Cannabis Sauvignon? How to Grow a Hydroponic Vineyard in Your Closet

Typically, in Wine Country we only crush grapes. And dreams. Now, however, thanks to new vineyard rules approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this week, we may also put the squeeze on the vineyards themselves.

At question is soil erosion and the benefit deeply rooting trees provide in this regard. Vineyard owners tend to remove the trees so that they can plant vines, which is now verboten on certain hillsides. It’s a puzzle, fraught with legitimate interests on all sides – from the wine industry to environmentalists and it all points to an inevitable crisis of vineyard space in Sonoma. Don’t think our competitors haven’t been waiting for this moment.

It accounts for the uptick in press releases I’ve been receiving that crow about the latest, greatest wine country that is not ours. Today’s crop includes an email with the enthusiastically punctuated subject, “There Are How Many Sommeliers in Greenville????” and another that opens with the command, “Toast the return of summer on Michigan’s wine coast.” Even the current cover of Sunset magazine crows, “Move over, Napa. This is the hot new wine country.”

Clearly, we’ve got problems if a small city in North Carolina is bragging about its som count and Michigan is now producing wine, not to mention a “coast.” As for Sunset, my interest was sufficiently piqued by their cover teaser that I rifled the pages in search of the “hot new wine country.” I expected it to be Sonoma (finally!). Nada. It’s eastern Washington state.

Now, my winemaking friends may snort and ask rhetorically, “But have you tasted the wines from those places?” To which I’d reply, “No, but have you seen the people from those places? They’re just amazed that ‘This ol’ grape juice here makes ya feel kinda funny, don’t it?’” Yep, you betcha. And there goes some more shelf space at the Circle K.

With the whole of America now muscling in on the wine scene, we’ve got to rev up our game and start flooding the market with product until we dominate. However, this will be problematic since we’re losing arable land for grape-growing. I have a solution. We can grow grapes … hydroponically.

You know, like the pot-growers. In the Springs. I know for a fact that behind closet doors, up in attics and behind false walls in garages, a shadow agricultural scene has been steadily growing – literally – for years. Clearly, these guys know how to economize space, and how to yield the most from their real estate as well as their plants. Perhaps they can teach our grape growers how to increase their yield by planting their next block of cabernet in the spare bedroom.

I can already see the public service announcements: “Are you an empty-nester? Kids off to college? Got square footage to spare? Consider planting a vineyard in Junior’s old room! Just flick on the grow-lights and help save Sonoma County’s wine industry.”

Explaining why wine grapes are legal and marijuana plants are not is not worth the breath one would waste (especially since you’d have to inhale first). Frankly, I think the industries should merge. I mean, is cannabis sauvignon so far fetched a notion? We have the technology…

The fact is, we’re weird about plants around here. It’ll cost you a $500 fine if you pick our state flower, the California poppy. By comparison, it costs about $152 million annually to fund our aerial poppy eradication program in Afghanistan. Albeit, those poppies are the raw ingredients of heroin whereas our poppy’s only offense is that it can occasionally be a shade too orange.

To solve our state budget problems, we should convince the Federal government that California poppies are Afghani poppies, wait for the aerial eradication – then fine them. At $500 a flower our budget crisis would dissipate like a puff of opium smoke. Not to mention the bajillion dollar surplus we can use to buy Michigan, North Carolina and eastern Washington and rename them Sonoma. Then we would have plenty of vineyard space. And trees too. Everybody’s happy.

Except for perhaps our county supervisors who would have to court the vote of a vast new constituency and answer questions like, “There Are How Many Sommeliers in Greenville????”

Daedalus Howell has it on good authority that there are 6 certified sommeliers in Greenville, N.C. He hides from them at

Writing Tips from Ian McEwan: Read and Avoid Creative Writing Programs

In this interesting interview with author Ian McEwan (Atonement, Solar), the Booker Prize-winning novelist offers advice to aspiring writers: READ. The admonishment comes after he roundly dismisses undergraduate writing programs as ?a vehicle for mass ignorance? and ?deathly,? which, having attended one myself, I?m in complete concurrence.

McEwan?s observation (like his books) has a bit of a twist beneath the surface. He doesn?t recommend new writers to read simply to immerse themselves in the world of words so much as a means of evading undue influence from those one has yet to read. Continue reading “Writing Tips from Ian McEwan: Read and Avoid Creative Writing Programs”

Writing Prompts: 5 Best Sites

typewriter-leavesFor creative writers, often the hardest words to find are the first. Fortunately, there are a litany of sites dedicated to writing prompts. For those who need a refresher, writing prompts are those pithy, literary starter breads that posit a point of creative meditation and goad you to explore it with words, words, words. Below are 5 of the best writing prompt sites you can use to fan the flames when you?ve got creative burnout.

1. Writing Prompts via Tumblr

Luke Neff?s Tumblr blog, the aptly titled Writing Prompts, is an image-rich collection of whimsical prompts that is frequently updated and draws from a panoply of sources (he even includes a ?submit a writing prompt? button so you can share your own). Though some prompts will be most useful to those who speak geek (?Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter engage in a duel. Tell the story?) others are more apt to inspire creative thinking by encouraging you to make novel connections between existing concepts (but without light sabers).

2. Creative Writing Prompts at Writer’s Digest

Grand-daddy writing rag Writer?s Digest has enlisted dedicated prompter Brian A. Klerns to provide weekly doses of inspiration. Klerns? writing prompts are quite developed, hence, in my experience, they serve better as a ?warm-up? exercise rather than the kind of kernel one might transplant directly into one?s magnum opus. Writers are invited to post the results of their inspiration in the comments, which is the writing equivalent of practicing group Tai Chi in the park. This can be useful, however, for those out for the quick dopamine hit that comes with seeing one?s work ?out there.? If Kerns? 200-plus comment count is any indication, it works.

You?ve just moved into a new house and are fixing it up. In the process of painting you find an odd crack in the wall. As you explore further, you find out it?s a secret passageway?and you have no idea where it leads. You decide to grab a flashlight and go exploring.

3. Creative Copy Challenge

Every Monday and Thursday, a trio of writers (Shane Arthur, Sean Platt and David Wright) post blogs that contain 10 random words or phrases and encourage writers to ?create and submit a cohesive, creative short story tying all the words together? in the comments section. Throughout their site, Messrs. Arthur, Platt and Wright chide writers with the cheeky kind of reverse psychology one might use on a toddler: ?This is a writing prompt. Bet you can?t do it!? Somehow, it works. Moreover, as the site warns, the activity can be addictive. The email sign-up and rss subscription options at Creative Copy Challenge will aid frictionless delivery of your prompt fix.

4. Easy Street Prompts

East Street Prompts offers a trove of not only visual prompts but video and random word prompts as well. Their goal? They want to ?start a creative pandemic.? Consequently, they don?t limit their prompting efforts to merely scribes but ?artists, writers, and the terminally creative.? Likewise, Easy Street Prompts encourages posting one?s terminal creations in the comments section. Though not updated too frequently, the site is close to cresting 1000 prompts, which should keep one relatively inspired at least in the short term (even daily use would take nearly three years to exhaust their supply).

Easy Street Prompts

5. Thirteen Writing Prompts

Humorist Dan Wiencek deftly pops the writing prompt bubble with his rapier wit via his droll satire Thirteen Writing Prompts, published at McSweeney?s. Ironically, I found Wiencek?s send-up the most inspiring of the writing prompt lot as it points out the relative absurdity of being bereft of ideas when the marketplace of ideas is having a perpetual fire sale. My favorite of Wiencek?s pseudo-prompts:

?Write a short scene set at a lake, with trees and shit. Throw some birds in there, too.?

Thirteen Writing Prompts

Bonus Prompts Courtesy of the Crowd

Reddit’s creative community of writers prompts a special mention: Prompt of the Day, a well-moderated subreddit dedicated to the art of prompting to help it’s 1700-plus writers get to it!

Slouching Toward Quadragenaria: On Turning 40 (Eventually)

39 StepsThe countdown has begun. In 90 days, I will be 40-years-old. It’s like the last trimester before I’m reborn as “quadragenarian,” which reads more like a dietary choice than an age past 39 but before 50.

In many ways, it is a dietary choice. At least according to my physician, who would prefer I answer questions like, “Would you like your customary two bottles of wine with your usual slab of well-marbled steak, sir?” with, “No, just a salad and tea, please – I’m a quadragenarian.”

You get this a lot when you’re on the precipice of 40: “Life begins at 40,” “Novelists are born at 40,” “40 is the new 25.” I can see from the ripe old age of 39 that the people who say that are full of crap. Nor do I think it’s particularly remarkable to have made it to 40, though more than a few in my cohort are guilty of uttering the histrionic phrase, “I never expected to live this long.”

I’m inclined to reply, “Yeah, you really jacked the dead pool. Say, weren’t you going to buy a motorcycle to allay your mid-life crisis? Nothing like two wheels, 750 cc’s and waning reflex response to even the odds.” Buh-bye.

The life expectancy for my generation is all over the map. Like our generation’s non-name, “X,” the actuarial tables for those of us born between 1966 and 1980 simply put an X where a number should be in terms of our lifespan. We know when the Baby Boomers are going to die (apparently never) and the Millennials (also never – they plan to upload their souls into Facebook).

But Gen X? We’re all hitting 40-plus and no one cares, sniff-sniff. A study from the Center for Work-Life Policy found that not only are we the smallest generation on earth, we’re allegedly in the prime of our lives and careers and are stepping into “crucial leadership roles and starting families.”

Let’s pause and visualize the collective spit-take on the part of everyone between the ages of 33 and 47. Yes, we’re all starting families because we all thought something more interesting might happen in the preceding 10 years (ah, nope). But leadership roles? First off, Gen X doesn’t lead because it doesn’t follow, dude. And second off, you don’t want to go where we’re going anyway. Where’s that you ask? In the motion picture version of this moment, I’d kick-start my heavily-financed V-twin, light up a hand-rolled organic American Spirit and say, “Just a little place I know called Obscurity,” and ride off into the sunset.

In real life, of course, the only damn fool thing I plan to do is tattoo my current hairline on my head so I can track my hair as it recedes like the ocean waves, baby. Actually, I’m not really losing my hair so much as my mind because I haven’t slept properly since our son was born.

Since I was 37 when the Cannoli was hatched, and our birthdays are mere days apart, my birthday has been consistently overshadowed by his. This year that will change. He will be 3 and I will be the “Big 4-0.” I will eat his cake and have mine too. Or at least I can pretend until I find him crowding into my chair and blowing out the candles on my cake because I need the help. It’s less embarrassing than having my wife fan the smoke alarms because I won’t be able to get the veritable “forest fire on a baking sheet” snuffed out in time.

We’ve been marking my toddler son’s growing height in a doorjamb. I’m going to start doing the same to chart how much I shrink. I fully anticipate that we’ll eventually meet in the middle. I’ve figured out when: I’m 13.3333333 times his mere 3 years, thus, he’ll be 13.3-etc. when he reaches my height. So, for the intervening decade, I will call him “Shorty.” Yes, I have more facility with name-calling than numbers, but mark my words, I’ll be right. And by then, he’ll have a complex. And by then, I won’t care. I’ll be a saucy 53.3. And that’s 4,837 days away. But who’s counting?