Sunday, January 17, 2010

Of Stock and Taking Stock: A Post About Soup, and the Stuff Over Which We Stew

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, at least not in the usual sense. Unless you count my annual attempt at eating nothing but soup for the first month of the year and a penchant for excessive simmering over all the weighty topics about which one typically makes resolutions.

The soup experiments date as far back as at least 2005, when, according to Primary Source documents—namely the bound print journals I used to keep before I took to posting my thoughts in cyberspace—I was going to “explore” and “experiment” with various soups during the entirety of January and then invite friends over to sample the best recipes at a mid February affair that never happened. The documents show that I entered 2006 with even greater resolve, declaring that “the time was right,” and that I went so far as to spend a morning making stock, although evidence suggests that I spent as least as much time writing about and sketching stock as I did making it.

According to 2006 Me, stock plays a foundational role. It offers a depth of flavor, a basis, upon which all else rests, although it is comprised of some pretty odd components: knobby, gnarled bits like ginger root, pale, pointed chunks of something called parsnip, and items I wasn’t even sure I got right. (Are green onions and leeks the same thing?) There’s even stuff I was pretty sure I didn’t want in there, like mushrooms, that I think are gross and would never eat in ordinary circumstances. But I somehow knew that I had to just trust that this odd assemblage would give me a strong base for the warm, comforting, healthy, winter-battling food I craved.

It was then, and is now, the same as I take stock of where I am in my life. There are these ideas kicking around, many alarmingly similar to those about which ’06 Me was concerned. Some are knobby, ill-formed, or altogether shapeless. Others are pale, like ghosts I’m trying to resurrect. Most of these are writing projects, one the same abandoned book proposal over which my Y2K+6 counterpart was pained. Others ideas are foreign as the components of my stock. I audibly gasped when I read in my own 2006 words that my thoughts kept turning to adoption. Just this morning, I told my husband that I think about adoption every day, and it’s likely that I’ve thought about it on a regular basis for at least four years, although I’m positive that it has been much longer.

So here I am in the third week of 2010, eating a lot of soup, and stewing over more ideas than ever—some that have become standard fare, and others that have recently contributed their own distinctive flavors. The soups I’ve made have had varying results--a statement which I’ll allow to stand as a preview for upcoming posts. And all the rest? I’m still waiting for it all to blend into something delicious.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Day of Red-i-ness

The fact that atmospheric conditions inside my classroom hovered around the mid-60s all day yesterday meant that I had made two good decisions: wearing two red coats—one as outerwear and the other, a red leather number, initially for fashion—and bringing along a little jar of goodness I received as a gift from one of my students.

When school closed for break, I took the gift home, but upon examining its contents—hot cocoa, tea bags, lotion, and chocolate—determined that it was the perfect assortment of essential supplies to keep at my desk to provide a boost when winter takes its toll at the workplace. At least, all but the palm-sized mirror I found this morning when rooting for a bag of green tea.

“Hmmm…” I thought, sliding the mirror into my purse to take back home, unable to imagine why I’d need a mirror at my desk.

A couple classes later, I went into my storage closet/workroom with the intention of squirting single dabs of red, white, and black paint from the handy pump-equipped containers on my paint shelves onto a foam tray, in preparation for a little demonstration I planned for the second graders who were due to arrive any minute

The white and black paints—easily accessed from my chest-level “neutral” shelf-- flowed easily from their respective pumps into little dollops on my tray. I then reached slightly above my head for a squirt from the red paint container that I was too lazy to pull down from the shelf. Evidently, there was a little clog in the line, because a sudden shower of red paint shot across my entire face, miraculously missing the fashionable red jacket in its entirety.

Fortunately, I have a sink and those brown real paper paper towels in my storage closet/workroom. And a little palm sized mirror that that this art teacher will always keep at the ready, with the essential supplies.

Monday, January 04, 2010


You don’t have to be the author of much more than a term paper or book report to understand the difficulty transitions pose for the writer. Sliding seemingly seamlessly from one scene, concept, or thought to another can be jarring. Choppy. Sloppy.

Transitions can’t be simple on paper, because there’s nothing simple about them.

Today finds many of us back at the helm at blackboards, desks, and service counters, having been jerked harshly from the Warm Hearth of Yuletide Goodness. As a writer, I'd love to offer some insight into the art of transitions; sadly, the only wisdom I can impart comes from the hard-knocks school of first-hand experience, and I can’t say I’m impressed with the curriculum.

In Stranger than Fiction, (one of my all-time favorite films)Dustin Hoffman’s character, Professor Hilbert, explains to Harold Crick, the protagonist hearing a blow-by-blow narration of his life, that plots are driven forward by action. For instance, he explained, the exiting of his office continues his story--the story of him through the door. On the other hand, staying in the room would halt the plot altogether.

When I woke up this morning, I was tempted not to advance my plot. At the time, it seemed preferable to let my story just kind of drift off—you know, go back to sleep and avoid the next scene.

Most of us glide rather seamlessly through the vacation segments of our stories. But the scenes which open with the dirty laundry, full in box, and obnoxious alarm clock? Not real attention-grabbers, those. Toss in the grey-sky, cold weather backdrop most of us are looking at in terms of setting, and the story seems to take a quick nosedive.

Fortunately, I have hoarded dozens of writers’ magazines that address sticky transitions, and it seems the articles all offer the same advice. If you don’t know exactly how to get your characters from point A to point B, you just have to jump to the next thing you do know. Press forward. Get the characters moving--or at least out of bed. Just keep typing--or wading through the in box, as the case may be--and sooner or later, you’ll hit on something.

If all else fails, rip a page from my playbook and lean heavily on the coffee pot. A fresh cup of joe has the ability to smooth over even the rockiest of transitions. After a few study swigs, you'll find the mug half-full--and that's not a bad perspective to take into the first work day of the new year.


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