Making Cheese

No, contrary to what you might be thinking, I did not morph my writing blog into a cooking blog (even though I easily could). Instead I’m using a physical example of something to make a point about expectations and change – two things we all deal with on a daily basis and something masterful writers include seamlessly into their story lines.

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This is a block of cheese I made. In particular it is a soft goat’s cheese that I use for crumbling into omelets or spreading on crackers or bread. I make other kinds too, but they all pretty much start out looking like this. Other than the fact I don’t use any dyes in my cheese to turn it orange, anyone could recognize it as cheese by texture or taste. It is what we expect to eat.

But to get to this point, takes a lot of work. First we have to start with some of these:

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Yes, those really are my goats and the photo was taken on my land. The big goat is named Raphaela and the two little ones are Remington and Adalaide – all named after artists (because that’s how I roll). Without them, there would be no cheese.

Next, we have to have some of this:

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Milk. Or in this case – goat’s milk. Again, my milk from my goat setting on my kitchen counter.

And then sometimes this plays a roll:

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Good thick cream, skimmed from the top of the milk. Sometimes I leave it in, other times I collect it and make sour cream or whipped cream or even butter.

And finally, I pour it all in a pot, add cultures and rennet, follow a recipe for whatever I’m making, and ta da – I get cheese.

So what does any of this have to do with expectations and change, let alone writing?

You’d think that as many times as I have made cheese I’d know what to expect. If you put things together the same way each time, in the same amounts, etc, you should get the same results. Except cheese doesn’t work that way. Subtle changes in the diet of the goat changes the fat content of the milk which changes the reaction of the cultures which ultimately changes the outcome of the cheese. Temperature, humidity, length of heating time, age of the milk … they all play a role in the ultimate outcome of the product.

In writing we call these things “plot twists”. Some times the plot twists are dramatic and alter the course of the novel. Other times they are subtle and sneak in when we aren’t looking. However they arrive, they change the outcome of the story.

They are fascinating to me because any story out there anyone could take and change one of the plot twists and come up with an entirely new story. Same characters, same setting, different outcome.

Life is like that too. At least mine seems to be.

A couple of months ago I was involved in an “experience” that didn’t go to plan. I’m not certain what the intended outcome of it was supposed to be, but I’m pretty sure what happened was not the plan.

Part of the problem was that I was supposed to be a participant in the plan … but no one bothered to tell me before hand. OR ask if I wanted to participate even. Which made it appear that I was being either manipulated or coerced or that I didn’t matter and wasn’t needed at all.

Needless to say, I didn’t respond well. Honestly, I didn’t respond at all. I simply left. Had I been thinking straight and not have spent the day saying goodbye to a loved one for the last time in their life, I might have yelled “plot twist” as I walked out the door. That might have been interesting.

Instead the “planning party” became very angry … still not sure if it was at me or himself or someone else entirely. I’ll probably never know. But I’ll certainly never forget it. It’s not often someone screams that loud in a public place.

For a couple of weeks I was able to ignore that it had happened and the other party seemed good to ignore it too. We didn’t discuss it. A bad moment neither of us wanted to face. I’ve had those with people before, some much more personal even.

But ultimately I knew it was going to change things. In my expectations, we had to discuss it and figure out what went wrong and why so that we could move forward. But his expectations were something else … and I still have no idea what they were/are because he refuses to discuss any of it. Ultimately it became a wall … a big huge hunking wall standing between us.

Kind of like when you hit a wall in writing and you can’t move forward with the story line until you figure out what’s going on with the characters or the setting or the plot or the intentions or … whatever it is that has gone horribly wrong.

I don’t plot my stories. I don’t outline. I have some general ideas of direction, I know my characters well, and I let them loose. Hitting walls is an expected thing in my world. And when I hit one I never even know how big it is until I start chipping away at it. I poke and prod until I find a chink I can shake lose or wedge a hammer in. Other times I have to completely erase an entire scene and go back to before whatever it was that led up to the wall being built in the first place, stick in a different plot twist, and move on.

Life is the same way.

When I was in college I was one of 8 girls in a class of 50 something. We spent all of our time congregated in a studio space together. We ate, slept, played, breathed, learned, everything together like some weird marriage none of us wanted to be in. Needless to say, “things” happened.

I was naive to say the least. I had no interest in marriage or a boy friend at the time. I was focused on my career so when a certain classmate kept “hugging” me, I didn’t think about it too much. I knew by that point in life that men were pretty much ruled by their nether regions rather than their brains so I just didn’t respond. But one day he did this thing in front of someone else. And the someone else went nuts. I don’t really know what was said about it but he never did it again and suddenly the head of the school was keeping an eye on me.

Obviously I’ve never forgotten what happened. I doubt he has either. But we have never mentioned it again. Ever. Despite that we are in contact with one another and have been for some time. Somehow we moved past the wall.

You might say I forgave him but honestly, I was never offended in the first place. It’s just something that happened. No big deal.

I’d like to say the same thing about what happened recently and I probably would if it could be discussed and I had a few answers. But without answers, I can’t move on. I can’t back up. I can’t go forward. The unknowns are too great. It’s like attempting to put the pieces of a glass jar that’s been dropped from the roof onto a driveway back together. I don’t even know where all the pieces are and most of the edges of the ones I have are sharp and jagged. I’m scared to move. I’m scared of my own shadow at this point.

But I guess that’s what having expectations is like. About the time we figure we know what is going to happen (or how the cheese will turn out), a plot twist is thrown in and we have to change and adjust.

I just hope that someday I’ll be adjust to this one. Lord knows it has changed me.

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