Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

You Don't Choose When Inspiration Strikes

It was a half hour past my strict ten o' clock worknight bedtime, and I was not asleep. In fact, I didn't even feel tired. I blamed this mostly on the fact that I put too much coffee in my coffee slightly before noon that day and thus, spent the majority of the day in a perpetual state of jitteriness that left me without control of my shaky limbs, though staying up a little to finish watching "Hysteria" (great movie by the way) right before bed probably didn't help matters any.

I tossed and turned, taking some care to avoid completely disheveling my hair, while my mind failed to deactivate into slumber. That's when it happened. Something clicked and suddenly, images of the novel I am next going to write invaded my night. I tried to turn them off, fearing a groggy morning at work that required yet more coffee, thus perpetuating the cycle. My inner muse took no notice of my grumbling and, begrudgingly aware that I should not pass up such a gift horse, I got out of bed, grabbed my notebook and a pen, and put the kettle on for some required sleep-inducing chamomile tea for when the madness was over. Then, sipping my tea, I began scribbling.

On the page, there it was, everything I needed to get started: main character, minor characters, basic precise, major plot points, setting, situation, motive. Then, I set the paper and writing impement beside the bed, gulped the dregs of my tea, and flopped my head down on the pillow. I hit the snooze button three times come morning, but I'm ready for novel two. All the waiting, the wondering, the worrying that maybe I only have one novel in me, it collapses into this livid late night deluge of prewriting and suddenly, I'm back.

Since that night, I have been compiling a list of required reading for my next book. That list I include below as the first real hint of what I have planned:

The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Bad Things by Tamara Thorne
Ghost Story by Peter Straub
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Hell House by Richard Matheson
Reread "Stone Animals" by Kelly Link
Reread The Princess and the Goblin

American Hightmares by Dale Dailey
The Golden Bough by James George Frazer

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stained Glass

In my immediate future, there was going to be a house, and not just any house but a house that is so perfect that if I won the lottery, I would keep it as my primary residence. Admittedly, if I won the lottery, I would probably invest in a second residence with a lake-front view, a private beach, and hand-carved banisters like those found at the mansion in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" but I digress. Yes, I have been house hunting for so many months now that I've lost count, but we didn't find the right house until this house.

This house has stained glass windows in almost every room, hand-crafted by the previous owner, who was, obviously, a stained-glass artist. It has a a wood-adorned walk-out basement with a functioning wood fireplace that has a full-scale stone mantel. It has a farm house, this-is-your-grandma's kitchen complete with pantry large enough for a built-in pot rack. The basement floor of the back of the house is adorned with glass-tile mosiac. the two car garage has a giant bonus room behind it that has a seperate entrance and a stain-glass light hanging from the ceiling. There's a stocked fish pond next to the creek out back that borders the almost acre of land in the downtown area of a small rural village. I loved this house.

Of course, then we found out that this house also has a defective electrical box, a crumbling cement ceiling in the basement workroom, a sinking foundation on the addition, faulty wiring, a bonus room not connected to the heating system, and poor roof construction that depletes the life of shingles by a good 20 years at least. Then, we found out there was a slight radon problem and that in our haste to purchase the perfect house, we overpaid by a good 10 thousand. In light of all of this, sadly, I gave up the house.

Because the previous owner, whose husband created all that stained glass, experienced quite a bit of emotional hardship in deciding to sell us the house, I made a plan to take a close-up photo of one of the windows in the house. From that photo, I wanted create a pattern for a lap blanket that I could finish and give to the previous owner of the house at closing. However, as we aren't buying the house, that is no longer necessary.

Even so, the glass that dazzled me, made me consider months of house construction, stays with me now and I wonder, how beautiful would a handknit inspired by stained glass be? I might just give this a try.

With that thought in mind, I do have a blanket I'm supposed to complete. My brother has been whining for a blanket since I gifted him a knitted beanie for Christmas. I want to give him the promise of that blanket as part of his Christmas present (but don't tell). It will be U of M inspired, but I'm now thinking perhaps it should be stained glass inspired as well. Either way, I'm definitely using this stained glass theme on at least one future knitted creation. If not the Michigan blanket, something.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

For the Love of Baking and Breaking in the New Apron

Last Sunday, I rolled up my sleeves and test drove my new Williams Sonoma apron (which is a nice thick fabric that almost makes it worth its price point). Yes, I got down the white whole wheat flour, the baking powder, the soda, the oil and sugar. I got down the salt and vanilla, the measuring cups and spoons, and I baked the heck out of all of it. My goal: New York Black and Whites.

You see, one of my coworkers gave me his old tablet for drawing illustrations into photoshop. He said he wasn't using it anymore anyway, but it was such a thoughtful present that I announced baked goods were in order. The most complicated cookie recipe I own is for NYC Black and Whites, so I figured he'd earned them.

I started right after we got back from church at noon and I didn't leave that kitchen until past 5 at night. To make black and whites, you first have to zest a lemon and an orange, which my nine-year-old was willing to do for me in exchange for video game playing time. Then, you make the liquid part of the batter, then the solid, and you mix them together. Then you bake the cookies for 20 minutes. Then, you let them cool. Then, you make the white frosting, after which you frosten the whole cookie. Then, you have to melt chocolate chips and you make a huge mess and it looks a lot like someone let loose a hose that squirts melted chocolate all over your kitchen. Then, you take that chocolate and make the chocolate frosting and frosten half of the cookies with that.

(The picture quality is not the best, but before I remembered to photograph the cookies 
this unattractive one was the only one left.)

I made two batches, one for work and one for home. It was a long arduous process and I had so much fun doing it. I haven't been able to set aside time to bake in so long, I forgot how much I like doing it.
Added bonus? Giant bakery-sized cookies for dessert all last week. Made from whole white wheat flour. Yum.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Nanowrimo, or how I will never write a novel in one month

Nanowrimo is one of those buzzwords I hear every year. I'm not sure when it was exactly that the nation decided as a whole it needed a month dedicated to writing novels, but by this point, it's a fairly common term that anyone with a net connection understands. In fact, one of my close friends in college was a Nano diehard. She committed, she wrote, and she completed. It was all very impressive from the vantage point of my 20-year-old self, trying like mad to finish my thesis for my BA in Creative Writing. I couldn't fathom how anyone could pump out a decent novel in a month when I had a hard time getting a chapter done in that same amount of time.

This is my gripe with Nanowrimo, because the answer to that question (How can anyone pump out a decent novel in a month?) is "They can't."

The process of writing a novel takes time, not only to prewrite, write, and revise, but also just the sheer need to gather information and experiences out of life. The act of writing, at least in my mind, is the practice by which the experiences that the writer lives, reads about, and sees happen to others is melded together in the brain and then extracted by osmosis from the writer's fingertips. There is value in writing every day, but there is also value is sitting with an idea and working through it without ever bringing thought to paper. Some of my best paragraphs were mulled over several weeks while I worked over the nuances, the hidden agendas, the interpretations. Not all of writing happens on the page, so rushing through for a deadline so loomingly close is only going to produce what all procrastination produces: something that, though it might even have merit and good ideas, is not going to fulfill the potential for what it could have been if someone had taken more time and care to produce it.

I'm not going to say Nanowrimo is evil or that no one should do it. If that's how you get your kicks or motivation, feel free, but realize that most of the high-quality writing existing in our world today is the labor of years, not days. If you really want to work on your craft and become a novelist, don't expect to get far if you cram all your writing time into one month of the year. Writing is every day of the year. It's what occupies the mind of a writer while s/he iswaiting for a green light during the morning commute. It is what happens when a writer considers the connection between a newscast from when s/he was twelve and the old man holding a political sign on the corner last tuesday and discovers a book hidden there.

I considered taking the nanowrimo leap this year, but the ridiculousness of it hit me full on. That's not the way I want to write my next novel, all rushed and sloppy-sentenced. For those dedicated every- month-of-the-year writers, I propose this. Let the amateurs have their novel-in-a-month fun and we'll continue working at our same dogged pace and finish our masterpeices in our own good time.