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They don’t even look good. I need to get over it.
I’ve been vegetarian for 15 months now. When I started out last June, after taking an Animal Theory class at college and watching a chilling ALF documentary, I asked a lot of vegetarians if they missed eating meat. I tried to gauge how much being vegetarian would effect my life. I’ve never been a huge fan of meat in the first place. Even at Thanksgiving dinners, I always liked the corn pudding, cranberry relish, and the mashed potatoes more than the actual turkey. But I did eat a lot of hamburgers, and I loved pad thai, which usually included at least five different animals in it.
When I asked the vegetarians if they missed anything about meat, I heard the same response over and over again: “After you don’t eat something for awhile, it becomes disgusting.” A few admitted that they still missed some things. One of my friends, who had been a vegetarian for several years, said he still missed bacon. Another friend, a vegan, said she missed gelato. But overall, everyone was encouraging.
I’ve been trying to avoid all meat, but I’ve slipped a few times. I bought refried beans that had lard in them (for the love of god!) and I’m sure that I’ve eaten “vegetarian” things at restaurant that contain fish sauce. But for the most part, I’ve stayed on the straight and narrow.
Except for gelatin. Who would have guessed something made from cattle hides could taste good? Bacon, I can live without. Salmon, whatever. Prosciutto, no thanks. But after becoming vegetarian, I realized my abounding love of marshmallows.
Marshmallows might be my favorite food ever. Even the dehydrated ones in Lucky Charms are amazing. And s’mores? Hands down, the best part of camping. I even love those neon Peeps they have at Easter, the ones that are practically the poster child for processed food.
Why are these so good?
So this year, I’m going to try to be more vigilant about not eating marshmallows. Even though they’re amazing and fluffy and make camping trips more enjoyable. It’s been real, marshmallows. So long.
In the meantime, I’m trying to find something to fill the Peep-shaped void. Maybe I’ll try some vegan marshmallows– as long as they don’t taste like tofu. That’s all I ask.
An 830-point game? Shut the front door.
If there was anything that the recent scandal at the National Scrabble Championship taught me, it was that a National Scrabble Championship actually existed.
Really, I had no idea.
As a person who fervently loves the game of Scrabble, I started investigating the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) to find out how I could get started. Before I looked into NASPA, I considered myself a pretty solid scrabble player. I’m a good speller, I know a handful of two-letter words, and I’ve memorized a few words that use a “q” but not a “u.”
But I know I can be better. I’ve done my share of dumb moves: setting my opponent up for a triple word score, wasting blanks, and using Z, Q, X, and J in dumb places. But after reading this, I got a better idea about how to improve my game.
1. When I can’t get more than 10 points, I’ll swap tiles.
2. I’ll try to use all 7 tiles at least once in the game. (50 point bonus? YES PLEASE.)
3. Steal all the triple word spaces.
In October, I’m going to a Scrabble Tournament in Berkeley to see how it goes, what I need to do to improve, and how other people play. The cool thing about the Scrabble tournaments in Berkeley is that they combine two things I love: Indian food and Scrabble. For a mere $30, you can play Scrabble for 6 hours and eat an Indian buffet! If I spent every Saturday like this, I’d be so happy.
From the Made in LA exhibit in the Hammer Museum. The thing hanging from the chain is the porcelain motorcycle engine, made by Caroline Thomas. Photo from http://www.madeinla2012.org.
It was hanging there like a big, glossy Christmas ornament: a white motorcycle hanging from a white chain. I looked at it for about three seconds before moving on to the next piece of art (an elaborate patchwork quilt) in the Hammer Museum in LA. That was before I accidentally got mixed-up in a tour of the exhibit, Made in LA.
Towards the end of the exhibit, two art students were explaining all the pieces to a large group of tourists. I started following them back through the exhibit, looking at all the art I had seen before and listening to them explain it. It changed the way I saw everything.
When I first saw the white motorcycle engine by Caroline Thomas, for example, and I thought “Cool! A motorcycle engine painted white.”
Then, one of the tour guides said it was made from porcelain, one of the most difficult materials to work with! Looking at that engine and knowing that, it was different. Not more beautiful, but definitely more mind-bending. I stared at it longer, wondering how the artist could have possible managed to get so much precise detail. The level of craftsmanship was breathtaking, but so was the level of investment. This artist spent months working on recreating a mundane object from something pristine.
Nothing in the exhibit was made the easy way. Every single piece in Made in LA had some amazing backstory about how the artist mixed wax and paint to recreate a garbage bag, or spent months painting tiny, intricate arcs that look like they were printed with a fancy-pants printer, or using vertical pen-strokes to create the illusion of marbled paper. The patchwork quilt was hand-sewn; a cabinet with a endlessly repeating pattern was hand-carved. Everything happened made in the most difficult way possible.
The tour reminded me of the quote from the 1951 Alice in Wonderland movie:
If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?
Throughout the tour, I kept on thinking to myself, “This is crazy! Why would you hand-stitch when you could use a Bernina? Why would you hand-carve when you could use a machine? Why would someone use millions of vertical pen-strokes to make paper look like it’s marbled?” It really was like falling down a rabbit hole. Everything was nonsense, but nonsense in the best way. The kind of nonsense that made me start questioning all my surroundings; the kind of nonsense that reminds me to stop making assumptions.
I didn’t know that motorcycle engine. I didn’t know its life. I didn’t know what it had been through.
1. Novel Impossible
A bestselling author pays a 48-hour visit to a writer whose manuscript has been rejected at least 300 times. After reading it and berating it, the author outlines a plan for the writer to whip it into bestseller form. Obscure references, subtle subplots, and average characters are out; scandalous affairs, eccentric sidekicks, and smack-you-in-the-face symbolic devices are in! Watch to see if these transformed novels make it with the agents– or flop, for the 301st time.
“Literary merit and marketability– two walk in, only one leaves!”
2. The Prose
Writers compete anonymously in the most intense– possibly most silent– TV show of all time. Without revealing their identities, editors are left to judge whether they’re reading a great American author or an extremely skilled nobody. The answers may surprise you!
“The judges think they’re reading Stephen King, and boom– it turns out they’re reading some college kid’s stuff. Talk about an emotional roller coaster!”
3. Poet Shore
A small band of moody poets split the rent for a tiny apartment in San Francisco. In the midst of poetic angst, romantic flings, and arguments about who owes who what, viewers follow these hipster wordsmiths through evenings of hawking hand-bound chapbooks and getting free wine at poetry readings.
“I don’t think these people have ever gone to the gym, tanned, or done laundry. Well, maybe they’ve done laundry. Infrequently.”
4. What Not to Write
A pair of experts on the latest writing fashions team up to make-over the styles of some writers whose schticks are outdated, ill-conceived, or just downright zany. Most of the time, the writer’s friends are too embarrassed to break the news to the writer themselves. That’s why they need a third party to hold an intervention! It’s always easier to hear you’re doing everything wrong on national television.
“At last, a show that tells it like it is and fights against the rampant spread of third person omniscient!”
5. Story-spinning with the Stars
Novelists team up with celebrities to write short stories every week. The novelists are allowed to give instruction and advice, but it’s up to the celebs to pound out a story. With a productivity level of almost zero, the terrifyingly low rate of success on the show proves that collaborative writing is an even more challenging task than walking on coals or eating bugs.
“The stories are shit, but it’s worth it just to see the writers’ frustration.”
I decided to start scouring the interwebs for good character charts a few days ago, when I was trying to write from the perspective of a 29-year-old man, Ben. I found this really awesome character chart and spent about two hours filling it out for my character to get ideas about how to improve my story.
Let me tell you, filling out a chart is not as fun as writing a story. You know when you’re in the doctor’s office and they have you fill out those surveys about how often you smoke, drink, use drugs, and have sex? It kind of reminded me of that. At first, I felt kind of cagey filling out the chart (even though I was filling it out on behalf of an imaginary person). Some of the questions were so personal!
I imagine the chart being an extremely nosy guy named Tim, leaning forward and asking me about Ben:
“Does Ben have a police record?” Tim asks.
"None of your beeswax!" I say.
"What was Ben’s first sexual experience?" he asks.
"Stop being such a creeper. God," I say, determined to protect Ben from voyeurs like Tim.
"Did he have a happy childhood?" Tim asks, like he isn’t listening.
"What are you, a shrink?" I demand.
"Hey, don’t raise your voice," Tim says. "I’m just a character chart! I’m just doing my job!"
"VERY WELL, TIM! GOOD DAY!" I say, and close my laptop so I don’t have to look at Tim anymore.
I learned more about myself than I learned about Ben by filling out the character chart– namely, that there are parts about characters I love to avoid constructing, parts that I find overly-personal and uncomfortable. I admire authors who have the ability to lean into that discomfort.
— Gustave Flaubert
When Nalo Hopkinson came to visit UCSC a few days ago, someone asked her what advice she would give for sci-fi writers who were just starting out. She replied (I paraphrased), “It’s fun to have cool stuff in your story, and to spend a lot of time explaining how the cool stuff works. But the cool stuff is not a plot.”
I haven’t written sci-fi in a long time, but I know what she’s talking about. For some reason, I got this idea in my head that fly-fishing was a great metaphor and that I should write a story about it. I’m not entirely sure where this impulse came from, but for awhile, it made abundant sense.
Why is fly-fishing cool stuff? you ask. Let me tell you. Fly-fishing is a sport of loss, where you spend painstaking hours making gorgeous, brightly-colored flies, then cast them into a river to either be devoured by a slimy fish or snagged on a rock. Does that not scream poetic material? DOES THAT NOT GIVE YOU INSIGHT INTO THE HUMAN CONDITION?
After watching about a dozen youtube videos about fly-fishing and how to tie flies, I was an expert. I felt like I could see into the soul of an angler. Nay, I felt like I was an angler.
Dream with me for a minute:
I’m wearing a rugged khaki vest and a fishing hat, blending in with the other anglers perfectly. They are taking me seriously because I knew the difference between a royal coachman and a woolly bugger.
We spend all day fly-fishing, talking about the best new whip finishers, and, perhaps, bantering about how we need to renew our fishing licenses before they expire.
Of course, not everyone is so accepting of me. There is probably some guy named Dave who doubts my allegiances to the sport of fly-fishing.
"She’s an imposter!" Dave shouts, pointing at me. All the anglers gasp, dropping their rods in the river. They turn to stare at me.
"No I’m not!" I lie. "Ask me to name any fly, and I’ll prove it!"
"Name this one," Dave says, holding up one of the three flies I can actually identify.
”That’s a black ant,” I say.
And I am right, and Dave will never know that I am a fiction writer and hate fishing with a passion. The anglers give grunts of approval.
My fly-fishing story was a mess, because it was just that: a story about fly-fishing. Not people. It was not until I had written ten pages that I realized it lacked a plot; that’s how distracted I was by the cool stuff.
I set the story aside, hoping that maybe in a few months I’ll be able to do something with it. I started a new story, determined to steer clear of cool stuff. No more cool stuff for me. No sir. I would not have it.
My new story is about an archaeologist specializing in Roman Britain pottery who falls in love with an independent contractor whom she hires to build a replica of an ancient Roman Britain kiln.
As a wise man once said, “Cool stuff is cool.”
Here is something I’m just beginning to realize: I recognize people by their hair, not their faces. I don’t think it’s a great habit, especially because everyone has different faces, but a lot of people have similar hairstyles. But for some reason, faces are hard for me to remember. Hair is so much easier, especially when people have really distinctive hair and you can recognize them right away just by looking at the back of their head.
With that said, new haircuts throw me off. On several occasions, I have failed to recognize people I talk to on a daily basis as soon as they change their hair in some drastic way, like buzzing it all off or straightening it. It’s a little embarrassing. They have to tell me their name and, in really bad cases, where I have no context clues, they also need to remind me that we work together.
Today, after a splendid weekend in Palm Springs, I took a shuttle back from the airport to Santa Cruz. The driver looked so familiar. I could have sworn that he had given me a ride three months ago; he had the same name and everything. The only thing that was different was his hair. It used to be long hair; now, it was cut really short. It was one of those really strange situations where you don’t know if the person is, indeed, the person is the person you think he is, but there’s enough evidence to suggest he could be.
The haircut thing has tripped me up so much in the past few months, I decided that the driver was, indeed, the person I remembered with a new ‘do, so, taking a gamble, I said, “Hey, nice haircut.”
This is probably, come to think of it, was not the best thing to say to someone you may or may not have met fleetingly three months ago. In the best case scenario, he would have recognized me and said, “Thanks! I remember you so well from when I drove you to the airport three months ago, back when my hair was long!” And the worst case scenario was that he was a different person altogether and that I had identified myself as a stalker within five seconds of meeting him.
The driver squinted at me. ”Do I know you?”
I contemplated this. ”Probably not,” I said, feeling very bad about my facial recognition skills. ”I thought you drove me to the airport a few months ago, but I probably confused you with someone else.” I wished, in vain, that I had not complimented his haircut.
After talking about global warming for ten painful minutes, I changed the subject to Civil War reenactments, which, truth be told, isn’t a much better conversation-starter than global warming. The whole time, I was trying to figure out if he was actually the same person as I thought he was or not.
When he dropped me off at my apartment after the longest, most awkward hour ever, he looked at the address again. ”Huh,” he said. ”I remember this place. Maybe I did drive you before.”
So maybe my facial recognition skills aren’t as horrible as I had thought they were. Maybe his facial recognition skills are worse. Still, from here on out, I’m going to compliment people on their new haircuts with great caution.