Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Liquid Memory

Today, I indulged in one of my favorite cool weather comforts: a giant, steaming pot of Slumgoyan. Sure, the thermometer is pushing 70 degrees outside, but that's positively brisk for September in South Carolina, and quite frankly, I couldn't wait any longer. There's nothing like the comfort of a bowl of Slumgoyan and all the memories that entails.

What is Slumgoyan, you ask? Well, I don't think my description of the soup is going to help your understanding any. It's basically a big, boiling pot of water, ground beef, onion flakes, salt, and the oh-so-crucial potpie bows (called "bowties" by the folks at Muellers.) Not flipping your culinary wig? Never heard of such a dish? And where did that ridiculous name come from?

Slumgoyan is my grandmother's creation. I have no idea where she got the name. I doubt she does either. Not certain when exactly its origins were, but I feel fairly sure that it somehow evolved around a need for simplicity and frugality. It is, after all, cheap and easy. She made it for my mother, who in turn, made it for me. It is comfort food in its highest form: simple, fairly plain, and familiar.

I never really comprehended how personal my love for this dish is until I made it for my husband. Steve, who will try anything once and is not one to criticize my cooking, did the unthinkable...he didn't like it. I was devastated. How could this man whom I love more than life and with whom I have such a connection dislike this food of my soul? He called it tasteless and bland, and even worse, he offered suggestions on how to improve it. I began to wonder how this marriage would ever work with two people who are so different. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but I really was shaken by his rejection of my favorite soup.

Now I'm reduced to clandestine affairs with my stock pot. I have Slumgoyan on nights when Steve has to work late or goes out with the guys. I even fixed it once when my parents visited, just so I could have that shared experience again. Don't misunderstand me. I love eating my Slumgoyan any way I can get it, but there's still nothing like digging into a piping hot bowl with your family yumming and eye-rolling their way through bowl after bowl with you. Slumgoyan is about cold, winter nights and being all bundled inside your home with your family. It's about old movies and lunches in front of the TV. It's leftovers reheated on Sunday after church and trying not to let the noodles get too mushy the next day.

Right now, it's just me and my bowties and ground beef. I spooned my way through three bowls today at lunch. I was so full I could hardly move, but it was a sweet discomfort. I was full of warm, nostalgic goodness. It's like memories in soup form.

In honor of my celebration of this family tradition, I am including a poem I wrote a couple of years ago about this wonderful soup. Please remember that I am a fiction writer, NOT A POET, and judge accordingly.


Made up name, made up soup.
Grammy's masterpiece of potpie bows
swim with ground beef and
that onion smell fills up every corner of the house.
Only allowed to have it in winter
no matter how much you might crave it come June.
The bigger the pot, the more leftovers
to heat up the next day and the day after
until the noodles are so soft they just fall apart.
Opposite of Mom's vegetable soup
that you eat in tiny spoonfuls
and chase with sweet tea and dirty looks.
Hot, liquid memory slides down your throat.

I still only have it in winter.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Critical Condition

For the past four years, I have been the thick-skinned, tough who could take anything in workshop. You don't like my story? No problem. Hate the language or structure of my poem? Water off a duck's back. I could take the helpful advice and shrug off the dross. I was made of steel (for the most part, anyway.) I even held my own in the blood bath that was my first MFA residency workshop. I survived being told by a professor that there's no such thing as a successful child narrator. (Poor Laura and her pastoral musings.)

So what happened to that person? When did I change into this puddle of needy goo? I've already written about my struggle with the voices in my head (critics, not crazy voices) that were slowing down my writing. Unfortunately, the craziness doesn't stop there. After receiving the critiques of my first two packets from my professor, I completely melted down. Both times.

So what changed? I've decided it's a medical condition. To quote one of my favorite tv shows, I'm in the Jon Voight way (think Alien,) and it's starting to affect my brain. I've heard of women complaining of pregnancy brain, forgetting everything from their keys to the names of their children. I haven't forgotten anything (yet, don't worry, I'm not being smug), but I have morphed into an overly-sensitive, emotional wreck. To those considering an MFA program, may I suggest that pregnancy hormones and professor critiques are a lethal combination.

After packet #2 came back, I ended up on the phone with the long-suffering Steve crying because there was nothing in the house that I wanted to eat and Leslie hated my story. Sure this was an overstatement. Yes, I knew it was crazy and irrational while I saying it. Didn't matter. It took me a good two days to recover from that little episode. Then I had to psyche myself up for packet #3.

Fast forward to today. I got my email from my professor regarding my third packet, which contained a rewrite of the story from packet #2. I did better this time. I was actually able to focus mostly on the good stuff she said in the opening paragraph of her critique, rather than the two pages of suggestions. Maybe I'm growing. No wait, that's just my waistline.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bon Appetit

It's Tuesday, and I feel like I'm still recovering from a very busy weekend. The craziness started on Friday and didn't really let up until Sunday night (late), and yesterday wasn't exactly relaxing. So here I am, days away from my next deadline (I really need to send out packet #3 on Friday), and I'm in no condition to write...anything. I suppose this blog entry will have to serve as my warm up, and then it's down to business, regardless of how I feel.

Friday was one of those days that started out one place and ended somewhere completely different. The first part of the day was devoted to my usual Friday pastime...cleaning the house. Unfortunately, I didn't get finished before I had to meet a friend at Starbucks for coffee (or in my case, tea.) I planned to finish my neglected housework after a quick sip and chat, but instead, we camped out in overstuffed chairs in Starbucks for three hours. Who knew we had that much to say? I think we covered every topic and solved most of the world's problems in that amount of time. Perhaps someone should have been there recording our wisdom. I suppose it's lost forever.
While the Starbucks sit-in was fun, it didn't leave much time for me to run home and get ready for girls' night out, a rare but much anticipated event that, of course, involved food. We hit Takosushi in downtown Greenville. Though I had a little trouble getting the waitress to understand my inability to consume spicy food, we eventually ended up with delicious dinners. As usual, I was the least cool person there. My friend munched her veggies, shrimp, and rice with her expertly held chopsticks. I used a fork. I'm not Chinese. Why pretend? I appreciate their food, but lack the coordination to appreciate their utensils.

Dinner was, of course, followed by a movie. I agreed to a chick-flick (a rarity for me), and we saw Julie and Julia. I won't do an extensive review. I lack the energy for such things today. I will say that it was fun. Meryl Streep was quite convincing as Julia Child, and if you like Nora Ephron's usual fare, you'll enjoy the film. There's nothing surprising or particularly original about the movie, but it's mostly charming. Some of the "drama" felt a little forced, and I wasn't sold on all the choices they made for scene selection (especially in the Julia Child portions), but overall, I'd say it was a rental. Put it on your Netflix and skip the trip to the theater. Oh, and don't watch it if you're hungry. There are too many scenes of gorgeous food to count. You'll be gnawing on your arm before it's over unless you're well-fed beforehand.

Saturday and Sunday didn't prove to be much of a break either. Poor Steve had to work non-stop all weekend, and I was left to my own devices. There were lots of events with church, and I managed to make them all. To be honest, by the end of the weekend I was in social overload. Mixing and fellowshipping is always a bit of an effort for me, and so much crammed into such a short time period was exhausting. My friends are wonderful, though, and I'm glad I got to spend so much time with them. It's just that now I'm going to enjoy missing everyone for a while. Does that make me a terrible person? Probably.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hello Goodbye

I am wondering where September is going. Things are going crazy fast, and this is a short month. I feel like I just turned in MFA packet #2, and I'm already worrying about the next one due September 25th! The scariest thing about time flying is that the faster it goes, the more pregnant I get. I'll be 16 weeks on Friday! That's freaking me out just a bit. At this rate, February will be here in the blink of an eye (pardon my cliche.) Lots of schoolwork to do between now and then, so it's a little scary.

On the upside, I finally finished all my Flannery O'Connor reading today (FINALLY!) Don't get me wrong...I love her. I was just in O'Connor overload. Now, I'm finally getting to the part of my reading list that I've been waiting to read. First on the agenda? Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club. I love Amy Tan, so I'm very excited about this book. I started today after I finished with O'Connor, and I've already soared through a big chunk of the book. After that it's Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth (thanks to Leslie for letting me put that one on my reading list.) I'm so excited about all three, so knocking them out before the October deadline should be a breeze.

On a completely unrelated note, today (technically yesterday according to the clock) marks the release of all things Beatles. Beatles Rock Band is being released, and in conjunction with that, they are also releasing remastered versions of all their albums. Being Rock Band junkies, we already had our copy of Beatles Rock Band on reserve, and Steve picked it up on his way home from work. He then proceeded to play like a man possessed. He didn't even stop for dinner. Now that's devotion. The game was great, though. The songs are divided up into the years in which they were released, and the venues coincide with the years. For example, the early songs are performed in The Cavern, and the two American venues are Shea Stadium and the Ed Sullivan Show. We played drums, we sang, and we strummed on our fake plastic guitars. John Lennon is probably rolling over in his grave after my performance of "Twist and Shout," but hey, it was fun.

As with all our previous Rock Band fests, the cats remained unmoved as the music blared through the living room, rattling both furniture and bones. It doesn't faze them anymore. I'd like to think they were just chilling out to the mellow notes of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," but I think it's more likely that they've just grown numb. Good thing. We've got a Beatles party coming up, and they need to be ready.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Breakthroughs, Battlestars, and Bogus Bad Words

Packet #2 is in, and I can breathe a sigh of relief, well, at least for a few days. The next deadline is September 25, so I'm not exactly basking in free time. I've got a book to finish, 2 papers to write, and a short story to create between now and then. Oh great, now I'm going to start the panicking all over again.

The good news about Packet #2 is that through my work on it, I had a bit of a breakthrough. I've been struggling ever since the residency with a bit of writing paralysis. I won't call it writer's block because that isn't what it is. I've got ideas and stories I want to write, but I've had so many other voices rolling around in my head (professors and such) that I couldn't hear my own voice. I was trying so hard to manufacture something that I thought everybody wanted that I had completely obliterated any hint of my own writing. After months of struggling, really bad writing, and prayer, I finally was able to turn off those other voices. The point of this MFA is to fine tune my voice, not to create some lifeless, hybrid voice that isn't me. The writing came quickly and easily after that. The jury's still out on whether my professor/mentor will like what I created. Either way, though, what I created was mine. We'll see how long the epiphany lasts.

Since I turned in my packet, I've taken a bit of a holiday from all the hard work (I actually missed a Friday house cleaning during the last minute rewrite.) What have I been doing with my brief stint of free time? Just indulging my inner nerd with complete immersion into the world of Battlestar Galactica. A friend of Steve's has been loaning us all the seasons on the Blu-Ray, and we have become seriously addicted. We've been averaging about a season a week!

If you've never seen BSG, it's a reimagination of the original 1978 television show. I mean total reimagination. (Starbuck is a girl.) The funniest part of the show (not that it's meant to be funny) is their made up swear word. Apparently the word has its origins in the original show, though the new version has certainly taken it to new levels. What is the word you ask? Frak. Yes, that's right. Frak. You can imagine all the parts of speech in which it is used. The characters use it fluently and without a hint of amusement. Steve and I are halfway through Season 2, and it hasn't stopped being funny yet...every time they use it. I don't think it will ever stop being funny. I think it may be even funnier than the bleep (a personal favorite.) The best part? You can actually find an entry for "frak" on Wikipedia! I love the internet.