Hemingway’s Rules of Writing, Food Rules, and Grandma vs. the Gobbler
By Axie Barclay
At 90, my grandma is pretty tough. A Marine in WWII and lifelong farm woman, she could wring a chicken’s neck and hem any article of clothing, back in her prime. Though now she prefers her chickens to come plucked and skinless, and while she’ll still sew hems, she’d rather buy her clothes off the rack at Yonkers.
She’s had to put up with a menagerie of animals over the years. Most of her stories involve them getting out, getting into her flowers, or pooping on her porch. For the past few years, she’s had a little ten-pound lap dog, which has lately ballooned to fourteen pounds and provides her no end of amusement. Being of such small size, the dog really isn’t very well suited for farm life, but rather prefers the comforts of my grandmother’s couch.
For his pets, my dad maintains an acute interest in all manner of poultry, and guinea-fowl in particular. But his most recent acquisitions are turkeys. Bourbon Reds, to be exact. They’re beautiful birds, with a rather (excuse the bad pun here) cocky tom turkey who goes around posturing at anything that comes around his ladies while the hens persistently appear to ignore him.
Cut back to the fourteen pound dog. Who happens to think she can herd cattle, geese, and, apparently, turkeys.
To hear my dad tell the story, he came around the corner of the barn, looking up toward the house to see Gram, in her oversized sweatshirt and huge straw sunhat that she wears religiously every time she goes outside, even in the winter, wielding her broom as the turkey attempted to intimidate Gram’s little dog. As Dad watched, he roared with laughter at the diminutive figure of my grandmother fending off the advances of the tom turkey with her broom while her dog hid behind her ankles.
Now what, you may ask, does all this have to do with Hemingway? Let alone food rules?
Well, bear with me.
Hemmingway wrote that to start writing, write one true sentence. In the face of all the problems associated with the typical Western diet, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc., the classic advice that your grandmother gave you – eat your greens, but not too much – seems quaint, but it’s true. So when starting writing, write one true sentence. When starting dinner, start with one true ingredient. There is no magic bullet to writing, or to food. There’s only one true word, one true ingredient, after another.
I’m a big fan of Michael Pollen and am very much looking forward to reading his latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. But when I read another of Hemmingway’s rules of writing, after starting Pollen’s book Food Rules, I had to chuckle. Pollen says the entire book could be condensed into “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Hemmingway’s rule? Be brief.
I get inspiration sometimes by reading what works for others. Granted, Faulkner has never been much help, and I’ll never make it through even a quarter of the 81 books Donald Barthelme says are requisite for a literary education. But Anne Lamott, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen King have been great helps over the years. I try not to discount anyone since, as a wise cowboy once told me, what works training your horse one day may not work on another; you have to be flexible, and I’ve found the same advice applies to a lot of things in life. You have to listen, learn, and take risks. And, above all, you can’t take any shit from obnoxious gobblers.
Books for April:
1) A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin – Had to go back and reread the previous books (oh darn) but this one was well worth waiting for. Not to mention that my significant other is a total Westeros geek and can spout off about the mythology and story lines like a savant.
2) Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology by Christopher Peterson – What makes life worth living? Well, happiness is right up there. Rather than curing what’s wrong, what about looking at what’s right? Here are a hundred thoughts that examine what’s right.
3) Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss – My six-month-old loves this for some reason. Maybe it’s because mommy does the voices.
For more information on Hemmingway on writing: http://www.openculture.com/2013/02/seven_tips_from_ernest_hemingway_on_how_to_write_fiction.html
For more information on Food Rules:
For more Gram vs. the gobbler, wait for their debut in MMA fighting.
Axie Barclay is a Michigan writer with a cow-habit. Having discovered the joys and potential for growth inalternative agriculture, she quests ever longer and harder for ways to combine farming and writing into a business. When not milking cows, making disgruntled noises at the latest disgusting thing the heeler dogs dredge up, riding horses, or keeping the fence up around her small beef herd, she’s holed up reading an eclectic array of books or tapping out pages. When not working, she enjoys kicking back with her honey, family, and friends at a bonfire with some beers. Chat her up on Twitter and Facebook, /axieb, or http://barclayfarmsandlit.blogspot.com where she delves into literature and agriculture with a relish… and occasionally ketchup. Soon to be homemade.