With All Deliberate Randomness

I like these tomatoes.

And these beans.

I had no idea how many cans of each I had until Hannah organized the pantry between Christmas and New Year's Eve, beckoned me to admire her handiwork, and proclaimed, laughing, "No More Tomatoes!" Then she summoned everyone within earshot, to show them just how obsessed I am with these particular tomatoes. And beans. And I just smiled and said, "There's a method to my madness...."

Ever since then, the running joke at my house has been, "Do we have any tomatoes?"

Last year, it was "Do we have any mustard?"

I use these fire-roasted tomatoes so often, and have run out of them so many times, that I have gotten into the habit this past year of chucking a few cans into the cart every time I go to the Rainbow Grocery or Kroger.

It occurred to me, as I stared at this bounty on my pantry shelves... this madness is how I structure a novel. With my current novel (yes, the one I have been blathering on about for months), I have been collecting and stockpiling my tomato treasures against the day I run out of my beloved possibilities. I have been collecting and storing and stacking neatly in chunks, in a very organized way. My novel looks like Hannah's handiwork.

Time to be more haphazard.

Of course, it won't really be haphazard. I know what I'm doing. I had a eureka moment between Christmas and New Year's Eve, when I knew exactly what I needed to do in this draft, to make it come together -- I needed to unstack my tomatoes and tuck them, can by can, into just-the-right places in my novel, on just-the-right shelf, each one, carefully, in a haphazard-looking manner, but all arranged to look like my pantry did before Hannah got hold of it. If that makes sense. Back to the deranged look. Only it's not deranged. Think of the letters and recipes and newspaper clippings and songs and poems and notes and radio snippets inserted throughout RUBY, LITTLE BIRD, and ALL-STARS. Time to be deliberately random.

It's very nice to have these Hannah-organized shelves... on some level it's important. I wouldn't change a thing she's done, and I appreciate her efforts. Now I can stop buying tomatoes, for one thing.

On the other hand... those imposing, stacked tomatoes don't feel like real life to me. Real life, as Uncle Edisto tells us, is messy. It's not organized, no matter how hard we try to contain it. The best we can hope for is some semblance of sweet routine, and meaningful daily rituals. And I do have routine and rituals. Well... I work toward them.

In this long saga of bringing 1962 to life for young readers, it's time to move the tomatoes.

This is a milestone place. To celebrate, I shall make something with these tomatoes. And beans. A soup, most likely. A vegetarian chili, perhaps. I'll rustle up a salad. I'll make my famous cornbread from scratch. And I'm inviting you to share this meal with me.

I want you to come over and sit at my table, you faithful and loyal readers and writers and teachers and librarians and fans and friends -- family, all. For we are family, you know -- we have made a little community, here at One Pom, because we risk enough to read and relate and comment and write and tell our stories... and to listen to each other's stories.

By risking, we create little families, little pockets of people all over the place, connected people of all shapes, sizes, blends, beliefs. We nurture one another, take care of each other, look after one another's welfare, ask after each other, become part of one another's narratives.

I have loved every moment of connecting with you this past year. I have loved your wonderful emails -- every single one of them -- and your kindnesses, your thoughtfulness, and your encouragement. I have treasured your stories.

So, lean across this candle-lit table of a New Year's meal I'm preparing for you. I want to thank you. It has been such a pleasure and such a privilege to be part of your lives this past year, to have you as part of my life.

Happy 2009. Thank you for taking such good care of me.

Do we have any tomatoes?


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