I Made These For You

At theawkwardyeti.com there are some pretty cute comics illuminating how the body works. As you read this I am at home recovering from gall bladder removal surgery, which was performed on Thursday. The husband took today off too, as I’m supposed to have a responsible adult watch me for 24 hours after the procedure. I got home okay yesterday, and today I’m just taking it as easy as I can.

gall-bladder
Credit: theawkwardyeti.com

I wont have much to do over the weekend other than read, sleep, play video games, and watch tv/movies, so I’m hoping to have some reviews up and ready for you next week. But if I don’t, you’ll have them as soon as I can write them.

Have a good weekend! Thanks for being here!

Kill the Farm Boy

Kill the Farm Boy

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #1)

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #2)

When I began reading this new release that I grabbed on a whim at the library, it was a really fun start. A nobody that cleans up dung on his family’s farm is chosen by an ugly, drunk pixie to be a Chosen One and he sets off with the goat that the same pixie gave the gift of speech to in order to exact revenge on the lord that killed his brother. There is an aspiring dark lord and even a large woman in a chain mail bikini – and it was when I reached this point that I remembered I had seen this before.

In the spring of this year (2018) I attempted to read the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, but put it down after the second book. I love the silliness, but in books like these it tends to get stuck on level 10 and never deviate, creating a situation where you get bored even though the setup is silly and bucking the tradition. There’s no give and take or normal versus silly – you just go from zero to sixty silliness per hour, the authors don’t let up on the gas, and it’s tiresome.

Sorry for the short review, but I didn’t read very much of the book and so I don’t want to mess with your opinion too much. If you like the Discworld books you will LOVE this novel. It’s just not for me. It’s too much and trying too hard all at once and my brain shuts down. But you might like it, so give it a try.

Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr

Ka Dar Oakley

On my way home from my ultrasound last week I stopped at the library to check on a book that hadn’t been checked back in properly and decided to also browse the shelves. I grabbed two or three books and one of them was KA: Dar Oakley and the Ruin of Ymr off the New Releases shelf. I’m a sucker for crows and also for good cover art so I took it even though I had never read anything by this author before. I figured it was worth a try.

The gist is that the main character, a crow without a name, comes to make a connection with a tribe of people that lives near his family’s nesting location. He learns the language of the people and he teaches the one girl the language of Ka and they come to be friends. Something happens to her and he travels to what we are led to believe is the land of the dead to bring her back to be the new leader of her tribe.

This book was interesting at first because it was dark and so different from anything I had ever read. It’s presented like a Plato’s Cave awakening – we slowly see the crow becoming less of a crow and more of a human. It’s a really cool concept.

The problem was that it was SOOOOOOOOOOO boring. I managed to get to about 25% through (page 100 or so, it’s 441 pages long) and I gave myself permission to stop. The reason it was boring is that the storyline is so slow. Four whole pages are given over to describing his mother and father building a nest and how a rival crow tries to fuck his mom but his dad manages to chase him off and then he watches his dad fuck his mom multiple times to make sure the brood is his and…well…I just wasn’t seeing any payoff anytime soon. So back to the library it went.

Now usually I would cushion the blow of an unfinished review with a statement about how it just wasn’t for me but you might like it because it seems really popular, but I haven’t heard of this book before now, nor the author (who is also from Maine originally), and I feel comfortable letting you know that you can probably safely avoid it. Skip it. Do it for me and do it for yourself.

 

Family, Remastered

A little over a year ago I wrote a post detailing my separation from my parents. TL;DR: After the loss of a job, the aftermath of a hurricane, and all the financial woes that would come from both I was making a lot of our debt payments late. I have a private student loan cosigned for by my mom from my undergrad years, and so instead of receiving calls asking us how we were or if we needed help or caring things like that, I received texts demanding that I pay the bill because (a) she wasn’t going to help me with it and (b) it was affecting her credit. I told her that if the only role she could find to play in this scenario was bill collector then she needed to either help us, or stop calling & texting and leave us alone. Then I blocked their numbers.

When I tell you this was one of the best decisions I ever made, I mean it. For so many years I held tightly to the idea that family is family and you stick to blood no matter what because they are family, but last year I finally snapped in a good way. NO ONE, not your parents or your siblings or your cousins or the guy that lives down the street that you barely know has any right to treat you badly or disrespectfully. Your family is made up of people who care about you, who support you, and who make sure that you are okay, and you do the same for them in return.

I don’t have a lot of family, but the ones I have I would be there for without question. Some I have never met in real life, but we support each other virtually, something I couldn’t have done earlier in my life. My family is scattered all around the United States and as far as England and Germany. I have people I know I can talk to, I have people I know will help me, I have people that I can depend on. I hope they all know that they can expect the same from me in return.

So as we head into the holiday season where familial bullshit tends to smell a little more pungent and baggage tends to get a bit heavier and memories come out of the dark to stab us in the back, remember what family is really supposed to mean. Reach out to those that mean the most to you and take heart in the fact that it is 2018 and we are in the middle of a great re-imagining, insisting that societal norms are redefined to be more accepting of a greater diversity of peoples, and that includes the definition of family. If you have the safety and space to make your own, get that freedom and happiness wherever you can.

It is the age of deciding, as Dumbledore said, between doing what is right and what is easy. Just remember doing what is right is rarely easy, even if you are simply doing what is right for yourself. It gets better. Be brave.

Stay angry.

Damn Fine Story

Damn Fine Story

On Writing by Stephen King

Story Genius by Lisa Cron

I’m a music educator turned math educator who almost became an accountant. I’m 35 years old but I feel 85 if you factor in how done I am with everything. I start over more than I continue and I can’t seem to find a place where I am happy.

But last November I started thinking about what makes me happy, and I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo 2017. I discovered I had a story that could be a series that could be something I actually would enjoy making out of my brain hole. I have read so many books that I figured I could put some of what I’ve read to use in framing my own story.

Problem is that it’s intimidating out here for a bitch without an MFA. I have writing skills that have seen me through a bachelors, masters, and two years of a doctorate, but the Master of Fine Arts is not part of my experience. So dipping my toe into the same Twitter as Stephen King and Chuck Wendig sometimes creates a situation when I feel like a 100% imposter. These people are in the game, they define the game, and I’m just armchair quarterbacking the game.

That’s not stopping me though. I’m writing a goddamn book. And the longer I dabble in writer Twitter, the more I see that people of all shapes, sizes, and professions are writing books. There’s self-publishing and traditional publishing and small press publishing and everything in between – there’s something that’s right for everyone.

Still, I’m starting at ground level, so I can’t necessarily think about the publication step of things, I have to take things one step at a time. And the first step is to finish this damn first draft. Part of this is understanding the kind of book I’m writing and keeping to as many of the norms as I can muster. Reading craft books about outlining and structure and building character arcs will help me with that, especially in the editing and revising stages. I’m a good learner. So I’m always open to learning structure and procedure and I love reading so I’m just going to absorb everything.

Yet, with all the professional and procedural advice I’ve received and read, I still need to hear that any Joe Schmo with a story and a dream can write a book. This explains why I responded so well to On Writing, and just recently to Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story.

There’s writing advice sure, but the bulk of these books exists to give you a picture of normal people telling stories that other people might like. These books exist to give permission to writers to be writers if they want to be. I don’t mean that we have to approach these authors to receive permission, it’s that reading these books will make your imposter syndrome disappear. They will make you feel as though you can join the club of writers. You may wear the jacket, sit in that area of the plane, be seated in the nice part of the steak restaurant.

Chuck’s writing is quirky, brash, and will keep you on your toes. You will immediately love him like a fun uncle (funcle?) who teaches you to swear. He’s engaging and makes you want to join in and immediately start writing something! Anything! This is cool, I can do this!

This craft book is inspirational, down to earth, and reminds us all that storytelling is as old as the human race. It’s programmed into our DNA, we are programmed for story. So why not try to tell one yourself? You might be surprised what comes out. If you’re currently writing a book or considering writing one, you should make Wendig’s “how to” one of the first books you buy. Go get you some.

Sticks and Stones

Just a quick update. Last Thursday I left work early with severe upper abdominal pain and after some bloodwork and an ultrasound my doctor informed me that I have Gallstones! OUCH! It seems to be a genetic thing since my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather both had theirs out (that I know of, there could be more but who thinks to ask?) so I spoke to a surgeon on Wednesday who scheduled me for the procedure to remove the gall bladder next Thursday.

I’m not usually nervous about the doctor’s office, but general anesthesia freaks me out. I’ve also never had surgery other than to have my wisdom teeth out and even earlier when I was in Kindergarten I had to have my tongue cut. But that’s it. So I know this is a fairly regular procedure but it’s natural to be a little nervous anytime you get something like this done.

What I found odd was what the nurse gave me after getting me settled in the room. She handed me a sheet of paper that had “Weight Loss Track” checked off and a short description of “hey fatty, you’ve got a high BMI so please visit (and I’m not kidding you here) nutrition.gov” and told me that she was required to give me that based on my BMI. Never mind that I eat well-balanced meals that are low-sugar and low-fat and since having the gall bladder attack I have lost 6 pounds  because I’m eating even less than usual out of fear of pain. She didn’t ask me to see my myfitnesspal records or how often I exercised. My BMI was too high, so I got the paper slip asking me to eat better.

Okay bitch. Never mind that I had to get through two other doctors to get to this surgical consult. This had nothing to do with my weight, it was to decide on how to deal with my gall bladder. If I want to talk to anyone about my weight, I’ll talk to my primary care physician. Recognize that I’m nervous and maybe lay off on the fat person bullshit. Because by the way, for me, this is genetic.

There have been so many articles and studies done in the past two years that focus in on the mistreatment of fat people by doctors and medical facilities. While being overweight can put you at higher risk of some health concerns, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be the only thing doctors look at when treating an individual. And, more specifically, maybe fat people who truly need some adjustments to their lifestyle for actual health reasons need more indepth care and solutions than a post it note ripped off a pad that says “check out this cool nutrition website, bro.”

So anyway I’m still fat plus I’m getting my gall bladder out next week. I’ll be out of commission for Friday through Sunday so I’ll have plenty of time to read and write and I can’t wait. Stay strong out there, angels. Stay angry.

In Winter’s Kitchen

In Winter's Kitchen

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. It’s like listening to podcasts or audiobooks, reading nonfiction puts me to sleep. I blame all the articles and books I had to read in my masters and doctoral programs. Nonfiction is like I’m making myself take a class in something that I also have to teach myself and sometimes I’m tempted to highlight what I’m reading but I CAN’T IT’S A LIBRARY BOOK AMANDA GET IT TOGETHER.

If I’m being honest with you I bought this book thinking it was fiction. I am a sucker for a book with food at the center. One of my favorite books from the first year of this blog was Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. He blurbed In Winter’s Kitchen, so I didn’t ask questions, I just bought it. Let me be very clear that I have no regrets.

Beth Dooley begins her local food/memoir tome by describing the first Thanksgiving that she hosted for her family away from their traditional New Jersey home. She attempts to make the meal only from the ingredients that she obtains from either the local farmer’s market or local farmers and makes a total mess of things. The bird is too small and dried out, the potatoes aren’t quite right for the sweet potato dish, and she uses this intial food illiteracy to launch into a series of chapters that focus on individual parts of the meal: potatoes, wild rice, turkeys, apples. Each chapter introduces us to a food source and shows us the reality of being a local or organic farmer in that industry.

You’ll make cheese by hand, harvest wild rice with beaters, and slaughter turkeys in a schoolyard. I was shocked at how many different kinds of apples there are as well as how many there used to be, and it being one of my favorite fruits meant that I wanted to immediately fly to Minnesota and demand 5 kinds I’ve never had before. I was most surprised by the corn chapter. Even though I knew how plants are pollinated and grown, I hadn’t had the time to consider how a GMO field’s pollen would be blown far enough to infect and alter the organic crops grown by locals, which means they would no longer be able to label their produce organic through no fault of their own.

As I moved through this book I felt my poor self competing with my progressive self. I appreciate the need for local and organic farming. There is nothing better than an excellent farmer’s market or driving to a local orchard or dairy farm to get your food. You feel connected to your community and often the food just tastes better. I hate that here in Florida there isn’t a decent farmer’s market to go to.

But then the reality that there are BILLIONS of people in this world to feed and that the US provides pretty large percentages of the world’s food supply in certain areas reminds me that large scale farming and creating crops that are resistant to pests is so important to making sure that people have enough to eat. In addition to quantity, we also want to make that food affordable, and buying small scale from local growers is not necessarily cost effective.

The question I kept coming back to while I was reading, and keep coming back to whenever this conversation comes up, is is a balance possible? Can we find a way to separate large scale growing and local production while maintaining soil and environmental health and sustainability? The only answers I could find included a shift in the Farm Bill that provides funding to farmers to support the shift to organic, and increased regulation in zoning commercial farms to avoid cross-pollination with local and organic crops. But I would like you to think about the likelihood of either of those things passing within our current political reality and then think about whether we’ll have a solution soon.

Recently a climate change report was released by the United Nations that outlines a dire future if we don’t get things under control in the next ten years, but the people who run the American government refuse to believe in climate change and continue to fund and encourage the expansion of the fossil fuel industries because they are able to line their pockets in return. If we can’t manage to make big changes to save our existence on a large scale, how are we going to prioritize sustainability on a small scale here at home? Anyone with the power to make any kind of change just turns away and laughs all the way to the bank.

Sorry, that got bleak there for a second, but the concern and question is ever present in this book. Woven among the concern is the warm comfort of good food and home cooked meals. Families passing down knowledge from generation to generation to create a tradition of raising food and sharing that tradition with their communities, to the point that they become a linchpin in the local economy. That closeness of family and tradition warmed my cold, angry heart and made me wish I had those kinds of traditions for myself. My kingdom for a decent farmer’s market!

Dooley brings it all back together at the end with another Thanksgiving dinner, but a more successful one now that she has obtained all the knowledge necessary to handle these local offerings with care. You can almost smell the chestnut stuffing, taste the cranberry jelly, and see the marshmallows melting over the sweet potatoes. Her preparation of the meal seems less stressed and harried than how she opened the book, and pleasure is laid over all her efforts.

This was an enjoyable, delicious, and informative read. If you like to read about food take my advice and seek this book out. If I enjoyed it and made it all the way through, you can too. Go get you some.