My mother grew rhubarb in her Portland garden; she planted it on mounds of dirt along the fence where it she said it got the most sun. Now and then during the summer, she would pull on her gloves and snip off a number of long, red stalks to make that evening’s dessert — rhubarb pie.
She taught me a lot of things, but I always thought her rhubarb lessons were the most interesting. Before my mother turned those red celery-looking stalks into a fabulous pie, it was something quite different from its final outcome. That pithy redness needed a whole lot of sugar before it tasted anything like pie.
So, why am I thinking of rhubarb? I happened to notice some in the produce section on this morning’s grocery run, and I was suddenly off in Analogy Land, comparing rhubarb to writing. What else would you expect of me by now?
Here are a few comparisons for you to chew on: For one thing, rhubarb is a vegetable … not at all something that ends up tasting like pie fruit. To take a vegetable and make it taste like fruit is not unlike taking green and raw words, and then placing them in a pattern until they are a palatable mix of thoughtful writing. Just like this sour vegetable, writing takes a some proper enhancement to make it a tasty finished work.
In its raw state, Rhubarb is very bitter. It’s been used in medicines and folk healing for centuries, although I can’t imagine ingesting a tonic or tea that promises a miserable taste any more than I can suggest sending out a medicinally dark work of gothic prose to an agent who only represents writers of political satire. Both may contain writing with a bite, but one may need a little honey to get it past the reader’s palate, while the other is expected to be dreary with visions of spiked garb and dungeons complete with a medieval rack-o-pain.
Another interesting tidbit about rhubarb is that its leaves are poisonous. Only the stalk is safely edible. In like respect, I want to make certain that I carefully peel away any words or thoughts that would poison my work. The last thing a writer wants to do is kill her audience! However, on the upside, rhubarb leaves can be used to make an effective organic insecticide for leaf-eating insects. Now, that might make a nifty little fact to incorporate into one’s murder mystery. So, maybe a little poison IS good … but only in the proper venue, and in a good enough dose to kill the bugs without turning off the reader. Ah ha! Now, we’re getting somewhere with this rhubarb/writing analogy thing.
Now, you try it!
Rhubarb Fact: You can use rhubarb to clean your pots and pans (no kidding!) A good rubbing of this useful vegetable will bring the shine back to burnt cookware in (supposedly) no time at all. (Auburn’s thought — That final polish might be enhanced by adding in some unlikely first readers to offer a few pithy comments. See www.annemini.com for her recent thorough discussion on reading buddies.)
Rhubarb Fact: If you have blonde or light brown hair, you can create a more golden look by simmering 3 Tbsp. of rhubarb root in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes. Set the mixture aside overnight, and strain. You can pour the liquid over your hair as a rinse, although you might want to test a few hair strands first to see how it’ll come out. (Auburn’s thought — If you’re going to try a new technique, you might want to test it first before you apply it to your entire manuscript. What do you mean I have green hair? And it’s permanent?!!.)
Rhubarb Fact: Apparently the fiber in rhubarb is a nice additive to handmade papers. Imagine — rhubarb paper! (Auburn’s thought — Adding unusual elements here and there might give one a unique voice. Think of Peter Brady voice-cracking his way through “Time to Change.” Totally off the wall, but it worked and the kids loved it!)
My mother never expected that I’d apply baking lessons to thoughts about cooking up some different ways to think of our writing. But then again, what could she expect from a child whose nickname was “wienie arms”?