Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

As you know, one of my favorite genres is a memoir from a female comedy writer. It’s like hanging out with a really funny best girlfriend all weekend. Is it weird that I artificially fabricate this experience through reading? Maybe. I don’t care. I read Mindy Kaling’s first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? during a frantic “pleasure reading” phase I went through between the time I submitted my dissertation and the time I graduated.

This time, I am realizing (perhaps late) that Kaling writes, plays, (and maybe is?) just one character. But, like Jack Nicholson and James Franco (maybe I’ve only seen his stoner films?), nobody cares because it’s such a good character. The Office’s Kelly Kapoor, The Mindy Project’s Mindy Lahiri, and the identity Kaling develops in both of her books are all basically the same person. She’s a myopic, worst/best basic bitch kind of person, and it’s hilarious. She’s always simultaneously doing great commentary on gender and femininity. She describes the persona best: “Mindy is…a combination of Carrie Bradshaw and Eric Cartman” (75).

image from books.google.com

Here’s the take away of Why Not Me: First, you will want to eat McDonalds. And yes, there is some filler content. All of these books have filler. Like, okay, I’ll read a script that’s not going anywhere and a commencement speech that you gave. And, yes, the book was probably written by a ghost writer (but that ghost writer does a great job maintaining Kaling’s voice throughout!) And regardless, Kaling writes some grade-A jokes for these books, and even inspires her reader a bit toward the end. I was thinking, “Hey, yeah, why not me?!” Then, laced up my running shoes and achieved my dreams.

Here are some of the lines I loved:

Real Talk

  • “I’m skrilla flush with that dollah-dollah-bill-y’all” (4). This is the single best description of me on payday.
  • “[T]he gulf between a friend and a best friend is enormous and profound” (27).
  • On breakups: “So, the only decent way for him to have broken up with you is to not break up with you and stay with you forever” (39).
  • “As someone who enjoys secrets, exclusivity, and elitism…” (40).
  • People don’t say “Give me your honest opinion” because they want an honest opinion. They say it because it’s rude to say “Please tell me I’m amazing” (125).
  • “[R]ecycling makes America look poor” (139).
  • “[H]ard work must be rewarded with soul-replenishing gossip” (139).
  • “I have a terrible habit of impulsively sending text messages that reveal my true feelings” (140-41).

On Body Image

  • “One of the great things about women’s magazines is that they accept that drinking water and sitting quietly will make your breasts huge and lips plump up to the size of two bratwursts” (10).
  • “I cannot imagine a life more boring and a more time-consuming obsession than being preoccupied with watching what I eat” (194).
  • “But my secret is: even though I wish I could be thin, I don’t wish for it I don’t wish for it with all my heart. with all my heart. Because my is reserved for way more important things” (202).

I want to say some more about the body image stuff. So, I can work to get the sick body, the one with that weird vein between your lower ab and hipbone, but it does require me to think about what I’m eating and get regular exercise. It takes time and mental energy–time and mental energy I’m not always willing to give. Take graduate school, for example. I knew I would take four years and focus my energy on learning. And, so I didn’t think much about what I ate, and I taught and practiced yoga several times a week. I gained weight. I felt fine. This lasted four years.

Now, I can focus more time and energy on my body. Most people I know who pour 100% into looking good look great, but aren’t very interesting to talk to. Additionally, I simply have the kind of brain that requires me to spend time thinking about the meaninglessness of life and experiencing existential angst. I simply can’t/don’t want to transfer that energy into diet and exercise. I liked when Kaling wrote, “I don’t wish for it I don’t wish for it with all my heart. with all my heart” (202), and I think that’s a healthy approach. Anyway, I certainly haven’t found a balance, and I sort of don’t think a balance is possible (for women), and that sucks…is the way I’m going to end this post.

pumpkin, flax & walnut muffins

For the past few months, I’ve been throwing away and donating clothes and household items that I no longer use. I’m beginning a new era of my life, and so suddenly a lot of things feel like garbage. While this is a normal process to go through every year or two, there was a certain frantic emotional energy to my process—like a “Hey, shit that I don’t want, get the fuck out of my life” kind of energy. And I’m not done yet either.

In this process, I also reorganized this kitchen cupboards. Which is where I found an enormous can of pumpkin puree. Bygone plans for making a pumpkin pie a few years back, I guess. The can was nearly expired (sounds delicious, doesn’t it?!), and so I decided to make pumpkin muffins, which I’d never done before. And, I’m not going to lie. I don’t love pumpkin. Or squash or sweet potatoes, but I took one look at that can of pumpkin puree, and my body said yes. Maybe it was just saying yes to the Vitamin A. Warning: these muffins turn out sort of…sticky. I used a lot of pumpkin puree (for the Vitamin A). Maybe you want to use less. Maybe you don’t want to make these at all.

I have to make my own recipes because, in a breakfast muffin, I pretty much just want palatable high fat, high fiber, and high protein, with enough gluten (or equivalent) to hold it all together. Other recipes use way too much of sugar and only dollop of the good stuff (walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin, etc.), and so I have to make my own goddamn recipes my own goddamn self.

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pile of decent pumpkin muffins

Here’s what I did:

Pumpkin, Flax & Walnut Muffins
Preheat oven at 350. Mix together dryish ingredients. Mix wet ingredients separately. Then, combine the two. Lastly, fold in walnuts ingredients. Spoon dough into muffin tin. Bake at 350 for about 25+ minutes or until done. (Insert and remove toothpick. Muffins are done when the toothpick comes out clean.) Let cool for 15 min. This recipe made about 16 large muffins, weighing in at something like 212 calories apiece.

Dry ingredients:
1½  cup gluten-free flour blend
1½  cup oats
1 cup shredded flax
¼ cup flax seeds
1 teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon of fine sea salt
Lightly sprinkle in ground ginger and ground cloves, cardamom, ginger, and nutmeg to taste.

Wet ingredients:
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 large egg
½ cup sugar
½ cup of brown sugar
½ cup vegetable oil or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chunky ingredients:
1½ cups walnuts

Enjoy!

Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

I recently became re-inspired to ferment something. This happened once, a few years ago, when I tried and failed to make a crock of sauerkraut. I love homemade sauerkraut (my Mom can make it effortlessly). It’s supposed to be the easiest thing to ferment in the history of fermentation (maybe with the exception of fruit ciders). This time around, as I was reading about sauerkraut, I realized what I did wrong the first time: I kept the crock too cold. Last time, I put it directly into the basement to forget about for a few months. My basement isn’t freezing cold, but I guess it stays pretty cool–too cool for adequate fermentation. Months later, it was just a salty muck, and I threw it out.

This time around, as I was studying fermentation, I read accounts of Germans keeping crocks of sauerkraut by the stove. People said they kept crocks in their kitchens, etc., where it was warmer, and then placed them in a cooler location once the sauerkraut reached it’s idea flavor. So, I tried again.

This time, I kept the container (I’m using a glass jar) in the kitchen, and within a day, it was a frothy and bubbly. Recipes said it could be ready in as few as three days, and it’s true! Within three days, I had sauerkraut. I fully intend to keep it in the kitchen until the flavor it just right. When it’s good, I’ll refrigerate it for easy access.

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second attempt at sauerkraut

While researching fermentation, one book kept reappearing and that was Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. So, I got a (very well used loved) copy from the library and read it in one day. The author’s enthusiasm for fermentation is contagious. I like fermentation as much as the next guy, but this book pumped me up even more. The first few chapters provide some good history and context for fermentation. There’s also some nice philosophical musing throughout regarding the divine and omnipresent nature of microscopic organisms like yeast.

The recipes in the book are artfully crafted. I intended to skim through the recipe section (which is the body of the book), but I ended up reading most of the recipes anyway. The book sold me on the value of regularly consuming fermented food and the value of fermenting that food myself. (I didn’t really have to be persuaded.) Here are a few foods with recipes from the book that seem good and completely doable: sauerkraut, honey wine, yogurt, cheese, kefir, buttermilk (and it’s pancakes), sourdough bread, rye bread, cider, apple cider vinegar, horseradish sauce, and yes, even kombucha.

I’m from Oregon, and I know it’s a cliché that everyone in the Pacific Northwest is always fermenting everything, but it’s true! I grew up with a mother who pickled and fermented foods regularly. It’s the way of my people.

The Revenant by Alejandro González Iñárritu

I got to see The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, over the weekend because Leonardo DiCaprio and Iñárritu. I started seeing previews for it last fall and knew immediately that I wanted to see it…because Leonardo DiCaprio and Iñárritu. I’ll watch DiCaprio do anything. He gets a hard time from my male peers because the women in their lives made them watch Titanic (which is a great film, by the way), and they targeted their anger at DiCaprio. He became their nemesis, and they’ve overlooked all his work since then. However, while DiCaprio is beautiful, his work as an actor absolutely stands the test of time.

The Revenant (2015) Poster

image from imdb.com

DiCaprio does depth in The Revenant, but the role doesn’t particularly call for range or complexity. He might finally get the Oscar for this one, but it will be one of those that *are on behalf of his entire body of work* because he’s done plenty of roles that were absolutely Oscar-worthy. (From DiCaprio, you can always expect a shriek (his are singularly evocative), and they don’t make you wait for it in this film.)

The Revenant is beautiful. It’s shot only with natural light. The landscapes are breathtaking. Iñárritu frequently includes long clips of running water, scan birds flying through the sky, or unset through the black silouette of a forest–the kind of stuff I would Instagram. In that way, he has a tendency toward over romanticization and daydream and, in this case, it didn’t always fit the grittiness and realness of the film.

I thought Iñárritu’s Birdman was really interesting in that it broke convention, but still felt like an Aronofky film to me. Similarly, The Revenant does not break convention. If you know and love great mountain man films, like Jeremiah Johnson, you’ll notice pretty typical “mountain man tropes” from start to end. The film follows a pretty typical “mountain man movie” trope.

Here’s somewhat of a

***spoiler alert***

In the film, you get a stoic man, completely competent in hunting, fire building, and surviving for months on end in high mountain blizzards. His only drive is to avenge the death of his Indian wife and children–all senselessly murdered in cold blood, of course. He eats buffalo. He contents with wolves and a grizzly. He navigates seemlessly between the friendly and the hostile Natives. He speaks several Native languages. He survives a blizzard inside the carcass of a large dead animal. He stumbles through cold mountain streams. Audiences can’t believe he’s still alive. Audiences marvel at how quickly they themselves would be dead in similar circumstances. In the beginning, the man is stripped bare, by the end it goes unimaginably further. In the end we are all wondering, what now? What was it all for?

The Revenant is relentless. Some of it’s most difficult scenes are seem to never end. Despite it’s length, the film held my attention. I wasn’t dying for it to end. I was engaged throughout. This one’s worth seeing in the theater if just for the magnificent and enormous shots of landscape.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Oddly (or appropriately) enough, an ex-boyfriend recommended Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I like his work from Parks and Recreation, so I finally got around to reading it over the Christmas break. This is probably a useful read for anyone who didn’t settle down in their early twenties–which, at this point, is most of us. In my early twenties, I was getting all the degrees, forging deep friendships, and yes, “dating,” as well as staying in a few serious relationships. Mostly, I was writing and making art. I was not pursuing marriage.

image from amazon.com

I do not look back on the dating eras with any fondness. So, it was validating to read Ansari’s take on modern dating. In his book, he uses a very soft social science approach and couples it with his good humor. Pairing stand up with social science and commentary is actually pretty amusing, if not hard hitting. Oh, and when you’re reading it, feel free to skim through large swatches of some of the repetitive stuff through the middle.

Ansari’s parents are Indian and, like most Indian couples, have an arranged marriage. Like many people in arranged marriages, they report being very happy. Of course, on the contrary, in the US, we’re all looking for soul mates and have relatively low levels of happiness in marriage. Ansari’s exposure to both US and Indian cultural attitudes toward marriage gives him an interesting perspective.

Here are some of the main take aways from the book: technology has expanded our options for coupling, which means we have the potential to find a better match, but it also means we’re paralyzed by options; we’re not great at intellectualizing what we actually want in a partner (i.e. we think we know what we want, but we’re often wrong); the vast majority of men and women pretty much dislike dating and just want the relationship.

This last one was a surprise to me. I mean, I hate dating, sure. But, I would hate dating. I’m an introvert, which means I don’t love going out all the time. I don’t *love* people, which means I don’t particularly love meeting new people. I’m very sensitive, which means the sizing up, and the texting, and the strangers, and the whole process tends to be a bit too soul-violating for my constitution. And so in the end, when it comes to dating, I’m very much just like, “Forget it. Everyone please fuck off.”

But then, eventually, you find your person who gets it and gets you, and it’s all worth it. Until then, it sucks, and it surprised me that most other people also think it sucks. Before reading this book, I thought most people were out there playing the field, meeting new people, and having a great time doing the things I typically don’t enjoy doing. Evidently, most other people don’t enjoy it either.

Here are a few gems from the book:

On previous generations: “People were marrying neighbors who lived on the same street, in the same neighborhood, and even in the same building” (14).

Things have changed: “Until they got married…women were pretty much stuck at home under fairly strict adult supervision and lacked basic adult autonomy…For women in this era, it seemed that marriage was the easiest way of acquiring the basic freedoms of adulthood” (18).

On the prevalence of FOMI (fear of missing out): “…what I see at bars today, which is usually a bunch of people staring at their phones trying to find someone or something more exciting than where they are” (27).

On the influence of technology: “That’s the thing about the internet: It doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea [emphasis mine] that there is a best thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it” (125).

This and most other social interactions: “I started to despise the bar scene. I had experienced every single version of these nights. I knew all the possible outcomes, and I knew the probabilities of those outcomes” (210).

On passionate vs. companionate love: “Passionate love always spikes early, then fades away, while companionate love is less intense but grows over time…It is love, just less intense and more stable. There is still passion, but it’s balanced with trust, stability, and an understanding of each other’s flaws” (215).

This basically sums it up: “We want a lifelong wingman/wingwoman who completes us and can handle the truth, to mix metaphors from three different Tom Cruise movies” (239).

knitting scarves and headbands in basket weave

This year I made a few headbands and scarves to give away as Christmas gifts. I’ve done this before, but this year there’s a marked improvement in the quality if my stitching. I’m using better yarn (wool and wool blends) and experimenting with different stitches. This year, I learned the basket weave stitch, which is featured here.

For the basket weave, you cast on the number of stitches that you want. (It has to be a number that is divisible by four.) Then you knit four, purl four, knit four until you’ve reached the end of the row. You turn it over, and you repeat: knit four, purl four until you’ve reached the end of the row. In each new row, you’re actually knitting and purling the opposite of what you stitched in the previous row. Repeat this knit/purl pattern for four rows, and then reverse it. Purl four, then knit four until the end of your row. Continue switching it every four rows until you’ve reached the end to create the basket weave texture.

The end result should look something like this:

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basket weave

For my first attempt, I made a scarf that had about seven inches of basket weave on both ends and regular knit stitch for the rest of the scarf. I didn’t love the way it turned out. In addition to the ends, I think continuing the basket weave stitch along the sides of the scarf would’ve created more continuity throughout the piece. So, I’ll continue to experiment with that.

Here’s a picture of the first attempt that paired basket weave paired with a regular knit stitch:

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scarf and headband with Patons Classic Wool (worsted) in Dark Grey Mix

What I think really turned out well was the scarf done entirely in basket weave. For it, I used Patons Classic Wool worsted in Jade Heather and US 7 (bamboo) knitting needles. I made a headband first, and then used the remainder of the skein on the scarf (which could’ve been longer).

Here’s a picture of the scarf and headband that I liked the best:

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scarf and headband in Patons Classic Wool (worsted) in Jade Heather

For the headband, I cast on 16 stitches, and then proceeded with the basket weave until it fit snugly around my head. Then, I cast off and stitched up the ends of the headband with the loose ends of the yarn and tied it off with a simple knot.

For the scarf, I cast on 32 stitches (and this width was absolutely perfect). I then proceeded with the basket weave until casting off at the end of my skein.

I’ll definitely continue with the basket weave. Once you get the hang of it, you can do it pretty mindlessly (while watching tv, road tripping, etc.), and the end result creates a lot of nice texture and depth.

August: Osage County by John Wells

Let me start by quoting Cam from Modern Family, who astutely observed the following: “Excuse me, Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice.” And I agree.

I watched this during a movie night with my mom. She was working on her art, and I was knitting, and we made the mistake of watching it after Terms of Endearment, which is perfection and nothing else can be said about it.

image from amazon.com

Netflix then suggested we watch August: Osage County directed by John Wells. This film has good acting all over the place. Each member of the stunning ensemble cast absolutely shines–as you would expect. Except there are so many other problems with the film that I started to marvel that the actors could pull off these impossible scenes.

So, first: melodrama. This film is melodrama. Midway through the film, Meryl Streep is running wildly through a hay field, chased by her reticent daughter (Julia Roberts), and the audience is just sort of embarrassed, and tired, and no longer buying in (even though we wanted to! even though we love Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts!). The scene where they’re running through the field and the very long, après funeral dinner scene are so over the top that there’s no recovering. The melodrama might go over better on stage.

That said, the film does deal with compelling emotional content and succeeds at pairing emotional content to characters, but struggles with putting those emotions to plot and story. The film deals with powerful stuff: struggles with addiction, unhealthy boundaries, and loving and withholding. With more subtlety, this film could have been spectacular.

 

Trumbo by Jay Roach

At this point I’ll watch Bryan Cranston do anything, which is why I went when I had a chance to see him in Trumbo, directed by Jay Roach. Diane Lane is always exquisite, and Louis CK’s in it too!

image from imdb.com

This film felt long. It’s about two hours and fifteen minutes. It took me awhile to warm up to the characters. I’m a big Louis CK fan, but it took me awhile to buy him in a dramatic role. (He gets there, don’t worry.) Though the whole film felt somewhat rigid at first, it does warm up and pick up so that it is not dragging at the end. While I left the film feeling satisfied, I still think it could’ve been edited more aggressively.

Politically, the “red scare,” and McCarthyism is a fascinating and disturbing (and ongoing?) part of US history. It doesn’t take much to engage me on the topic. Yet, I had a hard time getting into this film. That said, it is worth watching. Because it picks up. Because it’s beautiful. Because it rises to something interesting and important.

Now, let me break it down. First, the smoke. These people are smoking constantly, and the cinematographer is having some fun with it. There are these glorious shots of white smoke swirly slowly and intricately around people’s faces. There’s a smoke shot toward the end that is absolutely over the top. Thick white smoke swirls through each grain of thick, gray mustache hair, and it’s both repulsive and lovely and artful.

And on that note, I’ll also talk about Bryan Cranston’s physicality—something I think he’s understood for his entire acting career. (I first noticed it in his Malcolm in the Middle days). He, more than anyone, knows the power of an ordinary middle-aged man wearing tighty whiteys, and he’s not afraid to use it.

Finally, the design. This was L.A. in the 1940s and 1950s. Every couch, every glass of water, and every earring is on point. I was busy watching the design elements while I waited for characters to develop and the plot to pick up, and that was more than enough to keep me satisfied.

Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny

I subscribe to Vogue, and I do so for the fabric and the writing. I’ve read a few great books based on their recommendations. Unfortunately, Single, Carefree, Mellow is not one of their great recommendations, and it serves as a reminder that, while Vogue has some great writers on their staff, the book mentions in Vogue probably have less to do with their keen eye, and more to do with commercial demands.

image from amazon.com

I sympathize though because Single, Carefree, Mellow is probably what would happened if I set out to write a popular, commercial, plot-driven novel about single women. In fact, I’m sure it’s much better than anything I could muster. Still, it’s bad.

First, the writing: much of the description does nothing to move the plot forward or deepen meaning or character. It seems to only serve the purpose of “my writing teacher said good writing has lots of description so I’ll add some here.”

Next, the themes: these characters are weirdly detached and casual about cheating, destroying marriages, and are either morally corrupt *in uninteresting ways* or disconnected from their real wants and desires *in uninteresting ways*.

To be fair, lately I have been really sensitive to moral corruption. The last few years have been so tumultuous for me that I have craved security, stability, and people who are who they say they are–people who are straightforward about their motives. As a result, my tolerance for books and shows that delve into vapid characters, driven by quick and easy gratification, is at it’s lowest.

The Orgy by Muriel Rukeyser

It took me months to finish The Orgy: An Irish Journey of Passion and Transformation by Muriel Rukeyser, and I have to start by saying this: for a book with “orgy” in the title, there is actually very little sex. If you read the book, you’ll think that was funny because this is not a sexy book. This is capital “L” Literature. You know–a thinking piece.

image from books.google.com

A well-respected friend recommended it to me, and I tried and tried, and it never really took off, and that’s because it’s not a book that “takes off.” It’s poetry. I mean, it’s prose, but it’s basically poetry in terms of accessibility, sound, rhythm, and so forth. (Rukeyser explains here.)

For several months, both The Orgy and Thich Nhất Hanh’s How to Love* lie prone in my living room . I’d forget about them, and visitors would come over and raise their eyebrows at the display. Now I find it amusing, but at the time, I remember feeling embarrassed. The titles convey two really different messages. And, in hindsight, not entirely unrelated to my summer. (There were no orgies! Sheesh!)

As for Rukeyser, the book was meaningful in the sentences, but not so much the big picture. The book is about the author’s (semi-autobiographical) journey to the Puck Fair for one of the last pagan festivals of it’s kind. That kind of premise holds so much intrigue for me. I was hopeful for deep description and weird plot points and characters. But nope. It’s not really that kind of book.

Instead, we are gifted with subtle sentence level gems and an overall sense, but nothing concrete, as is the way of good capital “L” Literature, and that’s fine. It’s fine. IT’S JUST THAT I THINK WE WERE ALL EXPECTING A BIT MORE IN THE ORGY DEPARTMENT.

Here are a few lines for continued consideration:

On walking through shit: “I thought, joy and release is it! and put my foot down slowly, gained an inch, and slipped” (69).

“[T]he book compared peace with monogamy” (91).

On the infant cry: “It is the most profound and powerful force in nature” (102).

“Though they may kill, killing is not their aim…” (103).

“verbal arabesques” (114).

“Nicholas began to relax; it was as if he remembered his whole life, and unwound” (115).

I’ll just end by saying that it really gives there toward the end. Stay with it, if only for the poem entitled “The Balls of the Goat.”

*Thich Nhất Hanh’s critically acclaimed, and I really liked his Be Free Where You Are, and wrote about it here, but he’s phoning it in on How to Love, so there will be no blog post on that one.