Ready, Set, NaNoWriMo!

The journey to 50,000 words begins with one word.

Well, actually, it is a combination of 4 words. It’s National Novel Writing Month otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. And I’m participating.

I’ve never written a novel. I did a test run back in July when there was a Camp NaNoWriMo. July was not my friend and I did not even get close to my goal. I didn’t plan a novel for the Camp. My plan was to write every day and I had mapped out 30 topics to write about. I started a handful of them and they sit in my draft folder. I wasn’t sure I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo until a few weeks ago.

My library hosted a series of free novel writing classes in October and I attended about half of them. This blog is my first attempt (sort of) at writing something since high school. So since Reagan was President. All the classes were very engaging. The authors were storytellers after all. I learned a lot and they gave me lots of tools to add depth and layers to a story.

Over the course of the series, I thought about the books I’ve read in the past year and what I did and didn’t enjoy about them. I devoured Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The novel opens with the stories of two sisters and each chapter follows a sort of day-in-the-life of each ensuing generation. It is beautifully written and I was left wanting to know more about the characters. I wanted more.

Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza has a similar story arc where the novel opens with the story of a grandmother and her granddaughter and progresses through the ensuing generations. The first half of the book focuses on the grandmother and granddaughter and then the second half moves through the other generations. It felt quick by comparison. Possibly because I was so invested in the story of the grandmother. I wanted a prequel to this novel. I wanted the grandmother’s origin story.

Both novels have black protagonists and span enslavement, reconstruction, and black migration to the north. These novels engaged me on a subject matter that I’m not very knowledgeable about. There are a number of non-fiction books on my reading list to learn more about our history from the Black and Indigenous perspective. I have learned so much already from the people that I follow on Twitter. @FeministaJones, @Karnythia, @ClintSmithIII, and @elonjames come first to mind. There are many others. Twitter, for me, is an amazing place. A big perk of being unknown.

A frequent subject discussed on Twitter is the need for white people to do the work of fighting for racial justice. I’ve taken that to heart. I purposely chose novels written by Black or POC authors. My non-fiction reading list has expanded extensively and I’m slowly reading them. I’m learning and recognizing the ways in which society puts everyone in a box and confines them to a white supremacy narrative.

My action is not limited to reading. I registered for a class through the Chicago Freedom School that was specifically for white people. It’s a step toward being more engaged in the local fight for racial justice. Our first class focused on the history of racial justice from the time the first Africans were enslaved and brought to America. We also learned about the role of socialization in how we behave and what happens when we realize we fall outside the expected norms. I found that part applicable to so much more than just my eyes opening fully to the issue of racial injustice.

All of these things were swirling in my head and an idea for a novel came together. My initial plan was to tell a story over a series of generations starting with enslavement and following through to present day. I would start the story from the perspectives of a white woman and an enslaved black woman. As I thought about these women at the start of the story and what I wanted to relate about them I realized that I didn’t need to leave them. They were the novel.

This is no small undertaking. I have some specific goals. First and foremost, there will be no savior. The black woman will not be a happy, nurturing participant in enslavement. Her heart and wisdom will not be shared with the white woman. The white woman will not acknowledge the inhumanity of enslaving people. The focus will be on how each woman uses the agency they have at their unequal disposal. The goal is two human characters with flaws.

I have no idea how I’m going to do any of that.

What I do know is that I’ve plotted an outline of events and I’ll go from there. My expectation is that this first draft will be horrid. My hope is that the horrid is the starting point and I can work to achieve those goals during the editing process.

I’ve blocked out enough time to finish the 50,000 words before Thanksgiving week assuming I write about 800-1,000 words per hour. That’s been my range for blog posts. That’s the writing portion. I’ve also blocked out a few hours each for research on the time, place, and lifestyle of the when/where the novel is set. Today’s research will be the Big Book of Baby Names because my characters need names.

So today begin’s my journey toward my first novel. Happy NaNoWriMo kickoff!

Also, today is the kickoff for ACA Healthcare Open Enrollment. Go here to start the process:  2018 ACA Open Enrollment

Advertisements

Facing Fear

An idea has been brewing in my head for a while now. It was sparked by a funny thought I had and shared on Facebook. A friend suggested it should be on a t-shirt and I laughed it off. I was a busy career woman solo parenting 2 kids. I didn’t need income. I didn’t have time. Times, as they are wont to do, have changed.

Last week I began researching selling those t-shirts. There are numerous sites that support the endeavor and several different business models. The choices include a mix of profit levels along with marketing and customer service support. My goals are realistic. This is really just meant to bring in a wee (and I do mean wee) bit of cash. If it takes off, awesome. If it doesn’t, that’s ok too. It is one of many avenues I’m exploring to support my family.

The process has included an exploration of intent vs. impact and that was not expected. One of the statement t-shirt ideas I had on my list was something that I started using back in 2012 in reference to my voting choices. #Uterus2012 represented my feminist response to the attack on women’s reproductive rights. At least from my perspective at the time. My perspective has changed.

The discussion around the inclusion/exclusion for The Women’s March that took place in January is what changed my perspective. A pink pussy hat was designed and marketed to be a shared symbol for all to wear. Except not all women have pussys. And not all pussys are pink. I hadn’t thought about that when I talk about women’s reproductive rights. It is a nurtured perspective rather than a nature perspective.

#Uterus2012 is a nature perspective. It’s my brain’s starting point. My natural inclination was to focus on a symbol common to women like me. Women born with a uterus. My nurtured perspective wants to include transgender women in my feminist fight. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet in a way that does not seem pandering or appropriative. My work there continues.

Where my work doesn’t continue is the realization that what is written on a t-shirt cannot please everyone. I’m may end up using #Uterus2012 as one of my designs with the knowledge that it excludes transgender women. I won’t do so unless there is a range of products in my portfolio that demonstrate inclusivity. The t-shirts will be edgy and in-your-face which is what I like about #Uterus2012. What I need to work on is making them both feminist and intersectional.

I am becoming more confident in my voice and using it to support others. Most days I think I do a better job of voicing support for others than I do for myself. That is a reflection of where I am in my life. I continue to learn the how of talking to people about racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, etc. I continue to learn and challenge the ways in which I perpetuate those very things. Learning to be a more empathetic and an active supporter in my day-to-day life is a clear path for me. What I want for me isn’t quite so clear.

My wants are banging against the wall of economic needs. I had a lucrative career and I don’t need what’s next to be as lucrative. I need it to cover my bills with a little extra to fix the house and take an annual vacation. I want to use my writing and art to do that and it takes time to build that. My want is to use several different methods to build a livable income while my reality is that I can no longer afford to not have a livable income. My fear is that the need for income will end the dream for something more than what I had before.

It’s time to face the fear.

Brain Trust Broken

 

Awake.

Waiting.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

I guide my hand to silence.

A new day.

Anxiety reaches for my hand.

It’s electric and my arm hair rises in response.

It’s time to dance.

 

Tears and fears and pleas for one day.

The day-to-day and the hiccups.

An intricate series of rationalizations.

Hold on.

Just for today.

Today don’t pick at scabs.

Today don’t walk the circles.

Today’s happen.

There’s always tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be better.

Will it?

Working towards Exceptional

My day-to-day journey to happy in little, bite-sized pieces.

Last week I did a Daily Prompt because I didn’t want to work on a piece in my drafts folder and didn’t have an idea for a fresh post. I liked where the post went and decided to do another one today. Today’s word is Exceptional.

A bit loaded for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about me, myself, and I lately. Trying to shake off the depression and reclaim my happy. Some things are working and I’m feeling better. Happy still seems elusive. Exceptional is a concept I can’t even fathom.

Part of my depression is apathy. Apathy about getting anything done. Apathy about life. The new process of scheduling every task is working to alleviate that feeling. I felt really accomplished this past weekend. I even bragged about it to my sister. It felt good. Pride.

Doing big things a little at a time. Only I can see the day-to-day change and that’s ok. The source of my pride this past weekend was my backyard. It’s overgrown with buckthorn and I’ve been saying I’ll take care of it for years. I’m actually doing it now. I set little goals and scheduled the time to do it. During the week I clear the buckthorn from the garden-ish area that is mostly weeds. Every weekend I clear one small buckthorn tree. By the end of November, I should have one corner of my yard cleared of buckthorn. Repeat for the next 2-3 falls and it will be done.

IMG_8852
Buckthorn Corner

Once the buckthorn is cleared and I have some trees removed I can move forward with my vision of backyard. The trees are not healthy and do not provide any shade so I want to replace at least two of them with shade trees. I want to plant things that bloom in full color. The previous owner’s landscaping is all green all day. No color. That’s the opposite of me. My vision of my backyard is all the colors of the rainbow.

The backyard is on track. There is also a plan for my house. The state of my house will tell you a lot about where I am on ebb and flow of my mental health. Depression leads to clutter and mess. My house gets cleaner and I focus on decluttering when I’m coming out of my depressive periods. I’m not sure my house will ever really be clean. It’s a bit overwhelming because it’s the whole house.  I do really well with the decluttering so I’m going with that for now.

Back when I was working my company closed our corporate headquarters and relocated downtown. At the end, they were just throwing the office supplies into big dumpsters. I had the idea that I could take some of those office supplies and donate them to a school in need. That was nearly 2 years ago. Those supplies have been sitting in four big bins in my living room. Last week I went through them, wrote down what they contained and emailed an organization about the donation. Tomorrow I drop them off.

IMG_8851
Ready-to-go clutter

My goal for the winter is to finish my living room. I started painting it and never finished. Partly because I didn’t know what I wanted to do on one of the walls. I’ve figured that out and so I’m going to add that to my schedule in December after the yardwork season ends. My vision of my living room involves lots of drawers so I can move the clutter from on-top of things to inside drawers. It’s going to be amazing.

I have plans and I’m working little, by little, to make them a reality. That reality will be exceptional.

via Daily Prompt: Exceptional

 

Better than Buttered Noodles

Make a delicious homemade pasta dish the kids will love in the same amount of time it takes to make a box of mac & cheese.

My kids love buttered noodles and I started making this recipe to add some protein to the mix. It’s a little more work than buttered noodles or yet another box of mac & cheese, but it’s done in the same amount of time and tastes way better. The picture above is a variation where I added some shrimp and tomatoes that I had on hand. That’s another thing I love about this recipe. The variations are endless.

The concept came from the merging of two things. A box of Pasta Roni and the recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara. The basic recipe flavor profile mirrors Pasta Roni’s Angel Hair Pasta with Herbs. Changes from a true Carbonara include swapping butter for bacon fat and using the whole egg.

One of the goals of any go-to recipe I make is to use the ingredients I have on hand. No special shopping for that one thing I don’t have. In that spirit, here are some variations you can think about when making the recipe.

  • Pasta: Use whatever shape you like. I prefer Fusilli or Bowties with shrimp, but I didn’t have any on hand so I used Angel Hair.
  • Water: The usual recommendation is 1 quart (4 cups) of water for every 2 ounces of pasta. The main reason given for this is that it reduces the amount of pasta that sticks together. Sometimes I follow the rule and sometimes I don’t. When I don’t I just stir the pasta with a fork about halfway through cooking and separate any noodles that are sticking together. Sometimes I forget and do it when I’m adding the sauce. It’s better to do it while it’s boiling for strand pasta than shapes since strand pasta has more surface area able to stick together.
  • Salt: I use kosher salt. Just halve the amounts if using table salt. Mario Batali is always talking about how it should taste like the sea as if everyone has tasted the fresh salt water. I use 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per quart of water. Feel free to exclude the salt from the pasta water if you need to watch your salt intake.
  • Butter: I only buy unsalted. You only buy salted. No problem. Use it and cut back on the amount of salt you add to the dish.
  • Eggs: Don’t have Large? Extra large eggs make a little more sauce. Medium eggs make a little less sauce. Use what you have and see how it turns out. Next time adjust the amount of milk to make more/less sauce.
  • Parmesan Cheese: I buy small wedges of Parmesan Reggiano because I like the nutty flavor. It’s pricey and it’s one of my few food splurges. It’s a personal preference. Use what you have. Pre-shredded, shelf stable, whatever. Don’t have parmesan? Add the same cheese you use on tacos or pizza or grilled cheese. Hell, if it’s the taco cheese that has the seasoning in it you’ll spice this dish in a whole new way.
  • Milk: I use whole. Unless I’m out. Then I use 2%. Or none. It adds some creaminess to the dish but isn’t a deal breaker if you don’t keep milk on hand.
  • Spices: Use what you like. Red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, Mrs. Dash, seriously, whatever you like.

Once you have the basic recipe down, it’s all where you take it from there. Like my lunch pictured above. I defrosted some shrimp and pan fried them in butter with salt, pepper, and chipotle powder. I wanted some heat.

This recipe allows for a lot of variation. One way to add variety is by changing out the type of fat used. I tend to use butter because of my kids. You can use any type of fat to make this dish. Bacon fat is an obvious choice since the dish mimics Carbonara. I’ve used the renderings from roasted chicken which impart a great chicken flavor to the dish. I actually prefer the dish with Extra Virgin Olive Oil especially if I have fresh parsley on hand.

Let’s talk Extra Virgin Olive Oil for a minute. It’s sold at a variety of price points and I’ve seen a lot of recipes calling for it when it’s not really needed. I only use Extra Virgin Olive Oil when there is no heating is required. That’s when the full flavor is imparted. Once you start heating Extra Virgin Olive Oil the intense flavor you are paying for starts to fade. The only time I heat it is when I’m sauteing garlic for 30 seconds or so. That’s it. Most recipes that call for it don’t need it. Rachel Ray seems to use it in every recipe and I think it’s a waste of money. A simple Olive Oil or canola oil will suffice.

Look for a dark bottle when shopping and the Extra Virgin Olive Oil should have a green hue. The more yellow color, the lower the quality and flavor. I go for sales and two of the brands I like are Colavita and California Olive Branch.

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: There is no need to heat it on the stove since the pot and the pasta will have enough residual heat to warm it and bloom the flavor. You can heat the oil if you are using fresh garlic in the recipe. Saute the garlic for about 30 seconds before removing the pot from the heat.
  • Bacon: Start the bacon when you put the water on to boil and you’ll have rendered fat by the time the pasta is done. Crumble the cooked bacon and add it to the pasta.
  • Chicken Fat: Whenever I roast chicken there are always leftovers. I’ll save a tablespoon or so of the rendering from the roasting process and use that the next day when making this pasta dish. Throw in the leftover chicken at the end and you have a tasty chicken and cheese pasta dish.

Better than Buttered Noodles (base recipe)

  • 4 ounces pasta
  • 1 quart of water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

This recipe makes 2 small main servings of pasta or works as a side dish for about 4 people. The recipe is easy to double if more portions are desired.

Start off by putting 1 quart (4 cups) of water on the stove to boil. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt (or 1-2 teaspoons if using table salt) to the boiling water before adding the 4 ounces of dried pasta.

While the pasta boils whisk 1 large egg, 1/2 cup shredded parmesan, 1 tablespoon milk, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon if using table salt), 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley. A couple upgrades to think about. If you want to use fresh garlic and/or fresh parsley, leave those out for now.

Important step I sometimes forget. Once the pasta is ready (I eat a noodle to check for doneness), reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta into a colander. The water will add some saltiness to the flavor and the starch will help achieve the consistency of the sauce that you want.

Leave the cooked pasta in the colander and return the pan to the stove. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter on medium heat and allow it to brown slightly. Should only take about a minute or so. If you are using fresh garlic that can be added once the butter melts. Once the butter is slightly brown remove from the heat, add the cooked pasta, and stir to combine. Once the noodles are coated with butter, add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water and stir. Forgot to reserve some pasta water? Me too, add some plain water and a pinch of salt.

Now that the pasta and fat are combined we can move to making the sauce. Stir the pasta while slowly pouring the sauce into the pot. Add the reserved pasta water a little at a time until you achieve the desired thickness of the sauce. If you are using fresh parsley add it now and the dish is ready to serve.

Reheating: I add a little bit of milk to the noodles before reheating. I prefer reheating on the stove since that allows me to stir the noodles while they are reheating. You can also microwave in a covered dish for 30 seconds, stir and then microwave for another 30 seconds.

Negative Nelly

Last week I started scheduling my days. It’s been going pretty well and it’s helping do the things I want to do and the things I need to do. I’m feeling like I’m getting more done. I’m also feeling exhausted. The things I’m doing aren’t physically hard. I’ve made a concerted effort to do things that make me uncomfortable when it comes to job hunting. It’s emotionally exhausting and I’m not sure it’s even working.

One of my scheduled activities is writing. I’ve been doing a mix of finishing old posts and creating fresh posts. Today I didn’t want to tackle an old post and nothing fresh was of mind so I thought I would check out The Daily Post’s one-word prompt. Today it is Deny. I sighed. It’s such a negative word.

I’m fighting with the negative right now. I used to be a happy person who enjoyed life and its challenges. I’m not in that place right now. I know it and I’ve been trying to do things in a more positive light. I post my writings with the knowledge most of them have a negative theme. That’s part of the reason I looked to The Daily Post today. I wanted a post filled with positivity.

The reason for the schedule was to help me do the things I want to do. Writing is one of those things. Today I’m striving to make my writing more positive.

Yesterday was my Mixed Media Journaling class. Another place I’m striving for positivity. We have been working on a number of pages, adding layers of texture and color. Some of my pages are darker than I’d like. I’m making a conscious effort not to let darkness into my journal. We were finishing one of the first pages we started. It was one of my brighter pieces.

The theme of my page is Exploring. One of the layers was an abstract bookshelf. I added the names of books that have a special meaning to me to the spines of the books. One of the steps was to add a quote to the page that emphasized our theme. I chose an Octavia Butler quote:

Octavia_Butler-02

I am exploring what that means for me. I want things to be different. I want to love my job and the people I work with. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. Things were pretty ugly and stressful during my last year of work. I’m glad I was laid off as part of the downsizing because, as I look back on it, I don’t like who I became during that year. It’s taken me a long time to be sure that I want to go back into the same career. I’m nervous about getting caught up again in the negative dynamics that were happening where I worked. I do not want to return to that type of culture.

Ideally, I would like a job close to my home with a minimal commute. I’m not sure that’s realistic so am moving my focus to downtown so that I can take the train to work rather than driving. My desire is to continue to write every day and I would be able to do that on the train. I fear a long commute by car would be the end of this blog and my writing.

Keeping the ability to do the things I enjoy that are not work related is important to me. I stopped doing a lot of things for me when I was so wrapped up in work and raising my kids. I’m choosing to do more things for me. This blog. The Mixed Media Journaling class. Writing classes at the library. Reading books. Last night I was thinking I should get back into crocheting. I haven’t done that since before my daughter was born. I want to learn to sew and my sister is giving me one of her extra sewing machines so that I can do that.

Things that make me happy are a priority. I’m not denying that for myself any longer.

The Woman Next Door

I really enjoyed The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso. It was a book I selected from one of the display tables at the library. The summer reading program theme was Community and this book also fit my goal to read more writers of color.

There are two main characters in the story who live next door to each other in a predominately white neighborhood in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. One is black and one is white. There is a lot of animosity between them and little patience for the other’s point of view.

Life circumstances intervene and by the third act, the women are living together. A transparent plot device that did not come across as realistic. It’s my only big negative about the book, but it is negated by the fact that I really like where the story went from there. Both women go through significant life changes over the course of the book. I can’t imagine the story without the intimacy forced on them by living together.

Marion could be any white woman. I found her character disposable. Her value came in recognizing parts of myself in her. She was a typical housewife, meddling in neighborhood business, and intent on keeping things the way they have always been.

Hortensia is the lifeblood of the novel. Her approach to life is a critical mirror. She doesn’t ignore. She confronts. She highlights. She states the unspoken. It is jarring. It disorients Marion and drives the conflict between them. Hortensia has no patience for Marion’s color blindness. Her behavior and motives are not driven by a need to make things easy for Marion. She is driven by a need to confront reality head first. She enjoys alienating people with her directness. Her goal is solitude from people and from pain.

I go back and forth about Hortensia. She is a unique character who is direct about her desire to be left alone. She doesn’t feel the need to educate Marion on the nuances of race and class. Marion should just figure it out. By the end of the book, Marion does begin to question what she was raised to believe and see the world through more than just the lens of her own reality. Hortensia is a significant reason why she does that. This is where I am conflicted about Hortensia.

The women do not become BFF’s. They do develop a mutual respect for one another. They get one another. Hortensia has opened herself up and isn’t so set on isolating herself by the end of the novel. I just wish it had come by other means. I felt this novel was written for white readers.

I identified a lot with Marion’s journey and opening her eyes to the realities of the impact of historical race and class struggles on current day behaviors. There is a land dispute in the novel that sets up her looking back on what she raised to believe. I’ve gone through a similar awakening from my white rural American education. Perhaps that is why I felt like the book was written for people like me and Marion and less for people like Hortensia. I’m disappointed and I want Hortensia to have her own story. Marion held her back.