Fit to Write

In 1988, a group of advertising execs created possibly the greatest, most influential fitness campaign slogan ever:

An entire generation, MY generation, has been living by these words of wisdom ever since. Or, at least aspiring to. Want to get good grades in school? Just do it. Want to learn to play guitar? Just do it. Want to see if you can eat an entire bag of cookies in one go? Just do it. Whatever it is you want to do, just go on out and do it.

Do an internet search on writing, and you’ll find much the same advice:

Writer’s write. The end. Want to be a writer? Write. Want to become good writer? Write more. Want to become the greatest writer that ever lived? Write, write more, and then write some more after that.

The doing makes you the thing. Runners run. Swimmers swim. Competitive food champions eat lots of food in really short amounts of time. Writers write.

If only it actually were that easy.

What the ad execs were getting at (in an attempt to sell shoes and other various fitness apparel) is that there really should be no excuses between you and the thing you are setting out to do. “Just do it” cuts through any possible block you could put up. “I don’t have time” becomes “make time.” “I don’t have the right equipment” becomes “get the right equipment.” “I don’t know what to say” becomes “say anything, keep saying anything until it becomes something, and then say more about that.”

There is — or there should be — nothing that keeps writers from writing. Like running, swimming, and sure, probably competitive eating, daily practice is the key. Just do the thing. Just write.

People obviously underestimate just how creative writers can be in coming up with excuses why they can’t, in fact, just write.

I have had some of the best naps of my life starting about 20 minutes after I sat down to write, because something about the process suddenly makes me super tired. The amount of resistance I have to the actual doing of writing is tremendous, so much so that it often takes a Herculean effort to even sit in front of my computer for ten minutes. It’s as if I am a beginner runner trying to convince myself I can make it through this one lap, or this next minute, without stopping (or actually dying from an acute inability to breathe). In fact, I have gotten in better running shape with more ease than I have gotten through certain sections of a book — and I am not in any way, shape, or form, someone who has ever actually enjoyed running; running, like writing, is something I have only ever enjoyed have had done.

I have never been a particularly disciplined writer, relying on the sheer terror that a looming deadline evokes in me to get me through that giant cloud of resistance so that I can actually write. I don’t have great writing discipline, or, really, any writing discipline, and it frankly shocks me every time I actually finish any piece of writing. It’s almost as though I finally force myself into a fugue state, after which I have something I can maybe sort of push and prod into something else that I feel mostly okay having other people read. At some point, despite all my best efforts not to, I finally do in fact, just do it. I write.

This is less than ideal. I would love a daily writing practice. I would love to get to the point where I can sit down in front of my computer and get to work without a certain tightening of my chest, a sudden thirst or hunger, or a desperate need to just rest my eyes, just for a few minutes, and then I’ll totally knock out some pages. It’s not like I don’t know what I have to do. Nike has been telling me what to do for the past almost 30 years. Just do it. Just. Do. It.

And I’m totally going to.

Starting tomorrow.

 

Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang blog on May 17, 2016. 

Winging It

Earlier this month, fellow Stiletto Gang author Bethany Maines posted a great blog about how she organizes her novels using spreadsheets and graphs — all online! I was super impressed. And then intimidated. Because my organization of a novel looks a lot more like this:

IMG_8743I do start out trying to be super organized. I spend a lot of time procrastinating…er…pre-writing by creating elaborate systems and files that some part of me knows I will never maintain. I understand that that the more up-front work I do, the less back-end work I’ll have to do. And yet, inevitably, at some point during a writing project I find myself digging through various notebooks and poorly named Word files, trying to find that one piece of information I need to complete whatever section I’m working on. I have to scan first drafts specifically for continuity errors (like the spelling of a name), and if it wasn’t for eagle-eyed readers and editors, I’d miss small changes I made in even basic descriptions (did that room have a brown leather chair or a burgundy leather chair?). I don’t even remember to put all my notes about the same story in the same notebook.

vader organization Of course, come revision time, I then I have to backtrack and do all the work that I maybe shoulda coulda woulda done in the pre-writing process. I create a reverse outline of my chapters and sections. I make a style sheet and finally decide on a single spelling of a name (the search and replace feature in Word is very much my friend). Changes are always intentionally planned. I invest heavily in the revision process, and the story can change dramatically from draft to draft.I also only ever make it half-way through a novel outline before the drafting process takes over, and characters and plots move in totally different directions. It’s a little bit because I find outlines kind of boring, and a little bit more that if I get too detailed and figure out how it will all end, I lose interest. Generally, I never start with more than a vague sense of where I want to end up, and I find drafting it out so much more satisfying. And yet I know that an outline would probably make the entire process a lot less messy — and faster — if maybe not as spontaneous.

In many ways, starting off by winging it and then going back and organizing what I’ve written lets me discover the story in two different ways — as I write it, and after I go back and read what I’ve written. That process of discovery keeps me interested in the story, even if it is very labor intensive.

Still, I can’t help but look at the ways other writers organize themselves and wistfully daydream about my own set of spread sheets and graphs. Sometimes though, I’d settle for remembering exactly where I put that really great breakdown of the third act I thought of while on the bus two months ago. All I have to do is figure out what notebook I had with me that day…

all the things

 

Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang blog on April 19, 2016. 

Art and the Political

There is some pretty good advice that floats around the Internet that says that fiction writers should refrain from engaging in political debates, and certainly refrain from posting blogs about their own political beliefs. The idea is that writers should strive to remain neutral so as not to take away from the fictional worlds they create (and also not to deter readers who might not agree with them from buying their books). And yet, there is an equal idea that art is inherently political, that our own politics and beliefs are not only reflected in the art we create, but should be, because we owe it to readers to speak our own truths.

In the United States, it is an election year. Politics are everywhere these days — in the news, on social media, at holiday dinners with family members you are not actually convinced you are related to, and in random conversations between eclectically dressed strangers at the store. Everyone has an opinion. Actually, they have lots of opinions, and links, and memes, and sound bites, and graphs, and polls, and when will this election be over already?

The thing is, as a writer, I also have opinions. Lots of opinions, actually. Tons and tons of opinions I would like to share with people in lovely (and hopefully well written) paragraphs and blogs.
I am trying to resist the urge. For one thing, engaging in political conversations on the Internet has never actually led anyone I have argued with to actually agree with me. Humans are hard wired to actually actively ignore information that doesn’t match what they already think thanks to confirmation bias:
And while there is also a valid argument in the fact that not only is arguing on the Internet a waste of time but is also yet another way of avoiding the kind of writing I should be doing, I do think there is some value in engaging in online discussions to some degree. But online discussions have a way of devolving into drawn out battles where each side is more determined to win than to actually consider another opinion.
Over the past few days, I have been finding myself posting more and more political things and engaging more and more with other people about the things they have been posting. All it ever really gets me is a rise in my blood pressure and an uneasy feeling that Somebody is wrong  (and the even more unsettling feeling that that Somebody could very well be me). There is also this feeling that maybe I am putting too much of my political self out there, that this goes against what I should be doing to brand myself as a mostly-likeable-and-non-controversial author. Is that a standard I should even be striving for? How much politics is too much?
And in the end, if art really is political, should I be saving my political views for my fiction (however subtly or overtly they come across)?
What do other’s think? How do you handle art and politics?
Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang blog on March 15, 2016. 

A Villain’s Voice

For my inaugural blog on The Stiletto Gang, I wanted to make a good first impression. And then I found out on the day I was going to post my first ever Stiletto blog that I had read the instructions wrong (mixing up AM and PM in the time I was supposed to post) and that I had already messed things up.

So much for good impressions.
I’m going to go ahead and blame this on the fact that lately I have been writing a lot of villains.
 In fact, I have been writing them in first person, which means I have been spending a lot of time trying to sound, well, horrible. And it has been surprisingly easy.

See, here’s the thing —  your classic villain has really simple wants and desires. There really isn’t too much to complicate wanting to take over the world, or on a smaller scale, take all the power. They have a very clear idea of where they are in the universe — they are the ones who get what they want (or should, and will go to any lengths to do so). Heroes often have to be coaxed into action through some sort of inciting incident, but a villain is very self motivated.

Your typical bad guy has it all planned out and knows exactly what they want to do next. In fact, taking advice from a writing teacher from undergrad, I often think of stories from the villain’s perspective first, since they usually have the more elaborate plans than the heroes do. After all, they are the ones that take the actions that the heroes have to respond to.

 

Finally, villains get to be, well, funny. And mean. This is where sometimes I feel like maybe I am a horrible person, because getting into the head space of a terrible person and letting all that pent up anger and frustration out just feels so…good.
There is a reason why many actors say that playing bad guys is more fun. It’s cathartic to get in touch with your own dark side. The more evil the villain, the easier it is to slide into that space for me, to contemplate a world where my character is at the center of it and doesn’t have to think about anyone else. There is no grey area, only clear black and white, a necessary oversimplification that lets my character feel free to to the horrible things he or she does. I believe it was Jeremy Irons who said that the trick to playing bad guys is that they never actually think of themselves as bad — they are always the heroes in their own stories. They are just heroes with most, if not all, the moral ambiguity stripped away.
As much fun as it can be to slip inside the head of a true bad guy, the best part about writing villains is that eventually I get to make sure they get what they deserve. Maybe that is where the true catharsis comes in, finding a way to create some small measure of justice in a fictional world, when so often it seems to be lacking in the real world. So, here’s to all the great villains: may they get what they have coming to them.
Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang blog on February 16, 2016. 

Work-Life Balance

Dear Readers,

When I first started this particular version of my blog, I had such high hopes of making and keeping to a regular posting schedule. The more time that passed from my last blog post, the more guilt I felt, and the harder it was to come up with a topic to write about. Every sentence I typed felt like it sucked, and I developed a keen sense of self-consciousness that no one wanted to hear anything that I had to say anyway.

I work in a very demanding profession, and the past several months have been brutal for me. I have some new very complicated cases that are stretching my capabilities to their breaking points. I am behind on paperwork, which while being a constant, makes me feel like any time spent writing should be spent writing progress notes. I am feeling very burned out, in general.

During the past several months I also had to go through and edit my book after it came back from the editor, and while I started the process feeling optimistic and excited, I quickly found myself drowning in doubt in that area as well. What had I written? Why would I think anyone would want to read it?

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I suffer from depression, and that my symptoms are easily triggered whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, when I feel things starting to slip away from me. In the last months, I took on a second job, and a time-consuming volunteer opportunity — along with the challenging cases and the book edits — and it was way more than I could chew. I became very symptomatic, which meant I spent more energy avoiding things than doing things.

So how do you come back from that and be like, hi! I’m blogging again! Hope you keep reading! Do you acknowledge the lapse or ignore it and hope everyone else does too? Do you talk about your depression? Do you talk about how being a part-time writer with a full-time job is super challenging? I somehow doubt that’s the way to connect with fans and sell books. And yet…

Hi! I’m blogging again! I am going to a cider festival this weekend, of which I will be writing a review. I want to talk about the exciting things other authors in the Blue Zephyr Press group are doing. I want to say that my book cover is almost done and I can’t wait to share it with everyone once the final touches are done. I want to talk about other cool book-related things and life related things. And I will!

But first I wanted to write this: writing of any kind is a practice in vulnerability. I have spent enough time in my past life as a marketing person and public relations executive to know that a public image is something that should be carefully cultivated and maintained. There isn’t a lot of room in that cultivation for genuine vulnerability. But I think it is my fear of being vulnerable in this space that is holding me back from the very thing I want to do as a writer — connect with readers. So in the name of vulnerability and connection, I can’t just start this blog up again without any explanation of why it has been months since my last post.

And the explanation is this: a work-life (or sometimes, work and other-more-creative-work) balance is very hard to maintain. I am working on doing a better job with that balance, and I hope you follow along my journey as I do.

Till next week!

–Jennae

 

 

Why I’m Not Saying Goodbye To All That

It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my  finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was. – Joan Didion, Goodbye To All That

The first time I came to New York, it was with a friend who was getting her book published. She came out to the city to meet with “the book people”, as she collectively called them, in person. Her agent took us out to a fancy lunch (my going on the lunch was something my friend finagled for me) and while she went and had an official meeting even she couldn’t get me into, I took myself to see the Chelsea Hotel. Awed and humbled by the history, the symbolism, the raw and dark artistic hope, I daydreamed about a time when I would have my own “book people” and my own romantic return to New York as a published author.

When I moved to New York 4 years later, it was not as a writer or an author, but as a student embarking on a career that seemed like it would take me far away from that daydream. Still, I couldn’t escape the feeling of awe and wonder that I would have the privilege of living in one of the greatest cities in the world.

I was living in Los Angeles, a city I was born in and in which I had spent many formative years. LA has its own romantic reputation as a city where dreams come true and stars are born. In fact, the two cities are often compared and contrasted for just that reason — these are cities full of those in the hungry professions, the artists and actors and musicians and writers starving (in more ways than one) to make it. Coming from one city full of wonders and moving to another, you might think I would be immune to the thrill of walking down Broadway, or staring up at the Empire State Building. Didn’t I have Hollywood Boulevard and the Griffith Observatory? Hadn’t I regularly gazed up at the Hollywood sign, enjoyed the sights and sounds of Olvera Street, toured Hollyhock House? But it was the city I knew, and I had grown immune to its charms, while New York’s were still waiting to be discovered. And I wanted to discover them all.

Then this winter, two of my dearest New York friends made a plan to move to Los Angeles. Suddenly all I heard around me were stories of people leaving the Big Apple, people fed up with the high rents, the never-ending winters, the MTA fare hikes, and the general grittiness. Joan Didion’s essay came up again and again, naturally, as she wrote so honestly about her own love affair with New York, and her eventual realization it was time to leave. Transplants to the city, she wrote, never truly felt they belonged: everyone who came to New York from the West and the South always feel like they are living on borrowed time, waiting for the right moment to go home.

Every year since moving here I have asked myself if this is perhaps my last year. My last winter, my last Christmas, my last Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, my last exhibit at the Guggenheim, my last debate about whether or not it would be worth it to line up for free Shakespeare in the Park (which I still have never quite been able to make myself do). Once I have gotten past the feeling that I just can’t take one more snowfall or deal with one more fellow train passenger who believes they are the only person who deserves space, I find that little voice inside myself that says “not yet.”

Here is where I no longer connect to Didion’s essay: I didn’t spend my 20s in New York. I didn’t come to be an artist or spend time with them. I bought furniture, put up shelves, settled in. Work shapes my days and weeks and leaves little room for parties you stay too long at, or afternoons spent drinking until you feel better. At some point during the last five years, I stopped thinking of myself as a tourist, and when I go visit other spaces, I feel this longing for the conversational comfort of my tree-lined Brooklyn street.

And somehow, in the corners of my routines, I found space for writing again: before-work writing, lunch-break writing, afternoons in a pub writing, staying up too late writing, writing grounded in effort and escape, persistence and pleasure, brilliance and balance. I traded daydream for action, naive optimism for optimism subsumed in a work ethic that fills the trains and buses I take every day and moves throngs in that mad rush that amazes tourists and baffles anyone longing for a quieter life. I like my life noisy. I like it just slightly rushed — it makes me appreciate those moments of quiet stillness in a way I never could before.

For now, I am staying in New York (not that the city cares much, one way or another), and listening to the voice that says “not yet.” I’m investing in a new pair of snow boots, and learning to accept high rent for small spaces. I still feel privileged to live here. I know next year I will again talk to myself about how long, really, I have left in the city. But I also wonder if there might be a point when the conversation will change from “is it time to leave New York and go back home?” to “is it time to admit you are home?”

Is the narrative of New York that people always leave it? Or is there a counter narrative, an anti-Didion essay that declares not that New York fails to deliver on the promises of “an infinitely romantic notion”, but that it refuses to be an object of “the shining and perishable dream itself” and instead must always assert its own imperfections blatantly and honestly and dare you to love it anyway. Or not. I’m not sure the city requires love; it is a city known best for its indifference and read as cold, but who I always think of as a very old and wise teacher sitting in the back of the room and looking on as you learn your lessons. Maybe people leave New York when they have learned everything the city is able to teach them. Maybe people leave New York because they are ready for new lessons, lessons taught in LA’s sunshine, Austin’s creativity, or Seattle’s pragmatism.

Me — I still have a lot to learn about New York, and from it. But I will miss my friends when they move to the Coast.

 

 

Selfie

On March 28th, 2013, my mother died. She died in a hospital. It was the third time she had flat-lined, and the all the efforts of all the doctors couldn’t bring her back. My step-father had called me in the middle of dinner, sometime after the second time she was brought back; he left a voice mail that said simply to call him back. When I did, maybe an hour later, the machines were going off in the background, his voice was strained, and he told me the facts baldly — she has flat-lined again. This is her third time. I don’t know what to say. I’ll call you back.

2013 was the year of the selfie. Fancy phones with reversed lenses made taking pictures of yourself easier than ever, so much so that the OED word of the year was in fact “selfie.” It was surmised that everyone was taking self-photos: pop stars, presidents, even bald eagles.

So I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising that when my mother spent 40 days in the hospital in early 2013 and much of that time on her fancy phone with the reversed camera, that she should decide to take a selfie too.

Except that she hated to have her photo taken.

My mother was notorious for hiding from the camera, not just in later years when she decided she was “too big” to be in any given picture, or too old, or too something, but even when she was young, thin, and as beautiful as I’ve ever seen her. She had a great fascination with photography and had enrolled in a course, which meant that me, my brother, my stepsisters – hell, anyone in the family she could get — were forced to pose for various photography assignments. This being the 80s, most of these pictures ended up on slides. She had a special machine for viewing them all, technology that seemed both super advanced at the time, and still oddly ancient as it seemed to be a throw back to old camera reels that people watched home videos (without sound) on.

My mother was a talented photographer; she felt much more at ease behind the camera than in front of it, capturing beauty and smiles and moments. Photographs were very important in her life — she was always trying to capture the moments as they slipped by. Birthday parties, vacations, holidays, family dinners, just cuz days when the camera had film. Taking the photos was the easy part — she had rolls and rolls of unprocessed film filling up junk drawers and old suitcases, and boxes of photos that never made it out of their envelopes.

When the digital age hit, she traded in her fancy film camera for a fancy digital one, and taught herself some basic photoshop skills. She made a project out of trying to scan and repair old photos, starting with photos from her parents’ lives, removing the tears and wrinkles and printing them up and framing them. She tried to get as many of the old rolls of film that had sat in drawers developed and spent tons of money on fancy labs that promised to do their best to properly color the aged negatives, save what images they could. I bought her a fancy scanner that could take images from the negatives themselves, and even from her old slides. She bough albums and photo boxes. She spent countless hours immersed in images of the past.

Despite all the time spent trying to preserve and organize these images, it always seemed as if it was the lives of other people she wanted to cherish forever in 5 by 7 or 4 by 6. Her children. Her siblings. Her friends.

But not her.

Getting her in front of a camera was a group effort, a huge ordeal of cajoling and pleading, and sometimes snapping photos without her being aware of it. Her efforts to get people to delete unflattering photos of her were epic, particularly since she considered every photo unflattering. As her health declined and she gained weight (though at the time we thought she gained weight which caused her health to decline), her phobia of being captured as she was (in her words gross and fat and ugly) meant that years of her life went completely undocumented.

So imagine my surprise when I started going through the photos taken with her smartphone and saw that not only had she taken photos of herself, she’d taken these photos at her most vulnerable: while lying in a hospital bed, tubes and wires coming out of her skin, gown open and stretched to barely cover her, hair flat and matted, skin made pale in the fluorescent light. She’d taken several photos, some of her making faces, some looking serious and somber, as though she felt the need to preserve (at least for her own eyes) some record of what it meant to be in a hospital. Probably she was just bored. And yet, she didn’t delete these photos.

I know she never thought they would be seen. I know she never imagined a future where her daughter might scroll through her photo stream and, among all the photos texted to her, find these selfies.

Shockingly, these weren’t the only ones. There is one where she is at home, probably in her room, and she is peering out from over her glasses, looking bemusedly at the camera as if to say, yeah, what? She was fond of saying “whatever” and the look in her eyes in that photo declares the same. Whatever. So I’m old. Whatever. So I got fat. Whatever. So I wear glasses and probably my bangs are too long (her bangs were always either too long or too short, never actually achieving the right length). Whatever.

Momglasses

And still another photo is of her peering out over a mixing bowl, wooden spoon in hand, a small smile on her face. This one is my favorite, capturing her in the midst of one of her favorite pastimes, mixing together some recipe that probably only existed in her head, and tasted better than anything I will ever be able to put together.

The thing about the selfie is that it allows the person taking the photo to control their own image, to capture themselves just how they want to be captured. Artists have made entire careers out of the self-portrait, carefully crafted images with just the right lighting, set, style, flash. The fact that the less artistically trained are using photo-apps to do the same shouldn’t mean the intention is any less noble. We are all trying to shape our own images, to present the version of ourselves we see in our heads, to preserve not just how we look at any given time, but how we thought we should look, should be seen, should be known as.

My mother did not share these selfies with the world, and that somehow makes them more poignant: these were  not images of how she wanted others to see her, but private moments she shared with herself. They are the remnants of some dialogue she had with herself, some moment of reflection, and of pure human vanity — or whatever it is that drives so many to flip the lens around on their cameras and capture themselves.

When I found these photos, I sent them to everyone — her siblings, her friends, her husband, and all were as equally amazed that the woman who hid from every other camera had so willingly posed for her own. But of course she would. Of course she did. It was the most human thing to do.

And I will always be grateful that she did.

Social Work and Connection

I have a social work crush. A few years back, when I was first starting out as a social worker, I discovered this TED Talk:

[ted id=1042 lang=en]

Not only did I completely connect with Brené Brown’s ideas, I found a role model for the type of social worker I wanted to be, the kind that could create/discover an idea that everyone could benefit from. Brené talks about wanting to study connection and vulnerability as an attempt to solve her own struggles with those things. I think most social workers come to the profession with a secret goal to fix something in themselves, in their families, in their neighborhoods, or in their communities. They come to social work because they see themselves in the populations they serve, and they want to make a difference.

The longer I do this work, the more I fully embrace Brené’s ideas about vulnerability, shame, and the need for connection. In fact, the biggest problem I see most of my families face is isolation — they lack the natural supports that other people have, the proverbial village that helps raise a child. Without a natural village, a village of professionals and systems come in to support the family. Instead of extended family that can help provide child care, there are child care vouchers for day-care centers. Instead of a relative staying with the family to help with the kids or the house, homemaking services come in to offer support to overwhelmed parents. These families don’t have a lot of reliable friends. They tend not to be active in religious communities. They mostly don’t work so there aren’t supportive co-workers to help pick up any slack either. Sometimes they live in shelters, a housing system that forces isolation on families as a way to ensure that they don’t get too comfortable.

I spend most of my time with families trying to connect them to systems and seeing if they can possibly find a way to connect, or reconnect with those supports they do have, build on the connections they already have in their families, friends, and communities. The heart of family therapy is about strengthening the connections within the family to help the family function, as a whole, better.

Then there is this article on drug addiction:

Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

Connection, again, is key. But the inherent struggle of connection is that it presupposes that you are worthy of it. Many of the individuals and families I encounter don’t feel worthy of connection. It’s part of what keeps them isolated (I strongly recommend you watch the above video in its entirety).

Next week, for social worker month, my co-workers and I will be participating in Secret Social Worker (even though among us we also have Marriage and Family Counselors and Mental Health Counselors – a collective of clinical helping professionals). We will draw names and randomly get assigned someone to do little things for every day for a week, before revealing our identities. We do these things not just because they are fun (and trust me, they are), but because it helps us all connect a little more to each other. As those whose job it is to help others connect, it is vitally important that we too stay connected to whatever supports we can muster.

This month is also the month I lost two vital members of my personal village, my grandmother and my mother, and so I would like to take a moment to recognize all my other connections, my friends, family, and especially those friends who have become family. These are the people I can be vulnerable with, who tell me I am a worthy person. While I do this work to help other people connect, I only CAN do this work because of the connections that sustain me.

So I will close of National Social Work Month with big huge thank you! Thank you Brené Brown for helping inspire my working philosophy, and thank you to all the connections in my life that keep me grounded and cared for. I literally couldn’t do this without you!

 

Cider Love: Magners, Irish Cider

Dear Readers,

Magners is a lie. Yes dear readers, the original name of Magners and how it is known in its native Ireland is not actually Magners. It is called Bulmers. I… I can’t even….

The lie.

So the story goes that the cider that we know in the United States as Magners was first created in 1935 by a man from South Tipperary, Ireland named William Magner. But then H.P. Bulmer, an English cider making company first established in 1887 in Hereford, England, bought 50% shares in William’s successful cider company in 1937. (H.P. Bulmer also owns Strongbow, but we’ll get to that, dear readers, some other time.) After the war, in 1946, H.P. Bulmers bought the remaining shares of the Magners cider company and changed the name to Bulmers. Then in the 60s, after a losing a lawsuit, they were forced to sell the Bulmers Magners company to Guinness and Allied Breweries. They continued to sell Bulmers in Ireland, and based on that success, decided to go international. But in doing so, they created a separate brand: the original Magners name. It has only been available in the United States in mass market production since about 2005.

I first had it in 2007. I did not know any of its history then, nor was I fully aware that it was made from 17 varieties of apples which contributes to its “unique and refreshing taste”. I only knew, as my last Cider Love entry may have informed you, that it introduced me to the world of cider and saved my social outings. The bottle is beer-bottle shaped and the cap must be removed by a bottle opener, the edge of a table, or if you’re the type, a set of very strong teeth (not recommended). It has the word “original” on it, which spoke to my fierce independent American soul, and the word “Irish” which spoke to my also very American need to claim some culture other than American as my roots, and also the word “cider”, which is what the bottle with the hard to open cap contained.

The beverage itself has that fermented fruit flavor unique to the cider category. As the bottle suggests, it definitely has a unique and distinctive taste. I just can’t really define for  you what that taste is. Magners is heavy on the fermentation flavor and light on the fruit (unlike some other ciders). You might imagine that one of the 17 varieties of apples that goes in to the brew is perhaps a little on the mushy side, bruised and starting to turn. These are not apple pie apples. These are Irish apples which I have to imagine have had to weather some bad, well, weather, and grown and thrived against the odds and possibly against the desires of their neighbors, and likely aren’t the kind you pick out so much as end up with. These are the red-headed step-children of apples, is what I’m saying. I mean, when you think of Ireland, are apples really what come to mind?

Castles yes, apple orchards, no. I mean, are there even apple trees in this picture? Maybe Google Images lied to me.

Magners tastes better than beer. But not that much better than beer. In fact, it is on the beer-y side of flavours that cider can come in and is missing perhaps only the hops (horrible horrible hops) flavor that makes beer something I personally cannot with any enjoyment consume. I can consume Magners with enjoyment, and I will voluntarily order it at any bar I find it at, unless there is maybe a better tasting cider option (which often there is not, so successful is the brand). That is to say, Magners, while being my first cider, is not my favorite cider. You never forget your first, but, you know, I’ve had better. My memory of it as this delicious amazing apple-y drink that is not beer doesn’t often hold up to the actual taste of it as this sort of slightly bitter apple-y drink that while not being beer is definitely in the same family. It is better over ice, or on draught (all things are better on draught) and on a hot summer day or a humid NYC evening, it most definitely hits the spot. The second bottle or pint is always better than the first. By the third, Irish eyes are smiling, and by the fourth (particularly if you’ve been having pints), you might be inclined to talk about how Irish weather is better than regular weather and squishy apples that grow where you don’t think apples should grow are better apples because, damnit, they GROW, don’t they, and they do it despite everything and you really should go to Ireland, it’s so beautiful, and if you do, go to the The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival in September for the single lads and lasses, and Oh Danny Boy and all that.

Actually, Magners really is a fine cider, a lovely cider, the best cider really, and probably we should all have another round.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Cheers,

J.M. Phillippe