Archives: creativity

Library Love

When I enter a library for the first time reverence and joy washes over me. Regardless of the city, it is a homecoming. There are no strangers in libraries because they are populated by readers.

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/growing-up-in-the-library

If you love libraries the above link to a New Yorker article written by Susan Orlean will delight you. It mirrors my memories of discovery and wonders experienced at each visit.

Inner-city Chicago miles from the culturally rich lakefront was not a mecca of reading. Our local public grammar school was more adept at processing children on a conveyor belt of mediocrity than instilling a love of reading. One astute teacher sent a note to my mother. Madame: Please allow your daughter to get a library card at the local branch of the Chicago Public Library. It is necessary for her to continue her studies.

She made the request to the mothers of three other students in the fourth-grade class of 42 students. She rightly guessed our mothers would grant permission because the note written on school stationery, mentioned a sanctioned city facility. Gratefully she was correct.

The Sherman Park Branch Library, named for the founder of the Chicago Stock Yards, not some far off general was added to the park in 1937. Perhaps it was built as a depression-era works project by some of the skilled immigrant artisans who populated the city and my neighborhood.

At age nine I lingered outside the imposing building afraid to go in. The librarian sat at a huge oak desk that faced the front door. She must have seen me as I paced the walk. She opened the door and I froze. The emerging woman said, “May I help you?”

I became a stutterer in the moment. Gradually, I calmed my voice and got the nerve to say, “My teacher says I have to have a library card.”

She extended her right hand toward me and said, “Welcome. My name is Lucy Ingram, and you are?”

I’d neither shaken hands nor had an adult introduce herself to me.

“Come in. Let’s see what kind of books you like.”

The generosity of the teacher who led me to a door and the librarian who opened it gave me the greatest gift of my life. Though our libraries are closed due to the Corona Virus, our tireless librarians strive to foster our communities. Zoom book club meetings, email chains, and shared resource links allow us to maintain our community, while in the background library staffs meet electronically to explore other ways to connect, develop wellness programming and seek grants for the betterment of our library experiences now and in the post lockdown future.

I hope to see you perusing the shelves soon.

Recipes and Novels or Novel Recipes

A good recipe has the same characteristics as a good novel. And cooks like novelists are pantsers or plotters. Social isolation is the test of both. I am a self-acknowledged pantser. I was raised in a southern, struggling to make ends meet, kitchen. That’s code for making do with what you have. Boom or bust my pantry staples include grits, cornmeal, peas, and beans. Every kind of peas – crowder, field and black-eyed. Every kind of dried bean – navy, red, black, and pinto. In their native form, none sound appetizing but like a writing inspiration, it is the possibility of each. My travels sometimes on limited funds lead to other pantry staples, soy, pesto, capers, yuppie tuna, and ramen. My career opened doors to savories I had not known existed. Today’s pantry is a mélange of days good and bad and the sum being greater the parts.

I read recipes like I read novels. I want a sense of place, culture, character, and accessibility. Nothing like a plot twist, the expected ratcheted up a notch by the unexpected.

When I deviate from my nature I shop with a list of ingredients for recipes I imagine I will cook someday like novels I think I will write. This has led to a pantry, freezer and corner cabinet filled with the esoteric. Before the advent of COVID19, many items were threatened or doomed by an advancing shelf-safe date. Lists are a luxury unaffordable in a pandemic. My kitchen has become a lab of reverse engineering.

A week ago I bought a ham at the local butcher. Yesterday two cans of butter beans became visible with a roulette spin of the lazy Susan. Voila. The plot soup. The characters – the antagonist ham dying to be used while still viable, beans the protagonist, use me before I’m thrown on the heap. Subplots include spices and savories. Accessibility the trigger of all five senses heightened by anticipation, memory, and comfort. Reward gratification of accomplishment and leftovers on shelf or in freezer for re-reads.

My sense of possibility housed in my sense memory is not unlike the rules of grammar. Both are meant to be revered and broken on the altar of creativity.

What’s in the pot?

Diced Ham

Onion

Garlic

Red Pepper Flakes

Bay Leaf

Pinch of Ground Cloves

Canned Butter Beans               

Chicken Broth

Play with the flavors and the proportions, taste, edit, revise and serve.

Cara Caras, Baking, and Readers

Cara Caras, Baking, and Readers

 

I am a writer and a baker. When I feel stuck in my writing, I bake. I recently made a new recipe: Cara Cara Cake. A Cara Cara is a seasonal orange available in the northeast from late January until almost March. The bright rind is a color once limited to circus clowns. The semi-sweet, juicy flesh imitates the dark pink of Blood Oranges. I stumbled upon a recipe for a Bundt-type cake that included two whole unspecified oranges. I chose the Cara Caras to adapt the cake  chttps://food52.com/recipes/75095-sunset-s-whole-orange-cake as I choose the identity markers of a character, accessible and yet unexpected.

I don’t believe a recipe has to be followed to the letter for a good outcome. I am a pantser as a writer and as a baker. Recipes are concepts rather than scripture. First drafts, like a new recipe, are a test of imagination and skill. Submission-ready manuscripts are concepts tempered and coereced into final formats, like batter that becomes a fully iced and decorated cake.

 

Despite experience in both arenas I have yet to learn which of my creations will be a hit with my audience. I expected my new cake to be good, but I did not expect it to elicit rhapsody from the various audiences served. The response was so great I was asked for the recipe by a dozen people. Every event after the first serving brought a request for a re-bake. While flattering, I try not to repeat recipes just I try not to create stale characters. Yet, I have come to learn that an audience is a collaborator regardless of what I create. I have to trust that that the taster of my deserts or the reader of my work has accepted what I present and that in some way it touches on what is good food for him or her. I also have to accept when collaborators withhold feedback or give flat responses. Thank god for tasters, editors, and readers.

© 2020 Lee Heffner – Author