We all know the ways in which 2016 has sucked.
I’ve cried a lot more this year, over the deaths of heroes, over the death of reasonable elections, over the fear of how much worse it might get.
But there were good things in 2016.
Melissa Bender and I had a book come out.
I spoke at conferences in Spain, Sweden, London, San Diego, Portland, and Chicago (twice).
I saw Love and Information, The Deep Blue Sea, The Suicide, Aubergine, Keith Lowell Jensen, Emo Philips, Blackberry Winter, Macbeth, Igudesman & Joo, Mr. Burns, Women of Will, the Cashore Marionettes, Disgraced, To Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, Frankenstein, Latin History for Morons with John Leguizamo, The Totalitarians, the opening of the Shrem Museum, and The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips.
I did guest lectures and interviews and stage talk backs. I taught courses that I love, films that I love, plays that I love, creative nonfiction that I love.
I taught 15 courses, got my first grad student through her PhD, mentored and performed with my stand-up students, got another Atwood journal out, started prepping for next year’s Oxford course, ran a program, and got chosen to run another.
I made old family favorites and tried new recipes, including my first shepherd’s pie, my first souffle, and my first carnitas. I made tons of soups and stews and proved the worth of my crock pot time and again.
When I heard that Carrie Fisher had a heart attack on a flight, I thought, “Oh, no–not her, too. Please, no.”
I felt really hopeless about it, though. Of course 2017 would take her away from us.
Now, a few days later, I remind myself that she’ll never be really gone–never be forgotten.
Like every geeky girl, I desperately wanted to be Princess Leia. I had Star Wars memorized. My favorite shirt was an iron-on with the Princess.
Once, I was wearing it when I was sick.
I threw up and then sobbed so uncontrollably that my mother thought I must have cracked a rib. Eventually, I was able to settle down enough to tell her that the crying was because my Princess Leia shirt was ruined. My mother was able to reassure me that the vomit would wash out.
When I outgrew the shirt, I didn’t want to let it go. One day, I decided to turn it into a pillow. Now, I don’t really know how to sew, but I knew I could stumble my way through sewing up the ends. I didn’t know what went into pillows, so I filled it with cotton balls.
As soon as I did so, I realized that must not be what’s in pillows, but the project was almost done!
That pillow has survived a lot of trauma and a lot of moves, including one across the country. It currently lives with the R2D2 in my room.
As I grew up, I began to see Carrie Fisher in new ways–as a writer, a powerful actress, a survivor, and an advocate for mental health.
(Those of us who’d read so much about her relationship with her mother were less surprised by her mother following her into death–it was completely in character.)
I think the most powerful way in which I connected with Fisher, though, was in the use of comedy as a coping mechanism. I’ve often joked that my family crest should have a Byron quote: And if I laugh at any mortal thing, tis that I may not weep.
But I could just as easily use my favorite thing she ever said: If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true.
Fill it up. Plug it in. Go to work. Come home to dinner.
We all need to use our crock pots more, and I’m saying that as someone who uses hers all the time.
Most people know about chili in the crock pot, so I’m not going to give you a chili recipe. I’m just going to give you all the other ones my household loves. We’re covering the non-soup/stew recipes and non-pasta recipes here.
Waltonen Family Meatballs: Buy a package of frozen meatballs, your favorite bbq sauce, and a jar of grape jelly. Mix equal parts jelly and bbq sauce in the crock pot–enough to cover the meatballs. You can either put the frozen meatballs in and let them warm up in the crock pot during the day, or if you’re in a hurry, put them in pre-thawed. In my family, we have these plugged in all day on major holidays to snack on.
A whole damn chicken or turkey breast: That’s right. Use whatever kind of rub you like. I alternate between a savory mix of garlic, thyme, rosemary, s&p, and sage; lemon slices, s&p, rosemary; and peri-peri spices. Leave it in there all day. When you’re ready, the bird will be resting in its own juices. Serve it whole or shred it. I tend to get quite a few meals out of this: the first dinner, a soup, and tacos or enchilada meat. The one drawback: the meat is so tender that you will have a problem keeping it all together if you want to platter it. You’ll also have tons of chicken broth, useful for soups. If you slow cook root vegetables too (in the same pot), you can easily make a stew or chicken pot pie with the leftovers.
You can do any kind of meat you would normally bake in the crock pot. I do all my pot roasts this way.
Beef roast: coat lightly in s&p, flour, garlic, and a touch of ginger. You can cook the root vegetables in there at the same time. Leftovers easily become beef stew.
Pork tenderloin: Mix peach preserves, a bit of mustard, a pinch of crushed red pepper, s&p, and brandy (optional). Pour over the tenderloin.
Kalua pork: You can make a perfect Hawaiian delicacy with three ingredients. Coat a giant pork roast in liquid smoke and sea salt. Cook it all day. Shred. Serve over rice. (Save the broth. You can use the leftovers for pork tacos, enchiladas, or pork stew. This flavor works particularly well with a tomatillo pork stew, which you can also make in the crock pot.)
Caribbean Pork. Mix 4 tsp nutmeg, 4 tsp cumin, 4 tsp salt, 3 tsp cinnamon, and 1/4tsp ground red pepper. Coat a tenderloin or roast in it. Cook it all day. Serve with mixed fruit (mango, pineapple, etc.) mixed with 1 T chopped cilantro, 1-2 tsp lime juice, and cumin.
Speaking of pork, you can make carnitas and carnitas soup with the leftovers. Or try Vaguely Vietnamese Pork Tacos.
Garlic Pesto Chicken in a Creamy Tomato Sauce
Balsamic Glazed Chicken Legs (for these and the garlic pesto chicken, I always put another servings worth of chicken and the marinade in the freezer for a quick meal a few weeks later)
Red Beans and Rice (this recipe isn’t for the crock pot, but it works well there. For perfect beans, start by covering the beans in a lot of water. Leave them in the crock pot overnight–unplugged and off. This will soften the beans so they are perfect after you add the other ingredients, set it to low, and head to work)
Chicken Shawarma (I add oregano and a bit of curry powder to this recipe; I cook on low all day, not using as much water as the original does. I also make Shawarma Rice. I serve them with sliced cucumber & safeway tzatziki cucumber dressing on pita.
It’s Christmas time, so I’m getting ready to make lamb. Usually, I just coat it in a mix of garlic, mustard, and balsamic vinegar, but this year we’re trying this recipe for Persian-Spiced Lamb. I’m altering it just a bit–we’re doing a leg and doing it in the crock pot!
As some of you know, in the summer, I was in Spain at a narrative health conference. The talks are all addressed to professionals–doctors and teachers talking to doctors and teachers. I participated as a teacher, but listened as a chronic pain patient.
The conference was really interesting, but I kept finding myself frustrated. There were all of these techniques–aimed at letting the patient tell his/her story to the doctor. In other words, instead of just having a doctor actually listen (and take the time to, which is sometimes the hard part), there were “activities” to force it.
And then someone in the audience would ask how they could streamline the activity–you know, to save all that time of listening.
There was also a lot of emphasis on art therapy, which I am behind to an extent, but the idealism at the conference annoyed me sometimes.
One of the organizers asked, “wouldn’t it be great if your doctor put away his diagnostic tool and got out a guitar?”
I leaned over to Melissa and said, “I would punch my doctor if he did that.”
I believe in holistic care, and I mix Western and Eastern techniques in my fight to feel better.
But hey, there’s literally bile in my stomach. And my discs are “desiccated.” And so on. Laughing makes me feel better, but it won’t fix my stomach lining or discs.
That said, stories are immensely important.
After watching me give a couple of presentations in the last few years, a woman suggested I do one woman shows.
“Well, I sort of do–just in shorter form with stand-up comedy.”
(This woman also seemed relieved when she learned I’m originally from the South: “Oh, that makes sense. I was trying to figure you out. I’m normally suspicious of charismatic people, but you always seemed so nice. You’re just Southern.)
This woman is right. I am nice. I am charismatic. I should do a one woman show.
And so that was on my mind when I saw the call for The Storytelling in Health conference this summer in Wales.
I sent them an exploratory email: hey, I could do a regular panel on this, or I could come in as a chronic pain patient and give my narrative–in stand-up form.
And so that’s what we’re going to do.
I’ll have 45 minutes, including a Q&A.
Wondering if a bunch of medical professionals will know they’re supposed to say, “break a leg.”
I can’t get over why reporters can’t get over voter hypocrisy.
There have been several moves Trump has made that could already be called executive over-reach or “pay to play.” Reporters interview voters/supporters and say, “But didn’t you say this was wrong? Why is it okay when Trump does it?”
The answer: “Well, what he’s doing is going to fix all these things.”
There is no admission of what the truth is: it’s okay when Trump does it. It’s not okay when Obama/Hillary does it.
We’ve all seen the videos of voters being read Hitler’s quotes and being told Trump said them. They love the ideas!
We’ve all seen the videos of voters being read Obama’s policies and being told they’re Trump’s. They love the ideas!
We are all guilty of this, to some degree.
For example, Republicans say they believe in small government decisions, favoring the state over the country, the city over the state, except of course when the small government passes pro-marijuana, anti-discrimination, or gun control legislation.
Generally, I’m a federalist, rather than a states’ rights person. I don’t think my rights should be different in different states or that I shouldn’t be able to ship wine to myself from one American place to another or that a lawsuit against someone basically falls away if they move across a state line.
But I love it when California tells the rest of you to go f yourselves sometimes (although of course I want the whole country to get more progressive, so we don’t have to be different) and, during difficult Presidencies, I tell foreigners that I’m from California when they ask. It automatically makes them like me more.
My hypocrisy is absolutely glaring in another way right now.
I believe in empathy, in Rogerian arguments, etc. And yet I cannot yet empathize with Trump voters. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to do so with those who are attacking people, who are threatening the Islamic center in my town, who are making me and my friends and my students angry and afraid.
Americans (and humans) have problems upholding their principles; no wonder we elect people without any.
Today I came home from lunch with Melissa to find a few copies of our book at my doorstep.
We’re proud of this–twenty great assignments, with rationales and tips for integrating them into your classroom.
Melissa and I also both wrote a chapter.
Buy yours here or here.
Many years ago, I was surprised to see a couple of wild turkeys wandering around downtown Davis.
Then, when my backyard shared a fence with the cemetery, I discovered their main hangout–among the graves. The city had to put up a warning.
The cats were fascinated by the turkeys, who would often jump on to our roof. Mahahes would do his bird call to them, but I think he didn’t really understand that if they got close to him, he would be fighting something his own size or bigger.
Turkeys on my roof
Now, our turkey population is estimated to be about 80. They’re stupid and aggressive (like alt-right voters). They’re attacking people and prompting 911 calls (like alt-right voters).
The city council is figuring out what to do.
In the meantime, they’re providing experiences that are uniquely Davis.
A few weeks ago, I was crossing the quad. A couple of people were doing tai chi. A turkey was right up on a small Asian woman. He followed her through the moves, swinging his head to follow her arms, surprised when the arms would swing back toward him. She and her partner (and I) were trying very hard not to laugh.
Trump: “China is laughing” at us.
Trump: “I have the best brain.”*
Trump: “I think I know more about foreign policy than anybody running.”
[Taiwan calls. Trump the takes call.]
China: Um . . . you’re not supposed to do that.
Diplomats and all the rest of us who follow politics**: Um . . . doesn’t that threaten 40 years of policy?
Trump: It’s Taiwan’s fault! They called!
China: We’re not actually that upset about it. We know you have no idea what you’re doing, Mr. President-Elect. [not subtle tittering]
Thus, the prophecy is fulfilled.
Conservatives tell Democrats to stop freaking out. They say we can only be upset if we’re upset at Obama’s and Hillary’s foreign policy decisions.
Democrats stop rolling their eyes long enough to point out that this wasn’t a decision so much as a gaffe & a logical consequence to someone getting a job he’s not prepared for.
Trump’s team: Umm, no. We totally planned that. This was well thought out. You know, even though Trump said it was Taiwan’s fault–it was in the plan all along.
*I wanted to paraphrase these lines too–but there really wasn’t a way to dumb them down any further.
**This statement doesn’t take a side in the dispute–it just acknowledges there is one.
A few weeks ago, I published this on Facebook, but it’s another useful paraphrase:
Republican story: Obamacare is awful in every way. We’re gonna get rid of it and give you something better.
The story I’ve lived through: Republicans do nothing to help people get care for years and years. Millions and millions uninsured, sometimes because of pre-existing conditions.
Republican think tank comes up with a plan to cover everyone.
It gets implemented in Mass.
Republicans don’t want it to spread.
Obama basically uses that plan when he has to compromise & not give us a single payer option.
It gets called Obamacare.
It gets called evil.
Republican states sue so they don’t have to cover their poor people, even though the plan will SAVE them money.
They bitch, while my family and friends finally get healthcare.
Their new leader says it’s the worse thing that’s ever happened to America.
Their new leader gets elected.
He googles Obamacare, admits that most of it is awesome.
He and Ryan are going to “keep” a lot of it, but do some interesting things that will likely make premiums go way up.
They pretend to save us.
(Remember when they didn’t didn’t care about this problem at all? It took Obamacare to get them to DO ANYTHING.)
I also recommend my recent post/manifesto, if you haven’t read it yet.