Thursday, August 24, 2017

Using what we have

My husband and I are getting more accustomed to this aspect of our CSA subscription (community-supported agriculture, where we get regular food deliveries from a local farm): using what we have on hand. Every week, we get whatever is in season, whatever crop successfully made it to ripeness. And that dictates what's on our menu for the week. It's made us try all sorts of foods we wouldn't have otherwise. Because of the CSA, I've eaten kohlrabi, and salads with turnip, and chard omelets, and salmon with fennel, and zucchini bread, and rhubarb cobbler, and spaghetti squash, and a host of other foods. 

The other day, we got a lot of peppers, so we had chili. And it's this "what can I do with what I have" approach that's different from how I cooked for most of my life. For most of human history, people had to eat whatever was available, but nowadays, in my location and at my income level, it's possible to go to the store and get almost any food I want--whether or not it's in season, whether or not it grows anywhere near me. It's a luxury, one I used to take for granted but don't anymore.

The writing connection (you knew I'd get to the writing connection eventually!) is that there, too, it took me a while to get the concept of using what I have. For a while I tried to write like writers I admired but whose voices and subject matter were very different from mine. I tried to write what would be easier to sell. I tried to write what seemed like good stories--but turned out to be good stories for someone else to tell. And eventually I started using what I had. I started basing my writing on what I had to say, and on my own voice--which proved to be a much more natural wellspring.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Saving yesterdays

I haven't been a steady journal-keeper; I've tended to write more at stressful times in my life, or during events that I suspected would be historic, or when traveling. Consequently, I have many notebooks and pieces of notebooks and stray pages from various times. One of my part-time projects--on which I spend an hour here, an hour there--is consolidating those journals into one coherent whole. 

As I go, I discover records of events I'd forgotten but can recall when prompted by the journals, as well as events I've wholly forgotten. There are a few people referred to by first name only whom I can no longer identify.

There are so many days we live through and then utterly forget. A journal can save a few of them for us. Some of these days, honestly, I am happy to let go of; others I'm happy to retrieve. Maybe it's good to forget so much. Everything is impermanent; carpe diem; live for today. I'm not sure how much yesterday matters. I'm saving some yesterdays just in case.

Friday, August 11, 2017


I haven't posted as frequently lately, and it's because I'm in a listening/reading phase. I go through times like this, when I am writing less and absorbing more. Reading a lot, thinking, preferring silence to speech. Feeling as if my ideas are half-formed, not ready for expression. I can feel them taking shape, but they're still lumps of raw dough rather than cookies. 

(I do love cooking/food metaphors for writing!)

August has always struck me as a meditative month, a good time to be in this frame of mind. The weather is warm and mellow, the days are still long, and the cicadas and crickets issue their endless waves of music.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Creative stretch

I used to do all sorts of creative-stretch projects, dipping my toe into forms and genres I wasn't trying to master just for the experience, for the fun of it, to try something new. At writers' conferences, I would take workshops that directly related to my immediate career goals, but I would also typically squeeze in a session on something farther afield : op-eds, poetry, screenplays. My second published novel grew out of an attempt at writing a verse novel. It was a form I knew I would be unlikely to excel at (and indeed, the book quickly morphed into prose), but just trying it may have freed up some extra wellsprings of creativity.

For the past year and a half, I've been keeping a journal as such an exercise. It's been working, mostly because I only ask 100 words of myself per day, and because I don't strive to write for anyone else's approval. This enabled me to play a bit with writing, in a way that I haven't in a long while.

Freedom, play, experimentation are key components of creative stretches. And I think it may be time for another stretch. For me at least, it's important to keep the creative fires stoked, to feed my long-term growth as a writer in addition to making progress on short-term practical goals. I'm kicking around some ideas.

Do you ever need a creative detour?