Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Viewpoint - Essay from Newsletter 97

Remember to ask, “says who?”

Hot Sauce

Last night I picked from my peck of assorted peppers to prepare a hot sauce.

It’s easy to make a sauce that has whatever level of heat you want - the point is to make one with a particular flavor profile.

I began by dicing an onion and sweating it in a little peanut oil. Meanwhile I diced half a dozen cloves of garlic that I added to the pot.

I cut up a yellow bell pepper - I’d chosen yellow for the color it would contribute to the sauce. Given the final mucus-like color of the sauce I think I’ll choose a red one next time.

Next I cut the stem off of a handful of serrano peppers. I decided I want this hot sauce to be really hot so I kept the ribs and seeds in and just cut up the peppers. Up next were jalapenos and cubanelles.

I tossed the peppers in the pot and cooked them down for a bit. I covered the mix with cider vinegar and sprinkled in some sugar. I reduced the contents a bit and then used an immersion blender to turn it into a sauce.

A quick taste reveals that the sauce benefits from the contributions of each of the ingredients.


It takes a little more than a half hour to make hot sauce from start to finish. I usually have podcasts playing on the kitchen home pod - yesterday’s was one on screenwriting in which they were discussing heroes and villains.

A weak villain does your story no good.

You don’t have much to celebrate when your hero wins against that.

You’re villain has to present a real challenge to the hero. Just as with our mix of peppers a worthwhile villain has to have more than one trick up their sleeves.

Even that isn’t enough.

Your villain can’t just be heat. The villain can’t just be one dimensional. There must be depth.

Maybe there’s some onion and garlic foundation for the villain - an origin story or background story that makes us understand them without empathizing with them.

Along the way different things have happened to the villain - not all bad - some sugar and some cider vinegar. These things have shaped the villain into who they are today.

And then there’s the thing we often forget.

The villain is the hero of their story.

Before “Wicked” was a musical it was one in a series of books that Gregory Macguire wrote from wrote from the perspective of other characters in famous tales. In addition to “Wicked” he wrote “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister”, “Mirror, Mirror”, and others.

Whether or not the villains story officially gets told – in the mind of the villain, when they consider their story, they are the hero.

The stories we see

I worry about this as I watch books being banned.

I worry about this as I hear over-reaction to the teaching of critical race theory by people who don’t know what it is and can’t say where it’s taught.

This morning Ish tweeted, “There is no honest account of American history that does not include Black history and the contributions (both consensual and otherwise) of Black people.”

I can’t imagine a less controversial way to put a fact.

But there will be objections from the same people who react negatively to “Black Lives Matter” wrongly assuming the word “Only” precedes it instead of that the word “Too” implicitly follows it.

Tucked inside of Ish’s tweet is an important parenthetical: “both consensual and otherwise”.

The books that are being banned are first erasing and minimizing the fact that many contributions were “otherwise” to make it easier to remove references to the “consensual”.

For the briefest of months that we begin today, we mention the contributions of people of color and then we check it off our list in the same way that politicians who blocked discussion of voting rights bills quoted Dr. King while doing so.

The stories we tell

What happens when the stories of the Civil War are only allowed to tell the story of the struggle for states rights?

In addition to an acceleration of book banning, we’re seeing bills to empower parents to complain about what’s being taught in schools, and a restriction of the teaching of anything in schools that portrays any part of US History in a negative light.

The right portrays it in the most reasonable of ways. “Shouldn’t parents have the right to determine what is taught to their children?”

Seems reasonable when phrased that way.

These parents are the heroes of their own stories.

In their stories they are protecting their innocent children from made to feel guilty for things that they didn’t themselves do.

They are protecting their children from learning about beliefs of people of other faiths and the perspectives of people of other backgrounds.

Shouldn’t parents have the right to do this?

I don’t think so.

When Maggie was young, we had friends who home schooled their kids. We used to joke that we didn’t love Maggie enough to home school her but the truth was we didn’t think we would do an adequate job.

Kim had a masters and I had a PhD and we had each gone to liberal arts schools undergrad and we just didn’t think we knew enough. In addition, despite Kim and my differences of religions, we recognized that there were many more people with different views and we wanted Maggie to be exposed to it all. We wanted her to learn from teachers with different backgrounds and life experiences. We wanted her to go to school with other kids who were different from her and other kids like her.

Maggie is equipped to listen to stories more critically because she grew up hearing different stories from different tellers.

Enduring truths

I worry about us banning books and telling teachers they can’t teach topics that are factual just uncomfortable.

How long before we extend these bans to the teaching of science? The teaching of math?

Impossible you say?

Not so fast. It’s only a little more than one hundred years since Indiana tried to enact a law that declared pi to be 3.2.

As a mathematician I find it bizarre that they didn’t even aim for 3.1 which would have been closer - but I digress.

As we passed the anniversary of a violent attack on the US Capitol to change the results of a fair and free election, the stories being told by the villains (sure, you may see that as an over-the-top characterization) has been repeated by their followers as if it is true. In their telling, it is the other side that are the villains.

We shake our head and wonder how they can possibly be so wrong - but in their telling the villains trying to not count votes, use alternate slates of electors, and trying to hold on to power - they are the heroes.

We can’t shrug it off when a politician insists that the average insurrectionist assaulting democracy was no different than a typical tourist visit.

I’m hoping that understanding the complexities of the stories they tell will make it sweeter when democracy is saved.

But at this point I worry that the “when” is really an “if” and the stories of all of our efforts, consensual or otherwise, will be lost.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 97. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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