Hugo House in Seattle, a writing center. They’ve recently moved into a large, gorgeous space, with a theatre and everything, with the help of masses of funding partners. How much would I love to have something like this in Oak Park? Sigh.
I’ve just ordered a big 12-month wall calendar, because it was starting to feel overwhelming trying to keep track of everything with GCal alone. The shared family GCal is working well for us in most respects, but it makes it hard to see things over the course of the year.
I’m hoping having this up on the wall where the kids can see it too will help with planning Sunday dinners (and giving them something to look forward to), letting them know when Mommy or Daddy is going out of town for work (and when we’re coming back), and helping us all make sure that there’s enough family time and vacation time in the calendar too, something that we lost track of a bit last year, to our sorrow.
Kev and I also spent a while talking about just how much book launch travel I want to do this year. It’s not easy to figure out, honestly — even aside from budget questions, there’s time, esp. working around my teaching schedule.
But I do hope we can make a Seattle trip possible — Nora Gause was a huge help in figuring out where I might want to come back and do events, and I’m hoping we can do something at Capitol Cider, where she and I met for a fun evening of drinks (so many cider options!). We’re talking about devising a little Sri Lankan menu for the chefs there, so we can offer an event with food and drink.
Not positive what kind of event, exactly — I don’t know a ton of Sri Lankan writers in the area or anything. But will brainstorm. Maybe something with sci fi folks? It’s not the most natural pairing, but I do know a lot of SF people in the area. Hmm… A sci-fi event, but one that ends up featuring me, The Stars Change, and the Sri Lankan cookbook? Is that too weird?
content note: weight / exercise
As a side note to the long healthy travel post a little ways back, I must admit that I do still fret about appearance and weight too. I almost don’t want to talk about it, because I’ve spent enough time reading through work from the fat acceptance community to know just how much damage these ideas can cause.
And yet, here we are, and one essential component of my job as a writer is, I think, to be as honest as I can. Even if sometimes what I’m saying is problematic, and may even reveal poor thinking.
I’m sitting on a plane right now, and I find it deeply irritating that my momma belly is protruding notably over the seatbelt and onto the bottom of my laptop. I try to love my body, and am glad I was able to use it to help create my two munchkins, but I would be happier without quite so much of this physical residue.
When I packed for the trip, I prioritized comfort and layers most of all (with my thyroid condition, I get hot and cold easily, so layers are key), but I’ve watched enough What Not to Wear to have learned from the fabulous Stacy London that tailored layers that skim the body are the most figure-flattering — by which they mean ‘makes you look as thin and tall as possible’. At 5’0″, tall is not so feasible, and every additional pound is very visible on my frame.
I really don’t stress about it most of the time, even though I’m two sizes bigger than I’d like to be. I try to have fun with my clothes, pick them primarily for style and color and general aesthetics, not for which ones make me look the thinnest. But packing for a trip and choosing a set of clothes brings the frustration and anxieties out.
I’m supposed to make a bunch of cooking videos, promised for the Kickstarter, and I had to really make myself do them.
In the end, I did have some fun with it (it helped SO MUCH having Kavi and Jed and other friends being willing to do the videos with me), but I fretted about my clothes and how thin I looked in them a lot for the first one. And now I have to edit them, and I’m having a hard time making myself look at the raw footage. I may have to pay someone to edit them in the end, just so I don’t have to push through my self-consciousness first, which feels like a ridiculous waste of money, but I have only so much fortitude, people.
And I know, no one really cares but me. Heck — people probably like to buy cookbooks from plump cooks. I look like I love food, right? I do love food. But if I’m going to be writing about food a lot, I think I’m going to have to spend a little time working through how I talk about it, and about my relationship with it.
If I try to cook ‘healthier,’ which is such a fraught and coded word, I need to think about what ‘healthier’ means to me. I’m not a nutritionist, after all. And I’m not immune to the fads and bad food science that sweep through the cultural consciousness, powered by the diet industry.
I’m going to try to mostly keep ‘diet’ talk out of my food writing, I think, in the calorie restriction sense. But I probably will be talking a fair bit in the next year about things like eating whole foods, including protein in meals, adding in more plant-based ingredients. Reducing carbs, perhaps. But also maybe increasing fat? Additional satiety sometimes means you desire to eat less.
I’m very interested in the question of why diets almost never work. What are the contributing factors that lead to that, particularly in terms of social supports for those who are trying to make diet / exercise / lifestyle changes? (Or rather, the pervasive lack of such supports.)
I want to think through how we can, as a culture, learn to have a happier and yes, healthier, relationship with our bodies and our food.
No real conclusions here, just questions and embarrassed admissions. I did go back for seconds at lunch the other day, but picked the salmon and sweet potatoes, instead of the shortcake, because I was trying to make the healthier choice. It was delicious, filling, and kept me going happily through a long afternoon of work.
Pictured: Me taking a selfie in the mercury glass of the hotel elevator, trying to look thin. Sigh.
One of the points raised in this conversation, about teaching South Asia in the academy, is that we think a lot about how to create safe spaces for students, where they can productively think and learn and grow, but we don’t have nearly that kind of attention to the safety of faculty.
Someone asked me after the panel, “Where is the duty of care for us?”
It’s a good question. There are days when I’m exhausted by the topics that come up in class, days when I’m driving home with Kevin and I comment enviously that it must be so much easier not having to deal with any of this in a math class. I chose this work, of course.
And I think it’s incredibly valuable having me, in my brown, queer, female body, standing up in the front of the room, for a variety of reasons. But it’s tiring. I’m tired, people. And there are days when I am not sure I have the emotional fortitude to engage as directly with the material as I would like.
(It’s easier on the page sometimes, but even there, especially if you’re active on social media, it can get vicious and frightening. Ref: Meghan Elison‘s recent essay on the topic, that I posted to my wall a few days ago: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/writing-with-my-keys-between-my-fingers/)
At the end of this panel, I ended up standing up and talking about a few incidents I’ve experienced recently, where hostile students were aggressive enough towards me that I was actually a little worried; I ended up talking to both Kevin and my chair about those incidents, documenting them. I don’t think either will turn into anything, but it was unnerving.
As we discussed in the room, every single professor of color there has experienced similar incidents, and it seemed, unsurprisingly, that the women among us had experienced more of them. It’s gotten worse in the last year or two. America under Trump, I suppose, and an emboldening of background racist ideas that live in people’s subconscious.
We talked about strategies for combating it, and I do think some of it can be lessened with appropriate framing of the class in the first days of the semester. Talking about background racism up front, discussing privilege, defining the terms. I already do a lot of that, but one professor said she gives them handouts at the start of the semester, and perhaps I should add that too, just so there’s something authoritative on paper that they can reference, rather than perhaps half-listening to the words I’m saying. It might help.
I particularly want to call out something helpful Rahul K. Gairola offered. I’d said that I found myself wondering if I’d done something differently in my teaching that led to these incidents (been more blunt, let a little more of my frustration show, perhaps?) — and he said that that while he appreciated my self-reflection, that I shouldn’t give in to gaslighting, or as he called it, gas-white-ing.
If I thought I was suddenly getting a lot more hostility from a few of my students, I probably was. And it almost certainly had nothing to do with anything different I’d done. The world has changed a little since Trump’s election. That’s all.
So now we resist, and come together in community to strategize, to seek and give support. Sometimes to grieve. I’m glad I was able to take the time to attend SALA, to attend this panel. It made me feel a little less alone. I hadn’t even realized how much these incidents had bothered me, until I got up and started talking about them.
Documenting this all here, in the hopes it will help someone else. Onward, to another semester on Monday. I’m teaching postcolonial lit., and writers of color in SF/F. Plenty of fraught material to come.
content note: exercise / healthy food choices
also: request for advice / suggestions
So, I’m planning on traveling a lot in 2020, with constructing the book tour for Feast, along with SF convention work for the SLF. Prioritizing health is surprisingly difficult to manage with this much travel. It’s become clear that at 48, my body isn’t as resilient as it used to be. I get sick much more easily, I gain weight more quickly — just maintaining my base health levels become challenging when I add travel.
That said, I also both need to travel for work, and I love traveling. Seeing new places, visiting far-flung friends and making new ones, eating local food — those are great joys in my life.
I’d honestly love to travel more; if I can figure out a way to become more of a travel & food writer, combining that with everything else I do, I’ll be thrilled. I’m also often startlingly productive with my writing while traveling — I’m writing this on the plane right now, and my agent told me that Diana Gabaldon famously writes constantly in taxis while traveling. I *think* this can all go together, and as the kids get older, I’m hoping I can start taking them along on occasion, and Kevin and Jed too.
So I NEED to find a way to travel in a healthy manner. I submit to you a photo of the available options when I arrived at baggage claim. I was feeling snack-ish, and would have been delighted to eat some of the gorgeous persimmon salad pictured on the cover of the Eating Well magazine I was reading at the time, but none of that on offer for me — chips, chips, and more chips. Chips are tasty, of course, but I can’t argue that they’re healthy options.
Once in a while, I’ll see a Farmer’s Fresh in an airport, but their business model depends on high enough traffic that the salad greens and such can turnover quickly; we looked into getting one for our library, but we don’t have enough volume for them. If I want healthy food in transit, I basically have to plan ahead and bring it with me.
Not easy with fresh greens, but not impossible, with a little strategizing. I’m going to be trying to think a lot about this. I can’t remember who it was told me about an author they knew on book tour who would pack and bring coolers of poached chicken breast with her. I’m not quite that committed, I think, but something to think about.
Some of this is money, of course. If I’m willing and able to spend a little more, I can usually find healthier food choices. Sometimes that means going to a sit-down restaurant instead of grabbing snacks from a vending machine. I’m going to try to prioritize budgeting for that whenever possible, because if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. My dad the doctor used to say that to me, and more and more, it’s clear that’s more true than I’d like it to be.
I had a lot of conversations at this conventions with other writers about health. Cancer really did give me a kick in the pants, you know. That was when I told Kevin that we needed to prioritize budgeting for health going forward. Physical health, mental health.
I can’t remember exactly when it was that Kev and I had our summer of weight lifting (I think before cancer, actually), where we both somehow ended up committing to it fairly seriously, and would go and workout pretty much every day, passing each other on the way to the basement to trade off time on the weights.
A friend complimented my arm muscles earlier today (thanks, Sugi! ), and another told me that I was looking great. I told both of them that it’s all pretty much due to that one summer; it had lasting effects on my body. I didn’t lose pounds, but my body reshaped itself. I dropped two dress sizes, and have basically stayed at that size since, despite not really dieting or exercising steadily.
This is, of course, what all the weight-lifting books and advocates and fitness trainers will tell you — muscle burns more calories, so if you build more muscle, then you can eat more without gaining weight. And once you build it, it tends to stick around, in my experience, unless something like a serious illness lays you out.
I must have done the weight lifting before cancer, maybe the year before? Because I remember, during chemo and its attendant exhaustion, the months laying on the couch, being so frustrated, fretting that all my muscles, all that hard work, would wither away. Thankfully, they didn’t go that fast. And my doctors told me that part of why I handled chemo and surgery and radiation so well was that I was in decent physical shape to begin with.
I’m trying to get back to exercising daily. As I realized recently, I basically stopped exercising last August, when the semester started and I got intensely busy with that and Kickstarter fulfillment. I also, not coincidentally, got sick a lot more last fall than I have in a while — I kept catching colds, one after another, which slowed me down.
It’s hard to make the time to exercise, but if I don’t, I lose at least that much time to sickness, which is even less fun than lifting weights. I actually kind of like lifting weights — it’s just getting myself started again that’s hard. (It’s key that I originally started with a class, and working with a trainer; that gave me the confidence to be able to walk into a weight room and use it without feeling self-conscious, and without worrying that I’d hurt myself. Highly recommended if you’re thinking about starting lifting.)
I have a few sessions left with a personal trainer from last summer; I’m going to schedule them again now, to help myself get started again. If I had the budget, I’d meet with her three times a week; instead, I’m going to rely on tracking again, maybe a workout group or girlfriends or making a deal with Kevin — something to help keep me accountable.
I have a FB group for fitness, actually, Olympians, but it’s been a little quiet lately. Maybe time to start it up again more actively, for myself at least. Make a plan for the semester, a pledge.
Weights at least twice / week, tracking and progressing (I love watching the little numbers climb. “Today I can do 10 deadlifts of 45 pounds. Next week, it’ll be 12. The week after, I’ll bump it to 50 pounds, and drop down to 8 deadlifts, or even 6. And slowly, but steadily, progress.”
Daily cardio of some kind, too, if at all possible. I’m not sure I’m going to manage the cardio today, given travel complexities, but I did go to the hotel gym every day I was here, even when I was feeling tired and a little sick, and I walked around town whenever possible, so I did pretty well overall. And I ALWAYS felt better after exercising. I have to try to remember that.
Maybe I can go to the pool and do some laps tonight, after I get home and see the kids and eat dinner with them. I think the lap lanes are open 9-10 or so. I should check. Hmm… Learning how to swim properly has been a huge boon and a great investment in my long-term health. It took me until age 45 or so, and I still am not quite as confident as I’d like to be, but I’m so much better than I was a few years ago, and swimming is both great exercise and something I can do for the rest of my life.
And then there’s food. A salad daily, if at all possible. Salads rarely excite me as a concept, especially when I’m feeling cold, but I actually usually like them when I’m eating them; I have to try to remember that. I had Asian gingered ground chicken in lettuce wraps at the airport restaurant today, and it was a great choice, tasty and filling, giving me a good boost of energy to carry me through working on the plane back to Chicago (though twice the price of the fried egg roll option, of course).
Beyond that, I’m going to have to just try to be more conscious, and to strategize while traveling. If there’s nothing appealing in the hotel restaurant (and the prices are usually exorbitant anyway), how about walking a few blocks away to get something healthier? What delivery options are there?
That’ll often be less convenient, and if I’m really tightly scheduled with back-to-back panels, it may not be possible, so I need to plan for that too. Kind bars and granola and bison bars? Apples and clementines. Sometimes I’m craving salt — I should have a ‘go bag’ for travel already packed with salted pistachios.
I need to sit down and make a travel packing list anyway, so I don’t forget the swimsuit and sneakers and sports bra and the little cards with the body weight exercises if the hotel doesn’t have a decent gym. And yes, take all of that, even if I’m not sure I’m going to use them, even though they take up room in the suitcase and it means I have to check a bag. It’s worth it. Prioritize the hotel with a pool, even if it’s $10 / night more expensive.
My trainer suggested protein shakes that just need water added. Is there a similar thing with chicken broth? Instant oatmeal and dried fruit and nuts, since the hotel rooms usually have a way of making boiling water? What do athletes do for food on the road? I need to be much more intentional about all of this in advance, because I get anxious if I don’t have sufficient food near me me, and sometimes that leads me to making poor choices.
And of course, as a food writer and a general lover of food, I do eat out a lot, and sometimes that means I’m ordering the fries. Exercising regularly (not excessively) means I can do that on occasion with fewer qualms.
I was troubled by how often when this came up in conversation at the convention this week, people said they didn’t exercise while traveling. Maybe it’s not a big deal — maybe their health is generally good enough that their constitutions can take a few days of sedentary convention sitting at tables without much impact? But my body clearly can’t handle that these days; I start feeling terrible very quickly.
So here’s the thread where I encourage you to take care of yourselves on the road, whatever that looks like for you and your one singular beautiful body.
It’s also the thread where I invite you to give me your exercise / healthy eating while traveling / avoiding getting sick on the road suggestions.
What do you do to take care of yourselves on planes, trains, and automobiles? I’d love to make myself a list!
I was feeling SUPER STRESSED about deadlines, AND tired, but I put on gym clothes and went and worked out for 30 minutes, and you’d think that would make it worse, but I felt SO MUCH BETTER afterwards (the nice long hot shower helped too), and it really is going to take me a while to internalize that exercise does often make me feel physically and mentally better. So weird.
Longer post about exercise while traveling coming soon, hopefully.
At the commencement welcome, one of the conference chairs of SALA made a joke about how we’re going to talk well and eat well. I’m not sure I’m talking all that well (still tired and a little out of it!), but my gosh, they do feed us well here.
Breakfast & lunch for two days are included in your registration, along with a very hearty closing reception that they said could easily be your dinner that night; coffee and tea service is also laid out throughout, which has been very handy for me, as I duck out of my room, grab some hot coffee, and duck back in to work a little more.
But just look at what they’ve served us so far! (I forgot to take photos of the avocado tartine and the fig tartine at breakfast, but they were very pretty.) One slight tweak I’d suggest for the hotel — I love that they used chicken thighs instead of breast, in terms of flavor, but personally, I wouldn’t have served it on the bone for a buffet like this. Too difficult to eat while sitting on low couches, managing drinks, etc. Nothing that requires knives!
I think my favorite, flavor-wise, was the combination of the curried salmon w/ the roasted sweet potatoes. Mmmm… I liked it so much I decided to skip dessert and go back for seconds of that instead. The roasted potatoes were also perfectly done, and delish.
So here is the question — how dedicated am I? I slept poorly last night, and I attended 4 straight hours of readings this evening, from 7 – 11 (two different readings). All of which is fine, but I have a 5 a.m. call scheduled (with various international futurist folks; it’s not a great time for them either, but it’s the best we could manage).
I am having a hard time making myself set the alarm, even though I can, in theory, wake up, take the call from my bed, and go right back to sleep afterwards; I have nothing I *have* to be at in the morning. All my commitments are for afternoon & evening tomorrow.
Going to go get actually ready for bed, and see if my position clarifies after teeth-brushing. Surely that will solve everything?