The dawn is a blinking cursor

One day last week, I woke up with a line of verse in my head. It didn’t go anywhere, but it also didn’t go away. For days, any time my mind was at a lull, the line would float back up to the surface. I wrote it down, stared at it, willed it to continue on into another line. Frustratingly, it did not oblige.

But experience told me that if there is power in one line, then it’s worth waiting for the rest to take shape. Last night, something clicked. I’m not much for defining something as good or not good, but I am for taking pride in something you patiently nurtured into being. I’m also trying to get more comfortable with the idea of sharing what I write, because I have a tendency to be guarded when I should be more open.

I’m not sure that it’s finished (whatever that may mean), but I’m content with where it is at the moment.

shadow-self-portrait

The dawn is a blinking cursor

Some days I am almost a bird.
It is a becoming,
a certain of-ness,
a craning of the neck that glides
into an unintentional alert nod
over a tilted shoulder.

I startle easily.
There is something so natural
about the rush of blood,
thumping chest pushing back
against the constraints of skin.
As if the sudden intake of breath
were just an extension
of the wind.

But also I wonder at times if
what I want is a conscious choice,
and if that choosing is mine entirely,
or just a reflex wired through
the half-awareness of my
avian heart.

Cereal killer

These days, it seems like using the word “carb” is akin to shouting “Voldemort!” in a room full of wizards. And not without some merit. While carbohydrates are undeniably delicious (my ideal lunch involves a fresh, crusty loaf of bread, butter, and nothing else), the reason we find them so palatable is the simple biological fact that they make good storage for later. The human body is the original doomsday hoarder, but instead of canned goods, it just keeps jamming fat cells full of “what if?” fuel for any unforeseen famine.

In an attempt to cut back on carbs, two weeks ago I gave up eating cereal for breakfast. It’s not like I was wolfing down a giant bowl of Sugar Smacks every morning, but I thought it was worth a try to ditch the very boring grain flakes with almond milk I was eating and replace them with a mix of nuts and seeds with almond milk. Of all the carb-swapping I’ve attempted recently, I’d have to say that this has been the most enjoyable. Unsurprisingly, I got all the ingredients from the best nut retailer in the galaxy. (Not their slogan, but it should be.)

grain-free-cereal

The base of the recipe is a small handful of unsweetened coconut flakes (about 1/4 cup) and then I just add pinches of this and that depending on what I’m in the mood for. The mix in the photo has sliced almonds, a few raw cashews, a few raw walnuts, some chia seeds, dried goji berries, fresh blueberries and cinnamon. Sometimes I add raw pumpkin seeds or unsalted raw sunflower seeds. Sometimes I used freeze-dried berries if I don’t have any fresh. I keep all the ingredients in the fridge to give them a good crunch (and keep them from spoiling), and if I’m going to add goji berries, I let them soak overnight in a little bit of almond milk just to plump them up a bit.

So many people are ditching grains, whether it’s because of a gluten sensitivity, Celiac, or a paleo-style diet. For the record, I will never be able to fully embrace primal eating, for the simple fact that you’ll have to pry my cheese out of my cold, dead hands. But as a lifestyle that encourages an increase in bacon consumption, I give it a general thumbs-up.

It seems, in the midst of all this carb-shunning, cereal manufacturers have found themselves taking a big hit in sales. I say this because an interesting side-effect of this experiment has been a heightened awareness of cereal ads on television that are aimed at adults. And these aren’t just any cereals – these are cereals normally consumed by children, trying to lure adults back into childhood with their sweet, sweet carbohydrates.

While I’ve never been a Lucky Charms fan myself, apparently people who think the marshmallows taste like food (instead of styrofoam) really like picking the marshmallows out of the box. So, I’d say this is a pretty clever angle to take in trying to get adults to remember the sugary joy of being a kid. I mean, as an adult, you’re in charge of the purchases, so you could buy a dozen boxes of Lucky Charms and just fish out the marshmallows from every single one. Living the dream!

Froot Loops, on the other hand, totally missed an opportunity with this one. They’re trying to get parents to remember what it’s like to be a kid, and while that’s not a bad strategy, they have a woman getting all pumped up about hitting a coin block on the very first level of Super Mario Bros. (which, if memory serves, should be a mushroom block and not a coin block anyway). Getting past the Hammer Bros. is much more deserving of a mouthful of incentive carbs than just remembering which button you press to jump.

Frosted Mini Wheats have taken a different approach by trying to convince you that eating a bowl every morning will give you enough energy to make all the fancy coffees you need to make today. It will also give you the sugar rush you need to help forget that the economy has forced you back into the type of job you had when you were a teenager, before you earned a graduate degree and all the debt that came with it. Their tagline really should be, “Frosted Mini Wheats: For when you want to eat your feelings.”

I think this is my favorite of the bunch, simply because it comes across as a seriously desperate attempt to be hip and relevant by casting internet sensation Grumpy Cat in a commercial for human food. It also (probably unintentionally) hits the carb nail right on the head, because I think trying to convince people who have given up grains to eat cereal will get you the same response as trying to get Grumpy Cat to smile.

no

Summer oddities

Judging by the feeling that my cheap shoes were melting into the asphalt in the Target parking lot yesterday, summer is now in full swing. Even though I’m photosensitive to the point of nearly vampire, I know that for most people this change of season means a lot of time spent outside. Though I won’t need any outdoor items myself (except my trusty SPF 100), a very brief scan of the internet proved that fandom isn’t the only category filled with odd and/or puzzling products.

Toypedo

Toypedo

Aside from the worry that the very product name sounds like something that should be kept far away from children, there still remains the fact that this is a pool torpedo toy. You know, for kids. The makers of this maim mobile are very stealthy in their warnings, telling you that you shouldn’t throw it at other people but also should wear goggles while using it. In other words, you’re probably going to lose an eye to this underwater lawn dart.

Bird Spikes

bird-spikes

Are pesky birds spending way too much time being visually stunning on your property? Do you just hate the sight of wildlife in your outdoor space? Well, luckily for you, someone has invented a product that basically turns your deck into a fortified medieval tower. Just add a moat and a couple of murder holes and you’re ready to thwart an invasion. These make the perfect companion piece to a toypedo, offering you the opportunity to poke your eye out on land as well as in the water.

RedNek Wine Glass

rednek-glass

The class factor of these glasses at a backyard barbecue is somewhere between drinking out of a paper bowl and drinking out of an empty potato chip bag. I also imagine if you’re at the kind of party where people are drinking out of Mason jar stemware, you’re probably more likely to just drink right out of the Franzia box spout. Another blazing red flag is that the website tells you it’s “a fun way to serve up your favorite wine or homemade moonshine.” So classy, you just might die of class poisoning (or moonshine).

Steel Grill Perforated Meatloaf Pan

meatloaf-grill-pan

Williams-Sonoma, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Only you could decide that meatloaf needed to be made on the grill, and then invent a pan to make said meatloaf on said grill. Even the example photo loaf looks dried out and charred, with a fine coating of burned fat residue left on the perforated insert. It will probably not surprise you to learn that this item is a Williams-Sonoma exclusive.

Portable Briefcase BBQ Grill

briefcase-grill

This is a James Bond, stealth skewers on a secret lair-adjacent beach, laying in the sand with a woman whose name is a thinly veiled reference to a vagina kind of gadget. Even the product description thinks so:

Get down to barbecue business with this portable grill that fits within the confines of a sleek stainless steel briefcase. Perfect for kabob enthusiasts on the go, this versatile design opens up to reveal a grill and charcoal pit, perfect for an al fresco meal for two. Just prop out the two adjustable legs, grill to your heart’s content, wait for the piece to cool, and then take your grill wherever the smoky barbecue sauce takes you.

Coming soon to a picnic near you – Heinz 57: License to Grill.

Faking it – Almond flour pancakes

My subconscious has been infiltrated by pancakes. Not that anyone needs any particular reason to fixate on pancakes (they’re fixation-worthy in their own right) but my own hankering has come from reading my way through the Odd Thomas series. The titular character is a fry cook who is renown for his pancake skills. And also seeing ghosts. But ghosts don’t have nearly the same pull on my subconscious as pancakes do, it would seem.

The cruelty in this craving is the simple fact that I am terrible at making pancakes. For all the cooking that I do, you would think that I’d be able to handle something supposedly so simple, yet they elude me. Grilled cheese, tuna melts, fritters, crabcakes, latkes – I rock them. But attempting to make pancakes is a guaranteed recipe for failure. If you’re a potential suitor (a creature I’m starting to suspect is mythical), the key to my eternal devotion is a well-made stack of fluffy buttermilk magic.

Since I’d managed to convince myself that zucchini was a substitute for pasta, I figured making a pancake that wasn’t really a pancake might actually work. I took a recipe that came from my almond flour dealer, halved it and added a bit more moisture. The end result didn’t exactly satiate my pancake lust, but it was tasty and I managed to only burn two (a new personal best).

almond-flour-pancakes

The trick to not murdering these pancakes, for me anyway, seemed to be making six smaller cakes rather than three normal ones. Don’t let the extreme close-up above mislead you; the pancakes pictured are about the size of a coaster. If you’re cooking for multiple people, the recipe should double without any problems (since it’s a halved recipe to begin with).

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 2 Tb almond milk (or any milk – regular, soy, coconut)
  • 1 Tb oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 very ripe pear, peeled and mashed

I just mixed all the ingredients together to make a batter, coated a pan with nonstick spray, and cooked over medium heat. If you don’t have any ripe pears around, I suspect you can achieve the same result with applesauce (2-3 Tb should do the trick). In addition to being delicious, depending on the ingredients used they can also be gluten-free and paleo-friendly. What they cannot be is buttermilk pancakes, but they’ll tide me over until I can get my hands on the genuine article.

Wishful thinking

I have mentally composed a novel. It’s a very good one, full of rich character development and an imaginative plot. I’ve written down some of it, but only a minute percentage of the whole. I always seem to be making excuses as to why it remains in my head and doesn’t make its way to the page. None of these excuses are very good, most involve sheer laziness, some are rooted in self-doubt, and a handful are not so much excuses as they are diversions into numbing the mind rather than stimulating it.

I was mulling over this creative balking today, and was reminded of a passage from Little Women that has always stuck with me. The sisters (plus Teddy) are still teenagers, and talking about what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Jo, whom I’m sure many female writers feel a strong connection with, has this take on her future:

I’ve got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.

It’s a wonderfully succinct description of what it feels like to be your own roadblock, especially in a creative sense. And it’s followed in the conversation a short while later by a sentence that’s perhaps even a bit darker:

If we are all alive ten years hence, let’s meet, and see how many of us have got our wishes, or how much nearer we are then than now.

I knew that Alcott based the characters on her own family, and Jo specifically on herself, so I thought I’d dig a little deeper and see how much of her own experiences she really put into her work. What I found out was both shocking and enlightening: Louisa May Alcott hated Little Women.

Alcott really needed to make a quick buck to help support her family, and having had some small successes as a writer previously, she was persuaded (from all accounts more like forcefully coerced) into writing a novel about and for girls. She didn’t want to write it. She had other ideas, other stories to tell, and would have much rather told them instead. With the promise that she could put out more of her other work after publication, she banged out Little Women in just a few months.

When she handed it over to her publisher, she made a point of telling him what a terrible book she thought it was. But it was 1868, and no one had ever read anything like it. Girls loved it. They loved it so much, that she wrote and published a sequel in the next year just to appease their ravenous need to know the end of a story she thought she had already completed.

What fascinates me the most about this knowledge is the realization that a book I always took to be progressive was seen by its author as not progressive enough. Alcott was a force of nature, surrounded her entire life by free thinkers, and in her published works outside of Little Women she wrote about power struggles, pain, and her desire to change the very foundation of social structure.

I’m not quite as bogged down by the idea of perfection as she was (her having been raised by transcendentalists), but I certainly struggle with it. Yet, I find it peculiarly comforting to know that the author of a work I greatly admire thought it wasn’t good enough. Because, when it comes down to it, what is enough? Or, for that matter, what is good? The best thing a writer can hope for is to write, and leave the value judgements to someone else.

Sink your teeth into summer

I’ve always been a bit of an indoor kid. Don’t get me wrong, I love the outdoors, it’s just that the outdoors doesn’t exactly love me back. I am about two shades of pale away from cadaver, allergic to pretty much all varieties of pollen, and absolutely irresistible to mosquitos. This means that I spend a good percentage of the summer months in the safety and comfort of my air conditioning, although I will from time to time park a chair in the shade with a book.

backyard-book

This propensity to burst into flames when exposed to sunlight, coupled with a lifetime of insomnia, led to a very early fascination with vampires. Before there were angst-ridden glitter vampires for tweens there was Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series, which of course was followed in my reading history by copious amounts of Anne Rice. Considering my great love for science fiction (in addition to the supernatural), it should then come as no surprise that my favorite movie genre is horror.

So, to really kick your summer off the way only an indoor kid can, I’ve put together a list of recommendations for vampiric viewing. For the purpose of this exercise I’m going to skip over the obvious classics, and focus instead on films you might not have seen but definitely should.

Let the Right One In

This is not only my favorite vampire movie, it’s also one of my favorite movies, period. It’s based on a book that was wildly popular in Sweden, which is also on my (exceptionally long) to-read list. The plot centers around Oskar, who is a painfully awkward, oddball kid. Oskar is picked on incessantly by a group of menacing bullies who shatter all my perceptions of small-town Scandinavia. A girl named Eli moves into his apartment building, and her parallel strangeness draws Oskar in.

let-the-right-one-in

Let the Right One In is full of so much atmosphere. The harshness of Swedish winter, and the darkness that comes along with it, sets a somber tone that is almost palpable in its weight. This is not your traditional leather-clad vampire story, full of crescendo and dripping with sexual tension. It is raw, gritty, yet also remarkably tender at times. They filmed an English-language remake of the movie a few years after this was released, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch it. You just don’t mess with perfection.

Kiss of the Damned

Speaking of leather-clad vampire stories, this one screams excess from start to finish. I will probably catch a bit of flak for including Kiss of the Damned, but there are a few reasons it makes the cut. Yes, there is a fair amount of gratuitous nudity and oodles of bloody seduction. However, in my opinion, it serves the purpose of outlining the different philosophies of the main characters. Djuna is a hopeless romantic who spends her nights watching old movies and translating poetry, with the occasional break for hunting down deer to feed her bloodlust. Her sister Mimi is brazen and unapologetic, preferring to spend her nights hunting human prey despite the social conventions in the vampire community that forbid her to do so.

kiss-of-the-damned

The movie has a very pulp feel to it, sort of macabre and with a hint of film noir. The homes are extravagant, the personalities brooding, and every character is dressed to the nines at almost every moment. The director somehow manages to meld together old world elegance with grindhouse without being completely pornographic. There is still a lot of sexy sex, but that’s kind of par for the course when you’re dealing with vampires.

Thirst

Get ready for more subtitles! Thirst is an intricate film from Korean writer/director Park Chan-wook, who is best known for his ability to build magnificent tension (e.g. Oldboy and Stoker). This movie is about more than just vampires, touching on themes of sacrifice, duty, love and sin. In a refreshing twist on the classic vampire tale, the main bloodthirsty character is a priest. He volunteers to undergo experimental treatment in an attempt to help cure a deadly epidemic, but ends up getting a transfusion of eternal life/damnation instead.

thirst-park-chan-wook

His seemingly miraculous recovery leads to a flock of followers and a whole heap of conflict, particularly his internal struggle to reconcile his newfound lust for everything with his ingrained reflex to denounce lustful ways. The film is visually stunning, as are all of his films, in such a way that you could choose any still shot and frame it like a piece of art. While the plot centers around a vampire, this is really more philosophical than supernatural. Well worth your time to watch.

Vampire Mob

This comedic gem is an indie web series about a hitman named Don who becomes a vampire to help aid in his line of work. In a moment of weakness he bites his wife, who in turn bites her mother so she’ll have someone to complain about Don to for all eternity. In addition to a killer premise, they’ve got some real star power on board, including Kirsten Vangsness (Criminal Minds), Retta (Parks and Recreation) and the late, great Marcia Wallace (known for many awesome things, but particularly The Simpsons). The full series (embedded below) clocks in at around 80 minutes total, so it’s pretty much equivalent to watching a movie.

If you’re after a classic after all, the obvious choices would include Interview with the Vampire (in which Kirsten Dunst’s career peaks with her first major role), Coppola’s stylized Dracula (Gary Oldman’s everything makes up for Keanu’s terrible British accent), and the film within a film that is Shadow of the Vampire. If you’re after a movie that’s so bad (so very bad) it’s good, I would recommend Once Bitten and if you’d rather some campy (but still sexy) vampire seduction there’s nothing better than the combination of David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger.

In fact, when it comes to vampire movie trailers, The Hunger is definitely the strangest, and quite possibly involves the most use of voiceover ever voiced in a preview. I’ll leave you with the trailer that calls its own film “haunting, mysterious, sensual, strange, perverse, riveting.”

Prize inside

In general, I am not someone who you would call a winner. I’m not saying I’m a loser, it’s just that… Ok, I am kind of calling myself a loser, but not in the way that you think. I just have really terrible luck. Scientifically, I know that luck isn’t something that exists, but I somehow manage to defy statistical logic when it comes to winning things.

So, you can imagine how delighted I was when I won a Twitter contest last week. Not only that, but it was a contest to win books. And the books are collections of things left behind in used books. Bookception! Knowing how I feel about the magic of used books, you’ll understand why I felt like I hit the jackpot.

Forgotten Bookmarks and Handwritten Recipes by Michael Popek

Forgotten Bookmarks and Handwritten Recipes are collections assembled by Michael Popek. He made a habit of collecting odds and ends he found tucked inside the volumes arriving at his family-run bookshop, which is basically my dream come true. I’m just a teensy bit jealous, actually, but I’m also really excited that he decided to give away a few copies. (If you’re reading this, hi and thanks!)

sphere-spaghetti

What makes the collection particularly special is that he shows you the item, as well as the book that he found it in. I love the mystery of trying to figure out why someone would leave a chicken and spaghetti casserole recipe inside a copy of Sphere. I’m fascinated by the photo marked “Terror Destruction and Death” left behind in Historical Background of the Panama Canal and wonder what sort of person would collect it (in a very FBI profiler sort of way).

I could go on and on about the little treasures he’s collected, but you really should discover the wonder yourselves. You can purchase them from the links on his website, which also features a blog that he regularly updates with his new finds.

terror-destruction-death