Gathering Enough Granules for a Salty Book
July 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
By Nicole Walker
There are two ways to produce salt—either drag some seawater into a shallow, well-lined pond and let the sun evaporate the water away or mine it from sedimentary deposits. The first is obviously the easiest. Find a hose. Line a shallow pond. Wait for the sun to shine. The second requires hammers and pickaxes and maybe even construction hats. Sadly (or possibly happily. Binaries keep forcing me to pick a side), writing a book is more the latter than the former. First, you have to find a hat. Second, you have to flail bodily against your computer until something like a granule of salt comes out. One grain of sand per seventy-five swings of the axe. Sometimes, I think this book-as-pasta is going to end up without any flavoring at all.
I started Quench Your Thirst with Salt, before I knew it was going to be Quench, with a poem called “Fish“—a 500 word spin on “fish” that forgot to behave like a poem. It made metaphor into scene. It lost its line breaks. It explained associative connections (or at least a couple of them). Perhaps most nonfictiony: it laid the groundwork for the next word spin to come. A poem is a poem by the fact of its ending. This thing didn’t quite end. Rather, it began. The last line of “Fish“ is “Do not let the fish get cold.” I sent this 500 word spin to Brevity. The act of submitting the word spin there meant a book had begun. If you’re going to end a piece of writing on an imperative, you had better follow up. This is a recipe for one dish. You’re going to need to make something to complement the entrée. It wasn’t as easy as draining ocean water into a small pool but, I realized, if I took the axe and chopped off chunk by chunk, I could, eventually, end up with enough granules to make a salty book.
The book is very chunky—especially at first. Everything is a section. A section of narrative about J.R. Ewing and Dallas, a bit of research about the health effects of red wine. Sentences are chunky. Metaphors, obviously, run wild. The method uses poetry’s method of moving by association but the essay’s promise is, “this will all come together in the end.” How do you make sense of a life? How do make sense of a place? Only one crash of the hammer at a time. Then, when you have enough salt, maybe it’s time to start cooking. Sprinkling a little salt from the first chapter into explaining why you fried the chicken in chapter eight. Salting the water in chunk seven of chapter three means that the pasta is finally al dente. Crushing salt into garlic in chapter two, section four means that this isn’t just metaphor anymore. That the manner in which you procured the salt and the sedimentary place from which you pulled it from the ground and the way you crushed the salt and the method into your hair and the way you look now, all wild-haired and sweaty, means that the metaphor told the story and the story told the metaphor and your dad’s drinking and your fish and your mother’s protecting you from snowball-throwing boys and the time you swam in Lake Mary and the time that you gave birth to your daughter and how your dad and your boyfriend taught you how to drive and how your dad pulled oil out of shale rock before they called it fracking and when the boy took you home before they called it fucking and the drought in the desert and the barracuda off the coast of Florida and the wolf you think you saw while you were looking for your familiar become not just metaphors and not just stories and not just seasoning but instead become the way you make sense of a life. And, by extension, the way you make a book.
Nicole Walker is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and This Noisy Egg. She co-edited with Margot Singer, Bending Genre—Toward a Theory of Creative Nonfiction and with Rebecca Campbell, 7 Artists, 7 Rings—An Artist’s Game of Telephone.