Monthly Archives: April 2009

Scarcity and Abundance: Sharing Our Stories

M. Jane Ross

Have you seen the internet cooking demos of “Clara’s Great Depression Cooking?” Clara is a remarkably spry and sharp 91-year-old Sicilian-American who loves to cook the Depression-era meals she remembers from her youth and to interweave her cooking with stories from the past. Her grandson offered to video her cooking up some of these Depression favorites and after he’d posted several on YouTube, Clara  became an internet cooking sensation, eventually being interviewed on the morning television shows. She now has a DVD out showing her at work in her modest kitchen cooking up such dishes as Poorman’s Meal and Egg Soup.

Clara’s videos got me thinking about SCN’s own contribution to the down-home school of cooking, the Kitchen Table Stories cookbook and anthology of cooking stories. Looking back over the 60 stories contributed by our SCN authors, I realized what recurring and compelling themes there are in the twin poles of scarcity and abundance.

As Clara discovered, there is something about scarcity that sears food memories into our consciousness. Even in the midst of poverty, certain dishes can give us a sense of abundance and comfort, and their aromas and the stories behind them take firm hold of our imagination. In the worst of times, we find for a moment in a skillet of potatoes and eggs or a plate of griddle scones, the very best of times. 

MJ Ross 1999.  At the other end of the spectrum are our sweet memories of true abundance, most often associated in our Story Circle authors’ minds with their grandparents’ farm or a backyard vegetable garden or chicken flock. While the rest of the country suffered Depression-era deprivation, in small pockets of the country close to the land, abundance could be found. In Kitchen Table Stories, Susan Albert recounts her memories of milking her grandfather’s cows and drinking the sweet creamy milk at breakfast, and Marian Haigh shares memories of gathering eggs from Grandma’s chickens to make rich egg noodles. In these stories our authors mirrored the abundance of home-grown food with an abundance of sensory images for us to savor.

What I love most about Clara’s Great Depression Cooking videos is the reaffirmation of the value of the stories of ordinary women and of older women. Clara’s videos have somehow captured the essence of the meaning of cooking and stories for our families and friends. Clara hasn’t yet written a cookbook. Perhaps by the time she writes her Kitchen Table Stories-type cookbook, some of our own Kitchen Table Stories authors will have been inspired by her example to make videos of their cooking or their stories to share with family and friends and maybe even with the world.

Writing Prompt: I wonder, in the new 21st Century Depression and with the new interest in Victory Gardens and backyard chicken flocks, is a new generation forging these same memories of abundance even in the midst of a pervading sense of scarcity? Are we rediscovering some of the unglamorous but delicious recipes of our parents and grandparents and the incredible flavor of real homegrown and home-cooked foods? How are you or your family creating a sense of down-home abundance in tough times?

Check out SCN’s Kitchen Table Stories.

Watch Clara’s Great Depression Cooking videos on YouTube.

Learning to Listen to Yourself

Opening Salvos by Matilda Butler

Susan-Tweit-small-web “A room of one’s own is essential,” said SCN-member Susan Tweit in a recent interview with Kendra Bonnett and me. That got me thinking. In my memoir classes, I almost always bring up Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. It is a marvelous shorthand for the importance of having personal space for your writing life. I’m always surprised how often women make-do with borrowed space such as the kitchen table and even borrowed computers, getting down words when a husband has temporarily vacated the machine.   

But more importantly, Susan’s comment reminded me that one element of a good beginning for a memoir, the usual topic of this Opening Salvos blog, is where you begin your writing each day. A place to invite your muse, a place to lock out your inner critic (or at least send her out to pick fresh mint and make you a cup of tea), a place to write and rewrite your story is worth considering.

Want to hear about Susan Tweit’s writing room? I think her description will inspire you to find your own space and make it uniquely your own. We may not all have the view she does, but we can create a writing environment that will nurture us and our work. CLICK HERE to go to the audio of our interview with Susan.

“Susan, how long did it take you to find the right opening for your memoir? I asked. “A long time, a long, long time,” she responded. Susan worked on her memoir over a 25 year period. She’s a working journalist and viewed her memoir as a project that could be resumed when she wasn’t writing to pay the bills. She went on to explain that the opening in her just published memoir, Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey, didn’t come about until the final draft. In each draft, she avoided the dramatic opening. Finally, a editor told her that a memoir has the same requirement as a piece of fiction. It needs to draw you in from the very first page. Susan was afraid of opening with the most dramatic moment in her life because she felt there was a “real peril to it.” The editor gently pushed her by asking, “If you are afraid of that opening, why are you afraid?” Finally, she realized that she could begin with a dramatic moment and not let it take control of her story, a story that she actually thinks of as a “love story,” not an “illness story.”

Kendra and I interviewed Susan for almost an hour, posing both our questions and questions from visitors to our women’s memoir website. There are tips and insights for everyone interested in the memoir genre. For example, do you know the best way to decide on a title for your memoir? What do you do if you think the voice is not right? How can you write a memoir without it being a “pity party?” There were great questions and insightful answers. 

Susan says that writing her memoir helped her learn to listen to herself, to put aside the noise of life, and listen to her inner voice. These wise words are just a sample of the richness of Susan's interview. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO SUSAN’S INTERVIEW.