Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Canning and Writing

This past Sunday, instead of writing the last chapters of my current Work In Progress, I went out to the local Farmer's Market with my wife and bought a box of canning tomatoes and a large basket of peaches.

There are certain times of the year when the harvest gives you wonderful gifts -- gifts that I feel need to be preserved in some way so they can be appreciated later.  Say, in the cold, dark months of winter.

During the winter, my bear-like mammalian nature comes out and argues quite convincingly for me to adopt hibernation as a best defense against the cold.  Making a peach cobbler from a jar of peaches canned in the heat of the summer is one of the finest counter-arguments for staying awake that I know.

(The failure of the mortgage payment and various utility and insurance bills are a separate counter-argument all of their own.  Theirs is one of necessity, not of the finer things life has to offer)

I put in a steady 8 hours on Sunday, prepping, boiling and cooling both tomatoes and peaches to remove their skins and cooking up a huge vat of tomato sauce (garlic, onions, red wine, fresh basil, Italian spices, and a reduction of tomato juice, wine and more spices).  That was followed by sterilizing the jars, getting filled jars into the pressure canner and letting steam and pressure do their job sealing the jars.

After 9pm I had 12 quarts of tomato sauce and 9 quarts of peaches lined up on the kitchen counter.

The whole time I was doing this, my laptop was sitting on the kitchen table, reminding me that I had planned to finish up my current WIP that weekend.  The pulsating glow from the closed latch was like the heartbeat of that unfulfilled wish.  I even opened my WIP's document in one of the times the pressure canner's weighted pressure disc was rattling on the other side of the kitchen, hopeful that I could at least make some token progress.

Despite knowing what my character was going to do next and what elements around him were going to continue to conspire to make everything that much harder for him, I stared at the screen and came up empty.  The hissing and sputtering from the pressure valve had far more energy than I had for anything other than to slog through the rest of the canning job.

When I was younger, I wrote reams and reams of letters.  Letters are easy: they're all about me, what I'm doing, what I've seen, what I've been thinking, my reactions to all that's going on around me.  They're also easily interruptible.  Back in my Kite Site days, I'd write a letter throughout the course of a work day, in between helping customers, ringing up sales, cataloging inventory and doing window designs.

Writing fiction, I have found, requires the same concentrated energy that canning does.  Fiction is not all about me, it's about my characters.  Fiction can't easily be stopped and restarted; fiction demands the respect and attention that all good art commands.  Fiction requires a consistency that means long stretches of uninterrupted concentration, long stretches of time devoted entirely to the writing.

I'm sure there's a pressure analogy here, too, but I'm just not finding it.  : )

So, this past weekend I canned.  This week I'll resume writing, knowing that come winter, I'll have another set of good reasons to get up in the morning.

Besides, I'm sure another WIP will be calling after me, demanding time and attention as well.

-- Tom


  1. This post made me hungry! I went to my first canning party last week and canned homemade salsa. I bought my own 'beginner' kit and can't wait to try more things. As you saw in my blog post, I'm also a believer in enjoying the moment--I think the writing is all the better when you spend time enriching your life in other ways. Good luck w/ the canning and the writing! :) Kristi

  2. the great thing about writing is that if you're looking at life as all being potential fodder for your fiction, you need to be experiencing life fully so you can write about it later.

    maybe one of your characters is really into canning. who knows? now you'll be able to write about it from a perspective of knowing how it's done.

    hope your salsa is even better when you open it up sometime down the road!

    -- Tom