I just did a little search on the blog to see if I've mentioned the toffee I make every Christmas, and it seems I have: in 2011, 2010, and 2009. So I guess mentioning my toffee here has become almost as much a tradition as the making of the candy itself, which I've now been doing for I guess sixteen or seventeen years.
Which is a long time.
Sixteen or seventeen years from now, I'll still be in my prime. I was thinking about that the other day: if I find myself an agent in 2013 (as I'd hoped to do as I stared into the rising faces of 2012, 2011, 2010...), come 2030 I could well be a relatively young woman with a stack of my own books on my bookshelf. But I'll still be me, and creature of nostalgia and habit and hope that I am, I imagine I'll still be pulling out the sugar, dumping in the butter, and cooking up the best toffee I've ever eaten if I do say so myself. I'll probably even be using the same pans.
Butter. Sugar. Karo. Water. Sometimes a dash of vanilla, if I remember it. I usually add almonds, always some chocolate, sometimes pretzels or cookies or even crackers, but always the first four things, 290 degrees, and stir stir stir. And stir.
Words. Plot. Structure. Character. A dash of suspense, and various other elements making each story a little different, but still distinctly me. They always say, and I heard it again the other day on a radio interview, that only you can write the story only you can write. And it's true: the ingredients might be essentially the same, but it's the way you mix it up, you the writer, me the writer, that makes it something unique and hopefully special and pray-let-it-be good.
Later tonight, I plan to mix up a few more pans of toffee. As I do, I'll be thinking about my characters, thinking about my structure, and during this magical time of year, taking the time to remember that whatever the commonality of ingredients, the final product is unique to me, and that is worth something. Worth sneaking a taste, worth sharing it with friends and family, worth taking the time to get it right.
The world is rife with tragedies and they return to our minds over and over again. As writers, we deal with the condition of the human heart. But that includes remembering that traditions and celebrations matter, they always matter, and even when the world seems frightening and sad and just so very wrong, it is traditions and joy that keep us going. As we must. As we all must.
So I'm making my toffee, and if there's a little extra salt in it this year, it will still be mine, the stuff only I could make, the only way I could make it in 2012.