Sorry, no results were found.

watch.listen.snack.

 

 

Back in the before time, meaning before the Delta Variant terrorized us all, my husband and I went to a concert, INDOORS! I know, it was crazy, it was July. We saw Arturo Sandoval, the 71-year-old, Cuban American jazz trumpeter, and let me tell you, it was a joy-filled evening.

About halfway through the concert, Sandoval shared that as a small boy, growing up in central Cuba, he’d asked to learn to play the piano and was told the piano was for girls. So, he taught himself the trumpet. Yet the piano always beckoned and over the years Sandoval taught himself to play. “I’d like to play something for you now,” he said to us. “I hope you like it. I don’t care if you don’t.”

Man, that slayed me. Right on, Mr. Sandoval! He played piano because he was feeding his creative soul. Geez, I hope that’s something we can all do. Of course his playing was gorgeous. And when he picked up his trumpet again, that too was vivid and alive.

We left the concert feeling light and full at the same time, and I promised myself I’d tell you all about him. Sandoval followed his dream. Then he shared his passion, “I hope you like it.” But he also knew that the gift he’d given himself, learning the piano, was in and of itself enough. “I don’t care if you don’t.”

I hope you prioritize your passion and your curiosity with the same ferocity.

 

watch:

 

We’ve just finished watching 100 Foot Wave, which was fascinating. The power and beauty of the waves had our mouths hanging open. The obsession and fearlessness of the surfers was equally mesmerizing. I don’t understand the drive to put oneself at such grave risk, in the palm of something churning and vast and potentially deadly. Equally riveting was the arc of Garrett McNamara’s journey. To begin with he was selfish, absorbed in his own passion, slightly arrogant, and frankly unlikeable. But as the injuries and the years piled on, he softened. (Funny how that happens to all of us!) By the end of the series, I found him compelling and wholly sympathetic.

We also watched a charming and funny movie, CODA, about a hearing child of deaf parents and the responsibilities that fall on the child’s shoulders to help her deaf family navigate a hearing world. I really don’t want to say too much, it’s just a delight. Do check it out.

Finally, we tried to watch The Righteous Gemstones, a comedy series about a celebrity televangelist, his mega-church and the corrupt family behind it all. Even though I find capitalized religion distasteful, (the Gemstones take over a defunct Sears department store and turn it into a mega-church, which is meta and funny) I just couldn’t manage the show. The show asked me again and again to laugh at people rather than with people. It made me feel uncomfortable and bumped me from the lucid dream of the story. Mean-spirited jabs at large bodies, bad teeth, big belts, wigs and sideburns, greed, unnecessary violence, plus a gratuitous number of penises (why?), just didn’t add up to fun laughter. We gave it four episodes. If you’ve watched it and want to push back, shoot me an email and let me know why I should continue. I delight in being proved wrong!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

listen:

I know I’ve mentioned the Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend podcast here before, but I want to suggest the episode with Melissa McCarthy. She’s a joy!  A couple things she said really stuck with me, both as good advice for writing and also why I don’t like mean-spirited comedy.

MM: “If you are making fun of a character you are playing…there is a meanness that bumps me out as an audience member.”

Writing a one-dimensional character, someone who’s a dork, or mean, without giving nuance and complication, and well… humanity, feels cheap and easy. People aren’t like that, they have layers. As one of my writing teachers, Stewart O’Nan said, you’ve got to give characters some contradictions, make your serial killer an expert diaper changer!

MM: “When I play people, I think some people think I’m making fun of that type of woman… Nope, that is the woman that fascinates me. Someone I can’t take my eyes off of. If you’re in a store and there is somebody that’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m all in purple. Wait till you see me in the parking lot because my car is purple too.’ That’s the one I literally get love goggles. I’m not making fun of them. I’m like, you are literally living right because you don’t give a shit what anybody else thinks about you. You’re not hurting anyone, you’re just all decked out in grape.”

 

 

I believe that is how we have to write. It doesn’t mean we cannot write asshats, or weirdos, we just have to embrace their full, messy and complicated humanity. Or, as Louise Erdrich says, “To love another human in all of her splendor and imperfect perfection, it is a magnificent task…tremendous and foolish and human.” (Of course I can think of a slew of politicians who don’t fall into the lovable-despite-flaws category. I think that has to do with the power they wield.) But, as writers we must do this for our characters.

Another listen for you! I’m super excited to take part in Kelly Fordon’s project, Let’s Deconstruct A Story. In the first hour Kelly and I will be talking about my story, “Children Are Magic,” which is sold out at One Story Magazine, but you will get an electronic version for the discussion. In the second hour Kelly will provide prompts and you’ll have an opportunity to share your writing. What a wonderful way to spend October 13th from 3:00 – 5:00p PST. I hope to see you! (Side note, Children are Magic is from my novel, MUST BE NICE, and though one is not supposed to have favorites, the family in that story is so near and dear to my heart!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

snack:

 

This cake is so damn good and virtuous!

 

  • 2 1/4 c flour
  • 1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1t baking soda
  • 1t salt
  • 1 3/4 c sugar
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1/2 vegetable oil
  • 2 lg. eggs
  • 1t vanilla
  • 1/2 c buttermilk
  • 2c grated zucchini
  • 60z chocolate chips
  • 3/4 c chopped walnuts

 

  • Preheat oven to 325°
  • Butter and flour a 9x13x2” baking pan
  • Sift flour (I use whole wheat pastry), cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl.
  • Beat sugar, butter and oil (I usually use canola oil, but next time I’m going to try olive!) in your stand mixer bowl until light and fluffy
  • Add eggs one at time, beating well after each addition
  • Beat in vanilla
  • Mix in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk in three additions, ending with buttermilk
  • Fold in grated zucchini
  • Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle with EXCELLENT quality chocolate chips. (I said semisweet back in the day when I had children at home. Now I use bittersweet. Hmm… that has to mean something, no?) Sprinkle with chopped walnuts as well
  • Bake for 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean
  • Cool cake in pan…or not! Maybe just eat right away!

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Thanks for spending a minute with me. Take good care. If you’ve not yet gotten a vaccine, please chat with smart people to hear all the reasons it’s a good idea. Also, be certain to mask up and protect the kids who aren’t yet old enough for a vaccine.

If you have the funds, consider helping out our Haitian brothers and sisters. Here and here.

And a message from Stanley: take time to play!

via GIPHY

 

If you need a book, I’ve got all the recommendations from two years of this newsletter at my Bookshop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

watch.listen.snack.

 

 

It’s been a minute. I’ve missed you!

I saw a post on Instagram of a writer at a photoshoot saying she was grateful for not being asked to smile. My initial response was, yes, great! It’s considered de rigueur for women to be accessible and inviting, to smile. I remember a time when I was about nineteen, in the midst of a busy waitressing shift, and an older (creepy) man called me over to tell me I’d be prettier with lipstick and a smile. I wish I’d had the nerve to dump a tray in his lap. Women have no responsibility to be pretty for the male gaze, or anyone’s gaze.

Taking a morning walk at my local park, I thought about the non-smiling writer’s portrait. It is beautiful and strong. Also, it got me to wonder about the cost/benefit analysis of a smile. Each time I caught the gaze of a fellow morning rambler, and we exchanged a nod, a smile, I felt a boost. What started as a brooding walk—thinking about the state of the world, AQI, rise of covid infections, upended plans—was lightened by the flashes of connection I felt all over the park. Returning a smile was a spark, a synaptic leap.

A smile also offers the benefit of the feedback loop. When we use muscles in our face that are generally linked to an emotion, we can stimulate the emotion. Hence, forming a smile may actually brighten our day, even if at first we don’t feel like smiling.

I’m not here to say anyone should force smile. Certainly we shouldn’t have performative smiles. But I will err on the side of a slight fake. Smiling doesn’t necessarily mean I’m happy, it means I’m strong, I’m here, and so are you.

 

watch:

 

My television is in a battle for my soul. Do I watch TED LASSO and call forth my better angels? Do I laugh at the silly and thoughtful kindness that is Ted, an American football coach brought to England to coach a premiere soccer team, about which he knows nothing? Do I ascribe to his folksy homilies? Like:

  • I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad. And that is being alone and being sad. Ain’t no one in this room alone.
  • I believe in hope. I believe in Believe.
  • Be curious. Not judgmental.

That last is the anti-thesis of the other show that is seducing me with its decadent, judgy, lascivious deliciousness. Yes, I experience schadenfreude watching the crumbling of the uberwealthy white guests on WHITE LOTUS. And yes, I recognize (and cringe) that I too, as a privileged white woman, am being skewered. There is a bit of a ‘take your medicine’ zeitgeist to the show, but the characters are so over-the-top horrible that watching them is a like a fan dance, we take our medicine with a spoonful of sugar, for we are never that bad, are we? Or are we? Here are some of the opposites of folk homilies that come from the mouths of the characters:

  • “I really want to get a job,” says the new bride of an incredibly wealthy, entitled jerk. “Now, why would you do that?” asks her mother-in-law, who has shown up on the honeymoon!
  • “It’s vacation,” a teenage son shouts at his mother, a corporate captain who runs a google-esque company and is micromanaging the vacation. “It’s a breakfast buffet in Hawaii. It shouldn’t be a stressful situation!”
  • “Obviously, imperialism was bad,” A father explains to his daughter’s non-white friend. “But it’s humanity. Welcome to history. Welcome to America.” 

White Lotus has an amazing chaos agent in the character of Armand, the manager of the resort, who has not just fallen, but avalanched off-the-wagon, and whose behavior is responsible for delicious plot twists.

If you’ve not taken a peek at either show, grab a swim-up barstool at the White Lotus, and then cleanse your palate with an episode of Ted Lasso. Both are worth your time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

listen:

I’m halfway through listening to KLARA AND THE SUN, by Kazuo Ishiguro and I’m loving it. Set in a dystopian future, where some children are “lifted” or genetically engineered for enhanced academic ability, and where schooling is provided entirely at home by on-screen tutors (covid times?). Thus socialization is extremely limited and parents who are financially able buy their children androids as companions. The book is narrated by Klara, one such Artificial Friend (AF). While Klara is exceptionally empathic and intelligent, her knowledge of the world is of course limited. As I listen, I’m filled with slight dread for what is to come of her. Are AFs cast off, as so many childhood delights?

If you’ve not read Ishiguro’s novel, NEVER LET ME GO, I highly recommend it. Also set in a dystopian future, the novel is about, well I don’t want to say more in fear of spoiling the plot, but the story is beautiful, it’s about love and an uncertain future, the characters human and humane. Disconnection with humanity is a theme in both of the novels.

Also, in case you want a sweet and lovely bit of background music, the jazz singer, Stacey Kent collaborated with Ishiguro on this album, BREAKFAST ON THE MORNING TRAM, for which he wrote the lyrics to a few songs. There is one song entitled, “I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again” in which there is the line, “I want our waiter to give us a reprimand, in a language neither of us understand.” Man, I feel her.

Finally, my TBR stack is topped with my friend, Kate Nason’s memoir, EVERYTHING IS PERFECT. I had the pleasure of hearing excerpts of Kate’s book around my dining room table as she was writing it. Kate has a generous way of looking at the world, unsparing and unblinking, not failing to see beauty and humor in even the most untenable situations. Here’s a bit from the flap copy which describes her book to a tee: “her memoir uncovers the little-known side of a well-known story, unveiling a cautionary tale about the ways we deceive ourselves when we allow ourselves to be deceived by those we love. Nason explores the roles women inhabit throughout their lives, how they carry trauma, and the lengths they’ll go to protect their children and save themselves. Fierce and often funny self-reckoning, a meditation on learning to trust one’s intuition.”

Finally, do you know about Libby? It’s an App that lets you check out audio books from your library. Sign up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

snack:

 

Have you seen this recipe for gazpacho? Well, now that you have, you’ve landed in gazpacho nirvana. Samin Nosrat has something to say about it here. This is the only recipe you’ll need hence forts. Consider it a guideline that you can learn and then toss aside to riff on the theme with your own invention.

For the Gazpacho:

  • 1 small red onion
  • 3 Persian cucumbers, peeled
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed
  • ½ jalapeño pepper, seeded, ribs removed
  • 2 ½ pounds Sungold (or other orange) cherry tomatoes (about 3 to 4 pint baskets or 8 1/2 cups), stemmed
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  •  Kosher or fine sea salt
  •  1-2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar

Cut half the onion, 2 of the cucumbers, 3/4 of the bell pepper and the jalapeño into 1-inch pieces. Place in the bowl of a food processor or blender jar. Add Sungold tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt. Blend at high speed until completely smooth. (If necessary, blend in batches, then stir together.)

Place a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl, and strain soup, using a spatula to help press the liquid through; discard the solids.

Finely dice remaining onion, cucumber and pepper, and add to soup; stir in vinegar. If desired, add water 1 tablespoon at a time to thin out the soup. Taste, and adjust salt and vinegar as needed. Cover, and chill soup for 45 minutes. (Chill 6 soup bowls now too.)

For the Basil Oil:

  • 16 basil leaves
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 ounces Sweet 100 (or other red) cherry tomatoes (about 1/3 pint basket or 1 cup), stemmed and halved
  •  Kosher or sea salt

Finely chop the basil leaves. Place in a small bowl, and cover with the olive oil. Add the halved cherry tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt. Toss to combine, then taste and adjust salt. Set aside.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a tablespoon or so of the basil oil.

 

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Thanks for spending a minute with me. Take good care. If you’ve not yet gotten a vaccine, please chat with smart people to hear all the reasons it’s a good idea. Also, be certain to mask up and protect the kids who aren’t yet old enough for a vaccine.

Stanley does not feel like smiling.

If you need a book, I’ve got all the recommendations from two years of this newsletter at my Bookshop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

watch.listen.snack.

 

 

I * may * have taxed our relationship by writing about turnips and baby books in my last newsletter. What can I say, I overestimated your desire to learn about root vegetables! (I am willing to die on the hill that, when properly prepared, turnips are sublime.)

To make it up to you I have all things hilarious, insightful, danceable, and delicious! Read on for viewing, listening, podcasting, and snacking news below. All good ways to deal with the unprecedented heat we’re experiencing this summer.

watch:

 

It was 116° F here in Portland. Honestly, opening the front door felt like, well, being slammed into a heat wall. Then our AC went out. We hunkered in front of the TV for a binge watch to take our minds off our discomfort. Two fans going, multiple bowls of very buttery popcorn, gin and tonics in sweaty glasses + HACKSthat is how we passed five very pleasant hours.

If you haven’t yet watched HACKS, oh man, I am envious that you get to watch it for the first time! I laughed so hard. The writing is smart, smart, smart. The storyline is moving, relevant to politics and women, aging and the well founded (see the recent climate change related heat dome) existential worries of twenty-somethings. The premise is, an aging comedian (the absolutely fantastic Jean Smart), once the vanguard of women in comedy, is being relegated to the remainders bin. But she refuses to go quietly and is forced to work with a young woman (Hannah Einbinder), a comedy writer, who has gotten into trouble over a tweet. The young woman, Ava, is meant to revitalize and update Deborah Vance’s career. Here’s a snippet of how it begins:

After reading some of Ava’s pitches, Vance says: “They’re not jokes. They’re like thought poems. I had a horrible nightmare that I got a voice-mail.” Vance stares at the joke for a couple of seconds, as if it will make sense to her if she looks at it long enough. Then she turns her gaze back to Ava and squawks: “What?”

Generational conflict gets a lot of laughs, and we also understand that for both women, laughter is what keeps them going in a world that still (looking at you Louis CK) doesn’t make a lot of room for women.

Hey writers, I also want to point out the heavy lifting done by secondary characters in this show. They are, to a person, so wonderful, funny, have their own agendas, and are perfectly cast. Keep this in mind as you people your novels, stories, and memoirs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

listen:

Do not skip the soundtrack to Questlove’s film, SUMMER OF SOUL. If you’re missing summer music festivals, treat yourself to seeing this film in a theater. AC blasting, good music on the screen, and so many beautiful faces! I was deeply moved to witness so much joy. Music that my mom blasted in our apartment when I was a kid lit me up inside and had me dancing in my seat, but it was seeing how much the concert meant to the Harlem community that brought me to tears. The festival, which ran before Woodstock, had been largely forgotten, the concert tapes moldering in a basement. Questlove, of The Roots, worked with hours and hours of music to bring us the film. In a NYTs interview he says:

History saw it fit that every last person that was on that stage now winds up defining a generation. Why isn’t this held in the same light? Why was it that easy to dispose of us? Instead, the cultural zeitgeist that actually ended up being our guide as Black people was “Soul Train.” And so, I’m always going to wonder, “How could this and ‘Soul Train’ have pushed potential creatives further?”

Read about Questlove’s passion project here. The film is both a pleasure and heartbreaking because little has changed for black people in our country. We have so much work to do.

Continuing my love affair with CREATE OUT LOUD, a podcast about the creative life from Jennifer Louden, my pal and a creativity expert, I recently listened to two episodes that entertained and brought insights. The first is with Angeline Boulley, whose book, FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER, is being made into a limited Netflix series by the Obamas. Pretty amazing news for a debut author! Boulley, 55, spent 10 years working on her novel, delving into everything from the intricacies of illegal drugs, (she learned how to cook meth!) to law enforcement, to hockey, to the ways of her own tribe, the Ojibwe people.

An insight from Jen: Once again a guest talks about self-compassion. How many times does that come up? Beating yourself up for what you are not doing, always raising the bar, expecting things from yourself in your creative work that don’t fit in your life, pretending that you can be someone you aren’t in terms of time or energy, is not gonna make it possible for you to create out loud.

Another episode, a conversation with Maggie Shipstead, has spurred me to want to read Shipstead’s work. Particularly ASTONISH ME.

An insight from Jen: Maggie didn’t have an identity of herself as a writer, she didn’t have a set of expectations… identity has to support the fullness of our self and our creative expression. And it needs to be fluid. It is not armor that we put on.  If calling yourself a writer, painter, actor, helps you to take it more seriously, yay. If it becomes a pressure, an oppression… throw it out. Make up a new word. Make yourself a hybrid.

There are many more episodes with all kinds of creatives. If you like nerdy (in the best possible way) conversations about creating… this could be your jam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

snack:

I’ve two tasty snacks for you (still making up for turnipgate). Everyone waxes on about the deliciousness of summer fruits, and or course they’re correct. I’m going to try and balance the scales with two recipes that take advantage of glorious summer vegetables. (I know a tomato is a fruit, okay, you got me!)

First from this recipe from my chef/writer friend, Alison Wonderland Tucker. She has a terrific newsletter you may want to subscribe to for delightful stories and recipes. Here’s the latest recipe which I’ve made three times in two weeks.

COTIJA CORN DIP

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 serrano chili (seeded for less heat or just leave as is for more heat), chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon agave
  • 2 cups corn (I shucked fresh corn right off the cob)
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 3 teaspoons Aleppo chili powder
  • ¾ cup cotija cheese, crumbled
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Full disclosure, when I made this the first time, I didn’t have the recipe handy so I made it up as I went along. I did not cook of any of the ingredients, just made a crudo salsa and it was delicious. I also substituted honey for the agave and Padron peppers (I used 3-4 as they are mild) for the serrano because that is what I had on hand. It was a success! Alison’s version is here. 

  1. Heat the olive oil in a small pot on a medium flame.  Add the chopped garlic, serrano chili, and red onion and sprinkle in the salt.  Add the agave and cook until the onion has softened a bit, about 10 minutes.  Turn the heat up and add the corn.  Saute for 2 minutes until the corn has taken on a bit of color, but before it becomes mushy.
  2. Put the corn mixture into a large bowl and stir in the lime juice, sour cream, mayonnaise, Aleppo pepper, and cotija cheese.  Then stir in the cilantro. Pass the chips!  I made a giant batch, luckily because I mixed the leftovers with shredded cabbage for a terrific slaw. Great taco topping!

Next this salad from the NYTs.  This I’ve made multiple times in the past week.

GRILLED HALLOUMI CHEESE WITH TOMATOES

  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes (any variety), sliced 1/2-inch thick
  •  Kosher salt
  •  Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 (8- to 9-ounce) package halloumi, sliced 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more as needed
  • ¼ teaspoon granulated or Demerara sugar, plus more as needed
  1. Prepare a charcoal grill for two-zone cooking over medium-high heat by pouring the coals onto one half of the grill. For a gas grill, heat all of the burners to high, then turn off one of the end burners before cooking.
  2. While the grill is heating, arrange the tomatoes on a platter, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Drizzle with olive oil. Set aside. Pat halloumi dry and drizzle with olive oil to coat on both sides. Set aside.
  3. In a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and red-pepper flakes, shaking often, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and smash with the side of your knife until cracked. (You can also do this with a mortar and pestle.) Transfer to a small bowl, add the sugar, and rub with your fingers to further crush the seeds.
  4. When you’re ready to grill, take the halloumi, tomatoes, seeds, tongs and a tightly folded paper towel soaked with olive oil to the grill. Clean the grates with a grill brush, then oil the grates with the paper towel. Grill the cheese over the flame, flipping halfway through, until well browned and it releases easily from the grill, 4 to 6 minutes total. (For a gas grill, close the lid between flips, listening and keeping an eye out for flare-ups.) If the cheese sticks to the grates, give it another minute on the heat. Transfer the cheese to the tomatoes, then sprinkle with the seeds. Season to taste with more red-pepper flakes, sugar and olive oil. Pass the pita bread!

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Thanks for spending a minute with me. Stay tuned as I have a fun fall writing project brewing. Something for all of us to do together, to get words on the page.  Meanwhile, relax, swim, read, hike, rest, rejuvinate! Do whatever it is you enjoy and whatever means summer to you.

Also, if you’d like to help support Black Owned Businesses in Portland, check out this link. Nationally, you can check this out.

Stanley is keen on his donut anytime of year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

watch.listen.snack.

 

 

Anybody turn to song lyrics when shit happens in your life? You know, for advice… for someone to commiserate with… just to know your experience is entirely human? Asking for a friend!

I went on a terrific long walk the other day and queued up, “All I Wanna Do,” from Sheryl Crow as the lead song for a playlist on my Spotify. Let me tell you, those lady singers… man did they have good life advice, with plenty of joy. It was like the musical equivalent of CBD gummies! A few random lines that spoke to me:

Everyday is a winding road
All I wanna do is have some fun
But I can’t let go
What it all boils down to, no one’s got it figured out just yet
You’re not alone like you think you are
We all have scars, I know it’s hard
Life is mighty precious when there is less of it to waste
Can I get a witness?
What it all comes down to my friend, is that everything is just fine, fine, fine
thank you, thank you, thank you

watch:

 

We are lapping up Mare Of Easttown at our house. Okay… not that it is stellar, (see I May Destroy You, or, Giri/Haji if you want fantastic and innovative drama) but if you want to be sucked out of your life, and if you want to learn about profluence — how to keep your readers turning the pages of your work — this show is a master class. Every episode reveals just a wee bit more, keeping us curious and pulling us deeper into Mare’s backstory, helping us to understand the meaningful actions characters take. There are stakes. Characters you can root for. Characters that get in their own damn way. Conflict. Remember, bad news for the character is good news for the story. And, some great acting. (Hello, Jean Smart!)  The slow unfolding of the story, week by week rather than a complete drop, is also satisfying. It’s an old fashioned pleasure to have to wait and see. Yes, there are women in peril, dead girls and yellow police tape, as with every crime drama. It is an exhausting truth that women aren’t safe in the world.

(Quick sidebar here: A friend who works for a Silicon Valley company was once on a work retreat on a private island (okay I know, let that go for a minute) she was taking a run by herself and she felt incredibly free, unfettered, light. And then she thought to herself, oh, this is how white men feel most of the time as they move through the world.)

A hilarious side story in the series is Mare’s flirtation with the creative writing teacher at the local college. The dude (Guy Pearce) has written one critically (though not commercially) successful novel, and now he’s relegated to teach in Easttown. The other joy (yes I am this petty) is that Mare’s life is so messed up! If ever you’re having a little pity party about troubles in your life, check what’s going on in Mare’s life. Whew. Talk about a shift of viewpoint from harried to grateful. You’re welcome.

Finally, a show must know they made it when there’s a Saturday Night Life spoof. After you’ve got some episodes under your belt, check out SNL’s sketch here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

listen:

I’m offering up my Listen to the Women playlist.

In addition, here’s a podcast I’ve been enjoying. Create Out Loud, from my pal, Jen Louden. She has some delightful conversations. I particularly loved the chat with Anne Lamott. Anne talks about treating herself with radical self care. What does that look like for her? A walk. Tea. Lying down for a nap with the latest People magazine and her cat. “Eat your heart out,” she says. She also treats herself to:

…a really, really delicious cup of coffee. I’ve moved on to heavy whipping cream… it is so nourishing, and it makes you so happy. The act of me making it is like a good mother making it for me and saying, “Honey, you should have the best…you need to worry about nutrition, psychic nutrition and deliciousness. So, you just sit down and I’m going to make you a cup of coffee that’s about a third heavy whipping cream.”

For some reason, this really struck me. Why shouldn’t I take care of myself the way I would one of my beloved children. When you get to the part about “God with skin on…” be prepared for a laugh, and for an attitude change regarding how we treat ourselves as we stumble and dance through our lives. We get to choose how we show up.

Jen’s episode library is growing. Do yourself a favor, treat yourself like a good mother would, take your creator-self on a walk and give a listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

snack:

I was walking across a parking lot the other day and I overheard a woman say to her friend, “I’m underwhelmed by my omelette experiences.” Uh oh, I thought, me too! I can’t make an omelette. Can you? Sure, I can make a mean scramble. But I’d like to finesse the French omelette with a scattering of fresh herbs. Delicate, sophisticated and comforting. I am imagining my omelette with a small green salad, a piquant vinaigrette, and a crisp glass of white wine alongside, a big linen napkin, carelessly tossed across my lap. Alas, my egg attempts are oafish and filled with too many vegetables.

Enter Bill Buford, and this delightful essay from The New Yorker, plus an accompanying video, in which he says, “it is my pleasure, my thrill, my privilege” to teach you to make a French omelette.

Alison Roman, another cooking fav of mine, has an omelette video here.

And, so does Julia Child!

Now I am in search of an omelette pan. This one looks as if it fills the bill, with a ceramic interior and no toxic chemicals in a non-stick surface. But this too strikes my fancy! In sunny yellow… What do you think? Really! Do you have a pan you love? A technique you’d like to reveal? Shoot me an email.

Meanwhile, to hold me over until I make an omelette, I will enjoy again these sweet little nibbles I made for friends the other day. (Yes, we are entertaining again!)

 

Find yourself ripe apricots with a lovely blush to their skin. Cut them in half, remove pits, and then cut into quarters. Fill the center with a dollop of triple creme cheese, and then add a roasted and salted pistachio.  Not only have we the fabulous texture of creamy cheese, tender flesh of the fruit, and the salty crunch of the nut, the colors are gorgeous! I served with the cheese and crackers alongside, breakfast radishes with flaky salt, and pickled blueberries. It was all quite tasty, served with these pink bubbles from Austria.

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing you warm days and warm hugs (safely). If there is something you adopted during the pandemic (Hello, early bedtime! Hello, quiet nights at home! Hello, drinks only on weekends. Hello, cold splash at the end of a shower) that made your life better, that you’re surprised brought you solace or joy, keep it! Hang on to it, just like Stanley here, refusing to let go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

watch.listen.snack.

 

 

Let’s begin by noticing what we admire.

Those are the words I say at the start of each writers’ workshop, focusing upon what went right rather than wrong in a students’ pages. After years of saying this, I joked the other day that those words should be on my tombstone. Then I thought, why wait? I’d like a t-shirt with that phrase. Pretty good way to move through life. The next thing I say in workshop: let’s shift to questions, considerations, concerns, places where you are curious–always with the intent of making the work better. Again, a pretty good way to travel through the world. Come with the best intentions, be curious and complementary.

watch:

I finally got up the courage to watch, “A Promising Young Woman.” I was nervous that the film, marketed as a thriller/comedy, would upset me. It’s a rape revenge film and as a survivor of sexual assault, I wasn’t sure how much I could take. Let me tell you, I loved it. There is no gore, minimal (though heartbreaking) on screen violence, no sex, no nudity, and for me, supreme satisfaction. Not that all the good guys come out on top, but the film feels like a super hero bio pic. We get the backstory of Cassie, the main character, we understand what “built” her, and thus we get her agenda. It’s like knowing why Batman is Batman, or how the Joker came to be so cruel. Cassie, played beautifully by Carey Mulligan, is like Liam Neeson avenging his dead wife, but smarter and without a gun. She’s avenging her best friend, and let me tell you no one (looking at you Betsy DeVos) gets a free pass for the rape culture in our college system.

And then, should you need an amuse-bouche, check out these two poems for uplift and beauty. Plus a small piece by my (aspirational) pal, George.

Shake the Dust,” by Anis Mojgani, gorgeousness for the late night cereal eaters, the Walmart greeters, the prom queens and school yard wimps, the tired and the dreamers. For all of us. What we need to do right now, shake off the dust.

When the world knocks at your front door
clutch the knob tightly and open on up
and run forward, forward and as far you must
into its widespread greeting arms
with your hands before you
fingertips trembling though they may be 

Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye, which begins, “Before you know what kindness is, you must lose things.”

Importance of Kindness by George Saunders, who speaks of regret, a missed opportunity to be kind. “Sometimes I’d see her hanging around in her front yard as if afraid to leave it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

listen:

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been inundated with words. Last year I spent so much time worrying, so much time trying to stay on top of the dual catastrophes of the pandemic and our then president, constantly bombarding myself with news and numbers.

I need a break. Enough with the talking, talking, talking. Maybe it would be healthy for me to walk without my earbuds. Maybe I’ll hear birds, or the muffled sounds of people enjoying one another’s company. What a relaxing and easeful entree back to the post-pandy world. Maybe my mind will wander, be curious, get in touch with my thoughts rather than those of someone else. If I spend time looking around on my walk, being curious, slowing my brain, maybe, fingers crossed, I’ll be thinking about my creative work. What about you? Any interest in a quiet walk? If you do give it a try, I’d love to hear what comes up.

And, here’s a song I’ve got on repeat: Blessed the Brave by Liz Wright.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

snack:

Three! Yes, that’s how many times I’ve served this salad this week alone! It’s a non-recipe/recipe. I trust you, you’ve got this!

Farro Salad

Into your favorite salad bowl place about 3 cups cooked farro. Now, you could really use any grain, but I love farro for the chewy texture and nutty flavor and because, I’m kinda sick of rice. Add roughly one half cup chopped dill (be generous, I promise this is the money maker of the salad), plus one bunch of asparagusroasted with a giant leek (chopped), olive oil and a little salt.  Cut the asparagus into two inch pieces, about the size of a stubby pencil. Be certain not to overcook the asparagus or the whole thing is ruined. Seriously. I also chopped up a bunch of radishes, added a handful of roasted sunflower seeds. You could add walnuts, fennel bulb, roasted carrots, feta cheese, whatever floats your boat. For the dressing, mince one clove garlic, add about 3 heaping tablespoons greek yogurt, one fourth cup of olive oil and as much lemon juice as you love. You want the dressing to be creamy, so add more yogurt if you desire. Pour onto your salad, give it a stir and serve it up. We had it with fennel rosemary salmon, then we had it with an orange and prune roasted chicken, then we had it with bagels and fruit salad for brunch.

Cannot get enough.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know you know about the suffering in Asian Communities through the pandemic, and the horrifying rise in hate crimes. We all feel heartsick about it, so HERE are some places you can take action. I’m fond of Welcome to Chinatown as well as opportunities to help the victims of attacks.

Wishing you warm days and warm hugs (safely). Change is coming. While we wait, I’ve got an essay about the shoulder season, and the world opening up. Find it HERE. If you need a book, I’ve got all the recommendations from two years of this newsletter at my Bookshop.

Stanley!  Loving/Not Loving the hose!

 

 

 

 

 

watch.listen.snack.

 

 

It’s come to this: I yelled at a car this week. Yes, I was having a bad day. Nothing major (trouble sleeping, the devastation of a missed haircut appointment, difficult work moments) and the car did stop for me to cross the street. I waved my thanks and the driver failed to acknowledge my politesse. So, I yelled, (screamed?) “Hey! Thank You!” shaking my head with great judgment. How could anyone leave a thank you dangling like that?

I’ve been in my home, with my husband, for nearly one year, and yes, I’m glad we love each other and like each other, but I had no idea what eternity meant until now. I guess I’ve hit a covid-wall.

How about you? Maybe the humble offerings below will brighten your day.

watch:

Yes, what you’ve heard about Minari, is true, it is fantastic.  We popped up a giant bowl of popcorn, slicked it with butter, salt and turmeric, then opened a great bottle of red wine, and settled in. We turned off the lights, turned off our phones, made a no talking rule and pretended we were at the movies.

As a quick aside, I’ve been reading George Saunders’s new book on writing, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, (which I am loving by the way) and I applied his teaching to the film. What breadcrumbs were dropped throughout the film? How were they used to propel the story forward? What do I (viewer/reader) wonder about? Do the scenes, one after the other, answer my questions and pose new ones? What did the filmmaker include at the start of the film (the proverbial gun on the wall) that shows up later in a satisfying and surprising way?
I also want to say, sure…we’ve all had a year. But the Yi family’s year? Wow.

Just check out this joyful eye candy, Joana Vasconcelo’s site-specific installation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

listen:

I have music for you! Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, the Four Seasons has been on heavy rotation at our house. There’s something wonderful about slightly defamiliarizing the familiar. I mean, that is sort of what life is right now, no? Everything is weird. Everything is slightly off. Let’s listen to some music we all know, and perhaps draw comfort from with a slightly skewed, gorgeous sound.

Wynton Marsalis has a new piece as well, Democracy Suite. You can hear him speak about it in an interview on PBS Newshour. I love how he musically includes the rhythm, intensity, and percussion of a “Black Lives Matter” chant, yet with no words.

Also, this poem by Lucille Clifton, read by Terrance Hayes, Cutting Greens, has really touched me. I love seeing his fanboy response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

snack:

Watch this, Alison Roman bean homage, then make it! I did and I was so glad. I replaced the greens with broccolini because, broccolini.

The New York Times wrote a one sentence homage to chocolate pudding, “a dessert of great comfort.” When I was a kid, my aunt made the best chocolate pudding. She did things like put sesame seeds in it, so delicious. The comfort-in-pudding zeitgeist, caused me to dig out this gem.

Coffee Custard (from India Joze in Santa Cruz)

8 egg yolks
½ c sugar
2t vanilla
1 c milk
1 c strong coffee
¾ c heavy cream

  • Heat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Scald milk and coffee together, leave to slightly cool
  • Put egg yolks into a bowl. Add sugar and vanilla, beat w/whisk until mixed but not airy.
  • Add heavy cream to scalded milk then add to yolk mixture.
  • Arrange ramekins, or coffee cups in a 9×13 pan and fill cups with custard.
  • Carefully pour hot water into pan, creating a bath for the custard cups—about halfway up the sides.
  • Place in oven and bake till custard is firm, about 30 minutes.
  • Remove custard cups from pan and allow to cool. Place in fridge.
  • Serve with a dollop of whipped cream if you like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing you all ease of mind. Slowly but surely. I know many people are suffering (cold, no power, no food on shelves at the grocery store, water struggles) in Texas. If you have the means, if you are safe and warm, consider donating to help out our fellow citizens.  Stanley donated here: Austin Pets Alive. And I donated here: Austin Area Urban League.

Stanley Pucci has hit a wall too.

 

 

 

 

watch.listen.snack.

 

 

Well, it’s come to this—prune talk. I’ve been working on a story that has some elderly characters moving into assisted living, and believe me, prunes are a big topic. What I know, besides what we all know about prunes, is that I’ve got two really tasty, pruney snacks for you.

It’s true! I promise. Trust me. Read on—

watch:

I’ve become reliant on my plants during the pandy. The greenery, here in the dismal gray winter of Portland, has lifted my spirits. The opportunity to tend to a living thing has been good for my soul. Watering, spritzing, feeding, and yes, talking to my plants, has given shape to the sometimes shapeless days of life indoors. Is it Monday? Is it Thursday? Who knows? But the soil in the Ficus is dry! The snake plant needs some attention.

Imagine my delight when this gem of a mini-documentary fell into my inbox. “Noble Planta,” is charming, a bit slow moving, so maybe play it on your tablet in the kitchen while you prepare dinner. The story of a plant shop in Manhattan, and a marriage, both of which require tending. The husband is a bit woowoo about plants and humans communicating. “Nobody wants to be smacked in the face. We are giving a silent suggestion to the plant and the plant is telling us when the time is right.”
And the wife, well, let’s just say she’s a bit more pragmatic. “B.S.,” she says. “I’m tired.”

In our house, we’re also pretty smitten with “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy.” My only advice, don’t watch when you are hungry.

Finally, PIFF, the Portland International Film Festival is underway. The value add about no in person films? Everyone can access the amazing menu of films to watch in your own home.  Check out the virtual calendar, schedule a watch party from afar with family and friends. Honestly, every year I find some gem that inspires me, makes me laugh, and expands my world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

listen:

I have two jazzy spring playlists for you. Here, and here.

The NYTs recently put out this list of 36 Podcast Personalities Recommend Their Favorite Shows, which appears to be a great trove of suggestions.

I’m going to start with: “Goodbye To All This,” described as an audio memoir by Sophie Townsend, the entire series is a beautifully told journal about family, loss, love and discovering what’s next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

snack:

So, prunes. Hang with me. I know some people (not you) turn up their noses at prunes. Just here to say, I try to have a container of these sweet babies in the fridge at all times.

Prunes Poached in Red Wine.

  • ½ pound pitted prunes
  • 2 cups red wine,
  • ¼ cup mild honey, such as clover -or- 2T sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scraped out
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Put everything in a saucepan on the stove, heat till bubbling and then turn down VERY low. Simmer for 30ish minutes. If the prunes do not remain submerged in liquid, add a bit of water. Let cool. Store in fridge. Your options for serving are now endless:

  • On vanilla ice cream
  • In Greek yogurt
  • Atop this delicious Olive Oil Cake
  • In a dish with a sliver of Roquefort cheese
  • By themselves
  • Alongside a roasted chicken (if this is the plan, maybe go easy on the vanilla)
  • Smeared on a grilled cheese sammie, made with sharp cheddar

I promised two prune recipes. When I was having chemotherapy (I am fine. Nine years out. Hooray!!) I made this, both for iron and for sluggish digestion. I still make it, for us, for family and pals, all the time.

Take about 4 cups of dried fruit. I use pitted prunes, dried cranberries, dried figs, sometimes dates. Always let the prunes do most of the heavy lifting. Place in a pan and cover with one bottle of organic, sugar free, pomegranate or cranberry juice. Add several cinnamon sticks. If the fruit is not submerged, add enough water to cover.  Let simmer on the stove for about 45 minutes, until the fruit softens and absorbs liquid.  Once cool, remove cinnamon sticks and puree in a Cuisinart.  Store in the fridge, and add a spoonful to your yogurt or oatmeal, or, spread on bread along with some almond butter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing you all ease of mind. Slowly but surely. Change is coming. While we wait, why not take a moment to treat yourself to a little something something? Maybe an ice cream bar, maybe a long bath, a glass of bubbles, some Bombas (which really do hug your feet!) or a new top, maybe these fantastic spatulas, or a new saucepan (I know, a splurge. I was given one for the holidays, and I am ridiculously in love). We are in the shoulder season between winter and spring! Vaccines are rolling out. Let’s kick up our heels.

Here’s Stanley, with a chill park vibe for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

need a laugh?

 

Feeling Blue? Anxiety-itchy? Make some popcorn and plop down on the couch for one of these films to ease your mind, or at least give you a diversion.

 

Laugh-riot movies (suggested to me on FB. I have not vetted all of these. Bold titles had multiple mentions):

 

Booksmart
Hot Fuzz
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Isn’t it Romantic
A Fish Called Wanda
Stakeout
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Sisters
(Original) Pink Panther movies
Death of Stalin
21 Jump St.
Throw Mama From the Train
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
What We Do in the Shadows
JoJo Rabbit
City Island
Fleabag (not a film, but season 2? WOW!)
How to be a Latin Lover
Bridesmaids
Private Parts
Trainwreck
Soapdish
9-5
Between Two Ferns
Flirting w/Disaster
(Original) The Producers
South Park Movie (emphatic endorsement)
Team America-World Police
Quick Change
Airplane
Cold Comfort Farm
My Favorite Year
Impromtu
Hot Rod (advised to watch while high!)
Life of Brian
Kentucky Fried Movie
Zoolander
Meet the Parents
Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Singing in the Rain
The Lady Eve
My Cousin Vinny
Little Miss Sunshine
Get Shorty
Happy Face
Yesterday
Safety Not Guaranteed
40 Year Old Virgin
The Proposal
What About Bob
Vacation
Moonstruck
Best in Show
Waiting for Guffman
A Mighty Wind
How to Build a Girl
Almost Famous
Lady Bird

 

Thank you for taking care of yourselves. Thank you for being extra kind to the people you see in the world (from 6 feet apart). There is nothing racist about this virus. Thank you: medical professionals, farmers, grocery store clerks, generous neighbors, sanitation workers and many other kind human beings. I’ll be in touch.

 

 

 

watch.listen.snack.

 

I’m having a bit of a hard go right now. How are you? I cannot tell you exactly how much time I spend cruising the Humane Society, Pixie Project, and other dog rescue websites, but it’s significant, it’s basically like sucking my thumb. I also self-soothe by lying on my floor pretending to do Pilates, drinking tea, scrolling through Instagram, and I’ve developed the habit of taking one tot of booze while I cook dinnertime snacks. Notice I did not say dinner. Reading, writing, and eating have morphed for me, so here are a few things to see you through: watch.listen.snack. (Forgive my rudimentary graphics! I’m flying by the seat of my pants.) read.write.eat will be back in a week!

 

watch:

Remember last week when I suggested War and Peace!  Ha ha. That was a joke on me! If you are doing it, I am so proud of you!

  • We’re having a silly old movie festival:  The Princess Bride, which we watched last night and it is still a joy! Next, my husband’s fav: Groundhog Day, which we will follow with Big.
  • We’ve also made a group movie date for Emma, which our cable company has made available. We’ve reached out to pals and plan to make popcorn (see below!) then all press play at the same time, and yes, we will text each other through the movie! I know, heresy!! Yet we will feel some togetherness.
  • If you don’t know about Better Things I am quite jealous because you have 3½ seasons of smart, funny, and real ahead of you.
  • If you’re limiting your news intake, which I recommend, you may want to follow Katie Couric on Instagram, as she has a solid and quick Covid-19 Update every day.
  • For art, please, please (especially if you have children at home, though not a requirement) follow WendyMac on Instagram as well. Click on her stories to get amazing art classes. I think she deserves a MacArthur Grant for this work she’s doing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

listen:

Podcasts are your friends! Clean out closets, take a bath, trim your bangs (well maybe not). Whatever you need to do, put on a podcast, and take care of yourself while you listen.

Pumping-up your sagging spirits:

Art/Literature/Poetry:

Chitty-chatty:

  • Armchair Expert, I liked conversations with Malcolm Gladwell, Peggy Orenstein, Sanjay Gupta, and Ronan Farrow
  • Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, particularly the Al Franken episode.
  • Longform storytelling: check S-Town, it’ll captivate you.

And for music, we’ve got United We Swing, Best of Jazz at the Lincoln Center, on repeat. And, we’re enjoying Nick Drake as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

snack:

A lot of salami happening at our house! My husband has been putting tiny morsels (to make it last) on top of cheese toast and setting it in the broiler for a few minutes. Salty, crunchy, fatty. It checks all the boxes and goes down quite will with that tot of booze I mentioned earlier.

  • If you must be pseudohealthy, try this from Smitten Kitchen: kale chips crushed over buttered and salted popcorn.
  • Happen to have a pantry full of nuts, this looks delicious!
  •  Wholeheartedly recommend these Spinach Balls with Honey-Mustard Sauce:
  • For something sweet and delicious, I’m loving Chocolate Panini! I know, it’s decadent and slightly weird. If you don’t have access to a grill, you can cook them in a cast iron fry pan. Check out Mark Bittman’s entire website for delicious food, but these panini are easy and satisfying and bring to mind the Italian film I loved when I was in high school, Bread & Chocolate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it for today. Thank you for taking care of yourselves. Thank you for being extra kind to the people you see in the world (from 6 feet apart). There is nothing racist about this virus. Thank you: medical professionals, farmers, grocery store clerks, generous neighbors, sanitation workers and many other kind human beings. I’ll be in touch.

 

 

 

Workshop Guidelines as Relationship Advice

 

I overheard a student of mine mention that my workshop guidelines were very different than any she’d encountered before, in a good way. I got a little puffed up when I heard the comment. I’ve worked hard, read many books, and tried lots of strategies to come up with a workshop protocol that allows the writer to keep moving on her manuscript.  The last thing I ever want is to shut someone down. I imagine in my early days as a workshop attendee I did just that, pointing out faults and speaking with the unbearable pomposity of youth! I’m cringing right now and wish I knew to whom I owe an apology. I’m sorry…
My student went on to say that my workshop guidelines are actually good marital advice! Who knew? i certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but I can see what she meant.

In an effort to contribute to good relationships and workshops, here’s what little I have!

 

Workshop Guidelines

The primary job of workshop is not only to help the writer recognize what may need attention in their pages, but also to describe, appreciate, analyze, and illuminate the pages as accurately, carefully and generously as possible. Reflecting back to the writer what the words on the page seem to say or want to be allows her to understand whether or not the work is conveying her intention. I am of the belief that we learn equally from what we do well and from our failed attempts. And yet, often we cannot tell which is which. Thus careful reading is not only for the writer’s benefit but for the benefit of the entire group. Ideally, the workshop should sharpen one’s ability to read, understand, and explicate any work, including your own.

Appreciate, illuminate, reflect back, be generous! We have to let our partners know that we see them, right? Pay Attention. 

The greatest problem with a fault finding workshop is that it’s discouraging! It reverses the writer’s momentum driving her back upon what has been written rather than forward toward continuing the work or toward development of her essential vision. Bitching and nagging are ultimately barren, in love and in criticism. Partners and manuscripts become hostile resentful, inhibited, fearful and depressed. They slam doors, pout and refuse to talk. Revision is a continuous, incessant, vital part of writing, it is the effort to see and to develop further what’s right about a piece, what is good and successful and engaging. Only finding fault is not necessarily supporting the writers vision.

Focusing on faults (though I get that it’s tempting…I’ve been married 30 years) is discouraging. And, criticism may prop you up for a second, as in feeling a bump of superiority when you’re the one who remembered to buy soap, send your mother-in-law a card, maintain your boundaries, but it won’t last and it won’t build anything. You want to support what you love about your partner, and hold yourself up to the spirit of revision as well.  

Read your colleague’s manuscript through twice. (I recognize that few of us will do this…it’s about hours in the day, but if you have time, please do. You will be amazed at what you notice and you will learn so much about writing.) The first time, do so with the intention of absorbing the story. Read slowly and carefully. The second time, read through with pencil in hand to make notations in the margins. underline or draw circles around what is working, what sparkles, is memorable, evocative, effective or fun, vivid, rich in sensory details, language that says the right thing in the right way. Explain in the margins why you liked what you’ve marked. Be celebratory and generous and true. Believe in the best of the story.

Celebrate what’s working. (Thank you for bringing me coffee in bed! Thanks for going to that obscure French film you probably would never choose on your own! Thanks for reminding me to laugh and let it go…) Give compliments. Be generous. Believe in the best in your partner. 

Put question marks in the margins where things aren’t going well, where you get lost, bored or confused, where the writing seems too shallow or oblique. Add a brief statement about what wasn’t working, why you were confused. These places that are sticky, stuck, or not working are often growth edges. It may be blurry but there may be good energy as well. Troubles are doorways. Ask questions in the margins.

Make your complaints brief and clear. Troubles are doorways to better understanding your partner, yourself, and your relationship.

Do not worry about grammar mishaps, misspellings, etc… This is rough draft material.

I know this one is abundantly clear! Is it worth it to complain about the way your partner slices the apple? Makes, or doesn’t make, the bed? Chews gum? You may not change them, ever. So you’ll have to learn to live with this rough draft material. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

It takes far greater maturity to notice the words that shimmer, far greater generosity and vulnerability to admit when you’ve been touched. When reading someone’s work: REVEAL rather than revile. ILLUMINATE rather than deride and dismiss.

Let your partner know when they shimmer. Reveal what upsets you, discuss, listen to what upsets them. Be curious not cursory.

Finally, what are some questions or concerns you have at this point?  Based on a question or concern, offer one suggestion for revision. Give your comments to the writer.

Don’t overwhelm your partner with suggestions for revision! Maybe ask of them one thing that you’d like to be different.

Workshop Protocol

  • Select a time keeper
  • Writer reads a short passage from their story/essay
  • Writer remains silent
  • Responders discuss the work, beginning with a description
  • We begin with positive comments. Let them run dry
  • Shift to questions about the work. Of course positive comments will continue to come forth as we discuss what is and is not working.
  • Understand that as we continue to talk about the work, our own opinions may shift, grow and change. That is the alchemy of worshop.
  • Ask the writer if they want ideas in the vein of “Maybe this will work…”
  • After an allotted time, the timekeeper gives the 5 minute warning and writer gets to redirect discussion if s/he has a pressing question about their work

P.S.  Notes to Self During WorkshopOr argument w/partner

  • Strive for a personal balance between listening & talking. (Quiet people, this is your chance to shine. Surprise us with your wisdom and insight. Talkers, this is your chance to listen.)
  • Respond to one another.
  • Show compassion to one another.
  • Be helpfully critical.