Friday, September 14, 2012

Fortune Cookie Poetics

I had the great fortune (ha!) to attend Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey's inaugural reading last night at the Library of Congress. I was there on behalf of my employer, but it was such fun that I'm having trouble defining it as "work." Poet Sandra Beasley was among the many literary luminaries I met, and she told me about a project she did in celebration of 2010's National Poetry Month. "The Ways of Poetry" is a video that "offers a fortune-cookie guide" to the art. It's clever. I think my favorite is "Your infinite capacity for patience will be rewarded sooner or later in poetry."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Pleasant Surprises of Life

Hello, those of you who are still reading this mostly defunct blog. (So basically my mother. Hi, Mom.) I have a backlog of inserts from friends and readers, which I promise I will post soon. In the meantime, my friend V, whom I miss very much, sent this from Austin:

"May life throw you a pleasant curve."

An actual fortune -- and an optimistic one at that! V and I both welcome "pleasant" surprises. What about you?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Funky Hyphens and Not-a-Fortune Poetry

Remember the colleague I described in my last post, the one who edited his cookie insert as he read it aloud? His edits came in a different form last Friday when we returned to Taiwan Garden, as he read his awkwardly hyphenated not-a-fortune and then opined, "That's a funky hyphen. I don't think you can do that....Maybe if it's a poem. Moouuuth..." My colleagues are nothing if not entertaining.

"An angry man opens his mou(-)th and shuts up his eyes."
"You have an usually magnetic personality."

In other news, I have an unusually magnetic personality. I can't decide if this is a good thing. Those smiley faces look menacing to me.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fortune Cookie Mad Libs

My colleagues and I have lunch together once or twice a week. Since these outings are not planned in advance, we tend to frequent the same three establishments that are within a couple of miles of the office, two of which specialize in sandwiches. Two weeks ago, someone had the idea that we should branch out and try a Chinese restaurant called Dragon Lady. It is also nearby, and when we pulled into the parking lot we noticed an absence of vehicles, a distinctly negative sign at lunchtime in our collective opinion. Luckily, just down the street there is another Chinese restaurant, Taiwan Garden, and we decided to try our luck with it. I can't say our choice was affirmed when we walked into an empty dining room.

Taiwan Garden has an extensive (and inexpensive) lunch menu, and the server brought three fortune cookies with the check. When my colleague began to read his insert aloud and said, "I think they meant to add 'the' here, so I'm just going to do it for them," I interjected, "You know you're having lunch with an editor when..."

Dissatisfied with our not-a-fortunes (and who could blame him?), my other colleague tore the inserts in half and attempted to rework them in more interesting ways.

Above, the original not-a-fortunes:
"He who hurries cannot walk with dignity."
"The best profit of future is the past."
"You like participating in competitive sports."

Below, fortune cookie mad libs:

Have you thought of anything creative to do with your fortune cookie inserts lately?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Belly Dancing through the Broken Pieces: Cristina's Third Guest Post

I promised to follow the last post with a third guest post from Cristina, whose first two posts can be read by clicking the links below:

I hope this installment will move you as much as the first two did. (Her posts receive more comments than most of mine.)


I’ve been called ‘passionate.’  This might be code for something else, but I’ll go with it.  I am fiercely blue-flamed passionate.  And yet, I somehow feel a need to subdue this passion in order to fit in the world around me.  It makes me feel restless.  Stifled.

My pregnancy was hard on my body.  Months of on-and-off bed rest, two months of constant labor, then finally a C-section that came early.  I almost died in the procedure and my baby girl spent time in NICU.  Recovery was slow for both of us, and when the dust settled we discovered my right hip was blown.  Too much weight and strain on too little of a body frame. 

I hobbled around like an old lady for months.  I felt crimped both physically and emotionally.  My passion dwindled in all areas except for my family.  My children didn’t mind if I stuttered around or took longer to stand up.  My son didn’t notice if my hip gave out.  My baby wouldn’t mind if I couldn’t run anymore.

But I noticed.  And I minded.  I didn’t feel whole anymore.  Physical therapy only helped my hip a little bit, but I still had a great deal of pain.  I still felt as if I couldn’t be the same person I was before I had the baby.  My body was different, obviously; how could it not be?  I had baby weight, I was nursing, I had an old lady hip… but I also felt different.  For so many months I had to avoid being emotionally engaged in order to protect the baby and myself, and now it was as if I couldn’t remember how to embrace myself again. 

I didn’t feel like physical therapy was helping me.  And so I continued to do my exercises at home but stopped going in to the therapist.  Writing was at a standstill, too.  I stopped playing around with photography.  I threw myself in as a mom, and enjoyed every second of it.  I went to bed at night feeling a phantom itch but with no amputations.  My passion wasn’t being used up and my body could feel it.

Without thought into it, I enrolled in belly dancing classes.  I felt tremendously insecure in the first set of classes.  My pregnancy had enabled my depression and agoraphobia, so throwing myself into a dance class with strangers was difficult.  And yet, I also felt at ease there.  My body felt at home in the movements.  With each isolation and curve of my hip, I began to feel better.  My hip loosened up.  The tightness in my chest began to unwind. 

With each set of classes, I began to let go of things from the past.  Belly dancing is a dance of radiating light.  The dance position is one to project light and positivity even from our fingertips.  I could feel it.  My fears from the past, the negativity and sorrows, began to drop from me.  My hip began to feel stronger.  My passionate self began to assert itself again.  Without realizing it, I started to feel whole once more.

I am now in an intermediate class.  My instructor asked me why I had chosen to continue with belly dancing and I told her about my hip and physical therapy not doing much for me.  I explained how my hip feels stronger after dance.  She looked into me (not at me) and said, “I understand, dancing fixed all my broken pieces, too.”  I thought about that as I drove home that night, turning her words over and over in my mind. All my broken pieces – there are many – have dance on my hips along with my coins.  I hadn’t noticed that there seemed to be more coins than broken pieces as each week passed.  I hear her words with every practice now.

It wasn’t even a week later that I received this fortune:  
"Stay close to your inner self. You will benefit in many ways."

How wise.  When I swayed from my true passionate self, I had been in my most pain, physically and emotionally.  I felt the most lost.  When I found my passionate self again, through dancing, I was able to let go of many things that were hurting me.  My broken pieces became whole again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Lot of Small Pieces of Paper (& Eggplant)

This post hopes to achieve two goals: 1) clear the backlog of cookie inserts people have sent me; and 2) encourage you to check back this weekend, when my friend Cristina will guest blog for the third time - a Not-a-Fortune record. Here are Cristina's first two posts: Elephant Kissing & Defying the Stars (2010) and Revisiting Elephant Kissing (2011). They are both compelling, emotional reads.

Since my last post, I visited Peter Chang's China Grill. Calvin Trillin profiled the chef/owner in this 2010 New Yorker piece. I tried the dry-fried eggplant, one of the most popular appetizers:
It was spicy and flavorful, and, as the photo depicts, a meal all by itself. Peter Chang's food is meant to be shared.

I ate there on a Friday night, alone, after leaving work and driving around for over an hour. I couldn't decide where I wanted to eat dinner, had trouble finding parking downtown, and then got a little bit lost, at which point I texted a friend, "I got lost and ended up at the jail," (true story, though a more accurate text might have read "I'm driving past the jail"). My next text: "And now I'm at a graveyard. I wish I was kidding." It finally occurred to me that I should just go to Peter Chang's, even though it was in the opposite direction and near my office, which meant that I could have saved myself an hour of driving had I thought of it earlier. I was so hungry (and thirsty) when I got there and then so satisfied when I left that it didn't occur to me until later that they don't even have fortune cookies. #fortunecookiebloggerfail

I did leave with a small piece of paper that had letters and numbers on it and now I can't go back there unaccompanied, but that's a post for another kind of blog. Really this story is just a long-winded, fortune cookie-less way of saying I shouldn't be left alone on a Friday night. Or ever. It's also a reminder about the dangers of not having a food plan. ALWAYS HAVE A FOOD PLAN.

My co-worker and new friend Jane (a digital media rockstar- check out her site here) tried Ni Hao, where they do offer fortune cookies:
"April showers, brings May flowers."
"A healthy mind, is a healthy body."

As Jane noted when she shared the "extremely disappointing" not-a-fortunes with me, the comma usage is interesting. Did you know commas belong between the subjects and verbs?

At the end of the quarter, my good friend Amy's company catered lunch from P.F. Chang's (it was a big ruse to keep those worker bees at their desks for an extra hour). Given the context, isn't this fortune appropriate?
"Advancement will come with hard work. Many new friends will soon be attracted to your friendly and charming ways."

My childhood best friend sent this proverbial not-a-fortune:
"A wise lumberjack always has a sharp saw."

Wise words indeed.

Hippiechick's co-worker's joke that she gets the worst not-a-fortunes, this one included:
"You are not illiterate."

Don't you just love a cookie insert that insults your intelligence? #sensethesarcasm

My friend V sent me this not-a-fortune (thanks, V, as if I needed another reason to miss you and Austin!):
"Only love lets us see normal things in an extraordinary way."

Maybe by "extraordinary" they mean "inaccurate" or "ridiculous."

Finally, here are three cookie inserts from a childhood friend of mine (I last wrote about him here):
 "Show your true face to the people who really matter."

 "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."

"Failure is the Mother of Success."
(And apparently Mother and Success are people, judging by the capitalization. Oh, wait, did I just judge Mother and Success? Does that mean I have no time to love them?)

A big THANK YOU to everyone whose cookie inserts appear in this post. I love that you think to share your fortunes and not-a-fortunes with me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

On Moving, (Not) Camping, Courage, & Character

Not long after I wrote this post about how my efforts to procure a cookie insert ended with identical not-a-fortunes, my friend Val and her husband opened two fortune cookies to reveal these: 

"Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence."

Not only are those also identical not-a-fortunes, we've featured that insert here before. [See the post "Thoughts?" from 2010. It has a record number of comments (which is eight but that is neither here nor there).]

My last post included a brief mention of a cross-country move and it's true; I've left Austin for the East Coast. The weeks leading up to my departure were busy and while I managed to collect quite a few cookie inserts, I was not good about recording the details of their origins. Here they are, with what I remember about them when possible.

"A house without books is like a room without windows."

This is another repeat not-a-fortune. I received this last fall, ironically on the weekend of the Texas Book Festival when I was in a self-imposed lockdown in my office and the celebration of books and writing was happening at the Capitol mere minutes from me. This time, I opened a fortune cookie and found this insert as I was on my way to rid my storage unit of as many books (and files, etc.) as possible. Once again, the irony was not lost on me.

In May, my mother gave me a bag of fortune cookies. It wasn't in celebration of my birthday, which doesn't occur until the fall, but it did contain thirty-two cookies, specifically because I'm thirty-two years old. Thanks, Mom. This somewhat disturbing not-a-fortune is one of those:

"Adversity is the prosperity of the great."

Great. Awesome. Perfect.

I think this insert also came from that bag, though it could be from the last time I ate China Hill before I left:

"If you work hard, good things will inevitably happen."

What makes me suspicious of this insert is the word on the back: CAMPING. Everyone who knows me knows I love not camping. There is no good reason for me to learn that word in any language, unless it is preceded by not.

The Sunday before I left Texas, I had lunch with my parents at our favorite Chinese restaurant, San Antonio's Hung Fong, where I received this not-a-fortune:

"If you understand what you're doing, you're not learning anything."

I'm an academic and a teacher. Tell me something I don't know, fortune cookie.

Here are all three of our cookie inserts:

My parents' inserts read:
"Look! Good fortune is around you."
"In great attempts it is glorious even to fail."

Truthfully, I would have been happy with any of those as my Texas send-off. Instead, I got the following after a lovely dinner the next night with my friends V and Val at Pao's, the first Chinese restaurant in Austin I really liked:

"Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point."

Without being too philosophical or reflective, I'll just say that moving across the country alone (well, except for The Nickel and The Penny, two dogs who certainly deserve to be included) probably requires more courage than I've been giving myself credit for. But hey, that's what academics do. No biggie.

Less than a week later, I had my first Chinese meal in my new home, after which I received this:
"Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent."

That's not the most promising beginning to this new phase, to say the least...

To new beginnings!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Photographic Evidence of Cookie Insert Hoarding

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may have noticed I'm packing for a cross-country move. Here is a snapshot of the cookie inserts I found just today:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Star Trek & Theories of Manipulation

I did not grow up watching Star TrekThree's Company, M*A*S*H, The Golden Girls, and Murder, She Wrote were popular viewing in my childhood home, but Star Trek was not. If you say, "Come and knock on our door," I am likely to respond, "We've been waiting for you." Too many of my father's anecdotes still begin, "Hawkeye was talking to Radar..." Just the other night Amanda introduced a story with, "Picture it..." and in our minds' eyes we both saw Sophia Petrillo sitting around the kitchen table with Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and a half-eaten cheesecake. Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher was a retired English teacher who went on to write mystery novels. As a teacher with a borderline unhealthy addiction to crime television series and an idea for a novel based on a mysterious event from my childhood, those Sunday evenings spent eating dinner at a card table in front of the TV so as not to miss the latest Cabot Cove whodunit may have had more than a little influence on the trajectory of my life.

Until a couple of years ago, however, I could not have told you anything about the Borg. I was not a science fiction fan. My favorite ten year old is. Because of him, I am now well-versed in the worlds of George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry. On Wednesday, he introduced me to Star Trek: Voyager, after having told me for months that I would like it because the captain is a woman.

Here's a screenshot of my tweet when we began the first episode:

He wasn't wrong.

After we watched the first episode of the series ("Caretaker"), we skipped forward to season four, episode two ("The Gift"). During this episode, one of the crew members (Kes) uses a hyper-mental ability to help Seven of Nine (a Borg drone) return to her natural human state. Upon witnessing this feat, another crew member labels Kes's power "psychokinesis." This struck me because a couple of weeks ago Bea Dazzler sent me the following insert:

"How many of you believe in psycho-kinesis? Raise my hand."

My initial response was that she won the award for oddest (not-a-)fortune ever. At the time, I was unsure how psychokinesis was different from telekinesis, though I didn't research it. When I watched Voyager, I thought maybe the difference was that psychokinesis referred to the ability to manipulate others' body parts and telekinesis referred to the ability to manipulate inanimate objects. I told Bea Dazzler my theory and we agreed that either power would be cool. I have since done some (admittedly hurried) research and it appears there is little difference between the two. So much for theories. (But come on, doesn't her not-a-fortune make more sense with my theory? SAY YES.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

You Can't Force the Fortune

I couldn't decide what I wanted to eat for dinner tonight but I was hungry enough to know that I needed to make a decision quickly. Instinctively, my mind scrolled through the Chinese restaurants I would pass on my way home from work. Not craving a particular meal but knowing that my usual order at any of the three convenient places I identified would satisfy me, I went in search of a fortune cookie.

I imagined myself digging into a bowl of fortune cookies, selecting the perfect one, unwrapping it, and cracking open the cookie to reveal an insert whose message I would interpret as meaningful to my unique situation or circumstance. At about the same time I had that daydream I also had an intense craving for a baked potato. I skipped the Chinese food and, therefore, the fortune cookie. I couldn't force it. 

My abandoned search for a fortune cookie reminded me of this year's Chinese New Year, which was in January, and which Myrtle and I celebrated, but about which I never blogged.

We went to one of our favorite Austin Chinese restaurants, Chinatown on Mopac, determined to mark the occasion. It's been so long now that I can't be certain about our entrees but I think she ordered the duck. (I recall a conversation about whether or not this was in keeping with the New Year celebration.) After dinner, we opened our cookies.

Myrtle's insert:
"Listen carefully. An upcoming important message may be subtle."

My insert:
That's correct. My fortune cookie had no insert. A not-a-fortune indeed.

When the server returned, I asked him for another cookie. He brought over the entire tub of cookies:

I selected a new cookie.

That's right. No insert in that one, either, at which point Myrtle placed the cookie tub on our table.

I tried one last time:
"Listen carefully. An upcoming important message may be subtle."

If you think this is a second photograph of Myrtle's cookie insert, you are incorrect. It is my third attempt at a fortune. Myrtle and I received identical inserts. (And, not for nothing, but I think that decreases the subtlety of the message.)

You can't force the fortune, people.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tell Me a Story

Do you have a favorite word or phrase? Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn't. But I spent some time with Emily, who will be four years old next month, and that changed. My new favorite phrase is, "Aunt Allison," said in her sweet, questioning voice. If you know me at all, you know I am a sucker for a good story. One of my favorite requests is for someone to "tell me a story," especially at bedtime or when I'm bored. 

Soon after my arrival in SoCal, it was time for Emily to eat dinner. While she ate, I entertained her with stories of my puppies (per her request).

(Giant princess helium balloon- and stories- courtesy of yours truly. Feelings of happiness courtesy of Em. Photo courtesy of her mother.)

Emily asked me to repeat the same three or four stories over and over (and over and over and over). Her mom said this was so she could memorize them and retell them after I left. I think it was because I'm such a great storyteller, but we can agree to disagree. At her mom's urging, I changed some key details in order to see how closely she was paying attention. Let me tell you, nothing gets past that girl. 

[In case you're interested, you can read more about my visit here, here, here, and here.]

One night after Emily and her little brother Everett had gone to bed, her parents and I had Chinese takeout.

Her father received this not-a-fortune, which I read as sarcastic:
"Lucky you. Get out your party clothes."

I mean, really? What's with the periods instead of exclamation points? That insert is just taunting him.

And then there was my cookie insert:
"Cleaning up the past will always clear up the future!"

Obviously, the exclamation point in our batch of fortune cookies was misplaced. 

Nonetheless, it was a timely insert, coming at the very end of my last semester of graduate school. 

Fast forward a week: today I filed my doctoral dissertation, "clearing" the path for my "future" (quotation marks intended to refer to the cookie insert). I had Chinese food tonight as well (if you can't guess what my go-to celebration meal is, you haven't been following this blog long enough or closely enough), and this was my insert:
It's half of an insert, clearly. I'm sure it says something about how an apple a day will keep the doctor away, and "So will an onion." But you know what? It says doctor. And I choose to see that as significant. 

I could have selected the fortune cookie that held this gem (which Amanda got instead, since I chose first):
"Borrow money from pessimists - they don't expect it back."

That might be good advice, but it's not as applicable to my particular situation. 

I've been reflecting on my time with Emily, her younger brother Everett, and her parents (previously featured on the blog herehere, and here). I was only able to spend just over forty-eight hours with them, but we did so many of my (our) favorite things in that time. We spent a day at the beach, ate a lot of hummus, and visited a bookstore/coffeeshop (even if the primary intent was to get coffee, I - or my bank account - deserve a medal for escaping without a new library after the number of times Emily said, "Aunt Allison, I need a new book."). We even survived our first earthquake! And we visited the Newport Pier, as we did on my first trip out to see them soon after their relocation to California almost two years ago.

And I told a lot of stories. I repeated the puppy stories, telling Emily how Penny lost her name tag, what costumes she and The Nickel wear at Halloween and how they act when trick-or-treaters come to the door, and describing all of their various tricks. The night before I left, I read Emily her bedtime story.

Maybe fortune cookie inserts offer us the opportunity to create stories out of future possibilities. Sure, sometimes they're ridiculous and impossible to reconcile with reality, but sometimes - sometimes - they allow us to ponder possibility. In the end, this is the fun of fortune cookie inserts. It's what brings us back to the cookies time and time again, even though we know those little pieces of paper don't hold the answers. They hold the questions, the foundations of any good story.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Vulcanized Fortune?

After a very productive day that included writing (me), shopping for electronics (her), and an adventure moving and connecting two televisions in which "we didn't die and we have the battle wounds to prove it" (her response to me when I said, "that could have gone better"), Amanda and I decided to reward ourselves with dinner from Mama Fu's Asian House.

My fortune is the first pictured below:
"You will live long and come back tomorrow."

Amanda's not-a-fortune:
"Be good to others...hopefully they'll add you to the will."

What we've learned so far tonight: 
Whoever writes Mama Fu's fortune cookie inserts is a fan of the ellipsis (Mom, is that you?) and Star Trek. Said writer is not a fan of definitive statements.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fortune Cookie...Folder?

Last weekend UnScurvyGirl texted me the photo below, which I assume is from the Sunday newspaper ads (who still reads those?!- related: I love her!).

For the low price of $24.99, you can be the proud owner of a fortune cookie maker. You know, in case you can't be bothered to fold dough. You'll also have to write your own fortunes (or not-a-fortunes), as UnScurvyGirl noted. I think she and I agree that this isn't worth it. For us. But if you disagree, please, by all means, share your results.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Not-a-Fortune is Pinning

Hello, readers. Happy spring! I am not even going to pretend like it hasn't been two months since my last post. Instead, I am going to point you to Not-a-Fortune's Pinterest board, which you can find here

My friends, loyal readers, and I have amassed quite the collection of inserts over the past two months. I will blog these soon. Stay tuned. Until then, happy pinning!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Fortune Cookies from Non-Chinese Restaurants? (& other stuff)

Did you read the article by Addie Broyles in the Austin American-Statesman last Wednesday? I posted about it here. What you didn't see in that post is this screenshot of the newspaper version:

In the print version of the article, Broyles calls me an "aficionado" and includes a photo. So that's fun. 

In my interview with Broyles, I mentioned that I have received fortune cookies from non-Chinese restaurants, a fact she included in the piece. My niece had pho in San Antonio last week and sent this erroneous not-a-fortune, adding evidence to my theory that fortune cookies are so seeped in Americans' collective expectations of what should accompany any vaguely Asian meal that even non-Chinese restaurants now feel compelled to engage in the practice.
"I spent the time prepare the song, while the song is not being sung."
Huh? For what it's worth, Nici's dining companion, affectionately known to me as The Mange, received a not-a-fortune that said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Reliable fortune cookie insert sharer Pam sent this photo, saying her "cookie had a fortune," and her "sweetie's had a pep talk." When I responded that I loved and needed both in my life right now, she included the hashtag #peptalkcookies in her reply. Perfect.
"You will soon witness a miracle."
"Don't underestimate yourself. Your social skills are needed by others at this time."

It's January 23, 2012, and you know what that means: the Chinese (or Lunar) New Year. This is the Year of the Dragon and is said to be very auspicious, as the dragon indicates power and good fortune. The Atlantic has some beautiful, powerful photos of people ushering in the New Year here. Do you have plans to celebrate?