Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gretchen asked...

Gretchen asked...

Is this the method where you don't know the end and find it by writing? Or do you finally have the end and have figured out the steps along the way and will weave mystery into the journey? Or have you found a new way in to alter the whole tone, plot, characters and landscape? Or??? Curious minds want to know---

Answer...

All of the above, I think. Since the story is based on an actual journey I took with Allen in 2005, I have lots of material, but I've just begun to discover the characters. I don't want the characters to be thinly disguised versions of Allen and me. The challenge for me has been to forget the "real" experience enough to be imaginative with the material. I want to stretch myself and do something different than I've done before. I could write a book based on what I've been doing all along, but there doesn't seem to be any point to doing that. It would yield a book but not the experience I want. I do have a vague idea of what I want the characters to achieve, but everything is fluid and subject to change.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Today

1. Got up much earlier than usual, after just a few hours of sleep.
2. Had coffee by the fire.
3. Took bath and dressed for shopping and a movie.
4. Found out both music stores Allen wanted to go to were still closed for the holidays.
5. Went to the big cineplex to watch Sweeney Todd. I'm not a fan of musicals but am a fan of Johnny Depp. He did not disappoint. Only afterwards did I read the review of Sweeney Todd by Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. Travers nailed it. The end of Travers' review:

As the film follows its tragic course, Depp scores an explosive triumph. Covered in blood, Sweeney is finally engulfed by his emotions, and Depp finds the character's grieving heart. It's a staggering moment in a spellbinder of breathtaking beauty and terror.

6. Bought our son a microwave as a belated Christmas present. Well, he did need some way to warm all the leftovers I sent him home with Christmas night.
7. Came home and ate a bowl of ice cream while watching The Sopranos which was received from Netflix today.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Best Cake in the World

I was given this recipe in 1987 by Jean Kinney, a woman I was in the MFA Program with. She had brought one of these cakes to a class party. I thought it was the best food I'd ever put into my mouth. It is my family's favorite cake. Even Dale, our oldest son, who never brags about anything, brags about this cake.

It is best served warm. But warm or room temperature, this cake will not last long. It should be made in a bundt pan or two small loaf pans. I've been using the throw-away loaf pans lately, and this works well.

My Christmas present to you all:

ORANGE POPPY-SEED CAKE

8 TBSP (One stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup poppy seeds
1 tsp. vanilla extract
grated zest of 2 oranges
*Orange Glaze

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease 10-inch bundt pan (or two small loaf pans).

2. Cream butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

3. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk. Mix well after each addition.

4. Fold in poppy seeds, vanilla and grated orange zest. Pour batter into the prepared pan(s).

5. Set on middle rack of oven and bake for 50-60 minutes (less time if baked in loaf pans), or until edges shrink away slightly from sides of pan and cake tester inserted into center comes out clean. Let cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes before turning it out onto a cake rack.

6. When cake has slightly cooled, prick holes in it 1 1/2 inches apart with a long toothpick and pour the *Orange glaze evenly over top. Serve warm. Disposable loaf pans work great for this, as the pans hold all the glaze and keep the cake moist.

*Orange Glaze

1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar.

Combine orange juice and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until a light syrup forms.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I know I've said this before

I know I've said this before. But I've got an idea for how to do the Ohio River book. It has been two years since my Ohio River Journey, and I've struggled with how to write about it. I have hundreds of pages written, but no direction. Last summer I wrote fifty pages of what I thought was "the book." I gave up because the writing didn't excite me. It was too plotted, too planned. I knew the outcome. Boring. My new way preserves plenty of mystery. I need mystery. That is what keeps me coming back to write, the need to know how it will all turn out.

Friday, December 21, 2007

New writing

I began a new piece of writing last night that I feel pretty good about.

Magic

The short stories of Andre Dubus are beginning to work their magic on me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Today

1. Fixed a chicken and rice dish.
2. Sat by the fire and had coffee.
3. Watched the news.
4. Researched about the sitar.
5. Read three short stories by Andre Dubus.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Power outage

The lights flickered at about one in the afternoon. The digital clocks blinked fast, as though to warn us. The televisions, which were turned off, also blinked in the dim rooms. The pantry refrigerator was overcome from the fluctuations and sparked. Allen threw the breakers. We were out of electricity for about five hours. When we saw the lights come on at our neighbor's, Allen went back to the fuse box and let the electricity flow back into our lives again.

It is a completely different world without electricity. Even in your own house, you notice it, how quiet the world is. How turned in you are to your own thoughts. How alive the walls are, catching the light from the flickering candles.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Later

1. I didn't mention that I brought my black cat inside, out of the cold. I gave her a whole can of Friskies and some cream. She crawled into a chair and slept a long, long time.

2. Tonight I read an article in The New Yorker about the author Malcolm Lowry who wrote a book I'd not heard of, Under the Volcano. Lowry lived a tumultous life, it seems, but reading about how important writing was to him was inspiring.

13 Ways

1. I start the Nan. I make the dough so it can rise while I prepare the rest of the meal. I use my best Nan recipe. It calls for a half-cup of plain yogurt. This makes the bread flavorful and soft. To the yogurt you add ¾ cup boiling water and a package of dry yeast, a tablespoon of sugar, salt to taste, ¼ cup butter, a large egg. Mix it all around. Then put in your flour, 3 cups, unbleached. It will be soft and sticky. Knead it until it is smooth. Oil on the hands works good for this.

2. You have to let it rise until double. The back of the cook stove works good for this. Your partner has the house nice and warm, although it is cold and snowing outside. He has lots of wood stacked inside the house. Wood stoves make the best heat. A warm house makes better bread.

3. It takes a lot of onion to make good curry, about two cups. I peel two large onions and dice them, cooked them in oil until brown. I grate the ginger. Have you ever tasted freshly grated ginger? It is pungent and hot. It burns your tongue. Once you have tasted it you won’t want to use ginger from a jar. Then all the spices! Cumin, turmeric, ground red pepper, paprika, garlic, coriander. Add the tomatoes, blended smooth. Add meat, if you like, lamb, chicken, or beef. Add a little water. Cook for an hour and half.

4. When it’s done, make the spinach. Add onions to the spinach and lots of spice.

5. Add the spinach to the curry.

6. Make the rice. It has to be basmati. There is no other kind of rice, is there? To the water add some turmeric, a little bit of fennel, flax, and coriander seeds. Boil. Put in the rice and wait. It’s hard to wait, I know, but you will be busy. You still need to fix the Nan.

7. Punch down your dough and shape the Nan. You will have eight rounds. Bake them at 500 degrees for about 5 minutes. Try to brown them on both sides.

8. Now the rice is ready.

9. Put it all on the table in pretty dishes. Play music by Ravi Shankar. Taj Mahal Beer is the best. But if you don’t have that, try champagne. It doesn't have to be expensive champagne. Ours isn't.

10. Don’t eat too fast, even though you are hungry. Savor it. This has all taken about five hours to do. Don’t rush the actual eating part of it.

11. The champagne will make you laugh. You will clinck your glasses together and make toasts to the two of you. Your partner will eat the bread and tell you to smell the bread. It smells like life, he will say. It smells like you, he will say. Ravi Shankar will be playing in the background. Every time you listen to Ravi Shankar you realize how whole his music makes you feel.

12. Smile when your partner tells you it’s days like this that remind you what a good life you have.

13. Don’t forget about your after-dinner treat. Yogurt, mango, sugar and ice make something called a lasse. This goes will with the movie you watch together, Satyajit Ray’s The World of Apu.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Later

1. I took a really long and really hot bath.
2. During the bath I read 40-pages of Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words by Steven Gould Axelrod. (1990)
3. I also read 40-pages of Four Poets and the Emotive Imagination by George S. Lensing and Ronald Moran. (1976)
4. Reading Four Poets felt strange because the authors kept talking about James Wright as though he were still alive. Which, of course, in 1976 he was. But reading this book feels like being caught in a time warp.
5. Reading Four Poets makes me sad for what has been lost with the death of James Wright.

The last few days

1. Fog settled low over the gray fields. It lasted all day.
2. I watched a woman in tight pants carrying a paper sack by the handles. She was a large woman and her hips were beautiful as they swayed inside the pants. The sack seemed empty. She passed a building which had been blocking the wind. I watched the wind blow the sack behind her as she held fast to the handles. I couldn't stop looking at her and became so involved in watching her that I didn't think about the wind as I, too, passed the building. The wind blew off my hat. The hat went tumbling over the wet ground. I chased it but couldn't get it until it, mysteriously, stopped and lay still long enough for me to pick it up. Allen was waiting for me in the truck. He didn't see me. He was looking at The New Yorker!
3. I had lunch today with my friend Debbie at Call of the Canyon Cafe. She paid! We had a great window seat. I thought I saw a snowflakes now and then.
4. When we left the cafe, I told Deb, "It's colder now!" She said it just seemed that way because all the blood was flowing to our stomachs to help digest our meal. That made sense! It was a good time.
5. Allen and I stopped by the grocery store to stockpile items for the snowstorm which is supposed to arrive sometime tomorrow.
6. I read a very good short story by Tobias Wolff. "In the Garden of North American Martyrs."
7. I read two essays about Wallace Stevens's poetry.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tonight

Tonight it is snowing. I spent a long time in the bath reading something that moved me, that made me want to move on to the next sentence, and then the next. The writing surprised me, excited me, fulfilled me. It had power. I thought, I want to write like that. This is how I want to write.



Outside it is so cold. We will get two inches, maybe three. Inside the fire is burning.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Fire

Just trying to keep fires burning--in every way.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Last Week of School Then Finals Week Countdown

1. I lost Saturday. I slept and lay around all day. I was really sick with something.
2. I did watch three episodes of The Sopranos late Saturday night.
3. Slept a lot Sunday, too, but got up feeling better.
4. Had coffee by the fire.
5. Fixed a simple supper for us. I even made a sweet potato pie.
6. Graded papers and recorded grades.
7. Accidentally let the fire go out in the woodstove.
8. Broke sticks to build a new fire.
9. Got the fire going again. It will be cold tonight. It is so windy!
10. Even though I was sick, enjoyed watching the first real snow of the year.
11. Thought about my writing, what to do, where to go with it. Decided it excites me enough to forge ahead.

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken

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Fave Painting: Eden

Fave Painting:  Eden

Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
by Albrecht Dürer

From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych

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Little Deer

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Transformation

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Looking Forward, Looking Back

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