On My Decision to Move to Arizona for My MFA

“You’re going to fry,” were the first words a friend told me after I shared the news I am moving to Arizona for my MFA. Subsequently, with everyone I told afterward, regardless of whether or not they gave a supportive and positive response, even at two generous surprise going away parties, I imagined they were really projecting the same heat weary reaction. It’s my own insecurity. I’m excited. And can’t wait, although it’s hard not knowing what I can’t wait for. I sit here on my laptop at a desk I won’t be taking with me next to boxes full of books trying to imagine where they will be in an apartment I don’t have yet and hoping my eyes aren’t deceiving me when I try to fit everything into my two door hatch back. It’s like I’m in this weird limbo with everything up in the air. An MFA is something I’ve wanted to pursue for awhile now. I had applied to programs before with minimal luck — either rejections or not enough funding (Side note: for those who are unfamiliar with MFAs, many applicants get rejected from every school they apply to. Getting in is highly competitive, because most of the top 50 programs in the nation have an acceptance rate of 1.0-3.0%. And for a degree with little straightforward economic utility on the other side of it.) When I applied again, I decided to expand my options geographically with the mindset I would allow this endeavor to take me anywhere. And, it certainly is, the farthest program I applied to.

I’ve lived in Kentucky my whole life. These last few weeks, I’ve been filled with so much nostalgia and sentimentality: how have I not appreciated this picturesque trail in Cherokee Park or remember that one time we drank margaritas on that patio or laughed during that movie night or jumped off that rock quarry or went to that art gallery? It’s the simplistic memories that get to me. But, I need to experience something new and welcome change. For instance, living in my hometown for the past four years has had its frustrations. Hello, soft homophobia via heteronormativity systemically reinforced all the time by those around me, and also the isolated incidents of more blatant slurs, even by those I consider friends. I know Arizona is rife with its own bag of conservatism , but I’ll be steeped in a writing community with like-minded support. This social gripe is peripheral though; the primary reason is creative. I’ll admit, deciding to apply again was an emotionally and not logically based decision. It was about a year ago, and I was starting to get fed up with where I was in my life. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything substantial or pursuing goals I set out a few years ago. So, what the hell? I said on National Bourbon Day, I think it was, and decided to give a go-around with applications. And, it’s worked out. Another part of my insecurity is feeling the need to justify to non-writers why I would want this. As I referenced before, an MFA is not something like a business or medical degree with secured job prospects afterward; it is essentially a 2-3 year artists’ residency. I don’t think I need to defend my decision, but I will say that it’s the right time for me. I’m at an age where if I don’t start taking on what I said I wanted at some point, those dreams seem further away. I feel the need to pursue my artistic ambitions with serious intent right now. And, I’m committing to a stellar program. Even though it’s far, I’m thrilled it’s ASU. And, everyone I’ve been in communication with there has been more than gracious and welcoming with altruistic enthusiasm, which has put me at ease during my uncertain transition period. I couldn’t turn down a top notch offer like this. I know I would be a writer regardless; an MFA does not make someone a writer. But, I think I need a program right now to give me focus and motivate me more. What would my other options have been? Keep working my office job in the same position for the next three years — maybe, who knows? — while writing at night when I get home IF I’m not too mentally drained? The idea of that is grim. What else? A lateral move to another job I also don’t really care much about but that pays the bills? No, I need a sense of growth. That’s not to say my job has been a wholly bad experience, and this isn’t to air work grievances (that would be one lengthy post!). I need to move on though. A writer needs to be a working artist, but I don’t see any of these alternative trajectories getting me or my work anywhere.

Publication is the dream. But, I know I have to be realistic. My rationale is this: afterwards in three years when I’m on a potentially desperate job hunt with an MFA in Fiction writing, it will still have been worth it to me, and I will be in a better place than I am now because of it. During my undergrad when I decided on the Creative Writing major instead of English Education because I didn’t want to teach in a restrictive high school curriculum and the way workshops discuss writing in more substantial ways from the perspective of authorial intent instead of theoretical, political, sociological lenses, I never thought my writing life would take me in this direction, but I feel good that it is. I’m doing it, first and foremost, because I love to write and want to be in a supportive, artistic community to help me get better at it. So friends, think of me fondly for the next three years, lying against a cactus and hunched over my laptop.

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Veg

Am I vegetarian or vegan or pescatarian or flexitarian or what? I cut out meat officially from my diet over a year ago, except I would eat fish on occasion. I loved it. I immediately felt lighter and fresher, and I enjoyed food more. Then two months ago around the year mark, I suddenly had a massive craving for fried chicken seeming to come from nowhere. Even after a year of pretty strictly eliminating meat from my diet, I wanted it. Bad. I admit, I had gotten a little lazy with frozen foods and food that while was technically vegetarian, also wasn’t the healthiest, and I also hadn’t been running like I used to. But, the way those kinds of chemicals in that fried chicken have been ingrained over the course of years and affected what my body was telling me is a little disturbing. I refrained though and re-read research and got back to the reason I went meatless. And, it even inspired me to start eliminating animal byproducts to make more vegan choices. I thought about it pretty hard, but as I’ve started eating more plant based than I ever have before, I’ve felt revitalized and healthy. Better than ever. As the way I’ve eaten has evolved, I’ve felt the need to defend myself and my eating choices. While there are the idiots out there who only consider a meal “real food” if it has meat, most of it is my insecurity. Vegetarian/Vegan eating has always seemed taboo and extreme, at least this is the attitude I’ve gotten, and once held myself. I’m surprised to find it’s really not that unusual or difficult, and I’ve loved what I’ve been eating lately, so I wanted to share.

Sorry for the blur on this. It’s a pretty simple pasta, but so good. Whole wheat penne with roasted asparagus, a store bought Simple Truth Tomato Basil marinara sauce, and white cannellini beans (these guys are great for health). A side of garlic spinach I cooked. That sheen isn’t grease but some balsamic vinegar since I lacked a lemon. And garlic bread. I love garlic! I add it to most of what I cook.
 
I made a delicious stir fry in my cast iron skillet a few weeks back. Cast iron is beneficial to cook in because it increases the amount of iron in foods rich with it (so, take that people who says vegetarians don’t get enough iron! Fruits and veggies have plenty). This has Rainbow swiss chard, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and tempeh (which is similar to tofu except the soy is fermented, which makes it more abundant in protein, calcium, and fiber, and the flavor is sharper and texture firmer). Cooked in a thick Korean stir fry sauce with ginger and garlic. 
I couldn’t resist topping with avocado and also added some peanuts and Nutritional Yeast, which is a much more nutritious addition than cheese. And put over a bed of quinoa. This is probably the most hippie thing I’ve ever made. Damn was it good. And the best part is that all of these foods blended together are packed with all vitamins and nutrients needed in a meal.
A classic vegan scramble packed with flavorful spices. It gave me a chance to use the leftover swiss chard and mushrooms. A key ingredient is that Nutritional Yeast I mentioned, which is a good source of amino acids. Not pictured is the obligatory avocado and tomato I topped it with.
These are amazing! Probably the best food I’ve made in a long time. Roasted chickpea and broccoli burritos. I wish I could take credit, but it all goes to Thug Kitchen, my new favorite food blog. I put the filling with kale, cilantro, and avocado in a whole wheat tortilla.
For breakfast I’ve been eating oatmeal. I don’t usually get this fancy with it, but here I put in some mango and walnuts and a scoop of peanut butter. The warmth is nice in the morning, it leaves me feeling fuller longer, and the health benefits are too good not to eat. Have you read about them? Low in fat but filling, low in cholesterol, omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants. Get you some oats!
I outdid myself with this one. It’s a lentil loaf — like meat loaf but vegan.
I ate it first with crispy kale and skillet potatoes, but it’s given me leftovers for days. A slice on a sandwich makes a good lunch. It’s like vegan comfort food.
Speaking of comfort foods, who doesn’t love a lasagna fresh out of the oven? Well, they can be plant based too. And just as good if not better. This one has kale I needed to use up. I ate it with cooked lentils and will continue to eat on the leftovers all week. This was inspired by the Hungry Hungry Hippie, another blog I love.
Well, this is my defense. To show the way I eat isn’t deficient in nutrients but is the opposite. Vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts contain everything needed to be healthy. Or, to quote the Thug Kitchen, “I’M SO TIRED OF MOTHER FUCKERS asking, ‘Where do you get your protein?’ All you simple minded bastards better read up some. I eat shit like whole grains, beans, nuts, lentils, tempeh… I mean hell, where the fuck are YOU getting your protein?” I hold my tongue at this question but admire how the TK let loose. And, I don’t say anything, because I don’t judge the way other people eat. It isn’t my place. But, it’s a little difficult sometimes when I fear I will be in the position to defend the way I do. There’s a difference between someone who asks the reasons for my eating habits — that’s legitimate, respectful curiosity opening up to a genuine discussion on food — and someone criticizing or challenging out of a place of ignorance. 
I’m not sure what I would call myself at this point. Not vegan. That would be too much of an affront to people who legitimately adhere to strict tenants of non-animal based living. Because, I’m not that strict about it. I know those green beans at Cheddars or hash browns at Waffle House I ordered are cooked on food contact surfaces and cookware with leftover animal byproduct residue like grease. That’s not the core of what’s important to me. I also can’t say that if I’m out at my parents house or with friends and we’re ordering pizza, I will turn it down. But, my goal is to be more plant based in the way I eat, because that’s what works for me.
Memorial Day weekend family cookout is coming up, and not to toot my own horn, but I make a mean black bean burger I can’t wait for!

Vegetarian (or Vegan if you want) Black Bean Tacos

The black bean tacos I make are delicious. I’m no cook. I mean, I cook, but it’s usually following the instructions of a recipe, obsessively re-checking measurements to make sure I get them correct, and nervously hoping it turns out. Only recently have I started blending what I’ve learned from different recipes to get creative. These tacos are an exception. I’ve made many variations in the last year. And, that’s the best part. The main filling I make is versatile to fit mood, taste, and preference. Lately, I’ve been opting to cook for myself while reducing restaurant outings during the week in the interest of both saving money and being healthier — I know what I’m consuming better. I never used to think I would be so bold to claim that what I make is as good as a decent restaurant, until these tacos. Have any Louisville readers had Taco Punk’s black bean tacos? Now, I love this place. Their veggie mole and salsas are some of my favorite local food in town. But, the black bean tacos are a sad excuse. You could toss some black beans and shredded cheese in a tortilla at home, and it would be the same. But, don’t do that. There are probably similar vegetarian recipes like this out there, but here’s what I do:

Filling:

1 can black beans (15 oz.)
½ Onion, chopped
½ Bell pepper (red or green or yellow, whatever you want – red will be sweeter), chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped/minced/pressed
Whatever other veggie(s) you want (recommended: chopped mushrooms, diced jalapeno for spice, spinach or any other kind of green you like – rainbow swiss chard is good – potatoes)
1 tbsp olive oil (or some water if cooking w/o oils)
Generous chili powder (maybe a tbsp.)
Even more generous cumin (maybe a tbsp.)
Optional: Some cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes if spice is desired (I’ll use this if I want spice but lack a jalapeno)
Salt (to taste)
Topping:
An avocado, diced or sliced or smashed (however you like)
½ tomato, diced
juice of 1 lime
Salt (to taste)
Some reserved garlic if you want (I recommend b/c I love garlic)
Cilantro, roughly chopped
Corn tortillas

Add oil or water to a pan — I prefer cast iron, but any will do — to coat. Add veggies (But, if using potatoes, reserve them). Sautee until onion becomes tender and translucent. If adding greens, until they’re wilted and bright green. 3-5 mins or so (If using red pepper flakes, this is a good time to add them). Drain off the black beans but leave enough juice for moisture. Add to pan. Add garlic. Add spices. If using potatoes, they should be cooked separately and added to the mixture at this point. Let simmer and stir/toss around occasionally until moisture is absorbed (I like to mash the beans a little with the spatula). Consistency will be sort of like a dried, lumpy paste.

Topping is easy. Add avocado, tomato, lime juice, salt, and leftover garlic to a bowl. Stir. Make the taco. Add the filling to tortillas and top with the avo/tomato mix and cilantro, or whatever other fresh veggies you want (carrot, red onion, cabbage, celery, good store bought salsa, greens, etc. Instead of cooking fresh greens or jalapeno into the filling, can use as topping instead.) You can do whatever you want! They’re vegan up until this point, but if you want cheese, go for it (I’ve used sharp cheddar, Mexican blend, even feta).

Makes 4-6, depending on how full you pack them.
These will do you better than Taco Bell, or even — I’ll say it! — any gourmet taco place. If anything, it’ll be cheaper. So, save a buck, have fun with it, and enjoy a more flavorful and healthier taco.



Base filling cooked with red bell, mushrooms, and a few dashes of red pepper flakes.



Burdens

As usual, I’m late to respond here to a current event, because I’ve had a debate with myself about whether or not I should blog it. But after dithering, I needed to, because I find myself angry after President Obama’s current stance on gay marriage. I feel badly for being so critical of what many view as a major landmark for LGBT rights. Firstly, I’m disappointed it has taken him this long. This is a statement that had to be lured out of him. A response anyone may give me is the classic “better late than never” rote optimism. But, I’m sorry I can’t focus on the now of the situation. A main source of my spite isn’t so much at Obama himself, but at what this is politically — a move. He waited until it was safe. The hateful anti-gay bombs have been disarmed by public opinion lately, and so it’s all right for him to come out from the bunker and into the dust. It gives me a queasy feeling, realizing that this apparent public “evolution” is basically strategy for a broken but powerful political machine.

Not only is this supposed new position not all that revolutionary, it’s also not marriage equality. For all my mixed feelings about marriage, one aspect I stand firm on is how necessary gay marriage is for LGBT liberation. He has made a clear delineation. He is for same sex marriage only on a state level. Some may need this outlined for them, others not, so I’m going to reiterate what’s been outlined in all kinds of studies, articles, and blogs. A gay marriage within a state is not equal to a heterosexual marriage on a national level. Over 1100 benefits are still denied to ALL same sex couples — married in an individual state or not — under the federal government. And anyway, putting rights for minorities to a vote by the majority is flawed — a nail in the coffin. Human rights are not conferred to the disadvantaged by the masses. They are inherent. If only five hetero US citizens supported same sex marriage, that should not be a deciding factor in whether or not it should be put into law. As an outlandish example, if I didn’t want Guatemalans, and Guatemalans only, to become legally documented equal citizens to me, it would not matter. Their rights are not for me to decide. So, excuse me if I’m not leaping for joy at Obama and lauding him with, “Oh, thank you SOOO much my hetero President! for helping me get my rights. Give yourself that pat on the back!”

I realize arguments about how change has to happen slowly and on an individual level are circulating out there on the internets. And, there are the well intentioned, honorable, and courageous battle cries about not giving up the fight, but I can’t find the motivation to be rallied, and I’m truly sorry about that. Maybe it’s because I’m weak willed. Among all of the cultural divide, I’m more so filled with disillusion that being treated equally is something I have to fight for in the first place. When I’m surrounded by the swarm of heterosexism — even the small things like those dumb stick figure family bumpers to obnoxious Facebook man, wife, and kids picture posts toting them as the “perfect family” to subtextual hints from family members that I should date a girl, even though I am out — I’m sorry my natural reaction is feeling disheartened and bitter. Similarly, others may argue to me that I need to be an example, a testament for change. When did it become my responsibility to educate the ignorant? Seriously, why is it my job to change the prejudice of the outright hateful grandpa voting against positive gay legislation, or even the soft homophobia of any random dude on the street with a head full of stereotypes and fear of anything feminine in masculinity? Yet somehow I feel like that has become my burden to bear, and it makes me want to say, “Screw it” and live my second class citizen life in my curtained room away from those kinds of people while the political opportunists and analysts use me as a wedge issue.

HE-MAN: The Secret of the…

Some amazing Netflix logic here!

1. Family Feature Animation is directly after Steamy Movies
2. HE-MAN!!!
3. If N-Flix knew me at all, wouldn’t they base The Secret of the Sword recommendation on this tour-de-force I unashamedly viewed the other week.
4. Or maybe they are subliminally putting it in the Family Animation for me, like a wink and nudge.
5. Do they think I’m a muscle worshiper?

Netflix!

Gracie

My parents picked out Gracie with a little help from me from a no-kill shelter down the street from their home. She’s a good mutt — part beagle and corgi. We’ve had her for about 4 years, and she’ll be 5 soon. She hit the jackpot by being brought into my parent’s household. My mom and dad spoil her like a grand child while my sister, Beth and I are more firm with her, though our attempts at discipline turn out unsuccessfully, since she spends most of her time in their home. Beth always jokes that she should be diagnosed with ADD, since she’s strangely enthralled by different shadows and reflections of light. Whip out a cell phone while she’s on your lap, and she will immediately pounce on it paws-first, almost feline-like. And when she does sit on a lap she doesn’t really sit, so much as stand with all her weight on one leg, and if she’s taken off, will try to get back up a few seconds later. She must be pet and paid attention to at all times. I would call her a “stage 5 clinger.” She deserves to be spoiled and clung to, despite my annoyance with it at times. Her last household was one filled with domestic abuse. Apparently the father had alcohol problems, and when authorities came to rescue her, she was found in the backyard with the little girl of the home clinging to her. I would also like to think that little girl was rescued and taken out of the home as well. As a result, she’s leery of any male company that comes into my parents’ house who she hasn’t met before. I find myself having parental feelings toward her — strange since I have no plans on being a father in my lifetime at all — like worry that she’s not grateful enough for what we’ve given her. I found out this holiday season that she turns her nose up at honey ham and certain lunch meats. She’s become picky about her table scraps! Any other dog would take any human food they could get, but not Gracer for whom table scraps are commonplace and expected.



begging for a belly rub

Gifts from her sat under the tree. She got me a wine-themed calendar. In my stocking was a lint roller — they’re called “Gracie rollers” in the Holladay family — to get her hair off my clothes. I asked my mom, “Why didn’t you have Gracie’s gift be the lint roller?” She responded, as if she had a conscious choice in the matter, “Because she wanted to get you the calendar.” She’s a canine member of the family. I’m constantly amazed at how Gracie has the ability to bring all of us together. In my parents’ older age, she’s been good for them. Whenever we get together, she’s front and center, and in her eyes, we live for her, and that’s even true to an extent. Her life and energy give us life and energy, speaking to our inner need to provide care and comfort to a life that’s meek. In the midst of our stressful moments as a family at times, her innocence refreshes and revitalizes, a testament to what she gives back to us. While opening gifts, I slipped her a piece of sausage, and even though she may be used to getting what she wants from us, the calm and sheepish look on her face under that coffee table let me know that she really is grateful, even if she doesn’t know it.

Happy Holidays, from me and Gracie Bell!



First Post – Not themed

I’ve decided to give this blogging business a try. I’ve come to this decision for multiple reasons. As much as I resist new technology and am an old timer at heart, I want to embrace the internet and tap into some type of online community. It’s time I start taking advantage of what the world wide web has to offer.

I should outline what this blog is and what it’s not, most importantly what it’s not. An unfortunate side effect of the digital age is shameful, narcissistic self-celebration. I know. I know. A blog by its very nature is a tribute to the blogger. But, I think there’s a marked difference among the approaches to online communities (i.e. pointless “status” updates on certain social networks conveying mundane, quotidian details with the tacit assumption everyone in cyberspace is on the edge of his or her seat over said detail, or entries talking solely about oneself verses sharing thought-provoking ideas to try and connect to people and find that which is universal). I’ve resisted blog writing for the longest time, because I don’t think I’m going to be very good at it. The best blogs have some sort of theme or focus — no, I haven’t seen that Julia movie — and this blog won’t. It’s going to be a mix of my thoughts on certain issues, conveying interesting happenings in my life, or reviews and recommendations regarding culture like books, movies, music, art, restaurants, libations, and events. I don’t think I’m a very interesting person, but I hope you enjoy my point of view, and this log of my experiences as I take the mysteries of life in stride. Here’s one of my favorite poems — an impressive villanelle — about doing just that.

“The Waking”
Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.