So I'm in the grocery store the other day, and I noticed something strange: next to the chicken hearts, there was a whole rack of chicken feet. I showed them to my wife, who made a blech face and told me to quit fooling around in the poultry case.
I was curious, though. I'm at least a moderately serious home cook, but I was stumped by the chicken feet. What do people do with chicken feet? There didn't look to be hardly any meat on them on at all, and they're not even a little pretty. Can you fry the little buggers? Make soup with them?
But it got me thinking. I live in a very ethnically diverse, semi-urbanized area. The Brazilians who live all around me love the grilled chickens hearts, and I'm guessing the chicken feet are Caribbean or at least South American. And then I started thinking about all the mysterious homes in my immediate neighborhood, places were someone can show up with a package of chicken feet and it doesn't even raise an eyebrow. What's going on behind all those doors? How do these people live? Besides shopping at my grocery store, where do they eat? Where do they worship? Dance and sing? Hang out? What do they read? How do they experience living in my neighborhood, with its mix of rich and poor, urban and suburban, ethnic markets and Starbucks?
I've always been an intensely curious person, which I think makes my job easier. I'm working on an 3,000-word article right now on avocados. Sounds awful, I know, but the truth is I'm actually kind of curious about avocados. Lord knows, I love the pulpy little guys, and I know my neighbor grows enormous avocados. There must be a story there. I'm going to try to find it.
And that's really what writing is about to me: there are so many amazing stories out there, and each one matters to the people involved in it. For a lot of people, writing is strictly about themselves. And I guess that's fine. I mean, it certainly worked for Elizabeth Gilbert, who produced a whole love letter to herself and sold ten gazillion copies of it. But for me, writing has always been about digging in someone else's garden. I can't tell you how exciting it is when I'm in the middle of an interview and I realize there's a good story there.
In fact, this has been a problem ... for anyone who knows me, you'll know it's been a challenge for me to open up on paper. I was trained to be a conduit for other people, to keep myself hidden. This doesn't work in fiction. But that's a different post.
For now, I'm still wondering about the chicken feet. And no doubt, at some point in the near future, I'll look it up. And if it sounds good, you can bet we'll be eating chicken-feet-whatever around here one night ...