Wayan And The Turtle King

My friend (and Taiwan roommate!) Yvette is releasing a children’s book, Wayan And The Turtle King. Yvette is a freediver, environmentalist and English teacher, and she’s combined all three in this magical children’s story.

Wayan And The Turtle King promo video on Biteable.
She’s releasing Wayan And The Turtle King in English and in Indonesian, in print and ebook, so that everyone can read the sweet story about a boy in the turtle kingdom, and the timely warning about plastic waste in the ocean. The book also includes extension activities to help kids connect the environmental story to their own lives.

The Kickstarter starts today, so when you support or buy a copy through the Kickstarter, you’re also supporting the spread of this message through book donations. (I have the feelings about Kickstarter that anyone has after backing games that never got finished. If you’ve also been burned by spending $20 for a series of sad emails about how the dev team ran into some challenges, but they’ll probably have a beta sometime soon,  well then be reassured that there’s actually a finished book here.) The Kickstarter will help pay the artist and translator, and help send this book to Indonesian children’s libraries.

I hope you’ll support the Kickstarter and spread a magical children’s story about protecting our oceans.

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 Our new game is actually starting to look like a game!

Harold is at work on the card art for our next (!!!) card game. I’ve worked on so many games, but this is the first one that I’ve designed totally on my own, no input from licensors or product owners or clients or bosses.

Also, we changed the name to Takeout. I’ve been calling it 吃饭了吗, which is literally Have you eaten yet? but frequently used as a greeting. To me, it’s a clever name for a social card game about language and food, but so far only TWO other people have found it funny, and I’ve had to admit defeat and change my title. Harold’s been calling it Takeout, which is also a clever name for a competitive food game, and anyway loads of Chinese dishes have been Americanized into takeout, haven’t they?

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The Paper of Record High Temperatures, For Some Reason

I just sold my New York Times stock. I hope that withdrawing my $22 investment expresses my displeasure in their recent hiring choices. Climate change is real, and reputable publications have a responsibility to report science.

Also, I left the definite article out of their name because that’s AP stylebook for giving the middle finger.



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Bell’s Seasoning

This is the first thing I’ve written for my MFA that I consider a finished, standalone piece. When I started this program, I expected to write so many finished, solid stories. And I am writing so, so much for this program, but I find myself completing something that fits the assignment, but doesn’t fully express what I want to share, or I find myself hitting my deadline with something that needs a rewrite or ten before I feel really good about sharing it.

Anyway, this assignment was to write about food, brands and taste memories for a narrative nonfiction class.

Bell’s Seasoning

In my second year in China, in my first apartment in Beijing, I was overcome by my dislike of Chinese food. The endless peanut oil and five-spice made everything taste the same to me, and with that came the worry that my unsophisticated palate was unsuitable for a traveler.

Expat expeditions to Jenny Lu’s or Auchon’s worked sometimes, but my foreign teacher salary couldn’t keep up with regular purchases of imported cheese. The vegetable market near my house was more suited to my salary, and I could recognize most of the produce. The tomatoes and potatoes were all just a little bit off from my supermarket expectations, slightly the wrong shade or shape or size, but I was determined to cook Western meals for us, to counteract my daily repetition of choosing the least-unpalatable food options.

Garlic or caramelized onions can give a Western flavor to a simple meal. Real butter helps, or meat fat rendered and saved in a drippings can. The harsh red wine works better for cooking than sipping. You can make a pretty respectable pico with red Sichuan chilis in place of jalapenos.  It was enough not to taste peanut oil and five spice on every bite of every meal.

But it was the yellow packet of Bell’s Seasoning that makes food taste like home. It works on mushrooms, stuffed with overcooked and toasted rice instead of breadcrumbs, and then “baked” over the gas ring. It works on a polenta, but only sometimes because the really good cornmeal came from a migrant vendor who occasionally set up shop outside my complex’s gates. It works on the slightly-too-red tomatoes and the lavender aubergines.

It’s great to have an unsophisticated palate.

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Are you listening to S-Town? I’ve just started listening to it, and it’s such a terrible and true look at small-town Southern life. It’s about the horror exhaustion and outrage saturation of reading the news and thinking about it, and the particular depression that comes from being surrounded by small-town southerners who don’t care. And so much more. If you’re listening too, let me know, I’m desperate to discuss it.

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Imposter Syndrome, Again. Still.

I don’t want to talk about the Orange Lord, but he recently described his time in office by saying “I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president.” It’s amazing to me that he can take this attitude. By any reasonable standard, he has no experience, no work ethic, no training and no willingness to be trained for this job. Newspapers and magazines around the world have written about how unqualified he is and how poorly he’s doing his job. His poor job performance is literally international news, every day. But he thinks he’s doing well.

I’m not 100% sure how people have confidence in general, but I definitely don’t understand how one can receive constant and objective negative performance feedback and still think the problem is with everyone else.

In my usual mental narrative, I notice that my student just looked at her phone. She’s obviously not engaged, so she’s probably not learning anything in this class. Which must be because it’s a boring class. Because I’m an awful, boring teacher. I’m probably the worst teacher ever, and if my boss ever finds out how bad I am at my job, I’m going to get fired. I’ll probably get fired anyway, because I’m terrible at everything. (Not an exaggeration.) Even in the face of overwhelming positive performance feedback, I will hear only the negative, because, well, see previous re: terrible at everything. I’m pretty much always trying to drown out the persistent worry that everyone around me is just about to discover how useless I am.


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Comics Wife Life, Part 38,473

“Do you want to see the new Justice League movie?” Harold asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, “What’s it about?”

“So Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are at the –”

“OH MY GOD! SUPERMAN’S NOT REALLY DEAD!?!?! I AM SHOCKED! I DEFINITELY thought he was dead at the end of Batman Vs Superman, and I TOTALLY expected a comic book character to stay dead! WOW! I can’t believe it! I bet the viewers are going to be SO SURPRISED!”

“Ok,  ok,” Harold sighed, “Just tell me if you want to see the movie.”

(I am an unending delight.)

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Yantai Journals

Oh, hey so I briefly mentioned the Chefoo Concentration Camp when I wrote about exploring Tamsui. There’s an episode of NPR’s This American Life about the diary of a Girl Guide leader who was imprisoned in Chefoo. The story is an amazing testament to stiff upper lip and journaling, two of my favorite coping mechanisms. (It’s a three-way tie with alcohol, really.)

But there’s also a reference to how very hard it is to find historical material on this.

I’ve been interested in Yantai for a while now, but I’ve not been able to find too much about this part of Yantai’s history. There is this article from the Birmingham Mail about a British woman who was at boarding school in what’s now Yantai, and ended up in Chefoo Concentation Camp.

The only other place I’ve really found information about Chefoo is in the nonfiction novel Lilla’s Feast. Part of Lilla’s story includes her years imprisoned in the camp, where she wrote an imaginary cookbook. Also says a lot about writing  as a coping mechanism, now that I think about it.

Anyway, something to think about when I move my Yantai journals from apartment to apartment.

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Shortly before I left for Taiwan, I was having ramen with Marcus, and he asked how the MFA was going. It was a somewhat rushed meeting in a trendy ramen shop, since I was leaving for Taiwan the next day and Marcus has work on his third (THIRD!) book, all of which would deeply impress our twenty-something selves. But anyway, the MFA.

It’s hard. I usually consider myself a pretty productive writer. I’ve been blogging since 2005, and I published my first game essay in 2006. (That magazine is now defunct, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t my fault.) I usually have work going on for game clients, other work for editors, personal creative pieces, blogging here, and my endless private journals. But I don’t produce nearly as much as my classmates. The quality of what I do write is average at best. This isn’t one of those false-modesty things, it’s a legit comparison to my classmates’ work.

And it’s that’s hard too, because I can’t work out how to look at bad grades or bad responses in workshops without falling into the pit of how I’m actually a terrible writer, I’m going to fail everything, and any success up until now has just been a fluke.  Washing out of the program is a reasonable fear, and I can’t work out how to accept that some people in my classes are not going to make it without deciding that I’m going to be one of them, because I’m actually a terrible writer, I’m going to fail everything, and even getting accepted in the first place was a mistake.

This is also the same conversation when The Interestings came up, and Marcus said he thought Jules was kind of mean. I felt like I’d left my diary open, since I empathise so deeply with Jules, and when I read this book, I basically pictured young Ethan as a twenty-something Marcus.  I guess this novel meant so much to me that I kind of own it, and I forgot that other people can read books too.

“Shut up!” I said, “It’s not her fault! Jules is just talented enough to know she’s not as talented as her friends. Everything is really hard for Jules.” So there’s that.

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The Time Of A Song

All our classes were asked to come up with a skit for an end-of-class performance, so my ESL students the first week were came up with two really hilarious skits, both using quite limited English and ending with clever bicultural puns. The girls’ skit had two sisters buying candy from two sisters, with a who’s-on-first around Mei Mei and Jie Jie (little sis and big sis) ending with the explanation “because this is FamilyMart!” I guess you have to know a FamilyMart is a Taipei corner store.

The boys’ skit had increasingly greedy customers making massive orders at a McDonalds, and the final customer was asked “Do you want a hamburger or some chicken, Uncle?” I guess you have to know that Chicken Uncle is the Chinese name for Colonel Sanders, but I thought they were both pretty funny skits. I was pleased to have a group that wanted to express themselves.

At the last minute, admin told me they were deemed unacceptable for our end-of-class skits for, um, reasons that couldn’t actually be shared with me (There’s a lot I miss about working in China, but having someone mumble that maybe someone else might think that maybe something could maybe be done differently in an unspecified way is not one of them), so we scrapped both skits and my students somewhat apathetically sang Try Everything from Zootopia. At least, I think it’s from Zootopia, I’ve only ever heard this song as an end-of-class presentation choice for ESL students.

Try Everything was a popular end-of-class choice when I was teaching ESL at Tufts last summer. My class of Taiwanese college students were the exception to the group singing or half-hearted skits. They did an awesome Jay Chou song and dance, and I was thrilled by their bubbling creativity in pretty much every lesson. This class also taught me half a dozen house rules to improve classroom games of Murder, and burst into song at the slightest provocation. They were a dream class.

This photo is tagged NTNU, because that’s where I was when I posted it, but it was taken at Tufts.


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