Saturday, May 24, 2014

Steel Wool People

Everything connects to what I write. People who advise those of us who write (some writers themselves, others know... "experts") suggest that writers should "write what you know."

Shelly feels for my lack of genius... ;D 
I'm experienced, but no "expert." I know a lot of stuff. Not "blow your mind" stuff. (Without mucus your stomach would digest itself!) Not "know everything" stuff  (like that guy over there). Just, average, ordinary, common sense stuff. Let me illustrate.

In response to the Great Chicken Soup Boil Over of 2014, I rolled up my non-existent sleeves, got out the ol' elbow grease and cleaned the gas stove in the apartment. When I say stove, I mean it. I did not clean the oven which supports the stove. Don't look at me like that. Contrary to popular belief, I'm not insane. No, my mother did not have me tested. I just *know*. Anyway, my subconscious pushed me to shame over how the stove looked. The schmaltz was dry, so it didn't smell like chicken soup any more but really, it looked, ah, untidy. Yeah, let's go with that. Seriously, the oven was of no consequence to me. I have writing to do!

Moving on. Other than the stove-top itself, there are three parts to each burner that can be removed and scrubbed to within an inch of their cast-metal lives.

I call these:

  • The Grate Thingy -- on which we put pots and/or pans--not at the same time. Generally. I call this the "Catcher's Mask". We'll refer to that as the "Grate" from here on;
  • The Round Thingy -- the cap that prevents (I think) the gas and flame from going "due up". Technically, I believe the proper name is The Flat Round Thingy, but for the sake of simplicity, let's call it the RT;
  • and the Flame Dispersal Unit (FDU) -- you know, that Thingy which supports the RT.
I removed the initial offending Grate (front burner on the right side - okay, my right side while I'm facing the oven, not the oven's right side). I tried to clean it with a dishcloth. HA! I tried the sponge wrapped in nylon. Not even close! I set the first Grate down and moved on to the second Grate. Same problem. I set them both in the sink and tried to clean the first RT. Better, but still... not enough. 

Light Painting looks AWESOME!
I knew then it was time to get out the best abrasive object known to kitchens since abrasive objects were known to kitchens: Steel Wool. If you're not familiar with it, Steel wool, "also known as wire wool or wire sponge, is a bundle of strands of very fine soft steel filaments. It is used as an abrasive in finishing and repair work for polishing wood or metal objects, cleaning household cookware, cleaning windows, sanding surfaces, and to produce sparks while burning in light painting." Is that cool or what??

I use the kind with the pink soap in it. Smells awful when you get it wet. Like iron supplements when they get stuck in your throat cause they're not manufactured for consumption by ordinary humans. Mutants, maybe. But baby, steel wool works.

I wet that sucker up and went to scrubbing the first RT. It didn't take long, either. You have never seen an RT shine like that! I took off the other two Grates and put them in the sink (they're the biggest things so I saved them for last) and scrubbed clean all the RTs. The FDUs are a little harder. They've got bumps on them for allowing the dispersal of the flame and those things can be pointy. I scrubbed them until they annoyed me and rinsed them and the RTs off. Lovely! Well, certainly "acceptable". 

Then I tackled the Grates. The Grates and the FDUs could be cleaner. But honestly, for that I needed protective gloves. I don't like them. I can't feel things when I'm wearing them and they make my hands sweat. I might as well have my hands in the water cause they don't keep them dry! They might protect me from the pointiness and the nasty steel wool fibers (there's a whole story about my oldest brother in the Navy and steel wool, by the way. That's for another day, too.) but I'd be dropping things constantly. So, no gloves. My fingers still hurt. 

I scrubbed up the stove top, too. Wiped it all down and put everything back together. None of the burners would light. I could smell lots of gas, but the spark wasn't catching. I realized that I hadn't dried things off enough. 

Now, I'm a funny sorta bird. When I picked up one Grate to move it and dry the RT and FDU under it, I left it on the drainboard. I put the next Grate over the dried Burner Unit and dried the next one and so on until the first Grate wound up on the last burner. Somehow, I think it helps spread the wear and tear, but I don't do it on purpose. Didn't. 

All clean! 

Well, except for the oven. Another day, another blog post.

Steel Sponge!
By now, if you've come this far, you might wonder how this relates to writing. I know I'd be wondering that about now. Fact is, in my life I have Steel Wool People. These are not the cuddly ones, the encouragers, the smilers. These Steel Wool People are the abrasive ones who get under the grease and grime I let myself sink into. Present and past, they get under the dirt and scrub me clean again in a way that the soft scrubbers, the huggers and encouragers can't. 

Don't get me wrong. I love the huggers. I'm a hugger. I'm a weird mix of hugger and steel wool. I don't have a name for me. My mother, though, she was the best sort of encourager. She hugged me every day. She told me how smart, how valuable, how loved I was all the time. She showed me how to love others and her words of love could fend off the words that bully even when she wasn't around to see that happen. She was the first person to tell me that the opinions of people I didn't know, who didn't love me, didn't matter. I got through a lot of teasing that way and held my head high because I knew she loved me all the time, no matter how grimy I got, metaphorically speaking. (If I needed a bath, then she pulled no punches!) 

But I'm talking about the other folks, like my Father. He hugged me too, and loved me, there's no doubt, but he was a straight shooter. He was The Steel Wool Man, for sure. The truth-sayer, the drill sergeant. He was the one who said the hard things in hard ways because he knew when I needed a push to shake off the bad habit or the self-indulgence that left me dull and less efficient to the task at hand. Like steel wool, he scoured away the old -- the self-pity, the depression, the fear of not being good enough -- and left me ready for the lavish love my parents together bestowed. He was not unkind to me, ever, nor rude. He did not pick on me, or make fun of me. He got to the root of the problem and helped strengthen the me within fighting her way out. And when I shined, he pointed to how bright I was. 

He told me two things about my first novel that make me "shine" even to this day. He said, "I didn't know my little girl knew so much about war," and "there's too much sex." Honest, loving and abrasive. (No, you won't see that novel anytime soon. ;D Maybe someday. Minus the sex because if there is another thing I've learned from my Steel Wool People when it comes to writing, it's that less is more.)

I had a teacher in high school who was a Steel Wool Man in some respects. When one assignment had us choosing poems by our favorite poets, I choose Kipling. What? I was 17! I had a sore throat, so when I had to read my poem, I apologized. I introduced the poem and he said, "We'll forgive you for Kipling." I didn't know then what his objections were. I understand now and I look back on it as a very Steel Wool comment. 

My writing partner, Robin, is Steel Wool for me and my writing, through and through. She knocks off the rough, gets down to the bare metal and the result is brilliant.

These people, the huggers included, inspire my writing, I try to give my characters some Steel Wool People in their lives so that the hero is never really standing alone, even when the Bad Guys think he is. The heroine is kicking butt and taking names because within her soul she has the steel of such people embedded. It keeps her grounded and keeps her moving. 

They keep me moving. My husband is a Steel Wool Man and I love him for it more every single day. He polishes me and doesn't let me sink into those defeating habits which can drag me down. He makes me shine so that I can paint the world with the light I create. My sons and daughter tell it straight, too, and my daughter's help with my tales is invaluable. Thanks to them, I'm no where near done giving off sparks. 

Who makes you shine? Who are your Steel Wool People?

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