Next to Godliness:
I'm not as active as I would like to be in my charity work; these days I mostly give donations of money or goods versus getting out there and doing the real deal because of time constraints. Donations are always welcomed, it's just that I get more out of actually being there in person to do the work. It's not all feel-good stuff, though -- when you bag donated groceries for a seventeen year old welfare mother and know that's all she and her two kids are going to have to eat for the next month, it makes you feel pretty wretched. It also teaches you to appreciate your many blessings -- usually you come home and hug your kids and get down on your knees and thank whatever deity you worship.
Yesterday I got a call from a friend who needed a replacement volunteer and went with her to help with a local church homeless program. One big problem with being homeless is staying clean, and this church provides toiletries for the needy as well as daily meals. After serving in the food line, I went in the back with the other volunteers and packaged up kits with little hotel-sized soaps, shampoos, toothbrushes and toothpaste. The church doesn't give out razors because some of their clients will remove the blades for use as weapons. We talked about how the homeless use public restrooms for sink baths or the showers at the beach for bathing, and I passed on another technique employed by runaway kids -- slipping into people's yards late at night and using their swimming pools as bathtubs.
After lunch we handed out the kits and thankfully had enough for everyone who wanted them. People who can't bathe or wash their clothes regularly acquire a distinct, acrid odor that hits you from three feet away, and to be honest it was really hard for yours truly to be near some of them. I did lots of mouth-breathing. When we were done I left, but I could still smell them, so as soon as I got home, I stripped and jumped into a hot shower. While I was scrubbing, the irony hit me: here I am, able to take a dozen showers a day if I want, while those people can't. Even something as simple as being clean is a privilege not to be taken for granted.
A Nod to the Competition:
I've had a working theory over the years as to what a writer's real competition is. To capture the attention of the average consumer -- and hold on to it -- a writer's work should be at least as interesting as the internet, video games, movies, television, sex, and food (I recently added music CDs, nightclubbing, sports events, alcohol and drugs to that list.)
I'm not being sarcastic, either; these are the things people will invest their money in as well as, or more often instead of books -- what I'd consider to be their general/standard entertainment purchases (chocolate is actually a food group, even if the FDA hasn't slapped it on the official nutrition pyramid yet, so I didn't include that.)
It was nice to see some of the same theory pop up in this PW article
as publishers discussed why and how things need to change in order for books to compete better out there. Will things change? I don't see how they can't, considering.
Early AM Desires:
(warning, rated X for people on diets: Do Not Read This) I can't sleep, and I'm tormented by memories of food I can't have anymore. Getting off the extreme vegan diet doesn't mean I can gorge myself on the forbidden stuff; even eating broiled chicken still makes me a nauseous now. So I sit here and I think of chili dogs (I haven't eaten a real hot dog in like ten years), baked potato skins loaded with sour cream and chives; nachos with everything but that green stuff.
I've missed Mexican food since I left Texas; I was a junkie for nachos and enchiladas and refried beans, and those really greasy egg, sausage and God knows what else was in them breakfast burritoes we used to get at Lackland AFB when I was an airman. A little Mexican woman at a no-name stand sold them to us, and she taught me many bad words in Spanish. And the beer pretzels from the NCO club, you know the kind of pretzels that are as big as your fist and can take out a couple of your caps if you bite down too hard? We used to break them into pieces with the bottoms of our mugs before we tried eating them, and they were terrific with a really cold glass of Coke (I was too much of a lightweight to drink much beer.) Later, when I was transferred to California: thick, wonderful minestrone soup from the little Italian cafe at the base of the hill in Monterey, the cafe that no longer exists, and Peking Duck from the Chinese restaurant that no longer exists in town -- the waitress carved it at the table and served it on these elegant little pancakes laced with some kind of brown sauce and sprinkled with scallions peeled to look like flowers.
Further back: the big pickles they used to sell from the jar in the German deli in the mall (Dunderbaks?) when I was a teenager -- I think I personally ate an entire vat of those wonderfully sour, still slightly fermenting dill pickles. The glazed twist donuts served hot out of the fryer from the little bakery down the road from my house, always eaten in a napkin so you didn't burn your fingers, along with a pint of OJ to cool your mouth because you could never wait and burned your tongue. My grandmother's braunschweiger sandwiches with mayo on her homemade rolls, which grossed out all the kids in the family but me. Salted bagels after church on Sunday, bagels so soft they were like donuts, with tons of cream cheese, and so much salt encrusting them you had to brush some off or risk throwing up.
What I really miss the most tonight is something very few people understand unless they're from Maryland, where my mother's family comes from. I really, really miss blue crabs steamed with vinegar and Old Bay seasoning. We'd sit at the picnic table at the back of the house and my mother would cook up a couple of bushels and bring them out heaped on huge platters, steam still rising from the reddened shells. We always ate on top of three layers of newspaper, no plates, no forks, just dinner knives and shell picks. The sharp bits on the crab shells would cut your fingers and the Old Bay made the cuts sting, and you didn't dare rub an eye or you'd run screaming around the house for a good half hour thinking you'd go blind from the burn.
But despite the hazards, we'd sit around that table and eat those crabs -- and eating crabs isn't just eating, it's cracking and picking and cleaning every morsel from the shells. Our glasses (beer for the grownups, coke or tea for the kids) became smudged from our dirty hands. Hardly anyone spoke the entire time; it was like being in church. I was a little lazy when I was a kid and only wanted the big claws, which were easier for me to snap with my hands (we never used mallets, only the handle of a dinner knife, applied with strategic wacks.) My mother could eat a bushel of crabs in one sitting by herself and take three hours to enjoy every single one.
I had to stop and think of how to describe the taste. There is nothing like it -- the crab meat is slightly sweet, whitish brown and has a texture like fish but not like fish. If there is such a thing as manna from heaven then it tastes like steamed blue crab with Old Bay. It was wonderful hot out of the pot or cold an hour later. You chased little slivers of it with a pick, digging it out of the thinnest crevices; finding a chunk of it was like hitting a gold vein -- you showed it to everyone before popping it in your mouth.
I've travelled and had some wonderful food in my life, but nothing in my memory will ever equal the taste of those crabs.
Where did my weblog go? (posting test, all I'm getting are the borders.)
Ekova, Sev and Keasa:
I know better than to buy a new CD when I'm in the middle of three books, but I found Ekova's*
album "Soft Breeze & Tsunami Breaks"
at Borders and I had to have it.
Next mistake: I listened to it while I was washing dishes and sorting laundry, and the song "Helas and Reason" (third clip on the sampling thing) sucked me into a new story idea for Sev and Keasa from Arcanum. I've been wanting to do another story with my ex-mercenary & archeologist and finally visit the Tingalean homeworld, and wouldn't you know, it's perfect Tawwa (snake deity) temple music. I had half the thing written in my head as I hurried to my desk and ran smack into the 42 pages of the Christian novel I had yet to edit. I muttered many bad words, put on the headset, and talked out my idea in one screen while I was proofing my other work in another.
I've never worked on two stories simultaneously, but it worked out fine. And actually, comparitively speaking, Christianity and Tawwaism aren't all that different. We aren't obligated to burn an image of Christ on our chests or swear an oath to protect life at the cost of our own, and the worship services are a bit different (would be neat to have Sunday services conducted by eight foot long snakes under torchlight, though.)
*Warning, music-playing website
now to The Surrealist Compliment Generator.
Holly, I am not reading your blog again until I'm done this book -- you're going to get me in trouble with my editor. As it is now, Jane just turned to Louise and said, "The spark of intelligence in your blinking eyes is not unlike the glow from the teeth of an electrocuted axe-murderess."
Writing Cleaner, Clearer Prose:
I found a good article here
about getting rid of padding in your prose, geared toward essay writers but I think it applies across the board. There's a link to a free download (trial version) of some writer software that looks interesting, and the other links on the page look pretty neat, too.
More links for the storytelling-obsessed:
The Language Construction Kit
-- indepth method of constructing believable fake languages for your novel.
-- winced a few times myself, reading this list. Use it to trim those pesky redundant phrases out of your work (really good for nonfic writers.)
The Book of Cliches
-- Reverse psychology here; check it to see what to avoid
when writing. Has a search engine.
-- I know, I know, but it's fun to find them (you can rework them into something not so cliche, you know.)
Shortly, to spend the day with my kids and have an adventure. We're not sure what we're going to do but we'll try not to cause an international incident.
Somebody proposed a May Photo Day project but I missed it, and I don't think I want to take pictures of everything I do in one day. Here's what I did in one hour last night:
Typed up eight pages of my chicken scratch for ProWrite:
Replaced one of eleven damaged plates on this quilt:
Signed ten books (no picture of that, sorry) then went looking for a box to pack them in and found: