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On Election Day And Cohesion

Older people keep telling me that climate action is impossible because nobody’s going to want to change their habits. Honestly, it’s harshing my whole buzz. If nobody changes, then we are necessarily doomed. That’s the whole point of talking about climate change. That’s why scientists are freaking out en masse and ecologists now have support groups to handle their grief and feelings of helplessness.

That’s why, when I vote in my local election today, I will only be voting for people who believe in the crisis. But I worry it won’t be enough. Everything has to change if we’re to save ourselves – particularly the collective power that used to define American-ness. The real reason that everything’s fallen apart is not that there are immigrants, that conservatives are assholes, that Trump is angry and insane, or that we’re all different religions and colors. Women working has not destroyed America. What’s killing us is that we can’t do one freaking thing cooperatively.

I’ve written a lot about why people don’t like to change and how they might be motivated. Unfortunately, that nonsense is all theoretical at the minute because somehow the ball of orange yarn that I fished out of my cat’s vomit this morning has decided it wants to be president of the United States for another 21 goddamned years. He’s not interested in encouraging any cohesiveness or behavior change. Chaos feeds his ego, so he’ll instigate as much of it as he can. Our current trajectory toward civil war suits him quite nicely.

So obsessed are we with his outrageous behavior that we forget what the bedrock of our nation really is. Local politics? What local politics? The Distraction in Chief has done something abominable and his supporters are saying “make America white again!” Resist the siren song of the federal outrage generator. Local politics is more important than ever. This is where you can actually make a difference just by showing up and participating. Yes, things are bad. Yes, one vote won’t fix it all by magic. But Americans coming together to uphold the ideal of a collective government is itself powerful. It gives us the power of knowing each other, knowing that we care, not only about ourselves and our one vote, but about doing something together that matters, regardless of the outcome.

That’s power we need, because we have not yet seen our darkest days. Mark my words: the president is not going to leave office peacefully. If he voluntarily quits or gets shunted out of the actual position without incident, he’ll start a media network and rail about how unfair it is that he wasn’t allowed to be in charge for longer. Then he’ll maintain his bottomless need for attention by feeding the fire of his cult right-wing status and his cronies will continue what appears to be a hell-for-leather mission to break the nation by breaking its cohesion.

Local politics is the antidote to division. It brings communities together to do one thing – one thing! – as a group.

Maybe you think your vote doesn’t matter. That it won’t be counted. Buddy, that’s possible! Our voting system has sucked for a long time, and not just because the machines are crap. I can’t even go into the problems with how we vote – between the racism, the gerrymandering, the influence peddling and the rest, it’s too huge for a writer of my own humble statue to address in a single blog post.

But I put it to you that voting in local elections is also one of the last things that non-related people in a community do together. If we lose that, we lose our unity at its most atomic level, and then we’re just a random crowd of people who happen to live together. Cooperation, not control, is the first step to making sure our elections are fair and our politicians not batshit. Everything follows on from the group.

The only trick is that we have to choose that. In a cowboy nation obsessed with the lie of the lone wolf, I’m not sure we can anymore.


NaNoGodNo

National Novel Writing Month couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. That’s why I’m so gosh-darned late with updates, both about books and about food. (Not to mention the state of the planet, LGBTQ issues, libraries, and whatever else I feel like generating.)

However, I’ve been spiritually defeated. By a condo. A condo has defeated my soul, and we haven’t even signed a purchase and sale agreement yet. The process for buying this thing is so tense, so expensive, so incredibly baroque and intricate while simultaneously requiring the barrelling forward momentum of a screaming roller coaster, that I am simply counting every word that I put down this month as part of my “novel.” Social media posts, for example. Goodreads reviews. My actual project, which is a cathartic, gory, and never-to-be-seen writing exercise where all federal politicians spontaneously become serial killers. All Book Riot posts. Any and all work that I do for other clients. And, obviously, blog posts.

It’s not a bad idea to make this part of the challenge. I can call it NaNoBlogMo and update every day for the rest of this month. I’ve had a few ideas that I want to try anyway, including book and movie reviews, thoughts on Grammarly’s tone editor (which can go to hell, by the way,) comments on whether I think the U.N. climate meeting got moved because the big men who run this planet were scared of Greta Thunberg, and various bits and pieces of short fiction. It’s my blog, baby! I may not be a particularly famous author yet, but until I am, I’ll dress for the job I want.

So happy NaNo! Happy writing challenge! If you want to buddy me on the brand-spankin’-new, almost-works-too website, I’m absurd_digital, the original tornado of bees. Let’s make friends. It’s gonna be a long month.


Diary of a Librarian: Free Food

I’ve never worked in a library where food was not readily available. Cookies, cake for someone’s birthday, fruit, leftover breakfast stuff from a program. At Nevins, we have a fruit share, a candy basket, a snacks counter, and a fridge that is usually full of leftovers.

Forgetting your lunch is not a huge catastrophe here.

Today I dined upon mustard broccoli with raisins and garbanzo beans. In fact, I took two helpings. I think they were left by a program presenter, to whom I tip my hat. Man oh man, did I eat a lot of broccoli. I don’t know who made two giant vats of this stuff, but they did an amazing job. I’ve been eating too much over the past couple days in an attempt to manifest pregnancy. If I’m successful, I’ll write a book. Meanwhile, please pass more of that broccoli. I might be the only person eating it.


Diary of a Librarian: Stuff I Think We Should Loan

I’m not going to bore you with another list of Rokus and cake pans. Everybody reading this already knows five librarians who are loaning hotspots. I’ve got half an hour before I jet off to celebrate my anniversary, so you’re just getting a piece of my mind today, nothing deep.

Here’s some stuff we need to loan and why.

Knitting and Crochet Supplies

Dude. Keeping knitting needles in stock is intense. Each quality set costs ten dollars and if you’re serious about cozies you’re going to need at least ten sizes. Crochet requires hooks, and honestly, who has the time or storage space for a number 1 needle set that you’ll use exactly once? On top of the cost of yarn, it ain’t worth it.

But what if we could *borrow* knitting needles and crochet hooks? What a wonderful world it would be! We could even start a yarn exchange while we’re at it and then I could crochet at work.

Medical Devices

Hear me out. Imagine that you need a CPAP machine. Imagine too that you pack this CPAP into your luggage and travel eight hours to your dear old grandma’s house to spend Thanksgiving, whereupon you discover that you have accidentally left the power cord plugged into the wall in your bedroom at home.

In a perfect world, you’d be able to borrow a CPAP power cord from the library! Same with wheelchairs, crutches, and reading glasses. For some of these potential lends, I envision a collaboration with a social services program that gets people permanent wheelchairs, eyeglasses, etc. and connects underserved patrons with affordable ownership alternatives. Obviously we wouldn’t loan anything biohazardous, but there are a lot of medically-specific and important items that don’t generally get blood or other yucky stuff on them.

Art Supplies

Good paintbrushes are mad expensive. We should just loan them. Easels, too, and maybe a really nice camera and some good lights.

Bicycles

Initially I wanted this section to be “cars,” but there’s too much going on there to be practical. However, some library somewhere should definitely lend bikes, bike helmets, bike carriers for cars, and trailers that attach to bikes and let you haul stuff around. The infrastructure for this kind of lending is already sort of in place. My own hometown of Salem accomplishes municipal bikeshare by partnering with a service called Zagster, apparently with great success. As long as libraries don’t unleash electric scooters on the land, we’d be doing a big service.

Solar Panels

Little portable ones! Ones that go on top of your car! Ones that go in your window! People are curious about solar panels but they don’t often get a chance to actually try them out themselves. Until they do, they won’t buy, but once they realize the reality of making power from sunlight for free, you won’t be able to hold them back. Libraries: saving the Earth again!

Meal Kits

Not with actual food, but with pictures of the food you need to make an awesome meal! I envision a large bag or box that is mostly empty to start except for a curated set of recipes that represent one whole, healthy meal; a laminated shopping list; and a dry erase marker. Don’t know what to cook tonight? Grab a library meal kit! Fill the bag with your ingredients at the store and off you go. Maybe we could even include some prep supplies, like good knives.

Come on. We loan $3,000 telescopes, for Pete’s sake. The patrons can handle some good knives.

Lockers

We could charge a small fee for these and use them to make some money for the library. Think $5 a day or $7 a week. Will people use them for crime? Yup. Just like they illegally pirate the CDs that we freely loan and do all manner of horrible things using our free wifi hotspots and in-house webcams. We should do it anyway. Even at my library, which is somewhat hard to reach without a car, we have enough latchkey children hanging out after school that having a place for them to dump their stuff – or stash stuff they’ll need, like an extra sweater or a change of clothes – could be really useful to them. Frankly, it could be a service to the homeless as well.

Party Kits

Who doesn’t want to throw a nice party? Nobody! Who has nice party stuff these days? Nobody! That’s expensive! That’s why libraries need to stock party packs that include washable plates, bamboo silverware, reusable bunting, etc. Zero waste partying for the win!

OK, that’s it, half an hour of alternative collection ideas. Comment to snarkily inform me that you’re already doing this at your library or that the lockers are completely impractical.


Diary of a Librarian: Please Do Not Touch The Librarian

It just happened again. A patron grabbed my arm.

Most people have a little gauge in the back of their head. It indicates whether or not it is appropriate to touch somebody else in a social situation.

touch gauge

Looks like this.

Police officer? Do not touch. Mom? Do touch. Bartender? Ask to touch. Librarian?

Experience suggests that some people think it’s totally OK to touch the librarian.

Patron touches happen way more often than I like. In fact, not a month goes by without some kind of surprise physical contact from someone I’m helping. This latest one, which happened less than an hour ago, came from a patron who referenced an autistic family member and therefore should have known not to touch strangers without asking.

I’ve experienced the following types of physical contact from patrons at various points in my career, all unsolicited:

  • Hugging
  • Arm grabbing
  • Shoulder patting
  • Hand holding
  • Hand stroking
  • A finger running up the back from lumbar to shoulders
  • Knee to knee contact under a table
  • Foot to foot contact under a table

Some of those were legit creepy sexual harassment attempts. But Anna, I hear you chirp. Hugs aren’t so bad. What could be so bad about an innocent little hug? Well it so happens that I’ve thought a great deal about this. Allow me to expound.

The Slippery Slope

If a patron is allowed to grab my arm without asking, I can at least expect more grabbing. I may also expect other types of escalation. The patron who stroked my hand in a disturbingly sexual way that was definitely and absolutely a bad touch? She’d started by brushing my arm to get my attention. While not all unwelcome patron contact comes with a preamble, I have noticed that a pushy patron will sometimes test the waters with casual contact before grasping, petting, and otherwise getting all up in my business. This isn’t uniformly the case. The particularly upsetting back-stroking incident, for example, happened as the patron in question basically ran by. Nevertheless, initial exploratory contact happens often enough that I now try to head it off at the pass with a polite but direct “Please don’t touch me.”

Respect The Librarian

Touching without asking indicates an inherent assumption of entitlement to the librarian. In this case, it’s not just that the patron considers themselves to have special social privileges that you do not have – because they do, that’s a given – but that you’re below the social level where they need to think of you as a human with preferences and concerns. It is a sad fact that some people afford more respect to expensive vases than they do to people who work service jobs. Unsolicited touching also implies that the patron assumes that there’s nothing you can do to protest their behavior if you happen to dislike it, so that possibility isn’t worth wondering about. They proceed to treat you like a thing, and a cheap thing at that, through the vehicle of unasked-for physical contact.

Inconsistency Is Doom

A patron came to the reference floor a couple weeks ago and ended up crying because of some unrelated life stresses. She then asked if she could hug me. I let this happen partially because she had asked nicely before just grabbing, but mainly because I was afraid of what would happen to her emotionally if I refused. It wasn’t a great experience, but I endured and nobody dissolved into actual screaming. Greater good served. However, what if that patron had been male? Call me sexist, but I wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable hugging a man I didn’t know. That’s a policy based on my personal feelings! If I refused to hug a guy who knew that I’d agreed to hug a woman, I’d be revealing a prejudiced attitude on my part that could impact whether or not the patron continues to use the library. It’s also a good passive-aggressive way for a creepy guy to do his creepy thing and try to socially coerce a librarian into an uncomfortable situation.

I Just Don’t Like It

I don’t have autism and I wasn’t abused. I’m not trying to perform some hypermasculine butchness routine and I’m not too cool for normal people. I just like my personal space. I’m sure I’m not alone. You may feel differently. Feel free to share your strategies, philosophies, and thought on how to manage the touchy patron situation. However, no matter how you cut it, physical contact with patrons is not part of a public librarian’s responsibilities. Don’t let a patron edit your job description on the fly.


Diary of a Librarian: The Charging Cord Blues

I’ve had a lot of burners on the stove lately. In addition to the biggies, which I won’t discuss because they will bore you, I must keep my Libby-based digital audiobook stash fresh. This means zooming through The Cuckoo’s Calling at 2.5x normal speed so I can read whatever’s just downloaded from my holds list.

The things that stress out librarians.

Also stressing me out is the cost of replacing our charging cords. At my library, we hand out charging cords in exchange for a collateral ID card. Usually, the people who need charging cords are kids, and usually, they don’t have any ID on them.

What am I going to say? No, foolish child! Go file for a state ID and then come see me about this $30 cord after a seven-to-ten day wait for shipping! Ugh. Obviously I let the kids take the cord, and they’re generally pretty honest. I have them write down their name and phone number just in case they forget to bring the cord back, but that would be tough these days. I’ve figured out a way to wire a laminated tag to the plug housing in such a way that it can’t be gotten off without breaking one of the wires.

From now on, any disappearances are definitely theft. Conceptually, disappearances might have been happening before now, but one cord looks very much like another and we’d incorporate enough found cords into our little collection that our supply remained fairly stable. Not that it’s not theft to swap out your busted cord for our nice one. I wouldn’t be 100% surprised if this is why our cords have been aging so fast, because they have been aging fast. One day, the cord is brand-new; the next, it will not charge for god or country.

On the other hand, we also get cord donations occasionally. I’m fairly sure that these are well-meaning, but it results in a couple negative eventualities:

  • The used cords become busted cords more quickly anyway, and since we don’t know the cord’s age we can’t really guess when that will happen
  • We end up with irregular and off-brand cords that don’t work as well as quality ones
  • As bad as lookism is, it’s nice to have a consistent brand, and a random hot green cord disrupts our branding game
  • We always have a ton of Android cords and never have enough iPhone cords.

We’ve flirted with the idea of getting dedicated charging stations for the library before, and although they are fairly expensive, I think they’d solve some of the squirrelly minor issues with lending charging cords. Now that we’ve got to revamp our entire reference floor anyway, it seems like it might finally happen. That said, I sincerely hope that we get one for each floor so that people don’t have to glom onto just one unit.

We’re going to have to be conscious of replaceability if we go with a standalone charging unit a la conference or mall charging kiosk. The other reason that our cords might be aging out so fast might have to do with how patrons are using them. As usual, the root problem is data collection. We don’t really know what the patrons are doing to our equipment, though the imagination paints some interesting pictures, and if we don’t know that, we don’t know nothin’.

On the other hand, we could just gin up some shoeboxes with power strips inside. Added bonus: we could decorate those any way we wanted. Housing options are essentially unlimited. We could use a bread box, a basket – god, one trip to A.C. Moore multiplies the possibilities. There are myriad ways to hide a bus. Maybe we could borrow a few extra dollars from the replace-iPhone-cords discretionary fund for security measures. I figure a few wall anchors, some tastefully disguised chicken wire, and a padlock ought to do the trick.


Hail Seitan

I’m turning into a part-time cooking blog here. Oh well. In addition to crochet and punk rock, cooking is a critical part of my domestic goddess trifecta. I cook a lot and I have opinions aplenty about food. Today you get to hear about why I love seitan.

This delicious and versatile meat substitute is nowhere near as popular as it ought to be. I blame the recent gluten scare. Seitan is pure gluten, nothing but. Point of interest: gluten is the protein part of wheat. People with Celiac Disease can’t eat gluten, but most other people should be fine with it. About 1 out of 100 people have Celiac, only .4% have a wheat allergy, and a somewhat larger group (but still small – maybe 6% of the American population) is gluten-sensitive. So about 8% of the public shouldn’t eat wheat and wheat by-products.

Yet in 2013, 30% of surveyed adults reported interest in a gluten-free diet. Personal experience and this celiac expert suggest that people are self-diagnosing gluten intolerance inaccurately. This is sad! It means that people are unnecessarily opting out of seitan!

Screw bread. Bread can go to hell. You want on the seitan train, baby.

it’s no secret that I love Beyond Meat. But it’s also a treat: expensive, greasy comfort food to the max. You do need to eat leaner plant protein, and seitan fits that bill. It’s also much cheaper – you can buy a 22-oz bag of powdered gluten for six bucks or make it yourself from whole wheat flour. The yield from two cups of powdered gluten is staggering. I just made a batch that’s enough for about four days of lunches and dinners for two people – and one of those is my wife, who always takes a second piece. In the age of the BK Impossible Whopper, it astounds me that seitan isn’t emerging as a meat alternative.

Not chicken!

Seitan rivals chicken for protein content. This is why it was invented. Buddhist monks were the first to develop the technique of soaking and washing wheat flour until the gluey remains could be cooked in broth. (Remember, most of wheat is starch, AKA sugar. It dissolves!)

Bob’s Red Mill makes bags of gluten these days, which is convenient for adding spices. With the proper seasoning, you can make seitan taste like almost anything. The broth you boil it in matters too. As with most other things, you can go minimal and just boil it with soy sauce and molasses and it’ll be perfectly edible. But why not go overboard?

Personally, I like to make seitan nuggets for my buddies. My technique is a little loosely-goosey but I’ve never had a complaint.

This is from Wikimedia. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a crap photog.

I mix about two cups of gluten with some garlic powder, some onion powder, salt, pepper, and sometimes paprika. I find that paprika can give seitan a hammy taste. In a separate bowl, I mix water, soy or Worcester sauce, and just a tiny bit of liquid smoke. I add this mix to the seitan until it’s a gluey ball that won’t absorb any more. Then, I fill a pot with the remains of the liquid, more water (or stock, that’s even better,) sauce, and molasses.

Then I pull the gluteny ball into five or six pieces and boil them in the pot for about an hour. They’ll blow up, so make sure you have room for them to grow if you try this! When they’re done, I drain (maybe keeping the remaining broth for the next batch) and cut the seitan up into nugget-sized pieces. Then I dredge them in cayenne mayo, give them a dunk in a bowl of bread crumbs that I’ve fixed with nutritional yeast, and fry them in oil. If you have an air fryer, consider using it in this case. Recently I’ve been experimenting with baking them instead because I always seem to set off the smoke alarm and/or burn myself when I work with oil.

There you go: the ultimate party food.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t leave you with some other seitan recipes. I don’t usually try to recreate meat when I cook from scratch, but I do respect the versatility of bacon and the universality of chicken, even when they’re both made from wheat, so these are all direct subs for various animal products.

So go make some wheat meat, my dudes. Hail seitan!