Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: September, 2016

Postcard #10 – From the Land of Cowboys and Horses

Okay, one thing about the title of this post. I took this from the postcard sent to me by a NaNoWriMo participant living near Dallas. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I agree with it though. A number of other states also have cowboys and horses and it isn’t something that Texas can exclusively lay claim to (although I’m sure the residents of that state would wish to, among other things).

Other than temporarily stopping at airports because I had to catch flight transfers, I have never truly visited Texas. Maybe I’ve watched too many travel shows and historical documentaries, but I don’t really have an inclination to go visit, let alone live in, Texas either. Seriously. If I were to rank all the states by how much I want to visit them, it would probably rank lower than Utah, Michigan, and possibly even Delaware. I don’t think there’s anything there that could interest me (although if anyone’s reading this, they’re welcome to try to convince me otherwise with your favorite Texas location). And the weather there? No thanks.



Postcard #9 – A Zoo Card

This postcard is from a German NaNoWriMo participant who had visited San Diego before. I’ve also sent a number of zoo cards to people since they’re 1) iconic of the city they’re in and 2) has cute animals that no one can fault. Well…that’s not exactly true. When I had signed up for Postcrossing, it kind of amazed me how picky people can be with what sort of postcards (and stamps) they want people to send. It’s because they’re Serious Collectors and I’m sure that if I sent, say, an alligator card to them when they specifically requested Firefly paraphernalia on their profile, they’d throw out my card as soon as they had registered it. To be honest, though, I do try to accommodate people’s requests, but if it’s too hard to find or too expensive or can only be bought online (I don’t like buying things online if similar things can be found at local stores), then I’m like, “Screw it. I’ll just send whatever and they’ll have to deal.”

Anyways, I like zoo cards. Especially of zoos that I’ve never heard of before. And for me, that pretty much means any zoo outside of North America. According to the translated German Wikipedia page, the Neuwied Zoo has a herd of kangaroos. I don’t think the San Diego Zoo has that many kangaroos, but I do know they have a koala breeding program. (Those puffballs aren’t particularly interesting to watch, though, since they sleep 22 hours a day.)



The Grind of Perfection

I first heard about the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, when it was mentioned by Anthony Bourdain (more on him in a future post) on one of his shows. It was only until now that I got around to watching it. Overall, as a documentary, I thought it worked very well. It was visually appealing and the director didn’t get in the way of the subject but it was also edited in a way that was quite focused. As a viewer, I came away with the appreciation that there are people out there who are obsessed with trying to obtain perfection in one thing although I don’t agree with the methods and philosophy behind that desire.

This isn’t about sustenance. It isn’t really about art either. Despite all the talk about creativity, I found very little of that here. The apprentices aren’t encouraged to experiment. They’re forced to perfect techniques. Sure, there’s food, but that’s incidental to Jiro’s quest for The Ideal. Jiro comes across as a stern, not particularly likeable person. People admire him for his skill with sushi, call him a master, given him Michelin stars. But his personal interactions? He’s dismissive of his own parents, his classmates call him a bully, his kids didn’t even recognize him when they were younger because he worked so much, and even his customers are nervous when they go to eat at his restaurant.

There’s a bit of pathos for his sons (especially his oldest) who seemed to be coerced into going into the sushi business despite their dreams for going to college and pursuing other occupations. A sympathetic critic remarked that Jiro’s sons have a tough road ahead of them since their father has reached such heights. They would have to be at least twice as good to be seen as their father’s equal. Even if they were equally as good, people (particularly other Japanese people), would still see them as inferior.

The more Japanese people I meet, the more I realize that their talk of being rebels or being different has a completely different point of reference than anyone else. Being a rebel means that they dared to deviate from their expected path by just a tiny bit. To a non-Japanese person, this sort of deviation is like saying you want to wear the brown socks today rather than the black ones you’ve been wearing for the past year. To outsiders, they would still appear to completely seeped in cultural traditions. Jiro “rebelled” by going into sushi rather than something a bit more practical, but otherwise, he seems like the typical workaholic Japanese man who doesn’t talk about his mother or his wife and is making his sons follow in his footsteps. Work is everything. Everything else is nothing. As the title to the documentary implies, even when he’s resting, he’s dreaming of work. He explicitly states that if he cannot work, then he is worthless.

Maybe it was in the way that this documentary was framed, but the subject came across as someone who would be rather difficult to get along with. I can see why other chefs would admire him. He has worked hard to achieve his distinctions. No one’s going to argue with that. But something still doesn’t sit quite right with me. Perhaps it’s the glorification of something that appears mindless and repetitive. Maybe my view of that marks me as a philistine, but I don’t particularly care. Pursing perfection is fine, but dedicating every waking moment of your life to it? I guess that’s where my notions of living a happy, productive life diverges from the film’s message.

Postcard #8 – Bong Bong Bong Bong

I received this postcard last year from JessAnn (a.k.a. coderster), Twitter friend, NaNoWriMo municipal liaison, and all around awesome sprint leader on @NaNoWordSprints. As for postcard landmarks, I find clock towers one of the more interesting ones because there’s an aural aspect to it as well as a visual one. Fortunately for me, I don’t live near a clock tower so I’m not driven bonkers by the ringing like JessAnn. Although if I ever do find myself wanting to hear one, it’s just a brief drive to Balboa Park which houses a historic clock tower that only opened for tours recently. (I was pretty lucky to get to one of the first tours to go up there.)

I don’t really know very much about Pennsylvania although I’ve driven through it via I-95 and visited Philadelphia for a conference and doing typical touristy stuff. I know absolutely nothing about the town of Bradford except what I’ve read on Wikipedia. I get the impression that it’s one of those small towns where you feel like you know everyone, the typical all-American town where you can still say hello to your postal carrier and no one worries that much about the kids running around trick-or-treating during Halloween.

Or I could be completely wrong. That’s the thing about postcards. You get a tiny peek into a different place, but it’s framed a certain way by the photographer or artist who made the picture and the sender of the postcard who wrote the note on the back. The rest of it, you’re left to imagine and it could all be a fantasy.



Postcard #7 – Oklahoma Buffalo

I actually know a surprising number of people in Oklahoma, but I’ve never been there. A couple years ago, I did manage to apply for a job in Oklahoma City–so at one point I guess I thought it might not be such a bad idea to move there–but I never heard back from that lab either positive or negative. But to be honest, I wasn’t that bummed. Oklahoma isn’t really known for its biotech prowess anyway.

It’s interesting that this NaNoWriMo participant chose to send me a postcard of buffalo. It reminded me of the National Bison Range in Montana that I visited when I lived up there. I only saw them at a distance at the National Bison Range, but when I had visited Yellowstone, there was one that had temporarily blocked off the road that I had been driving through. Those animals are enormous and could easily crush a car if they wanted to. I ended up waiting it out. I didn’t want to be the idiot doing something foolhardy that might piss them off.



Postcard #6 – Greetings from Atlanta

Long time Twitter follower, NaNoWriMo fangirl, and Wikiwrimo founder Sushimustwrite sent me this postcard last year after my attempt at signing up for the NaNoWriMo postcard swap ended up in failure. I’ve been to Atlanta before, but only as a traveler passing through on my journeys from point A to point B. I’m not a baseball person, so a large baseball field is not the first thing to come to mind when I think about the city. Then again, baseball isn’t the first thing I think about whenever any city comes up. Instead, it’s sticky weather and southern accents. I’m sure it’s a nice place to visit, but I’m not sure I’d want to live there. Unless the CDC had a job opening.



Postcard #5 – The Traveling Bookmark

I think this is a great example of what people who put postcards in envelopes would absolutely hate to see. The bookmark postcard is bent out of shape with creases and smudges. It’s not perfect. But I think people who only like new and clean postcards have completely missed the point. The postcard is supposed to go through the postal system without the envelope and show the wear and tear of its travel. Envelopes are for other things. If you don’t want any of these imperfections to show, then why the hell do you want postcards in the first place?

It’s not that I don’t appreciate postcards sent in envelopes. I mean, if you have, I do appreciate it and thank you for even bothering at all. (But if you’re a staunch postcard-in-envelope person and are reading this now, I will not hold it against you if you decide against sending me anything because my online rants pisses you off.) However, I feel people who send postcards as is actually gets it. And it makes me really happy whenever people understand the point of something, no matter what it is.

Anyways, about this postcard. It’s from a NaNoWriMo participant in the Czech Republic. It’s also one of the more unusual shaped postcards I’ve received. It’s probably also why it looks so battered and why it arrived several months after it was expected–I’m pretty sure all the sorting machines at the post office had no idea what to do with it. Unfortunately, I probably will not be using this as its intended purpose due to its fragile state and the fact that I’ve pretty much switched to reading ebooks. For now, it will remain tucked away safely with all the other postcards.



Postcard #4 – Rangifer tarandus

This postcard is from a NaNoWriMo participant in Finland. It’s another one of those places I’d like to visit at least once but it’s likely not going to happen due to lack of time and money. I don’t really know much about Finland aside from watching travel documentaries and reading the webcomic, Scandinavia and the World. But even if I get along with the people and knew the language fluently, I’d probably not want to live there. Because the weather. There’s a reason why I moved down to SoCal.



Avoiding the Real

I’ve started outlining the story I’ll be doing for this year’s NaNoWriMo and one of the major things I’ve been trying to decide–since it takes place in the real world–what aspects of real life I should leave in and what I should totally make up. Of course, there is the obvious. My characters will be fictional, not real people. (And no, I will not be basing them on real people either. If, for example, one has a short temper and another is a compulsive hoarder that does not mean these are real people. They just happen to, by coincidence, have some traits that some real people also have.) And the major places will be real. San Diego, New York, the Pacific Ocean, and Uzbekistan will exist in the world of the book even if I don’t write about them specifically. There will be Walmarts and Starbucks, Harvard and the downtown library.

But then we get into some fuzzy stuff. I don’t want to mention real streets on which my characters live because people can just do Google Street View and say, “Aha! There’s a restaurant on the corner of 1st and Juniper, not a Victorian house like in the story! The author must have never lived in San Diego AT ALL!” So for residential areas, I picked a blank space on the real map and added a fictional town there. I also have plot reasons for creating a fictional town rather than, say, just adding one fictional street like I did for NaNoWriMo two years ago. And as for businesses, I’m still not sure whether to use existing ones on the map or to just make some up. I may end up doing both depending on the needs of the story.

What you include as real or fictional depends entirely on the goal of your story. If you’re aiming for a traditional fantasy story, you’re going to do the world building from scratch. The reader will understand that everything will be made up and they’ll go along for the ride with that assumption in mind. If you’re writing a typical cozy mystery, the setting is going to be quite realistic because the reader has to be able to solve the mystery with logic or at least believe where you’re coming from when they read the solution.

On my part, I feel like I’m walking a fine line. I want the setting and atmosphere to be as real and plausible as possible so when I start introducing the stranger elements of the plot, it will seem odd and unsettling but not fake. I think this will also be the first time that I will be attempting hard science fiction for NaNoWriMo rather than some hand wavy space opera. I’ve been semi-joking on Twitter that the story idea is a cross between science fiction and “SoCal gothic”. I’m aiming for a story rooted firmly in genre but with a veneer of beach bum creepiness. Who knows how that’ll go, but I’m always up for doing something different every NaNoWriMo. A challenge is almost always more exciting than the same-old same-old.

Postcard #3 – Scenes from Gainesville

This postcard is from one of my longtime Twitter followers and all-around badass NaNoWriMo forums moderator, Tiakall. Actually, she deals with the forum crap a lot better than I would have if for some reason I had gotten that job. I would have just thrown up my hands and said, “Burn it. Burn it all.” As you can see, I’m not cut out to be a forums moderator and someone should hold me back if I ever get it into my head that I might be.

I had to look up Gainesville because, to be honest, all I really know about Georgia is Atlanta, some of the universities there, and the CDC. Apparently it’s the “Poultry Capital of the World” according to Wikipedia. I don’t know much about chickens either except that people eat them and a lot of researchers have used them to study antibiotic resistance and zoonotic diseases.