Monday, August 3, 2009

Edible Revision

Revision has crept out of my writing and into my kitchen.

Corn season comes much earlier in Virginia than in upstate New York, the place I still think of as ‘home’. Up there, corn comes on sometime in July; here in Virginia we started seeing corn at the local farmers’ market in late June.

I’ve always cooked corn the way my mother did, in boiling water, and it’s always been good. This year, after reading about grilled corn someplace (probably in the summer edition of Menu, the wonderful magazine put out by the Wegmans’ grocery chain), we’ve been cooking it out on the grill. It’s easy—pull back the husks and remove the silk, replace the husks, soak the ears in cold water for about 20 minutes, then put them on the grill for about 20 minutes (ten on one side, ten on the other). And it tastes so much better—fresher, sweeter. Impossible to resist.

When I talk to kids about writing, I always ask, “How many of you like to rewrite?” And always, hardly a hand goes up. When I ask why, they tell me that rewriting’s boring, not fun, too much work. I tell them that I used to feel that way, too, but that I discovered a secret: I stopped calling it “rewriting” and started calling it “revision.” That usually gets a few raised eyebrows, and at least one ‘huh?” So I ask, “Who knows what ‘re-‘ means?” They all know it means ‘do it again.’ Then, “Who knows what vision is?” That gets more than raised eyebrows—it gets a “what kind of idiot are you?’ look, and someone says “Seeing.” “Great,” I say. “Now put them together. Re-vision: seeing again.”

Re-vision. Seeing again. Looking at my writing again, from a different angle. It’s kind of like grilling corn: pull back the layers, remove what’s not needed, let it soak for a while, then put some heat under it. Unlike the corn grilling, it’s not always easy. But it always results in finding a way to make the work fresher, sweeter. And—with any luck—impossible to resist.

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