Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Job Title? Writer.

Our mail usually arrives around the time I leave the house, so I often take it right out of the mail carrier's hands. It's a different person most of the time, and today it was an older gentleman.

"Any GOOD mail? Or just junk like usual?" I joked.

"Hmm...here's a magazine!" he replied, sifting through his boxes.

"Probably one of my roomates' tennis mags," I grumbled. Then I saw that it was Poets & Writers. "Oh! It's one of mine! I'm the writer in the house, and my roommates are athletes," I explained.

"Wow, you make your living as a writer?" the mailman asked.

I preened a bit. "Yes I do," I declared, not bothering to add that I also work at a book publishing company AND teach two composition classes. "I write for several local publications."

"That's great," he said. "I used to be a writer. I wrote about sports. But I got married and had children and I couldn't make a living for my family at it. So I became a mail carrier! Good luck with your writing!"

I couldn't decide whether I felt amused or discouraged as he drove off. I didn't share the fact that I, too, can't make a living totally as a freelance writer. Instead, I let him think that I do. It got me thinking: Are most writers like that? Either juggling a bunch of jobs or switching careers to something secure like mail delivery in order to support the family, but still telling people that they're a writer?

Years ago I was out with my friend Gayden who works as a nurse, when a bunch of other nurses that knew her asked me if I was a nurse too.

"Heck no. I'm a writer," I said without missing a beat. And back then I was in graduate school! I hardly wrote at all--and I definitely didn't write for money to speak of.

So it seems that, no matter WHAT we writers end up doing with our lives, we remain writers, eager to share our stories with whomever chats us up at the bar or hands us our mail. The rest is just...filler.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I'll Take My Halloween With a Side of Juvenilia, Please.

Around Charleston, folks are already celebrating Halloween. Saturday night was the "Skinful Charleston" Halloween party that everyone seems to adore. (I had a few friends who live in other states actually venture to Charleston for it.) It's basically a giant party on a giant piece of land where everyone gets insanely drunk, watches light shows, listens to bands, and wears the most scandalous outfit possible. Despite the expense of the tickets, everyone raves that it's the "coolest party all year."

It is not my scene. Instead, I hosted a small gathering at my house for a few good friends. But somehow, I got roped into the whole Skinful drama when I had to pick up an exceptionally drunk friend from the soiree. She..uh...had a bit too much to drink and pretty much had to go home immediately.

 It got me thinking about what Halloween represents these days. I loved the holiday when I was a kid. It meant scouting the neighborhood with my sister and tons of our neighbors, receiving a load of candy, and eating it for weeks. It meant scooping out pumpkin guts in the sunny backyard with my awesome Uncle Joe. It meant wearing makeup to school when I was too young to actually wear makeup. 

But now, as a grownup, Halloween seems to be nothing more than a time for trashy dressing and drinking yourself silly. Not everyone does that, of course, but it feels like if you don't have children of your own, to carve pumpkins for and to take trick or treating, then the wholesome fun of Halloween is long gone. My sister says I'm "just being grumpy," and that not everyone has to get drunk and show their rear end in order to enjoy themselves.

So, I think I'm going to have to change the tradition, at least for myself. Not that I don't love a drink every now and then, but I don't need a special day, or outfit, to celebrate with a cocktail. Nope, this year my halloween plans will include the following:

1. Carving the awesome pumpkin that Stefan brought home for the dinner party.
2. Buying candy. I'm not sure what kind yet, but maybe something deliciously childish, rather than my usual salted dark chocolate. I'm thinking Tootsie Roll Pops and Starbursts.
3. I don't like horror movies, but I'm positive I can handle reading something spooky, like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
4. I'll probably pay a visit to the fair and I'll probably eat some junk.
5. Maybe I'll wear a traditional costume next weekend, like a giant sheet with a hole cut in it for my head.

Happy Halloween!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Oh! K.

I went to dinner with my stepsister tonight, and she returned a book of mine that she'd had for absolutely years. In fact, in the front of the book where I always write my name it said "Denise James." That's how long I've had the book, and how long she's had it.

I didn't always use my middle initial. As a kid, I hated my middle name and I hated my name, period. I didn't know anyone named Denise, and my middle name seemed even weirder. Now that I'm grown I love my middle name. It was my great-grandmother's first name and I'm proud to wear it. Around the time I finished graduate school I started using my middle initial for everything. On research papers, on the cheesy freelance pieces I wrote for publications that no longer exist--and it just became my whole name: Denise K. James. When I got a Facebook I put K in the last name spot for my account moniker, thus being nicknamed "Denise K." Nowadays, I tell everyone not to leave out the K.

When I checked out the front of the book that Rebecca returned tonight, my name seemed naked. I love my middle initial. I think it adds flair.

But don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled to have the book back. Even without a K.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story.

Tonight I met up with a friend of mine, Melanie, who has known my family since before I was born. She used to date my uncle in the eighties, back when I wore dorky nightgowns and elbowed my sister on purpose. We decided to meet up for mexican food, and practically the entire time we talked about my family, and about old stories of Florence. It was fine with me--I find these old stories fascinating.

She also brought a lot of pictures with her, mostly random events and holiday snapshots from back in those days. I pored over the pictures, trying to piece together the foggy memories in my head so that they make more sense. It reminded me of how important real photos are--not the digital kind that will be gone when I'm too old to keep track of a computer or social media--but the kind that get passed down from grandparent to grandchild, inside of shoeboxes and old albums.

My mom and me


My sister and me 
I have plenty of pictures of my family, but I think I'm going to have to print some of them. After all, when the time comes for me to tell stories, I'm going to need props just like Melanie had tonight.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Baking Tips from the Local Grocer.

As I write this post, my lemon tart is in the oven. I hope and pray that it's good--it's my first time trying this recipe, which I found in one of my fashion magazines. I tend to steal a lot of recipes from either my fashion magazines (the ones in food mags are too complex) or from friends. I like simple stuff, with one or two steps. This tart seemed easy enough for me to make--until, that is, I realized that I did not know the exact difference between a tart shell and a pie shell.

It all started when I talked to my friend Katrina, who is an excellent chef. She told me that the frozen pie crust I'd just purchased from Publix was, in fact, not what I needed for the recipe. So after work, I actually went back to Publix and approached the customer service desk with my pie crust reject and another crust made of graham cracker. I had no idea what I was doing.

"Help me," I implored. "I don't know what a tart crust is."

Turns out, neither did the teenaged guy who was at the customer service desk. He called over this self-important chick from the bakery to help. She of course knew the difference between the shells, and decided neither of the ones I had at the counter were correct. Next thing I knew we were on a wild goose chase all over Publix for the right pastry.

She led me to the freezer section and handed me a box of dough. "Just unroll this and put it over your pie shell, then it'll be more tart-like," she explained. With everything she said she had this air of authority like Betty Crocker had been her aunt or something.

"But the recipe doesn't have a pastry top," I insisted. "It's just lemon filling in a crust! It's a one-step recipe that I got from Glamour!" 

"Hmm..." she replied with a furrowed brow.

After a few more minutes of deliberating, we finally decided that I should just stick with my original pie crust. I was amused that I'd come all the way to Publix to keep my same crust, but I felt satisfied that the bakery expert had approved it.

"Just pre-cook the crust a little to make it harder, like a tart," she said. "It'll work fine."

So now, said crust and filling are in my oven. I feel pretty anxious to taste it when it comes out. This particular tart is a trial run, before I make another one to take to work for the bake sale. So if it sucks, I guess I'm going back to Publix and letting what's-her-name make me something.

Mountaintop Picnic.

I would have to say that my very favorite part of Asheville this past weekend--and there were plenty of awesome parts, like having a Guinness with Billy, watching the freaks in the square, checking out the Thirsty Monk, and more--was definitely having a picnic at the top of a mountain with Stefan. It was cold, but it was romantic. Our menu was simple but tasty: meat and cheese, fresh bread, plums, veggie chips, and my favorite part: the apple cider. Yum.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The World is My OYSTER.

There are very few people who love oysters as much as I do. Oh, sure, here in Charleston there are throngs of people who attend oyster roasts or who love a raw oyster on a cracker with hot sauce. (Raw IS the best way to eat them, of course. And the best place so far? Felix's of New Orleans. The worst way is fried..but I'll deal with it if need be.)

But that isn't even the level of addiction to these little sea critters that I'm talking about. While I adore going to Pearlz, ordering oyster shots, attending roasts (and politely elbowing other eaters out of my way) or eating a dozen (or more) on crackers...I've also been known to just keep oysters around. 

I think it all started with my mom. She introduced me to oyster stew--the canned soup made by Campbell's that you mix with milk and heat up. She likes it, and we used to eat it when I was a kid--before I was even fully aware of my need for oysters.

But in the last couple of years, my need has turned fierce. Last Winter, for example, I started looking up my own oyster stew recipes. I made soup from scratch. It was yummy. Much better than the canned version.

But the canned version still does in a pinch. I have one in my cabinet right this minute.

Guess what else I have in my cabinet? Smoked oysters in a tin. Before you declare this post the most disgusting one I've ever written, hear this: They are delicious. I particularly like them on a cracker with a slice of habanero cheddar cheese. It is divine, I'm telling you.

It's officially oyster season here in South Carolina, but I don't think the season ever truly ends for me. Chillier months are just an excuse for me to declare my favorite food more proudly, since everyone else is eating it too.


And no, I've never found a pearl...although I probably will some day. As for the aphrodisiac properties, you'll have to see for yourself.

Plans for Asheville.

If I can just get through this week, I'll be handsomely rewarded with a trip to Asheville, NC. I've never been there before, and not only am I excited to take in the sites (and the actual FALL weather, which hasn't been the case in Charleston these last few days) but I'm also going to spend time with an old college buddy and his wife. I haven't seen them in several years. In fact, the last time I saw this friend, he didn't drink--he was a teetotaler all through college--so I'm looking forward to having my first beer with him ever. A dark one, preferably.


Any other suggestions for places to visit in Asheville and the surrounding areas?

Friday, October 7, 2011

The (New) Office.

Whew! What a week! So glad it's Friday, although my Blackberry is still vibrating off the hook.

This week I helped my boss move our tiny book-publishing business from his old house (which he just sold) into an actual office. No more working from his cozy home--now we're in a typical office building, mini fridge and all.

It's been weird and exciting so far. I'd have to say that the weird part is running into strangers. No more just seeing Jan's family. His charming wife and fuzzy feline have been replaced with...random lawyers.

This morning, I tried to unlock the door to the building and as I stood there struggling, said lawyer opened the door for me with a giant grin. "It's already unlocked!" he crowed.

So basically, even when my boss isn't there to harass me, I'm far from alone.

What's even more amusing is that I somehow met one of my boss' ex-employees. Small world, eh? The lawyer guy, who is really becoming a mainstay in my work life, introduced me to another lawyer who used to be in the US Navy.

"Denise and her boss just moved into the building," explained Jim, the first lawyer. "They publish military history, so I thought you'd be interested."

He was.

"Is this JAN'S BUSINESS? I used to work for him in the nineties! Before I went to law school! My name is Miles! Has he ever mentioned me? I love Jan! How is he?! Is he here?!?!"

I could barely get a word in. The guy examined our bookshelves for like half an hour, reminiscing about all the titles he remembered.

"He's moving out of his house today, but he'd love to see you," I said.

"Well I would love to see HIM," Miles boomed. "Let me leave my business card on his desk! Tell him I came by!!"

It was an interesting afternoon, all in all. While I'll have to get used to the idea of NEVER being alone (which means no blaring music, prancing around, or talking on the phone at a million decibels) I feel like today was a good start to the new digs.

Now, for some hard-core weekend lounging.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Half and Half.

Happy October!

I'm just finishing up another fantastic weekend. I spent half in Litchfield with my mom and her best friend Lorraine, and half here in dear Charleston. Sometimes, these weekends are my favorite. It somehow makes the weekend seems longer, making a mini-road trip to our house up the coast and then coming home to enjoy Sunday in my own city. The weather this weekend has been extraordinary, both here and in Litchfield. It's the kind of glorious weekend that puts one into a decadent mood. I've been shopping for soft sweaters, eating the best meals, and writing poems. I've been surrounded in Stefan's records, my own reading material, and great company.

Me on Litchfield

The gorgeous beach, with Stefan in the corner. :)

Colonial Lake in Charleston. 

Oh, I also learned that Stefan is not afraid of Black Widow spiders. Just another reason I love him.

Happy Autumn, readers!