This week we made and decorated Star Wars cookies in cook n00b with Nancy! Initially, Nancy and I were worried that the cookie cutouts wouldn’t look good when they came out of the oven, or that that would be too complicated to decorate. What we forgot to consider is how creative and adaptive all the kids are! We were blown away by the variety of Wookiees, Yodas, Vaders and C-3PO’s (and even a Jabba the Hut cupcake!) – such a good reminder for us grownups that things don’t have to be precisely perfect to be beautiful, creative, and delicious!
“‘My friend,’ said Gandalf, ‘you had horses, and deeds of arms, and the free fields; but she, born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least to match yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father, and watch him falling into a mean dishonored dotage…’”
From the first time I read LOTR at the tender age of eleven, I loved it. It wasn’t my first experience of high fantasy, but the seriousness with which Tolkien approached his heroes and the evil they faced appealed to me: I took myself seriously, and even then I believed that the small can slay the mighty, can stand up against evil. Tolkien’s worldbuilding is impressive and unprecedented and I’m grateful to the father of the genre I love for bringing about the high fantasy renaissance, which lead to the publication of novels like The Golden Compass, The Broken Earth Trilogy, and every perfect book Tamora Pierce has ever written.
Having established my credentials as a serious fantasy fan (come at me, bros) there’s something I have to get off my chest. LOTR has a serious lady problem. Three and a half books we’ve encountered only 5 female-identified characters in this months-long journey. Five! In the course of literally thousands of pages of epic journey! How is that even possible???? Let’s review:
- Goldberry River-daughter, wife of Tom Bombadil, first lady-bodied character to meet our Hobbits on their journey. Like Tom, she’s tied to the Old Forest outside the Shire but, unlike him, she doesn’t doesn’t move the plot forward at all, unless you count dancing upon the morning dew while starry-eyed Hobbits watch her, and their hearts were glad of it.
- Arwen Elrond’s daughter and Aragorn’s future wifey. Doesn’t have any lines. None. Zero. Zip. HOW????
- Galadriel Lady of Lothlórien/Lady of the Golden Wood/Keeper of the Ring of Adamant/mightiest and fairest of all Elves remaining in Middle Earth. Or, as every character who hasn’t met her alleges, an evil sorceress who entraps men in her woods, never to be seen again.
- Éowyn Niece of Theoden, King of Rohan, and ice princess of my heart. Hangs around caring for her bespelled, elderly uncle until Gandalf rides in and convinces the king and literally every other able-bodied male to go mess with Saruman in Isengard. This leaves Éowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan, home alone to defend their capital city which we assume that she does successfully, but don’t know because at that point in the Two Towers all the men ride off to adventure and that’s the last we see of her or any female characters at all until…
- Shelob She’s actually just an ancient, venomous, offspring-slaying, darkness-vomiting, spider-monster who drinks the blood of Elves and Men and Dwarves and Orcs and Hobbits alike.
Yes, Éowyn does go on the slay the Witch-King of Agmar, a task that no man can complete. What happens after that? Everyone assumes she’s dead, talks about how beautiful she is and how tragic her collapse/death was and then Aragorn heals her physical wounds so she can fall in love with Faramir and “heal her soul.” She’s a badass character who Tolkien recognizes as being a worthy warrior unfairly limited by her gender. But, instead giving her a chance to prove her worth and take charge of her own story (just like all the other male-identified characters get to….) he writes her a love story and calls it a day.
No story is perfect, but we all deserve better. Now, more than ever, we could use the reminder from the genre that prides itself in building worlds, that there’s plenty of room to build awesome characters of all genders to kick evil out on its butt.
Today I was the guest chef at cook n00b and we made chili! In the beginning, I got a little overwhelmed by everyone asking me what they could do, but after a minute everyone had a job they seemed to be happy with. (Plus, the chopping went much faster with everyone pitching in.) The chili turned out delicious, as it always does. Honestly the best part about chili is that it’s almost impossible to mess up. Here’s the “recipe” we used:
Chop 2 medium yellow onions. Put one large pot on medium-high heat and after about 30 seconds, add the onions and 2 lbs of ground beef to the pan (the pan should be hot enough to make the onion and meat sizzle). Let the meat brown all the way.
As the meat is browning, chop 2 green and 1 red pepper. Personally, I prefer jalapeno peppers to regular green ones but today we went with the non-spicy peppers, so as to appeal to a wider range of humans. Set the chopped peppers aside. Gus, Timo, Douglas, and Nahla did most of the chopping.
When the meat is all brown with no red in it, add the spices. We used the spices from this chili kit but as long as you’ve got cumin and paprika you can throw in whatever you want and it’ll still be chili, promise. Iphy and Hannah stirred the chili as I added the spices, which helped distribute them pretty evenly throughout the meat.
Then add one large can of crushed tomatoes, 2-3 chopped cloves of garlic, 2 cans of kidney beans, 1 can of black beans, 1 can of corn (all drained, except the tomatoes, obviously). I also added a tomato-can’s-worth of water and a little masa flour so it would thicken up nicely.
We let that cook for about 15 minutes, then added the peppers and cooked them till they were soft (about 10ish more minutes – the best way to tell is a taste test). For sides, we made rice and cornbread (from a box, because I’m not fancy enough to know how to make cornbread from scratch). Ryan made the rice which was particularly awesome because whenever I make rice on the stove, I burn at least a little of it to the bottom of the pot.
That’s it! Chili is more art than science, so trust your taste buds and don’t be afraid that you’re gonna over-season or overcook it (in fact, I prefer to cook my chili for about an hour – just be sure to add more water if you plan on cooking it for a long time). I particularly recommend making it while nervously putzing around your kitchen because it’s Sunday afternoon and the Giants are playing terribly – chopping is a great distraction from football-induced rage and then you get to eat comfort food when they lose. Happy Chili everyone!
Even though I was sick, I came in on Halloween and am so glad that I did – everyone’s costumes were so creative!
Iphy as a Holy Cow
Sterling as Nightmarionne
Anakin Skywalker and Kylo Ren play minecraft
Doug as the poo emoji (Timo wanted to know why he chose the iOS version)
Saylor as a scary park ghost
Iphy painted my face and I looked v scary.
My old friend Procrastination is back – as soon as I opt into a challenge it whispers “What if you just made it up tomorrow?” and I respond “Great idea, Procrastination, let’s go grab some coffee and catch up!” And every time I kick it down the road, Natnowrimo gets bigger and scarier. Stories are hard. I’ll work on it this weekend XD
Today we made Pavlova with Nancy and Alex at my first ever cook n00b!
Why is there Something instead of Nothing?
Why are there physics and pumpkins and dumplings and python projects and jump-scare video games and lacrosse balls and sports with complicated rules and games with simple mechanics and rainbow keyboards and expo markers and existential questions and 8-bit philosophy and Cartesian uncertainty and schools where kids must be gently pushed out the door on Friday afternoons because they don’t want to leave and I don’t either which is why I’m still here, writing this blog post instead of going home to nurse the cold burgeoning in my esophagus and lungs, why are there places that feel safe even for strangers, why are some places safe and how do we know they are real if we can’t trust our senses?
Why is there a separation between the Mind and the Body? What do those borderlines feel like – high water marks in the sand of the beach or the time between night and day when it is neither or not or both? What is the difference between the darkness in the squishy part of my head behind my eyes and the darkness of the Nothing beyond space? Why did I stop asking myself these questions and can physics answer them? Can science fiction? What about realistic fiction or fantasy or memoir or first person shooters or 2D adventures or VR explorations or social-deductive games or Solitaire? Descartes believed that the only thing that is verifiably real is doubt because he was the sort of philosopher who mistrusts the body in service of the Mind but I mistrust all Minds that don’t trust their Body because what is computation with no inputs?
There must be Something instead of Nothing because Saylor carved this pumpkin today and my throat hurts and the sun is setting again, east of here.
If you’re on the perch and you get down, the perch is open.
You can’t call fives on the perch.
When you get goggled on the perch, you must climb all the way down and put your shoulder on the floor. The top of the perch does not count as the floor.
Only one person is allowed on top of the perch at a time (unless the second person is deemed sufficiently tiny).
If you’re at the top of the perch, you have the power to soothe hurt feelings (or not).
The perch is “really not stable.”
This week I learned that you can make cheese fondue without the wine (and it’s still delicious) and that when dark chocolate fondue is bubbling that’s because it’s hot enough to burn your mouth. I learned to watch out for goggles from mischievous players perched on the top of the bookshelf in the library, where the vantage point is perfect for ambushing unsuspecting humans, and that I like playing the goggles game even when I have to put my shoulder to the ground because it’s still not losing, and that it’s okay if I don’t play werewolves on a day when everyone’s energy is feeling overwhelming (in fact, it’s better to stay away because quiet places pop up all around school while a rowdy game of werewolves is happening). I was reminded that sad frustrated humans are still accountable for their actions and that’s more than okay – it’s important. I learned that variables in Python are more flexible than they are in Java and that talking through the architecture of building a game before writing code is much more comprehensible than just starting with the build. I learned that the pen-pineapple-apple-pen song has it’s own wikipedia page. I learned to knit but not yet to perl, to cast on and trust that at the end of all these stitches I will learn to cast off.
There are ducks at the park, and they don’t run off right away when humans charge at them, even when those humans are small and loud. It’s harder to jump off a swing at 25 than it was when I was 5. The algae bloom is in full swing. Small humans make like excellent billy goats when climbing Central Park boulders. Tire swings are the most fun swings. Bees like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I am made easily nervous but learning to trust small humans when they run off half a block ahead of me (and not dash off after them, because this is not a chase game).
I intend to find all the books and resources that are floating around the community about free schooling and play and kanbans and flat hierarchies and quiet revolutions and learning and childhood and pull them together into a library pool with many jumping in points depending on the human who is interested in taking the plunge. I love to recommend books to other curious humans.
I intend to spend more time in the library here, and find ways of sharing books that I love with other humans who haven’t discovered them yet and discovering books those humans love and share with me.
I intend to be more comfortable sitting in silence with other humans.
I intend to play more games, and let other humans explain the rules to me.
I intend to use the phrase “other humans” more regularly, instead of phrases like “the kids” or “my students” that implicit the age of the humans of whom I am speaking and imply some kind of hierarchical structure.
I intend to do things that scare me and admit to being afraid.
I intend to try many different orientations of my kanban until I find one that fits for me.
I intend to listen more than I explain.
I intend to write every week.
I intend to post even the blog entries that I think are subpar.
I intend to open up with humans of all ages who have welcomed me so generously into their space as a facilitator and I intend to do right by them to the utmost of my ability.
I intend to win Werewolves as a werewolf.
I intend to make music with other humans.
I intend to make music alone.
I intend to figure out a clean up job that works just right for me.
I intend to find non-defensive answers to questions like “but do they actually learn anything?”
I intend to be less guarded.
I intend to make offerings around reading and writing poetry and fantasy football (though I do not necessarily intend those to be the same offering, I do intend to be adaptive).
I intend to use people’s names when I speak to them.
I intend to continue looking forward to coming to ALC in the morning.
I intend to connect with more members of this community.
I intend to wear clothes that are comfortable and don’t inhibit my movement.
I intend to play minecraft.
I intend to doodle more.
I intend to be present.
This is my first blog post and I don’t want to make a bad impression. On the one hand, I am thrilled: as a lifelong journaler (albeit, an erratic one) I have always found joy in reflecting on the inner life of my former self. I am not someone who must be convinced of the value of this reflection — I am an enthusiastic convert to this thoughtful practice. But, in writing, and in writing blogs especially, I struggle with the feeling that there’s a right way to make these first sentences punchy and witty — that I should wait until I’ve mastered my openings before starting on my firsts (an irony that is not lost on me, I promise). Already, I am tempted to erase these sentences and start over. Already, I’ve rearranged them and despaired. Already, I am tempted by more knowledge-gathering before taking the plunge. (It’s funny that while some practices take time to internalize, others are easy – from the instant it was named for me, I cannot help but look for the fingerprints of my Scholar on the notes I’ve been gathering in lieu of beginning my creative endeavors and finding them everywhere.) This has been a rambling, imperfect preamble — I am grateful that here, there is plenty of space for it.
I’ve taken nearly 20 pages of notes in the past four days (and resisting the urge to despair about the lost record Monday’s revelations that I did not write down because I forgot to bring a notebook, though not always succeeding) and reflecting on each page here, though tempting, is not what I will do. My head is swimming with creation myths and organization schema and tools and flat heirarchies and the awareness of formerly-dormant muscles and finite and infinite resources and questions about what it really means to hold power or inhabit an archetype or imprint or trust or make space — it speaks to the pull of the body how easily distracted I can be from all of these things by the twitch of my dry contact lens. Cacti and other hearty succulents hold water in their fleshy leaves for months at a time until there is a deluge of rain and they burst forth in bloom; I’ve never seen the desert but I know it in the space between my ears.
The pages of the notebook I’ve been leaning on are unlined, which is why it was the only unused notebook in my apartment – I am uncomfortable with unlined pages. In the past, I have relied on the gridded moleskine to provide a framework for me to fit my words and doodles into and around, and I imagined that I was unaware of those boundaries while I observed and reflected and supposed. When we learned to multiply double digit numbers in 4th grade we did so on graph paper, and Mr. Immore (who annually demonstrated how to fry a pickle with an electric current, a hat trick for which he was immortally famous at my elementary school) would write the numbers in the boxes to make it easier to keep them straight, to tally them. Today, I copied out Drew’s network fractals onto a blank page in a hand that looks too confident to be my own. Throughout the week, my waving letters meander across the page – the lines are not straight and the layout of the sheets are not deliberately plotted. There are tiny, dense notes where later, my thoughts were amended and expanded. There is more to glom out of my head onto those pages, and this one too, and though they are messy they are dense and also beautiful and I am lucky, today, this week and this year, to be in a space with books and thinkers and the things they attract so, at risk of sounding trite, I will publish this post without editing these last two paragraphs and just count on them to take up space as they are.