So I came across an old writing notebook while emptying out some of the lingering boxes in my room the other day. After a quick scan, I realized that it was from my freshman year of high school. 1999 seems like a very distant memory in my mind – especially since I had a bit of a hangover from 8th grade in which I was picked on and became a bit of a social pariah – so I like to not remember those times.
Reading through the treasures from my past, stories good and bad (though mostly bad), poems short and long, clever and romantic, I found that I couldn’t put the notebook down because it was so fascinating. One particular assignment within the pages was a sonnet that I wrote and had to memorize in order to read out loud in front of the class. It was my favorite out of everything I read because it held a sense of innocence that can only live within a 14-year old freshman. I had yet to be exposed to the extremes of drugs and alcohol; I still thought that I was destined for a dream job of playing professional basketball; and I still had the fairy-tale imagination that we often lose the older we get.
I’ve really grown up in 10-plus years (obviously). Though I found myself jealous of some of my writing capabilities at the time. I appreciated my ability to use a slew tropes in my writing: alliteration, hyperbole, personification, and metaphors, things that I now often overlook for the sake of detailed description, dialogue and thought-provoking lines. My forced control over meter was something to marvel. When I was tasked with an assignment, I welcomed the challenge and took it on with gusto. When there was structure, there was cohesiveness; where there was free form, I was creative. Too often in my writing today, I like to bend and break the rules – make my own rules, which can work from time to time, but I most often have successful writing days when I force myself to stay within the lines.
Folded in the pages of the notebook were assignments returned to me with comments made by my teacher and myself. I laughed out loud when I read the question, “What did you learn from this assignment?” and I respond, “I can actually write a pretty good story when I put my thoughts together.”
Years have gone by, but I still have the rather shy demeanor of a conservation freshman. New things still scare me; having no control over matters scare me; and these things frustrate me easily. I am just as hard on myself now as I was October 21st of 1999, noticing that, “my hard work doesn’t always pay off,” and again on October 24th, when I decide to, “just get used to it.”
And so presently, as I struggle to make a living while still finding the time to pursue my writing aspirations, I think back to my younger self who despite his struggles still dreamed big. I can’t help but take a cue from him and realize that even though times may be hard at the moment, I still have a lot to look forward to. I’ve taken unexpected paths to be where I am today; I have made sacrifices to pursue my writing career and it’s true, my hard work doesn’t always pay off, but when it does, when I receive those congratulatory letters and emails telling of my essay being selected for publication, it makes all the hard work worth every rejection letter I’ve had to swallow.
This is the life that I chose. A life of ups and downs, of being published and being tormented by writer’s block. And I just have to get used it, because I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Slow Cooker Gumbo
When I was a kid I was a really picky eater. Oddly enough one of the first things I grew fond of was Cajun food. Mom used to make Jambalaya and then Emeril showed up on TV and I decided that Cajun food was for me. For my 18th birthday I went to a local Cajun festival and tried crawfish and a few other very Louisiana-inspired dishes that turned me off to the cuisine a bit. But I am glad that my younger self decided to try new things so that I can appreciate them today.
This gumbo (made in a slow cooker) takes all the laborious steps out of making gumbo, which is much needed when you’re serving 12 hungry bellies before watching, The Walking Dead. The consensus is that tasted damn good!
3/4 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic minced
1 TSP dried thyme
1 TSP dried oregano
1 TSP Paprika
1/4 TSP Cayenne
1/2 TSP Black pepper
2 Bay leaves
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 stalks celery chopped
4 Cups beef stock
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 (14-ounce can) diced tomatoes with juice
2 cups frozen sliced okra
3-4 TBSP Butter
3-4 TBSP Flour
1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled, de-veined and cooked
Salt & pepper to taste
4 green onions, sliced
1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Put all ingredients except for flour, butter, and shrimp into slow cooker. Cook on high for 1 hour and then turn to low and cook for 5-6 hours. During the last hour, in a saucepan, melt butter and stir in flour. Cook 10 minutes, and then incorporate a small amount of liquid from gumbo into the pan and stir until smooth. Then incorporate into gumbo. Add shrimp 10-15 minutes before serving. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve over rice with green onions and parsley to garnish. Serves 10-12.