Kith and Kin

hair, clothes, and kitchen
redolent with roasted spices
cooking deep into the night
with children and husband asleep
this much unchanged, untranslated

I stand over the pan, stirring
low and slow, singing to amuse
myself — haste would destroy
the spell of memory, consanguinity

coriander cumin fennel fenugreek
in order of decreasing amount
cinnamon cloves cardamom
curry leaves and chili powder

if I have to look up the ingredients
every time, am I insufficiently
authentic? eventually, I will grind
knowledge into my bones

Ammama, could you have guessed
your granddaughter would live
half a world away, would structure
love so differently, would pass your
recipes to a thousand strangers?

in the old days, recipes were hoarded
like gold bangles; a dowry locked
in your mind could not be stolen
now I give them away, scatter them
like kisses on the networked seas

I suspect it would frighten you,
what a daughter might give away
might lose forever. yet perhaps
the world is changing. a woman
may give herself away, undiminished

trust me. what the seas carried
away, they will return; your children’s
children are with you
though at times unrecognizable

bend down your head and breathe
deep, roasting scents tangled in my hair
see — you know me still. some things
come back to you, a thousandfold

Maram Puerto Rico Fundraiser

Belatedly, I have finally gotten up the photos from the Maram Arts fundraiser for Puerto Rico last winter.  Thanks again to all the artists who brought their talents and energy out on a cold night, and to the audience and donors for the silent auction and online fundraiser.  Together, we raised $2000 for Puerto Rico disaster relief!

Maram is a new Oak Park arts collective, and all are welcome to join; Maram means ‘tree’ in Tamil.  Our next Maram event will be in February at L!ve Cafe, date still TBD.  We’re thinking a ‘love’ theme for Valentine’s Day, with proceeds to go to Brown Elephant, which supports LGBT health services.  Possibly in combination with a clothing swap sometime that week!  If you’re interested in performing with us (it’d be a short 3-minute piece, and we’re looking for writers, singers, musicians, comedians, etc.), please drop me a line, and/or join the FB group for Maram, where we’ll shortly be hashing out the date and other logistics:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1426018354109158/

Artists pictured:  Oryana Quintero, Amanda Daly, Molly Sackler, Maya Kuper, Toni Nealie, Anjali Karia, and Maui Jones.  Not pictured (how I missed them, I don’t know) but also awesome:  Christy Bonstell & Andy Carey, Allison Baxter, Angeli Primlani, and Kat Tanaka Okopnik.  Thanks again, and thanks as well to my co-host, Alexius Cruz O’Malley, Christopher Pence for publicity work, and to L!VE Café and Creative Space for donating the space!

                              

Kith and Kin

hair, clothes, and kitchen
redolent with roasted spices
cooking deep into the night
with children and husband asleep
this much unchanged, untranslated

I stand over the pan, stirring
low and slow, singing to amuse
myself — haste would destroy
the spell of memory, consanguinity

coriander cumin fennel fenugreek
in order of decreasing amount
cinnamon cloves cardamom
curry leaves and chili powder

if I have to look up the ingredients
every time, am I insufficiently
authentic? eventually, I will grind
knowledge into my bones

Ammama, could you have guessed
your granddaughter would live
half a world away, would structure
love so differently, would pass your
recipes to a thousand strangers?

in the old days, recipes were hoarded
like gold bangles; a dowry locked
in your mind could not be stolen
now I give them away, scatter them
like kisses on the networked seas

I suspect it would frighten you,
what a daughter might give away
might lose forever. yet perhaps
the world is changing. a woman
may give herself away, undiminished

trust me. what the seas carried
away, they will return; your children’s
children are with you
though at times unrecognizable

bend down your head and breathe
deep, roasting scents tangled in my hair
see — you know me still. some things
come back to you, a thousandfold

 

Patreon

I’d like to take a moment to thank my patrons. I just got my year-end statement: 2017 Net Earnings: $1,723.69.
 
That’s about four short stories’ worth of pro-level payment, looked at one way, and attendance at 3-4 conventions, or a new laptop, or quite a few hours of Chris’s assistance, looked at another. In other words, y’all make it a lot easier for me to do what I most want to do — write! So thank you.
 
In 2018, the main things I’m adding to Patreon so far are the mainstream novel draft and the memoir draft that I’ll be releasing. The cookbook club continues, since apparently I am not close to done developing recipes, even if the draft of the second book is done. And there are reprints of short stories and poems, along with the occasional textile or other art post. And in a month or so, the garden will kick into high gear again…
 
Hope you’re all getting good value out of the daily Patreon, and if there’s anything else you’re particularly looking to see, do let me know!

Aziz

The #metoo conversation, at least the parts I’ve seen, has often forgotten to call out the general power dynamic, which is, I think critical, and what makes the difference between ‘bad sex / poor communication all around’ and ‘coercion.’

Think of the black man driving, pulled over by a white cop. How careful he must be to keep his hands on the wheel, to note that he is reaching into the glove compartment for his registration, or into a back pocket for his license. A white man pulled over, or even me, doesn’t have that extra level of ‘must try not to get shot in this interaction’ as background terror. It’s not fun for me to get pulled over by a cop, but the worst I’m worrying about is a big fine. This is why in academia, we say that racism is prejudice + institutionalized power. We live in a racist system, and that extra weight presses down far more heavily on some of us than others.

Similarly, I have had bad sex with both women and men. I have failed to communicate with both women and men. I have, perhaps, even been pushy or not-paying-attention with both women and men. But while my partner can rightly call me out for that kind of thing, and while I might even owe them an apology for my boorish behavior, the most they have to worry about is that I will yell at them or cause a scene.

Even if I were far stronger and more skilled at fighting than I am — I could, in theory, be a highly-trained martial artist — history and culture show that turning down women for sex is unlikely to result in grievous bodily harm. Whereas we all know that turning women turning down men may well result in those men escalating the situation, that those women’s bodies may be in real danger of rape or injury or death. We live in a sexist system, and when a woman is trying to say no to sex, she has to push back against the entire system, not just the man she’s talking to.

Given that, it’s incumbent on us to be aware, and to take extra care. When I walk across campus, I find myself smiling extra broadly at the women in hijab, because I know that in their daily interactions, even on a college campus, they are more likely to get people pushing against them, questioning their right to be there. When good white cops pull over black men in the course of their normal duties, I hope that they take extra care to be pleasant and reassuring, to defuse the tension of the situation, as they discuss just how many miles over the speed limit the driver was going.

And if you’re a man, on a date with a woman, and sexytimes appear to be on the table, I hope you’re aware that if she’s feeling uncertain about things, if she changes her mind partway through, that it is going to be very hard for her to say no to you, to say no to the entire weight of the culture. And it’s incumbent on you, if you like to think of yourself as a good person, to make sure that she is enthusiastically consenting to everything you do together. You may not be intending to pressure her, but intent is not the same as effect. Every gesture you make towards sex has additional weight piled behind it by our cultural expectations. Sometimes it can feel like a battering ram.

A final note to the insecure geeky boys and men, many of whom I have loved. I know that for many of you, sex can be similarly fraught. That after years or decades of feeling like no woman would be interested in you, when one finally is, there may be a temptation to clutch on as hard as you can, to lock this down before she can change her mind and get away. Breathe through it. You don’t really want a woman you’ve coerced into bed; you could pay a prostitute if all you wanted was sex. You want a woman who likes you, and who is happy to be there in that bed with you. If you slow things down and check in with her, you are far more likely to get what you actually want out of the sexual interaction.

One of the saddest things about the Aziz Ansari interaction (which was, I have to say, very poorly reported by Babe Magazine, in a sensationalist and deeply frustrating way), was that I’m pretty sure that if he had slowed down and talked to her a little more at a few points during the evening, they might well have had terrific, enthusiastic sex that they could have both walked away happy from. And sure, she could have been clearer, she could have communicated better too. But the weight of the patriarchy is heavy on our necks, pressing us down.

Booked

I have finally done the family photobooks for 2016, 2017, and our anniversary party. It literally took all day, and I am a little drained now. I was assuring myself that I would be happy to have them eventually, or my children or grandchildren would.
 
Of course, I didn’t caption any of them, so future scions will have to just puzzle out who everyone is. Jed has been enmeshed in a massive ancestor photo-labeling project for the last few years, so I am wincing a little bit for the descendants. Sorry! I just could not. Putting the photos in order and making sure no one’s head was chopped off was as much as I could manage. And I won’t even swear I managed that.
 
It was, I have to say, particularly lovely doing the 25th anniversary party one, which I saved for last. So wonderful seeing all of the beautiful faces of friends and family again, and remembering what an deep delight it was, having them join us for the celebration. Thanks again to Paul Goyette for doing such a fabulous job immortalizing everyone!

Patreon Update

Quick Patreon note — starting this week, I’m going to be sending out two draft books of mine — Arbitrary Passions, a memoir, and The Arrangement, a mainstream lit. novel. They’ll go out scene by scene — the novel on Sundays and the memoir on Mondays. Would love any feedback on either, of course, but I think they’re pretty enjoyable reads as is. If you read in sequence as they come out, eventually you’ll have read both entire books. These two will be locked to patrons at $1 / month; the rest of the posts will be visible to the public, per usual.
 
The overall Patreon schedule is:
 
Sun: novel excerpts in sequence
Mon: memoir excerpts in sequence
Tues: gardening
Wed: fiction in progress
Thurs: recipe
Fri: short story or poem
Sat: textile

Chicken Curry / Kozhi Kari

(1 hour, serves 6)

Continuing in the project of accustoming my children to Sri Lankan food, I made chicken curry last night, which is one of the classic dishes that you will find at many local restaurants.  I reduced the chili powder from my standard two tablespoons to just one, and that was the only change my daughter needed to be perfectly happy with the dish.  Hooray!  My son, sadly, thought it ‘tasted weird.’  We ended up supplementing his dinner with chicken nuggets out of the freezer.  (Standard recipe below.)

I suspect I will just have to keep making the curry, and keep having him taste it, until Anand is actually accustomed to it.  I should have undoubtedly started this process years and years ago, but better late than never, I suppose.  One of our goals for this year is to actually get the whole family eating the same dinner more often, which should, in the long run, make our lives a lot easier.

One thing worth noting in these photos is the color change from the second to third photo.  A key to a good chicken curry is having a tasty kulambu (or kuzhambu, depending on how you do the transliteration), which is basically the curry sauce or gravy.  Some people make it more liquid, some more thick (if you use potatoes in this dish, they will thicken the sauce).  In this recipe you build a fairly spicy sauce, and then add whole milk partway through the cooking process, which melds the flavors and mellows the spice level, lending your curry a creamy richness.

You can use other kinds of milk if you’d prefer, and in fact, coconut milk is often used in Sri Lanka, but coconut milk is a little rich for everyday cooking — my family tends to save it for special occasion meals.  I’ve used goat milk (works fine) and soy milk (a little thin, but acceptable).  Almond milk is quite thin, and has a distinct nutty flavor — it’s not bad, but it does take the curry in a different direction; if you can find cashew milk, that might be a better option.

Note:  If you’re using coconut milk, which is fairly sweet, you may want to switch out the ketchup for chopped fresh tomatoes + a little vinegar.  My mother started using ketchup (which has sugar in it already) to compensate for the lack of sweetness in cow’s milk, when she first came to America as an immigrant in 1973, and coconuts and coconut milk were not so easy to come by.

3-5 medium onions, diced
3 TBL vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
3 whole cloves
3 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
1-2 TBL red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
12 pieces chicken, about 2 1/2 lbs, skinned and trimmed of fat. (Use legs and thighs — debone them if you must, but they’ll be tastier if cooked on the bone. Don’t use breast meat — it’s not nearly as tasty.) (Alternately, use 6 pieces of chicken, and three russet potatoes, peeled and cubed)
1/3 cup ketchup
1 heaping tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 TBL lime juice

1. In a large pot, sauté onions in oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seed, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon pieces, until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook one minute. Immediately add curry powder, chicken, ketchup, and salt.

2.  Lower heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick, about 20 minutes. Add water if necessary to avoid scorching. Add potatoes if using, and add milk, to thicken and mellow spice level; stir until well blended.

3.  Cook an additional 20 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through. Add lime juice; simmer a few additional minutes, stirring. Serve hot.

MLK

On this MLK day, recommitting to my postcolonial SF novel, which centers on race and revolution, among other things. It is not the only way I plan to fight for justice this 2018, but I think it would be one of the best things I could do, finishing and publishing this book. We’ll see.

The semester starts tomorrow, and I spent much of the last few weeks resting after the holidays and also churning through e-mail and to-do lists and household organizing projects. I have a few more of those to knock off this week before I’m actually content with the state of my desk and office, but I’ve made really good progress and I’m very close to inbox zero and a sustainable environment for work.

Which means, it’s time to dive into the novel again. I’ve also been avoiding it a little, out of fear of getting it wrong. The first 30K words are very solid, but I’m heading into the murky middle, which I’m afraid is where I tend to go badly awry. But the only way out is through, so head down. Back to work.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” — Dr. Martin Luther King