Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Blue of All Trades

In honor of tonight's performance, I thought I would amuse you all with a list of jobs I've held (in no particular order; they'll come out in the order I can remember them):

Piano teacher
Choral accompanist
Music transcriber
Lounge pianist
Dinner theatre performer
Pit orchestra pianist
Sound board operator
Camp counselor
Camp teacher
Camp director
Cafeteria server/dishwasher
Data entry clerk
"Booth Babe" at a technology trade show
Mailroom assistant
Retail worker
Customer Service Representative
Van Driver
And... graduate student.

Dare you to add your own list! Tag-you're-it-one-two-three-go!

A Good Dress Rehearsal

There is nothing like sitting with a laptop on one knee and a kitty on the other (of course I have a cat -- haven't you all guessed by now?), with my feet in warm fuzzy slippers and a big bowl of chocolate ice cream (with peanut butter and caramel swirls!), after an ideal dress rehearsal.

Nickel and Dimed will be a good show. The pieces have come into place, and we get our first audience tomorrow. The official opening is Wednesday, but tomorrow we are inviting a large group of civil service workers (read: maintenance staff) to attend a special, "honored guest only" performance.

Before I let myself get too... I don't know, complacent or something, I should consider this: my university hosted a guest director this semester, and her play opened last Friday. I saw the matinee on Sunday (between my own rehearsals), and -- although my play is good and I'm quite happy with it -- the difference between the two works was astonishing and humbling. Hers looked like a detailed oil painting and
made mine look like a crayon sketch by comparison.

So... there is always something more to work towards. But, tonight, there is ice cream.

A side note on yesterday's post: I discovered the source of the familiar Indian cooking smell and am surprised no one suggested it in the comments (maybe y'all were just being polite). It wasn't the bags from Namaste Grocery. It was me -- my own skin. Interesting. Now I suppose I'm wondering if it's as obvious to other people. And how that will smash up against (or deconstruct/subvert, if we're playing the lit theory game) the old "Indians smell like curry" stereotype. Because -- at least today -- this gori girl does as well.

And -- if you'll forgive her -- she kind of likes it. It's a nice smell.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Refrigeration is the Key!

A few quick notes on my last post (Nickel and Dimed is going fine, so don't worry... but I've spent seven hours in the theatre today and so I'm putting my mind to another source before I go to bed).

1. Refrigerating the alan ka saag seemed to work. It thickened considerably and tastes... a little oily, but mostly fine. I wonder if the whole problem stemmed from the fact that I had run out of olive oil and used generic vegetable oil instead. Could two tablespoons of a different oil make that much of a difference?

2. There are, in fact, packages of ground chilies. I found them at Namaste Grocery today. I hope to be pleasantly -- but not painfully -- surprised at how hot they actually are.

3. When I was driving back from Namaste Grocery this afternoon, I suddenly noticed a familiar smell filling my car -- something I had not smelled in years. In high school, I used to teach piano lessons to a desi kid. I would go to his house to teach, and his living room was always filled with a warm, cooking-related, distinctly Indian scent. I've noticed garlic and haldi smells clinging to my fingertips, but never this particular smell until today. When I parked the car I sniffed every bag in turn, but everything, left to itself, smelled like plastic. In combination, though, they seemed to turn into something quite pleasant. Very strange.

That's all for now -- goodnight, if you're reading this in the evening, and good morning to those who will read it tomorrow!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cooking... sometimes happy, sometimes sad...

I've often wondered if I could survive in Hyderabad using only the Hindi I've picked up from Karan Johar film titles.

For example:

"How are you doing?"
"Oh, you know, kabhi kushi kabhie gham..."


"When would you like to go see the Char Minar?"
"As soon as possible. After all, kal ho naa ho!"

Anyway. I was thinking of that, when I was thinking of how to describe my recent cooking experiments. I've been storing up Tupperwares full of dal or saag paneer or what-have-you on the weekends, and trying to make them last through the week (although I do enjoy the gyro shop, I'm not interested in eating there every day).

And since today was our "dark" day (our one-day-a-week off from rehearsal), I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen and tried to cook up enough food to keep me happy for the rest of the week.

I started off last weekend with urad dal (using Ms. Jaffrey's "Punjabi-style" recipe from Climbing the Mango Trees), hoping that the sheer heaviness of the dal would provide enough punch to keep me going. I also cooked up some chickpeas and yogurt(from World-Of-The-East Vegetarian Cooking) and found it to be the only dish of Ms. Jaffrey's I've cooked thus far that does not in fact improve with age. Probably because it's meant to be eaten in a sort of combination hot-and-cold, with the warmth of the chickpeas spreading into the cool softness of the yogurt. But in my office at school, it was flat and inedible -- especially after I tried to solve the problem by sticking the whole thing in the microwave.

Blue's lesson for the day: don't microwave yogurt.

Anyway, after a week of heavy, heavy dal and curdled chickpeas (and gyros -- the shop has just introduced a "vegetarian gyro" which is essentially "everything minus beef," which I do enjoy), I had the day to cook. So right now my little refrigerator is stacked with tubs of moong dal (which may be my new favorite dal -- it's certainly the only one I've ever made which turns creamy, like the kind I get at restaurants; the urad and masoor dals both stay chunky and lentily no matter how many hours I boil them), saag paneer, and a variant on a variant of Ms. Jaffrey's "chickpeas and okra in a tamarind sauce" recipe. (Since the only okra available in my area is not intended for human consumption, I substitute green beans in this recipe -- only today I didn't have any, so I used peas... not as good a choice, since they turned to mush and didn't provide any kind of contrasting texture to the chickpeas.)

But the tragedy of the evening (the "kabhie gham" half) was the alan ka saag. I don't know what I did that was different than the first time I made it, but the thing just wouldn't thicken. Even after adding chickpea flour. It ended up being an entire stew pot filled with spinach and lentils floating around in a bitter, bitter water. I've put the contents into the refrigerator in the hope that it will magically change overnight into something worth eating, but I fear... well... okay, I probably shouldn't have tried to cook four dishes at once.

The interesting thing is -- well, there are two interesting things. The first is that I've got to figure out how to make lassi, because whenever I sit and eat dal I find myself with the strongest craving afterwards for something sweet. I sit there, finish the meal, and think "I want a milkshake." Which makes me wonder if there isn't something to the dal/lassi combination -- something either chemical and/or biological. But is it possible to make lassi without a blender? (It must be -- India's been making lassi long before blenders were invented. But I can't find a recipe that doesn't call for one.)

The other thing is that I need a stronger spice. Cayenne doesn't taste "hot" anymore, and even the Flaming Lime Pickle I wrote about a few weeks ago now tastes... pungent, but not burning. What else should I use? Ground chilies? Whole ones?

Anyway. Hadn't written a cooking post in a while, so... thought I would. Hope you enjoyed it!

Rose Vacuums The Theatre

Our building's two maintenance staff, Rose and Dan, are just thrilled that we are staging Nickel and Dimed. The first thing Dan said to me when he heard that we had selected the play was "finally we get to see people like us on stage!"

They have come into rehearsals, and every time I see either of them they ask me how the play is going.

Today, as rehearsal was ending, Rose came into the theatre.

"Do you mind if I vacuum? I don't want to disturb you. I just want to make sure it looks nice in here."

This theatre has probably not been vacuumed for five years. It had not been vacuumed once since I began graduate school. We (the students) were told that it was our responsibility to keep the place clean, not the maintenance staff's. Thus, there were a lot of crumbs and old screws and things... well, everywhere.

The stage managers and I immediately began clearing all the trash and chairs and tables out of the theatre, so that Rose wouldn't have to lift and move and throw away things herself. And Rose vacuumed.

This in itself is a testament to the power of the arts.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

In Which Blue Really, Really, Really Retracts Her Sympathies for Sen. Biden

Blue needs to start reading things besides the NY Times.

Because about a month ago, there was all that buzz... Biden described Obama as "articulate," etc. etc. etc. and a plethora of editorials and seven-page online articles about whether it was a racial insult or not. Everything focused on the word "articulate."

And then, through another SepiaMutiny link (which actually took me to this page, which I have fact-checked with other online news sources including CNN), I suddenly learn the real quote.

Why was all the focus on "articulate?" Why wasn't anyone nailing Biden for calling Obama "the first mainstream African-American who is clean?"

I think I am going to go bury my head in my hands for a while.

So... how do we do what we do?

Shripriya commented in my Nickel and Dimed post that she was amazed that so many people worked thankless jobs for low pay out of passion/love.

Yet with a quick look at my bloglist it seems like a lot of this blog's regular readers are teachers, writers, students, and artists. Not exactly the thankless work Shripriya was describing (she was talking specifically about production assistants at film studios), but plenty of passion-filled, low-paying work.

So... how do we do what we do? What of our work is thankless, what fuels our passions, and how do we survive (financially and/or creatively)? What keeps us going?

(P.S. -- bad form perhaps to mention finances. If you'd rather, just write about the passion half. ^__^)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Nickel and Dimed

Right now I'm in "hell week" for Nickel and Dimed. For those of you unfamiliar with the vagaries of theatrical production, "hell week" is the week before a show opens -- the week in which lights, SFX, costumes, and props are all introduced at once. And Nickel and Dimed has 300 props. (For heaven's sake, the first act takes place in a restaurant... with a working kitchen!)

To compensate for this barrage of new information, the actors, designers, crew, and director all pretty much lock themselves into the theatre for a week so that they can sort everything out. ("Hector, you need to grill the steak before you start stirring the mashed potatoes, because Barbara has to serve the steak before Joan comes in with her line about the tour bus..." etc.)

I haven't written anything yet about Nickel and Dimed, but, since people have requested a post, I'll start by offering my director's notes. I wrote them last week when we were preparing the show's playbill.

This, of course, has the added advantage of allowing me to post quickly, so I have time to grab a gyro from Dev before the 5 p.m.-11 p.m. rehearsal tonight. ^__^

Here's what I wrote, and what the audience will read before the show begins:

When I graduated from college in 2004, I had no concept of what it was to work a low-wage job. Sure, I had worked a few jobs in the summers, but never with the intention of supporting myself and certainly never with the idea that this would be a long-term situation.

However, after graduation, I found myself living in an apartment in Minneapolis, learning about the theatre scene and, more importantly, working a series of dead-end jobs: retail, temping, even telemarketing. It was my first time really interacting with people who weren't young, successful students. I met and worked alongside people who were struggling to survive, people who had several kids and no health care, people who had been recently released from prison and who were trying to carve their way back into society. I also worked alongside a large number of young people a few years older than myself, also college-educated, who had found themselves in these jobs because there was little else available in the tight labor market.

What I learned -- what I never learned in college -- was that this world is real. It is not reserved for the "unskilled" or for people who have "screwed up" in life. When life transitions unexpectedly (and it does), any one of us can end up working one of these jobs. Barbara goes into her experiment thinking she can do a better job at low-wage work than the long-term workers because she assumes she's smarter and stronger than them. So did I. We were both wrong.

I hope you enjoy this play. I hope you take something away from it as well. Work in America is a large and complicated topic, and there are few easy solutions, but there is opportunity for thought and discussion and understanding. Thank you for choosing to attend this performance of
Nickel and Dimed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

International Fair: Pretty Red Kurta!

The International Fair was a great deal of fun. The town in which my university is located has an extraordinarily high desi population, so the Indian booths were quite the star of the show.

I must say, though, that I was a little piqued by the advertising. The signs all said "Eat Your Way Around The World! Admission $2!" and so I went up to the door and paid my two dollars, and then discovered that the $2 only gave me the privilege of walking through the door and smelling the food, as everything inside was an additional... well... more dollars.

In addition to food, the various student organizations were selling "stuff." Team Japan brought Hello Kitty dolls and male and female Pocky ("male Pocky" is bitter chocolate, and "female Pocky" is sweet -- yes, this was written on the packaging), Team Korea was selling Barbie-style plastic dolls in traditional Korean clothing... and Team India was selling kurtas.

I could not believe it. They were beautiful. And, as my eyes lingered over the delicate embroidery, in swooped the official Student Sales Representative (whom, incidentally, I really, really liked -- the following story is not meant to be pejorative, but rather a testament to his skill).

And he began holding each kurta out in turn, folding, refolding, holding them up to my skin, telling me about their history and condition and the student who brought them all the way from Bombay to sell at this student fair, and of course I mentioned that I was planning to travel to India, so then each kurta became "This one will look beautiful on you in India. You could also think about getting more than one for your travels. This one will look beautiful too!"

In the end, I ended up with the most expensive and elaborately ornamented kurta of the lot. Before anyone accuses me of spendthriftiness, it was the only one which actually fit me -- I am a petite woman by any country's standards. It was priced at $20.

"Do you like that one?" the Sales Rep asked. "I can get you a discount because you are going to India and I want to make sure you get a pretty kurta. What if we said, say, $17.50?"

Shit! I thought. This is where I'm supposed to haggle and I don't know how!

"$17.50 sounds great!"

So I went home with a pretty red kurta (that is to say, white cotton with red embroidery and beadwork). It came, like a Karan Johar film, incomplete -- I had to stitch on the sleeves myself, but stitch them on I did.

I went back to the second day of the International Fair, because my lunch break between paper tech and rehearsal coincided with the Indian Student Association's scheduled "cultural performance." I was hoping for some kind of Audience Participatory Bhangra, but it turned out to be a classical music performance... still perfectly enjoyable.

And I wore the pretty red kurta, just to see what would happen. I went over to the food station to buy a samosa, and this whisper began circulating through the group gathered there -- "She's the one who bought it. She's the one who bought the red kurta." And suddenly people were talking to me, asking me about my trip, telling me about themselves, and offering me free food because I was a "friend of India."

It turns out that I was the only person who bought any of the beautiful kurtas. At the end of the fair they were all sitting on the table just like they were when I first saw them. It seems a shame. I suppose, though, that if any of them sold, it was a good thing for the student group that they were able to sell the prettiest, most expensive one.

And now I have a pretty red kurta to wear in turn with my pretty blue salwar. Soon I will try to post a picture.

The Full Tonic

If you've been following, I recently created a drink which consisted of hot (just boiled) water, ginger, cinnamon, and haldi. I called it a "Mid Tonic."

I've been drinking it nearly every night, to keep my stamina up throughout these long rehearsals.

But, being out of cinnamon, I created a new drink for this evening. Hot water, ginger, garam masala (from the package -- sorry, Ms. Jaffrey), and haldi.

This drink, of course, is called a Full Tonic.

Think about it... a white woman with a blue salwar making a masala-flavored drink and naming it after a Japanese video game. This is multiculturalism at its finest.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

In Which Blue Retracts Her Sympathies for Sen. Biden

Shit. Here I went, posting something nice about Sen. Biden because I truly thought that he could have made an honest misunderstanding with the whole "Obama is articulate" thing... and then SepiaMutiny links to this.

And I did my own research, and this pretty much sums it up.

You're on your own now, Biden. You get no support from me.

Where Are You From?

I'm going to an International Fair tomorrow, sponsored by my university's various international student organizations.

It's probably one of the few spaces where it's safe to ask "where are you from?"

I know it's not a particularly appropriate question to ask. It implies otherness, and, as another (now offline) desi blogger wrote, forces the person to then endure some kind of heartfelt enthusiasm about how much the questioner loves their culture, clothing, food, etc. --or forces them to endure some kind of insult along the lines of "why don't you go back there?"

It also assumes that anyone who isn't obviously white or black is "from" somewhere, regardless of where the person was actually born or raised.

I did ask, once. Not out of any context -- I go to this desi-run gyro shop about twice a week, and had shared enough back-and-forth banter with Dev, who worked the counter, that I felt daring enough to press the familiarity.

"Are you -- forgive me for asking -- you are Indian?"


"Which part?"

"You wouldn't know."

"No -- I'm going to Hyderabad next summer and I'm trying to learn everything I can about India. So I might know."

"I am Punjabi. It is very far from Hyderabad. I don't think you would know much about it."

I paused. Punjab. North India. Refugees after Partition. Tandoori ovens, salwar khameez, Chandni Chowk, kali dal...

But I didn't say any of that. Because, really, did I know anything about Punjab that didn't come from Bollywood films or cookbooks?

So I said "You're right -- I don't know much about it. But thank you."

I understand why it would be uncomfortable to be continually interrogated about one's background; to be continually judged as "other," to be continually evaluated as an outsider. I understand why I shouldn't make a habit of asking. But sometimes I think that not asking is equally unfortunate, because not asking demands that we remain ignorant. Learning that Dev is Punjabi makes me want to learn more about Punjab; it's the not knowing that keeps people and places "foreign."

What are your thoughts? I'm interested to hear from both sides -- those who might be questioning and those who find themselves often questioned.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Pretty Heather Teapot!

My mother sent a V-Day care package which arrived today. Yes, there were cookies inside, but more importantly...

A heather Fiestaware teapot!

Ooh, I love tea. And I love that my mom started me on a small collection of Fiestaware dishes this past Christmas. And I love that we can both add pieces to the collection.

I opened the box and took the teapot out and danced around the hallway with it, showing it to all the other grads in their offices... they were less impressed, and liked the cookies better.

But it made me squeal with delight when I saw it. I need to upload a picture so that we can all squeal together!

For Love of Turnips (Shorvedar Shaljam)

Before I started learning about Indian cooking, I had never tasted... well, a lot of things. Some things were obvious. I had never tasted asafoetida. Some things were less obvious. I had never eaten a turnip.

Oh, but Madhur Jaffrey, whose texts I worship, included a recipe for shorvedar shaljam in her Quick-and-Easy Indian Cooking. And I read it and thought "I've heard of these strange root vegetables, and I've made Super Mario pull them out of the ground in Super Mario Brothers 2 (actually, I usually played Princess -- she had that neat floating trick), but I've never tasted one. I must make this recipe!"

So off to the grocery store, where I got five pounds of turnips for $2.50. I heart the prices of vegetables.

Anyway. I tasted my first turnip about three weeks ago, when I made shorvedar shaljam for the first time. I loved it. It was warm and a little crispy and had just a hint of tartness, as if a potato and a radish had made some sweet pyar pyar shaadi shaadi and this was their firstborn child.

I made it again tonight. This time I got the sauce right -- it wasn't too thick, wasn't too watery, and had the perfect amount of spice to awaken the tastebuds without overwhelming them. And -- with all due respect to Ms. Jaffrey -- I added a can of chickpeas, because the difficult part of this new low-cost vegetarian diet is finding ways to amp up the protein. And turnips, lovely things that they are, contain none.

The best part, of course, is knowing that I have more of this shorvedar shaljam to eat for tomorrow.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Blue's To-Do List

Here's my to-do list for this weekend (yes, I know, it's only Thursday, but might as well get started):

Contact actors for A Doll House directing scene. (DONE!)
Photocopy the directing scene. (DONE!)
Schedule and rehearse the directing scene. (DONE!)
Schedule and rehearse Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander scene. (DONE!)
Contact Geek Spot people to ask why my new computer no longer reads my printer, and why my printer says it can't connect to Windows 2000 when my OS is actually Windows XP. (FIXED IT MYSELF!)
Print movement assignment. (DONE!)
Write movement journals. (DONE!)
Re-contact landlord about getting someone to fix the washing machine. (DONE!)
Laundromat party! (AND IT WAS JUST A BALL OF FUN, TOO!)
Read students' ten-minute plays. (DONE!)
Prepare 240 assignments for next week. (DONE!)
Attend paper tech for Nickel and Dimed. (DONE!)
Lead Nickel and Dimed rehearsal. (DONE -- and the combined tech/rehearsal took ten straight hours today!)
Cook. Always, always cook. ^__^ (ALWAYS, ALWAYS DID!)

Feringhee: The India Diaries: Rain Song

Feringhee: The India Diaries: Rain Song#links

The above is the article I was trying to find to complement this post. Looks like there is crazy weather everywhere.

A Wet Hyderabadi Pixie

Someone help me out here. There was an article... somewhere... where someone wrote that India was getting a sudden, strange deluge of rain. And it's not monsoon season.

All I know is that my local weather pixie is packed in three feet of snow and my Hyderabadi weather pixie has been continually rained on since I installed her.

Is it an inconvenient truth? Or something else?

(EDIT: After scouring the Weather Pixie website, I'm not sure that's actually rain. It might be Weather Pixie's designation for "airborne particles." Um... not sure I want to know what those are.)

A Love Poem for V-Day

She Tells Her Love -- Robert Graves

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On "Opinion" and Reality

All right. I said I would continue these thoughts from yesterday, and I will.

Here's a scenario. I'm over at SepiaMutiny, typing a comment to a post about the character Apu, from The Simpsons, and the idea that he perpetuates the stereotype of Indian immigrants as convenience-store workers with funny accents. The gauntlet was thrown -- "The average American is far less likely to interact with a desi IT worker than with a desi grocery store clerk/owner, or a desi taxi driver. Right or wrong?"

And so, feeling red-headed, I typed back "wrong." Actually, I phrased it in nicer terms; I wrote that if "average American" meant a white person from flyover country, I qualified on both counts -- and I had met and interacted with a variety of desis throughout my life, even when I lived in a tiny Midwestern town which was so small it didn't even have stoplights. In fact, I've seen nearly every episode of The Simpsons and I had to learn through the internet in college that Apu's occupation was an intended stereotype -- I had never thought to associate being Indian with working in a convenience store, any more than I had thought to associate being Scottish with working as a school groundskeeper or being Jewish with clowning.

I typed my response. And then I thought "Okay, Blue. That's your opinion. But some of the posters at SepiaMutiny have very strong memories of being taunted because of Apu, and they hold a well-earned belief that mainstream white America views them as a group of interchangeable workers with funny accents. And that's their opinion."

So -- in a case like this -- whose reality is more valid? It's no longer exactly a comparison between an undergraduate and Foucault; it's one set of life experiences against another. This is the problem that Olson does not address in his essay; that once we enter a truly diverse society (and no, we're not there yet) we are going to come up against competing opinions which are, or can be, of equal worth -- and yet we're going to lack the critical skills to deal with them.

This seems to be at the heart of the Senator Biden debacle, at least as far as I understand it. Biden's press secretary released, a few days ago, a list of all the people Biden had described as "articulate" in the week leading up to his comment on Obama. Since we're dealing with politics, who knows what is true and what is spun -- but there seems to be a paper trail of Biden liberally using "articulate" as if it were his highest form of praise. Yet when he called Obama articulate, two different realities collided.

And both realities were equally valid.

Was Biden a fool not to understand how Obama's realities would temper and alter his compliment? Perhaps. Does that make him insensitive and/or racist? I don't know. What it does do is make me worry about how people with different life experiences will ever manage a point of connection.

Perhaps in my case, it means simply that I should shut up and listen more; that if a group of people has a strongly-held belief that they are viewed negatively in a particular way, who am I to say... well, anything about it? If my reality becomes shared by enough "average Americans," their reality will incorporate that and the "Apu stereotype" will become a non-issue.

Hmmm. I'll come back to this, I'm sure. And to the SM team -- I am sorry that I tried to counter your reality with my own individual experience.

(EDIT: I have since learned that Biden's remarks to Obama were not an isolated misunderstanding, and that he in fact seems to have a great propensity for labeling and insulting people. Grrr. Damn politicians.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Education and "Opinions"

This essay just appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education today. Written by Gary A. Olson, the essay deals with the current trend towards revering opinion over analysis:

We seem to be witnessing the apotheosis of opinion, a trend that has grave consequences for all of us in higher education. A generation of students and others are training themselves not to become critical thinkers, not to search for evidence or support of an assertion, and not to hold themselves or others accountable for the assertions they make.

Students believe that their opinions are as valid as those of long-established scholars (Brown tells the story of a student in a philosophy course who dismisses Foucault after one reading because the student "has a different opinion" on the nature of discourse). Parents believe their opinion of how to run a university is as valid as those of university administrators. This leads, Brown writes, not only to a spate of lawsuits (the courtroom being often the final place where two warring opinions can do battle), but also to a detachment from the concepts of research, study, and critical thought.

I'm not one to say that there is a universal truth, and I'm certainly not a structuralist. However, I agree with Brown and his idea that we are living in a society where opinion trumps all. Forget truth -- we've got Colbert's "truthiness;" and our freewheeling abandonment of hierarchical structure gives us a classroom where any student can stand up and say "that's just Foucault's opinion."

I'm including this in my blog for a few reasons. Brown has already written about how the cult of opinion affects education, so I will write about how it affects theatre. We are currently in a period where directors -- particularly directors of Shakespeare -- feel as if playscripts are just some writer's opinion of how the play should be done. Without taking the time to study the play or the time period -- often after only a few readings -- out come the scissors and lines are trimmed, words are changed, characters are compressed, scenes are cut... all with the goal of better shaping the play into the director's opinion of what a play should be.

I'm directing Tartuffe next year as my final graduate school project. I'd like to direct the entire play without cutting or altering a single line. Who am I to trump Moliere? The reason we are still reading and performing Tartuffe now is because Moliere did a pretty damn good job the first time. (Same reason, btw, that we are still reading Foucault.)

This is not to say that theories won't change; certainly we learn new things and we move from structuralist to post-structuralist, from modern to postmodern, from a Western-centric to globally inclusive canon. (Well, we're still technically pretty far from a globally inclusive canon. This from the person who tried and failed to get a South Asian play on our university's season.) But they certainly won't be changed by an undergrad who sits in a classroom and says "I think this author's wrong" without taking the time to understand why or to propose an alternative theory.

The other reason I've got this on my blog has to do with... oh, I don't know, the giant issue at the center of my blogging. (No, it's not about getting stains out of white sweaters.) Opinion, it seems, is at the heart of our lack of cultural understanding. Obama was educated alongside Muslims, so he must be a terrorist, etc. And, of course, the multiplicity of opinions surrounding the idea of a white woman in a blue salwar, and my own responsibility for ensuring that I do not turn my experience of India into a series of "facts" based on opinion -- "India is this" or "India is that" based on my single, unencompassing viewpoint.

Hmmm. My next post will be about moving past opinion. In this day of competing theories, how does one consider and validate information? Anyway. Enough for now. My roommate has baked a cake.

Un-pretty White Sweater (again)...

Well, the white sweater is down for the count. But this time the culprit wasn't haldi -- it was chocolate. And it didn't wash out.

I should just stop wearing white altogether. Or invest in some bleach or something.

Snow Day!

A snow day is the greatest kind of boon --
An unexpected chance to sleep 'till noon.

Only in academe, right? (Actually, where I live many businesses are closed today as well -- it's pretty hazardous out there.) Plenty has been written about the snow day as true holiday -- that is, a day free from work and free from the usual holiday obligations of presents, visiting, cooking, etc. A gift in and of itself -- twenty-four free hours.

And all the university students undoubtedly slept, as I did too.

It does beg some deconstruction, though. For example, my university's website states that the entire campus is closed, although "emergency personnel are still expected to report to work." Who are those emergency personnel? I'm guessing groundskeepers/maintenance workers, to check for frozen pipes and to start the digging-out process (though, with the snow still coming down, digging out is pretty futile).

I wonder about cafeteria workers. We have a couple thousand students living in our residence halls who are fairly dependent on the cafeterias for food. So... are food service workers considered "emergency" personnel? And if not, are the students going to bundle up and walk the three blocks through the driving snow to the McDonalds?

And, of course, what does this say about the McDonalds workers, who are not among the businesses who are closed today? Office parks close, the university closes, the elementary and high schools close... but the fast food restaurants and Wal-Marts and even the mall remains open. So the people who are driving to work in cars of the poorest condition, who might not have adequate health care or be able to afford repairs to either their auto or person should they have one of the accidents that the middle-class businesses and schools are trying to avoid by closing up shop -- these people are expected to make their way through the unplowed roads and report for duty.

(Lest I am accused of romanticizing the concerns of low-wage workers, during our last major snowstorm, on a day where nearly everything but the fast-food places were closed, I had to drive my roommate downtown on an urgent errand. I skidded into a curb, got my front bumper stuck on some giant ice-rocks buried beneath the snow, and ended up pulling it off of my car when I tried to back out of the skid. Fixing it was an expense I could ill afford. So I can only imagine that similar things are happening to workers all over the city -- maybe not all of them, surely some of them are better drivers than I am, but still -- and that service workers are running up unneeded and unsafe expense today while the rest of us look out from our windows and watch.)

Pretty Weather Pixie!

I've added a Weather Pixie, because my part of the country is currently experiencing a Severe Winter Storm Which is Expected to Last for Two Days... and because I like things that I can make look kind of like me.

I also put a pixie in Hyderabad weather -- for comparison's sake. Mmmm... 75 degrees...

Two Quick Links: Budhan Theatre Group and School Chale Hum

My two favorite things: theatre and education. And, it seems, combining the two.

Thanks to DesiPundit and SepiaMutiny for the links (I'm just stealing material from their websites right now).

Monday, February 12, 2007

Putting the "US" in USPS

So... my letter has arrived, but the USPS tracking website bears no updates since the letter first hit India five days ago.

I've since reconsidered my hypothesis. At first I was going to chalk it up to IST or something... now I've decided that USPS apparently does not care about what happens to mail once it leaves the country. It's not "World"PS, after all.

Ah, well. At least the letter reached its destination.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

This Time, he's an Aerospace Engineer!

I never have enough time in my life to watch a Bollywood film full-out. I watch it in morsels -- twenty minutes here, fifteen minutes there. Most of the time I try to rent from Namaste Grocery, although the most popular titles are usually out. When that happens, I substitute by watching the film in five-minute chunks on YouTube (there are many films available this way). And trust me, you haven't really seen Bollywood until you've seen it in tantalizing, nail-biting five-minute increments. (K3G -- Yash is about to see Anjali for the first time in 10 years! She's right behind him! She's reaching down to touch his feet... oh, damn, time to download the next clip!)

I have one love -- Shahrukh Khan. I didn't know when I saw him that he was the biggest name in Bollywood (sorry, Mr. Bachchan). In fact, I didn't know who he was at all; I was grazing through Bollywood musical numbers on YouTube, just sort of randomly sampling what was there, because I didn't know anything about Bollywood as of yet, and I saw Mr. Khan. And I had no idea who he was, or how famous he was, but he popped up on the YouTube screen and looked right out at me with his twinkling, come-hither eyes, and I ended up watching the video for "Bole Chudiyan" three times in a row so I could study his face.

Bad actor? I don't know. I'm in theatre, and I know that "true theatre people" don't like actors like SRK. But he's so compulsively compelling -- when he's on screen, he's impossible not to watch. Maybe he sort of plays the same guy in every film... but he plays him with such a forthright earnestness (combined with a hint of wink-wink to the audience, a sort of "aren't you enjoying this as much as I am?") that I find him captivating.

And so right now I'm halfway through Swades, and in the remaining 2 hours, SRK has to fix Charanpur's failing electrical infrastructure, get everyone wired for the magical internet, help enroll children in a village school, find a way for his new friend to start an Indian fast-food restaurant in America, and (of course) win Gita's heart. I can hardly wait.

(EDIT: Well, if you know the film you know what SRK actually accomplished and what he didn't. Nice that the film wasn't too easy and he wasn't miraculously able to solve all of Charanpur's problems. What happened to all the water that rushed through those turbines, though? That I want to know. I was surprised there wasn't a scene where SRK used the newly-corralled water to irrigate farms. So... where did all that water go?)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Alan ka Saag

There is nothing so close to bliss as eating alan ka saag with piping hot naan and knowing that I made it myself.

The whole way through I was a little dubious, because the mixture in the pot was green and bubbly and looked a bit "witch's brew"-ish, but when I finally put it in a little bowl and began scooping up bits of the stew with the naan... wow. That's all that can be said about Ms. Jaffrey's alan ka saag.

On Computers and the Journey

I've got my computer back, if you're following that story. The $160 estimate turned into a $350 reality. I think it was one of those things where they looked under the hood and realized that there was a whole lot of problems they could fix... I've essentially got an entirely new computer inside my old computer's shell.

I suppose that's good. Since the hard drive was worn through, it wasn't as though they could just remove WinAntiVirus and be done with it. Maybe I got taken advantage of; I suppose I don't know. At any rate I've got the best of everything, right now (not Windows Vista though -- the tech guys said to wait a year before purchasing it so that Windows could knock out all the bugs).

They were also able to transfer some of the old data; that is, I've got all my documents, music files, and photos. I lost a lot, though. All of the programs that came with the laptop when I first purchased it (Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, InterVideo WinDVD, iTunes, etc.) as well as all of my customizations (read: games -- I don't go around calling my concoctions Mid Tonics for nothing, and I am, for all intents and purposes, a Squaresoft whore).

This is the fourth time I've lost a computer. Well, I don't mean to put it that way, exactly; it's not as if I go around breaking hard drives indiscriminately. But computers change and upgrade so often that in the twenty years I've been using them, I've "lost" four.

The first was an old thing from the 1980s that my father used to write his dissertation. It took floppy disks and featured Pong. I suppose I'm a bit of an extraordinary child in that there was always a computer in my house when I was growing up -- I've been using one for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I learned how to program in BASIC and wrote Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style games for this machine. I also wrote disks and disks of short stories, plays, and half-finished novels.

In junior high (that would be about 1996 for those keeping track) our family bought a Macintosh. It was the only time when buying the Mac was the bad choice. Mac had yet to earn its "does not crash or fill up with viruses" badge, and at this point in its history had only earned the qualification of "not being able to run any software anyone might actually want to use." It was a glorified word-processor. I played Myst, because Myst was the only game that could be played on a Mac, and continued to write stories. On this computer, I completed a novel.

When I started college, my family ditched the Mac and got a PC. I, meanwhile, got a PC of my own (provided by my university as part of my scholarship). I filled it up with games, since I could finally buy games that would run on the machine, as well as music and video files (I started college the same year Napster did). There were also the usual stories and poems, as well as plenty of research papers. This PC lasted for five years, until it essentially choked under its own weight. I filled the hard drive to the brim, and when I was applying to grad school I would have to delete one old paper to accommodate every new "Dear Graduate Director So-And-So" letter I wrote.

Upon acceptance to grad school, I bought the laptop. This would be the first time going Windows was the stupid route, and I kick myself daily for not investing in the iBook. Two firewalls and three virus detection programs and I still got overrun. And now... the same outer core, but a brand new inside. The opposite, I suppose, of Botox.

Here's the sad part of the story. Nothing from the old computers has ever been able to transfer to the new computers. The 1980s computer took floppies which could not be used in the Mac; the hard disks in the Mac and the PC were technically the same but the software was non-compatible; the laptop only took CDs. So, with every new computer, I had to make a choice. What to save, and what to let go.

From the first computer, I printed out a single play; the best, I thought, of my work at the time. From the Mac, I printed my novel. I loaded up about seven hard disks from the PC, most with research papers, and spent a full day in a computer lab painstakingly transferring all the files and altering them so that they could be burned onto a CD. I couldn't take any of the music or video, since the files were all too large to fit onto a disk. Probably fair punishment for downloading them in the first place.

But there are things, now, I regret. My sixth grade self didn't have the foresight to save my kindergarten and first-grade writings. Both the Mac and the PC had music notation software programs and I wrote several compositions... none survived. And I do sincerely miss having access to the complete works of Stephen Sondheim.

I'm only telling this story on my blog because I've always kind of felt that changing computers is like changing countries -- of course, I've never actually moved to another country, so what do I know what I'm talking about, but I'm thinking of the idea that for many people, moving means everything one owns must be distilled down to a single suitcase or trunk. The image of a man holding up two beloved objects and saying to his wife "this one, or this?"

And now, of course, so much is stored on the magical internet -- I can't tell you how many letters I've lost when I transferred email systems. Even this story I'm telling now will soon pass out of record, the files flying away and the 0s and 1s getting lost among the radio waves and satellite feeds that float around us in the air and that, somehow, we breathe.

I can handle not having many possessions because I keep my world on my computer. But even in this simplicity I am not protected; life is always on the move and we must always choose what to take with us and what to leave behind.

Blue's To-Do List

All right. Here's my to-do list for this weekend:

Re-read Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander. (DONE!)
Re-read A Doll House. (DONE!)
Memorize lines for acting scenes in the above. (DONE!)
Proof and prep MATC paper (yes, I'm presenting at MATC this year!) (DONE!)
Find way to unfreeze pipes so that laundry can be done. Possibly use hair dryer. (CALLED LANDLORD INSTEAD! PIPES ARE FROZEN AND CRACKED! DAMN!)
If above method fails, find laundromat. (DONE!)
Prepare group exercises for Sunday's rehearsal. (DONE!)
Find/rent films to show at Sunday's rehearsal. (DONE!)
Lead aforementioned rehearsal. (DONE!)
Proof and prep "smoking in performance request" letter. (DONE!)
Type journal entries for my movement class. (DONE!)
Book flight to visit my sister over Spring Break. (DONE!)
Plan meals for the week (this will involve much salivating over World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking). (DONE!)
Go grocery shopping. (DONE!)
Clean kitchen. (DONE!)

I think that's all... for now. This is actually a pretty easy weekend.

Friday, February 9, 2007

The Mid Tonic

Before I read this post, I drank Airborne. Compulsively. Nearly every night. Then I read this article on haldi (which, coincidentally, posted on the same day that Airborne was officially downgraded from "preventative medicine" to "useless fizzy yellow powder" on NPR).

So I thought hmmm... Airborne is $6.00 for ten tablets, haldi is $1.00 for two pounds... let's give it a try.

But I never felt sick enough to need it... until now.

So what did I do? Well, I didn't have any milk in the house, so I heated up a mug of water and poured in about 1 tsp of ginger, 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, and a pinch of haldi. Stir and drink.

It was actually very tasty and reasonably helpful. That is, it soothed my throat immediately, though I suppose I don't know if it was because of the haldi, the ginger, the cinnamon (probably not the cinnamon) or the simple fact that I was drinking hot water.

I've decided to call this concoction a Mid Tonic, because I've beaten Chrono Trigger eleven times and because this tonic, like its namesake, is only "mid" effective (the scratchiness came back).

Also because once one gets down to the middle part of the drink, things get pretty thick and the haldi really comes out in full force. Mmmm... haldi.

The article also mentions lime pickle! Yay!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

All of India Are Belong to USPS

So I've got this letter that needs to be sent to the people at Hyderabad. A rather important one. It's due by Feb. 14.

I mailed it on Feb. 2, using the Super Express Priority Mail which promised to get it to Hyderabad in 3-5 business days. I got a tracking number, so I could follow the status of my letter at the USPS website.

During the first two days, I got near-hourly status reports: the letter has been processed, the letter has been postmarked, the letter is on a truck, the letter has arrived at the airport, the letter is on a plane heading out of Chicago. I even got the flight number.

Then four days of nothing.

Then, today, another update: The letter has arrived in India. That's all.

I want to write another letter:

Dear USPS:

If you can tell me what flight my letter's on, why can't you tell me in which part of India it arrived? Surely the mail scanners in India register city and state as well as the scanners in the US. Just telling me it's "in India" isn't much help, as India is very large. 'k, thx.

On a more cheerful note, I've gotten some good advice about the lime pickle and have now adopted the "stick the tines of the fork into the lime pickle, then scoop up the saag paneer" method. It's much better this way.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Chutney and Pickle and Gujarati Karhi

All right. I made three dishes last night. (Actually, I made four... but let's not talk about the fourth one right now.)

The first was the aforementioned mango chutney. It turned out very well. The mangoes tasted a little candied at the end, although there was no sugar or anything like that involved -- just mango, fenugreek, fennel, mustard seed, cumin, cayenne, a little oil, and of course haldi. It didn't look or taste anything like the chutneys I had eaten in restaurants (those were more the consistency of salsa, and had a similar bite), but it seems like there are as many chutneys as there are fruits and vegetables to put in them. So... mango chutney = very good.

The second one I didn't exactly make myself, but I'm including it because... well, because I was so surprised. After reading Ms. Jaffrey's accounts of the heavenly taste of black lime pickle, I went to Namaste Grocery and bought myself a jar. Well, a jar of lime pickle, anyway. I don't think it was black lime pickle. In fact, it was quite red. And so I opened it up, took a spoonful, and popped it in my mouth, ready to taste heaven...

OMGWTF lime pickle. I am quite ready for someone to respond and tell me that lime pickle is only meant to be eaten a droplet at a time. I don't think I've ever had my nose, eyes, and ears run quite so much, or so quickly.

My roommate came in and asked why I was hopping around in pain. I held out the jar and offered her a taste. She looked at me and said "no fucking way -- not if it makes you do THAT."

So, to anyone reading: what am I supposed to do with this jar of Flaming Lime Pickle? I want to eat it, but I'm not sure how or with what dish.

Lastly, there was the Gujarati Karhi with Okra, which was fine but turned out very sweet (probably because it had cinnamon and sugar in it). I liked the other karhi recipe better; it tasted sour and saltier and held more of the tang of the yogurt. But the Gujarati karhi was perfectly acceptable for its purposes.

And second lastly... well, it was Round Two of Blue Vs. Chickpea Pancakes, and once again the chickpea pancakes won, if by won we mean "did not cook at all and ended up in a mushy mess in the trash can." I can't make pancakes worth a damn and yet I keep trying, if only because they taste so good.

I also got my first jar of ground asfoetida. I was a little unsure as to whether it was actually for cooking, since it looked like a small Tylenol bottle and included a childproof lid. But there was a reassuring picture on the bottle of a woman in a sari stirring a big cooking pot, and... well, I've since added it to something (did it go into the mango or the karhi?) and haven't yet become ill. So... probably on the right track.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Super Blog Sunday

And the scoreboard says... on the minus side, my computer is still gone and I am still going to have to pay $160+ to get it back and in any kind of working condition.

On the plus side, I'm going to try making a mango chutney tonight.

On the minus side, the mangoes came from Meijer.

On the plus side, they were 2 for $3.

Go Bears!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

A Ramen Inspiration

Looks like we're up to part five. Here are parts one, two, three, and four.

After I wrote yesterday's post, I thought "now wait a minute, Blue. How can you be said to be appropriating anything if you're not trying to be anything but yourself?"

This was after I had come home from rehearsal and made myself a small meal of ramen noodles stir-fried in garlic, ginger, and cayenne (in lieu of the dreaded "flavor packet"). It tasted... well, I don't know if it tasted like anything Madhur Jaffrey would have cooked up or not. I know it tasted exactly like something I cooked up, and it tasted good enough for me.

And I sat with my ramen and spices, in my pretty pink bowl with yellow cats dancing around its periphery, and thought now see, this is exactly what it is. It's a representation of everything in my life up to this point. It's not trying to pretend anything, or claim an authenticity it does not posess. It's just... me.

(This epiphany was sparked, in part, by a friend who suggested that I stop worrying about trying to do everything "correctly" -- trying to make sure I wasn't too appropriative, trying to make sure no one felt threatened by my attempts at learning about another culture, etc. -- and just be myself in every moment.)

So... can I get away with this? The other problem is that I'm not quite sure what "performing authenticity" means. It's the sort of term that gets thrown around, now and again, in the theatre but never really discussed. And the magical internet is no help.

So I either need to find out more, or take my friend's advice and just have a ball being myself. The latter sounds more fun, doesn't it? Not to mention screamingly less self-centered (always focusing on how I appear to other people rather than the interaction of the moment). I suppose time will tell what I do... :)

Pretty White Sweater!

I cannot believe it. The haldi stains came out. In my graduate-student-grade washer/dryer and with Cheapest Possible Detergent.

I was so happy, I gave the sweater a hug.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Appropriation and Authenticity

This is rapidly appearing to be what is now the fourth part of a series. Here are parts one, two, and three.

I got in touch with Mano at The Home and The World to let her know I was using her post (yes, I know, that's what trackbacks are for, but sometimes different blog interfaces don't play together well). She sent a very nice reply, and noted that we were addressing a similar issue from two different viewpoints: mine being really a question about appropriation, and hers being a question about authenticity.

So... I've been thinking, off and on, between rehearsals and going to get my first round of Hepatitis B immunizations and taking my laptop to the local Geek Spot (where it will engender $170 of repairs because some kind of malware attacked my admin system... grrr...) about appropriation and authenticity.

This is a huge question and there's no way I'll be able to handle it all in a single post. If I did, perhaps I could win a Nobel Prize for Awesomeness or something. :)

People appropriate identities for two reasons, as far as I can tell.

The first is so they can learn about the particular identity/role. They adopt the outer semblance of the role and gradually begin to push towards the center, or actuality, of the identity. A child parading through the living room in Mom's high heels and purse becomes a fourteen-year-old getting a pair of heels for a junior high dance becomes an adult woman walking confidently down a busy street. A teenager in Delhi gets a pair of pedal pushers from an older sister and begins to dream about an identity in England and America -- and in a few years finds herself establishing a life there. I put the soundtrack to KANK in my car and sing along to "Rock and Roll Soniye" although the only words I understand are, in fact, "rock and roll soniye."

The other reason people appropriate identities is so they can differentiate themselves from the people around them. They're not interested in developing the role or intermeshing the identity with their own; they're interested in the "look" of the role. Sometimes this develops into something more complex, but often it is left as simple "poseuring." Trust me. I work in a theatre department. I've seen it all.

However, there is another layer if the identity being explored/appropriated belongs to a group of people who have, say, been historically marginalized by another group of people. Does the group of people who was once (or is still) in power have a responsibility to refrain from assuming aspects of the identity of the formerly (or still) marginalized group?

Or does becoming familiar with another culture -- with the mysterious/dangerous "other" -- work towards ending marginalization?

Now. On to authenticity. Mano writes that wearing salwar allows her to express her authentic self, the self that was always present underneath but which became hidden in a culture that did not allow it to be openly displayed. At this point in my life, my wearing salwar is like trying on high heels or pedal pushers -- not presenting authenticity in and of itself, but a reflection of the exploration and growth that I am experiencing at this moment. And yet -- using a more literal definition of authenticity than the cultural theory definition -- this exploration is in fact my authentic self at the moment.

So. That's all I've got. I'll keep thinking about this.

(Edit: And on to part five...)

Cabbage with Yogurt and Urad Dal

A special surprise came in my inbox today. Madhur Jaffrey's World-Of-The-East Vegetarian Cooking was waiting for me at the library. Hooray for inter-library loan!

Right now I have two other Jaffrey cookbooks in my arsenal -- Climbing the Mango Trees and Quick and Easy Indian Cooking. However, these only have a limited number of vegetarian recipes. (I'm what Michael Pollan calls a "flexitarian" -- a person who will eat meat but prefers vegetarian options when available. Actually, the truth is that as a graduate student I'm too poor to afford to buy much meat.)

So getting World-Of-The-East was just tantalizingly exciting. Especially since I had half a head of cabbage in my refrigerator, begging to be cooked.

I made two dishes this evening: cabbage with yogurt, and kali dal (the latter being from Climbing the Mango Trees). Both featured urad dal, although in the cabbage recipe there are just a few of the lentils thrown in for crunch and a little flavor. This was the first time I had cooked with any dal that wasn't masoor, and was surprised at its heaviness.

The cabbage recipe was excellent. I couldn't find any coconut at Namaste Grocery, and didn't want to drive all the way out to Meijer to get some, so I left it out. I got to use mustard seeds for the first time, and as soon as I put them in the oil the entire apartment filled with a lovely warm smell... I used less oil than suggested because I don't like oily cabbage, and it still turned out fine. The yogurt added an interesting tartness.

The kali dal was less successful. Probably because I ended up with the wrong form of urad dal. I was supposed to use whole urad dal, and I brought home split dal. It's still quite edible and reasonably tasty, but very heavy. I can see myself taking small portions of this dal to campus with me for two weeks because it's not the kind of food one wants to eat a lot of at any one time.

Still, an overall success, and enough to eat for tomorrow.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Volatility of Clothing

This is the post I was looking for to complement this entry. I hadn't read it in a while, and remembered the end but not the beginning.

I'm not sure what to write, right now.

Clothing is volatile.

Though it is interesting that the question Mano asks at the end of her entry is the same one I am asking -- how to wear Indian clothing without the rest of the world viewing it as, in her words, "fetishization."

(Edit: Click here for part four.)

Un-pretty White Sweater

Just a quick note, for your amusement. Haldi stains. And I love wearing white. This has already proved itself to be a mutual exclusivity. Especially when I take a nice gobi recipe to campus and discover that I am out of plastic forks and think to myself "well, this would have been eaten with the fingers anyway..."

Poor sweater. I am guessing this will never come out. On the other hand, it was a very good gobi.