The Mind of a Chef; Writing; Reading

THE MIND OF A CHEF. Been watching a lot of this show over the past few months, not on Netflix, but on my local PBS station. The thing I like about The Mind of a Chef is how the episodes – mini-documentaries, really – are generally so well done that I find myself investing in the lives of these various chefs, who I might not otherwise care that much about if they weren’t swaggering around the world on semi-drunken, binge-eating travelogue shows.

WRITING. Taking a cue from Warren Ellis’s newsletter, I’m going to talk about my current works in progress by giving them code names. Not because of any contractual obligations about confidentiality, but because I’m superstitious. I’ve always felt that talking too much about what I’m writing takes away some of the urgency to write it. It’s just possible that I’m just so lazy that I’ll look for any excuse. Either way, I’m going to make more of an effort because I’ve been told lately that people like knowing what writers are working on. And so…

  • PROJECT RUST: An essay for an anthology series I’m trying to crack into. It’s about 800 words about a certain sanctuary in my hometown. Gonna give it another pass or two and send it in.
  • PROJECT FLOSS: Novel that’s currently in index cards, hidden under a blanket on a table in my lab. The toes, chest, and nose are poking through. Gonna have to suck it up, switch the Jacob’s Ladder back on, and make it walk.
  • PROJECT FIELD: A short story I’m wrestling with from an idea that won’t go away. Just as well because my problem has always been follow-through. It’s been on the back burner, but I just saw a call for a story anthology for which this piece could work.

READING. Just finished Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology from Belt Publishing, because Cleveland Rocks. It’s a little frustrating though that I’m going through about 10 books simultaneously, and this one I picked up and devoured this essay collection in three days flat. Will probably read Car Bombs to Cookie Plates: The Youngstown Anthology next because it has pieces from, among others, Ed “Al Bundy” O’Neill and Christopher Barzak. And then I really need to get back to my reading queue before I start Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones & Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, but it’s tempting, since it’s her episodes currently showing on The Mind of a Chef.

And so turns the circle…

On Track to Shoot Chi or Lightning Bolts From My Hands

So I made it through my second yoga class the other day without stopping (or dying!), and I was warmed up enough that when I walked home, I barely noticed that the temperature had dropped to a balmy 7 degrees.

This time around, I was a touch less focused on just surviving the class, and could pay attention to things like exactly what my limits are right now (more than there used to be), and exactly how my body was having trouble moving (ways that never used to trouble me before).  I did do every pose though!  The quality sucked near the end, but I pushed myself as far as was reasonable I think.  That’s what matters.

And yet…

See, what I’m feeling with my return to yoga is almost exactly what I’ve been feeling like with my writing lately.  I can’t seem to bring myself to feel good about the rebuilding I’m doing.  Oh, I do it.  I take a step forward and I’m determined to show up and take the next one; lots of people would pat me on the back for that.  Yet, I know how far I’ve fallen.  I don’t go, “Yay, me! Let’s keep moving forward!”  I think, “One step down, 9,995 to go until I’m back to where I was.”

It’s motivation by self-loathing.  It’s letting fear and anger fuel me.

It’s the Dark Side of the Force.

Probably not a good thing.  But what to do about it…?

A One-Sentence Story

I woke up yesterday morning and found myself @-bombed on Twitter as I slept.  Once I had my coffee and figured out what it was all about, I saw that I was dared to come up with a one-sentence story (the longer, the better) before Wednesday.  I was going to wait until Tuesday night since I’m not the biggest taker of writing-challenges.  But then the idea struck, so I figured why not take my brain-dump now. 🙂

Thing was, I jumped the gun a little too fast and wrote a story that was just, IMO, too much the same as someone else’s.  Kinda really ticked myself off actually, but in the end, I did (despite how often I told myself not to) the only thing I could do.

So, Anatoly, Alex, Ken, Jake, Carrie, Damien, Tom, Amanda, and whoever else I might have forgotten — you have no one to blame for this but yourselves… 🙂

Mr. Fix-It
(With apologies to Mr. Carver)

After my wife (now my ex) and I took the Wisdom of Solomon to its logical conclusion, having fought hand to hand over custody of our child and managed to walk away with an arm, a leg, and half a torso each, I ran out the door over the smashed-up furniture of our broken home, which allowed us both to move on to new and separate lives with new spouses followed by new, relatively whole children, and it all pretty much went more or less as well as could be expected until our halves of our child decided they wanted to be knitted back together, which pretty much ended up being more or less as arduous a task as expected to the extent that the ex and I were forced to interact, what with all the parent/teacher conferences, therapists’ offices, and dates in family court which, I swear, the ex reveled in, not out of spite for me necessarily, but because having taken the first step to make all these things happen, she gave herself the enviable position of being the martyr on the cross up on the moral high ground at the tip top of her own personal Golgotha, which let her be the conduit for our child’s healing and allowed her in her mind to say to me during today’s latest go ’round in the family therapist’s office, “Here you are, dragging your feet,” harping, as always, that my problem was that I’m “too wrapped up in your own stuff to be fully present,” and “didn’t you learn anything from what happened to get us — and him — into all this trouble in the first place?” but what she doesn’t know is that I did, and that I came prepared with all the tubes of Krazy Glue my cargo pants pockets could hold, and if I could somehow distract her and time it just right (unlike all those years ago), I can grab both halves of the kid, do what I have to, and finally fucking be done with it all.

(350 words)


From a cool t-shirt.

Galen, from the Inkpunks crew, invited me to do a guest post for them.  I did a little Sally Fields “You like me! You really like me!!” dance in my head.  Little did she know how hard I was banging said head into my desk trying to come up with a worthy post, before she mentioned, “Oh yeah, a bunch of folks are doing posts about workshops.”  The big ones.  The ones all of us genre writers want to go to–Clarion, Odyssey, Viable Paradise, Uncle Orson’s, &c. The ones that a lot of us can’t take six weeks away from life to attend.

At least, not directly…

Check out “Autodidactic Asphyxiation” at the Inkpunks blog.

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…”

All I can say is, never say never… 🙁

I can say, though that May does look a bit better than April, which looks a damn sight better than March.

The life drama of the past few months is sort of heading toward better.  Some potential (good) dayjob drama is coming down the pike.  But life has eased up a bit, leaving me room to put some effort into my writing again.  Fiction, that is!

I’ve put the Serling project temporarily on hold for the rest of the week (although, I’ve already “failed” at this on a couple of occasions) and am working on a couple of short-stories, both for upcoming anthologies.  I almost forgot how good it felt!  After those first drafts done (I have a good 2-3 months for them), I’m hoping to use some of that momentum to finally get more done on my novella project. 

Yup, I think I feel like a writer again for the first time in a long time.

“Traffic was slow for the crash years/ There’s no other show like it ’round here”

I promised weekly writing progress reports, and I’ve fallen through.  On several levels.  So, here it is.  No excuses, no explanations, other than to say that my personal life has taken quite a few hits and it hasn’t stopped.

Prepare to be underwhelmed…

Pathetic, isn’t it?

I’m turning comments off for this entry.  I’m sure any number of friends will read this, cheer me on, and tell me not to be too hard on myself.  It’s so tempting to let them.  But the only person that’s going to get me writing again, despite everything else going on in my life, is going to have to be me.

With the help of my inner drill sergeant…

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…”

I could also call this entry, like the last one, “a dollar short and a day late.”   More like, two weeks late.

So, there’s two weeks’ worth of progress.  There were good and not-so-good reasons I missed writing time for the past two sets of Wednesdays and Fridays in a row.  This week, I’m batting 0 for 3 so far.  Oh, I’ve made tiny bits of progress, but not enough to justify X-ing out my days.  OTOH, I did score a win by finishing the first phase of my seekrit non-fiction project. 

Oh, well.  Better to light an inch then curse the dark, right?

“That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang”

Leave it to me to lose writing days on the month with the fewest…

No, I’m not having a pity party.  I’m just saying that not only did I miss a couple of days, I even low-balled some of my goals just to make sure I had Xes to make.  Still, better to light an inch than curse the dark, eh?  I did make progress with the seekrit nonfic WIP and even started a new flash story.  Which reminds me, I should find something to do with my last flash, huh…?

“Chain, chain, chaaaaaain…”

I didn’t get much done last weekend.  It was pointed out to me that I do tend to overdo it a bit during the week, and that maybe it’s worth taking a night off during the week.  I’m starting to agree–better to lose an evening or two rather than two whole fucking weekend days!  And I gotta tell you, as evidenced by the fact that I’m not going to be able to check off yesterday and probably not tomorrow, this week isn’t looking so good, either.

Although I’m willing to cut myself a break tomorrow.  Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings are coming to town!

“I can STILL hear you saying you would NEVER break the chain”

As I said last time, I’ve had my head up a project, so this is a day late.  I think I’ve made up for being sick a couple of weeks ago.  Just gotta keep the chain going, right?  Or at least try to, what with the beginning of the semester at the dayjob.

I’ve promised that I’d actually go into what it takes for me to put an X through a day.  Well, here it is…

Everyone knows how much I love A Working Writer’s Daily Planner, so much so that I’ve resolved to buy one a year for as long as Small Beer Press continues to sell them.

But I have a confession to make. After a strong start last year, I didn’t even open up my 2010 planner after October, when life just got too damn busy.  My writing suffered.  Oh, not just I stopped using the planner.  Other things just got in the way, despite my best efforts to keep on track.

This year is going to be different.  Not because I made a New Year’s resolution, but because I’d given a lot of thought to revamping my writing workflow in general.

The one thing I probably love more than my writing planner is Getting Things Done.  I owe whatever minuscule amount of success I have to that system.  But I was sort of defeating myself.  I like to compartmentalize, you see.  There are ultimately two areas of my life: “writing” and “everything else.”  But my planning and execution of my tasks didn’t reflect that.  I kept my “writing” list of next actions together with my lists of “everything else” in a planner that I try not to consult when I’m writing. 

I love my “everything else”
planner, though.

My solution: I saw that even when I consulted my 2010 Working Writer’s Daily Planner daily (mostly to check out prompts and note upcoming deadlines), I wasted a lot of the calendar’s space. This was, after all, why I switched from medium-sized planners to something pocket-sized (i.e. a weekly pocket-sized Moleskine, around which I’ve wrapped a leather 3×5 index card case).

It finally hit me that I have all this space in my writing planner and not a lot of date- and time-specific things (‘cos I don’t log every submission deadline of every market under the sun), so why not use that planner, in large part, to keep a running next-actions list?

You know, for as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve struggled with a metric to track my progress.  Word count works, but only when you’re drafting.  What word count do you track when you’re editing?  Time?  I can waste an hour doing nothing, as a famous writer (Hemingway?) suggested, but stare at the blank wall until you start typing–which doesn’t always work for me.

Enter minimal GTD.  I define the two or three goals per week, and the two or three steps I can take every day to move any or all of my given writing projects forward–and then do them–then I can focus on, as Seinfeld suggests, not breaking the chain

Every writing session now, it sits open to the current week.  There are pages at the beginning of each month with enough space to list some projects I might want to consider for the month in question, as well as ticklers for things coming up in the next month.  And I can tell myself that “all I need to do are these two or three things.” Actually doing them, however, is a different issue.  For now though, it’s enough for me to know by my chain of Xes that I am.