October 30th, 2008

writing everywhere

biscuits and how it goes

Oh, biscuit dough! Homemade buttermilk biscuit dough! I swear it's a miracle I didn't eat, like, three biscuits worth of dough just standing there before the oven was heated, because the snips I did have tasted better than anything else I've eaten in the last three weeks. How does it taste so good with so few ingredients? I now have a nice heavy round cutter to make traditional round biscuits with, so I'm still perfecting my technique for handling the dough minimally so that it rises more in the baking. But even my imperfect, slightly flat first-time-making-cut-biscuits biscuits were so much better than the chop-drop-and-burn variety they sell in the little cardboard-and-metal tubes, I just can't see why anyone would bother with the pre-made doughs. The homemade kind is so easy and so much better. (Perhaps it's that they don't own a pastry blender. That thing is on my list of $6 tools that routinely improve my life. I'm not sure how I ever managed without one. I use it far more than my bread machine, so on a per-dollar basis the difference is astronomical.)

In other news, I finally found a way into "The Radioactive Etiquette Book." So I can write that. So that's good. I thought I had a way in severalmany weeks ago when I did a title survey, and I got in the shower and thought of how the words might feel, and then when I got out of the shower the phone rang, and the Person from Politics (I know it's traditionally Porlock, but this is an election year here) derailed my thinking about it, and when I got back to it, the way in was gone like snow in the back of your wardrobe. I wrote two separate false pages of it, and they were wrong and sounded hollow. They were pages of prose from someone who is reasonably competent at making prose and has no reason whatever to make this prose.

I don't mean that I didn't have a plot. I can make up a plot; that's what we do around here. We say "what if he wanted to go home and couldn't get there" or "she's trying to figure this thing out and here's what she doesn't know" or what have you, and there you go, onwards, plot, hurrah. It's the feel of the prose itself. Stories are not made of plot, they're made of words (or notes or pictures or what have you, but the ones I do are words). I can sound completely sensible about how a story is going to go, who is going to do what in it and why, but if I can't write you at least a couple of consecutive paragraphs of it, I don't really know how the story is going to go. Voice, mode, whatever you want to call it, all I know is that if it's not there, I might as well open another file and write something else. There are several stories fully outlined with all sorts of touchstones noted in, but nobody's talking, so there they sit outlined, and may sit forever for all I know.

Anyway, it's there now, which is good, because it's all very well to say I might as well open another file and write something else, but I wanted to write this. So okay then.
don't mess with me today, think so do ya?

Halloween Grinch

I have plaintive request and a few grinches for people who are celebrating this holiday with trick-or-treating-age people. (Note: those who are celebrating a religious holiday around this time, Samhain or Dia de los Muertos or any others, I assume trick-or-treating is not your only concern, and this is not addressed to you.)

First the plaintive request: if your kids are trick-or-treating, please consider taking them to the houses immediately around you in addition to wherever else they're going. I know sometimes they're going with someone in a different neighborhood or a different part of the neighborhood or whatever, and that's fine. It's just that there are so few holidays that explicitly involve the neighbors that I hate to see one fade out of use as such.

Okay, the grinching: people. With a small handful of exceptions, your child is almost certainly able-bodied enough to trick-or-treat without a car. If you are driving to get to a neighborhood that's better set up for trick-or-treating than your own, please park the car at a park or on the street somewhere or in some other nearby parking area and walk from house to house. This sounds really basic, but I have seen parents driving from driveway to driveway, picking their kids up after each house and driving them to the next house a few yards down the road. This is not okay. You are sending the kids off after lots and lots of sugar--you want them to wear themselves out. And really, if you save a little time and get to more houses this way, where's the benefit? Why get to more houses when you're doing a perfunctory job of the whole thing?

Also, if it is not icy and slippery out, go to every house with its front porch lights on! Don't skip one just because it has a lot of stairs! No, I'm not just saying that because my house has a lot of stairs. I'm saying that because, "Eh, I don't feel like climbing all those stairs," is for people who have an actual physical disability, not for sturdy, healthy children.

I am also a person who firmly believes in taking turns opening presents at Christmas. Even the smallest kids can learn about taking turns--albeit with judicious allocation of turns if you have a large crowd--and if the point was having stuff, you could just go buy yourself a bunch of stuff you like and leave your friends and relations out of it. (If your friends and relations are horrible, odious people, I actually recommend this course of action. But if not, spending the time is its own gift.) If trick-or-treating was only about candy, you could go buy a couple bags of your family's favorite kinds of candy and call it good and not have a couple of Mounds bars hanging around the house until after Thanksgiving, when someone who likes coconut finally comes over for a visit. It's not only about candy. It's the whole experience of going house to house in the dark, scuffing your shoes in the dry leaves or slurping through the wet leaves or trying not to fall in the ice and snow; it's the year that you were finally old enough to have your own way about not wearing your parka and you found out what your mom was on about all those years; it's the way your legs get really tired and you decide that maybe filling the whole entire pumpkin is not completely necessary. It's finding out that someone accidentally left their porch light on but isn't actually home, and you have to trudge back down the walk with no candy. That's how it goes; that's part of the thing. It's about knowing which of your neighbors is the really awesome guy who gives out full-size candy bars and which of your neighbors gives out raisins. If you teach your kids that Halloween is about more, they won't notice all the ways in which it--like the rest of life--can be about better instead. And that's a hell of a thing for them to have to unlearn in their adult lives when you can just do real trick-or-treating with them now.