Big plans, changes underway

Obligatory statement that I have been terrible at updates here. Excuse for such behavior: school. Declaration that things will change very shortly…

On bullying

I’m posting the following conversation because I felt that it was important. There have only been very, very minor edits for typos and some personal references. Warning: potentially NSFW due to a small amount of swearing.

Hello there, 2012

Delicious consumables...and this is just the food

Our NYE party has come and gone, along with its delicious spread of spreads: pear-blue cheese chutney, mushroom-walnut pâté, spicy hummus, homemade crostinis and cinnamon sugar tortilla crisps, various cheeses, bacon-wrapped shrimp, cranberry-orange relish, bhel puri…many of these recipes I will present in the near future for your own experimentation.

As much as New Year’s lists can seem trite, I think it’s important to document where I’m at as an arranger of words, as well as where I am in my life at large, in a space that allows me to revisit my desires and goals and that enables others to encourage me to keep my word. So, without further adieu:

Things to Do in 2012

I. The Professional

  • Set up and maintain a solid, unchanging three-day a week writing schedule, during which I write for three-four hours at a time.
  • Maintain this blog regularly: Adventure Day recaps/status updates at least once every two weeks, more recipes (with photos and perhaps video)
  • Maintain Drawing Coffee regularly: update/cycle through my writing portfolio online, columns/essays on the state of writing and writing-, narrative-, and publication-related issues at least once every two weeks
  • Develop coding skills.
  • Finish all of the work I’ve begun revising and new work I’ve started over last fall and the coming spring.
  • Make some decisions about my thesis by September.
  • Secure at least one internship.
  • Develop bookmaking and binding skills.
  • Write personally about my writing process and my critical self once a week.
  • Submit my work to ten publications.
  • Finish reading one book a month.
  • Perform at three readings.

II. The Personal

  • Set up and maintain a workout schedule three times a week by the first week of February.
  • Take one day a week for myself–to write personally, to get things done around the apartment, to make food for the coming week, do laundry, clean my work space, play video games, etc.
  • Write and adhere to a personal monthly budget.
  • Volunteer.
  • Find/start a band, and play at least one show.
  • Plan at least one road trip.
  • Plan a writer’s retreat+trip for January next year.
  • Acquire enough poster frames for all of my artwork.
  • Go to at least one Cards game.

The beginning of the year has to come to be a very significant time to me. At the beginning of 2010, I felt like everything in my life had dropped away and left me suspended, free-floating in empty space, and I couldn’t tell if I was flying or falling. Graduating from college felt like I had run a marathon and vaulted over a single last hurdle off the edge of a cliff with no base, no ground to crash to. I forced a minimal amount of writing, and mostly stopped altogether. 2011 started with a bang and a bruise, celebrating in Chicago for the first time with tons of significant people who, though they may not know it, help keep me driven even though they are typically far away. And I was, of course, playing the waiting game in many ways, including hearing about grad school admissions. As compared to the previous year, however, I believed in the direction I had come to, and was cutting through the air around me despite not having hit the ground yet.

On the front page of my datebook for 2011, I wrote an important note to myself to be read every time I opened it up–“Devote this year to love.” Over the course of the year, my understanding of love developed in incredible ways. Love–big love, capital-L Love, not just the kind you say to your family or your SO, but the way you feel about life and what’s in it and all the people and objects and places you will never know–is why I write, is one of the things at the center of me that makes me the person that I am. Life is too short not to genuinely extend yourself, the best part of yourself, to as many entities in as many ways as you can and to try to see them for what they are and what they can be, to try to understand them in the way they understand themselves and to be a force of exploration and curiosity and growth and passion in their existence, if only for a brief instant.

More than any other goals for 2012, I plan to devote this year to love. My feet brush the ground beneath with every step.

It will probably be 2 months before I update again (let’s be real)

Things I’m reading for funsies:

  • Clash of Kings by GRRM (again)
  • Storm of Swords by GRRM (again)
  • Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender

Things on my list:

  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  • A Brief History of Authoterrorism edited by Gabriel Levinson
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Things I’ve cooked (that I hadn’t really made before):

  • a ton of potato soup
  • tempeh hash
  • egg & rice bowls
  • vegetable korma (with homemade paneer)
  • tempeh shepherd’s pie
  • pasta with white wine & veggies
  • vegan & gluten-free chocolate chip cookies
  • oatmeal & buttermilk pancakes
  • whatever’s in the fridge curry

A bunch of miscellaneous things:

  • First-time occurrences: getting laryngitis, collapsing on the subway, watching O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Hustler, and Black Dynamite, going to a bachelorette party, cleaning the sun room completely, becoming an aunt, filing insurance claims, blah blah
  • Projects I’m currently working on: two (2) new stories, a bunch of old works, a collection of text self-portraits, my photo project, a collaborative live-writing performance, a triptych of monologues, bunches of things (probably a text-based game in the near future, among other things)
  • Things I’d like to do here: update, finish my LotR live-blogging (maybe get back into it over January), include more cooking updates, offer more opinions/speculation on things about writing and publication (as well as inevitably, current events), start blogging Adventure Days with one of my program-mates

A grand return, a grand exit

I start this blog post the way I’ve started the few that have appeared here in the last several months: I know that updates have been few and far between, that I vaguely allude to things going on in my life but never really explain them fully, that I really need to get back on stupid Two Towers liveblogging, &c., &c.

Well, in this triumphant return to blogging, I intend to reveal all/more like most to you.

I mentioned a while ago that I had started a new job at a coffee house, which is part of the reason why I have been so absent from the internet. This job has really been a joy and something I’m terribly thankful for–that great combination of giving me tons of hours (explaining my lack of stupid internet production), meeting and working with absolutely fantastic people, and learning a craft that is quite near and dear to my heart. I love working with food and drink—from production, enjoyment, and reviewing to the analysis of all three (and the myriad factors that affect them). Coffee is just one thing that’s particularly special and euphoria-inducing for me. I’ve always loved the atmosphere of coffee places, and frankly, silly as it may sound, have wanted to work at one since before I was old enough to even think about working part-time.

I’ve been trying to put my nose to the grind, travel less, and save my earnings, so as I said, I’ve had a difficult time keeping up with some of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. I haven’t lost sight of them, though, and starting in July I intend to get back to reading two books a month, liveblogging books for no good reason, and focusing on the design/story projects that I’ve  been kicking around in my head for the last three months. More information about those will be posted to Drawing Coffee as the particulars are established, but I’ll say right now that they require volunteer participation, so I hope that it’s something some of you will consider.

The other big focus of my attention recently has really mandated how I spent the rest of my time and efforts in the last few months. I’m glad to finally be able to publicly, proudly announce that I will be attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in September, seeking my Masters of Fine Arts in Writing. After a lot of work and a lot of deliberation about the direction of my life in the last year and a half, my decision to go back to school has brought me a lot of peace (and excitement! and of course, some mandatory stress). My mantra on writing is that, in order to be a writer in the 21st century, you have to be a hustler. You’ve got to be involved in every stage of the process: your own writing, the innovation and practices of the publishing industry, and in education and outreach. I felt grad school was the best manner of equipping myself to participate in all of these areas. As I go about crafting a degree and a job for myself, I intend to discuss my thoughts on the state of writing more at length, hopefully in the format of blog-columns somewhat similar to my previous writings for the Daily Illini.

That said, I’m moving to Chicago in the very near future. I was there last week with my soon-to-be roommate Allison (most recently a lady of Cambridge, as you may remember) to find an apartment. We found this.

There are so many things that I’m looking forward to, and I know that were it not for the things I’ve done here and the people who helped me along, I wouldn’t be headed in the direction I am. I can never express enough gratitude to:

  • My graduate school references, a team of brilliant and passionate people who have hugely shaped my life in the last six years, and whose willingness to represent me leaves me utterly dumbfounded. All five of them have encouraged me, inspired me, and given me hope for the state of writing and writing education.
  • My writing group, which has been a cornerstone of my sanity for the entirety of my time here. What an incredible luxury to hear their experiences and their works, and to have the benefit of their listening ears. A phenomenal bunch of people to be forever indebted to.
  • My friends, who are everywhere–my C-U folks, my recent grads who I am endlessly proud of, my old-new UIS crowd, my spectacular coworkers, my bf4l across the country, my Chicago crew, my fellow Kings of Wicker Park, my scattered friends who I only get to talk with via internet and text, a certain Merton…I could never name all of you in all the places you are, but without you, there could certainly be no me. Thank you for all the conversations and experiences both poignant and absurd, and your endless willingness to listen and invest your time and care in me.
  • My family, who somehow still surprise me with their level of confidence in me and my goals. I should know by now what an incredible support network I have, but I cannot help but be amazed.
  • The internet. You know, all you guys out there. Someone has to read this shit. I hope that you’ll continue to follow along as I expand my portfolio of work at Drawing Coffee and keep up with my misadventures and silliness here.<3

Thank you to everyone for everything.

Whatever whatever

Here is a really quick recap of everything in the world that has been happening since my last real posts here:

  • I’ve been trying to keep up with my 2 books/month goal and doing somewhat decently–I kind of got sidetracked in April because I started rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series in order to prepare myself for the debut of the HBO series and, more importantly, for the release of the fifth book in July. I’m also almost finished with David Eagleman’s fantastic collection of speculative short-shorts, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and Encounter,  Milan Kundera’s most recent collection of essays that has much to do with things Modern.
  • I am working a new (dream) job making coffee. In other coffee-related news, I have graduated to drinking Americanos.
  • I have been doing tons of planning and worrying and more planning and more worrying over things in my life.
  • I’ve been trying my hand at vegan baking. So far the best thing I’ve made are chocolate-raspberry cookies with walnuts. I’ll probably get around to posting that recipe in the near future.
  • I hurt my foot at the beginning of the year. It finally started getting better, and then after I started my new job, I hurt my knee. I think I should pretty much be better by next week and I’d like to start getting my foot muscles adjusted to my Vibrams again so that I can get back to running. I’m still nervous about the possibility of really having hurt my knee…we’ll see what happens. Finally back at the gym at least doing upper body weights.
  • Don’t worry! I haven’t been reading any more of Two Towers without you guys. Live-blogging will resume sometime in the future, when I have more time (as in when I am not working close to 40 hours a week, submitting paperwork, and trying to organize my whole life). Doing posts for a whole chapter can take a long time (as you’ve seen), and I like to just leisure read without an audience (plus I forgot how absorbed I get reading GRRM and I just set everything else aside).
  • Went to Bostland again in March to visit Allison. Roadtrip with the boys (Justin and Sean)! God I love Bostland.
  • Have bumped into/reconnected with a bunch of folks from UIS in the last few months. The world is a very small place.
  • Learning to plan but not to worry about things I can’t control. Taking more time to talk less, think and read more. Knowing what I want and appreciating the ability to recognize. Continuing to be ambiguous about my life in blog posts. 🙂

My disposable relationship

Dianna Cohen: Tough truths about plastic pollution (from TED.com)

Dianna Cohen’s brief talk offers a good overview of information regarding plastic pollution, and how we’ve gotten to the point we’re at. It’s something that I find myself thinking about regularly, especially in terms of my own contribution to these massive gyres of plastic. I’ve made a lot of effort in the months since I graduate to impose particular kinds of rules on myself about my behaviors in order to better manage my time, and I’ve had some decent successes (for example, you won’t see me doing non-blog things on Facebook right now). That said, I think it’s time I started devoting some of my personal willpower to restricting the amount of single-use waste I create.

Things kind of started with coffee (as with so many other things in my life).  I’m a near-everyday coffee drinker, and usually I make it at home myself. Thankfully for me, on the days when I don’t have time, I can always run around the corner from where I work and get some, which started happening on a semi-regular basis over the summer. And every time I went out for coffee, I felt really guilty looking at my disposable paper cup and the “recyclable” plastic lid that would probably be shipped off to China and burned. This is probably a little unusual for a lot of people, but anyone who knows me remotely well knows I have a perhaps overactive conscience, and these cups were really getting to me. So, I told myself that if I forgot to bring my own mug to buy coffee to go, I wasn’t allowed to get any.

While this has been a really good solution for me, I was admittedly not someone, even over the summer, who was buying coffee out every single day. But I do think this is a small, easily-enacted solution for people who hit the Starbucks drive-through on their way to work every morning–you just have to think about it differently. If I buy a large coffee (probably 16-oz.) at my usual spot, I’m looking at almost $2.00. Okay, not bad. But many places (including the one I go to) offer a substantial discount–sometimes as much as $0.50–on a drink simply for bringing your own mug. Depending upon who’s ringing me up at my usual spot, they also charge me the price of small coffee (even though I have a 16-0z. mug), which they then give me a discount on (this is probably more likely at local places versus Starbucks, but you never know). Bringing my own mug in the morning means I’ve reduced the cost of my coffee by half–I’m paying a buck for enough coffee to last me all day. My point to all you already-made coffee buyers–it’s much cheaper for you to bring your own mug. Save yourself some money, even if you don’t care about reducing the amount of disposable items you’re using. And if you do care about bringing down your level of plastic consumption, spring for a stainless steel mug instead of a plastic one–again, you’re doing your coffee habit a favor. Double-walled steel keeps coffee hotter longer (so you can avoid the blasphemy of reheating), isn’t porous like plastic (if you drink out of plastic mugs, the acidity of coffee will pretty much make that mug taste/smell like coffee forever, so don’t plan on drinking anything else out of it unless you want it to be coffee-tinged), is more durable, and let’s face it, it’s just sexier.

Lately I’ve been thinking that I should stop being lazy and do more to apply this same kind of restriction to my other plastic-consuming habits. I’ve got a load of non-plastic bags (that I already had) that I keep in my trunk for groceries, and it occurred to me the other day that I should be using them for every kind of shopping, especially clothes. I bring my bags in everywhere else or turn bags down for small items I can carry easily or put in my purse, so why should it be any different if I go somewhere to buy jeans? Yes, there are at least some visible efforts being made by stores to collect plastic bags for recycling, but I still get the feeling that most of them are still being burned somewhere. Plus, it’s not as though any plastic bag you get from a store (in the majority of circumstances, anyway) is being made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, either. Great, this bag might be recyclable, but it’s probably not actually being recycled and it’s definitely not being made into a plastic bag again to keep us from producing completely new plastic bags from scratch–which is true of pretty much all of the plastic items we use on a regular basis. And maybe this is where I start getting into crazy territory to some people, but I fully intend to stop using styrofoam containers from restaurants and start bringing my own (ceramic or glass) reusable containers to take my leftovers home.

Personally, I think that to drastically decrease plastic consumption, businesses should offer financial incentive for customers–at present I think it’s the only measure that would seriously impact how much plastic we use. I think stores should charge for plastic bags, and restaurants should charge for to-go boxes. In that spirit, I’m opting to “charge” myself for every time I have to take anything disposable, and set that money aside to be donated to a cause I care about. If I can make it work for coffee, then I can make it work for other things too–and while it doesn’t cut all the disposable items out of my life, it’s a start in the direction of drastically changing my personal consumption habits.

Your daily dose of more stuff to read

More webcomics for you to read–I’ve been hearing a lot about reMIND from webcomic creators who also read webcomics. It’s on my radar, I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

If you want to get in on the ground floor of a promising-looking comic that’s just starting out (and has a really spectacularly designed webpage), check out Sfeer Theory (though my jury is still out on the idea of “sfeer” being an acceptable word). The premise is promising and the art is beautiful.

But the big plug of this post is a comic I finally got a chance to read through today called The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal. It is a quick read even through a year of archives, but it is one you will want to re-read and re-re-read. E.K. Weaver’s art is gorgeous, with even the wispiest, vaguest of sketches capturing heavy emotions. She doesn’t lead the reader by the hand, but her art perfectly conveys the obvious facts you need to advance the storyline while leaving emotions and thoughts richly nebulous. The story could be told through black and white sketches alone, but her audience gets the added treat of phenomenal text. Her dialogue sparkles with charm and is some of the most convincing I have ever read. You are really missing something beautiful if you don’t check this out.

What I think when I read things like this: I stick by the idea that to be a writer, you have to be first and foremost a reader. To me that means “reading” any and every type of story you can find, and working to seek out those beyond the traditional.

Add it to your reading list

Just wanted to discuss some recreational reading I’ve been doing over the last few days.

First, a blog that was recently featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed page. It’s called Tranifesto, and it features discussion and opinion related to trans issues. The post WordPress featured was this one–a great introduction to a great blog. It’s very well-written and offers interesting and challenging perspectives on things perhaps even the queerest of us haven’t given much thought to. It’s also fantastically accessible–for people who are new to the variety of topics Matt Kailey talks about, he provides a ton of resources and introductory information. If you wanted to read something to kick your brain into high gear today, this is it.

Next, a new novel I’d like to pick up, although I’m more likely to grab it after it comes out in trade cover (not that I mind hard cover, but I don’t have the $25 to shell out for it right now): The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. Bender tends to write off-kilter fiction that I would consider magical realist or surrealist. To date I believe she’s only published one other book, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, which is a collection of short stories that I read for my final creative writing workshop and adored (and which, once upon a time, a friend of a friend designed a cover jacket for, long before I ever knew I would read it). A single short story collection endeared Bender to me as a writer that I would love to emulate–I think that’s grounds for checking her out.

Last, a webcomic I stumbled upon (and read all of) last night: Hanna Is Not A Boy’s Name! Described by its author as “sugarcoated horror“, this ongoing page-style narrative is what I might refer to as “humor horror,” perhaps vaguely akin to the idea of a “romzomcom” (romantic zombie comedy) as it’s presented in the film Shaun of the Dead. The incorporation of the narrator’s thoughts-as-text into the action and movement of the eye-catching and phenomenal panels Tessa Stone draws is only one spectacular aspect of an amazingly illustrated and enjoyably written work. As with some of the other works I’ve mentioned before, this comic updates spontaneously but regularly, so be prepared for a little bit of waiting between installments. Keeps you hungry for more, though.

Happy reading.

One of those moments you have

I worked out on a cross-trainer Monday (the last of my cardio before ankle-healing regimen), which, at the gym I go to, has a TV on the front. I don’t really like to watch TV while I work out because I’ll end up laughing at something (which either throws my breathing off or looks really crazy to the people around me), or there will be nothing worth watching on (when is there ever?). Instead, on this particular day, I was spending my time listening all the way through an album I recently acquired–the kind of listening I used to do when I was a kid and didn’t get new CDs very often, when I would rip the shrink wrap off in the car so I could start thumbing through the CD booklet before taking off into the house, shutting myself in my room, and listening through the album three or four times while trying to memorize the lyrics and decide which songs I liked best.

So I’m listening to OK Go’s Of the Blue Colour of the Sky and checking my heart rate and looking around. To the left of me, someone had left the television on atop the now-unoccupied cross-trainer. My eyes unfortunately kept being drawn back to the screen by interview portions of a television show featuring young women wearing too much make-up and looking as though the show revolved around them generally making asses of themselves. Near the end of my time on the cross-trainer (and I guess the beginning of a second episode of this shit, oh joy), I noticed that the opening of this particular episode of the show involves the apparently oldest daughter (who looks conversely youthful–her actual age, pressumably–and wrinkled in the way that screams “I fake-bake too religiously”) toweling off after her shower, her mom telling her how hot she looks and calling her sisters in to  look at her, and then her mother taking posed naked photos of her oldest daughter.

What the fuck? And it only gets more fucked up if you read what the show is actually about.

%d bloggers like this: