Food, Gloriously Written Food!

Turkish delight, butterbeer, fried green tomatoes, lembas bread. Oh, the world of literary foodstuffs. I’m a sucker for a good book and a good meal, so when I stumble on some food so well written that I can’t help but pout about what I’m missing being stuck on the reality side of the page…my friends, that is heaven. I’m sure if you thought about it right now, you could easily reflect on some kind of snack or feast referred to in a book that made you salivate.

I didn’t have a clue what Turkish delight was until I was an adult (a rosewater flavored gummy sweet), but Edmond’s anticipation, and, let’s face it, his willingness to betray his siblings for another taste, in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe had more than piqued my curiosity at this treasured tasty.

As an American, I had many a moment reading Harry Potter as a child where I wondered which foods served at Hogwarts were English traditions or Rowling’s own magical creations, but please bring on the pumpkin pasties and the butterbeer!

I’m sure I’m not alone in this particular sensation. Where the imagined becomes real. The words have triggered an incredible physical reaction that wakens longing, hunger. There should be a word for that particular feeling. If you know it, please share!

My best friend ensured that my first encounter with raw oysters included a glass of champagne because…well, Hemingway:

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

 

It is no surprise to me that a common term for someone with a deep, unrelenting, desire to read is “voracious”, an adjective which means – wanting or devouring great quantities of food. Books and food are kindred spirits. They each nourish and feed the mind, body, soul. Good food, like a good book, inspires and satiates all at once. You are left feeling deeply satisfied and equally wanting more. You feel genuine sadness that it is over, but grateful for the experience…one that never really ends because now it’s part of you. That food will turn into energy for your body, and the memory of flavor will linger, subtly altering your tastes and desires for food in the future. That book and its words will sit in your skull until leaping forward to be remembered and questioned and needle its way back into your subconscious, evolving self.

I’ll keep it short and sweet today, this last day of the year, and leave you with a bit of sweetness. As a young girl, maybe eight or so, I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved books. It was winter, and I had just finished the first volume, Little House in the Big Woods. When Texas got a rare treat of snow that stuck and a scant few inches blanketed our yard, I begged my mother to make Maple Syrup Snow Candy, just like Laura did in the book. I can still picture the small, plastic blue bowl that she helped me fill with the clean top layer of snow we delicately scooped up, not wanting to collect the dirt and grass hiding millimeters below. Mom warmed some syrup up on the stove, then helped me drizzle it in my precious bowl of snow. The magic and sheer delight I felt will live with me forever. Something from a cherished book had come to life before my eyes and I could almost smell the wood smoke from the stove in Grandmother Ingalls’ cabin.

If you’re lucky enough to have snow on the ground, here’s a recipe I found that you can try. She even has a few quotes from the book. 

Happy New Year, my friends. I hope it’s filled with delicious food and delightful books. ❤

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What’s It All About?

The year is coming to a close and instead of feeling the sensation of something ending, I am filled with the joyful anticipation of what is beginning.

2017 has been a difficult year for me, as it has been for just about everyone I know. There is so much frustration, fear, anger, and general dissatisfaction swarming around that it feels overwhelming and slightly insane to even begin to cope and process the emotions tied up in it. The valleys of life have bruised and broken so many as we’ve collectively tumbled down. BUT! The valley isn’t bottomless. There is an end. I think that’s why people look forward to the new year. There is a tangible sense of completion and the feeling of transition. You have an opportunity to emotionally leave the sorrow and worry behind and step back into hope.

Personally, I’m stepping into something deep and soul-filling that I wasn’t always sure I’d have the courage to claim for myself. I’ve been somewhat discreetly calling myself a writer for a couple of years. I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, I’ve journaled…a little, I’ve started five books, and I’ve gone back to school for an English degree with a focus in Creative Writing. But here’s the thing: I haven’t finished a book. I’ve got essays coming out of my ears, and I can write and write and write for a prompt, but there’s a big bad inner critic that haunts my personal creations. She lurks in the one-inch margins and the beckoning “new tab” button on my browser. She watches and waits while I write, staying silent and hovering until I stop for the day. Overnight, she creeps out and chips away at the confidence I constructed around the piece and over time, as I start to glance back over my shoulder at the work I’ve done, it starts to look weak and tired.

It doesn’t help that being a writer is this rather obscure thing that many people have a hard time understanding or appreciating. It’s looked at as a hobby, a self-indulgence, something to pass time with, but not invest time in. The looks I’ve gotten when confessing to being an aspiring writer vary from patronizing, confusion, tentatively interested, to actual pity. There’s this odd feeling I get sometimes when I tell people I write like they’re disappointed to find there’s a hidden conceit in me. I guess it’s because anyone who thinks they can actually be a writer and not just aspire to be one must be somewhat full of themselves to assume they’ll make any money or enjoy any success in such a secretive and mysterious industry. If only they knew the painful self-criticism writers trudge through on a daily basis. Writing is a labor of love I can only liken to childbirth.

When I was giving birth to my son, I was delirious through most of the 27+ hours it took for him to grace us with his presence. However, there was a moment about twelve hours in that I remember clear as day. I was laboring in a giant birthing tub and had reached a point where I realized I was experiencing the absolute worst pain of my life. My brain literally had trouble understanding what was happening to my body. I could tell it was trying to reject the experience entirely, trying to save me from psychologically processing the pain. I had this sudden thought, “This is the most exquisite pain of my life…and it has to get worse before it can go away.” There was something so powerful in that moment because I could have easily had a mental breakdown right then and there at the sheer monumental task of living through the experience of pain, but instead, I felt a shift. I recommitted to not only living through it but working even harder to let my body do the work so my child could be born.

Now, writing is not physically painful, unless you count weak wrists or tired eyes…or hot coffee spills…but it can be emotionally painful. There’s incredible self-doubt around being capable. There is so much love and care poured into a project that may not become anything special to anyone else. You face the constant awareness that all the work you do may never be recognized by another soul alive, but you can’t help but do it anyway. You can’t help but try. You can’t help but continue to give of self and labor through the challenges knowing that giving up isn’t really an option and something special will be born on the other side. It’s okay if you are the only one who cares. It’s okay if you are the only one to love it for what it is. Because it’s yours.

As I’ve come to understand this heavy relationship I have with writing, I’ve also realized how lost I got in the creation part of it. I’ve been so consumed with labor and birth, I’ve neglected the parenting books that tell you what to do after you bring the baby home. As any parent will tell you, that “oh, shit” moment that you really realize you are responsible for the life you just birthed, the “what’s next” moment is…interesting. It’s a scramble. It’s spending hours on Google or flipping through books, calling up friends and family who have any scrap of experience and begging for insight. For me, on the other end of that moment (or month) of lost composure, there’s a list of potential literary agents, a writing conference on the horizon, and a blog.

Strangely, knowing where the books are going, even in just the most general way, gives me hope for their future. I know there will be surprises and that I’ll probably have to amend my rules as their personality really starts to shine independently, but I feel like I won’t actually completely fuck them up.

As I leave one year and begin another, I’m committing to push the envelope. I’m committing to tossing the training wheels. You’ll likely see some interesting things as I plan on bringing you along for the ride. First on deck for the new year will be the premier installment of a serial that I’ll be publishing a bit at a time once a month. I’ll also be sharing some old stuff I’ve written. I’ll share my journey with submitting essays to literary magazines, and what a writing conference is really like. I’ll continue to share my love for words, and my odd thoughts and experiences, and maybe even a poem or two. What is this blog about? Well, I guess it’s that self-indulgent thing you worried it was. It’s a vehicle for my writing journey. It’s a platform to share my love for this blissfully torturous medium. It’s a way, I hope, to connect with my readers. I encourage participation, questions, and requests! If nothing else, I hope this blog is something enjoyable for more than just myself.

Au revoir 2017! Thanks for the memories and the growing pains, but I’ve got a date with a manuscript.

Effervescence

A word is just a word, you say. It sits prettily on a page, meaning nothing until read, and then it delivers a message before falling back into silent passivity, waiting for its turn to come round again. It is black lines on white plains, printed footprints of where the writer’s mind has wandered. But still, just lines. Simple. Unassuming. Certainly, nothing to fuss over. Just words…right?

I see them as so much more. Like a photographic negative, you can hold them up in front of you and there’s a picture there, but it’s vague. You can only make out enough from the shadows and lines to know what the object of the picture is. But, when you set it on a lit table, suddenly the details burst forth. There is color, fine shades of distinction, a luminescence that brings the object to life. Some words have a  life like this all on their own. Their mere existence holds power that lights feeling without effort. However, words come to life differently from person to person. Words often have a history with the reader. They’ve often met before, but the circumstances of their first rendezvous can change entirely the relationship between word and reader.

This entry is the beginning of a microscopic look into that relationship. I’ll share words I love, words I avoid, and why they sing for me the way they do. Remember, communication is key and words are layered with meaning beyond their definition.

And so, to begin. A little fun with — effervescence.

Like bubbles? I can hear you asking. Yes, but wait! There’s more. But isn’t it interesting that that’s where your mind went first? Just by reading the word, I can feel the tickle of it on my tongue even though the word has only visited my mind. I can imagine the small bubbles of a favorite cool drink and the bright and refreshing quality of them, but that is only one use of this cheerful word.

Just as the word dances, so does the soul of the person who holds the trait. Their energy is light and airy, enthusiastic and bold in a joyful sort of way. They are the people who smile with ease and laugh with an honest appreciation for all the silly and wonderful things the world offers.

It is a child bounding through a door to greet a parent long awaited, the anticipation and excitement having built over many hours spent peeking out the window, fogging the glass with quick, warm breaths.

It is a young woman sipping champagne with friends as they admire the future displayed on her finger. She is happy in a way that cannot seem to be contained by her body and she begins those smile lines in earnest as she talks and listens and talks some more, eye on her giddy horizon.

It is the receiver of good news anticipated, but not banked upon. The electricity of gratitude and hope for what it means is running through their body, and the feelings threaten to bubble over in laughter for it must go somewhere.

In all these painted pictures, you can feel the glow and liveliness of these people. Their effervescence. The magic of a word and the images and feeling it can induce…it’s beautiful. And whether a soulful resonance or an intricate firing of synapses are to blame, I certainly enjoy the experience. Maybe you’ll start your own little list of words that spark more, and, if you do, please share them with me. ❤

I hope you and yours have a beautiful holiday season filled with love, family, and friends.

Much love,

Kelsey

Bread Crumbs

It isn’t unheard of for me to write a little something, share it with my husband, and have him look up at me and ask, “Where did that come from?” I don’t always know, to be honest, but there are times that I can track an idea by following the breadcrumbs of my mind and the leaps it takes. The starting points are often the most simple and ignorable parts of life, but there they are.

I often find myself distracted from the largeness of life by the minutiae of it. I get caught up in trying to define the exact shade of yellow that is falling from my neighbor’s tree or wondering if the pebbles and rocks ground and mixed into the cement of my street is local or if it is broken bedrock from far away – a material once surrounded by the rugged beauty of earth, exposed and fractured by machines, packaged and shipped by machines, reincarnated by machines to serve as a smooth surface for machines. It’s part curiosity about how things work and part adoration for the stories behind why they do. These questions trigger memories which trigger new ideas which sometimes trigger stories.

For example, there’s a man that waits at a bus stop close to my house no matter the weather Texas happens to be blessing us with. He’s reasonably well-dressed, bearded, but neatly, and carries a leather briefcase. The image clings to my mind as I drive past and I find myself combing through my memory of what he looked like long after I have lost sight of him in my rearview mirror.

Perhaps, I wonder, he is a true, blue eco-warrior doing his part for the environment by using public transportation. Maybe he’s just down on his financial luck. Or maybe he has some intimately personal or psychological reason for not wanting to drive. And that’s where the story starts simmering. By the time I reach my destination I’ve created an entire narrative about this bearded man with a briefcase and a dad-bod.

His wife is fighting cancer. A vicious sort that is slowly leaching her youth. His live-in mother-in-law helps take care of her while he’s away at work. When his wife has an appointment with her life-saving poison the mother carries her in their junky car crammed with car seats, crushed crackers and prescription receipts littering the matted carpet on the floorboards. The pair of midsize SUVs, once housed neatly in their garage, had been traded in for the aging four-door sedan to help cover what the insurance didn’t. The Bearded Hero is quietly living an ongoing sacrifice, though he would loathe hearing it referred to that way. He spends extra hours at the office, underappreciated for all he does for his boss and co-workers. Even more of his valuable time is spent on that damn bus travel that extends his commute. And every day, as he stands at the stop, waiting for the cough and wheeze of the city bus to come over the hill and carry him away from his love and the life he’s sacrificing for, the little boy inside of him still carries a torch for everything he dreamt his life would be.

By this point, I’m brushing tears from my eyes, crying for a man I do not know and a wife I have invented. But it could be real. So a silent prayer is said for whatever that man’s life really looks like – whatever pains and difficulties have manifested. Because, regardless if I’m right or just a crazy writer pulling at a thread, we all could use a little extra grace.

The characters of the man at the bus stop and his family are easy to grieve and root for. It’s simple to slip into their shoes and trudge alongside them in the trenches of life. I can imagine the pain of setting aside dreams because you feel obligated to tend to other things. Can’t you? I’ve had cancer and mortality touch my life in ways that made it easy to slip away from my goals with a half-hearted promise to return and settle myself into “caretaker”. Just as easily, I can lay alongside the wife in her bed that is swiftly molding to the shape of her shrinking body. I cannot relate to the illness itself, though I have witnessed it in others, but I can relate to the thoughts that eat at your mind when all you can do is exist. I am horrendously harsh on myself on quite a frequent basis about my mothering and wifing, sistering, daughtering, friending…writering. How much more difficult and guilt-ridden it must be for someone truly incapable of performing on all cylinders when so much of life is calling for attention and care.

That’s where the tears come from. From that place of knowing just enough of what it feels like to empathize with the fiction come to life in my heart. That’s where the good stories are born. The books I’ve read where the author has delicately teased out emotion, allowing it to bloom quietly just as it would, had all of it been true — those are the ones that stick with me. Because no matter the setting, how fantastical or unimaginable the situation may be, the emotions are real. That’s the difference between a sentence wonderfully wrought, but not wonderfully put.

In case you were wondering, I’m shooting for the latter.

The Beginning

Let’s start at the very beginning — a very good place to start. In the beginning, there were words. Well, not really words so much as grunts and whoops, but the sentiment is the same. Grunts, whoops, and yes, words are all about communication. Those guttural utterances began an evolution of communication that we are still experiencing. And we aren’t just doing it collectively as a species, but also individually. Each of us began much the same as our ancestors, squawking and crying out to convey our needs and emotions. We learned, over time, to manipulate the muscles of our mouths and throat to create spoken words. We learned the words our society had given to things around us. Actions, places, feelings, desires, the real, and the imagined. The transition from mere sound to weighted words happens in the blink of an eye all to convey meaning and purpose to the world around us and of the world within us.
That’s where I come in. From a young age, I recognized the magic of words. How each one was a piece to a puzzle that, once completed, could reveal a dazzling picture with such detail and nuance that whole worlds could spring to life in my mind as if they were real places I’d been or people I’d met. The small, rickety bookshelf in my room quickly filled with my tiny collection of universes. Imagine being able to survey and select whichever universe you wished to visit. A small gesture of the hand, and it would open to you, invite you inside, and you could fall in and lose yourself in the cosmos created out of nothing, born from someone else’s mind.

I quickly discovered that I didn’t want to be a mere observer of these worlds. No sideline sitting for this girl. No, I wanted to become a Creator. I wanted to learn how to craft a realm of humanity that didn’t exist anywhere else but my consciousness and then pull it from myself and pour it onto a page for someone else to witness.

And so I’ve crept toward that goal, little by little, for most of my life. Sometimes at an agonizing pace when I doubt I moved much at all, and sometimes sprinting so fast I can’t make my fingers, pen, mind move fast enough. I’ve learned so much about the craft of wordsmithing and barely scratched the surface. I know rules, and intimately how to break them. But most of all, I’ve learned how deeply I truly love the act of writing. I love that when I close my eyes and release the floodgates words appear. They tumble out of the recesses of my mind and I rush to find something with which to catch them before they fall through my fingers like a sieve to be lost in puddles of creativity at my feet. Sure, I could still splash in them, but they won’t ever carry the great force of momentum as they did at the start.

I think of this blog as a playground. Not the playground that just popped into your head when you read that, but what a playground really is. Mine has swings and slides and plenty of space to run and jump and play, but hidden in those innocent actions is an exercise of development. Every time I pump my legs and bring that swing up higher than I’ve ever dared before, I learn my limits are beyond what I expected. Each time I practice at the monkey bars and make it one rung further, I’ve stretched my endurance and bolstered my belief in myself. Here, you are watching me play — but you are also watching me grow. There will be triumphs, and there will be failures, but through both – and everything in between – there will undoubtedly be growth. And words. Always words.