Sunday, July 29, 2012

Make Good Art

Some of you may have seen this already, but it's a message worth repeating. Neil Gaiman is the author of some amazing books (American Gods, Neverwhere ((my favorite))). But he isn't just a writer of adult fantasy. He's written television shows, children's books, and worked in audio books. Plus, he's funny in a charming, self-deprecating English way.

This is a link to the commencement speech he gave at The University of the Arts (Phl):

In it, he makes one central point: make good art. When things are hard, make good art. When no one believes in what you're doing (least of all you), make good art. No matter what the world is throwing at you, make good art. His point is that people do a lot of things for many reasons, but there's only one that matters. Make art for yourself and make it how only you can.

It's a beautiful message. In today's material society, it's tempting to take a job you don't love just to pay the bills. (I'm not saying let your family starve because you're too proud to take something that's beneath you. I'm talking about taking something you don't have to just for the sake of a few extra bucks.) It's easy to compromise yourself and do something that's more fashionable and less authentic. There's that silly saying about choosing between what is right and what is easy. If you're lucky, they're the same thing. But I've found that, more often that not, I'm unlucky.

I have uncompromisingly high standards for myself, and putting forth less than my best is infuriating. I'd rather do nothing than produce something I don't love. Sure I worry that others won't like it, but if I think I've done my best then there's no room for doubt. Right now, I'm in that hard place where I won't work because it's not going the way I want it to. I refuse to move forward until I believe it is where it should be and I'm kind of stuck.

I need to take Neil's advice to heart and make good art, but I also need to kick myself in the pants and do something. If I find that middle ground, I'll be sure to let you know.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fixation Friday: Olympics!

*Warning: Sap-O-Meter Running High*

It's been too long since I actually logged one of these segments on a Friday. My apologies. I was traveling last week and the craziness before the travel didn't allow me to do anything but run around taking care of last minute errands. Anyhow, on with the show...

The 2012 Olympics start today. I am no-joke-pee-my-pants excited about this. I've always been a summer Olympics kind of girl, so this comes but once every four years for me. The first Olympics I can remember seeing as a kid was the 1992 summer games in Barcelona. I have no idea why it took me eight years of life to register the world's biggest sporting event when I have clear memories of things from before I was four, but that's how it is.

For as long as I can remember watching the games, they've been an emotional experience for me. I get caught up in the collective excitement of everyone around me and the patriotism that's okay (and even expected) to display. It's the Olympics. There's nothing else in the world like it.

There's something about witnessing athletes put everything they have on the line to win, at the most, a gold medal, or, at the very least, be able to look back at their performance and know that they held the world's attention and shared the stage with the best of the best. The honor that athletes display in representing their home and their countrymen is palpable. You can tell that each participant, while they'd love to go home with gold, is deeply thankful to even be there.

There's a purity to the event and less ego than you'll see at any professional sporting match. I believe there is a tremendous amount of pressure on all of the athletes. They don't have the luxury to win or lose for themselves; when they compete, the hopes of an entire nation rest on their shoulders. We match their thundering pulses beat for beat because we, as a country, have sent our delegates to race in our stead. Our hopes are impossibly high for our champions, but we all secretly root for the underdogs. As 1980 taught us in Lake Placid, miracles can happen if you just believe.

I'm looking forward to spending the next two weeks parked on my sofa with my eyes glued to the tv. I hope everyone enjoys the spectacle tonight at the Opening Ceremony.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yummy Eats: Cookie Dough Dip

This chocolate chip cookie dough recipe has been hanging out in my recipe box for a while. Like a loooooong while. You may be thinking, "Katie, why did it take you so long to try this? It sounds amazing!" I've been avoiding it because *leans in close* it's actually a somewhat healthy alternative to the hard stuff.

What?! That's right kids. I said it. Healthy. It's made with garbanzo beans, nut butter, and a touch of sugar (I used less than what the recipe calls for and it was still great). Once you read the ingredients you'll get why it took so long for me to make it. Who makes a dessert out of the same stuff hummus comes from? But no joke, it was actually delicious. I'm big on texture and this recipe nails the creaminess of actual cookie dough. I think I may need a better food processor to perfect it, but my cheapy mini-processor did a fine job. It even passed the toddler taste test. When my husband asked what my son and I were eating and I told him it was cookie dough dip, I got a "that doesn't sound healthy." Little did he know it is (sneakily) a healthy dessert.** Muah ha ha ha.

Photo Credit: Chocolate Covered Katie
Cookie Dough Dip via Chocolate Covered Katie

Inspired by: White Bean Blondies.
  • 1 1/2 cups chickpeas or white beans (1 can, drained) (250g)
  • 1/8 tsp plus 1/16 tsp salt
  • tiny bit over 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup nut butter (You can get away with using only 3 tbsp. If you use peanut butter, it’ll have a slight “pb cookie dough” taste, so if you don’t want this, try the recipe in this link instead. Just don’t bake it.)
  • up to 1/4 cup milk of choice, only if needed
  • Sweetener (see note below, for amount)
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips or Sugar-Free Chocolate Chips
  • 2 to 3 tbsp oats (or flaxmeal) (You can omit for a thinner dip.)
Add all ingredients (except for chocolate chips) to a good food processor (not blender), and blend until very smooth. Then mix in the chocolate chips. (Some commenters have had success with a blender, but I did not. Try that at your own risk, and know the results will be better in a high-quality food processor such as a Cuisinart.)

See the following link for: Sugar-Free Version.

Sweetener Notes: I used 2/3 cup brown sugar when I first made this for the party. Liquid sweeteners (agave, maple, etc.) are fine as well, as is evaporated cane juice. You can easily get away with less sugar– some people will be perfectly fine with just 3 tbsp for the whole recipe! And if you don’t want any sugar, be sure to check out the “no-sugar” version linked above. (You can also use stevia, if you like the taste of stevia-sweetened desserts. Try 2-3 packets of NuNaturals stevia, and add more sweetener if needed. I wouldn’t recommend serving an all-stevia version to party guests, though.)

**And by healthy I mean not as bad as actual cookie dough. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Katie and the Subject of Time

I tell people this frequently, but my most valuable and limited resource is time. I think this comes across as kind of snooty (as in, "my time is so valuable that you should feel honored that I'm granting you five minutes"), but I don't mean it to be. Let me explain.

I'm a wife and a mom. I read. I write. I'm blessed to have my immediate family living in the same state as me. I have a tight network of close friends. I have a full-time job. My days are usually packed and my weekends are almost always booked a month in advance. I know this is not unusual in today's world. People are busy. My struggle to balance those I love with things I am passionate about and a job I still need is not unique. That doesn't make it any less challenging.

When I say my time is valuable, I mean that when I'm doing something I usually have five other things I could (or should) be doing instead. The number one thing on my list is spending time with my son. If I have free time and he's awake, I want to be with him. I want to watch him discover the world and revel in the wonder that is being a kid. If I'm not with him when I could be, I have the mommy guilt. It sucks.

So my "free time" is usually in the evenings (because I already get up at 5:15 am and I REFUSE to get up any earlier), after my son has gone to sleep. I try to spend those precious hours with my husband doing things we both enjoy (like eating ice cream or watching tv), writing (b/c I have to every day or else I can't call myself a writer - I checked), or exercising (to work off the ice cream). There's always something I feel like I should be doing instead of what I am doing. It's a hard pill to swallow and I have prayed for a time-turner to magically appear under my pillow on more than one occasion. But until such time as the time-turner appears, I make compromises. Let me tell you I hate to compromise. I want it all. It's in my nature.

Day by day, I do the only thing I can - make best choices and hope they're the right ones. If anyone has discovered a way to make more hours appear (and still keep my bank account in the black), you let me know.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

I guess my review can be summed up in one word: wow. Easiest review ever. Done.

Well, maybe I'll expand on the "wow". In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned the 2012 Lit Fest put on by the Lighthouse Writer's Workshop in June. At the event, I had a chance to chat with Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. One of her authors is Jamie Ford and she mentioned how great his book is. I liked chatting with Kristin enough to pick it up. For her great rec, I've now moved Kristin up on my awesome people totem pole.

I've always been fascinated with the WWII era. Our history books do a great job painting a picture of life in the 40's and explaining the far-reaching effects of the war - especially how we view topics like religious and cultural tolerance. One thing that I don't think I ever learned enough about (because the subject was barely touched on in all of the US history classes I took ((this is not meant to be a discussion on how we view the historical atrocities committed by the United States (((of which there are several))); I'm only referencing my personal experience.))), was the internment of Japanese-American citizens after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet explores this subject through the eyes of a Chinese-American boy living in Seattle. In many aspects, it's a classic coming of age story dealing with fitting in at school, familial expectations and prejudices, and first love. For those reasons only, I loved this story. I connected with Henry in a very real way and cheered him on through his ups and downs.

The historical element of the story was brilliant. To me, Ford dealt with a sensitive subject in a way that let the reader determine his or her own judgements. Through Henry, we saw the injustices done to many innocent Japanese families and feel the effect of this in a personal way. Henry's anger and frustration was my anger and frustration.

The story splits itself between Henry's life in 1942 and 1986. As we uncover pieces of Henry's past, we see how those events shaped his future. I've read complaints about some anachronisms and I would agree that the internet was not something readily available to anyone in 1986. I also doubt there were online support groups at the time either. Sure there were a few minor hiccups, but they didn't distract me from the story.

From the opening pages, I wasn't convinced I was going to love this book but I did. I really did and I couldn't be happier to have read it. This is one of those special books that becomes a memory. The experience I had reading it is something special to me. It's something I'll remember and hold on to.

Thank you, sir. You have a fine day.

Educate yourself about the topic in this post:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On Waiting and Hoping

Krista over at Mother. Write. (Repeat.) just posted about the publishing waiting game. She had some interesting thoughts on why the road to become a published author, while nerve wracking and sometimes unbearable, isn't the worst thing. Her point was that as long as you're waiting, you're still in the game. Even in the loneliest, darkest pit of limbo, there's a glimmer of something wonderful to keep you going - it's hope.

Writing has been an adventure that has taken me down the rabbit hole where down is up and up is backwards. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in a foreign country (digitally speaking) with its own customs, celebrities, and history. Through it all, even when things are looking bleak, my hope refuses to die. It manifests itself as a tiny voice encouraging me to keep writing, keep revising, keep working at my craft. Often I find myself wanting to tell it to take that cheerleading bull and shove it. Then I remember that I'm having an argument with myself in my head and I stop because I'm not established enough to be haunted by inner demons (yet!).

The process of querying, entering contests, and finding new beta readers for more revisions is tiresome. There are days when I want to quit just so I can sit on my butt and read a good book (which is how I got myself in this predicament in the first place). But I know that I will never be satisfied until I'm published. I won't ever quit because I'm compelled to forge on for reasons I don't even understand myself. As long as there are stories that need to be written, I'll write them. Plain as that.

While waiting still sucks, I'm happy to look at it from a fresh perspective. Waiting is the place where my hope lives and thrives on the limitless possibilities to come. I'm grateful to be in the game at all, so I wait. Hoping, I wait.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fixation Friday (on a Monday): Books on Tape

I did it. I listened to my first book on tape (or rather, cd). I have no idea why I avoided them for so long, but I've always had an aversion to listening to books instead of reading them.

When I read, I develop a really vivid picture in my mind. I'm addicted to detail in stories because I want to form the most complete picture possible. I'm all for writers allowing readers to fill in the minutia, but I will always take more detail instead of less. I want my reading experience to be authentic, and I think the best way to achieve this is by the writer giving me a thorough description of what they see.

How does this rambling relate to books on tape? Well I'll tell you, smartypants. I was afraid, literally scared, that my experience as a reader would be diminished if I listened to the words instead of read them on a page. You know in elementary school where they teach you about the different kinds of learning - visual, verbal, and physical? I am a visual learner. I can't learn anything from listening to someone explain it. I need to see them do it or I'll never retain it. With this knowledge of how I interact with things and that awful episode of Seinfeld where George tries to listen to a book on tape, I just wrote audio books off altogether.

Fast forward to today: I'm a mom who works full-time and I drive my son to daycare everyday. I spend a lot of time in my car commuting. I used to waste this time listening to news radio for traffic updates, now I fill it with books I want to read. The only problem? Getting to a point where you can't stop listening so you have to sit in your car in the parking lot of your office building until you can tear yourself away. Needless to say, I've been a few minutes late recently.