July 20, 2005

A Non-Celebrity Interview

[Ed. Note: This post has not yet been vetted for typos or coherance. No time for love, Dr. Jones. But I must run and I wanted to get it up.]

So, basically this blog thing is a place where I come to ramble about random stuff that amuses or perplexes me, which is read by a small group of family and friends who hopefully don't think I'm too weird for having read it. It's only useful purpose it to reassure my mother that I'm alive, a purpose I could obviate if I would only call once in a while...but I digress. There are other blogs in the world, funny, interesting ones, that I like to read. One of them is Miscellaneous, Etc. and in a recent post of his he offerred up an intriguing idea, and since I'm generally starved for post ideas, I jumped in. It's a bit like a chain letter. The rules are thus:

1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying "Interview me."
2. I will respond by asking you five questions - each person's will be different. I'll post the questions in the comments section of this post.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

So I got my questions. I feel strangely compelled to answer them honestly, even when doing so has the potential to make me look like a tool.

1. What is your proudest moment of the last twenty-four hours? The last month? The last year?

Last twenty-four hours: The last twenty-four hours in the Diablevert household were spectacularly uneventful. Possible candidates for proudest moment include: finally washing that pile of sheets that's been hanging around for ages and drying them outside on the line instead of wasting expensive electricity. Adding a little bit of real vanilla bean to the chopped apples in the half-assed strudel thing (recipe follows) I threw together since I had a leftover sheet of puffed pastry, which lent a piquant note to the cinammony-nutmegyness of the proceedings. If there's anything I like, it's a piquant half-assed strudel. (Though you did not ask, possible candidates for most shameful moment include accidentally cutting into the bottom of the half-assed strudel when I was taking it off the cookie sheet, thus causing all the carefully sealed in syrupy goodness to leak out. Bonus fun fact: Do you know you can get high off nutmeg?[1] Choke down a couple of tablespoons and it'll make you hallucinate. Unfortunately, the nutmeg high is supposed to combine the worst aspects of brown acid and PCP and last for like, three days. Three harrowing days of howling dismembered baby heads and invisible bugs crawling under your skin. Just say no, kids.) Or possibly the proudest moment was when I finally threw together a post for my blog, which I've neglecting for a month.

Oh, wait --- this part of the question was so easy, and I didn't remember because it happened last night, and I was thinking of yesterday --- My proudest moment of the past 24 hours was when my sister emailed me to say she had seen the previews for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and it made her remember how much she had liked the book when she was little and I read it aloud to her, and so she had bought herself a copy and re-read it and was emailing to know if I thought my copies of the subsequent books in the series were still mouldering in our parent's basement. This was especially pleasing, because while my sister has an excellent memory, most of the time when she evokes a vividly etched scene of her childhood it seems to involve me and/or my brother tormenting her in some way. Pete the Pink Elephant, we hardly knew ye.

Past month: I feel a bit like an ass bringing this up, but you said proud. I just finished up a writing workshop and was chatting before the last class with the teacher and a fellow student about future plans for our writing and our lives in general. She asked me if I had considered going to school for an MFA in creative writing, and I said no and explained my reasons, and she told me that she thought that was wise, that I didn't need to go back for an MFA because I wouldn't get much out of it, I was already there. She herself had been through an MFA program and has several years' experience in teaching writing, so it was heartening to hear that as I'm kind of at a point where I'm trying to work on stuff but it's going a lot slower than I'd like and I'm not even collecting as many rejection slips as I ought to be, never mind getting published. I feel very embarrassed mentioning this.

Past year: Probably when I finished a long story, the longest I'd written up to then, which had been bouncing around in my head for years. It felt really good to have completed it. I did the last bits, three or four pages worth, in one big push, and I felt it had turned out well. That was awesome. It lasted like, three four days. Then I thought it sucked, of course.

2. What is one talent that you feel you lack, and that you wish you had?

I wish I had rhythm. I can't dance for shit. I can't do Miss Mary Mack or "Miss Lucy had a steamboat..." Hell, I can't even jump rope.

3. Were you ever bullied, and if so, do you remember who your worst bully was?

Bullied, no. I can't say I liked high school much---let's put it this way, there's no entry for me in my senior yearbook. (Ensuring that should I ever rise to fame I will have thwarted VHI's best embarrassing-photo researchers! Bwahahahaha!) But I was never anybody's personal punching bag, literally or psychologically.

4. If you could upgrade four things about your body, which would they be, in order?

Upgrade. Upgrade. Interesting word. A very guy word, I think, if you don't mind my saying so. Like a car or a hardrive or a cyborg. I think I'm over-thinking this, but upgrade makes me think of adding a component, or switching out an old part for a new and better one, and this makes this question seem more of a challenge to me than perhaps it is intended to be. There's a lot I'd like to change about myself, but I suppose in a way they always struck me as fundamental changes, things that would alter my nature rather than enhance it, so I don't know if they count. I am assuming superpowers are out? Nevertheless, here goes.

1. My metabolism. I would like to be one of those fuckers who can burn more calories sitting around pondering the infinite than the rest of us do huffing around the block. Or in other words, I would like to be able to eat like I do without being as fat as I am. Je suis Americaine, n'est-ce pas? (I feel a bit guilty about this one; if I got off my ass more, I wouldn't have to wast a genie-wish on such things).

2. My skeleton. I would like to elongate it, so that I ended up two or three inches taller, not so stocky, with fingers that weren't so stubby. Cheekbones could use a trifle more definition, too. Stretch the frame and smooth the curves and end up a little more elegant all over. In good light and the right dress I might be able to plump for voluptuous, but I don't think I could manage elegant and I'd like to.

3. My voice. I don't think my voice is all that unpleasent---I don't have Fran Drescher's nasal screech or Jennifer Tilly's bubble-headed squeak---but whenever I hear myself on tape I always sound much younger that I do in my head. Younger and ...goofier? I don't know, I can't quite describe the undesirable quality that irks me. I wish it were a bit deeper and sultrier. A touch of Lauren Bacall. Not all the way down to Kathleen Turner territory; I wouldn't wish to be able to play myself as a drag queen. Maybe that counts as a downgrade, not an upgrade? And really, when you come to think of it, that's not an unattainable goal, if I follow the Dicky Barrett route and just get cracking with the whiskey and cigarettes.

This was actually quite hard. I haven't even come up with a fourth thing that seems worth wasting a wish on. I'm not sure why this is so difficult; perhaps I feel like changing really substantial things would change me too fundamentally; I wouldn't be myself anymore and I don't want that. Like, if I unscrewed my face and changed it for Charlize Theron's or what have you, I would undubitably be more attractive. But would I be myself? I find it hard to imagine looking out from my eyes and seeing another face in the mirror and feeling like myself. Maybe that's why the things I want to change seem in some ways superficial.

5. Should more Americans go abroad, and do you think that would be good for American culture?

Hmmm. My first inclination, as usual, is to be snide. My second is to be long-winded (but if you made it this far you already knew that). Let's hope third time's the charm.

Maybe bullet points would give some form or shape to my will o' the wisp, push-pull thoughts on this matter:

*Is it not the case that the people who would want to go, who are eager to experience strange lands and foreign customs, are already the ones less likely to be parochial and xenophobic and red-blooded in their views? Because that's what the pallative is meant to cure, isn't it? American ignorance and arrogance?

*If the goal is to make Americans more coginzent of the rest of the world --- that's not exactly the way you put the question, I know, but when I think of what might possibly be better about American culture because of such exposure, this is what my mind leaps to --- I think it would be far more effective to concnetrate on improving history education especially in secondary school. Because I agree that such ignorance is a problem; it leaves you in a situation where you turn on the news and hear about the latest crisis and think, "oh, well, it's just those people at each other again," and you have no real concept of who "those people" are and what they're at each other over. I graduated from a fairly good suburban high school, and I had pretty good grades, but I think if you asked me when I was 18 to give a brief outline of world history it would have been something like "There was Greeks, and then Romans....and then some stuff happened...and then there was knights, and Protestantism, and Columbus fits in there somewhere, and then the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, um...some more stuff...maybe stuff was ...Gilded?....and factories and communism was invented and we got entangled in WWI and then flappers and then the Depression and WWII and the Cold War the end." We never got past Kennedy, I think, even in my American history classes. I had no real concept of the history of the Middle East, India, China, Russia, Africa, South America, Mexico, Canada, Central America... I could go on, and there's plenty of stuff I'm still ignorant of yet. But I think, and hopefully I don't sound like an ass, that during college and after I learned more than maybe the average person does, just because I tend to read a lot and I would get interested in stuff when I realized how gaping a hole in my knowledge of a particular area (and by area I mean like, continent) was. To take a hugely inflamatory example, how can one really form an opinion on say, the Isreali-Palestinian conflict without being able to define the word Zionism? You don't even know what they're fighting over. And that the situation I think a lot of Americans are in, that they just don't know history, and contemporary knowledge is gleaned from bleeds-it-leads-news and the propaganda of various political mouthpieces, if it is gleaned at all...Hi, I'm George Santayana, and I'll be your long-winded blogger this evening

*Plus, what kind of go abroad? The kind of go abroad that is in the avergae adult's capacity is the vacation, and I think it is perfecty possible to jaunt from the Opera House to the Eiffle Tower to Monet's garden in your air-conditioned tour bus and still have the phrase that leaps to your mind when you hear the word "French" be "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." If you mean a longer stay, to live and work in a different place, the type of thing which is in the capacity of the young...I'm still not sure, to be honest. I think the thing that is universal about going to live in another culture is the challenge of it. That certainly varies, from place to place, and according to situation---do you speak the language, etc.---and I think that's probably good for the soul for the individual involved. But good for America? I don't know. You might go back home with fond memories of the place and its people, but that doesn't necessarily extend to other places, other people. You might go and hate the other place, you might go and only be confirmed in your prejudices, or develop new ones, you might come back and be counted a weirdo for the customs you picked up elsewhere....

*Plenty of the Irish go abroad, for vacations and summer jobs and, especially in the past, as emigrants. I have not noticed that it has made them particularly more welcoming to foreigners coming here. I've met tons of Australians over here; I was chatting with an Australian fellow and mentioned to him that it seemed to me that because their continent is the ass end of nowhere from everywhere else, it's expected that young people will spend a few years travelling in their twenties because they're never going to have the time and money to do that when they're older, and he agreed with me pretty eagerly. Yet, Nauru. (Good This American Life story on Nauru here[2].)

*Lastly, you've got to ask yourself how this would affect Canada. A serious increase in the number of Americans travelling abroad would mean a concurrent increase in the number of Americans pretending to be Canadian so as not to get hassled, and with a big enough uptick in those numbers we might put a serious dent in the Canadian reputation for politeness.[3]

[1]Parents: I do not speak from personal experience.
[2] I don't mean that I think all Australians are xenophobic, and I'm sure there's more to the story than is covered in the sources I've pointed to. All I mean is that you can take a whole country in which almost all young people who have the means go out and see a fair chunk of the world, and the government of said country can still take a very stringent, katy-bar-the-door, you-don't-have-to-go-home-but-you-can't-stay-here stance toward a boatload of starving refugees.
[3] Do you even know how hard it was not to end a sentence in that paragraph with "eh?"

Half-Assed Strudle

1 Sheet puff pastry, defrosted
3 Apples --- I used under-ripe golden delicious, but granny smith or what have you would work
1/4 of a vanilla bean
1 lemon wedge
1 tsp grated cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup sugar
2-3 tsp water
Powered sugar, if you got it.

1. Split your portion of vanilla bean down the middle to release the grainy goodness of vanilla. Put it in a cup with the water (and a chunk of cinnammon stick if you have it on had) and zap in the microwave for a minute or two to help release the vanilla flavor. In the meantime,
2. Peel, core, and finely dice your apples --- you want little chunks, a la a Mott's fruit cup.
3. Toss apple chunks in a bowl with vanilla water, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg (fresh grated tastes best. This has been a public service message from Food Snobs International). Squirt with lemon wedge to keep apples from going brown, and stir till everything's coated. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in fridge for a couple hours to marinate. You can leave the vanilla bean in while's marinating, just remember to take it out before you bake.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 (200 Celcius). Lightly grease a cookie sheet and lay the pastry on top of it.
5. Spoon your apple chunks over the pastry sheet so they make a large pile in the middle --- it's the best way to keep the syrup from running everywhere. Fold in the four corners of the sheet so that they meet in the center (bit like making a fortune teller) and pinch shut any open seams. Make a couple small slits in the top of the pastry package to release steam.
6. Pop it in the over for about 45 minutes to an hour, until golden brown.
7. Take out, let cool, put it on a plate if you're serving it to peeps, and dust with powdered sugar if you've got some. Very good served warm with a drizzle of heavy cream.

Posted by Diablevert at July 20, 2005 11:55 AM

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