Editor’s Desk #2

Flatbread to accompany home made soup.

The weekend is a time for exploring the ice box, freezer and pantry for ingredients to make soup. It’s almost always a hearty, satisfying meal. Last night I made flatbread using a blend of half wheat flour and half rice flour. It was a nice and easy accompaniment that made the meal. I don’t use a recipe because yeast bread making is about the feel of the dough once warm water, yeast, and a pinch of salt and sugar are mixed. The rice flour gave the crumb a different and toothsome texture. During the pandemic we’re cooking at home and trying new things.

My Saturday editing session was mostly about the book’s outline. I decided I needed one. After 12 writing shifts this month, I found the automatic writing method of getting memories down on paper will neither be sustainable nor as productive as needed. My commitment to the project is stronger than ever. What else am I going to do in a pandemic with snow covering the ground? An evolving approach to writing is a positive development.

Much of my writer’s life has been writing an autobiography. It is how I processed the vast input into our lives. Crafting a narrative, by its nature, involves a refraction of life experiences yet I don’t envision myself as a fiction writer. Developing characters and dialogue is not in my wheelhouse. I’d rather select what I observe from memory and intuit from life. My writing is a construct, although closely based in actual experiences.

There are five main tools for writing this book. It goes without saying a desktop computer with word processing software is the primary medium. I’ve been using a computer since the 1980s. The hard drive is backed up continuously to an external drive. I also use a written journal as a way to write about process. The nature of handwriting requires more thought before getting an idea down on paper. When considering process, thinking before writing is a must. The outline resides on the cloud with a downloaded copy of each revision filed on my desktop. I have a stack of three by five index cards with topics or events written on them. They are arranged in chronological order and rubber-banded together by decade. Finally there are the numerous books along with boxes and binders of artifacts. This physical record is more organized than it was a couple of weeks ago yet there is a long way to go toward making it usable.

I feel better about the new outline. The main story is a single narrative beginning with my birthday and continuing to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. It will be a small fraction of the book.

I begin by setting context with three historical pieces about Lincoln County, Minnesota, LaSalle County, Illinois, and Wise County, Virginia, from where my grandparents and parents came. Sections about our family life begin with historical narratives about our residences in Iowa City, Linn County, Iowa, Lake County, Indiana and Big Grove Township in Iowa. Following the narrative of my life, thematic sections about broader experiences in work, sustainable living, politics, writing and education are planned.

This will be my only autobiography so there will be appendices to publish a small selection of photographs and writing that includes poetry, blog posts, opinion pieces, my resumes, newspaper writing, journals and other published writing. Because there are literally thousands of such documents, understanding the scope will be a key research challenge. The benefit of the outline is it provides a structure upon which to hang artifacts as I discover them.

I ordered more apples from the orchard yesterday. In a concession to the pandemic I paid a fee to have them delivered to a cooler set outside the garage door. We had only two left in the ice box. Now that the orchard decided to remain open year-round, I could go on line, pick from a limited selection of remaining fresh fruit, and have them delivered within an hour. The frugal part of me resisted doing this, but it’s great to have a full apple drawer in the ice box again.