Friday, April 29, 2011

Disappointing Gay Best Friend

Sometimes, when I have intense, internal debates with myself about Britney (is she an unhappy robot or a triumphant revolutionary comeback queen and what the hell is up with her extensions and the mystery of the disappearing dancing awesomeness? Please come back, dancing!) or Lady Gaga (activist and/or corporate pawn and/or is it okay to just be getting bored with her?)--when I listen to my favorite band, snuggle with my favorite TV show, or read my favorite book--I wonder why God didn't just finish the job properly and make me a gay man. If I were to be born a man, my mother was seriously considering naming me Percy, and no power on earth will ever convince me that slim, bookish, effete Percy Derwyn Wepre Owen would not have been the gayest gay man that ever gayed a gay.

If I ever work up the courage or figure out how to work a scanner, I'll scan in my eighth grade school picture: I was rocking a very short haircut at the time, and it gives you a pretty good sense of what ol' Percy "Easy O" would have been like. Because I have a long neck and big eyes, my friends referred to this picture as "the newt picture," because they are sweethearts. I sort of looked like this, only unattractive rather than attractive (reason #4 million for my affection for Jensen Ackles: similar hair and sartorial errors in the nineties. Of course, as I stated, Jensen Ackles is hot like burning, and I am more along the lines of You Would Look Pretty If You Smiled More! But still!)

But then, when I start thinking things like the above paragraphs (OMG I SHOULD BE A GAY MAN TEE HEE) I get really annoyed with myself. Because I sort of hate how women act about gay men sometimes: that gay men are around for our amusement, or should automatically be our "gay husbands," or that all gay men are feminized and/or like stereotypically "gay" things. Gay men aren't our cute little poodle pets to put in our purses, people. That shit bugs me.

So I was delighted to find this the other day: Disappointing Gay Best Friend. Both actors just nail it; it's amazing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hey, here's another blog to check out: The Dictionary Project.

And it features flash fiction by the lovely (music-playing) lady Esme.

Now, for your delictation: A Photo Essay.

Places available for me to work:

Place I do 90% of my work:
Am I:
a) Spoiled
c) A possessor of back issues
d) All of the above?

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Nervous Chef Eats Meat, Now. She Cooks One Thing With Meat. That's it.

When I was twelve years old, I announced to my parents that I wanted to tell them something. I genuinely--and I cannot stress this enough--had no idea what was going to come out of my mouth until I actually spoke the words.

"I want to be a vegetarian," I said.

Of course, lots of stuff had gone into this decision, beforehand, tho' semi-consciously. Seeing dead pigs gutted in butcher's shops. Getting grossed out by the lumps of fat--so vital and alive-looking!--in my salami (note: obviously high-quality salami, in retrospect). Reading things--albeit, twelve-year-old-level things--on environmentalism.

My parents, to their eternal credit, were totally on board. Fine, they said. Keep on eating fish, they said. We want you to have the protein.

My mother, though she is a virtue ethicist and radically opposed to utilitarianism, even gave me Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation. (Could there be greater evidence of maternal love?). *

*My mother would hate the fact that I am linking to wikipedia. Give me better links and I'll put them in, Mom.

Anyway, my non-meat-eating-but-fish-eating self was basically (for many, many years) an acutetarian.

Then, I had an extended spiritual/psychotic experience involving 1) The Phoenix airport; 2) Aunt Annie's pretzel dogs; 3) A Quiznos' roast beef sandwich; 4) A Minneapolis farmer's market; 5) A bratwurst.

I would explain, but I've already done so in person so many times I'm worried it's in danger of becoming one of Those Stories (you know, the ones you tell over and over, oblivious to how much they are boring the folks that have heard them already). So I'll skip that (for now) and say just that I eat meat these days.

I am a newbie to meat, though. After all, I didn't eat meat from age 12-27, pretty much. I find this awesome:

1) There are so many things I haven't tried! For example: a pork chop. I MAY have had a pork chop pre: age 12, but I'm not sure. For all intents and purposes, I'VE NEVER EATEN A PORK CHOP.

2) Awesome conversation starter at parties:


Person At Party: Um, what are you talking about?


New best friend forever!

3) Whole new range of tastes to explore! At this point, the sex metaphors start becoming obvious. To these comparisons, I say: yes! As someone raised in the "joyfully we lark about" religion, I was never raised to find sex particularly "forbidden." But, having decided at age twelve to becoming a vegetarian, I pretty much, inadvertently, created for myself a category of forbidden thing. Now I get why indulging in the forbidden thing is so freaking awesome. I kind of think eating meat is wrong, but I do it anyway! I never got all those Catholic novels about forbidden love, repentance, etc. BUT NOW I DO! Meat is WRONG. But I LOVE IT ANYWAY.

Anyway, my cooking habits haven't really caught up to my new eating habits. I can only make one thing with meat. Cooking-wise, meat sort of still scares me (OMG BLOOD! IT COULD HAVE GERMS!).

So this is the only thing I can confidently make. It's taken from this book, though changed in a few significant ways.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

From Jason

Tina Fey on early attempts to style her hair:

That feeling of "I'm pretty sure this next step is wrong, but I'm just gonna do it anyway" is part of the same set of instincts that makes me such a great cook.
It's the essence of the Nervous Chef!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I go to several yoga classes. At one, most of the other women there are middle-aged. There's a fair amount of talk about hot flashes and divorce. The yoga is therapeutic and uses all sorts of props. I leave that class feeling pampered, extraordinarily young, and tremendously fit and flexible.

The other type of yoga class I go to is fast-pasted and uses no props. Most of the other students there are undergraduates. There's lots of of talk about classes, credit cards, and various outrageous things that other people have said or done. I can occasionally do a posture that many of the undergraduates can't, which produces extremely un-yoga-encouraged feelings of comparison and self-congratulation. However, they are pretty much all supernaturally beautiful (and I don't mean that snidely: these are just the facts, ma'am) so I doubt they give a shit that I can do a wheel or crow pose (sort of). I leave that class feeling well-worked out and extraordinarily old (not to mention unfortunate looking).

I occasionally go to a more advanced type of class at the same studio. These classes usually have a range of ages: from folks in their twenties to crazy-flexible sixty-year-olds. The students there are pretty serious yogis, for the most part. We attempt things, and I fall down a lot. We do various partner poses and have to get into very intimate positions with each other. Occasionally, I wonder if I have accidentally joined the marines, like when an instructor asks us to do eight wheel poses in a row. The despairing laughter and heavy breathing in the room at such moments creates a feeling of solidarity, even if most of the other folks usually have an easier time with the postures than I (yes, even the sixty-year-olds). I leave that class feeling humbled, out of shape, and extremely un-flexible.

I think all three sets of feelings are useful and good in their own way. If anything, it's a nice reminder that at any given time -- depending on who we're talking to -- we're all old, young, fit, fat, attractive, unfortunate looking, boring, daring, beginning, advanced.

Of course, you shouldn't compare yourself to other people at all, least of all in yoga. But as long as you're going to (and it's hard to leave that habit entirely behind), it's good to have a range of folks to compare yourself to. Gives you a healthy sense of perspective. If I'm feeling a little too cocky in one class, I can remember another where all the hard, golden bodies left me in their yoga-dust. If I'm feeling a little down on myself for not being able to do x or y arm balance, I can remind myself there's a class in which I feel downright advanced.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yogurt and the Nervous Chef Bake With Leftovers

1. A Really Old Picture of Food.

A long, long time ago -- way back in January -- I visited Yogurt in New York and attended the Opera. Now it happened, as is it wont to, that Yogurt's household had some leftovers: some bananas going squishy and some cracked eggs that needed using up. Because I have Baking Pretensions, Yogurt asked my thoughts (note: this is usually a mistake, as it produces Nervousness, which makes me fuck up).

Well, the usual method of using up old bananas with banana bread was closed to us, because there was no raising agent in the household and the point of the exercise was to use only ingredients in the household. So what can you make with bananas and eggs that is not banana bread? I thought "Banana custard!" Which is nothing I've ever made--or possible eaten--before, but it seemed possible. So I googled (seriously, why does a GOOGLE site not recognize GOOGLED as a verb? Go away, red squiggly lines!) "Banana Custard" and selected the first recipe I found.

Well, we could do that!
There was no lime, so we used lemon. And for bread crumbs we used chocolate rugelach.
Distressingly, I was once again asked for my opinion (which made me nervous) about what the hell a "moderate oven" meant. I guessed 325 and was happy to see that other custard recipes backed me up.

The result wasn't that pretty: the loaf pan and chocolate bread kind of make it look like a lasagna gone wrong:
However, I thought it tasted pretty good! And I'm not even much of a custard girl! And my nervousness didn't make me entirely fuck up! So, if you've got leftover bananas and eggs and lots of chocolate rugelach and no flour or baking powder, this is a decent option.

2. The Whites of Your Eggs; Also, The Nervous Chef Fucks Up Again

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I'm Not Dead, Just Resting My Eyes

Hey lookie! It's me. Among the many things that cause me on occasion to lie sleepless and twitching in my bed, trying to sleep but unable to as the many things I have left undone dance tauntingly before my eyes, there's the fact that I did an awesome residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and told them I'd do a write up of my experience on my blog, to give the Center its due kudos. And then I never did. SO I AM NOW. AFTER I SAY A FEW OTHER THINGS.

Warning: this is going to be a links-a-palooza. But which I mean: lots of links! Because it is my terrible misfortune to know lots of talented and successful people, to whom I wish to give due kudos. Also, you should know that I am not only famous but also a great listener.

MORE LINKS! The fabulous Ms. S (or, as I like to call her, "Pants, Bossy" -- not to be confused with Tina Fey's Bossypants; first name Pants, last name, Bossy) has a blog, Yogurt is Cultured! It's on my blog list, but right here I linked you to the entry where she talks about seeing an opera with me when I visited her in New York, cause we shouldn't get confused about this not being all about me.

Speaking of ME, I recently finished the second draft of my novel, so I'm now emerging from the cocoon of writing, blinking a little at the harsh sunlight of the world outside, forced to deal with all the undone tasks, neglected friends, etc. Amelia recently blogged about the empty nest syndrome of sending off her manuscript, but then her novel manuscript has been sold to Farrar, Straus and Giroux because she's a motherfuckin' rockstar, while mine is still at, em, an earlier stage of the publication process. So it feels a little bit presumptious to be like, "Yeah, I totally know the feeling, right??" But I am feeling oddly empty-nesty. I miss my novel. It must be Stockholm syndrome, considering how much I moaned about it. I've come to identify with my captors! They just wanted the best for me! They loved me in their way!

I just read Zadie Smith's collection of essays, Changing My Mind, in which she has an essay called "That Crafty Feeling." (Originally published in The Believer -- I believe (pun totally not intended, but nevertheless awesome) that you can find it online.) Anyway, she says that in novel writing there are "Macro Planners" and "Micro Managers" (bold mine):
You will recognize a Macro Planner from his Post-its, from those Moleskines he insists on buying. A Macro Planner makes notes, organizes material, configures a plot and creates a structure—all before he writes the title page. This structural security gives him a great deal of freedom of movement...I know Macro Planners who obsessively exchange possible endings for one another, who take characters out and put them back in...
I can’t stand to hear them speak about all this, not because I disapprove, but because other people’s methods are always so incomprehensible and horrifying. I am a Micro Manager. I start at the first sentence of a novel and I finish at the last. It would never occur to me to choose among three different endings because I haven’t the slightest idea of the ending until I get to it...Macro Planners have their houses largely built from day one, and so their obsession is internal—they’re forever moving the furniture. They’ll put a chair in the bedroom, the lounge, the kitchen and then back in the bedroom again. Micro Managers build a house floor by floor, discretely and in its entirety. Each floor needs to be sturdy and fully decorated with all the furniture in place before the next is built on top of it. There’s wallpaper in the hall even if the stairs lead nowhere at all.
Because Micro Managers have no grand plan, their novels exist only in their present moment, in a sensibility, in the novel’s tonal frequency line by line...the whole nature of the thing changes by the choice of a few words. This induces a special breed of pathology for which I have another ugly name: OPD or obsessive perspective disorder. It occurs mainly in the first 20 pages. It’s a kind of existential drama, a long answer to the short question What kind of a novel am I writing? It manifests itself in a compulsive fixation on perspective and voice...months are spent switching back and forth. Opening other people’s novels, you recognize fellow Micro Managers: that opening pile-up of too-careful, obsessively worried-over sentences, a block of stilted verbiage that only loosens and relaxes after the 20-page mark is passed. In the case of On Beauty, my OPD spun completely out of control: I reworked those first 20 pages for almost two years. To look back at all past work induces nausea, but the first 20 pages in particular bring on heart palpitations. It’s like taking a tour of a cell in which you were once incarcerated.

I'm a Micro Manager, and so I wrote the whole first draft from the first sentence to the last, in order. I reworked the first few chapters a ridiculous number of times (over the course of...four years?). Then I started over and rewrote it. I stalled, once again, about the third/four chapter mark, got some feedback, pseudo-started over again, and then kept writing till the last sentence.

MY POINT, and I swear that I am getting to it, is that I couldn't have done it without the residency at KHN, in a very real and very literal sense. Like I said, that first draft took about four years (and then I did a little tinkering with it before starting over). The second draft, which was longer and more structurally complex, took about nine months. Of course there are lots of reasons for that, but the residency at KHN helped in several crucial ways: