Monday, July 23, 2012

Hard-pressed for Inspiration

I've been staring at the screen for at least an hour. Maybe longer.
I lose any sense of time when I get into the mood to write. Even if I'm at work, going through piles of old software instructions. The repetitive motions of scratching out, underlining, circling, writing notes, questions and comments...

What page am I on? Only page thirteen? Should get a couple more pages done.

It's easy to forget how long I've stared at the words. I try to keep at least 12 hours between revisions. Otherwise the revisions blur together and I lose track of what engineer said what about which component and what was wrong with it and why it's where it is.

But I don't really want to talk about my job. I want to talk about the numbness of a blank mind staring at a blank page.

It's empty. A vast galaxy of white space. A canvas to which an artist such as myself can paint beautiful pictures and carve out wonderful stories. While I have some ideas for stories, the first thing I always want to do with a fresh page is create a fantastical setting. Like the first scene of a film that opens on a blue sky sparse with clouds and then pans down to a quaint home or cottage, or even a bustling apartment in a city. It's that first image and all of its quiet descriptions that set the tone for the first five minutes: how saturated the colors are, the shape of the clouds, the harshness of the light, whether there is wind or not and if there is, then whether the wind is coy and gentle or strong and unyielding.

"The soft glow of the dawning sun whispered through the space between the buildings and shyly crept into bedrooms."

But that's the only thought that I can think of right now. I usually get stuck when I write, and it's usually because I spend too much time thinking of appropriate and descriptive adjectives and interesting nouns than the topic of my though.

See? I just did it again.
I could have easily said "...too much time thinking of adjectives and nouns..."
But I didn't. It's not necessarily a problem, but it's not the answer. Tolkien was a big describer and I hated the long, drawn-out scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring with Old Man Willow. Does it really take two pages to describe a tree's roots? Apparantly.
Now, I'm not hating on Tolkien. I appreciate his intelligence and diligence in creating a coherent world with its own language, its own hierarchy of living creatures and the impending doom that resides in something so unassuming as a ring.

But I don't really want to talk about Tolkien's infamous LoTR trilogy.

Actually, I'm not quite sure what I want to talk about.
How about the fact that I have four notebooks at home, each containing segments of stories that will never be put together because I don't have the patience to write out such boring tidbits like Tolkien did with Old Man Willow? I'll admit it, I'm a little lazy. My hand takes too long writing out the words while my brain is already shooting off into the distance and by the time I realize there's a gap between the engine and the baggage car, the tracks are cracked and split and I cannot keep the connection. The thread holding my fragile story together is frayed, broken, unraveling at such speed and with such ferocity that the only way to live with myself at all is to abandon ship.
The parts of a story that I know need to be written -the aside to the stepmother about an assumed assassination on the king, a snippy quarrel between friends that result in the ultimate backstabbing, a monologue about the bitterness that sits in the protagonist's heart- I have little faith that these scenes will play out on paper the way they do in my head. I do what any self-medicating human does: I skip it.
Like a question on a test that I'm not completely sure about, I skip it and continue on my merry way. I know that when I come back to it, I still won't know the answer. Even if I guess, there's a chance that I'll be wrong. And the test -a.k.a. my story, for those who can't follow analogies- is incomplete. Forever haphazard in its existence and I am the one at fault.

Oh, I realize that I could curb my rebellious intention of deliberately leaving a certain chapter alone until it "solves itself " and say the lines aloud, base the pending actions and phrases on past experiences and curious glimpses into the possibility of the future that takes place with what-ifs... And yet it makes me queasy with blasphemy in making my characters act in such a desperate way that only echoes my own feelings: a desperate need to finish the scene. But such desperation often brings out the worst in me and when that happens, my characters reflect my uneasiness. They appear out-of-character when they really shouldn't and they start to say things that make me that much more frustrated.
I usually end up ripping the pages out of the notebook, because honestly, is it worth using up all of my good eraser trying to remove it all?

I used to write in pen. Then I realized that half of my pages were colored in like a spastic three-year old found a cross-word puzzle and assumed it was their coloring book.
An eraser is a writer's good friend.
The paper shredder is a writer's best friend.
And empty paper is the enemy.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


This is a topic that I have very strong feelings about. They run deep, as deep as they can go, and they're pretty bold. That might be because of my not-so-perfect childhood. Since I was younger I've noticed that others have shared my experience. Some turned out perfectly fine, some turned out OK and others are like me: permanently messed up in the head. Now, I'm not saying I was beaten -although from stories I'm hearing from my older siblings, it got close to that on several occasions- and I'm not saying that my parents were negligent, although that's not entirely true... Alright, let me start from the beginning.

My parents got divorced when I was in middle school.
Yeah, not quite the shocker when it comes to childhood disturbances. I realized a long time ago that it could have been a lot worse: personally, I was never beaten. I was never deprived of food or locked in the basement as punishment. I was never whipped, belted, smacked around, sexually abused, kicked into a foster care system, turned out onto the street or over medicated so the 'rents could have "quiet time".

My father figure disappeared in a silent manner, which was probably the best thing he's ever done since my parents married. As children, we were happy and blissfully ignorant. My mom made sure that we never saw my father when he was dunk, we were always taken care of at another house when he turned violent, that he never laid a hand on us in any way, that we generally stayed occupied the whole time with her side of the family, and participated in sports and activities such as music lessons. The thing is, mom did such a good job protecting us from him that he ended up not being there. During the week he was at work from early morning to late night and we often ate dinner without him. Saturday and Sunday mornings I remember him sitting at the table drinking coffee and Diet Coke and then he was off with his buddies. When I was a 7th grader in middle schooler, there was a whole week that went by where I didn't see him at all. I'm still awe-struck by the fact that none of us kids said anything because he was never around to begin with. One morning my mom kept me home from school and told me that he had moved out, he would never be coming back, and the paperwork for divorce was in transit.

I cried because I was a statistic. It upset me more that my family had fallen into the trap and could be grouped with all the other single-parents on the East coast who had their parent member walk out. I couldn't make myself cry over him, or be upset because he left, or that I would never see daddy dearest again. I had no bond or emotional attachment to him.

Since then I have been wary of relationships. The one's I've had I tried to keep light and playful but as soon as it turned into something serious, I was out. I made myself out to be a bitch just so there was an excuse to end it. I'm truly selfish, but I look at it now as self-preservation. I am terribly bitter about my position in society and I still get unruly when people ask "What does your dad do?"
Another string that ties into this is that I'm a slight feminist. Certainly not an extremist, but I think it's unfair that men get most of the credit for having healthy children and healthy families and the best jobs int he market- from my own experience, father figures suck. Mine never proved he was worth spit and I still carry that with me. My mom worked herself to exhaustion to keep us kids together, happy and unknowing. It's thanks to her that I got the encouragement and funding for college, it's thanks to her that I stayed in college even after I realized my GPA was below par. She even started her own IT Networking company several years agao and is still running the company herself. So when people ask about my dad... Well, I get snarky.
 Now don't get me wrong, I can appreciate successfully marriages and happy families -Hell, many of my friends have happy parents who are still married, or got divorced but remain friends. It can happen, I realize that.
I also realize that it is a rare gift to be able to grow up with that. I stopped checking out the statistic, but the last time I looked the divorce rate in the US was something like 62%. That's a scary amount of divorce. Not everyone has a good experience from it. That is what makes me balk at having a relationship.

Let's consider a scenario. Let's say that I get over myself, find a young man -or woman (it's 2012, anything can happen)- have a healthy and happy and long relationship. We get married. Two or three years into the marriage, once we're comfortable with each other, we plan kids.

Hell. No.

This is where I will forever keep my opinion, and where the title of this particular post comes into play.
I was a kid once. The early years were hella fun. I had a huge blast playing and running around and playing soccer and making friends.
I also lost almost every friend I ever made within a year because they decided I was fun, but not cool. I also got majorly disappointed and depressed when my childhood soccer team fell victim to prejudice. Teachers and coaches and my musical Boards became overwhelmed with picky people who had their favorites and doted on them while ignoring everyone else. I got shy, nervous, smarmy, sarcastic, biting and very defensive. My teen years were hell for everyone involved.

Even if I get the balls to force myself to find some sort of love with another human being and try to procreate, even if I talk myself into thinking that childbirth isn't that painful (another "Hell No" right there. I have cable, I see what happens and that shit is no walk in the park) there's still the fact that I will be in charge of a helpless and defenseless living creature that will one day turn out to be exactly like me.

Again, please: Hell. No.

I was there for my childhood. I saw how my mother tried to tame me and it didn't work half the time. I remember losing friends, hanging out with the wrong crowd, getting pushed around and being made fun of. I do not want to be responsible for that.
I said it before and I'll say it again: I'm selfish. I really am.
Also, I consider myself damaged goods, like a Pontiac Trans Am. I look nice and I can sure talk nice, but ask me to have the stamina to cover a road trip and I'll bottom out at end of the driveway. I don't think I'm meant to have kids because of the way I am. I'm crude, rude, selfish, quick to point out faults... I've seen parents like that. My brother has told me that's how our father was. Mom's made comments about it to, how "that must come from your father".
I don't want to be like him. If I already am, then I should be smart enough to stop before I completely follow his example. I do not want to be the reason for increasing the nation's divorce rate. I refuse to be the cause of a broken family because that hurt runs deep and it never goes away. Besides, I have the attention-span of a goldfish and I wouldn't parent the brat properly. If I were to have a child, I would want them to be polite and well-behaved and confident. I'm not any of those things, so therefore I cannot provide by example. My child would be the screaming one in the candy aisle while I light up a joint in the back because "I can't deal with it". There are better parents out there. I'll leave the child-rearing to them.

I wish I could leave this on a happy note, but seeing as how I'm incredibly bitter right now I don't think that's possible. Except, maybe to thank my mom once again, who managed to not break down under the pressure of raising three kids, keeping a house and land in one of the most expensive counties on the East coast, always having family pets, affording vacations and camps and trips... I love my mom. For as much as I gripe about family, I'm glad she's my mom and I probably would not have turned out at all if it wasn't for her.
Thank you for being so strong, mom.

From left to right: Amy, mom holding me, Matt

Monday, July 16, 2012

The buzzz..

It's been in my head for well over 4 hours now and I can't get rid of it. It's haunting me, driving me mad to the point where I just want to break down and sob and rush home and...
...make cake.

I know I've said it before, but I'm a baking junkie. And I got it bad this time. Originally I was going to post this elaborate debate over the age-old question: Cake or pie? I know that there are people out there -poor, deprived and uncivilized people- who don't like cake.

I should sneer when I say that, because I'm one to talk. I don't really like pie.

In any case, I started writing out the complications of cake vs pie and I started searching my top favorite food websites, trying to find an image and recipe to capture my passion about cake. Glorious cake. Fluffy cake with a delicate yet moist crumb paired with a gorgeous and silky frosting- and that's when it hit me. My hankering to bake. I've kept it at bay as of late, due to the heat outside and my self-conscious attempt to train for another running event (do you know how hard it is to run 5K when your insides are stuffed with brownies and cheesecake?) but I can't deny it's there. I've dealt with my craving in short bursts of fruity sherberts and low-sugar jams or compotes. I crave for both the action and the result of this obsessive habit of mine.
The act of baking relaxes me. The stirring of the batter, measuring out the ingredients, making buttermilk and even putting all of the ingredients back in their place afterwards. It's my zen.
Of course, eating the cake is also good. I enjoy almost everything I make with a few exceptions (garbanzo pound cake, for anyone who's interest) and lately, it's been the eating aspect that I crave.

I want to stuff my face with a chocolate cake laced with caramel. I want to lick my spoon after diving into a delicious butterscotch pots de creme. I need to swim in a pool of warm dulce de leche cheesecake. I can envision these items before me as I type and I am so close to eating my keyboard in an attempt to ease this pain. I'm aching for these sugary delights and while my stomach grumbles, my brain is cackling. Because I know I've done this to myself. I've revealed my inner light, my sanctuary, and it just so happens to be full of brownies, cupcakes, cookies and cake.

Damn, we're back to cake.

I've always hated this draw toward cake because a whole cake is a lot for one person to eat, but I hate to give something away when I've carefully crafted it to my personal tastebuds! A couple of months ago I found a delicious recipe for a coffee-mug cake. It's cake, but it's single-sized portions and it's mixed and baked right in a coffee mug. The danger to this is that I'll want one every night. I did that once and I don't think my jeans have still forgiven me. So if I give in this one time and cave in and make a cake for myself tonight... what's going to stop me tomorrow? And the day after that? It will only fuel my craving and demand more. More chocolate, more white chocolate chips, more cinnamon, more Nutella, mix in that cookie butter spread, stuff it with candy bars and Oero cookies!

Oh dear lord, I've become a monster. I'll have no friends if this keeps up. Well, no human friends. I guess I can always mold a face out of the enormous pile of butter I always have in the fridge. Is that too weird? I hope someone else has an obsession as sick as mine, because I honestly don't know if I'll ever stop dreaming and drooling over sugar encrusted muffins and samples of peanut butter cookie balls.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Not Quite Grown Up

Great news!

We completed high school, got accepted in a four-year college and graduated! Some of you have gone on to graduate school to obtain a higher level of education, and hopefully a fatter paycheck, while others have settled into the monotonous habit of working in the real world. Steady pay, troublesome commuting and rationed meal plans to afford anything that you don't find off the side of the road.

As young human beings, we aren't exactly thrust into this situation. I know for a fact that my high school teachers and college professors all spouted the horrors of corporate jobs, financial blunders and familial squabbles. The real world may not be a jungle anymore, but it is still a dangerous place. The young are blissfully unaware of its habitual secrets, the middle-aged are mentally riddled with paranoia, the elderly are near comatose as a result from everyday interaction. So as we cheerfully step out from the carefully crafted umbrella of safety our teachers and parents have woven for us and into the dismal fray of modern society and technology we are deemed Grown Up.

Personally, I think it is wrong to assume anyone is ever "Grown Up". Truly, what is it that makes a person mature? Is it the ability to man up and face the facts that yes, you are actually going to have to get up every morning, Mon-Fri, 9-5, every day until your grandchildren are out of school? I hope not. But right now, sitting at a desk in a building where that is the case, I don't feel Grown Up or mature or responsible. I feel like...

Yeah. That pretty much sums it up.

I know I'm not the only one out there who feels this way. If everyone loved working and drowning in paper and test results and procedures and legal copyrights and in-house editing manuals and conferences and remote desktopping from another state, then the world would be a nicer place. Sure, there would still be power outages and famines and droughts, but people would go to and from work with a smile.

Creeped out yet?

I've decided, and I'm sure people have noticed, that I don't want to grow up. Growing Up is for old people. I'm not old! I am in my early 20s and if I want another cookie I will take that cookie and eat it with so much enthusiasm that everyone will be jealous. I will get the blue-raspberry snow cone just for the fact that it WILL turn my mouth blue and whenever I smile people will think I devoured an entire village Smurfs. I will ask for ice cream after dinner on a Tuesday evening. It's a miracle I'm not diabetic.

And yes, I understand that the real world needs to be serious and there are some serious issues that require a delicate hand. But it is physically impossible for me to accept the idea of completely losing all the joy from my childhood that made me the person I am today. If corporate life makes people trade in fun for a paycheck, then count me out. The day that happens will be the day I start selling baked goods out of my car. Do you know how many cookies you can fit in a Honda Civic? We will find out!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I've got a problem

If you have ever known me at all, you know that I love food. Ask my friends, my roommate, my family: I am obsessed with food and baking, in particular, is my bane. Allow me to elucidate.

Tell me you need a birthday cake, and I'll whip up an easy chocolate cake that is fluffy and moist and sweet. Tell me you need something dark and seductive and I'll manage to pull out a dark chocolate Sachertorte with pomegranate curd instead of apricot preserves. Say you need something for an anniversary and I have the perfect recipe for a white chocolate cake with a Swiss buttercream that will make your mouth cry and your arteries explode. I've researched and successfully created several gluten free baked goods, egg less items and completely vegan options with garbanzo beans. I don't necessarily like life challenges, but if you say "cake" then I will overcome it.
In my most frustrating moment, this past spring I made Chinese New Year pineapple tarts (I know, I know, I was a little late making these. But B+ for trying, right?) and I went through four batches of tart dough before I got a successfully buttered crumb for the base. FOUR batches. That's three sticks of butter and 3 eggs per batch. I used up over 2.5 lbs of butter in my pursuit of perfect tart dough-ness. I often do this to myself: I psych myself up for an interesting and delicious treat, lying to myself and saying that sure, I can make pineapple jam and tart dough and roll the dough out and cut it up and pile the jam on and chill the tarts and bake them with a low and slow method in one afternoon. And then the worst part happens.
I didn't plan for failure.
It was too hot for the butter so it kept melting and the key to any kind of tart/pie dough is COLD BUTTER. When cold butter gets folded in with flour and such, it spreads without melting and is folded over on itself to create multiple layers of butter, flour, butter, flour, butter, flour and end up succulent, crisp, flaky and so delicious (croissant, anyone?). But that didn't happen. My butter downright melted. My dough was the equivalent of the sloppy gruel they serve in orphanages. I went through three batches like that, throwing each one out and raving about the kitchen like a Sasquatch with an itch I couldn't reach. Three batches. The kitchen smelled of butter, I had butter on my clothes, on my feet, on the floor, in my hair. I was buttered out. And that's when I think "Maybe baking isn't fun after all".
Don't lie; I know you've been there, too. Maybe not with butter, but that level of frustration and despair is relatable.
Honestly, I'm don't quite remember what made me try to make the tart dough that fourth time. I know I cut up butter and threw it into the freezer and I made the all purpose flour/corn flour combination that the recipe called for and I prepped a bowl of pineapple jam. And... I don't know, I just kept my mouth shut and I blindly went through the steps as calmly as I could.
And it worked.
Seriously, don't ask me to explain. Maybe it was the freezer, which actually made the butter rock hard and almost unworkable. Maybe it was that the sun was setting in a glorious blaze of colors and the temperature dropped. Maybe the Baking God took pity on me and granted me this one favor. I can't tell you what happened, except that I was determined.
It's that determination that has condemned me so many times in the kitchen. I get depressed when I can't nail a recipe. I get upset when the flavors don't live up to my expectation. I mourn when my presentation is lacking. I have, in fact, cried over brownies. I have a standard that I set for myself and anything below that is inexcusable.

I guess that last sentence is the main reason I started writing this today. We have expectations for ourselves. Sometimes we set them too high and when we don't meet that... Well, I know that I turn miserable and mopey when I fail myself. There's that saying that you are your toughest critic. I always thought that was some poetic bullcrap to make people feel better about themselves. But it's true. I can't help but want to live up to a standard that I crave. I want to be accomplished in the art of baking. I want to know everything and be able to do anything and be able to say that "Yes, I did it" with a smug smile on my face because I know that I worked my ass off to make someone else impressed. Maybe that's the wrong way to look at it, but I never said I was perfect. As a human, I'm flawed. And I guess that comes into play as well. Just because I'm not perfect doesn't mean that my baked goods aren't. If anything, I feel like I put a part of myself in everything that I make, and in turn, those cakes and tarts and pies and brownies reflect who and what I am and what I'm capable of. They represent the best of me.
And the best of me is damn delicious, if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In the beginning

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled with the gentle hand of a loving King. He was just, fair, patient and loved his subjects dearly. He placated the common troubles of his people with the wisdom of his years and his experience was not lacking, for the King had spent many months trekking across the continent seeking out diversity and knowledge. Not all the knowledge can be found in a library, the King was fond of saying to his kin with an aged smile. Simply reading will not educate one on the world's difficulties and pleasures. So when his own children became of age to begin learning the skills of ruling a country...
... the King kicked them all out with a bag of Doritos, a jar of pickles and a 1980s edition of Oxford's English-to-Spanish Dictionary and slammed the kingdom gates in their faces. 

This first blog, for anyone who cares to read anything I manage to churn out, is a teaser trailer for my personality: sweet, giving, considerate... as well as undermining, snarky and blunt. I'll try to keep my insanity in check but I cannot promise anything. At least I have the chance to edit before I post it. Else I might be in real trouble. REeeeeeal Trouble. Trouble that starts with a "T" that rhymes with "P" that stands for POOL! Or polio. Really, the choice is yours.

So I suppose I should have a point with this project. There are already so many blogs on the internet, some that are neat, some that are pretty, some that are helpful, and a whole lot that aren't any of the productive adjectives I just listed. In fact, some are downright rude, crude, disgusting, pathetic, incoherent and blasphemous! But I digress. 
I suppose, if I must, that my personal goal for this is to express the multiple ways one can use words to write. 

Well, it doesn't sound that impressive when I type it with a bunch of white space in the background. And it certainly doesn't sound impressive when I say it in my head. And I certainly sound crazy as I try to say it aloud. But this is a general goal that I feel like I can handle.I'm good at making micro-managing lists, I'm terrific at coming up with ideas for projects and intros and essays but when it comes down the act of delivering on said theories... I often balk. I fall back, retreat, retract my previous statement on the grounds of unstable brainwaves. And really, even I haven't experienced the many ways of writing. 
Sure, I've tried my hand at fiction and poetry and sci-fi -who hasn't- but there's a reason why there are only a handful of celebrated authors: the rest of us suck. And sure, I went to college and obtained a Professional Writing degree. I feel that, although I was educated to the best of my abilities at the extent of my teacher's resources, my learning was stunted by the fact that "to write" covers a plethora of possibilities that no one person can cover. And even as I nod and agree with myself that this is a EXCELLENT idea... I can already tell I'll manage to find reasons to escape it. Frankly, I don't enjoy scientific research or fashion reporting and I get no joy out of reading/writing a script for a play or film. So, in short, I will reset my goal to something simple.

I promise, with or without my sardonic humor, to put forth samples of my style of writing and show how the topic, mood, intensity and location can affect my own ability to write. This might actually be a good exercise for anyone who has an interest in writing. I hate it when teachers hand out those "How to write" books that are full of pg. 4.2.12 exercise B scenarios. Those are so stale and stagnant you might as well be swimming through a southern bayou in the heat of August. So... 

Shall we do this again tomorrow?