Conversations With Various of My Body Parts

Scene: midnight, my bed.

Me: Cut it out

Brain: What do you mean cut it out I don’t know what you’re even saying to me right now

Me: I said cut it out. I want to go to sleep and you keep talking

Brain: Okay okay okay. That’s chill. I respect that you have things to do tomorrow. I’ll shut up so you can get some sleep. You and me, we’re good

Me: . . . *gets drowsy*. . .

Brain: *whispers* remember that one stupid thing you said ten years ago?… yoooou suuuuck….

 

 

Scene: 10:00 pm, my office

Me: Imma look at those pictures now

Heart: Why do you do this to me?

Me: But Imma look at those pictures of my kids when they were babies

Heart: You know how I get

Me: Yeah, but Imma look

Heart: *breaks*

Me: Oh, shit, you were right

Heart: *with dying breath* youuuuuu sssssuck

 

 

Scene: 10:00 a.m., running track

Me: Okay, Imma run

Knees: *squeaking* You’re gonna what?

Me: Imma run

Knees: AYFKM?

Me: Imma run real slow

Right knee: Shouldn’t you lose a little weight first?

Me: shut up

Left knee: remember what happened last time? Do the words plantar fasciitis mean NOTHING to you?

Right knee: *calls down to foot* dude, she’s doing it again

Foot: dammit

Brain: note to self–buy ibuprofen. In bulk

All together: yoooouuu sssssuck

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The Thymes They Are A-Changing: A Few Thoughts on Recipes

A few months ago, I had a Girls’ Night Out with my friends. Digression: for us, “Girls’ Night Out” means three things: wine, food, and pants with elastic waistbands. While not actually going out.

In other words, it’s pretty much this:
eating

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On this particular night, we went to my friend Inga’s house and she made dinner, a delicious peanut squash soup. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. This soup was everything: a little sweet, a little spicy, just the right consistency to be a comfort food. I asked if I could have the recipe, and Inga said, “Oh, it’s easy to find. Just Google peanut squash soup and it’s the first recipe that pops up.”

(Note: I did, and it was, and here’s the result. TRY IT. You won’t be disappointed.)

I remembered this exchange a few days ago because I was thinking about the ways recipes have adapted and changed over time. I sometimes write posts for the historical blog The Recipes Project, and even a brief perusal of that site shows that old recipes are both surprisingly familiar (quantities, instructions) and shockingly different (recipes for pimple creams and breast cancer cures can be found near recipes for preserving quinces).

That exchange at Inga’s house highlighted that as much as recipes have changed over time, it’s possible that–with the ease of finding things on the internet–the recipe genre may be having its most radical transformation yet.

Not so long ago, if somebody asked you for a recipe, it could feel like an imposition. You’d have  to get an index card and painstakingly handwrite the recipe, making sure it fit on the card, that the measurements were correct (I’ll never forget the time I wrote down 2 TBSP of cayenne instead of 2 tsp), that you hadn’t forgotten any steps.

In short, it was kind of a pain in the ass. But the labor involved meant the recipe itself was a thoughtful and time-consuming gift.

With that gift came individuality. In early modern recipes, that took the form of instructions like “take the amount of rosemary that would fit on a two-pence piece.” And everyone’s heard stories of trying to recreate Aunt So-and-So’s pie or chicken or tamales but never quite getting it right because her ingredients involved “smidges” and “dollops” and “handfuls.”

(My own favorite quirky recipe is from my Grandma Sherman, whose fudge recipe calls for “5 cents worth of Woolworth chocolate.”)

Now, not only can we Google a recipe, we can sort by ingredients, cost, user rating, regional origin…the list goes on. Then, when you locate just the right recipe, you can pin it to your Pinterest board and download it to your phone, which has an app to find a coupon for the ingredients you need. And the quirkiness of those recipes have gone the way of the “update” button on the blog.

Perhaps because it has become so easy to find what you want with so little effort, online recipes themselves have become more personalized and narrative-driven. Some blogs are as much about the voice of the writer as they are about the quality of the recipes. This recipe for “Drunken Chicken Marsala,” for example, reads as though it wasn’t just the chicken that got a little tipsy. And this recipe for masala sauce: can we agree that calling a masala sauce “life-changing” is a wee bit hyperbolic?

Anyway, I’m not trying to be overly nostalgic and romanticize the past. I love the ease of internet browsing as much as the next person. But I do sometimes miss the old recipe box: the serendipity of finding some funny old recipe, that softness at the very edge of the cards that comes from years of thumbing, the memories that come rushing back with the sight of a beloved relative’s handwriting.

So, like the rest of you all, I’ll keep toggling back and forth between the new and the old, Google and the cookbook, the search function and the weathered old index card. And as I say a prayer of thanks to the patron saint of the internet (who IS that by the way?) for making it easy to find instructions for pie crust, I’ll also keep my flour-dusted recipe box near at hand.

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Why Do Libraries Bring Out The Best in Us?

A young JCLI volunteer (my daughter!) protesting the library's closure.

A young JCLI volunteer (my daughter!) protesting the library’s closure.

I don’t want to bore you with the story of my local library—I’ve told it a gajillion times. If you haven’t read it, you can do so here or here (I’m quite proud of this library, as you can tell!).

But I will tell you that even after the roller coaster ride of emotions I’ve been on with that crazy, beautiful library, nothing prepared me for the despair I’d feel when, on the morning of February 23, 2016, the Cave Junction branch of the library was vandalized.

It was a slap in the face.

After everything we’d gone through—the work and worry, the tears and triumphs—to have the library torn apart as though it meant nothing? To have the very door of the library—which had become a symbol for our movement, for our single-minded insistence on reopening—smashed into tiny shards of glass?

It was a punch in the gut.

But then something amazing happened.

Word got out about what had happened and we were inundated with offers of help. Our community rallied around us. A local diner, The Powederhorn Cafe, held a “Pi Day” fundraiser (with pie and coffee and proceeds going to the library). Oregon Public Broadcasting covered the story and addressed the lack of law enforcement that might mean nobody would have to answer for the crime. People and businesses donated money for a reward to find the perpetrators. Superhero librarians in other parts of the state offered help and held fundraisers. And good-hearted people from around the country donated money and, more importantly, sent their kind words and support.

The library was insured, of course, but on our shoestring budget, even a $5,000 deductible is a big chunk of change. With all of the support and donations, our library met that goal and topped it, raising over $11,000.

I felt like the Grinch, but in a good way. My heart grew by three sizes that week.

And I began wondering: what is it about libraries that brings out the best in us?

I think the very idea of a library assumes that people are basically honest. If a person borrows a book (or magazine, or CD, or DVD), they will bring it back for somebody else to use. Sure, some people will bring back materials late (lord knows I’m one of the worst offenders here—I could probably fund a full day of operation on my overdue fines alone). They may even abuse the system by stealing books (but those people are few and far between). But at its very core, the library assumes a social contract, an ethos of paying it forward.

Libraries exist because we want to share the hard work of the mind, the growth and expansion that comes from deep thought and wide experience. We want to hand over new discoveries that can be enhanced by diverse perspectives, and we want to hand down knowledge to the next generation so that we and they can benefit. Together.

These words feel small and paltry when compared to the potential of the library. This short movie based on the wonderful book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, on the other hand, says far more eloquently what I wish to say…and it says it with no words at all.

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Yours, Mine, or Ours? The Centuries-Old Debate over Public Lands

I grew up in Humboldt County, California. It’s known for a lot of things, but mostly for marijuana, great coffee, and gorgeous landscapes like this:

Humboldtrockefellerforest

Rockefeller Forest, Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly, Humboldt County is also known for sometimes violent battles that pit economic development and conservation against each other. So I grew up thinking of forests, oceans, and lakes as contested spaces, places of both sublime beauty and imminent threat.

I now live in Oregon, one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse states in the US.

 

By Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory. (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/photos/62736.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory. (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/photos/62736.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

oregon coast

The Oregon coastline looking south from Ecola State Park, with Haystack Rock in the distance by Cacophony (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Oregon_welcome_sign

Oregon welcome sign at Hells Canyon by Staplegunther at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Given that I spent my youth learning that open land meant open conflict, I’ve been increasingly nervous about local land-use skirmishes. For example, last summer, a dispute over a mining claim at the Sugar Pine Mine, just a half an hour from my home, almost spiraled out of control as a call went out to militia and “patriot” groups to take up arms against the Bureau of Land Management.

The whole thing fizzled, but I was still on tenterhooks.

Then a bunch of gun-toting, skewed-Constitution wielding, cowboy-wannabe militants took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Schools closed. Offices closed. Residents were intimidated. Federal employees were harrassed and had personal information like social-security numbers and credit-card numbers stolen–in some cases they even had to relocate. As these stories emerged, I realized how close my own community had come to living out that nightmare.

So I was already thinking about these issues when I read this article in The Guardian about urban public and private spaces in London and elsewhere, and about this protest to end the privatization of public spaces.

The two situations are entirely different for a number of reasons, of course, not least of which is that England has a long and embattled history over enclosure, the closing off of common lands and restriction of their use to one or more landowners. In early modern England, enclosure was used to create deer parks and to convert arable land to the more-profitable pasture for sheep and cattle. Eventually, conflict over  enclosure led to violent riots.*

While anti-enclosure acts were passed in 1489 and 1516, the practice continued and the situation grew worse as England’s population increased. Those who farmed grew increasingly resentful of those who tended herds and flocks. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, enclosure riots pitted tenants against gentry. In part galvanized by debates over enclosure, a new political movement emerged that espoused ideals of liberty and commonality: the Levellers (named after those who tore down, or “leveled,” hedges during enclosure riots).

Admittedly, I haven’t done much research on the Levellers, but graduate school friends had, and I was used to thinking of them as (problematic) foot soldiers in the long march towards equality and democracy (yes, I know that’s a progressivist view of history, but there it is). In other words, I was taught that I should admire the Levellers for their egalitarianism and proto-democratic ideals.

With the comparison of any two historical events one is tempted to draw parallels, and a cringe-y part of me wondered if the Bundy militia members who took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge had ideological roots in the radical movements of 17th-century England (especially since the Bundy militia declared that the only legitimate basis of American civil rights was the Magna Carta, a claim the Levellers also made). I wondered: with their claims of taking land back “for the people,” were the Bundy militia the philosophical descendents of the Levellers?

There are similarities: both the riots over early modern enclosure and the armed takeover of the wildlife refuge were violent. Both had their roots in questions of power and authority over land. Both situations were influenced by changing population patterns and socio-economic realities.

But there is one critical difference: the land the Bundy militia attempted to take over is ALREADY public land, owned by the American people. It has been enclosed, in a sense, but access and usage are managed in such a way to balance agriculture, conservation, and recreation.

In fact, while they purported to be returning the land “to the people,” the only concrete idea the Bundy militia espoused was one they recycled from the standoff at Bundy ranch in Nevada: allowing ranchers free access to the refuge (and, indeed, to all federal lands in the West). In essence, they wanted to re-privatize the land, to close it off to all but grazing. In that sense, they are more related to the landowners of early modern England, those who would take the lands out of public usage.

After a long and tense standoff with the FBI, the Bundy militia have now been cleared out of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. One of their members is dead, many others under arrest. They destroyed habitat, desecrated Native artifacts, and dug latrines near sacred ground. They left behind trash, firearms and explosives, and even human feces. And chaos. They left behind them utter chaos.

No, the Bundy militia weren’t part of some egalitarian effort to free the land for the people. They were selfish, deluded egomaniacs intent on misreading the Constitution for their own personal gain.

 

Notes:

*more info about later conflicts surrounding enclosure can be found here: The Enclosure Movement in England and Wales, R. Oliver

**These complex and heated debates over who owns the land—the federal government or the state—that have impacted me and my community in very immediate ways. The federal government ended payments meant to reimburse timber-dependent counties for loss of revenue, and now—because the voters in my county tend to be very anti-tax and voted down a library district—my local library closed for 18 months and is now only open thanks to donors and grantors. And public safety in our community is practically nil–if you live outside of the county seat, you have a handful of law enforcement officers available to return your call, and then only between the hours of 9:00 to 5:00 Monday-Friday. Our public safety system is like a car spinning wildly out of control…and about to go off a cliff in July when federal payments end.

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Five Expert Tips For Sucking At Writing

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NUMBER ONE.

Write in a café.

There’ll usually be someone saying something incredibly weird and/or offensive. Once you tune in, you won’t be able to concentrate anymore, but you’ll be cool with it because it’s all fodder for the novel.

So far, I’ve overheard the following conversations:

  •  A man, staring soulfully into the eyes of his companion, telling her she has a “luminous energy.” That his one regret is that he hasn’t spent enough time with her. That he wants to kiss her, then and there. That his wife probably wouldn’t approve.
  • A man discussing the remodel of his home, bemoaning the cruel fact that “toilets these days just aren’t constructed for the modern American asshole.” I’m preeeeettty certain he meant it in an anatomical rather than metaphorical sense, as he went into great detail (I will spare you).
  • A blind date during which the first question was “What kind of rifle do you own?” followed by discussion of the vast medical conspiracy behind flu shots and the following conversation:
    Him: What’s your last name?
    Her: Turner.
    Him: Are you related to Ted Turner?
    Her: …..?

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NUMBER TWO.

Read widely and well.

This will make you a better writer. It will also make you a better procrastinator.

You will endlessly compare yourself to another writer who is not you and whom you will never be. Ignore that the writer cannot be you and you cannot be that writer because that would defy all known laws of the universe and everything would implode. Wish you were Geraldine Brooks anyway, universe implosion be damned.

Bonus: If you read a wide variety of authors, you’ll return to your writing sounding like one of those old See ‘n Say toys that comes back with a different voice each time you pull the string. Paragraph 1, you’ll sound like Donna Tartt. Paragraph 2, Donald Trump.

Showing three fingers isolated on white

NUMBER THREE.

Go to conferences.

You will get to spend a lot of money and sometimes it will be worth it but sometimes it will just be a chance to go out of town and drink a lot of coffee and wine instead of staying home and drinking a lot of coffee and wine.

On the plus side, the other conference attendees are likely to be cool and interesting. They’ll also appreciate the bookish-seeming shoes you’ve been dying to wear (like, I don’t know, maybe these which I bought for my birthday and that I love so much I want to marry them):

shoes

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NUMBER FOUR.

Do your research.

Before you’ve finished your first draft, go to QueryTracker. Research all of the agents who represent your work. Fall in love with one or two of them—I mean, just know in your heart of hearts that she/he is THE ONLY AGENT who could possibly really understand you and your work. Imagine the laughter and hijinks as you get together for drinks in New York to discuss the details of your publishing contract. Get so excited that you finish your half-assed manuscript and don’t really bother with editing or beta readers (because you’re certain that the #MSWL Your Dream Agent (YDA) tweeted out last week was just like what you’d written and A SIGN FROM THE UNIVERSE). When YDA rejects your query/manuscript (or worse, never gets back to you), assume that it’s not because you jumped the gun and sent out your work before it was ready but because you are the worst writer who’s ever dared put pen to paper (or, I don’t know, finger to keyboard?). Your ideas suck. Your words suck. You suck.

(The above has definitely not happened to me. More than once. Or twice.)

number-5-hand-finger

NUMBER FIVE.

Keep being a horrible writer.

Because writers are doing what they’ve felt called to do. Because there’s something about writing that taps into a soul-deep core of human need for stories, for connection and meaning. Because when we don’t write the world seems a little flatter, a little grayer, a little less shimmery.

Write on, friends.

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We’re A Nation Of Cowards

Update: Early this morning, in a gay nightclub in Orlando called Pulse, a shooter (I won’t say his name) killed 50 people and wounded 53. The shooter’s father said the shooter became enraged when he saw two men kissing on the street.

This is the worst mass shooting (in terms of numbers of dead) in US history. The shooter used an AR-15, a type of assault rifle also used in Newtown and Aurora. We do not know how to keep this type of weapon out of the wrong hands, however, as Congress has rejected an amendment that would have repealed a ban on conducting research into the causes of the gun violence epidemic.

We need to act. We need to hold our elected officials accountable. We need policy, not just prayers.

Here is a link from the Huffington Post on contacting your representatives: “An Easy Guide to Contacting Your Elected Representative About Gun Control.”

***

Original Post:

About two weeks ago, my husband and I were casually chatting with our daughter. Out of the blue, she said, “Mom, you know how sometimes I hug you for an extra-long time in the morning and kind of seem like I don’t want to go to school? That’s because I’m wondering if today’s the day there will be a shooter in my classroom.”

She told me she and her best friend even have a bucket list, just in case they get shot at school.

She’s 12.

About a week later, on Friday, October 1, 2015, a gunman killed nine people and wounded nine others at Umpqua Community College, about 70 miles from where we live.

On Monday, a bomb and shooting threat was received at Rogue Community College, in our town. The campus was shut down and schools in our county were either locked-in or had extra police officers.

Last night, a note containing unspecified threats was found at Southern Oregon University, about 40 miles from us, prompting officials to close the campus.

I just don’t know what to say. Over the last few days, in person and on Facebook, I’ve had conversations with those who (like me) favor gun control and with those who don’t.

Those who would like to see more regulations are frustrated. We keep having the same conversations: why not? Why not put commonsense gun laws in place?

Those who oppose gun regulations are also frustrated. Our conversations go something like this:

I say there are too many guns. They parrot Wayne LaPierre of the NRA and say the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. (Ignoring that the police can’t possibly tell the difference between the two when entering an active shooter situation.)

I say we need better gun laws. They say that won’t work because criminals don’t obey laws. (Ignoring the obvious slippery slope—if the lawless won’t obey laws, why do we have laws about theft, or murder, or drunk driving?)

They say we don’t need gun control, we need mental health. I nod and say, sure, let’s have better mental health.

I say over 90% of Americans agree we need better background checks for gun purchases. They say that it’s a slippery slope to abolishing the second amendment.

The same conversation. Each time.

And now I feel like a massive raw nerve, shaking with anger and confusion and fear.

I want to kick and scream and yell into the universe, “WHY? WHY NOT AT LEAST START SOMEWHERE?”

Why can’t we start having better background checks? Start improving mental health access? Embrace logic and reason and empathy when we’re discussing guns and gun control? At least start and see if it works. See if we end up with fewer dead kids.

The sad, disillusioned core of me knows the answer. We can’t do these things because of the NRA.

The NRA has carefully crafted an environment of paranoia that makes people think  having armed teachers in the classroom is a viable solution to gun deaths.

The NRA has purchased enough elected representatives that Congress recently extended a ban on research to even find out what forms of gun control work best.

The NRA has created a dystopian society in which it can produce a cartoon for kids, warning them to stay away from all of the guns lying around. You know, because it’s the grown-ups’ constitutional right to leave guns lying around.

And gun manufacturers just keep churning out more guns, more profits, more death.

I want to yell and scream and shout and holler, but I’m scared nobody will listen. Because I’m just a mom. Everybody expects parents to get all hysterical about their babies being in danger. It’s not like I’m a politician or a lobbyist or somebody important.

To be honest, writing this scares me. I’m afraid of voicing my opinions. I’m afraid of the scorn and ridicule of even my own friends and family, those people I love but disagree with.

But we’re a nation of cowards. America has been afraid of the NRA and gun manufacturers for too long. We need to demand accountability from our politicians. We need common-sense gun control, and we need research and respectful debate about how to balance constitutional rights with the rights of our children to grow and thrive in safety.

What kind of world do we live in that we can even think about debating whether a teacher should have a gun in the classroom? In which Congress would actually BAN research on reducing gun deaths? In which 5-year-olds regularly have “dangerous intruder” drills? This is complete fucking insanity.

I just don’t know what to do or say to my kids. We’ve left them such a mess.

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Trolling Librarians Are The Best Librarians

Hacking’s a terrible thing. Terrible.

Except when it isn’t. Like when this guy pretended to be a Target sales rep and trolled people opposed to Target’s new gender-neutral toy marketing policy.

Or like when the American Library Association got its Facebook account hacked a few hours ago and librarians got all funny and beautifully weird and trolled the hackers, like in the screen shots I captured below.

Did I mention I freaking love librarian humor? These people are the salt of the earth.

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Librarians are very discreet:

ALA3

Did you know your library records are always kept private?:

ALA5

Librarians can guide you to examples of words like “misogyny” (ya know, if you’re a visual learner):

ALA7

No, but really, some good advice from Stephen and Steve here:

ALA6

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