Eating Fiction, Writing Food

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Several years ago, I wrote a scene for what I thought would be the first novel in a fantasy series. The main character sat down in a pub and ordered a “Kasiosi” meal, except the character himself is not Kasiosi, he is Lyssan. The meal was something along the lines of “smoked wild mountain boar with apples and roasted vegetables.” Why was this so significant? Because the character was telling me more about his backstory, or rather something in my writer-brain was telling me something had unexpectedly developed via that plate of food. I already knew that this character had a grim backstory. What was so significant about that meal was the dish was a memory of the “home” he had cultivated, even in the face of sexual slavery.

This was one of the first times when I realized that food had started to creep up as a reoccurring motif and theme in my writing. It would be another few years before I wrote my master’s craft thesis on the trope of the feast as part of introductory world-building and a character’s journey in fantasy and science fiction. I think this revelation came about because I had been undergoing my own food journey.

I have struggled with my weight since my teens. In 2010 I joined Weight Watchers and was successfully losing weight until I developed gallstones and everything was derailed once again. In 2012 my weight was on the forefront of my mind again when a medication change reduced my appetite, and also caused other unfortunate side effects. The weight loss was not worth the risk to my life. And after that I put on more weight with another medication change. But throughout all this I was slowly teaching myself how to cook. Often in an attempt to cook healthier meals, but mostly it was because I loved that I had a talent to cultivate and share with my family and friends. This learning to cook was accompanied by an increase in reading cookbooks and other food writing. In fact, one of the close reading essays I did during my MFA program was on a cookbook. I think that was a first for my teacher.

I ended up devouring (pun intended) texts by Michael Pollan, Bee Wilson, Julia Child, Mark Bittman, Ina Garten, Giada de Laurentiis, Nigella Lawson, and many others. This osmosis of food reading made its way into my writing, as any kind of reading eventually does. So much so that as I said before, I slowly became consciously aware that I was not only creating and consuming food on the plate, I was doing so on the page as well.

Fiction and eating are both acts of cultivation, creation, and consumption. Like other parts of fiction, food imagery is inherently interlinked with realism. It’s hard to have a story without food, even in short fiction, there’s usually a notion somewhere that eating is a part of humanity, even if it’s a throwaway line or a recognition of another of the classic five senses. Food is one of the few things that stimulates sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste in varying synchronous successions. It’s hard to imagine those five words, without a Newtonian mechanics of going through another one, or visiting all five, they reinforce one another.

The hardest part of my postgraduate research then is taking all that I have devoured, in literature of all genres and in all the meals I’ve ever eaten, and putting them on the page and having it make academic sense. But I suppose this is the same anxiety experienced by every graduate student. Just because I am taking what bloggers and readers have sensed for years and putting it out there as research, doesn’t make it any less apart of the everyday. Isn’t that the point of fiction? To just barely elevate the believable into something fantastic?

All fiction needs realism. Realism is rules that can easily be relayed from writer to reader. A sense of authority that this narration has something else to say about the human condition via a grisly murder mystery, the ennui of generation Y, or an adventure that starts with a grand feast. The reader relies on the writer to make it seem acceptable to take the words on a page and turn them into strings of story that eventually untangles at the end; that a meal is finished with the desire for evermore delights.

 

 

 

 

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.com, 2017-2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Featured image taken with iPhone 6 at National Gallery London of Van Gogh’s ‘Two Crabs’. Quote image by Ginger Lee Thomason.

 

(Unexpectedly) Subject to Interpretation

“ ‘A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to you, my good sir,’ said Balin with the white beard. ‘But I don’t mind some cake — seed-cake, if you have any.’

“ ‘Lots!’ Bilbo found himself answering, to his own surprise; and he found himself scuttling off, too, to the cellar to fill a pint beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.”

From The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I first heard this passage read aloud when I was eleven or ten years old. I can’t recall if it was Mrs. Nef or Mrs. Hansen who read The Hobbit to our class, but I believe even then my attention to food in fiction was already fermenting in my young subconscious. Part of one of likely thousands of the kind throughout my childhood and into my adulthood that set me on my postgraduate research path. I remember the historical food from the American Girl books, the pizza sandwich in The Hot and Cold Summer by Johanna Hurwitz, Lucy and the Faun’s tea party and Turkish delight from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and of course the crazy concoctions of Roald Dahl. I think I checked out Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes and the American Girl cookbooks from the school library at least ten times each.

It’s likely I’m one of those “supertasters” and when I was about five years old or so, I know my palate changed. I used to eat almost everything in the fruit and vegetable kingdoms as a toddler, according to my parents. I’d fill my plates at the Sizzler salad bar with actual salad, but apparently overnight I rejected anything that wasn’t Kraft Mac and Cheese, and a handful of other foodstuffs.

So when the unexpected party happened to Bilbo and me as a ten or eleven year old, I think most of the vicarious feast was lost on me at the time. Except for the seed cakes. Something stuck in my mind that Bilbo’s seed-cakes had to be similar to the lemon poppy seed muffins my mom loved.

Fast forward to 2018. I’m a year into my studies and the following recollection is only a few days old:

The British Library has been hosting a wonderful series of talks called the Food Season. When I first got the announcement a few months ago I immediately signed up for six different events, and I wish I could have gone to them all. Alas, being a postgraduate student is not something that grows one’s bank account. Still, the deficit was very worth it. I’ve heard and talked to some wonderful people and it has given me a lot to think about for my PhD and my upgrade due to take place in a few weeks.

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At the “(Not So) Fictional Food” event food historian Pen Vogler and Australian food blogger Kate Young. Since I’ve been so focused on my novel (even if my word count doesn’t exactly reflect this) and other reading, I didn’t get a chance to look into either of the panelists before the event. Of course, for my last event, Kate Young’s wheelhouse and mine are on very similar axels. Her blog, thelittlelibrarycafe.com and her articles for presses such as The Guardian, is about recreating food in fiction, and was specifically inspired to do so by the Harry Potter Series. It was one of those “I see a definite kindred writer’s spirit” moments.

The conversation between Pen and Kate turned to The Hobbit and Kate said when she went about recreating Bilbo’s seed-cakes she used caraway seeds. My brain was completely taken aback, what about my mom’s favorite translated into lemon poppy seed-cakes? Why didn’t that occur to her? Because surely that is what they’re supposed to be. It’s so obvious, isn’t it?

Also, my mind probably never went to caraway as they share a flavor profile with anise and my mom is the only one in our family who actually seems to like licorice. Seriously licorice = I’d rather have broccoli. Well actually, on second thought, I think I’d rather have the licorice.

There was a short break as Pen and Kate passed around the tasting part of the evening. A drink where I could immediately smell the woody-cured alcohol and thus declined a taste of, I’ve never been able to enjoy chardonnay, whiskey, bourbon, or brandy (supertaster palate remember?). Not that I don’t love the umami-ness of wood smoke in barbeque, (I’ll add smoked paprika to just about any dish of late) it’s just never been something I’ve liked in a drink. The couple sitting next to me took samples of Pen’s drink.

Kate’s offering resembled a posh sausage roll, which of course that’s what it was. Both recipes were inspired, of course, by food in fiction. My mind went blank. I could not for the life of me figure out what book was known for sausage rolls. I even tried to think of any obscure reference to the Greggs and pub-grub product that I had ever come across in fiction or in my research into the vast world of food in fiction. There was also a vegetarian alternative, which turned out to be spanakopita from Middlesex.

I made a comment to the couple sitting next to me that I couldn’t figure out where the sausage rolls were from either. I then also said that when I’d imagined the seed-cakes in The Hobbit I had imagined them to be poppy seed cakes. The woman next to me said she’d once imagined them to be pumpkin or sunflower seed cakes.

My mind of course was blown, but it was one of those “duh, Ginger” moments. Once again, I was reminded of how food means so many things to so many different people. That it is at once a great unifier and an indicator of difference. People who eat _______ are likely to be _______ people. Which would be a fun Mad Libs exercise.

People who eat carrots are likely to be Bugs Bunny people.

The sausage rolls turned out to be one of the most obscure food references in Harry Potter, one that even I missed or never really let it stick in the vast expanse of useless knowledge my brain seems to love.

“It was someone being tortured!” said Neville, who had gone very white, and spilled sausage rolls all over the floor. “You’re going to have to fight the Cruciatus curse!”

From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

In my circle, of the food in fiction and/or of the science fiction fantasy aficionado, the great joke is C.S. Lewis is a god writer because he managed to convince untold numbers of children that Turkish delight is a delicious confectionary enough to betray your family over. Then there are those that respond, “Well you just haven’t had good Turkish delight.” The context of Turkish delight in post-WWII, when Britain was still rationing sugar, is one that has been written about several times and I have witnessed this in discussion more than a few times so far. Additional commentary on it may find itself in some of my future writing, but for now it emphasizes a point.

People who eat food from fiction, are likely to be food loving people. They are also likely to be people who recognize the power of words and the power of food imagery. Whether it comes from real food memory, or one that sticks by association.

“I close my eyes and I want to understand where I am, cooking is about emotion, it’s about culture, it’s about love, it’s about memory.”
– Chef Massimo Bottura

 

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© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.com, 2017-2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Featured image by John Cummings found here. Image of Kate Young and Pen Vogler taken by Ginger Lee Thomason with an iPhone 8, 2018. Image of British Library and St Pancras taken by Ginger Lee Thomason with an iPhone 8, 2018.

 

 

Family and First FCP Meme

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Throughout my life it’s always come back to my family. I know I’m fortunate to have people in my life that love me because of my eccentricities, partially because they’re also responsible for this. I come from a very big, loud, and opinionated Mormon clan. My mom has four brothers and my dad has two sisters and two brothers.

I have lots of first cousins and there are five of us born within a three-year span of one another and we always hung around and chased each other throughout childhood. My Aunt Claudia has been a constant supporter of my dreams and as I grew into adulthood she became my feminist icon and basically my other mother.

Family is not without tears and trials though. Since we’re all so big and loud and opinionated there are a lot of butting heads on my dad’s side. I also had a falling out with my dad last summer that’s still slowly undergoing repairs. And me being three thousand miles away often has me aching for the presence of those that make me laugh and those that feed me good food.

This is seeping into my writing. As I continue to study food writing, reading books of late like Signe Johansen’s Solo and Bee Wilson’s First Bite, I am reminded how cooking is firmly rooted in family and groups for so many of us. Attending lectures at the British Library’s Food Season, it is the theme throughout all talks. Food is love and food is family. We’re food writers because we discovered this passion at the feet of our family members throughout our formative memories.

In How to Cook a Dragon, my work in progress for my PhD in Creative Writing, I have two characters who in their first chapters are on the outs with their families. One because they are a source of their anxiety disorder and the other because he has chosen love over the traditions of his people to only marry within their own magical race. Yes, it is probably an allegory for both interracial marriage and LGBTQ 20th century issues. I do not deny that is a large part of my outlook that churches should mind their own damn business about consensual pairings. (But that’s another blog post for another day and another novel that’s on the backburner.)

But family, I find I have to give my characters back their families as well. Most wounds heal with time. Good memories often win out over the bad. Few slights are so severe that they can’t be repaired with more good memories.

Even though both my parents worked, I have so many memories of the kitchen table. Of pot roasts with beef from my Grandpa Forbes’s farm and cobs of corn picked hours before slathered in butter. The summer get-togethers with my Grandma T’s brownies with their sweet penuche-like frosting and my Mom’s pasta salads have been peaking in my thoughts as summer descends on Cambridge.

The long winter is over; us sweet summer children are ready for the fruits of the sun. (Take that GRRM)

Michael Pollan asked in his last book, “For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?”

Because of the distance I’ll write about food and family and love. And continue to share my memories and self-discoveries through food and cheer and prose.

 

 

 

 

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.com, 2017-2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

A Quick Couple Hundred Words

Sometimes you need to take pride in the little things. I’ve been really struggling with my writing of late, lack of productivity and satisfaction with actual prose produced, and it’s been wearing me down. On Monday nights for the next three months, I’ll be sitting in on the novel writing class of Dr. Caron Freeborn, a writer and poet I’ve really come to respect and I certainly admire her zeal and passion for the craft.

In the first class, she inadvertently covered several things I’ve been stressed about regarding my PhD’s structure that has partially contributed to the writer’s block I think. We also did a short writing exercise, which I often love to do, even though most of the time I hate being put on the spot to write. Quite often it’s a weird way to get the elasticity of your creative muscles moving again. But when I buy those books of “1001 Writing Prompts” it feels like my brain is once again reduced to an empty cavern. I need to figure out a way to make it work solo for me.

For the exercise in class on the 5th of February, we were told to write down one or two lines or several characteristics and we put them in her hat and drew out one written by a fellow classmate. You can see the one I picked below:

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“Mechanic, motorcycle rider, anti-authority, show off, caveman, ladies’ man.” We were told to craft a monologue, inner or otherwise. We only wrote for about fifteen minutes and I easily banged out on my keyboard the following:

 

There’s something you should know about the highway, the sonbitch tends to go on, but the gas in your engine can burn out. The radiator needs coolant. And yeah it’s fuckin stupid to go around without headlights on the sonbitch. I saw a dumbass the other day cruisin’ along with the rear break lights out. Where was I goin’ with this? Oh yeah, highways are not women neither. You can have scruff, you don’t vote, you give cops the bird on your bike, and you don’t give a damn about the speed limit, but highways are like women, there’s always one willing to take you for a ride.

 Still, there’s always the shop. Your lady’s at home is like the garage. You call out and the doors open. No matter how many highways you’ve been down. The pope says you should always go bareback, but godddammit man, remember to wear leather and rubber for chrissake. Keep the skin from gettin’ all red and pussed after a tumble.

 

As you can see it’s far from being great, and the character is quite a piece of work himself, but I keep telling myself that I need to practice #BoringSelfCare and positively celebrate when I achieve something. It’s 150-ish words of something that is creative and even unique. I mean a “Hell’s Angel” type (as one classmate called it when I read my piece aloud) who actually endorses wearing a condom? Maybe there’s some redemption for this nameless asshole and it’s a further notch for me on my writer’s journey.

P.S. When I wrote the piece I think I was trying to capture  the essence of Adam Baldwin’s Jayne Cobb from Firefly, with obvious added transgressive attributes. Maybe given a bit more time I could have redeemed him somehow, but for now he goes out onto the Internet in all the rough edges of my #BoringSelfCare acknowledgement.

 

 

 

 

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.com, 2017-2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodandcheerandprose.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

18 Before, For, and Beyond 2018

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Less than a month left in this crazy year. Well, crazy doesn’t even cover a fraction of it. I started this list the last week of November 2017. Some things I added when I first drew up the list have already been completed. Some of you may call that cheating. I say that’s too bad. It’s my life, my brain, and my list (and besides it’s postmodern to mess around with chronology).

  1. Request my federal post card voter application: I am putting this one it down first, because it’s something I still believe in as jaded as I am at the ripe old age of 30. Seriously, those of us who gained adult-like consciousness in the age of 24-hour news media and the Internet, we’ve lived lifetimes of political campaigns already. We of this generation are exhausted, but I still believe in voting. Some call voting an illusion of choice, yet when you do cast a ballot (even for Jon Stewart or Bugs Bunny) you’re still making a choice. They can never take that away from you or your so-called conscience.
  2. Figure out where my writing and where my research, intersect: I’ve been in knots over my annual review over the last few weeks. Now that it’s over I need to sit down, possibly over multiple individual sit downs with myself during this PhD thing, and figure out again where my writing and where my PhD research meet. I’ve been so pre-occupied with my research, and struggling so much with creative output and production, that I have really neglected my writing muscles. They’re rusty and stuck, because I haven’t been giving them the proper workouts. Going through repeated bouts of mental illness flare-ups, stress, and general procrastination have not made for a productive year. Time to get busy reading and get busy writing.
  3. Remind myself why I’m doing this PhD: I feel like this is going to be a continuously evolving Q & A session with myself. It ties into the question above, but there is more to my PhD than the writing and research. I wrote a blog post about my reasons for pursuing this path earlier in 2017. I think it’s something I need to reflect on more often.
  4. Find a journaling/diary habit that works for me: Speaking of reflection, I have always, always sucked at keeping a journal or diary. During my holiday back home, I think one thing I will do is spend some time on Pinterest and explore new ideas.
  5. Organize research articles and websites: In an attempt to narrow my research focus for the latter parts of 2018, I will start looking over some of the shorter bits of research that I’ve compiled (some accumulated during my BA and MFA degrees). There’s quite possibly 200+ articles, links, stories, and bits that I’ve saved over the years, and quite often the little nuggets you need to fit things together are lost in longer books. This excavation will be ongoing.
  6. Buy Scrivener for iPhone/iPad: For better organization. My notes and my stories are all over the place. I already have Scrivener for my Macbook and I think the reasonable extra cost of a synchronous app on my phone would help contribute to organizing my PhD and personal writing projects.
  7. Eat a steak: I had a steak, Caesar salad, and au gratin potatoes before seeing Venus in Fur with Natalie Dormer and David Oakes on December 1st. The steak was delicious. Not the best ever, but a tender rib eye nonetheless, with garlic butter and paprika salt. It was yum. And the play was icing on the cake. Natalie and David saying they loved my name as they signed a copy of the play at the stage door.
  8. Bake something: I’ve never been a baker. I have a few solid recipes I’ve nailed, but nothing spectacular. My only attempt to bake, my fail-proof cornbread recipe, so far while living in the UK was a total disaster. I think I’ll make ginger cookies for my co-workers.
  9. Play cards and games with my family: This one will obviously happen after I fly on home on December 13. It’s been said, but making something like this important enough to put on a to do list gives it that special place of importance.
  10. Play Yu-Gi-Oh with my brother: Same with this one. I bought a bunch of Yu-Gi-Oh cards several years ago because I missed playing (yes, I was a very geeky teenager, oh come, on Pokemon is popular again, let me have my Dueling Monsters okay?) and I ended up giving them my brother a while back. I always used to say we’ll play during the weekend, and I never did. We will many times during Christmas holiday Jake, I promise.
  11. Polish a few poems and send them out to literary magazines: I actually started this on the train to London on December 1st and I worked on a few poems the next day. “Both Sides, Now,” “Curves That Cut,” “Flame,” and “On the Piccadilly Line” will join several other poems in a rotation of simultaneous submissions to lit mags throughout 2018.
  12. Go through books, scan relevant stuff, and give away what I don’t need: Hi, I’m Ginger and I have a bad habit—I buy books and I don’t read them. Charity shops, used bookstores, and good old Amazon and Abe Books are dangerous to my bank account. Not only that, books add up to a lot of weight when you need to move I’m not sure if I will be moving at the end of the spring, but I do know I need to pare down the many tomes I’ve managed to collect.
  13. Minimalize: I moved to another country with only three suitcases and I still feel like I own a lot of junk. The top of my dresser and my bedside table accumulate piles that I know messes with the feng shui of my anxiety. In addition to sending the books I don’t need to charity shops, I’m going to go through my stuff in the UK and in storage at home and pare down again.jUMUnOrhSXiYlDykYbRs3Q_thumb_280e
  14. 2018 conferences, conventions, day trips, and holidays: For 2018, I have already planned to go to Picocon, Eastercon, NineWorlds, and FantasyCon. For added excitement, FantasyCon is taking place in Chester, England, which is very close to Liverpool. The World Museum in Liverpool will have an exhibition on the Terracotta Warriors that intersects with the dates of FantasyCon and since I’m in the area, might as well kill two birds with one stone. I mean come on, seeing bits of China’s coolest ancient artifacts in the city of the Beatles? I’m so there.
  15. Rewrite final chapter in With No Name: I had a revelation regarding the last chapter of the novella I wrote in 2015. I’ve never been satisfied with the ending, but on the bus the other day I realized my protagonist had been asking the antagonist of the piece the wrong question. I hope with this new question, and rewriting the last chapter to match it, will strengthen the story enough where I feel satisfied and confident enough to start shopping it around as well.
  16. Dye my hair a fun color: I’m still not sure about this one. The maintenance is a pain for bright colors and the upkeep is expensive. But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Maybe just something underneath?
  17. Outline rewrites for Quality of Scars: My novel is the monkey on my back. I have been working on the first draft for over two years now. I reached the conclusion a few months ago that I would have to rewrite at least 40% of the 100,000 words I’ve already written, if not 50-60%. I know that once I return from holiday I will have to hit the ground running with my PhD projects in order to make up for the disastrous 2017 production. BUT as soon as I find the balance between my PhD, my part time job, and my personal projects (aka QoS), I want to have a beta ready second draft by my 31st 
  18. For my health: I am not a healthy person. I am quite overweight and I know this impacts my mental health more than anything else. People say that you shouldn’t focus on what the scales say, but my feet, knees, and self-esteem beg to differ. I’m not happy with my body. My main goal is to be able to walk into a department store and be able to shop around, even if finding a 18, 16, or 14 is still a pain. At least I won’t be restricted to the tiny plus size section. In addition to finding the balance in my work and PhD I need to find the will to exercise and eat right. I lost a good 20 pounds my first few months here, and then the summer that all turned to shit. I remember Weight Watchers was successful for me, and I’m seriously considering returning to the program, especially with the recent Flex/Freestyle update. Almost everyone has weight loss goals as a New Year’s resolution, but the main reason I titled this blog post as “18 Before, For, and Beyond 2018” is because I know each day builds up to the tomorrows. I have a lot of ideas to share and I have a lot of life to live. It all adds, up and I would rather the positives outweigh the negatives. Some things need balance. But there are other notions that need to be about constructing and climbing mountains, with enough energy leftover to fill in the holes of the past.

 

 

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© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Featured image was taken in August of 2017 in Cambridge, UK with an iPhone 6. Image 1 was taken at Peterborough Cathedral in September of 2017 with an iPhone 6. Image three was taken in London in August of 2017 with an iPhone 6.

“Reaching Beyond the Saguaros” and Reflections

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The above image is the contributor’s copy of a project pitched to me in the fall of 2016. The editor of Reaching Beyond the Saguaros (Serving House Books), Heather Lang, proposed a haibun project to our Fairleigh Dickinson MFA group. A haibun is a Japanese travelogue combining prose and poetry. I loved the sound of this idea, especially since for much of my MFA I felt disconnected from the community of my fellow students because I lived in Utah and most of them lived in New York and New Jersey. I had clicked with Heather because of this distance (she lives in Las Vegas) and because I admire her literary magazine Petite Hound Press.

When I took up my section of the project I had recently learned that I had been accepted to Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England. This began a new path in my life that I had been working towards, and wanting to walk on, since my high school days. And soon after the reception of this news, my days in Utah became a series of “last time for a long time” moments. One of these was a trip out to West Wendover, Nevada with several family members.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the small gambling town. I have absolutely no luck and there’s not much to do besides drink, gamble, eat at mostly okay restaurants, and go see shows at the concert hall. That weekend during my cousin Brent’s birthday Penn and Teller would be performing their comedy and magic act. I had seen the duo before in Las Vegas with our cousin Dylan, who in turn has seen them live almost a dozen times. My grandma, her sister, and two of her daughters also joined us for the show. We all went out to dinner at an Italian place called Romanza. They happen to make amazing cocktails and this was the restaurant that started my love of Caesar salad.

However, before this night began, Dylan and I drove into Wendover together. We discussed the upcoming election, the Marvel shows on Netflix, and other topics. Because this was going to be my last time for a long time, I asked if we could pull over at a rest stop that over looks the Bonneville Salt Flats.

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It looks like something out of a science fiction or fantasy novel. A blanket of gray-white salt left behind from when a great saline lake covered much of Utah towards the end of the last great ice age. Every kid in Utah learns about Lake Bonneville and we’re shown where the lake left geological imprints in the Wasatch Mountain rage. There were times when I would find myself looking at the mountains and visually tracing the lines of where the shores used to be.

There’s almost always wind whipping through the peaks of the Silver Island Mountain Rage along the northern edge of the Salt Flats. I can’t remember if this was the first time I noticed it, but that afternoon the wind blew salt onto my lips and when I licked them I tasted a unique sea. So different from the time I walked along the harbors of Long Beach, California. There was a distinct lack of fish, but supplemented with an earthy base note, almost as though the air were a salty, dry rain.

But when I returned home to write about northern Utah, Layton, and Salt Lake City for the haibun project I was smothered by writer’s block. Each word of the first couple of drafts of my part of the haibun was pulling out like teeth. It felt like an exercise in futility and seriously began to affect my self-confidence. I was unsure if my piece needed dialogue, but inspiration for some came from a conversation with my sister about my upcoming move. She reiterated how much she had missed the mountains of home while living in North Dakota, and warned me that I would soon feel their absence in England, in a place without them.

I rounded out my haibun with the constant memory of the mountains turning from spring green to summer brown every year and other recollections of what home was to me.

To my surprise Heather liked it. I passed it on to her to give to the next person in the travelogue chain and pretty much forgot about the project as I continued with my preparations for my PhD program and transatlantic move.

As the days continued to countdown to the day I would leave, I pulled my part of the haibun out of one of my iCloud files to read at my going away party. I’d never lived further than 40 miles from the city I was born and raised in, and since I spent the last half of 2016 preparing to move to England it seemed like a fitting piece to read aloud. I’ve always been very shy about sharing my reading in front of my family. A lot of my works tend to use colorful language and situations I dare not speak of in front of my grandmothers, but the haibun was my ode to the home I would be leaving behind.

There’s nothing like making people feel something when they read your work. One of the few times I’ve gone to an open mice night and actually got up to read, a woman handed me a note saying that she had been touched by my poems. That night in front of my family I began with Walt Whitman’s O Me! O Life!, a poem that I rediscovered at the beginning of my MFA program and one that basically set the internal tone for what I wanted to achieve with that degree. (Here is a short clip of Robin Williams reading part of this amazing poem from the movie Dead Poets Society.)

Then I read a short poem titled The Place (Without) (unpublished) inspired by Harold Pinter in an afternoon workshop I took from Renee Ashley. A prose poem titled Here to Live Out Loud (unpublished) and a free verse piece called Are You Alive from Planet Earth? (Here and There) (unpublished) inspired by two of my dearest friends, James and Jennifer.

I was in a rhythm as I performed and so when I got to “Layton, Utah,” my piece of the haibun. To avoid breaking any of that momentum, I kept my eyes focused on the pages in my hands. After I finished my ode to my home I looked up and saw that, the people I love and adore most in the word were all speechless and several had been moved to tears.

It was the best gift I could have ever received before beginning my PhD journey.

____

Layton, Utah

Ginger Lee Thomason

____

Being from Northern Utah: On a quick drive westward from
Utah’s capitol, through beige desert ranges, we stopped at the Bonneville
Salt Flats on the way to a little gambling town. (Possibly for my
last time in a long time.) When the wind picked up, we could taste a
desert sea blowing through the peaks, and almost see where the earth
curves amongst rippling refractions off asphalt and salt. Images to imprint.

The Wasatch, Uintah, and Oquirrh surrounding Home have just
been my whole life. Always to the east. Their millions of years of
memory seen through my infinitesimal birthdays.

“You’ll miss the mountains,” my sister said. “Their absence is an
ache.”

Summer weekends up the Ogden, Farmington, Little, and Big Cottonwood
Canyons to find the evergreen amongst golden brush turned
into tinderboxes. To visit an old saloon, where they put brats on top of
hamburgers and see where people have stapled signed dollar bills to the
walls and ceiling. And there are initials everywhere of lovers, families,
and friends. You can find my graffiti at the Shooting Star in the ladies
room.

I’ll miss memories the most.

 

 

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. “Layton, Utah” was first published in “Reaching Beyond the Saguaros” Serving House Books, 2017.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image 1 was taken with a Samsung phone by Tami Forbes in May 2017. Images 2 and 3 were taken with an iPhone 6 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 2016.