Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turkey Writing

Wow, I get to do an entry the day before Thanksgiving! And I can smell that turkey cooking now...

The reason I bring up the scent of roasting turkey--and I do love that smell, even though turkey is not always one of my favorite meals--is that I have one very specific writing memory entwined with it.

When I was a freshman at the University of Illinois-Chicago (Circle) campus, the school was on the quarter system: ten weeks of instruction, one week for finals, break, and repeat. Thanksgiving fell toward the end of the fall quarter so that was also the time all those pesky papers and projects were coming due. Being the queen of procrastination, the quarter system was very good for me because it didn't allow me to fall that far behind in my work. There just wasn't enough time to let things slide.

Fall quarter, freshman year, I was enrolled in an honors English class that basically had us studying Important Writers that probably none of us would ever read on our own. My reading list included Thomas Paine, Thomas Carlyle, and John Stewart Mill, among other deep-thinking heavyweights. There were times, that quarter, that I sat outside on a concrete bench in thirty-degree weather just to sty awake while I was reading these works. Rough quarter!

I devoted my final paper about Carlyle because the man wrote a book about heroes and their importance to the fabric of society. When he published, he was hardly thinking about Spiderman, Mark Spitz, or Bruce Lee, but that was the direction I took when I sat down to write. And here's where the turkey comes in.

My mother had a second oven in our basement, and that is where she would roast our turkey so that she could use the kitchen oven upstairs for other equally tasty items. The basement is where we had the stereo, so when I wanted to write, I would head downstairs, crank up the tunes, and uncap my pen.If I needed to write a paper that had a page requirement, my modus operandi at the time was to take one of those huge newsprint pads of art paper and write enough to fill the entire front side and half of the back. My penmanship is small, so when I had covered all of that white space, I knew I would meet my page requirement when I typed up my work afterward.

That particular holiday, while I was in the process of doing this, the wonderful brown-butter scent of roasting turkey filled the basement and wafted into both my consciousness and sub-conciousness. This day, the heady smell of Thanksgiving in the making always conjures up images of my basement, Thomas Carlyle, and the sounds of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" Concerto.

I have never used the November holiday in any fiction I have ever written. I've used Christmas, Easter, Halloween (of course) but I don't believe I have ever written anything about Thanksgiving. So tomorrow I'm going to take a few deep breaths of that warm, buttery turkey smell and see where I can go with it. I"m working on a book now involving college students. Maybe one of them will write a paper under the same fragrant circumstances.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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