Sunday, November 07, 2004

Writing Foods

When I'm on a really serious writing deadline, I tend to indulge my most shameful eating habits.

I remember being broke once during my sophomore year, but not caring much because I was thrilled at having been given permission to write a play for my Ethics class. I subsisted that weekend on nothing but Sprite and Luden's cherry cough drops.

While writing my senior year thesis, I baked Jiffy Mix cornmeal in a soup pot (we didn't have any muffin tins), and lived off that and a tub of yogurt for a few days.

Blech. At least I was happy with how the thesis turned out.

In graduate school, I got a little healthier. Emphasis on a little. In my first year, I would sometimes cook up half a bag of frozen peas and carrots, drown them in salt, and eat them in front of my computer.

On writing binges as a 25-year-old, I often ate cereal for dinner. Or frozen pizza. Or a bag of microwaved popcorn.

Once, during a particularly taxing all-nighter, I left my apartment at 3 a.m. and walked next door to the SuperAmerica (the modestly named Minnesota convenience store) just to buy a Dr. Pepper large enough to keep me going until morning.

My professor loved that paper. Unfortunately, my body felt as if it had surrendered two years of life while writing it. But did I learn my lesson? NO. I don't—or, rather, can't—pull all-nighters anymore, but I do tend to work into the wee hours...

...and when the stress accompanying a writing task is horrible, or the deadline unbearably tight, I chew gum. Not sensible sugarless gum, or some restrained and dignified gum, like Trident. No. I must have Bazooka bubblegum, which is arguably the most disgusting gum there is. I will chew it only if no one can see me. When I hear Adam's footsteps on the stairs, I snatch up the wrappers and stuff them in the trashcan. Or in my briefcase. Or up my sleeves if necessary. Then I greet him with the sugar-addled smile of an addict.

"How's the writing coming?" Adam willl ask, nose twitching at the scent of my Bazooka breath.

(Note to self: Bazooka is not your friend. Chewing Bazooka speeds the composition process, but only until the sugar crash. Then you must curse yourself for your lack of judgment, typing grimly through the post-Bazooka hangover.)

I don't smoke. And I can't abide coffee. (Something about the smell.) Since the traditional crutches of the writer are closed off to me, I had to find my own, less romantic substitutes.

Like buckets of Arizona green iced tea. With ginseng.

And pretzels. Oh, great salty delightful Bavarian pretzels. Those are my favorite writing aids of all.

Wish I had some right now.

Back to it...


At 2:55 AM, Blogger ~profgrrrrl~ said...

OK, your eating is worse than mine. :-)

During my dissertation year I had a lot of Jamba Juice + Starbuck pastry breakfasts followed by Eintein Bagel lunches and then Baja Fresh + gin/tonic dinners. Way to pack on the weight! Which I did.

During grad school round 1 I recall being so poor that we would make big pots of beans or chili or something like that and eat it endlessly. We did at least find a way to have salad too. Always the salad, as if that made whatever else more palatable.

During undergrad there was many a paper supported by the "mega DC" (the largest fountain diet coke I could obtain) and either Little Caesar's Crazy Bread/Sauce or chipa and salsa. A lot of chips and salsa eaten in those days. Not even the good kind.

Doesn't the gum chewing hurt your jaw?

At 10:11 AM, Blogger YelloCello said...

Gum chewing is just stupid all around, and, yes it can hurt one's jaws... but I have managed to avoid that by chewing it less. It's mostly about enabling concentration, while also relieving tension.

The things I've posted here don't represent my day to day eating habits. They are the nutritional nadirs of my academic lifetime. No big surprise, I guess, that all were linked to writing deadlines. But I've also realized that all happened in times when I was experiencing extreme writing "flow," as they say. Still, when I actually record what I ate for those days or weekends, I'm appalled with myself.

Oh, and, like you, Profgrrl, my grad school years were sustained by regular pots of chilis and bean soups, which Adam and I would live on for days. And, yes, we always made sure to begin dinner elaborate first-course salad, which felt like a nutritional talisman against sickness and worse.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger New Kid on the Hallway said...

Y'all have much healthier eating habits than I do! (Even despite what you just posted, M. ;-D) So we won't go into that - but I know just what you mean about writing foods. Essentially anything I can sit in front of the computer and eat with one hand becomes writing food. Sometimes that's good - carrots - sometimes it's bad - chocolate chips. I don't drink coffee either - or anything with caffeine - so I tend to rely on sugar as well. (Ben & Jerry's is sometimes helpful, although it violates the eat-with-one-hand rule.) Can't chew gum anymore though - the jaw starts to ache - even though gumballs are one of my favorite things and I can't pass a gumball machine without digging out a quarter!

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Mel said...

Caffeine, smart water, and crunchy/salty things are my standbys these days. Maybe a comforting bagel at 3 a.m. if I'm staying up late.
My writing buddy in grad school knew I was working hard if she phoned and I was eating tortilla chips at 10 in the morning. The salt and the salsa really wakes up my brain.
In undergrad I remember leaving the library with a friend at 1 am to go get coffee and french fries at the diner. Then we'd do more work! crazy days.
I used to chew gum in undergrad, too. And discovered what seems really disgusting but I thought was a good combo -- chewing peppermint trident AND drinking coffee at the same time.
I can't chew gum any more because it all has aspartame which makes me ill. I never thought of Bazooka, though...

At 2:47 PM, Blogger What Now? said...

During writing crunches in my undergrad days, my roommate and I used to make batches of cookie dough and not bother putting any baking soda in because we knew we were going to eat the entire batch raw. And when I wrote my first dissertation chapter, knowing that I had to have a workable draft in four days, I went to the store and bought frozen french bread pizzas, d. Coke, Oreos, and popcorn, and I lived on that for the four days.

After reading your post and the comments, I'm now seriously craving tortilla chips. A run to the grocery store may be in order...

At 11:23 PM, Blogger Clancy said...

When I was working on my prelims, I ate mostly almond butter and cheddar cheese curds. I'd sit in front of my computer, spoon in the jar of almond butter, and eat it absently. Because I was basically chained to my computer during that time, I didn't go out to the grocery store, and I started to scrape the backs of my cabinets. The nadir was when I sauteed some Star-Kist canned tuna with some (I think) Cavender's Greek Seasoning. I would have upchucked had I not thrown it away after the first bite and immediately gone about purging my apartment of that awful smell with about 50 sticks of incense.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger madeline said...

When I'm writing, I tend to reward myself *hugely* with my favorite food: Rice Krispie Treats. Or sometimes Doritos (though they are *hugely* stinky, and I hate the way they stick in my teeth).

The problem: both foods require fingers to eat them; I must type with my fingers; I must then choose between eating-wiping-typing and eating-eating-eating (oh, I'm done? should wipe-n-type, then, huh?).

So, my reward system doesn't work, as I normally just eat and then forget to write at all. :)

Damn. Now I'm hungry.

At 4:55 PM, Blogger Kevin Jackson said...

Well, this is interesting. I did a blog search for caffeine headache and found your site. When I get some time I'll come back and find out where caffeine headache appears and how it relates - if it even does. Take care - nice work.


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