A project that crystallized last week

So, I think I’m ready to talk a little about this new project that crystallized last week. (Photo of dragonfruit chocolate bars ‘crystallized’ for inspiration.)

 

There are multiple elements coming together in this, things I’ve been working on and thinking about for a long time. I’m still not positive of what the final shape will be.

• the memoir: I’ve been working for a while on a project titled _Domestic Resistance_, a meditation on how we stay sane while under siege in the Trump presidency, how handwork and reclamation of heritage skills, appreciation of culture and diversity, celebration of community and the joys of making all came together to sustain me (as I worked on my Sri Lankan cookbook in the last few years) through intense work, deep political frustration, and occasional flailings of despair. Asking how we can work for change without exhausting ourselves.

• the makerspace: we may have found a place in Forest Park for the first stage of the writing / textile arts / tech makerspace that we started planning two years ago. Our hope is that it allows the community to share their knowledge, help each other over the initial humps of uncertainty and anxiety, finding our way to new skills and approaches that make our lives better in a host of ways. I have some legal and financial details to work out still, and then there’ll be a Kickstarter to help get us off the ground (looking for around $25K in initial funding, I think), but I hope we’ll be up and running soon, possibly by May.

(NOTE: the space won’t be wheelchair accessible, unfortunately; you’ll need to be able to navigate a flight of stairs to access it. My plan is that if people who can’t access it want to sign up for a class, we’ll find an alternate accessible location for that class. And then long-term, we’ll continue looking for accessible spaces in the area. Ideally, I’d eventually like to grow into a constellation of spaces in Forest Park, Oak Park, Austin, etc.)

• the magazine: this is the newest bit, and still a bit inchoate. For my memoir, I was already thinking that I wasn’t sure I wanted to write a traditional book — I was wondering what it might look like as a quarterly magazine, sort of a cross between Martha Stewart Living and Granta. Glossy, beautiful photos, a year in the life, combining running for office, the tail end of cancer treatment, the house and garden and parenting and engaging in local politics, and of course, cooking.

Last week, I realized that it would be SO GREAT to extend that into a broader publication. I’ve been increasingly frustrated by how balkanized communications media are becoming, and at least locally, we’re really splitting demographically, with some people reading the print Wednesday Journal, some people mostly on FB groups (often very private ones), some people mostly auditory listeners, and the kids are on TikTok and SnapChat doing god knows what…

If we had a publication that showcased progressive voices and conversations, in a variety of areas (garden, food, schools, etc.) and if we could push it out in multiple media (a print version, an online version, a podcast, TikToks, etc.), maybe we’d have a chance at actually talking to each other, actually listening.

So often when I was running for office, I found that with something as simple as getting rid of fines at the library, people I talked to were initially resistant, but all they needed was for someone to actually present the argument to them, and then they realized that yes, doing this would actually align with their values. And we could afford it too.

*****

That’s where my head is right now. I have a lot more specifics, but I think the next stage is a whole host of conversations. I’m going to want to shape this very carefully, if it’s to do what I hope it’ll do, and I’m going to need a lot of community input.

But I think my own memoir would be interesting in conversation with a broader community magazine, and the magazine would be in conversation with what we do at the makerspace, and as Serendib Press develops, Stephanie and Heather and Darius and Emmanuel and Julia are learning more and more about the publication process, so we’re getting into a better position to do this well.

So that’s where I am right now. I’m about to go out of town, and much of March is super-absorbed with travel and Feast launch events. But I’m going to be talking to people, local and otherwise, about all of this. We’ll see where it takes us.

(We’re going to need a name.)

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Hey, folks — here’s my schedule for FogCon next week in Walnut Creek!

Hey, folks — here’s my schedule for FogCon next week in Walnut Creek! I hope to see some of you there: https://fogcon.org

Friday:
3:00 PM – 4:15 PM, Salon A/B “Food in Genre Fiction”
Inspired by Mary Anne Mohanraj’s latest publication being a cookbook, let’s think about food and its place in genre fiction! In stories where a stranger visits a new culture, we often hear about their food choices (Becky Chambers’s “Record of a Spaceborn Few” comes to mind). Food can be a marker of similarity or difference between people, and ultimately, it is a necessity. When our worlds change, what happens to the food in them?

M: Sasha Pixlee. Rebecca Gomez Farrell, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Tina LeCount Myers, Deborah J. Ross, Juliette Wade

4:30 PM – 5:45 PM, Salon C, POC Meetup
Social gathering for members who identify as people of color (only, please). We’ll share questions, experiences, and solidarity. Coffee and tea will be provided. Anyone who wants can also bring their own snacks, from the Consuite or elsewhere.
M: Abie Ekenezar

7:45 PM – 8:00 PM, Salon A/B, “Opening Ceremonies”
We’ll start the convention off with a brief gathering to meet the Honored Guests and hear some words from the Honored Ghost.

8:00 PM – 9:15 PM, Salon A/B “Societal Defaults That Carry Into Genre”
Genre fiction allows us to imagine worlds and cultures completely different from ours, yet sometimes some cultural assumptions are so ingrained that we don’t consider them changeable. For example, Mary Anne Mohanraj’s “The Stars Change” is a book that challenges the assumption of monogamy. What other assumptions do we see carrying into the new spaces and cultures we create? How can we break out of those?
M: Lisa Eckstein. Karen Brenchley, Garrett Croker, Alyc Helms, Mary Anne Mohanraj

Saturday:
9:00 AM – 10:15 AM, Salon A/B “Archives and Genre”
Archives are science fictional: archivists have to anticipate climate change, the evolution of technology, and how historians will view the present day. Archives are fantastical: they involve a deep encounter with the past, redolent of parchment, leather, and the dust of vanished information. This panel will explore archives as an SFF-nal phenomenon, as well as portrayals of archives and archivists in science fiction and fantasy.
M: Michele Cox. Marion Deeds, Bradford Lyau, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Norm Sperling

1:30 PM – 2:45 PM, Salon A/B “Genre Nonprofits With Mary Anne Mohanraj”
Mary Anne will share what she’s learned about nonprofits and the field, discussing con-running and organizations such as Con or Bust, Strange Horizons, and her own Speculative Literature Foundation. Topics may include succession planning, professionalization (and its hazards), organizational growth, fundraising, inclusiveness / exclusion, and realistic enforcement of convention codes of conduct.
Mary Anne Mohanraj (This description and title got fixed and updated in the app but not the printed version of the program; my apologies, but we didn’t catch it in time.)

3:00 PM – 4:15 PM, Santa Rosa “Honored Guest Reading”
Mary Anne Mohanraj, Nisi Shawl

Saturday evening: No schedule — maybe run RPG of “Jump Space”?

Sunday morning: No schedule — maybe run RPG of “Jump Space”?

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Planning 2020 with a big wall calendar

Jed was visiting this weekend, just a quick few days. Not long enough, but we’ll take what we can get. The scheduling gets a little complex, and we rarely can manage as much time as we’d like.

We’re trying something new which may help — I just got this big wall calendar, so that we can see all of 2020 at a glance. In the past, we’ve tried to do it all with shared Google calendars, which are helpful, but I can’t seem to see the whole board that way. So up on the wall it goes. And then we spent at least an hour, the three of us, sitting and trying to figure out how we can:

a) do a reasonable amount of book tour for Feast (me)

b) go to various SF cons for the SLF and for our own writing / editing (me and Jed, mostly, though I may bring the kids and possibly Kevin to WisCon this year)

c) see each other at least once a month, ideally (me and Jed)

d) go to math conferences and have research time (Kevin)

e) do a writing retreat for at least a week (me, tentatively going to a friend’s place in Hawaii in June, and hopefully severely limiting internet / socializing / etc., so I can make serious progress on a book draft — if it goes well, I’m hoping to do two weeks in 2021, either in Hawaii or Sri Lanka)

f) get the kids to / from their weekend soccer games all through the spring (me and Kev)

g) teach two weeks of writing summer camp for kids AND sign the kids up for the same place (but likely different actual camp) (me and kids)

h) not leave Kev parenting solo for more than one weekend a month (me)

i) visit relatives (me and Kev and kids)

j) allow enough travel time for international trips that we’re not a disaster doing the work we’re going to do, and also able to recover before we need to be working at home (me: Amsterdam / New Zealand, Jed: New Zealand, Kevin: Paris)

k) work all this around our teaching schedules (me and Kevin)

And there are probably some other elements I’m not thinking of! We managed to calendar through to August, and then gave up, as there are too many unknowns after that.

I have to do some more work to fit in some book tour cities that aren’t tied to specific dates yet (Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, D.C., Toronto) — it’ll require looking to see when people are available, what conventions I might want to try to match up with. But there was definite progress made!

The calendar portion was followed by the budgeting portion, to make sure we can actually afford all this travel. Probably, barely. Amsterdam depends on getting some extra funding, so I’m going to hustle on that next, try to set up some funded appearances, etc.

One sad consequence — it was clear that the spring was a little too packed, so I’m not going to make it to the Nebulas in Los Angeles in May. Sorry, LisetteIngridMargaret! I’m still hoping to make it to LA at another time this year for book tour, so I’ll contact you separately soon, to see when might work.

I think I love the big calendar. I also love my guys. 

(Please ignore the chaos behind Jed; I’m in the midst of an office reorg, and all the not-yet-organized stuff is piled up there…)

 

#serendibwriting
#serendibhome
#serendibtravel
#thisispoly

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Feast: officially supporting SAMBAL Sri Lanka

As we’re getting ready to more formally launch Feast, I’m trying to think through what I want the cookbook to do in the world.

One thing I’d like to do is give back concretely in some way. I thought about directing a percentage of profits to Ajit George‘s wonderful Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, but I think that’s primarily based in India, and I really do think it’s more appropriate that it be a Sri Lankan nonprofit this particular book supports.

My cousin Genisha Saverimuthu and my aunt Marietta Saverimuthu support SAMBAL, which does education work with disadvantaged children in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. (That’s my aunt in red at the head of the class in the second photo.)

SAMBAL seems like a really great fit with Feast — even the name is appropriate! And I know that I can trust them to do good work with any funds raised.

My aunt travels to Sri Lanka regularly to work with the children in these village schools. After all the heartache our country has been through, it’s good to see some smiles on these sweet faces.

***

“OUR MISSION
Sponsor A Mind Build A Life (SAMBAL) was established to provide charitable assistance to children who are disadvantaged due to war, poverty, natural disasters and other calamities primarily in Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

We partner with organizations around the globe to identify children in need and develop coordinated efforts to nurture their physical, intellectual, emotional and social growth. Through sponsorships and program donations from individuals like you, SAMBAL builds lives and empowers underprivileged children to reach their full potential.

WHY SAMBAL?
In many parts of South Asia, rice and sambal is a staple food–the Eastern equivalent of bread and butter. A spicy side dish made with chilli peppers, sambal is eaten from Sri Lanka to Malaysia by young and old and considered the bare minimum for a regular meal.

We believe that every child should be afforded a daily bit of rice and sambal but also the sustenance to develop socially, intellectually and emotionally despite their hardships. By feeding a mouth and feeding a mind, SAMBAL builds a child’s path to a better life.”

More about SAMBAL: http://www.sambalnow.com/page-about1.php

#serendibkitchen

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Seattle: Dinner at Wild Ginger

Dinner at Wild Ginger in Seattle with the Sri Lankan panelists for MLA. Funniest part — none of us thought the food was spicy enough, so we asked for some hot sauce.

 

They brought us a bowl of delicious house-made sambal. Perfect. Then we finished the bowl. So we asked for another one. Then we finished that bowl. We contemplated asking for a third one…but we were pretty stuffed by that point, so decided the leftovers would be okay without.

But as the person who ate the leftovers the next morning, we should’ve gotten the third bowl too. 

Good food (particularly liked the sea bass appetizer), best company. Could’ve talked with them for hours and hours and hours more. Thanks, Dinidu Karunanayake for organizing us.

Much love, Dinidu, Maryse Jayasuriya, husband Brian Yothers (who was the first to ask for more sambal), Sugi Ganeshananthan, and SJ Sindu. Come to Chicago ANYTIME. I will host you and feed you and try to set up something at my university so people can see how awesome you all are.

(My mango-lemonade soda with chili *was* appropriately spicy and also delicious, btw.)

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Seattle Bookstore: Book Larder

The other store I stopped in at in Seattle was Book Larder: A Community Cookbook Store, which I’d also love to do an event at for Feast. Look at this awesome space! I could teach a real Sri Lankan cooking class here. It’s so charming. I wanted to buy ALL the books, but restrained myself. Also ALL the dishtowels. Kevin asked me recently if I really needed so many dishtowels. Yes. Yes I do. Hush, love.

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Seattle, Elliott Bay Book Company

Seattle, Elliott Bay Book Company. I went by to drop off a copy of A Feast of Serendib, to ask whether they might want to do an event there if I came back. First of all, their cookbook section is very impressive — Seattle people must like to cook! (Long, dark winters…) And check out the big dedicated section on SE Asian cooking; that tells you where you should try eating out when you’re in town. 

But the funniest bit was that way back in 1997, twenty-two years ago, I did a reading here when I was a student at Clarion West. And amazingly, the programming guy, Rick, actually remembered me from back then! How cool is that? (What I would give for a memory that worked that well…)

Rick’s even going to Sri Lanka in a few weeks, and we had a great conversation about his travels there, and about other Sri Lankan American authors he likes, and it was just very cool. I hope I can manage to fit in a Seattle trip for the book launch this year!

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I fell in love with this fantasy-themed coat

Seattle got much colder than I expected, and by the end of the first day, the light raincoat I’d brought was just not cutting it. I went out to look for a heavier sweater, at least. I didn’t plan to buy a coat, I swear! I’m trying to do something of a buy-nothing January, to recover a little from all the holiday gifting, etc.

I mean, buy groceries and other essentials, yes. (Although I’m also trying to eat down the pantry and the frozen foods, with some success. I just had some frozen curry chicken bao for lunch, that I bought three months ago, and they were delicious.) But mostly, when I feel the urge to buy a book or a game or clothes or whatever non-essential item, I put it in the shopping cart and save it for later. If I still want it in February, I’ll see if we can afford it then.

But sometimes the fates just step in. The Free People store that was literally across the street from my hotel happened to have ONE of these jackets left, in EXACTLY my size, AND it was on clearance, so still pricey, but not quite as outrageous as their normal pricing. I thought, “Well, I’ll just try it on.” Mostly, I admit, sort of thinking that Ellen Kushner would appreciate this coat, which seems sort of Tremontaine-ish, and I should at least try it on and take a photo for her.

Then I fell in love. It’s a great color for me, and I don’t actually own a dashing velvet jacket, and it was actually reasonably warm, and it had good pockets.

Plus, I do budget separately for convention / performance clothes vs. regular clothes, and think of those as part of my professional expenses, even though they’re not actually tax-deductible, which seems a shame and also sexist, given how much more pressure there is on women to spend a lot of money on work clothes / make-up / etc., often with professional consequences if they don’t.

AND, while I have a goodly number of starry dresses and the like at this point, so the SF side is well represented, I am still somewhat lacking on the fantasy side. When I host a SLF Deep Dish reading, I like to look the part, and SF has been much more represented than fantasy so far. So I kind of HAD to buy this jacket, right? (I would also like a dragon dress or several. Must work on that.)

I feel like my decision was validated by the fact that a) I was much less cold when I walked out of the store, and b) no fewer than FOUR South Asian writers in the next two days complimented me on this jacket.  No regrets!

(I did sort of fail to take a selfie that captured the full glory of the jacket, but hopefully you get the idea.)

#serendibwriting
#serendibtravel
#sala2020

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