“In the morning,” [John Cheever’s] daughter, Susan, wrote, “my father would put on his one good suit and his gray felt hat and ride down in the elevator with the other men on their way to the office. From the lobby he would walk down to the basement, to the windowless storage room that came with our apartment. That was where he worked. There, he hung up the suit and hat and wrote all morning in his boxer shorts, typing away at his portable Underwood set up on the folding table. At lunchtime he would put the suit back on and ride up in the elevator.” ~ “John Cheever, Former UI Faculty,” UI Pulitzer Prize Winners

“Reading Bailey’s biography reconfirms an impression of Cheever that I’ve carried around in my locket for years—that the man had a lot of ham actor in him, which he served pretty thick.” ~ James Wolcott, “It’s Still Cheever County,” in Vanity Fair

New Year’s is a time for looking back as well as looking forward, for taking stock of what one has accomplished over the past twelve months.

My personal inventory amounts to this: I shined my sink, wrote one scene that really really works, and baked a ham.

The ham got in just under the wire. I bought it on impulse, and we had it for dinner on New Year’s Eve, with baked sweet potatoes and fresh green beans. What was left over went into the freezer, and the bone is destined for a pot of navy beans. I found a website featuring 377 recipes for navy bean soup. By next New Year’s Eve, I’ll have had time to sort through them and find one I want to tackle.


As proud as I am of the ham and the scene (we’ll speak no more about the sink), I admit 2010 wasn’t a stellar year. My writing didn’t progress as it should have. I didn’t treat it as a business. I didn’t focus. I wrote at home.

Unfortunately, I need more structure than can be found in a laptop, a recliner, and a couple of cats. I need an office. A schedule. A dress code. The idea of working in pajamas all day, though tempting, doesn’t spur me to much of anything at all.

So this morning I did the writerly thing: I donned a business suit–jeans and a turtleneck–and set out for the nearest coffee shop. Six hours, a cup of mocha, a slice of banana bread, and 761 words later, I packed up and returned home.

Tomorrow I’ll do it again. And then again. And then again. With any luck at all, the focus will increase. With any luck at all, the word count will increase.

With any luck at all, my 2011 EOY report will list something more significant than ham.


9 thoughts on “Ham

  1. Coming here is like opening a travel trunk, full of wonderful little artefacts and scraps of information. The boxer shorts went straight in, as did that lovely writing tactic of going out to the coffee shop. Glad it worked out well 🙂


    1. Austin is full of coffee shops, and the coffee shops are full of writers. The one I’m haunting is new, and it’s also full of electrical outlets. Laptops are obviously welcome.


    2. I wanted to illustrate the post with a picture of boxer shorts, but the only ones I could find had people in them. And none of the people looked quite at home on my blog.


    1. That story is the only detail I know about Cheever. Sometimes the personal tidbit is more interesting than the literature. Although if I read his stories, I might reverse that opinion.


  2. Ham is good, especially with sweet potatoes on the side. As for the writing away from the recliner, I’ll be watching with interest. Focus is a problem here too which has not been one of the more pleasant surprises of retirement. I thought it would be a no-brainer. Now I have time=now I will write. Sigh…


    1. I thought it would be a no-brainer, too. It’s like the carrot-and-stick method: plenty of carrot here, but no one is threatening me with the stick. Coffee shops work for me because I can filter out distractions, in fact probably work better with than without them. Except the ones at home.


  3. WE had the same New Year’s meal and amazingly I, too, shined my kitchen sink. That is a mini-goal on the way to un-cluttering my life, or blessing others with my excess.
    The black-eyed peas are something I have perfected in years of trial and error. I might could eat them every day.
    I am intrigued by the mental picture of the man in the elevator on his way to the basement to write.I imagine him with such a peaceful countenance… on his way to living his bliss.
    Happy writing in the new year…


    1. How is your sink doing? I’m sorry to say mine has had a relapse.

      We didn’t have black-eyed peas on January 1. I had good intentions but didn’t manage to get them cooked. Now I have periodic stabs of worry–I’m not superstitious, of course, but…

      Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. It’s great to hear from you. Best wishes for an easy uncluttering, and for happy writing. I hope you’ll visit again.


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