I don’t know about you, but I have not fallen to temptation, I’m still committed to pants each and every shelter-in-place day. I’m also committed to toast and butter, and these two things may turn out to be mutually exclusive. I guess the point is, we all try to find comfort during unsettling times. For me there’s comfort in the normalcy of pulling on jeans, and comfort in a piece of buttery toast, anytime of day. What’s comforting you?
I’ve got a pretty great TBR stack beside my bedside:
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, by Bess Kalb. This memoir is about four generations of women in Kalb’s family. Her great grandma Rose, who fled pogroms in Belarus in the 1880’s. Her grandma Bobby, who is the ‘me’ in the title, telling the story of her life from beyond the grave. Bess’s mother who fought against conventions in the ’70’s. Finally Bess, who lives in LA, and writes for the Jimmie Kimmel show. Funny/Sad, my favorite combo. Read the NYTs review here.
I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This, by Nadja Spiegelman. This is a memoir of her mother’s family. (Her father’s family has been masterfully depicted by her father, Art Spiegelman, in his Pulitzer prize winning graphic memoir, Maus.) The Guardian says in its review of Nadja’s book, “Her subject appears to be the impossibility of feeling anger towards one’s mother, and the extent to which to do so would require a belief in potential change.” This is totally my jam and fascinates me. The Guardian also notes, “A remembered injury, however long in the past, can inhibit and wound its recipient seemingly out of all proportion.” When writing memoir, memory is our friend and foe. How deeply we cling to what we believe to be the truth, those opaque visitations from our past, define us and our relationships. I’m all in for any writer who chooses to explore this edge.
Finally, during this time of great uncertainty, like toast and butter, books can offer great comfort. Here’s a list that I find soothing:
Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne. Seriously, it’s a joy. If you’ve got no kids at home, read it over Facetime or Zoom to a young family member or friend. (Maybe don’t include this, Pooh and Piglet on social distancing.)
Emma, Jane Austin. I love how Emma navigates her world with humor, and maintains a capacity for personal growth, all within the tight social confines of an age.
A Lamp in the Darkness, Jack Kornfield, who says this (stick with me to the end): “If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm, if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are: you are probably a dog.”
Are you writing? Are you giving yourself the opportunity to be creative? Damn. I know it’s hard. I’ve been keeping up the Pomodoros and they’re a boon. I’ve spoken about them before, write for 45 minutes, stop to stretch/pee/nibble/grab a beverage for 15 minutes, then boom! Start again. I’m practicing with friends in a different city 2x per week. And I’m offering them to my students 2x per week. It really motivates me to know that other writers have their noses in the page at the same time I do. The 15 minute break is a great time to chat and feel connected. If you’re interested in participating with me, Monday and Wednesday, 3-5pm, send me a message and we’ll figure out how to make it happen.
If you aren’t working on a project, doodling around with an idea for a story, an essay, a novel, a poem, or an anything, that is just fine. Did you catch this quote from Lorrie Moore this week? When asked by the NYTs Book Review about living writers she admires, she said, “All of them. I also admire the ones who are taking a break and not working.”
Even if you’re not working, you can still write to connect with another human being. Why not write an email to a faraway pal you haven’t spoken to for some time? Send a card, a love note, a text. Children in my neighborhood are taping their drawings to the windows, a way of revealing the creative spirits in the house. My daughter is celebrating her wedding anniversary and I sent a homemade collage in lieu of a card, as I can’t get to the stationary store. Write a song, post it to your Instagram! If we take the time to throw out seeds of love, to write, to connect with each other, perhaps we can emerge from our homes, squinting like moles, into the bright light of stronger friendships.
I have been really amazed by the amount of kitchen waste our family produces. In an effort to cut that back, I made a chicken and stretched it to three meals.
- Day one: Alison Roman’s Slow Roasted Chicken w/all the Garlic, served with green beans and polenta.
- Day two: Chicken fajitas, our own version with red bell pepper, onions, garlic, shredded brussels sprouts, jarred salsa, cheddar cheese, chili flakes (we had no fresh jalapeño), stewed pinto beans (soaked and then simmered w/half an onion until tender), rice. (Leftovers provided lunch the next day.)
- Day three: Soup! Meat stripped from the bones, bones thrown in a pot with a carrot and an onion and water to cover, gently simmer for a couple hours, strain. Meanwhile, I sautéed an onion, I peeled and cubed a butternut squash, julienned some chard, picked every last leaf of a bunch of parsley, sliced some wilted celery, diced the last half of a fennel bulb, opened a can of tomatoes, and found some thyme in the yard! Once all of that was sautéed in the soup pot, with salt and pepper, I poured in the stock, added a bit of water, the chicken meat and leftover rice from the fajita night. (You know it, leftovers for lunch.)
Because it’s sunny right this minute in Portland, and the tulips are trusting enough to poke up their heads, and I crave muffins, and I’ve got lemons, and this recipe for Lemon Poppyseed Muffins, shared by a pal, I will bake post haste, as soon as I get my hands on poppyseeds!