die of the past or become an artist

How’s January treating you? It’s pretty dreary here in Portland. Aside from a little karaoke joy on my birthday, I’ve got my scarf wrapped tight around my neck, my head is down, and I’m bucking the wind. Here’s what I’ve got for you.


I know I’ve spoken about audiobooks and rereading books you love, well, I’ve outdone myself. I love, I lerve, I’m so smitten with Deborah Levy‘s book, The Cost of Living, that I listened to the audiobook, then immediately I listened again, went out and bought the book, read it through and underlined…well an embarrassing number of paragraphs. I have a girl-crush on this book. It speaks to me as a writer, as a women, a mother and a daughter.
Levy’s memoir focuses not upon her entire life, but on a specific period of time in her life, when she was surviving the break-up of her twenty + year marriage, establishing a new home for herself and her daughters, stepping into the harness of single motherhood, and enduring the death of her own mother. In other words, she was in the midst of living–yes, through a transitional and particularly grueling time. Life is like that, foisting change upon our days. I’m so grateful that we get to go along with Levy. She says:

 I became physically strong at fifty, just as my bones were supposed to be losing their strength. I had energy because I had no choice but to have energy. I had to write to support my children and I had to do all the heavy lifting. Freedom is never free. Anyone who has struggled to be free knows how much it costs. 

We either die of the past or we become an artist.


I wait. And wait. And wait. It’s so hard to spend years writing a book, only to languish for months, perpetually checking email. Will the outside world deem your work worthwhile? I’ve distracted myself with travel, with family celebrations during the holidays, I helped my mother celebrate her eightieth birthday, had my own birthday, and took a writing hiatus. Now chilly, dreary January has me in a steel trap and I was about to chew off my own leg (ew). Last week I started writing something and am now in the blush of new love, working on a memoir (inspired by Deborah Levy to be sure) and also by messing around with a few prompts. Check these out and see if they take you somewhere interesting.

Three quick prompts:

1. Write three 250 word pieces from your childhood–each from a different age range: 0-6, 7-12, 13-18. Choose a moment attached to a disquieting emotion and describe that moment with as much sensory information as much as possible.

2. Write a 500 word scene in which you came to an understanding that continues to be important to you today. Be sure to include setting (time/place), believable characters, dialogue, a symbolic object (your sister’s tap shoes? Your mother’s hairbrush? The dog’s bed?) or action, and a shift, a change in the situation, a noticeable arc.

3. In 500 words tell a story your family tells about itself. Share family lore.

Of course these three prompts ask you to plumb your personal life, but there is nothing to stop you from giving the results to a character in your story or novel. Perhaps you’ll come up with some flash fiction?  Have fun. Commit to time at your desk. Try to enforce the rule of prompts: No judgment. No attachment to outcome.

Need a great, comfy as an old sweater, book on writing memoir? Try out, Thinking About Memoir, by Abigail Thomas. And while you’re at it, snap up all her books, she’s a gem.


All hail Alison Roman! Do you follow her recipes at NYTs cooking? Do you follow her on Instagram? She has two terrific cookbooks, Dining In, and her latest, Nothing Fancy. I received the second one as a birthday gift and I am all in. Reading her recipes feels as if you’re talking to a good friend about how to eat, how to cook, and how to entertain. The premise of Nothing Fancy is that we all should chill, forget fussy dinner parties, and just have friends over. Her zeitgeist is basically this: making an unfussy meal for friends is an excellent way to say I love you. Right?
I’m planning on having people over. I’m planning on cooking my way through the book. Last night, okay, it was a Monday so I didn’t have guests, but I made her Celery and Fennel with Walnuts and Blue Cheese and I wish I tripled it. So crunchy, easy, lemony and delicious. It’s the perfect antidote for winter. I’m typing it out here because I love you.

½ c toasted walnuts
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
4 celery stalks, with leaves, thinly sliced on an angle
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
½ small shallot, thinly sliced
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice (Meyer if possible) plus more as needed
¼ c good olive oil, plus more as needed for drizzling
1½ ounces blue cheese, perhaps a mild stilton, crumbled

1. Toss walnuts w/a bit of olive oil so they are nicely coated, season w/salt and pepper and set aside.

2. toss celery stalks (save leaves for garnish), fennel, shallot, and lemon juice in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and season w/enough additional lemon to make very tangy.

3. Transfer to a large serving platter and top with walnuts, cheese, celery leaves and another drizzle of olive oil, plus plenty of pepper.

Do yourself a favor, head over to her website and check out her posted recipes. Crab toast w/yogurtSpring Vegetable Risotto w/Poached eggs (yes, spring will come!), or how about Banana Chocolate Chip Cake w/Peanut Butter Frosting? Her food is fun, not fussy. I don’t know, ‘fun not fussy’ seems like a good resolution.