ThroughValleyNestSpidersShort version: incredible, astonishing, I loved it.  It’s difficult, but worth the effort.  Not for everyone.

Long version.  Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders by Samuel Delany (author of Dhalgren one of my favorite books) begins with young Eric Jeffers, a gay, white kid from Atlanta, raised by his black step-father, about to turn 17, moving in with his white mother in a rural, coastal Georgia town.  On the way, Eric meets Morgan “Shit” Haskell, a black, 19 year old, illiterate, self-described pervert, and Shit’s white father, Dynamite, a meeting that changes Eric’s life.  Soon he begins working with Shit and Dynamite as the town’s garbage men, at the same time becoming their lover and friend.  I don’t think I’m giving any spoilers to say the rest of the 800 pages takes you through Eric and Shit’s lives together on into old age, beginning in the year Obama was elected, and finishing in our future, some time in the late 21st century.

The scope of the book is astonishing.  The subjects it tackles—racism, sexuality, morality, aging, religion, memory, being marginalized, I could go on—are hard and deeply explored.  After 800 pages I was left with a feeling that, as a whole, the book is about what it really means to live a human life: the tragedy of it, of aging, of living through the changing times, changing technology, changing cultural expectations, of seeing everything and everyone around you passing away, of day to day life through wave after wave of change.  But especially, the beauty of it.

Honestly, it’s also one of the most romantic books I’ve ever read.  I sobbed at the end. Real, ugly crying for the last fifty pages that made it hard to see the words, and then for a good while after I just threw my head down on the table and wept. For the next few days I walked around feeling like I was a different person.  No, I am a different person.

That’s damn hard to pull off.  That’s rare.

But look, before I can recommend this book (which I do!) you have to sign this informed consent.  You need to know: there is a ton of sex in this book (however much you just imagined, times it by a factor of ten), that’s tons of gay sex, and that’s fine, but then it starts to get…weird. Sexualized mutual nose picking, piss drinking, shit eating, incest, beastiality, taboo language, nail biting—

Wait, whoa…what?

Therein lies one of the primary tensions of this book. Yes, I can say unreservedly, that this book is one of the most beautiful I’ve read.  Even as the language alternates between sublimely beautiful and gaggingly difficult to read.  It eases up, changes significantly in the second half, but it’s there all the way through.  There is something to gross out everyone here.

I’ve read Dhalgren over and over, I love it, each reading gives me more. So I was stoked to learn Delany had written another monster-sized novel.  But after TVNS came out and I had read a few reviews…it took me months to work up the courage to read it.  Nose picking? I thought.  Shit eating?  Seriously?!  Why they hell would Delany put that in a book?  And then…he must have his reasons…?  And then, to hell with it, if Samuel Freaking Delany wants to write about nose-picking and all the rest of it, I want to know why.  So in I dove.

I think TVNS is aware of this difficulty.

In the second half of Eric’s life, he is given a copy of Spinoza’s Ethics, and proceeds to spend the next forty years reading it over and over.  His early attempts are comical and recognizable (to me, anyway) the way my eye will slide off sentences in difficult books, sentences that I can see are written in English words, but for which I have zero comprehension. Eric says it took the first decade of struggling with Spinoza just to learn how to read it.  I think that’s true for TVNS, too—well, not the decade part, maybe, but the first hundred pages or so.  For example, in that first encounter between 16 year old Eric and 19 year old Shit in the Turpens truck stop restroom, the vocabulary, the group sex, whoa, it’s shocking. (Me: he’s doing what? They said that? And now he’s doing what?!) and I had to keep rearranging what I thought was happening because the Standard Narrative for those sorts of events is, well, A BAD THING IS HAPPENING.  But TVNS refuses every standard narrative.  That’s the point.

The first fifty pages were the hardest for me.  It got easier (although the book keeps upping the ante all the way through) as I went.  Probably I just got better at reading it.  The last pages are like light.

Try this.  When I was maybe thirteen, I was at a friend’s house, hanging out, bored, and in a giggly, showing-off fit of “let’s do something,” she showed me a copy of one of her older brother’s porn mags (an actual paper porn magazine! I’m getting old.). It was “Jugs,” an issue devoted to especially large breasts and wow, it kind of freaked me out, even as it fascinated.  I remembering feeling shocked and kind of dirty and intensely curious, as in, Is this for real?  Guys like this?  Why?

Parts of reading TVNS were not un-like my thirteen-year-old-self looking through that issue of “Jugs”…somebody else’s porn.  Sexual, sort of, but not a turn on, a little disturbing, strange, interesting as the shock wears off.  Only TVNS doesn’t stop there.  Next came compassion, humor, questioning.  Love.

Jo Walton did a thoughtful review (of TVNS, not Jugs) over at Tor that I highly recommend, and in the comments, someone wrote, “It’s odd that people are resistant to reading about characters who engage in sex practices they would not themselves indulge in, and perhaps even find discomfiting, when they would not balk at reading a book with a character who murders or violently destroys whole planets.”  Yeah, good point, why is that?  Delany himself has happily called TVNS a book at the intersection of sci-fi, literary fiction, and pornography.  One of its main themes is something like there is no normal.  Maybe it’s desensitization, maybe its just how much I came to love Eric and Shit.  But yeah, the weird became less weird for me as I went along.  So Delany keeps adding more, new weird….

I think that uneasy feeling is another part of the point.  Whether it is the sex, or the language (the swearing is intense but even more so, the regular (and rather fond) use of the word nigger), or the incest, or the shit/mucous/piss consumption…getting through that material is part of what changed me and made the ending so powerful.

Because I do feel changed.  My perspective, my perception, my self-acceptance.  This is a life changing book.  And the ending is amazing.  The pay off in those last 50 pages is profound.

Man, that sounds like hyperbole.  Sorry.

Interestingly, this morning I picked up my old copy of Delany’s essays, About Writing, many of which I have been unable to penetrate before—that eye sliding thing.  I found them very easy to read this morning.  Have I taught myself how to read Delany?  At least a little?

Sidenote: everything, every weird sex act in TVNS is consensual.  There is no non-con, no rape, and consent is taken seriously by everyone, especially around the younger people.  This isn’t a book about mean people doing mean things to each other.  That’s another part of the point.

And here’s the thing: At the end of the book, none of my thoughts were about the fetish-y sex.  All of that had ceased to be important in any of the ways those parts of Eric’s story were so loud and overwhelming in the beginning.  By the end, the particulars of what got them hard had become fairly inconsequential to me.   Maybe being in relationship with Eric and Shit for 800 pages, exactly as they are, and coming to accept them—and they are wonderful people!—is part of the book’s transformative power.

Switching gears now away from the loud and “nasty” parts (Shit’s word)….

A “normal” novel, meaning, the vast majority of the novels I’ve read, has a certain shape: an inciting event propels a protagonist with wants and needs into confronting (or running from) a problem she has with meeting those wants and needs, often in the form of an antagonist.  There are a few try-cycles where the character does different things to solve her problem, these succeed and the problem gets bigger, or the character fails and tries again, the stakes increase, right up into the final showdown where the problem is finally resolved (in some fashion) and the character gets (some of) what she wanted (or possibly doesn’t, if its a darker book), growing and changing in the process.

TVNS does not follow this shape.  Eric says it right out at one point.  He says about some young people he meets who have been to Mars and back (I haven’t talked about it much here, but this IS science fiction, and the world-building of our near-future is fascinating), “They have stories. (I guess other people mostly do.  I just have a life….”

Right.  There is no plot here.  This is Eric’s life. Instead of plot and try-cycles you get layers upon layers of moments, building up like sediment.  Someone reading the first one or two hundred pages might give up in frustration saying, nothing happens! But the emotional whammy, the textured experience of all those layered memories by the end, it’s tremendous.  A totally different way to shape this thing we call a “novel.”  And that whammy couldn’t have been achieved, I think, any other way.  Because life isn’t a story.

And unlike stories, even in a good life, which Eric has, there isn’t a happy ending.  Don’t get me wrong, Eric IS happy.  He has a great relationship with someone he loves, he has work he enjoys, he’s part of a vibrant community.  The world happens around him (much of it in our future), sometimes to him, and he makes choices, but nothing bad really happens here, no major events, beyond the death of friends as he get older, or aging itself.  That’s what I mean: the best possible human life still ends in the loss of everything you love, and then you die.  Full stop.  Living a long and happy life, with people you love, and dying of old age, that’s the best outcome we wish for as humans, right?  (Unless, maybe, you’re Achilles and you wish for fame and honor, instead…)  But the best we can hope for…and it has this shitty, terrifying, sad end!

Who invented this system??  What a stupid ride!  I want off!

This is the material of this book.  Not a story.  A life.

And believe me when I say I can’t tell you about the book—I mean, I AM telling you about the book, but you have to read it, experience the effect of the words, to get what it is offering.  It’s experiential, not informational.  That’s why there aren’t any spoilers.

TVNS took Delany seven years to write.  When most writers I know are working hard to create multiple novels a year, to create stories that draw in a reader and hold them tight, with likable characters and compelling events (all of which is, I think, a perfectly fine way to go about writing), Delany is doing something different, a hard book that puts up obstacles the reader has to overcome in order to become the person that can receive the nuanced and powerful impact of the end.

Other themes….

samueldelanyDelany works masterfully with time—Eric really feels like a 17 year old kid in the beginning, and a 90 year old man in the end, plus all the stages in between.  Plus the way time goes so slowly when we’re young and so slippery-fast as we age.  How the world around us changes, in sometimes bewildering ways—technology’s advance, the falling down of buildings, the passing of businesses and structures that once were part of our daily life, all of that is in here in such a visceral way—oh and the crazy-making part of the passage of time: that all we have to go on is our memories, and those are fleeting and subject to significant erosion.

And what’s it like inside a 70 year relationship?  Having read this I feel like I understand things about my Grandma and how she faded so quickly after the death of Granddaddy after nearly 70 years of marriage.  I wish I had read it years ago, wish I could have known these things earlier, for her.  So many stories are written about the beginnings of relationships, the first times, and TVNS is that, too.  But what about what it’s like after forty, fifty, sixty years?  My husband and I are at twenty years now, and I saw us in Eric and Shit as they hit their forties.  I liked that; there aren’t many stories about twenty-year marriages that aren’t boring, depressing as hell, divorce stories.

One of the biggest experiences of the book is what it’s like to grow old—not just to be old, but to be young and to gradually become old.  To be surrounded by people who weren’t alive when you were doing your thing, who see the era of your childhood as “history” and somewhat mythical, people who get it all wrong, but think they know better.  The physicality of it.  The way thinking processes change.  The wisdom and the foolishness.

Another one: FOOD.  So much food!  And described with such detail and direct experience.

I was struck on this reading (when I got to the end, I turned it around and started reading it again, how strange to return to those early shocking scenes with nostalgia this time) by the parts about long-term marriage, the parts about aging, and even the parts about living in a Southern, coastal town.  I grew up on the North Carolina’s Outer Banks, very similar in look, feel, and culture to the Georgia island that Eric and Shit live on.  The way Delany describes the change of one of those thin islands from dunes and trees to a developed town sooo matches my experience of watching my childhood island change over the last forty years!

Other readers (or me, in later readings?) might draw more from the explorations of race, or the parts about being a gay man.  Or the philosophy of Spinoza.  Or the near-future technology, which is drawn so believably it feels like reading history.  Or other facets that just went over my head.  There is a lot here.

Delany’s descriptions of the sky and sea are gorgeous.

Eric says, “So little of life is direct experience…Only an instant of it at a time.  That’s all.  No more.  The rest is memory.  And expectation…and memory is what so much of time’s failings had struck away.”

So.  Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Beautiful and terrifying.  A masterful piece of fiction.  Not for people who just won’t be able to get past the “nasty” parts.  Difficult going at times, in different ways for different people who will be squicked by different things, but SO WORTH IT.  Huge payoff in the end.

Thank you so much, Mr. Delany, for writing this, and for Magnus Books for publishing it.  You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been moved to thank a publisher before! But I can imagine this book was not an easy one to publish. Not a slam dunk, best-selling, airport reading book.  I hope it stays in print.

Thinking of that, hmm, I bought it as an $9.99 ebook (a steal!) but maybe I should get a paper version, in case of the zombie apocalypse.  I don’t want to risk losing my copy.

I’ll leave you with Shit, a hilarious, wonderful, kind person: “Would you at least call me a goddam motherfuckin’ piece of mule shit, so I’ll know you care?”

The missing chapter 90, inadvertently left out of the book can be found here.

Jo Walton’s review for Tor. Shaviro’s review.  Paul di Filippo’s review for Locus.

And an interesting interview with Delany about the book….

 

Just when I finished the big draft of the new novel and sent it off to the editor, out of the blue, BOOM, repetitive stress injury! I think this devil had been waiting in the wings, biding its time before slamming my little twig-wrists like twin bolts of fire shooting up my arms.  Dangit.  At least it was nice enough to let me finish the draft.  But yeah, it’s become quickly apparent that my days of sitting curled up in my bed with my laptop are over.

What to do?  There’s writing, yes, but also surfing, Japanese, blogging, publishing, paying the bills—you know, how we use the computer for… just about everything these days. Hey computer, go wash the dishes for me, would ya?

So, I spent a couple of days reading about ergonomics and carpel tunnel while icing my wrists and taking ibuprofen and just generally feeling like an idiot.  Because it turns out typing while curled up in bed is about the worst possible position for wrists, not to mention my neck, which has chronically hurt for years.

But I emerged from my research with A Plan.  Which I quickly enacted.  Because I can’t Not Write.  That’s just…not happening.

Here it is:

 standing desk 1

Standing desk!  That’s an old oak dresser I’ve had since I was a little tiny girl, as in, a toddler.  I think my dad built it.  Or maybe refinished it?  Add a milk crate—very DIY—topped with a leather desktop that SuperCoolHubby has had around forever, and wa la!  The adjustable laptop stand lets me dial in just the right monitor height for when I am wearing my around-the-yurt clogs, and the dresser/milk-crate combo seems to be the right height for my keyboard by sheer magic.   Add to this a split keyboard and a wireless vertical mouse and BAM.  I’m in business.

Once the acute inflammation stage of my injury passed and my wrists weren’t on fire anymore, I tried it out.

#1 Right away, results: the neck pain and stiffness, which I had just taken as a given of life, is GONE.  Worth the price of admission right there, baby.  Huge win.

#2 The hands and wrists are better, for sure, as in NO PAIN.  But I also haven’t put in any long sessions because…

#3 My feet hurt.

Why does something always have to hurt!?

It isn’t bad and I think it is more building up muscle sort of hurt than damage hurt.  I think my feet will get used to it.

But, no wrist pain, that’s a yay! right?  Even if it’s inconclusive until I do an actual writing stint of a couple of hours on it….  standing desk 2

I find I shift and stretch a lot as I work at this desk, which has got to be better than sitting there like a lump, solidifying in my bed, no matter how cozy the bed is.  Plus I tend to surf less at the stand up desk, which is good for my time management.  I buzz over, get some work done, then move the heck on.

Big test: I’m going to start trying to write on it in the next few days.  Fingers crossed.

But now I’m thinking…treadmill desk.

AmIright?  Sitting is the new smoking!  Treadmill desks are IN.  I just need an old craigslist treadmill I can DIY mod and stick under this stand.  Maybe…?  Cardio while I work!  This is soooo happening….

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My little guy, Luc, 9, is hilarious.  I’ve done a couple of posts on Luc-isms over the years.  He constantly says things that surprise me.  For example, the other night, lights out, I realize I’ve forgotten to turn on the alarm and say into the dark, “Can you turn on the alarm?  I forgot.”

Luc answers in superhero voice: “I will find it using…my sense of smell.”

I…would never have thought of that.

He’s also always seeing things I miss.  Like the other day in Whole Foods he pulls me down to whisper solemnly into my ear, “grass roots…begin to grow.”

“Wha–?”

Finally I notice this enigmatic phrase is printed on the wall as part of a “history of organic foods movement” display.  His delivery turned it into some kind of spy phrase, for which I am supposed to have the encoded reply. Serious, even deadly.  Now we whisper this to each other frequently.

Or this, in the shoe store, buying boots for Sophie last month, he calls, all urgent excitement, “Mom!  Mom!  Come here!”

I walk over.  “Yeah?”

Whispered intently: “LOOK.”

I see shoes on display, customers, chairs.  “Um?”

He points.  “Foot mirror.”

HAHA—he’d zeroed in on the short, angled mirror that reflects people’s feet, presumably in the shoes they are trying on.  I had barely registered that the thing was there.  He spends several moments admiring his feet in different positions.  “This is awesome. I never knew I needed a foot mirror.”  He’s always got a different perspective.

His favorite question is, of course, who would win.

“Who do you think would win, Hulk or Yoda?”

I have to be ready for these at a moment’s notice.  “You know, actually, I don’t think those two would fight. I can’t see either one attacking the other.”

“Well,” he says.  “They are both green.”

HAHAHA!  So true.

Sophie, my eldest, has her own moments of comic genius.  Like last night:

Husband, flipping through Netflix options, “I think this show may be a bit too intense for the kids, what do you think?  Maybe when they’re bigger.”

Sophie: “What, you mean your balls?”

Oh my god, we were laughing so hard.

Isn’t laughing at silly stuff like this just the best thing EVER?  It seems to me you’ve just got to salt your life with as much silly laughing as possible, the more the better, or else what’s the point?

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I’m shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that we’re already starting 2015.  I never got used to 2014.  Anyway…hey, may all our resolutions come true!

Actually, I’m afraid to make any, for fear of crushing my already pathetically weak self-esteem by failing to keep them.  Although I was thinking last night, while sipping this simply MARVELOUS blackberry honey mead, that my Number One Resolution for 2015 should be MORE DRINKING.  I think I could keep that one….  But I’m also considering a treadmill desk, and think SuperCoolHubby could probably whip up a DIYer for me for $100 or so, if I set up some nice incentives for him.  I spend too much time sitting and typing/reading!  I’m determined not to atrophy in my old age.   I also have a book to publish, and another one to write….

Anyone have any resolutions?  Yoga five days a week?  Should we form a yoga-support team?  How would the end of the year be if I could keep that for 52 weeks? Hmm.

Many blessings on you and yours!

xoxo m

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The question on everyone-I-run-into’s lips for the last week has been, “are you ready?” By which they mean,”Are you ready for Christmas?”  It has started sounding like “are you ready? Get set…GO!”  I’ve started feeling paranoid because folk seem so freaking busy and stressed out and I…don’t.  It’s like they’re whittling their Christmas out of hand hewn logs, grown from Christmas seeds passed down through the generations, and I’m hanging out, eating a carrot (visions of Bugs Bunny, don’t ask me why, I don’t know) and watching all the industry with a puzzled expression. Why don’t I have a to-do list longer than a garden hose?  Am I forgetting something?  Am I shirking my Chirstmas duty?

Cooking, wrapping, mailing, baking, decorating, attending parties, hosting parties…these are the basics of Christmas as celebrated by early 21st century middle class Americans, right?  I keep checking them off on my fingers to make sure we’re doing all the Christmas Stuff.  We seem to be (haven’t hosted a party, but everything else, yep, yep…yep) and yet…I just don’t seem to be stressing out.  I’m clearing doing something wrong.

But wait, no, I’ve decided maybe it’s a question of scale.  For example, yes, we have a tree, we decorated the house, but, you know, when you live in a yurt, it only takes about twenty minutes to put sparkly lights on everything, and our tree is only four feet tall because anything wider would take over all the available floor space.  Maybe we’re doing all the things just…in a smaller dose.

THEREFORE.  My present hypothesis is this: the answer to a sweat-free holiday is to cut your portion of Christmas down to bite size.  Then you’ll be fine.  See?  Problem solved.  People are just trying to have TOO MUCH CHRISTMAS.

Christmas is strong stuff.  Sometimes, a little dab will do.

After having this discussion with the kids, however, we realized that we were, in fact, shirking: because we were experiencing a sudden and profound shortage of Christmas cookies! Emergency action must be taken to remedy the situation immediately!

I’ve been craving shortbread—those incredibly buttery cookies that aren’t all that sweet but melt in your mouth, you know the ones, fabulous with a cup of strong black tea?  One cookie has, like, 700 calories?  Yeah.  Those.  Where do these cravings come from anyway?

Ah, who cares.  We made some.  Turns out they are super easy.

shortbread 1

Cream 1/2 cup salted butter (that’s a stick) in the food processor with 1/4-1/2 cup confectioners sugar (depending on how sweet you like them.  Add 3/4 cup white flower and 1/4 cup corn starch and pulse a few times until you get a ball of buttery yellow dough.  That’s right, there are just 4 ingredients.  Seriously, you can’t mess these up.  Maybe if you burn them.  Don’t do that.

Roll it out to 1/4 inch thick, cut with a cutter in the shape or shapes of your choosing.  Bake for about 15 min at 300.  If you want them to be a bit golden, you might need to brush them with some egg or something, because mine turned out quite pale, but that was fine with me.

YUM.

shortbread 2And listen, there is nothing good for you in these, okay?  Except love.

Luc: “These are made of God.”

Sophie: “No, they’re made of butter.”

Luc: “Then God is made of butter.”

Sophie, holding up a stick of butter and making Gregorian Chants sounds, “Let there be butter!”

[cheering]

Or as Jake says in “Dungeon Train,”  ““Fiiiinn, I made those biscuits with so much butter. You were just responding to the butter! This whole place is butter!”

Note: this recipe is a very small batch, maybe dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cutter.  You can easily double or triple the recipe, but seriously, you won’t want to eat more that one or two of these things.  They are super rich.

SuperCoolHusband rolled colored sprinkles into the little fork holes I made, haha.  We ate them while watching Guardians of the Galaxy (which I ADORE).

Baked Christmas cookies: CHECK.

So there you have it.  My Christmas wish for you: don’t sweat it and eat plenty of butter!  Merry Christmas!!

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My girl, Sophie, has more style at ten than I had the confidence to pull off at twenty.  Maybe even thirty.  For example, today she was rocking combat boots, over the knee socks, a tutu in black with petticoats, and a hoodie with a glow-in-the-dark skeletal bones, all beneath her bright red hair.  I mention all of this because her combat boots are a crucial part of her look and man, the last pair we got fell apart after only a month: the soles just dropped off.  I hate it when that happens.

We got them fixed by our local cobbler (we have one of those! his name is David and I’m pretty sure he could crush my skull with one hand if he wanted to, he’s a BIG dude; luckily he is also very sweet) but finally, I’d had enough with the bimonthly shoe repair, and we went shopping.  We fell upon a sale that netted boots for half-off but get this: they are black combat boots, yes, but they have POCKETS.

combat boots with pocketsWhen we saw them in the store, both Sophie and I zeroed in on them, me thinking “Sophie would love those!” and her thinking “THEY’VE GOT POCKETS.”  Sometimes purchases are so obvious.

Of course, the very next thing you think is, what goes in the pockets?

SuperCoolHusband took one look and said, “a knife.  A really cool, little, knife.”  And he immediately began googling miniature knives (“This one’s cute! Oh, dang, it’s out of stock….” while Sophie rolled her eyes, “Dad! I’m not carrying a knife!  Besides, I already have, like, two that you bought me.  Chill.”).

I said, “lip balm, a tissue, and a twenty.” This seems so obvious!  I can’t stand being caught without any of these items, amiright?  (“Mom, I don’t even wear lipbalm.  But you can give me a twenty if you want.”)

Luc rolled his eyes at all of us, “You put in CANDY. Duh.”  (Thoughtful look from the girl.  “Possibly.”)

And at this point it had become clear that boot pockets are some kind of rorschach for our inner needs.   A boot pocket is an emergency back-up location, too inconvenient for regular use, but out of the way enough for long term storage.  Small but crucial items only.  What fits the bill will be different for everyone.

It has become an informal survey, no one is safe; as soon as someone sees the boots, the conversation begins.  And we keep getting different answers: back-up phone batteries, thumb drives, condoms, drugs, cash, lighter (?), multi-tools, protein bars, dog treats, hand-i-wipes, ID, toothbrush and paste (I guess they have small ones?), tea bags (might there be unfortunate flavor transfer?), ipod charger, a picture of a one’s dead mother (that was intense), a tiny notebook and pencil, chewing gum.  It’s pretty interesting to find out what people pick.

At first Sophie chose hair ties, two ginger candies, a spare pencil eraser, and a ten dollar bill.  Very sensible.  Then, as a joke, I started handing her things and saying, “keep this in the your boot pocket.”  Fireworks, an amethyst, emergency chocolate.  It started being how weird an item can one carry in a boot pocket?  A bird wing.  A collection of teeth.  A pocket watch.  And moving beyond that into metaphorical things.  A sense of duty.  Fears.  My love.  She started writing little notes and carrying those, funny phrases she overhears—she used to write things like that on her legs with sharpie.  Now, they go into the boot pockets.  Every few days she cleans out the pockets, reading the phrases, context often forgotten, like funny poetry.

I wonder what will be next?

What do we want to carry, just a little of, but everywhere?  Somehow this seems linked to Christmas, where I have been thinking about what to give people, what do they want, what do they need, what can I afford, what would surprise and delight or at least not get throw out?  Or maybe keep it simple, the standard socks jocks and chocolates…. I dunno, there’s probably more to think about this, but I’m tired.  Time for bed.  Hmm, sleep might be a good thing to put in a boot pocket….

 

Wow, man, I haven’t gone this long without a post since I started this blog back in [goes to look it up] April of 2008.  APRIL 2008! Holy shit, that means this blog is six and a half years old!  How–when–

[hold on while my brain-system reboots]

Sooooo, why no recent posts?  Hmm, I dunno, am I too tired, is blogging O-VAH, it’s not you it’s me, am I done with blogging—or is it just a busy patch around around Christmas and I’ll find my stride in January?

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, in Mayaland News: I’m in the first stages of putting together a cover for the new book.  I’m so nervous about this one.  I guess I say that about all of them.  But this cover!  I have a GORGEOUS photo.  I’m thrilled.

PLUS: I can’t believe I didn’t put out a single book this year.  Because I’m definitely not going to make it to publication in the next three weeks, and WOW where did 2014 go?  Fuuuuuck.

Actually, speaking of that, I have just written an epic sex scene for the new book that I had not intended to put in AT ALL and still might not—I reserve the right to chicken out, I’m going to see what my editor thinks—and it feels crazy to write that scene LAST like this, after the book is basically done.  Maybe I’ve been chicken all this time.  I have resisted, as in never considered adding it, up until just a few days ago when I suddenly got hit with the certainty that it needed to be written.  Such emotional DRA-MA.

I really love writing books, have I mentioned that?  Even with all my silliness.

But the book!  It is coming!  (I still don’t have a title.  Sheesh.)

Moving on.  I’m fine, kids are great, SuperCool Husband has a Man Cold, poor little bunny.  Right this minute Sophie is playing ukulele and I am—well, I WAS, before I started writing this—re-reading Dhalgren by Samuel Delany for probably the seventh time since I was 14.  I think it is probably my favorite book in the world.  At the very least it is in the top three.

Weird story: the photo I took  (in the post linked above) of my ancient copy of Dhalgren sitting beside my sparkly new copy of Dhalgren (although I’m currently reading neither, instead reading it on Oyster), IS ON MR. DELANY’S FACEBOOK PAGE.  How did this happen????  Omg omg did he read my post?  Or no, maybe it was just a google image search pull.  Christ, if we ever were to meet, I would have nothing to say, I would just clam up with nerves like an idiot.

(If I could say anything, I would try to say thanks.  Thank you very much for writing this book.)

Oh, and crap, Christmas is nine, ten days away, what?!   I do like watching the kids open presents, even if the two of them are super hard to buy for because they say they “don’t really need anything” and struggle to come up with even a couple of items they might be interested in.  “I have everything I want,” said Luc and Sophie agreed, shrugging.  “Maybe a Terraria t-shirt?”

Seriously?

Which makes me realize that while I could write many memoir-essay-type posts, and I do love writing those,  I’m starting to feel like the kids are old enough that they don’t want their lives sprayed over the internet.  When they were babies, I guess it sort of felt like their stories were my story in a way, maybe because they couldn’t tell their own (this is probably totally not true, not fair, and very greedy and self-centered of me).  But now…at some point they came to own their own stories.

This is a big loss to my blogging material, heh.  I’ve always blogged whatever I’m thinking about and…I’m still thinking about them—lots—but I don’t feel so free to write about them.  Plus I’ve never written much about my husband (another large slice of the “what Maya is thinking about” pie).  So what to write about instead?  What remains?

It’s a question.  Maybe that’s part of the slow down in blog posts, as well.

At any rate, I’ll let that be the Mayaland update.  Writing and publishing, yoga practice, unschooling, living in a yurt/building project, walking my dog in the woods, reading, playing with my family, learning Japanese (because everyone needs a weird hobby), long hot baths.  It’s my life.  (I really love my life.)

But wow, 2014.  You’re nearly gone already.  I’m not ready!

 

You’ve seen them, those classy cooking shows where the studio kitchen is gorgeous, the ingredients are pre-prepped in little bowls, ready for dumping into the pot, and there is not a dirty dish in sight.  They’re nice aren’t they?  But honestly now, who the hell has a cooking experience like that?  Maybe single, rich people or something?  Certainly not people with families who live in tiny houses *cough* and who struggle to find time to eat, much less cook.

Enter “Real Kitchen!” the cooking show for the rest of us!

Let’s see what we’ve got, shall we?  For starters, in those other cooking shows, when you need to mix something, a beautiful bowl is right there waiting for you.  In Real Kitchen, you can’t find one.  And when you do, it’s a little too small, but you think you can make it work if you can just stir slowly enough to keep the mound from overflowing.  But hey, so what if you do!  That’s what dogs are for.

How about ingredients?  In Real Kitchen, you know how it goes.  You have to forage through the crisper full of bags of rotten slimed stuff you can no longer identify.  Cleaning out the fridge, at least partially, is always the First Step to cooking in Real Kitchen.  But it isn’t just the fridge, the shelves are way too full, you have to search endlessly for stuff you know you bought, but now can’t locate.  There are piles on the piles.  You knock a few over.  There may be some swearing.  Real Kitchen may or may not be suitable for all ages.

In those other cooking shows, you make what you want, how you want it.  It’s amazing!  In Real Kitchen, not a chance.  You have to negotiate with your family members for every ingredient.  “Please can I put garlic in?”  “No.”  “What if I chop it very tiny?” “NO.”  Also, probably someone already ate a crucial ingredient so you’ll have to improvise, making sometimes bizarre substitutions.  That’s the creativity of Real Kitchen!  No complaining, there’s no point!

In those other cooking shows, you magically know the recipe by heart.  In Real Kitchen, you are reading the recipe off your ipad, causing you to try to keep the screen lit, and scroll, with your elbow, because your hands are a mess.  Bet you didn’t know cooking doubles as a yoga pose!

I also bet you never saw the smoke alarm go off in one of those other cooking shows.  And how about how the dog feels it’s necessary to bark continuously at the smoke alarm until it shuts up, thereby tripling the noise and your corresponding sense of urgency to turn the damn thing off?  Oh, it was just something in the bottom of the toaster oven again.  What was I doing?  Did I already put the salt in?  Or not?

Let’s face it: in Real Kitchen, there is always a sense of danger.  For example, chopping onions—a simple thing already done for you by house elves in those other cooking shows—chopping onions in Real Kitchen becomes a source of pain and possible disfigurement.  Have you ever seen one of those other chefs sobbing over their cutting board?  Trying to chop with their eyes closed without losing a finger?  No.  Not to mention when your eyes water enough that your mascara runs, making you look like the Winter Soldier.  No make up artists waiting off-stage in Real Kitchen!  The burning pain of chopping onions is hugely underrepresented by most cooking shows, in my opinion.

In Real Kitchen, locating a pan that will work well enough for your purposes can involve spelunking and the threat of an avalanche.  And once you find it, it has to be cleaned, an awkward job since the sink in Real Kitchen is usually already full of dirty dishes.  Plus when you ask your ten year old assistant if it needs to be washed first, she is liable to say, “If I have to clean it, then it’s perfectly clean.”  Thanks, helpful assistant!  I couldn’t have done it without you.

Have you ever noticed how in Real Kitchen, things seem to get thrown at the chef, seemingly at random?  I do not know why.  You also have to deal with Strange Illogical Fears, like touching the aluminum foil box (“it will cut me!”), or refusals to eat out of certain bowls or with certain untensils (“I don’t like the noise it makes against the edge,” or “silver spoons taste funny.”)  It’s maddening, really.  That feeling is all part of the Real Kitchen experience!

The compost is too full, the trash needs to bagged and dumped to make room for the new trash you are making, the complaints are huge (“I told you not to put garlic in!”) and the fridge is already stuffed, so where to put the leftovers?

Yes, cooking in Real Kitchen isn’t just a sport, it’s an Extreme Sport!  It’s not just Real, it’s Dangerous!  To mind and body, believe me.  So, let’s have no more of those wimpy-ass, goody-goody, lets make it look all pretty, cooking shows.  Let’s get down to the battle that is REAL COOKING.

–brought to you by Dinner!  With special guest star, Thanksgiving!  Otherwise known as, “Thank god that’s over.”

And now, for your listening pleasure, Frank Zappa sings of when Real Kitchen has crossed over the line into Dangerous Kitchen.  You just don’t want to go there.

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So, we survived Thanksgiving.  Thank god that’s over.  A day devoted to gratitude is a fabulous idea, and I’m all for it, but really, it’s pretty hard to avoid the feeling that its a day set aside, not for giving thanks, but for gluttony.  And now the whole Black Friday thing has become even bigger than Thanksgiving itself, and what is Black Friday but just more gluttony.  It all grosses me out, really.

An acquaintance of mine cuts hair at a salon in a nearby mall and she told me they had decided to open the mall at 6pm on Thanksgiving itself this year (not wait until Friday morning as is typical).  She showed me a vid she made of the Unlocking of the Doors at 6pm and the flood of people rushing in to shop.  The people poured in, it went on and on, and everyone was in such a hurry, this mad dash to BUY.  I thought, it’s the same old mall that was there the day before, what’s the rush?  But these sales do a good job of creating a perceived scarcity/need that gets that brain-chemical-combo going, the one that makes it all seem so urgent and necessary.  It has the same gross feeling of watching people do ten minute shopping sprees where they just start grabbing shit and stuffing their cart, or when money gets dumped out of a window (only happens in movies) and people start shoving and scrambling for dollar bills.  Where’s the dignity people?  Where’s the generosity?

For Thanksgiving itself, we went to see my frail and nearly-gone Grandma, which was sweet and sad.  Too much driving, a nice meal with people I love, some crying.  I kind of hate it, it’s awful even though it is also good.  What can I say, life is confusing.  Then we had a second stay-at-home Thanksgiving the next day, with a big bowl of stuffing and all of us on the couch watching Winter Soldier and talking Marvel-Mythology theories.  Nothing like a nice geek-out over a bowl of carbs for family bonding.

I DID buy a present for SuperCoolHubby on sale on amazon on Black Friday.  So there, I guess I did my Duty as an American.  I hope he likes it.

Meanwhile, I have rewritten (again) the ending of my current novel and it is out (again) to my beta readers.  Who are awesome.  AWESOME.

Not much yoga this week, no fist bump for me.  I forgot about the whole holiday thing when I said I would practice lots.  One full primary and a primary-to-navasana and that was it.  LAME.  I’ll do better this week or DIE TRYING.

How was your yoga week?  I’d love to hear.

 

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I started studying Japanese almost two years ago (January).  That is shocking.  I am simultaneously impressed that I stayed with it this long, dismayed at how much time I have put into this essentially useless-to-me hobby, and shocked that I’m not further along by now because wow, Japanese is really hard.

But yeah, I’m still at it.  I love it, this interesting puzzle-solving hobby that has zero stress because it has zero connection to anything else in my life.  I think its like people who do the daily cross-word puzzle in the morning, or play a few round of solitaire to help them get to sleep.  Wani Kani, iKnow, Genki, Imabi, Tae Kim, Textfugu, and Japanese the Manga Way are my Japanese drugs of choice.  (Not all at once!  WaniKani is daily, the rest is in a complex rotation system that not even I fully comprehend.)

Plus this new one:  Ehon Navi.  First, if you click that link, you’re going to get a page full of Japanese except for one little English phrase, “Picture books for happiness!” which I love.  Yes!  A good picture book definitely is a happiness-inducer, isn’t it?  Second, Ehon is Japanese for children’s picture book and Navi I think is connected to navigation.  Basically the site has over a thousand Japanese pictures books scanned in that you can read for free—one time each (no going back!).  You have to register but it isn’t hard, and the reader-app they have is quite usable.  It’s basically having a Japanese children’s library on your laptop.  How cool is that?  And wow, Japanese artists KNOW THEIR CUTE.

I found Ehon Navi via Liana’s Extensive Reading blog.  Extensive Reading is the language learning strategy of, basically, reading a ton in your target language, at or below your fluency level, just gobs and gobs of stuff, casting aside anything you don’t enjoy (and don’t use a dictionary!).  It’s how I learned English so well, so it makes sense to me.  Plus, it’s super fun.  Ehon Navi gives someone who wants to try some Extensive Reading in Japanese, but has a low reading level (raises hand), a chance to level up through access to so many easy books.  Bonuses: gorgeous, funny art and charming stories.  It’s a win-win-win-win, really, with some win on top.

Liana has a walkthrough on how to register, and some clues about how to use the site if you can’t read Japanese well enough to navigate it.  Thanks so much for putting that together, Liana!  I have been enjoying this so much.  It’s been a shot in the arm of my Japanese, studies, really.  I can get lost in the slog sometimes and forget why I’m doing it.  Oh yeah, I like reading Japanese!

Plus, I used to read so many children’s books when the kids were little, and loved it, but I haven’t read picture books in years.  It’s surprisingly delightful to get back to it, even (especially?) in Japanese.  Simple stories, cute pictures, funny jokes.  Highly recommended.  If you’re studying Japanese and can’t read manga yet, maybe get over the fear of all that Japanese by jumping in to picture books.

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