What is it that I can’t do without when I’m writing? Most consistently, my poison has been cats.
First and foremost there was Max, my furry soulmate for nineteen years. He was warm, wise, outgoing, known amongst my friends as the Cat of Peace. Nearly two years after he headed for more catnippy pastures, I still miss him.
Along the way I rescued other cats, most notably the inimitable 99, who left this crazy world before I could get any digital photos of her. She was strikingly beautiful, and Queen of the Cranky. 99 loved no one but me, and that made me feel special. She closely resembled this gorgeous cat. Just add a beguiling smudge on the nose and you’ll get the idea.
Then right outside my back door I found a shy feral and Princess of Fluff, Lucy, who joined me and Max indoors. Wary, able to hunt down any insect, Lucy made me laugh at the most unexpected times.
I also kept in contact with Lucy’s mother, Miss Kitty, who was too wild to come inside, but whose untamed soul and predatory ways (hello huge snake head on my doorstep!) provided a lot of insight into her big cousins, tigers, for the OTHERKIN series.
After Max died, I waited a year to adopt another boy cat. Then a kitten named Marlowe came my way. Tiny but fearless. Here he is the first day I brought him home.
Five months later he’s impossible and wonderful. One minute he’s tormenting my laptop power plug into submission, the next he’s purring and licking my eyelid. Like all my cats he’s a handful and a muse, an irritant and an inspiration.
I wouldn’t want to write any other way.
Is it bad that I have a hard time identifying one thing? Seriously, there’s so many choices!
Hmmm, maybe that’s it.
My poison is CHOICES.
Whether it be French vanilla versus dark roast Dunkin Donuts coffee, glitter nail polish versus French manicure, classical music a la Beethoven versus post-rock sounds by Laura (not me, I’m talking about the band Laura…I saw the album in a store in Brisbane, Australia and had to pick it up), or even South Park versus Lord of the Rings (yes, that’s a choice!), I have a hard time deciding.
I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m a Libra. Or maybe it’s a sign of the times—we’re all so overstimulated that it’s hard to see the forest through the trees.
So what happens when there’s too many choices?
I feel unsettled, like I want to keep searching for the next thing to satisfy me.
Before I know it, my sense of contentment is gone.
What’s the solution?
Slow down. Live in the moment. Savor the French vanilla. Laugh at the glitter on your nails. Close your eyes and feel the ivories and ebonies pounding out a Beethoven symphony.
Watch the South Park episode parodying the Lord of the Rings.
I was not built to be a writer. Writers spend most of their days in solitary confinement, alone with their keyboards, alone in their heads. I don’t do well there — alone. Too much quality time by myself and I find myself spinning mental wheels, caught up in imaginary concerns that would sound ridiculous to anyone if I spoke them aloud. I’m inspired by getting out in the world, by being with other people — writers or otherwise. The first year I was a full time writer, I nearly went out of my skull with boredom until my husband wisely recommended volunteering. I quickly found a place at the National Zoo, watching a family of highly social Golden Lion Tamarins, and conversing with visitors and other zoo workers. But then the tamarin project fell through, and the only alternative the zoo had for me was sitting in a darkened room doing Panda Pregnancy Watch on a TV monitor.
More alone time spent staring at a screen? FORGET IT. I’m inspired by being with people, whether they are writers or not, by hearing words and thoughts other than the ones in my head. My friendships with fellow writers have been some of the most important of my life. Though I never got the opportunity to meet Bridget Zinn, the outpouring of love and support I’ve seen from her writing friends makes me think she felt the same way.
Me NOT in a coffee shop, but partying at the Printz Awards with Jennifer Barnes, Ally Carter, and Holly Black—NOT WRITING. Sigh
Some of my friends swear by writing dates, where they meet other writers in coffee houses and clickety clack away. I’ve had my fair share of those, but I fear I do too much talking and not enough typing. Same goes for getting into IM conversations or Twitter streams during the working day. Though communication with others is what keeps me sane, if I indulge too much, I’ll never get any writing done.
As they say — it’s the dose that makes the poison. A little bit and I’m fine. Too much, and I’m useless. After all, as much as try to convince myself that hanging out with writer friends is the same as writing, it’s not.
Unless I’m in a coffee shop. Right? Please say right.
My poison is most definitely vanilla. I don’t care what form it’s in – I’ll eat it, I’ll sniff it, I’ll spray it, I’ll burn it, I’ll drink it, I’ll wear it. I’d even write out vows and marry it.
Just give me vanilla.
Vanilla ice cream.
Even straight up vanilla beans.
I just want vanilla.
Ain’t nothin’ plain about this poison.
The scent inspires me. The flavor satisfies me. The thought warms me. The word cheers me.
A constant craving …
I must. Have. Vanilla.
When we moved to D.C. from Texas, I thought our nation’s capital would have a booming selection of excellent (accessible, affordable) restaurants, including my personal poison Tex-Mex. Alas, I was sadly mistaken. Every cantina I’ve tried in my three-plus years in the mid-Atlantic region is lacking in the authentic flavor of Tejas…EXCEPT Cerritos Pupuseria.
This little white shack on the side of a highway* makes the best carne asada tacos and black beans this side of the Mississippi. The owners and the clientele say the food is El Salvadoran. Whatever. It’s goooood. It’s always my reward for finishing a big project. I eat the beans by the quart and the tacos by the fistful. I usually feel sick-full after. But if I didn’t, it would really be my poison.
*WARNING: The environment is not for everyone. The location, décor, number of construction trucks in the parking lot scream, “this place is a dive!” If you’re not cool with sticky floors and blaring music, Cerritos may not be the place for you.
Everyone who knows me could name my poison: cheese!
It’s a problem. My biggest weakness is the sharpest cheddar in the land: an aged cheddar from Cabot. Thankfully, Costco sells it in two-pound blocks! I love this cheese with salami, with dabs of pesto or jam, on sandwiches, with fruit, or just by itself (that means with wine).
And lets not forget the other yummy cheeses! Smoked gouda is a personal fav, along with goat cheese with honey (I will mix up a bowl of it, grab a sleeve of crackers, and call it dinner.) Havarti is very tasty … and is also the name of one of my cats! I love trying new cheeses, and a cheese & charcuterie board at a restaurant is one of my favorite things to order. My absolute favorite, of course, is testing out the local mac and cheese!
I’d much rather eat cheese than anything else, so diets essentially consist of “Eat something besides cheese for a few weeks.” It’s so hard! And I find it impossible to be creative when I’m hungry, so if I’m stuck on a draft or wrestling with a recalcitrant chapter, a cube of cheese often makes me feel better.
So I guess cheese isn’t just my poison … it’s my antidote too!
Bridget Zinn’s book POISON is one that I’ve been coveting ever since I first heard about it. And I’m both excited and deeply moved by the fact that it will be out in the world. This is a book that I will be racing out the door to buy as soon as it hits the bookstores. Which makes me realize that books are my poison. I love books more than I love diet coke and donuts, which, if you know me personally, is saying a lot! I’m not going to say I love books more than food – that’s just silly. But if I live to eat, I also live to read. My husband would say I love books more than I love money, and that’s a big problem! But yes, books are my poison.
On deadline, I must strictly ration myself from reading or else I’ll never get any writing done. I’m the type that gets completely sucked into a book, unable to come up for air no matter how urgent the need to eat, drink, or pee is. I’ve ignored the whining of my children, the yelling of my husband, and the lecturing of my parents. Give me a good book, and I’m gone.
And come today, March 12th, 2013, I can guarantee that I will be one of many new fans deeply absorbed in reading Bridget’s fantastic book POISON. I’m already warning my family not to bother me. I hope you all will join me!
What little bit of badness inspires me to write?
Green tea. Lots and lots of hot green tea.
Okay, I know you’re all terribly disappointed. Green tea is not very exciting. It’s doubtful you could call it poison. Heck, minimal caffeine and packed with antioxidants, you might even be able to make a case that it’s actually GOOD for you.
But frankly, that’s far preferable to what it was back in my early twenties. I distinctly remember waking up one morning at my desk with my face in an overflowing ashtray and an empty forty of St. Ides malt liquor next to me. Friends, let me tell you, I felt like death munching on a cracker and that’s what I said screw this, I’d like to actually survive my twenties.
I cut the booze out of the writing process right then and there. The smoking took a few years (or ten…), but after many failures, I kicked that one, too. So when I tell you that my favorite thing to have while I write is green tea, you know I earned that.
My writing poison is the Internet. Like all good poisons, the Internet is constantly luring me away from all that I know is right and good and true (you know, writing those pages that I have to complete by today, or else…) I even *need* the poison — I need to leap online to check out this fact or that figure, vital truths that are mandatory for my book to succeed.
But after checking that one thing, I’m pulled over to Facebook… And to Livejournal… And to Google Reader… And to a million other places. Before I know it, I’ve succumbed to the poison of the Internet. The only saving grace is that I usually come away with a half dozen ideas for new stories!
To be honest, new email is often spam from LivingSocial, or a missive from one of the many groups I joined with the best of intentions (kickball! yoga!) and then abandoned for the siren song of my novel-in-progress. But just as often, it’s a critique request from one of my fellow Alpha Workshop alumni, or a notification from Twitter, or a message about a fabulous book signing happening here in DC. Sometimes it is even an email from my agent.
The paradox of writing is that it’s fundamentally an act of communication, but in the moment of creation, I am alone. My inbox reminds me that I’m part of a great big storytelling community, and that’s how it keeps me going.
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