On Abstinence, Sense Memory, and Writing

So when I wrote that post about why I quit refined sugar (except for holidays), I ended it by noting that after having had a dessert on the day my parents were available to celebrate my birthday, I probably wouldn’t have another added-sugar-experience until Thanksgiving.

Then one of my relatives had a health emergency and my mom and I spent Saturday in the hospital, which meant that my mom didn’t go out of town that weekend like she’d planned, which meant that we re-celebrated my birthday on Monday.

This time I had a lot more refined sugar and a lot more refined flour, not to mention my first cup of coffee in a very very very long time. The restaurant we visited for lunch was serving a “sweet potato spice latte” with local sweet potatoes turned into some kind of in-house syrup plus locally-made marshmallows melted on top, and since it all sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime food experience (and I like supporting local stuff) I tried it.

Well… I had the worst sleep that night. Indigestion, up until 2 a.m., up again at 5:30 a.m. because I haven’t yet gotten used to the time change, and whether you want to blame the latte or the spinach-and-cream-cheese flatbread pizza or the candy I decided to buy because it was already going to be a “sugar day” so why not, I felt like total garbage the next day.

So bad, in fact, that I decided to take one of those “freelance sick days” where you do most of the work you’d do on an ordinary day except you do it on the couch under a blanket.

This experience only resolved me to go even harder on the no sugar thing (and the no coffee thing). Except… at this point in my life, I’m like:

  • No sugar (maybe not even for holidays)
  • No coffee (caffeine in tea is fine)
  • No alcohol
  • No meat (except in other people’s homes and occasionally at restaurants)

Plus, although I am very involved with community activities and see my family an average of every four days (according to my Exist app), I live alone and I don’t want to change that.

But the art I create, or at least the art I’m trying to create, isn’t just about happily single women who track everything they do and look for correlations between behavior and emotion.

So… like… at what point will my sense memories become outdated?

One of the main characters in the novel I’m currently drafting, for example, loves red licorice. She likes biting off the ends and putting the remaining licorice in her hot cocoa and drinking the cocoa through the licorice straw.

I’ve still got the memories of what it feels like to bite down on a piece of licorice that is almost too hard to gnaw through. The way it softens in the mouth, and the way it softens when you put it in a beverage. The way you have to let your cocoa cool down first before you drink it through the licorice straw, or it will burn your mouth. The way you can use the top end of the straw, the part that didn’t get immersed in the cocoa, to scrape the cup for any marshmallow bits leftover at the end.

BUT WHAT IF THE LICORICE PEOPLE CHANGE THE WAY LICORICE IS MADE

WHAT IF IT GETS SOFTER

WHAT IF THERE’S NO HOLE DOWN THE MIDDLE

WHAT IF NO ONE EATS THAT KIND OF LICORICE ANYMORE AND IT’S ALL PULL-APART RED VINES

I know I’m going to lose touch with youth culture as I get older, unless I actively work to keep track of which bands are still “cool” (I have no idea which bands are currently popular) and the way teens communicate online. I know that one of the biggest “tells” in YA writing is the whole “I’m seventeen but my favorite bands are from the 90s” thing—and I don’t really have to worry about that because I’m not writing YA, but I do wonder what my equivalent is.

Where I’ll lose touch, and where my writing will read like the memory of a memory.

***

When I go to the Catapult and William Morris Endeavor Writer’s Winter Break seminar in January, I want to focus my time on making my writing more sensory. My work tends to lean towards the “thoughts” end of “thoughts and feelings,” so I’m curious what might happen if I tried putting in more sensory detail.

Not that this kind of thing is totally absent from my work, of course:

Then she walked up the stairs, past the line of women waiting to use the restroom, and out the door. It was still light out, and still warm; a cluster of gnats hovered in front of the glowing church sign and the air felt like the city had just taken a shower. Easy for Larkin to forget that it was September, that everyone was back in school except for her.

But so much of my writing is observational/internal: 

Larkin had thought that the one good thing about having to move to Iowa and live with her mother was that she wouldn’t be surrounded by all of that anymore. She wouldn’t have to walk through a stage door or listen to people go on about schwa sounds. She wouldn’t have to feel too tall and too awkward next to people like Jessalyn who always got the spotlight and didn’t even have the decency to be a jerk about it. Larkin had been an assistant director in New York. She had spent the past six years studying and working in Los Angeles. She had assumed that in Iowa she would, at least, be the smartest person in the room.

Which is also the way I live my life, for better or for worse.

And I’m curious if my various abstinences will make it harder for me to add the additional sensory detail I’d like my work to include, or whether I can still draw from experience and imagination and memory like everybody else.

Or, you know, I could always just go buy a Twizzler and see if they changed it since I last ate one. ❤️

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