Cartouche's Blog

Writing My Way Out of Something


Someplace, somewhere else, USA
February 09
Mind My Own Business
Artist, former newspaper columnist and restaurant critic. Award-winning author of "In Pursuit of Excellence". In my spare minute I can be found blogging here, on Huffington Post and other places that don't pay and (more often) writing for some places that do. Occasionally I tweet random thoughts and observations as @nonconfromist. I keep the really good ones to myself.


Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 31, 2011 2:00PM

My Brilliant Second Career, x2 Squared

Rate: 46 Flag

I’m not one to look back at, wax nostalgic over or live in the past. If I’ve done it once and didn’t particularly enjoy it (or him) there’s a very good chance I’m not doing it (or him) again. There are always far more interesting prospects for the future to think about or plan for to keep me occupied.

Yet 12 months ago, I wasn’t so sure. I was in a dry spell, trying hard to create sparks of any kind by lighting wet matches to my stagnant life. It was completely surrounded by water. Like many people in Florida, I had purchased my home during the real estate boom and put more than half down. Seven years and 84 mortgage payments later, the value of my house had plummeted to less than half its original value. You do the math. It's the stupid economy, not the economy, stupid. I could have opened my front door and walked in any direction and purchased another house in my neighborhood for less than my down payment seven years earlier. But I still would have been living in Florida, which I was desperately trying to leave. I just couldn’t figure out how without walking away and starting over.

365 days ago, I decided to tackle the invisible monster of my life and seriously work on my memoir. I had an agent in wait and an editor at the ready. Considering my first draft (all 176 pages of it) had been lost in the great MacBook crash of May 2010, I took it as a sign that I should start from scratch. Instead of attempting to rewrite what had devastatingly disappeared (Steve Jobs, if you happen to find it, please consider magically making it reappear), I approached my memoir with a renewed vision and angle:  I was going to write my way out of Florida and incorporate it into the story.

This premise may seem implausible, but I’ve had some experience with this concept. In my 20’s, I wrote my way into Athens, Greece (via Cairo, because that’s the more exciting route to take) and ended up becoming a lyricist for EMI Records as result. I wrote my way into a storybook life in the south of France without ever publishing a single word and wrote myself out of it nearly a decade later to move to Paris, hoping for a different outcome. Apparently, someone or something else was writing my immediate future and the edited version of me had to make some choices.

When I relocated back to the states a few months shy of 9/11 and settled in Florida, I would drive by the offices of the local newspaper and think to myself that before long, I would be writing for them. A few months later, I was given my own column and became a restaurant critic. I had an editor who took great pleasure in trying hard to define my writing as it was not rather than seeing (or reading) me for who I was. Never trust an editor who uses the word, “gendre”. Just saying. 

In 2005, two hurricanes in less than three weeks devastated our region, yet I still lived to write about it and them. An unfortunate restaurant review cured me of wanting to express an opinion in writing ever again. So I did what the average person in the worst economy would never think of doing to make a living. I took up painting instead. I never said it was a sane idea, but I knew that nobody could take a big red pen to my creativity. Just a year and half and 150 paintings later, I had my first solo exhibition in Chicago. If I couldn’t write my way out of Florida, I could surely paint my way to somewhere else.

American Dream 

American Dream detai

"American Dream"

24 x 36 Acrylic on Plexiglass

Patricia A. Smith 2010 

But a funny thing happened on my way to my brillant new career. Galleries across the country began closing and those that remained in business minimized their risk and expenses by showing artists whose work didn’t require expensive shipping. Florida was not exactly my art market and paid freelance writing opportunities were becoming fewer. The economy may have temporarily painted my life into a corner but my creativity would not allow it to stay there. It's a formidable opponent.

As I started to write my memoir for the second time, I was approached with a freelance project. What started as recipe editing quickly evolved into my becoming the co-author with Two Star Michelin Chef Josiah Citrin of Melisse Restaurant and relocating to Los Angeles to complete his first cookbook. I look back at my double writing life at that time and see the beginning of that book with emails from last year when recipes were sent in small batches.  I read chunks of abandoned ideas and text from my memoir, hundreds of versions of single sentences and the thousands of recipe revisions that followed. In less than six months, there was a cross-country move and learning that you can put just about anything in storage except your creativity. 

As far as the memoir is concerned, I guess it’s not quite ready for primetime. When I do eventually get around to writing it, there’s a good chance I’ll call it “Necessity Breeds Reinvention” because my life has proven this to me more than once (and I’ve already bought the domain name). For the time being, I’ve written my way into something that I’m not quite ready to write my way out of. And people are suddenly interested in my artwork once again. Go figure.

“In Pursuit of Excellence” was released this week and is available on Amazon.

What a difference a year makes. In Pursuit of Excellence: Josiah Citrin, Melisse Restaurant (9780981980270): Josiah Citrin, Patricia Aranka Smith, Matt Kiefer: Books



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Cartouche, as is so often the case, your story is inspiring . . . and congratulations on writing your way to a new path!
Congratulations, Patricia. My idea of success is the degree by which one can turn one's avocation into one's vocation. You seem to have done that, brilliantly. Brava!
And now we know why the sun’s shining even more brightly in Southern California these days. Yay!

(loving the godaddy tag)
Yay! I'm in the same place life-wise. It's exciting to see that you've been so successful. By the way... is your FL house for rent? ;)
Congratulations Patricia. Dreams can come true.
Congratulations...on the Excellence book and your life & attitude in general.
I'm glad you found a gendre that works.
Knish marketing of sorts.
yr definitely a force of nature.
An annoyed Lucy reading to Linus: "A man was born. He lived and he died. The end."
Linus: "What a fascinating account. It almost makes you wish you had known the fellow."

Will Josiah and you be hitting the book tour trail? Doing a little cooking on the talk shows?

You can tell your memoir publisher that you already have at least guaranteed sale. Can I get it autographed?

Now I know what you've been up to for so long. It's real good to see you here in any of your guises again. Keep us posted on what's happening, 'K?

Meanwhile, you've got a helluva story to tell, and I hope you get back to the memoir soon.
Yay! Raising cyber toast (not the bread kind, but the bubbly kind) to ya! Haven't been around for months, but reading this was worth stopping by. Happy for you, Patricia. Very happy.

How very inspiring - you, my dear, are definitely someone who grabs life by the lapels and doesn't let go until you get what you want. So happy for you!
That was pure inspiration.
This is a workshop of your life. I need to perfect that "writing my way to another life" technique!
This is a workshop of your life. I need to perfect that "writing my way to another life" technique!
Congrats Patricia on the path your taking. Great to see you here and now that the cookbook is done, I hope we see more of you on OS.
Good to see you back, and with stories to tell. Congrats on the book.
I've missed your artful accounts cartouche. Good on you for successfully working your way out of life's predicaments and congrats on the cookbook.
You go girl! Thinking of you.
Congrats... I'm on Amazon, ready to purchase your book. It's a beauty.
And your friends over here on the west edge are the happy recipients of your cross-country cookbook-writing adventure. Reinvention is your gig, Patricia. Writing about that will one day happen, I have no doubt at all. Terrific post, woman.
Cartouche, so good to see you, again! Congratulations on the book.

I feel like you must have had about 46 careers, in this amazing life you've lived...

I'm thinking of the well known story about Thomas Carlyle's manuscript of The History of the French Revolution. It was burned by accident by John Stuart Mill. And the second version made Carlyle's literary reputation.
Inspiring! Someday, if I am lucky, Florida may see me turned loose to wander some as well. I hope...
Congratulations of the book(s)!
What an amazing, inspiring, well-told account of the journey of your life! Thanks for the inspiring words and the strong survival and creativity vibes here. I'm basking in them like the sun.
Looks like an amazing cookbook and you continue to inspire.
Cartouche, where have you been, my love? It's been so long! (kiss,kiss) Just looking at your painting, I think we've collectively decided that its about time to do a new artistic paradigm on the American flag. The last time someone did that with pinache was Jasper Johns.

I want to engage in an artistic arms race with you. I have my own American flag that I've been engineering in the laboratory.
Hey! It's you! You are a California Girl now! I kinda hate you!

Seriously, congratulations. What a lovely update.
Very inspiring story at just the right time for a lot of people. Gosh, I see so many people finding their way into new futures because of this economy. Some are disheartened, some are excited. But its a wild ride for so many.

I LOVE the idea of writing yourself into your future. Very magical thinking. Spell-casting! My pagan side loves you for it.

Miss you and hope you are well! Glad I had some time with you in Fla. before you moved. Hopefully I'll see you there soon enough. I continue to write a future of success and creative kindred spirits and wealth (yes, wealth!) in California, my dear old home.
What? Two posts in the same month and now this? Awesome, Cartouche. L.A. is a great locale for you and your art. As to the book project, BRAVO!
I've admired your paintings for a long time and commend you for pursuing that but been missing your posts here. Good to "see" you.
PS And congrats on the book, of course!
Uhhh---everyone is missing the one great opportunity of our times--internet porn!

I posted my junk six months ago and I've made $4.53 so far----CHA CHING!

Try that.
You are such an inspiration. The courage you have to keep moving forward with an open-heart, to keep readjusting and reinventing in an effort to realize the best you -- well, I hope one day I'll have that kind of courage.
Congratualtions Patricia! And best wishes on your next life :-)
What an interesting life you've already had. Hope the future looks as bright. I was struck by, "The economy may have temporarily painted my life into a corner but my creativity would not allow it to stay there. It's a formidable opponent." Speaking only as someone who is related to creative people, I've observed creativity to be almost cruel. It won't let them alone, yet withholds itself at the worst moments. R, of course.
Congratulations to you! I haven't seen you around for quite some time. Is it because you're not around or because I'm not around nearly as often or as long as I used to be?
You hit this one square. (What a non-surprise.) As you career from one career to another, brilliance carries you on, and shines forth from you.
Congratulations! That is wonderful!

I love your piece. I rate you and favorite you!
I love this, and I think your possible memoir title is brilliant. Thank you.
Your words have taken you far, Cartouche. The paintings are magical.
You're not a Florida girl anymore??!! (PM me about how you got out of the housing situation, I'm sinking in that boat as well). So delighted your talents continue to be put to work for you in exciting and creative, fulfilling ways. Color me envious.
Life is what happens as you wait for something to happen. You are not a waiter, or more correctly, your creativity is not a waiter. All the best - Duke