Monday, May 30, 2011

Story Notes: How Pies Are Like Writing

Yesterday's story, "The Pie Maker," is based on a traditional folk tale I heard a very long time ago. There are many versions, from Christian apocrypha, to pagan folktale.

But the basic story is this: a beggar comes to the door of a greedy old woman and asks for some food. The woman has just taken a pie from the oven, and doesn't want to give it to him. She makes him a smaller pie out of scraps, and makes him wait. When the pie comes out, it's bigger than the first. Since the woman is stingy and greedy, she doesn't want to give that one to a beggar either, so she makes an even smaller pie, which comes out of the oven even bigger. At which point the beggar reveals he is a god or spirit in disguise and he turns her into a woodpecker for being so selfish.

That story has haunted me all my life. Not because of the selfish old-woman, or the woodpecker or the justice done or anything like that. It's the pie. You try to make it small, and it comes out big. You try to make it smaller, and it comes out even BIGGER!

This is just like writing.

Honestly, if you've been doing any kind of creative work for very long, you've probably had this feeling that there is some perverse force inside your word processor or something. Whatever you try to do, it comes out different. And you know there is a lesson in there somewhere.

The other thing that resonated with me, especially once I got older and more wise to the world, is the repetition. The old woman was given multiple chances to get it right.

And this brings me back to Great, my great grandmother. I'm not that bad a making a pie, but Great made more pies in a single day than I have made in a lifetime. My grandmother could literally just throw together a pie from feel, no measurements, no care. Always wonderful. Because she, like her mother, did it every day of her life, and multiple times a day. Neither one of them needed to go to culinary school.

I will never make a pie which compares to either of them.

I have tried to tell that story many times, in many forms, and it never comes out like I intend it to.

But if I keep it up, I will eventually make stories like they made pies.

Think about it.

No comments: