Friday, February 18, 2011

Enough IS Enough. Really.

How do you know enough is enough already? Like, if you keep working on the thing you are making/baking/creating/writing/composing/whathaveyou, will it get better or just devolve into the primordial sludge of dis-inspiration? How do you know when to stop tweaking and leave well enough alone? 

When I was thirteen years old we moved from our German village of Katzenbach into military housing on Ramstein Air Base. The dollar had fallen precipitously against the Deutschmark and our rent had doubled over night.

My grandmother, widowed for a few years and getting up into what I thought was older-than-dust-ville, had never been to Europe, so she came to live with us for a few months. This was all fine and dandy. G-ma was a funny old thing: she used to call "Wyatt Earp"--an ancient western we got on the one English-speaking TV channel available over there--"Wild Burp." Hi-la-rious to a thirteen year-old. But Gram had a few funky quirks; one of which involved cooking.

One of the great things that happened when my mom's mom moved in is my brother and I had snacks waiting for us after school. This hadn't happened since we were really little. Awe-some! Grandma was the Snack-inator! And she was good at it too. At least at first.

On Monday she made this amazing bread. Don't even know what was in it, but it was delicious. We raved. She beamed. Tuesday she made it again. FABU, Grandma! We spread it with butter, jam, peanut butter. Yum-city. 

Then on Wednesday the bread took an interesting turn. There were raisins in it. And some sort of grainy thing. Ohhh-kay. Still good. Thursday, there seemed to be more grainy stuff, and it was a bit damp. Plus I think there might have been some leftover corn in there. I swear I saw yellow specks. Um, ew. By Friday it wasn't bread so much as glop, with, I promise, some sawdust stirred in. We had to eat it in a bowl. With a spoon. I asked what it was and she was offended. "Bread! Don't you know what bread is? You've been eating it all week!"

So. Grandma had a good thing going. Then she went all Goldilocks on it and wasn't satisfied until the bread attained that je ne sais quoi-ness. Except it never did. It never got to "just right." She had us at Monday. Should have left it that way.

I think the key might be this: If other people like it, leave it. If you feel yourself hacking at it, leave it. If you're in a hole with it, leave it. If you feel the giddy urge to go all experimental, back away from the bread, honey. 

Give it some time to rest. Then revisit it with fresh dual orbs of sight, allowing your native passion to run like the wind, bullseye, and elevate you to supplementary eminence.

(You may use that last sentence. After I revise it some more.)


Robin said...

That's a good question - When is enough enough? I think about that a lot. I had a grandmother who was a great writer. Then she'd start editing and editing and before you knew it, all the heart had been edited right out. I always wondered where that line was that she crossed - and why did she cross it?

Polishing is a good thing. Experimenting is a good thing. Editing is a necessary skill - but your piece reminds me of something that Julia Cameron said in one of the Artist's Way books. She says something about how we aren't always the best judge of the value of our work as is. Which is why mentors and artist circles are so important.

So you have to be brave enough to do your work and brave enough to show it to the right people along the way. Art is a lot about courage. And trust. This makes me think about artist circles in a new way. [I'm not very good at circles...]

Janiel Miller said...

Great comment! You really DO need to share. But you also need to know WHEN to share. I have found that sharing my writing, for example, while it is in progress is not helpful. I end up being too influenced by input. But after that? Yeah, definitely need some objective eyes to take a look at it.

Also, you have to evaluate the feedback and try not to get offended by it. Like my G-ma did. :) (and that's harder than it sounds)

Sara B. Larson said...

Great story and advice. The trick is finding that balance in writing. I think you have to follow your gut and make sure you know what the heart of your story is (was). If you start to lose that, time to rethink your tweaking.

Ari2525 said...

The bread looks delish, i would totally do over kill too, I don't know when to stop, I want to, I know I need to but i just can't.

Ari2525 said...

I forgot to add, Janiel your post are always so action packed, I need them and I need this blog.

scott.densley said...

Brandis aint allowed 2 bump me off the computer. I need my gnome fix. Now Im hungry for bread.

Janiel Miller said...

Scott - you need to run down to Macaroni Grill and get their bread. It's SO delicious. Oh. My. Now I need some.

Ari - Thank you so kindly! I'm glad you're enjoying the blog--we're glad to have you. And thanks for the compliment!

Janiel Miller said...

Ari! I found the recipe for that bread! It's easy! We'll see if it will fit in a comment box:

Gloppy Bread

1 loaf french bread
1 package Swiss cheese
1 small can of mushrooms, drained
3 tablespoons butter/margarine
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Johnny's seasoning salt (Lowry's or other seasoning salt works also)

Cut french bread diagonally--first one way, then the other. Do not cut all the way through the bottom crust. Fill the slits going on way with Swiss cheese and the slits the other with mushrooms. Place in foil.
Melt the butter and add the mustard, poppy seeds, lemon juice and seasoning salt. Pour over the top on the bread.
Wrap with foil. Back 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until the cheese is melted.

Ari2525 said...

Janiel, this recipe will be a hit with my family, and thats saying alot, kiddo number 2 is picky pants.The fact that you took the time to give me the recipe is why I really enjoy this blog, I feel like you 3 really care, thank you.

Ari2525 said...

Janiel, I forgot to add, Russo said you have another blog. Where is it?

Janiel Miller said...

You're welcome Ari! I'd love to have you at my personal blog. The address is: www.creativethinkery.blogspot.com.

(However, I am in the process of changing it up a bit. You won't be able to tell yet. But soon it will look different and have a better focus. I hope! I'll be changing the url too, but the old one will still work for it. Anyway, I'll post a note on Thinkery when it happens.)


Russo said...

Janiel, I loved this post. A) for the recipe. And b) for the way that you inspire people.