Saturday, October 31, 2009

Okay, so I've got . . .

  • my Cast of Characters,
  • my 20 Daily Plot Points to start each morning knowing roughly what I'm writing toward,
  • my "Random Rumi" poetry quotes and Merriam-Webster "Word of the Day" as mental Drano in case of blocks (sprinkle in and see what happens . . . glugga glug),
  • my Flickr Explore for sudden inspiration ( " . . . so they were walking along when suddenly they saw . . . ") . . .  though could be potential time-waster . . . question is: will I abide by one-click rule?  could set up computer to kick off Flickr after 7 minutes?  (. . . must see about . . . ),
  • my Plot Twist Random Generator,
  • my Necessary Rocks (and also Magic Bean, courtesy of YoungSon),
  • my multi-positional Goose-Neck Desk Lamp,
  • my Starving-Artist Gloves for cold mornings or whenever I need to commune with my inner tubercular poet,
  • my Style Guide/ Reference Book which is not Strunk & White but the gate of angels and also ~

  • Anything else? . . . oh, yes

- which is not merely what the laity call "chocolate" but is indeed An Important Writing Tool, namely:

  • 1 Milk Chocolate Raisin for each page
  • 1 Big Chip Baking Chocolate for every 1000 words
  • 1 Hint O' Mint cookie every 2500-word day
  • Chocolove Raspberry when the wordcount reaches 20,000
  • Chocolove Cherry Almond for wordcount of 35,000,
  • Endangered Species Intense Dark with Cocoa nibs for 45,000 words

(details like this are so important in writing, don't you think?

 please note scientifically determined graduated intervals balancing weariness with choco-motion 

I was thinking: YoungSon and I should made a deal that for every day I do NOT make 2500, he gets the Hint O' Mint cookie. 

"Mhm?" says YoungSon, "then I'd be kind of like voting against you."

"Not a good idea," says Middlest.  "Because then he'll be down by the desk all the time, going Mom, Mom! and climbing all over.  He'd never let you get anything done."

"What you need to do," says Fritz, "is go back to the store and get more packagesof cookies. Then every day we will be waiting to see whether we ALL get a cookie or not."

Everyone likes this idea. They think it should be a ritual moment: 5 chocolate mint cookies borne in on a white plate.

"And so I'm supposed to bring in an empty plate if I don't make it?"

"You bring in an empty plate, we're going to send you back downstairs," says Fritz.  "We want our cookies!"

"Are you going to share the candy bars, too?"  YoungSon wants to know.



"The other half is to zing-zing the next day of writing."


Early on, of course, I had decided that food is no way to reward yourself. Just leads to unhealthy habits and slows you down in the end.  No Sugar, I had decided.  No Snacking.  And No Treats.  Instead I was going to motivate myself with a half hour of yoga for every 2000 words . . .



Meanwhile, don't you think "Agriburbia"  sounds intriguing?

And Girls of RiyadhYes.  Read this book.  You'll like it.

As for Time's Magpie: a Walk in PragueBeautiful writing - I had to read the first chapter out loud to myself last night, soaking in the tub, but ultimately the pace is too leisurely for the mode I'm in right now.  Maybe I'll finish it another time.


Still to do today:
  1. Mopping, last of laundry, clean sheets
  2. Make bread
  3. Return books to library
  4. Mail deposit rent for the apartment we found for Fritz' parents
  5. Go to Eldest's last band competition
  6. Pick up CSA share
  7. Go to bed early
  8. Think good thoughts all Sunday
and then on Monday, right after the usual walk in the dark, right after breakfast, right after getting everyone off for the day . . .

Friday, October 30, 2009

manipulating her load of nectar

"When the house bee has received her portion of a nectar gatherer’s load, she meanders about the hive in search of a place where she will not be crowded. . . . She stands so very still that most observers consider her idle, but they have failed to note that she is manipulating her load of nectar by means of her mouthparts."

“Honey, Ripening Of,”
ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture
A.I. Root, 1877

And like the busy bee, so have I laid up a store of posts for this coming month to hearten myself each morning -

and perhaps to be some pleasure to any of you who check in through the month of November - when I will be writing 2500 words a day, 5 days a week, as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

From now until December, I will post on Saturdays - briefly - to report on this wild project.

But I have also prescheduled short-short posts for the other days of the month - to which I may or may not append a word or two if I've completed my wordcount the day before - hope you enjoy them.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Last Apples

Saturday a friend and I went to Hood River for apples and pears - several boxes for her, a few for me.  My friend was stocking up for some serious canning and processing.  For me, it was an excuse to take pictures as much as anything. 

It is the end of a season - the harvest, the gathering in.  End also (at least for a time) of this pretty nearly daily gathering of photos.  Those lunch hours wheeling around town, trawling for things to see are done (for a time).  Done, too (for now), the particular calm momentary focus of looking through the camera. 

My photos are not real serious photos and it is a pleasure that I don't feel any the less content with them for knowing that.  Which is not the way it is with writing and knowing the writing is limping, is off, is stilted.

I've been reading Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage  (*****).  Off and on.  Which style of reading is perhaps the best tribute to his style of writing.  He writes (in the part I'm wandering in and out of right now) about D.H. Lawrence taking up painting and how much more satisfying to him the painting is than writing.  Which tells you how much more a writer than a painter he is.  I like (have liked) Lawrence's novels - though I like even better Sheila Gibbons' send-up of Lawrence in Cold Comfort Farm.  But I don't count Lawrence's "poems" as poetry - they have no music and are just shouting of manifestos to my ear - so it is interesting to read such an interior and familiar-feeling voice as Dyer's talking about a poetic power imperceptible to me.  

Also reading, also by Dyer, Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It (***) which has in it almost everything I don't like in a book (drug parties, sex with strangers, New Age idlers . . .) except I like it.  Limpid writing -- that clear pool -- and a completely (apparent) childlike unpretentiousness creates such an easily assumable point of view that while I'm reading it I think the way he puts things is the way really I would put things, or even actually do put things, in my deepest thoughts.  Except that really my thoughts and way of putting them are not anywhere so clear, pretty much more like turgid I realize once I'm back out of the book.

I am nearly done, though, with novel & fluff reading for awhile.  Actually, all reading will be at a minimum for the next month.  But I can report that I have read a good chunk of my list for this month, plus a fair share of fluffier strays (which makes them sound like puppies needing a home) and am ready to report as promised.

**Terry Pratchett** - (shrug) - pleasant enough but not something to shape your life (or reading month) around

*Mourner's Dance* - interesting look at grieving customs - but more an overview than an evocation

*Body Speaks* - a workbook of acting exercises which I may someday go back to (the book, not acting), but no time for it right now.

Silent Traveller in Oxford - lost my interest a few pages in

Talking Hands, a survey of communities where sign language has naturally arisen, has a great cover photo but is written in journalese and thus disappointing.  Much more fascinating was ***Visible Thought: A New Psychology of Body Language***, a book about body language by the British TV series "Big Brother" psychologist:  a well written, transparent sharing of his gestural/ vocal communication experiments, as well as engaging anecdotes of what body language tells us taken from the TV series.  And best by far was ****Language in Hand:Why Sign Came Before Speech**** by the founder of sign language linguistics - this guy writes with passion and lucid erudition and makes an interesting though controversial case. 

*****Mummies of Urumchi***** was everything I was expecting from Elizabeth Wayland Barber, a textile archaeologist and linguist.  If you read only one non-fiction book this year (Melissa!)  you should read this one - eminently readable tracing of a population moving across Central Europe from remarkably well-preserved textiles in the Gobi desert and linguistic clues (though probably you, Melissa, would enjoy  ***Visible Thought*** with its psychology even more . . .)  Barber is clear, enjoyable, fascinated with her topic, a genius at fine detail and the broader picture both, and eager to share what she's seen.

Contrasting unfavorably to the *****Urumchi***** book,  Needle in the Right Hand of God is clumsy and the author apparently bored with his subject before he even begins.  He uses the Bayeux Tapestry (which tells the story of William the Conqueror's victory) as a jumping-off point to discuss medieval and Byzantine art, politics, etc.  but seems to be mostly in a hurry to talk about ANYTHING else but the tapestry.  His analysis always feels like its missing the mark and his points are underwhelming.  This could have been so much better done - and still woven in all the other wide-ranging information - but he has no feel for the fabric itself.

I loved George Sand's two rural novelettes! Particularly ***The Haunted Pool***.  And enjoyed her other novel, **Countess of Rudolstadt**, until the end when characters began to  speak in lengthy monologues (we're talking pages not mere paragraphs) about their Dan Brownesque Da-Vinci-Code "New Religion."

***Greenwillow*** by B.J. Chute was as good as I had remembered from my girlhood - a slyly sweet book about a village perhaps in New England, perhaps in Southern England. 

And the best of the fluff?  ***Little Lady Agency and the Prince*** - which I blush to own.  This was a book I picked up at the airport a year or so ago.  Fluffy, fluffy, and way too much fun.  The double-entendres fly over the head of the innocently smouldery main character who dons a blonde wig, vintage corsets, pencil skirts to counsel and coach clueless London bachelors in the fine art of gallantry and grooming . . . and you can already imagine all the delightful entanglements that leads to  . . .

So,  this weekend I'll sample Girls of Riyadh, maybe Time's Magpie, maybe They're a Weird Mob - but apple season is over - pretty near.

And if that makes you sad, forget it's the last of the apples and just look: 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

after the fall

One suggestion for the prewriting this week is that I  list What Makes A Good Novel for Me/ What Bores or Depresses Me in Novels.  In the hopes, you know, that I don't go and write what bores or depresses even me in the mistaken  desire to be Impressive or Relevant or Publishable.
So -

what Makes a Novel Appealing to Me
  • wild geese (not that all books/poems with wild geese are worth the imagery, but a surprising number are)
  • survivors
  • longevity
  • play ~ room to
  • self-deprecating characters
  • plucky and optimistic protagonists
  • small lovingly detailed scenes of  lost folkways - (think Natasha dancing with the gypsies, Levin and the reapers, Kitty and Levin skating, the hustings in Middlemarch, the dance at Meryton, winter hunting at Colcorton, the general store in Eyes Were Watching God, Ishmael trying out the spermaceti, Ma making cheese, the bell ringers in DoomsDay)
  • whole villages
  • understated sentiment
  • courageous underdogs
  • all varieties of generosity
  • attainable felicity ~ redeemable failures
  • also unfulfilled yearning
  • the necessity of bowing to the seasons
  • necessity
  • witty banter & snappy dialog
  • true love, unlooked for
  • help from unexpected quarters
  • finding another way around
  • people who do things ~ esp. women who do things (Maria Reiche and the Peruvian Nazca lines, Amelia Earhardt,  Catherine Velis in The Eight)
  • slyness, wryness (think Izak Dinesen)
  • journeys
  • outwitting evil
  • beautiful and expensive clothing (I know!  This is so not me, but I realized I do love the tactility and spectacle of clothing in wide variety of novels - think "Eve of St. Agnes," Georgette Heyer, and (blush) Little Lady Agency)
  • English characters set in England by those who are English (so not particularly possible for me)
  • fully realized exotic locations ~ maybe just fully realized locations - where the place itself, the land, becomes a character (like East Anglia in Dorothy Sayers Nine Tailors, but not like the prairie or the Southwest in Willa Cather whose craft I admire but whose overall effort I find yawny ~ too hollow, too earnest ~ sorry!)
  • quiet anguish but not silent anguish, in fact, I think I prefer grim jokes and gallows humor sort of anguish or if it must be silent the beautiful, persevering and courageous anguish of Carlo in Captain Corelli's Mandolin
  • redeemable endings

what Bores or Depresses me in Novels ~ though after the first item certainly any of these are possible in a great novel to some writer, just not often and not me ~
  • wooden writing
  • cutesy or idealized characters
  • trailer trash settings/ characters (maybe from overexposure to this subset)
  • idle suburbans paralyzed by their ease
  • idleness and paralysis in general
  • male bashing/ misogyny
  • specious mumbojumbo spirituality
  • supernatural duels and/or Disneyfied supernatural pyrotechnics
  • in-depth anatomical and/or gory descriptions (dripping body fluids - you get the picture)
  • misunderstood protagonists who are really far more enlightened than anyone around them and are in fact The Chosen One and don't they know it
  • everything always turning out just right ~ though probably satisfying done well
  • nothing ever ever turning out right ~ though probably funny in the right, light hands
  • self-congratulatory protagonists (I think I've said that already)
  • preaching ~ on any topic: enviro, religio, politico, interpersono, ~ with the possible exception of culinary or sartorial by them that know (which would not be me)
  • shallow insistence ~ or narrow
  • cowardice, rationalized
  • rape scenes, child molesting, torture, . . .
  • vampires and so forth ~ but I don't mind ghosts
  • long descriptions
  • lists longer than seven items (oops!)
  • grimly hopeless i.e. consciously-realistic-&-grown-up endings
Plus, I've always wanted to write a story with the scent of the Adam and Eve story.  Like this one, told in the pictures that begin . . .

 . . . and end this post.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When you look at this picture, what do you see?

What was eagerness last week, looking forward to this coming month of all-out writing, is turning into a species of anxiety.  Okay, panic.  So much so that I could write nothing of the prewriting that was supposed to start yesterday.  So much so that I can write nothing even here.  If this were paper - this white space my cursor blinks on - it would be rubbed rough and raw with  erasing - for the second day now.  Mostly sentence starts that are varieties of Should I even be trying to do this right now?

The short answer is yes. 

Every real obstacle I've raised as a But I can't really take the time in November . . . has been lifted almost as soon as I put it in words.

But Thanksgiving? . . . I came home two months ago (when the idea of NaNoWRiMing first hit) from Fritz's & my sudden weekend away, to Eldest peeling potatoes, Middlest making rolls, YoungSon mixing up pie crust.  The turkey I was thinking I was going to have to do something with the minute I got home (freezer glitch) was in the oven already smelling golden.  

But I'm on duty for youth activities that month? . . . Carpets being cleaned and activities cancelled one week, combining with the women's group another week, the boys will take charge of the only remaining week . . .

What's to hold me back?

Aren't I just tossing up shadow barriers?  Can't I put myself into that cockpit - so close but still on the other side of deep water? 

And am I the deep water? or the wings? or the shadow?

Fritz's mother, who had a stroke last month and a long hospitalization, is being released soon now from the care facililty.  Fritz's dad has 21 days of chemo scheduled.  Neither is any condition to take care of each other any more.  For the long term it looks like the best plan is for them to move west so we can help care for them.  For now Fritz's brother is staying with them for the month of chemo.  In the meantime, Fritz and I have been driving around our town, looking at rentals, talking to realtors, sending emails to builders. There would be enough in just this calling and arranging and checking out possibilities to overwhelm all the writing hours of the coming month.   But not necessarily.

And now, the food bank calls and asks if I will cover the desk the first Tuesday in November.  Which means 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.  Which is pretty much the entire writing day.

 Because I said yes, does that mean I'm trying to clip my own wings - give myself an excuse for failing before I begin?  I hesitated when they asked.  I said, "Oh, wait - is that November?"  I almost said no.  But -

Isn't this what I do and do and do?  One day won't matter, you can write in the evening that day - You can get up a little earlier and -

No.  Which is what I should have said. 


And the vehicle of flight looks further out of reach than it did yesterday.

Or . . . I'll keep my notebook open on the desk while at the food bank and collect, collect, record everything that's said and everything I see, and make it all fuel my flight.  And NO MORE incursions for the month of November.  NO MORE . . . unless - and that's the problem. 

I'm not standing here alone, comtemplating flight.  There is that smaller shadow which is the shadow of my son, standing in for all these loved others who will need things from me this month and every month, for now and forever.
When she was three and I was feverishly trying to finish a poem, explaining through not-quite gritted teeth that writing was like fishing, waiting for the right words to rise to the surface and when she spoke it chased all the other words away, my Middlest said, matter-of-factly and very sure -

Mid: "You are just suffering the kwonsekences of having children."

me: !!
And there's this younger self - still inside me - the one who wrote in her journal how she hoped above all things never to be one of those ridiculous mommy-writer-wannabes.  The ones who are always scribbling away at the never-accomplished family-joke manuscript.  She speaks much faster than I do now and for her everything is still very much black & white:  "What's it going to be?  Huh? huh?  Hand on the throttle?  Or shadows on the water?  C'mon, make up your mind."

But I don't believe any more in those false dichotomies, do I? 

So I write everyday.  So I live in my family everyday.  So I do what needs to be done.  And whatever I write will be more than what I would have written if I didn't make the committment. 

This is just a hill.  And I know how to pedal up hills.  You just keep moving one leg up and over and then the next.  And breathe . . .


. . .  and who's to say I won't zoom right past the 50,000 word goal long before the 21st of the month without even noticing . . .

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tour de Here: down by the river

I've been thinking about something the manager of the county food bank said one morning about a year ago.  She'd been listening to me and another volunteer who moved here recently from Seattle, then suddenly burst out,  "I don't understand why anyone would move here.  I mean I grew up here and all my family and my husband and all, so I had to - but why would anybody choose to live here?"

Why anyone would care to live here?

Why wouldn't they?  Not too far from Portland with its museums and library, not too far from Fritz's work.  Within range of the coast.  And all around: the lovely conic snow-topped volcano mountains.  Hills of Doug fir and hawthorne.  Green fields.  Wild foxglove and white daisies. Cows and horses in pastures.  Old barns.  Walkable hills, bikable roads. 

And the town itself?   A main boulevard with little shops and local businesses - ice cream, insurance, eye doctor, Paulson Printing, Richardson Furniture, Harrington Clothes, El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant.  A place with character.

This is a town built on its river.  And best appreciated from the waterside perspective.  Driving on the highway into the upper town, where most of its people live nowdays, does feel like arriving No-Place.  The highway pulls through increasingly densely built-up clumps of building and then there are some traffic lights.  Grocery store, Starbucks, Walmart.  A motel and a few fast food restaurants.  Two gas stations.  And then you're out in the fields and rocky outcroppings above the river again. It wasn't until a friend took us one day on his motorboat up to Portland and back that the town made sense to me with its marina full of ships' masts and a basalt-and-trim-whitewash courthouse queening it over all the lower part of town.

This town needs to be read from the river up.  But even before we realized this, we liked the there-ness here.  We liked the lingering echo of that small-town-America we thought had been buried everywhere by asphalt and strip-malls. Though I admit I was not prepared for some of the rural blight that afflicts most of our nation's small towns these days.

We are, I have been told, the meth capitol of the nation.  Certainly, we see a higher than usual proportion around town of the chemically disabled.  And their kids bear the brunt of their parents' experimentation, coming to school unfed and  unbathed, their baby teeth already marked with drug use in utero, not to mention what teachers call "behaviors." 

There are other downsides.  Now that picking strawberries has been outlawed as "child labor," there aren't strawberry farms around any more.  There aren't a lot of options anywhere for part-time work for teenagers, because those jobs are filled by adults, struggling to keep it together.  There isn't a lot of school support for college-bound students.

Until recently, kids would leave high school and start up the next day logging or working at the paper mill.  It meant kids could stay and raise their own families where they themselves had grown up.  Which is part of what has given this town that feeling of being A Place in Itself, and not just anonymous, interchangeable overnight parking for commuters.  A logging town, a mill town, a river town that has built itself up from the basalt of the cliffs it is built upon.  And has the swank to use neon on its public buildings.

But like the fishery on the coast, the forestry shrunk way back about ten years ago.  Last year the mill closed.  I used to complain when the mill made the air smell of sulfur and rotten cabbage, especially on cold days when the mist rolled in off the river. 

"The smell of money," longtimers told me.  And I've seen some of the social cost now that the mill is closed.  Not just the jobs lost and the families that have had to move away. No more abundance of donated paper in the schools.  No more turkeys donated to the food bank in time for Thanksgiving.  No more new monuments in town, no more plaques at the library where the list of donors starts out with the name of the paper mill.

I was thinking this, my bike leaned up against the stone parapet, overlooking the small riverside park where the city stages Nights on the River: Thursday evening concerts in the summertime.   We've gone, once or twice, biking into town and coasting downhill toward the river, waving to friends and the parents of our children's friends, finding a place to sit on the terraced grass-and-stone amphitheater. 

I remember a pianist with a rich, mellow singing voice.  High school kids all down on the front row together. Family groups and older couples watching from above. And young children off to the side laughing on the slide.  The concerts finish before our long northern summer evening has come to a close and we bike back home in the long light through the street market. 

This is what living in a community should look like.

And now, in autumn, watching the river while I spoon up soup from the thermos - mothers with strollers, children coaxing to stop and play on the slide and climbing structures, dogs and their people striding along the footpath just above the river, I'm asking myself, "Why haven't I done this more frequently?  Why haven't I been doing this always?" -

A glide down to the end of Strand Street reminds me - the road deadends at what used to be the paper mill's sludge ponds, clearer now than I've ever seen them in the decade I've lived here.  And every day this autumn the air has been fresh and clean, blowing in off the river.

I would love to see some new jobs come in - clean jobs that used the intelligence of hands, as well as college degrees, and not just high-tech or phone support, not just Walmart and McDonald's.  Hand-built bikes come to mind.  Michael Curry, i.e. masks and puppets for Broadway's Lion King and for the opening ceremonies of the most recent U.S. winter Olympics, has his design facility almost a stone's throw south of where I'm eating my lunch above the river.

Why anyone would move here.

All this town needs is to wake up and see itself.  It needs its people to slow down enough, to take the time to see what is already here.  The everyday monuments right along the road.

Memories abound of happy days together,
quiet moments, thoughtful times
Always us together,
Gentle, Noble, Beautiful, Loyal till the end
You will always be remembered as My
dearest Closest friend

In Memory of Max

But I don't think my town is the only place that needs a mindfulness turned on it to bring out its waiting virtues.  We have in this country too long thought we could buy a life from Bed, Bath & Beyond.  Tuscan style, French country design, we buy it, forgetting that what makes an Italian or French town so French, so Italian, is that the people there live in their towns. 

Someone wrote in a recent email -
Oh- and thanks for the travel log of your home town. It makes me wonder if I roamed the streets with a camera when I walk if it would give me something to get out of my head with so that I can enjoy the walking and seeing and not be bothered by the ever present, oppressive me-ness of my life.

Well, that's part of my goal in showing you what I see here when I open my eyes. 

When God created the horse, He said
to the magnificent creature: "I have
made thee as no other. All the treasures of
earth lie between thy eyes.  Thou shalt carry
my friend upon thy back.  Thy saddle shall be the
seat of prayers to Me.  And thou fly
without wings, and conquer without any
sword. Oh, horse."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stylish Cyclist?

Of course, I don't have a lot of competition.

Today I biked down into town to talk  I mean, swim - with an otherwise overscheduled friend.  Then meetings and such until midday.   

Packing my bag, I tell Fritz, "I love how biking pares down my life to what's important."  

He grunts.  Intelligently, of course.

Most days all I need to carry is water and camera.  And helmet (which may or may not provide enough protection in case of impact.  But in my neck of the woods a helmet signals to the drivers with whom I share the road that I am riding responsibly, with all due diligence, rather than a lawsuit waiting to happen.)

Wallet, if I'm stopping for groceries. 

Phone, if I remember. 

Tiny paperback gospel that I found this summer cleaning out my grandma's bedroom drawer. 

Spoon for lunch. 

Pens in two colors.

Eye-protection in case of bright sun or driving rain.

"Do you need three colors of lipstick?"  asks Fritz.

"Yes.  And two colors of eyeliner."  Because eyeliner is talismanic. 

And today, the blowdryer, but only because this is my day to help out in a friend's classroom.  Boots, sweater, black wool pants.  Compact planner for the meeting afterwards. Breakfast oatmeal (apples, raisins, cinnamon) that I'll eat when I have time. 

"You wear awfully good clothes to bike in," says one of the women in the dressing room after we swim. 

But I'm discovering this fall, that biking with your clothes on (as opposed to sweats and Lycra) is really no more bother. 

I bike as fast as I can in, so I'm glad for the sweat-gear then, but on the way home I take my time, stopping to take pictures, stopping to pick up coconut extract - for which I simply walk my bike in, down the aisle, through the checkout and then walk it out, stopping to check in on the old ladies (who checked in on me back in the day when I was in the throes of childrearing - it all cycles around eventually). 

Then I bike up the hill home (which is a HILL) without really breaking a sweat. Wha? Maybe, after two months of bike-commuting I'm just that much stronger. Maybe it's just that the weather is so much more cool. 

I am discovering,  biking with at least a groggily awakening sense of cycle chic,  that drivers around my town are even kinder than before.  Is this because I don't look like a professional biker? Because I don't look like a lost Lance Armstrong?  Because I just look like . . . well, who I am?  Ordinary and recognizably human? 

In any case, more than ever before, they wave me through intersections, they smile, they swing out wide around me.  I'm thinking there's more to clothes than to cover our nekkidness after all.

"I thought you said you were paring down?"

But library books, of course, are a necessity.  Particularly when it is your once-a-quarter reading month.

(And that's another thing I've learned this year - my list of best books is just as long or longer for this year when I'm reading wildly only every third month.  And I'm writing more - which I cut the reading out to make room for.)

Today I made another discovery.  I may also be the town's most stylish eccentric.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm taking a picture of this tree."

"It's the town's biggest tree."

"I know.  That's why I'm taking a picture of it."

"I have a question for you."

"What's your question?"

"Are you going all around town taking pictures?"


"Cause one of my friends said he saw you taking pictures of the bike shop.  How come?"

After two or three times through, I have got this script down pat.

But I say, eccentricity is a small price to pay to know the biggest tree in town.

After all, do you know yours?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

why we will NOT be Slobbering over Pictures of Food around here


Back in September I started wondering whether, why, and how I would continue if I did continue for another year.

Mostly, I wanted to have more fun with the writing.  (More fun for the writer, more fun for the reader?) 

And I wanted to pay attention this time around - not to death and dying which seems to have drawn down the gaze of the Grim Reaper and his farmhands on the people I love - but to things I really do want to see more of - bikes, poetry, poetry in motion, sidewalk cafes, a thriving small town culture, wholesome farm food, more people outside enjoying this world, this time, each other.

Also,  I wanted a goal to write to.  Not that I keep goals.  Some goals are just for the pleasure of flouting, ignoring, reacting against.  But having a goal keeps me from feeling I am just circling, circling, before suddenly sliding down the drain with a glug.

So in September I started gathering ideas - material - sketches - what could this blog become? Starting first with what would NOT be. 

And first on the list, of course, was NOT A FOOD BLOG.  Because food blogs are so popular and ubiquitous, which is all that is required to make anything ridiculous. 

Not that I dislike any of you who do food posts (I can't seem to completely avoid them myself) nor even entire food blogs (yes, even that I admit to).  I do rejoice that Orangette (I am confessing here to a blogly guilty pleasure*) has at last opened her restaurant.  And I find it only mildly repulsive that she and her soadorablehusband (who actually met and fell in love  over her blog) like to read cookbooks out loud to each other before bed at the start of each season. 

So charming.

But, ridiculous? 


Anyway.  To do a food-bloggy spoof I needed to have some pictures of food.  Back at the first of September I borrowed my mom's digital camera and took pictures while we made cookies for a friend's daughter's wedding reception. (This is how we who do not frequent caterers plan to pull something like this off ourselves decades or so from now.)

Which photography was surprisingly fun.  Food is (surprise) appealing!  Which means easily photographable.  Which led into (nor am I entirely out of it yet) an interest, preoccupation, fascination, fixation, obsession, yea, even possession with photographing food.

I confess, I do, I do like looking at food on film, er - or whatever it is now that we are digitized. 

Everything is so pretty - fruits in their roundedness, the colors of vegetables.  It is, in fact, difficult to take an ugly picture of food. 

Though not impossible (I give you Exhibits A, B, and C: "Martian Mice"):

You just have to know your demographic.  I am cooking (when I cook) for a contingent that likes being grossed out. That spinach leaves dipped in pancake batter look like flattened rats with green tails is all to the good.

But foodie blogs and foodie movies and foodiness in general is all about lusciousness.  Not just delicious tastes.  In fact, in the print, web, and film media, it's not actually about taste - not in that moment. 

It's about images of taste, the idea,  nay, fantasy of ecstatically luscious deliciousness.

Gorgeous colors and contrasts.  Lots of close-ups and soft focus. 

Images/ imaginings of gratified desire (which, says Blake, is all we are really looking for in one another

What is it men in women do require?
The lineaments of gratified Desire.
What is it women do in men require?
The lineaments of gratified Desire )
Certainly not about actual taste, let alone biological nourishment.

Pecan Wedding Hearts and Lime-Glazed Coconut Snowballs ****

Are we still talking about food here? 

Eldest says she can tell I've stopped thinking when I start quoting.  Here's C.S. Lewis in an essay called "Sexual Morality" :
There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.
But he's not talking in his essay against food-picture gluttony, nor castigating slick spreads of succulent figs and fresh cheeses.  He's using what he thinks is an imaginary orgiastic foodism as a preposterous metaphor for the other kind of orgy.  Because surely no one really would - ? would they?

But a turn of the century and we do, we do. There is a reason those mags in the checkout line are all either food - chocolate cake, fresh berry tartlets, half a luscious peach exuding its delicate juice - or lovely young women (sometimes lovely young men).  All those covers offering up their desirable comestibles.

So should we be ashamed?  Or is Lewis just being English?**

* Okay, yes, pretty much all blogliness is guilty pleasure.

** A race noted for their difficulties handling food in the raw, as it were.***

***Though English food itself is not impossible - at the ubiquitous Tesco everywhere in London I found apples, carrots, cheeses in a diversity and quality unmatched by similar grocery stores here stateside.  I think the fault lies more with the suggestive qualities of English advertising, i.e. two weeks staring at digestive aid ads morning and night on the Tube hypnotized my body into completely uncharacteristic malfunction . . . there is a deep sense of hostility between food and English culture.  Why is that?

****I usually only make cookies in December for Christmas.  This September baking was an act of love (you're welcome :D): recipes, if you insist.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

the Rider'sRuralRestaurantReview: Burgerville

what it is:  Fresh.  Local. Sustainable.  As in, grass-fed hamburger, free-range turkey burger, wild Alaskan catch halibut and sole, cage-free eggs, organic lettuce, certified sustainable apples, fresh local berry shakes.  This is fast food for mossy-toed Oregonians.  (And for some lucky Washingtonians)  $1.49 for a cheeseburger -  $9.69 for a 4-piece fish and chips.  Plenty of virtuously environmental calories and pretty universally yum.

What this is not is a place to take foodie-snobs who don't realize that the hamburger has a worthy culinary tradition of is own.  Nor a place to bring  not-particularly-crunchy-granola  relatives who, rather than basking in all the sustainability and eco-consciousness, find it all somewhat irritating, especially if their (apparently overpriced) hamburger arrives undercooked.

For the rest of us, though, this is the fast-food emporium of choice around here.

tasty choices: fresh raspberry shakes, fresh blackberry shakes, fresh strawberry shakes, fresh berry lemonade, onion rings,  fish & chips, Tillamook cheeseburger, wild smoked salmon & hazlenut salad, spicy Anasazi bean burger (with chipotle mayonnaise and pepper jack cheese).  And when in season . . . SWEET POTATO FRIES. 

great for:  Quick-date alternative to wandering around the grocery store aisles together.

After-play-performance hot chocolate swirled high with whipped cream.

Post-Christmas-concert eggnog shakes (no, peppermint) (eggnog) (peppermint) (eggnog . . .

Ideal as a middle-of-the-day biking destination with anyone.  But especially 9-year-old sons. 

bikability: which bring us to.  At the first of September when these pictures were taken, Burgerville still had a no bike-thru policy and no bike rack.  So we enjoyed eating outside with our bikes for company.

But thanks to cafemama (aka family biking evangelist) and the fuss and bother she mildly made over a Portland Burgerville bikethrough, this Local.Sustainable. chain has since changed its policy and put up a sign welcoming bikers to come on through. 

Also now, a bike rack.  Not the best designed bike rack, but it is heavy-duty and allows for secure locking up. (Thank you, Burgerville.)

ambiance: The temperatures inside are kept pleasant, the tables clean.  I like the bright colors and the 1950s chrome.  So do the guys in overalls.

Outside is not bad.  Not bubblingly ideal, but not bad.  There are a couple of umbrella'd tables out in the sun (when there's sun) and some smaller tables up under the eaves (when there's rain).  Someone has planted a low hedge to soften the you-are-sitting-in-the-parking-lot feel.

other fun: a working jukebox. 

Plus, I always like to try their seasonal menu.  Last spring there was a memorable asparagus side and through the summer some tasty basil offerings.  Now is the season for Pumpkin Shakes, Apple & Peppered Bacon Turkey Club: "Sliced turkey, peppered bacon and local Jonagold apples topped with creamy Rogue River blue cheese spread on a toasted fresh baked roll," Haute Dog with Apple Slaw: "A quarter pound Country Natural Beef dog topped with sweet and tangy Jonagold apple slaw and stone ground mustard all on a fresh toasted bun,"  and savory Apple Bacon Scone: "Fuji apples, chunks of bacon and shredded Tillamook® cheddar cheese." 

(Hey, YoungSon, ready for a bike ride?)

change I'd like to see: Actually, they changed it, by allowing bikes through.  And I'm not going to quibble over bike rack design.   Just applaud what's been done and pedal on over after one of these next  Saturday hill rides - once I've burned off enough calories to indulge in some of that universal yum.

Monday, October 19, 2009

and now a word from the refrigerator . . .

Sometimes you just have to let the appliances have their say. 

My fridge, for example, has a particularly religio-philosophical bent.  Striving to  live uprightly - which you would think comes naturally to a fridge - and struggling to find contentment in its out of the way corner. Obviously, an appliance with a sense of moral activism, frustrated I fear, by being much cumbered about with a family's nutritional needs. 

Though the fridge feels passionately about that as well.

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