Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Illusion of Plums (an IWSG post)

When I was a kid, I loved grapes. Which is not to say that I don't like grapes now; I do. But, when I was a kid, I loved them. There was no better option for fruit, not even watermelon (which I can no longer eat). Well... except plums.
Plums were like... they were like great, big, giant grapes (yes, I know those are redundant adjectives, but that's how I thought of them as a kid, and kids like to use redundant adjectives). That's what they looked like, anyway, giant, non-green grapes, so my cousins and I were always excited about the prospect of plums.

There was only one problem. They were always a disappointment. Plums were never as good as they looked like they ought to be. As I grew up, I continued to love the idea of plums, but the reality of them was always such a disappointment. They just kind of don't have any flavor.

I started to kind of hate them.

I thought the whole thing with the plums was just me, and, every so often, I'd buy a few just to see, you know, if anything had changed. Maybe, just one time, I would eat one, and it would be as good as it looked. That's never happened. At some point after some years of marriage, while doing that hopeful "maybe this time" thing, I found out that my wife felt the same way about plums as I do.

It wasn't just me! And, well, maybe it's everyone. People just eating plums because they look like they ought to be the most awesome thing ever when they're really not. My daughter, though, she likes them, but, then, she is the one in our family who really likes processed foods, and plums are the closest thing you can get to processed food flavor in a fresh fruit. So, well, maybe people really do like plums since people mostly really like processed stuff better than natural stuff. Hence McDonald's.

As far as I'm concerned, plums are merely an illusion. A fabrication of something better than they actually are. Sort of like people. Mostly, that's okay, that thing with people being an illusion of whom they'd like to be rather than what they really are. I think we just accept that and go about our business. But it's disappointing when you're actually forced to take a bite... um, I mean, deal with someone and you're confronted with the reality that we try to ignore on a daily basis.

I'm sure everyone has had to deal with that in some form or another. It's just difficult to avoid. Like that time in college when my cousin called me at 1:00am because he had a flat and would I please come change it for him. Because, really, me? as the mechanic guy? I'm just not that guy. But I dragged myself out of bed and drove the 45 minutes to where he was and I fixed his tire in the middle of the night. A week later, I needed a ride to somewhere we were both going, and I was mostly on his way to the place, and he totally blew me off and wouldn't give me a ride. Yeah, I'm sure everyone has had their "plum" incidents.

Back when I was first writing The House on the Corner, I ran into this kind of stuff a lot. I was reading chapters of the unfinished book in one of my kids' classes, so I had people asking me about the book all the time, about when it would be finished, and about how they just couldn't wait to buy a copy. So, eventually, it was finished and, then, it was available as a book... and, foolishly, I thought some of those people were actually going to buy the book. Sure, I knew not all of the would, but I expected some sales. I think I had two, so, I guess, technically, that was some. But it was very disappointing. It wasn't like I'd been pushing the book on anyone or trying to get them to buy it or anything. These were people that were coming up to me, initiating the conversation, and saying, "I can't wait." And, you know, I get that they were trying to be supportive, but they were doing it by offering me an illusion. By looking better than they were.

I was reminded of all of this through my recent experience with collecting the first five Shadow Spinner parts into one edition: "Shadow Spinner: Collection 1: Tiberius (Parts 1-5)." I hate asking people for favors or for help because of the... "plumness" of people, and that situation is why. It makes it difficult, sometimes, to think that any of this is worth the bother. [Not the writing, I'm not talking about that. I about talking about this. >spreads arms out to encompass the blog<] I mean, not that I went out in the middle of the night to change the tire on my cousin's car so that he would "return the favor" and give me a ride later--I didn't know I'd even need that ride--but you'd think that getting up in the middle of the night, driving nearly an hour, and changing a tire in the dark (and only the second flat I'd ever changed) would earn you some consideration, right? But that's the fault in the thinking. You can't expect any consideration or anything back. You do what you do because you do it, just like I would have gone to help my cousin even if I'd known he'd refuse to give me a ride the next week. And I'll keep doing what I do because it's what I do and I want to help other authors out by doing reviews and putting their stories in my stuff so that other people that might not normally come across that author will get the chance to do so and, well, whatever else I think of to help out.

But, still, sometimes it might be nice if people were more like nectarines...

[This is an IWSG post.]


  1. This was a great post. I agree with you, though funnily enough, I love Japanese plums. Japanese plums (and peaches) have such a sweet, juicy flavor, and they're really a joy to eat. In America, I didn't like plums, but I loved pluots, an apricot-plum hybrid fruit. Strange that two fruits I really don't like could create my favorite fruit of all time. Anyway... I ramble.

    It's possible, in response to the book sales disappointment, that people who had already bought it once didn't want to have to buy it again. Cold comfort, maybe they really were happy for you getting it out in a book, but... I'm not sure. I don't know your readership.

    But yes, there will always be that ideal that we place on others, and the ideals we project from our own ego onto ourselves, that just aren't true. Sort of like Japanese cake. Some of the most beautiful cakes I've seen in my lifetime. All of them dry sponge and flavorless.

  2. Plums are fantastic, but they have to be vine ripened. If they are, they are sweet and juicy and live up to the hype.

  3. Excellent comparison between plums and people pretending to be something they aren't. Sometimes when you're forced to bite into someone, they are so sour you just want to spit them back out.

  4. I actually like plums. Nectarines, not so much...
    People are imperfect and will often fail us. It's not their reaction that matters but our own though. If we keep doing the right thing, it doesn't matter what others do.

  5. Nectarines aren't too bad, but I find that I never know how they're going to turn out either. Some are good and some are bad.

    Either way, you just have to do the things that feel right to you, regardless of how others react (or don't). I think that's what writing is all about. Glad you're part of the IWSG!

  6. You had to be eating plums in the wrong season. I had a plum tree in my yard once. They were tasty. It's all about the fresh plum. A ripe nectarine is also a perfect universe. Anyway people always seem that way to me -- you gotta connnect at the right moment..

    Happy IWSG Birthday!

  7. I'm not a big fan of plums either. I love grapes though, especially this time of year.

    This post reminded me of the saying: High expectations lead to resentments.

    People tend to say things they think others want to hear.

  8. I had that same reaction to plums just the other day. I'm disappointed every time I buy them and I'm not going to do it anymore. I felt so empowered!

    And I think when it comes to this feeling of "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" you will always find disappointment, because everyone has a different interpretation of what it means and what level they are willing to commit to the relationship. Some are a hundred percent, others maybe fifty percent.

  9. I don't think I've ever eaten a plum. Unless prunes count since aren't they dried plums? Mmmmm...prunes.

  10. "You can't expect any consideration or anything back. You do what you do because you do it"

    I know this is true, and I tell myself this often, but I find I am still occasionally disappointed. Not with book sale stuff because I don't have a book to sell, but sometimes with other things.

    Wow, that's wonderfully vague.

  11. memoirs: Oh, yeah, pluots are great. Or they were. Up until this year, anyway. They introduced a bunch of new varieties this year, and we (including my daughter) haven't liked any of them. To make it worse, the variety that was our favorite has not been at the store all season.
    And I don't like apricots, either. Of course, they don't look particularly good.

    I'm not sure which book you're referring to. If you're talking about me talking about House, then that's not what happened, because there was nothing before that. If you're talking about Spinner, that is a possible possibility.

    Anne: I did have a couple of plums right off of someone's tree this year, and I will admit that they were the best plums I've ever had.
    Unfortunately, that's not saying much.

    JKIR,F!: You know, I can actually deal with the sour; it's the tastelessness that bothers me. Or the rot if it's gone bad on the inside.

    Alex: Which is why I just do my own thing 99% of the time and hate being put into situations where I have to depend on others.

    Ken: I find that nectarines tend to be pretty dependable overall, especially as opposed to peaches, which are similar but highly variable.

    Molly: Nectarines have become my favorite fruit. I actually wish it was the mango, because I good mango is fantastic, but a bad one...

    Elsie: I try to not have any expectations. Well, I do have one: if you say you're going to do something, then do it. If you're not going to, don't tell me you are. I'm fine if you say "no," but it pisses me off if you say "yes" without any intent to follow through.
    And even though I know people do that all the time, I can't get rid of that expectation.

    L.G.: I try not to do the back scratching thing. I've found that just leads to me scratching backs while mine goes on itching.

    Welcome to the "Plum Club!" Yes, I just invented that. It is empowering, isn't it?

    PT: I don't think that really counts, although I don't like prunes, either.

    M.J.: It's hard not to be... and it kind of sucks.

    GTD: Nice to have you.

  12. Wait, what ARE prunes? Should I go look it up?

    On an only-very-tangentially related note, I was recently listening to a Planet Money when they revealed that you make raisins by just drying out grapes. I mean, by just having them sit there until they dry out. I guess I always knew, intellectually, that that was how you made raisins, but it never occurred to me that it would actually be that simple. Just DRIED GRAPES. I mean, I buy raisins and now I find out that you could literally take a bunch of grapes, set them on your windowsill, and they would become raisins and you could sell them?

    (With the permission of the Raisin Board, which is a thing!)

    I guess I just figured that there would be some sort of additive, or an FDA inspection, or something.

    But now I want to make my own raisins.

    Your post, though, really got to me, seriously. Some days, I look at my posts and the fact that I sold zero books all summer and almost nobody -- except you and PT -- are commenting (I said ALMOST, other people) and I think "why bother," too.

    And that's tough. VERY tough. It's tough to want to do these creative, amazing things that we do -- and I mean, seriously, you are extremely creative and have a ton of talent -- and have it feel like nobody is noticing.

    I play guitar (I did; currently it needs restringing) and I used to write songs and I had nobody to play the songs for, and then I met Sweetie and played some of them for her, and she liked them and listened to them, liked them so much that she actually got me a gift certificate for recording studio time once. That meant a lot to me, the fact that someone would actually listen to a song I wrote and like it so much they thought someone else should hear it.

    (Sweetie, by the way, is superawesome.)

    But when I get down, I at least have a few people, like you, commenting. That thing you said about my post making you laugh, the other day? That really made me happy. It did. So that was great of you to do.

    But then, even when nobody comments, even when nobody seems to read or care about what I write, I like to do it. I just like it better when people give me some feedback. That's why I decided to make a bigger push now with some of my writing: to try to generate feedback, to see if people are not commenting because I'm not good, or if they just don't know about me.

    Your post and mine seem to exist in the same spectrum, today.

    As a final note: I never did use the recording studio stuff. I wanted to practice and get good enough to warrant recording myself on a CD. I practiced as much as I could, on my old guitar, singing my songs and refining them and working on them, and eventually life overtook me: I got busier at work, we had the boys, and one day, I realized I couldn't find the gift certificate anymore, and further, that the recording studio was gone, anyway.

    Sweetie's gift -- the ability to record my songs in good quality and maybe make something out of them -- had gone to waste because I hadn't gone ahead with it. That was one reason, when I decided to start writing, that I made sure I put it out in public: I'm not going to miss out on an opportunity for lack of self-confidence. Maybe the world won't care if I can sing, or write, but at least the world will have the chance to judge me.

  13. Briane: We've had some gifts dissipate like that. Mostly gifts to my oldest son who will, for whatever reason, choose to just not use something like a gift certificate.

    I'd like to hear your songs.

    And, really, you often make me laugh. If I'm telling my wife something about a blog, there's at least a 90% chance that it's yours.

  14. I've never liked plums either. My daughter loves them, which I find odd, but then, she'll eat just about anything.

  15. Plums never caught my interest. Pk's daughter is a bit like yours. Anyway it's true that people sometimes end up being kind of fake when they're really just trying to help. Thankfully I have been able to purchase a good amount of the books I've said I'd buy thanks to my kindle. Glad I decided to pop by today, this post was well done.

  16. Oh, I've definitely had some "plum" stories and have known quite a few people like that. When I was yougner, I really took people at their word and was disappointed time and again.

    I think the good that came from that is that I have learned to be as honest and forthright with people as I can (without coming off as 'blunt').

    Loved the correlation between 'plums' and 'human nature' :)

  17. If everything was just like we expected it to be, well, life wouldn't be as interesting to write about. We need discrepancy to add flavor.

    Oh, and I LOVE plums. :) Red plums that are in season, YUM!

    Great IWSG post!

    Kim Lajevardi
    (This Writer's Growing)

  18. Pk: They are sweet; that's enough for most kids.

    Sheena: They do sound similar in their eating habits, at least.
    And thanks! I'm glad you came by.

    Mark: Yeah, me, too. If I say I'm going to do something, there's a pretty high chance that it's going to happen. I tend to be careful about committing, though, so I don't disappoint people, but I think that's the better way.

    kim: That's true, but there are plenty of other discrepancies to find, I think.

  19. I hate plums. And really, I never thought they looked that good. But maybe that's because I've hated them for so long.

    As for people, some are just like that. I know there are people who swear up and down they're excited for our books but will never buy a single one.

    As for me, I haven't reviewed yet, but I did snag up my copy of the first volume. Expect that verified review soon!(ish)

  20. I sort of like plums (the fruit, not the people). I get so tired of the staples of grapes, apples, clementines around here, but we don't grow a ton of fruit here, so it's all imported anyway. We apparently have famous melons, though. Rocky Ford. Too bad I don't like melons...

    I bought the compilation, but am pathetically behind on my reading. I was a book a day girl, and now I think it's taking me two weeks to read anything. I will review when I get a chance to read, but can't commit myself to a time period. In positive news, I have resigned one of my positions, though it won't save me much time. Some. Am agonizing over what to drop next. I just have no time.

    Sorry you have been plummed and are disappointed. :(

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  21. People lie all the time. The world would be much better if people had to tell the truth about everything. I want to live in that world.

  22. I'm usually disappointed by nectarines. I prefer plums, but sometimes I'm disappointed. I've had excellent sweet juicy plums, ones that were sour, and others that were rather tasteless like you describe. I guess it has a lot to do with where they've come from, ripeness, and whatever other factors might affect plum quality.

    If I were an expert plum grower I'd probably grow the most outstanding plums for myself rather than the mass produced stuff that the supermarkets get. An author may need to be the expert cultivator who must meticulously tend to his customer base to make sure they turn out to be good plums. An initial confirmation from a perspective customer is usually not enough. There has to be nurturing and cultivating and then the follow-up.

    If I do someone close to me a favor and they don't return it when I need them, I have no qualms about reminding them. At least I'll be planting some seeds for the next time if I don't get their help this time.

    But I know what you're saying about people. I keep doing what I can to help others and hope that somewhere the good comes back around to me. It may not always be in the way I had hoped or expected, but I do think it comes eventually.

    A Faraway View

  23. ABftS: I'm looking forward to it! (Hopefully one from each of you :P)

    I don't know why people feel the need to be that way. I do know a couple of people that ask me about my writing and how it's going and stuff, actual discussions about it in relation to it just being life, and never get all excited about it and tell me how they can't wait and all that stuff. They also don't buy copies of the books. I appreciate that they don't act like they're going to.

    Shannon: I'm not a melon person either. Other than watermelon (which I can no longer eat), I never developed a taste for it.

    I would be happy to be able to get back to being a book a week person.

    Michael: Have you seen that movie with Ricky Gervais, The Invention of Lying?

    Lee: I'm not much of a believer in karma.
    And, though I understand what you're saying about tending your customers, I think that only works with products that people need on an ongoing basis.

  24. For the most part, I expect almost nothing from anyone and am therefore pleasantly surprised if they so something, anything, at all that's positive.

    @Briane - love you dude.

  25. Rusty: I hope I fit on that spectrum of people that do things and that are positive. At least, I hope my editing is positive even if there are harsh aspects.
    Which reminds me, I have that last story you sent set up to work on, but my schedule these past few weeks (since school started) has been kicking my butt, and I haven't had a chance to look at it, yet.

    1. Andrew - that's a way of looking at life for me. You have gone above and beyond, going all the way back to the inscription you signed in The House on the Corner.

  26. Rusty: >phew< That's good to know. I've been feeling like I'm underperforming lately because of I'm so swamped.

  27. I like plums.

    I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in/ the icebox
    and which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast
    Forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold

  28. William Carlos Williams.

    After typing out his whole poem, I was too lazy to type his name.

  29. Callie: Well, that's rather amusing.