Friday, July 25, 2014

Tweaking the mail art project

If you've been wondering what the deal is with my mail art project over at Wish I Were Here, you're not alone. I've been wondering about it too. And as it turns out, quite a few postcards sent my way have not been reaching the mailbox. (Grrrr.)

So we're making a little change. Come check it out. And if you're reading this, please take it as an invitation to participate. Whether or not you think you're creative, I'll just bet you have a favorite imaginary place you'd love to visit. So tell the rest of us about it with a postcard!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On being an acquired taste

Have you ever eaten Korean food?

It was a cuisine with which I was almost entirely unfamiliar (with the occasional exception of supermarket kimchi, which I didn't like) until I reached adulthood. My friend Jim Wright, who served an LDS mission in South Korea, had developed a real fondness for Korean food, but he warned me that it was "not user friendly" -- I would encounter unfamiliar vegetables, fermented dishes, lots of garlic and chilies, mysterious bits of seafood, etc. Being the food geek I am, this description just spurred my curiosity, and Captain Midnight and I ended up going to a little Korean restaurant in Salt Lake City for our first foray into the cuisine.

Right away the hostess brought us a half-dozen little starter dishes full of -- what? Some of the shapes looked familiar, but had an unexpected taste; some were just wholly foreign. But we tried everything we were given, and found several we really enjoyed, including a "mystery" plate full of a crisp, bright yellow, tangy vegetable. (The hostess, whose English was very fragmented, was still game to answer our questions; she described our mystery plate as "a diddishuh" -- which we finally puzzled out as "a radish." It turned out to be pickled daikon.) Our main dishes on that trip -- bulgogi and japchae -- wouldn't be that strange to Western palates, but as we discovered other Korean restaurants and found out more about Korean cooking, we found that even -- maybe especially -- the more unusual-looking dishes were delicious. To my taste, a lot of Korean dishes qualify as comfort food cooking.

Kimchi-jjigae photo by miyagawa, from Wikipedia
Although I've developed a love for Korean food, I haven't taken many friends to Korean restaurants. Some of my friends have adventurous tastes and would probably enjoy themselves, but I realize others might not appreciate the experience. And to be fair to them, Korean food is not going to be everyone's favorite thing.

I've been considering the joys of Korean food tonight, because I think I must be an acquired taste.

A good percentage of the people I meet don't "get" me. You can see it during conversations; they adopt this particular polite, frozen, slightly nervous expression that says We just picked up a weirdo! And half the time I can't even identify what I said or did to bring it on. It's just something -- could be my voice, could be my face, could be my personality, could be the cleft in my chin, who knows? -- that grits their gears.

Sometimes this doesn't bother me. If it happens with someone I'm not likely to see ever again, or if it's someone whose opinion is of no importance to me, I can easily recognize that I've been judged and found wanting, and let it go. But sometimes -- if it's someone I really like, if I'm trying to make a friend, if I'm doing my best to create a positive first impression -- it can cut at my heart a little bit, and after the attempt I walk around for a while feeling like someone stamped SOCIAL REJECT on my forehead.

In the past, I've envied people with the kind of personal magnetism and social intelligence that allows them to make friends easily, almost effortlessly. Such people, like the sun, always seem to be surrounded by clouds of friends and acquaintances. I've wondered what it must be like to have that experience, not to have to worry about whether anyone will "get" you, never to worry about suffering through another awkward frozen-faced conversation. To be able to present yourself like the social equivalent of a burger and fries -- familiar, fun, easy for most people to enjoy. Instead I guess I'm more like a bowl of kimchi jjigae -- people tend to stare at me and wonder about my contents.

But here's the thing, and it's something I forgot yesterday when I was having a little pity party about not being good at making friends. I may not have the know-how to make friends, nor do I have gobs and gobs of acquaintances -- but the friends I have managed to acquire are exceptionally high quality people. They tend to be friendly, funny, intelligent, curious, imaginative, kind, generous, nurturing, forgiving and intensely loyal. And if I were to post here that I needed a kidney, I believe at least one of my friends would step forward with an offer to donate one. (For the record: NO, I do not actually need a kidney! Mine are functioning just dandy for now, thanks.)

So yeah, maybe I'm a bit of an acquired taste. But maybe, just maybe, some tastes are worth the effort to acquire. That's all I'm saying. (And if you agree, remind me to take you out for haemul pajeon sometime. My treat.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I need to take a class called Remedial Friendship Skills...

...because once again I'm reminded that I'm crap at making friends.

Don't misunderstand me -- I do have some friends. Once I manage to stumble into a friendship, it usually lasts for decades. In my life I've been remarkably fortunate to cross paths with a number of amazing people who a) actually do know how to make friends and b) made the effort to befriend me, for reasons that just now elude me. But just about every time I deliberately set out to make a friend... yeah, I'm almost certain to screw it up. I guess I never really mastered that skill set. Either I get nervous and clam up, or I get nervous and babble, and I have an unfortunate knack for doing exactly the wrong thing at the worst possible time.

Meh. MEH. *mutta*

OK, rant over.

August is going to be the month where I GET. STUFF. DONE. I've got way too many half-finished and abandoned projects, both written and crafted, hanging around this place, and I'm sick of it. Time to fish or cut bait; either I complete them or broom them from my life. So saith the Sooz!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Silverlock syndrome and "The Fault In Our Stars"

So, yesterday I read the copy of The Fault In Our Stars that's been floating around the house ever since V finished it.


How to describe my thoughts... oh, hey, I know. Silverlock syndrome.

Back in the mid-to-late-'80s, I picked up a paperback reprint of a book called Silverlock, written by one John Myers Myers (apparently a man so nice they named him twice). Silverlock, originally published in 1949, is the story of a wholly apathetic jerk named A. Clarence Shandon who is shipwrecked and washes up on the shores of the Commonwealth, a place where characters from literature live and breathe and conduct their various adventures. But it took me a while to get to that point, because the paperback copy of Silverlock I picked up had something on the order of 15 PAGES of rave reviews, including forewords by the likes of such science fiction greats as Poul Anderson, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, before I even hit Chapter 1. And everyone who had read Silverlock seemed to agree, repeatedly and with gusto, that I was in for a treat. Phrases like "Lucky you" and "You'll get drunk on Silverlock" primed me to absolutely love this book.

I've never finished Silverlock. I just couldn't make myself continue. After all the raves that had been heaped upon it, the actual book was just... so-so. I kept expecting to fall in love with it, with one of its characters or the setting of the Commonwealth, but as I pressed on A. Clarence Shandon and his friends from all corners of classic fantasy literature just kept failing to wow me, and eventually I left off in the middle of a chapter and never returned to the book. The genre into which Silverlock best fits had no proper name when the book was first published, but it's now called fanfiction, and I've seen better writing and better treatment of similar concepts in dozens of fan-created stories.

Had I come across Silverlock on my own, without any glowing introductions by famous authors or squeeing fanboy praise by various book reviewers, I might have been able to enjoy it on its own merits. But I couldn't. And having browsed an online excerpt from the book just before I wrote this (on the off chance that my literary tastes have changed dramatically since age 16), I stand by my original observation: the idea is far better as a concept than in its execution, and in any case it would be a rare book indeed that could actually support the reams of praise that have been heaped upon this one. Silverlock syndrome describes any book whose reputation exceeds it.

And that's about where I stand with The Fault In Our Stars. To be fair to John Green, it's more compelling writing than Silverlock, because I actually finished the book. The teen characters are sometimes overly pretentious, sometimes wildly precocious, with a quality I usually attribute to Joss Whedon's writing (in other words, the dialogue isn't realistic, but it's charming enough that you wish people really would talk that way). The subject matter is difficult -- being young, witty and terminally cancerous usually isn't a festival of fun -- and there are places where the plot strains credibility. I know, I'm expecting a lot from a YA novel. Then again, I expected so much largely because the book has been drastically overhyped. Critics and fans have swooned and babbled over it. The dust jacket of this copy is plastered with praises. Everywhere I go online I seem to get an eyeful of teen girls tweeting things like "just finished TFIOS OMG AUGUSTUSSSSS!!!!1!1!!!! WHAT IS LIFE I CAN'T EVEN", etc., so Mr. Green has definitely reached his target demographic.

It never once made me cry. To borrow a bit from the book itself: "It all felt Romantic, but not romantic." And it's not because I have a heart of stone. I get weepy over patriotic songs, for heaven's sake. I bawled like an infant near the end of The Book Thief. I had a relative who lost a leg to cancer. But this book, which has turned other readers into soggy wet messes, did not reach me where I live. I don't know. Maybe enough characters were spending so much of the latter half of this book crying already that I didn't feel much need to join them.

Have you read The Fault In Our Stars? Agree that it's been overhyped? Think I'm smoking crack? Let me know.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

To market, to market, to buy a fat... um... cheese?

Redmond Saturday Market day! I am off to wander around and look at crafts and buy Samish Bay cheese and whatnot.

It's a rare sunny day in the PNW.

In fact, it's almost infernally hot. Ugh.

Fruits, veggies, nuts, crafts, kettle corn...

...but more to our purposes: cheese! These are the fine folks of the Samish Bay Cheese company, diligently hawking all sorts of yummy handmade cheeses. I'm here for some queso fresco, please.

Frankly, it was too hot to linger today, so I picked up some cheese and fruit and veggies and a half-flat of raspberries, and promptly beat feet.

But from an earlier (and colder) Saturday market, some flowers for sale.

The flower sellers usually set up shop right at the entrance to the Market, so they're the first things you see when you enter and the last things you see when you leave. It's right purty. And it usually smells good as a bonus.

Now home hanging out next to the marvel of modern technology known as the air conditioner. The raspberries, plus some fresh whipped cream, are going into a homemade raspberry fool. Mm-hmm!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Misunderstood vs. mistreated

Note: If you haven't yet seen the Disney film Maleficent, there are spoilers ahead. Also, this blog post contains reference to sex and violence and is thus super inappropriate for kids. This is your final warning!

Imagine that a boy and a girl meet each other as children. Although very different -- the boy, from a poor family, has a burning desire for greater social status; the girl is sheltered, sometimes difficult to understand, but has an undeniable, almost magical charisma -- they come to be close friends. As they grow from childhood to teenhood and then to young adulthood, friendship grows to fondness and finally, tenderly, blossoms into something more. But at the end of their teen years, life pulls them in opposite directions, into very different social circles, and several years pass before he comes to see her again. The young woman is delighted to be with her sweetheart, grown tall and handsome, after so long apart, and they talk and laugh and exult in each other's company just as they once did.

Then, as the evening wears on, he gives her something to drink -- and as the sedative he slipped into the drink takes effect and she trustingly falls asleep against his shoulder, he takes advantage of her, forcibly stealing both her virginity and her right to consent. Before she wakes, he flees the scene, having thus completed the terms of the pledge he took to enter a prestigious fraternity at his college. Only upon waking does the young woman realize what her erstwhile friend and love has done to her, and she screams and weeps in pain and loss.

Do you have a difficult time believing that a boy -- even one with such a strong desire for social prestige as the boy in this story -- would do something so incomprehensibly cruel to a girl who was his first love, who had never done or even wished him any harm? Because if so, you're going to have trouble getting on board with a major plot point in Maleficent. The scene wherein Stefan and Maleficent, friends since childhood and sweethearts since their teen years, are reunited as adults -- wherein he drugs her and, instead of killing her outright, slices off her beautiful wings as a trophy in order to prove his worth and become king -- plays as a very strong metaphor for rape.

Granted, most women are raped by someone they already know. Quite often it's when one or both people have had too much to drink, or other drugs are involved, and the decision-making parts of their brains have gone AWOL. Sometimes it takes place in a moment of anger. But most rapes are opportunistic, rather than premeditated. That may be what makes this particular scene so horrific. Stefan enters the moors knowing full well what he intends to do. That he goes in originally intending to kill his childhood sweetheart doesn't exactly score any points in his favor. (I won't belabor the point, but I've heard more than one rape victim say that for the first few months after the attack she wished she were simply dead, rather than having to suffer through the aftermath.) But choosing to take her wings from her -- the symbol of her beauty, her freedom, her innocence and her gentle spirit -- isn't just heartless. It's stupid. He's taken someone who could have been a friend and ally, a link between the two kingdoms, someone who loved and trusted him, and irreparably broken her trust; he's taken her wings, but not her abilities, and now he has a powerful, vengeful nemesis bent on hurting him back any way she can. (No wonder he goes a little crazy. How could anyone living under such circumstances become anything but paranoid?)

The thing I like about Maleficent is that, in the end, it is a story of redemption. It shows that people who have been cruelly mistreated and abused can rise above the anger, hatred and fear -- and that being on the receiving end of abuse doesn't mean one is fated to abuse others in turn. For that alone, it's worth seeing.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Opportunity cost

(This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but... well, you learn from your mistakes, right?)

When Captain Midnight and I were first married, I wasn't a bad cook, but I'd not yet graduated to the level of Black Belt Scratch Cooking. I needed some sort of recipe in mind before I could plan out what we were going to have for dinner. Usually I'd take stock of the fridge and pantry and start planning out recipes I knew I could make, based on what I'd found. But I had this daft little absent-minded habit that tended to throw a monkey wrench in my plans. Let's see if I can illustrate it using a can of tomatoes.

So I have this lovely can of diced tomatoes from Trader Joe's. I could use it to make a sauce for homemade lasagne, so that goes on the list of potential meals. It's also a component of beans and rice, so that goes on the list. Homemade chili; that goes on the list. Roasted tomato soup; on the list it goes. And so on until I've come up with twenty meals or so, all based around that one can of tomatoes.

That one single, solitary can of tomatoes.

You can probably see where I'm going with this. I was operating from a culinary blind spot. The one can of tomatoes couldn't stretch to make all 20 meals on the list -- it couldn't even stretch to make two meals on the list. If I really wanted to make all those recipes, I'd have to go out and buy a lot more tomatoes -- because once I chose to make a single meal from the list, the one and only can of tomatoes in my pantry would be used up. (And that's taking only one ingredient into consideration.)

The economic term for this concept is opportunity cost. Here's my non-economist way of summing it up: when you decide to spend a specific sum of money to buy a particular good or service, whether you realize it or not, you simultaneously give up the next best thing you could have chosen to do with that money instead. So if you have five dollars, you can choose to buy four dollar-store items (assuming tax), or five bucks' worth of gumballs, or a few cans of premium dog food, or some sodas, or a bus ticket around town, or you can be crazy and eat it (watch out for paper cuts!) -- but when you choose to buy or do one of these things, you give up the option to do something else with that money. If you're into quantum mechanics, you could think of the decision-making process as creating a kind of wave function collapse. (And if you aren't into quantum mechanics, feel free to ignore what I just wrote; I'm not qualified to give a more coherent explanation.)

This idea might sound simple, but it's also profound -- and it applies to much more in life than you'd think. Although opportunity cost is most often used with regard to money, it also affects anything else that's commonly consumed when it's put to use, such as my can of tomatoes. What I've come to realize more fully as of late is that opportunity cost can be applied to the passage of time. (Yeah, I know, sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake. Just bear with me.)

I'm really good at procrastinating, for a number of reasons. Most days I prefer goofing off to working. Procrastinating instead of writing means I don't have to run the risk of getting my stories rejected again. Procrastinating instead of doing dishes means I get to ignore the dishes for a while. And so on and so forth. But every time I choose to procrastinate, to fiddle-fart around, daydream, play another round of Wordament or mindlessly tweak social media sites, rather than writing stories or running necessary errands or getting other things done that need to be addressed, I'm incurring an opportunity cost -- one far higher than the cost associated with the can of tomatoes or a $5 bill or any other example that comes to mind. When I procrastinate, I'm burning through one of the most precious things mortals possess -- moments of life -- with little or nothing to show for it. And unlike the other examples I've mentioned, I can't just go out and earn a few more hours of life if I feel like I'm running short. I'm not immortal (as far as I know, anyway), which means I've got limited time to burn. And I don't know how limited that time is, since I can't check my life balance the way I can check my bank balance. For all I know, I could live another 30 years -- or I could get run over by a bus tonight.

So there's something to think about.

Also, it's time to get writing. And to continue ignoring the dishes. (Yay!)