Canada, We Need to Talk

Today I have “write a Thanksgiving blog entry” on my schedule, as Canadian Thanksgiving is only a week away.

The first thing I read this morning was an article about a young Muslim woman being attacked in Toronto, and all thoughts of turkey and pumpkin pie left my head. Apologies in advance, I have to get political here. Also, secondary apologies – it’s been a long weekend, it’s 6 am, I’m not totally awake yet.. But I HAVE to rant. It may not end up being the most coherent, or laid out in the most clean manner.. But enough is enough. I have a lot to say!

Having been born and raised in Canada – moving to the USA in my mid 20s – I am incredibly thankful for the culture I grew up in. It was a culture of MULTIculturalism. It was about celebrating different cultures. It was about pretty much my entire hometown looking forward to Folklorama each year – a HUGE festival of multiculturalism. It was about growing up with Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, AND Jewish neighbours as a kid, and learning about all of them, no fear or animosity.

It was about learning about Canada’s awful history with their treatment of First Nations people, and aspiring for BETTER, going forward. About acknowledging that things weren’t perfect, but that we should be doing better. Even when I was very young, none of the schools I went to glossed over what happened, or what was still happening, and it was always framed as being VERY wrong.

There’s a saying about how if you stick a frog into a pot of boiling water, he’ll jump out… but if you stick a frog in a pot of lukewarm water and bring it to a boil, he’ll stay there to his death.

Well, Canada… your pot has been slowly being brought to a boil over the past decade or so. We need to talk.

I moved to the USA not because I wanted to leave my homeland, but because of logistics. When marrying someone from another country, you have to take a good hard look at both circumstances, and decide what makes the most sense. For us, he was the home owner who’d been working in a great, solid career for a decade, and I was self employed and renting. It made the most sense at the time, but we were definitely in agreement that some day, we’d be moving to MY home.

Since that time, I’ve had to sit back and watch, horrified, while my homeland has become more and more unrecognizable.

I’ve watched the tone of elections ads go very dark and attacking, nothing at all like I grew up with.. And very much like the American style of campaigning that was so jarring when I moved here. I’ve stopped listening to my favourite radio station out of Toronto over this. 20 years of being a fan, many of which were over the internet… because I just can’t handle the ominous, negative Harper ads. When listening to a station as a way of staying connected to my culture and homeland… it was very out of place. Really kind of depressing, too.

I’ve watched as the things that meant most to me about being Canadian have been stripped from our country. I’ve watched attacks on education. I’ve watched the government adopt the same sort of anti-intellectualism that perplexed me about so many American politicians. I’ve watched certain Canadian politicians actively campaign against the necessity of public libraries. I’ve watched in horror at the things that are being done to the fishery and oceanography scientists. I’ve read article after article about how our scientists are being muzzled by the government. As someone who was originally intending to BE one of those scientists working for the Canadian government? I have no words for how angry, disgusted and disappointed I am to see this turn in our government.

I’ve watched the government go after our human rights laws, which WERE some of the best in the world. I never really thought about things like hate speech laws while I still lived in Canada. It was only when I moved to the USA that I saw their value- I was horrified at the amount of hate getting spewed not only out loud, but broadcast. Bigotry I’d certainly never been exposed to before, just proudly laid out there for all the world to see. Very jarring.

I could rant for days about all of the horrifying changes I’ve had to sit back and watch, stripped of my birthright to vote.

That scene in 2009’s Star Trek where Spock had to watch Vulcan destroyed spoke to me on a deeply personal level, even 6 years ago… and things have just gotten worse. I am WAY beyond the point of being emotionally compromised over this.

This morning’s news of that young Muslim woman getting attacked makes me sick to my stomach. This was the absolutely obvious result of a campaign of fear and bigotry. This is NOT the Canada I grew up in, and it’s not the Canada I want to move home to. The victim is only 5 years younger than me, from my hometown, and the attack happened in Toronto – the city we’ll eventually move to. That just hits far too close to home. Where did our empathy go?

Islamophobia was a new thing to me when I moved to the USA, and it confused the hell out of me. I grew up with Muslims (and Sikhs, because apparently they’re exactly the same thing here, to those who need to be afraid of anyone different than them!), and they were always the most lovely, kind hearted, and peaceful people ever. My American Muslim friends are also the most lovely, kind hearted, and peaceful people ever. It’s been heart breaking to see the bigotry they get subjected to here. I have one friend – she’s literally half my size and would never hurt a fly – who can’t even go into Home Depot to buy stuff for her cosplay projects, without getting treated like she’s a terrorist!

Let that sink in for a minute. The fact that she has a piece of fabric on her head is literally what prevents her from getting treated like a human. FABRIC.

I was beyond horrified when Harper started up this nonsense campaign against the niqab. It was racist and xenophobic and unwelcoming AND sexist, all rolled up in one. It was using the American style tactic of campaigning with FEAR as a tool – not something I’d ever been exposed to, growing up. It was “othering” in a way I’d never seen from our government.

His issue itself is a complete non-issue. I’ve been through the citizenship process – you provide ID at many steps in the process – over many months/years – and sign the oath of citizenship after having been IDed for THAT step. Not only could I have been completely covered head to toe when I did the actual ceremony, I could have literally had someone else stand in my place. Citizenship isn’t granted based on that ceremony, it is granted by everything leading up to it. The ceremony is ceremonial!

Beyond that, we’re talking about 2 women. It’s not thousands and thousands of people, that would cause logistics issues, it’s two cases. Two cases that have no been made into THE BIG ISSUE of this election. This is despite the fact that it’s very easy for the two women to lift their veils in private for ID just before the ceremony anyway, and have offered to do as much.

The amount of bigotry and fear I’ve seen from not only the government, but now more and more from the people who are LISTENING to that government … it’s horrifying. Canada, we’re better than this.

When I first moved to the USA, my husband had to explain that you had to “filter” the news. About how it’s not to be taken at face value, that it’s far more sensationalized than I was used to. That America didn’t have laws against lying or misleading on the news. It all seemed incredibly manipulative, how both the media and politicians seemed to thrive on keeping people afraid of… well, everything, really. Fear gains viewers, fear inspires votes here. It’s .. Bizarre.

To see those tactics seeping into my homeland is horrifying. I had really hoped that our culture, our collective upbringing would be enough to have us all very aware of what is happening… but this attack tells me otherwise. The comments I’ve seen on news articles back home tell me otherwise.

Canada, you are being manipulated and shaped into something you’re NOT. There is absolutely a reason that Harper doesn’t want expat Canadians to vote. Seeing these changes from afar is different from being the frog in that pot – it’s being a witness to the frog in the pot, knowing what’s happening… and now being prevented from doing our part to help stop it.

Thanksgiving is in one week. I will be celebrating it as a Canadian – a Canadian who is thankful to have grown up in the culture she did. 1 week later is the most important election of my lifetime, and I will be sitting back and hoping that Canada votes for who they are, who they’ve been.. And NOT out of being manipulated by fear.

Please do better for yourselves, Canada. For ALL of us, even those who have been stripped of our voices.

So.. You Want to Audition for MasterChef…

Every year, I receive a batch of emails right around this time – people who are considering, or who have already signed up to audition for MasterChef. Very excited people, full of big dreams, just looking for whatever tips I may have.

The TL;DR? Don’t.

Let me elaborate, but first a bit of disclaimer / pertinent info:

1. It’s been just over 3 years since I auditioned for MasterChef, and just over 2 and a half since I was out there. My PERSONAL experience is not super recent. In fact, after our season they made big changes to format, etc.

2. I am Canadian, but I was on MasterChef USA, so my direct experiences with the process are from the American version. I hear MasterChef Canada was a bit better, not as sadistic, and had some of the process differ a bit, so your mileage may vary based on country.

3. In going through the process, if selected, you will sign something in the neighbourhood of 80 pages of contract… This is not an exaggeration. Much of that contract has to do with confidentiality, and that is why not many people publicly speak about their experience. On the surface, it’s a “scary” contract, especially to those who only skimmed it.

Being the stickler for details that I am, I read it several times, and had a thorough understanding of it. This came in handy when they accidentally(?) nullified my contract while I was in LA. Their counsel is not only aware of the fact that I am not held under a contract, but they are aware of the fact that *I* am aware of this. This appears to be why I’m the only one not getting threats of lawsuits for speaking out, or, hey, using the word “MasterChef” on social media. (They’re currently trying to get past contestants to remove all references to having been on MasterChef from all personal social media accounts.) So, if you’re wondering why I’m speaking out, or why others aren’t… it’s just that I have a lot more freedom than everyone else.

I have SO so many thoughts on this subject, I should apologize in advance for this blog being disjointed. I’m sure it will be all over the place, by the time I’m done.

First of all, I have written a LOT about the experience. I would first recommend going back through the MasterChef tag on my blog, here

In particular, I’d like to draw your attention to these entries:

This one and This one

Additionally, see THIS post on Facebook for some VERY important information on the experience.

Now that we’re all caught up on issues like sexual harassment, physical assault, psychological torture, abuse of mental illness, etc, let’s talk about auditioning for this.

People go on MasterChef for one of three reasons:

1. Because they want to chase their dreams of cooking for a living.

2. Because they want to be famous, and not necessarily for cooking. Serial reality show auditions, etc.

3. Just for the hell of it / adventure.

#1 are THE MOST NAIVE, going in. We think MasterChef will put us in front of people who will hire, who will buy cookbooks. People who are as passionate about food and cooking as we are, and who can help us launch a career.

#2 is more aware of the fact that this show isn’t really about cooking, and is basically just another stupid reality show for people who watch *reality TV* to turn off their brains over for an hour a week. People who buy into manufactured drama, manufactured villains, manufactured sob stories, etc. People who watch and cheer for who they’re told to, hate on the people their told to, and then forget about when the season is over… on to another stupid manufactured show.

#3 … if you’re able to check your empathy at the door, it COULD be an interesting life experience. Sociologically, it’s a fascinating experience – especially watching what people are willing to do to other humans. Whether for forced “competition”, or as a career (the producers, etc)… fascinating.

As one of the type #1s, I tend to think that the people who come to me looking for audition advice are also of that type, so they are who I’m addressing with this entry. #2s are probably already loaded down with advice, and #3s… well, I wasn’t able to check my own empathy at the door, so I guess I’d be recommending looking for other life experiences. Hell, even other reality shows! I have friends who have been on other reality shows who were treated FAR better.

So, my fellow #1s…

If accepted to be on the show, you will give up many months of your life for it, for what could end up being 2 seconds – or NO time on screen.

As an aside, my timeline went as follows: I auditioned in October, went through many rounds of waiting, got the mostly final word late December, was still signing more paperwork early January, got the wardrobe requirements on January 18th (which caused an emergency shopping trip, as I had NOTHING that fit the requirements!), and flew out a couple days later. I was there for about a week, and was not allowed to even admit I was on the show until May. We weren’t even allowed to say a word about it when the commercials came out, and CLEARLY showed us on it, with many people being very identifiable.

Even from the first audition, as you progress, you will sit and wait and stress and hope that you’re accepted, with a big portion of your life on hold through the process. You will spend a fortune, cancel plans, and sit and wait.. and then sneak around, have to lie to people, put your life on even more strict hold and go out there, and hope you’re part of the storyline they’ve planned.

This is all while being subjected to cult indoctrination techniques to mold you into the emotional dramabombs they’re looking for.

Then, for people who are unlucky enough to not be cut right away, you get to hope they don’t edit you in an awful way. You know you’re there as a puppet for whatever story they’re trying to tell, but have no idea what part you’re going to play.

THEN you get to go home and keep your mouth shut for several months, life still on hold, while the producers decide what sentences they’ll edit together for maximum drama / “character”.

THEN the show airs, and the dutiful viewers heap their vitriol all over the internet, really driving home the point that we are THE most disgusting species on the whole planet. I’m not kidding, watching the comments on the show, the way people talked about my friends… it’s incredibly jarring.

It’s not fun to read pages and pages of disgusting comments and actual physical threats and wishes of harm on people you know… especially when you know that the “hatred” is based on a highly edited creation of a person, and not ACTUALLY your friend. Complete strangers online telling people that they wish that their house would burn down with them and their kid in it (yes, actually specified “and your kid”), over watchign a reality show. It’s sick.

… and then most of the #1s decide not to pursue a career in food. Literally every season.

…. and even years later, you get to see how the damage ripples its way through the friends you met while out there. You get to watch how long it takes the destroyed self esteem to even START to come back, the longstanding effects of intentionally exacerbated mental health issues, etc. You get to see lives ruined.

You get to hear about people who went through the same thing KILLING THEMSELVES as a result of the psychological torture they went through. The second place contestant the year before my season killed himself during a highly publicized drawn out breakdown, in which he invoked Gordon Ramsey’s name. From what I saw of how those with mental illness were treated out there, there is NO room for doubt in my mind – Josh’s blood is on the hands of those producers.

Take a moment and think about that. A young, bright, talented man with a bright future and many people who loved him is no longer here. No more future… All because America wants bigger, uglier breakdowns, and the producers are more than happy to do whatever it takes to provide them. It’s beyond disgusting.

RIP, Josh. 🙁

I digress.

If, even knowing all of that, you’re thinking to yourself “I’m different! I know this stuff now, and I can deal with it. It’s worth it for the OPPORTUNITY!”…

Congrats, you’re in the exact same mindset I was when I went in there. I knew 99% of what I’d be facing, at least on paper. Knowing it and experiencing it are VASTLY different things, however.

I was willing to put up with whatever it took. It was a relatively short amount of time, I told myself. If I could just get to the 16th position and make use of the social media tools that position would give me, I’d be able to sell more books, and pay down my tornado loan.

I knew enough to know I didn’t want to win – I didn’t even want to come very close to it, as the closer you come, the deeper they have their hooks into you. For the winners, they basically own you. (This could be a whole separate post – there are 80 pages of contract for a reason!)

The thing is, my idea of the “opportunity” was based on erroneous information. As I hadn’t even heard of the show prior to being asked to audition (well after the previous season had ended), I hadn’t watched how the audience reacted to the show. I didn’t have a good feel for that whole aspect of it… and these were the people I would be relying on for those potential book sales. These are the people that #1s rely on for a lot of this dream food career, whether book sales, or establishing themselves as a public food personality, or whatever.

Here’s the deal, though: By and large, MasterChef viewers aren’t necessarily the people who buy cookbooks. They’re not people that will follow your career and support you as you progress, they’re reality show fans. They tune in, get their drama fix, and move on to the next show once it’s over. There are exceptions, sure… but not enough to make the sacrifices worth it.

For a show that has millions and millions of viewers, it didn’t even result in that many followers for anyone – a thousand or two at most, and that’s for the higher up finalists. I’d check my numbers, but all their Twitter accounts from my season have been suspended – it’s not even a following that you’re really able to capitalize on, after the fact.

For those looking to become a food personality, a celebrity chef, have their own show, etc… not only is the audience not right to support this in any great numbers, but it’s a REALLY bad investment of not only your time, but your brand. Even your potential for a brand. Even if you look past all of the months where you’re in limbo, there’s the matter of having NO control over how you’re edited. For those chosen to be the villain, it can be a VERY long road to make it past that.

When you’re looking to make something of yourself, you really don’t need that kind of baggage to clean up after.

If you manage to get far in the show, you will need to ask their permission to do ANYTHING – post a blog entry, make a youtube video. If you do an interview with the media, they will have one of their representatives on the phone with you, monitoring what you can and can’t say. If you want to compete on another show, or if another network, through some miracle, wants to give you a show, they need the permission of MasterChef / Shine America – for years after the fact. This makes it difficult to build something for yourself.

If you WIN, you may be thinking things are different – you get money and a book, after all. Well… not so fast. From what I’m told, the money is all you get FOR the book. I’ve heard from more than a couple reliable sources that you do NOT earn royalties on the prize book, should you win. After taxes, you’re left with far less prize money… and you’re expected to cover all the cost of not only developing that book, but promoting it. Travel. Food for TV appearances – it eats the prize money away FAST. It’s not the big win that you go in thinking it is.

MasterChef owns any recipe you make on the show. MasterChef owns a chunk of earnings on any creative endevour you take on after the show. Write a book? 15% of your income goes to them. Open a restaurant? Same deal. It’s why not many past contestants have done much – the food industry has very tight margins as it is.

Going on MasterChef isn’t even a great way to gain employment. Actual chefs, restaurant owners, etc – they realize it’s reality TV, and says absolutely nothing about anyone’s actual ability to cook. They know about things like the “the judges are not required to actually taste your food in order to critique/judge it” clauses in the contracts. They know about the culinary team on the show being able to swap out dishes when the person chosen to proceed botches something. They KNOW.

There is a huge shortage of cooks out there right now anyway. You’re far better offing to stage for pretty much any restaurant. You’ll probably get further that way, than “You should hire me, because I was on a reality show!”. By and large, competing on a reality show isn’t seen as impressive to anyone but reality show fans… There’s a reason that my time on MasterChef isn’t even mentioned on my Kickstarter campaigns. It just really doesn’t have the clout with the food industry, that the show would like you to believe.

There are two benefits to MasterChef:

1. The friends you’ll make.

Because of the conditions you’re subjected to, you’ll likely forge really tight bonds with people. Most of us did – it’s just psychology.

2. Life Changes.

For a lot of people that go on the show, it’s this big leap. They’ve had this dream of cooking, and getting accepted to the show has them ready to make that change in life. There’s this realization you come to – consciously or not – that for you to have done something THAT out-there, you’re ready for a change. That something in your life needs to change.

This has manifested in all kinds of ways, over the seasons. Some people got divorced, others made other changes in their family. Some people quit a job that had been dragging them down. Some made BIG moves across the country. Some started businesses – even totally unrelated to food. A few went to culinary school.

It IS a life changing experience.

The thing is.. . you don’t ACTUALLY need to go on a crummy reality show as some sort of modern day spirit walk to figure yourself out. If you’re reading this, if you’re here because you want to audition… there’s a good chance that you’re at that place in your life now. A place where you need to make changes.

It is FAR healthier for you to acknowledge that fact for what it is NOW, than to have it as a consolation prize “a ha!” moment after going through that experience.

Want a cookbook? Start developing recipes. Start writing. Start building your social media following, start engaging people.

Want to be a food personality? Start making Youtube videos. Put out quality, entertaining content. Build a following, engage people… on your own terms.

Either way, be YOU.

Look at it this way:

Hypothetically, you audition. You spend the next few months preparing, then some time away in LA, then more tight-lipped time when you get back. You spend the season of the show doing MC related stuff, and MAYBE you free up some time to work on your own stuff when it’s over… assuming you have permission to. It’s August 21 now, it’ll be almost a year from now when the show ends.

…. That’s a LONG time to not be working on your career, for YOU. A long time to gamble on the uncertainty surrounding how you’ll be portrayed. A long time to give up your life to be a small part (even the winners!) of a product that benefits the production company, first and foremost – and to the detriment of all others involved.

Or, you could skip the audition, and spend that same year working on your own career. You could be building a foundation for whatever you want to do, free of the encumbrances that reality tv participation will put on you. Building YOUR following, creating content… owning that content.

If you’re coming to me for advice – and remember, I was cast as the “High IQ Aspie” – I will always point out that the second option is not only more logical, it’s more efficient and rewarding.

The choice is yours, though… and I wish you all the best of luck in whatever you choose to do!

Autism Awareness Day – A Few Thoughts from my Spot on the Spectrum

Today is “World Autism Awareness Day”, or – as those of us on the spectrum tend to prefer – “World Autism Acceptance Day”.

Maybe I’ve just done a really good job of culling the herd over the past few Aprils, but I was heartened to see a few positive posts in my feed this morning… from people not on the spectrum. I haven’t seen any “light it up blue” yet, no positive mention of Autism Speaks… maybe this is the year that things finally start to turn around for us.

It may seem like such a small thing, the difference between awareness and acceptance, but it’s actually a big deal.

You see, the “awareness” campaigns to date have usually been hugely negative towards people on the spectrum. The “awareness” has been that of the scare tactic variety, usually to drum up donations. We get compared to cancer, have to watch as these campaigns tell people that autism will ruin their marriages, and more.

This brand of “awareness” goes beyond hurt feelings, it demonizes us in a way that is exceptionally harmful:

– Every time there’s a mass shooting, it’s speculated that the shooter has Aspergers.

– Parents have been conditioned to MOURN their child when a diagnosis of autism is on the table. The child isn’t dead, they just run a different operating system.

– Some parents are so scared of autism, that there is a huge market for snake oil “cures”. People torture their autistic kids in ways that would never be deemed appropriate ways to treat humans. My personal “favourite” are the people who give their autistic children BLEACH, both orally and by enema. Why is it that WE are seen as the sick ones, the ones who need a cure?

– When it comes to justice, we are seen as less than human. If an autistic person commits a crime, they are a “monster”. If an autistic person is murdered – usually by their parent(s)… there is a huge outpouring of sympathy for their murderer. The fact that an actual human child was murdered by their parent is almost completely lost. It’s extremely disheartening to read that another one of us was murdered, and be subjected to “that poor woman!” and comments about how they were so brave/patient/etc to put up with their child for so long.

This morning, I read some information that stated that autistic people who hide their autistic traits “often have high degrees of anxiety or other mental health problems”, from the constant acting. I believe it!

For me, I spent my whole life trying to hide who I was, trying to fit in. While I wouldn’t say I had any sort of clinical depression.. I was far from happy. It is a LOT of work, a lot of pressure, and in the end… how do I put this?

You know the feeling when you’re in a relationship, and you’re doing ALL of the work, all of the emotional investment, and care more than the other person? Imagine that feeling with regards to literally every person you interact with on a regular basis.

That’s pretty much what it comes down to, and it’s exhausting. You are constantly working to present in a way that is deemed acceptable by neurotypical standards, obsessing over any potential misstep, etc… while all of these people aren’t doing anything to understand YOU, to accommodate you, etc. They don’t even KNOW you, they know this facade that you have to work hard to keep up.

My own personal self acceptance was the best thing I ever did for myself. When I stopped seeing myself as broken, when I stopped seeing my operating system as something to hide/be ashamed of, and when I stopped exhausting myself, trying to fit in… life got so much better.

I made friends. Genuine friends, who I actually meshed with. People who liked me for ME.

I met and married an amazing guy. He just GETS me – and vice versa. It’s awesome!

Daily life became less miserable. I stopped trying to live the life of a neurotypical, and embraced the things – gifts – that made me different. I stopped hiding my intelligence (this was mostly regarding dating life!). I stopped trying to fit in, and to do things “the way they’re supposed to be done”. I stopped being ashamed of things like the fact that I need to change careers every 3-5 years, and just went with it – and I am so much happier and more fulfilled for it.

Life is… good.

Life is so much better with acceptance, rather than “awareness”. I was never UNaware of who I was, even before we had at name for it in my mid teens. I just didn’t really get to live well until *I* accepted myself in my mid 20s.

I could rant for hours. I just wanted to post a few thoughts on “awareness” vs “acceptance”. If you truly want life to get better for those on the spectrum, please aim for acceptance.

As far as awareness goes, I am a fan of the “Nothing about us, without us” stance. Don’t look to organizations like Autism Speaks for awareness… look to people on the spectrum. We’re human, and we’re (mostly) able to speak for ourselves. Some of the most beautiful and well spoken writers out there are completely nonverbal.

In closing, let me just repeat a sentiment I’ve put out there a few times: For real “awareness” this April, please Google the phrase “Autism Speaks does not speak for me”. See what autistic people really feel about this organization.

Spoiler: You will not find another organization more despised by the people it purports to champion, than Autism Speaks.

If you would like to support an organization that actually supports the lives of people on the spectrum, I recommend Autism Self Advocacy Network. They are by and FOR Autistics.

Cosplay Photography – Some Tips Before You Shoot!

So, I’ve been noticing a lot of sketchiness when it comes to photographers and cosplayers lately, and wanted to write something about it. (Seriously, a lot of photographer-audience cosplay articles come off like pick up artist articles!) Have a lot of thoughts to organize, so apologies if this ends up being sort of disjointed.

First, a little background. I’ve run my own business for over 2 decades, and many years of that was in the fashion industry. (As a designer, I dealt with models, photographers, pro shoots, etc) While I’m not a lawyer, I’ve run the business side of my husband’s photography business for years, dealing with contracts, copyright, arranging photo shoot logistics, and more.

As a cosplayer AND business owner, I understand that having someone express interest in you and your work can be exciting… but please exercise a little caution in proceeding!

Before the Shoot:

– Before agreeing to a shoot, familiarize yourself with the photographer’s work and personality. Do their photos look professional? Do they conduct themselves – and present their photography business in a professional manner? Would you feel proud to have your image on their site, or is every second image of the exact same poorly-lit pose, across multiple photo shoots? If every shot is aimed straight at the chest, and/or down the cosplayer’s shirt – and that’s not what you’re going for – it’s probably better to find a photographer with a different .. uh.. artistic vision .

– Get references, preferably from people you know. Ask how the photographer was to work with, and how happy the model was with their photos.

– ASK QUESTIONS… ideally, in writing. Email is great!

– Have a clear idea of what is expected of the shoot. Is there a theme? Does the photographer have a clear idea of what they want, or is it a “Let’s just go out and get some pics somewhere” type thing? Will they be bringing professional lighting? A clear plan is best, obviously!

– Ask about your photographer’s experience with the planned shoot. As an example, outdoor shoots can be challenging, from a lighting perspective. Certain locations may require a photography permit – has the photographer looked into / obtained any necessary permits, or at least know how & when to?

– Be clear on what is expected in terms of payment. Are they paying you? Are you paying them? Are they “paying” for your time with images, and if so, will they be high res?

– IF A PHOTOGRAPHER IS ASKING THAT MODELS BE 18+, THERE IS PROBABLY A REASON FOR IT. Ask what that reason is. It could be that they plan to be raunchy with the photos, it could be that they have certain plans for the use of the photos (see next point!), or it could be that they’re just very inexperienced and don’t have plans for a parent to be able to sign a release for a minor.

– Get a contract. Any legit photographer will have a good contract prepared. READ IT. Pay special attention to usage rights (both yours and theirs) and compensation. Do not agree to anything you are not comfortable with. I’ve seen / heard of way too many instances of people signing away their rights, and only realizing it when they hear of their image being sold on, say, body pillows. Don’t be that person! Make sure you both keep signed copies of the contract.

– NEVER go to a photo shoot alone. Have a friend with you for the duration of the shoot. This is sound advice for any shoot, but is especially important when it comes to cosplay. Restrictive costumes, ridiculous footwear… it can make a cosplayer an easy target.

On the day of the shoot:

– If your character has any signature poses, be sure to print out some photos to help out with posing!

– Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Bring all of the makeup you need for your character, and extras of everything – tights, bobby pins, etc. If possible, bring a repair kit. DEFINITELY bring a sensible pair of shoes, if you’ll be walking between different locations, or on weird terrain. Bring bug spray and sun screen, and plan for the weather!

– Bring some snacks and water. Take breaks. Don’t let yourself get dehydrated, etc!

After the shoot:

– When the photographer provides you with a CD of digital images, make sure that you also get a signed print release with it. Without it, you may not be able to have the images professionally printed.

As a final note:

Remember, you get what you pay for. Photo shoots take a LOT of time, much of which is time you don’t see. Planning the shoot, preparing contracts, selecting and packing equipment, hauling and setting up lighting… packing it all up, hauling it back, and post production. While helping someone build a portfolio can be fun – and MAY net you a few decent photos – don’t overlook a photographer because they are actually charging for photos.

For talented professionals, time is money – and you’ll likely see a huge bang for that buck. Paying for a shoot usually means the difference between getting photos from a point and shoot camera (and/or onboard flash), and getting a professionally lit final product. The difference is night and day (sometimes literally so!)

MasterChef Recap: Season 4, Episodes 3 & 4.

So, this time I’m almost a week late with the MasterChef recaps. To be quite honest, it was really starting to look like I wouldn’t be doing it, and I’m still not convinced that I’ll bother, going forward.

The longer I’m back from LA, the more I hear about things that happened to my friends… the more disgusted I am with everything. On one hand, I feel like I would be doing a disservice to my friends – and those I didn’t even meet – by NOT giving them some exposure, after we all uprooted our lives for ~6+ months for this.

On the other hand… two of my MasterChef friends have had suicidal thoughts since coming back, as a result of the treatment out there. One friend was sexually harassed by the judges to the point that she had her lawyers get her edited out of the show completely. (As part of it, one of the judges told her that the only way he’d have an appreciation for her is if he was looking at her naked body!). Two of my friends were physically assaulted – one by production, one by a judge.

Of the incidents I mention, there is no crossover – these are all unique individuals. They’re not alone, either – I know of a few other women who were treated in a sexist, degrading manner by the judges… and all of these incidents that I mention are just the ones that I KNOW of. Many have been dealing with depression as a result of the experience.

I knew that MasterChef contestants can be in a bad way when they come home, and I knew that the show has sent many from previous seasons – even those who have “placed” high – into depression, and even ruined a few lives… I guess it’s just harder for me to tolerate in specifics – it’s easier to wave off an abstract idea, without any context. Also: without knowing those involved. These aren’t mentally unbalanced people, or drama queens – these are real, everyday people. Good people. For this reason, I have very little desire to give MasterChef any real coverage, going forward. I’m beyond disgusted…. I’m livid.

Add to it the fact that it sounds like they’re going to full on, super trashy reality TV this season? Blargh. This article actually had me envisioning the show turning into a “Scary Movie”-esque parody of reality TV, it’s all so over the top.

Still, this past set of two episodes gave us the first – and last – brief glimpses of some of these people. So… here we go.

First, we have brief glimpses/introductions of people. Nancy Fillipelli, A swimwear model, Malcolm Green, and Bri, an actress.

They show a quick montage of people, and then Howard. Howard makes a peach cobbler, get an apron. I’ll admit, this one still stings a little – Apparently he used canned peaches and frozen blackberries. Awesome.

Then we have a very brief montage of rejections.

We have Paulina, who manages one of the most gorgeous food blogs I’ve ever seen, Potato Chips are Not Dinner. Fun fact: Joey the Ignorant told Paulina that her traditional Phillipino dish was “bad Chinese food”. WTF.

There’s Mark Famiano, a TOTAL sweetheart firefighter from Cleveland. Liyah with her “babies – stuffed animals – and we see Grace Chen for all of two seconds.

Carl “Pen” Wippert presented the judges with white chocolate spaghetti with strawberry puree and lemon cake “garlic bread” <- complete with finger quotes. LOVE this guy, and you should too - check out his website and Facebook page – he has a cookbook (“Gourmet for Everybody”) coming out VERY soon!

Jonny B uses a beer bottle as a rolling pin to extract lobster meat from the shell, to put on his caramel and coconut “crackerjack”. I’m still not sure how I feel about that dish. Unique, weird, and… I THINK I’d be interested in trying it? I dig salty and sweet, not so sure about seafood and caramel though. Anyway, he gets an apron after some big fake judge dramatics and “suspense”.

At this point, just 10 minutes into the show… they’re done with the audition round. SO many people, stories, and elaborate set ups were not even mentioned, much less shown. So many other people having months of upheaval condensed down to even a second or two. What is the point of having a second 2 hour episode, and only spending 10 minutes on the auditions?

So then we go to the next round of eliminations. The 40 people with aprons are assembled – equally spaced out among the “Fight Club” space – and told they’ll be competing to stay, asked to follow the judges out to another area

Brian Baum tells us that he has adrenaline coursing through his veins. I promptly get Phat Bass stuck in my head.

Nancy Fillipelli isn’t thinking about going home, she “IS” home.

They go to this other area, and they show individual faces. Let me go all “Romper Room” for a minute..

I see Seonkyoung, Mark Oberle – a trapeze artist!, and Gabriella.. I see Steve Smith (who doesn’t seem to have a MasterChef page for some reason?) and Dean Karadimas, who is QUITE the character, btw. There is Seymira Salamy, and Kevin Tindell, who I just adore! I see Dahlia Abrams (and you can tell on her face, she thinks she’ll be told to kill the poor lamb that Ramsay just presented.. does NOT look happy with it!). I see Duckie and Bime … and then a flood of sheep run into the area, apparently relieving themselves all over the contestants.

Cause, you know, that’s a great thing to do to people about to cook, and in an area they’re about to cook in.

They’re told they won’t be killing any of the lambs, and a HUGE display of every possible cut of lamb is revealed.

I’ll admit, I shed a tear at this point. I am SO glad that I went home when I did – and I manage to feel even happier about that with every new story I hear – but man… challenges would have been so much fun. Forget TV, forget the competition even… I’d love to be able to walk into a pantry / meat department like THAT, have my pick of it all, no worries about budget, and just make whatever I want. What a dream!

Ramsay makes some bizarre comment about how the contestants will be like lambs to the slaughter if they make a mistake. The hyperbole in this show is epic… and not in a good way.

So they start the 60 minutes, the contestants go running, James talks about getting shoved down, and Seymi laughs – she was a rugby player, by the way. 🙂

Some coverage of contestants picking ingredients, with judges yapping.

I want to eat whatever Gabriella Aronja is making. I have no idea what she just said. It was in Spanish, and I bet it’s amazing. There are roasted peppers involved.. yum!

I digress.

Malcolm is making a lamb sampler plate, Joe makes a snotty comment about how it sounds like he’s not confident enough to make one dish. Because, you know, I’m sure none of Joe’s restaurants sell anything with more than one preparation of an ingredient, and because such a dish has NEVER gone over well in past seasons, right?


Beth cooks her lamb on hay. Was kinda surprised to hear they had hay as an ingredient, seems kinda random.

Luca is stuffing a lamb loin with sweetbreads and goat cheese.

Brian is describing what he’s doing, gets insulted. Whatever.

Judges discuss James Ladd, saying he’s “way out of his depth”, mentioning his BBQ sauce. Apparently, that sauce was straight up amazing, btw.

In a moment of fake “spontaneity”, the judges “decide” that some people have been ‘showing their true colors’ (you know, mid-cooking time)… and should just be eliminated right now, before they’re even close to running out of time.

What a ridiculous slap in the face. I can’t imagine having had to stay another week, just to be fodder for craptacular forced drama BS like that. So disrespectful!

So with 15 minutes left – a full quarter of the time still remaining – Joey Coattails walks through and eliminates people. Gabriella – oh, her food looks SO good! – is first to go, being told she has “too many technical mistakes”.

James Ladd is next to go, then Brian Baum.

I’m struck by how much time is being spent on drama, and how little is being dedicated to the actual food. We see a few photos, no titles or descriptions of what’s being cooked.

The contestants are divided into two main groups, with a few stragglers. One group goes through to the competition, the other is just cut. Not a word about what anyone’s cooked. Past years, we’ve seen a LOT more about the food, about what was made, thought behind it. This year, it’s like they’re not even pretending that the show is about food, on some levels.

Duckie tells us that the judges are missing out, with her being eliminated. I had her pegged as top two from the minute I met her, so I totally agree. She KNOWS food – you should check out her site, Duckie’s Dine-asty. Don’t go when you’re hungry, though… just amazing stuff. She’s also hilarious, smart AND witty (not the same thing!), and just an all around great person. She actually did my makeup for me right before I cooked during the auditions, and made me look FABULOUS – thanks again, Duckie!

They show Luca’s dish, which doesn’t look appetizing at all.

Malcolm goes up against Seymira, Seymi goes home 🙁

Seymira’s African culture comes through in her cooking, and her dish looks insane. Girl, I would happily snarf your cooking any day.

The elimination is dragged out for far too long. Also, I hate seeing Seymi cry. This chick was a ray of sunshine the entire time I was in LA, love her to pieces.

Then it’s Jonny with a lamb rangoon, vs Brian “Crazy Eyes” with a lamb liver dish that looks very tasty. Gordon insults him, Brian goes home in another looong drawn out elimination.

I’ve got to say, I wish American MasterChef was more like Australian MasterChef: Way more focus on the food, it’s actually kind of educational for the home audience. Also, the judges are far more positive and encouraging.

Nancy up against Bri, Nancy goes home.

Luca goes up against Beth. Beth’s dish is gorgeous, Luca’s… not so much. While many of the cooks here seem to have some grasp on use of color, everything on Luca’s plate seems to be variations on bile yellow. Just… not appetizing at all.

I’m fast forwarding through the drama surrounding the elimination. I may have a short attention span, but really – do people like seeing this stuff drawn out so long, and so… forced?

Also, why does Gordon. Ramsay. Try to. Talk like. William. Shatner?

There is only one Shat. Gordo is not it.

Now we’re on to the second episode from last Wednesday. I’m just going to include my review for it here, rather than start a new one.

It’s a mystery box challenge. Tomato, Bacon, Chocolate, and Potatoes are the main ingredients.

Krissi excitedly yells “BACOOOON!”, and America falls in love with her 🙂

Graham describes “an INCREDIBLE single potato”. It’s a potato. Don’t get me wrong, I am a VERY stereotypical Irish Canadian, I adore potatoes… but the hyperbole bores me so. I’m assuming that Graham has a better grasp on language than Joe the moron does. (I’m still laughing at “Butter is the antithesis of Greece”!)

Gordon has never seen chocolate and potato together, which reminds me – have you guys tried my peppermint patties recipe?

Then we have a little bit of talk about the food, then a whole bunch of manipulated drama.

Just a comment on this: I’ve seen a lot of comments out there online, usually on forums and comments section of news articles, about how the drama between Krissi and Natasha “came out of nowhere”. Keep in mind that at this point, the contestants have been in LA for almost two weeks. That’s a LOT of time to form some opinions about others. Hell, most of us were only there for a week, and THAT was enough time to form some very tight, lifetime friendships. There are two sides to that sword, and not EVERYONE there was awesome to each other.

Bime is up, Joey Coattails says that his dish “smells like a fake” to him, asks where he’s ever had food like this before. Definitely a recurring theme, after accusing Bime of his mofongo being “a ripoff of shrimp scampi, with a little plantain”

Does Joey not eat anything besides Italian? I have a hard time pinpointing whether his BS is racist, classist, or just general ignorance. Maybe a combination? So much stupid…

He tells Bime that he hopes he can “walk the walk”. I’d love to see Joey “walk the walk” – does he even know how to cook? Any time – over ALL of the past seasons – that any of the judges cook, it was not Joe. There WAS a tortellini forming demonstration once, but I remember noticing at the time that the edits were such that it very easily could have been someone else’s hands doing the close ups.

Anyway, Natasha gets on and yaps about how pretty she is.

I’m torn on this. Instinctively… barf.

On the other hand, I was there… and I KNOW how much footage they have of me talking about my IQ, etc – all prompted. I was DREADING them using all of the various “Great! Now say it like ____. Cool, now can you say _____ also?” incarnations of it all, piecing it together and making me look like a mega douche.
So I know there’s a good chance that it’s all VERY manipulated, etc.

The thing is… for each time I had to talk about my IQ, I was cracking jokes and doing my absolute best to make it impossible for them to edit it in a way that made me look like I take it seriously, or am actually hung up on it. With her… she really seems to be genuine about it. So, again… barf. Well, unless she’s acting. She did claim to be a model (??), and tons of these people are model/actors, so… I dunno. I digress.

I’ve already seen this, the night it aired… so this whole recapping thing is tedious. I remember how much of this was all the interpersonal drama and BS, and I just don’t feel like watching it.

Also, I’m really grossed out by the fact that every one of the women have their long hair flowing everywhere. IN A KITCHEN. Having been there, I know they don’t have a TON of control over their appearance, but I wish the show had them tie their hair back.

I still remember being grossed out, on past seasons, by people actively sweating OVER their food. So gross. This show is supposed to be able encouraging/preparing the contestants to pursue their culinary dreams (with a little suspension of disbelief applied, anyway!)… I don’t get why they don’t encourage some adherence to the basic hygiene rules and regulations that they’ll encounter in the real world.

Luca is making pasta. Go figure.

Krissi Biasiello is making langoustine mac and cheese. Smart – Lobster mac and cheese is very trendy, popular, and well received in general.

Howard starts insulting Krissi’s mac and cheese … while he’s pairing langoustines with STRAWBERRIES? WTF?

LOVE Krissi’s responses to him, grinning and giving the finger. She’s so adorable in her snarking back, rather than being straight up angry/obnoxious. It’s like she’s more amused by it than anything – I like that.

They show Bri apologizing to her meat once again. Kind of weird that she’s the token vegetarian, and very little mention is made of the fact that Adriana Guillen is a vegetarian. She was “Mexican Veggie Girl” during the pre-audition time, and is very passionate about promoting tasty and healthy vegetarian recipes. I am seriously the biggest carnivore out there, and even *I* find Adriana’s stuff to look amazing, btw. She has a blog started, HERE.

Blah Blah… Howard made a small amount of a citrus and spinach salad with a little bit of meat on it. I can’t imagine being given such a specialty ingredient and minimizing it in such a way.

Loads more forced drama…

I love the irony of Joe telling anyone that they’re wasting his time.

Lynn’s dish looked amazing.

Blah Blah Blah… Joey acts like a child, Ramsay makes some comment about there being a “cardinal rule” against stuffing langoustine (BS!), more forced drama… whatever.

Lots of skipping ahead.

Sasha goes home for some reason. I can’t stand her, but I was craving cheese grits the next day – not a crappy little salad that looked like a cheap side dish.


I will continue to watch the show until my last friend is eliminated, but then I’m done – with MasterChef, with Fox, and Reality TV in general. This crap is the bane of society and culture, in SO many ways. In today’s society, we need to be encouraging people to have empathy for each other… not training the masses to lack it.

Guest Post – Ben Starr – How to Watch a MasterChef Premiere…from a MasterChef Survivor

Three weeks ago, I gave you all some insight into how I trained and prepared for MasterChef… but I left out a BIG part of my preparation.

As I watched all threee seasons, I was on the lookout for more than just information about the show, what the judges were looking for, etc. I was keeping an eye on the contestants, looking for SOMETHING. I am big on gathering information before jumping into anything, and this was going to be the biggest, most insane “thing” I ever attempted. What I really needed was information from someone who had been there.

Due to the contracts we had to sign, this would be a sticky situation. We weren’t allowed to tell anyone that we were on the show, which would make it difficult to obtain that information. I had to figure out how to do it in a way that wouldn’t violate the contract, and I needed to figure out who the perfect person to approach would be. Pick the wrong one, and for all I knew, I’d be messaging the best friend of one of the producers!

After watching all three seasons, the choice was obvious to me. I would anonymously contact Ben Starr, from MasterChef season two.

You see, something about him really grabbed me. He reminded me a lot of myself, and something told me that he would not only be an amazing source of information, but that he would be trustworthy – an important combination, for what I was about to do.

Against the recommendation of my husband and VERY small group of people who knew what I was doing, I set up an anonymous email address that wasn’t connected to ANYTHING – only ever to be used to contact Ben. I called myself “X” (LOL!), and carefully crafted my initial email to not ACTUALLY say that I was one of the 100. I knew he was smart, and I knew that he would know what I was getting at.

Over the few months before I left, we would email back and forth. I would pepper him with questions – mostly about logistical concerns – and he would provide just the information I was looking for.

I’ll never forget how generous he was with his time, answering all these questions from a complete stranger… especially given that he knew nothing about me! I was extremely careful to not reveal my gender, location, or anything that ANYONE could identify me by. I was even careful to make sure that I used region-neutral language and syntax!

Aside from answering questions I had about logistics concerns (“What is the laundry situation?”), Ben was like a personal, private cheerleader. He gave me the pep talks and confidence that could only come from someone who had been there.

He told me to cook my butt off and cook from the heart. To not try to play someone else’s game, just cook the food I know and love. He told me to be the biggest, boldest, but still most genuine version of myself that I could be. He told me to not to censor myself or try to “act,”but to be the person I am after a few drinks with friends – great advice!

He told me listen to the judges’ feedback, but always trust my heart over all. He reminded me that I’d know if I really cooked a bad dish, and sometimes harsh criticism is exaggerated to heighten drama. He told me not to take that personally and not to let it ruin my love of cooking or cause me to doubt myself. Above all else, he told me to embrace my fellow contestants, learn from them, and love them, because years from now, they will still be like family long after the world has forgotten about MasterChef.

Some of that, I didn’t really take to heart (Sorry Ben!). I read it and I processed it, but I wasn’t exactly able to tell him that the likelihood of me embracing anyone, making friends, or coming to see anyone as “family” was very slim, on account of me not being a people person in the SLIGHTEST – no identifying information about me!

Whoops. I guess he actually was right about it. I promise I’ll listen next time, Ben!

Funny thing – I had no idea just how good a job I’d done at concealing my identity, til I finally “introduced” myself to him. It was a confusing exchange, he didn’t immediately pick up on what I was saying… because he thought that “X” was a DUDE! Hahahahaa!! I don’t think he fully believed that I was female until got on Skype together!

Anyway, enough back story from me. Ben is an amazing guy, and I’m so glad that I met him – I chose WISELY. I thought it would be fun to get him to do a blog entry, leading up to my debut on MasterChef. When asked what I specifically wanted him to write about, I left it wide open. He has such a diverse range of interests, and is just a really interesting, entertaining writer, I didn’t want to give him any guidelines. I knew that whatever he would write about – food, travel, home brewing, gardening… or whatever else – would be great.

What he emailed me as a guest blog blew me away. This is amazing, and I really hope that people keep this essay in mind when watching MasterChef both this evening, and going forward.

Thank you, Ben, for everything. You’re amazing.

If you’d like to follow Ben’s adventures, you can do so on his website, Twitter, Facebook, and/or Youtube

All photos courtesy of Ben Starr.

It’s been 2 years since I found myself locked in a hotel room in Los Angeles, unable to leave without a babysitter, unable to connect to the outside world (including family, friends, and career.) Awake at 5am every morning and hustled into a cold van, driven to a grimy warehouse where I’d sit outside in a tent for 3 hours.

Every 10 minutes, a production assistant would come by and say, “5 minute warning, everyone. On-set in 5 minutes.” That warning would be repeated for many hours to come. Then suddenly a cry, “EVERYONE ON SET NOW!” Hustlebustle. And we’re herded in front of Ramsay, Bastianich, and Elliot to begin the 8-hour process of filming a 1-hour challenge. Then it’s back to being locked in a hotel room for a few hours of desperate sleep before the process repeated. Every day. Without stopping. For 2 months. Making MasterChef. Season 2.

On May 22, MasterChef season 4 will commence. And in a scant 3 hours of broadcasting, the lives of 100 contestants will flash before your eyes.Within 3 hours of programming, more than 80% of them will be gone forever,and only a tiny core of contestants will remain for the bulk of the season.

This blog is not about that core. This blog is about the ones you’ll see for fleeting seconds. Or the ones you’ll never see.

These initial 100 contestants were selected from live auditions that took place last fall. When you attend a MasterChef audition, you bring a signature dish of yours (they want it to convey “you on a plate”), and you stand in line for an hour or two (or six) with hundreds, or sometimes thousands of other hopefuls. Looking around, you see nervous, shy people with what appear to be truly spectacular dishes. You also see folks dressed up like pirate strippers or gangsta rappers, hopeful to make enough of a spectacle to warrant a second glance from the casting agents. When you reach the front of the line, you’re herded into a large room with 19 other people, where you have a couple of minutes to plate your dish…which has been silently curdling, wilting, fermenting, and basically dying while you stood in line all those hours. (Little do you know, this is preparing you for an everyday occurrence on the show…food on MasterChef is NEVER judged when it is fresh, only after sitting at room temperature for hours after it came out of the oven.)

The 100 contestants, who barely know each other, waiting in a cold dark alley to first enter the warehouse where the signature dish challenge is filmed.

Once your dish is plated, a series of people begin walking around the room. Some are casting agents. (That could range from the supreme executive producer of the show, to an unpaid intern at a local casting firm.) Some are “culinary experts.” (That could range from an instructor at the local culinary school, to a TRUE world-class Master Chef like Ferdinand Metz…the kind that FAR outrank formidable judges like Ramsay and Elliot, neither of whom are actually real Master Chefs.) The trick is that you don’t know who is who. You don’t know who to explain how you crafted the dish to, and who to explain that your family died when you were 2, you were raised by a pack of wolves, and you learned to cook by watching Mongolian television which was the only channel you could intercept through the airwaves in the remote mountain valley where your wolf-pack family lived. 2 or 3 people will ask you some basic questions, and after you’ve talked for about 30 seconds, they say, “THANK YOU,” write a few notes on their clipboard, and move on.

After all the casting folk have made their rounds, a few names are called for people who are to remain for further questioning. Among them are probably the pirate stripper and the gangsta rapper. Also, that outgoing, food-geek dude who rigged his homemade immersion circulator to run on battery power so he could keep his curried hollandaise at perfect serving temperature until plating time. Staying along with him is the adorable old grandmother who made her famous church-potluck deviled eggs with Hellmans mayonaise and a package of dry French Onion soup mix, and who does stand-up comedy at the Senior Center on Tuesdays.

Amongst the “rejects” who are cast back out into the real world are probably the most skilled and talented among all those present that day. But they don’t fit the list of characters the casting folks are looking for. Because reality television is most certainly NOT about skill. That is incidental. They are looking for *characters*.

Contestants enjoying a rare moment in the sun outside the warehouse.

After an invasive and arduous several months of interviews, psychological evaluations, background investigations, and blood tests for everything from STDs to drugs to full DNA sequencing (I’m not joking), 100 contestants are informed that they are cast on MasterChef.

When they arrive in Los Angeles to film the show, they immediately become perplexed. Because, as they get to know each other and chat about food, they discover that there’s a surprisingly wide range of skill and knowledge levels present. There are plenty of contestants who have never heard of “sous vide” cooking, have never tasted arugula, and don’t know what “mise en place” means. Then there are other contestants who may have been to culinary school, or may have worked on the line in a restaurant…who have dined VERY well…who have even more knowledge of sophisticated cooking techniques than many chefs. Most candidates fall somewhere in between. And the core group of finalists, after the majority are sent home without aprons, will be pulled from both extremes and the middle group. But in that first week as the contestants get to know each other, it can be very puzzling for some, and very intimidating for others. Puzzling to the advanced candidates because they are wondering, if this is really a skill-based competition, why are there people here who only know how to make casseroles from cans. Intimidating for those casserole candidates, because there are people here speaking in an advanced culinary language that they can’t understand, and they wonder how they fit in.

Through the magic of television, a crumbling old furniture warehouse is transformed into the signature dish studio.

Eventually, they all spend a week inside a dusty warehouse filming the “signature dish” challenge. This is where each of the 100 contestants has an hour to prepare their “signature dish” for the judges, and find out whether or not they get the coveted apron. Some contestants are truly lucky enough to actually cook their own recipe. Contractually unable to reveal any more, I’ll just say that other contestants don’t have that luxury and have to cook something else…sometimes it’s something they’ve never even cooked before. This week of signature dish filming is incredibly tense. Up to 10 contestants are cooking at any given time. Once their hour is complete, they put their food on a cart and wait for their turn before the judges. That wait can be up to several hours long, depending on how smoothly the production is running.

And this solid week of 12 hour days gets condensed into 2 or 3 episodes of MasterChef. The premiers. Out of 100 contestants, you’ll be lucky to see half them on the final edit. Those that are displayed will be a carefully selected sampling of some (but not all) of the top core of finalists, along with candidates who have inspiring stories, candidates with crazy mad skills but who are deliberately eliminated without an apron to prove to the rest of the contestants and the audience that this is a “tough and very serious” competition, candidates with bizarre aspects (ie a guy who plates his sushi on a naked woman, a guy who rides in on a horse, a guy with a pet monkey who sits on his shoulder as he cooks, a girl who cooks with her own breast milk, etc.) and contestants who were deliberately cast to be ridiculed by the judges for having amateur skills. Yes…that happens too.

In a casting van headed to the studio, contestants take every instant they can to study.

Do I know this because I have “inside knowledge?” Of course not. You know it, too. MasterChef auditions gather thousands of VERY serious, knowledgeable cooks. If the casting agents had truly sought out the 100 best home cooks in America, there wouldn’t be a single amateur in the house. No one would be sent home for having offended the judges with sub-par cuisine. But this is entertainment, folks. You wouldn’t watch MasterChef if they had TRULY recruited the 100 best home cooks in the country. Because it would be pretty darn boring.

One contestant creatively expressing their extreme boredom from being locked in their hotel room all day.

So as you watch the first 3 hours of MasterChef, let yourself be entertained. This isn’t reality. It’s television. But the lives *behind*the show are reality. And if you connect with a contestant who really strikes something inside you, reach out and find them on the internet. Because MasterChef changes lives for the worse, perhaps more often than it changes lives for the better. People discover that they were just cast to be made fun of. Others who truly believed they had a chance at winning, and who produced a truly fabulous signature dish, will be eliminated because they just didn’t have the right chemistry to be in the core group…and are judged based not on their cooking, but on their “package” as a character. And that is really traumatic for a lot of folks. Contestants will make it to the top group who know *very* little about cooking. Contestants will be eliminated who are breathtakingly talented. That’s just the way reality TV goes.

What can help heal them, and inspire them to continue following their food dreams, is to be contacted by fans who felt a connection to them. Because one of the truly remarkable things that MasterChef does is cause people to take a long, hard, objective look at their lives. They made the choice to potentially lose their job, their house, their spouse, because they have a dream of making a difference in the culinary world. And that’s powerful stuff. And those that get tossed out like yesterday’s salad can find themselves in a very trying place. But you can help push them to continue their dreams by showing that you were moved by their performance and you want to see more…*that their sacrifice and performance made a difference to someone*.

After the first 3 episodes are over and the core group of finalists is chosen, reflect on the fact that you only saw a handful of the total number of people who risked almost everything in their lives to be on the show. There are people who will never even make it to the final edit. You’ll never even know they were on the show in the first place. But their entire life was turned upside down for half a year. They had to leave their job with no more information than, “I’m going away for at least a week, maybe up to 2 months, and I can’t contact you until I get back.” They left their families the same way, too.

So while you laugh and cry as you meet the lucky (and sometimes very unlucky) folks who are featured during the first few episodes, think of the ones you *didn’t* meet. And realize that, even for the people the judges laugh out of the studio who seem to have no cooking skill at all, they took a very frightening risk to be there. Deep inside, they truly dream of being the next MasterChef, of leaving their mark on the culinary world. And, as every true Master Chef knows, *all* skills can be taught…but passion can’t be.

Autism Speaks Does NOT Speak for Me!

I used to really enjoy April, as the gateway to spring. Now, April is just miserable, and horrible for my blood pressure… I can’t wait for it to be over.

Have you ever logged on to Facebook, just to see a post from a “friend” that advocates for an organization that is raising money to employ the use of eugenics against YOU.. And a lot of your friends?

How about numerous friends… all of whom are actually well meaning?

I have, and so have many other Auties and Aspies. Personally, I’ve taken to just deleting the “friends” who do so, in an effort to keep that crap off my feed. NO ONE should be subjected to the hurt of seeing a “friend” advocate for the extermination of people like them.

The thing is, the root problem here is ignorance, on so many levels. When it comes to a giant “charity”, I don’t think that everyone feels the need to actually educate themselves on the actual details of the organization. If you see the name everywhere, it must be legit, right?

Well, it depends on your point of view. If you’re someone on the spectrum, odds are pretty good that you have nothing good to say about Autism Speaks – and for good reason.

You see, many of us on the Autism Spectrum are intimately familiar with Autism Speaks, what they stand for, and how difficult they’ve made our lives as a result of their supposed “help”. A few key points, as I fear I could rant about them endlessly:

1. Autism Speaks advocates for a “cure”. That right there is my first red flag. I have yet to meet a single autie or aspie who wants a cure. We don’t need a cure. This isn’t a disease, the only thing “wrong” with us is that we are different from the majority.

The fact that they use “cure” language extensively means that they don’t actually care about the emotional well being of us, they just want to see us disappear. (This is a summary of several years of watching their antics, btw). It’s one thing to provide support for those who need and want it, and/or to look to manage certain symptoms / manifestations… it’s something COMPLETELY different to declare us broken/diseased and declare that all of us – and yes, those deemed “high functioning” also count – need to be “cured” of something that has a big part in forming who we are, our personalities, our outlooks, etc.

2. Autism Speaks uses fear and misrepresentation of Autism to line their pockets. This is exploitative at BEST, and is extremely damaging. They put out commercials with ominous sounding music and dark imagery claiming that autism will wreck your family and destroy your marriage, among other things.

This line of propaganda – along with the cure language – DOES have an impact on the lives of people on the spectrum, and it’s nothing positive. This contributes to the demonization of us, to bullying in school, and more. It contributes to the culture of fear against us, leading to such WONDERFUL parenting moves as employing the use of BLEACH ENEMAS in a desperate attempt to “cure” us. (Not just bleach enemas, but also the forced ingestion of bleach!)

Oh, and you know how there is now speculation of the suspect having Aspergers whenever there is a mass shooting? Another fun result of Autism Speaks’ fear mongering.

They claim to want “awareness”, yet all they spread is ignorance.

3. Though their name is “Autism Speaks”, they have no autistic people involved with running the organization, and have actually used their lawyers to intimidate and silence Autistics that speak up against them. They don’t represent us… and I encourage you all to Google “Autism Speaks Doesn’t Speak for Me”.

Oh, and if you want a “fun” example of how out of touch they are… they host a “Walk for Autism Awareness” at the mall of America, encouraging parents to bring their Autistic children. MOA is pretty much hell on earth for many of us on the spectrum… so yeah, torture your poor Autistic kids to “raise awareness”. Awesome.

4. The only “cure” for autism is a preemptive abortion, and they know it. Yes, Autism Speaks looks to employ eugenics against us. That money being raised for “Research”? A lot of it is going towards looking for a way to test for an autism marker in utero. They want to give parents a way out, to prevent people like me from being born. This is disturbing on so many levels, to me. My own mother would likely have gotten an abortion, had she known ahead of time.

I can’t tell you how disturbing and heart wrenching it is to see posts about fundraising for Autism Speaks, coming from “friends”. While not intentional, such posts DO come wrapped up in a theme of “People like you don’t deserve to exist”, “There is something wrong with people like you”, and “I AM ACTIVELY FUNDRAISING to prevent people like you from existing”.

There is the argument that Autism Speaks actually provides some decent resources for parents. Well, that’s great. Hitler’s actions also produced some advancements in science…. but I don’t see that as much reason to justify or support HIS actions (Which have a LOT of parallels to Autism Speaks, when you think about it!).

The thing is, there ARE legit organizations out there that advocate for actual acceptance and support of people living on the spectrum. Organizations that don’t make April – or life! – hell for us. They may not have the monopoly that Autism Speaks does, but they have ethics!

I can’t tell you how happy I was to see that Think Geek’s April autism promotion is in support of an organization that is run by Autistics, for Autistics, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. That they are promoting Autism ACCEPTANCE month, rather than “awareness” month. Really, what we need is acceptance, not Autism Speaks’ ignorant brand of making people “Aware” of us.

So, this month… please research before you support. Sometimes, support is more harmful than standing back and doing nothing.

ThinkGeek encourages you to be fashionably accepting this month!

If I’ve unfriended you on Facebook or unfollowed you on Twitter over your recent posts in support of Autism Speaks, and you’ve had a change of heart after reading this, please let me know. While I can’t be friends with anyone actively supporting the extermination of people like me, I do understand that mistakes happen!

Editing to add:

To the commenter from this morning: You’re right, I won’t be approving your comment, as I really have no obligation to allow such abuse / hate speech to be posted to my blog. I did, however, want to address a couple of your points, as I figure that kind of ignorance should be corrected.

1. Sorry to burst your bubble, but I was first diagnosed around 15 years ago, and it’s been confirmed several times. No “cop out” here! You’re welcome to find me “socially inept, insensitive, annoying, and childish”, but you’ll have to pardon me if I find the opinion of several doctors to be just SLIGHTLY more legit than that of an internet troll.

2. The fact that autism “can be paired” with other neurological and mental issues means absolutely nothing. So can – and frequently DOES – neurotypicality!

3. Regarding “If you’re able to express yourself … you’re likely not autistic.” – What a ridiculous statement! For one, I hope you’re aware of what “spectrum” means. Being high functioning does not necessarily place one OFF of the spectrum. Secondly, there are plenty of even completely non-verbal autistics that are beautifully spoken in written form. Are they similarly “not autistic enough”, in your mind? The idea that we – low OR high functioning! – are somehow so broken as to not be able to form a coherent blog entry is beyond ignorant. That ignorance is EXACTLY why I speak up.

In closing, I’d like to link to a few other blog entries on the subject. Good reads – but only a few of MANY!

Why I Don’t Support Autism Speaks (Which is Why I Don’t Light it up Blue)

Autism Speaks Promotes Hysteria & Ignorance

Offending Autism Speaks

This is So Weird – Autism Group Hates Autistic People

Mental Vacation – Marie’s New Year Resolution

Just over a week ago, I had a bit of a meltdown – I reached the limit of social media stimulation that I could handle. So – after a lot of thought – I posted the following on Facebook:

“So, I’ve been considering something for the past week, and I’ve finally decided to just do it.

Social media can be an overwhelming thing: on the best of days, you have information and opinion flying at you from many directions… so much of it is either completely uninformed, ignorant, and/or … histrionic.

As a writer and publisher, I’m expected to keep up on social media. We’re given all these messages about how we have to participate, evolve, engage… and as a result, spend a LOT of time on Twitter, Facebook, etc. As someone who works at home, social media IS my workplace. Myself, my cats, and the social media landscape – that’s my office environment.

With everything going on lately – Mayan apocalypse nonsense, shooting, histrionics about gun control, fiscal cliffs… it’s just too much. Everyone shouting at each other – if this was an in-person office environment, it would be seen as completely dysfunctional and toxic. No one would get much done, and stress would be through the roof.

… and my stress IS through the roof. I can feel my lifespan shortening with every passing week of nonstop information overload. I need a break. Blame the Aspergers, blame me just being human, I don’t know – this goes way beyond overstimulation.

SO – January 1st, I am adopting the healthiest new years resolution I’ve ever tried, and I’m going to disconnect from the lot of it. I’m taking a break from Facebook and from Twitter, for at least a month. Who knows, maybe a bit more?

The idea scares me a bit (I’m a creature of routine, and will likely get twitchy at first!), but also excites me. I had a life before social media, we were all able to function beforehand, right? I used to hike! I used to read – I can’t even remember the last time I read a book, but it’s definitely in the “years” at this point. I am going to read every damn book that Robin Cook and James Patterson have put out in the time that I haven’t had time to read!

I’ve started working towards this social media break – setting up the blog to auto post to the Celebration Generation page, until such time as I am relaxed enough to brave Facebook. I’ll blog, and I’ll check emails – probably twice a day.

I think this will be good! I need my sanity more than I need to lose weight, but hey – maybe tuning out for a bit will help THAT goal, also!

Anyway, I wanted to give you guys a heads’ up. I promise I WILL be back at some point, hopefully refreshed and less cranky and jaded. Until that time, I would be more than willing to take questions through email, as we did way back in the day! 🙂

I can feel the stress lifting a bit already, just finishing up this announcement. Yay, mental vacation!”

10 days later – 10 days of decreasing my exposure to social media – and I’m not feeling nervous about this anymore. If anything, I’m kind of excited to take on this little adventure. The way that the internet has become SUCH a major part of everyday living? I mean.. going without for a while will probably be the modern day equivalent to those times we visited pioneer villages as children.

… I may even break out the Yellow Pages if I need to look something up!

Since posting this rant, I purchased a few new-to-me paperbacks, a set of pastels, and a set of sketching charcoals – I’m going to teach myself some art. They’ve been sitting there, staring at me, as I go about my business… beckoning me to drop my stressed ways, and just draw. I haven’t so much as removed the plastic from the box, looking forward to this as part of my mental vacation – it feels special now!

So, I’ve preloaded the blog with a bunch of amazing recipes to auto post, and I am checking out of social media at midnight tonight. Who knows how long I can hold out for? I hear that it takes 18 days to form a habit, so I’m looking at that as a minimum goal. Maybe if I can make it 18 days, I can learn to dial back on my exposure, and get some balance back in life, you know?

Have a great New Years Eve, and a wonderful start to the new year! I look forward to a much more relaxed version of myself returning to social media eventually!

Election Day: On Empathy.

I’ve never been a fan of people. I know this, because one of my very earliest memories was a profoundly disturbing experience on that theme. One that shook me to my core and helped define who I am.

I was in Kindergarten, walking to school one morning. I can still remember where I was standing, and where the bullies and their victim were standing. I remember the faint chill in the air, as autumn was just arriving – THAT is how much impact this had on me.

The two bullies had their victim on the ground, they’d pushed him over and kicked him. The reason? He had some candy, and they wanted it.


I was just sick over it, this huge flood of … grief?… just overcame me. It was something that I was unable to articulate to my teacher at the time, who was wondering why I was so upset – it wasn’t me getting bullied, I wasn’t in trouble, and it wasn’t my candy to lose.

Her position made things worse. Who cared about the candy? Didn’t she – and the bullies – understand that candy was… nothing? Why did the teacher care about the candy?

No. This was about the fact that I had just watched two older bullies show a blatant disregard for a fellow human, over something so insignificant. That they were willing to gang up on and hurt someone, over THAT. I was crying as I tried to explain it, and my teacher had no idea why I was upset over something that had “nothing” to do with me.

To be honest, the memory is upsetting me as I write this, and I’m still not sure I’m doing justice to explaining what was happening. It was like… a 5 year old’s first existential crisis, the first time I ever thought to myself “What is WRONG with people!?”, and just a deep sadness for what people were capable of. I wondered what each of their lives would be like, growing up. These were KIDS. What would happen to the victim, being exposed to that kind of treatment so early? Would he learn to just lay down and take it in the future? And what of the bullies – they were also kids. What kind of monsters would they grow up into?

I may have been a weird kindergartener to that teacher – she had NO idea what I was talking about – but it all still seems perfectly normal to me, something like 28 years later. Why wasn’t SHE worried about that stuff?

You know those sci fi movies, where the fate of the earth is being decided based on how “worthy” we appear to aliens? In my view – that day, and ever since – that one incident would have been a deciding factor to getting us nuked. THAT is how hard it hit me.

That event has really stuck with me my whole life. I’ve watched the story repeat itself in many ways, and veer off on various tangents. People – as an overall data set – are HORRIBLE to each other. While I’m ok with many *individuals*, I really don’t like PEOPLE.

While reminders of this were fairly sporadic, growing up – it’s been more of a constant theme, in the past few years. I can’t handle all of the racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia that seems so prevalent these days. I still feel like others don’t “get” my point of view. I’m not black or gay, why should I be so affected by it? Canadians are “acceptable” immigrants, after all… why should I be upset if people treat the Mexicans bad? It wasn’t MY candy, afterall.

You see, we ALL have to live in this world, that is being affected by this stuff. Who cares if it’s not our candy? We still have to live with the realization that people are willing to do horrible things to each other. We have to stand by and watch as these people – the bullies – have less and less respect for their fellow humans. We live in a world where we are constantly exposed to people treating “the others” as somehow lesser than them. People put less and less value on the lives of others. Regardless of whether we – as individuals or groups – are being subjected to it directly, this is *our* world, our society. That crappy treatment of others is an attitude that spreads like a cancer throughout our society.

As an Aspie, I’m told that “my kind” has no compassion. That we’re incapable of feeling empathy for others. I’ve never understood this. We live in a society that SEVERELY lacks empathy – and sometimes, we seem like some of the only people who notice and are offended by this.

Interestingly enough, growing up Aspie gives me a huge amount of empathy for GLBT people, specifically. I may be a zero on the Kinsey scale, but we have a lot in common, you see – We’re born this way. We’re told we’re broken, and some of “our kind” are subjected to horribly abusive therapies. We’re subjected to campaigns against our right to live as ourselves. We’re viewed as lesser-than, used as political pawns at times… the list goes on.

Between that empathy and my earlier/ongoing experiences with feeling horror at how people treat each other, this election has been particularly difficult for me. Today, the state that I live in will vote on formally defining marriage as being one man and one woman into the state constitution.

I could go on forever about how wrong this is. I could talk about the purpose of the constitution, the actual definition of religious freedom. I could talk about how people should not be scared into voting for this, based on bizarre lies about how the sky will fall if gays can marry.

I rant about the fact that one of the strategists behind it came out to say that the whole purpose of the amendment vote was to get their party voters to the polls, to help the presidential race – and that that same strategist himself will be voting AGAINST it. I could discuss how grossly inappropriate it is to use the constitution as a political toy.

I could rant about how – while anyone can argue good or bad points for any politician running for any office – there is NOTHING good about writing bigotry and religion into the state constitution.

But I won’t. It’s been done. Every argument that could possibly be made has been repeated til everyone is blue in the face. I’ve made my thoughts on the whole thing pretty clear, myself.

Instead, I want everyone to remember that we all have to live in this world. That GLBT, Aspie, immigrant, or not – we *should* ALL be able to empathize, as we are all human. HUMAN. Gay people – no matter how demonized and dehumanized – are people who live, love, go to school/work, and pay taxes like the rest of us.

When the vote happens today, it will be a majority of people deciding the fate of the minority – I am still sick to my stomach that this is even coming up for a vote. I really hope that when Minnesotans head to the polls today, that they do not elect to gang up on the small kid. It’s not just candy that is at stake, this time.

What is FEMA? A Little Perspective

With Hurricane Sandy being all the rage online right now, I’m starting to notice more of what I was seeing after our tornado: that the general public has some bizarre ideas about FEMA.

Being just a few days before a major election, also noticing that many politicians either have no idea what FEMA is about, or are just capitalizing on public misconceptions to boost their own ratings. Either way…

So, as someone who has been through a natural disaster, talked with FEMA workers at length, and actually read up on everything when I wrote Twisted: A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir… I feel the need to put this out there. I was witness to how our own city had used public misconceptions to throw FEMA under the bus, diverting blame from City of Minneapolis missteps and greed… so I need to speak up. A little education is a good thing!

Note: Most of what follows is an excerpt from Twisted: A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir.

While FEMA also exists to manage some logistics during the acute phase of a natural disaster – coordinating with shelters, food stations, and power companies – it’s the financial stuff that they tend to be mentioned for. FEMA is, as one friend puts it, “a checkbook on wheels”. When it comes to the financials, FEMA exists solely to make up the difference between what a disaster actually costs, and what insurance, city, and state will pay for. They are NOT a magical lottery for disaster victims to get rich off, they are the very last line of defense against complete financial ruin in the wake of a disaster.

To put that even more clearly: A disaster victim – whether individual or municipal – must exhaust all other major financial aid streams before FEMA will kick in. That is, insurance money, then state and city aid. If that comes up short of what is needed, FEMA kicks in.

I like to relate it to losing a job. When you lose a job, your first line of defense is your unemployment insurance. This is your homeowners insurance, in the case of a disaster.

When your unemployment runs out, and things get desperate… then you may end up looking to welfare. In the case of disaster aid, this would be your city and state disaster money.

When you are at your absolute most desperate, when things are as bad as they can get, and you are living on the street… the person that gives you a blanket? That’s FEMA.

Don’t take this as any judgment on FEMA. Unlike the city of Minneapolis, whose actions were governed by greed and incompetence, being the entity that gives you that “blanket” is their actual purpose. Their availability to aid any particular disaster is dictated by the numbers – the amount of public and private damage that occurred, and the amount of front line – insurance/city/state money available to deal with it.

FEMA’s not supposed to buy you a whole new house, or make disaster victims rich. They’re supposed to step in when you are *SCREWED* beyond belief, to put it simply. You don’t WANT to qualify for individual FEMA aid.

It seems to me like the public view on FEMA is that they are more like… a Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Team waiting for them as they leave their former job, presenting them with a big check.

In Minneapolis, we were lucky. The tornado didn’t flatten us, like many tornadoes do in other areas. Yes, there was mass destruction, but it was destruction that was relatively easy to recover from. Relatively.

So, we didn’t qualify for individual aid from FEMA, though we did qualify for some infrastructure funding for street and sidewalk repairs.

I can see why people in the area were upset. We would hear about all the money that the city and/or state was putting into tornado repairs, and hear “to help victims of the tornado” all the time – but no one seems to know anyone who actually received that help. (I know that some people were able to get help from the Small Business Association several months later, but that’s it.)

When anger was directed at the city – with good reason, in my opinion – the city decided that it would be easier to throw FEMA under the bus, than to admit that the city is run by a bunch of incompetent fuck ups. They’re not big on the whole “take responsibility for your own actions” thing.

So, playing on the public’s fuzzy knowledge of FEMA, the city blamed FEMA. They made it seem like a personal slight, not that we simply didn’t meet the requirements for individual FEMA aid.

At one point, the city elaborated on the “Blame FEMA” song, by fudging some numbers. They claimed that FEMA had put a figure on the amount of volunteer hours that were contributed to the cleanup effort, used it to decrease the value of the actual damage, and that FEMA was using it against the city. That we did not receive FEMA aid because of the volunteering.

The thing is, FEMA did put a dollar figure on that volunteering – but they used it in favor of the city, to boost the actual value of “funding” that the city contributed. They counted that “cost” of volunteer work against the 25% that the local has to pay to meet the 75/25 share of the cost of the disaster.

The city is supposed to pay for 25% of the tornado damage cost. FEMA counted volunteer labor as partial payment for that. Essentially, Minneapolis leveraged labor as part of their financial obligation.

Say we had 1 million in damage. The city would be required to pay $250k. If the volunteer labor was valued at, say, $100k… then the city would only be on the hook for $150k in ACTUAL money.

I pulled those numbers out of my ass, just to illustrate. I don’t know the actual values of the damage or volunteer “value”. The point is, it’s a far cry from “FEMA is screwing us over because they reduced the damage value because of the volunteers, and NOW we don’t qualify as a result”.

I’m all for being angry over how this was handled, but the anger should be directed at those who ACTUALLY dropped the ball.

From my view, FEMA did absolutely nothing wrong.

While FEMA was able to have people from other regions on the ground here within days… even a year and a half later, no one from the city has come by to check on things, other than the inspectors with regard to permits. The FEMA people who came to our door seemed genuinely concerned with what had happened, and actually seemed like they were working FOR us. That was in stark contrast to constantly having to fight the city for anything.

FEMA has to sit back and be thrown under the bus by a crooked, greedy, and incompetent city that is more than happy to use FEMA funds to repair (some) sidewalks and roads.

Truly, I have to wonder how often FEMA offices have to replace their desks. I’m sure they end up with many head-shaped dents from dealing with all of this idiocy.

Also, FYI: FEMA has online courses that anyone can take, free of charge. Independent study courses that teach the principles of emergency management – the same courses that FEMA makes the cities take. Most classes take about an hour, and you can even get a certificate at the end of each.

In other words, if you have an hour, you can have a better understanding of emergency management than our city apparently does.

If you’re interested, visit

In closing, I’d like to repeat what I’d said as part of the Acknowledgements section of Twisted:

“Thank you FEMA, for your quick response to the tornado, and honestly trying to help us. While we may not have qualified for individual assistance, I want you to know that some of us appreciate your efforts, and your obviously caring & concerned employees on the ground here. It’s nice to know that part of the government was looking out for us, even when our local government was NOT. ”

My heart goes out to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and I wish you all the best for a speedy and drama-free recovery.

On the afternoon of May 22, 2011, North Minneapolis was devastated by a tornado. Twisted recounts the Porters’ first 11 months, post disaster. Rebuilding their house, working around the challenges presented by inadequate insurance coverage. Frustration at repeated bouts of incompetence and greed from their city officials. Dealing with issues such as loss of control, logistics, change, and over-stimulation, as an Aspergian woman.

Subjects covered include: Opportunistic “Vultures”, gawkers, new friendships, a bizarre gingerbread house, unique decisions made with the rebuild – including an internet-famous kitchen backsplash, “Tornado Claus”, contractor drama, water balloons, DIY design and work, music, sensory overload, and details on how to cook jambalaya for almost 300 people, in the parking lot of a funeral home… should you ever find yourself in the position to do so. Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.