Inspection- Grinding Sausage

I just quit writing.

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Yeah, that was a visual joke. So sue me.

Actually, I quit writing quite a few months ago, but only for a very small publication out of Nashville, Tennessee called The Score: a publication of The Music City Brewers. Now those who have enjoyed my beer columns can still find them and so much more in the beer section of LT Saloon; called The Good for What Ales You Journal, hosted by Professor Good Ales.

Why did I quit? No, not the editor, really… at least not a personality problem; unless she wishes to claim “mine.” As you read you will see where I might even agree if she did. In the past I had more than a few problems with some editors at various publications but, generally, I get along with most of the editors I’ve had.

Yet the main reason also is the editor. I know that sounds confusing, so let me explain: we had a different vision of what should be published; what I should be writing. And, well, I had no interest in grinding sausage.

Grinding sausage?

Well, before I explain the metaphor, let’s just say; right off the top, that having been an editor before….and now once again… I understand. An editor’s job is, more than anything else, content. I respect that, even though some editors’ concepts regarding content are so odd I have no idea what purplish planet they come from; what distant galaxy. A different universe maybe?

I’m not thinking of the editor I quit on. She’s quite normal. (Don’t worry, Mrs. K! I won’t mention… just joking!) In fact, I’m thinking specifically of a former Letters to the Editor, editor… (I know, it’s redundant, but what can I do about it? It is their title.) …at The Tennessean : the Nashville paper. Her name was “Princess.” She was the letters editor in the late 80s, early 90s. According to her all letters to the editor had to be “positive,” and “sweet.”

Excuse me? What did she think she was editing, The Sugar Sweet Confection Digest? Even then the point of letters to the editor was to read like a clever; sometimes grumpy, bear about something: complain, bitch, moan and barf all over those we disagree with. Oh, and to be a bit of a wordsmith, hopefully… though I’ve read plenty of letters she published that hardly qualified for “word…” forget “smith.” In my sicker dreams I imagine she disappeared because all the “bears” she refused to publish eventually covered her with her own sickly sweet honey and then ate her. Getting anything through her nonsensical approach certainly was a… bear.

No, I understood what The Score editor wanted, and while we disagree, she’s editor: I’m not. She wanted more specifically homebrewer-only related columns, less (to perhaps “little or no?”) humor, very, very short submissions and mostly technical. When I first started writing beer columns for The Score the then editor, the President of the club and I agreed that my columns would serve as balance for a publication that was almost completely clubs news/tech oriented. Kind of liven up the joint… entertain a bit. She, apparently, feels that’s not needed, necessary or the best use of the space. That’s her right and I support her decision.

I wish her luck, No, that’s neither sarcasm or snottiness. I’m serious. She does well with layout, considering limitations, and works diligently.

No, this is my problem. I just hate grinding sausage. Everyone has a different definition of what might be “grinding sausage,” but to be clear it means someone whose job it is to sit there and activate the grinder for the same grind and type of sausage day, after day, after day, after year after century, after… That’s what most technical writing is to me for the most part, though I have found that when it comes to sound I revel in tech and specs more than most. Odd. Not sure why.

But let’s get back to beer. I love to brew, but I have brewed without checking specific gravities for many years: most because I could care less if I match some target or get the perfect “iso-humulone-flavin-tope” descriptive in my writing. “A-amylase,” vs. “b-amylase,” and which de-branches what kind of starch chain, to me is best left to those who brew professionally, and I know and have interviewed plenty of brewers who brew great beer without knowing what these enzymes are. It’s certainly has little to nothing to do with how good of a judge of beer one may be… but that’s another topic for another edition of Inspection.

I feel a bit like Bill Shatner here. Sometimes I long to scream…

“It’s a bloody hobby! Get a friggin life!”

Or, Mr. Shatner, should I have typed…

“It’s… a bloody…. hobby! Get… a… friggin… life!”

Somehow without the hand gestures it just seems to lack something.

Re: most technobabble?

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…
….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……”

As an admitted, and committed generalist for me life is only fun when exploring the weird angles and curves. One of my favorite buildings in the world is the Chart House Restaurant in downtown Jacksonville, Florida: no right angles. I would rather wing it in brewing than have some computer program that tells me exactly how long I must boil, put in any amount of any specific ingredient at exact time intervals. My mind usually wanders when the conversation gets to various long chains of debranching starch proteins or enzymes with names that would turn most lips into corkscrews. I find conversations about such or equipment…

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…
….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…
zzzzzz……”

I am a generalist and damn proud to be such.

When we judge beer in BJCP competitions, for example, we have gotten so anal about such things that test questions for judges demand you to study specific enzymes, starches, “debranching…” or design recipes for a beer where you might lose points because you don’t get the final gravity exactly right.

In short we have gotten so much into specificity that we have gotten away from our goal: good judges. If I hardly know my ions from my protease or glucosidflaboflibidynase, that has little to nothing to do with being a good judge. I understand that a judge must have a basic knowledge of what he’s judging, but this goes way the hell beyond “basic.”

Obviously this isn’t just a beer problem. In fact, in many fields, I think one of our major problems is that we have too many damn specialists and too few generalists. It makes the medical field horribly expensive beyond rationality and it can lock out learning about more than specificities. It’s a bit too much like a very depressed greyhound who was raised to do nothing more than race: shipped from racetrack to racetrack, never seeing anything but a handler and forced to wear blinders so all they see is the track… day, after day, after week… (Where have I seen that sentence structure before? Oh, yeah, I started the column with it!) Once they have to retire the old boy, if he isn’t put out of his own misery, if he could he’d probably invent a gun just so he could shoot himself.

(Not bloody likely. Greyhounds aren’t the smartest woof in the puppy-mill-pedigree basket.)

The fact that some race-beasts are forced to wear blinders, to me, is damn depressing. I find it just as depressing to focus so much on technicalities that I miss the big picture: because that’s where life is. That’s reality. It’s what happens around us that makes this race called life worth living, in my opinion. The further we get away from generalities, the less we are talking about, and serving, real people. It’s like a pharmacist or doctor knowing specific medications but not knowing one may not react well with another if taken by the same patient.

I think this is why I started out as an English-Ed major who wound up in Communications with a heavy; later, dose of Recording Arts/Music Business. I have never had a desire to have blinders on, I want to see who is in the stands, the clouds, the ground, and if I’m too distracted to “win the race,” well, hell, I don’t give a damn. I want the big picture as much as one human can soak it in. I want to swim in it. I want to dive down deep and discover what’s under it all without focusing in on the exact biology of some microscopic crab creature that comes out of it’s hiddy hole ones a year, blow his own asexual crabby New Year whistle and then goes back into to hibernate until the next time.

Is it obvious I’m not the competitive sort? Hmmm… might explain why I never gave a hoot about sports. Maybe that’s why I’m perfectly happy to brew and never win a single award. (Although I have won a few.) Maybe that’s why I decided to work for myself and find my own musical/creative niche’: not spend time elbowing other wannabes out of the way on Music Row in Nashville. Some days I think I must have plopped out of Winnie Carman’s uterus that way. Considering my stubborn desire to absorb all, I probably took a while coming out.

Damn, that had to hurt. Sorry, Mom.

In short, my idea of pure hell is to focus in on minutia. That’s “grinding sausage” for me. And everyone has their own definition of grinding sausage.

I’d love to hear from you.

Tell me yours.

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

Copyright 2009
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved