All posts by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Brandon Johnson

Tonight’s meet-and-greet with Brandon Johnson, running for Cook County Commissioner for the 1st district. I was impressed, and will be volunteering for him. Please feel free to come to me with any questions you have, and I’ll try my best to answer them. I’ll also have yard signs! The election is March 20th.

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Doug Jones

I am only just starting to understand what it takes to create an upset like Doug Jones’s — but it often starts with meet-and-greets like the one I just hosted, ten people in someone’s living room, learning about a new candidate. Jones must have had a tremendous cadre of volunteers and staffers helping him get the word out to accomplish this.

If I have an ask for you tonight, it’s this — get involved in 2018. Go to a meet-and-greet, or a Democratic party meeting, or the League of Women Voters (non-partisan), or volunteer with voter registration efforts in your community (especially if your community is a historically marginalized one — we need your voices!).

We’re fighting for the soul of America. Join us.

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AW. You know how I was having a little academic freakout yesterday, yes? One of the commenters said I should re-focus on my teaching, and ask myself whether my students were getting what they needed out of it. Good advice, and two of my students wrote me the sweetest notes, which I think they will forgive me sharing with you.

“It has been pleasure being in your class this semester, I feel like I’ve been opened up to a whole new world of literature [this is the feminist / queer SF class] that I never previously would have explored. I’m glad I got to experience one of your classes before I left UIC. Thank you and have wonderful Winter break!”

“As always, I have really enjoyed this semester in your class! You always lead the best, most enlightening discussions, and all of the classes I have taken with you have motivated me to be skeptical of any and all societal norms or expectations and consider who may be benefitting or hurting by them. Additionally, I really enjoyed the attention we paid to current events (the rise of the alt-right, Trump, sexual assault scandals, etc.) and the effort made to connect class materials to them.”

I can’t be the best teacher for every student — their needs are so varied. But at least I seem to have served some of them reasonably well.

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Martha Stewart and the Academy

I am having a minor identity crisis, I think — for the last month or two, I’ve been feeling fairly intense academic anxiety (even waking me up once or twice) because it seems like my food interests and other domestic interests have become a big part of my literary production, and once again (I remember this from when I primarily wrote erotica, and again when started working on a SF novel), I am stressing the heck out that my academic colleagues won’t think I’m ‘serious’ or ‘professional’ enough.

For what, I can’t tell you — I’m not tenure-track, so it’s not as if I’m on a tenure clock, and they’ve promoted me once already, so they must like my work reasonably well, but I start to fret that they hired me on the basis of Bodies in Motion and a Ph.D. that specialized in post-colonial lit., and over the last twelve years, my interests have shifted to science fiction (still with a post-colonial lens, but nonetheless) and domesticity, and neither of those are topics the academy has traditionally found worthy of serious work. Or if serious, only in the sense of doing criticism of it, not of producing it.

If I’m writing an article for a women’s magazine, is that anything my department would appreciate? And again, I don’t think it really matters, because unless the university really crashes its funding, they are very likely to keep renewing my contract indefinitely. Kevin says I shouldn’t worry about posting so much about food and yarn and such on FB, even if I have colleagues here (hi, colleagues!), because everyone has hobbies, including ones they obsess over. He says no one will care, and that is almost certainly true.

But these aren’t exactly hobbies, I think. They may be my work, or at least part of it. (Like, if I’m spending 85% of my time on trying to write the Great American Novel, then it’s fine to spend 15% of it on gardening. But if the split is reversed, that might be a problem?)

I am pretty sure a good part of this is a feminist issue. What kind of work do we value? What kind of writing do we value? If I turn into a Sri Lankan American Martha Stewart, what will the academy make of it? I still love teaching lit., even though I am sometimes (such as now, at the end of the semester) a little tired and ready to take a break from it. I could really use a sabbatical, if non-tenure-track people got such a thing. I wouldn’t want to give teaching up entirely, though.

In grad school, we laughed sometimes, and mocked the aspiration towards ‘finely crafted sentences’ — but the truth was, we were mostly desperate to write those finely crafted sentences, and those pieces of literature with deep themes. I still am, but sometimes I am at least as engaged in the specifics of what kind of oil is best for frying a chicken patty. (See next post.)

Part of the problem is that there are currently two…respectable? paths I could be following as an English professor. One is to write criticism — and criticism of women’s work, food, etc. would be totally fine in the academy these days. But I don’t write criticism basically at all. I could try, but that’s not at all where my interests lie, clearly, since I haven’t done it in years, beyond the occasional book review. (I did one academic bio-bibliography of Tananarive Due, lo these many years ago. I have dabbled with the idea of doing some Delany critical work, putting together a teaching volume. But that’s it, and I clearly haven’t focused on actually doing it.)

Another option is to write literary fiction, for which a space has been carved out in English departments over the last few decades — and if I’m writing literary science fiction, that’s probably okay in the academy these days too. Le Guin / Delany -type work.

But if what I’m writing is neither criticism nor ‘literary’, but rather, ‘popular’ writing — whether it’s essays or science fiction or recipes or what, I’m not sure if there’s a place for that in academia. And it feels sort of treacherous, if my job is essentially standing on the ground of work I did several years ago, rather than what I’m doing now.

No answers here, but in the terrifying spirit of at least exposing the problem, here you go.

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Holiday party 2017

Trifle topped with pomegranate seed and edible silver stars. Twinkly lights, little houses, polar bear. Kevin’s note left for me about what he did and didn’t get done after I went to sleep Saturday night. Four big brownies from the bakery section, cut into fourths, topped with little candies from Michael’s. (Best petit four cheat ever — took five minutes, and the kids loved them.) Array.

Cheese board (I’ve decided that I much prefer the cluttered cheese board style with everything higgledy-piggledy than the more separated out style; more inviting, I think. People are more likely to dive right in. My absolutely favorite current combo is TJ’s raisin-rosemary crackers, blue cheese, and honey. Oh my god, that’s delicious. Cheddar and Major Grey’s chutney is also a nice (and effortless) nod to desi flavors).
Love cake and milk toffee with powdered sugar — so pretty.
Nuts and nutcracker, which honestly, I mostly put out for the idea of it, though I did notice one child trying to crack nuts. I think I need a larger nutcracker for the walnuts, though, as I find that one close to impossible to use with them.
Cranberry-orange scones and clotted cream and jam and lemon curd, all courtesy of Whole Foods, because I ran out of time to bake my own, oh well.
Trifle and strawberry teacakes, the latter of which I hadn’t planned on at all, but when I saw them in the bakery section at Jewel, I couldn’t resist, because they were just so pretty. But I have no idea if they taste good — there were all eaten before I got to try one. Clearly I must buy more.

Charcuterie — Harry & David’s sesame honey mustard with pretzels (a holiday gift from Pam, our contractor) is addictively good, and pairs beautiful with some olives and cured meats from Costco (I really love how the Costco antipasto meat comes in separate little square packages, making it really easy to refill your platter only as much as needed during the party, saving the rest for another day. It’s the little things that make hosting easier).

Mango-ginger shortbread, our very classy holiday chains (Kavi wanted to make some, and I wanted some that would go with the white and silver decor in the dining room, so I found some pretty metallic paper in silver, gold, and pink…), fresh flowers (I like how the bells of Ireland look like little trees), Ellie patiently waiting for the party (and the food-dropping) to start. Ellie LOVES parties.

Party prep would have gone much less smoothly if Kat hadn’t put in a few hours Saturday and a few more Sunday morning — aided and abetted by Katy and Tiffany who had gotten the time wrong and arrived four hours early, but stayed to help anyway. 🙂 I am now convinced that I need to just plan on a few friends who commit to coming early, if I have a hope of pulling off this kind of party in a reasonable manner, surgery or no surgery. (Although particularly appreciated post-surgery.)
Kat made modern art with the mushroom sandwiches. They were yummy, but if there was a food failure at the party, they were these — I keep thinking that curried creamy mushroom will go well with wheat bread, and that will differentiate them visually from the cucumber sandwiches and ribbon sandwiches, and that’s all true — but I think it’s just not visually appealing enough. Maybe if they were labelled, so people knew what they were? But there were LOTS left, when everything else had been basically devoured, and I’m pretty sure that happened the last time I made mushroom sandwiches with wheat bread too, so going back to white bread next time, and we’ll see if they do better. Per usual, the Pepperidge Farm Very Thin white bread (that I can only find at Jewel) was perfect for tea sandwiches, and I will be sad if they ever stop carrying it. I clean them out every time I’m prepping for a tea party.
Cranberry juice cocktail with ginger ale, fresh cranberries and pomegrante seeds for the punch, couldn’t be easier. A few pieces of decor I just adore — the running deer on that candle stand (“And the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer…”), that little Santa with owl and crown of candles, and that ridiculous swan vase. It’s so goofy, but I love it anyway. One shouldn’t love material objects so much, but I have such a weakness for pretty things…

I forgot to take photos of people until close to the end, but I think we had about 70 folks over the course of four hours. It never got too crowded, though, because people mostly only stayed for an hour or two; there’s so much going on around here this time of year, and people had multiple commitments. Lots of ebb and flow, which means, I think, that the house could probably handle double that number of people without too much trouble for this kind of party. Good to know!  

Kavi and I were sparkly reindeer antler twins (and that adorable mistletoe dress, because I know someone is about to ask me, is from Modcloth and I love it). MagnaTiles happily occupy children of all ages (and adults too), but are particularly nice to have around for the toddlers, so their parents can get a break and breathe a little.

The seeni sambol appetizer was not entirely successful; more on that anon. I have some ideas for next time.
But the patties came out perfectly, the mackerel cutlets ditto. The rolls were rolled a little too large, for the most part (Kev and Kavi need practice!), but cut in half they made perfect portions. Those all got devoured very quickly!  We prepped them all a day or two beforehand, and then held them in the fridge until the last hour before the party, then fried right then, so they were lovely and fresh. (Okay, I got a little behind, so I was still frying during the first hour of the party, but in theory, it would have worked beautifully. And people didn’t seem to mind.)
Making the ribbon sandwiches (and mushroom tea sandwiches) in advance worked perfectly. We assembled the sandwiches the night before (untrimmed), stacked them in foil trays, lay a clean, damp tea towel on top, wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. Trimming the ends off and cutting them small the next day was fast, and they came out great — not too soggy, not too dry. Thanks to Roshani and Ann‘s family for the tips — we’ll be doing this from now on, as it really decreases the harriedness on the day of the party!

Pam’s daughter was perfectly iconic in her little Christmas dress, and cheerfully posed in front of our tree.

With Deno Andrews and Anand Whyte.

Kavi and Kevin’s marshmallows.

When I realized that we had inadvertently worn completely matching outfits — it was not planned! — I made  Kevin pose with me, even though he hates photos, because I am a terrible wife.  Somehow he puts up with me anyway.  He even tolerated reindeer antlers poking his nose (I forgot I was wearing them).  Such a nice guy. Thanks to Kavi for the photos, and for making Daddy laugh.
That’s it, folks!  Holiday party 2017.



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Ms. P. knows what parents love to see — pics from school, so much more satisfying than report cards.


I mean, is this not the BEST picture? Anand happily reading to the class, with a poster beside him titled, “Things that make us writers…” For a kid who was stressing out in kindergarten and first grade about his inability to read, v. satisfying.

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Cancer log 198: aromatase and fat transfer

Three hours this morning in follow-up appointments; more than anything, I continue to be irritated by how much time cancer has stolen from me. Sometimes I was able to bring a laptop and get some work done, but it’s hard to work in choppy pieces. Mostly I read or played dumb games on my phone; sometimes I just read shelter magazines from the waiting rooms. Annoying.

I started to say something about not complaining about small things, since every day without recurrence is a day to celebrate, but the loss of time isn’t a small thing, really. In the end, time is all we have. Everything else in our lives, all the pleasures and joys and sadnesses too, are composed of time. Take that away, take everything.

(As I get older, I get more and more resentful of my time being wasted or stolen, and my attention too. Cue separate rant about Facebook and the internet as a giant time-suck, about billboards and credit card ads I’m forced to listen to on planes and the spam phone calls that disrupt my day even when I don’t answer them, etc. and so on.)

But the follow-ups went well enough. The first was with my main oncologist; everything looks good, but it’s time to switch from tamoxifen to an aromatase inhibitor, since I’ve been in chemo-induced menopause now for more than a year. Aromatase inhibitors work by blocking the enzyme aromatase, which turns the hormone androgen into small amounts of estrogen in the body. This means that less estrogen is available to stimulate the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer cells.

There are a host of possible side effects, hot flashes, etc., but the aromatase inhibitor has a better rate on avoiding recurrence than tamoxifen, so it seems worth trying — but only in the single digits, and there aren’t long-term studies of more than ten years yet. Hopefully I won’t get the side effects (10-30% likely, depending on which ones), but if they’re bad, I can always switch back to tamoxifen. She recommended waiting until after any holiday travel, just in case, so I’ll plan to switch just after Christmas.

I’ll also be getting a bone density scan this week, and checking my vitamin D levels, to set a baseline; one thing to be careful of is increased risk of bone thinning. Will be curious to see how my bone density is; I don’t think I’ve ever had that checked, and my mom tells me I’m developing a hunch (too many hours bent over the computer, I suspect). I try to remember to stand up and sit up straight, but I am not good at it. I would rather not get a hunch, though, or at least not for some decades to come. Forty-six seems young for it.

The oncologist asked how the fat transfers were going, and I told her that I thought this was going to be my last one. Each one (three so far) has done a good job of reducing scarring, taking the deep puckered scar from the initial lumpectomy (because the oncology surgeon was more concerned with getting the cancer out than pretty, and rightly so) to a relatively fine and unpuckered line; something I can happily live with. The actual fat transfer part, though, has been a very slow process, with each transfer only making the smallest of differences to the fullness of the breast, as much of the transferred fat gets reabsorbed by the body. And it’s really not that visible in clothes at this point, and if I look a little lopsided in a swimsuit, I can live with that. I’m irritated enough by how much muscle tone I lose from the requisite inactivity after each surgery that I am reluctant to do this again; I think I’m done. I almost didn’t do this last one, actually.

But what’s interesting is that hearing all of this, and how the reason we’re not doing a lift on the other breast to attack the symmetry problem from that side, is because my prior breast reduction means that the plastic surgeon doesn’t feel he can guarantee maintaining nerve function (he wouldn’t know what available blood flow would look like until he got in there), my oncologist said that maybe we should be following up with MRI, rather than just mammograms, because my breasts are dense (since I’m young) and complex (due to the surgeries). Heh. It amuses me, having dense, complex breasts.

I don’t love MRIs — getting the IV needle in the hand for contrast irritates me. But increased scrutiny is, I think, worth a little irritation; the one thing I want is for them to catch any recurrence as early as possible. She’s going to talk to the oncologist surgeon and get back to me; we’ll see what they say.

Then I went on to the plastic surgeon follow-up, which was relatively straightforward by contrast. He scolded me for being too active in the last week, and I refrained from telling him that if he hadn’t summarily rescheduled my surgery for three weeks later than originally planned, I wouldn’t have been trying to cook party food for 80 while only a week out from surgery.

I had lots and lots and lots of help, and I tried REALLY hard not to lift anything heavy; I even had the grocery people put my bags in the car, which I felt super-lazy to be asking for. But there was an inevitable amount of twisting at the waist while driving, stirring, etc., which is where the bulk of the fat was transferred from, and by the end of each day this past week, I admit to being in more pain than was probably ideal. (Not enough to need painkillers, though, beyond a couple Advil, so please don’t worry). The problem really is that I feel fine, and so I do things, and then it starts to hurt, but by that point, the damage has been done. I am so very bad at sitting still.

No real harm done, though, and he just said that I should try to take it easy from this point on, which is, in fact, the plan. Well, easy this week, anyway; I’m leaving for a week in Hawaii on Sunday, which will hopefully involve some mild physical activity along with the relaxing on a beach parts. He said it should be fine, as long as I don’t go too deep, as pressure changes can be an issue. I’m not doing scuba, so I’m guessing it’ll be fine.

See, I’m guessing some of you were feeling sorry for me, but now that you know I’m going to Hawaii, you’re feeling much less sorry for me, which is as it should be. It’s Jed’s and my 20th anniversary; I’ve never been there. Looking forward!

And that’s the update! Long, complicated, but basically everything is chugging along in reasonable manner. 2 years and 9 months since diagnosis, all signs good. Onwards.

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Anand, eyes wide, staring at the island full of treats for the party that will start in four hours: “It looks *so* good.”

Me: “It’s a party day, baby; you can have one.”

He reaches for the biggest snowflake cookie, buried under the others, laughs, says, “I know, I know,” and switches to the smallest one, sitting on the edge, and walks away happy.

Age 8. That interaction would have gone differently a year ago.

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Curry Powder for Sale

People are actually ordering these. So cool. So far, most popular is either the 4 oz. curry powder bag, or the 4 oz. curry powder bag + cookbook combo. I’m planning to fill the first orders today, and have Chris take them to the post office.

I haven’t really thought about the vagaries of holiday shipping, but if anyone wants it for a Christmas gift, maybe make a note when you order, so we’re sure to at least get it in the mail quickly. And if you want it overnighted or some such, we can do that, we just need to add on a little more (or, I guess, a lot more). Probably better to just order today, to be safe.

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Welcome to Dystopia

In hard times, do you want to read dystopias, or would you rather focus on happier things? It’s always a good day when a book arrives, though this particularly book may give you nightmares.
I was invited to contribute to this anthology, _Welcome to Dystopia_, right after the election. It was a terribly easy story to write — I basically poured all my worst fears into this piece. In the story, a Sri Lankan American woman in a mixed marriage with a white man must say goodbye to her mother, whose green card has been de-naturalized; she’s being shipped back to Sri Lanka. The only reason my protagonist gets to stay is that marriage to a white man. She’s worried about her young son, who is dark enough to be a target of the rising violence. And at the same moment she’s dealing with all that, her husband is taking their ten-year-old daughter to get an IUD, because they know they won’t have the option to get one within the year. Fun times.
Okay, now I’ve told you most of the plot of the story, so maybe you don’t need to read it anymore but there are 44 other similarly grim visions in this book for your…enjoyment?
“The noise at O’Hare is a dull roar of voices, rising and falling, dissolving into chaos. We must almost shout to hear each other, packed into long lines that press against each other, sticky in the June heat, waiting to get into a building…”
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