18 Before, For, and Beyond 2018

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Less than a month left in this crazy year. Well, crazy doesn’t even cover a fraction of it. I started this list the last week of November 2017. Some things I added when I first drew up the list have already been completed. Some of you may call that cheating. I say that’s too bad. It’s my life, my brain, and my list (and besides it’s postmodern to mess around with chronology).

  1. Request my federal post card voter application: I am putting this one it down first, because it’s something I still believe in as jaded as I am at the ripe old age of 30. Seriously, those of us who gained adult-like consciousness in the age of 24-hour news media and the Internet, we’ve lived lifetimes of political campaigns already. We of this generation are exhausted, but I still believe in voting. Some call voting an illusion of choice, yet when you do cast a ballot (even for Jon Stewart or Bugs Bunny) you’re still making a choice. They can never take that away from you or your so-called conscience.
  2. Figure out where my writing and where my research, intersect: I’ve been in knots over my annual review over the last few weeks. Now that it’s over I need to sit down, possibly over multiple individual sit downs with myself during this PhD thing, and figure out again where my writing and where my PhD research meet. I’ve been so pre-occupied with my research, and struggling so much with creative output and production, that I have really neglected my writing muscles. They’re rusty and stuck, because I haven’t been giving them the proper workouts. Going through repeated bouts of mental illness flare-ups, stress, and general procrastination have not made for a productive year. Time to get busy reading and get busy writing.
  3. Remind myself why I’m doing this PhD: I feel like this is going to be a continuously evolving Q & A session with myself. It ties into the question above, but there is more to my PhD than the writing and research. I wrote a blog post about my reasons for pursuing this path earlier in 2017. I think it’s something I need to reflect on more often.
  4. Find a journaling/diary habit that works for me: Speaking of reflection, I have always, always sucked at keeping a journal or diary. During my holiday back home, I think one thing I will do is spend some time on Pinterest and explore new ideas.
  5. Organize research articles and websites: In an attempt to narrow my research focus for the latter parts of 2018, I will start looking over some of the shorter bits of research that I’ve compiled (some accumulated during my BA and MFA degrees). There’s quite possibly 200+ articles, links, stories, and bits that I’ve saved over the years, and quite often the little nuggets you need to fit things together are lost in longer books. This excavation will be ongoing.
  6. Buy Scrivener for iPhone/iPad: For better organization. My notes and my stories are all over the place. I already have Scrivener for my Macbook and I think the reasonable extra cost of a synchronous app on my phone would help contribute to organizing my PhD and personal writing projects.
  7. Eat a steak: I had a steak, Caesar salad, and au gratin potatoes before seeing Venus in Fur with Natalie Dormer and David Oakes on December 1st. The steak was delicious. Not the best ever, but a tender rib eye nonetheless, with garlic butter and paprika salt. It was yum. And the play was icing on the cake. Natalie and David saying they loved my name as they signed a copy of the play at the stage door.
  8. Bake something: I’ve never been a baker. I have a few solid recipes I’ve nailed, but nothing spectacular. My only attempt to bake, my fail-proof cornbread recipe, so far while living in the UK was a total disaster. I think I’ll make ginger cookies for my co-workers.
  9. Play cards and games with my family: This one will obviously happen after I fly on home on December 13. It’s been said, but making something like this important enough to put on a to do list gives it that special place of importance.
  10. Play Yu-Gi-Oh with my brother: Same with this one. I bought a bunch of Yu-Gi-Oh cards several years ago because I missed playing (yes, I was a very geeky teenager, oh come, on Pokemon is popular again, let me have my Dueling Monsters okay?) and I ended up giving them my brother a while back. I always used to say we’ll play during the weekend, and I never did. We will many times during Christmas holiday Jake, I promise.
  11. Polish a few poems and send them out to literary magazines: I actually started this on the train to London on December 1st and I worked on a few poems the next day. “Both Sides, Now,” “Curves That Cut,” “Flame,” and “On the Piccadilly Line” will join several other poems in a rotation of simultaneous submissions to lit mags throughout 2018.
  12. Go through books, scan relevant stuff, and give away what I don’t need: Hi, I’m Ginger and I have a bad habit—I buy books and I don’t read them. Charity shops, used bookstores, and good old Amazon and Abe Books are dangerous to my bank account. Not only that, books add up to a lot of weight when you need to move I’m not sure if I will be moving at the end of the spring, but I do know I need to pare down the many tomes I’ve managed to collect.
  13. Minimalize: I moved to another country with only three suitcases and I still feel like I own a lot of junk. The top of my dresser and my bedside table accumulate piles that I know messes with the feng shui of my anxiety. In addition to sending the books I don’t need to charity shops, I’m going to go through my stuff in the UK and in storage at home and pare down again.jUMUnOrhSXiYlDykYbRs3Q_thumb_280e
  14. 2018 conferences, conventions, day trips, and holidays: For 2018, I have already planned to go to Picocon, Eastercon, NineWorlds, and FantasyCon. For added excitement, FantasyCon is taking place in Chester, England, which is very close to Liverpool. The World Museum in Liverpool will have an exhibition on the Terracotta Warriors that intersects with the dates of FantasyCon and since I’m in the area, might as well kill two birds with one stone. I mean come on, seeing bits of China’s coolest ancient artifacts in the city of the Beatles? I’m so there.
  15. Rewrite final chapter in With No Name: I had a revelation regarding the last chapter of the novella I wrote in 2015. I’ve never been satisfied with the ending, but on the bus the other day I realized my protagonist had been asking the antagonist of the piece the wrong question. I hope with this new question, and rewriting the last chapter to match it, will strengthen the story enough where I feel satisfied and confident enough to start shopping it around as well.
  16. Dye my hair a fun color: I’m still not sure about this one. The maintenance is a pain for bright colors and the upkeep is expensive. But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Maybe just something underneath?
  17. Outline rewrites for Quality of Scars: My novel is the monkey on my back. I have been working on the first draft for over two years now. I reached the conclusion a few months ago that I would have to rewrite at least 40% of the 100,000 words I’ve already written, if not 50-60%. I know that once I return from holiday I will have to hit the ground running with my PhD projects in order to make up for the disastrous 2017 production. BUT as soon as I find the balance between my PhD, my part time job, and my personal projects (aka QoS), I want to have a beta ready second draft by my 31st 
  18. For my health: I am not a healthy person. I am quite overweight and I know this impacts my mental health more than anything else. People say that you shouldn’t focus on what the scales say, but my feet, knees, and self-esteem beg to differ. I’m not happy with my body. My main goal is to be able to walk into a department store and be able to shop around, even if finding a 18, 16, or 14 is still a pain. At least I won’t be restricted to the tiny plus size section. In addition to finding the balance in my work and PhD I need to find the will to exercise and eat right. I lost a good 20 pounds my first few months here, and then the summer that all turned to shit. I remember Weight Watchers was successful for me, and I’m seriously considering returning to the program, especially with the recent Flex/Freestyle update. Almost everyone has weight loss goals as a New Year’s resolution, but the main reason I titled this blog post as “18 Before, For, and Beyond 2018” is because I know each day builds up to the tomorrows. I have a lot of ideas to share and I have a lot of life to live. It all adds, up and I would rather the positives outweigh the negatives. Some things need balance. But there are other notions that need to be about constructing and climbing mountains, with enough energy leftover to fill in the holes of the past.

 

 

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© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.wordpress.com, 2017.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Featured image was taken in August of 2017 in Cambridge, UK with an iPhone 6. Image 1 was taken at Peterborough Cathedral in September of 2017 with an iPhone 6. Image three was taken in London in August of 2017 with an iPhone 6.

Writing About Writing and Writer’s Block

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” —Thomas Merton

There’s a stupid food lore that if you throw cooked spaghetti at the wall and if it’s stick it’s done. This is stupid for several reasons of course. Why waste pasta? And why clean up more messes after cooking than you need to? We all know the pot of marinara is going to spit up a hot bubble of tomato-y burp at one point and get little driblets of sauce all over your stovetop. Besides, I highly doubt anyone in this day and age would do anything that dumb, then again we have people believing that they can recreate Minion cookies off Pintrest that come out looking like something else entirely.

My apologies for the tone of the last paragraph. It was written in frustration at a Starbucks in Cambridge after spending over an hour staring at a blank screen. That is of course a lie, I spent most of the hour I should have been writing surfing the Internet. At least 25% of the time was spent “researching” for the short story I’m trying to finish right now. It’s hard to write about what you know, but obviously don’t know as much as the real people in our stories.

This can be frustrating if your character is say an impulsive fighter, from an ancient order and she nearly gets herself killed by rushing into a situation before thinking everything through. You know she should know better, but obviously you have to craft circumstances that circumvent logic and almost twenty years of training. What about a chef frustrated with her profession, even though she is at the top of her career as the story begins? How does one write about crafting the perfect menu that tells a magical, mental narrative if you’ve never been through the rigors of culinary school, let alone years of training and months of recipe testing? How can I make my readers think something like “fresh ricotta, olive oil drizzle, rosemary salt and candied orange zest on crispy olive ‘panettone’” is delicious and well thought out even though it has probably never existed in a restaurant outside the digital pages on Microsoft Word in my iCloud drive?

This is of course the whole purpose of writing—to make a reader experience what you have and to foster this unique osmosis of imagery. This is what I am studying and am trying to quantify for my PhD. All writers eventually figure out what works for them and how they convey this to their readers. Of course when this flow of information seems obstructed, aka writer’s block, this generates the opposite feeling of osmosis. It’s as if the fusion of words is burned up and suddenly our keyboards become dying stars. Except we don’t want a supernova to happen, even though this seems at first like a good idea. (Supernovas eventually become black holes.)

Recently, someone asked me what my writer’s block “looks like.” An interesting question, and one that will likely make every writer pause before they say “a block of course.” This physical manifestation of a literal translation between metaphor and imagery is pervasive. There are even gag gifts for writers of wooden cubes labeled as such. I’ve even seen a thick notebook designed to look like this.

For me, my writer’s block looks like a giant cube of sandstone. This is probably because I am a huge fan of the TV show Futurama. In the episode “A Pharaoh to Remember” the Planet Express delivery crew has to deliver a block of sandstone to a planet resembling Ancient Egypt. When Professor Farnsworth makes this announcement with his usual call of “good news, everyone,” we don’t see it until the camera pans out to show this object being larger than the spaceship that will deliver it, and Fry comments, “I thought something looked different in here.”

Over the past six months since I’ve arrived in the UK, I know I’ve been so focused on pushing this block out of it’s tunnel, that I have forgotten one of the most basic principles of the physics of the mind. We can imagine almost anything if given the linguistic keys to do so. When this person asked me the follow up question of “why can’t I move this block?” my immediate reaction was, “well, maybe I should just pan the camera out?” Instead of moving or chipping away at the gargantuan artifice built up of procrastination and bad habits, I can focus on expanding the cavern it’s stuck in.

So take this advice, even if I don’t as often as I should. Don’t focus on moving, blasting, or chipping away at the obstacle. Maybe instead focus on expanding the cavern around it. Either by panning out, exploding new holes to let the light in, or finding cracks you didn’t realize that were there. This mental exercise can be strengthened with a few other proven tricks of mine, and if they work for me and my screwy brain, they might work for you:

  • “Read a lot. Write a lot.” I wholly believe in Stephen King’s advice from On Writing regarding this mantra. When I don’t read, my writing gets sluggish. This is also true if I read a lot of similar things in a row. If you’re reading too much about food history or on the craft of writing, like I have since starting my PhD program, read something in a completely different genre. Even if it’s just a few articles, short stories, or some poems. Just look at what picking up a biography in an airport did for Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  • Find your space. This can be in a coffee shop, library, or setting up a corner desk in your home. Making a space for writing seems to help your brain center itself and realize it’s time to write or create. This actually is something many writing manuals suggest. The latest one I bought is Organizing for Creative People by Sheila Chandra. It’s something that’s easy to forget, especially if you move to a new country and expect the writing bug to find you again. Doesn’t work like that.
  • Give yourself deadlines, and stick to them. Self explanatory, but even more so is to make yourself excited to see that end goal and not just treating it as a means to an end. Perhaps treat your next project like a travel itinerary. Sure things may change at the last minute and you may have to visit the National Gallery instead of the Tate Modern, but you still have to leave London and go back home eventually. Make the ending (or at least the first draft of a project) your coming home date and then the next step is the next itinerary for your next adventure of creativity.
  • In addition to a space and deadlines, above all you have to treat writing as something between a hobby and as a “real” occupation. It must be nurtured. This can be done with deadlines, a dedicated space, and by feeding it with words read and words written. Time spent writing must be protected and become as much a part of your routine as sleep, bathing, taking prescribed medication, eating well, and exercising. Notice how all of those things in the previous sentence not only contribute to a healthy body, but in turn a healthy mind.

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” as John Lennon said but one must make writing part of life, not a plan.

Advice I have been given over and over. Things I know, but often forget to practice. Perhaps we always need re-reminding of the important things as a way to remember to appreciate them.

“If a man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.” —Thomas Merton

 

 

 

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image taken with iPhone 6 in July 2017 at Museum of London, London, England, UK.

My Favorite Meal

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Over the last few years my favorite meal has slowly changed. It used to be, with absolute certainty, chicken fettuccine Alfredo, garlic bread my Grandma Forbes’s no-bake, cheesecake topped with raspberry sauce, even at Death’s door. The dessert part of this last supper hasn’t changed. I don’t think it ever will.

The best part about Thanksgiving on the old Forbes farm was Bessie Forbes’s cheesecake. It’s a simple thing to make. It starts with a cookie crust. She used Honey Maid graham crackers. I use a mixture of graham and Biscoff crumbs when I make it, but there’s something about the memory of her crust that mine will probably never top. Next is an eight-ounce brick of Philadelphia cream cheese, a can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, and 1/3 cup of lemon juice. Here again I tend to deviate from her recipe and I use a mix of lime and lemon juice. To me this is what cooking is all about, embracing old memories and techniques while crafting new ones at the same time.

After you get your non-custard, but custardy base together, you can either pour it into your prepared crust, or add in a cup or so of whipped cream. My mom prefers no extra fluff and Grandma Forbes used Dream Whip. I stick to whipped cream, I even have plans to make this easy cheesecake when I appear on Chopped or some other cooking show in the future.

The cheesecake needs to spend some time in the refrigerator. This is where the no-bake part happens. There’s chemistry at work is essentially curdling. The absence of so much water in the sweetened condensed milk means that the casein proteins in the milk react with the acid to thicken without eggs or heat.

The above paragraph is also one of those little gems I love to learn about when I research food history and chemistry. I love learning why foods do what they do because of human desire and interaction, or just because of the process of nature. This is the magic I have come to know, and it has taken many years of study.

I truly believe in Stephen King’s aphorism that one must “read a lot and write a lot” in order to become a better writer. There is no way to avoid this. Even the greats read and wrote many words that never saw the light. Many of those words were also excised with the editing pen (many superfluous words were excised from this blog post as well). These are the magic wands and words. “Get busy reading or get busy writing,” as I’ve begun to tell my self.

The same holds true with cooking, and overcoming extreme picky eating.

Yes, I am a picky eater. It used to be really bad. I can remember refusing to eat baked potatoes as a kid. Nowadays however, when cooked perfectly, there is nothing like piercing the papery brown skin of a russet with just a fork and fighting with the emerging steam to reveal the fluffy starch inside. I even just like them with a pat of butter, salt, pepper, and a dollop of sour cream (yet another foodstuff I used to shun because I didn’t like the tanginess). But you have to remember to close the open potato again so that the butter and sour cream melt into the flesh before too much heat escapes.

Next, and this may sound strange coming from a “red blooded American,” but I used to not be such a big fan of steak. That is until I discovered the two magic words: “medium rare.” The juice is the best part of a piece of meat and until I first asked for my steak to be cooked a less than the family standard of above medium, I was quite unaware of this fact. Now a thick ribeye, with plenty of marbling, is the third component of my favorite meal.

One of my favorite ways to season a steak is to get some Montreal Steak Seasoning and add ancho chili powder in a 4:1 ratio. I call this my “stupid easy steak seasoning.” Another favorite seasoning, for lesser cuts like sirloin or flatiron, I use a wet marinade made of soy sauce, brown sugar, and crushed garlic. Also, if you’re cooking your meat at home, be sure to take it out about an hour before introducing your beef to some heat. This helps to keep the meat tender because refrigerator cold meeting extreme heat tends to cause steaks or burgers to seize.

The final miracle is this: sometime around the age of five I developed an aversion to about 90% of foodstuffs that come from the ground. According to my parents practically overnight I stopped eating things like beans, carrots, celery, and all forms of lettuces. Until recently I would gag anytime I tried to eat a salad. I still tried over the years, especially post high school, to keep trying salad, but I could never make it past a bite or two. Then on a trip to West Wendover, Nevada with my grandmother, her sister, her two daughters, and a cousin we decided to eat at the nice Italian restaurant called Romanza.

For dinner I ordered my standby of chicken alfredo and a cocktail called an Italian Wedding Cake (amaretto is just lovely, isn’t it?). Everyone but me at the table asked for the Caesar salad. I had probably initially asked for the soup, but for some reason I decided to tell the waitress that I wanted give the Caesar a try. Why not? I was pretty sure I had never tried Caesar dressing before. About this time I was about five years into my culinary self-education and I had seen or read that Caesar dressing was made up of one of the “eww-ist” of ingredients—anchovies. But I was feeling daring in the wake of the gambling atmosphere of the town.

The waitress brought out the big wooden bowl started to assemble our salad tableside. I watched closely as the pale yellow dressing met the emerald and jade green leaves. She sprinkled the grated Parmesan cheese over the bowl as though it were snow. I mean snow cheese, what could be better? Then croutons, previously the only salad ingredient I liked aside from black olives. And then the tempo of this the symphony sped up as she tossed the ingredients together into a crescendo of edible music. I could swear I was literally enchanted by all of these ingredients coming together for the first time in my memory. This is the closest I have ever come to having a synesthetic moment. Synesthesia is a condition some people have there they see music or hear color. Upon reflection I swear I could not only hear and taste and see the salad, but I was sure that many of these senses had been transposed and exchanged. Magic, evolution, experience, whatever you want to call it, after that meal I started experimenting more with salads. And now I can’t imagine my favorite meal without a Caesar.

There is something refreshing when one enjoys a crunchy and crisp salad with a tangy dressing, right before the richness of a medium rare steak and a creamy butter baked potato. Followed by a slice of no-bake cheesecake with raspberry sauce, made up of it’s own science and magic, is a meal made up of the evolution of my palate.

When the raw is transformed it reignites memory, and this is why I study food in fiction. Human memory can be found in any text, and the deepest memories any of us have are usually of food. Food can be sustenance and the building blocks of civilization, but it is also a symbol of love and our connection to both the Earth and one another. A meal is just another magical form of communication.

 

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Featured image taken by Ginger Lee Thomason in 2017 on iPhone 6. Salad, steak, and baked potato images are stock and the cheesecake martini glasses were taken by Ginger Lee Thomason on iPhone 4.

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Whys

“Your only limit is your soul.”

So, here is the inaugural post for my PhD blog. As of this writing I am nearly two months into my PhD in Creative Writing programme at Anglia Ruskin University. A few weeks ago I submitted my proposal and now I feel a bit lost. I’ve been living in a foreign country for a few weeks now and while there are many familiarities with home, the physical absence of family and friends has started to weigh on my academic and creative progress. My advisor Dr. Tiffani Angus has set a few deadlines and goals for me, one of which is to official launch my PhD blog.

As an extremely introverted, and self-described “strange” teenager, I dreamed of leaving Layton, Utah for some academically exotic place like New York City, Los Angeles or, most of all, England. There was something about England in books, TV, and movies that seemed so magical. So if I were to give reason number one in applying for and aspiring to study in the UK, it would be to achieve this adolescent dream. When I left high school in 2005, I enrolled at Weber State University to study psychology before changing to history. I dropped out after only two years of study and returned to college at another school in 2011.

Though I finished my bachelor’s through Southern New Hampshire (SNHU) University and my MFA with Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, I have actually never “gone away” to school. All of my classes at SNHU were online, and aside from four writers residencies (conferences) with Fairleigh Dickinson, I lived and worked in my home state of Utah during my studies. The secondary reason for chasing this PhD craziness was that I knew I had to go big…or I’d end up going somewhere else in the US. Which is fine. I was also looking at a food studies PhD program at NYU (except after my first trip to NYC I learned I didn’t like the city that much) and the least exciting option was a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Oklahoma…yeah, um, no.

The third reason I wanted to go for a PhD has to do with my family. I learned at my Grandpa Thomason’s funeral in 2006 that he wanted to be a history teacher but never became one. This was one of the reasons I changed my Weber State major from psychology to history. My cousins and I loved his stories about family history and his life, he was a vivid but grounded storyteller, the kind any writer aspires to be. However there was one problem: I could never be a teacher for kids. I am well aware that college students aren’t much better, but it still seems like my calling. I love writing because I like sharing stories with people, and while at first I wanted to share my love of history with other people, now I want to help people find their own writing voice.

There is also a final and purely selfish reason for pursuing this PhD. Even as far back as my psychology aspirations I wanted to be the first person in my family to be called Dr. Thomason.

They tell me that I need to remember the reasons why I’m going for a PhD as time goes by. That I need to remember the passion behind my decision when it’s a late night and I’ve got a headache and a deadline, or when I lack the motivation to read or write another word. I have to remember that this is the accumulation of my love of learning. It’s also a huge part of something I’ve learned about in my twenties and what I expect of myself as I near my thirtieth birthday—that I can succeed and even more than that I will succeed.

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Image belongs to Disney/Pixar.

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.