"Roundheads and Ramblings"
Today, February 21, 2012, is Mardi Gras, certainly an excuse
for a party. In the medieval world,
Mardi Gras was the last day of Carnivale. Carnivale literally means "Farewell to Meat" and was a period of silliness that began back
on January 6 and extended up to the first day of Lent. It was a time when everyone ignored the
ordinary rules of society and the prohibitions of religion for a short
while. But Mardi Gras, which means "Fat
Tuesday," also carried a
stern warning that the season for repentance was at hand. All meat, oil, and eggs had to be consumed
before midnight on the last day of Carnivale, since Lent brought with it 40 days of fasting. In that spirit, I'm using the day as an excuse to be frivolous here on the blog. Writing pressure returns tomorrow.
No matter what your location or Lenten practices, tonight
the focus will be on food, although there is little agreement about what it is
appropriate to eat. If you take the “no meat, oil, and egg” prohibition seriously,
you might want to travel to Louisville, KY, where the emphasis is on eating as
much meat as possible.
The meatiest menu I've seen recently comes from Volare, an Italian restaurant in Louisville. For
Mardi Gras, Chef Josh Moore has created a luscious four course tasting menu
showcasing traditional Italian favorites like house made cannelloni
pasta filled with ground veal, parmesan, ricotta and spinach. The antipasti is fricandi
spare ribs and sausage braised with wine vinegar (any place that starts the
meal off with spare ribs has my vote of confidence). The meaty goodness
continues with porcini
and rosemary prime rib. Finishing off this feast is a the dolce duet: cenci,
shredded rags of fried dough with sugar, and zeppole, Italian doughnuts in
apple cinnamon, orange chocolate, and traditional.
In Memphis, the emphasis is usually on Cajun food, in a
salute to New Orleans. At Bosco's, Memphis's signature beer pub, their Fat
Tuesday Beer Dinner includes five courses, each served with a matched beer:
Appetizer: Oysters on the Half Shells Baked with
Cheddar Cheese, Bacon, Tabasco and White Wine
Soup: Rich Turtle and Beef Broth with Onions,
Celery, Peppers, Tomatoes and Eggs
Fish Entree: Pan Seared Red Snapper over Creole
Corn Bread topped with a Crawfish Etouffee
Meat Entree: Roasted Quail Stuffed With Boudin
Sausage, served with Fried Okra
Dessert: Banana Foster Bread Pudding.
But if you’d like something a little less “touristy,” you
might check out Restaurant Iris, who posted this notice on their website:
“We thought a lot
about what to offer for dinner on Mardi Gras, and we decided to serve what
people actually eat today in New Orleans on our Vieux Carre (French Quarter)
menu. You won’t find anything blackened (locals don’t eat blackened
food;to be completely honest it is nothing more than tourist food). You
won’t find any seafood unless it has some other protein with it (locals are
about to eat seafood until Easter. It is the last thing they want). There
is nothing pretentious or expensive about the food of Mardi Gras. The day
is about one big pot of andouille gumbo or red beans that you share with anyone
who passes by. It is about splitting an oyster poboy with a friend.
It is about walking way too far down St. Charles and eating Popeye’s chicken
and biscuits. It is about eating that last king cake of the season and
hoping you get the baby so you can buy the first one next year."
In that spirit they will serve a first course of lafayette duck and andouille gumbo or roasted
boudin with dijon and cane syrup. The meal continues with a fried chicken thigh
with grandpa’s red beans and a biscuit or a cochon de lait “hot ham and cheese”
poboy with fried pickles. It concludes with warm apple fritters with vanilla
We'll be attending a Chamber of Commerce "Business After Hours" gathering, where local restaurants and brewers intend to woo us with samples of their best New Orleans fare. Happy eating, wherever you may be!
When I was in graduate school, I knew several doctoral students who had been working on their degrees for more than the regulation ten years. They dawdled over finishing their course work. They changed their dissertation topic. They had writers' block. They edited . . . and edited . . . and edited. They applied for extensions and took a year off to earn some real money. And why? Not because they were broke, and not because they didn't know their stuff. They dawdled because they were afraid of failure.
In my first tenure track college teaching job, I met a scholar -- a real scholar -- who was several years ahead of me in terms of experience. He was writing what promised to be a really important book, but he couldn't get it finished. He wrote . . . and edited . . . and re-wrote . . .and reorganized . . . and did some more research . . .and lost his job. He failed to get tenure because he had not published a single piece of original work. The last time I saw him, he was a paper-pusher in a huge government office, working in a small cubicle somewhere hidden in a huge windowless warehouse. And the light had gone out of his eyes.
The same unfortunate experience affects writers. How many people do you know who say they are going to write a book but never start? How many others have a drawer stuffed with manuscripts that no one has ever read? How many spend years waiting for an agent to offer to represent them? And how many people actually publish a book and then never try to promote it? How many failed writers do you know?
It's a common human failing. From an early age, we are taught to fear failure, and in too many cases, that translates into the faulty assumption that it is better not to try. You can't fail unless you take a risk, unless you try, unless you finish what you've started. Right? Wrong! You can't succeed unless you take a risk--try--finish.
I started this morning's rant because I came across this exchange between two members of a writer's group I follow.
Person # 1: "Does anyone know how to make your book the best seller on Amazon?" (Hidden attitude: "I can't do it. There's a secret nobody is willing to share.")
Person # 2: "Well, you can either: 1) Hire a marketing
consultant to promote the book; 2) Learn how to market yourself by
spending the necessary hundreds of hours reading material on the
subject, attending seminars, webinars and the like, and working your
butt off, the way the rest of us do; or 3) buy ten or twenty or fifty
thousand copies yourself." ( Hidden attitude: "You're right. It's hopeless. It can't be done. It costs too much. There's no way.")
Person #3 (Me!): "My new book, The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese:
How to Avoid the Traps of Self-Publishing, available on Amazon in both
paper and Kindle editions, has several chapters on this very question.
You may never crack the paper or hardback "best-seller" list, but you
certainly can do so with a Kindle listing. And it doesn't take
"hundreds of hours" or working your butt off. I sold over 47,000 copies
of a novel with almost no effort, and I've taught several other people
to do the same. It'll cost you less than $10.00 to find out how. Why
are you still dawdling here on the internet?
One of my favorite sayings came from a church sign: Don't tell the person who is doing something that it can't be done."
When I spoke to the United Daughters of the Confederacy this week, I tried to stress the things both sides had in common, not the things that drove us apart. Tops on my list were medical conditions. To show how terrible the Civil War was, I offered the following statistics on war casualties, as supplied by the Pentagon:
American soldiers who died in our wars:
- Revolutionary War, 4,435
- War of 1812, 2,260
- Mexican War, 13,283
- Spanish-American War, 2,446
- World War I, 116,516
- World War II, 291,557
- Korean War, 36,220
- Vietnam, 58,220
- Iraq, 4,416
But in the Civil War (including both sides), there were roughly 620,000 deaths, including 368,000 from disease. This makes the Civil War not only the deadliest war in our history, but deadlier than all other American wars combined.
On the brighter side, if there is one, I provided a list of medical improvements that can be traced back to the Civil War:
- Record-keeping, which in turn led to the first attempts at medical histories
- A system of managing mass casualties, still followed in wars of 20th century
- Pavilion-style hospitals which improved survival rates (used for the next 75 years)
- Immediate treatment of wounds
- An understanding of the importance of sanitation
- Development of new anesthetics
- Widespread use of smallpox vaccinations
- A corps of female nurses and sisters in Catholic orders
- Improvements in medical education (Harvard Medical School got its first microscope)
- Ladies Aide Societies, which developed into the American Red Cross
A bit of self-promotion: Beyond All Price
tells the story of Nellie Chase, whose experiences as a nurse during the war offers many examples of these improvements.
No, not that kind. I'm headed off to a morning speaking engagement -- a Yankee in front of the Daughters of the Confederacy. We'll not be discussing our differences, however, but rather our commonalities. My topic has to do with the nature of Civil War medical treatments and the tremendous strides made as a result of pressing need during the war. My books, Beyond All Price and Nellie's Rx, provides the examples. If there is time this afternoon, I'll post some examples.
In the meantime, be sure you've left a comment or at least you e-mail address below. The drawing for the Mouse mousepads ends tomorrow. Even if you left your information over on the mouse launch website, it would be a a good idea to leave it here as well. Some of the entries there did not come through well, and I don't want to leave anyone out.
One of my former students posted a request on Facebook this morning: "Please post a picture of an act of love." Of course he's taking a bit of harassment from people who find the suggestion, uh, suggestive. But I know what he meant, I think, because he's a very nice man, a teacher, a husband, a father. So his request set me thinking, which is a lovely reversal from the times I stood before him in a classroom and tried to challenge him to think.
I thought about a service club meeting I attended last night, and how many acts of love I witnessed in less than two hours. Here are a few of them:
1. A man in his thirties -- a medical doctor, from a country half way around the world, new to Memphis, new to his job as a professor, speaking his second language. He came to the meeting not knowing a soul there because he wanted to do something useful with his free time. "I want to help," he said as he applied for membership. "You people do good work."
2. A widow whose husband died only six weeks ago, who is refusing to believe that her own life is over. She also came to the meeting to consider membership in the group. Her husband used to be a member, and she is ready to continue his efforts in service to those in need.
3. Another young man -- a member this time -- pushing the club to donate to a fundraiser that will benefit sick children. His own two beautiful and healthy children sat there with him. He showed them the teddy bears he wanted us to purchase, bu made it clear to them that the bears would go to someone less fortunate than they. And they understood -- no crying or demands of "I want one!" We witnessed two acts of love here, I think -- children being taught well as well as an act of generosity.
4. A gay couple, open about their relationship and confident enough in it to live their separate lives -- not sitting together, following different interests, but still working as a team.
5. A married couple, old enough to have grandchildren but young enough to still be developing new careers. The wife presented her new business, confidently and well, while her husband sat in the back of the room, rooting for her and worrying for her.
6. A woman in her mid-eighties, independent, still working, reaching out to the neediest of our members with kindness and understanding.
7. And several members who were nominating others to be considered for awards. Not a one suggested himself.
Yes, Sean, you've made an important point. Acts of love are all around us. And you don't have to for Valentine's Day to see them.