Sunday, October 6, 2013

Food Poisoning, Ruthless Edits, and “The Virgin Suicides”

In an effort to cut down on our bloated grocery bills, I started shopping at the Grocery Outlet, the equivalent of a dollar store for food. It’s not as bad as you might think.  If you’re not fussy about brands and you don’t mind not getting everything on your list every time, it’s a reasonable way to save money. There is the occasional glitch—for example, the five rolls of .35-cent paper towels I bought that turned out to have no perforations, or the odd overripe avocado, but for the most part, it’s fine. Except when you buy a package of sketchy-looking no-brand sausage and end up with food poisoning.

It’s been all over the news lately about how sell-by dates are misunderstood and that you don’t have to throw out a food item simply because it’s out of date. But having lived through an epic bout of salmonella poisoning as a college freshman, I’m squeamish about expired food. A great deal of consumables are mercilessly tossed out in the Typist household, because I have lingering trauma from being so sick for weeks that I got down to 114 pounds. But with all the news reports, I decided to reform my food-prude ways. As I was surveying the package of sausage, I had a bad feeling about it. I swear for a moment it even glowed with a slightly red tinge. But my trepidation was overridden by my new resolve and my fantasy that I would cook my own breakfast every morning, instead of buying my routine sausage-link-and-boiled-egg breakfast in the cafeteria.

Yesterday, Mr. Typist impetuously suggested we have breakfast for dinner, and went about cooking up the sausage and frying some eggs.  I ate the sausage, but suddenly realized it didn’t taste that great. It was extremely greasy, for one thing. And something about it just wasn’t right. About an hour later, my entire body rebelled in full force. I will spare you the gory details, but I assure you from here on out I will be doubling-down on my paranoid food vigilance. (Mr. Typist was smart. He took one bite of it and refused to eat anymore.)

I spent several hours yesterday editing my latest short story. To get it down to proper length, I had to cut a daunting 2,500 words from the poor baby. When I started the process, I was absolutely certain I couldn’t cut a single solitary word without destroying the integrity of the narrative. Several hours later, I had cut out 3,000 words and was compulsively trying to cut even more. Instead of a daunting chore, it became a fun challenge. When I was done, I felt clean and refreshed. I had cleared out the gunk and made the story tighter and better. It was a good exercise in the discipline of letting go, in detaching enough to be able to ruthlessly cut every single word and phrase that didn’t serve the whole.

While I was sacked out last night with a cup of peppermint tea, trying to calm my roiling stomach, I was flipping through movies on my Kindle and found Sofia Coppola’s  “The Virgin Suicides,", which, sadly, I had never seen before. It’s an absolutely breathtaking movie, and I’m shocked and righteously pissed off that it got so little critical acclaim. Of course, (bitter feminist rant warning) it was centered on the female experience and directed by a woman, so I know I shouldn’t expect it to have gotten too much attention, but it my opinion, it should be considered a classic. Critics—this is not a two and half star movie! This is a four and half star, maybe even five-star film. Pull your heads out of your asses and actually pay attention to what’s going on below the surface. It’s far from a high school romance story, but it needs viewing with a deeper eye to be fully appreciated.

Towards the beginning of the movie, one of the neighborhood boys is narrating over a scene in which he and his friends are reading the stolen diary of Cecelia Lisbon, one of the five Lisbon girls sheltered by their over-protective Catholic mother. His words struck a deep chord with me:

“We started to learn about their lives, coming to hold collective memories of that which we hadn’t experienced. We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, so you ended up knowing what colors go together. We knew that the girls were living women in disguise, that they understood love, and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.”

Go watch it. It’s amazing. 


John Socrates said...

Another brilliant post. You're writing is so entertaining and stimulating. Erudite, too. Always a joy to read, my dear.

John Socrates said...

By the way, Kristen, you need to change your copyright statement here on your page. It says 2010. This means only content up to and including 2010 is copyrighted. So it should be 2013 so everything up to now is copyrighted!

Kristen McHenry said...

Good catch! Will fix!