Saturday, May 11, 2013

Death is certain

I'm not sure when I started using this phrase, but it's become by go-to lately. 90% of the time it's to describe a bleak situation like a hangover or a party or an aspect of my life. The other 10% of the time, it's my glass-half-empty, slightly-more-original version of YOLO. Last weekend I pitched my best friend a tattoo on my hipbone of a unicorn encircled in a heart and the heart is made of the words "death is certain." "I should get that tattoo!" I said. She said maybe in a very supportive way. "I should get that tattoo TONIGHT," said I and she replied with a firm "NO." I told her I was testing her to make sure she was honest with me even when it wasn't what I wanted to hear. I was lying to her. In that moment I actually thought the tattoo was a great idea. You know what I should get actually? A tattoo on my forehead that says "do not give me any tattoos I might ask for." It would only appear when I had been drinking. No one steal that idea. I think it's like half of a really great screenplay.

What does this have to do with wine? Weirdly, a lot. As you know, this level of my wine course is about viticulture and viniculture. Now that we've learned all about growing grapes, we're onto making wine. The other night, the brilliant Shelby Ledgerwood brought up the irony of the most crucial step of the winemaking process: fermentation. Fermentation is when yeast is added to the grape juice. In an oxygen-free environment, the yeast consumes sugar, creating carbon dioxide and alcohol as the byproducts. The fermentation process stops when the yeast either runs out of sugar (low to normal alcohol, dry wines) or the alcohol level gets too high for the yeast to survive (normal-high alcohol, sweeter wines). What Shelby pointed out is that it is the yeast's own byproduct, its own essential contribution to the wine, that ultimately is its demise.

I loved this. It stuck with me. I kept turning it over in my brain. Literally turning it over, seeing it as a metaphor for life in both positive and negative ways. On the one hand, what we consume and what we create will destroy us. On the other hand, it's the byproduct of survival.

I love to drink. Like, I adore it. I know wine tasting is bullshit but it is the most fun bullshit there is. It's a treasure hunt of the senses. I know how dumb that sounds. I don't care. When I'm writing, I love to have a beverage--coffee, tea, diet coke, cocoa, wine, whiskey, this great liver cleanse. I love the flush in my face and the sparkle of the light in my glass and pretty much everything about ice cubes. I know it's bad for me, but it makes everything so much brighter. I've often wondered if I'm an alcoholic. But other than the extra five pounds I carry from the booze, I don't think my drinking negatively affects my health. I don't think it hurts anyone around me. I think I may just be a devoted enthusiast. Still, French paradox aside, it can't be good for me to sit around and drink all day (I'm including the coffee and cokes, because fake sugar actually will kill me, says everyone I know who owns agave).

I love to write. As a career, it's not going that well for me. The healthier choice would be to give up and find a more practical profession. I would still be creating no matter what I was doing, so why not try it on the side?

Here, yeast gives us another interesting window. When exposed to oxygen, when not in a dark, contained space under pressure, yeast thrives. It multiplies. The anaerobic process is slow. The aerobic process is fast and flourishing. Rather than ferment, yeast consumes sugar and produces water, carbon dioxide and heat. No booze. No harmful byproduct that will one day be its doom. But nothing exciting either. Only in that bleak space where death is certain does the yeast create something magical: wine. And maybe the yeast knows it's bad for it to do so, but damnit, it wants to.

I hate when people say they just have to write. So do it. And I will, as a hobby, no matter what else is going on. The thing that I'm trying to say here is that it's important not only to accept the sacrifices that come along with any kind of creative or risky pursuit, but to embrace them. Know that it might not all wind up being worth it in the end. Be ok with the process. Decide to ferment, or decide a hobby is a beautiful thing to have. Either way, though, throw yourself into that decision and thrive.

Because, you see, you only live once.

Tattoo draft 1

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