01 June 2019

why I want to give John Taylor a big hug

I am not sure where to put this. I’ve got Music in Notes but that’s a lyrics analysis site, TGTF is dormant, and this doesn’t feel like the right place, either. But it’s what I have for tonight and this was good enough for my last missive in December. If it was good enough then, why not now?

Yesterday afternoon, I received Duran Duran bassist John Taylor’s 2012 autobiography in the post. After I clocked off from work, I sat down to devour it. More like sprinted through my first read of it and stayed up late to get through it. I am sure I missed stuff and will be rereading this more than a few times. John was my favorite member of Duran Duran when I became a Duranie at age 19. My turning into one occurred, quite oddly, many, many years after their New Romantic days and as a result of hearing a snatch of song from a VH1 documentary.

Before their reunion of the Fab Five in the early Noughties, it wasn’t easy nor fashionable for a teen to be a Duranie. We were tolerated by those who had “been there” in the ‘80s when the band were blowing up the charts, but just barely. I guess some of the old-timers just didn’t like us underfoot. I was lucky to have found some friends, some of whom are still friends of mine (no pun intended) today. I won’t go into that further here. I’ve got the bones for most of that chapter for my memoirs, and you’ll just have to wait for it.

I had avoided getting the audiobook to JT’s autobiography because I was scared I wouldn’t be able to get through it, that I would find it too weird to have him talking “to me.” He was someone who I had at first idolized superficially. If you’re a straight woman and you don’t have some kind of reaction to photos of him (that smile!), I think something is wrong with you, ha. By the time I became a Duranie, he’d already left the band to toil away in other projects, family life, and sobriety. While time went seemed to move all too quickly during my obsession with Duran Duran, as I finished up my first degree and was heading for my second, I felt lucky enough to have been along for the ride while John experimented with his solo career and expressed himself in a way that he couldn’t as part of Duran Duran.

Over the years I used to think, or perhaps I had trained my brain to think, that the reason I was completely intrigued by what John Taylor was doing outside of Duran was simply because of his prior connection to the band and how I felt about him in it. But what has become increasingly in focus in the last few years is a part-subliminal message that seemed either specifically meant for me or meant for many others, with the purpose of healing. There are lots of heated discussions among Duranies, but there is one thing that we can all agree on. We are forever grateful that our “bass god” got help for his internal demons and is alive today. And if there is ever one takeaway you get from me, it’s that it’s my firm belief that we’re here, in this life, for as long as we’re meant to be.

Trust the Process. That was the name of John’s web site after leaving Duran and the title of a song off his debut solo record ‘Feelings Are Good and Other Lies.’ I can’t find it now because the site has been wiped since Duran Duran reunited, but I recall an interview or some kind of press release where he explained why he named the site Trust the Process. (I hope I’m remembering this correctly; if I am not, it sure feels like this is how it was meant to be conveyed.) It was a personal mantra meant to keep him on the road of sobriety, a reminder that even when he felt he couldn’t cope without drugs or alcohol, if he could will himself to stay on course, he could get through it. All would be okay.

Trust the process” has been the code phrase that I use with my close Duranie friends when life is giving one of us a right bollocking and all seems lost. We’ve all been there. Three simple words that have floated through texts, emails, and phone calls of support. Sometimes I’ve had to repeat it to myself, silently, out loud, or even sometimes scream it.

one of his solo pop songs only known within the JT fandom, sadly

As I started reading the first few chapters of In the Pleasure Groove, I was blown away by how many times I laughed loudly, muttered “bugger” under my breath, or felt I was going to cry to a story John related from his childhood. I know you’re asking, what on earth would a boy who grew up in a suburb of Birmingham in the ‘60s have in common with a girl reared in a suburb of Washington, DC, 20 years later? We got glasses at the same age and were shamed at school for them. (JT is famously known to have truly bad eyesight – over 10 diopters – as do I. Lucky for him, he was able to get LASIK.) We both suffered from terrible social anxiety as children and never felt like we fit in. Both our fathers were notoriously, painfully reticent, mostly standing still emotionally, like statues from a bygone era. Like John, I essentially grew up like an only child, as a friend reminded me recently on a trip to Scotland. Our parents put up with musical obsessions and coped with our ridiculous schemes.

We both knew on an intellectual level that we were loved by our parents but...something was amiss in both of our childhoods. In the book, John doesn’t come to the conclusion that I did with my own upbringing: when either or both parents don’t come to terms with the emotional trauma from their own lives, they unknowingly pass it on to their children. It wasn’t until 4 years ago that I found the psychological term for what had happened to me. Through therapy, I’m still trying to assess and work on undoing the damage.

I had surmised long ago that all the alcohol and drugs he consumed and constantly so were to make up for a major void in his life, but I hadn’t guessed correctly what exactly that was. It sounds counterintuitive but as he explains in his book, drinking and binging himself into oblivion temporarily erased any lack of confidence or doubts he had about not being good enough to occupy this this larger than life idolized persona whose handsome face was splashed across all the teenybopper magazines and hung on teenage girls’ walls. It pained me then, at the start of my love of Duran Duran, to know he’d been through addiction and suffered so much, but I had trouble understanding why he did it. I never occurred to me that the vicious cycle of shame and lack of self-esteem went hand in hand with the substance abuse.

After experiencing this book, I have never felt closer to John as I do tonight. Perhaps he was meant to be this influence on me all along, his handsomeness and his bass playing the “hooks” to get me interested in him long enough to stick around and pay attention. It just didn’t crystallize into what was meant to be until I had read his autobiography and considered the connection.

I wish I could reach out and give him a big hug. I want to tell him that I was sorry for what happened to him and that I understood because I had gone through my own harrowing emotional experience, even though in my life, it played out entirely differently. I want to thank him for being so honest about how he finally found salvation and how he deals with things day by day. He has transcended what it means to be a rock star. We Duranies all knew he was more than the media ever gave Duran Duran credit for when they wrote the band off in the ‘80s. By telling his story, John has offered the hope that recovery is possible. We all cope in our own ways when we’re damaged. As that quote goes, we’re all works in progress. Just that some of us do a better job at “fake it ‘til you make it.

NB: I know that some Duranies are upset that John didn’t thank Duran Duran’s original guitarist Andy Taylor (no relation) at the end of his book. They interpret this as a major intentional slight. The way I see it, it’s quite possible that as part of John’s continuing sobriety, he couldn’t bring himself to thank the bandmate with whom he had gotten so wasted so many times in Duran Duran’s early days. He doesn’t say it – John is ever diplomatic in the book – but seriously, once you understood your problems, figured out a reasonable solution, and were on the road to a better life, would you thank your former enablers? I know I wouldn’t. Perhaps one day the two of them will sit down over coffee, talk it over, and mend fences before it’s too late. But I’m not holding my breath.

18 December 2018

everything happens for a reason

To say that the last month or so, plus the last 2 years plus, have been difficult for me would be an understatement. Around the 7th of November, I got a tickle in my throat, which led to a full-blown cold. I'm still coughing and sneezing and no-one really knows why. My hard drive decided to die and my Macbook went unresponsive before a scheduled birthday trip to Britain, which led me to turn down an industry appointment I had coveted for years. The odd silver lining to all of this was that I was able to turn off and tune out during my 10 days in Glasgow and Sheffield. I saw this beautiful view stood on a pier in Luss on a sunny day on Loch Lomond; I understand sunny days like this are hard to find in Scotland in winter. I had a wonderful dinner in this wonderful place with three wonderful friends.

Upon returning to Washington, I reflected on everything that happened since the moment I took ill and came back to the phrase that I've stood by for as long as I can remember.

Everything happens for a reason.

In the bigger picture, I've changed jobs, and where I ended up wasn't much anything as I expected it to be. My elderly mother has progressively declined in health and QOL and with my brother conveniently out of the picture, I have, involuntarily, taken the brunt of the caretaking. The fatigue, aches, and pains that I've suffered with since my childhood have also gotten worse. About 3 years ago I described it to a doctor I've been seeing since the mid-Noughties that it was like someone flipped a light switch: suddenly I needed much more sleep than I previously did, and doing the simplest things started taking monumental effort. As I'm sure many of you know when you're in an immunocompromised or even an emotionally compromised state, sometimes you say to yourself, "why should I even bother?" and can't even get out of bed.

But I have gotten out of bed and tried to make this world a better place each day I am here. I have stood on my own two feet. Which probably sounds like an odd statement to most people but in the summer of 2005, I was wheelchair-bound for many weeks during a period of convalescence. Standing up on my own wasn't something I could do for myself.

I have always stood by the way that I write and express myself through words. If I'm physically incapable to sit up at my computer to do the writing and research on my own or my heart is not into it, I can't bring myself to do it. In my entire life, I've never seen the point of doing things halfway. Either you do it to the best of your ability and or don't bother at all. You were born to live and breathe and contribute something in this life. Don't dishonor that gift.

The take home message: Things at TGTF will change in 2019. I haven't come up with a game plan on what that will look like, but I hope to around the holidays and during some time to myself at home around New Year's.

To those of you who have supported me the last few years and indeed, even from the beginning when I took at TGTF, thank you. Your support means the world to me.

01 March 2014

why I enjoy cooking / recipe #1: pork, shrimp and spinach wontons

I decided a couple weeks ago that I would finally start writing my memoirs. Last year, I had a major health breakthrough that was not explainable by modern science: my bleeding disorder had normalized and I no longer had to worry as much about accidentally cutting myself. For nearly a decade, I'd been petrified to hold, let alone use a knife in the kitchen. I've enjoyed cooking since I was a kid, so it had been one of the worst things in my life to not be able to cook the way I always had.

My love for cooking goes back to my childhood days, being in the kitchen with my mother or my grandmother. I would go with them to the grocery store to buy the ingredients and then I'd watch them make the most amazing things from what seemed to me like the simplest things ever. I also have great memories of helping my dad fry cod fritters and barbecue all sorts of things - steaks, marinated chicken, miso glazed salmon - and the times I spent with my family cooking are moments that I feel most kids these days have really missed out on.

Watching someone cook also impressed on me that cooking doesn't have to be complicated. I think some people who are not comfortable in the kitchen get a mental block about cooking because we have icons like Martha Stewart making it "look" so easy to make a wedding cake. Once you try and master the basics, you will have the confidence to improvise and try new things. I'll read recipes but most of the time, I have an idea in my head of things I want to do and what ingredients I want to use, and I find recipes too confining.

However, my friends on Facebook demanded last night to have the recipe for the wontons I made and photographed for my dinner, so I will indulge them. As time permits, I will add more recipes here.

Pork, shrimp, and spinach wontons

8 ounces frozen whole leaf spinach, cooked, chopped, and drained very well
2/3 pounds of ground pork
1 pound shrimp, shelled, deveined, and cut into thirds (U31-40 count is fine)
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon garlic powder
store bought wonton skins
chopped green onions, soy sauce, and sesame oil for garnish

Makes about 50 medium to large wontons, good for four large portions.  I tend to make a lot at once during the weekend, then refrigerate them after they've completely cooled, so I can eat the leftovers during the week.

Miscellaneous ingredient notes:
  • Last night I didn't have frozen spinach, so I tried using frozen kale instead and it worked just fine. Just note that spinach is less bitter than kale and I know not everyone likes the taste of kale. Another option if you don't have either is cooked napa cabbage, drained very well; napa is another traditional vegetable used in wontons, and these days most grocery stores stock it in the produce section.  I just find it's easier to work with frozen vegetables because you can have a box or bag of it in the freezer and don't have to run to the grocery store every time you want to make wontons. Also, you can save money by stocking up on the frozen veg when they're on sale. I also really like using chopped green onions in my wontons, but I realized after I'd cut my shrimp that I hadn't cut my onions and I didn't want to cross contaminate. If you don't like onions, skip them. I minimized the ingredients in this recipe to make it simpler.
  • You can probably get away with a leaner ground pork but remember folks, fat is flavor! I find the fat is worth it for the taste. Also remember that you're not going to be eating a huge piece of meat but in smaller, bite size portions, so if you're counting calories, increase the amount of vegetable you're using so the proportion of vegetable (and therefore fiber) to meat is higher.
  • Larger shrimp are more expensive and since we're cutting them up, there's no reason to spend more money on fancier ones. I like using 31-40 shrimp per pound-sized shrimp because they're not super tiny, so they're easy to peel and devein, but not super expensive either. Bagged, individually quick frozen shrimp is absolutely fine and I usually buy them when they're on sale; if you don't want to deal with defrosting the shrimp, buy them fresh from the seafood counter. I cut my shrimp into thirds so they're small enough to put into a wonton. Any larger, and you may run into the problem of not being able to close your skins.
  • Don't use gyoza skins. Wonton skins are square and gyoza skins are round. I cannot stress this enough. Wonton skins are much, MUCH thinner and much more delicate. There is a huge difference. It's worth it going to an Oriental grocery store to get the wonton ones if only gyoza ones are available in your regular grocery store. Also, if you have a choice, buy the wonton skins that are yellow colored, not white. It was never entirely explained to me by my grandmother why this is - my mom says it has to do with alkali in the dough, but I am not sure why this makes a difference, but the yellow ones taste so much better. Trust me on this.
  • I personally do not use salt in my recipe because I eat a pretty low sodium diet. I would recommend you use salt (either salt itself or via soy sauce) by adding it on top when you're ready to eat because you can control the amount of salt you use that way. Garlic is a great way to add flavor without adding salt. If you like your food spicy, you can add pepper to your filling. If you want to be a rebel, try using white pepper - the flavor is fantastically different than white pepper and fancier Chinese chefs use it instead of the black.
Right. Enough talking! Here's how to make your wontons:

1. Organize your prep table. In a small bowl, add a small amount of cold water and put it on your prep table. Take several paper plates and wrap them in plastic wrap: you're going to wrap your wontons on them. Loosen the plastic wrapping on the skins so they'll be easy to access later. Also get several large plates lined up on the side of the kitchen near your stove: this is where you're going to put your cooked wontons when you're done.

2. Bring a saucepan of water to a low boil. Add the frozen spinach to the saucepan. Turn heat up to high until the water boils, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon. Shut off the heat.

3. With a slotted spoon, drain spinach from the saucepan and spread it out on a plate to cool faster. I use the back of the spoon to squeeze more water out of the spinach by pushing it up against the side of the pan, then move the spinach to the plate.

4. Wash your hand well. When cool enough to the touch, squeeze as much of the water out over the sink with your hands. (You don't want watery wontons!) Move the spinach to a cutting board and chop. (If you're one of those people that thinks touching food is icky, use paper towels. I personally like to get in there and like to be "one" with my food. (Don't judge.  I cook better than you, don't I?)  Put chopped spinach in a large bowl with the ground pork.

5. Shell, devein, and rinse your shrimp. Before moving the shrimp to your cutting board, pat dry with paper towels. Then chop your shrimp into three pieces each. You'll be using two to three pieces of shrimp in each wonton. Add to your bowl.

6. Crack egg in a small bowl and beat white and yolk together. Add beaten egg to your bowl. (I'm a rebel, I crack the egg directly into a empty spot of my bowl and beat it in there so I don't have an extra bowl to wash. My mom taught me that trick.)

7. Add garlic powder and mix with a small spoon until the shrimp and vegetables are mixed throughout the pork. Don't beat the meat to death (I don't recommend you using your hands for this, like you might for a meatloaf or meatballs), but make sure the ingredients are pretty well incorporated.

8. Line up several single wonton skins on your plastic-wrapped plates. Begin assembling your wontons by placing two to three shrimp pieces in the exact middle of your skins. Then add your pork and vegetable on top of the shrimp. It's important to get the filling in the middle of your skin or you'll have trouble closing them. I like having like five of these ready with their filling in place before I start closing the skins, so I can have an assembly line going.

9. Dip one finger in the small bowl with water and wet the border of two of the four sides of a skin. Don't use too much water, the skin will get too sticky; just use enough.  Then fold the skin over to make a triangle, as if you were making a turnover. Make sure you've sealed it airtight, or you run the risk of them exploding like a balloon when you cook them.

If you want to be fancy like me and make them "real" wontons, take the two bottom corners of your triangle and twist them, almost like you're making a tortellini. It's hard for me to explain it into words and this video kind of shows what I do, but it looks like I'm going to have to video tape myself doing it one time, because the way my mom taught me to do it is so much more elegant than this.


10. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop your wontons in gently and make sure they don't stick together or to the bottom of the pot. Stir very gently so you don't break the skins. Bring the water back up to boiling, and from that point, start counting the time. Your wontons will be ready in 6 to 8 minutes, depending on how much filling you used: less filling, less time.

11. Turn off the heat and drain with a slotted spoon to your plates that are waiting. Try to spread them out, as when they cool off they'll stick.  By draining them this way, they're ready to eat as is. You can pick them up with chopsticks and eat them with soy sauce, sesame oil, and green onions to taste.

*Another option is to serve them with soup. For each serving, put a small amount of soy sauce and sesame oil at the bottom of a bowl. Have a kettle of hot water at the ready. When the wontons are done, drain and place them directly into the bowl. Add hot water from the kettle on top of the wontons, so the soy sauce and sesame oil mingle together with the wontons. Sprinkle green onions on top.

See, that wasn't difficult, was it? ::grin::