Grinding Rotten Meat
Hoping to avoid becoming dog food.

Grinding Rotten Meat

Sometimes writing is like grinding rotten meat.  I’ve been toiling away at this blog post for the last two weeks and it all sounds like drivel.  There are some sarcastic, potentially entertaining missives buried deep in the caves of banal narrative.  Some funny one-liners I managed to stretch into more than one line with the amateur use of commas and the desperate dash.  But the entire piece begged for a quick trip to the dump. So I’m posting this instead.

In high school I interviewed for a job at a butcher shop grinding rotten beef into putrid hamburger for sale to dog food companies. The boss, a burly man with dark hair and a white, blood-stained smock, just wanted a kid who could work a meat grinder without losing a finger.  (I’m not sure he cared if I lost a finger…I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.)  Game face donned, I made turning rotten meat into edible dog food sound like the job of a lifetime.

I’d leave each day smelling like carrion.  Gloves were not required.  Nobody cared if the already spoiled meat became contaminated with teenage cooties.  The smell clung to my hands, buried itself beneath the fingernails, clung to the cracks of my palms tainting my head, heart, and sun lines.  I’d wake in the middle of the night, my hands having slid too close to my face, the odor filling my nostrils.  

The same happened this last couple weeks.  I started writing about the “five year plan” and it’s place in history.  I referred to a former boss’s “two decade advance from liberal arts major to entry level bureaucrat,” and how some people on the first rung of the middle management ladder remain rooted in a past “where human sacrifice meant lush crops, continued prosperity, and a unimaginative climb to career first-line supervisor without hope of advancement.”  Then I’d wake in the middle of the night, the rancid words having slid too close to my face.

That’s the way writing works.  Some days the words rain onto the page and they aren’t awful.  There’s a flow to the work.  The keys click with little effort and ideas are born, mature, and conclude organically.  The story writes itself.

The first draft is never great.  There is always editing—removing cliches, taking out infinitive phrases, deleting expletives (a lot of them), avoiding circumlocutions.  It takes more than a wand and a catchy phrase to transform tiresome blather into something which doesn’t resemble vomit on a page.  But the end usually justifies the effort.

Then there are the last couple weeks.  I’m grinding meat into dog food—trying to turn something fetid and foul into a palatable perspective on careers and life.  Work creeps into an otherwise potentially interesting narrative, tainting the result.  It’s not interesting.  It’s not entertaining.  It’s not a story.  I no more want to write it than anyone wants to read it.  

Sometimes writing is like grinding rotten meat.  I hope at least the dogs enjoy it.


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Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look.  Any unintentional resemblance to persons living or dead is just plain scary.  Copyright can be found here for my original work.

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