Listen To The Don’ts


Things fell a bit silent here, my apologies. Caring for my cat left me somewhat exhausted.

This past weekend I rallied some, just in time for my parents coming into town. One of the sights we visited while I played tour guide was Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden – where, conveniently, they were in the midst of their annual Chile Pepper Festival. (I figured it would safely appeal to them both — Mom would ooh and ah over the gardens themselves, while Dad would get into the various food and tasting booths they had set up to celebrate the chili pepper.)

One of the events they had was the annual return of one of Matt Timm’s cooking “takedowns”. I told him how I’d missed out on the signup for the next bacon event – but he tipped me off to a couple of upcoming events that aren’t on the web site yet.

And one of them is a cookie takedown.

Well.

The last takedown I competed in, the bacon one, I think I suffered by not putting enough thought into what I was doing. But with a two-month lead time…I think I could at the very least give things a good run for their money.

I’ve gotten a couple ideas already, so I may be spoiling friends thoroughly over the next couple months asking them to play guinea pig for various cookie ideas.

…Oh, and did I mention that one of the things my parents brought for me from home was a couple big bags of just-picked cranberries, and that both the ideas I have for cookies incorporate cranberries as ingredients?

So part of reading all 1001 Books involves obtaining those 1001 books. Which you can do one of three ways:

1. Be independantly wealthy enough to buy all 1001 of them, including the rare limited-edition versions of the things that are out of print, and to also have an enormous endless library with polished oak and mahogany shelves and maybe a couple velvet window seats or an enormous cushy armchair and one of those way fun wheelie ladders and a fireplace and Vivaldi softly playing in the background and you can go there whenever you want and the more I write about this the more it makes me want to gnash my teeth that I can’t have it so I’m going to stop now.

2. Stalk your library for them, thus putting yourself up against the several hundred high school students who also have to read some of the books in question, and making repeated visits to see if the person who has had out the sole copy of Cryptonomicon since last Thanksgiving has happened to possibly bring it back, and pestering the librarians to use Interlibrary loan to get the one copy of Tale Of A Tub that they even know is in the state from that one library in Buffalo, and then later on pay hefty library fines because there’s no way in hell you could possibly read Proust in only three weeks to you’ve had to keep renewing it periodically and then you forgot and now you owe the library twenty bucks.

or:

3. Paperback Swap.

I love Paperback Swap. A former roommate introduced me, when he moved in after the previous roommate had moved out — she was moving away to Australia, and was forced to leave some of her things behind for me to “keep what you want and sell what you don’t.” However — among the things she left behind were fifteen boxes of books, and stoop sales can only do so much.

Enter Paperback Swap. You post a list of books you want to get rid of, and if someone claims one, you mail it to them (you pay for postage, but it’s only a couple bucks) and then you get a point. And then — you can use that point to claim a book off someone else’s list, and they send it to you. I eagerly listed all fifteen boxes of books, and fairly quickly got it down to a much more manageable three shelves. Which means, I also had that many points to trade in for books.

Free books. Oooh.

After first indulging in a couple rare children’s book finds (“sweet, I haven’t read The Tyger Voyage since I was nine!”), I started patrolling it for books off the 1001 list, ordering them as I saw them, and now have a small stack of “to be read” on a side table in the living room.

It’s a nearly perfect system — I still have enough points to stock up when the stack starts running low, and as I read something, I have the option of just keeping it — like I’m probably going to do with the lovely Jacob’s Room — or re-listing it on Paperback Swap and sending it off to someone else (like I’m doing with Tale of Genji, now that I’ve finally finished).

I have always been a reader — I learned when I was about two and a half, mainly from Mom plunking me in front of Sesame Street a lot. So the goal of reading through the “1001 Books To Read Before You Die” list is actually fairly attainable, and I’m already about 10% of the way through. So you’d think this would be easy.

However.

I’ve not only always been a reader, I’ve always had very definite tastes in my reading. And one of the things that I have always turned up my nose at is silly romances.

…And “silly romances” is a good descriptor for about 60% of the books on the list.

Am struggling through The Tale Of Genji right now – okay, yeah, it’s a classic of the Japanese canon, and some say it’s the first-ever novel or the first novel that analyzes the mindset of the hero or whatever. I can respect that. But all that this “hero” ever seems to be doing is getting into doomed love affairs with delicate beauties and having angst about it, and I keep wondering why I would ever want to read about someone who’s so damn…idly wimpy. “Do something,” I want to tell this guy. “Start a farm, explore a palace, make a sword, build a boat, just do something instead of mooning around writing poetry for ladies of the court.”

But I’m continuing to slog through it, because…it’s part of the goal. At least it’s short.

So some of the things on my list are clearly long shots. I’ve talked about this list with a couple people, and they’ve raised eyebrows and chuckled at some of the things I mention, gently teasing that “well, I guess that could happen…”

The thing is, I’m not 100% serious about the really long-shot ones either. I mean — seriously, I am so far off from being positioned to write for the BBC that it’s laughable (first: I’m American, second: I haven’t written anything of note, third: I haven’t written anything resembling a draft yet).

So why bother putting them down on the list?

I considered not. But I realized that if I started leaving things off the list on the grounds that they were “unattainable,” it would be all too easy to talk myself into thinking some things were also unattainable when they were really not. Which is all too easy a trap to fall into. Putting even the “crazy” things on this list, on the other hand, encourages you to check out some of the practicalities behind them – and you may find that some of those “crazy” things aren’t all that crazy.

Okay, David Tennant may be a long shot still, but…know something? I looked into some listings on the New York Times real estate section, and “owning my own apartment” isn’t quite as far-fetched as I thought.

So — the biggest problem with making a t-shirt quilt was the fact that I…sort of don’t own a sewing machine.

But that actually encouraged me to turn to other people for help — which may also be a good thing overall in general, as I try to be a little Stoic sometimes.

I belong to a knitting group, and there is a lot of double-crafting going on in that group; one member also quilts, another also crochets, still others also spin and still others also make their own jam and preserves. So I asked the quilter how I could get at a cheap sewing machine.

…It’s actually kind of embarrasing that she was the one that reminded me of the obvious – Craigslist. (Duh.)

But then she told me about the Etsy labs, where it looks like I just pay a membership fee and can then use their equipment while they’re open. And — there would be people there who could help with the second problem I’ve got — I sort of don’t know how to sew that well.

So I’d have sewing machines there, and people to help me use them. Perfect!

I got excited enough about my progress to dig out those t-shirts this weekend and start planning. But that’s where I ran into my second obstacle — I actually don’t have enough show t-shirts to make a quilt.

So.

I do have enough, however, to make a quilted pillow sham. So change of plans!

Listen to the Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts,
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts,
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me —

Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.
— Shel Silverstein

One of the things I really want to talk about is these “Don’ts”. The obstacles that I have, the things that have kept me from doing all of the things on my list up to this point.

Which I realize may sound a little counter-intuitive. I’m supposed to be all gung-ho, and “I can do it! Go me!” But I never really have been much of a “Power Of Positive Thinking” kind of person; I’m just a little too practical. Sheer belief is simply not going to get the job done — you need a road map, you need to know the tools that will get you to where you want to go.

And on any road map, you need to know where the roadblocks are. Because when you know where the roadblocks are, you can figure out how to navigate around them. But the only way to navigate around them is by facing what roadblocks are actually there.

In one of the introductions to one of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels, Tori Amos wrote a bit about this:

…there is change in the “what is” but change cannot be made till you accept the “what is.” […] if you allow yourself to feel the way you really feel, maybe you won’t be afraid of that feeling anymore.
When you’re on your knees you’re closer to the ground. things seem nearer somehow. If all I can say is I’m not in this swamp, I’m not in this swamp then there is not a rope in front of me and there is not an alligator behind me…

And to be honest, allowing myself to feel dissatisfied is what was at the heart of this. My friend Colin and I joked at the beginning of this year that we were both probably going through mid-life crises, and we jokingly made the New Year’s Resolution that we would “be less lame” in 2010. But — that’s the biggest thing that spurred me on to this, was that I have been pretty lame.

So that’s why I need to look at the obstacles so far — because they’re excuses I was using to let me stay being lame. So instead of excuses, they’re now just problems. And problems can be solved.