Ursula Bethell: Day Three

Today I got to work at 11:30am, had a long, useful, fun lunch with a friend-slash-linguist, and left at 5:30pm with 2000 more words in the bank. 2k a day is what I’m aiming at in this messy, get-it-out, fix-it-later first draft. I hit that goal for the first time today, despite starting late, despite feeling my way through character and voice and (let’s be honest) plot.

It helps to have an office. It helps to have very little *in* the office: desk, chair, computer, and the work that needs to be done. It helps to have my writing girl gang on G-chat – they’re in the US, and write at night, which works very well with my new schedule.

It helps, so much, that this is the only thing I have to do now: show up and write, five days a week.

Progress today: 2011 words.
Progress overall: 4461 words.

Ursula Bethell: Day Two

This residency involves pigeons. They roost outside my window, cooing and billing. The Brutalist concrete of the Karl Popper building is probably the closest architectural equivalent to the rocky cliffs that were their perches before the smart monkeys showed up, so it’s no wonder they feel at home.

I will remember this in summer, which is not here yet. I watched clouds roll in over the hills this afternoon.

One of my protagonists is country-born, migrated to the city to pursue her ambitions. Another came in childhood, moving with her parents to escape the memories of a lost sibling. The last was captured and brought there against his will.

Strangers see things citizens do not.

I wonder if I can justify a road trip somewhere as “research”.

Progress today: 1386 words
Progress overall: 2450 words

Ursula Bethell: Day One

I am fortunate enough to be spending the next six months as one of two University of Canterbury Ursula Bethell Writers in Residence, which is definitely the longest job title I have ever had.

PROOF:

This is due to the generosity of the university, of Creative New Zealand, and of my excellent dayjob employers, who gave me six months leave. My colleagues also gave me new post-its when I left, because they get me.

Today, I got my security card, key and parking permit, bought stationery, set up my computer, and plotted the first part of a novel on post-its. Then I wrote a thousandish words.

This is going to be good.

Progress: 1052 words.

Guardian of the Dead, and asexual representation in 2017.

In 2006 I wrote the first draft of a book that became Guardian of the Dead. In 2008 I sold the publishing rights to Little, Brown and Allen and Unwin. On April 1st, 2010, the book was published.

The novel features a side character named Kevin Waldgrave, a 17-year-old Maori boy who loves acting and science, who is fiercely protective of his friends, who is gunning for an important scholarship at his impressive boarding school.

He is asexual. He says he is asexual, on the page.

In 2010, he was one of very few explicitly asexual characters in any fictional media. In 2010, he was one of the first, maybe the first, explicitly asexual characters in young adult literature.

It’s 2017.

Every now and then, Guardian of the Dead appears on asexual representation recommendation lists. Over the last seven years, those lists have changed a lot. They used to look like “Sherlock, kind of!” “The Big Bang Theory, according to some people!” “In Guardian of the Dead, Kevin actually says he’s asexual!” Now they look like: “This explicitly asexual main character is great, and so is this one, and also this one, and then there’s Kevin from Guardian of the Dead, sidenote, not a main character.”

I think Guardian of the Dead is now on these lists because of a brief moment of historical significance, and I think it’s time to take it off.

I know Kevin has been really important to a lot of people. I’ve had email and conversations with people for whom he was the first representation of an important part of their identity. If Kevin, or the fact of his existence, is or was valuable to you, I’m so glad.

But in 2017, I don’t think he’s a good example of asexual representation. He’s not a main character – it’s Ellie’s story. Kevin’s coming out is too much like a confession, my terminology inaccurate and out of date, my explication of his sexuality too glib and misleading. He disappears from the narrative at the halfway point, which works fine for the plot, but is terrible for representation purposes.

And Kevin’s writer isn’t ace. I did the research and I talked to people, but this is not own voices work – this was me, an allosexual writer, awkwardly doing the best she could with the resources she had in 2006, revising in 2008, for a book published in 2010. In 2010, a lot of people were happy with this. (A lot weren’t, and I’m sorry.) I really hoped that this would help people. I didn’t want Kevin to be the only one; I wanted there to be more, and better.

That’s happening now. Many other writers have created other works with asexual and aromantic and demi-sexual characters. They are main characters, the focus of their own stories. More, many of these writers identify as ace or demi and/or aromantic, and create characters not at a distance, from research, but from experience, from within a community I was never part of. (I don’t want to create my own recs list here, because I’m not an ace-spectrum reader either, but I am especially fond of the excellent and demisexual Seanan McGuire’s post-portal fantasy, Every Heart A Doorway, which stars asexual magical mystery solver Nancy.)

I can’t stop you from doing anything, and I have no right to instruct you. You are absolutely free to recommend Guardian of the Dead to anyone, for any reason.

But, insofar as the author is alive in 2017, she thinks it would be a good idea to omit Guardian of the Dead from future asexual representation lists.

Multiplicity

Our router broke and it’s taking three days to get a new one. Meanwhile, no wireless at home.

AHAHAHAH I KNOW. WHAT.

Today I was getting so desperate that I contemplated going to Coffee Culture and eating cake while exploiting their free wifi so that I could make this post and work on SECRET PROJECT. However, today I thoroughly munted my left latissimus dorsi and I am not putting a bra on again until five minutes before I walk to work tomorrow.

It turns out I can upload to WordPress from my phone. Oh brave new world, that has such functions in it, and yet we still can’t get a new router until tomorrow, WHAT.

HERE have some scattered non Food Bag images from the week.

Black legs red boots sleeping bag coat

I took a lot of bus stop leg selfies this week. This was on Wednesday, right before I got on the bus to go to the Nerd Degree podcast recording for July, wherein I said a lot of stuff about Star Trek that may not have been entirely, when viewed from a strictly essentialist position, true.

Let it not be said that MC Andrew Todd doesn’t know how to dress for the occasion:

Captain Andrew

On Thursday morning I tried to put sunscreen on my face, as recommended by all sensible women’s magazines, and there was a slight mishap:

Sunscreen no

On Monday there was a surprise M&M in my bed:

Surprise m&m

In Sunday I had planned to eat brunch, then look at art. Brunch was disappointing:

Disappointing brunch

When the hostess asked me how the meal had been, I, cheeks heated with the embarrassment of my own gall, told her the hollandaise had lacked tang. (Actually, it lacked any flavour beyond “yellow”, but I was trying to be usefully specific.)

Today I renamed my constant, ever-updating to-do list, in honor of the dearly departed The Toast:

Too witches to worry

On Saturday evening I marked the last of a pile at Orleans, by candlelight, with a glass of wine:

Marking in style

And Saturday’s breakfast was an enormous omelette. I feel Nadia would have been proud:

Omelette

These turning days

Countdown to term holidays – FOUR DAYS TO GO!

I may even get some marking done.

My Saturday was devoted to marking, housework, friend time and babysitting; my Sunday to brunch, art, and A SECRET PROJECT. I had a mild desire, but no pressing urge, to blog the second half of the week, and then my next Food Bag turned up (at the wrong house, but I worked it out) and it was time to start again.

So here: pictures. ALSO, are some of these turned around the wrong way for you? They frequently are for me, and even when I get them right on my desktop they’re wrong on my phone. If you know how to fix it, please tell me.

Wednesday night was a tasty lamb and roast vege salad. The most exciting thing that happened in its creation was that I ran out of baking paper and used foil instead; also that I added potatoes and carrots to bulk it out and got three meals out of a recipe for one. Nice, self, nice:

1 lamb and roast vege salad

Thursday’s Sunday’s roast potato salad with egg aioli had more interest in that it required me to grate hard-boiled eggs.

GRATE them! I never knew this was a thing that could be done with eggs. But it can, and it was delightful to carefully drag each egg against the grater and watch it crumble obediently through the holes. I have never grated anything with more ease; not even apples.

2 GRATED EGGS

And here’s what the whole meal looked like:

2 roast potato salad with egg aoli

On Sunday evening, I retrieved my food from the wrong doorstep (we have an idiosyncratically-placed mailbox, and honestly I was expecting this at some point) and opened the fruit box to find NO PINEAPPLE. Huzzah! Instead, there were dates, grapes (niiiice) and a disconcertingly sexy pear:

3 sexy pear

Tonight’s dinner was Fish with Smoky Colcannon Potatoes and Kale (Go On Karen It Won’t Kill You) and also Broccoli Salsa, I Bet You Didn’t Know Broccoli Could Be Salsa.

I chose to recognise this as a knowing nod to my Irish ancestry. Six years ago I visited Dublin for three days and ate a cobb salad at the Hard Rock Cafe in Temple Bar, and ever since I’ve felt very spiritually connected to my Celtic roots.

(I also went to a W. B. Yeats exhibition and detailed for my companion what a total Nice Guy he was. IF SHE SAYS NO TO THE FIRST PROPOSAL, WILLIAM, THAT IS A SIGN. YOU’RE NOT MR DARCY.)

All my cooking life, whether I have steamed it or tossed it in a stirfry, or thrown it into a quiche, I have cut up broccoli one way: I have taken the little tree of the broccoli head and turned it into tiny trees. Sometimes half or a third of a tiny tree, depending on the size of the mouthful I wanted, but the basic tree shape was still discernible.

This time, Nadia instructed me to “finely chop” my broccoli in preparation for weirdo not-salsa, so my tiny trees look like I fed them into a tiny woodchipper:

3 tiny trees

I was supposed to “smash”, not “mash” the potatoes. Wooden spoon, not masher. This could be fun on more frustrating days.

3 colcannon

And here is the fish and colcannon, looking not very like the picture at all:

3 fish and colcannon with picture

Actually, this is about half of it; this was a really huge recipe for one meal, and I put the rest aside for tomorrow’s lunch. I didn’t even eat everything on the plate. Yeats’ revenge!

Casting up my accounts

On Tuesday night my flatmate/landlady announced that we had a mouse infestation.

She’d found mouse droppings in the cupboard where we keep the pots and pans. Dirty mouse feet had climbed over my cooking utensils, probably for weeks.

I gagged. Then I took my leftovers, leftovers prepared with moused-up pans, out of the fridge and ate them anyway, because you’re NOT THE BOSS OF ME, MICE. (For the record, I don’t think that the mice were responsible for what happened next, because they HAD been there for a while. They are merely a decorative detail in the rich tapestry of disgusting.)

At school the next day, I was vaguely queasy in period one. At the start of period two, I grabbed my phone, raced next door and asked a colleague to keep an eye on my class while I went to the bathroom, where I spent some time 1) [excluded for decency] 2) crying 3) sitting on the bathroom floor, wiping mascara stains off my face, and sending an email asking for someone to cover my remaining period so that I could go home and be disgustingly ill in relative peace.

It wasn’t quite as bad as the moment where I saw my sister in the airport and knew that my dad was dead – nothing in my entire, privileged, extraordinarily fortunate life has ever been that bad – but it wasn’t great either.

There is so much to be happy about in my life at the moment: the Nerd Degree, my recent trip to WisCon, an increasing ability and determination to write something (anything), an increasing competence and ease with teaching, supportive colleagues (who got my classes covered and me home quicksmart), incredible friends who will talk about books, politics, strange vegetables and collage supplies with equal facility.

Hashtag-blessed-but-ultimately-ungrateful because I want to be able to tell my dad about all of it and I fucking can’t.

I will never be able to tell him good news again. He will never say, “That’s great, honey! That’s really great!” and then segue to a discussion of his golf scores. I had him for nearly 35 years, and I loved him for nearly every minute of it, and now he’s gone.

Hang on, I need to get another tissue. I’ve snotted right through this one.

Wednesday sucked. By Wednesday night my stomach had stopped expelling everything I’d put in it. I had been inconveniently hungry the whole time, and I was done with it: it was time to eat, and I’d deal with the consequences. I turned to Nadia, and looked for the simplest thing I could find.

Monday: Wednesday: Pan-Fried Salmon with Dill Mayo and Warm Freekeh Salad.

I ditched the mayo, because salmon’s pretty rich on its own, and I was planning to be less sensible than “a piece of dry toast and half a banana” but more sensible than “eggs and oil: a great idea!”. I also left out the onion in the salad because raw onion isn’t always pleasant in the aftertaste, and I’d experienced enough aftertaste for one day.

2 simple salad

My freekeh salad thus constituted boiled young wheat grain thing (new to me; delicious) with chopped baby spinach, lemon zest, lemon juice, and a few drops of olive oil. I was very okay with this.

2 nom salmon

Salmon is just so pretty. I feel like it’s far and away the prettiest protein.

2 salmon and freekah salad

And there was dinner! It took me about an hour to eat in careful bites, while I organised relief for the next day and rubbed my aching abdominals. (Honestly, if I wanted a punishing ab workout, which I never do, I would do crunches, which I never do, so you’d think my body would get the message.)

Two hours later my body made one last grudging protest against nourishment, but I could not regret this meal. Worth it.

Foreshadowing

This has not been a great week.

On Monday, I was very sensible. Self, I said, you have parent-teacher conferences on Tuesday night. The chances of you cooking anything at all that evening are minute. Cook your two meal dinner on Tuesday instead of Monday, and then you can eat delicious leftovers instead of a bag of chips, two apples, and half a pack of breath mints from your handbag.

Self, I replied, you’re very smart.

Tuesday: Monday: Parmesan-Crusted Chicken with Sofrito and Foccacia Bread.

This was the recipe that had wanted both olives and celery, which I got rid of by giving them to various grateful workmates. I did not miss them at all in the ingredient line up:

1 chicken parmesan ingredients

This recipe was one of those occasions where it felt like I did a ton of chopping and prepping and used a bunch of little dishes, and then everything came together in a glorious symphony at the end. Even without Nadia’s experienced advice, I am wise enough to get all my shit together before I cook, especially with several dishes on the go.

Here’s the sofrito mise en place:

1 sofrito mise en place

And here’s the chicken mise en place:

1 chicken mise en place

This recipe required a whole (little) block of Puhoi Valley parmesan cheese, which would have cost me a decent chunk of change at the supermarket, so I was delighted to use it, but a little puzzled. Did I really need that much cheese? It was going to be a LOT of cheese:

1 all the cheese

It was a lot of cheese! I used it all:

1 bye bye cheese

Unfortunately, I wasn’t wise enough to do the thing with the oven clock to turn the oven on, so I busied myself making Bad Collage at the kitchen table for twenty minutes or so. If this had been the most annoying thing to happen this week I would have been flying HIGH.

This meal, fortunately, came together spectacularly. Basil and tomato sofrito is about ninety million times better than basil, tomato, celery and olives sofrito would have been. I still can’t work out how to slice crusted chicken without losing half the crust, but I threw it on there and ate it anyway and it was just as good as you’d expect from a whole block of cheese.

1 parmesan crusted chicken with picture

There was enough left for the next night, AND a sandwich for the next day, which got several compliments in the staffroom. I felt organised and grown-up, which is not the best reason to do My Food Bag (that would be the food, which has ranged from “pretty good” to “this is one of the best things I’ve ever made”) but isn’t a bad side benefit.

1 chicken sammie

See? Nothing bad could happen to a woman with a sandwich like that!

Trifecta

There aren’t many foods I won’t eat. Marmite, sure, but everyone hates Marmite. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to make your mouth as miserable as theirs. This was more difficult to work around when I was a kid, and my brother would stuff a whole piece of Marmite toast into his mouth, put his face right up to mine, and chew open-mouthed, exhaling the rancid yeasty stench, until I either screamed and ran away, or hit him and got in trouble. As an adult, Marmite is easy enough to avoid, and I think I’m safe from discovering it in my food bag.

Although I am dubious about many popular adult foods, especially anything unfamiliar, I will eat them. Beets! Kale! I gave grapefruit another go the other day! (Still too sour.) However, there are three things that I absolutely refuse to put in my mouth: pineapple; celery; olives.

Here is a picture from this Sunday’s delivery:

horrifying trifecta

Nadia, why would you do this to me? I thought we were friends.

I didn’t even check which recipes the celery and olives were for (the pineapple was in the gourmet fruit box again). I just stuck them in a bag to take into work tomorrow. Someone in the staffroom will love these very things I despise. That is a fun thing about life!

Do you ever think that maybe your actual favourite food is something you’ll never eat because you’ll never know that it exists? There are a lot of things you haven’t eaten, and there’s no way to eat all of them before you die.

Also, even if you stopped everything else you do immediately, you will never read all of the good books that exist presently, much less all those yet to be written. Have some fruit:

fruit box

That melon is (discounting pineapple) as gourmet as the fruit box gets this week, but there was a nice recipe for apple tarte tartin, of which I might take advantage.

Meats and such

There are three meat things, because the fourth meal this week is vege based. I approve. I’ve been thinking that I might alternate my Own food bag with the Vege one, because I’m not used to so many meals built around meat. I’ll let you know.

veges and wee packets

Lots of spice packets and fresh herbs this week! This bodes well. Let’s see.

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

When I was a kid, Dad would often, come Friday, look at the contents of the fridge, and declare it a “Bits and Pieces dinner”, which meant he’d scrounge up everything with some vestige of nutritional content that required minimal effort and throw it on a plate.

We loved Bits and Pieces dinner! It was the best time! Sometimes we got chicken nuggets!

It took me embarrassingly far into adulthood to realise that this wasn’t a special treat for our benefit, but the decision of a man, exhausted by a week’s work teaching kids, who was utterly unwilling to put effort into putting together a real meal for yet more kids who wouldn’t appreciate it nearly as much as a poached egg and some carrot sticks.

My palate has evolved a (very) little bit, but I share my father’s attitude to the end of the week. Or, in this case, Thursday, where I taught all morning, and had parent interviews all afternoon and evening. It took me perceptibly longer to walk home, bones weighted down.

On Thursday night, there was no way I was making the mandated Hickory Pulled Pork Tacos with Radish Coleslaw. With the aid of the Fruit Box, I made Bits and Pieces:

bites and pieces

Martini non-optional.

It would have taken about two minutes more to grate the carrot and chop the apple and pear into bits, cube the cheese, and toss that all together with some balsamic vinegar and the last dribble of my good olive oil. That would have made a delicious salad, and a great picture.

I super wasn’t interested in that two minutes. Frankly, it’s astonishing I had the energy to hack off slices of harvarti instead of gnawing bites straight off the block. I ate most of a carrot stick and bit that pear, not because I forgot to take the picture first, but because waiting another five seconds to eat would have been totally unbearable.

I balanced the hummus tub on top and took the plate back to my room. This was a poor decision:

sad hummus

The carpet’s disgusting anyway, but I did resignedly pause long enough to wipe the garlic chickpeas off the heater and scrub vaguely at the carpet. Then I had “dinner”. It was awesome.

For breakfast, I’ve been adding fruit to my usual peanut butter and toast sandwich. Friday morning was grapefruit.

grapefruit is sour

Grapefruit is gross. No more grapefruit, except in cocktails, which I should definitely have saved this for.

Last weekend I only did about three or four hours of school work, which means that I have a lot of planning and marking to do this weekend.

so much marking

Happy Saturday!

But, I could brighten the day by making tacos! Never a bad plan.

Thursday: Saturday: Hickory Pulled Pork Tacos with Radish Coleslaw

pulled pork taco ingredients

The pulled pork was pre-cooked (and pre-pulled!) in a wee vacuum-sealed bag.

I finely diced half an onion and grated half an apple and set them to fry.

frying onion and apple

apple matchsticks

I was to put the rest of the onion and apple in the coleslaw, only – hold onto your seats – CUT UP DIFFERENTLY. I’ve never tried to cut apples into “matchsticks” before. Nadia is clearly obsessed with matchsticks. I’m happy to indulge her unless I’m really hungry and don’t feel like screwing around. I also have vague concerns that she might be an arsonist, especially after she encouraged me to set my lamb on fire.

pulled pork in pan

I don’t mean to be indelicate, but this pulled pork looks like post-dinner.

lined up to make

I love this part of making tacos. It looks so organised and clear!

tacos with picture

There. Actually, by the time I ate, they were getting cold, and the hickory sauce wasn’t spiced to my satisfaction. But a perfectly acceptable lunch (and in two minutes, dinner) on a working Saturday.