Saturday, November 24, 2007

Making and unmaking

So, I am greatly saddened, kind of, to say that I probably will not be finishing my novel this year. (Again.) See, the deal I made with myself was that I would do NaNo IF I had no other pressing writing assignments. And when I had no other pressing writing assignments, it went pretty well. But then I got one--something I can't talk about yet, but be assured it'll be all over this space if things work out--and, well, 1,667 spent elsewhere each day start to add up. So I'm cooling it. Plus, my Novel Voice is, I'm sorry to say, kind of boring. Sorry, Self.

The good thing about dropping out of a crazy masochistic writing event is the amount of free time I suddenly find on my hands. It seems I'd been neglecting books, movies, actual food that requires actual cooking, a crafty project or two, and maybe some people. No more! This afternoon I made this much chili:

So if nuclear winter hits this week, I think I'm good to go (corn muffins optional).

I also knitted myself a cabled beanie, which ended up being more like a cabled yarmulke. Before:
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This is the joy of small knitting projects: find that your beanie should actually have a propeller sticking out of the top? Rip back to the ribbing; you'll be fine. I think a couple of extra repeats of the cable pattern should make the poor thing at least reach my ears. Note to self: Things that stretch sideways shrink lengthwise. Words for the wise!

And now it's on to Christmas cards and Christmas music and probably a viewing of White Christmas or two. Not to mention The Noise. Are you ready? not. But at least I have some time to think about how unprepared I am.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I went with friends on Saturday night to a French restaurant in Berkeley. I tried a little of the foie gras appetizer, despite foie gras definitely being among the official Top Five Foods Liz is Unlikely to Eat, Ever--that rare combination of ethical squeamishness and general liver-y grossness being especially potent.

One of my favorite books, Julie Powell's Julie and Julia, has this to say about liver: "Now, this is going to be a stretch for some people, but I believe that calves' liver is the single sexiest food that there is. This is a conclusion I've come to relatively recently, because like almost everybody else on the planet, I've spent most of my life hating and despising liver. The reason people despise liver is that to eat it you must submit to it--just like you must submit to a really stratospheric f**ck. Remember when you were nineteen and you went at it like it was a sporting event? Well, liver is the opposite of that. With liver you've got to will yourself to slow down. You've got to give yourself over to everything that's a little repulsive, a little scary, a little just too much about it. When you buy it from the butcher, when you cook it in a pan, when you eat it, slowly, you never can get away from the feral fleshiness of it. Liver forces you to access taste buds you didn't know you had, and it's hard to open yourself to it."

I thought about that passage as I cut my portion into tiny pieces--my parents will recognize this maneuver, called "surgery" in our house--and ate it. The good news is that foie gras doesn't taste anything like creamed chicken livers on toast. It tasted like the caramelized onions it was cooked and served with, but Julie is absolutely right: the underlying flavor is, all at once, delicious and disgusting, too much in a way that makes you think, "that's really tasty, and maybe I shouldn't be eating it." It really tastes like a body part in a way that is spookier than any meat I've ever eaten.

The thing is, too, that afterwards, the sensation sticks with you: after the foie gras, I munched on mesclun with grapes and blue cheese, pommes frites, and a really delicious coq au vin, followed by part of a pear poached in wine and served with ice cream. This was a meal not to be trifled with, including some totally justified Altoid action at the end. And yet, coming home pleasantly full, what taste wouldn't quite go away? The foie gras. And here's the weirdest part: foie gras invaded my subconscious. I woke up in the early morning on Sunday and realized that I'd been dreaming of fatted goose liver and caramelized onions, and wondering whether I was somehow being haunted by the spirit of some really angry (and overweight) goose. No joke. Submit to the liver, indeed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Status report

So I ended up not flaking out, and now here I am, seven days into NaNoWriMo. Things are going pretty well--I'm consistently about a half-day behind, which is nothing to my inner jaded old-fart cheerleader. You should have seen the great finishing flood of '05! Six thousand words a day! In the snow, uphill both ways! I will say, though, that NaNo is nothing if not an exercise in self-awareness, and not always in the good way.

First of all, my capacity for wasting time is, what's the word? Oh: "staggering." I can kill a potentially useful chunk of hours without breaking a sweat. I attempt to cast on warm winter garments with the yarn I bought recently, which seems not to want to be much of anything. I compose those long, newsy e-mails I've been meaning to get around to. I watch reruns of 30 Rock (Top-secret note to James: You're right. This season is funny. "I have twelve grand in checking." "...are you an immigrant?"). I spend time with Winner of the National Book Award, which is dark and hilarious and makes me not want to stop reading. I suspect that I joined Facebook (a new development; find me and friend me if you haven't already!) solely for the purpose of not working on my novel. I am, in a word, not doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm specially gifted.

Second, I have learned that it is possible for me to fall asleep while typing. You know how when you're reading in bed, and it's kind of dim and you're warm and suddenly it's 3 a.m. and your bedside light is still on? Apparently this happens to me when I'm sitting up and the lights are on and I'm, like, in the middle of a sentence. I'm writing along, sailing through my word count, and...suddenly the last three lines make absolutely no sense. I have novel narcolepsy. Somebody should hold a telethon for me.

I do kind of like my novel so far, though. Writing without a net means that my novel will probably have a total lack of narrative/symbolic structure, which will break my heart when I try to re-read it, but it also means that I can have a kind of zero-tolerance policy towards boredom. It's a road novel of sorts, so when I stop knowing or caring what happens in one scene, I can just take my characters somewhere else and say, "And then THIS happens ('Ghosts!' 'Bible salesmen!' 'Self-help books!')!" I see that this is how all those over-quirky, self-indulgent first novels get written: it's all about things that are funny and endearing in the moment, because all you really want to be is funny and endearing. I am hoping that this translates to some kind of consistent voice over the course of the 50,000 words, but...I'm not counting on it. That's what NaNoEdMo (which apparently some people actually do, though I frankly can't imagine who) is for.

Any field reports from my fellow-novelists out there?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

37 down; 49,963 to go

Happy NaNoWriMo! I wasn't cool/dumb enough to stay up for the regional kick-off party in El Cerrito last night--midnight on a Wednesday? Bless my soul! Who am I, Paris Hilton with a laptop?--but I sat down this morning and wrote the first sentence of my novel to get things started. I didn't want to come home from work and face a blank white screen. And now I just have to type a few more words and it'll be done. NO SWEAT.

*girds up loins for massive writing effort*