an Italian novel, a French salad, a song to break your heart

I sent my first newsletter in September 2018, and here we are, Issue 52! I’m all in for  this labor of love! Knowing I’m going to be writing to you makes me pay attention a little harder to the things I enjoy, to discover things I may want to share. In these hard times (fires, climate change, pandemic, social unrest, my city fraying from counter-protests, looming election, fear mongering), I’m finding joy-accountability a real boon to my well being. What a gift you’ve given me!

The newsletter is free, but I’ve a quick favor to ask of you: if you enjoy r.w.e. dropping in your box every two weeks, do me a solid and share with three friends. My readership is growing (almost 900 of you!! Thank you), but I’d be grateful if you invited three of your smart and lovely pals to join in.

Some things I’ve loved:

 

 


read

I mentioned accountability, having to show up in this notes with some good things to share, and how that has been helping keep me on track when I’m anxious and distractible. Maybe some accountability would help you as well. So, I’ve an idea. Want to read a book with me? I’m really excited to dive into the new Ferrante novel, The Lying Life of Adults. The NYTs gave it a glorious front page review, and since I am a big fan of the Neapolitan Quartet (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave, The Story of the Lost Child) this newest Ferrante was already high on my TBR list.

I’d like to host a free r.w.e. community read. We can keep in touch over on my Instagram page along the way, plus, I’ll host two zoom meetings, one midway through and one when we’re all finished. Talking about a book, sharing ideas, discovering something new in a smart pal’s interpretation, always enriches the reading experience for me.

Are you in? I hope so. Drop me an email by responding to the newsletter. I’ll be in touch to get this virtual book club rolling!

 

 



write

I often talk to my students about the importance of secondary characters, in fiction and in memoir, as a way to reveal more about the main character. A character is only fully realized when she interacts in a social context. A fully realized character is one that we want to follow. The playwright, Arthur Miller said that successful plays “have no characters, only relationships. If you leave a character alone for too long, you’d better think about some interaction soon. Fiction is people acting and reacting.”

To illustrate the importance of secondary characters, I used a song, “Lockdown,” by Anderson.Paak. Hang with me.

First, I shared only the lyrics, which we read together. Here’s a bit, and you can find the entire song lyrics here. (warning: they’re explicit and include violence).

You should’ve been downtown (word)
The people are risin’ (for real?)
We thought it was a lockdown (what?)
They opened up fire (damn)
Them bullets was flyin’ (ooh)
Who said it was a lockdown? Goddamn lie

Next, we listened to the song. And of course the melody and tempo added another layer of meaning and texture. I know this isn’t a huge lightbulb moment, but it is important to keep this in mind with our writing. We control tone and texture with word choice, sentence length, setting, white space on the page. Check the song here. We had a brief discussion about our perceptions. Had they changed by listening, not just reading the lyrics? Absolutely.

Finally, we watched the music video, which you can do here. Following the speaker (our main character) through his night, witnessing interactions with friends, noticing the exhaustion in all their bodies, the tender kindnesses exchanged, the loneliness the speaker feels sitting in the backseat, the frustration of watching the news, the meta-moment when we see him at the piano, making art from his experience, and the end, comforting his child–all the other people, his relationships, his movements, all of it brings the story home. I love this song and it breaks my heart.

From Life to Fiction: When we set out to write a story often we have no idea where to begin. In this class we’ll look at the wealth of possibility in our lives, our family life, our work life, or perhaps with a story from a loved one’s life that seems perfect fodder for fiction. We’ll use life as the starter for stories to which we apply our imagination, the skills in our writers’ toolbox, and the joy that comes from being in charge of how the story ends.

Finding Your Flow: Carving time and space to be attentive to our creative practice can be daunting at anytime, during a pandemic, when we’re struggling to juggle all our roles (partner, parent, teacher, professional, creative) it’s even more difficult. Not only do we have to make the time, which often means taking time away from our responsibilities, but then, once at our desk we must release the tight grip of the critical mind that stands in our way. Let’s come together to write, read, talk and laugh about our human experience and how we can get out of the way to get words on the page.

 

 



eat

How could I have forgotten the humble Salade Niçoise? In my twenties, when I was hell bent on being sophisticated, I made them all the time. This week our CSA share was resplendent with green beans, red bell pepper, yellow finn potatoes, lettuce, fennel. I had a few fresh eggs on hand, Joel went out for some tuna, and lo and behold!

Salade Niçoise :
Vinaigrette:

  • 2 tablespoons good-quality red or white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, small or large to taste, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oilUsing a fork or a small whisk, mix together the vinegar and lemon juice with the garlic, salt, pepper and Dijon mustard. Whisk in the olive oil.

Salade:

  • ¾ pound medium Yukon gold or fingerling potatoes, cut in 3/4-inch dice and steamed until tender
  • 6 ounces green beans, trimmed, and cut in half if long, steamed and put in ice water bath to maintain color
  • 1 small red pepper, thinly sliced or diced
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced in half-moons
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and cut in wedges
  • 1 small head of Boston lettuce, 1 romaine heart, or 4 to 5 cups mixed baby salad greens, washed and dried
  • ½ cup chopped fresh herbs, like parsley, basil, tarragon, chives and marjoram, even a little mint
  • I pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1lb fresh albacore tuna steaks, about 2″ thick
  • 1 tbs fennel seeds
  • About 1 tbs olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Fennel bulbed sliced very thin, soaked in a bit of lemon juice and a pinch of salt
  • ½ cup niçoise olives
  1. To cook the tuna, first allow the fish to come to room temperature. Rub with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and fennel seeds you’ve smashed in a mortar and pestle.
  2. Heat the grill to hot.
  3. Cook for 2 minutes on one side. Flip, cook for 2 minutes more for rare, an additional 2 minutes if you like your tuna cooked through.
  4. Remove from grill.
  5. Let rest while you compose the salad. Lay the lettuce on a large platter and arrange the gorgeous vegies.
  6. Slice the tuna (across the grain) into thin slices and lay on top of your beautiful salad, sprinkle with the olives and drizzle that vinaigrette all over the top.