28 February 2017

The First Draft

Writing is a way of life, a process that consumes waking and sleeping hours, from which an author cannot be separated. John McPhee shares an excerpt from his letter to his daughter in DRAFT NO. 4, which appeared in the April 29, 2013 issue of The New Yorker:

“Dear Jenny: The way to do a piece of writing is three or four times over, never once. For me, the hardest part comes first, getting something—anything—out in front of me. Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something—anything—as a first draft. With that, you have achieved a sort of nucleus. Then, as you work it over and alter it, you begin to shape sentences that score higher with the ear and eye. Edit it again—top to bottom. The chances are that about now you’ll be seeing something that you are sort of eager for others to see. And all that takes time. What I have left out is the interstitial time. You finish that first awful blurting, and then you put the thing aside. You get in your car and drive home. On the way, your mind is still knitting at the words. You think of a better way to say something, a good phrase to correct a certain problem. Without the drafted version—if it did not exist—you obviously would not be thinking of things that would improve it. In short, you may be actually writing only two or three hours a day, but your mind, in one way or another, is working on it twenty-four hours a day—yes, while you sleep—but only if some sort of draft or earlier version already exists. Until it exists, writing has not really begun.”

The accomplished author McPhee encourages his daughter in her own work. The letter serves as a reminder that a written piece of quality passes through several stages on the road to completion. The initial draft is the first of many steps and can prove the most treacherous. Beginning anew requires initiative on the part of the writer who is bound to experience uncertainty in the trenches of a new literary undertaking.

In following through with a first draft, I string my words together like a continuous row of chairs on a ship's deck. The arrangement is dull, void of character. But the enormous efforts I expend materializing it on paper earn me a break. I feel like a passenger on a departing boat. My cabin awaits, but I linger on deck with a glass of sparkling water. I have a sense of what to expect at the journey's end, but the details are not entirely clear. I wonder if there is there still time to turn back. Although I have physically distanced myself from my desk, I question my thesis and mentally reconstruct my argument.

Upon my return to the page, I pick up my pen with a clearer perspective. I know what I want to say, how I want to say it, and why my message is worth saying. The sentences become eloquent. The continuous line of text is organized into paragraphs. Editing is comparable to opening my cabin door for the first time. I descended from the outside elements to my suite. The key turns the lock, the door opens, and the sunlight from the window engulfs me. I survey the surroundings, nod in agreement, and unpack my luggage, preparing for an extended stay.

The Writing Life

M.J.C.

27 February 2017

Advice for Acquiring New Recipes

1. Designate a notebook for your recipe research. I recommend a composition book, the kind that has appeared on the school supply lists of American children since the dawn of the nation. Traditionally the covers of the books include a bold, black and white marble pattern, a black strip on the spine, and a white, central block in which to record the student's name and the subject of study. The rounded corners, probably incorporated as a safety measure, are conducive to turning the pages with ease. I favor Decomposition Books designed by Michael Roger, a family run company founded in 1949 and based in Brooklyn. The cover of my recipe book is cappuccino colored and printed with images of coffee cups. I copy new recipes onto its pages like a diligent grade-school student. This exercise builds my familiarity with the ingredients of new dishes, advancing my confidence to make them.

2. Gather recipes from a variety of sources. Family members and friends will divulge their favorite foods as well as accompanying memories. Pinterest is an incredible resource for locating recipes on the internet. By browsing cookbooks in bookstores and libraries, you are bound to discover a few items of interest. I occasionally find recipes sprinkled throughout memoirs. In my current read, Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bébé, I came across instructions for le gâteau au yaourt. I baked the cake and shared it with my colleagues who paired it with their morning cups of café. A recipe often appears on the packaging for an ingredient of that recipe. Following the directions on a pack of granulated sugar, I made a batch of brownies. My husband's coworkers approved.

3. Permit yourself to prepare foods you are not in the habit of eating. Knowing my office associates will enjoy the product of my labor, I bake as a calming exercise. I am at liberty to dabble in the lab that is my kitchen without being tempted to eat too many sweets.

4. Acquire culinary tools as needed. If you require a particular utensil or cookware, buy or borrow it. I found a recipe requiring the zest of a lemon. I now own a zester and have discovered many other uses for it beyond its initial purpose. 

5. Be empowered to adapt recipes to your own specifications. You can always try again if the experiment goes awry. 

6. Focus on one new recipe at a time. I was overwhelmed at the beginning of my search for new foods. But my anxiety subsided after resolving to shop for the ingredients of one recipe at a time. My colleague K. says cooking is a continuous battle, but I plan to win it with patience and a plan.
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M.J.C.

23 February 2017

Triumphant at the Arc de Triomphe

Our two-hour journey on the Eurostar  from London St. Pancras to Paris brought us to Gare du Nord in the tenth arrondissement. A.C. and I walked through litter-strewn streets and past graffiti-covered storefronts to the elevated platform of Barbès - Rochechouart station. We were two of many travelers anticipating the trip west on the metro line 2. I wanted to escape the less than satisfactory picture of Paris that had initially been presented and meld into a scene of grand boulevards. I felt fortunate, like a survivor of the Titanic on the last lifeboat, to board the train. The stops climbed in number, and we exited at the tenth, emerging from the underground Étoile metro station in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe. My arms stretched to the sky, and my legs propelled my body upward. The arch stands at the center of a roundabout, the Place de l'Étoile. Twelve streets branch from the stone structure like cosmic rays of light. The traffic swirls rapidly in a continuous orbit. The symbol of French patriotism is inscribed with the names of generals from the Napoleonic Wars. While I did not see my name up there, I claimed it as a token of our successful journey to the 8th arrondissement, the neighborhood we would call home.  
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L’arc de triomphe de l’Étoile
M.J.C.

17 February 2017

Paris from the top Floor

I thought I was dreaming the first time I woke up in Paris. The simplicity of the rustic, untreated wooden floors and the white walls of our apartment inspired my artistic nature. Paris and our studio appeared as a blank canvas in need of painting. The city called for our presence, and the walls begged for photographs of our adventures. I dressed in slim trousers many shades deeper than the gray of the sky. My purple cashmere sweater brightened up the studio in the absence of the sun's rays. I opened the double doors to the balcony and stepped outside. Many of the shutters on the windows within view were still closed. I felt accomplished in my triumph of rising at a decent hour. We had visited the Eiffel Tower, now faintly visible beyond the rooftops, the night before. It had glowed and so had we. A glimpse of the still tower in the daylight confirmed that Paris was not a dream, but rather real life.
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M.J.C.

11 February 2017

The Case for the Macaron in Three Points

1. I think of Paris when I hold a macaron in my hand. Shopping at Ladurée is a Parisian pastime for my husband and me. Thus, I have come to associate the delicacy with this French city. Although I buy macarons from purveyors in other cities, I envision the shop on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées with every bite. 
2. Preparing macarons is an artform. The time-consuming process reminds me that the best things in life require an investment of time. Like art, my life should not be rushed. 
3. The brilliant colors of macarons lift my spirits under an overcast sky. Salted caramel is my favorite flavor.
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Ladurée on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées
M.J.C.

07 February 2017

Paris in February

I fly to La Ville Lumière in winter. Give me the rain and the slate sky, but keep the tourists away. A tourist takes selfies with the most popular works in museums for bragging rights. My taste are not popular, and I do not boast. Thus, I do not have anything in common with the masses that flood the Musée du Louvre in search of the Mona Lisa. Give me the crisp air. I will bring my tights and a trench coat. Let me go into the most secluded galleries of the museum.

Paris in February



M.J.C.





04 February 2017

Trainer Days with New Balance 696

The comfort of the New Balance 696 encourages me to follow through with my walking resolution. The sleek but casual style adds an element of surprise to my A-line skirts. Although too relaxed for the unsparing domain of the gym, I wear them while climbing stairs when everyone else is utilizing the elevator. They are for the brisk walk to the library, the dash back to the office after lunch, and the run to class. The reliable 696 is appropriate for travel on foot to all destinations in the distance. 
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M.J.C.

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