Thursday, February 24, 2011

All Those Things

I bought the new Kanye West album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." And I really like it. A lot.

The New York Pazz and Jop poll swung me. It was far and away their number one rated album for last year. So I went and watched a crappy (and apparently illegal) copy of "Monster" on YouTube.


I bought the album.

The title of the album does not false advertise. It is all those things. (Do I have to add this? It is also explicit, and depending on your Victorian sensibilities, probably offensive.) I love it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Died too young

I finished the Shirley Jackson biography, "Private Demons," and it affected me strongly. She was a brilliant writer, able to string the best words together. Witty, sarcastic, haunting. She died at 48.

She was a witch. Did you know that? She had four children, a multitude of cats, an intellectual husband, and struggled with weight her entire life. She consumed too much -- alcohol, food, pills.

I read a book once where certain characters develop a supernatural specialty. I think some could fly or start fires with their mind, and when the most powerful of them finally developed her true skill, it was revealed she was an empath.

I don't remember the name of the mass market paperback I bought at a library dime sale, but ever since then I wonder about the power of empathy. The damage it causes to the empath. And after reading her bio, I suspect Jackson turned reality inside out and absorbed the pain without the joy.

It's snowing again.

I'm projecting again.

We have that in common anyway. Rewriting reality until it suits us.

Once I read "The Bell Jar." I told myself I would finish it and never read it again. Sometimes I consider rereading it, like you might dare yourself to ride the tall rollercoaster or bungee jump. At that time I found I become powerfully affected by what I read, which is why I read. Catharsis? Hi. But in a book where the protagonist is on the verge of swimming across the river Styx, it is dangerous for me to read all those words in that order. Ha. You think I'm being melodramatic. That's okay. This is why I made myself a library.

Who needs pills when you can choose the words you want to feel?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rant about education

I have 4 stories in the wild, chilling in electronic slush piles. This is not a huge number, but it's the most I've ever had out at once. That's progress.

My previous submission pattern was to send one out at a time. I found, however, that rejection is a lot more crushing when there's no other hope hiding in the bushes. And since each submission usually takes 2 to 6 months to hear back -- if you're lucky -- it sucks to keep starting the process all over again.

Now I will take a page from personal finance and "CD ladder" my stories. "Dollar cost average" my submissions into the jury pool.

I'm out of metaphors.

"Leverage" my distraction. Is that one?

Anyway. I finished Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," and it was excellent. Humbling. I am about halfway through "Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson" and it is also fascinating. (Advertising note, if you buy through the Amazon links I get a commission)

There is so much more to Jackson than "The Lottery."

In retrospect, I probably should have taken at least one English class in college so I would know about Jackson already, but I just couldn't stand it. I hated the papers. I hated coming up with lame thesis statments. I hated the forced discussion. The only thing I liked was reading aloud, which I took as a sign I should major in drama. So I did.

Not until I recently learned about rhetoric did I begin to understand the importance of a thesis statement. They should have just taught us rhetoric basics instead of giving us a worksheet with all those tricks.

I am in the mess I'm in today because it's easier for educators to teach tricks rather than fundamentals. Honestly, this is why I sucked at physics. I am brilliant at the math, but I couldn't tell you WHY I was doing anything. I became frustrated and stopped paying attention. I did well in class because you can just parrot what the teacher wants you to do, but the moment I had to APPLY what I learned I was lost. Oh and news flash. You can't fake your way through chemistry, either.

My brain is full of shortcuts latticed over hot air. No substance!

This is not to say my teachers were awful. On the contrary, I was lucky to have some wonderful teachers. I am saying there's something inherently wrong with a system that encourages shortcuts and tricks, to "fake it 'til we make it." I acknowlege my teachers probably did the best they could within the system.

Since this is my blog I have the luxury of pointing out problems without providing solutions. I do have some ideas... finding ways to connect ideas across different disciplines would be a good start. History and biology hardly ever intersected in my classes, for example. You could even teach a fellow like Darwin across history, biology, and English. How does war or the state of the economy affect art and literature? Can you understand "The Great Gatsby" without knowing about the roaring 20's?

We spend the present in a connected world, where we are exposed to everything all at once. We understand the context immediately. But we are taught in a silo'ed world of rigid categories. Academic disciplines don't exist in a vacuum. They influence each other and until we reunite and connect ideas between them education will continue to be a superficial exercise.

I do not believe critical thinking is possible until we master the fundamentals across disciplines.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reading, a lot of the time

I am still hip deep in changing (stubborn) behaviors -- behaviors that are fragile at the best of times. Talking about it will likely scare my progress away, so what's safe?

I enjoy a good cup of coffee. Tully's Evergreen Blend is my current favorite. Drinking it now.

The biographies and autobiographies I ordered through are slowly trickling into my mailbox, making everyday feel like my birthday. Ben Franklin's autobiography came two days ago, then the Shirley Jackson bio came yesterday. I am looking forward to today!

The best part about is I didn't pay more than $2 for most books (plus media mail shipping). The most expensive was a hardback for around $6 and that was a splurge. Sorting through dusty stacks has its benefits, but sometimes you just want what's on your list with minimal fuss.

Unfortunately I cannot read fast enough to keep up with what I've received so far, so I am about 10 pages into roughly 8 different books. At least 8, my head hurts trying to count them. There's one about language, one about archaeology, almost done with Murakami's "The Elephant Vanishes" - only one story left - and rereading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and the Charlie Munger Almanack one.

Then there are the short story collections. One of just Hemingway stories and one with a bunch of other authors. And also Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived in the Castle." (I was so excited to find that at a used bookstore last week after searching for it used for ages. It's so good!) And "The Power of Myth" transcript. How could I forget that?

Yep, that about covers it. As T.H. White wrote in "The Once and Future King":

Look what a lot of things there are to learn.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reading List

I don't know nearly enough about what I don't know so I'm building a reading list. I'll be starting with biographies of productive, interesting people. Names on the list include Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Johnson, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Mark Twain, Shirley Jackson, Charles T. Munger, Angela Carter, and Da Vinci.

I've already read up on Hemingway, Bukowski, Harlan Ellison, and Margaret Bourke-White so they're out.

In the spirit of reading about other people's lives (in a pre-blogging world), I am soliciting requests for other biographies of productive, creative people with interesting stories.

Do you have any specific book suggestions for other productive people?

The list should not be limited to writers or titans of industry, that's just where I've started.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Daywalkers get the best deals

I made an afternoon trip to Fred Meyer to pick up a few groceries, as daywalkers do, and I stumbled into the most interesting thing. They give away stuff sometimes!

First, a man announced slowly and surreally over the loudspeaker that over by the Home section they'd be giving away some advertiser's products. I wasn't going to bother, but then I figured, ABSOLUTELY I WILL. So I lined up with a few other people and listened to the spiel.

The young man in charge of the "giveaway" had one of those setups you see at the fair, with a TV displaying the countertop. His performance was fascinating. He was an excellent speaker and he hit all of the major persuasive selling techniques.

He started by giving away a small item that juices and cores fruit, kind of cool. Thus we were all ensnared with our tokens of importance and tit-for-tat thinking. He then proceeded to get to the real item, demonstrating its simplicity, engaging the audience, highlighting a few items (kitchen shears) that he ended up giving away later, as if by coincidence - well, if you paid the limited availability rate for the real product (the scarcity technique!!!) you got the shears as a gift. It was like watching a theatre performance. Seriously, fascinating.

Now if he had only seeded the audience with a confederate those people would have been putty in his hands.

As for me there was no temptation. A little Jer lives in my brain now, and whenever I'm in a spot like that I picture him slowly shaking his head and saying, "You bought what? Tsk. Tsk."

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Mumford & Sons - The Cave

If you can't see the video embedded in this post, click here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Watching Biggest Loser, Drinking a Chocolate Shake

I just made the best WW smoothie. Two frozen strawberries, 1 cup of lowfat milk, a small scoop of ice, a banana, and the WW chocolate smoothie dry mix.

Yeah. It's the little things.

You take the good you take the bad

Small victories -- is "achievements" a better word choice? -- pave the way for larger victories. Fair? Fair. So at the risk of jeopardizing future victories I have some initial thoughts on this whole writing thing based on what I have accomplished lately.

#1 My focus muscle is not strong. I am easily distracted.

#2 I have a repetition problem. When I'm not concentrating I can write sentences just fine. When I'm trying to sound literate, I end up with lots of similar starting and boring sentences. I spend the bulk of my time rewriting to introduce variety.

#3 I am slow. It is frustrating how little I produce.

These are the big things that frustrate me. So how do victories factor in? Well, a lot of what I'm doing sucks but I do it anyway. It's true I'm slow. It's true sometimes I'd rather sort laundry than stare at the laptop another minute. It's true I write things like "She sits. He stands. He walks away. She sighs." And then I hit the delete key and wipe it out of existence.

My wee victory I will celebrate with you today is... persistence. The short piece I'm writing now I have been working on for years. Years. And yesterday I had a couple of major breakthroughs with it. It's not perfect and it's not done, but it is better than it was this time last week. And if I keep going there's a chance it will be even better next week.

The only thing for sure is if I quit the story won't get any better. And I will have wasted a lot of effort and time.

So future Christy, good luck to you today. Break a leg and finish the damn thing already.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

"What happened to you?"

On Friday, I rode two buses and a monorail to meet Jer downtown for a few drinks with his coworkers. We left when the karaoke started, but aside from getting inappropriately hit on by two different guys (with Jer sitting next to me), it was a good evening.

"For the love of God," I responded, "I'm wearing FLANNEL!"

Apparently flannel is like catnip to drunk dudes in Seattle.

Since then I've been sabotaging my diet for reasons I don't totally understand. Possibly because part of me thinks that would never have happened if I still weighed 20 more pounds. It's not the most apt comparison, but on Celebrity Fit Club I remember Kelly LeBrock (woman in red) said something similar I will paraphrase from memory. Excess weight protected her from unwanted attention from men. It became a literal safety blanket. And it was a real issue she had to face before she could commit to the program.

When she said that I thought it was all kinds of stupid because I didn't factor in the mental side of weight loss, at least for myself. The mind games, the thought traps, the self-sabotage. It's physical, I said. You put down the fork. You move more. Gimme a break.

Though I tell myself those drunk dudes weren't worth it and it was a fluke and I'm being too sensitive, there still is the very real issue that I've been skipping the gym and eating poorly and not tracking.

It's amazing what sticks with you. I was a cute, somewhat skinny kid up until third grade when I put on some weight. In sixth grade I made an effort to lose the weight, mostly by not eating. In seventh grade, a kid named Marvin bumped into me at the bicycle racks.

"I remember you in second grade Mr. Coop's class," he said. "You were so skinny. What happened to you?"

I've never consciously struggled with my size for any length of time because I am capable of large quantities of self-delusion. And it was always more important to me to be perceived as smart and capable instead of pretty and thin. But I won't lie to you. Words a 13 year old boy tossed off without even thinking are stuck in my brain 20 years later.

"What happened to you?"

Small, insidious moments shape you. Make you what you are. I don't believe I can have lasting change until I face it, deal with it, and let go. But first I have to admit it.

People say stupid things all the time. I am the queen of saying stupid things. It's your choice whether or not to let it affect you. I get that. So for the category of "Things boys-I-don't-know have said about my physical appearance" I need to admit that my shell thins out there and work harder to build it back up. Maybe invest in some repair work, like persistent positive self-talk. Or a new pair of jeans.

And hey, if I've said something stupid to you -- if I know you in real life the chances are good -- I sure can't take it back, but I hope you can make peace with it eventually. The words weren't launched as a weapon; I'm sorry if they struck true.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Return of the Drizzle

The pork and beans recipe I mentioned in the last post was only okay. I don't think I'll make it again; it just wasn't flavorful enough. I like the idea of it though, so I'll keep an eye out for another version.

If you have a favorite, let me know.

We've had some fantastic weather in Seattle this week. Bright blue skies and chilly most days. Then this morning the gray returned to drape everything like a cozy old coat.

I love this place.

I've been working on posting more photos to my stock photography account. You can click the image below to check it out:

Stock photography by Christy+Varonfakis+Johnson at Alamy

I posted another 10 photos yesterday. The number should be a lot bigger, but every bit helps. I'll get there.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Recent Recipes I Tried and Liked

It's time to sum up some of the recipes I've been trying.

Jer's favorite was Skinny Slow Cooked Pernil from This is a slow cooker recipe that yields quite a bit of shredded pork. I added more seasonings than the recipe called for when I shredded it - some cajun spice and garlic pepper and I increased the crushed garlic because I love garlic. Overall, the cut of meat was fairly inexpensive - $5 I think. The steps were easy and low in fat. The first night I served the pork with a side of Zatarain's Red Beans and Rice from the box, and some steamed vegetables.

I used the leftovers to make another of Gina's Skinny Recipes, Cuban Sandwich Quesadillas. I liked those. Jer said he only really tasted the mustard and pickle. Then the next night I used the pork as filling in enchiladas. I don't have a specific recipe for that.

From Cook's Illustrated Cover & Bake I made a Potato and Egg with Bacon and Cheddar casserole. Recipe is posted here. I served that at our D&D group and it was a big hit. As a bonus, it's gluten-free.

Tomorrow I'm making another "Cover & Bake" recipe that happens to be gluten-free: Country Style Pork with Beans and Sausage. Sounds good and it's another slow cooker one. Just need to start soaking the beans the night before.

Speaking of cookbooks, I was irritated I bought some WW cookbooks right before the plan change so the points values are out-of-date now. Instead of wallowing, I searched the WW site to see if any updates existed. Voila! For at least 2 of the 4 I have, you can download a PDF with updated PointsPlus values. The details are on the WW product info page.

Still a pain to write in all the new points, but better than tossing the book or using the Recipe Builder in eTools to do the conversion myself.