Wednesday, December 31, 2008

you'll find better things

This is one of my favorite parts of the new year. Is that sad?

1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before?: Hmm. Earned the majority of my income from a non-music job, hiked in the Grand Canyon, lived by myself. I feel like that's enough.

2. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?

A clearer direction in life, a bigger oven, and a better grasp of ethical slutdom.

3. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Just general finding-myself stuff, I think. It's been an unbelievable year for that.

4. What was your biggest failure?

Hmm... Having a panic attack at work maybe.

5. Whose behavior merited celebration?

fantastic friends, notably Erica, Anna S, Rose-Anne, Shawn, Anna P, Aaron, Madeleine, everybody at work and dal niente. New people, old people. Most people in my life.

6. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Sarah Palin, Blagojevitch, etc. Myself sometimes.

7. Where did most of your money go?

Food, alcohol, plane tickets, rent. Spices.

8. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

It was kind of an embarrassingly overenthusiastic year for me. Food, cooking, books, Amanda Palmer, Alaska, Denver, hiking, friendship.

9. What song will always remind you of 2008?

Amanda Palmer's Ampersand, Jeff Buckley's Lover, you should have come over (because I can't believe that i listened to such a cheesy song so many times), Fiona Apple's Parting Gift

10. Compared to this time last year, are you

i. happier or sadder? happier :)

ii. thinner or fatter? thinner, goddammit. What does a girl have to eat to gain a few pounds around this place?

iii. richer or poorer? maybe about the same.

11. What do you wish you'd done more of? hoo boy. Cleaning my stove? Reading, hiking (although for a city girl I did decently this year), sitting by the lake. But really, I'm pretty happy with at least the last half of 2008.

12. What do you wish you'd done less of? Getting angsty about unimportant things, overindulging in certain things. But nothing terrible, really.

13. What was your favourite TV program? Hmm. Did I watch anything? I'm liking Firefly :)

14. What was the best book you read? The Practice of the Wild (so much more life-changing the second time around!), dear god Lolita. A lot.

15. What was your greatest musical discovery? Jeff Buckley (for when you need an angsty girly man), Amanda Palmer, PJ Harvey in a much more real sense than before. Rid of Me is one of the best albums ever.

16. What did you want and get? An apartment to myself, a wicked sense of self confidence.

17. What did you want and not get? The Colorado Symphony job

18. What was your favourite film of this year? Twilight. Definitely.

19. What did you do on your birthday? had dinner with many amazing and varied friends, and then had drinks and bitched about conductors.

20. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

You know what? I'm good.

21. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008? thrift store chic. what a nice girl! Semi-boring, perhaps.

22. What kept you sane? cats, Erica, the internet, coworker gossip.

23. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Amanda Palmer. Yikes.

24. What political issue stirred you the most? Prop 8, the election.

25. Who did you miss? Erica, Tabitha

26. Who was the best new person you met? so many! Madeleine, Rose-Anne (not new, but new as a personal close friend). Hopefully many more to come.

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008. Paying attention to myself makes me a vastly happier person, and being happy makes good things happen. It also makes me sound cheesy much of the time. Living alone is awesome, but convincing myself to clean is harder. I need mountains in my life.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. "And I wake up and I ask myself what state I'm in/And I say well I'm lucky, cause I am like East Berlin/I had this wall and what I knew of the free world/Was that I could see their fireworks/And I could hear their radio" Dar Williams What do you hear in these sounds. "I'll idealize, then realize that it's no/Sacrifice, because the price is paid, and/There's nothing left to grieve" Fiona Apple, Get Gone

41. Where did you ring in 2009? At Austin's house! We dropped a grapefruit at midnight. Then I made out with a random stranger. Good times :)

42. What was your status by Valentine’s Day? Not good, I can tell you that. Prepping 300 roses and then doing dishes in the bathtub? No thanks.

43. Where did you go on vacation? Alaska!!! Flagstaff, Denver (that wasn't much of a vacation, though).

44. What did you purchase that was over $500? A ticket to Alaska. My security deposit on my apartment.

45. Did you know anybody who got married? probably. Nobody super close, though.

46. Did you move anywhere? into my own place

47. What’s the one thing you thought you would never do but did in 2008? Hmm. I can't think of anything I'm willing to make public. Ooh wait, posted a craigslist ad!

49. What’s something you learned about yourself? I have a lot of potential.

50. What was your best month? Any of the last six, I think. Oh, except for late August/ early September, that kind of blew.

51. What pop culture event will you remember 2008 by? I agree with Lauren, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin.

I think I've blocked out the bad parts of 2008, but they've been so overshadowed by the good that I'm okay with that. I don't really do resolutions, but I have high hopes for 2009; change is coming, but I think it will be the good kind of change. Thank you to everybody in my life, I love you all.

See? Cheesy. That's what being happy does to me.

Monday, December 29, 2008

day job

Wedding flower pictures! I made three of the white cubes on the bottom, the one taller arrangement (which used garden roses, which smell absolutely heavenly), and the boutonniere. That was fun :)
Also, does anybody else think it's funny--considering I'm not the hugest proponent of marriage--that both of my "careers" involve spending a lot of time dealing with weddings?











Saturday, December 27, 2008

world-class

Yesterday, I had an excellent day at work. I made a bunch of arrangements for a wedding that I didn't even know I was going to be working on and they all turned out really well. (Photos tonight, perhaps?) I sold a ton of Christmas ornaments. My boss told me that she "trusted me completely." (In a certain context, perhaps, but still it was nice to hear.) I went home feeling inflated and happy and confident, like I was a real florist who knew what the hell I was doing.
And then realized that I'd left the coffeemaker on (and empty) all day. It's a miracle that I haven't burned my building down yet, what with this and also the asparagus I almost flambeed a few weeks ago. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the kitchen is kevin bacon

Happy solstice! Our first day of winter, as I noted earlier, was just hellaciously cold. And windy. And just all-around bitter. I cried nearly every time I left the comfort of the indoors that day. But there was a fair amount of comfort to be had, so that may have had something to do with it.
I haven't talked too much about our Candida dinners, but they've continued on since our first effort in October. We had our third dinner on Sunday, celebrating the new season and the fact that we all were brave enough to venture out in the "feels like -30" weather for soup.
There were six of us this time, which seems to be the number that we gravitate towards; no matter how many people are invited, we often seem to end up with six at the end. My old friend Miriam, on vacation from grad school in England, made an appearance, and a violist from Civic that I didn't know named Ben was our other guest. Most of the way through the cooking process, it became clear that all of us (including Ben, by pure chance) knew my good friend Shawn Marie, prompting a discussion of SM's Kevin Bacon-ness for our group. She was the only person we all knew and had introduced many of us, and she wasn't even present.
But truly, I do think the kitchen is also Kevin Bacon in this scenario. It's what brought this little group together, and indeed my first personal experiences with many of the people there had involved food. Four years ago, Miriam and I cooked a curry that, while delicious, made her aware of a nasty allergy to cilantro. Rose-Anne came to Thanksgiving at my house two years ago, the first time we'd hung out sans Shawn Marie, and brought some delicious garlic butter for our feast. And I vividly remember making my first-ever batch of homemade seitan with Shawn Marie, using it as a pizza topping during our first one-on-one meeting. Food has risen to a much more prominent position in my life lately, but I realized on Sunday that it's been a running theme for years. There's just something about food and kitchens, the warmth and creation and comfort that a group of people can experience there. That's exactly why I could never, ever be a professional cook: in the rush to prepare food for strangers, I'd be afraid that I'd lose the joy I find in preparing food with or for people I know and care about. (That and I'm really slow and can't deal with stress, but that's another story.)
Anyway, dinner (or lunch?) turned out splendidly. Candida dinners generally do. There have been blips--a too-lime-oriented jicama salad, some dessert issues--but nearly everything we've made has turned out quite well, particularly since most of our recipes are having their first outings at the event. There have been sweet potato-cilantro-ginger patties, spaghetti squash, miracle brownies... We're thinking we'll make a collaborative cookbook. The menu this time around involved some fantastic chickpea-flour savory crepes (with two filling options!), an amazing kale-and-bean stew that convinced nearly everyone present that they needed to invest in some smoked paprika, salad, and the aforementioned brownies. Afterwards, full and happy, we sat around the table and basked in the camaraderie of food before we all headed back out into the cold.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

winter with a vengeance

It's negative five degrees outside right now, but windy so it feels like negative thirty. Yikes. Wish me luck. My windows are covered in ice. At least I'm going to go eat soup soon.
Happy solstice!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

keep passing the open windows

When you live in a big city like Chicago, you have to take your connections to the world outside (outside of people and pavement, that is) as you can get them. There's a reason that people almost obsessively hang out by the lake in the summer; where else can you get a nearly-unobstructed view of anything here? Sometimes, after I've been somewhere with a lot less people and a lot more mountains, I wonder how I can live here. And then I remember: it's in the details.
The lake is good, and when I was at Northwestern (where the music building sits feet away from the water), the ability to watch the seasons reflected in the lake was one of the things that truly helped me through my day. But there are many other, less obvious things that I think get overlooked. Personally, I pay close attention to any "wild"life I can see (even pigeons are interesting to watch interact with each other) and I try to pay attention to plants and the weather. This is how I try to stay connected to the idea that, even though I live in a giant city, there are still things outside of that concept that exist beyond it. We might have impacted them dramatically (pigeons are a product of civilization, I imagine, and god knows what we may have already done to the weather), but they are ways for me to remember that there is still nature here, in some form or another.
The point of this all comes down to one wall of my tiny little studio apartment. There are many things wrong with my apartment: repeated plumbing issues, the inevitable stuffiness (and, grossly, smelliness) that comes from a person and two cats living in such a small space with no open windows, the overactive radiator. But this wall is my absolute favorite part of living here. My west-facing wall is almost entirely made up of windows. I can see the sky, and part of the building next to me, but there are no windows facing towards me that are close enough to bother with. I feel free to wander around in my underwear with the blinds up without worrying overly that anybody can see me. I'm also on the fifth floor, which cuts out any real noise connection to outside (especially in the winter when the windows are generally closed, but even in the summer I can't tell if its raining from up here).
The upshot of all of this is that I can see the sky at basically all times. I wake up early because that's when the sun rises and the sky begins to lighten up. I can tell from bed what the cloud cover is like, whether it's sunny, whether it might be snowing. At night, the sky can be pink, yellow, orange, dark. During the day it can be light grey, dark grey, deep blue, light blue. I can see snowflakes drifting by. I have times of day that I like because of the quality of light. I've never had this kind of friendly connection to the sky before, and I love it. I wouldn't shut my blinds for anything.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

dating bi-as

So an interesting thing happened lately: I went on a date. With a boy. What? That information elicited a lot of different reactions, everything from laughter to puzzlement. "So you're dating boys now?" "How does that work?" And so on. Blah blah blah. But the truth of things is a lot harder to explain than I've been able to put into words, at least verbally and under immediate pressure. The lines are getting a little blurry.

The boy was somebody I met at Anna's girlfriend's nonprofit's fundraiser a few weeks ago, back when it was still warm enough that I was willing to put on a dress in return for access to an open bar and cheesecake on a stick. We talked (briefly, from what I can recall) and, along with another boy I didn't know, split a cab ride home. About a week later, I got a facebook message.

Being single has a number of interesting side effects that contributed to my actually following through on that message. For one thing, it's infinitely easier for me to define my sexuality (for better or for worse) when I can just say, oh, that's my girlfriend over there, have a cheesecake! The lack of a significant other opens me up to scrutiny, and to assumptions, such as that I'm straight or bi. Which is okay (and in the case of bi, not entirely untrue), but sometimes it's a little awkward. I don't know how to deal with boys, for one thing; it's like I've lost the tools, the skill sets, that seem to be taken for granted by hetero society. Boys approach me differently than girls do. (Well, so far women don't approach me much at all, which is a whole other problem.) And I can't tell when they're flirting, even more than I can't tell when girls are flirting. So I end up (apparently) flirting back, and then things seem to get beyond my control. It's confusing.

All of this would be far less of an issue if I didn't, ahem, feel a little more bi (although I prefer "homoflexible") lately, at least theoretically. I will not deny that I've had makeout dreams about boys, some of them involving victorian dress. And really, with my credo of tolerance, I've been considering giving boys another chance. Should it actually make that much of a difference? I'm not ruling it out as a possibility, although I'm pretty skeptical in light of all the evidence that that train of thought is ever going to get much past the theoretical stage.

But anyway, I basically said, what the hell, let's give this "date with a boy" thing a shot. Here's one thing about being on a man-date: I felt like I had this very, very media-based idea of what what that experience should entail and how I should act. Rules, if you will. I just couldn't seem to shut down this part of my brain that kept whispering "Are you doing this right? Think hard about romantic comedies!" With girls, I've never felt that kind of rule pressure before, and it added a whole new level of nerves to my experience. For instance, I ordered a salad (endive with roasted baby golden beets and whitefish in a creme fraiche, yum), which was actually what I wanted, but I felt like such a girl when I did it. I literally flashbacked about a million bad movies as I said "I'll just have a salad." And he paid for dinner, which for me felt terrible. I mean, here I was feeling like a fraud anyway, and then I didn't even pay for my food! It was the most uncomfortable part of the date for me. (And when I told straight female friends of mine that, they invariably said, "Well, at least you got a free meal!" Which is so not the point, and actually made me feel more gross, like my company was something to be bartered for. "I'll pay for dinner, and you look cute and eat a salad." This was not his fault, but the fault of gross tradition. Ick.)

But really, it was fine. A little awkward (ex-girlfriends kept coming up, perhaps in a very passive attempt to bring the conversation around to the topic that I haven't dated a boy in, oh, five years), but good conversation and good food and good beer. I actually had a lot of fun, except for the fact that I felt like I was sitting around the table with a boy, the personal, and the political. That made me a little antsy, truth be told. With girls, at least the personal and the political tend to be right out there on the table, and they're easier to talk about. If two girls are on a date, there is this whole world of overlap that they can access and assume that the other person will be able to reference. On a straight date, I felt like I was navigating without coordinates, and it was much harder.

I just hope I wasn't a total letdown as a date. "Dude, I went on a date with this girl the other night and she was totally a dyke! WTF!" is what I imagine him telling friends, although in truth I think he's a bit too nice to be so mean about it. But still, I think that through my lack of ability to just say "Hey, so I date mostly girls, but you seem nice," I've become a funny story he'll tell people during conversations about weird dates. Ah well, live and learn.

(Thanks to Anna for the title.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

i think i'll wait another year

Because I sometimes do dumb things I decided to bake not one, not two, but three different types of christmas cookies tonight. What was I thinking? Actually, I've bounced back a little bit from where I was about half an hour ago, but I'm currently sitting in my furnace-like apartment contemplating that I haven't even finished the third batch yet. There are windows open. It's snowing outside. There would be more windows open if some of them weren't iced shut.

The first batch was a breeze. Orange Shortbread Cookies with Chocolate Chips? Count me in! A piece of, ahem, cake, except for creaming the butter and sugar together by hand. I wish I'd asked for a mixer for Christmas.

The second batch, Rose-Anne's Thumbprint Cookies, is actually still resting in my fridge. I started them before I realized the dough had to rest; when I came to that line in the recipe, I put my dough in a tupperware in the fridge and started on batch number three.

Which is Spice Cake with Prunes and Pecans (or walnuts if, like me, you forgot to buy pecans), from Moosewood. Prunes, you say? Yes, prune puree, to be precise. Kind of like gingerbread in the spicing, but without the molasses. Here's something about Moosewood that I sometimes forget: Sometimes there are significant differences between what i expect and what happens. I'll end up with an enormous amount of something (say, stuffing for squash), at least twice as much as I could ever possibly need for whatever purpose it's supposed to fulfill. Or the texture will be vastly different than I expect. Or, as with this recipe, it will take about twice as long to bake as the recipe indicates. I guess I'm at fifty minutes (the recipe says 30-45), and things are finally starting to firm up. It smells good, and if it tastes good when it finally finishes cooking I'll put the recipe in at the end of this post.

I'm looking forward to this being over. But the fun part is this: I'm planning on perhaps mailing most of this batch out to people in different cities. If I do that, and I want to give cookies to my friends here, I'll have to do this all over again in about a week. I think I'll spread it out more next time.

Monday, December 15, 2008

and then

Ummm, I read this. I actually cried a little bit. Don't turn the sound off, the reading is definitely the best part. Especially when he almost laughs. Repeatedly.

hmph

I feel irritable, restless, and generally discontent. It's way too cold outside to want to leave my cozy apartment, but part of me apparently wants to be running through the streets tonight. This kind of undirected energy is always tiring but hard to shut down, and so I usually just try to sit it out. I don't have much of a choice, because when I feel like this I generally can't sit through a movie or even focus for long enough to read a book, and that is a death sentence for a night at home alone.
I wish I knew what caused this, because I'd like it to stop and it's been happening all too frequently. On nights like this, even though my life is going increasingly well and I'm generally happy and surrounded by people whose company I enjoy, I feel the opposite of positive. I feel grouchy and lonely and bitter. Bah humbug, I say! I didn't feel like this anywhere near as often before I lived by myself, and that's particularly frustrating: now that I have all the time in the world for doing exactly what I want to do, I can't seem to utilize it.
I'll post something more interesting and less me-oriented soon, I swear.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

all these years

So today is my five-year anniversary; I started this blog on Dec. 13th, 2003. Which is crazy. I never would have predicted most of the events of the last five years, nor that I would still be writing about them for friends and a few complete strangers to read on the internet. Sometimes I'm a little embarrassed by how happy this blog makes me, partially because this is essentially the most narcissistic thing I do: in the "real" world I don't talk about myself anywhere near this much. But I love the outlet, the clarification that comes through writing and particularly writing for other people. I work through big stuff in my journal, but here I have a forum for recipes, books, vampires,and the small joys and terrors of everyday life. Thanks for reading :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

life on mars

Last night I dreamt the following: Erica, my good friend from Arizona, worked in the flower shop with me. And for some reason, we were screening Return of the Jedi (?) but we didn't have a copy, so we left a bunch of people alone in the store while we went to find one. As we ran around, we kept holding hands like little girls and giggling. We were stalled by various adventures, as happens in dreams; among other things, we voted in an election and went to a strange yoga class specifically for stringed instrumentalists. (All I remember was that people were smacking little fake bows on the floor and there was popcorn everywhere.) During the yoga class, I finally started freaking out that people were stealing everything in the store and we were going to get fired. And then, thank god, I woke up. WTF, brain?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

jesus h

So yeah, Chicago politics... We have a massively corrupt governor, an honest-to-god factory sit-in, and a president-elect. Crazy.
Personally, it's been a weird day. I got up at about six to have some coffee before heading to a college downtown to play student compositions for about three hours. (Note: guaranteed to make your brain melt into mush.) En route, I had a major, major epiphinic moment on a crowded train (prompted by a Thoreau quote in my Gary Snyder book) that left me with my mouth hanging open and adrenaline rushing through me. It wasn't so much a new idea as a set of connections I'd never made before, and I can't quite articulate it, but I sure took me some notes. It was an amazing feeling. Maybe I should experience sleep deprivation and then read theory more often.
A lot of things in general seem to be in a state of flow lately; everything seems very dramatic and intense and important, but it's all so internal that I can't quite talk about that either. But here's something very stable: beans. Another of my favorite simple foods, I love the texture: creamy but with a hint of graininess, filling and satisfying. Beans and rice has absolutely been one of my favorite foods since I went veggie in 2002. One of the (many) questions Anna asked me when we first met was what food I would eat if I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life, and that was my answer. (That was greeted with amusement, for some reason.)
So here is a delicious and somewhat unusual bean recipe. The beauty of this particular dish lies not only in the creamy delicious baked beans, but in the spicing; you can feel it trace a path down the back of your throat and into your chest, but as long as you don't overdo the chili powder it's not too spicy for the wimpy.

Habas Verdes con Queso
(Lima Beans with Cheese)

Ingredients:
6 cups cooked lima beans (or, as I did the other night, one large can of butter beans and one small can of kidney beans. yum!)
8 oz cream cheese
-
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
3 green and/or red peppers, chopped (unless you hate them)
2 medium carrots, diced
2 cups chopped fresh or canned drained tomatoes
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Either cook the beans yourself or heat up canned beans. When hot, drain and, in a large bowl, stir in the cream cheese, mixing well so the cheese melts. Cover and set aside.
Saute the onions and garlic in the oil until the onions are translucent. Add the peppers and carrots and saute for five more minutes. Add the tomatoes and spices, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 more minutes until the carrots are tender.
Stir the sauteed veggies into the bean mixture. Pour into an oiled casserole dish and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.
Can be eaten alone or as a dip with tortilla chips.

Monday, December 08, 2008

so we beat on

Last night I went to another Civic concert, this time with Bernard Haitink conducting Schubert's Unfinished and David Afkham, this really young guy who I believe studies under Haitink, conducting Strauss' Death and Transfiguration. It was wonderful to see Haitink conduct, because he's amazingly wonderful and energetic, but it also made me a little sad. Just last year I played Shostakovitch 10 with him, and it was one of the best musical experiences I've ever had; it's hard to explain, but sometimes a really good conductor can win your heart and soul with the first downbeat. So it was hard to take my place as an observer rather than I performer, and I was jealous of the energy and joy that I assumed the musicians on stage were feeling.
As I sat in the audience, enjoying the music, I was increasingly distracted by the larger implications of this feeling. I think it was maybe the first time I truly realized what I may be giving up. Even though I plan to continue playing, it's highly unlikely that I will play with Haitink, and perhaps anyone of his caliber, in an orchestral situation again. In fact, once I move to Denver, what orchestral playing am I really going to be able to drum up for myself? I don't know the situation, but playing in community orchestras or paying-but-terrible gigs just isn't the same. (Music for money does not equal music for pleasure in most situations.) By moving, I'm really effectively cutting many of my remaining musical ties. From here on, it's likely that I'll spend most of my time as an observer rather than as a performer.
I know that it doesn't have to be this way, but in some ways it also kind of does. If I try to continue playing in any sort of serious way, it might actually hamper my ability to move on and figure something else out. I can't be a part-time musician for the rest of my life, because I don't think I can personally balance that with being a full-time anything else. If I want to move forward, I'm probably going to have to give most of this up. And even though I hope to replace it with something good, that's still a bitter thought.

Friday, December 05, 2008

the optimist's view of winter

Today is off to a good start: I slept well, stayed in bed to snooze (one of my absolute favorite activities, truth be told) for an extra hour, and now I'm enjoying a cup of coffee. There are cats sitting by me, and sunlight outside of my window. Of course, it feels like -1 out there, but in my little studio things are relatively cozy.

For me, that is one of winter's redeeming factors: coziness. It's a different type of coziness from the coziness of fall, which is more of an all-around feeling (I'm-outside-and it's-mildly-chilly-and-I'm-wearing-a-cute-jacket coziness). I feel like winter coziness is in direct proportion to how awful the weather is outside; as the conditions outside become increasingly harsh and wearing, the conditions inside become more welcoming. It's the coziness of curling up on the couch with a blanket and sipping something hot. It's having a comforter on your bed that you can burrow down into, squealing until your body heat warms the flannel sheets. It's soup.

Indeed, winter food is some of my favorite food. It doesn't have the vegetable rush of spring or summer, but many of my absolute favorite dishes just don't fly as well during any other time of year. (Fall is a cusp season, of course, given the fact that it still is fall, but once it gets cold enough it's hard to keep that in mind.) Could I enjoy a bowl of potato-leek soup anywhere near as much in June? I think not. Isn't chili better when it is, in fact, chilly? While I admittedly need to improve my warm-weather cooking (I had a hard time this summer when it was too hot to turn the oven on), I think my heart will always belong to a season that allows me to make so much soup. (I think Rose-Anne knows what I mean; the last time I visited her apartment to cook, there was a word cloud derived from her blog printed out and taped above her desk, and the big central word was "soup.")

This winter, my big goal is to become a better baker and hopefully make my own bread. I need to learn to deal with yeast, and plus there is nothing better than fresh bread. But I'm also excited to try out a number of new soup recipes, particularly from my Moosewood. I have a burning desire to learn to make barsczcz, the Polish version of borscht; I generally don't like beets because they upset my stomach, but I ate a fair amount of barszcz when I was there last and it was delicious (and happily didn't make me feel sick). But tonight, I'll be making my first home-made squash soup from scratch. Is it dorky that I feel excited about this? After my less-than-excellent Thanksgiving contribution (despite what Anna says), I'm ready to redeem my squash skills with my leftover butternut. Here's the recipe, from my 1987 Moosewood:

Creamy Squash Soup

Ingredients:
1 acorn, small buttercup or acorn squash (about 2 cups, cooked)
3 tbs butter or vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 small carrot, diced
1 medium potato, diced
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
3 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk or apple juice or 1 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

Halve the squash and scoop the seeds out. Place it cut-side-down on a lightly oiled baking pan, cover, and bake at 350 for one hour until soft. You can also peel, cube, and boil, but according to MW this is easier and better for flavor.
Saute the onions in butter or oil until translucent. Add carrots, potatoes, apples, and water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
After the squash cools, scoop the insides out and combine with the veggies and milk/cream/juice. Puree in a food processor or blender in small batches until smooth and creamy.
Heat the soup on low heat until hot but not boiling. Add the cinnamon, season with salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

we haven't slept in years

I've always been prone to voice crushes. In high school, it was a local late night dj that led me stay up all night with my ear pressed to an extremely quiet clock radio. (Apparently, I was immune to the charms of earphones.) In Arizona, there was a rather embarrassing Dave Matthews period, and then Ani and Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker and on and on. Sometimes it's lyrics that sway me and I develop an obsession that leads me to like a voice that is initially unappealing (Corin Tucker), and sometimes it's just the voice itself (Dave Matthews, who I find fairly unappealing physically but who's voice pretty much took over my hormonal responses for a while), and sometimes it's an extremely appealing combination.
My current voice crush is Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls. She recently released a solo album (Who Killed Amanda Palmer) that has been on nearly constant playback on my computer for probably the last few weeks. She's one of the most compelling combinations for me: overall smart, funny, moving lyrics, a voice that sucks me in with it's alternating hoarse frenzy and quiet anguish, and on top of that she's an incredibly sexy person. And she plays the piano. And has a penchant for corsets. Dear god.
It's rare but fortuitous when somebody actually comes through town at the height of my obsession. As a slightly late birthday present to myself last night, I went and saw her solo show at the Metro with Tabitha (the one who really got me into the Dolls) in tow. Not only was I incredibly enthused to see her play, but the show ended up being one of the most enjoyable I've ever seen. We missed the opening band but the follow-up was Zoe Keating, the former second cellist from Rasputina. She had a lot of technology hooked up that allowed her to lay down a ground and then layer herself over it, seemingly infinitely. As the layers built up, the music becoming more and more intricate, it also became more beautiful and entrancing. I was so inside of what she was doing, which (ironically) as a musician is something that's become increasingly difficult for me over the years. It has to be pretty damn amazing for my mind not to be wandering off in the direction of the technical aspects.
So that was awesome, and the dj kept coming out to tell us that, sadly, Amanda Palmer (actually, he said Amanda fucking Palmer) was dead and wouldn't be playing. Every time he said that she was dead the audience would cheer and he would chastise us. After a few go-rounds, he announced that some of Amanda's friends had shown up to show their sorrow, and then he introduced: Neil Gaiman. You could see the audience just freak out, like nobody had been anticipating that name to be one announced. Neil Gaiman popped out from backstage and started reading an appropriately strange eulogy of sorts. And then, Amanda Palmer walked right in front of me, wearing a veil and this great corset/skirt outfit. Just to recap: Neil Gaiman is reading, my voice crush is standing right in front of me, and holy shit. Good times. (Re: Neil Gaiman: they're making a book together of photos of Amanda Palmer being dead, so there was some actually reason for him to be there. He also wrote the lyrics to a song that she sang later about googling obsessive crushes on the internet late at night. Sample paraphrased lyrics: "I'm glad your name is so unique/it's just you and a wanna-be PhD from Chesapeake/who writes articles about the makeup of the sun/I must admit I've read every one.")
The concert was off to a good start, obviously, and the music that followed was no letdown. As probably happens a lot when you've spent waaaaaay too much time with an album, many the songs I like most (Ampersand, Blake Says) were not as compelling live, and the songs I've spent less time with (Guitar Hero, Astronaut) rocked my world. As a performer, Palmer is one of the most charismatic and energetic stage presences I've ever seen. She was rocking out on her piano, obviously singing her heart out and having a fantastic time, and I could feel that energy passing into the audience and turning the whole space into the kind of frenetic ecstatic whirlpool. It felt amazing. When she got up for Guitar Hero and brandished a red Fender like the world's best cock-rocker, when she explained the meaning behind Strength Through Music (hint: school shootings), when the entire ensemble (did I mention she had four theatrical backup dancers?) lip-synched to Rhianna's Umbrella and actually did the whole song instead of segueing into something else: these were notable moments in a very impressive show.
The show ended with a cover of Living on a Prayer while the dancers wandered through the audience collecting donations in their own shoes, and then a wild performance of Leeds United complete with fake marching band brass. I went home feeling high from all the energy and even more fully enamored with Amanda Palmer. I wish I could have (or inspire) that kind of emotional response to music more often. TimeOut Chicago's pre-review of the concert was less than amazingly complementary: "She’s a gifted, heart-on-sleeve performer who’s clearly dedicated to her craft—then again, so are the most committed players in a high-school theater troupe." And I say, so what? Maybe we need to have more of that insane desire and love in our art. Long live the high-school theater troupe.





Wednesday, December 03, 2008

my friends turn beautiful before my eyes

The birthday last night was, for me, one of those almost perfectly circular life moments that I have occasionally, although not usually on this sort of scale. A total of thirteen people (myself included) came to dinner; when a fourteenth showed up just before we left to head out for drinks, I gave him the full table tour. It took a while. There were people I'd known for years and people I met only a few months ago, people I work with, play music with, cook with, chatting amiably about wedding flower disasters and ok cupid dating personas. (The conductor of my new music group said to me "This is awesome! You have non-musician friends!") My ex-girlfriend, her friend who I only met a few weeks ago, and my cooking friend headed up a discussion about polyamory that fascinated my musician friends and was much referenced at the bar after dinner. The first person I met at Northwestern when I moved here sat across from a violist that I met a few months ago online.
Of course, any mixed gathering contains these kind of details, but for me it was like a summation of my time here in Chicago in dinner party form. Nearly all the aspects of my life, past and present, were scattered around the table and they were all getting along. That was the key point, and it tasted so unexpectedly sweet to me; that my life can integrate its varied parts so smoothly is not something I had anticipated. It felt very whole, and yes, kind of mature. So maybe that's part of what maturity is, really: realizing that your life really is a whole entity, that all of the things that you are don't have to be separated or compartmentalized but instead can come together and pass the wasabi.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

a slightly scattered post about birthdays and bobcats

Today is my birthday. I'm twenty-seven years old, which is amazing and slightly alarming but not too bad. Last night, as a goodbye to my mid-twenties, I stayed home and read some Gary Snyder (which is so much better than I even remembered and also makes me feel vindicated in my love of walking) and made some surprisingly satisfying and delicious tomato soup. It was a lovely evening.
I don't have anything profound to say about getting older, although I think I have some thoughts hovering just below the surface of words. Mostly this birthday is just making me realize even more fully that I've finally found a niche here in Chicago, ironic in light of the fact that I am already looking ahead to Denver. But I'm having a birthday dinner at a sushi restaurant tonight and at least thirteen people are coming, which is shocking. A year ago, that would never, ever have happened. There are old friends, new friends, people I met on the internet, exes, cooking buddies, music friends, and co-workers, all coming together in the same place because I exist. And for the first time in a few years, I have actual plans for the future, and I think that at least some of them might actually come to fruition. I've been stuck for all this time, and now there is just so much flow. I feel like I'm finally headed towards myself, towards the way I'd like to be actually living my life. Fulfillment, if that's not too cheesy.
But lest I forget my place in the scheme of things or my animal-ness (and frankly, because I just really liked this quote), here's some more Gary Snyder to welcome me to my next year:
"The body does not require the intercession of some conscious intellect to make it breathe, to keep the heart beating. It is to a great extent self-regulating, it is a life of its own. Sensation and perception do not exactly come from outside, and the unremitting thought and image-flow are not exactly inside. The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in mind, in the imagination, than "you" can keep track of--thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream.The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out (and sometimes making expansionistic plots), and the rest takes care of itself. The body is, so to speak, in the mind. They are both wild."
Gary Snyder, The Etiquette of Freedom from The Practice of the Wild
This is what I want: to have a full human life and to never forget that bobcat. In the same essay, Snyder writes "[Mountaineering] take[s] practice, which calls for a certain amount of self-abnegation, and intuition, which takes emptying of yourself." By walking, by giving ourselves up to what we are doing and how we are moving through the world, we come closer to everything outside of ourselves and perhaps allow the line between mind and body to blur. That is why I'm moving away from a place which suddenly has become home. I want to be both full and empty.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

black friday indeed

Yesterday was, of course, Thanksgiving. I celebrated colonialism and destruction and, um, food with Anna and Ellie and various other people who I knew (or didn't) to varying degrees. And it was mostly a very nice day, with egg nog and Scrabble and Slumdog Millionaire (which cheesed out at the end but was still good) and lots of food, natch. There was one sore spot, and it was entirely personal: the dish I made pretty much sucked.
I picked out a Moosewood recipe (squash with a tofu-mushroom-pecan stuffing) that was described as being a good veggie alternative for just this type of meat-oriented holiday. Because Anna is allergic to soy I made my own seitan the night before to replace the tofu, toasted up some bread cubes in the morning, and headed over with a backpack full of prepped veggies and foil baking sheets. And somehow, I ended up with a dish that was a) undercooked (hard squash, yum), and b) very unappealing looking. This hurt my cooking ego more than I would have imagined; apparently, said ego is far too based around my ability to cook squash. Which I suppose is a good thing to realize and was something I theoretically knew, but it kind of sucked to figure it out on Thanksgiving. Because regardless of the historical basis for the holiday, now it's almost entirely based around food, and that's something I've come to trust that I will usually do well with. And I didn't. Alas. (This experience also compounded my lasting frustration for recipes that involve "stuffing" an unstuffable vegetable by simply placing some stuffing on top of said vegetable. I mean, really, that's not stuffing, and it rarely turns out well for me. But that's another story.)
But other than that, it was a good day, and at least the rest of the food was all good. But today is, as many or all of you theoretical readers know, Black Friday, a.k.a. Buy Nothing Day. And I have to work all day as a capitalist whore, selling candles and Christmas ornaments to old ladies and gay couples. Have I discussed how dirty it makes me feel when I convince somebody to buy, say, Caldrea's eco-friendly Ginger Pomelo-scented linen spray? I've been mocking myself in gatherings lately, demonstrating my technique:
(customer walks by our Caldrea shelf and briefly pauses. I sidle up.)
me: Would you like to smell some of these? (Without waiting for answer, opens a candle box and waves it at customer's nose.)
customer: Ooh, that does smell good!
me: Yeah, these all smell really nice. Try the basil blue sage. (Continues opening boxes.) And a lot of green products don't work that well, but these ones are great. I use a lot of them at home. Try some hand balm!
On a good day, this interchange results in a Caldrea sale maybe forty percent of the time. It's kind of inexplicable; I don't say much, but for some reason I sell waaaay more of this stuff than anybody else in the store. On a good day, it feels like magic: I open a box, they walk away with countertop spray. And the thing is, I'm not lying or anything. I do actually use almost exclusively Caldrea in my house, and it does work well. (The joys of being able to buy things wholesale: eco-friendly designer laundry detergent.) So, if I'm not lying and I like the product, why does this make me feel so gross? I think it's just the discovery that I kind of enjoy pushing people into a sale. It's a kind of power over them, to say "Smell this!" and feel like, for a few minutes, I was in charge of what they did with their day. Which is, of course, totally egotistical. Apparently I need to work on this whole "ego" thing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

reality is all the god there is

I used to get really stressed out when I visited Arizona: there was too much to do, too many places to be, too many people vying for my time. In fact, I used to treat vacations as marathons, seeing how many people/events/cities/countries I could pack into two weeks/spring break/one road trip. It made me miserable and a terror to be around, in all honesty. So now, when I go back home (or anywhere, for that matter) I try to take a deep breath and leave my expectations behind. I set vague goals and other than that I just try to (such a concept) enjoy myself. Relax, in other words. This time these were my vague goals: spend time with parents and the two excellent friends I have in Flagstaff, go hiking, cook dinner for said friends and family, eat some of Macy's veggie biscuits and gravy (I swear, the best I've had anywhere), and maybe bring back a few pictures. It turns out that's just about all I had time for, but it was just enough. There were two long hikes and one short one, a dinner of french-ish food (tilapia with french mushroom sauce and a side of baked cucumbers, which much to my disappointment received mixed reactions), Sex and the City flashbacks to spring break 2005, long conversations about love and sex and family and ecoporn. I even got to have biscuits and gravy twice :)
But back to the hiking. I can always count on Erica to take me on hikes that push me and this time was no exception. My first day in town, we went for a hike on the Inner Basin Trail, starting at Lockett's Meadow and heading up towards the summit of Humphreys, the tallest mountain in the state and part of the San Francisco Peaks. We didn't make the summit (as erica said, next time we'll start earlier and at a time of year when the sun sets later), but we made it above treeline. Which is 11,500 feet in Flagstaff. Which is way, way higher elevation-wise than I've ever hiked before. Luckily the trail isn't too steep, but there was definitely a fair amount of gasping on my part. I laughed at myself hiking in a tank top and gloves in the snow. We ate lunch at the top and listened to the most profound silence I've heard in a while.
The short hike was at Red Mountain with my parents and my friend Emily. It's a short, flat hike, but ends near a wall of red cliff and a ton of eroded stone.













Emily




My mom, none too happy to be having her picture taken







Erica and I had planned another hike for the Monday before I left, and on Sunday she called me to suggest that we go hiking in the Grand Canyon. Even though I grew up about 75 miles from the canyon, I've been there a total of two times and neither of those trips involved much hiking. In fact, when I went at the age of nine, we hiked very briefly and then I slipped and fell in a big pile of mule shit, so that (and my dad's endless river stories) has been more or less my association since then. Needless to say, I was excited. We hiked down Hermit trail to (perhaps) the Cathedral Steps before heading back up.

from the rim, near the Bright Angel trailhead




A tree growing out of a rock upside-down




my feet. this is where we ate lunch.



Also taken on lunchbreak




I can barely walk today because my calves hurt so much, but it was totally worth it.
Now I'm back in the relative chill of Chicago. But... Maybe not for that much longer. One of the things I kind of came to terms with on this trip is the fact that, no, I don't want to stay in Chicago forever. My goal is to have this be my last Chicago winter, to be in Denver or Albuquerque or somewhere else by about this time next year. It's terrifying to think about picking up and starting over, but every time I get away and into someplace where I can see farther than a city block I realize how much I want the choice between city and not-city to be a part of my daily life. My life here is expanding in ways that I had long ago given up on (and are also sometimes alarming, frankly), but I'm choosing to believe that my life can expand somewhere else too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

i made it down the coast in seventeen hours

I'm leaving for Arizona (well, for the bus to the airport to the plane to the car to my parents' house) in about two hours. I might not write that much this week, alas, but I'll make sure I save up lots of thoughts for when I return. For now, I'm just nervous that I won't like any of the (four) books I'm taking with me and I'll die of boredom on the plane. But I'm stocked up on trail mix, so at least I won't be hungry :)
So now I'll enjoy my last hours of cat-petting and coffee-drinking-in-my-bathrobe and then be on my way. I'm copying out recipes to cook for my friends and family, which is exciting. I really want to make something delicious to show that all of the kitchen stuff I've received in the last few years is going to good use. Plus, I spend so much time cooking for and with friends lately that I feel that these, my family and oldest friends, deserve special consideration.
I'm on my way now, wishing and hoping for safe travel, good food, hiking, and quality time with friends. Have a good week, everybody!

Monday, November 17, 2008

i'll meet you in the streets

Just a few pictures. I'm glad Anna (and now Ellie) still has my back on the photo-taking front.













Sunday, November 16, 2008

are you out there? can you hear this?

Back in the day at UA, I went to a lot of protests for a while there. I remember my first big anti-war protest and how excited I was to be surrounded by so many (approximately) like-minded people; I also remember how the enthusiasm started to be overcome by apathy and depression, by seeing the same people every time and little to no evidence that anything we were doing had any effect whatsoever. When I moved to Illinois, I was still all ready to try and carry on with my activist leanings, to find a niche and try to do something helpful and at least moderately hopeful. Unfortunately, I never found that niche, and so I just stopped. Until yesterday, I'm pretty sure it had been years since I went to a protest.
But yesterday... Amazing. I went to the Prop. 8 solidarity protest downtown, along with what I heard from other reports might have been two thousand other people. I've been to plenty of protests where a lot of people were there to push their own agendas, and that always makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. I'm not really there to have somebody talk to me about, I don't know, the Communist Party, I'm there to protest whatever's being protested. But yesterday was by far the largest rally I've ever been to where I saw a positive dearth of that. I know there was some flyering going on (but even that seemed remarkably topical), and I'm sure there were some agenda people around, but mostly it seemed like everybody was truly there to be seen and heard, to raise signs and voices and say that they believed gay people were just as awesome as straight people. The crowd was relatively diverse, and I witnessed none of the overt racial tension that I'd heard about at other marches. That's not to say that it didn't happen, or that something more subtle than outright racial slurs was going on, because that would probably not be true. There were also a number of things (like signs saying "Black is the New Gay" and a chant that went something like "Gay, straight, black, white, it's all the same fight") that seemed at the least overly simplistic and made me take a step back. But at least we were all there, which is a start. Maybe after this gay activists will get better at reaching out to other communities.

I don't have any pictures (hopefully I'll steal some from Anna later, but my batteries were dead), but here's some signs I saw:
Love is ABFAB
No More Mr/Mrs Nice Gay/Dyke
Keep Your Gospels Off My Gonads
Prop 8 Is As Bad As This Poster (on a kind of crappy-looking piece of posterboard taped to a stick)
8 is the Loneliest Number
Love is a Battlefield
I Can't Believe I'm Still Protesting This Crap

And everybody's favorite nonsense poster:
Watch Out! I'm Going to Gay Marry Your Mom!

There's no non-cheesy way to say this, so: I truly felt like my faith in people came away from this experience a little bit restored. When I got there and saw so many people, I will admit a tear came to my eye. That lasted until I got boxed in between some barricades and a group of tall, oblivious gay men, which I eventually escaped from when the police moved the barricades back to make room for the masses of people that just kept flowing into the plaza. Anna and Ellie showed up just after that and we found some friends of theirs and moved to a place where we could both see and hear the speakers. A number of people had flown in from California, including the cast of a pretty bad lesbian sitcom that Anna had just reviewed. One of these women told us that at several protests in LA the week before had involved impromptu marches and that it had felt amazing, and you could feel the crowd perk up. When the speeches ended soon after, there was a pause and then the organizers asked us to wait for a few minutes while they "decided where we were going to march to." (At this point, I penned some phone numbers on my hand. Ever since Tucson, where somebody I knew got arrested at every damn protest I went to and usually for no real reason, I've been somewhat paranoid about wrongful arrest. I'm aware that this partially had to do with the people I was around--hi Rachel!--but still. So phone numbers for an unplanned march seemed like a good idea.)
A few minutes later, we headed out. People were so excited, so it was a big letdown when we were herded onto the sidewalk as we poured out of the plaza. But a block or two later, we were suddenly in the street, crossing against traffic signals and waving our rainbow flags at the cars who were sitting stalled out at green lights watching us. There was some waving back, and some high-fiving, and a lot of staring in fascination, but that was okay. It felt so good to just be there, and despite the pain and anger that I'm sure many felt after the election we all just seemed happy to be together, to be shutting down traffic and laughing together and doing something we weren't supposed to. We walked down the middle of downtown streets for... a long time. At least a mile and a half, with no discernible destination. I guess that's what happens when the march isn't planned ahead of time, so it was cool, although there were an increasing number of jokes about either walking home or stopping at H&M as the march wore on. But we got to stop traffic on State Street, waving once again to the mobs of people outside of Macy's holiday windows, and we certainly impacted a lot of unwary folks' Saturday afternoon. I came away with a feeling of power and joy and energy that I haven't felt in a long time. The queers are still here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

a virtue i'm lacking

Lately, I've been having some problems with constancy. One week, I'm out every night meeting new people, cooking lots of new foods, writing every day in my blog and my journal, and the next I'm wordless and reduced to eating canned chili. Or some combination of those things. This week I'm writer's-blocked and social and I've been eating leftover french bread for breakfast because I ran out of yogurt and haven't gotten around to replenishing my stash yet. Such is life, I guess.
So I don't have much to write, basically, or at least nothing I can articulate right now. But this is my exciting news: I'm going home to Arizona next week! And I paid an excessive amount to move my return flight back so I can stay for a few more days. I'm looking forward to a week of absence from city.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

happy feet

Here's another thing I like about fall: Walking. In the summer, I ride my bike because it's faster, less sweaty, and fun. In the winter, walking is much less enjoyable because you might freeze your face or, perhaps more frequently, fall on your ass on the ice. But in the fall and spring, I'm free to walk miles and miles if I desire with little to no ill effect. And I do desire it, apparently: yesterday I walked about eight miles, and today I'm walking to boystown to see a movie. In terms of hiking this is pretty unimpressive, but in terms of city walking I feel like a badass.
One of my favorite things about having been here so long is just knowing where things are. When I moved here in 2004, it was an enormous struggle to get my life set up because I just didn't know where to go for anything, even basic essentials like towels. But now, more than four years later, I can tell you my favorite bookstores, falafel restaurants, and thrift stores, tell you the best way to get there by any form of transportation, how many miles you'll be covering, and what else is in the area. That knowledge is incredibly important to me, and a large part of the reason I know these things is because of my walking and biking. On a train, you might have a good idea of where you're going, but unless you spend some time with maps it's easy to not have a good idea of where exactly you are. But when you walk and, to a different extent, bike, you have more time to notice things like street signs and hole-in-the-wall shops and restaurants. You form whole new maps in your head, and (at least for me) it makes even familiar places look a little different when I choose to approach them in different ways.
But in truth, I just love walking. I like doing things slowly; it gives me a sense of time that is lacking in so much of life. And one of the great things about Chicago is that, even though it's a really big place, I can walk pretty much anywhere I need to go if I give myself enough time. People think I'm crazy, I think, when I tell them I walked to Roger's Park last week. And I think, seriously? It's only about two miles. Why on earth would I pay the CTA two dollars for a train ride (one that involves at least twenty minutes of walking anyway to get to and from stations, I might add) when I can have a good forty-five minutes of clean, quiet alone time, full of knowledge that I'm lucky to have the time and geographical know-how to allow me to do that? It also puts this giant place in perspective and makes it seem not so overwhelming. It makes me feel at home.

Friday, November 07, 2008

so this is the new year?

I used to say I didn't care much about gay marriage. In a purely theoretical and extremely self-serving sense, this is at least somewhat true: I don't want to get married, I don't feel particularly enamored with marriage as a concept or an ideology, and I think that gay rights groups spend a lot of time and energy and money on gay marriage that could be put towards obtaining the rights that marriage guarantees for everybody instead of just those of us who decide to get hitched. But it's obvious that, regardless of how I feel, marriage is the battleground right now, the place where we are losing badly and repeatedly. I can accept that that's the place where conservatives and liberals and straight people and queer people are all overlapping enough to make it a more or less universal issue.

I read an article today in which (after noting that Californians voted pro-chicken and anti-gay) the author says that the blame rests on the shoulders of gay activists from not reaching out enough to other communities, specifically the black communities that voted overwhelmingly against Prop. 8 in California. True? Did we gays forget to cover our asses, electorally speaking? Maybe. I have no way of knowing, really. But it still made me bristle. Obviously mutual support is incredibly important, but it makes me angry that we and countless other groups throughout history have had to fight so damn hard for basic rights, and we can still be blamed for our own failure because nobody would ever vote for gay marriage unless we reached out to them. Of course, not being able to get married and access that privilege is nothing compared to not being able to vote, to have good education or pay or housing. So what's the big deal? Why do I, along with so many others, care so damn much? Is this in any way comparable to the struggles black people and other minorities have faced in the past, present, and future?

(As a side note, is the focus of the media attention given to the black vote for Prop. 8 bothering anyone else? Okay, so the reason it's such a big fucking deal that Obama won the election is that there are long-standing and deeply-rooted inequalities that are still in place for black people in racist America. And everybody learns in, what, high school government class, that a wide range of factors such as income, education, and geographic placement influences people's votes. Can we put these two thoughts together please? I agree it's somewhat ironic that gays voted for a black man and black people voted against gay rights, but let's talk about the reasons, please.)

So, to recap: marriage is, as a right, not that super important to me on its own, or at least it wouldn't if I wasn't upset for all those who actually do yearn for a big churchy wedding and accompanying dental care. So why am I so upset about all of this? Can't I be content to bitch about Arkansas some more? But consider this quote from The Commitment by Dan Savage, a book about gay marriage that considerably clarified and informed my personal thoughts on marriage as an institution. From an article by Jonathon Rauch for the Washington Post following an amendment in Virginia that banned gay people from entering into any contract that might bestow a marriage-like privilege (this includes signing durable powers of attorney and leaving each other property in wills, among other things):

"To abridge the right of contract for same-sex partners, then, is to deny not just gay coupledom, in the law's eyes, but gay personhood. It disenfranchises gay people as individuals. It makes us nonpersons, subcitizens. By stripping us of our bonds to each other, it strips us even of ownership of ourselves."

This is not about weddings. This is not even so much about acknowledgement of relationships, or health insurance, or wills, although those things are important too. This is about personhood, and the fact that a majority of Americans are willing to deny things that are widely considered basic human rights and privileges (in America, anyway) to gay people just because of who we like to sleep with. What right does somebody I've never met in California have to determine me less human because of my sexual desires? I have never felt so low or disgusted or bitter as I do right now. Just as everything seems to be moving forward, we appear to have determined that the validity of part of the population is less important than the rights of chickens. I'm happy for those chickens, but next time let's vote for all people to have room to spread their wings, too.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

east berlin

I've been meaning to send my therapist a thank-you card.
Before I started therapy, I never heard many people discussing being in therapy. It seemed kind of secret and perhaps shameful, something people did in New York or on TV, not something people I knew took part in. This is not the case as it turns out, but it still seems like a frequently hidden act. Because of that, I tried to make sure I talked about my therapy experiences from time to time, to emphasize what I was getting from it and that I was going at all and that that was just fine. Because it is, and it was.
I think being in therapy was one of the best things that I ever decided to do, in all honesty. Obviously a lot of other things have changed for me recently as well, but I know for a fact that I am far better equipped to deal with anxiety and stress and also to recognize when I'm not dealing with those things well and to take steps to help myself. And actually, as part of the study I was taking part in Tabitha and I had to interact in front of a camera so that a doctor could study our visual cues. We did this at the very beginning and then again after my last session. When I saw my therapist a few weeks later, she told me that I had actually been deemed to no longer have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the disorder that I was originally diagnosed with. So whoo! And I know for a fact that I'm happier overall than I can remember being in a long time, and I think that's related too.
I recently got some Dar Williams cds from Anna after a few years of not really listening, and I've been greatly enjoying them. My old favorites are still on heavy rotation-- Iowa, Mortal City, etc.-- and I'm discovering new favorites as I go along. But my newest favorite is What Do You Hear In These Sounds, which is essentially an ode to therapy. Anyway, so here it is. I'm happy that she talked about it and that she could so accurately describe what I feel for me. Also, I like how her choruses always seem to employ nonesense syllables. (So much more fun to write out!) Anyway...

What Do You Hear In These Sounds
Dar Williams

I don't go to therapy to find out if I'm a freak
I go and I find the one and only answer every week
And it's just me and all the memories to follow
Down any course that fits within a fifty minute hour
And we fathom all the mysteries, explicit and inherent
When I hit a rut, she says to try the other parent
And she's so kind, I think she wants to tell me something,
But she knows that its much better if I get it for myself...

And she says
Oooooooh,aaaaaaah
What do you hear in these sounds?
And... Oooooooh,aaaaaaah
What do you hear in these sounds?????

I say I hear a doubt, with the voice of true believing
And the promises to stay, and the footsteps that are leaving
And she says "Oh", I say "What?"...she says "Exactly",
I say"What, you think I'm angry
Does that mean you think I'm angry?"
She says "Look, you come here every week
With jigsaw pieces of your past
Its all on little soundbytes and voices out of photographs
And that's all yours, that's the guide, that's the map
So tell me, where does the arrow point to?
WHO INVENTED ROSES?"

and.......Oooooooh,aaaaaaah
What do you hear in these sounds?
And...Oooooooh,aaaaaaah
What do you hear in these sounds?????

And when I talk about therapy, I know what people think
That it only makes you selfish and in love with your shrink
But Oh how I loved everybody else
When I finally got to talk so much about myself............

And I wake up and I ask myself what state I'm in
And I say well I'm lucky, cause I am like East Berlin
I had this wall and what I knew of the free world
Was that I could see their fireworks
And I could hear their radio
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing
And they'd know that I was scared
They would know that I was guessing
But the wall came down and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling
And their calling out just like me...and...

Oooooooh,aaaaaaah,
The stories that nobody hears...and...
Oooooooh,aaaaaaah, and
I collect these sounds in my ears...and
Oooooooh,aaaaaaah, that's what I hear in these sounds...and...
Oooooooh,aaaaaaah, that's what I hear in these......
that's what I hear in these SOUU OUUUN NNNDS!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

the good, the bad

So yes, I did get to vote yesterday. I got up at 5:30, headed over to my polling place, and got in line behind the elderly black woman who arrived before me. Five minutes later, I managed to convince them to look up "Brad" instead of "Brod" and I drew my hopeful little arrows.
I'm thrilled, relieved, grateful that Obama won. For real, that's by far the happiest I've ever been for an election outcome. I didn't go to Grant Park, which I feel both okay and sad about: okay because big crowds freak me out and I fear I wouldn't have been able to get the good parts from it, but sad because I missed something so historic and probably moving. And who knows, maybe if I'd been there I would have felt the joy of victory more strongly.
Because still: California, Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas. That's where I count my losses, as a queer person and as a citizen. Arizona and Florida are saddening but no huge shock, I suppose. Us queers are used to being told we are sub-par, not worthy of the status of loving caring human beings who can give each other health insurance, and as sad as that is it's not a surprise to me. But California? Marriage being repealed after being awarded. And Arkansas makes me more directly angry and sad than anything has in a while. Arkansas passed legislation that made it so unmarried couples can't adopt or raise foster children. This measure was specifically geared towards same-sex couples, but in truth it hurts not only them (and, of course, unmarried straight couples) but also children. Who could vote for something that prevents children from having homes just because they hate queers so much? It makes my heart hurt. I could never do such a thing.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

schoolboys

"The election campaign is on, the politician jumps from plane to helicopter, from helicopter to car, exerts himself, perspires, bolts his lunch on the run, shouts into microphones, makes two-hour speeches, but in the end it will depend on Bernstein or Woodward which of the fifty thousand sentences that he uttered will be released to the newspapers or quoted on the radio. That's why the politician would prefer to address the radio or TV audience directly, but this can only be accomplished through the mediation of an Oriana Fallaci (ed: an Italian journalist), who sets the media rules and asks the questions.The politician will want to exploit the moment when he is finally seen by the entire nation, and to say everything that's on his mind, but Woodward will ask him only about things that aren't on the politician's mind at all and that he has no desire to talk about. He will thus find himself in the classic situation of a schoolboy called to the blackboard and will try to use the old schoolboy trick: he will pretend to be answering the question but in reality will use material he has specially prepared at home for the broadcast. This trick may have worked on his teachers, but it does not work on Bernstein, who keeps reminding him mercilessly: "You haven't answered my question!"
Who would want to be a politician these days? Who would want to spend his whole life being tested at the blackboard?"
-Milan Kundera, Immortality

Monday, November 03, 2008

trepidation

Even though I haven't been writing about it, the election has been taking up a decent amount of space in my head recently. I've been a bit nervous about feeling confident; in 2004, there was no doubt in my mind that Bush could not possibly win again, and I was severely depressed and upset when he did. I feel similarly about McCain (and, god forbid, Sarah Palin), but instead of the confidence I felt four years ago I feel like I'm holding my breath. Waiting and hoping, because even though Obama is not my ideal candidate I think he's as close to that as anybody with a chance in hell of being elected can be right now.
I'm also nervous about the fact that there's a small chance that I might not be able to vote. I filled out a new voter registration form and mailed it off a few days before the deadline so that my new address would be noted, but I didn't get my form until last Thursday. I thought to myself, "Oh good, my voter registration card!" and didn't open it until Saturday, at which point I realized that they had gotten my name wrong. Amanda Brad, that's who they think I am. I can't seem to find any information about whether that will actually be an issue, but I have this horrible feeling that I'll show up tomorrow morning (at 6 AM, since I have to work at 10 and I'm worried about the wait) with my letter, my lease, a bill in my name for this address, and my Arizona driver's license and be denied. I know it almost certainly won't make a difference in the presidential count (the whole Obama-is-from-Chicago thing), but it would still be upsetting. This whole lead-up has made me feel like this election is actually a pretty significant thing to be witnessing, although I'm still slightly unsure if that feeling is at least partially a product of something exterior, like my age or media influence or something I am not even aware of. But still... I'm ready to vote. I feel oddly un-radical to be admitting that, but it's true. And even if the importance of this election has been somehow inflated by an outside force, I'm excited and heartened by the fact that for months I've been hearing people on the street discussing the candidates, the debates, the issues. I want, for a few minutes tomorrow, to be part of something that is important to so many people.

this is not about love, it's about virginity

Not to be repetitive (oh, but I am...), but I've been thinking more about those silly Twilight books. This isn't a post about love, though; rather, it's about conflicting reactions. I've been re-reading parts of the first book, mostly out of laziness and boredom, and it's surprising how differently I react to this second perusal. (Hint: I'm reacting negatively.) Because, despite the fact that the author seems to do a pretty good job of making her readers feel all mushy inside, there are many many reasons for me to dislike this book.
Sex and death have always been major themes in vampire literature, of course, and are a large part of why they have always been popular. (See also lesbian vampires as a popular subgenre. ) But here, they are conflated to an almost ridiculous extent and all in the context of virginity and abstinence. Bella, the female protagonist, spends much of her time and energy trying to get Edward, her vampire sweetheart, to either have sex with her or turn her into a vampire, and it's frequently a fine line. (A kiss on the neck has completely different context when the kisser is a vampire, which creates a nice frisson that's pretty damn explicit for what I think of as a book for adolescents.) He refuses to have sex with her on the grounds that he might accidentally crush her skull in the heat of the moment, and as the books wear on it comes out that he's also trying to protect her "virtue." (Dear god.) In fact (slight spoiler), by the end of the third book they strike a deal wherein he will have sex with her before she's a vampire only if she marries him. Vampire wedding porn! I've been told that Stephanie Meyer, the author, is Mormon, which makes sense in the context of all of this regardless of how I feel about it. But still, wow. What shameless agenda promotion!
There are a lot of other things I could talk about, some good and some bad. The gender descriptors for Edward are fascinatingly female much of the time, for instance. But then again, Bella is the embodiment of adolescent girl self-loathing, which is rarely addressed in any real way but which should irritate the shit out of any alert reader and also makes me terribly sad. Most of her inner dialogue consists of her putting herself down, which is an excellent lesson for young girls, no? I imagine that the supposed redeeming factor for having such a terribly insecure protagonist might be along the lines of "but it's all in her head! And anyway, Edward loves her anyway." Ugh.
So here's my quandary: at least the first time through, I enjoyed this book for it's mushiness. Can I still enjoy it even if it promotes values that I find, at the very least, distasteful? This is a smaller version of a larger problem I have reconciling my desire to be critical and aware of the import of media and also a desire to sometimes leave that critique behind and just enjoy a stupid romance novel. It comes up with things like Juno, which I will admit that I enjoyed watching even though it blatantly promoted things I don't believe in a very one-sided way. Is it possible to be critical but still be a consumer of crap like this? Or am I just not being critical enough?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Miss Wasilla 1984

Sort of an amalgamation of prom queen and potential vp as pageant winner. I even have a flute! It was a good night.





Friday, October 31, 2008

boo (hoo)

Even though Halloween is a holiday that I generally and conceptually appreciate, I don't have a particularly good history of Chicago Halloweens. Memorable highlights have included getting chastised (at length) by a surprisingly angry drag king about my lack of costume, multiple multiple multiple Civic concerts (that's not bad actually; it's usually one of my favorite concerts, but it is time-consuming), and a breakup. It hasn't all been bad, but there hasn't really been anything really awesome, at least on the day of. Also, I've never dressed up beyond the bare minimum required for the previously mentioned concerts, mostly through laziness/lack of preparation.
But this year, I'm ready with a costume and at least one party to go to tonight, and I'm actually pretty excited. I like my costume (especially the fact that the most expensive part of it was some baby's breath from Jewel), I'm seeing people I enjoy being around, and there should be plenty of good photo opportunities. So here's hoping for a redemptive Halloween.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

ms. thesaurus

My parents sent me a box of Halloween candy, which I finally managed to pick up from the post office today. Unfortunately, many of the peanut butter-filled eyeballs had melted or been otherwise harmed during transit, so it's kind of a gooey package. But still, they sent me pop rocks! and pixie stix :)
But now on to what I really meant to talk about: big words. Apparently I use them a lot. At the end of a rather boring day at the flower shop, my somewhat overworked co-worker briefly lost control of her mocking impulse and made fun of me for using unnecessarily big words, and specifically the word "disconcerted."
Although it is admittedly a little shocking to be mocked to my face ("My name is Ammie! I use "disconcerted" aaaaaall the time!" is more or less what I remember), mostly I'm just kind of... See, disconcerted would work perfectly there, right? But really, now I just wonder if this really is something that many people think about me, and how I feel about that. I don't really see the point of not using big words, but now I can't decide what constitutes "big" and what is merely "larger-than-small." Or, if you prefer, "excessive" as opposed to merely "sizable." Or something.
It reminds me of a story my dad likes to tell about me: When I was a kid, maybe in third grade, I told my parents that I had to try not to use big words so that the other kids could understand me and I would be able to make friends more easily. Is a large vocabulary really that off-putting? Does it form more communication barriers, at least sometimes, than it expands? I'm not planning on dumbing myself down this time, but perhaps I'll be a little more wary of "disconcerted" and keep my ears open.

Monday, October 27, 2008

shiny

I think I got more than six hours of sleep last night, although in order to pass that mark I'm pretty sure I have to include the nap I couldn't resist taking before actually going to bed a few hours later. Note to self: an hour-and-a-half nap at night will lead to me not falling asleep until after 2 AM, no matter how tired I was to begin with. But regardless of how the hours broke down, I feel much better today. Yesterday I was actually slightly nauseous at work from lack of sleep, and today I feel pretty bright and shiny, albeit unwashed and lazy.
And that's all! Being incredibly tired doesn't lead to good stories or the sort of thought required to talk about books or movies or even food. Too bad.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

adult sex ed

It really does seem like my gender studies (self) education is going mostly towards correcting misconceptions of straight guys in bars lately. There was the porn discussion two weeks ago, and last night the topic was first sex toys (how many women own them? really?!?!) (actually I have no idea, but most people I know anyway) and then whether or not women are really more difficult to bring to orgasm than men (sigh). Is it because I'm totally willing to talk about these kinds of things? Are other people not? Is it because I'm queer? Is it because I'm getting hit on? (My friend Matt claims that if he were single and initiated a conversation about sex, it would definitely be him making some sort of move, which I guess makes sense. And boys do seem to have a thing for me lately.) Some of the above? None? I don't know. It's fun, but getting a little predictable.
In other news, I found a twenty on the floor of my store yesterday and a new bookshelf (much needed!) on the way home from work. It was a good night.