Wednesday, March 21, 2012

At a loss for words

Funny thing about writing: it’s involuntary

My word: this is not a rewrite of an existing post, but an exercise in facing the page from the start (and restart) . . . scratching and clawing memory back to the day my hard drive crashed and left my words dangling in cyberspace: 
There are times (just like this) that I’d rather be (outside pulling weeds, in the shower scrubbing grout, in the kitchen scouring pans, in the car driving) anywhere but here, doing anything but this –staring back at a blinking curser on a blank page.  Writing. Or trying to. 
Writing. Or thinking about writing is not always (or ever) a pleasant diversion for me. I am a master procrastinator.  A fidgeter.  A coffee-drinker. A refrigerator raider. A long shower-taker.  A dawdler.  I will take any possible detour from a keyboard, any excuse at all to delay sitting down to write.  Yet here I am, lining up words on a page, writing: this.
As if this were important. As if this were the only “real” writing assignment I have waiting on my desk this afternoon. 
Is writing a gift? Or a curse?
I write for a living.  Trouble is, I don’t live to write.  And therein lies the difference between a mechanic and an artist.  I am a mechanic.  I construct, edit and fix things for others.   That is - until I turn to my own “assignment." To fill the page of a blog,   I am painfully free.  To write as I choose.  If I choose. To write 'til done.  
The irony here is that I am struggling to the finish line, even with this little bit, as I rewrite what was written so freely and taken so abruptly when my monitor went to grey screen, signal of a fatal hard drive crash. 
Now: starting from the top of a blank page, writing this for what it’s worth, I boot up my own memory to recover the words I lost in the hard drive. (Damn my Mac.  Damn Apple, Damn Steve in his grave, Damn it all.) Finding the words that seemed to flow so easily yesterday is like picking through the wreckage of a tornado. Oh, here’s the picture frame, but where’s the picture?
The hard drive has been replaced, but yesterday is gone.  And so is my data, leaving only a thin residue of words that were once written down on the page. Words that are written down are concrete.  Tangible. Definitive. Workable. Evidence of what you were thinking, feeling, trying to convey.  Words written down can be edited. And improved. 
Words in limbo, without the page are but fleeting thoughts.  A writer without a page is just a mental doodler. A dreamer.  An  im-post-er. 
Losing a page out of memory is a terrible thing.  Now where was I?
On with the story. . .
The lines come and go. Fade in and out of mind. In short bursts of energy or long strings to untangle.  Slowly the gist comes back, but the order is gone.  Every minute is a different construction, a differing puzzle to piece together. I can only imagine in utter terror what living with Alzheimer’s must be.  Losing words, losing people and places,  losing peace of mind.  Ah, but I digress. The mind wanders. . .
Back to writing: this. Word-by-word, line-by-line.  As Our Lady of Writer’s Block, Anne 
Lamott would say… “bird-by-bird,” I lock and load paragraphs, brick-by-brick, 
building tight little walls on the page.  
Will they hold, will they be enough to sustain interest in this. This peculiar metalog.  And 
have I just coined the term?  No. Apparently not. According to my quick google-search a 
metalog is a next generation reasoning system, replacing syslogd and  klogd so that 
logged messages (such as this) can be sent according to their facility, urgency, program
name and/or Perl-compatible expressions?  Whatever that means. 
 Curioser and curioser 
Now falling through the rabbit hole, with some pseudo literary illusion to Lewis Carroll, I am intent on writing to the bottom of this virtual page, wherever that may be.  Slogging through the blog. . .  I  suddenly note with more consternation that my cursor  - oh no - has just frozen on the page, and that I am thwarted once again.  

My mouse is blinking but not actually computing.  Drats!  My mouse has died. Really.   In spite of its most elegant Apple wireless design, in spite of its new batteries, in spite of my desire to smash it against the wall, my not-so-trustworthy mouse has taken its leave and with it has robbed my command over the page.  

Hours later, (don’t ask for details) it would seem the universe - or technology at its worst - has conspired to keep me from ever reaching the end of this blog.  I am back, in fact, at a new loss for words. Back to my original subject of detours and delays, a writer interrupted.  For one more day.
And yet, I persist.  Writing involuntarily.  In the gloaming of the day, as the afternoon light has shifted, I can physically feel my enthusiasm wane to finish this page. (In Alzheimers patients, this confusion and depression is clinically known as sundowning. )  
And yet I go on.  Beckett-like now.  Involuntarily,  I have reached my conclusion: 800 words on the page.  I’d say that’s enough. Wouldn’t you?

Remedies for Blogger's Block

For those still interested.  On the subject of writer’s block and writers gainfully writing I offer my list of favorites, and the best of reading.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
(Essentially a Ten-Step program, training (or tricking) the mind and hand in free-writing “morning pages” every day. ) 

On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Crisp, clean non-fiction.  I’d kill for his clarity. 

On Writing by Stephen King
52 novels.  What does Stephen King know that you don’t. 

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Gorgeous, lyrical prose and the cruel truth:  “This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else.”

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on the Writing Life by Anne Lamott
Generous.  Inspiring. Manic. Mildly neurotic.  Her mantra still holds me. Start small. Be tenacious, and take it bird by bird. 

Writing Down to the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
"The secret of creativity is to subtract rules of writing, not add them." 

Photos: Vhenoch
Book jackets:  Amazon
Thanx for reading.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Smash Cake

Photos of the Day
Not a fan of cake diving and adorable photos of babies with frosting in their noses. . . 

With the exception of my own.  

Never heard of a smash cake. But the concept is self-explanatory. 

On a sugar high, in celebration of a Happy Baby New Year,  
we rode the crest of a Spring day. 

We brunched at noon, then lunched at 2:00, then lip-smacked 
and snacked for more ‘til supertime. 

What a feast of delights with photos taken. 
All for the crazy love of a First. Birthday. 

"So we sailed into the sun, 

til we found a sea of green. . .
and we lived beneath the waves  
in our yellow submarine. . .
 and our friends are all aboard
and many more who live next door 
and the band begins to play  
we all live...."

Photos: Vhenoch
Thanks for sailing by

Friday, March 16, 2012

Writer's Block Bookshelf

Photo of the Day

There's a story in here somewhere, but I can't seem to find it.  
Still picking up the pieces of a computer crash last week,  where I've lost five months of memory and hundreds of pictures and files.  
Two words for the day: back up, back up, back up.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Photo of the Day

She's not mine.  I just borrowed her for a shot I grabbed on the beach in Grand Cayman last Saturday, an hour before packing bags and boarding a plane back to Michigan.  In the spirit of blogging, not thinking too hard or writing all that much about what I'm thinking, I thought I'd try something new.  

A photo a day.

This one captures the spirit that soars as the sun comes up and the birds sing on an early spring morning.  Warmer days ahead.  Summer will be here. Soon.  

A photo a day.  Will see how this goes.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Noshin' Hamantaschen for Purim

As in all things Jewish, there’s some debate over which came first, Purim or hamanstaschen. Purim is the Jewish festival commemorating the deliverance of ancient Persian Jews from destruction, as recorded in the biblical Book of Esther, also called the Megillah. The triangle cookie we know and love as hamantaschen is associated with the three-cornered hat of Haman, the villain central to the story.  

And here’s where the plot thickens and the feasting begins.  

According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal advisor to King Ahasuerus, planned to kill the Jews, but his plans was foiled at a feast where the bold and steadfast Queen Esther reveals her identity as a Jew. Whether there were poppy seed cakes at that feast God only knows. But records show it was customary to eat poppy seeds and honey at Purim-time all the way back to the days of  Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra,  the renowned Jewish scholar of the Eleventh Century.  

Poppy-seed filled cakes – called mohen-taschen were also popular in European Jewish cuisine – mohn meaning poppy seeds and taschen meaning pockets. Because mohntaschen sounded like the Yiddish pronunciation of hamantaschen, the cookies were renamed.

For most American Jews, Purim is a pleasant afternoon spent with children in costume at a synagogue or community center carnival. In Israel the holiday is Mardi Gras and Halloween rolled into two boisterous days of parades in masquarade, baskets of sweets delivered in gift exchanges.

To me a hamantashen isn’t a hamantaschen without that dark honey-laden poppy seed filling – yup, the kind that gets stuck in your teeth.  The custom of filling the cookies with plum or prune is Czech in origin, but those handy little pockets of sweet dough lend themselves to variations in fruit fillings, as well as cheese, nuts and chocolate.

Recipes for hamentaschen abound and include both yeast-based and cookie doughs. My version is based on a favorite from The Jewish Holiday Cookbook: An International Collection of Recipes and Customs, by Gloria Kaufer Greene.  I’ve added pecans to the dough with the result of a slightly richer pastry texture. Deliberating over the filling as I stirred the poppy seed mixture over a low flame on the stove, I added minced dried apricot and cherries, then about an ounce of chocolate. For good measure. Choose one or all. It’s all good.

For the dough

½ cup butter or margarine, softened
¼ cup packed dark or light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cups all-purpose white flour
¼ cups finely ground pecans
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon  orange or lemon zest (optional)

Poppy seed filling

1 cup poppy seeds (about 5 ounces)
½ cup milk
½ cup honey
¼ cup dried apricots (minced in food processor)
¼ cup dried cherries (minced in food processor)
1 tablespoon butter
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate (or semisweet)
2 teaspoons lemon juice

In an electric mixer at medium speed, cream the butter with the brown sugar and honey until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and vanilla, cinnamon and orange zest and beat until well mixed. 

Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and pecans and mix until well combined. 

Form the dough into a sphere, wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate.(Dough may be made ahead for up to three days).

In a small saucepan, combine poppy seeds with all filling ingredients. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until the mixture thickens and liquid has been absorbed.  About 10 minutes.  Remove filling from heat and let cool.

To make cookies, cut the chilled dough into four equal pieces for ease of handling.  Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8 inch thick. 

Using a cookie cutter (or top of a glass) cut out circles about three inches in diameter.
Put a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of each circle.

Fold edges of the circle to form a triangle base and pinch the edges together tightly, leaving the center of the cookie open.  Option, brush dough with egg wash.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Happy Purim.

Photos: Vhenoch
Thanks for stopping by.