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.

“Reaching Beyond the Saguaros” and Reflections

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The above image is the contributor’s copy of a project pitched to me in the fall of 2016. The editor of Reaching Beyond the Saguaros (Serving House Books), Heather Lang, proposed a haibun project to our Fairleigh Dickinson MFA group. A haibun is a Japanese travelogue combining prose and poetry. I loved the sound of this idea, especially since for much of my MFA I felt disconnected from the community of my fellow students because I lived in Utah and most of them lived in New York and New Jersey. I had clicked with Heather because of this distance (she lives in Las Vegas) and because I admire her literary magazine Petite Hound Press.

When I took up my section of the project I had recently learned that I had been accepted to Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England. This began a new path in my life that I had been working towards, and wanting to walk on, since my high school days. And soon after the reception of this news, my days in Utah became a series of “last time for a long time” moments. One of these was a trip out to West Wendover, Nevada with several family members.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the small gambling town. I have absolutely no luck and there’s not much to do besides drink, gamble, eat at mostly okay restaurants, and go see shows at the concert hall. That weekend during my cousin Brent’s birthday Penn and Teller would be performing their comedy and magic act. I had seen the duo before in Las Vegas with our cousin Dylan, who in turn has seen them live almost a dozen times. My grandma, her sister, and two of her daughters also joined us for the show. We all went out to dinner at an Italian place called Romanza. They happen to make amazing cocktails and this was the restaurant that started my love of Caesar salad.

However, before this night began, Dylan and I drove into Wendover together. We discussed the upcoming election, the Marvel shows on Netflix, and other topics. Because this was going to be my last time for a long time, I asked if we could pull over at a rest stop that over looks the Bonneville Salt Flats.

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It looks like something out of a science fiction or fantasy novel. A blanket of gray-white salt left behind from when a great saline lake covered much of Utah towards the end of the last great ice age. Every kid in Utah learns about Lake Bonneville and we’re shown where the lake left geological imprints in the Wasatch Mountain rage. There were times when I would find myself looking at the mountains and visually tracing the lines of where the shores used to be.

There’s almost always wind whipping through the peaks of the Silver Island Mountain Rage along the northern edge of the Salt Flats. I can’t remember if this was the first time I noticed it, but that afternoon the wind blew salt onto my lips and when I licked them I tasted a unique sea. So different from the time I walked along the harbors of Long Beach, California. There was a distinct lack of fish, but supplemented with an earthy base note, almost as though the air were a salty, dry rain.

But when I returned home to write about northern Utah, Layton, and Salt Lake City for the haibun project I was smothered by writer’s block. Each word of the first couple of drafts of my part of the haibun was pulling out like teeth. It felt like an exercise in futility and seriously began to affect my self-confidence. I was unsure if my piece needed dialogue, but inspiration for some came from a conversation with my sister about my upcoming move. She reiterated how much she had missed the mountains of home while living in North Dakota, and warned me that I would soon feel their absence in England, in a place without them.

I rounded out my haibun with the constant memory of the mountains turning from spring green to summer brown every year and other recollections of what home was to me.

To my surprise Heather liked it. I passed it on to her to give to the next person in the travelogue chain and pretty much forgot about the project as I continued with my preparations for my PhD program and transatlantic move.

As the days continued to countdown to the day I would leave, I pulled my part of the haibun out of one of my iCloud files to read at my going away party. I’d never lived further than 40 miles from the city I was born and raised in, and since I spent the last half of 2016 preparing to move to England it seemed like a fitting piece to read aloud. I’ve always been very shy about sharing my reading in front of my family. A lot of my works tend to use colorful language and situations I dare not speak of in front of my grandmothers, but the haibun was my ode to the home I would be leaving behind.

There’s nothing like making people feel something when they read your work. One of the few times I’ve gone to an open mice night and actually got up to read, a woman handed me a note saying that she had been touched by my poems. That night in front of my family I began with Walt Whitman’s O Me! O Life!, a poem that I rediscovered at the beginning of my MFA program and one that basically set the internal tone for what I wanted to achieve with that degree. (Here is a short clip of Robin Williams reading part of this amazing poem from the movie Dead Poets Society.)

Then I read a short poem titled The Place (Without) (unpublished) inspired by Harold Pinter in an afternoon workshop I took from Renee Ashley. A prose poem titled Here to Live Out Loud (unpublished) and a free verse piece called Are You Alive from Planet Earth? (Here and There) (unpublished) inspired by two of my dearest friends, James and Jennifer.

I was in a rhythm as I performed and so when I got to “Layton, Utah,” my piece of the haibun. To avoid breaking any of that momentum, I kept my eyes focused on the pages in my hands. After I finished my ode to my home I looked up and saw that, the people I love and adore most in the word were all speechless and several had been moved to tears.

It was the best gift I could have ever received before beginning my PhD journey.

____

Layton, Utah

Ginger Lee Thomason

____

Being from Northern Utah: On a quick drive westward from
Utah’s capitol, through beige desert ranges, we stopped at the Bonneville
Salt Flats on the way to a little gambling town. (Possibly for my
last time in a long time.) When the wind picked up, we could taste a
desert sea blowing through the peaks, and almost see where the earth
curves amongst rippling refractions off asphalt and salt. Images to imprint.

The Wasatch, Uintah, and Oquirrh surrounding Home have just
been my whole life. Always to the east. Their millions of years of
memory seen through my infinitesimal birthdays.

“You’ll miss the mountains,” my sister said. “Their absence is an
ache.”

Summer weekends up the Ogden, Farmington, Little, and Big Cottonwood
Canyons to find the evergreen amongst golden brush turned
into tinderboxes. To visit an old saloon, where they put brats on top of
hamburgers and see where people have stapled signed dollar bills to the
walls and ceiling. And there are initials everywhere of lovers, families,
and friends. You can find my graffiti at the Shooting Star in the ladies
room.

I’ll miss memories the most.

 

 

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.wordpress.com, 2017. “Layton, Utah” was first published in “Reaching Beyond the Saguaros” Serving House Books, 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 1 was taken with a Samsung phone by Tami Forbes in May 2017. Images 2 and 3 were taken with an iPhone 6 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 2016.

 

 

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.