Faux Pork — Shredded Seitan Sandwiches

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It’s hard to constantly think up new meals. (I’m sure this isn’t just a vegan problem since I see so many planners with meal planning stickers and such that just say “chicken” or “beef” as though that’s a meal in and of itself.) I mean, vegans have pasta (plenty of protein in that without meat), beans, grains, seitan, tofu, tempeh, various processed faux products, nuts… Lots of base ingredients.

At any rate, I was looking for steak sauce to put on a portobello, but the store was out and instead found this:

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Terrible picture, yes. But, read the ingredients and despite the photo of what appears to be pork on the front (a lot of professional food photography is of things that look like food but aren’t actually edible), the ingredients checked out as animal-free.

Other ingredients:

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  • two boxes of WestSoy seitan
  • Bag of whole wheat buns
  • shredded coleslaw blend (Whole Foods sells this in bulk and even at $5.99 a pound, a dinner’s worth is cheaper than buying two whole cabbages and carrots — most of which will go bad before we finish eating it)
  • Tablespoon or two of grapeseed or coconut oil
  • Organicville non-dairy coleslaw dressing

20150719_184535(1)I shredded the seitan strips in my food processor so they had more of a “shredded pork” look and so there was more surface area to soak up sauce. I browned the shreds slightly in a pan and then lowered the heat and added the sauce packet, a tad (less than a quarter cup) of water and a few sprinkles of white wine vinegar (optional, but the husband and I grew up in eastern NC where BBQ sauce is very vinegary).

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In a bowl, I combined the coleslaw blend with enough dressing to make it tasty but not drippy.

Served it on buns with a side of vegetarian baked beans.

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Planner checklist: Adding new habits

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I’m not so great at adding that one thing and doing it every day until it’s rote and then adding something else. Partly because there are things I want to do regularly, but not every day — like updating this blog. Then there are things I should probably do every day, but sometimes forget or never get around to or otherwise fail on — like practicing katas. Then there are things I want to do each day, but regularly find a way to not do — like practicing lettering or sketching or journaling. You know the things. You know the excuses.

I thought about buying a custom stamp to use in my planner, but then I remembered I had leftover 2″x2.5″ sticker samples from a candle project (the stickers aren’t strong enough to adhere to glass and the colors are all wrong). I mocked up some little grids in Photoshop and stuck them in the “notes” section of my SmartPlanner pages. (The stickers are ugly as sin because the line tool keeps malfunctioning and the font’s stretched too much, but this is a test batch and it’s not for anyone but me.)

After most of a week (the weekend isn’t over), I’ve managed twenty little checkmarks out of a possible 70. Not sure that’s so great, but again…weekend. I do like the idea of the check boxes, though. There’s something satisfying about checking off a task.

And it’s pretty easy to squeeze “plank” in since I can do it while I’m waiting for the microwave to heat up lunch. And 20 slow breathes takes me between a minute and a minute 15 seconds, so I don’t really have to stop and find a timer for that one. The katas seem hardest behind lettering because I never seem to have enough space indoors to practice things like bo (long staff) or sai without taking out furniture, cats, or light fixtures. (And it’s been way too stormy lately to be swinging kama or swords around outside.) Lettering seems to be that I’m not a big “quotes” or “pithy” sayings person, so I never know what to letter. (Does writing upbeat messages on the fridge chalkboard for the husband count?)

Writing and reading seem to be the easiest. That’s probably a good sign. All right, I’m off to plank while the microwave nukes my spaghetti leftovers.

How do you force yourself into new habits?

*checks off “blog”*

Outsider Syndrome

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No, that’s not a real disease as far as I know. But I do often feel like I just don’t fit it. Anywhere.

I mean, I love office supplies and stationery and pens and planners, but… I’m not a high end collector, but I also don’t just buy anything shiny at the Target Dollar Spot, which seems to be the two most vocal extremes. I don’t care for the Pilot Frixion pens either, which might be as blasphemous as saying I don’t care for Mont Blanc.  I can find no other fans of my favorite pens even in the most vocal stationery communities and as for planners? I’m not buying an Erin Condron. Ever. I don’t constantly buy new ones or spend hours washi-taping and stickering my weeks. Which makes me kind of an outlier in those groups, too.

I like comics okay. I’ve read some that were awesome. Read some that were meh. Not crazy about superheros because I just don’t have the desire to keep track of all that. There’s a lot of backstory and a lot of issues and a lot of A LOT. For someone with a passing interest, it’s way too damn much. I also have no desire to get into internet arguments about about whether a reboot is being true to the creator’s vision from 1945. Plus, the superhero outfits are often just too silly to appeal to me. Fighting crime in a string bikini makes no sense, but neither does a neon leotard.

I hardly ever watch movies. I can’t seem to keep up with popular TV shows. I used to watch anime with a friend of mine, but I can’t keep up with that either. And, while it’s not fun to do alone, it’s not fun to feel alone in a crowd of rabid fans either.

I do martial arts, but a whole lot of that community is either tournament focused or Realistic Fight Defense focused in a way that makes it seem like they all walk around hoping to get jumped in an alley by a zombie riding a dinosaur. I practice martial arts. I enjoy it. But I’ve had a lot of years of walking around aware of my surroundings — because if anything ever happens to a woman, she gets blamed by our culture for what she’s wearing and doing and where she was wearing and doing things despite the fact that there’s more than a couple of dudes out there who don’t understand personal space or that touching or attacking women is wrong. A lot of years of watching people and trying to assess their potential for harm. Which isn’t to say I shouldn’t be able to go anywhere I damn well please — because I should — or that I blame anyone for anything if they do — because I don’t — but rather that I’d rather do martial arts in the dojo. I don’t want to have to explain to a cop why I hurt someone anymore than I want to explain how I got hurt.

I write, but I’m not published. Not sure I’m likely to be. Everyone else I know is, in some fashion or other. I got left behind. Figures, I was probably walking the long way around to avoid a creepy dude or otherwise in the wrong place at the wrong time. If there were an award for wrong place, wrong time, I’d be a contender. Not in the catastrophe category, mind you. More in that kind of always being two years too early, too tall three years before they made longer pants, getting a degree a year before it’s obsolete… that always being just slightly “off the beat” rather than standing on the one spot the asteroid hits. Which means, more and more when I attend writer-based events, I feel left out. The loser. The kid who doesn’t understand all their new, adult woes.

Along the same lines, I used to belong to a local book club. Enjoyed going, but then I spent too many nights at the dojo and didn’t want to spent the last free one at book club. Plus, the makeup of the group started changing. Vocal guy who refused to read anything written by women started showing up. Discussions turned from intelligent to downright pedantic with the addition of some newer people. And I felt like I never got a word in. I could be there the whole time and not utter a word. Which felt like I wasn’t there, so I stopped being there.

I like plants and gardening. Not well enough for this to be more than an attempt to keep the yard jungle-y enough to hide the neighbors while being civilized enough to get from house to car without a machete.

I follow a bunch of crafters and entrepreneurs, but I find most of them are focused less on selling goods instead of all selling the same e-book on using social media platforms to gain buyers or followers or creating hashtags or e-courses on using Pinterest or setting up Etsy shops or something. I know a lot of things, but I don’t feel I know any of those things well enough to charge people money to tell them about it. (The husband disagrees, because he compares my knowledge to his mother’s. Not sure that’s good or bad, but his point is that I lack confidence in the things I know because I don’t know everything.) At any rate, they’re all cheery and post nonstop staged photos of flowers and bright accessories on all white backgrounds in all white rooms and I don’t have any of that. Not sure I want any of that. The all white spaces might look good on Instagram, but they seem sterile, clinical in person. I don’t want to feel like I live in fancy rehab center.

I studied art and photography in college, but I’m not an artist or a photographer. I don’t feel comfortable existing in spaces with artists and photographers except silently, an anonymous observer. Artists and photographers are like writers and agents — they tend to look down on people they see as pretenders, unworthy talentless hacks.

I haven’t touched a video game besides sudoku on my phone in years. I used to play with the guys here, but the husband has one of those friends who spends so much time playing that he can’t stand watching anyone who isn’t “doing it right” so he was always yelling “go that way” or taking the controller away to “just get you to the next save point.” That’s no fun. He still does that to his other friends and my husband. I just quit going in there.

Nobody likes a noob. And fans seem to have become more niche, more obsessive, more exclusionary with the increase in internet use. Before, it was enough for everyone in a group to have a passing interest and learn more about a thing together. Now, it feels like one has to become an expert alone in order to enter the arena of fanhood or risk being shunned or cast out. And I’m never enough of any one thing to really belong.

In the meantime, I’m going to be over here with my coffee and my own drummer. (Eh, more coffee for me, I guess.)

Love-Hate Miami

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Miami at twilight.

A photo posted by Neliza Drew (@nelizadrew) on

I was trying to explain this last night to friends; I have a love-hate relationship with Miami. It has tons of culture and a thriving arts community, cool architecture — art deco, Mediterranean, modern…certainly some of their newer buildings around Miami-Dade county are more visually appealing than some of the boring boxy glass towers Broward has let get thrown up — funky signage, diversity of people and activities… There’s a lot to see and do and experience and a vibrancy you can feel. It’s also full of the most insane traffic this side of L.A., terrible drivers, illogical parking — when you can find it, — rudeness and entitlement stemming from that sort of obsession with hyper-coolness I can’t begin to understand.

And thus, I spent yesterday between two worlds down there. To start, I headed down to the Miami Pen Show. Yes, there’s a show for pens in case you didn’t know such a thing was possible.

I was cranky when I got down there.  It was hot and I’d taken my husband’s truck, which doesn’t feel like a meandering adventure so much as the kind of a “destination-focused” ride. It’s big, with an expansive front and equally huge interior and it just feels like what you’d drive if you need to Get Somewhere. (This is opposed to my old Wrangler, which is the sort of car you have to mellow to drive. You need to be extra-vigilant and focused driving my Jeep — none of that eating and calling and whatnot — but because you’re absorbed in the task, it doesn’t feel so goal oriented. Irony, maybe.) I was hungry. I had to pee. There was no parking. Grr…Miami.

So, I stopped at Publix, used the restroom, picked up some Krazy Glue I needed to fix a couple of mugs, got a plastic ruler in hopes that 69 cents will mean my old metal ruler reappears. I also ate some lunch in the car because I’m a big fan of bringing my own food places. 


I found parking over at Downtown Dadeland. (Prorated for the time you’re there instead of the $19 flat valet fee the Marriott wanted. Someone mentioned later that day parking at the Marriott was $8, but no one at the valet stand seemed to know about that. Besides, I hate valet and I ended up only paying $5. Someone else told me just to park at the Publix, but they have giant tow zone signs and trying to get a car out of a tow lot in Miami is on no one’s list of fun things to do.)

The pen show I’m making a separate post, but feel free to find out what happened after I got to the Marriott by making with the clicky.

No sooner do I get home and make dinner for the husband and I than our friend texts him and asks if I want to go with her to Art Walk in Wynwood. (They used to work together, so her texting him first isn’t as odd as it sounds.) By the time she and he and her and me all text back and forth and she texts back and forth with her other girlfriends, I end up with about ten minutes to fluff my hair, fix my makeup, grab some shoes and drive fifteen minutes away.

The Wynwood Art Walk has been going on for years now and it’s grown like an unwieldly amoeba all over that area of Miami. There’s no real parking – dudes with signs offering the use of vacant lots they don’t own, fighting over street spaces with people who never learned parallel parking, sketchy lots on dark streets. (I mentioned that parking in Miami is a pain in the ass, right?) The galleries and warehouses and restaurants and clubs operate in some state of quasi-organized chaos and while the area where the food trucks were parked appeared to have been planned by someone, it wasn’t exactly like figure out what was going on without three hipster friends and a half dozen hashtags.

To contrast, the FAT Village Art Walk up in Fort Lauderdale has grown a lot since it spun off from Wynwood years ago, from a single block of warehouse galleries to most of Flagler Village, the park, Mass District, etc. Now, it’s possible Fort Lauderdale’s chaos seemed more organized because I know the right hipsters and hashtags for that one, but they also have a trolley, free parking at a lot on the edge of the area (with trolley pickups from), and more streetlights. Yes, I said streetlights. It just feels easier to figure out what’s happening when you can see it.

Back to Miami where the girls had printed tickets for something called “Secret Garden,” the website of which said it was free before 10pm. After a lot of standing in line, pushing and shoving with the entitled “I don’t wait” crowd, and paying $20 (at 9:45) because “free before 10” apparently means “free if you printed this thing before 10” if you speak the language of we-generated-mild-buzz-so-we-can-do-whatever-the-fuck-we-want. I actually wonder if the organizer of the event didn’t just get his or her friends to go make a line so the thing looked more popular than it should’ve been since everyone knows that Miami is a bit like 80s-era USSR in that they will stand in the longest line at McDonald’s because they think that means its’ the best – yet in Miami they will also skip and line jump and shove their way to the front even if there are three other open registers just because not waiting is a badge of honor.

Inside, we saw some cool clothing designs, a dude painting a wall, some random art (by which I mean it failed the gallery requirements of being properly displayed, well lit, not in the middle of traffic flow so drunk people run into it, and centered around some sort of artist or theme no matter how fleeting or tenuous that theme. Oh, and no air conditioning. If you’re charging people $20 after making them stand in line, get some air conditioning. The fashion was awesome, what I could see of it with the truck high beams pointing at nothing blinding me. I’d like to have been able to see the dresses and jackets better. The three random photos were okay. Interesting. Maybe not my thing. The paintings on the wall in the back I saw better on Instagram because to get to them at the time we passed through seemed to require running an obstacle course. The metal Deadmau5 head was…was exactly that is what it was.

Outside, it was vendors and a DJ and porta potties. The porta potties were relatively nice for portable toilets, so there’s that.

Look, in a gallery – especially the warehouse sort where there isn’t a lot of overhead (like, you know, air conditioning or proper lighting) – I want to see some art. I want to be able to see the art (which means lighting and a plan for traffic flow, sorry hipsters) and I want to be intrigued, inspired, interested, etc., even if it’s not really my favorite style. A spectacle is one thing, but if it’s all spectacle with no substance, and the spectacle itself feels forced, false, then it’s all just so much meh. Which is unfortunate because again, the fashion and the paintings seemed like really cool things and for $20, I feel cheated that I couldn’t really see either of them. And that drunk dudes annoyed the shit out of us while we waited to pee.

On the way back to the car, we paused near the food trucks to finish our drinks only to be accosted by three more drunk idiots, one of which could not stop getting into our faces and touching us and yelling about healing me with his psychotherapy. Dude, if we’re not in an office where your degree is hanging on the wall and I’ve come there voluntarily, don’t go telling me you’re providing therapy. And if someone says, “don’t touch me,” DON’T FUCKING TOUCH HER.

We ended up at an Asian fusion place watching the kitchen staff make udon Bolognese while nibbling on a bunch of small plates. Well, they nibbled on a bunch of small plates and I ate some eggplant because vegetarians don’t eat brisket buns.

Like I told them, I love the stuff Miami has to offer, I just don’t generally want to have to talk to anyone while I’m down there.

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Miami Pen Show

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I may have had a few moments while trying to figure out parking in Dadeland where I’d wished A) I’d taken the train, B) I’d driven my Jeep instead of the husband’s truck, and C) that I’d stayed home. I have a love-hate relationship with Miami and its fun lack of parking and terrible drivers. That said, let’s head in the Marriott. (I also can’t recall a good experience with a Marriott, but then, I like boutique hotels, clown motels, and camping.)

Here’s the thing, I’ve been obsessed with pens and paper and stationery and art and office supplies since I was small. Like, as a kid I went to the office supply aisle in department stores the way other kids ran for the toys. I got a desk-style tape dispenser when I turned 16. This is back before you could get one anywhere and we lived in a fairly small town, so the options were pretty much order it through work or go to the specialty shop one town over.

I also have preferences that make my non-pen-obsessed friends and family think I’m mental. I like certain points and shapes and most of my pens end up coming from Japan by way of a few retailers because I like my needle points and little more needle-y than you can find at Publix.

That said, I am not into super-expensive pens. I don’t have any interest in collecting $300 fountain pens. I don’t covet $2000 limited edition pens. Not even a little. Oh, I like a pretty pen, but more than that, I like a functional pen. The Lamys aren’t “pretty” but they come in pretty colors. They are pricier than a pack of Pilot G2s, but they aren’t that much more than a 12-pack of Pilot G2s. And most people don’t refill those. (Although you can, and with smaller tip refills, too.) I’m pretty much the only person I know who raves about the Platinum Preppy and Platinum Plasir pens. Why? Most people who buy cheap go with the Pilot Varsity (too disposable and too broad nibbed for me) even though for about the same price you can write with the Preppy much longer. And for people who like using the bright Lamy inks for highlighting, Preppy makes highlighters that use the same refill cartridges, which means, you could technically create an underliner by putting a highlighter cartridge in a fountain pen. (Another good thing about spending $3 on a pen is that trying something like that doesn’t feel like a gamble.)

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It’s super light, but as an under-liner instead of a highlighter it would work pretty well. I don’t know. I usually use pencil for that sort of thing.

The Plasir pens are actually what got me back to using fountain pens regularly. Years ago, I had a Levenger True Writer that, while unbelievably pretty, was a pain in the ass to use. The thing was just fussy. You couldn’t leave it uncapped for longer than forty seconds without everything drying up. You couldn’t let it stay in a purse or pen case for a day or two without writing with it unless you wanted to wash it out and start over. It was heavy, much too heavy for everyday scribbling. And it was the kind of pen that’s weighted to be used uncapped — which meant I was forever losing the cap for a pen that hated being uncapped. I had a Waterman that wasn’t much better and had such a wide, wet nib it altered my handwriting to nearly unrecognizable. It was like writing with a river. Or a fire hose.

The Preppy pens and their slightly fancier cousins, the Plasirs don’t mind if  you leave them uncapped on your desk to run to the restroom, get water, forget what you were doing and come back two hours later. They don’t mind hanging out in my pen cup or pen roll for two weeks between uses. Nice fine line. Easy to clean. Converter or cartridge. And because the line is nice and fine, I don’t have to get all twee about papers. Some people are into that. I’m not. I love Paperblanks journals. I have a couple of Moleskines. But I also like taking notes on cheap task pads from Staples. I don’t mind a bit of feathering; I just don’t want there to be so much ink it soaks through three sheets of paper.

Besides, even if I had hundreds of dollars to spend on pens, it wouldn’t make sense. I’m a klutz. I managed to break a Zebra Sarasa Clip pen the second time I used it. I told one vendor and his wife I couldn’t touch their pens no matter how much they encouraged it because a freak earthquake would happen or a meteor would hit or something that would cause me to drop it and break it. They didn’t seem to take me seriously. I told my husband the story when I got home and he just nodded, “Yeah, I can see that happening.” (He’s known me twenty years.)

All that said, the pen show was interesting. Just because I’m not into high-end collectible pens doesn’t mean it wasn’t cool to see all the pretties. Some were gorgeous. Somewhere just too weird. Some I’m sure looked like the Holy Grail to other buyers but to me just looked like an old dinged up pen and not worth $180. There were a lot that were awesome to behold, but seemed way too impractical to a user like me. (I don’t want pens to sit in a vault. I want pens I can write with.) I don’t want the “twee” aspect of pens or to get overly fetishy about papers. It’s cool if people do – as long as they aren’t obnoxious about it (see below) – but that’s not my deal. I’m ask likely to pick a notebook by smell as anything else. (And I am just as in love with the texture of cheap college ruled paper after I’ve covered both sides with needle point gel scribble as I am the creaminess of a brand new Moleskine or the light tooth of Paperblanks.)

And then there were the people. Shawn Newton of Newton Pens was delightful. He also makes some really cool-looking pens that are nowhere near my price range but also aren’t overly…pretentious like some of the multi-hundred dollar pens. Lisa Vanness of Vanness was also super helpful and charming. I ended up buying a small bottle of Iroshizuku from her (along with three small bottles of J Herbin). I hadn’t invested in any Iroshizuku before, despite all the people raving about it because $30 seemed like way too much of a commitment to a color I might not like (despite all the swatches) or might get bored with before it’s done. Lisa Vanness showed me her smaller bottles, which were perfect.

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The guy I ended up buying a Monteverde from (who didn’t give me a card that I can find at the moment) was informative and friendly. Let me look, but answered my questions and was generally affable without being pushy. There were a few vendors who were friendly, warm, and nice even though they didn’t have anything I wanted or could afford. And then there were vendors who seemed to size up my lack (of money, expertise, use) in an instant and behave standoffish, snobby, or constantly asked if I needed help as though if not watched, I might walk off with something.

Which brings me to this point: look, there are thousands of kinds of fandom and geekery. Just this weekend, there’s San Diego Comic Con, ThrillerFest, and countless other, smaller events like the Miami Pen Show. There’s gatherings for all sorts of things and people who obsess over things as varied as succulents, vinyl punk albums, and bowling shoes. If you are an established member of any fandom, if you’re a treasured icon of your brand of nerdery, don’t be a dick to people. If you’re not a pedestal standing member of your tribe but you’re still deeply entrenched in the culture, don’t be a dick. I know you’ve invested all this time and money and you think you’re awesome and you’re worried about people stealing your thunder or taking away what makes you special, but people can’t do that. You give away your power when you act like a tween in a Batman tee shirt is ruining something because she hasn’t read every comic twice and created an alternate timeline map on the wall of her bedroom. You give away your power when you act like someone who likes plastic gel pens isn’t worthy of knowing how to write words on paper. You give away your power when you act like a casual show goer has no right to hear your favorite band because they haven’t trekked across an ocean to see them play in an obscure German club.

And, a lot of high-end buyers are Baby Boomers. They’re aging. Be nice to the people who don’t know what they do, who don’t have the money they have. They might be buying Target Dollar Spot pens now or have a purse full of Pilot Frixons, but they could be your future buyers all the same.

I mean, I know Miami can make a person surly and there’s a lot of shoving and space-invading and parking-nightmare having and sweating (it’s why I regrouped at Publix), but try not to be a dick anyway.

Another shot of the Monteverde Mount Fuji.

A photo posted by Neliza Drew (@nelizadrew) on

New pen seems right at home with my old Platinum Plasir. #pengeek #penaddicts

A photo posted by Neliza Drew (@nelizadrew) on

Writing and Writers — How “real” are you?

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“Writers write.”

Yes. That makes sense.

“Writers have to write every day.” “If you aren’t writing every day, you aren’t a real writer.”

That one? I need to call bullshit on that or at least pull it apart a little. Look, I get the concept of “professional” and “hobbyist” and I understand that even well-known, established authors are working their arthritic fingers to the bone to keep up with deadlines and bolster sales numbers, etc. I’ve heard all the things about day jobs and squeezing life dry and passion.

Here’s the thing, tough: Not everyone’s wired the same. One person may write 1000 words a day. Another 500. Someone else 5000. Someone else may eek out 100. The person who pounds out 5000 may have to edit those 5000 twenty times or once. The person who puts down 100 may never have to touch them again. Joe may write 250 words every morning when he wakes up. Jane may wait until weekends and write 2000 during Susie’s karate class and Sam’s swim lesson. Is her 2000 less than his 1750 because it wasn’t done “every day” but all at once? Should we admonish her for not generating more because she only used one day out of the week?

Now, we allow that some people are “plotters” and some people are “pantsers.” Well, except that we’ll let the plotters set aside days or weeks to “plan” and call that planning writing. They’re committing thoughts and words to the story; it’s just not in the draft yet. Yet, if pantsers take a day off in the middle of the week to figure out where the story’s going, they’ve “broken consistency.” They’re off the word-churning wagon and we take their chips away. They feel they need twice as many words the next day to make up for their slacking.

Nanowrimo kind of works on this principle: you can plot before November, but come November 1, you better be putting down any random words you find in your head. And we all admit that’s a bit disingenuous. That those “novels” need plenty of editing before they make sense. And by the same token, the biggest proponents of “write everyday” admit that “you can’t fix a blank page” so just write anything. Sometimes that’s valuable. Sometimes, not so much. Sometimes reading something, taking a walk, pondering the possibilities of the plot is a better use of time — so that the stuff you throw on the blank page tomorrow has a better chance of not being deleted the day after.

Then again, what do I know? I’m nobody.

Well, what I do know is that we don’t use this yardstick for other professions. No one tells a lawyer that if she goes to the beach with her family she’s no longer a “lawyer” if she’s not filing motions from her lounge chair. No one tells a shopkeeper he isn’t a “real shop owner” if he takes the day off to drive his wife to outpatient surgery and leaves his employees in charge. No one suggests my husband isn’t a GIS expert when we’re road tripping and he’s letting me navigate.

Is this blog post “writing”? Some say journaling counts. Some say poetry counts. Some say the only writing that counts is the words added to your WIP.

Eh, don’t ask me. I’m not a real writer.

But maybe we should be taking advice with that proverbial grain of salt and worrying about our own goals and less about the dictates of naysayers.

Music & the art of being uncool

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My head is full of thoughts this week. Thoughts I can’t quite articulate. Thoughts I can’t believe still need to be said. Thoughts I’ve said again and again to no avail. Thoughts muddled.

Instead, I’m going to talk about music. I love music. I love listening to it, pretty much all the time. I have a stack of mixed CDs in my Jeep (because it’s way too old for anything fancier than a CD player and even that’s an upgrade over its original tape deck). I have Pandora on the TV or the Chromebook or my phone most of the time I’m at home or out walking or trying to jog. Despite my hatred of iTunes, I haven’t switched because there’s 32 days worth of stuff in there. And it’s that small because my hard drive and my budget don’t leave room for much more.

That said, I have terrible taste. I’ve been told so by nearly every person who’s come into contact with me. Almost everyone who’s ever been a passenger in my Jeep. Almost everyone who’s come to the house and been subjected to my Pandora stations or, before, the 300 CDs on shuffle in the stereo or my iTunes playlists. This terrible taste goes back as far as high school when I discovered Little Earthquakes. Even Bitch Magazine will tell you listening to Tori Amos is hopelessly uncool.

Most off-putting to people seems to be the Japanese pop. Even the ones who tolerate Utada or even Ayu can’t get behind Nana Kitade. Even the friend who loves anime dislikes the tracks not associated with his favorite shows. (Beyond him, the closest any of my friends got to endorsing any of it was the girl who borrowed an Ayumi Hamasaki CD to drive across the state because “the screeching keeps me awake.”)

There’s the eye rolls from the guys (and my perkier, top-40 friend) about all the “angry lesbians” who aren’t all lesbians, for the record, and are not always angry. *crosses arms and gives side eye* There’s the atheist who can’t understand why I like Beth Hart. The classical pianist who doesn’t think anyone should listen to Green Day and that my having listened to them since Kerplunk is sure sign there’s something wrong with me. Then there’s the friend who likes the indie folk stuff, tolerates the pseudo-punk and the 90s rock, but hates the Chicane and Afrobeta, and Aesop Rock, and Sia, and anything that smells like dubstep. There’s the friend who adds hipster-y indie dude-bro stations to Pandora every time I leave the room because he heard about them from servers half his age at work and he very much wants to be cool.

And no one can figure out how Nneka (love her!) or Zazie or Anna Vissi or the Yoshida Brothers got in there. And they’ve all given up trying to figure out how it seems normal to jump from Front 242 to Lizzo. And I guess the answer is I’m just uncool.

Am I good enough yet? Does it matter?

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Am I good enough? Will I ever be? Should I quit now? What if no one ever reads my writing? What if no one ever likes it? What if no one ever likes me? What if? I suspect most writers wonder some variation of these questions at some point. I suspect many never stop wondering.

There exists a certain number of repeated themes among writers, agents, publishers, and their various fans and cheerleaders.

“Keep going, keep submitting. [Insert random famous writer’s name] was rejected [some large number between 20 and 90, generally] before being published.”

“If you aren’t finding an agent or publisher, if you get rejected ‘too much’ [some nebulous amount never quantified like the optimistic version], maybe you’re not good enough yet. Keep writing. Everyone has a ‘drawer novel or six.'”

“publishers want diverse books by diverse voices.”

“we like this, but we’re not sure how to sell it. Have you considered [making it less diverse in some way]?”

“Self publish only if you’re egotistical and want to see your name on a book because you’ll make no money and the only reader will be your mom. Besides, without a team of professionals, it will be of low-quality and destroy your chances of a real publishing deal.”

“Self publishing is the only way to really control your career and make money. Besides, [insert name of outlier success story] would have never gotten a deal if [he/she] hadn’t self published and sold [x] copies.”

“Write the book you want to read. That’s where the best ideas/writing is. You’re a reader, too.” “Don’t chase fads. Write what you’re passionate about.”

“When you’re serious about getting published, stop writing books for you and start writing books for readers. Books that sell.”

The overall message is less one of “there are multiple paths to success” and more one of “anything you do is wrong, but if you say you feel that way, you are whiny and unworthy and you just don’t understand.’ There’s also a lot of contradiction and a lot of ways to do something that will cause derision and snark to burst forth from industry insiders. There are a lot of ways to misstep and find oneself mocked, usually in a thinly veiled fashion, on the internet. There’s a certain level of snobbery that may be an artifact of New York life, of all those years getting MFAs or graduate degrees in 15th century poetry, or that same human behavior that causes formerly lower-middle class people to suddenly look down their nose at friends after a year of being married to a someone who can buy a Cadillac as a present. Once people find themselves on the good side of the door, they want to beat back those they think might steal their place, even if the notion is irrational.

Then, too, there are also a lot of well-meaning authors who offer well-meaning advice and have reached a point where they don’t fear the next people through the door, but whose careers started thirty, or even ten, years ago when they had a different set of rules and a different industry to work with. It’s not so different than the grandfatherly advice about working one’s way up at the factory into management or starting off on the sales floor at the local appliance shop and ending up retiring as the president. It’s advice that sounds so antiquated it almost drifts from lips to ears in a hazy, overly-warm Instagram filter. Toaster or Lord Kelvin, maybe. (Can we call well-meaning, but aged and useless advice Lord Kelvin? Does anyone even use that filter?)

Because the first statement has such a wide rage of numbers given — often for the same author as I’m not sure anyone looks these things up and I’m sure there’s an Abraham Lincoln quote meme to back this feeling up — and the second rarely has numbers at all, both are open to so much interpretation that those inside can be equally derisive of someone who has been rejected twenty times and quits as someone who has been rejected eighty times and keeps submitting to anyone with the word “agent” in their title even if they work for Southwest Airlines.

There’s a parallel catch here in that not all agents are equal and those who research them and their sales know this. Writers are warned off querying agents with questionable track records, Idaho addresses, poor websites, and are known scam artists. Writers are told to look for names of agents in the fronts of books they enjoy reading. Of course, some of the most venerated agencies have terrible websites, appear to be trapped in the early 1990s, or give off the impression that they will figure out email only in the afterlife. You have agents in Idaho with more publishing connections than the “agent” in his grandmother’s Queens basement. And in certain genres, you may only find four agents mentioned in a stack of fifty books.

When agents and editors say they want diverse books, diverse writers, diverse stories, many of them mean it. But agents and publishers are in the business of making money, not social justice. It’s great when the two intersect, but their primary concern is in bringing in as much money as they can. And we come to stories with our own notions, our own baggage, our own filters. Sometimes a “great story” gets that label because we relate to some part of it, and as much as we train ourselves otherwise, we often relate to things most similar to us. Things too different, too challenging, require more work. And when we look out at a world mired in outrage over tee shirts and celebrity nail polish, a world with politicians who not only look like interchangeable cardboard cutouts but have near identical nonsensical soundbytes, we worry the world isn’t ready to be challenged intellectually in droves. And droves equal money.

This may or may not explain why Hollywood has essentially given up on the concept of new ideas and instead is just recreating the 80s, why networks can announce reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with fanfare and eleventy-billion Facebook likes. People still watch Buffy because it fills a void. Sam and Dean Winchester are awesome and they fight monsters every week, too, but they have a limited supporting cast, the women all end up dead, and because everyone’s so busy being stoic, super stoic, or mega-ultra stoic, the arc of character development is low and long and moves glacially. Then again, still more original than Ghostbusters reboots and The Hangover 18.

Which is where part of the feminist outrage machine comes in. Yeah, there’s a lot of really white entertainment choices. And a lot of really dude-bro masculine guys being charming assholes. There aren’t too many options in the merch department for female superheroes and it’s hard to game a girl avatar or find a person of any color other than off-white. But I find I’m less outraged than bored.

I’m over the Lara Croft knockoffs, the short shorts and high kicks without substance. I’m over whisky-soaked, pill-popping angry men being angry about things because it hurts too much and gah! feelings must be solved with ultra-violence. I’m over the endless variation of chefs and dog walkers and artisanal chocolate engineers who find bodies in their soups and poodle poop. (This might explain why so many adults are reading YA these days. Not only are the books shorter and thus easier to “check off” in the face of endless busy, but that seems to be where a lot of the diversity, experimentation, and realness ended up.)

I’m tired of reading what feels like the same book, so I’ve been hunting all over the library (a cheaper way to read half a book and decide you don’t want to finish it than buying them new). I’ve been clicking random things on Hulu from time to time. (I found IZombie fun and sufficiently different from the endless zombie apocalypse stuff.) I haven’t been to the movie theater since Nebraska. I haven’t touched a video game since I almost finished Kingdom Hearts. But what I do watch and read, I tend to do in a bubble because it’s exhausting to try to be cool and keep up with what the other kids are talking about and be outraged about the right things and know when a spoiler is no longer a spoiler (is fifteen years long enough?).

There’s too much entertainment that’s all flash and little substance, too many times I’m seeing action movie trailers and thinking it wouldn’t matter if the aliens lost, all the insurance companies would go belly-up in the face of all that city-wide destruction, that the stock market reaction to that many televised explosions would be another mass recession or worse, and that if our reaction to a few buildings destroyed or damaged was more than a decade of war, rabid patriotism followed by a rash of anger, judgment, fear, and a kind of damning conservatism based on retribution…what the hell would be our reaction to the mess at the end of the last Avengers movie? Tell me that story. Better yet, show me that story because that sounds like the kind of thing I want to watch with popcorn and that sounds like a good use of CGI.

Instead, I’m going to get offered a meet-cute romcom set in the world’s last bookshop but with spanking! and whips! because Fifty Shades made money. #lesigh

I have, however, been told that I should anxiously await Sam Hawken’s Camaro Espinoza book that’s due in December. And I’m sure there are some other things in my pile that I will enjoy.

In the meantime, I’ll be writing to entertain my desk drawer.

Vegan Cheese-steaks

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The husband found this recipe online and thought it sounded awesome.

The recipe calls for a lot of chili peppers and cayenne, though, and the husband is prone to ulcers. (He’s a walking stress ball.)

Our version:

Oil (I cooked with a blend of canola/olive and drizzled olive oil on the buns)

Rolls/Hoagies (I used Portuguese rolls I found at the grocery store)

I also like any excuse to use my food processor, so I used the slicer attachment to chop the seitan into smaller bits — not quite “shredded” and not quite “chopped.”

I cut up half a leftover onion and tossed it in the pan with a blend of olive and canola oil and a few chopped up slices of jalapeno (the jar kind, which tends to have a different heat than the fresh and seems easier for him to eat).

When the onions started to brown, I dumped the seitan shreds in and shook on some Greek Seasoning and a bit of black pepper.

Once the seitan started to brown at the edges, I threw in half a bag of peppers and stirred them in with a bit more Greek seasoning.

Then I lowered the heat to low and dumped half a bag of Daiya cheddar shreds and let that melt while I toasted the bread and drizzled it with olive oil.

I don’t have pictures because he ate it all. He’s a super picky eater and he never cleans his plate so this is rather monumental.

Note: This is not a low-calorie meal, but I’m sure it’s lower calorie than the real deal from a diner or food truck. It also tends to taste more like “chicken” cheese-steak than beef cheese-steak, but that worked out for both of us as beef even grosses him out.

 

Vegan Alfredo Sauce

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We’ve tried this a few different ways. The version using avocados, lemon, and garlic is delicious but not very “alfredo-y.” The version using cauliflower was gritty and awful. Recently, we decided to try again and use a bean recipe. Yes, white beans. I followed the original with the addition of sundried tomatoes, but it was a bit too “bean-y.” When I reheated it later, I added more almond milk and more vegan butter. The additional creaminess cut down on the bean taste and made the whole thing more like alfredo sauce.

  • 2 cans white beans (we used one can of Northern and one of Navy)
  • 2 cups unsweetened, plain almond milk (add 1.5 to the food processor and add the last half when it’s cooking)
  • .5 cup vegan butter/margarine
  • Garlic or garlic powder to taste
  • Onion or onion powder to taste
  • Black pepper or peppercorns
  • Tablespoon or two of olive oil
  • Nutritional yeast (quarter cup)
  • Italian seasonings (oregano, basil, sage, rosemary, etc.) to taste
  • Sundried tomatoes

Add everything but the olive oil and half cup of almond milk to the food processor (drain the beans) and turn it into a pureed, creamy sauce. Pour into a pot or saucepan. Warm on mid-heat and add the rest of the milk and oil, stirring.

Cook linguine or fettucine to al dente. (We didn’t seem to have either so I used penne.)

Pour cooked sauce on cooked pasta and eat.

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