Thursday, August 06, 2009

Down at the mouth

Two weekends ago, I sat down at my computer at 11 am and didn't leave it (except for quick snacks and bathroom breaks) until 5:30 pm.*

And when I left the computer at 5:30 I went for a walk -- no, correct that -- I was so giddy about my wonderful day of writing that I went for a float.

Not only did I produce probably a whole chapter's worth of new material, but I had confidence in what I had already written--I saw the shape of the book, even the parts that I have only vaguely sketched out, and I felt all I needed was the time (say, starting on September 8th when the kids go back to school) in which to fill it all in.

Where did that confidence go? Why am I presently in such a muddle? It's a beautiful day, the critters are behaving themselves, there is no reason to be down at the mouth. But my confidence in my ability to write this book is simply gone. All I've been able to accomplish since that very productive day is some very minor editing.

The only vaguely positive thing I can say is that at least in reading what I've written, I wasn't tempted to delete it--I thought it was pretty good. But right now it feels like a different person wrote it.
*Brian took the critters away overnight to do some choo choo stuff so I had no interruptions or distractions of a human nature.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Tantre farm share, week 11 (plus 2 interlopers)

Vaguely left to right and bottom to top: basil, Roos Roast (interloper #1), eggs from Amos Coblentz (interloper #2), peppermint, 1 pt mixed cherry tomatoes, garlic, 2 qts potatoes, 1 qt mixed green and wax beans, Italian kale, melon, 4 eggplants, 2 heads of lettuce, broccoli, 4 cucumbers, onions, beets, lots of summer squash, carrots. Much easier to see in the pic with notes here.

This week's menu plan:
  • Thanks to Noelle and her mention of a wonderful sounding Vietnamese cook book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen (which I promptly requested from the library), tonight we'll have rice topped with fried tofu, Vietnamese deep fried eggplant, nuoc cham, and cucumber-red onion-cilantro salad.
  • On the night I have my yoga class we'll have a salad night of totally mashed together cuisines (Alsatian, vaguely Greek, sort of Japanese and French-ish) accompanied by wine, crusty bread and a hunk of deliciously stinky Muenster d'Alsace I was gifted: a lettuce, carrot and cucumber salad with tarragon vinaigrette, the rest of the eggplant, tomatoes and mint in a half batch of my favorite eggplant salad and green and wax beans with walnut miso dressing. I know none of these things go together and I don't really care!
  • I'm going to try to get some melon into the small people by pureeing it and making it into popsicles (probably with some lime juice and agave nectar or honey). The rest will get eaten at breakfast with granola and plain yogurt.
  • Bi bim bop with copious quantities of vegetables will join the beef, egg, rice and kim chi: broccoli, green beans, carrots, cucumber, summer squash.
  • Grilled pizza with caramelized onions, roasted beets, pine nuts, olives and goat cheese and accompanied by super thin sliced raw summer squash with shaved Parmesan, salt, olive oil, and basil.
  • Brian is planning on smoking some brisket this weekend, so I'll use the potatoes to make some sort of potato salad to go with it. Maybe the kale will get the southern treatment and be braised and doused in hot pepper vinegar. And some cucumbers will get made into quick tarragon pickles.
  • Some garlic and basil will go into pesto (to be frozen in ice cube trays for a taste of summer in the depths of winter).

Internal voices

I can't remember the last book I read that relied so heavily on internal voices. John Pipkin has written a remarkable book, Woodsburner, that not only takes on a fascinating little blip of history (the day that Thoreau accidentally set fire to the Concord woods) but that does it through the thoughts of a kaleidoscopic collection of characters. There is very little dialog in the book--it mostly occurs only as the characters remember the past.

All the characters are suffering from some level of crisis whether it be spiritual, ethical, or emotional. Eliot is the excruciatingly bad want-to-be playwright--a man who desperately wants to be perceived as artistic and literary, but who can't appreciate what he has and does well. There is Caleb, a self-righteous guilt-riddled, hellfire-spouting and opium-addicted preacher. Oddmund is probably the most sympathetic character, a humble almost to the point of invisibility immigrant who silently loves his employer's wife. Emma, the rotund recipient of Oddmund's adoration, is a barely literate lover of books. There are a pair of strange old women, Anezka and Zalenka, who bring a touch of magical realism to the proceedings. And of course there is the star of the show: Thoreau.

Because you are inside the character's heads, there isn't much back story--there's no external narrator who brings you up to speed. This results in some really lovely reveals: the characters' pasts come out unexpectedly. There are delicate inferences which help move the book along, crucial for the pacing since without it, the internal nature of the book might get claustrophobic and leaden.

The fire serves as the catalyst and the crisis for each of the characters. It motivates their thoughts and propels their actions. The ending is beautiful and liberating: all the characters have had their trial-by-fire and all come out the other side transformed, liberated, and changed though in very different ways.

I thought the author did particularly well with Thoreau's voice. We follow Thoreau's mind through complicated shifts from desperate panic trying to stop the fire, to justifications and excuses that he comes up with to shift the blame for the fire off of himself, to the exhilarating pleasure that he takes in the force and intensity of nature. It has been a long time since I read Walden but I remember a bit of these shifts--methodical accounting, lyrical enjoyment of nature and underneath, some justification sneaking in ("I didn't ask my neighbors to feed me a nice dinner so I don't really have to incorporate it into my narrative of simplicity and living off the land"). Pipkin doesn't come right out and say "the fire led to Walden" but he makes his opinion about the cause and effect nature of the actions clear and well reasoned. It seems almost duplicitous that people teach Walden without this piece of authorial context.

About half-way through, I did think I'd need to start a drinking game where I did a shot every time Oddmund sucked on his tiny dead tooth. That repetition started to drive me a bit batty and I think about half of the instances where the phrase was used could be cut. But that's a tiny quibble with a really remarkable book.