Escape

 Monday Morning Musings

I’ve been immersed in my World of the American Revolution. The wonderful members of the editorial staff at ABC-CLIO have selected over one hundred images for the book. It’s been my job to go through them, and if I approve them, then to write captions for the images. This has taken longer than I expected it would because I’ve had to research most of the images selected, as well as go back to the entries to determine if the images work or not.

And then. . . well, there’s the copyedited manuscript itself, which is sitting in files on my computer desktop making me feel guilty because I need to finish going through it. Ahem. Yes, getting to it. Now. Soon.

So I apologize for not reading or responding to many other blogs for the past week or so. I’ve tried to respond to comments, but I’m behind on that, too.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the word “escape.” The word is derived from the Latin and then French meaning to literally get out of or from one’s cape or mantel. Of course, the word came to have a broader meaning, one escapes from slavery, from an unhappy home, or even from day-to-day drudgery.

On Passover, we tell the story of how the Jews escaped slavery in Egypt. Even today, people are enslaved and try to escape.

Before the abolition of slavery in the United States, which occurred only after a Civil War and then the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, enslaved men and women desperately sought their freedom. Aided by other African-Americans, both free and slave, as well as white citizens who were opposed to slavery, they struggled to find a means of escape. Slaves escaped in a variety of ways. One of the most creative methods was that used by Henry Box Brown (c.1815-1889), who escaped, you guessed it, in a box. Brown was a skilled worker who worked in a tobacco factory in Richmond, VA. He managed to save enough money to rent a house for his wife and family. Nonetheless, he and his family were still slaves, and in 1848, his wife’s master decided to sell her and their children. With no reason to remain in Richmond, Brown decided to escape with the help of a free black dentist and a white shoemaker and other abolitionists. The men sealed him in a box and shipped the box to Philadelphia, where after twenty-six hours, he arrived at the Philadelphia Antislavery Society. Although some abolitionists felt Brown should keep his story a secret, he did not. Brown lectured and reenacted his escape in a box before audiences. When the new Fugitive Slave Act made it too dangerous for him to remain in the United States, he fled to England where he performed as a “mesmerist” with his new wife Jane. He returned to the US in 1875 with Jane and their daughter Annie, with a magic shows, as well as his original box performances.

Fortunately, my loved ones and I have never had to escape the horrors of captivity in any form. My escapes have been mundane, merely brief respites from work and day-to-day life. We all want to take breaks when—and if—we can.

This past weekend, I took a brief work break, and my husband and I escaped for a few hours to a local winery. It was a glorious, spring day. The air was warm, the sun was shining, and the grass was green with that unique young green of springtime. And so we sat with the sun gently bathing us in a warm glow, and we drank wine, ate cheese, and talked. Sometimes, fortunately, escape is that simple.

“ Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Anne Lamott

Wine and sunshine!

Wine and sunshine!

Several weeks ago, as the snow fell once again, and it seemed spring would never come, I made a delicious fruit crisp with rhubarb, strawberries, and blackberries. It was my attempt to escape winter by conjuring sunshine and warmth through the ripe fruits of spring and summer. I love the tartness of the rhubarb combined with the berries. You could use any fruit though, or mix different berries. When I make it with apples, I add a little bit of cider to the apples, so that the crisp doesn’t get too dry. You can reduce the butter some, although honestly, when I’ve tried it that way, it’s simply not as good. I do like the mix of whole wheat and white flour though, which gives it a sort of nutty taste. Of course, you could add nuts, as well. The goal is to end up with a dessert that is full of sweet bubbly fruit and crunchy “crisp,” but it is not the type of baking that has to be precise. I forgot to take a photo of the crisp until after I had started eating it. (Reason #52, Why I don’t actually write a food blog.)

Pretending It’s Spring Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

Approximately 4 cups of Fruit, sliced or chopped

Sugar, to taste

I added about ½ tsp. of nutmeg, along with some orange zest and juice.

Allow the fruit to sit, sugared for about ½ hour or so until juice is released.

Crisp:

Combine 1 cup oats, ¾ cup brown sugar, ¾ cup flour (I used half whole wheat and half white), 7-8 tablespoons of butter, 1 tsp. cinnamon. Melt butter and combine it with the other ingredients until crumbly.

Sprinkle half the crumbs in a greased 8-inch pan. Pour fruit on top. Top with the rest of the crumbs. Bake for about 35 minutes at 350° until bubbly and brown, depending on the type of fruit, it may take a bit longer. Serve as is, or top with ice cream. (Butter pecan is good, just sayin’.) Bite into it and enjoy the taste of spring and summer.

IMG_2232

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

5 Things I Learned While Writing World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia

I’ve been in hyper-writing mode for the past few months. My days—and nights—have been consumed with writing. I would begin writing early in the morning, take a break to go to the gym (a spin class or boot camp class—something to make my heart pound and my body drip with sweat), and then go back to my keyboard for the rest of the day. Sometimes I stopped to make dinner; sometimes I didn’t. I didn’t do much of anything else. I didn’t want to stop to make phone calls or do the grocery shopping, or pay bills (OK, no one wants to do that anyway). Books and papers piled up around me. I have felt like I couldn’t pause or relax or do anything except write. In a strange way though, it has been exhilarating and empowering. I have never written so much so quickly. I amazed myself.  My feelings may change once I’ve heard back from my editor, but in the meantime, here are some other things I learned while working on this book—my tenth!

1. I’ve admired—and envied—my daughters’ ability to write quickly and well. I’ve seen my younger daughter write brilliant school papers in an hour or two–while watching TV and answering texts. Both daughters have written school and professional papers, blog posts, plays, and of course, the annual Passover skit for our family Passover dinner. Well, the envy is gone because now I know I can do it, too.

2. I’ve learned there is actually some scientific research that supports the idea that the more you write, the better you become at writing. You can read about it here and here.

My brain has been practicing quite a bit. I’ve even been having writing/editing dreams. What’s interesting to me is that they did not seem like anxiety dreams. They were more like my subconscious giving me encouragement. I was seeing eighteenth-century texts in my head, and Dream Me was kind of saying—“Hey, look at this.” Or, “remember to look for this tomorrow.” A couple of nights ago Dream Me even saw and read from Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls. . . ” I read much more to myself in the dream, as I saw the words on a page. I definitely couldn’t quote it to you now, but somewhere in my brain, those words exist. How weird! How wonderful! (Hmmm. . .maybe I do really know Italian, I just can’t remember it when I’m awake.)

3.  Dealing with contributors. Has anyone written a book on that?  I’ve edited four encyclopedia projects now, and two collections of essays, so you would think I’d know that contributors can be horrible and wonderful, but with this project I seemed to hit extremes at both ends. World of the American Revolution a much bigger project than others I’ve worked on, a fact that my otherwise wise and creative brain (see above) failed to recognize at the outset. With this book I had more contributors simply vanish into thin air after agreeing to write (and of course, they were usually the ones who insisted they could write many, many entries). I had others who thought plagiarizing was no big deal. Uggghhhh! I had a few who simply did not know how to write an encyclopedia article. Seriously, you’re an adult, I shouldn’t have to send you multiple e-mails telling you that you’ve missed the deadline, or explaining to you that you can’t plagiarize. If you agree to write article, write them, do them correctly, and get them in on time. If something comes up, then send me an email so that I know.  Really, I’m not your mom, and I shouldn’t have to nag you. (Not that I nagged my kids. . .much).

SOOOO. . . I had to write many, many more articles than I thought I would have to write.

However, I also had wonderful contributors who took on writing additional articles. And if any of them are reading this—a thousand thanks!

4. The bright side of having to write so many more articles myself? I’ve gained all sorts of fascinating knowledge about subjects I knew nothing about before starting this book. (Yes, I am a cockeyed optimist. See, I can’t even maintain my rant!) I’ve learned from reading articles, of course, but there’s something about researching and writing about a topic that makes it stick more firmly in my head.

5.Finally, I’ve learned that despite my best intentions, I am not an organized writer. This is what my kitchen table looked like.

My assistant sits on Mt. Chaos

My assistant sits on Mt. Chaos

Anne Lamott says:

“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

My philosophy? I aim for perfection in my writing, but it takes an enormous mess to get there.

So if I announce I’m going to work on a new project, please remind me of some things. Remind me that if the next project involves contributors, I’m going to be frustrated. I’m also going to be disorganized, even though I start out with lists, perfectly organized files, and good intentions. By the time I finish, my house will be a complete mess, and most likely I will be, too, but I will also feel that I’ve accomplished something remarkable. It’s an awesome feeling.

And now, I’m going to get started on Thanksgiving cooking!