When Life Gives You Zucchini

You make zucchini bread.

We all know how it is with zucchini.  Somebody in the neighborhood has a garden, and they have a zucchini plant.  Maybe even they have two (if they’ve never grown zucchini before.)  And the zucchini does as zucchini plants do, and sometime around the end of summer everybody in the neighborhood is receiving gifts of abundant zucchini, because the alternative is seeing their neighbor’s kitchen fill up with zucchini and possibly even explode.

And there’s only so much zucchini you can steam or saute or stir-fry before you start to bring out the recipe books.  And you think about Zucchini Lasagna, but not for very long, because the voice in your head that says “lasagna” also says, “That isn’t lasagna, that’s a vegetable casserole,” and your stomach says, “If you’re making lasagna, I want the real thing or nothing.”  And you think about zucchini pickles, but not for very long, because you don’t want to get involved in the whole pickling and canning thing.

And besides, zucchini bread isn’t imitation anything else, it’s real zucchini bread; and it doesn’t require specialized equipment and messing around with vats of boiling water and worrying about lids and seals; and you already know that everybody in the house will eat it.  And if they don’t, that’s okay, too, because you happen to like zucchini bread just fine.

Sometimes story ideas are like that.  You’ll get a story idea that comes out of nowhere like a gift of random zucchini, and it’s not your usual sort of story . . . maybe it’s a little over-the-top for your normal style, maybe it’s not your usual subject matter, maybe it has a bit too much of the guilty pleasure about it for your artistic peace of mind.

When something like that happens, you can try to make zucchini lasagna out of your story idea — slice it up and sauce it up and generally try to turn it into something more like your usual thing — but unless you really truly like zucchini lasagna, your readers are going to see what you did and know that your heart wasn’t in it.  Or you can go the pickling-and-canning route, taking that story idea and using all your hard-won tools and techniques to make it into something you can point to and call art.  And the critics may praise what you’ve done to elevate zucchini into something better and longer-lasting, but the voice in your head that doesn’t shut up is going to say, “And why does zucchini need elevation, anyhow?”

So you might as well make zucchini bread.  Don’t try to make that story idea into an imitation of something else, and don’t try to make it into something fancy and difficult just to please the critics.  Make it into good honest zucchini bread, and serve it to the people who will like it that way.

And don’t worry.  Eventually the frost comes, and the zucchini flood will dry up until next summer.

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