I’m still deep into the novel-in-stories/linked stories mode. I’ve just finished Karen Bender’s, Refund. Which I listened to and loved so much that I bought the actual book as well. Calling the stories linked is a stretch, but they are all about money–lots of it, not enough of it, what we’ll do for it. The title story is a beautiful and complicated 9/11 story that surprises and is perfectly tuned. Bender is funny and wry, appropriately sad, because, well…life. Consider this line, “Her husband could not find anything to put on his lunch sandwich and, with a sort of martyred defiance, slapped margarine on bread. ‘What a man does to save money,’ he murmured.”
I know I’ve told you about my love of the self-help section. I came across a little phrase that is helping me in my life right now, “Care less to Love more.” It’s really helpful when you’re dealing with people you love who’re making you feel a little crazy. Unhook! Care less/Love more. The phrase came from Martha Beck, who I know zero about, so I picked up her book, The Joy Diet, 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. Some of you are rolling your eyes, some of you are sending me a virtual high five! I accept it all. So far, I’m into the book. I mean, I’m only on step four, but who can argue with these directions:
- do nothing
- tell the truth
- explore your desires
- be creative
Six more to go so I’ll let you know. Honestly, just taking the time to be with myself, to think about the last third of my life and what I want it to look like, that’s a huge gift. And, yes, kinda woo-woo nerdy.
I’m curious, when you’re starting a new project do you ever use constraints, rules you make up for yourself, to create a little puzzle, a little problem that gets you going? I was thinking about this because a friend is writing stories and considering the idea that each story will be about a medical professional and include an element of the supernatural. Then a story contest popped into my inbox and these were the requirements: “Write a story that starts with an ending. Give your character an unusual watch, use the words ‘striped’ and ‘innovative’ somewhere, and end your story with fruit.” Huh. Not really my thing, but it certainly starts you trying to figure out how to ‘solve,’ right?
I’m working on a story now that uses a ‘happy life’ list item as a title for each section. (Where did I get that idea?) My rule is that each title only obliquely relates to the events, the desires, etc… in each section. So far so good. I may lose the titles once the story is completed, but for now, they’re helping to guide me. Which is the point, right?
The French group of Oulipo writers explored constrained writing in the 60’s by creating rigid rules and formulas. Consider ‘N+7’ in which the writer takes a poem already in existence and substitutes each noun with a noun that appears 7 nouns away. Or, write a poem omitting one vowel. No e’s! Yes, these are a bit drastic for a story, but you get the idea. Freedom can be found in rigidity. Consider this essay and the release we may feel by writing under a condition. What will you try? Let me know.
It is finally spring here in Portland. And what am I doing? Firing up the BBQ? Heading to the farmers market for tender spring turnips, asparagus? Nope. I’ve become obsessed with learning to make delicious biscuits. It’s all the fault of this story about a chef/Zen teacher who could never get his biscuits to mimic the Pillsbury Doughboy biscuits he loved as a child. I’ve read the story a couple times, and each time my mouth starts watering. Here is the best recipe I found, including great directions for folding the dough to create flaky layers. I substituted half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour to great success. If those aren’t your jam, check this out.
If you want to split the biscuit open, slather with butter, layer on some roasted asparagus spears and a fried egg, a bit of shaved parmesan…that sounds pretty perfect. It is spring after all, and this tasty dish won’t require waiting an hour in a brunch line.