Saturday, May 05, 2007

Food and writing

When I opened the fridge I realized I had eggs. Not such a surprise since I usually open the freezer to take out something to nuke or take fruit and vegetables out of the basket on the counter to fix dinner instead. There is even sometimes popcorn in the basket and the oil is always near the stove. (Truth be told, everything is near the stove in my kitchen. It's rather small, but comfortably so.) I also had some button mushrooms, which are not my favorites but were on sale, and, since I hate to throw out anything that has a bit of use in it, and it costs more to buy them dried when I can dry them (by forgetting they're there) in the fridge for less, I took them out. I also had half a still fresh onion and omelet was on my mind.

The reason I'm not all that fond of button mushrooms is because they have so little taste, not like porcinis and meaty portobellos and (my favorite) shiitakes. But the buttons were there and still edible, so I chopped them up and scooped them into the pan where the canola oil began to sizzle. I cut up half the half-onion and scooped that into the pan, whisked up some eggs with a little water, sea salt, and white pepper and, as soon as the mushrooms and onions were tender and the onions still slightly crisp, the eggs went into the pan. I already had oatmeal simmering on the stove, so while I waited I washed a few dishes--I hate just standing around waiting for things to happen and fiddling with the food. The smell was incredible and I began to wonder if I had misjudged button mushrooms.

I had.

As soon as I took the first bite I knew I was wrong. Button mushrooms don't have much taste when they're fresh, but let them dry out in the fridge and something wonderful happens. The taste isn't as pronounced and rich as a porcini or as fragrant as a shiitake, but it is good. Next time button mushrooms are on sale 2-for-1, I'll get a couple more packages and forget them in the fridge until they dry out. I'll bet dried buttons are a good substitute for flour in making gravy, too. I prefer dried, ground porcinis, but they're a little expensive. I think I need to buy some shiitakes and let them dry out, too. Could be that Portobellos would be good, too, although I prefer them with spices and pureed salmon baked in the oven or with chicken breasts or in veggie lasagne instead of meat.

Don't get the wrong idea. I'm not going completely vegetarian. I couldn't go totally without meat, especially an occasional juicy medium-rare steak with sauteed onions, but mushrooms make a great substitute without resorting to soy fillers. I wonder how they would taste in lentil chili. Hmmmm.

Since it's Saturday and I don't have a VE session in Woodland Park this weekend, I'm doing what I usually do on Saturdays: writing reading. I finished the review for The Cat Master last night, wrote and posted my review, so I don't have to start another review book right away. I have some personal reading time. I have a stack of books I want to get through and some literary, writing and specfic magazines to read. I'm not just enjoying myself, should that be what you're thinking; it's research and one of the writing rules: before submitting to any magazine or publisher you should know the competition and what they publish, get a feel for tone and type of stories and articles. Like I said: research.

I did have some good news this morning though. Angela Hoy of Writers Weekly is buying an article from me and, if my retool of another article flies, will buy a second article from me. Next Wednesday, 05/09/07, my letter will also be printed. I wrote in response to an article and Angela wrote back and asked if she could print it next week in the newsletter. How could I refuse? (only by being brain damaged) Since my name was already on her mind, and she knew my byline, I decided to take a chance and send her a success story and an article. She asked me to rethink a couple sentences and I rewrote the paragraph and sent it back. A check will be in the mail this coming week. The article is a little harder sell, but it's worth negotiating. If Angela doesn't buy it for Writers Weekly then I'll redo the query and send it to a couple other writing magazines. One of them is bound to buy it.

That's the thing about writing, it takes sweat and effort and moving outside your comfort zone. I was happy where I was, writing reviews and articles, editing and pitching magazines; it was safe and I was content. A writer should never become too safe or too content; it's bad for business. But not all writing is about business. Writing is about--writing, expressing yourself, your thoughts, feelings and observations. Publishing is secondary, but only if it's a hobby or you have no desire to see your work in print. Whichever path you choose doesn't make you any less a writer.

Make no mistake, reviewers and columnists and editors and ghostwriters are writers, too. They may not have a book on the shelves with their name on it but that makes them no less professionals and no less real writers. Like I said, a writer writes. No one would say Emily Dickinson wasn't a poet because she didn't publish her poems while she was alive, hiding them in the attic and keeping them to herself, except for a handful that were published during her lifetime, most of which were published anonymously. She wrote.

In this all too over-exposed world we live in, too many people have come to see success only when it is prominently displayed. I remember (misremember) a quote that says: "They also serve who stand and wait." Publicity is nice but publicity does not make a writer real. That is not the measure of success. Real success is in writing and continuing to write--whether it is in a private diary or journal, stories, books and poems you keep in a drawer or bound and hidden away, in a locked blog only you can see, or wherever you write--and continuing to evolve and grow, writing because not to write would drive you mad and render you miserable to be around.

The world measures success the way it measures faith, as something that can only be quantified in numbers and dollars and cents; that's a poor way of measuring anything. For me, it isn't about success in terms of recognition, although that would be nice; it's about writing. I am miserable when I'm not writing, unhappy with my life and tense and cross with the world around me. I live a half life when I'm not writing. And I am also selfish.

I do not want to share my time and my writing with a 9-5 job or any job. I begrudge the time and the effort, knowing I have no other choice if I am to continue living in an apartment instead of under a breezy and well traveled overpass or bridge.

I'm not a troll nor do I come from dwarf stock. So, while I like to visit caves and dank and dark places on occasion, I prefer living above ground in warm rooms with walls and furniture and amenities and, occasionally, food. In order to do that, I have to give up the reliable and constant companionship of unhappiness and the feeling of missing my life in pursuit of work and a paycheck, move out of my comfort zone (miserable as it sometimes is) and feed my soul by writing. I am a writer, a real writer; I can do no less and retain my sanity and my self respect. I no longer wish to spend all my energy and my time only on the mundane day-to-day pursuits. Work is necessary, but it's not everything. For me, there has to be writing . . . and occasionally food. It's who I am and what keeps me ticking.

Friday, May 04, 2007

If it stings... must be good for you.

That's what my grandmother used to say whenever she tended a hurt with some nasty spray or liquid that burned like fire. I knew she was attempting to make the pain worthwhile but it still hurt. The same thing goes for slights and nasty remarks that sting. If they don't sting, there is no truth in them. If, however, they sting...

Whenever someone slights us--and it's usually a friend or relative because they know us well enough to know what buttons to push--it is usually out of their own pique or pain. They need to make sure you hurt, too, and digging the spurs into your ego and psyche are the quickest ways to get there. It's mean, but it's effective, and you should thank them. If it stings...

Sometimes we get into a comfortable rut where it's safe and we are content. Little things will bother us, and that's guaranteed, but overall we are happy where we are. There's no need to exert any energy to maintain stationary orbit or climb up out of that ever deepening rut, so why bother? It takes grit and guts and a lot of energy to blast out of orbit and escape the strong pull of gravity or reach up to grab the edge of the rut and pull our comfortably padded rumps out, but the effort is worth it.

I climbed out of that rut. It was a good well worn rut but I left so much undone. I had stories and novels and proposals for books gathering dust buried beneath a growing stack of minutiae. It's what Apollo Creed called the eye of the tiger, that burning desire to be more than you are, to reach beyond yourself and achieve your dreams. I had lost it. I have it back and now the results are piling up.

There were times I had a bright idea and thought what a good story or article or essay it would make. I religiously read marketing newsletters and lists of contests and calls for submission, the ideas blossoming as I read, but I did nothing with them--other than writing them down or marking that place in my memory. Memory is not a good place to keep hot ideas; it has a tendency to become overlaid with bills and work and the minutiae of every day life, getting pushed out of the light to huddle under the bed or in a corner or behind a big heavy piece of mental furniture. The only time they're found is when you move (I'm not planning to move) or when it's time for spring cleaning (not going to happen this year) or when relatives come to visit (they live too far away), and then it's too late. There's a reason to strike while the iron is hot; it's much easier to mold and bend and shape. When it's cold . . . well, you get the idea.

I got stung. Then I got mad. Then I started to look at things and see it stung because it held a small poppy seed of truth. Then I got busy.

Time passes so quickly and the older we get time grows wings and then engines and then jet engines and then it's rocketing out of sight, leaving us gasping and coughing in its wake. Time does not wait. It is relentless, a construct of perpetual motion that soon becomes a juggernaut moving at unbelievable speeds leaving nothing in its wake but regret and a cloud of dust without even a hearty Heigh-Ho, Silver! Life is short and can end at any moment. Think not? Talk to the wife of the guy who was driving to work one day when an overpass collapsed on top of him or the athlete who was in tip-top condition and going out for his morning run when his heart stopped. Yes, these are extreme examples, but they are nonetheless true.

We don't need a fatalistic view of life. We need a realistic perspective. Every time we put something off or let something mundane take precedence over dreams and desire, we lose. We lose time. We lose the heat in the iron. We lose escape velocity. The result is inertia: safe, comfortable, going nowhere inertia. Gravity has taken hold and no matter how fast we run or how high we jump, there's no escaping it. The trick is to move and keep moving, keep evolving, and most of all, keep living. That's why slights sting and why they should sting--to remind us we could have had a V-8 have our dreams right now. All it takes is the eye of the tiger and a little bit of audacity.

So, thank you for all the insults and slights and nasty things everyone has ever said to me. It did the trick.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Roll out the barrel

I've been busy. The new schedule is working out very well and I'm getting a lot accomplished. I'm even typing more reports than before and my paycheck is about to get a boost right into the next tax bracket. Just as an example, I finished three stories for Chicken Soup this afternoon after typing as many reports in four hours as it used to take me seven hours to do. And that includes editing and proofreading the stories. I have to thank Marcia Golub's advice on scheduling and Elizabeth Lyon for inspiration. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Elizabeth Lyon has agreed to collaborate on a book with me, but that's another story for another time.

The only sour note in this ode to joy is my printer. The plastic innards that feed paper through it have decided to quit feeding. The copy function works, and so does the fax and scanner, but without paper, they won't do me much good. I actually had to hand print labels for the monthly ham club newsletter and my fingers still feel cramped. I don't write much by longhand since I got the laptop, which just celebrated its first year with me.

I probably should change the title of this post to roll out the printer, but it doesn't go well with barrel, especially since the ink is holding out. Too bad the printer won't allow any paper through its plastic teeth so I'd need to roll out the ink barrel, but into every life a little rain . . . et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I do know some things for certain: schedules make a difference, working until you drop is not necessarily productive (or lucrative) and when you leave some room for the spark of creativity to strike you're sure to burn brightly and often. A fire cannot burn in a vacuum and creativity cannot function with tired and depleted synapses incapable of generating a spark.

That is all. Disperse.