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

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Weather Systems of the Mind

I pause and know

they come
demons of darkness
black clouds
in this season of storms

valkyries

naked

my soul is lashed
bashed by fear
drowned in disappointment
chilled by frigid failure
stunned by thunderous disapproval
stumbling in the cacophony of screaming doubt

lost

I pray to survive
this weather system of the mind

tio stib

2019

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My Dementia Diary 80 – Teeter Tottering

Have you ever been on a teeter totter, that long board balanced in the middle where kids sit at opposite ends and bounce each other up and down? If the two kids’ weights are about equal they can take turns levering the other into the air. However, if one kid is much heavier, the lighter one can find himself stuck up in the sky.

That’s me right now, stuck up in the air, in teeter totter purgatory, because my wife’s needs are overwhelming my own and I can’t get my feet back on the ground.

When I started this solo caregiving gig with my dementia afflicted wife, she was still quite functional. She could take care of her personal hygiene, lose herself for hours in painting projects, and sleep through the night. Then, painting became too complicated and we switched to coloring books. Now even coloring simple designs is more than her mind can handle and she constantly turns to me for attention.

Her nighttime neediness has also increased. Once a sound sleeper, she now gets up repeatedly and prods me awake to help her find and use the bathroom, to change clothes, to calm and comfort her after nightmares. This new pattern deprives me of needed rest, leaving me tired and less able to meet the increasing demands for her daytime entertainment.

The balance of my wife’s needs and my own is way out of whack. I need to get some heavy help for my side of the teeter totter. Once more, it’s time to adapt.

tio stib

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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.

 

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My Dementia Diary 69 – 6501

There are about 6500 spoken languages on Planet Earth.

Based on what I heard come out of my wife’s mouth this morning, I believe there are now 6501.

“Tu mencha ki mo laga pimo meo woo?”

Some might dismiss such an utterance as mindless babble, but as she seemed to be waiting expectantly for an answer, I pondered what I’d just heard.

One possibility is that dementia had restructured her brain’s neural pathways so that she is now communicating telepathically with a life form in a far away galaxy. Following this language logic, I responded-

“Fongu ma blata wo bela vandu urgono!”

I held my breath, hoping my Earthling accent had not spoiled the alien dialect.

She hugged me and turned back to her coloring book.

I smiled. My “of course I love you, dear,” response had gotten through.

Yes, it has been suggested that these strange sounds may not be attempts to communicate with extraterrestrial beings.

dementia may be scrambling my own neural pathways. My retort is-

“Bong atu singu!”

tio stib

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My Life as a Hummingbird

flying, flitting, hovering
buzzing up, around
sometimes upside down
drunk with ambrosia
the sweet nectar of tropical hibiscus
the wildflower buffet of an alpine meadow
a fickle lover
of bright colored beauty

every day a road trip
a life of joyous adventure

When I’m reincarnated
I’m coming back as a hummingbird

assuming I have a say in the matter

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 68 – Imaginary People

My wife is spending more and more time in conversations with imaginary people. We’ll be eating at the dining table and she’ll suddenly start talking to her son. As he’s in Spain, I doubt he can hear her. She’ll walk outside and begin babbling with an unseen audience in the garden. Perhaps I’m being presumptive, perhaps she does see the people who are not there. She’ll be sitting at her desk working on a coloring project and I’ll hear her sharing drawings with her mother, who is watching television in Mexico.

At first, these conversations bothered me, feeling like another downward step with her deteriorating dementia. Then, I considered the positive side of such conversations-

First, one can have these conversations whenever one pleases, no waiting for family to call or a neighbor to knock on the door.

Next, by initiating such interactions, one gets to choose the subject of the conversation. And no need to wait until someone finishes their boring monologue before you jump in.

Also, these imaginary people, whether they be a parent, a friend, or a world famous celebrity , are going to listen to you, no matter what.

Equally important, if you don’t like the feedback you’re getting from these folks, you can simply abandon them without feeling rude or guilty. Heck, it’s your imagination.

I think my wife has adopted a perfectly reasonable strategy for dealing with a reality that does not fulfill her needs. She simply creates one that does.

If you don’t like your reality, make a new one. Seems like some wise person has already pointed this out, but please let this be my “ah ha” moment as I’m in need of some self gratification.

Do you think this blog and pretending that imaginary people all over the world care enough about me to listen to my thoughts is a similar alternate reality exercise?

Hey, it’s my delusion and I’m hanging on to it.

tio stib

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