The winter storm that shut down the south isn’t funny.

First, let me say this: yes, it sounds bizarre that two inches of snow could create states of emergency in two states, take 13 (at last count) lives, and completely gridlock two major cities to the point where drivers are abandoning their cars or sleeping in them. It especially sounds bizarre if you come from a place that routinely gets much more than 2 inches of snow. I realize that your cities don’t shut down for two inches or even ten, that you still go to work and school and lead your lives as normal aside from some extra snow shoveling. As a native Alabamian now living in Pittsburgh, PA, I respect that. Believe me, I do.

That being said, if I hear one more person who gets snow all the time laughing at Southerners right now, telling us how stupid we are, how backwards we are, haughtily detailing how much snow they routinely tramp through in high heels, or making light of this ACTUALLY FATAL winter storm, I am going to take my brand-new snow shovel that I just learned to use this winter because I NEVER HAD TO BEFORE and (figuratively) smack them over the head with it.

I am not offering shovel-brainings to ALL Northerners/Midwesterners/Canadians/wherever you cold weather people come from. Just the ones that are partaking in these, at the very least, unhelpful and unneeded, and at the most, down right offensive and cold-hearted comments. Do you think parents whose kids have been stuck in school for the past two nights are going to be helped, at all, by your self-righteous description of how much snow you have in your yard on the frozen tundra right now? Do you think the stranded motorists who slept in their cars and offices and in the aisles of Home Depot are going to read your comments about how easy it really is to drive in snow if you aren’t stupid about it and be like, “oh shucks, that was the problem–not the lack of salt trucks or the fact it was actually ICE (not snow!) or how fast it came on when NO ONE WAS EXPECTING IT–it was that I’m just stupid.” And furthermore, do you think that your reprehensible stereotyping of ALL Southerners as ignorant rednecks is going to be in any way useful to the families of the 13 people who lost their lives?

I’m really hoping your answer is no.

Of course, I realize that scolding the trolls is going to do absolutely no good. And I’m pretty sure that a large portion of the commenters who aren’t intentionally trolling still don’t give two shits about whether or not they hurt some Southerners’ feelings, but are instead just jumping at the chance to make themselves feel superior. If you fall into either of those two groups, may I introduce your face to my aforementioned snow shovel. But I don’t think everyone was trolling or just seeking to pat their own selves on the back for being awesome at snow. I think that some of these commenters genuinely don’t get how 2 inches of snow can completely cripple an entire region. I think this because one of those people is my own husband, who was born in Colorado and went to high school in Missouri, which routinely gets horrible ice storms, and Just. Doesn’t. Get it.

So I’m going to explain it to you.

1. States that normally experience snow have a much more extensive infrastructure for dealing with it. The South doesn’t. I’m not talking about small rural towns that only have one snow plow attached to a pickup truck.  I’m talking about large metropolitan areas, where there are way more people on the roads and where this winter storm fucked things up the most.

I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I lived there for 24 years. The last time I remember it snowing even two inches was 1993. 1993. When an event like this only happens once every 20 years, it is ridiculous, I repeat, RIDICULOUS to expect the cities and counties to maintain extensive fleets of plows and salt reserves. Instead, they spend their budgets on preparing for weather emergencies that happen all the time, like tornadoes and hurricanes. So, no, your “get a better infrastructure” argument is invalid. Sit down.

2. It is ridiculous to expect that someone who has spent his/her entire life in a place it does not snow would have ANY IDEA how to drive in it.  Yes, some common sense does come into play here. For instance, driving slow. Duh. I guarantee you everyone was driving PLENTY slow when they were stuck in gridlocked traffic for 3 to 6 to 12 or more hours. I am equally sure that some assholes who didn’t realize the roads were icing over in the beginning were driving too fast, causing some of the initial wrecks that screwed the cities. But wrecks weren’t the only problem. In Birmingham, at least, a big problem was hills. And big ones. There are many hills around Birmingham, and lots of them are very steep. I’ve seen plenty of YouTube videos of crazy, slow-motion crashes up North when people try to drive up or down icy hills, so don’t pretend it doesn’t happen to you, and you supposedly “know better.”

And if you’re going to say something about snow tires or snow chains, I refer you to #1. I include that in infrastructure. Think of this example: Did people in the Northeast have sandbags to keep out the water and wood to nail over their windows just, like, hanging out in the basement, waiting to be used in case of a hurricane when Sandy came? Nope. But guess what. People in Florida do. Because hurricanes are a normal part of life there, so they are prepared and skilled in dealing with it. When the D.C. area had a small-by-California-standards earthquake in 2011, people freaked out because they did not know how to deal with it and the buildings aren’t built by the same codes that ones in earthquake-prone areas are. (Again: infrastructure!) The fact that the people in these cities were ill-equipped to deal with these events does NOT make them funny. Does NOT make it okay to make fun of them online or anywhere else and flaunt how superior you are. Yes, there were people who did make jokes about Sandy and the D.C. earthquake and other events like them, and I’m sure some of those people were Southerners, and they are assholes just like the ones making fun of the South right now.

3.  What little infrastructure Birmingham and Atlanta does have did not have an opportunity to be put into action. This is because they didn’t know the snow was coming until it was already there. Birmingham and Atlanta were both forecast to have a light dusting of snow, if any at all. All the bad weather was supposed to move well south of them. Therefore, they didn’t pre-treat the roads, didn’t cancel school, and everyone went to work like normal. And by the way, it wasn’t just the local forecasters who messed up here–it was the National Weather Service, too. We actually DO have a tried-and-true method of dealing with snow and ice down south. It’s called We Shut Everything The Fuck Down. Preemptively, I might add. Before the first flake falls. We are all very well aware that you snow bunnies think this is a hilarious overreaction every time we do this, but now you know why we do it. It’s to avoid what happened on Tuesday. If they had known beforehand that the snow was coming and shut everything down, none of this would have happened and everyone would have enjoyed two lovely snow days at home with their families. But on Tuesday, they didn’t know it was coming until it was too late.

4. When the snow started to come down and they realized the forecasts were wrong, most of the schools and businesses let out at the same time, flooding the icy roads with people trying to get to their children or get home. Everything devolved rapidly from there. The plows and salt/sand trucks couldn’t get onto the roads to treat them, because they were stuck in the gridlock like everyone else. People started abandoning their cars when they rolled onto ice and could no longer control their car or get it to move an inch in the right direction, or when they’d been sitting in it for hours without moving, or when they ran out of gas, adding to the gridlock. (“But driving on snow is easy!” I refer you back to #2; your reading comprehension is lacking.) Wrecks happened in intersections when people couldn’t stop. Pileups happened at the bottom of hills when people got part way up and then slid back down into the cars waiting below them. My dad left work around 3:00, and when it took him over half an hour to go five blocks, he found a parking spot and walked the rest of the 4 miles home from downtown Birmingham. In a suit and no-traction dress shoes. Over Red Mountain, which is one of those big, long, steep hills. He was one of the lucky ones who lived closed enough to work to walk home. My mom left in the middle of a dentist appointment at 10:30 to pick up my brother and four of his friends (by frantic request from their parents) from high school. She was also one of the lucky ones because she was driving before the ice and the traffic got truly awful, but even so, she passed more than a dozen cars already stopped on the side of the road. And hour and a half later, the city was stopped dead.

Both Atlanta and Birmingham were pretty much screwed as soon as the weather changed and unexpectedly hit them. Yes, some things could have been done to mitigate the shitstorm, such as staggering the let-outs of schools and businesses so that everyone and their mother wasn’t hitting the road at once. It wouldn’t have been as bad then, but it still wouldn’t have been good.

TL;DR: Have some compassion, people. Take a moment to think outside of your own experience and entertain the fact that this is a very rare event in the South, for which it is unreasonable to expect they be as prepared for or as experienced with as you. Yes, you deal with five times the amount of snow all the time. The fact is, they don’t. I have three times their amount of snow in my front yard right now, but it hasn’t caused me any problem because my Pennsylvania town has the infrastructure to deal with it because snow is a common occurance in this climate. When the temperatures reach over 90 degrees in the Northeast and people are bitching and moaning about it, I do my best to not laugh and make fun of them, despite the fact that in my head I’m thinking, “This is picnic weather.” Sometimes I fail, but I try. It’s called having some common courtesy and some compassion for other human beings when they are experiencing situations that are unusual for them. Not everything has to be a one-upping contest. Especially when it’s caused thousands of people considerable trouble and even cost people their lives.

Lastly, I fully realize that my tone here is pretty damn angry. I do not apologize for that, and I reserve the right to be angry. I realize that it will alienate some people and turn them immediately defensive, but FUCK IT. It is NOT funny that thousands of children were stranded at schools and day cares, that hundreds of teachers and school workers stayed with them for two days to take care of them. It is NOT funny that thousands of people either slept in their cars or were forced to abandon them to seek shelter in businesses, churches, and private family homes that compassionately opened their doors to them. It is NOT funny that people went without necessary medications for days, or that a woman gave birth on the side of the highway because emergency vehicles couldn’t reach her. It is ESPECIALLY NOT FUNNY that people lost their lives in car wrecks and other weather-related tragedies that seem so pedestrian and run-of-the-mill to you. So please take a second to give it some thought before you make some joke or snide comment that you think is SO hilarious.

We are not laughing.

Pushcart Prize 2014

Hello, internet! It’s been awhile. I won’t even try to make excuses for my long absence, other than to say: life.

20140127-174801.jpgHowever, I return to you triumphantly! My story “Upper Middle Class Houses” that Third Coast nominated for the Pushcart Prize earned a special mention. If I was saying all the right things, I would say that I was honored and humbled, but actually I was honored and felt like a freaking rock star. I’m quite sure that I was positively insufferable in the days afterwards because I couldn’t stop telling anyone who would listen about how amazing I felt to be included–if even in a back index–in such a respected award anthology, in the same book as such great authors and poets. Thank you, Third Coast and the Pushcart Prize for believing that my story deserved recognition. Now that I’ve had some time to get over myself, I am truthfully humbled.

Get a Job, Any Job. Or, Our Whole Generation is F*cked, But You Still Have To Work.

This new blog, MFA Day Job, looks like it could become a good resource for post-MFA writers (or, really, any writers) looking to work outside of academia. It’s a brand-new baby blog now, but something to watch. They’re also looking to interview writers with non-academic careers, so if that’s you, go over there and submit your name! I thought about doing it, but then I realized that “don’t worry, you can always be an administrative assistant for a construction company!” is not necessarily comforting for MFA grads. It is also not necessarily a “successful career.” Or a “career.” (Oh god I hope it’s not my career.) Also, I got the job because of nepotism. So….

Here’s the thing: while yes, I do feel kind of crummy and pathetic for being, essentially, a human Xerox machine with a Master’s degree, it’s a job, guys. It pays the bills. When you’re getting out of school in this job climate, you can’t turn your nose up at employment, whatever it is. This applies to everyone, not just MFAs. Whether you want to be a professor of creative writing or a lawyer or the manager of a Best Buy or a freaking astronaut, that job probably won’t come to you immediately. And when it doesn’t, you take a job doing whateverthefuck, and in the meantime you keep applying for those dream jobs that you actually want. Let one of my Dad Proverbs lay some wisdom on you: It is always easier to get a job when you have a job. So sayeth the Dad. Truth, Dad. Truth.

That’s what I did when I graduated with my MFA. I worked my usual summer tutoring job in Nashville, and then I moved to New Orleans with no job lined up (because I just really wanted to live in New Orleans). I had applied for some jobs in the writing/reading/publishing/teaching arena (basically a scattershot at the wall that is my field) but hadn’t heard back, so as soon as I got my stuff moved in, I went out and found something to pay the rent. Within a week of moving to New Orleans, I had a job waiting tables. A month after that, I was offered a job teaching adult education–not exactly what I’ve always dreamed of doing, but at least a job using my skill set of Knowing All the Grammar and Sort of How Math Works.

And you know what my dad said to me when I told him about the waitressing job? (Not even the teaching job, the waitressing job.) He said he was proud. Proud! Of a waitressing job! But it wasn’t the nature of the job he was proud of, it was that I went out and got a job. Maybe my dad saw so many of my peers moving back in with their parents because they couldn’t find jobs in their fields, and he was proud that I was finding a way to survive on my own, fields be damned. Or maybe I just have the most chill and supportive dad in the world. Or maybe he just really didn’t want to deal with me living under his roof again. (Historically, that hasn’t gone so well.) Or maybe he just has really low expectations of me. Whatever it is, it felt damn good to hear him say that. (Full disclosure: I deferred my loans and was totally on food stamps and did have to ask my parents for money on at least one occasion that year because shit is difficult, and even when you’re really trying, you can’t always make ends meet.)

I hope I’m not coming off as some rich white grandpa yelling at the good-for-nothing young’uns to get a job. Or some better-than-thou soapboxer flaunting her extremely unimpressive work history. That’s not what I’m trying to do, although I did just spend 2 paragraphs patting myself on the back. I’m talking specifically to my fellow over-educated, under-employed, young, middle-class peers who are (very legitimately) stressing the fuck out about their futures right now. I know several people–who are not all writers but are actual employable people with hella degrees–who have been out of their post-grad programs for a year or more now and haven’t been able to find jobs. As such, most of them are living with their parents, which blows even if your parents are really cool, because who wants to live in their childhood bedroom when they’re 27 to 32 years old? These people are brilliant and abundantly qualified for the types of jobs they’re applying for, and they deserve to get exactly the jobs they want. Problem is that’s not how it works. Just because you’re qualified and an excellent candidate and worked really hard in school doesn’t mean that you’ll be hired, because there’s 200 other just-as-qualified resumes sitting on someone’s desk in HR. Because: recession. This is just the world we live in right now (and in some fields, always).

This unemployment is really getting to some of them–as it would anyone–because it’s fucking scary. It’s scary to get out of six to eight to ten years of school and look down the barrel of your future and see nothing there. It’s scary to start questioning if you made the wrong decision and wasted years of your life training for a job that no one wants to hire you for. (*Ahem* MFAs.) It’s scary to realize you may have to settle for something less than what you’ve always dreamed of. It’s scary to look at your life and see that it is not what you thought it would be.

I know this because I have been there–am still there in some ways. Did little Claire always dream of working as a secretary in a trailer on a job site in New Jersey that was formerly a literal toxic waste dump? (I am using “literal” in the literal sense here.) Um, no. No I did not. Do I sit here at my desk in the trailer on the job site and gaze down the trajectory of my life and tremble with fear that I’ll still be doing jobs like this when I’m 40? Hell yes I do. Do I doubt my ability to ever actually write a book that’s half-way decent? All the time. Do I wonder, at what point do I declare myself a failure and go back to school for, like, computer science or something? Frequently. (That may actually be my contingency plan. I showed an aptitude for it in college, and computers will rule the earth with the cockroaches when we’re all dead, so it seems like a pretty secure field.) Do all those thoughts scare the bejeezus out of me and make me want to give up and curl in the fetal position on the couch and watch supernatural teenage dramas until I develop rickets? Almost every damn day.

But you can’t let it paralyze you. You can wallow for awhile and try to set the Guinness World Record for the most days without a shower; you can take advantage of your temporary freedom and set off on that Great American Road Trip you’ve always wanted; you can get angry and tell all the bartenders in the city about how your generation is fucked–but whatever you do, you eventually have to pull yourself up/come back home/get yourself sober and find a freaking job. (Note: I did all three of those in stages when I couldn’t find a job after undergrad. It’s kind of like the stages of grief, I think, but for unemployment.)

Also, sidenote: YOU’RE IN YOUR 20S FOR FUCKS SAKE (or early 30s maybe). Stop thinking that nonsense about failure and giving up! You have plenty of time to figure shit out, and you’re way too young to be this fatalistic. Sheesh.

(Yes, I am talking to myself here just as much as anyone else.)

Look–if you don’t get that job immediately, do something else that is in some way related or can put you in the path of the type of work you’d like to do. (Aspiring accountant? Take that job as a bank teller! At least you’re in the freaking bank and not eating Cheetos on your couch.) If you have no other choice but to be a barista or fold shirts at the Gap, go volunteer for a non-profit organization involved in your field so you can make valuable connections and have something useful to put on your resume. (You want to teach English? Volunteer to tutor at-risk youth. Look! Teaching experience!) DO NOT GIVE UP; do not settle for the crap jobs permanently; do not stop applying for those better jobs, but also don’t do nothing. Don’t sit around in your mom’s house eating all of her food and playing World of Warcraft all day while you wait for a job opening. It looks WAY BETTER to have something on your resume than nothing, even if that something is selling tickets at the Megaplex. At least that way it shows you have work ethic. All that having nothing on your resume shows is that no one would hire you–not even the Megaplex.

We have this idea in our culture that our job defines us, and it’s hard to get around that when that job is, in fact, taking up 40 hours of your week. It feels pretty shitty to say to people at parties, “I am a… uh… Purveyor of Expedited Cuisine. *cough*IworkatDomino’s*cough.*” And maybe it would feel better to say you’re an environmental engineer who can’t find work because the job market is hard and there are more environmental engineers graduating right now than there are jobs in environmental engineering, because then at least you get to keep that identity intact. But why the hell can’t you be both? I betcha that if you say, “Well, I’m an environmental engineer and I went to these awesome schools, but I just can’t find a job in environmental engineering right now, so I’m doing what I have to do and working at Domino’s until I can,” anyone worth your time will be like, “OMG I hear you, I said that I was in advertising but I’m actually working at Target because there’s no job openings right now LETS BE BEST FRIENDS.” If they behave otherwise, forget them; they’re snobs.

And you know what, I bet any potential employer would like to hear that too, and I bet they would respect you for it. Especially if the other option is, “Well, I was living with my mom for three years just waiting on this interview!” Subtext: HIRE ME PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE OBI WAN KENOBI YOU’RE MY ONLY HOPE.

(You know, maybe we writers have it pretty damn good. No, we’re not very employable. No, we can’t find much paying work for our craft. No, we can almost never make a living writing and will ALWAYS have to have a day job. But at the same time, we can have all the lackluster, crappy day jobs in the world, and we still have writing. For a writer, most jobs will simply be a means to an end, while the career–the real thing that matters, the real job–is always writing. And that doesn’t depend on the job climate or the economy. All that depends on is you.)

Maybe part of the problem is we were all brought up being told we were special snowflakes who could be anything we wanted to be, but we somehow missed the part where it would be hard work. And the part where we’d be competing against all the other special snowflakes for a limited number of jobs. And the part where we might have to take some jobs we don’t want in the meantime. And the part where we maybe, just maybe, don’t ever get to be what we wanted to be after all, and we have to figure out some other way to be happy.

Fuck, that was depressing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, Yes, it sucks. It’s going to continue to suck. All the endless applying and applying and getting your hopes up and having them dashed is going to suck, and suck hard. Probably, even finding that crappy temporary job is going to suck, too. But you can’t stall your life while you’re waiting on the right job to come along. You’re cheating yourself, putting yourself into a state of limbo, and every day you stay there, it hurts you a little more. You get a little more stuck. Go get the best job you can find, move out of your parents’ house, make some friends, meet some people, find some other things that pique your interest like biking or gardening or making model trains and start seeing yourself as a Biker and a Gardener and a Maker of Model Trains and all these things beyond your occupation that make up the beautiful complex being that is you, and keep checking the job listings for when that right job does come along.

You’ll figure it out. It may not happen like you thought it would, your 5-year plan may be in the shitter, but you’ll find your way. At least that’s what I’m banking on. Fingers crossed.

I’m going to be at AWP! Also: Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Sneaky Spinach Quesadillas.

It’s been awhile. I won’t bother you with excuses because they all boil down to: I’m busy and tired and a lot of the time all I want to do is collapse on the couch and watch the entire second season of Scandal and eat my body weight in potato chips. (That is a play-by-play description of last weekend.)

POTATOCHIPS

I am not kidding about the potato chips.

Some things that have happened: I went home to Alabama for five days and saw lots of people I love and spent time with my brothers and my grandma and it was wonderful. My parents also threw a belated wedding reception/celebration for the husband and I, who if you weren’t aware ran off to Niagara Falls and got hitched last July, and it was beautiful. My aunt came down from Wisconsin to officiate a blessing ceremony, there were people there who I haven’t seen in ages, and it was an all-around incredible night. My kindergarten teacher was there, guys. No joke. Also, the open bar included margaritas because my mother knows me well. Mom, you know how to throw a party. Well done.

A sorta-blurry surprise photo of me, my mom, and my grandma. My grandma who, by the way, is a rockin' 93 years old.

A sorta-blurry surprise photo of me, my mom, and my grandma. My grandma who, by the way, is a rockin’ 93 years old.

Writing things that have happened: Not much. I have only one story currently out for submission, but I have several more in revision, so hopefully I can get those out there soon. The story I have out is really long (just under 8,000 words), and it also involves ghosts and at least one guy in a cape, so it’s been having trouble finding a home. However, almost every rejection I’ve got for it has been a complimentary, we-hope-you-send-us-more-of-your-work rejection, so it must be doing something right? (Just got one from One Story two days ago, which was awesome even though it was a rejection.) The folks at Hayden’s Ferry Review were even kind enough to ofter an editorial suggestion in their response when I submitted the story to them last year, which I ended up using when I re-edited the story for this round of submissions. Let me tell you, responses like that excite me almost as much as an acceptance. It feels so good to know that your story has really been considered and thought about, and that someone thought your story was good enough to be given that amount of consideration. And from an editor’s standpoint, I also know through my work at Nashville Review how difficult it sometimes is to even find the time to write a personal note to a submitter. That’s a special thing.

Fall-2012-2Speaking of Nashville Review, I will be at AWP next week(!) and one of the things you should come to is NR’s Off-site reading at the Back Bay Social Club from 3:30 to 5:00 on Friday. It’s only half a block away from the Convention Center, it’s free, and you’ll get to bask in some amazing words by the likes of Bianca Stone, Ben Loory, Joellen Craft, Bryan Furuness, and Rosanna Oh. So come hear some great prose and poetry and say hi! I would tell you that you would be entered in a prize raffle or something by mentioning you saw this on my blog, but you won’t. I will, however, be like, “Holy crap, thanks for reading my blog!”

Changing the subject, let me tell you a story about this one time that I tried to cook a recipe that involved grating some uncooked sweet potatoes. First you should know I have zero coordination or strength when it comes to wielding knives. Second, you should know that I have baby-soft, lily-white hands because I have had a privileged life and I am a writer and manual labor/general handiness is absolutely nowhere on my resume, unless you count typing as “working with your hands.” While cubing sweet potato for enchiladas, I have completely lost feeling in my cutting hand, I guess because of the pressure I’m having to exert to cut the damn things?, and I didn’t regain it for about an hour. While cubing butternut squash for this amazing warm salad recipe a friend gave me, I developed a huge friction blister on my palm that I didn’t notice until it popped and started bleeding because my hand had, once again, gone numb. I have also sliced my fingers a-plenty. You can tell I cooked last night if I have a band-aid around at least one finger. Cut (ha-ha punny! I’m a writer!) to me finding this recipe for Sweet Potato Quesadillas and reading, “4 cups grated peeled sweet potato (about 3 potatoes).”  I was like, no probs, I’ve got this cheese grater.

PROBS. LOTS OF PROBS.

I grated my knuckles, guys. I grated them so much. It looked like I had a fist fight with, well, a cheese grater. My husband and I probably ended up ingesting some of my knuckle-flesh. You might be thinking, “How hard is it to keep your knuckles away from the cheese grater?” And if you are thinking that, it means you don’t know me at all. I once made myself bleed while playing a game of pool. And not because I was hustlin’ and the bikers I was playing against took offense and a bar fight broke out. It was a calm, civilized game in a friend’s father’s basement game room. There was no violence. Pool is not a contact sport. And yet I somehow managed to bleed.

Anyway. The aforementioned Sweet Potato-Claire Flesh Quesadillas were actually incredibly tasty, and I was saddened that I would not be making them in the future in order to retain my fingers.

Until now, that is. Because FOOD PROCESSOR!!!!!!!

I AM FOOD PROCESSOR

Cuisinart Elite Collection 16-Cup Food Processor, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. Adjustable slicing disk with 6 widths.

2. Two-sided shredding disk for fine and medium shreds.

3. Three bowls for multi-tasking!

4. Dough blade and dough setting for kneading dough?!

5. Puréeing things.

6. Dishwasher safe.

7-16. ALL TEN OF MY FINGERS.

Guys, this might be the best thing that has ever happened to me, aside from meeting my husband or whatever. My life in the kitchen will never be the same. I have been having dreams–actual dreams–about all the things I can make now that I don’t have to worry about cutting off my fingers. (It also takes me a REALLY LONG TIME to prep anything that involves a lot of cutting or dicing because I have to be So. Very. Careful. But, no longer!) So, while I was fantasizing about what to make that will utilize my new food processor to its fullest, I remembered the aforementioned delicious but ill-fated quesadillas, and I knew I had my first dish.

BEHOLD, THREE UNCOOKED, GRATED SWEET POTATOES IN AROUND 10 SECONDS! AND WITH NO BLOOD!

IMG_5530

(The bowl on the right is cheese, which, for once in my life, I didn’t buy pre-shredded! Yay, blocks of cheese!)

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

I also decided to mince my garlic and chop my onion in the food processor, just because I could. That, however, didn’t work out so well. What I should have done is pulse the onion a few times to chop it to my satisfaction. Instead, I left the processor running as I added it through the feed tube, which resulted in this:

IMG_5531

Onion pulp.

There is a learning curve.

I used my onion baby food anyway, though, because I didn’t have another onion. Remarkably, it turned out fine.

So, thanks to my food processor, I bring you:

Sweet Potato-Black Bean-Sneaky Spinach* Quesadillas

IMG_4344

(Recipe after the jump)

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Sorry, Bruce Springsteen.

NYC skyline

Hey, so, in case you didn’t know, I am temporarily residing in New Jersey for the next several months for complicated reasons, having mainly to do with: finally being employed! In the legal, filling-out-a-W-4, actually-getting-paid-money sense! For the first time in, like, six months!?!

Recession, y’all. Desperate times.

But BONUS: I’m living in the New York City Metropolitan Area! How swanky is that shit!? Telling your friends and family, “Hey, I’m going to be living in the New York City Metropolitan Area for the next four to six months!” sounds so much cooler than, “Uh, I’m going to be living in New Jersey for the next four to six months. . .” Until, that is, your friends and family are like, “What do you mean? Like, Brooklyn?” And you have to be like, “Uh, no, not exactly,” and hedge around it until they eventually corner you into confessing that you’re living in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Waa waa waa. (Cartoon trombone let-down noise.)

Except, BONUS on that: Piper Perabo’s character in Coyote Ugly  was from… well… South Amboy. But that’s right next to Perth Amboy! Woop woop! Shots are on the house!

OH! And having just consulted Perth Amboy’s Wikipedia page, Jon Bon Jovi was born here! (But not raised here. . .)

Ah, well.

I’ve been here for a month now, and I’m beginning to understand that the best thing about New Jersey is, well, New York City. And, you know, when the best thing about your state is not even in the state, that’s saying something.

Sorry, New Jersians. (Jerseyites? Jerseyers?) There’s a point in time when you have to reconcile yourself with the fact that your home state just isn’t that great. As a native Alabamian, I came to grips with this at about the same time I drew my first breath after having recently exited my mother’s womb. I don’t mean to offend, New Jerseyers, and this is not a reflection on you as a people, especially since your character has already been defamed enough by that bronzed and bump-it-ed trainwreck Jersey Shore, none of the cast members of which were actually from New Jersey at all. I know. I feel your pain, and your national scorn. (*AHEM* Hart of Dixie, MTV’s Buckwild, and anything else ever made that was set in the South. (Except confession: I TOTALLY LOVE Hart of Dixie. It’s so bad and incorrect, but WADE, you guys. That man. That body. That country boy charm. THE HELL with George Tucker, Rachel Bilson! Wade is your man! Wade is the love of your life! What are you thinking!? I LOVE YOU WADE!))

Anyway. Here’s the part where I should admit that, really, all I’ve done so far in New Jersey is go to:

1) Wegman’s, which is organized by some strange logic that I cannot comprehend (there is milk in TWO DIFFERENT SECTIONS) and is full of elderly people aggressively steering their shopping carts like it’s Black Friday,

2) Some diners, which, sorry, I know New Jersey is all about its diners, but REALLY? When has diner food ever been good, outside of maybe Happy Days? And then it was only good because you got to flirt with The Fonz while you sucked seductively on your milkshake and didn’t really eat any of the solid food at all.

3) The Rainforest Cafe in the Menlo Park Mall, because how can you NOT go to a theme restaurant usually found exclusively at Disney World when you’re in the mall Christmas shopping and you look up and LO AND BEHOLD it’s the Rainforest Cafe, like, right there by the Radio Shack and the Bubble Tea place, just hanging out!?!! It has animatronic animals, you guys! ANIMATRONIC ANIMALS! Gorillas and elephants and stuff, and they come alive every twenty minutes! Hellz yes, you better believe my grown-ass husband and I went to that.

And 4) Wonder Bagels. Like, every day for three weeks until we got a microwave in our office. And GOD BLESS Wonder Bagels, y’all. Because, a) CARBS, and b) This is the only place I could find to acquire sustenance in Jersey City (where I work) that wasn’t a diner (see #2), a fast food joint, a pizza place, or the restaurant where White Castle supposedly originated. And I’m not a strict vegetarian at all, but dear god, give me the option of consuming something not primarily composed of meat or cheese once in a while. And Wonder Bagels has things with vegetables! Wonder Bagels, I love you! I’m not just saying that. I actually do. I love you. Although I do think the weird pluralization of your name is awkward and troublesome. What do you do when referring to multiple Wonder Bagels(es)? But I’m willing to overlook that.

So, the moral of the story is, I have not really gotten to know New Jersey in any comprehensive way. Please, if you can point me toward any cool/fun/redeeming things to do or places to see in Jersey, let me know. I’d love to experience the non-Abandoned Industrial Wasteland/Decrepit Strip Mall Hell side of New Jersey. I would.

OH GOD! And wtf is up with the not being able to pump your own gas thing? I know Oregon does it too, and it does create more jobs, but I’m always worried the gas pumper guy is going to accidentally give my debit card to another driver while I’m sitting there in my car, twiddling my thumbs, feeling helpless as I wait for my gas tank to fill.

But anyway. My main qualm with Jersey is this:

THE TURNPIKE

(If I could have used some gruesome, drippy blood font just there, I would have. But I’m not that blog-savvy and I don’t see a Word Art button on my dashboard.)

1. What is with the two separate sides going to the same exact place thing? I realize one is for cars only and one is for cars and trucks and buses, but I have a serious crisis going to work every morning when the split is imminent and I’m sitting there going WHICH ONE DO I CHOOSE!? WHICH HAS LESS TRAFFIC!? WHY CAN’T I SEE THE FUTURE!? AM I MAKING A HORRIBLE MISTAKE!?!?! I mean, I’m not great at making decisions on what to eat for dinner, much less which side of the turnpike to take to work. This causes great anxiety in me which I really don’t need every weekday morning. And then when I’m sitting in stopped traffic and the other side is whizzing by nicely, I have ample time to curse my stupidity and horrible luck and wonder where I went wrong in life.

2. SUDDENLY DISAPPEARING LANES. This is not just on the turnpike, but all over New Jersey. You’ll be driving along in your own lane, minding your own business, when suddenly THE DIVIDING LINES DISAPPEAR. Not turn into the smaller dotted lines that in civilized states all over the country signals, “you need to merge, kind driver.” No. The lines just disappear altogether. This is apparently how the New Jersey road system alerts you that you need to merge. By suddenly, without warning, disappearing your lane. I’m sure there’s signage somewhere, but it’s obviously not big enough because every single time this happens, I am unprepared. Cue frantic braking.

3. The part where you enter or exit the turnpike and are suddenly in this huge non-lined desert of asphalt, across which vehicles are zooming diagonally with abandon and NO TURN SIGNALS like very, very large and deadly bullets.

4. The part where you exit the turnpike and on the other side of the toll booths there are five lanes of traffic trying to fit themselves into the ONE FUCKING LANE that takes you where you need to go. People get nasty, you guys, pulling bullshit like wedging the nose of their vehicle one inch in front of your bumper so you either have to let them in or HIT THEM, or just kind of continually drifting toward your car sideways until they are almost in contact with your side mirror, and you know that if you don’t allow yourself to be pushed out of your own goddamn lane, they’ll just keep on coming because THEY HAVE DENTS ALL OVER THE SIDE OF THEIR CAR AND OBVIOUSLY DO NOT GIVE A FUCK. On the turnpike, civilization breaks down. It’s Lord of the Flies out there, guys. It’s survival of the most aggressive driver.

5. All the honking. Although I see now that it is a necessary stress relief outlet when you’re mired in this insanity, somewhat like screaming and screaming and screaming into a pillow.

Once, I was a relaxed, kind driver. I would let people merge in front of me. I did the “Thank you!” wave when someone would let me in front of them. But now, New Jersey, you have made me into an angry, honking, cussing, finger-flipping banshee of the roadway. You have made me into an over-aggressive font of road rage, who, actually, one morning, literally screamed “MY CAR IS A WEAPON” as I force-merged my way to work. You have made me a monster. You have made me into one of you.

Steeltown Shakedown: The only car show I’ve ever enjoyed.

Todd likes cars and trains and boats and machines and, well, pretty much anything with an engine in it, an affliction I can only attribute to his Y chromosome. The primary symptom of this affliction is that he likes going to car shows, and, even worse, he likes to take me with him. I don’t really mind, and sometimes I find it briefly interesting, but most of the time I am bored out of my mind within ten minutes. If we were attending a seminar on how the internal combustion engine works, I would, believe it or not, be all sorts of into that. I was on the physics team in high school. No joke. Our t-shirt was a parody of the wrestling team’s and had a beefy weight lifter on it and said “1,000 N Club.” (This is funny because 1,000 newtons is roughly 222 pounds of force, not that any of us could lift that, either.) I like knowing how things work. But just walking around a showroom in a convention center looking at one car or truck or van after another? Not interesting. I am a firm believer that a motor vehicle’ sole purpose is to get you from point A to point B safely and faster than, say, walking. If it doesn’t wreck the environment, that’s cool, too. So I could care less that this one has a Blue Ray player in it and that one has cup holders that keep your drink cold and that one over there comes with an optional pinstripe along the side. A PINSTRIPE?! Someone explain to be why you have to pay extra for a freaking pinstripe.

However, the Steeltown Shakedown is not your average car show. It’s held at the drive-in movie theater near our apartment and focuses on hot rods, rat rods, and classic cars. It has a flame-throwing contest, a pinup contest, and live psychobilly music, among other things. That’s my kind of car show, yessiree.

Continue reading

Gillian Flynn, you creepy genius: some thoughts on Gone Girl.

I just finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and I have to say, I am floored in two completely different ways by both of them. Gone Girl I finished two days ago, and Wild yesterday. Not that I started and finished Wild all in one day, although it’s so good that could be very possible. I just tend to read multiple books simultaneously, picking one or another up depending on my mood. I’ve been reading Wild in short installments for a few weeks, rationing it like Cheryl does her food on the trail because I had so anticipated its release that I didn’t want it to be over too soon. (Yes, I’m a long-time Sugar fan.) And also because the book heartbroke me. I could scarcely read it without crying, sometimes bawling, sometimes uncontrollably, so I had to take some breaks lest I become dehydrated through loss of water via tears alone.

An aside: I had a wonderful moment earlier today when I realized that ALL the books I’m currently reading or am about to read are by women! I love that. There have been several moments in time when I have downtroddenly realized that all the books I was reading were by men–and most of the books I’ve ever read are by men–and nothing against men, I love men, but I get markedly sad when I see women excluded. But that’s a subject for another day. The point is, I just read Gone Girl and Wild, and before that I read Jennifer Egan’s The Keep, and next I have Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (I know, I’m horribly late on this one) and Lidia Yunknavitch’s The Chronology of Water (late on that one, too) and B.K. Loren’s Theft, which I picked up the other night when I went to see her read at Chatham. All women! And I didn’t even do it on purpose! It just turned out that way! So exciting.

But anyway. Right now, I’m only going to talk about Gone Girl. We’ll save Wild for another day.

Oh, and SPOILERS. Except I’m pretty sure I’m the last person on the internet to have read Gone Girl, so it probably doesn’t matter. I mean, I’m behind. It’s kind of shameful. But in my defense, when you move cross-country and get married in the span of a few months, you get behind.

So, Gone Girl.

As so many have said before me: cutting, witty, twisted, brilliant, devious. A literary thriller about the decline of a marriage–although decline is putting it far too mildly. I rephrase: A literary thriller about the psychotic manipulative mind-fuck explosive shit-storm disaster of a marriage, but simultaneously a love story of the darkest sort, about the people who we try to be in order to make someone love us, and then what happens when our real selves show through. Probably not the best book to read a month and a half after you get married. But whatever.

The novel really screws with your mind and emotions, even as you’re watching this husband and wife screw with each others’. For instance, I was totally manipulated by the first part of the book. Like, TOTALLY manipulated. I was like, Oh I know this wife, I know this woman, she is flawed but I love her and feel for her in her sweet, quiet desperation, and she doesn’t even know she’s being cheated on, poor thing! Team Amy!!!! On top of that, there were eerie similarities between Amy Elliott Dunne and I, such as: her husband moves her away from the city she loves (for Amy, New York; for me, New Orleans), she knows no one and has no friends in this new city and also has no job (*cough,* me in Pittsburgh), and she is forced to live in a mass-produced box with wall-to-wall carpet and doors and moldings made of cheap crappy plastic made to look like wood (which she hates, and sooooo do I–hardwood floors, please), oh and she’s a writer. So, we had some things in common. I may have read some sections from Part One aloud to Todd in a kind of horribly mistaken wife-righteousness–See, she is so sad and alone. See, she hates wall-to-wall carpet, too. And then her husband kills her! Let us take this as a teaching moment.

Here is the real teaching moment: Never start quoting a book all righteous-like before you’ve read the whole thing. Especially when it’s a thriller, which is never what it seems in the beginning. I should have known better.

So imagine my embarrassment when Part Two commences and we find out that, oops, Amy is a sociopath who meticulously fakes her death and disappears and frames her husband for her murder so he’ll get the death penalty or at least life in prison, just to prove a point, which is pretty much, No one puts Amy in a corner. (Yeah, I’ve seen Dirty Dancing a few dozen too many times.) Amy is a legit, for-real, 100% psycho. This is the woman I felt solidarity with, who I compared myself to. I repeat: oops.

To be fair, the diary entries that compose her point of view for the first part of the novel were specifically written by Amy-the-psychopath to be found after her disappearance, make the world love and sympathize with her, and point the finger of blame steadily at her husband. So, I mean, easy mistake. Right? Right? (Someone assure me I’m not going to turn into a sociopath.)

But anyway. The point is, Gillian Flynn manipulates the reader’s emotions with a skill that borders on frightening. By the end of that first part, you legitimately sympathize with Amy, you totally suspect that Nick, the cheating, negligent husband, killed her in a fit of passion the morning of their five-year anniversary. If I was Gillian Flynn’s husband, I might be just a little bit afraid. Be afraid, sir. Your wife is a creepy genius. So. Well. Done.

What unfolds after Part One is a fascinating study of absolute madness, switching between Amy and Nick’s points of view, both of them narrators of the most unreliable sort, in which neither character is the hero. And I love me some anti-heroes. We humans are flawed, messy, catastrophically doomed creatures, and I love us for it. Give me a book where the protagonist is just fucked to the core, and I’ll eat it up, because that’s something I love to see in literature and in people in general–the acknowledgement that we as people have horrible, deep deep faults, and there’s maybe just no fixing them; that’s just the way we are, and we have to try to be the best people we can be with them. Gone Girl takes this to a very, very disturbing place, where husband and wife are forced to be the best husband and best wife they can be in a life-long stand-off, or else they’ll eviscerate each other–but still. I dig it.

Nick does end up being a little more the hero than Amy. As he writes at the beginning of the tell-all book he composes (and then is forced to delete thanks to some more brilliant trap-setting on Amy’s part),

I am a cheating, weak-spined, woman-fearing coward, and I am the hero of your story. Because the woman I cheated on–my wife, Amy Elliott Dunne–is a sociopath and a murderer.

I mean, compared to that–yeah, you are the hero.

But despite Amy’s balls-to-the-wall bat-shit craziness, she has some pretty astute observations, such as the oft-quoted-at-least-on-Tumblr section about the myth of the “Cool Girl.”

Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time, Cool Girls offended me. I used to see men–friends, coworkers, strangers–giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much–no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version–maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.

Bam. I mean, truth, guys. What woman (at least in America) reads that and doesn’t feel a little sick to her stomach because she has tried to be the Cool Girl at least once in her life (probably during college, thanks Judd Apatow), and also at the same time a bit buoyed up because she has since given up on being the Cool Girl, the Cool Girl persona being unsustainable. And this from the mouth of a sociopath, yet it resonates in all of us.

Creepy.

And that’s one of the most horridly wonderful things about Gone Girl. Like the Cool Girl critique, the novel is full of social commentary that meshes completely with the narrative. It takes numerous societal stereotypes, builds them up, and then burns them all down. The Cool Girl. The Happy Couple. The Gritty Detectives. The Good Wife. The Good Husband. The Cheater. The Psycho Bitch. The Sweet-Wife-Is-Murdered and the Husband-Always-Did-It. One by one, the novel establishes these roles and then, just when you get comfortable, turns them inside out. The whole thing is an endless parade of people wearing masks. It’s disturbing and brilliant and all-too-true.  As happens whenever I unadvisedly read the bone-chillingly hateful comments on any online news article, I walked away from this book peering from the corners of my eyes at the passerby on the street around me and wondering, Who are you, secretly? What horrible thoughts do you have tucked in the dark corners of your skull?

But aside from all that, Gone Girl is about the small, quiet ways we hide ourselves from the people around us. Our spouses, our parents, our friends and siblings. And the ways we manipulate each other–even manipulate ourselves–into believing we actually are the people we pretend to be. It’s about the pile-up of all the tiny disconnects in a marriage, which anyone who has been in a long relationship will be familiar with–the time he never showed up for that dinner, the cuckoo clock she loves and he hates, the special kiss one remembers and the other doesn’t, his difficulty in showing emotion and her need to always be right, the compromises inherent in sharing a life with another person, the struggles, the disappointments. Except in Gone Girl, these things don’t pile up into a mild case of resentment that finally explodes into a bad argument or even divorce, they pile up into cheating and lying and trap-setting and disappearance and homicide. I mean, talk about needing to communicate. So, yeah, it gets a bit (a lot) more extreme than your average marriage, but Nick and Amy’s marital struggles before the psychosis kicks off are disturbingly familiar. We all know that story. It’s scary. To say the least.

But also, even while this husband and wife are plotting against each other with maniacal glee, Flynn shows their similarities, things they have absorbed from each other over five years of marriage. There’s all these inside jokes they both remember, both Nick and Amy make observations about the real meaning of the word “surreal,” and they also both refer to their stomachs as feeling “oily.” This oily stomach thing is an unusual enough description (at least I’ve never heard it) that I’m sure Flynn does it on purpose to show us some teeny tiny, but meaningful, ways in which they are a couple. And I’m sure there’s others that I just missed on the first read. In the end, when all the barriers come down, Flynn shows us that Nick and Amy truly, deeply know each other. They know each other to the core, better than any one else in the world, in all their cunning, manipulative, hate-filled flaws. They truly see each other. And even if that sight is ugly, isn’t that all anyone wants in a marriage? To be known? To be seen?

I was wondering the other day how Gillian Flynn came up with the idea for Gone Girl–because this is the kind of novel that totally intimidates me, that makes me feel like I will never be able to write a novel as complexly extraordinary–and I wonder if she was just sitting around one day, listening to ex-boyfriends and ex-husbands gripe about their female ex-counterparts, saying, I’m so glad I broke up with her, she was a crazy bitch, like they so often do. And Flynn was like, what’s that? No. No, fellas. I will write a novel and show you what a crazy bitch actually is. Challenge accepted.

And, oh, does she. I dare you to call anyone a crazy bitch after reading this book. Mission accomplished, Ms. Flynn. Well done.

The Official List of Feminist-Approved Life Decisions! (Because women still can’t be trusted to make their own.)

Hey, let’s talk about something ridiculous.

Those of you that read this blog will know that I’m a feminist. I’ve talked about it. I’ve gotten worked up about some things. I’ve made my thoughts known. You will also know that I am married to a man, stay at home writing while he brings home the bacon from his manly job in construction, and I took his last name. (Well, maybe you don’t know that last one yet.)

I was under the impression that as a woman and a feminist, I could make these decisions if I wanted to–could, as a human, make whatever decisions I wanted to.

It seems, however, that some people disagree. Or, apparently, they think I can make whatever decisions I want, except for the ones I’ve made, especially changing my name. Because that’s not what a good feminist does, don’t ya know.

So let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about, first, the whole name-changing thing, and then let’s think real hard about what feminism is and talk about that, too.

So. First:

I will admit that I struggled with the whole marriage/name-changing jazz. I struggled with the idea of getting married at all, because, as my mother has termed it, I have always been “fiercely independent,” sometimes to my own detriment. I have written before on how I feel guilty for not having a paying job (for now) and working on my writing instead. (Although I did make 50 bucks on one story. Eat it.) And I also definitely struggled with the decision to take my husband’s last name. These are big decisions. They merit some struggling.

One day after I got engaged, I realized out of the blue, Holy shit I’m going to lose my last name. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before, but I really hadn’t thought of it. Men sometimes don’t realize, I think, what a huge thing that is. Your name that you’ve had your whole life, suddenly changed. It’s not just a name. It’s an identity. There’s some personhood wrapped up in it. Before I made my decision, I held the name in my mouth, said it out loud. Claire Springer. It sounded like a different person. Someone I had never met. This was exciting and sad all at the same time.

I didn’t know what to do. So, naturally, in the time-honored tradition of deciding things, I made a list. Here is what I (very subjectively) came up with:

1. Hyphenating. Okay, interesting. Totally possible. Except, it’s self-terminating. In the span of one generation, the children of hyphenators have to decide, when/if they get married, to change their name or hyphenate again. But then they would have three last names, and that’s just unwieldy. And then their grandchildren would have FOUR last names, and holy crap this shit’s getting insane. Hyphenating is not a permanent solution. If it was, the last name space on forms would have to get a lot bigger. Eventually, people would be carrying around drivers licenses the size of index cards, of notebook paper.

Also, the last names of hyphenated children tend to be abbreviated to initials, and then any children I choose to have would have to weather their way through school with the last name BS. I am not that cruel.

2. Keeping your last name. Wonderful! No change at all! No trips to the DMV and social security office! Huzzah! But there’s a hitch: if you have children, what name will they have–yours or your spouse’s? You could, I suppose, hyphenate their last names. But then see above problem. I’ve also heard the suggestion of giving boy children the dad’s name and girl children the mom’s name, and while this may be a fine decision for some people, for me the different names and the delineation by sex just rubs the wrong way.

3. Composite name! Some adventurous people blend their last names into a new one, like the gossip mags (Brangelina! TomKat!). This could be very cool. But our options would have been Springess or Burger. Neither really rolls off the tongue. And I was not about to be named Burger.

4. The husband takes the wife’s name. Awesome! I love this! I want to hug every man who has made this choice! I did (half-)jokingly try to get Todd to take my last name, but he had a good point. He’s the only person in his family that can pass on his name. His sister is already married and took her husband’s name, and I have two younger brothers to carry on the grand surname of Burgess. Also, in this situation, someone is still losing a name. Even if we gloriously switched to matrilineal society (yes please!), half the population would still be struggling with the last-name problem. Would it be kind of fun for men to have to deal with that? Yeah, it would. But let’s not get petty.

5. Keep your last names and don’t have children. Totally valid. (Except I think I want to. Eventually. In the very distant future.)

So there is no perfect solution here, at least not for me.

So what’s a girl to do?

The main reason I was hesitant to give up my last name was because I’m a writer, and I’ve started to make a (modest) reputation for myself under the name Burgess. It would be confusing to suddenly start publishing under a different name, and also I want all the glory to go to the Burgesses, because I am selfish. I also want all those fuckers from school to know exactly which Claire is raking in such success and glory. (Illusions of grandeur? Check.)

And then I realized: Oh wait! I can keep publishing under Claire Burgess even if I change my name! People do it all the time. Noms de plume and such. Problem solved.

(So that is what I’m doing, by the way.)

But then there was this rankling, nagging feminist guilt scratching at the inside of my skull, lodged there by certain persons who had made their opinions on my decisions clear, saying, la traîtresse! La traîtresse! (I don’t know why it was in French. Maybe since French women don’t shave as much.) That means traitor, by the way.

And to that voice, I say: 1. WTF? and 2. HELLLLLLLL NO.

Because here’s the thing about feminism. Here’s what it really comes down to. Here’s all the secrets. Time for real talk, friends. Listen closely:

I am a woman, and as such, I can do

WHATEVER I DAMN WELL PLEASE.

These things I can do include, but are not limited to: marrying, marrying a man, marrying a woman, not marrying, having a monogamous relationship, having a polyamorous love fest, wearing dresses, wearing pants, wearing lipstick, wearing a mustache, having long hair, having no hair, shaving words or patterns into my hair, waxing, not waxing, waxing my pubic hair into the shape of the Queen of England, having children, not having children, staying at home with my children, having a career,  having a career AND children, keeping my name, changing my name to Gobbeldy McDoodlefrumps, or even…

OR EVEN!

taking my husband’s name.

OH, THE SCANDAL!

Give me a break.

Women can make whatever choices they want to make, and that’s what truly makes one a feminist: making your own damn decisions, and giving other women the respect and independence to make their own decisions, too. The idea that women have to subscribe to some system of “feminist behavior,” that there’s some list of feminist-approved life decisions out there, is ludicrous. Absolute bullshit. That’s just another way that women’s autonomy is stripped away, but this time under the guise of helping us. That’s just another way of telling women what to do.

If you can’t handle that, maybe you need to do some intense introspection on what it really means for women to be powerful, autonomous, and equal.

BAM. That’s all I need to say.

So anyway, when Todd and I filled out the paperwork for the marriage license, I put “Springer” in the space for surname after marriage. I just wanted to. I had known from the very beginning that I wanted to, and I only struggled with it because of some imagined sense of feminist obligation. And that’s nuts.

Todd didn’t know I was going to take his name. We had talked about the options, but he left it completely up to me and was very careful to not apply any pressure whatsoever. I found out later that he never once thought I was going to take his name in a million years, and when I wrote it in the blank, he was floored with surprise. I swear to god I saw tears in his eyes when I signed the paperwork, because he knew what an incredibly meaningful thing that was, and I knew in that moment that I had made the right decision.

Taking the husband’s last name isn’t expected of us anymore, but it’s just as valid as all the other options, if that’s what you want. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s right for you. Whatever surname solution you choose, as long as you think about it deeply and find what you want, it won’t be anti-feminist. You won’t be a traitor to your sex. The only way you can be that is if you let other people and outside influences make your decisions for you. This applies to marriage and name-changing and everything else in the world. Be strong enough to do what you want.

But I’m still publishing under Burgess.

Oh, God. I’ve really done it now.

I started a Tumblr. I may have an internet problem.

I won’t stop posting here any less, I promise. Tumblr is great for the quick photo or link or line or two, but WordPress really excels at the long-form post, or posting whole albums of photos, which is what I already do on here anyway. So do not despair! (As if.) I just need more things to usurp my time, apparently.

Christ.

Tons of sh*t stir fry, including plums. Or, Wok this way. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

This week, the husband (still weird to say that!) and I are in Indiana, Pennsylvania (yes, I find that confusing, too) while he does a job, and I am drinking crappy hotel coffee (seriously. SO BAD.) and eating out constantly and missing cooking my own food like I never thought I ever would. I’ve only been for-real cooking (as opposed to, like, canned soup, which is fake cooking) for a short while, but already my body is hooked. It wants the veggies. ALL THE VEGGIES. Even Todd declared that he wanted a salad–A SALAD–last night. (My maniacal health plan is working! Bwahahahaha.) So anyway, we are both missing the home cooking this week. Reminisce with me, if you will, about last Monday’s stir-fry.

So Monday night, I decided to plunge into this actually learning to cook thing and made a recipe that included three ingredients I’ve never cooked before: kale, eggplant, and tofu. I do love an adventure!

One thing you should know about my cooking strategy is that I endeavor to become sufficiently tipsy before I do it. I’m not very good at doing things that require tedium or standing up or following directions in general (because I don’t like being told what to do), but I find that if I have some booze in me, these things are suddenly vastly more entertaining. The cooking experience becomes less like the stressful and mysterious food alchemy that it is, and more like fun with knives and heat sources. I put on music and dance around in the kitchen and drink more wine or beer or whatever’s on hand and feel capable and cultured and healthy and like some sort of life-giving earth goddess providing a bounty of sustenance to the worshipful masses (Todd). I throw things onto the stove and don’t particularly worry about the exact quantity and proportion of each, because I’m having FUN!

It also helps me deal better when things go wrong, which they almost inevitably do, because I’m new to cooking. And also drunk. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Safety advisory: Don’t be drunk while cooking.

Have you ever watched My Drunk Kitchen? It’s like that.

Anyways. Now to the cooking.

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