February 13, 2007

On Writing: The Boulder in the Kitchen


I've been on hiatus from the blog while I write up some 100,000 words for a new edition. Call it superstitious. As if we were comprised of a finite number of words and those spent here cannot be redeemed elsewhere. I know this must not be true, but when the muse is stingy there's no taking chances.

Every guide I write, the process is the same. Pets (this one, a cat named Tiger Lilly, is not even mine but an appendage of the apartment I rented) need attention. The house is dirty. I remember that I've been on the road for three months and--is that a fully equipped kitchen?--decide I need red curry made from scratch. It will help me "work better."

I don't think we resist writing because we hate it. Writing, like life, has its chores (strange how I can only clean the house while on deadline). Call it fear of mediocrity. In guidebook writing it's too easy to be dull. I need fifty ways to describe a plain, clean linoleum room, twenty to describe a plate of rice and beans. A dashing insight.

I thank god for the quirks (bare bulbs, boulders in the kitchen, grasshoppers in the stew) that we writers cling to like meat hooks. Of course, some of these turn out to be utterly useless. I search my notes for help describing a tranquil colonial city. Beyond the bus timetables, hotel and restaurant descriptions, I have scrawled one comment:

What's up with men--everywhere--using street as urinal?

And then comes the dilemma, the reason it takes an hour sometimes to wrestle 100 words of text. The fact that Ciudad X is home to indiscreet pissers may be a pointed insight, leading a random anthropologist to follow my lead on fellowship. Or, I could be scarring a noble (read "marketable") image because I just happened to visit during football finals.

I don't know how you'd solve it. I don't know how I will. But for now I'm going to make some popcorn and...hey, where's the cat?

1 comment:

Antonia said...

Hey chica,
I have heard these actions (do you know how many drawers I've rearranged while 'working' on a recent essay? the laundry is done and I, too, have tried a new, fiddly recipe) called "displacement activities." We use them to work around the writing--as you said, a fear of mediocrity makes us worried about touching the words we've already penned or putting down new ones.

It _is_ the "boulder in the kitchen" (where did you get that photo?!), and also the niggling beast that pokes you awake at four in the morning to say, "You're screwing up!" or "You have work to do! No peace!"

As for me, I'd like to know about the indiscreet pissers in Ciudad X. Like the drunken hordes on a Moscow street, it gives you something to look for as well as a minor safety precaution (in your case, watch where you step).