat flexible
  • you work at home, or at least can work at home
  • you can write relatively quickly, so that you don't have to set the alarm for some ungodly hour and get up when it's dark and cold and sit miserably in front of a glowing screen while the person who would normally make you coffee is still asleep
The advantages of this approach include:
  • making your own writing top priority, so that you acknowledge its importance in your own mind and to others
  • not having your unfinished page eating away at the edges of your consciousness for the whole day
  • having an actual functioning brain when you're writing
  • possible opportunity (which can be blown off *without guilt*) to write more in the afternoon
Currently I'm doing 500 words every morning. So far, so good.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Time and the time: a belated wish for the New Year

This winter, trying to come up with something tangible that my husband could buy me for Christmas—all I ever really want is for the holidays to be over—I finally settled on a wristwatch.

I took to the Internet to find the simplest possible example. If not actually analog, my new watch had to strongly espouse analog-ness: a large, circular face, with clearly visible numbers and hands—nothing else. I just wanted it to tell me the time. Compared to my phone, which I had been using for that purpose, and which then lured me onto Facebook and Twitter and myriad other distractions every time I checked it, I expected a plain watch to be pure, sanity-restoring elegance.

But looking at one ultra-basic watch after the other dredged up a visceral memory: That Clock. The one I stared at beseechingly throughout my childhood, in 1970s and 80s public school classrooms, where rote, one-size-fits-all learning ruled the day. You probably know That Clock, too. Now sold on EBay, Etsy, and elsewhere as a “vintage” or “old-school school” clock, its current incarnations still preside over all manner of institutional spaces. It’s one foot in diameter, white with slightly-too-thick black numbers and two hands. The versions at my school didn’t even have second hands, because their continuous motion and/or ticking might have drawn attention. Instead, the minute hand lurched forward, presumably regularly, with a thunk.

The institutional clock denies the bored student, or the enmeshed bureaucrat, anything to gaze at or reflect upon. It thwarts distraction, sending its seekers reluctantly back to their work. This was exactly what I had wanted from my new watch, rendered sinister. In places where time feels most oppressive, most necessary to try to accelerate or halt, the anti-aesthetic institutional clock tells us: Don’t bother. The hours and the minutes move no faster or slower than they must. Do not beseech, do not wonder. Do not look up from your task. You will learn nothing more from this dullest of clocks than the time, which is simple, quantifiable, and instantly knowable.

And yet time—as opposed to the time—is anything but dull, simple, or knowable. As I’ve gathered from reading popular cosmology books, time remains a tantalizing conundrum. What’s it made of? How does it function? How might we alter its speed or trajectory? No one really knows. What we do know is that it’s closely related to entropy, the universal tendency toward increasing disorder that originated, in our universe, with the Big Bang. Objects break. Mountains wear down. We grow old, and we die. So far, the arrow has only ever pointed one way.

Time is everything falling apart. And while we realize disorder is inevitable, we have no idea how, or when, or (often) why it will occur. Time is in fact the opposite of the time, of what That Clock says and claims to know. Time is mystery, and surprise.

We humans resemble time—mysterious, surprising, often surprised ourselves. We don’t fully know what we’re made of. But, while disorderly, we’re curious, intelligent, empathetic, creative, and courageous. When things come apart, we can put them back together in new and better ways. And while we can’t yet stop aging (and we may not actually want to), inside we can slow down or speed up, or come at the world from different angles. We can imagine.

So here is my wish for this already advancing new year: Let us embrace time as entropy, not as order. However, I don’t mean we should completely reject That Clock. In fact, we can enlist it in our efforts. Whenever we see it, or any tool of numb officialdom, let’s remember to question its message of resignation. Let That Clock—in fact, any clock, our lovely new wristwatch, even the bewitching clock in our phone—remind us to look up, to dream, wonder, and reflect more often.

And let us imagine and work toward a world where everyone can do the same.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Some cheery thoughts on grief and horror for the new year

I tend not to have very high expectations for the holidays, but this past season was an especially large suckburger with extra moldy cheese. Our cat died rather suddenly, and although the suddenness has an upside (she was probably in for a fair degree of lingering misery), the event plunged us into grief. Which, I'm now reminded, is a feeling not quite like any other ... except, possibly, for horror.

When my father died nearly ten years ago, I had a very strong urge to watch horror movies. Not slasher-type, gory movies, but creepy, terrifying ones (I remember finding The Others especially satisfying). Normally I don't seek out horror, so this was a strange experience.

I haven't had such a strong urge on this occasion, but I have come to think that horror and grief are quite close. There's the same helplessness in the face of suffering and death. The same shivering emptiness. The shock, even when the death is expected. So I suppose that getting through the horror movie, or book, is sort of practice for getting through the grief: a miniature version of the longer, harder process, which contains a promise that you will survive.

Embedded image permalink
Zee Hebert, 2002(?)-2015

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On the awesomeness of small writing goals: a NaNoWriMo heresy

So, in this month of NaNoWriMo (which has now surpassed Thanksgiving as November's premier event), I offer this totally non-NaNo advice:

Set small goals.

If 1,700 words a day, or 1,000, or 500, or any damn number sounds like way too much, I say, how about one page a day? That's what I've been doing for the past few months, and it almost always works. Some days I do 2-3 pages, and some days, dammit, I still don't do any. But I'm finding this the best and only way to work right now, with my brain and my time as fragmented as they seem to be. It's pretty easy to squeeze a page, or half a page, in between conference calls. And instead of looking at word counts, I'm concentrating on the digital ink spreading further down on the page, which just feels more satisfying.

I read somewhere recently that another writer had set a goal of three sentences a day. That's great. Or do twenty minutes a day, even if you spend that whole time staring the page and not writing a word (I bet you can't keep from writing something, though).

The point is, I think most writers need different writing strategies at different times, depending upon external and internal circumstances. Yes, you need to move forward, but the pace is far less important than the movement itself.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Understandings gleaned from heavy bouts of novel revision

What I think I've learned recently:

1. Making a character likable/relatable does not necessarily mean making readers feel sorry for her. This tactic often creates the opposite effect through sentimentality, overt authorial pleas for sympathy, general mushiness, doormat-ism, etc.

2. Evil is different from mean. Evil is interesting and requires intelligence. Mean is knee-jerk (h/t CZ).

3. If you are writing for publication, your book is not 100% yours.

4. Altruistic punishment (a.k.a. comeuppance) is something readers really want in fiction. Perhaps especially because it doesn't seem to happen that often in life.

5. I hate/love revising.