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No Jivin’ July 8, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Blogging, Humor, Poetry, Writing & Writers.
10 comments

It’s hard to be a reviewer
It’s hard to know how to please
Some people want solid feedback
Others want you to appease
(or bow down on bended knees)

 
Some writers want you to edit
and catch all the typos they missed
Others seek adulation and praise
Point out mistakes, and they get pissed
(and, in e-mail, you may get dissed)

 

It’s easier to stand on the sidelines
and let someone else “drop the axe”
Or just heap on endless platitudes
like, “This is the best ~ in fact, it’s the max!”
(even if the writing’s a wee bit lax)

 

But your own work improves when you edit
and give solid feedback  . . . with no jivin’
So, the best advice I can give you
is just step up on the block, and dive in

Hang Ten: Riding the Waves of Dismay July 8, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Blogging, Humor, Spirit & Ego, Writing & Writers.
12 comments

Over the past two years, I’ve provided feedback to writers on WEbook with rather predictable results:

* A writer asks me to review something. 

* I review it and provide him or her with the type of feedback I like to receive – direct, honest, and to the point.  

* In response, the writer gets angry, annoyed, discouraged, and/or disheartened. 

Why? 

Isn’t that what a writing site is for?  Isn’t that what they wanted me to do?

One writer described his own writing (in the piece he asked me to review) as “lame.”  I suggested a few revisions ~ including taking out HIS reference to the lameness of his writing. 

I viewed my feedback as encouraging, not disparaging.  He responded by immediately removing the piece from the project to rewrite it, but not until after he expressed surprise at my comments . . . 

He said that he was new to WEbook and that several “great” writers on the site had told him that his writing was “great,” giving him a sense of “greatness” that he had come to rely on. 

Ah, yes, the danger of receiving insincere feedback ~ we are told so often that we are “brilliant” that we begin to believe our press.

Another writer asked me to take a “glance” at his novel to see if there was anything he had missed.  After explaining that I do not read (or proofread) entire novels on the site, I agreed to take a peak. 

I suggested a few revisions, which he thanked me for in an e-mail.  Good.  Better.  I sent him an e-mail back saying that I was glad that he had taken my suggestions in stride, rather than getting annoyed and angry with me for providing constructive criticism. 

He replied back, admitting that a “wave of dismay” had washed over him as he read my words about the confusing nature of his first chapter ~ which included introductions to at least ten characters, many of whom were not even on the “stage” yet.   

Why would my suggestion that he wait to introduce a few of those characters until later in the book cause a wave of dismay?  

He asked me for feedback, and I gave it.  It’s just my opinion which he, as the author, can choose to incorporate, or not.  

As John Lennon would say, “It’s nothing to get hung about.” 

Or is it?

In response, I asked a rhetorical question: 

How would I have learned to play the piano if my teacher hadn’t pointed out the wrong notes when I hit them?     

He responded by saying that, in his view, writing is different than learning a musical instrument.  His opinion, which I suspect many writers share, is that writing is the most personal of all the arts (painting, writing, singing, etc.) because writers view their writings as extensions of themselves. 

Since they are sharing their inner most thoughts, they feel personally  rejected (and even ostracized) when others don’t immediately embrace those thoughts.

Aha! 

That’s the reason my feedback (aimed at helping writers clarify their communication skills) is not embraced with joy more often ~ because people think their thoughts are an extension of themselves. 

And I, generally, do not. 

In meditation, the meditator learns to clear the mind of thoughts and be the silent observer.  As thoughts enter the arena of the mind, the silent observer is instructed to watch them, like drifting clouds across a blue sky, and let them go . . .  without chasing after them. 

In time (or, more precisely, in the absence of time), the silent observer  realizes that those thoughts arise independently, without any effort on the observer’s part. 

With that realization comes the understanding that you are NOT your thoughts and your thoughts are NOT you.  Instead, you are merely a disinterested observer watching the clouds (thoughts) go by.

For a different analogy, think of your mind as a TV, and your thoughts as the shows broadcast on the TV. 

Are you the TV?  No.  Are you the shows?  No.  Who are you then?

You are the silent observer sitting on the sofa with the remote in your hand.  You are the controller.  You are free to change channels or turn off the TV entirely at any time. 

Talk about power! 

Once you realize that you hold the remote, your inner power becomes your own ~ you stop giving away your power to others.  They lose the ability to make you feel angry, or sad, or slightly off balance, or riddled with guilt.  You become less affected by what others around you do and say. 

You rise above the fray and watch the daily dramas play out before your eyes without getting sucked into them.  You more often are able to remain calm in the midst of mayhem.   

Once you stop taking everything so “personally,” you realize that you are more powerful and “in control” than you ever imagined.  

You cannot, of course, change “what” happens to you ~ but you accept the “what is” more readily because you now know “how” to look at what happens to you in a new way, an empowering way.      

And . . . if you are a writer . . .  you are finally able to accept feedback (from people like me) in the spirit in which it is offered ~ just the pointing out of a few “wrong notes”  ~  nothing to get hung about.   

When you agree with the feedback, you nod knowingly and play the notes you meant to play all along (by fixing misspellings and other typos).  When you disagree, you continue to make your own kind of music ~ introducing characters in your novel where and when you want, thank you very much.

Your thoughts, whether on paper, or swirling around in your head, should be tools used to help you maneuver through life ~ they should not be stumbling blocks to get hung up on.  

So the next time a “wave of dismay” washes over you, just click your heels together and repeat after me: 

“I am NOT my thoughts.  My thoughts are NOT me.” 

Related posts:  Meditation 101 * Don’t Believe Everything Your Think * Attack of the Killer ANTs * The Serenity Principle * The Path to EnlightenmentA Warm Hug for a Sad Child * We See The World Behind Our Eyes * Maybe You’re Right * Doubt

Mexican Curry July 8, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Food & Drink, Humor, People, Vegetarian Recipes.
12 comments

Although my mother’s love of sewing escaped me, I did inherit her love of cooking.  From a  young age, I loved to help in the kitchen.

Perched on a stool, dressed in a handmade smocked dress with matching pinafore, I would assist by cutting out cookies, and placing them on cookie sheets.

As I got older, I helped with meal preparation, and occasionally planned whole menus.  My mother was more than willing to share her kitchen with me . . . until I started deviating from her tried and true recipes.

Growing up, a milkman delivered milk to our house a few mornings each week.

Early in the morning, he would drive up the driveway, walk around to the back door with milk bottles clanking, and deposit fresh milk in the insulated milkbox.

Once a year, the dairy printed a calendar with recipes featuring dairy products ~ milk, cream, butter and eggs.  Since my mother did most of the cooking, and had a full repertoire of recipes, the calendar generally gathered dust.

One day, during a curry phase, I glanced through the calendar for recipe ideas and stumbled across a recipe for Curried Hotdogs.  Wow!  I looked over the instructions (easy!) and ingredients (nothing more exotic than curry).  I couldn’t wait to try it.

As I started assembling the ingredients, my mother walked into the kitchen, “What are you making?”  I handed her the recipe.  She stared at it and quite articulately said, “Yuck.”

I grabbed the recipe back from her, “It sounds wonderful.  We all love hotdogs and I love curry.  It’s going to be great.”

She looked disapprovingly at the ingredients assembled on the counter, “Why don’t you make something else?”

“Because I want to make this.  Nobody tells you what to cook.  If you don’t want to eat it, you don’t have to eat it, but this is what I’m making.”

I proceeded with the recipe:  I sautéed onions and peppers in vegetable oil.  I added flour and curry to the oil to make a paste.  I stirred in tomato sauce and milk, gradually, to prevent the sauce from curdling.  I sliced the hotdogs on the diagonal (to add a fancy touch) and added them to the simmering mixture.

I slow cooked the concoction for 45 minutes, until the hotdogs plumped up and the sauce thickened.  I cooked a pot of rice to serve under the fragrant curry.

My older brother, Jim, walked into the kitchen, “What’s for dinner?”

My mother made a face and replied derisively, “Curried Hotdogs.”

Jim walked over to the post, and stirred the mixture, “You should have left out the onions and peppers, but it smells good.”

I beamed.  Coming from Jim, that was high praise ~ high praise, indeed.

My mother snorted, “He hasn’t tasted it yet.”

As my siblings appeared, they looked at the curry and started to make special requests.  Betsy wanted hotdogs and sauce, no rice.  Jim wanted hotdogs, sauce, and rice, but no onions or peppers.  Doug, the most adventurous, made no special requests.

I carefully ladled out their dinners and carried bowls of curry to the table.

As I blew on my first forkful to cool it, I anxiously awaited their verdict.

Mom stood on the sidelines (like the Grinch) waiting for the Whos down to Whoville to all cry, “Boo hoo.”

They didn’t!

The Cumberland Farms Dairy had printed a winner in its calendar that year.  Hotdog Curry was a hit ~ a homerun!  We all loved it.

In fact, forty years later, we still make it.  Jim omits the onions and peppers, and doubles up on the hotdogs.  I omit the hotdogs and substitute corn, broccoli, carrots, and celery.  But the sauce remains the same ~ tomato sauce and milk thickened with flour and flavored with curry powder.

Even Betsy, who is not a fan of curry, or rice, often cooked it for guests who always gave it rave reviews.

220px-Carrots_of_many_colorsMEXICAN CURRY

2 Tbsp. salad or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped,
2 ribs of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
10 oz. frozen corn
1 head of broccoli, chopped
2 Tbsp. curry powder
1 1/2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
8 oz. tomato sauce (or 2-3 chopped tomatoes)

Saute vegetables in oil until softened.  Add curry and flour to make a paste.  Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Gradually stir in milk and tomato sauce (or tomatoes).  Gently simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes.  Serve over rice.

For Vegans:   I’ve made this without milk and it’s quite good, especially with all the yummy veggies.  Think Tomato soup vs. Cream of Tomato soup.

For hotdog lovers, add a 1 lb. package of diagonally-sliced hot dogs once the mixture comes to a simmer.   If you must, follow Jim’s lead and omit any of the vegetables that don’t appeal to you.

Related recipes and posts:  Harvest Soup * Veggie Stir FryVeggie Kabobs * Zucchini Boats Versatile Pasta Salad * Mango Salsa * Yummy Hummus  * Bon Appetit! * Bruschetta Ten Ways to Fiber Up Your Diet