Sunday, October 23, 2011

of mac & cheese and chocolate pudding

i made cheater pudding last night.
sounds intriguing, until you realize that i just opened a box of my T fine and added the soy milk. but to me, it's cheating. because it's not from scratch. not that i ever make chocolate pudding that's not from scratch. not that i ever make pudding more than a few times a year, when i remember that i can.
i remember going to the supermarket with my mom when i was a kid. we'd walk through the jello aisle and occasionally we'd pick out a box of jello, usually of the red or orange family. but the puddings? nope. never. no way. we just weren't a pudding family. for some reason, jello, made from pig bone-derived gelatin, artificial colorings and sugar, was bound to be a better choice than pudding, made from cocoa, sugar and milk. and that's okay, because we weren't a mac and cheese family, either. in fact, i'd only tasted a box of kraft cheese & mac once, while sleeping over some kid's apartment in the projects. of course, i then figured that if you lived in the projects, you were probably eating kraft dinner. however, i was also fed roast at her house and smurfberry crunch over there, so my worldview was pretty skewed for a seven-year old. let me add that my husband, who did not grow up in the projects, was quite experienced with kraft macaroni and cheese and chocolate pudding, which his mom used to make all of the time.
the next time i had mac and cheese was at my house, when i was in high school and wanted to cook something. i convinced my mom to let me make a baked mac & cheese casserole for supper, from a recipe i'd found in the joy of cooking. (in retrospect, i do believe that the title of that book is a definite misnomer, as the more recipes i tried from there, the less joy i found in cooking, and it wasn't until i branched out to other books did i realize that i could find much happiness in cooking, as long as i stayed away from the joy.) so i grated the cheddar, poured the milk, boiled the pasta, melted the butter, added the mustard. i baked the thing at required temperature for the required time. i made a salad. i served the meal. i realized that i couldn't stand macaroni and cheese.
i attempted mac and cheese again when i was in college. this time with two friends (one whom i later married), a brick of velveeta, and some pasta. or maybe we were just eating it on crackers. at any rate, my stomach was not having it. easy come, easy go.
marriage brought wacky mac at our house and pudding at my mother-in-law's house. chocolate pudding. poured into individual bowls. awaiting eager mouths after whatever meal she served (take out/turkey/pizza/steaks) and awaiting the cream that was balanced on the skin--THE SKIN!!!!!--of the pudding.
my mother-in-law's cheater chocolate pudding brought back a vague memory of me looking longingly at the refrigerated cases at various diners, in which plates of sliced cakes, pies and oh! stemmed glass bowls of chocolate pudding topped with a spray of whipped cream were housed. the one time i ordered one, i was surprised at its texture. it was somewhat gelatinous and smooth, but not as delicate as new jello. it was more like the tougher bottom skin--skin!!!!--that forms when the jello isn't mixed well enough. except that this pudding was thick. at least the top was thick. the rest was somewhat creamy, and not as sweet as i'd have liked. but i had to eat it since i'd requested this as my one desire. i wasn't impressed.
my mother-in-law's chocolate pudding was sweeter and, what i realized later, much fresher. it was made with love and mixed with manipulation, bitchiness and criticism. sure, there was that skin on top. my husband says it's the best part.
last night, i served this pudding. my T fine. it took me until i had kids to realize that there was no such thing as a "T fine" and that the "my T" was supposed to be "mighty." i can't believe they paid advertising execs to come up with that. but, as usual, i digress. i put the bowls on the table in front of the kids.
"it has a skin," A, my almost seven year old said.
"i think that's supposed to be the best part," i replied.
my oldest ate it. my youngest poked at it. my four year old refused to eat it."the stuff in the cups from the store is better," he said. my almost seven year old demanded a different dessert. "it has a skin," he repeated. "it's like butt pudding. i can't eat this." he proceeded to play a song on his armpit.
i tasted it but the word "epidermis" kept popping up in my head, bringing back memories of junior high science classes and the seemingly inevitable reality that maybe i'm just not a chocolate pudding person. i can live with that.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

ramble on bec

i swear, i need to warn my characters. yep. things are about to get worse. much, much worse. like, mega-hyper-uber worse. worse than tossing trash all over the yard. worse than graffiti on the front door proclaiming horrible things about the main character. worse than arson and things blowing up and a herd of elephants being dropped on the car while dressed in drag (okay, that probably won't happen in this novel) and worse than random drownings and uninvited in-laws popping over during the yearly coke binge. do people still do coke anymore? i can't see the point when coffee has been decriminalized.... speaking of which, i sometimes wonder if my columbian coffee is laced with something a little bit more potent than caffeine. you know, like maybe more caffeine. mega-hyper-uber caffeine. the stuff they were drinking during the cuban missile crisis. speaking of which, that bay of pigs paper i wrote in high school? i think i knew less about the bay of pigs when i finished than i did when i started.
oh, so i was going to warn my characters.
that's ridiculous. of course i'm not going to warn my characters. i may have to warn myself. i hate when i get too attached and then something bad happens and i have to fight the urge to bawl like a baby while melodramatically screaming out "why, oh why must it be so hard to torture people who don't exist in real life????"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

death, disembowelment and writing

i often wonder about the level of cruelty that drives a person to write me to write.
a long time ago, in a different life that i once had, i was told that people who become shochets (jewish ritual slaughterers) and butchers are often driven to do so because they have, somewhere within, perhaps a drive towards violence, or murder, or lust for blood, or any of these bizarre things, and so this field is almost like a safe way of having those desires manifest themselves in something positive, like the killing and cutting up of animals for food. (disclaimer: i have no idea who told me this/where i read this, but i'm tempted to say that it was during a telephone discussion with someone having more jewish knowledge than i did at the time.) it seemed to make sense on some level: a person picks a profession based on their interests. of course, one could just as easily become a surgeon: blood, gore and good deed. whether or not i believe that there is any divine force that enters into this (i do not) isn't the issue. the issue is in cruelty.
i once had a student say to me "wow, this writer is really twisted to come up with such stuff." he was referring to the very last bit of steinbeck's grapes of wrath. (i'm not going to give the end away, sorry.) i've heard the same phrase used to describe stephen king's work. and that of charlotte perkins gilman. i've received comments from people saying the same thing about my own work. one of the best writing professors i've ever had, made the point that one must torture his/her characters. "whatever happens, make it worse. keep making it worse."
so i torture my characters. and sometimes, i make it worse and worse, but i don't make it better. so i torture my readers as well. sometimes i show such cruelty to my characters that i have to stop writing for a bit, just to regroup and remind myself that they're not real.
is it more cruel to be in a profession in which one regularly causes death and dismemberment and butchering and disemboweling? is that a healthy manifestation of whatever cruelty is inherent in the human psyche? is that an acceptable and normal way of acting on it? does one's profession has anything to do with one's personality? how many people in this day and age would gladly take a job clopping cattle on the head before sending them to their death? or, in jewish slaughterhouses, slash a cow's jugular (or whichever vein is being sliced open) with a specific ritually prepared knife in order to kill them?  or is it crueler to be a writer, where one routinely creates characters to torture? and where one may or may not hide bits of reality in fiction, as a way of torturing those who have wronged that writer?
do writers of psychological terror possess a higher level of cruelty than writers of ABC books for kids?
and when i torture my characters, am i more cruel than a butcher/baker/candlestick maker?
are killers of cows more cruel than killers of chickens?
if i still lived in the world of ritual slaughter, would i have been a knife wielding maniac, wearing blood-spattered hip boots and rubber coveralls, waiting anxiously for the next animal on my line?
would meatballs and spaghetti still taste as good?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

trash and the things i think about

i'm done with capital letters on this blog. that's the main reason why it's been a whole season since last i posted. i was feeling extremely cramped by the formality of the upper case, and it wasn't sitting at all well with me. so i think that now that i'm able to go back to my lowercase comfort level, i will be able to post more often.
i'm currently working on trash, my novel project. it's driving me crazy. i think i totally screwed up the narrative voice, as i have several different voices speaking in first person. however, at times i'll look through certain points and find that the voices are, in fact, quite distinct and maybe it's not awful. so maybe it's not that i should be working in third person omniscient, but that maybe i need to make the voices more unique in the places where that uniqueness may be lacking. the war with the narrative voice(s) is out of control and for a bit was interfering with the plot and subplots. i am working within the shakespearian realm of tragicomedy, so my subplots are a bit bizarre, in direct opposition with the main plot, which is quite serious in nature. however, the two do tend to intertwine at times, so that's a fun mix. there is so much insanity, even with the main plot, that i really am grateful to my friends in law, law enforcement and medicine, who have been eagerly helping me to make sure that my main plot remains believable. 

just to keep it real here, i should provide you with a bit of the important....

a quick list of some of the things i think about when i think people aren't looking

-is there a direct correlation between underwear size and price?
- do clothing designers get a sick thrill out of purposely creating ugly garments and seeing people purchase and wear their creations?
-are the artists who design the designs on toilet paper told that they are going to be used on toilet paper? did matisse start out as a toilet paper artist?
-when will mosquitoes become extinct?
-why don't they make nicer sounding voices for people who've had a tracheotomy?
there are other things i think about, but i need to save something for my next blog post, several seasons from now. the good thing is that maybe i don't have to completely overhaul that narrative voice.