Friday, August 23, 2013

Donut Culture

There is a donut shop near my house. This place is amazing. 

They have a glazed donut with real whipped cream on the inside. It is cut in half like a sandwich. I am addicted. And after eating it I feel a swath of shame envelop me. For someone raised, inadvertently, with a serious Catholic-guilt complex this is almost better/worse than the co-occuring sugar high. It is also worth noting that us New Englanders are extremely self-flagellating, something that doesn’t really happen here in the wild wild west.

Arizonans seem to feel no guilt. Which is weird because in defiance of nature they live in large desert cities, don’t recycle, and drive everywhere. Assholes! It’s like New Englanders feel guilty for them. It’s kind of refreshing to feel guilty. I’m just learning slowly that it isn’t necessary (in most cases).

So, I pass this donut shop about 9 times a week. In the non-summer mornings I ride my bike past and muscle through the aroma of hot sticky dough. Oh. My. Gatos. What a challenge. Whenever I feel sick, this may be a weird confession, actually---okay, whenever I feel sick I try to pass the shop. The hope is that someday the feeling of nausea will become associated with donuts. That would cure me for sure.

Once I got food poisoning from eating tacos that have a high probability of being made from dog. After that the smell of tortillas de maíz was absolutely sickening. But I have loved donuts since a young age, and haven’t yet been able to break the curse.

Once upon a time there was this fabulous donut, a powered, chocolate créme filled one that my parents used to buy on choice Saturday mornings. It isn’t sold at the Dunkin Donuts (a.k.a. DD’s) near my parent’s house any more. While watching Twin Peaks one summer all I wanted was coffee and donuts. I would drive my brother to the Dunkin’s, praying for the magical sweet of yore. No such luck. But good things come to us when we least expect them.

There are two places I have successfully located the chocolate-créme lovely: (sorry if this is really boring, just gotta get this out there). The gas station DD’s near Orange, MA on the way to-from Amherst and the one on Bethany Home and 21st Ave here in Phoenix. FYI. There are other bakeries in Phoenix, some that have jumped on a certain bandwagon. There is this thing going on in the culinary community, it has been happening for a while. Artisan donuts.

Voodoo Donuts in Portland, OR comes to mind. There’s also a donut food truck in Chicago (I know! They doin’ too much). There are vegan donuts popping up in Phoenix. I guess in essence there is nothing wrong with eating donuts. There’s just something so…forbidden about them. Just like one of my favorite literary themes, forbidden love, after a while the craving is impossible to refuse. Going into the donut shop, you enter and your eyes grow wide with anticipation. Instantly the imagination is filled with fantasy.

Staring at the glass case and your eyes rove from one sugared sheen to another. You imagine running through a field with powder all over your face and hands. You flop down, Dorothy-style,  in the field of poppies and fall into a delicate, glazed slumber. With a forbidden love the fantasies are slightly different. The courtship dance is drinking from their beer, brushing knuckles, making prolonged eye contact that would be creepy in any other situation.

The identifying placards in the pasty case only create more mystery. “Strawberry jam” says one. “Blueberry old-fashioned” proclaims another. In the case of a would-be lover it is iguál. Their carefully selected words only drop you both deeper into the imagination rabbit hole. So many women my age have a strange relationship with both themes—forbidden love and donuts alike.

A business that booms during a recession is contraception. And when you finally consummate the romance (obsession?) with your big ol’ crush it’s a good idea to keep it safe---especially if you don’t have health insurance. Those brave ladies who remain sex-positive in this sex-negative world are a growing population, and yet from the outside it wouldn’t appear so. Those times when I was watching Twin Peaks and fiending for donuts they were, like young women openly embracing their sexuality, a shameful treat. In lots of places, like my work, donuts still are drenched in shame.

Way back one November morning I brought a dozen donuts to work. When a co-worker saw the pink box she turned and told me, “I hate you”. Another moaned, “Oh no.” The donuts were just being themselves, but they were anxiety producing. But at the end of the day they were gone. Busting diets and taking names. Calorie counting doesn’t seem to have much of a place in the foodie-baking universe.

In those circles donuts are going the way of the cupcake: once relegated to certain occasions (donuts to police stations, cupcakes to children’s birthday parties) they are breaking through. A theory is that during recessions cheap, sweet treats and general vice both remain on the must-buy list of the populous, just like wrapping it up. This makes sense, as a box of 12 donuts usually costs less than $10---even cheaper in Phoenix. And slow-burning trysts are almost free. Eating donuts and doing the naughty with a no no go along with the mission statement of now.

The aesthetic of the moment is the ‘I don’t care 80s take over’. Oversized glasses and power-clashing add to the general feel. And if you eat donuts you seriously don’t care. Ditto if you ruin relationships/grades/your professional credibility to get your rocks off. The uncool thing to do is moderate your intake of anything. A plain shirt? Ew, the fashionable say. Waiting for a nice partner? Lame, they mutter. If we bow to current aesthetic, the ideology of the present, we are sacrificing our identity for what is acceptable.

Succumbing to hegemony, no matter how subversive it initially appears, does us no favors. If you honestly eat donuts by the box and weave tangled webs then carry on. But if you’ve always been uncomfortable pairing that Hawaiian shirt with those golf shorts…liberate yourself.

Shame has no place in 2013. Let’s self-regulate, let’s trust our instincts. You like her? Go for it. You think that looks yummy? Eat it. Moderation, though. Moderation is difficult. But it’s possible. I believe in you. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

She can't stay away

Almost a year later, the thoughts are bursting forth too much to keep them inside. 

In the coming weeks we will explore exciting topics, such as 
-Writer's Groups!
-The next generation of oldies!
-Anxiety, depression, and general malaise!
-Domestic violence!
-Cultural appropriation!
-The crisis in anthropology!
-Beautiful doors!
-The problem with art scenes!
-Identity politics!
-How to scare away a man!
-The new athleticism!

Writer’s Groups.

Writers are naturally reticent when it comes to sharing their work. “I’ll show it when it’s published,” is an oft-thought, if not cited, phrase among fiction writers. They know they’re supposed to share their work, but it is difficult to part with one’s baby. Especially after toiling through birth. We don’t squat in fields, but very nearly.  The birth of fiction is slouching over computers and notebooks, picking the dry skin off our lips and choosing each precious word. 

As an adolescent I considered myself a poet. I hated writing fiction. And a part of me still does hate it. Fiction is SO MUCH HARDER than it seems! Grr. Just this morning I considered abandoning my ‘novel’ that has been written stop-start for the better part of a decade (oh god, how awful) and for that blessed 20 minutes I felt free, weightless. The thoughts began to flow:

         “Maybe I will be a potter and move to Jay, New YorkMaybe I’ll buy a house in the Garfield and get a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Maybe I will move to France with my cat and work on an ethnography.”

And before that token reader says, “You can still do all of those things,” my reply is no, no I cannot! This is a life’s work. Yes, it is theoretically possible, but who can plan that much? I need down time. I’m no James Franco. 

After the euphoria of releasing my project into the ether subsided, I returned back to the point. I’ve worked on this novel for too long to give up. To quote a former co-worker, “I’m not a quitter” (though in the past I have definitely been a quitter. Ask my photo teacher in high school, ask my former co-managers at Campus Design and Copy, ask my former friends in Mexico City, ask the brave people at Long Way home, ask my former advisor in the Commonwealth Honors College… I quit my quitting streak upon moving to Arizona, but that’s a tale for another time.)
Comedian Patton Oswalt has a bit that talks about a movie from the 70s which had just been released to DVD. It is called, “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People”. He riffs on how this is the dumbest idea ever, and poses the question, “Did the writer of the screenplay ever have a moment’s doubt?” Patton ties this into his own work writing screenplays, and how it is difficult to overcome that itch of doubt he sometimes feels. Either the writer of “Death Bed” never doubted his idea, or, and here Patton identifies this possibility as ‘even worse’, “He had that moment of doubt and he worked through it!” Basically, if “Death Bed” is a movie then my novel will be a novel. And to really produce something worthy, ya gotta join a writer’s group.

I have gone to one in South Phoenix…not the scary/sexy South Phoenix, the Ahwatukee SoPho. It was good for the first two weeks, but then one night I woke up out of my sleep and said, “This isn’t working”. Later, yes, their feedback will be vital. But for right now I have so much more work to do. I am a Cancer, so a scavenger by nature. Take what you need and keep it moving. Writer’s groups, man.

Initially I was so relieved that everyone was nice and they were good writers. But seriously…I can’t even use that nitpicky sentence-structure stuff yet. It is valuable, but you cannot teach a 5 year old algebra. Here goes the fretting: I need a manuscript that is all together. I need so many more pieces to fit. I need to comb every page and insert emotion, clear up my protagonist’s motivations. Already this is exhausting. The hesitancy to share work is not just because writers are afraid of criticism---I would argue the opposite. 

Most good writers I know are extremely open to hearing feedback. It’s that writer’s groups have a bad rep. We’ve heard there is a lot of posturing. We’ve heard so many nasty rumors. But this was such a positive experience, a group of middle-aged strangers and me. So what was the problem that interrupted my sleep?
I write for message, not to make each sentence grammatically correct and hit every paragraph break. Yes, attention to and respect for details are essential qualities of a good writer. You need to prove you know the rules to break them. And I get that. But my developing novel is rooted in a belief that emotion is ultimate motivation. This novel is a testament to unfulfilled obsession or some sort of twisted love. And I only went two times to the group, so one can’t be sure…but I have been trying to trust my intuition more. This has been encouraged by my day job. I work at a domestic violence shelter, and it is amazing. One of the many mantras I repeat to the residents is, “You are your own expert”. A tenet of our empowering-dynamic philosophy is our ultimate trust in a woman’s ability to make good decisions for herself.

In the spirit of this, my next endeavor is to form a writers group within walking distance to my home. Our focus will be on theme, on the function of the fictional world within our modern literary context.  Writers, much like comedians, need to struggle through ‘the scene’ until they find their voice. To do this, authenticity is required. However embarrassing, us fiction writers must write boldly until the words align with the heart of the message. Hopefully grammar will follow.