My Addictions: Writing, Emotions, and Food

Already this morning, I’ve written quite a lot. But none of it will ever find its way onto this blog, at least not in present form. My drafts from this morning and the last two or three days include: Ancestral Serenity; Plumbing the Depths; The Accomplice; Facing the Bastard in the Mirror; and Politics Leads to War. None of them are complete. And, quite possibly, none of them ever will be complete. That’s true of a lot of what I post on here (despite its incompleteness, I often post, anyway). I should apologize for that. Anyone who happens upon this blog expecting complete, coherent thoughts is apt to be sorely disappointed. I am sorry. I try, sometimes, but usually my words slip from my fingers as disjointed thoughts connected only in the commonality of their incoherence.

I was challenged recently to write something more upbeat than my usual depressive drivel. I try, and sometimes I succeed. But I think I’ve finally articulated, in my mind, something I’ve known all along but haven’t put into words until just this morning. While we all recognize that some people see the world through rose-colored glasses, we do not pay as much attention to the fact that some of us often see that same world, but through scratched lenses, tinted dark grey. Unfortunately, those lenses are not the kind that one removes before going to bed.

A photo of a cute puppy might elicit a smile from you but I might notice the signs in the photo of mange on its left rear thigh and wonder what kind of monster would ignore the poor dog’s need for veterinary treatment. I find the puppy cute and cuddly and smile-worthy, too, but I see the sinister side of the photograph. And, then, I wonder whether the photographer might have intentionally snapped the image she did in the hope that someone would notice the dog’s malady and take action to help the puppy and penalize its owner. Maybe the grey tint has worn off the edge of one of my lenses, revealing a thin rose film beneath.

In spite of those scratched, grey lenses, I sometimes get a glimpse of the world as it appears in fairy tales. Colors are brighter, images are all crisp and clear, and the air surrounding us radiates oxygenated joy. Yesterday, or maybe the day before, a fierce rainstorm swept through, dumping an enormous amount of rain that swamped all of my struggling little tomato plants that I have grown from seed. Just as quickly as the monsoon roared through, though, the air cleared and a rainbow formed behind our house. I have never seen a rainbow so close and so enormously wide. It’s bands of color looked like they were each several hundred feet thick. The right side of the rainbow touched the ground a quarter of mile or so behind our house. The arc of color extended into the sky but disappeared half-way through the arc, so the rainbow looked like the outer edges of a quarter of a sphere of color. It was truly magnificent. Just as suddenly as it appeared, though, it began to fade. Ten minutes later, it was gone.

And a day after my wife spotted a bear cub lumbering up our driveway and across the street, we both saw a beautiful fox streak alongside the house and zip up our driveway and across the street, following the same path taken the day before by the bear. These sights makes more tolerable the misfortunes of witnessing the misbehaviors of people. But they do not erase the recognition that people can be monstrous and unfit to walk the Earth. This morning’s draft of Facing the Bastard in the Mirror begins to acknowledge the story of one of them. It may, one day, be published posthumously as a memoir of atonement, begging forgiveness for the unforgivable.

I once attended a writing workshop led by an author I know—a woman for whom I have enormous respect, Sylvia Dickey Smith. She said “Write through the pain.” She advised us not to worry about who might be hurt by what we write because the writer is writing for himself. I remember thinking that was an extraordinarily selfish attitude that justifies shifting pain from oneself to others. I wrote later, “That’s inexcusable, especially if others are innocent bystanders who simply cannot get out of the line of fire before the bullets start flying.” But I understood her point. She was saying the only way to get through a personally painful story is to write through it. That’s the only way the story will be authentic. It’s the only way to reach the reader; with honesty. That’s why the memoir, if it’s ever finished, will be published (if ever) posthumously, and only after all the people who might be hurt by its contents also are gone. By then, it will be only a cautionary tale from which, one would hope, others might learn.


Well over a year ago, I posted for the upteenth time a list of regional foods of North America that I want to make (and some I’ve already made). Have I made many of them in the year and then some since? No. Dammit. I’ve got to get with it. And, if anyone reading this can offer any more quintessentially regional North American dishes I should add to the list, please send them on!

  1. Minorcan Clam Chowder (Northeast Florida)
  2. American Chop Suey (Connecticut/New England) [AKA “Goulash” in the U.S. Midwest]
  3. Sseafood Gumbo (Creole/Coastal Louisiana)
  4. Rappie Pie (Acadian/Nova Scotian)
  5. Sausage/Chicken Gumbo (Cajun/Louisiana)
  6. Philly Cheesesteak (Philadelphia)
  7. Chicken Booyah (Northeastern Wisconsin)
  8. Smoked Salmon Tartare (Pacific Northwest)
  9. Arroz con Camarones (South Texas Coast)
  10. Succotash (New England)
  11. Jiggs Dinner (Newfoundland/Labrador)
  12. Pan-Seared Grouper (Southeast/”Floribbean”)
  13. Tourtiere du Shack (Quebec)
  14. Cincinnati Chile (Cincinnati)
  15. Spiedie Sandwiches (Binghamton, New York)
  16. Muffuletta Sandwiches (New Orleans)
  17. Cornish Pasties (Michigan)
  18. Chicken with Tamarind Ginger Sauce (Southeast/”Floribbean”)
  19. King Ranch Chicken (Southwest)
  20. Fish Tacos (West Coast)
  21. Oyster Pie (Northeast-NY)
  22. Grilled Pacific Halibut w/ Rhubarb Compote & Balsamic Strawberries (Pacific Northwest)
  23. Cannibal Sandwiches (a Milwaukee/Wisconsin specialty)

That’s enough depressing happiness for one sitting. Monday officially has begun.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to My Addictions: Writing, Emotions, and Food

  1. kozimeg says:

    Anyone who is so interested in the infinite variety of flavors of food, foreign and domestic, is an optimist. Says I. I loved your list of foods to try. I’ve had a few of them, but others are complete mysteries. Rappie Pie? Spiedie Sandwiches? I think I’ll pass on the last – somehow imagining a Cannibal Sandwich makes me lose my appetite.

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