Monthly Archives: June 2013

Why Blogging Matters

Whew! What a week, huh? It’s shaping up to be a pretty historic June. Like most of you, I’ve been thinking and discussing the fast-moving developments with friends and family, feeling my head whip forward, backward and forward again. I have noticed an increase in conversation, particularly in DIALOGUE, about things we as Americans don’t often talk about.

I hate to say “Mainstream Media” as if there is just one monolith of opinions by journalists (print, broadcast and online) but it IS difficult to avoid seeing these wide, vast issues reduced into in tart soundbites and simplified arguments. The Paula Deen controversy, in particular, has been boiled down to a few pungent ingredients, for example. Pun intended, obviously. Racism vs. scapegoat, obesity vs. healthy eating, empire-building vs. nepotism. The End.

Except, not. And here’s where blogging comes in. I get very cynical about blogging sometimes. It is a love/hate affair that comes around and around. And then I’ll discover a post that is illuminating and makes me think about many things entirely differently.

Because the greatest thing about blogging? It gives POWER TO THE VOICELESS.

Case in point: Michael Tweedy’s post, “An Open Letter to Paula Deen”

Tweedy makes a number of powerful points in this post about race, America and food and cuisine and language. He argues that the charges against Paula Deen (which he mostly pardons her of) obfuscate something much deeper: the real roots and collaboration (willing and unwilling) African Americans don’t get recognized for in the style of cooking she has made famous. It turns out, Southern Cooking and Paula Deen owe much more to African American traditions and ingredients and preparation than I think most of us are aware.

Don’t forget that the Southern food you have been crowned the queen of was made into an art largely in the hands of enslaved cooks, some like the ones who prepared food on your ancestor’s Georgia plantation. You, just like me cousin, stand squarely on what late playwright August Wilson called, “the self defining ground of the slave quarter.” There and in the big house kitchen, Africa, Europe and Native America(s) melded and became a fluid genre of world cuisine known as Southern food. Your barbecue is my West African babbake, your fried chicken, your red rice, your hoecake, your watermelon, your black eyed peas, your crowder peas, your muskmelon, your tomatoes, your peanuts, your hot peppers, your Brunswick stew and okra soup, benne, jambalaya, hoppin’ john, gumbo, stewed greens and fat meat—have inextricable ties to the plantation South and its often Black Majority coming from strong roots in West and Central Africa.

Not exactly what we’ve been reading about, eh?

He goes on:

We think you are a businesswoman who has made some mistakes, has character flaws like everybody else and in fact is now a scapegoat. I find it hard to be significantly angry at you when during the last election the re-disenfranchisement of the Negro—like something from the time of W.E.B. Du Bois was a national cause celebre. Hell, today the voting rights act was gutted and I’m sure many think this is a serious win for “democracy.” If I want to be furious about something racial—well America—get real—we’ve had a good twelve years of really really rich material that the National media has set aside to talk about Paula Deen. Yes Paula, in light of all these things, you are the ultimate, consummate racist, and the one who made us fat, and the reason why American food sucks and ……you don’t believe that any more than I do.

Think about that for a while. WHEW!

And yet, Tweedy reminds us so powerfully that reconciliation, learning to work side by side, is ALWAYS the answer.

If there is anything The Cooking Gene has taught me—its about the art of reconciliation. We aren’t happy with you right now. Then again some of the things you have said or have been accused of saying aren’t surprising. In so many ways, that’s the more unfortunate aspect. We are resigned to believe and understand that our neighbor is to be suspected before respected. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to go on forever.

In the closing passage that made me cry and want to be a better human being, Tweedy invites Paula Deen to come to an event and co-prepare with him a traditional plantation dinner: one that includes sourced ingredients from local farmers and takes place in the one of the biggest plantations there ever was in the South. In this simple gesture, Tweedy reminds us that while history and the past are ever potent, we have a choice to make the world a better place through forgiveness and understanding. Understanding what has made us ALL who we are, but also, ACTION, not just idle talk: we can CHOOSE to be better people. Less suspect. More welcoming. More hospitable. More, well, SOUTHERN.

To paraphrase JK Rowling, it’s our choices who make us who we are.

Have you come across any powerful posts from blogs which have illuminated your view beyond the media soundbites? Please share! I’d love to read them.

And don’t worry…more “How to Dress” posts and “Project: Dreamcatcher” to come!

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Filed under Blogging, cooking?!?

The Invisible Family

“An apology: it is all true.” Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock

Tonight, my daughter had more severe night terrors than usual. I talked with her for a solid 45 minutes, and it was worth it because finally she shared with me her greatest fear: spiders. And she shared with me her tokens that she hoped would keep spiders away: a virtual sibling family of three sisters and one brother.

My daughter only has one brother. Yet somehow she knows there were three other siblings she is owed.

How on earth does she know that? She’s right, of course. But I have only publicly owned up to two losses. And tbat’s not the truth.

When I was first pronounced pregnant with twins, I wasn’t honest with you. The truth is my RE saw three sacs during the ultrasound. But during subsequent ultrasounds, he never saw a heartbeat in that third sac, whereas he saw heartbeats in the other two sacs. It was a perilous, terrifying time for me.

One of the main ways I released anxiety during that awful, fearful first trimester was to walk the famous beautiful hills of San Franciso. I was within blocks of the famous vistas you see in countless movies and TV shows. Those views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Transamerica pyramid were soothing. So imagine my shock and shame and fear when I suddenly felt a slickness and heaviness in my underwear as I gazed out onto my beautiful city. I hurried home.

What I found I will not describe, but I was certain that the third sac was empty for good. And somehow, I knew the twins were fine: I still felt the extreme nausea that had permeated my early pregnancy. I didn’t call my ObGyn or my husband or my parents. In fact, I have only told one person this story: someone who needed to hear it.

And I have rarely thought about this sorry, until today, when I was confronted by my daughter’s token family. And astonished at its size and accuracy.

All three of the babies I have lost? You have never been forgotten. You will never be forgotten. Somehow, my daughter guessed your number accurately, though I have never discussed you with her. You are felt by all of us. We love you. And we always will.

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Filed under Miscarriage, Sad

Project Dreamcatcher: Goal Schedule

In which I admit I am struggling with my deadlines. No Ted Talk this week.

My iMac is being rebuilt at the Genius Bar. It’s taking longer than I expected. And I am struggling: I’ve been writing longhand in my pretty journal, but it’s not the way I prefer to write and it’s slowing me down. I haven’t had as much time to write as I thought I would.

I have admittedly put myself on a pretty tight schedule with tight deadlines (see below). And when I start to miss looming deadlines, my risk-aversive brain starts going into escape mode. What cupcakes can I make? Can I go to the gym instead? Or, shamefully, I discovered “Scandal” was streaming on NetFlix and decided to see what the fuss was all about one valuable free night. Four HOURS later!!
😦

This procrastination then leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of shame and guilt. And it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the hugeness of the goal I have set (30,000 perfect, ready to be published words! In 2 months! With no computer right now!)

Anyway. That’s where my head has been. I reached out a Project Dreamcatcher member and admitted all this. She told me that I tend to be negative toward myself (true) and while I am positive about what I get done and accomplish, I’m very hard on myself when I’m in a nebulous territory.

That’s when I realized that I have some tools for this.

First: the have dones. It helped me to look at what I have accomplished this week.

1. Diagnosed, backed up and saved data then dealt with and got cheapest fix possible for iMac. Brought iMac to Genius Bar. Followed up.
2. Received changes from one editor for 1st half of book. In process of reviewing changes.
3. Got final bids for transcription services. Got closer to making final decision.
4. Began and made it halfway through research and writing of newest profile.

I mean, this is not where I want to be, but it IS progress.

I also started imagining a stop sign when I started berating myself. Weirdly, this helped to stop those negative thoughts in their tracks.

Finally, I remembered that I could be honest here, with you guys, who have been so supportive of this project. And that would help me, too.

So. Want to see my aggressive timeline of deadlines? Of course you do 😉

Week of June 17th: send story to profile subject for approval. Finalize transcription service. Begin next profile. Review edits for completed chapters.

Week of June 24th: complete second profile, send to subject for approval. Get completed transcriptions, send to editors. Begin to investigate cost of cover art and PDF conversion of document to Kindle.

Week of July 1: complete third profile, send to subject for approval. Review changes to transcriptions. Choose vendors to get quotes from. Investigate legal fees/language and reprints of poems/song lyrics.

Week of July 8: complete 4th profile, send to subject for approval. Review proposals from vendors of art, PDF format. Investigate cost of hard cover books.

Week of July 15: vacation. But: write 5th profile, send to subject. Send approved profiles to editors.

Week of July 22: write 6th profile, send to subject. Finalize cover art and PDF vendor. Decide on hard cover book. Resolve legal issues.

Week of July 29: Write 6th profile, send to subject. Write introductory chapter.

Week of August 5: end of Project Dreamcatcher. Write 7th chapter, send to subject.

Rest of August:
Write 3 more profiles, get approvals.
Forward and Afterward
Get all edits done and back
Pick cover art
Get finalized document to Kindle vendor
Deal with Amazon

Not included in all of this of course? The many tweaks and changes that will occur as I proceed. This is a working document that will constantly be fluid.

Ugh. It’s a lot. But it’s worth it. I know it is.

I want to tell you all that I am here for you too: if you need advice, encouragement or just a little reassurance. I’m on Twitter at @2manyfish2fry and I’m Too Many Fish To Fry on Facebook or just email me at jessicacarroll@hotmail.com.

For everyone/anyone: do you find providing yourself with a timeline of deadlines is helpful to getting a goal accomplished? Or do you think it stresses you out too much?

And sorry for a lack of links and or typos: I’m currently using my phone to write blog posts. :/ I will update with links tomorrow!!

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Filed under getting published, Project Dreamcatcher, writing

They Help Us To Do The Hard Things

Esperanza and I were talking today about our love of a good memoir. I’m taking a hiatus from reading so I can focus on writing, but as I write more profiles I’m thinking: what makes these stories so compelling to me? Because each person I profile I admire very much. And I’m wondering, why we are so drawn to certain stories?

Esperanza is reading two memoirs I recommended, by two bloggers actually. The first is “Heaven is Here” by Stephanie Nielson. I’ve talked about Stephanie’s blog before (NieNie Dialogues: I’m a fan) but the book is something else entirely. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, once upon a time there was a beautiful young mother of four children, married to a handsome loving husband. A Prince Charming if you will. She was, as Esperanza put it, “so, so happy”. She’d created art out of her own life on her blog, and the beauty she generated from her cooking, decorating and photography led to acclaim from Martha Stewart Magazine and Conde Nast. Stephanie’s blog was inspiring to many women who aspired to be the kind of devoted mother and wife she was. Stephanie attributed her approach to life to her deeply held Mormon beliefs. In 2008, she was truly living the dream. She had everything.

Which is why what happened next was so shocking. She and her husband were in a terrible plane crash. They survived but their friend who was also in the plane did not. Stephanie was burned over 80% on her body (including her beautiful face) and was in a coma for 2 months. The pain, the injuries, the horror: it’s almost unimaginable. Yet, she survived and thrived and eventually even gave birth to another baby, Charlotte. How? How could you recover, mentally and emotionally from such a thing? In the book Stephanie credits her Mormon faith with much of her recovery in every way, and also her love of her family.

In the book, she attempts to hike a local trail to mark her recovery and gain a victory of sorts, even though every movement hurts. On the trail a child she has never met cheers her on, relating the message: “You help me do the hard things.”

The other book I recommended is “Bloom” by Kelle Hampton. Kelle’s a fun-loving photographer and mother-of-one whose world is rocked when her second child, her daughter Nella, is unexpectedly born with Downs Syndrome. The book tells the story of what happend next with honesty and sincerity. Kelle relates the depression she felt immediately after Nella’s birth and then the fierce embrace of her daughter and the decision she made to celebrate the “small moments”, the triumphs and the beauty of Nella’s life. Kelle eventually creates her own pretty unique approach to parenting: one of optimism and expecting the best of a situation, not the worst. The gorgeous photos help to tell the story as well. Kelle’s gang of girlfriends (she calls them “the net”) are at the root of how Kelle adapts to her new reality. Their love and support and words of wisdom are really at the heart of what allows her to fully embrace her new role as Nella’s champion.

After discussing these books with Esperanza, we decided we seek these stories out because they are about women dealing with hard, hard things. Life is full of hardships. It just is. So we seek out words of wisdom from those we think perhaps have answers we don’t, the key, so to speak of what is resilience. And how we can develop it on our own.

What stories speak to you, and why? Do you seek out memoirs?

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Filed under Project Dreamcatcher, writing

Project Dreamcatcher: Define Your Steps

Dreamcatcher

So. I’m typing this from the library because my computer has died. I’m taking my poor old beloved iMac to the Genius Bar tomorrow to try to get it fixed. Not having a computer? Not ideal. The computer station I was using got stolen by this rude guy. (Yes, entitled rude man with your headphones in so I don’t confront you: I’m talking about you.) Now I’m in the undesirable computer room with a bunch of teenaged math students who are loudly explaining cosigns. ISN’T THE LIBRARY SUPPOSED TO BE FREAKING QUIET? So basically: First World Problems.

(BTW, the library limits the amount of time you can use on a computer to 60 minutes a day. So this may be rushed and have typos. Apologies!)

The Ted Talk by Jason Fox I chose for this week was about using the video gaming model to achieve a goal. I thought that comparison was very interesting because who hasn’t gotten totally addicted to a video game? Candy Crush or Farmville, anyone? My personal kryptonite was the old school Super Mario Brothers game. Why is the video game model so addictive? Well, it fully engages your brain. You gain new skills at each level, learning to get past the dragon or jump over the brick wall. You achieve: moving on to the next level once you acquire the jumps and bounds needed. And you become fixated on making it to the next level and the next level and beyond.

I would love for us all to become just as fixated on making our goals come true as we are in making it to level 36 of Candy Crush.

How do we apply that model to our dream goals? Well, I think pretty much all of the goals include gaining new skills: whether it’s how to best plant vegetables for optimal growing and harvesting, plotting a plant grid to inspire a backyard for a family to enjoy or plan the best way to achieve your writing goals or learning how to take care of yourself (through clothes, food, self-esteem). The thing about gaining new skills: it can be difficult, but once you master a task (getting to the best mile time, learning to use a light meter) it CAN be addictive and confidence-building.

The other thing that you do in games? As Fox says: “Failure. Failure is really important in games…and it’s good because you learn.” I suck at failure, YET I tend to perserve in a game environment. Dang if I CARE if I fail a level in Angry Birds. I want to keep going!

It’s the CHALLENGE. So visualize your goal as the last level!

Here’s the best tip I learned from the Ted Talk: Make a list of HAVE DONES as you progress toward your goal. Each week, list your HAVE DONES. For Example:

1. Rewrote, polished and sent existing chapters to my editors for grammar check.
2. Sent interviews to be transcribed.
3. Determined length of book and chapters and word count to be done.
4. Set up timeline of profiles to write and editing schedule.

That’s significant progress. It’s easy to focus on what is left to be done, but to think about what HAS been done can make you feel as if you are really on the right path.

So, in closing: keep going, keep trying, keep getting to the next level, keep failing and keep listing your HAVE DONES.

In addition, this week I am putting together a master timeline if you will of EVERYTHING that needs to be done to get the book on Amazon. I will miss goals, I will fail. But I will keep trying to get to that FINAL LEVEL. I will save the princess. And so will you!

One more thing: I will be featuring more tips, motivational quotes and fun stuff on my Facebook page. Become a fan! NOT just for participants, but for everyone. And don’t forget: it’s never too late to join in.

I will be updating this list as more posts come in.

Do you think listing “have dones” is a good idea to help keep us motivated? Have you ever been addicted to a video game? Do you think the gaming model is a good way to look at achieving a goal?

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Filed under Project Dreamcatcher, writing