Monday, December 17, 2007

Writing with a Partner

If you're interested in writing with a supportive partner, you might check out Connection Well. It's an online forum for writing partners to post their work and support one another. It was started by my friend, Jane, with her writing partner, Cathy.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I find myself incredibly bored, hence the post

You know those days where you discard a dozen or more occupations with a sigh of frustration? My cat looks pretty happy, she is sacked out on my desk. I myself am bored out of my skull.

I thought I'd write about, well, I could pretend it was an Artist Date. Sure, yeah.

Last night, I was upstairs reading a book. Normally on Fridays, my husband and I practice what we call Catch As Catch Can for dinner. It's Friday, we've earned it. So I was sitting there as I said, and I caught a whiff of something that reminded me so much of Pama's gumbo, I had no choice but to make some.

My paternal grandma was Cajun, as was my grandfather. I called her Pama, a name she took up with gusto. Pama is a legend in our family. Strongwilled (she once pulled a gun on a man who tried to cheat her neighbor), a true lady, and a great cook, she loved nothing better than to sit on the front porch of an evening and chat with her family, her southern drawl wandering from ill friends to people walking past to what we were going to do the next day. I miss her every day.

I never actually got to eat gumbo cooked by Pama herself, at least not that I can remember. By the time she was older, she actually spent very little time cooking, though what she produced was fantastic.

But, she passed on the recipe to my mother, and we ate it frequently as I grew up. Pama's gumbo, for so we still call it, is my one true comfort food. I have only actually cooked it a few times since I moved out on my own, because it's just not the same. Also, my favorite version requires chicken gizzards, something I generally try not to keep on hand.
About a month ago, my dear friend's mother died and I went home for the funeral. On my last night there, my mom asked what I wanted for dinner and I knew without even thinking that it was gumbo. I made it with her, for the hundred thousandth time, and for a moment it actually felt like home, rather than this strange house stuffed with sewing machines and magazines and avoidance.

A true Cajun gumbo does not have tomatoes (shudder) like you find in most Cajun restaurants. That, my friends, is Creole, as is all that blackened crap you find. A true gumbo is a slightly unappetizing greenish gray in color, and sits on the back of the stove simmering for days on end, with the leftovers from various meals thrown in as it cooks.

It starts with a roux of flour and shortening or oil, which turns dark as you stir it, and richly nutty smelling. It's truly an alchemical process, the change happening from one moment to the next, in the blink of an eye.
Then you add chopped onions, celery, parsley, green onions, bell peppers, and chicken or some other meat, and bay leaves if you wish. You can also add okra, though most people think it's a bit like eating boogers (I, however, love it). Pour in water, let it simmer until cooked.

The most important part of the process is the gumbo file', which is a powder of ground sassafras leaves used for thickening. In true gumbo, if you choose to add okra you do not add the file, as both act as thickeners, but it is the file' that adds a delicate, dusky flavor and the green color. It is crucial that you add it after the soup has been taken off the heat. Add a very small amount and stir, then add a little more until you see a green sheen starting to form. If you add too much, it gets thick and ropey.

I can remember as a child, watching my father add the gumbo file' at the table. He would add it almost reverently, laving the soup across the ladle repeatedly until it was perfect. I think this is a moment in which he remembers his mother, and his father, both dead. They live on through this dish of our ancestors, and if the smell of browning flour and sassafras leaves gives me a twinge of nostalgia, I can only imagine what it makes him feel, his father having died when I was three. Perhaps he thinks of him, as he stirs. I am sure my grandpa used to perform the same task.

In the end, the gumbo I made last night was not all that good. I used sausage, which made it too greasy, and the flour wasn't quite cooked out enough. But as I added the file', I stirred it in a moment longer than necessary, remembering Pama and home and hoping I can make my children understand.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Finding the Vein of Gold

I'm cross posting this on my own blog just because it gets a bit more traffic, but I could use your help in particular. In order to find my "vein of gold," the area in which I work well thematically, I'm suppose to analyze my five favorite movies for themes.

1. Chocolat
2. Wonder Boys
3. Bridget Jones's Diary
4. Magnolia
5. A Room with a View

What themes do these movies have in common? Can you help? Thank you!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Okay, Okay, an Artist Date

My husband was out sailing all day yesterday so I did my first Artist Date.

Spending three hours cleaning house, making iced tea, and pounding chicken may not sound all that "festive" but it was to me.

First off, I cranked up the music, which I don't get to do that often. Then I cleaned. For me, cleaning is theraputic. It is the way I create order out of chaos. I love making the glass-topped tables shine, sucking up the kitty litter on the carpet, and getting rid of the galaxy of seeds my husband left on the counter when he toasted his bagel. A mad cleaning binge is how I make myself feel relaxed when I've had a particularly stressful time. Kind of like a more labor-intensive sage burning.

Also I danced.

Then I made four pitchers of different flavors of iced tea/coffee for the week: blueberry decaf for my husband to drink during the day; caf Constant Comment; caf peppermint (which required a trip to the roof to cut some mint leaves--to my surprise, they survived the winter and my lack of watering); and I turned our leftover morning coffee into iced coffee. The secret, you see, is to melt the sugar in hot water so it doesn't turn to grit at the bottom.

Then I stuck my nose in all four pitchers and inhaled deeply, because blueberry tea smells good. Which prompted me to go eat the dried blueberries we bought at Costco. Now I am full of anti-oxidants.

Then I prepped dinner (chicken cutlets with lemon, white wine, dill, and butter) by pounding the hell out of the chicken. If you think banging something with a metal mallet while dancing and singing isn't festive, you're in need of a re-think.

While I did all this, I thought about creativity and what it means to me. I take the definition literally: the act of making something new. It can be made of parts already built by other people. But they should be put together in new ways. Hence, I think of playing certain computer games as being creative (yes, that was my own work.) Cooking is certainly creative. Ms Theologian tells me that captioning pictures of my cats is creative. I will argue to the bitter end that Excel can be creative, especially since a blank spreadsheet sets my fingers itching in the same way a blank canvas does a painter.

But cleaning can be too, particularly you live with my husband (who is equally creative in his messmaking.) You are creating order out of chaos. Serenity in your life. You are taking what you have and building something meaningful by enforcing your will on its tendency to collapse.

At least, that's my argument for not bothering to leave the house.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Have You Discovered Your Secret Selves?

Have you discovered your secret selves yet?

Once you finish your narrative time line and cups, you can have a lot of fun with the task about your secret selves.

I have at least one secret self who is a nun. I call her Mary the Martyr.

Keep on trucking with this, guys. This is a fun task, and I'd love to hear about your secret selves here or in separate posts.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Daily Walk: An Unintended Consequence

Guess what? After two months of daily walks to this oak tree where I sit and write my morning pages, I've actually lost weight.

My walk is about 20 minutes to the oak tree and 20 minutes back after I write.

A hidden benefit of Vein of Gold!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Artist Date Goes Bad

Well, here's an artist's date that did not go so well: my husband* and I decided to go to the Huntington on a free day. The Huntington is a great museum with libraries and fantastic gardens in Pasadena. It's $15 per adult, so we don't go frequently. But, boy, oh, boy, was the free day crowded. I cannot tell you how much bumping and shoving there was in the pursuit of art. Roughly half of Los Angeles seemed to be there.

When we arrived, we wanted to get some lunch and ended up in a "cafe" with equal parts wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, screaming babies, and screaming adults. It was madness, I tell you! Madness.

I'm posting this as a non-exemplar, so if you have an artist's date that goes bad, you don't feel so dysfunctional. :)

*I do know that artist dates are supposed to be conducted alone. Sometimes I break that rule.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Hi gang. I've officially begun The Vein of Gold now...and what i notice in myself most of all is resistance I don't wanna!! I don't wanna do my timeline. I don't wanna revisit my life. Anyone else experience this? Any tips on how to get through it?


Friday, June 1, 2007

Wizz Fizz

Inspired by TGR's artist date at the food market, I took myself to a lolly shop today and browsed the sweets of my childhood. I ended up buying a bag of Wizz Fizz. I took it back to work and opened it up at afternoon tea time. One of my coworkers saw it and made several exclamations. There's nothing like a blast from the past to kindle people's creative childlike sense of fun and play.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Short Excerpts from the Narrative Time Line

If you feel comfortable posting short excerpts from your narrative time line, you might go right ahead.

I wrote this story this morning.
Alternative pages

Hi folks...I'm Jordan Rosenfeld. I'm lagging behind finishing up the AW and will be starting VoG around the 4th of June. But I thought I'd pop in early and say hi! I live in the absurd little town of Morgan Hill, CA (sorry to anyone who likes it here), am still pining for Petaluma, which we left behind last year and hope to return to next year. I write mainly. Freelance--for a living. Fiction--for "fun" and I've got a book I'm in the process of revising for Writer's Digest Books due out in November (Is this too much of an AA speech here?):

Anyhow, I've been using my morning pages lately to write --*gasp*--fiction. That's right. I've been journaling since I was 11 years old (21 yrs give or take), and so processing my feelings on the page has never been an issue for me (doing it consistently certainly helps and I benefit from that--and what's more, how's this for the universe working mysteriously...since I started doing AW, my husband has begun journaling regularly for the first time in his life!). But I notice that when I write fiction--something crazy and unplanned that has no goal for it--I come away feeling energized, alive and ready for work. I thought I'd recommend this as an alternate to anyone who is struggling with their pages. Take a week's break and write fiction (or poetry, essay, whatever your favorite form).

And I promise (sort of) not to use so many parenthetical statements next time.

Hope you're all doing well. Let me know your thoughts

Monday, May 21, 2007

Artist Date #1, a resounding success!

On Saturday I had my first Artist's Date. I had a hard time deciding what to do - it was later in the day than I'd intended because of a work commitment that ran long, and I was feeling tired and cranky by the time I got home. First thought was to visit a nearby museum, but that turned into a dud. Armand Hammer museum? Closed already for the day. Science Center: closed. Natural History museum: closed. I guess I'd assumed they'd be open later than five on Saturdays. I could have gone to the Getty, but I just wasn't feeling it. I almost just drove out for a long walk on the beach, but then I had a Very Bright Idea: Mitsuwa!

About six months ago I realized that the store I drove right past every time I went to Costco was a big, fabulous Japanese market - why it took me more than three years of living here to figure that out, I have no idea. And as I'd been wanting to go for quite a while but hadn't gotten around to it I decided it was a great spot for an Artist's Date.

When I was sixteen, I spent a month in Japan over the summer, living with a host family and then spending several days in Tokyo with the three other girls and one teacher who were on the trip with me. And Mitsuwa took me right back there: I found all of my favorite snacks and candies (Pocky! Super Lemon! Green tea ice cream! Melon flavored gum! Pretz sticks!), I got to attempt to pronounce the katakana and hiragana on the labels of all sorts of items (and then look at the markers on the aisles that so kindly offered the English version), I watched a few minutes of some Japanese tv shows on the monitors near the entrance, I hemmed and hawed over cute little bento boxes and rice bowls and chopsticks and other knick knacks that I eventually decided I really didn't need, and I got all the ingredients to make what is hands down my favorite meal ever.

And then the second part of my Artist's Date was coming home to cook myself some okonomiyaki! It's like a cabbage pancake, sort of. The name literally means "as you like," and it's a home-style dish that folks in Japan make with all kinds of extra ingredients thrown in. My host family made it for me, and we also went to a restaurant for the famou (in Japan) Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (made with noodles) on our trip there, after visiting Peace Memorial Park. You make the pancake with cabbage, flour, water, an egg and a little dashi stock, and I put a couple of very thin slices of pork on it, and then top it with Japanese mayo, okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes and seaweed flakes. Heaven!
So I had a culinary date with my inner Artist, and loved every moment of it. And now I've got enough supplies to eat okonomiyaki again several more times this week. Yippee!