Writer Wednesday: Life Awry

karmaSometimes, I wish I was the driver of the Karma truck. But, I suppose, being a writer is better. Still have the problem of sitting too long, but we get to exact revenge too. The best kind of revenge – in print.

Many years ago, sharing some big life altering event with a friend, she responded, “I guess these things happen to you because you’re a writer.”

Of course, life awry, I didn’t think this is the best response a friend could give – but, then again, maybe it was. Because it’s true.

What writer hasn’t written the demise of someone who’s wronged them? karma2

We writers have a way of writing life into our fiction. We work out our demons, our personal challenges, and by putting it out there in our fiction (or even in our creative nonfiction), we do one better than reap revenge, we are relieved and we are relatable to others who have gone through similar situations or similar emotional upheavals.

Recently, my life became vexed by a certain set of people and circumstances which caused great stress and loss (how’s that for vague?); and true to form, one of my writer friends said, “sounds like a great book!”

It damn well does.

karma4But, first, I had to roll my eyes and throw back my head. I just wanted some sympathy, some empathy. But she gave me more than that – she gave me purpose, building from ashes, and a way for me to transmit sympathy to another by relating to a scenario which many of us have experienced.  (I know, still too vague.)

However, the tragedy still fresh and the skin still tender, I’ve written on outline and will start on the book when the callous scars over and the sensitivity has dulled.

Food Crimes: Why Americans hate my scones…

To be clear – yes, I’m American (sometimes I feel I need to apologize for that these days) – but my tastes run to the less sweet side of what we consider sweets.

Scones… for instance.

The things you get at Starbucks are not really “scones” per se. breakfast_sweets_decoden_by_thepocketkawaii-d6z14ooThey are more like pastries, tarts, danishes, if you will.

True Scones are not made with a cup of sugar and jam already added.

The once Scottish, British usurped, Americanized scone became desirable as a more plain version of what we see in America. Although they’ve always been a touch sweeter and less flakier than biscuits, this pastry was more the base for slathering things on and siding  with coffee or tea. The topping to the taste of the person, balanced with drink (sweetened or not) of choice.

The British scone, lightly brushed with egg, usually contains very little sugar, sconesoccasionally a few currents or raisins. But the point of a good scone is to have a choice of cream, lemon curd, or jam, not a mystery filled fun fest for which consumers risk diabetes.

I discovered the lovely less sweet version in England. As I rarely eat pastries for breakfast, I found this a nice, healthier alternative to what is usually served at the continental breakfast.

I developed a love of scones when I did time at Cal State Chico in pursuit of my MFA. There was a little cafe, no longer there, which served warm scones made with fresh fruit. My jaunt over in the morning became a regular stop as I picked up a black tea and fresh out of the oven mango or apricot scone. (Even these were more biscuit-like, but still less sweet).

I won’t bother you with my own experiments with scones. I’ve won some, I’ve lost some. But I will tell you the ones I made this past weekend, part traditional, part Americanized, were the bomb!

Pistachio fig scones:42803096_2309289422433704_8343625948515532800_o

Less flour,

no sugar,

a brush of honey,

a teaspoon of coconut oil.

Friday Feature: Chris Pellizzari and the Unattainable

granada 3.pngI started writing when I was a freshman in high school. My very first writing efforts were poems filled with rhymes and cliches. During my sophomore year of high school I took a creative writing class, the only creative writing class I’ve ever taken. I hated it. I especially hated the teacher. She liked this weird, semi-beatnik/hippie style of writing, poems filled with “crazy” images like “throwing batteries at dead cows” and things that tasted like “copper pastries”. She liked short stories with bizarre characters and situations, things that were weird for the sake of being weird; weird that did not move the story in any direction.

The class was a nightmare and I rebelled against it and her standards of “good writing”. I received a C+ and vowed I would never take another creative writing class again, a promise I kept. But I kept writing in my spare time and was finally rewarded my senior year of high school when a short story I wrote about my grandfather, the one person who encouraged me through my early years as a writer, was a winner in a national writing contest. I won $500, had my story published in a magazine, and was presented a plaque by former president George H W Bush at a ceremony in Chicago. My high school newspaper published an article about it and I found a level of redemption concerning the creative writing teacher from hell.granada 2

Throughout college and journalism grad school, I continued to write fiction but never tried to publish any of it. The only things I published during this time were articles for small local papers like the Elmhurst Press and Villa Park Argus as a stringer, covering board meetings and stories about preserving mansions from the 19th century and such. I also covered high school sports for the Daily Herald. I didn’t start submitting short stories to literary magazines until I was thirty, and even then, I only submitted a handful. It wasn’t until I was 35 that my first short story was accepted for publication. The story was titled “Granada”, a story about Spain that was published in The Awakenings Review. I’ve been writing and submitting short stories and novellas like crazy ever since.

granada coverI studied abroad in Granada, Spain during my junior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2003. I fell in love with the country and with a young woman in my study abroad group. Today, Spain represents the unattainable in my life. I have since developed an anxiety/claustrophobic disorder and refuse to fly. I can no longer physically travel to Spain. I can only travel to Spain through my mind, through memories. The young woman I fell in love with in Granada was also the first woman I ever truly loved. It was an experience of first-time, authentic love, love for a person and place. I know I can never recapture that kind of intensity in regards to love. One can only feel that kind of love when young. Everything after that is fine, marriage and such, but it will never be as pure or intense. And that’s what Last Night in Granada is about. It is a story about the unattainable.

Chris Pellizzari, author of Last Night In Granada 

_________________________________________________________________

Thanks, Chris. Best of Luck to you!

noreen

Writer Wednesday: Ode to Professor King

king1

 

 

“Most of what writers write about their work is ill-informed bullshit.”

 

 

 

You gotta love Stephen King, if not for his fiction, for the way he sets things straight and to the point.

This is the line that begins King’s rewrite for his novel The Gunslingerking4, originally released in 1970, rewritten and rereleased in 2003.

He rewrote and released the novel – only Stephen King could do that.

In any case, I found his forward notably valuable. His words are not only ever for his readers, but for writers as well.

His approach to revision he says, “hasn’t changed much,” and it is “to plunge in and go as fast as I can, keeping the edge of my narrative blade as sharp as possible through constant use…. Looking back,” he says, “prompts too many questions.”

I agree. I’m one to power through and not consider edits until I’m completely finished. This way I don’t get hung up wondering if this is right, if that flows, should I change this word here? Nothing is finished until the end is on paper, then comes the time for change; however, King puts his work away for a time. I, personally, give it an edit or two or ten. I give it to my friends, I reread, fawn over every word, sentence and…. it still has errors I don’t catch for six months or a year.

king2For the original writing of The Gunslinger, King has this to say about his younger self, “too many writing seminars, and had grown used to the idea those writing seminars promulgate: that one is writing for other people rather than oneself; that language is more important than story; that ambiguity is preferred over clarity and simplicity…”

I was once in one of those very seminars when someone brought up Stephen King, “don’t worry,” the professor announced, “he’ll never be remembered in the annals of history.”

The same professor, the same class, a few sessions later, eyed me after my story had been workshopped and discussed. “I’m still trying to figure out the reason for writing the story.”

“I think,” braved another student, “she wrote it for pleasure, for publication.”

The Professor’s eyes narrowed, her lips thinned, and she sat forward in the old wooden desk, “we don’t do that in this class,” she hissed.

My nervous smile slipped away as silence rose from our feet up. No one moved. No one breathed. One girl had already run out crying, perhaps they were waiting for me. I didn’t want to cry, nor run out, but I’d felt everything I’d done up til that point undeniably wrong.

I learned to write, over the next few year, the way of the MFA, ambiguous, language king5heavy, story slipping under the covers of darkness of words and rhythm.

Stephen King, I thought then and now, by sheer volume and honesty of craft, will not be forgotten. And I’m not sure he cares one way or the other.

I think we can all learn a thing or two from Professor King.

Food Crimes: Lavender Misdemeanors

lavender1

I like lavender, I do. In calming oil, in the vapor misting at the yoga studio, and in my shower gel. I have a few bushes in my yard, love to pick a sprig or two for the patio and to bring in the house to scent the air.  When I travel, I have a roll-on oil that I put on my scarf. Not only does it calm me, but it masks any odors left behind by previous travelers or brought on by the snugly conditions on airplanes.

lavender4I am not ignorant to the lavender cookies, ice cream, drinks and everything else floating around shopping aisles at the local markets and calling to me from the bakery store windows.

When I went to San Juan Island, I discovered there’s a lavender farm with, I think they said, 40 different varieties of lavender from all over the world. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Lavender has a light floral scent, not at all over powering, and it’s lovely to look at. It’s lavender3musk reminiscent of the sweet earth on which we thrive.

But, I have recently discovered, I’m not a fan of lavender infused food. While they are beautiful creations, the lavender macaroon I tasted at a nearby bakery was barely flavorful, made with a synthetic extract barely hinting of the purple flowering plant. The made-for-me lavender cupcake was moist and not overly sweetened – both of which I appreciate – and I ate it, liked it. But, ultimately, decided, what’s the big deal?

Overall, I’m not a fan of cross-over and maybe that’s what’s tripping me up. I have no lavender6desire to scrub my pores with chocolate scented exfoliate nor spread a mocha cappuccino mask over my hands, I don’t want a minty fresh eye gel or an apricot foot cream.

I desire separation. I don’t want to be tempted to lick a pineapple-coconut shower spray, and I’d prefer my cake not to reek of argon and tea tree oil.

Enjoy your fluff and fold mango laundry detergent and your vanilla frap leave-in conditioner; night-shade dryer sheets and white chocolate cookies are good enough for me.

lavender7

Food Crimes: How PSL Saved My Life.

We’ve all had those days. For one reason or another, we didn’t get enough sleep, on the verge of exhaustion, or worse – near ill, but we need to make it through, we need to show up and be functional.

Enter: Caffeine. psl3

Every day I read a different article about caffeine, it’s good, it’s bad, tea has more, coffee has more, they have antioxidant effects, people live longer, live shorter. No one study has definitively come up with one right answer.

But here’s the truth:  Too much caffeine can cause anxiety.

psl2See me two months ago for my first set of anxiety attacks. There’s a lot going on right now, but I’m usually the queen of calm. But too much caffeine and not enough physical exercise, and the onset of anxiety happens.  I know this because my sisters have anxiety and the first thing their doctors said is “cut out the caffeine and chocolate.”

Well, before I let a doctor tell me to cut out chocolate, I decided to ease back. During the summer, I’d been drinking three or four cups of tea by 2pm and sometimes an added cup of coffee by 4pm.  I know some people drink coffee all day long and are not affected; it’s what you’re used to and what your body can take. Mine decided too much was too much. I cut back to one cup a day. It wasn’t too hard. I actually still had two cups made from one tea bag; my way of cheating.

Then, school begins. Not related to caffeine, or coffee, psl1tea, chocolate or any guilty pleasures, but to a new schedule and my body trying to get used to it – I spent one night tossing and turning and getting up and laying down, breathing deep and keeping my eyes closed, but to no avail – I ended up falling asleep around 4 in order to wake up at 6am. I felt zombie-like.

I made it through my first class, but had another class to teach after an hour of office meetings.

Enter: PSL.

pslStarbucks sent me an email (yes, me personally, about their early release of Pumpkin Spice Latte), but I ignored it, telling myself I was off the hard stuff. I didn’t need any espresso and sugar to get me through the day, just good healthy food and clean, clear water. Besides, it’s far too early to imbibe on pumpkin anything.

But, see, it was one of those damn dirty lies we tell ourselves. When our next sleep is off on some unknown horizon, we must continue to function. My car turned, almost automatically into the Starbucks parking lot, and I found myself in a mist, floating to the barista as they handed me an iced-grande-half-caff-PSL-no whip.

The mixture of caffeine and sugar, the delishness of it all, kept me awake so I could earn a living, not fall on my face in front of 30 some students, and hold worthwhile conversations (I hope), with my colleagues.

Good, bad, friend or fiend, crime or not, caffeine isn’t going anywhere. Thank goodness.

psl4

Food Crimes: Always Ask a Local

What I learned traveling is to not settle for the food that is offered to most tourists, but to ask a local. By doing this, I’ve eaten at the most wonderful places.

Recently I visited the San Juan Islands; while browsing the shops, I began to grow hungry, so I asked the clerks for a recommendation. They all said Mike’s.

20180819_192147I wandered the streets on the hot day, pleasantly surprised when I arrived at Mike’s Cafe and Wine Bar and read: The Islands Tallest Waterfall.

I had images of a cool mist wafting over with the breeze. I entered and asked for the patio. Even more surprised when the waterfall was a mere four feet from the ground.  An island joke – it is actually the tallest!

Being too late for lunch and too early for dinner, I had the place nearly to myself.

20180818_161700Famished, I ordered the Tomate plate. A vegan version of caprese salad. I began with that. Farm-fresh, warm tomatoes: Mmmmm…. delish.

Another secret to eating a good meal is to ask the server for suggestions: 20180818_163559(0)

The Pulled Jackfruit Tacos, she told me, were only on the menu for a limited time, a summer special edition. I was not disappointed.

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For desert: a vegan berry cheesecake.

This is the best meal I’ve had in quite a long time!

On the way

I like to ask locals their ideas for activities as well. The next day, a woman recommended I visit the small town of La Conner.

I ended up at the WaterFront for fish and chips where the server introduced their special: Guinness battered Fish. I opened the menu and asked her what she liked best. She pointed to another plate of fish and chips. This, she said, we make fresh here.

Their special came in a bag and was deep fried. It might have been good, but when I travel I want to get a flavor for the area as well as a fresher, healthier choice.

In Florence, a side street tattoo artist led me to a grande deserto: authentic tiramisu.

Lost and found at a skate park in Paris, teenage skaters pointed out a corner cafe serving Galletes.

I’ve gotten lost in every major city of every country I’ve ever traveled too. This is where you meet the locals, eat the best food, and have the most authentic experiences. Get off the beaten path and explore! Ask the locals for food and other ideas.

Wanderlust