Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Recipe Memoirs, Part 2

Today was the second day in which my students presented their recipe memoirs. We had a lot of very creative foods, both main courses and desserts, some of which were long-standing family recipes, and others of which were more recently acquired.

Maily made stuffed tomates,
something she had grown up
with in France.
Andrea made cupcakes, the concept of
which had come from family baking
Gema made her own mole.
Jazmin made an apple salad with
pineapple, walnuts, and marshmallows.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Take "The Other" To Lunch

"I'm deeply disturbed by the ways in which all of our cultures are demonizing 'the Other' by the voice we're giving to the most divisive among us. Listen to these titles of some of the bestselling books from both sides of the political divide here in the U.S. 'Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder,' 'Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot,' 'Pinheads and Patriots,' 'Arguing With Idiots.' They're supposedly tongue-in-cheek, but they're actually dangerous. Now here's a title that may sound familiar, but whose author may surprise you: "Four-and-a-Half-Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice." Who wrote that? That was Adolf Hitler's first title for Mein Kampf -- My Struggle -- the book that launched the Nazi party. The worst eras in human history, whether in Cambodia or Germany or Rwanda, they start like this, with negative other-izing. And then they morph into violent extremism."

What's interesting about this talk is that the speaker advises to start small, and to personalize "the other," thereby minimizing or otherwise negating demonization. It's hard to demonize people you know.   

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Waiting Room

Today's writing prompt from Thinking About Memoir: "Write two pages that take place in a waiting room." This doesn't take place entirely in a waiting room, although hospital visits are involved.

I was going to write about the worst Spring Break I ever encountered, which happened this past March. (I'm withholding many details here, mostly because they're not mine to recount.) Ed was admitted to the hospital after three visits to the emergency room, two or three visits to his primary care physician, and a visit to an InstaCare clinic; he had tests that included a spinal tap, x-rays, multiple rounds of blood work, an MRI, a biopsy, and an endoscopy - and several follow-up visits with a neurologist.

The hell of it is that we still don't know what the problem was. 

I've never slept overnight in a hospital before, and I hope never to again. I'd go home for an hour to shower, grab some clean clothes, and swap out some laundry before going back to the hospital.

So much time spent in the hospital; the medical staff were all wonderful and kind and friendly and gentle and answered all my questions, because I am, in fact, someone who wants to know as much detail as possible, and all the technical, medical names for things (even if I immediately forget).

It made me grateful that Ed's father and my parents were able to come out to help at the proverbial drop of a hat, so that after Ed was discharged and he started to feel better, I could go back to work but someone could still be around. (For about a week and a half, someone was with him in the same room at all times, otherwise he'd panic.) It made me grateful that we have such good health insurance, otherwise we would have owed more than $30,000. It made me grateful for Ed's job that provided such good health insurance, and that he had such a wonderfully understanding boss, since Ed was out of commission for more than two weeks. 

So this is not so much an experience spending time in a waiting room and being shaken as it is spending time in a medical environment in which questions are simply and frustratingly unanswerable. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Recipe Memoirs, Part 1

In the college English classes that I teach, near the end of the semester students write a recipe or food memoir and share their memoirs while bringing in samples of the food. There are three days' worth of presentations, and yesterday was the first day in which students brought in food. It was really nice to see what students brought in, and to have a chance to just relax as a collective group and eat together, even if it's not something we would have done otherwise.

From the first class, clockwise from
bottom left: Chelsea tart,
peanut butter Rice Krispie treat,
Chinese noodle cookies (haystacks),
and chocolate no-bake cookies.
from the first class:
macaroni and tomato juice
from the second class:
bigos (Polish hunter stew)
from the second class: pink salad
from the second class, clockwise
from left: Rotkraut (sweet and sour
red cabbage), pumpkin cheesecake,
Rollo cookie, and pumpkin roll
from the third class, clockwise from the top:
pumpkin chocolate chip muffin,
Danish butter cookies, a homemade egg roll,
a dolmade (stuffed grape leaf)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NaBloPoMo: The Source of My Strength

There were two pieces of writing for this week's Autobiographical Literacies class, one of which was to write about an animal with which we bonded, the other of which was a response to the following prompt: Consider Thomas's comments and directions in Thinking About Memoir, about writing from loss. Respond to Thomas's prompts on page 93 about strength. Write two pages entitled "The Source of My Strength."

The Source of My Strength

Thomas writes that her formerly tight-as-a-drum abdomen is the source of her strength (93). I’m spending some time trying to dissect what she means by this assertion, and I come to this conclusion: The source of her – and my, and anyone else’s – strength is that which allows us to extricate ourselves from a difficult situation. The situation can be physical, mental, emotional, whatever; it can be momentary or last longer than we think it should. In Thomas’ case, her abdominal muscles got her out of a tight spot (in that she was wedged between various dogs and sore). I’m trying to define a singular source of my strength, and I’m having difficulty – as I seem to encounter lots of, when it comes to this course.

It probably says something about my religiosity and Catholicism that the first thing I thought of was my husband (who would not appreciate being called a “thing,” although he would likely agree with it, too). I never thought I’d get married; or, rather, I was ambivalent about marriage, not because I had had bad experiences with it (parents married 45 years; both sets of grandparents married more than 50 years; one aunt and uncle married more than 25 years, another aunt and uncle more than 20 years…I believe my father has a cousin who was divorced, but I can’t think of anyone else in my family who has been divorced). Rather, it was not something I felt called to do – I figured if it happened, it happened, and if not, that was okay too. My husband changed my mind in all of that, though, and relatively quickly, I might add. (18 months after we met, we married.) My husband is the first man with whom I’d been romantically involved that had made me reconsider some of my choices; he steadied me in terms of preparing for my future, career, and retirement, aspects of life that don’t sound especially romantic, I suppose, but which are, I think, at least partly the result of maturity.

I think that was it: My husband matured and steadied me in a very necessary way. (And high time, I can hear my mother add.)

Yet that doesn’t feel entirely right, somehow. My husband is certainly a source of my strength, in the same way my religious beliefs are. However: My Catholicism somehow also isn’t the central part of my strength, although it’s certainly very important. You know how there are people who say they’re Catholic (or another religion), yet perhaps only go to services twice a year? (I heard one priest say that he was tempted to say, “See you at Christmas!” during the Easter homily, and “See you at Easter!” during the Christmas homily, to the large numbers of parishioners who only attended these holy days.)

No, indeed: My husband and I attend Mass weekly and on all Holy Days of Obligation; we’ve gotten all the sacraments for which we’re currently eligible. We don’t skip Mass because we’re tired or it’s rainy or it’s on vacation or, as one friend once did, the church was too crowded. There are aspects of doctrine with which I disagree or struggle, but I believe in Catholic dogma. Mass keeps me focused; it’s a reprieve, a weekly hour in which I don’t have to worry about the outside world. It’s an hour for myself.

I think I’ve stumbled on it: It’s writing. Writing is the source of my strength because, as I’ve mentioned previously and elsewhere, writing is the best means I have to ruminate, to percolate, to work out how I think and feel about things. This blog post is an example; I had to work my way through several possibilities in order to determine what a source of strength is. My husband is a source of strength (an admitted cliché) because he has helped me prevent being in unpleasant professional and financial tight spots, or at least is helping to prepare myself to minimize these tight spots, allowing me to be able to extricate myself from potential future problems. My faith allows me to clear my mind, to recalibrate myself, to remind myself that I need to be patient with people, damnit, regardless of their idiocy. (When I’m king…) But the writing – the writing lets me clear my head in a way that I’m not sure anything else does to the same extent. I can talk my way through my anger, anxiety, frustration, confusion – it’s like a form of praying, how I make sense of the world, and how I get out of tight spots.

Work Cited:
Thomas, Abigail. Thinking About Memoir. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2008. Print.