Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Canning and Writing
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.