It has been a summer of broken plans & broken appliances. I should be packing right now. My husband and I had plans for a five-week trip to France, two of the weeks I’d be teaching at Come to Your Senses, a wonderful writing retreat put on by the phenom, Karen Karbo. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be for us this year. I’m sure I will scroll through photos from the stalwart retreaters with some envy, some gloom, and some delight!
Meanwhile, here I am at home with a broken dishwasher, failed garage door opener, frozen air conditioner, and a washing machine that seems to be doing a dramatic, protracted death scene.
Fall is just about here, and thankfully, so is the appliance repair person! Pulling out my credit card. 🙁
Does it enlarge or diminish you?
If you’re a regular reader of my newsletter you’ve heard me lament that my reading abilities have diminished during the pandemic. A mix of anxiety, distractions (news feed anyone?) escapism television (White Lotus? Hacks?), as well as the beautiful writing my students and editorial clients share with me each week, all of it stands between a book and me.
Now, when my thumb is poised above my iPhone or the TV remote, I try to ask myself, will this enlarge or diminish me? Maybe that inquiry will be useful to you as well?
Currently I’m reading, FOUR THOUSAND WEEKS, TIME MANAGEMENT FOR MORTALS, by Oliver Burkeman. It’s about getting off the hamster wheel of productivity and paying attention to what matters. Actually, it is a perfect book for the moment. It’s time to step away from joyless urgency. Some gems thus far:
It can’t be the case that you must do more than you can do. That notion doesn’t make any sense: if you truly don’t have time for everything you want to do, or feel you ought to do, or that others are badgering you to do, then, well, you don’t have time–…You’ll do what you can, you won’t do what you can’t, and the tyrannical inner voice insisting that you must do everything is simply mistaken
…merely to be alive on the planet today is to be haunted by the feeling of having “too much to do,” …. Think of it as “existential overwhelm”: the modern world provides an inexhaustible supply of things that seem worth doing, and so there arises an inevitable and unbridgeable gap between what you’d ideally like to do and what you actually can do.
Burkeman insists we must embrace finitude. Embrace the fact that we are all going to die, and then ask how you want to use your limited hours? “I’m aware of no other time management technique that’s half as effective as just facing the way things truly are,” says Burkeman. Or, as Mary Oliver says, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Or, as I’m saying, run like a house on fire toward your dreams!
Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.
Does it enlarge or diminish you?
The question was posed by my pal, Karen Karbo, in a weekend long, Writing Emergency 🔥class. I often take writing classes because I have so much to learn, because I want to remember what it feels like to be a student, and because I want to remain fresh and open to new ideas that I can in turn bring to my students. Boy am I glad I took this one!
Karen gave us plenty of room to roam in her lovely workshop. She gave us a prompt to seek out an object which inspires an unexpected emotional response. She asked us to list the things we would write about if we could, and then made us choose one and go for it!. She gave us beautiful insights:
- What are the reader requests that the work inspires? In other words, anticipate what the reader wants to know and follow the questions.
- Visit your work every day, even if you don’t write, engage in some way so that it remains in the forefront of your mind.
- Writing inspires complicated feelings, of course it does! When you drill down, writing (both the act and the words on the page) is about love, and love is damn complicated.
- When you feel stuck in your work, embark upon a boring task, see what comes up!
In addition to KK’s class, I also attended three of the recent Bread Loaf Lectures. I’ll only mention one today, it was “The Art of Revision,” from Peter Ho Davies. What a tender man! He told a beautiful story about his father and how his relationship to said story has evolved and revised over the years as Davies aged and came to understand more about his father. Here are just a couple take aways from his talk:
- Once more, with curiosity! Progress in revision is not toward perfection, but toward learning something new, as Davies did about his father each time he revisited the story with curiosity.
- When we keep looking we discover so many deeper, and perhaps more personal meanings to the story. What does it say about me, the writer? What does it say about shared emotion between the characters? What does it say about love? About shame? About wanting to be seen? About who we are?
- Don’t be afraid of making the wrong choice. A dead end leads to knowledge. Go back and try something else if it doesn’t work. We can only find out by writing. There is no wasted endeavor.
I also want to give you this freeing thought from Naomi Shihab Nye, “If you believe in revision you don’t have to worry about perfection.”
In case I’ve encouraged you to try out some classes for yourself, hope over to my teaching page to see what’s up. I’ve got lots of opportunities for you!
This recipe will definitely enlarge you!
Pasta w/Zucchini, Corn, Tomato, Ricotta and Herbs
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 2 lbs zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick pieces (for larger zucchini, cut in half lengthwise before slicing)
- 2-3 ears of corn, slice kernels from the cob
- One basket of sungold cherry tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, minced, or 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic
- 1 pound ziti or other dry pasta
- 8 ounces ricotta, about 1 cup. Absolutely find the best you can, Bellwether Farms is my favorite brand
- Pinch of crushed red pepper
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Generous handful of fresh herbs, perhaps including but not limited to: parsley, tarragon, mint, oregano, basil, thyme, chopped
- 2/3 c Marcona almonds, chopped
- Put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it liberally!
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, reduce heat to keep from browning. Add zucchini, and sungold tomatoes, season generously with salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until zucchini is soft, and the tomato skins have burst. About 10 minutes. Add corn to pan and turn off heat.
- Meanwhile, combine the chopped herbs, one clove of minced garlic, lemon zest, and chopped almonds in a bowl
- Cook pasta per package instructions but make sure to keep pasta quite al dente. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water, then drain the pasta.
- Add cooked pasta to zucchini in skillet and turn heat to medium-high. Add 1/2 cup cooking water, then the ricotta, crushed red pepper and lemon juice, stirring to distribute. Check seasoning and adjust. Cook for 1 minute more. Mixture should look creamy. Add a little more pasta water if necessary. Spoon pasta into warm soup plates and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Serve stat!.
We’ve all watched with horror the unfolding evens in Afghanistan. If you have the means, here is a way to help incoming refugees in the Portland area. Here is another opportunity, specifically for Afghan girls and women.
Take good care of yourselves. Embrace finitude. Choose what really matters. Stanley consistently chooses his fish.