Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When the chocolate smites you

There are days when Theobroma (Goddess of Chocolate) and I get along just fine. This was not that day. It 's cold, snow is approaching, and my energy level is just this side of a black hole. She let the chocolate be in temper just long enough to dip one tray of truffles and then she smote it. It went all streaky and swirly. So much for that batch. I had to stop. I turned up the heat to let the chocolate relax and moved on to other things.

As I washed about a hundred Valentine's themed chocolate molds, I realized that there was nothing urgent that needed to be done in chocolate today. With a sigh of relief, I put the chocolate away.

On to the mis en place. The literal translation: 'everything in place'; it refers to the ingredients and tools needed for a recipe, and it also refers to staples, such as tart dough, pastry cream, toppings, fillings and so on.

I love doing mis en place. It's satisfying, it's productive, and it tends to go very well. Today it was outstanding. 4 perfect batches of tart dough, toasted coconut for garnishing one truffle, candied lemon and lime zest for garnishing another, and an outstanding batch of secret recipe cake syrup. My mood improved; less of a black hole, more of a nebula.

We're trying a new tart this week, and putting a spin on two old ones. Because we get bored. The new tart is called Winter Fruit Tart - it uses dried fruit plumped in booze. (Which reminds me, there's an episode of Spine Chillers called Fruitcake of the Living Dead - it's hilarious). The recipe, from Witch in the Kitchen, calls for soaking the fruit for at least 15 minutes. Mine is soaking for about 48 hours, in a blend of secret recipe cake syrup and blackstrap rum.

There may be a more demanding culinary goddess than Theobroma. I imagine Sucrosia, goddess of sugar showpieces is also very difficult. After that incident involving Jolly Ranchers and a microwave, I'm not inclined toward that path.

My path is a three-fold one: doughs, batters and custards. All the things I love to make come from this trinity: bread, croissants, pie, cake, cookies, ice cream, scones, cream puffs.... Yes, I noticed that too. Chocolate is not on the short list. She's not first with me, but to be fair, I'm not her favorite in the kitchen either. Unlike Patisseria (Triple Goddess of Pastry). She loves me.

I have to confess, my favorite way to eat chocolate is not in truffle form. Not in a complicated dessert. Not in cake, not mousse, not ice cream. My favorite way to eat chocolate is - right out of the bag. A few buttons of Guittard or Felchin, a glass of something sparkling like Rosa Regale or Sweet Astoria Lounge....ah. Bliss. My second favorite: with bread, unsalted butter and a light sprinkling of salt. Preferably sourdough, but croissant or brioche is okay too. When the chocolate is really good, there's no need to get fancy.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

More Procrastination

Sitting in Cafe 13 for Nanowrimo editing group. I look up from my giant cup (more like a soup bowl) of coffee and see a photo of a castle in Slovenia. I realize I am analyzing the photo not in terms of composition or lighting, but in terms of how defensible the castle is and where would be the best place to launch an attack. There are some good spots for dumping boiling oil; almost a straight shot down the castle wall.

At the same time, I'm wondering what kind of pie to make to celebrate National Pie day. I'm thinking maybe some sort of cream pie, maybe dark chocolate or banana. I'm not really in the mood for a fruit pie. Or maybe a Normandy apple tart, although I'm not sure that really lives up to the spirit of National Pie day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Comedy, love, and a bit with a dog

The dreaded task of outlining the novel has begun. Normal writers outline before they start writing. Of course this requires actually having plot ahead of time. Not one to be stymied by such trifles, I simply started writing, and continued until I reached a point where 'the end' seemed to fit.
Yesterday, I managed to apply 'who and what' to three whole pages. Once the chapter and scene notes are made in the margins, they'll be transferred to index cards for 'easier' outlining and rewriting. Uh huh.
Today went like this:
I sit down to work.
I stare at the giant stack of paper and sigh.
Page 3 - I remember I still have pralines that Bevin brought back from New Orleans.
I cheer up, and start making notes.
Page 7 - I am out of pralines.
Page 19 - it suddenly occurs to me that the spice cabinet is disorganized and needs to be straightened at once. No. No it doesn't, I tell myself.
Page 34 - I start thinking about Avatar and how I'd like to get Na'vi citizenship and that there were qualities in the film that inspire parts of the novel. I wonder if James Cameron would direct the movie version. I remind myself that the book has to be written before we move on to its afterlife.
Page 53 - it suddenly becomes very important to know exactly how many days the novel has been in existence. I stop channelling Rainman and get back to work.
Page 77 - my dog pushes her nose into my leg and looks pathetic. I get up to let her outside. She stands in the doorway, looks around and comes back inside.
Page 89 - I realize that I might make it to page 100 before I go to class.
Page 90 - I remember Joseph Fiennes's inkstained fingers in Shakespeare in Love. I think that right now, my novel is in about the same place as Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter: barely written and subject to drastic changes.
Page 101 - I decide it's a good time to stop, as it's about time to go to class. I look at my giant wreck of a manuscript, all disjointed and chaotic, full of dreck and bad grammar and plot holes and the cries of voices demanding that their stories be told. For reasons I can't comprehend, I love this montrous creation.
I have no idea how this is going to come together. I console myself with the following words of widsom, loosely adapted from Shakespeare in Love:

Novel writing's natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
So what do we do?
Nothing. Strangely enough, it all ends well.
How ?
I don't know. It's a mystery.

79. That's how many.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Of maps and muses

I really should get up and turn on the light, but the cat is curled up behind the screen, peacefully sleeping on my legs. It's almost 5pm, there's still a bit of light left in the sky.

I have run into a wall of procrastination with editing my novel. Without the looming spectre of a ridiculous deadline it's hard to get any momentum going. Editing is a slow, deliberate process, unlike writing, which frequently happened in frenzied bursts in which characters drove the plot according to their own needs and desires.

They aren't as communicative right now, although brief moments of inspiration have appeared here and there, leaving a paper trail through morning pages, pocket notebook, virtual and real posty-notes, day planner and a scrap of baking parchment.

I'm breaking this down into smaller chunks this weekend. Step one, assemble the cast of characters: names, appearance, family, traits, and so on. Hopefully this will clear up glitches; the other day I noticed two characters had the same name.

Step two-map out the timeline of the story. It's rather muddled at this point. No wonder one character's age keeps fluctuating; he's as lost as I am.

Starting with plot and character outlines would have been sensible. That would have required starting with a plot, something I didn't have when I decided to do NaNoWriMo. I started with only a couple of characters who'd been trapped in my head for years, and a muddled thought process sparked by a friend's remark when I had a close encounter with an elk at the Estes Park Visitors Center. I signed up only a few days before the event began, and while I knew about outlines and plotting with posty-notes and string, I chose not to do that. If I had, I would have gotten so obsessed with organizing and reorganizing and color coding that I wouldn't have written a word.

I dove into the novel in true free writing style: just keep going and see where it takes you. The characters appeared, doing their own thing, driving the story, and sometimes going off in rather alarming directions. The plot started taking shape at about 30,000 words in. I finally saw where it was headed and was able to make an outline.

There's still so much I don't know about this world I created. Like..what it's called. Or how swords and sorcery coexist with high tech gadgets and high speed hovercrafts. Hopefully that will all clear up somewhere in the process.

I intend to have a readable version in time for the Createspace deadline for a free printed book. That's June. So, logically, working backward, break the task down into small manageable goals and proceed in an orderly direction. Somehow, I doubt that's how it's going to go. The process will likely be messy and chaotic, passionate bursts of creativity alternating with the slow plodding of mapping the trail and filling in plot holes.

I have two tasks for this weekend, but somehow I am struck with the need to do other things, any things, rather than recommit to this work. I think I am having to give up that fantasy about what being a writer is, the fantasy that one sits down and magnificent words roll out, all ready to be published into a prizewinning novel. No. That's not what being a writer is. Being a writer means showing up at the page and doing the work, for the sake of the work.

I read the following this morning here; it's worth posting somewhere I'll see it everyday.
"I was here. Where were you? signed, your Muse".

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mislaid Plans

I had plans for tonight, free tickets for a burlesque show. But the friend going with me had to cancel, and everyone else I called had plans already. I wasn't brave enough to go by myself. Not brave enough to sit alone at a show, not brave enough to navigate the unfamiliar streets of downtown in the dark, not brave enough to walk through an unattended parking garage and dark streets by myself. I'm not as far along as I thought.

I spent nearly two weeks on Maui by myself, alone in the midst of vacationing families, couples and honeymooners. There were moments of self-pitying meltdown, but many more moments of doing adventurous things like snorkeling, surfing, hiking, dining alone in nice restaurants and going to shows. Maybe it was the sun, or the sea or the fact that I was paying for everything, so I was determined to get out and enjoy it.

The tickets for tonight's show were free, so I don't feel so bad for not using them. It was easy to tell myself that it's cold and dark and I'd rather just stay in and get some work done, work I didn't get done during the fun but woefully unproductive editing session this morning. No one else got much done either; it was our first meeting since the End-of-Nanowrimo 2009 celebration in early December.

I could spend this evening finishing up Chapter 9. The exercise on creative u-turns is partially finished. I stopped at the part that asks if any abandoned dreams or desires can be resurrected. I watched part of a show about the Smithsonian; it was called Superlatives. One segment was about the musical instrument collection. There were two cellos, one rented from a music school, the other...a cello made nearly 300 years ago by Antonio Stradivari. The music school cello was played first. It sounded fine enough. Then the Stradivarius. Oh. My. Rich and resonant, even through the television. It brought back a long buried desire.

When I was a child, I wanted to learn to play the cello. My parents told me I had to learn piano first. The piano and I are natural enemies. It didn't work out. I never got to play cello.
When my much younger sister decided she wanted to play cello, my parents said yes. She didn't have to learn piano first. I'm not sure why the different treatment, whether money was a factor and we already had a piano and a cello had to be rented, whether my parents had learned that love for an instrument can't be forced, or whether by their third child they were just worn out and didn't want to argue the point.

What I do know is that all these years later, I'm still surprisingly bitter about being denied what I really wanted. I did try learning violin a few years ago, but my inner critic and perfectionist made it a miserable experience. Now that I'm learning to loosen their pernicious grip, now that I'm learning to allow myself to be a beginner, to allow myself to suck, maybe I could try learning cello without the expectation of being perfect or knowing how to play before I learn how. Maybe I can approach it with beginner's mind.

My friend Najah is studying Tai Chi. The instructor tells students "Learn to invest in loss". I think this means accepting that we will never be perfect, that nothing will ever be mastered, but that knowing this we still show up in the class, at the laptop, the pen & paper, the kitchen, the instrument, the relationship, wherever, whatever, and in that moment, with beginner's mind we do our best.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mostly Productive Avoidance

I am far enough into vacation now that I am reverting back to my night owl nature. It's 11:54 pm, and I'm still up. I finished and posted an article around 10:30. I figured out how to use the collage feature on Picnik. I wrote an entry on my other blog. Now I'm here, writing this one.

I go back to work on Monday. Just when my body gets used to staying up late and sleeping in until 7 or 7:30, it will be time to go back to getting up at 4:45. I don't mind it so much in the summer; in the dark and cold of winter it's not so easy.

A disinclination to delve into the dreadful Chapter 9 and a sense of horror from watching Messiest Home in America 3 caused me to do some serious purging of clutter. Then I rearranged furniture in my room and the family room. I packed up some books and some other things I know I'll never use for ARC or Goodwill. Played Vampire Wars (that's my vampire avatar over there in the moonlit forest). It's my only Facebook game. Made pate brisee. Made quiche and an almond cream tart.

It's easy to distract myself from The Artist's Way or editing or writing when I'm at home. There are always chores to do or a dog to play with or a cat to stop from destroying the house....

Starting tomorrow though, I'll be house sitting for Chef. No chores, no work, nothing to do but work on those projects I've been avoiding. I have a NaNoWriMo group Saturday morning. Last time, it was just Jenny and myself. We got no work done. Hopefully, we'll be a bit more focused this time, and more people will show up. The ones who know how to edit.

In an effort to keep working on my GESD ( a practical degree 2 Facebook friends came up with - Get Epic Sh*t Done) I joined a pagan meet-up group and will be going to a open ritual and potluck. With strangers. That should be worth at least a couple of credit hours.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Synchronicity, Changes & Whatever Comes After

I was reading Chapter 9 of The Artist's Way today. Recovering A Sense of Compassion. I'm going to hate working this chapter, I can tell.

At some point, we must make an active choice to relinquish the joys and privileges accorded to the emotional invalid. A productive artist is quite often a happy person. This can be very threatening as a self-concept to those who are used to getting their needs met by being unhappy.

I am really not liking the realization of how much that paragraph applies to me. It's quite shaming, which I suppose is where the sense of compassion is supposed to come in. People who are farther along in the course assure me that yes, Chapter 9 is painful. This is the point in the course where many people quit, or want to quit. I won't quit.

The artist's way website was shut down shortly before Christmas. I really miss it - the forums were a great source of support and camaraderie. This morning, I found a Yahoo group, run by a NaNoWriMo buddy I met through the forums. This afternoon, another friend from the website tracked me down through my column and Facebook. That synchronicity concept is working overtime this week.

Aside from being reunited with my Artist's Way posse, synchronicity has been showing up a lot. I've been wanting to study tarot. I finally found a deck that really resonates with me. The shop where I bought it (with Christmas money) had a flyer for a tarot class taught by the most amazing reader I've ever been to, at a time I can get to, at a shop five minutes from home. Paid for by Christmas bonus from work.

I was struggling with my Target hula hoop. It's not entirely round, and is too small for an adult. A friend connected me with a hoop maker, who is making me a weighted hoop that's big enough for my height. I found an instructional dvd at the library. Yes, there are instructional dvds for hoop dance. Lots of websites. And local groups where I can play and learn.

I finally got it together last night to try NIA at the rec center. I walked in on the night the class was free of charge. It was great. I'll be doing this instead of Ai Chi for the duration of the winter. I can't stand being cold and wet.

Last month, on a whim, I put my business card into a drawing at Lanni's Clocktower Cabaret. Tonight I got an email that I won two free tickets for Fannie Spankin's Western Rockabilly Burlesque Show. Awesome. I've been wanting to get out more.

So, in the spirit of all that's going on in my life, I don't think Lost in Place works anymore. I don't want to be lost in place; it's time to wander strange lands and see what's out there.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Things I tried in 2009

I was going through my 2009 calendar looking for birthdays and suchlike to transcribe into my much prettier 2010 date book. I found entries for events I'd forgotten about, even though they were all things I did for the first time. In chronological order, they are:

My first pagan festival. I'd do this again.
My first time trying shrooms and pot. Bleh on both counts. I'll stick with alcohol and chocolate.
My first two concerts at Red Rocks. SO doing this again. Where else could one walk through a meadow full of deer and then dance the night away to K'nan and Jason Mraz?
My first spiritual fast, for Yom Kippur. Yes, I'm a pagan, but it felt like something I needed to do. I might do this again.
My first foray into novel writing. I will absolutely do this again. Depending on how the editing process is coming along, I may do Script Frenzy this April.