Shameless Crowdsourcing

Shameless Crowdsourcing

photo by John Zumpano

So I did a little reading last week, a benefit for our local food bank, and I read My Inner Child,  the piece that Culinate submitted to the Best Food Writing 2010. I was a wreck. Well, I was fine until about two days before the reading when I realize that the piece was all about that first Christmas after Patrick died, and that most of the people who ate the Croquembouche That Wouldn’t Die would be there — oh, and to add to the sad-memories factor — Bill and Maryanne’s beloved dead dog Moja was in the piece.

What was I thinking?

Argh! I went into full panic-tailspin mode for a day or two, especially when I realized I hadn’t done a reading since before Patrick died, which meant that he wasn’t going to be standing in the back of the room with that look of simultaneous pride and boredom that I rely on during readings. Most of the time I’m used to Patrick being dead, but every once in a while some new milestone sneaks up on you and you find yourself crying in the bathtub again. Plus, it’s not like my moribund writing career doesn’t also fill me with some … dismay, shame, horror, despair? There must be a German word for what I want, one of those great portmanteau words that encompass a whole spectrum of middle-aged failure issues. At any rate, off I went, filled with melodramatic feelings of doom … and yeah, it went really well. People liked the piece. The world didn’t crack open. I didn’t cry. I actually remembered that I like reading — like the performance aspect of it (once I’m safely on stage that is).

And the next day it occurred to me that perhaps I haven’t actually wasted the past ten years after all. It’s not like I haven’t been writing, I just haven’t managed to pull together a new book. So I started cutting and pasting. Between this blog, my Culinate and Ethicurean essays, and my Bookslut columns — well, there’s something like 300 pages of raw material to start working with — perhaps there’s a book lurking in there someplace? I’ve spent the past few days printing pages, and sorting them into categories, and thinking about what it is that I find interesting in this pile of raw material.

Which is where the crowdsourcing comes in. I know what I think I’ve been up to these past few years, but what is it that you all like? While I quail at the prospect of seeming to solicit compliments, it would be useful to have some feedback from what I think of as my 12 Trusty Readers out there in cyberspace. If there was to be some sort of LivingSmall book, what would you all like to find there?

12 thoughts on “Shameless Crowdsourcing

  1. Honestly, Charlotte, if I am among the “twelve trusty readers” whose opinion you are soliciting here, having found your blog sometime just shortly before you were so tragically blind-sided by the loss of Patrick, and being a fan of the memoir genre, I can easily see you producing (although not so easily on *your* part of course) a very compelling loss/grief/recovery memoir. Claire Bidwell Smith’s “The Rules of Inheritance” (a pre-publication copy of which I found compelling indeed, and which I highly recommend!) has recently raised the bar in that genre to a height I bet you too would equal. I’d certainly love to read it!

  2. I read your phrase “middle-aged failure issues” in this piece, and a wave of relief and gratitude washed over me–relief that someone else felt what I felt, gratitude that that person (you!) had named it. So thank you.

    I think this phrase connects to a theme I’ve sensed in your writing. It used to be that people’s lives followed a more predictable trajectory. These days, so many of us are patching our lives together, trying to make sense of it all. And it’s so off-road that we often feel lost, like we’re not doing it right, like we’re failures. Speaking the truth of our disorientation is a worthy project.

  3. Carroll — I think you are my Most Trusty Reader! Thanks to both of you — I think I’m moving in a direction that will be informed by loss, but perhaps not *about* loss, if that makes sense.
    And Heather — thanks. I always worry that “middle-aged failure issues” comes off sounding like self-pity, which isn’t the point at all. But rather, as you say, a condition of disorientation.
    We’ll see. I have a lot of piles on my coffee table. Sorting. One of those writerly activities we use as a procrastination tool!

  4. I don’t find personal failure in your writing, but systemic failure – and personal strength. This is just a little different take on what Heather said, I think.

    One can’t trust the larger system; I mean, one can’t even find out if it’s trustworthy; and so as much as possible one relies on oneself and people whose reputations one knows. That’s Living Small, to me.

    In-sourcing : )

  5. I would so love to see you do a book in which food played a prominent role. Foraged fruit, cold frames, bread baking and pressure canning. So much of the food preservation I do is citified and manufactured. I love reading about how holistic and fluid your own food system appears to be. I know that there’d be an audience for that sort of thing.

  6. Thanks Marisa — I think that’s going to be the narrative frame, actually — follow the seasons — start with ordering seeds (and this year I’m tearing up and rebuilding my raised beds so they’re more practical). I’m kind of thinking (while looking at the piles of sorted blog posts and essays on my coffee table) that I’ll do a year in the life kind of structure … Glad to hear it would be of interest to you city dwellers.

    1. I think that sounds absolutely fantastic and is something I’d love to read. In my experience, I’ve found that people are really hungry to read narrative stories of realistic food preservation and the way it can fit into someone’s regular life. Not to say that it would be all about preserving, obviously, but I know it would definitely play a role and that would be a very good thing.

      I realize we’ve never met, but if there’s anything I could do to be helpful in this, please do let me know.

  7. Oh, I’ve just been _waiting_ for you to ask! 🙂 I’m only a very occasional commenter, but I’ve been reading your blog since maybe 2004, and of all the blogs that have come and gone for me in that time, yours is one of probably three that I consistently check now. And it’s really a combination of things, which I’ll list in no particular order:
    –great writing: I love that you talk about literature and keep us in the loop on literary goings-on, with well-informed critiques of current books & authors. I love your well-reasoned arguments and the fact that you can move easily from politics to literature to religion to fixing screen doors.
    –gardening: although in the time I’ve been reading I moved from a suburban home with a garden in Minneapolis to a shared house in San Francisco, I love hearing the updates on your garden, what you’re planting, how you’ve constructed cold frames, etc.
    –cooking, applied: I like reading about what you make (including strategies of freezing greens and meat), because it seems we all need a constant stream of ideas and encouragement about solving the problem of what and how to feed ourselves.
    –cooking, context: I love the way you put cooking for ourselves (and other domestic issues) in a larger context, to establish a measure of independence from corporate hegemony, to create a sense of home, to inhabit our own lives in a more authentic way.
    –The Big Issues: I haven’t experienced anything like your loss of your brother in my life, but I wonder how I would manage if I did (or should I say, when I do). Thank you for sharing how you’ve walked through the process, how you continue to walk through it, what things bear you on, and what remains unresolvable.
    –rural life: I love the view into your life in Montana, and your the nuanced way you write about your community. I think you have a deft touch with issues of class and culture, and a balanced sense of the masculine and feminine. I always love reading what you have to say about hunting, ranching, getting by, and the men and women who are your neighbors. For the same reasons I love reading Annie Proulx and Kent Haruf, I guess.
    –conduct of life: possibly the most satisfying aspect of reading your blogs is reading about your everyday life as an intelligent and independent woman. What Heather said above is definitely the context of this: our life stories are so disorientated, and so often now they don’t follow the paths we expected or ones we recognize from any time before. I can’t quantify what it means to me to have a mentor (if an unsuspecting one), someone who has found a way to be ambitious and also domestic, independent while cultivating a community of neighbors, colleagues, and friends, a critical thinker who doesn’t dismiss belief.

    I’ve drawn so much from your writing over the years, I’m so happy for the chance to give you a little bit of feedback. Thank you, Charlotte!

  8. Oh my Jess — I almost didn’t approve your comment because it’s too flattering. Thanks so very much — it’s nice to know that the bits I like writing about are the ones that appeal to my wee reading public —
    Can’t tell you how much this means to me. Thanks again.

    1. You’re very welcome! I’m sure there’s nothing I said that your other readers haven’t thought many times over!

  9. Oooh! Am I your 12th commenter?! I love your DIY entries – this city girl loves reading about your country ways. Glad your reading went well!
    xo

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