Conspiracy Beeries

Conspiracy Beeries

I know someone who likes conspiracy theories.

It’s all of us; we all like conspiracy theories.

We’re wired to link disparate events and people, finding hidden connections and uncovering the meaning we so desperately crave. It gives us the advantage over our less sentient co-animals, but it can lead to some pretty crazy ideas, too.

Like this blog post, for example.

I was at The Bar in the Middle of the Road one evening, in Carolina Beach, NC. It had another name, but I don’t remember it now; we only ever called it “the Bar in the Middle of the Road.”

I liked that bar. It was lodged awkwardly in a fork of the main road. What they lacked in ambiance, they made up for in absurdity. Who puts a bar in the middle of the road?

It was there that I first (and last) tried Rasputin Imperial Stout. It ranks as the darkest, thickest, stoutest stout I’ve ever drank. Look at the picture on the bottle; it tastes like the expression on that gnarly mystic’s face. It tastes dangerous.

Outside the Bar in the Middle of the Road, a man was playing music, trying to be heard above the roar of traffic. He had a karaoke machine that kept accompaniment while he sang and played intermittently on his guitar. Never before or since have I seen a performer rely on a karaoke machine.

He asked for requests from the (small) crowd, plugged the song into his machine, and sang along, strumming the guitar when he saw fit, all the while making snarky comments about the patrons’ song choices and looking at the crowd with a clear sense of disdain. Who’s judging who, here, sir?

“Any suggestions?” he asked, sure we’d name the lamest songs ever.

Rasputin in hand, I called out over the rush of cars, “James Taylor.”

“Oh what? ‘Carolina in My Mind’? ‘Fire and Rain’?” he asked with a sneer.

“‘Millworker,'” I said. A dare. No one knows “Millworker”.

His face cleared; he turned off the machine. “I actually know that one.”

He played “Millworker” beautifully, soulfully, authentically. Everyone stopped talking to listen. The cars buzzed on.

He finished, and our eyes met. Yes, that’s a good song.

James Taylor’s “Millworker” was written for a Broadway play, for use in a scene about a steelworker’s struggles.

“Yes, but it’s my life, has been wasted
And I have been the fool
To let this manufacturer
Use my body for a tool”

I’m currently reading David Cecelski’s blog post, “The Revolt of the Lint Dodgers: The Lumberton Cotton Mill Workers of 1937.” I like ALL his work, which is extensive, so don’t be surprised if I mention him repeatedly.

“Revolt” details the strike of 1930s cotton mill workers less than two hours away from the Bar in the Middle of the Road. The work days were long, the pay low, the hazards high. The workers were as young as twelve (or younger, pitching in to help mom); they lived in homes owned by the mill company. The work was becoming faster-paced, more grueling, less humane. Their bodies and lives were tools of the mill owners. Cecelski’s story highlights how they (mostly peaceably) pushed for changes in this system.

Rasputin was the spiritual advisor to the last Emperor of Russia and his family (including Princess Anastasia, featured in a Disney movie). The last Emperor became the last Emperor because the working class rose up against him in dissatisfaction with working conditions and social inequalities, non-peaceably. Rasputin unwittingly helped their cause by giving bad press and bad advise to the monarchy.

I once attended an anarchist meeting. That’s what they said they were, which sounded exciting to a first-year college student with a love of punk music. But it was a bunch of talk about labor laws abroad, the World Trade Organization, and other peoples’ revolutions. Turns out I wasn’t serious about anarchy, after all; I just wanted to stick up an occasional middle finger to the Man.

So where am I going with this?

If you drink Rasputin beer while listening to a song about the struggles of millworkers, in a bar a few hours from an old unionized mill town, and you once attended an anarchist meeting, and you find a connection between those events, you’re either a conspiracy theorist or a writer. I choose writer.

The “Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing” (I already read the updated one; now I’m reading the 90s version) calls this “segmented reality.” Call it what you will; it’s the stuff that stories are made of.

Photo: Bernt Rostad from Oslo, Norway, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Vegetable Revolution Resolution

“Gotta eat yo vegetables, eat yo vegetables” – Broccoli Brothers

The Broccoli Brothers said it all. Vegetables are good for you, tasty, necessary, and in my house, in need of a revolution.

Last night, we lost power about 8pm. When I was woken by the four-year-old at 3am, it was still out. As I tried to get him back to sleep, visions of a life without power danced in my head.

It was New Year’s Eve – time for big changes. What if some nutjob had knocked out the whole power grid, Fight Club style, and we’d be without power from here on out? Was I ready?

I like where I live, but it’s not good for growing food – the soil is too sandy, a little bit salty. We’ll have to move.

Also, I need to learn how to grow food.

Good thing I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s the story of how she and her family spent a year eating only locally grown and sustainably produced foods, livin la vida locavore. It’s not exactly a how-to book for subsisting off the land, more of an inspiration to try. She describes harvesting asparagus spears so sweet and tender, it’s a revelation. Me, I want to grow a leafy green – probably kale; we like kale chips.

But more importantly, I want to eat more vegetables. Even and especially ones I’ve never tried before.

Last night, my husband declared his New Years resolution to eat more vegetables. And without a competing resolution of my own, I jumped aboard the veggie van.

We were at a friend’s house, built in the 1700s, surrounded by reminders of a past without much meat or fast foods. I’d been walking with the lady of the old house, talking about recipes and foods – searching for that new meal that would wow a 4-year-old and a foodie alike. Maybe it could be found at Trader Joe’s, or maybe it could be found at a Tienda Mexicana.

I got that idea after reading all of David Cecelski’s NC food articles. Cecelski’s visited Hispanic restaurants and grocery stores (and grocery store/restuarants) across the state’s coast, and he made them sound so…so…so…delicious. I, too, want to eat goat and cactus. No one’s even offered it to me before, and to think – it’s right here in my state, just a language barrier away.

There are bound to be unexplored vegetables in the Hispanic grocery. Or the Asian grocery. Or anywhere I haven’t looked before. Maybe, in my backyard. Maybe, in your backyard. Let the Vegetable Revolution begin. Party on, Broccoli Brothers, and Happy New Year!

the Complete Handbook of Novel Writing

This book has soup spilled on it, sand between the covers, sprinkles of rain, and a lovely pattern of (my) dirty fingerprints along the edges. Clearly, it is a good book. Unfortunately, it’s also a library book.

So, I ordered another copy to return to the library.

But then, our Carteret Writers group hosted a book exchange Christmas party (it was loads of fun – I got a book of Christmas Stories by North Carolina Writers that I’ll start next). The book I ordered online to give, the fabulous A Historian’s Coast by David Cecelski, didn’t come in time, so the lucky gift recipient got the Complete Handbook of Novel Writing instead. I think she’ll enjoy it.

The value in this book is that each chapter is written by a different author, sharing their expertise on character development, showing not telling, romance writing, publishing, and all other facets of writing. You name it; it’s here.

I often think of writing as a perfect-or-nothing enterprise, but if there’s one thing this book taught me, it’s that bad writing can lead to good writing, that any writing is progress, and that it can take hours (days, years) of trying, re-writing, scrapping 100 pages, changing your point-of-view, giving up, re-starting, and just plain work to get a story finished. Some of that process happens in your head, but a lot more of it has to happen on the page.

Elizabeth George sums it up with “I wish I had known back then that a mastery of process would lead to a product. Then I probably wouldn’t have found it so frightening to write.”

That was the overarching theme of this book – persevere. Don’t give up. Put in the work and time. And if you love it, that will bring you joy (and perhaps even a paycheck).

And since, as Elizabeth George also says, “Only when I write do I feel whole and at peace,” it’s worth the missteps, go-nowhere stories, rejections, and learning process, if it means getting to do what you love.

Or, in the words of Chuck Palahniuk, “Do you use the writing process as your ongoing excuse to keep exploring the world, meeting people and learning things? If you can do that, then the writing itself will be its own payoff and reward.”

Writing is fun. Writers are fun. The things we write about interest us and teach us. How wonderful.

Most importantly, it showed me how other writers write – not in one smooth, well-organized flash of glory, but in tedious re-writes, uncertainty – one step forward, two steps back. They all do that, and yet they all do it differently. There is no one right way.

And THAT was inspiring.