Archive for the ‘Awesomeness’ Category

Welcome to ENGL 1157!

In Awesomeness, The Art of Writing, The Writing Life on August 18, 2012 at 2:01 am

This seems to me to be something of a “This is WarrenEllis.com” type of post, but for those of you who are students in my ENGL 1157 class, it seemed like a good idea to introduce myself, much as you will all have to introduce yourselves to me. Plus, it seems to me that Sally and Arleen don’t know quite all there is to know about me, and that just has to change.

As an introduction, my name is Wendy Withers. I am currently a professor at UNO (though I in no way speak for the university, and my views are not necessarily those of the university or the English department). I am from Florida and received my BA in journalism from the University of South Florida. I have worked for a number of newspapers and magazines and have had a few short stories published. I am also a slush reader for Nightmare Magazine and am about to commence contributing blog posts to Crossed Genres Magazine. I love “B” movies, role playing games (the non-video game kind), and New Orleans. I may or may not admit to being a crazy cat lady. I am currently finishing up a graduate degree at UNO; if you ever want to be completely overwhelmed, ask me about the significance of the appearance of Cupid in Renaissance literature. I have taught a number of writing workshops and used to teach composition classes at DCC.

As for writing, I feel that I am a competent and often precise writer. Because of my background in journalism, I do a pretty decent job of organizing my writing. I am also good at meeting deadlines and wordcounts. I have been told that my writing often looks at the world in new ways, and I seem to have a habit of saying things that other people don’t. It might be the nerd in me, but when I write I spend a lot of time researching. I want to know the context behind the story; if I’m writing about a modern short story, I want to know how the story fits into the larger tradition of its genre. If I’m writing an article about a politician, I want to know his record from ten years ago and how it contrasts with his stances today.

Even though I make sure to provide context in my writing, I feel that it often lacks depth. I would like to be the kind of writer who finds ways to add complexity to her writing instead of glossing over important details. Some of this is my newspaper background holding me back; newspaper reporters often have short wordcounts that keep them from adding the detail to a story that will really bring it to life in the reader’s mind. I would like to be the kind of writer who appears in The New York Times, not Podunk Weekly. I have found that my writing has been improving since I began reading more widely for my graduate degree. Stepping outo of my comfort zone of reading contemporary science fiction, fantasy, and horror has definitely improved my prose.

Night Circus review

In Awesomeness, Book Reviews on February 21, 2012 at 3:08 am

As I previously posted, I recently won a copy of The Night Circus. While I can’t give it an impartial review, I have to say that I loved it.

Erin Morgenstern’s book was suspenseful and magical. The characters were interesting and nuanced. Not only was I entertained, but I always felt invested in the action.

In the book, the protagonists literally will a circus of dreams into being. There is an intense magical duel, multiple love stories, and kitten acrobats all masterfully woven into a story of complicated human connections. I winced, I cried, I laughed, I loved, and when all was said and done I wished there were another hundred pages. I didn’t want to leave the world behind.

The only thing I didn’t love this book was the way time shifted throughout the story. As I read deeper in, I could see why Morgenstern set the chronology the way she did, but I was confused for a good portion of the book. She clearly marks the date changes; I just have a tendency to speed read past markers like those.

All-in-all, I have to give The Night Circus high marks. I enjoyed it, and winning it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a while.


I won a book!

In Awesomeness, The Writing Life on January 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm


I arrived home from school Monday tired after a thirteen hour day. I left for work at the writing center at 8:30 a.m. and arrived back home after 9:30 p.m. I was worn out and grumpy. Then, when I checked my mail, I noticed a key in my box. The key was to a row of lockers to the side of the mailboxes that hold larger packages.

Finally! Something to be excited about.

I tore open the package on the way up in the elevator and discovered Erin Morgenstern’s
The Night Circus. The book included a personalized note, some confetti shaped like top hats and bows, a book mark, and a calling card. The book was signed and included a personalized doodle.

I won the book in Kyle Cassidy’s Night Circus Contest (under the name Howlokitty); I had to write flash fiction revolving around Cassidy’s cat Roswell and a night circus. It’s hard to describe the feeling an author experiences when someone validates their work. It did a lot for me and my confidence. I’ve been racking up more than a few rejections lately.

So far, I’ve found the book delightful. This is the type of book that makes me jealous that I didn’t write it first. I hope to have a review up soon. It definitely won’t be an objective review. I feel the kind of pride I felt when I received my first check for a published news story. This book will forever be linked in my mind with the moment that I opened my mailbox and found a key inside.



October Country

In Awesomeness, New Orleans, The Writing Life on October 12, 2011 at 11:52 pm

I don’t celebrate Halloween, I celebrate October.

I live in October Country year round.

While walking from my final class today to my car, I realized how much this is true. Though I would live in October Country no matter where I physically resided, tonight living in this fair city added an heightened awareness to my October leanings. I would have taken a picture, but I am much better with words than visual images. I’m no Kyle Cassidy.

So, let me set the scene:

A crow cawed out her disdain for me from her perch on a wrought iron gate that swung into the grounds of a local high school. Amanda Palmer wailed directly into my brain from my iPod headphones: a powerful, raw, emotion-filled feminine voice. The coming dusk bruised the tempered fire of an autumn New Orleans sunset.

These elements converged to create a perfect October moment. I appreciated it.

The joy of living local

In Awesomeness, New Orleans on July 23, 2011 at 8:08 pm

One of the things I love about New Orleans is how easy it is to buy local (to differing extents). I volunteer and buy produce at a local farmer’s market and buying club, which buys produce, dairy products, and meat from producers within a radius of a few hundred miles. They keep track of all of their buys, which means I know when my peaches come from Alabama and when my rice comes from Louisiana. When I buy from them, I know my money is going towards supporting people I know and have worked with in the market.

This morning, I bought supplies to bake cookies from a locally owned supermarket. The chocolate chips are Hershey’s and the butter is from Virginia, but the people who own the market itself are from here.

After my shopping excursion, I bought an iced cafe mocha from the locally owned fair trade coffee shop next door to the market. They coffee isn’t local, but I like knowing that my money is going to support the girl with the candy red hair who works there. The coffee shop also hangs art from local artists on the walls, sells books by local authors, and has a number of community gatherings throughout the week.

I’m pretty poor, all things considered. But, it makes me happy knowing that, instead of giving money to huge corporations intent on supporting their bottom line at the expense of their customers and employees, I’m doing my part to support businesses who are, in turn, trying to support New Orleans and make it, and in some sense the world, a better place.

With the knowledge that Washington has (probably long ago) lost sight of helping and supporting normal, every day Americans, I’m glad that I can make some sort of positive impact on the world around me.

As our elected leaders squabble and show how out of touch they are with what we need, please join me in buying local and supporting local commerce. Support local libraries and educational institutions. Instead of looking to them to save us, consider doing your part to help out your neighbors and community members, because this is what it will take to get everyone through this bump in the road.

Unexpected summer vacation

In Awesomeness, Judaism on July 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm

I am very excited about this August. In about three weeks, I will be on an airplane to Boston, where I will get to spend time with a good friend (and old crush). Then, I will take a commuter train (FIRST TRAIN RIDE!!!!!) to New Hampshire, where I will spend a week at a Jewish learning and community building institute put on by the National Havurah Committee. Then, I will either grab a ride back or take the commuter train back to Boston, where I will spend another night and then fly back to New Orleans on August 8. I think it will be a lot like the summer camp I went to (Camp Anytown, a camp that teaches teenagers about diversity and leadership) in high school.

This is the first vacationy type trip I’ve taken in years; visiting my mother doesn’t count, because there’s a lot of stress involved in visiting my family or having them visit me here.

What’s even more exciting is that I got my acceptance for an institute fellowship in my inbox yesterday. I asked my rabbi for a loan to cover travel costs and some expenses, and tomorrow I’m buying my plane ticket! The institute theme is peace, so I’m hoping I can bring back some programming and inclusion ideas when I come home.

Good Fast Food

In Awesomeness on June 5, 2011 at 3:59 am

Boyfriend Alex and I went shopping today; he went to work, and for dinner I had a pastrami sandwich. Then, I made the ultimate fast food, thanks to the Chinese market we visited a week or two ago.

Super Fast Soup Recipe:

1- 2 cups water (or broth, then skip step 2)
1- 2 servings instant broth of some kind
a handful of fast-cooking Asian noodles (I used ramen)
a handful of mushrooms
1 Tbspn of white miso
packet of pickled vegetables*

1. Boil water (or broth). 2. Dissolve instant broth into boiling water. 3. Throw noodles into cooking soup. 4. Slice mushrooms and throw into soup. 5. Continue to boil soup until noodles are soft. 6. Take soup off of heat and dissolve miso into soup. 7. Top with pickled vegetables. (You can also top with bean sprouts, corn, onions, seaweed, and other toppings you have handy.)

This whole process takes 5- 10 minutes, and the results have made me happy every time, even when I was using an instant soup cube that’s been sitting at the back of my cupboard for a few months. With all of the ingredients, it probably cost between $1 and $2 to make, but some of the stuff had been sitting in my kitchen for a while, so it’s hard to say what I paid for it all.

*Pickled vegetables pretty much have to be bought at an Asian market, and they come in foil packets.

++There is a lot of sodium in the miso, most soup powders, and the pickled vegetables. If you add soy sauce for taste, it would up the sodium even more. That’s about the only worrisome aspect of this recipe.

Fuck Plan B and Have Fun

In Awesomeness, The Writing Life on June 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm

On Twitter recently, there was a #FuckPlanB hashtag. It’s been interesting watching people on my and my friends’ Twitter feeds weigh in, especially since the issue is one that seems to have divided a number of the artists and performers I look up to.

I’ve come out on the side where I support #FuckPlanB. @bethofalltrades (Beth Hommel) wrote a blog post about how people who don’t have a support system can’t afford to Fuck Plan B, but I have to disagree on some points. I don’t have a trust fund, parents who can support me, or even money in my savings account. I DO use my giant water jug full of change as a financial backup plan when I have to. Yet I don’t have a Plan B; I’m never going to be able to fall back on my career as a doctor or zoologist to support myself if my whole dream of being a writer/ intellectual never takes off. In fact, I’ve been going to college on and off for eleven years now, struggling to realize my dreams. At times I was days or even hours away from having everything fall down around me, but I never gave up on my Plan A, and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can breathe a little and believe that I’m going to make it.

Through all of this, I’ve had full and part time jobs to support the trajectory I want my life to go in. I wrote for the St. Petersburg Times while I worked at a dead-end job at a start-up website that sells travel videos. As I write this, I’m on my lunch break at a charity I work for to pay the rent when money from writing and teaching writing aren’t enough to get by on. I’m going for my master’s and will probably end up as a faculty member of a university or college in the next few years instead of living off of those fat writers’ paychecks we all know are flooding the publishing industry. But, none of these are a Plan B. They are just realistic steps I’m taking towards achieving my Plan A.

I did not take #FuckPlanB as a way for people on the verge of losing it all for their dreams to skirt responsibility or as a way of sticking it to the people who can’t afford to spend 40 hours a week just working on their art. Growing up, I was told that my Plan A wasn’t good enough. I was told to go into a number of career fields where I would have been miserable, and I probably would have ended up just another laid off worker suffering from the recession if I had taken that advice. In fact, I was told by a number of people that I shouldn’t even work on my Plan A part time, because there was no point. Instead I’m living my Plan A, which right now consists of being a writer in New Orleans. If working in an office 30 hours a week helps me achieve my goal, then it’s part of Plan A. If reading some of the best Western literature in history and reading over student essays to figure out how to improve their writing (which I believe also improves mine, thanks to the critical thinking involved) helps me stay afloat while I work on Plan A, then this is also part of the process, not a Plan B.

I’m not rich, and I’m still working towards making myself financially stable, but I’m happy. That’s what’s important. And, knowing that I’m still working towards my Plan A has added to my level of fulfillment over the years.

Last night, I went to see Jason Webley live in New Orleans. This wouldn’t have been possible if I had given up on my Plan A. Jason Webley is up there in my list of favorite musical artists, because he makes his shows fun. He projects an exuberance that is inspirational and infectious. I’m not going to knock people who decide to live their lives on a more stable path, but I like to think that last night I was at the exact place and moment I was supposed to be in, thanks to my Plan A.

Bastard banh mi

In Awesomeness, New Orleans on May 22, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Yesterday, Alex drove me to Gretna, so I could check out the Hong Kong Food Market. Gretna is considered a part of New Orleans but at the same time could be a foreign country. There are people who have lived in New Orleans for years who have never ventured over to the West Bank. I hadn’t been there in about a year.

The HK food market is like one stop shopping for Asian anything. There is a fine dining restaurant, a jewelry store, a boba shop, a salon, and a number of other businesses set up in the same business complex, all catering to the diverse Asian crowd. The store itself is in an old supermarket, so instead of being cramped and cluttered, it’s pretty amazing to go into. We went in large part because I’ve been making bastardized Western banh mi sandwiches since my birthday, and I wanted to see what they were actually supposed to taste like. I also wanted to buy the ingredients for ramen, and I’ve been wanting to go to the Hong Kong market for months.

Back to the bastard banh mi- I had all the ingredients for rudimentary banh mi: pate, cold cuts, french bread, cilantro, tomatoes (although I’m not sure they usually go in banh mi…), jalapeno, mayo. I did not have Maggi sauce or the pickled carrots and cucumber I’d heard about. So, I went to Rouse’s to try my luck. I couldn’t find Maggi or anything resembling the pickled carrots I’d read about in Jaiden Hair’s post about banh mi, so I improvised. I made it first using a mixture of mayo and vegemite with italian pickled vegetables. That was pretty gross (if anyone has a recipe for vegemite that makes it less gross, please let me know) so I substituted soy sauce for the Maggi sauce with better results.

Yesterday, we picked up the real banh mi, and I have to say that, besides the strong pickled taste of the vegetables instead of the sweeter taste of the carrots, I wasn’t that far off. I sent Alex to work today with a simple banh mi type sandwich (just meat, mayo, Maggi, and cilantro) and he seemed pretty happy with it. Now he’s been at work, and I’m catching up on cleaning and writing.

A New Life

In Awesomeness, College Goals, New Orleans on May 19, 2011 at 8:49 pm

I have now lived in New Orleans for almost a year and an half. In the past year, I have gone from living in a constant state of unemployed terror to someone who has a number of possibilities in front of her.

Some of you already know from Twitter, but I have been offered a graduate assistantship at UNO. In the fall, I will either be working in the writing center or helping a professor with research. This will provide me with a stipend and free tuition, so I will no longer have to worry about maxing out my loans every semester.

The money from the assistantship will also allow me to travel in the summer of 2012. Right now, I’m thinking a trip to the UK is in order.

For the first time, I’m also looking into PhD programs. I’m hoping I’ll be working towards a PhD and enjoying a stipend and health benefits by 2013.

I’ve also been a bit surprised the past month, because I somehow managed to snag myself a boyfriend. This is surprising because I’ve been actively seeking a girlfriend since before I moved here and have been trolling (as much as it’s possible for me to troll) the Jewish queer events in New Orleans. The bf managed to go with the flow enough to skirt all of my objections, and it’s been interesting, to say the least.

Yesterday was my 29th birthday, so my mother has been in town for the past few days. She went home this morning and left behind two or more weeks worth of food and a kitchen full of dirty dishes. Included was about three pounds of liver pate. A few months ago, Doc Brite wrote about a Chinese market across the river that sells Banh mi. I’ve never tried it before, but I’ve decided to give it ago because of all of my pate. Bf is going to take me to the market over the weekend, and I’m going to buy the fixings to make homemade ramen and compare my banh mi with the market’s deli. I’m hoping I’ll have just enough to also buy some lotus buns.

That’s been my life in the past month. I’ve been getting things done. I haven’t been writing enough, but I’ve managed to finish a few books, finish up the semester as a professor and graduate student, and enjoy life more than I have in years.