Parrying frustration and anger

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I held onto that teenage hardcore-cynicism phase waaaaay too long, so just reading about this a few years ago would have made my eyes roll right out of their sockets. But here I am now, advocating the stuff of self-help books. Suck it, old me. I *like* being happy.

I am trying a new thing wherein when I am frustrated by or angry at someone I try to think of another someone with whom I am pleased and I let them know about it. I may need to let the offender know, too, but as soon as that is done (or maybe even beforehand, if I am in real danger of throwing my phone out my car window on the highway) I find a positive outlet.

Example:

We recently found out (by way of a State Trooper and not, say, an informational flyer) that Matt needs to have a Common Carrier Permit to haul gravel to his job sites in his dump truck. OK, whatever, another permit, yay. We fill out the paperwork, we scan it, we send it in with a special form from the insurance company. When it’s reviewed and accepted it’s time to pay. It’s not a cheap permit, so I double check that we have sufficient funds in the business account before I try to pay. (Sometimes I don’t look at the calendar for a few days and get blindsided by a mammoth automatic withdrawal from the fuel card company.) I log in and try to pay. It says it worked and it gives me a confirmation code. Five minutes later I get a text from Matt that says he just got an email that the payment failed. I try another card that withdraws from the same account. It tells me it worked – Matt gets an email that it failed. The next day I try again. Same thing. Then a fuel bill *does* come so I wait for a check from the mill before trying again. (At this point the permit’s been suspended because we haven’t paid. Matt can’t rebuild his customer’s driveway on schedule. Yay.) I give it one more try. It fails. I call the state and ask why the payment isn’t working. They tell me that my bank is declining the transaction. I call my bank. My bank says that *no* transactions have even been *attempted* from the third party payment site. None. Scathing email time. Someone replies “oh I looked into this and I see you were trying to use a debit card and we don’t take those thanks.” Excusemewhat? Out of sheer curiosity and a deep desire not to have to mail a fucking check I try the only other payment on the site: ACH. I type in the routing number for my bank and the number of the account those two rejected cards were linked to and BAM! This time it not only works, but I am not charged a service fee. Five minutes later there’s an automatically generated email saying our permit is reinstated. I spend the rest of the day trading very nasty emails with the person who finally got around to telling me that their payment partner doesn’t accept the #1 most widely accepted form of payment in the universe. Finally, they accept that I am, as I have repeatedly stated, not holding them personally accountable for a shitty system and assure me that they will tell someone who *is* responsible that their system fucking sucks.

The problem is solved, but I am still seething. I have wasted hours over the course of weeks when someone at the sitebuilding level could have included the 4 words “debit cards not accepted.” Or one of those rejection emails could have mentioned it. Or, hey – here’s a thought – maybe they could upgrade their card processing system to one made in the 21st century, where any debit card with a MasterCard or Visa logo can be run as a credit card.

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I have gone off, but I still want to go Office Space.

But I don’t.

Instead, I try to think of someone or something that *doesn’t* make me want to brain a printer with a baseball bat.

I go to Tumblr, where I waste the majority of every morning, and I send a bunch of anonymous notes to bloggers I love. I tell one that I admire their snark in the face of adversity. I tell another that I just followed their Instagram and it is *goals*. I tell another that I am proud of their recent personal accomplishment.

I feel so much better all of the sudden that I can hardly even remember being pissed off. It’s not euphoria and I don’t believe in catharsis, but I feel quite nice now. Instead of taking my $30 Canon printer out back and wailing on it with the bat we keep by the bed, I start a new home improvement project. Not only do I still have an all-in-one printer/scanner/photocopier, but the fresh paint on the hallway doors makes them look brand new.

I’m going to make a habit of this. When someone tries to ruin my day I’m going to try to make someone else’s. Why pay garbage forward? Drop it like the turd that it is. I’m gonna take what they’re throwing at me and use it as a step stool to get out of this emotional hole they’re trying to bury me in.

Apparently this is how I am manifesting my new daily affirmation to “release negative feelings.” By dropping metaphorical turds. Lol.

— Amanda

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How I do it

how-i-did-itI had a request over on Tumblr (Hi, Toadleeah!), where I spend most of my Internet time, asking me about my publishing process. I don’t know that I have any original insights, but seeing as how I am on the cusp of releasing book #2 into the wild I can’t shut up about publishing anyway, so I may as well feign productivity by writing up a big ‘ol blog post.

***DISCLAIMER I KNOW ALL COMMENTERS WILL IGNORE BUT WHICH IS HERE FOR ME TO REFERENCE WHEN PEOPLE GET UP IN THE COMMENTS LIKE ‘THAT’S NOT RIGHT’ OR ‘THAT’S NOT HOW SO-AND-SO-DOES IT’ or ‘THAT’S NOT HOW I DO IT’: No, it’s not how so-and-so does it or how you do it, and I’m not saying it’s the right way. I’m simply saying this is how I have done it. I’m not even saying this is how I’ll do book #3.***

That out of the way, let’s begin. At the beginning, I suppose.

WRITING

I can’t tell you how to do this part. I have hard time with it, myself.

EDITING/PROOFREADING

Print on demand publishing houses offer editing packages. I have no idea what they cost. I have, on average, $0 to invest in my writing, so I do the editing myself. Does this show in the final product? Yes. It’s too soon to be saying this since Ghost Stories isn’t on shelves yet and I haven’t actually put Ellipsis in its grave, but when I finished Ellipsis I thought I had created a fucking masterpiece. One year later I was mortified by what I had written. My proofreading and line editing skills are apparently pretty darn good: there were no grammar or spelling errors to be found. My substantive editing: ARRRRGH. (I am already turning blue holding my breath over whether or not I have repeated my heavy-handed mistakes in a whole new genre with Ghost Stories, but only time will allow me the perspective to tell.)

Beta readers are a valuable resource for the starving writer type. They are free, monetarily speaking, but you must pay for them in time. You need to start advertising your need months before you are actually ready for them because no one is ever ready for you when you need them. I consistently fail at this and as a consequence I have just the neighbor girl and my husband as beta readers.

Where do you find them? 1) Put the word out on social media. 2) There is a forum on the NaNoWriMo site just for this. There are also whole sites devoted to critiquing and receiving critiques, such as Scribophile. Generally, unless you have a captive audience (a family member, for instance) it is polite (or, on many sites, required) that you return the favor and critique the work of your beta reader(s) as well.

PUBLISHING

I can’t tell you anything about traditional publishing. I can’t tell you about vanity presses (the old model of independent publishing in which a run of several hundred or several thousand books were printed by a small publisher and paid for up front by the author for the author to distribute and market on their own). All I have ever used is print on demand.

There are a lot of print on demand companies and I cannot tell you which one is right for you. It depends on what you need or want. They don’t all offer audio books or ebooks or hardcover. Some are better than others for comic books and art books. Some have restrictions on which print sizes they will help you distribute or market. Some have better royalties than others. And everyone is always changing their rules and offers, so you’ll just have to roll up your sleeves and Google till your fingers fall off.

My first time around I went with CreateSpace. I was not starry-eyed about Amazon (the owner of CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing), but I know people who buy everything (and I mean EVERYTHING, including their toilet paper) from Amazon (admittedly these people are shut-ins). Other selling points at the time included the purported ease of use and the automatic listing on Amazon and Kindle. (The distribution package I opted for also allowed me to submit my first book to other online book retailers like Barnes & Noble).

It was, by my standards, pretty easy. But keep in mind that I also singlehandedly do two business’ state and federal taxes, insurance, and licensing from my living room and I used to manage several multi-million dollar public works construction projects (before spectacularly burning out), so what I find doable with a spreadsheet and a cup of coffee may not jibe with what you find doable. However, we do all this on the Internet, and there are shitloads of people offering good advice about how to manage the many technical hurdles involved in self publishing. (I would like to add, though, that in my experience in the forums on CreateSpace about 50% of respondents are pretentious fucking assholes and want to be damn sure you are aware of their utter superiority.)

Another consideration is your ISBN. Generally, you have three options: 1) No ISBN. Not all print on demand publishers offer this option. If you go this route you can sell your books through the publisher’s website and your own website but they will not be accepted by libraries or bookstores. This is a good option for short run, special-interest stuff like family histories, personal photo books, and community/club cook books. 2) Buy your own. They are cheapest in packs of 10 from the issuer, Bowker, but as that price is currently a whopping $295 it’s out of my price range. 3) Get an ISBN through your publisher. Sometimes this is free, sometimes it is not. When it is not, expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $125 for a single ISBN. ($125 is the current going rate for a single ISBN from Bowker. Sometimes the free ISBN comes with restrictions, such as fewer distribution options or loss of the ability to make up your own publisher name for the information page in the front matter of your book.

FORMATTING AND COVER DESIGN

In keeping with my life’s theme of being both cheap and poor, I do everything with free software (with the exception of a heavily discounted copy of Scrivener – thank you NaNoWriMo!). The final manuscript is formatted in OpenOffice Writer and I make my own covers in GIMP. These, again, are things that the printer can do for you, for a price. Not everyone is going to have 12 uninterrupted hours to fiddle with margins and page styles like I do. (Not kidding about 12 hours there, but book #2 only took like 3 nonconsecutive hours, so it gets better!)

Publishers offer a free cover builder on their websites, but if you aren’t careful your results will not look remotely professional. I have but two tips on this subject, because design is very subjective. 1) Only scholarly publications, research papers, and text books can get away with having an image inset into a field of solid color. I don’t know why. I just know it to be true. If I see this format without a Ph.D. behind the author’s name or without a fancy-assed title like “Ontological Gerrymandering of Eschatological Ecumenicism in 13th Century Rome” I recoil as if I have been slapped across the face. 2) DO NOT USE THE FONT CALLED HOBO. I prefer to call it “Hobo Spider” because it is just as dangerous. If you decide to use this font please DM me your address and a bus ticket to your home town so that I can beat you to death with your manuscript. Go to your local library’s website and browse the documentaries. Notice how all the ones with their title in Hobo are conspiracy theories? 2b) I would also urge to to please not use Papyrus unless you have, in fact, gone back in time to the 90s to write a book about your favorite pharaoh.

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Be sure that your cover fonts are free for commercial use. If you are using fonts that your publisher did not provide, look into their licensing. Just because it came with the computer program you’re using doesn’t mean you can use it on a product you will profit from. When in doubt, download fonts from a website that clearly states that they are free for commercial use or buy a license to use them for commercial purposes. On both of my books so far I have gotten my cover fonts from 1001fonts.com. (Be sure to check the little button that looks like a price tag, which will restrict your search results to fonts that are free for commercial use.)

I design my own covers using a free program I can just barely maneuver in, called GIMP. (Thank dog for YouTube tutorials or I would still be weeping about layers.) This is one of the very few areas of publishing on which I spend money, because I purchase cover art. I pore over stock photo sites until I find just what I want. The cover photo for Ellipsis was just fucking enormous and also landscape-oriented, so I was able to center the center-line of the highway on the front cover and still have plenty of image left over to wrap around the spine and back cover. It cost me $20 and that license allowed me to make up to 500,000 impressions and edit the artwork however I liked. Not fucking bad.

ellipsis cover

CreateSpace’s template includes a no-go space you need to keep clear so that they can insert the ISBN block for you.

ghost stories cover

Lulu gives you an ISBN block for you to copy and paste. Ghost Stories has purchased art on the front cover only. The back cover is a simple gradient.

CreateSpace, after I uploaded the PDF of my text block, gave me a template that I was able (with the help of a really great tutorial) to use as a layer in GIMP so that I could arrange all my elements (art, text, ISBN) to be right where they needed to be. Lulu, the service that I’m using this time, gave me a list of parameters and measurements in three different graphic design measuring systems, from which I was able to construct my own effective (though less WYSIWYG) template.

DISTRIBUTION AND MARKETING

Here is where I suck the mostest. I am not outgoing or confident so I have trouble schilling my stuff. To an extent, your publisher can help you with this. Most offer expanded distribution for free or a small fee (around $50 in my experience). This gets your book automatically listed on (or made eligible for you to manually list it on) Amazon and other online retailers.

Some publishers also offer an option that will make your book available to libraries. But this does not mean that it will magically appear on library shelves the way it magically appears on Amazon. A librarian has to read the description of your book in a book broker’s or wholesaler’s list (my library system uses B&T) and feel moved to spend (in the case of my library system) taxpayer money to buy (or rent, in the case of some B&T books) a copy or copies. If you really want to see it on the shelves of your local library you should call or scour their website for a more direct option. In my system, they will accept a free copy of any local author’s book and will put it in the system after someone reads and approves it.

A similar scheme is necessary to get into brick and mortar shops. Independent bookstores are just as picky as libraries about what they’ll order from the wholesaler and some are very very leery of people toting armloads of books that they paid to have printed. However, several of the bigger indies in my area have a local author promo in which, for a fee of $50 and your promise to bring donuts, they will let you have an in-store event (a book signing and/or reading) at which they will let you sell your books if you give them a cut. If you don’t bomb they may be convinced to consign some copies for you.

Get a website and/or a blog. Learn some SEO. Tweet about your book using preexisting hashtags. Get some business cards printed up and hand them out shamelessly to anyone dumb enough to respond “that so?” when you mention that you have a book coming out. (They will NOT remember the title without your business card!) Go to “local author” events (neighborhood bookstores and libraries have these or you can Google other local indie authors and make your own). Politely badger other indies to trade interviews on their blogs or podcasts or whatever.

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This is what my business cards for Ellipsis looked like. They had my name, the name of the book, where to get it, how to contact me, and even the cover art. I designed them myself using a cheap online printer.

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The business cards for Ghost Stories are vertical and have all the contact info on the back. This time the emphasis is on the book and not me.

Questions? Please ask!

— Amanda

The dark specter of Barbecue Man returns

grill-931878_1280The first time I moved out of my parents’ house I moved in with a couple of equally ill-equipped girls I’d known since elementary school in the dismal trailer they were renting in what I now see was a really lovely (quiet, well-kept) trailer park one zipcode from where we were all raised. None of us could balance a checkbook, cook, or hold a job for more than a few months at time time, so it was a failed experiment from the get-go.

(There’s a whole book in that wild, fun, desperate, grotesque, coming-of-age summer, but there’s half a dozen other projects already in the queue and I might need a lawyer before I can publish it.)

We had contact with only one neighbor in the trailer park because most everyone kept to themselves. (I told you it was a lovely place.) Our neighbor to the north was a large man who barbecued three meals a day. Breakfast: barbecue. Lunch: barbecue. Dinner: barbecue. We didn’t actually talk to the guy so we never knew if he was a barbecue connoisseur or if maybe his stove and/or microwave were broken and this was his sole means of cooking.

Barbecue Man, as we cleverly called him, had a wife, Mrs. Barbecue Man, whose face we never saw because the only times she stepped outside it was to position herself in a plastic lounge chair with one of those folding aluminum sun reflectors hiding her face. (This remains the only time in my life I have seen one of those things IRL.)

Barbecue Man had two means of communicating with us: 1) Screaming “Fucking lesbians!” out his window if we made too much noise during the day and 2) calling the park manager at 10:00 pm exactly if we were still making too much noise at 10:00 pm exactly. (And, of course, we gathered around a clock and ramped up the noise-making until it was at a fever pitch at 9:59 pm, at which point we could see his silhouette lumbering to the phone, and we promptly ceased all audible activity at 10:00 pm precisely – even going so far at one point as to flip our own breaker after a particularly high-energy bout of lightswitch flipping and screaming with three stereo systems pegged to 10.) The second method, too, was followed by a cry of “Fucking lesbians!”

(I hope he knows not a one of us was even a little bit upset by being referred to as a lesbian, and also that he was wrong to assume that three single girls with two cats and a parrot were lesbians just because we never had any boys over.)

That was 16 years ago now.

A few days ago I was listening to the clatter and bang and hiss and cussing of the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls next door firing up his barbecue for a late breakfast when it dawned on me (after 10 years living next to that asshole) this is the only other person I have ever encountered who barbecues breakfast. While the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls doesn’t barbecue every meal every day he does barbecue about half of all meals and, again, is the only other person I have ever seen barbecue breakfast when there is not a power outage.

I ran out to where Matt was welding and asked him. What if. WHAT IF?!?!?!

“It’s possible,” said Matt.

I explained about the wife with the reflectors and how she bore no resemblance (based on body shape and pitch of voice) to the wife the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls had when we moved in next door to him out here ten years ago.

“He’s on his fourth wife,” said Matt.

It’s not impossible. It is in fact, totally possible. What if, guys? WHAT IF. We’re not looking at a whole book here, of course, but this bizarre coincidence could at least make up one short story chapter in a book I have on a back burner.

Though geographically large, this county I have lived in my whole life is not densely populated and is, figuratively, a very small world. Matt and I were friends for years before discovering that our mothers had been friends in their childhood in their tiny hometown, that my mother had dated his uncle in their teens, that our mothers’ first husbands had owned a business together, that his best friend was the guy I complained about from my first job. A friend of ours at the restaurant where we met logged with Matt’s grandfather, machined with my grandfather, and trimmed and tied the crown roasts of beef that my mother used to order for Christmas dinner. I could go on for hours; everyone knows everyone somehow.

It will be a while before we can know, though, if this guy is indeed that guy. There (thankfully) aren’t many unfortunate moments in which the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls heaves himself over to the fence to attempt to bond with Matt using unchecked negativity and racism (Dude assumes that anyone who looks a little like him must share all his disgusting sentiments and he is perpetually shocked that we don’t want to deport the Mexicans across the street, that we don’t want to evict people who can’t afford to keep up their houses to his standards, that we didn’t want to assassinate Obama, that we don’t regret getting married, and that, no, we really weren’t joking about not being Christian.) and he hasn’t tried to talk to me since that time he jeered at me in a singsongy voice “Does Matt know you’re using his tools?” and I snarled back “They’re my fucking tools.”

But rest assured, readers, the next time I see them engaged in verbal combat I will text Matt urgently to find a way to ask if the asshole ever lived in Marysville next to some obnoxious teenage lesbians.

— Amanda

Doctor’s (marching) orders

womxns-march-fotor-1Exposition

I typed up notes for this post in a flurry of activity after I got home from the Womxn’s March and then decided not to finish and post it. Enough has been said on this topic, I thought. But then I said it out loud, finger poised to click “delete post” and I thought, as though someone else had spoken, “Are you fucking crazy?” So here it is: the gajillionth take on the Womxn’s March. My hot take: A) I was in Seattle and B) I was marching for women who aren’t much like me.

Also, I was there at the behest of my doctor.

Let me back up. My mom and I see the same doctor. We also have both been laid low by anxiety and creeping dread (and out-of-control emotional eating) due to the election. We have lost friends, stopped talking to relatives (in my case), and (in Mom’s case) stopped attending a once-vital club, all due to Trump and his spiteful minions.

Mom told our doctor about her feelings of helplessness and sadness at a recent visit and she prescribed activism. She said that taking action would help in a way that pills would not. She said that she and her husband and a group of friends were going to the Womxn’s March in Seattle and that we should come.

So we did.

We took advantage of the fact that most of  our neuroses are sort of like puzzle pieces (I can’t drive on the freeway, Mom can’t drive in Seattle – she has no problem with the freeway, I have no problem with Seattle) and worked around the ones we share (neither of us can drive in the dark, so we stayed overnight).

Still, we were both nervous. But being there together we were able to pretend that it was excited-nervous and not shit-imma-puke-nervous. (Or at least I did. Maybe Mom wasn’t faking. She’s a lot tougher than me. At some point during the march she told me that it wasn’t her first – she and my dad had marched for union rights a few years back and there had been police snipers on the rooftops!)

Stewart? What the fuck, Amanda. You’re on Jackson. In the International District. Where you used to work seven years ago?

The skyline and my mom (center, pink hat).

A post shared by Amanda Sterling Fink (@sterlingfink) on

White Feminism

But this was all we had to overcome: nerves. Not even full-blown clinical anxiety. (And I’ve been there. There was a time when I was having a panic attack a week while medicated. Now I haven’t had one in a year and it’s been five or more since I was weaned off my medication.) But other women were prevented by much bigger blocks: disability, inflexible jobs, lack of child care, or disapproving significant others. I decided to deal with my low-level anxiety and march for them. This mindset, in fact, was crucial in getting me over my nervousness.

When current events feel overwhelming and personal and the fear and confusion make me dizzy I try to remember that this is what it is like every day for women of color, indigenous women, disabled women, trans women, gay women. This is new for me but daily life for them. And I get angry on their behalf. I channel the anger into phone calls, emails, research, and tweets.

It took me a long time to come around to feminism in the first place (because like most people I had been lied to about it all my life) and after that to figure out what “white feminism” is. White feminism isn’t feminism at all. Feminism is an equality movement. It is named for the party that is being repressed in exactly the way that Black Lives Matter is. OF COURSE ALL LIVES MATTER THAT IS IN FACT OUR POINT. But in practice they do not matter equally and both feminism and Black Lives Matter work to address the inequalities.

White feminism is “feminism” that excludes non-white, non-straight, and or non-cis women. White feminism is just as bad as the GOP party line because it says “issues that have never personally affected me aren’t problems and should be ignored.” I do not believe that just because I, a straight white cis woman, have never experienced discrimination due to the color of my skin, my sexuality, or my gender identity, that it doesn’t happen to other people. When other people tell me that bad things are happening to them I do not respond “Well, they’re not happening to me, so you must be lying.” I respond “That fucking sucks, what can I do to help you?”

If your feminism isn’t for all women then it isn’t for any woman but you – and that isn’t feminism at all.

If you are white and a feminist (as opposed to a white feminist) here’s what you can do: you can use your privilege for good. In fact, I feel that I have a responsibility to do so. If I am closer to the goal I will claw and scrabble to get it and then happily hand it around.

As the amazing lady feral said on her tumblr “I also know that once all of these police-hand-shaking white ladies finish taking their cute activism selfies and put their pink pussy hats away in their keepsake boxes, they’ll pat themselves on the back and then they WILL leave the rest of us hanging. Maybe literally. They will retreat into the relative safety that being white and cis and straight gives them and leave trans women and disabled folks and black women and queers and nonbinary folks and sex workers out here flapping in the fucking breeze.”

I don’t want to be that asshole. I don’t want that on my conscience.

Next time there’s a smaller rally, maybe one that will have counter-protesters and more cops, I will do my damndest to figure out a way to attend. (I used to be a genius at bus schedules – I didn’t drive until I was almost 20) and I will use my whiteness and cisgender as a shield and march with women who need to be heard.

Something I cannot repeat enough is that back in the day the majority of white people thought that the civil rights marches and demonstrations like lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Riders were unnecessary, disruptive, and/or counterproductive and should be stopped. Now, of course, those same people claim that they were supporters all along. They may even believe that they were. I want to be on the right side of history from the get-go, thanks. I don’t want people of the future trawling through the archives of this blog and my Twitter and tsk-tsk-ing at my hypocrisy.

Getting Emotional

This was a very peaceful demonstration, and catered heavily to white women, but it was still a good start for me and a lot of other women who had never marched for anything in our lives. Though I knew this was sort of Activism Lite I still felt empowered because there were so fucking many of us (the latest crowd estimate I heard was 130,000 and only 50,000 were originally expected) and I still felt solidarity because there were women marching on all seven continents (yes, Antarctica, too) and in tiny little cities where a march of fifteen people made up 23% of the population.

Indigenous women led us (specifically Indigenous Women Rise) and I will follow them to hell because they are stalwart in the face of injustices I cannot fathom.

I didn’t cry until approximately halfway through the route, just after we had turned onto 4th Ave. I looked up at the classy Prefontaine Building, the monolithic Columbia Center, and the absurdly phallic Municipal Tower and I got a lump in my throat and my eyes burned. I was suddenly overcome by the sensation that our 130,000 person march was at least one short. I knew that my late mother-in-law would absolutely have been there next to me, had she been alive to attend. She would have had the loudest outfit, the biggest sign. She would have hooted and hollered and brought a mob with her from the Cascade foothills in a convoy of minivans. She would have thrown glitter on everyone who marched and thrown kisses at everyone who waved at us and flown the bird at the three (count ’em three, just three) counter-protesters.

 

What I Learned

This is physical work. I smiled the whole time (excepting the five minutes I choked back tears about my mother-in-law), but Jesus, it hurt. The route was just 3.6 miles, a length neither my mother nor I thought excessive – but because we were packed in like sardines we could not take normal steps. We shuffled. I took probably four tiny little mincing steps for every one stride I would have taken when walking anywhere else. We began our exit from the starting point, Judkins Park, at 11:00 am and we didn’t hit asphalt until 1:30 pm. And the whole time we shuffled. I wasn’t able to take a normal-length stride until somewhere on Jackson Street. And at that point I had been moving abnormally for so long that the muscles in my thighs and hips were clenched tight and shuffling was all I was capable of. I had walked 3.6 miles but I felt like I had taken 10 miles worth of steps – but in miniature. My legs didn’t really work right for the next two days. I had to get a new pair of jeans when I got home because the shuffling, combined with my rather generous thighs, rubbed right through the crotch of the jeans I wore to the march.

This was easy. (I know, I know, I just said this was hard. It can be both.) This was a sanctioned march on an approved route, fully permitted. There were portable restrooms every few blocks. The police officers who lined the route were mostly parking enforcement officers. Most intersections had just one officer each, just there to keep people from trying to drive up side streets and into the march. They leaned on their cars. They waved. The scene was dramatically different than the impromptu, non-permitted protests we saw the night before from our hotel window. There were a dozen cops per block, the protesters wore black, not pink, and most of them ran. There was a shooting on the UW campus, for fuck’s sake.

Liquid antacid is hard to find. They didn’t have it at WinCo or the IGA. I had to go to a proper pharmacy. (Liquid antacid containing aluminum hydroxide or magnesium hydroxide, mixed with water, is recommended for washing pepper spray out of your eyes.) I didn’t need it, but I wanted to have it on hand because if I (or someone else) needed it we weren’t going to want to wait for someone to run to a pharmacy.

130,000 people wearing Gore-Tex are very loud even when they are trying to be quiet.

— Amanda

P.S. I didn’t know where else to squeeze this in, so here, have a picture of a doggy that smiled for the camera when we were assembling in the park.

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P.P.S. I moderate my comments, motherfuckers. Nobody but support is gonna see your hate.

Silver Peak Photography

I mentioned in an earlier post, I have started a second Tumblr blog for my photography. I sold my motorcycle to buy a DSLR because I love to take pictures but I am extremely frustrated by my inability to make photos look like what I’m seeing (*exasperated noises*). There’s a learning curve, of course, but I am already leaps and bounds closer to accomplishing that. I have no plans to go pro because 1) every single woman I know except my mother is a professional photographer so 1a) the market is saturated and 1b) I am uncomfortable trying to compete with my friends and 2) I don’t take pictures of people and that’s where the money is (weddings and portraits). There’s a lot less call for and money in landscape photography. Maybe someday I’ll try my hand at selling images on stock photography websites, but in the meantime I just like to take pictures of stuff.

I call my photography blog Silver Peak Photography because Silver Peak is the name of the fictionalized version of my adopted hometown (and, by extension, the fictional universe) in which my novels take place. Silver Peak is an archetypal Pacific Northwestern small town and what I’m shooting for (ha!) with my photography is the archetypal Pacific Northwestern small town aesthetic. I like to take pictures of beautiful things and interesting things and inexplicable things but there’s a balance of beautiful and ugly in the perfect rural photo. My best example thus far:

img_0221_fotorBeautiful light, lush greenery . . . shitloads of packed-down litter. The yin-yang of the rural: 50% National Park-like gorgeous scenery, 50% human ugliness.

Anyway, here’s some more of my stuff. If you like it you can see more at Silver Peak Photography.

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A foreclosed house soon to be burned down by the fire department. I think I took this the first day I had my camera, which explains the blown-out sky, although it’s a hard thing to avoid in the Pacific Northwestern autumn.

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Dewy lichen on an alder branch. One of the first halfway decent pictures I took with my new camera.

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One of a startling number of deer rib cages newbie hunters (or maybe poachers) left on the wrong side of the gates on DNR roads around my house this year. (Fun fact: this particular rib cage was just outside the shot in the top photo of the litter and blackberries. I would have loved to have them both in the same shot but I would have had to work myself twenty feet deep into another thicket, so . . . )

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There’s several of these signs around a property on the road to town.

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This is the best picture I have yet taken of this listing mailbox station (yes, I have shot this thing like ten times). I cannot seem to capture the lean and twist and fragility. The pictures make it look far more level and rigid than it really is. At least this one has nice light.

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A flag on the back of a classic log truck in town.

— Amanda

My favorite lamb meatballs

img_0492_fotorOnce upon a time I wanted some nice tender lamb meatballs for dinner but I couldn’t decide which of the four recipes in my big bad recipe binder to use. So I pulled them all out and listed the ingredients I liked and left out what I didn’t. I doubled up on what I really liked and managed to forget to list an egg while I was at it. I mixed those ingredients up and baked them up and fucking loved them. (Even without the egg.)

img_0487_fotorTIPS: 1) do not use a mixer or food processor to combine the ingredients. The meatballs will be tough instead of tender. 2) I use a 2 tablespoon disher (like a giant melon baller crossed with an ice cream scoop) to portion out my meatballs so that they are uniform and then roll them between my hands so that they are round.

My favorite lamb meatballs

  • Servings: 4 normal people, 2 gluttons
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced onion
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchement paper.
  2. Combine all ingredients by hand. Shape into balls the size of a golf ball. Place 1-2″ apart on prepared baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes.

I like to serve these with The New York Times’ Rice Pilaf with Golden Raisins and a little dish of plain yogurt – or yogurt with a minced clove of garlic mixed in – and a mixed greens salad with a tart vinaigrette.

— Amanda

Write what you didn’t know you knew

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Used with no permission what-so-never! ©Andrews McMeel Universal

This is not an original sentiment, but it has been needling me lately, so I’m going to let it out.

“Write what you know” is misunderstood. People think that means that they can only write literally about their limited sphere of experience: that if they have never left America they can’t write about world-traveling spies. But I don’t think it refers to technical aspects. I think it refers to themes and relationships. I doubt George Lucas had personal experience with telekinetic space knights, but he did seem to know a thing or two about hope. I don’t think J.K. Rowling actually attended a secret wizarding school, but she does seem to have insider information on the importance of friendship and perseverance.

What do you know about? Woodworking? Bureaucracy? Ceramics? That’s nice, but it’s inessential. You can research those things. You can understand them pretty well without experiencing them. And you can freely invent space ships and elves – you don’t have to experience them at all.

So what else do you know know? What have you experienced or witnessed that you can really expound upon, that can be your theme? Poverty? Betrayal? Second chances? I know about being eccentric, about learning to improve oneself the hard way, about making mistakes, about being wracked by anxiety, about surviving depression. These are things I can dig into and live in for a whole book. I can say much more interesting things about these themes than I could by rattling off my technical knowledge of the behind scenes work of building public parks or even the sounds and smells of beekeeping.

What have you done in your life? (Or what has been done to you?) Look at your resume, think back over your life. Maybe you haven’t had a sweeping romance or a brush with crime or a death in the family. Maybe all you’ve had is a job at McDonald’s. Dude, you can still use that. Transform the people around you. The night shift manager that magically motivates everyone to give a damn in the face of the unending onslaught of drunk and otherwise shitty customers? That person can be your Gandalf, your Dumbledore, your Obi-wan. The petty little shit who shifts blame and weasels out of work and thinks they’re too good? That’s your book’s Draco Malfoy. Walter Mitty your life. (I don’t mean you should fall in with spies – I mean your should recast the people around you into fantasies.)

Do the same to your experiences and relationships. Remember that time you were mistaken for a local celebrity or wanted criminal? It’s a funny anecdote now, but really remember it. Remember the thrill? The terror? Remember imagining how cool (or burdensome) it would be to be that weather guy for real? Remember wondering how you were going to get out of going to jail when your phone and wallet were locked in your car so you couldn’t prove you weren’t the robber? That’s at least enough for a short story. Transform your close bond with your dog into a boy and his dragon or a girl and her assassin-bot. Fictionalize that comedy of errors from last year’s drunken thanksgiving into a Medieval farce. Get pretend space revenge on an alien version of that boss who sabotaged you to keep you from getting promoted.

You can research or invent places and technology and worlds and customs and just about everything. But Wikipedia can’t grant you substantive, nuanced insight into the human condition. You have to be like Star Trek’s Data: consult the ship’s computer whenever you can and for the rest of it – the interactions, the feelings, the relationships – you just have to throw yourself in and live.

— Amanda