Educational Stalling

So, I got totally distracted by Youtube when I sat down to write this post. I don’t even remember exactly how it happened, but I started to watch something vaguely writing related – which I should have recognized as a dangerous trap in the first place – and then a couple of hours later I was learning how mincemeat pies were made in the victorian era.

Apparently, chopped tongue was a classic ingredient in mince pies, although you could use any other leftover meat you happened to have on hand. It wasn’t specified, but I gather that it’s supposed to be made with red meat, not bird meat. Some of the little details about this sort of old-fashioned cooking are really interesting. She boiled the lemons before adding their juice to the pie filling, but I have no idea why. It just seems like an unnecessary extra step to me, but maybe boiling does something special and magical to lemons that I don’t know about.

I am pretty dang tempted right now to try my hand at making some traditional mincemeat pies, so it’s probably a good thing that it is currently 2am and I can’t easily get the necessary ingredients. I doubt I’d actually be happy with the results, I would never get to bed, and it would mean making a big mess in the kitchen that I’d have to clean up tomorrow. It’s bad enough when I get a random craving and have to make late-night rice pudding. (By bad, in that case, I actually mean delicious. Warm custardy goodness with raisins and cinnamon… Yum.) Making mincemeat pies right now would probably end more like that time I tried to make flan in the microwave. As it turns out, microwaving custard ingredients is a really good way to get several mugs full of heavily sweetened scrambled eggs, but not a good way to make anything edible.

Some other random stuff I’ve learned about this evening: How kimono cloth is dyed, the art of Japanese candy sculpting, and also an incredibly expensive iced coffee that is only served in one shop in Japan. It’s barrel aged for 22 years and is served in the owner’s one-of-a-kind porcelain cup.

Oh, I also watched a fun video about annual killifish. Many species of killifish only live for about one year, because they inhabit ponds and creeks that disappear completely in the dry season. The fish lay their eggs before the water goes away, then the adults die and the eggs have to survive for weeks or months in the dirt until it rains again. Because of this cool adaptation, their eggs are extremely easy to transport. People can pick the types they want and have fertilized eggs shipped right to them in little packets of soil. These are then dumped into water, where the fry hatch and begin growing rapidly into these gorgeous little fish that basically look like aquatic butterflies.

A fish-keeper I follow ordered a bunch of different annual killifish eggs off Ebay, but they ended up sitting in his mailbox in the freezing Canadian winter for several days because of a mix-up. Recently, he was doing some spring cleaning and realized that he hadn’t actually gotten rid of the packages, so he dumped them in some water, just to see what would happen. After just a few hours, there were a handful of healthy fry swimming around in that tub, because honey-badgers apparently have nothing on baby killifish.

I choose to believe that all these random interests and distractions are good for my creativity muscles, because they’re not gonna go away anytime soon, so I might as well embrace it.

Last weekend, I went to… Skagit? I wanna say. Not 100% sure where we were, honestly, but I bought a candle that smells like antique drawers and took pictures of a cool old ramshackle building. (Edit: I was in La Conner, in Skagit County, apparently.)

Writing days this past week: 2 (I’m being generous with myself and counting extensive mental planning as writing work done. If all goes to plan, it’ll be written down tomorrow.)

Reptile Zoo Pictures

I went to a reptile zoo on Sunday, and it was awesome. It was hailing outside, and warm and humid inside, and I got to see all sorts of cute beasts.

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This albino alligator is an excellent creature, and I wanted to boop his giant nose. My boyfriend managed to capture my look of wonder.
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Monkey-tailed skinks look like wise old Star Wars characters.
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A large monitor, possibly a water monitor, but I wouldn’t swear it.
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An amiable box turtle buddy.
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African bullfrog, also known as the pixie frog. It looks like this fella may have been a rescue or caught an infection of some sort in his eye, but he seemed extremely happy and healthy in his dirt.
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The black mamba was very active. I think he wanted to come out and cuddle.
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Ornate uromastyx are gorgeous lizards.
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Gaboon vipers are super cute.
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A great and toothy boy.
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Green basilisk and his bromeliad.
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Blood python. I hold a grudge against these guys, because we had a couple at the store I used to work at, and they were snappy little jerks. Hopefully this one is more even-tempered, because she is very large.
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A savu python, I’m pretty sure. Apparently, their babies are plain terra-cotta colored, and they grow into this lovely iridescent sheen as they mature.
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Gotta have a bird-eater in any good critter collection. I’m pretty sure this one only eats roaches, though.
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This sulcata tortoise was busy contemplating his hay.
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Soft-shelled turtles have a special spot in my heart. I caught a Chinese soft-shell in a creek in San Jose as a kid, and they are really fascinating. This one was a florida soft-shell, I think.

What You Don’t Know You Know

English has a lot of rules that most native speakers know on an instinctive level, but could not explain to a non-English speaker. Order of adjectives is one of those rules, and it’s pretty neat to see how it works. If the order of descriptive words in a sentence is jumbled, it will just sound weird and confusing. The average person could correct the order so that it sounded right, but they likely couldn’t tell you why it was wrong in the first place. Sometimes the order matters, and can change the meaning of the sentence, but often it’s just a particular flow that we’ve all learned through exposure.

The key thing is, most people were not aware that they were learning it, and don’t know they know it until it is pointed out to them. Obviously, not everyone speaks the same way, and I’m not making any argument for the virtue of these types of grammatical rules. I’m just saying that this is an extremely pervasive thing in the English language. It is part of us, and most of us aren’t aware of it.

That’s why it makes such a great example of how prejudice works. If you can know how to order your words according to rules you never knew you learned, you can learn a whole lot of other things without ever being aware of them on a conscious level. Not all of these things are harmless, and many are not based in fact, but they are taught to us all the same, in a million subtle ways.

It’s easy to get angry and say you’d never choose to be racist, but the thing is that you never chose to order your adjectives the way you do, either. It is simply the way speaking is done. In fact, there’s no possibility of choice being involved if you aren’t consciously aware of learning something. You do not need to be a grammar snob to follow the basic rules of English every time, and you don’t need to be a hateful person to experience the instinctive fears and prejudices that are a part of our collective culture. Choice isn’t involved until someone makes you aware of what you believe, and the consequences of what you believe, and that’s not a pleasant experience.

It’s tempting to rely on your conscience to alert you to these sorts of issues, but that’s no good. Consciences aren’t magic. They’re actually pretty terrible judges of what is wrong and what is right. They’re much better judges of what is familiar and what is foreign. They’re formed on the same instinctive level as language, at around the same time. It happens when we’re children, and what we learn is generally reinforced for the rest of our lives by our environments. A person can be loving and generous, and also harbor terribly harmful beliefs about others. The only way to change that is to be willing to handle the shock of having those beliefs challenged. It will often feel, not just uncomfortable, but wrong. Incorrect. Against the proper order of things.