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Fiction Prompt 1/9/13 – Which Kind of Writer Are You?

January 11, 2013

We each have our own approach to writing stories—some writers compose quickly and broadly, leaving the sentence-level refinements for later, while others labor over each sentence until its worded just right before moving on. Identify which kind of writer you are. Then revise a story you’ve been working on, applying the approach you don’t normally take. — from Poets & Writers

I stepped away from this piece for a while, not for any real reason. I decided this prompt was a good way to jump back into it. Normally, I write everything very quickly, very often using incorrect words and spelling and then wait until I’m finished before I go back and edit it. To change it up, I decided to look back and make edits on this before continuing, then labor over each sentence and paragraph before jumping into the next. I’m sure this could stand another round of edits, but I’ll do that later. Right now I’m focusing on each paragraph as it comes to me. This piece is unfinished, but this is the start of it. I started writing the conclusion to this awhile ago (something I also don’t really do) and I plan on piecing it all together when the time comes. But for now, this is what I worked on and came up with. I call this “Belle’s On the Boardwalk,” (giving something a title before I start writing it is an approach I also never usually take!).

Belle’s on the Boardwalk 

Most people don’t fantasize about the mundane, the ordinary, the common. Most people would much rather dream of Lambourghinis and diamonds and TVs, not of corned beef hash and eggs sunny-side up. I would not consider myself to be the likes of “most people.”

Growing up I had Barbies, I had Cabbage Patch dolls, I had Nintendo video games; I had everything a little girl could ask for. Above all of those fancy material goods, however, my favorite toy by far was my Fisher Price kitchenette set I had from the age of 5, and kept until I was about 15. It was molded, crusty and on its last legs when I finally sent it to the Children’s Toy Junk Yard in the sky—but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear when I finally sent it on its way to the otherworld. I remember seeing it rolling down the hill, landing on top of the giant heap of junk, mingling with other children’s toys of yesteryear, all conglomerating at the bottom like a plastic orgy a misfit island. But instead of second chances and new beginnings, their future would only go up in blazes. I walked back to my dad’s pickup truck, playing it cool like it didn’t bother me, all while stroking the plastic fried eggs I saved from the set in my pocket, which now hold a special place on the kitchen wall in my apartment.

While never-ending marathons of Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous played behind me, I viewed my future through a greasy spoon. The whimsical did nothing for me, and while other little girls dreamed of being princesses and fairies and sang their favorite lines from The Little Mermaid, I was content with parking myself on our red plaid couch in the basement and idolizing my own personal fairy goddesses—Julia Childs and the Two Fat Ladies. I’d write down every minor detail to every fricassee, every quiche, every flambe. Unfortunately, my rather lower-middle class upbringing left a lot to be desired, as our big family dinner outings would mostly be to White Castle or Wendy’s.

However, there were those few times when we would go out for special occasions, be it my brother’s graduation or my sister’s communion, when we would venture to the fantastical world of culinary heaven—Sally’s Diner. Sally’s wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill diner, oh no, it was THE run-of-the-mill diner. Think of every diner you’ve ever seen depicted in a movie—pastel colors and checkerboard details, busy busty waitresses in pink often ill-fitting dresses and matching hats. The whole area was built like a train-car, while old men with newspapers focused on the horses guzzling down strong black coffee, and worker men stopping by for hash in the morning, or turkey triple deckers in the evening. It was busy, loud, and full of movement. It was perfect. I knew from the first time I ever stepped into Sally’s that slinging hash was in my future, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I pursued a culinary arts degree in college—much to the chagrin of my parents’ paychecks. I always planned on paying loans off myself, but even I had to think realistically about it: chances were I’d be waitressing for a long while before managing a place of my own. And if the shirts were tight enough, the tips were higher—but even those couldn’t pay rent and tuition all at once. So I pressed my nose to the grind stone—then used said grind stone to grind coriander for masala—to make sure every penny was well worth it. I was determined to get the best “college experience” possible, academically, that is. My school was voted the number #1 party culinary college (Princeton Review offers some interesting sub-genres), but I wanted none of it. I wasn’t there to party and I sure as hell wasn’t there to bond or to engage in any hobby and culture-based extra-curricular activities. I was there to learn, to cook, to work and to “experience” everything I needed in the “real world,” not the so-called “fun-filled” entertainment most people my age were engaging in. I had regular dates with my textbooks, my friends were my notebooks, my social circle consisted of my professors and chefs, and the only experimenting I did was in the kitchen. And I loved every damn minute of it. And just to ensure that I wouldn’t have to deal with anyone else’s nonsense: I opted to pay a little extra for a single. No roommates, no suite mates, no late night visitors, no parties. Anything that could be detrimental to my studies was a no-go for me.

When I was a senior, after years of working in bakeries, bagel shops and cafes, I finally saved up enough money for my own 1-bedroom apartment, complete with a reasonable-sized kitchen with a spacious stove top. Sure, the rest of the apartment was pretty cramped, but I wasn’t planning on spending any time there anyway. I threw out any books I had acquired over time in favor of nothing but family meal recipe books. I knew my space was temporary, so I kept decor to the basics and instead splurged on kitchen appliances and cleaning tools. Who needs a carpet or curtains when I could have the perfect rust-proof polishes for my spoons? I tossed out old Disney movies in favor of cooking DVDs. Sorry, Ariel, Lidia Bastianich was my new idea of a heroine. I worked graveyard shifts, early morning shifts, prix fixe brunches and dinner rushes at a variety of hoighty-toighty restaurants all within the vicinity of my school. I slept about three hours a day and my zzzz’s were filled with dreams of the food groups. Despite my hectic schedule, my studies never took a backseat and my grades never slipped. Some might say I was a Wonder Woman, if I ever stuck around anyone in a social setting long enough to hear it.

Needless to say, I graduated at the top of my class with job opportunities nearly drowning me, dragging me down to the ocean floor and begging me to shake hands with the bottom-dwelling sea life who would one day grace a dish I created, coated in a creamy garlic butter sauce. The listings bombarded me: Management position available in NYC. Seafood head chef position open in DC. Entrepreneur looking for upscale cafe co-owner in Seattle. All of them were at my fingertips if I really wanted, and all of them were oh so glamorous. That in and of itself was the problem: they were glamorous. Sure, when it got down to the nitty gritty of the work that would be going on many would beg to differ, but still, you had to look and present glamour if you wanted to make it in the fast-paced world of the culinary elite. Sure, I was best in class, magna cum laude with a double BA in restaurant management and the culinary arts. Sure, I could bake a flambé the likes of which you’d never seen before. Sure, I had enough schmaltzy restaurant experience both in and out of the kitchen that most people don’t achieve before the reach the age of fifty. But those to me were all stepping stones, small ripples leading to the big kahuna. They were money makers, and good ones at that, but they weren’t ideal. No, I didn’t graduate with truffles placed on a pedestal, and I’d take corn beef hash over creme fraiche any day. I despised the thought of serving the fru-fru with a food budget higher than my rising student loan bills. I didn’t want to make tiny portioned meals of exclusive, exotic foods for people whose taste buds were marred by money. I wanted to serve the working man, the tired man, the hungry man. I wanted to run my very own run-of-the-mill diner, like the Sally’s I had grown up with and loved. And not only that, I wanted to literally serve the patrons, complete with pink dress and matching hat. That, to me, was glamour.

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