The first shipment of Feast paperbacks

OMG. The first shipment of Feast paperbacks arrived and they look beautiful. Thank all the little gods.

I have to admit, I actually felt queasy as I started opening the box, afraid there would be something terribly wrong. But no, they’re gorgeous. Whew.

(Okay, I do want to tweak a margin, but aside from that…)

Hardcovers due on Monday. Starting to feel really real now. I made a book! (With lots and lots of help…)

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EDITING TO NOTE: Kickstarter pricing still available, if you’d like to pre-order, along with Kickstarter goodies. I’m not quite sure how long that’ll be available — my publicist, Pem Hessing, and I are still figuring it out. But for a bit? At least.  Pre-order here: http://serendibkitchen.com/a-feast-of-serendib/

EDITING AGAIN TO NOTE: If you’d like to support the development of more mostly Sri Lankan recipes, I’d love to have you join the cookbook club — for $2 / month, you’ll get recipes delivered to your inbox (fairly) regularly: https://www.patreon.com/mohanraj

And here’s all the foodie social media:

Serendib Kitchen blog: http://serendibkitchen.com
Serendib Kitchen Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/serendib_kitchen/
Serendib FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/132029834135500/
Serendib FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/mohanrajserendib/

Thanks for your support!

Cancer log 205: Wanting to do everything

Cancer log 205: I was listening to Hamilton on my way in to the hospital for a pelvic ultrasound (it’s probably nothing, but they’re checking, and I’m fretty), and “One Last Time” came on, which is probably not the song that hits most people the hardest, but it gets me every time.

“I’m stepping down, I’m not running for President
I’m sorry, what?
One last time- relax, have a drink with me
One last time.
Let’s take a break tonight, and then we’ll teach them how to say goodbye
To say goodbye, you and I
No, sir, why?”

I’m only at the middle of my career, not the end of it, hopefully. But this is one lasting effect of having had cancer, that the feeling I’ve always had, of wanting to do *everything*, to live my life as if I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, has intensified. By, like, a million.

I need to talk about it with a therapist, I’m pretty sure, work through it (in the queue: schedule therapist), because it leads to me driving myself too hard, trying to do too much, and that exhausts me AND paradoxically makes me less productive, because all the balls I’m juggling start smashing into each other. No good.

But it’s not going to be easy to work through, because I’ve been working for oh, 25-35 years, depending on what you’re counting from, and I’ve accumulated some knowledge, maybe even a little wisdom, and there is SO MUCH that I want to teach…

“I want to talk about neutrality
Sir, with Britain and France on the
verge of war, is this the best time-
I want to warn against partisan fighting
But-
Pick up a pen start writing
I wanna talk about what I have learned
The hard won wisdom I have earned”

I was talking to a friend a few months back, my college roommate, and she said that what she found most valuable about this blog were the times when I taught here, when I laid out the steps to do something — whether it’s something domestic, or writing-related, or dealing with cancer, or maybe just relational. (Sometimes I think the conversations I’ve had with Kevin about chore distribution are the most useful thing I can pass on!)

I’m an analytical person (also emotional — on Myers-Briggs, I test smack dab in the middle of the line on that one), so my response to problems is always to look at them structurally, to try to think through the best process, best practices. And then, because *teacher* is a huge part of my identity (and family history — many in my family were/are teachers, it’s in the blood), my instinct is to pass the knowledge on. Mostly through blogging right now.

“As far as the people are concerned, you have to serve
You could continue to serve”

When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 (I’m fine now, hopefully), the very first thought I had was that I had to sit down, immediately, and make videos for my children. One for every year of their childhood and early adulthood, telling them everything I might not be there to tell them, and of course it would be woefully incomplete, but better than nothing…

There’s a bit in a Bujold novel, when Aral Vorkosigan is talking about how the worst thing isn’t sending your troops out to battle — it’s sending them out, knowing you haven’t had time to teach them *enough*… That’s how I feel all the time these days, in the back of my brain.

I hope y’all are stuck with another 50 years of me, or more. I think one of my great-grandmothers lived to be over a 100, and I have access to much better healthcare than she did, the scientists and doctors are always learning more, so who knows? In my Jump Space universe, set a hundred or so years from now, the default human lifespan has increased to around 200. That would be nice.

But whether I have another year, or ten, or a hundred, eventually, you know, it’ll be time, and regardless of how much I’ve managed to download from my brain in the process, it still won’t be enough. (Maybe we’ll all be uploading into the cloud and living forever by then, but if so, a) it’ll be different, and b) I’m not holding my breath.)

“No. One last time, the people will hear from me
One last time, and if we get this right
We’re gonna teach’ em how to say goodbye
You and I”

Someday, I’ll have to stop, regardless, so maybe it’s time to start practicing that a little? Trust that I’ve taught as much as I reasonably can for the moment, and that it’s okay to take time to breathe a little. I don’t have to teach EVERYTHING.

Kavya’s been watching Friends, and yesterday I had to tell her that I thought Ross was a really terrible boyfriend, and I hoped she never dated anyone who treated her like that. Thankfully, she agreed with me. Chandler is her favorite character, and mine too, so maybe it’s okay if I don’t tell Kavi *everything* I know about dating. She’s got good instincts; she’ll figure it out on her own, and with luck, won’t make the same mistakes I made. She can make new, different mistakes, and hopefully none of them are irrevocable. Maybe that’s enough to teach her.

(That’s my main parenting wisdom, by the way — try to avoid doing things that may hurt you in life-and-death ways you can’t recover from. Drinking and driving. Hard drugs that will mess with your body and brain. Unprotected sex. But most things that frighten parents actually are recoverable, thank all the little gods. I was terrified to call my parents and tell them that I’d flunked calculus fall quarter freshman year — I was actually crying when I made the call. In the long run, though, it was just fine. All the videos I’d make for the kids? I’d end each one with that message.)

Last weekend in D.C., Elaine Martyn had us do a little exercise — she’d brought these cards full of images, spread them out on a table, and asked us to choose one that represented our legacy. Legacy is on my mind a lot these days, as you can see — the inevitable consequence of increased awareness of mortality.

I chose one that I sadly don’t have a copy of, so it’s not quite this image, of a crowd of penguins. Imagine the same crowd, but with one penguin a few steps away from the others. That’s me; that’s my job in life. Captain / navigator. Let me explore a little further, away from the crowd, maybe walking onto thin ice. I’ll report back.

Many years ago, I went to Switzerland, and got off the train in Basel to visit Benjamin Rosenbaum and his family. Ben met me at the train, and we started walking, and after a while he said, startled, that we were walking the wrong way. I’d started walking, and he’d just followed me, assuming I knew where I was going, even though I’d never been there before. He claims I have mutant leadership powers.

Perhaps. But I definitely go the wrong way, a lot. I think drowning myself in frantic work, the last few years, trying to do all the things, was the combined result of Trump’s election and cancer — my ‘fix the world’ instincts leapt into overdrive. And now I’m trying to document where I went wrong, and set up better systems. Iterate. It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time.

“Mr. President- they will say you’re weak
No- they will see we’re strong
Your position is so unique
So I’ll use it to move them along
Why do you have to say goodbye?
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on
It outlives me when I’m gone”

This past weekend also reminded me that I’m not actually in this alone. I was in a crowd of fabulous women, so many of them working in government and non-profits, saving the world, one step at a time. Just looking at my sisters — both of them doctors, saving lives, but also one is a researcher working on AIDS and the other is training the next generation of doctors, iterating and questioning and creating new best practices, both for working with patients and for existing as doctors and humans, because gods know, there’s plenty of work to be done on that front.

And they’re raising beautiful, brilliant children, who will undoubtedly outshine us all — I am astounded daily by the thoughtful, conscientious, loving care that so many parents around me are pouring into their children. *There’s* a legacy for you, one that gives me so much hope. I don’t have to do it all. I can’t do it all. That’s okay.

I may have tried to pack too much into this post, as I’m having a hard time coming up with a single point to end on. I’ll leave you with Hamilton instead, and where I am right now — not ready to retire yet, not by a long shot. But I’m trying to slow down, be more deliberate. Unpack my thoughts more, communicate with the people who work with me, instead of expecting them to read my racing mind.

Go back to beginner mind too, and accept how much I don’t know, possibly *can’t* know. (That last is a hard one for the Hermione Granger in me, the girl with her hand up in the air, who wants to know everything.) Also trying to spend time and repair relationships with family and dear friends that were woefully neglected the last several years (because as much as I’d like to blame Trump and cancer, some of this is just me and my personality — those two factors just accelerated my natural tendencies). Trying to delineate where I went wrong, which will hopefully help someone.

Mostly, when I’m tired, rest. I am so bad at that.

Working on it.

“Like the scripture says,
Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made
I want to sit under my own vine and fig tree
A moment alone in the shade

At home, in this nation we’ve made…”

Afternoon in the garden, late summer.

I can’t remember if I planted this, or if it just showed upon its own, but it’s pretty splendid. Illinois native, early goldenrod.

Meadow rue (thalictrum rochebrunianum) — blooming a little late this year, but I’ll take it. Six weeks of blooms in shade make this plant a treasure; one of my woodland garden favorites.

Feeling grateful to the people who told me a begonia hanging basket could handle a fair bit of shade and a whole lot of neglect…

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and nature

Afternoon in the garden, late summer.

Dahlias are starting to really get going…

Annual salvia, “Wendy’s Wish.”

Restless, despite being sick

Walked two blocks to Bed, Bath and Beyond, because I was restless, despite being sick; came home with apple cider pods for the Keurig (okay in a pinch, but real is definitely better), and a crackle candle with firewood scent — we’re all a little too tired for building a real fire tonight, but this will do me nicely for now, with the early autumn chill in the air. Maybe a fire tomorrow. Reading the Mormon homeschooler memoir, Educated, which is both beautifully written and heartbreaking. These children.

#blog
#serendib

Important corollary to the last post

Important corollary to the last post about hitting my FB friend limit — I’m finding that a lot of folks don’t realize what it means that I have 5000 ‘friends’. I’m not really a celebrity. An extremely minor celebrity? Not enough for the fame and fortune, but just enough that in this particular way, it’s inconvenient. It means that the raging stream of FB flows past at a remarkable rate, and that I can only dip my toe in, here and there.

I broadcast here, but I do very little reading.

So folks, especially family, please understand that there’s NO GUARANTEE that I will see something you post on FB. I probably won’t see it, in fact. If you have important news to share, or are going through a crisis, or otherwise definitely want me to know about something, I’m afraid posting to FB almost certainly won’t reach me. I’m so sorry, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it.

I do try to check Jed’s and Kevin’s and my siblings’ feeds directly, every few days. Beyond that, I’m at capacity, I think. So, my dearest intimates, old friends, neighbors and colleagues, etc., PLEASE e-mail / message / call / tag me in if you want me to see a post or know about something going on with you. Otherwise you are going to think that I am just cruel and callous and blithely choosing to ignore this major thing in your life, and that isn’t the case — I just won’t have seen it!

#blog

Okay, folks, so this is the BIG social media post

AS POSTED TO FACEBOOK

Okay, folks, so this is the BIG social media post, aka, what happens when Mary Anne hits her friend limit on FB.

It’s 5000, and I’m there, so I can’t accept friends anymore, which is becoming a professional problem for me, because I go to conferences, and meet people, esp. young writers, and would like to ‘friend’ them, and I can’t. SO.

I’d like to prioritize my personal page being for: family, people I actually know in Real Life (TM), writers, academics, publishing folks, arts administrators, Oak Parkers (as an elected official), other neighbors, and active and/or long-time commenters — if we’ve been exchanging comments on FB forever, please don’t free like you need to leave!

But if you aren’t in one of those groups, esp. if you honestly don’t care about being marked as a ‘friend,’ I’ll note that everything I post here is public, so you won’t miss anything by switching to follower status on my personal FB page.

If a few dozen of you could do so, that’d be swell — I’d love to maintain the ‘friend’ level here around 4900, so if I go to a convention and make a bunch of business contacts, I can easily ‘friend’ them here, which will make it easier for me to follow their work. Thank you!

BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE.

*****

Heather is going to start copying my posts basically everywhere, so hopefully everyone who wants to follow my babblings can do so with ease, in the medium of their choice. Yes, I have a Social Media Maven now.

So where else can you find me?

First, I have just now made a FB AUTHOR PAGE. We’ll copy everything I post here to that page, so if you follow it, you’ll see everything I post (or at least, as much of it as FB chooses to show you, which is a perennial problem). Generally it’ll be there within 24 hrs, because Heather is online almost as much as I am. It’s here: https://www.facebook.com/maryanneamirthimohanraj/

THAT’S NOT ALL, FOLKS.

I also have a FB GROUP. If you’d rather be in a group, so you can chat amongst yourselves or just because you like the group interface better, go here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1468676363220193/

Maybe you’re more of a TWITTER person. That’s fine — we’re going to try decoupling the auto-posting from FB, and Heather is going to copy my posts onto Twitter, pointing to the full entries on my blog. I’m going to try to spend a little more time there too, so hope to engage more with the Twitter stream. Eep. That’s here: https://twitter.com/mamohanraj/

Wait, you said a BLOG? That thing we used to call an ‘online journal,’ back in the day? That’s right, folks, — my blog, which is the 3rd oldest on the internet, according to the Online Diary History Project, is STILL GOING, from December 1995 on. I am starting to think it (and that includes all of this nonsense) will be my most lasting literary contribution, an early chronicle of the opening up of life (and privacy) on the net, for better or worse. There was a while when I wasn’t posting to the blog very much, but now, everything I post here gets copied there. And you can even subscribe, so the posts come straight to your mailbox! You can uncouple yourself entirely from the social media vortex and still read my ramblings. The blog is here: http://maryannemohanraj.com

“Words words words, I’m so sick of words” — show me the pretty pictures! I have SO MANY pictures for you, mostly of food, flowers, #spacekittens#earthdoggo, children, and travels hither and yon. They can be found at my Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/maryannemohanraj

But Mary Anne, what if I want to throw some pennies your way for all this fabulous content? Ah, then you want to stop by PATREON and subscribe, for which I will be forever grateful — it gives me the flexibility to work on projects that aren’t necessarily commercially viable OR of interest to my university, but which I love — it also lets you join the cookbook club, which I’m a little behind on but more coming very soon, esp. gluten-free: https://www.patreon.com/mohanraj

*****

Food, you say? Maybe you’re ONLY interested in the domestic stuff? No problem!

We’re splitting off Serendib Home (food / garden / home, so if you just want domestic posts, you can get them in these places:

Serendib Kitchen blog: http://serendibkitchen.com (also where you can still pre-order the cookbook at discounted Kickstarter prices)

Serendib Kitchen Instagram (new! will be full of pictures soon!): https://www.instagram.com/serendib_kitchen/

Serendib Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/132029834135500/

Serendib Page: https://www.facebook.com/mohanrajserendib/

*****

Oh, one last thing — if you just want a very minimal, condensed, somewhat erratic version of all this, you can subscribe to my newsletter. We’re aiming for once a month, which would mostly be author-related content. No promises, though! It’s here: https://tinyletter.com/mohanraj

And that’s it, for now. WHEW. This has been coming for some time, and it’s honestly a relief, having it all better organized.

Must feed the social media machine. It demands continuous flow of content… 

#blog
#serendibkitchen

2020 Sri Lanka Creativity Retreat

There are a lot of complexities involved in planning this Sri Lanka writing retreat — so many variables! The tentative plan is for the main retreat to happen in the south, in Weligama / Talalla, on beautiful beaches with incredible food. I’ve actually never been to that particular area, but I’m confident that Mandy Jayatissa and Suchetha Wijenayake will make sure that we have an amazing time.

I’m going to use ‘writers’ as shorthand through this, but I’m thinking of this trip as not necessarily being for people who identify as writers, but rather, anyone who wants to do a luxurious tropical vacation with a strong creativity component; I’ll be leading journalling sessions, giving prompts to help unlock creativity.

For those who do want to try to write more seriously, I’d plan to include coaching sessions, business of writing conversations around agents and publishing, etc. Maybe I offer some of this as optional evening lectures? I need to figure out how to write all this up so it makes sense. (Hm, I wonder if I can find a local artist who can lead sketching sessions for those interested — maybe Pamudu, if she’s back in the country then?)

For the food tour component, mostly I’m planning to eat with you, talk lots about the food, and hopefully have Suchetha help us find fabulous food options beyond what the hotel provides — he’s awesome at taking you to local places. 

COSTS:

– if you book now, for next June, airfare is around $1500 from Chicago. It’s going to vary a lot. From San Francisco, it looks like more in the $1000 range. From Melbourne, only $500-ish. You’d need to book your own flight!

– the tour itself will cost somewhere in the $2200 range, and cover 10 days and nights of luxury boutique hotel and half board (breakfast and dinner), along with an air-conditioned van (1 for every 6 people), a yoga lesson, visit to turtle hatchery, Madu River safari, and Temple of the Tooth visit in Kandy. Plus lots of cold bottled water. You’d also be able to add on surfing ($20), village experience ($25), and a cooking experience at Galle Fort ($30). Tips not included; I can guide you in budgeting for that.

QUESTION: Would people be interested in childcare? I can explore what the options are there — I’m not really sure. I was originally thinking people wouldn’t bring kids on this. But esp. now that mine are older, I can imagine that you might bring them, and then want to spend some time with your kids, and some time with someone else taking your kids to the pool / beach while you write. But if you’re thinking along those lines, note that the writing sessions won’t be geared towards kids, so you’ll have to occupy them elsewhere somehow. (Kavi, age 12, was very happy to spend a few hours each day reading in her room or playing video games / watching tv, along with the pool time.)

DETAILS:

I still have lots of details to work out with Mandy.  For one, it’s a 2.5 hr drive, I think, from the airport to the hotel area. (Weligama and Talalla are near each other.)

Questions I’ll be working out with her:

a) Galle Fort is on the way down, but I assume you wouldn’t try to stop there right after the airport for your cooking experience, if you opted for that — you’d come back up to do it? It looks like it’s about 45 minutes away from Weligama. A half-day trip?

b) Similarly for the Madu River Safari, which is between Colombo and Galle Fort, maybe 1 hr from the hotels. Another half-day trip?

I need to figure out if these would be in the mornings or the afternoons, so I can plan writing / retreat sessions around them. I’m assuming the turtle hatchery is also in these areas. (I’d like to do all of these, myself!)

c) Now, Kandy is on the other side of Colombo, and it looks like a really long drive from Weligama, 4 hr. I’m not sure the Temple of the Tooth visit makes a lot of sense in that context, unless people were extending their trip and staying in the hill country afterwards.

d) Personally, I’d like to go on, after the writing retreat, to the hill country. Beaches are great, but some of my favorite areas of Sri Lanka are in the hills, where the air is cool and the gardens are gorgeous, among the tea plantations. It’s maybe 5-6 hrs away to Nuwara Eliya, from where you can visit Horton Plains and Adam’s Peak. (I’d love to talk to Mythri and find out if anyone she worked with for her book would be willing to talk with me; as I’m reading it, I’m realizing how little I know about this region.)

So should I ask Mandy to also price out an additional 5 days in the hill country? I can just do that on my own, of course — I don’t know if writers would be interested in that segment of the trip?

e) And finally, I definitely want to go back to Sigiriya myself, for research purposes, which is another 4-5 hours north, to the cultural triangle area, from where you can explore the (hot) ancient cities. So for me, another 5 days in that area would be terrific, and then a 5 hour drive back to the Colombo area. Probably to Negombo directly for one more day on the beach before flying out.

Again, would writers be interested in that segment, or should I just plan to do it on my own?

I also have to figure out which parts of this to bring my family along for, if any. I don’t really want to leave them for three solid weeks (which is what I’m envisioning, when I map out my part of the trip), but I’m not sure Kevin and the kids will want to come for that long. I don’t know if Jed or Karina will want to come again that soon either. They could join for just part of it, perhaps. Anand loves the beach, so maybe just have them come for the beach part, which none of them have been to either? But on the other hand, Kevin is very much not a beach person, and would enjoy the hill country more. So many factors.

***

None of this even gets us to the north, to Jaffna or Trinco, and I’m torn, because I haven’t been there since I was a little girl. But I think it’s just too much to try to cram into one trip — summer 2020 I think is the ‘figure out how to do the writing retreat well’ trip, and then maybe 2022 is the return to the north trip….?

(NayomiYudhanjayaSugi — still figuring out what we can do in terms of including all of you as teachers / facilitators. Possibly not in 2020, but we’ll see? Maybe hold the first half of June semi-open for now?)

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Please comment here if you’d like to be put on the ‘notify’ list for when registration becomes available.

#blog
#serendibkitchen