Lumpy Gravy, Thoughts on Writing Well

I’m working on the rewrite of a chapter in a new book and in spite of hours of effort, when I pause to listen to what I’ve written, it sounds like lumpy gravy.

Yes, I realize that gravy doesn’t talk, sing, or make any other noise, but it still seems the perfect metaphor for my imperfect words. In case you’re not familiar with gravy and, in particular, lumpy gravy, a brief description-

Gravy is a sauce made from cooked meat juices, stock, and other ingredients. One ingredient is flour, which is used to thicken the sauce. When the flour is added incorrectly, the result is lumpy gravy, little balls of unmixed flour in the sauce, a culinary no-no. Like good writing, I believe creating good gravy, a sumptuously smooth sauce, is a combination of rigorous practicality and delicate art.

My own experience is that lumpy gravy usually results from hurrying, compromising time and care because of impatience, setting an unrealistic timeline for creating something that simply cannot be rushed. There is a proper order and way to add and mix ingredients. don’t do this and you get lumps.

what are the lumps in my writing? Words and phrases that don’t sound right, feel out of place, don’t fit the desired style, don’t truly support the theme. Adverbs and adjectives that were easy to insert but, upon reflection, don’t add anything. 

What I write seldom comes out smooth and lump free the first time. Admittedly, I rarely succeed at creating lump free gravy either. In cooking, there are two ways to fix this, stir or whisk much more, or, something few will admit to, strain the gravy through a sieve to remove the lumps. 

This is what rewriting is all about, the writer’s process of removing the lumps from his work through careful consideration, in my case, listening as I can’t see what I’ve written. Often I brainstorm words, sentences, even paragraphs. with the magic power of today’s word processing technology and my text reader friend, Alex voiceOver, I can quickly try and listen to many options, until I hear something that is smooth and feels right. And on I move to the next paragraph.

Ultimately, I’m the cook in my word kitchen and I know, that unless what I’ve written passes my taste test, unless I’ve taken the time, done the work, to make perfect, lump free, gravy, those words can’t leave the kitchen.

tio stib

2018, 2019

You might also enjoy: Writing Well

River of Words

River of Words

my life floats down a river of words
on paragraphs, syllables, tales once heard
they call out as I drift by
love and pain, both truth and lies

emphatic “yes!”
a stolid “no.”
the overused, unhelpful “so”
“goodbye”
“forever”
“I’ll be there”
“why not?”
“you said”
“I don’t care”
“quiet, please”
“how can I think?”
“have you ever seen the sky so pink?”

the words speed up
the rapids roar
fearful sounds from times before
then I’m lost and swept away
chaos and cacophony
gulping right and spitting wrong
gasping as I’m thrown along
shouting voices, “me! me! me!”
screaming insecurity
then bashed on conflict’s argument
my heart gives out
my soul is spent

in drowning plight
I see a dove
one final thought
remember

love

the verbal roar falls far behind
consciousness comes back to mind
as grace, sweet heaven, sets me free
and quiet waters welcome me

my life floats down a river of words
heading towards a voice unheard
yet whispers on the waves call me
“you can, dear one, you can be free”

love

love

love

tio stib

2017, 2019

You might also enjoy: Floating, A Mirrored Smile

The Challenge of Climbing Mountains

most think the challenge of climbing mountains
is reaching the top
sweating
aching
heart pounding
pushing past fear
step by step
to finally stand victorious
in the rare air
above the clouds of ordinary being
surrounded by distant views
of unclaimed summits

but
with each descending step
the real work begins
returning to the valley of everyday existence
the spirit begins to shrink
atrophy
for it can no longer be fed
by ordinary life

the real challenge of climbing mountains
is never surrendering the summits of our dreams
to stand alone
bold and free
with only mountaintops
for company

tio stib, 2016, 2019

You might also enjoy  Breaking Trail, Dead Horse Point 

My Dementia Diary 76 – FaceTime Karaoke

We keep downshifting through activities as my wife’s mental ability to entertain herself continues to diminish. Once, she enjoyed painting vivid abstracts and would do this for days. When that became too complicated she moved to coloring books. As her coloring projects no longer lasts more than a few minutes, it was time for something new.

Enter “FaceTime Karaoke.”

No, this is not a term you will find on Wikipedia because I made it up. It involves a video call with one of our kids with the addition of another device playing Mexican pop tunes. My wife immediately bursts out singing, and this impromptu concert goes on and on. It’s amazing how she seems to remember every song.

Music therapy is nothing new for dementia patients, rather, it’s recommended. For some reason, yet to be explained, Alzheimer’s destroys many parts of the brain but skips the part that stores and remembers music. Some reason this is because music is a complex array of sounds and emotions stored in a unique place. All I know is that my wife can’t think rationally or remember what she had for breakfast but when she hears those songs she learned fifty years ago, music erupts joyfully from her mouth.

Score one for technology, which allows us to connect intimately with family in far away places, sharing the fun and memories of songs they grew up with.

Yes, I’m careful to add nothing more than a little background percussion as it has been noted that my voice would embarrass a drunken frog.

tio stib

You might also enjoy: Almost Heaven, My Dementia Diary

 

Do It Anyway – Mother Teresa

I offer the following words from Mother Teresa as a source of inspiration in difficult moments-

for children in Calcutta:

              People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

            If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

            If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

           If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

            What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

            If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

            The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

         Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

         In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

-this version is credited to Mother Teresa. It is thought to have been based on The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent Keith.

 

You might also enjoy: A Child’s Smile , If

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY, 1875

One of two poems I turn to for inspiration, (the other is “If” by Rudyard Kipling)

Here’s a link to a powerful reading by Morgan Freeman.

 

If, by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling, 1895

Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

When I’m down and feeling sorry for myself, “If” is one of the poems I return to for inspiration. Here are YouTube links to great readings of this poem, the first  by Holly Musgrove, the second by Sir Michael Caine-

Insert video link  to Holly Musgrove 

Insert video link to Sir Michael Caine

Life is a gift and a responsibility. Let’s make the most of it!

Tio Stib