On a day when the weather app showed no rain, we quick-fast drove to the Columbia River Gorge for a hike. This is what we call sunny in February in Portland. It hailed!
Here’s what else I’ve got for you.
I am so loving Ann Napolitano’s DEAR EDWARD. She’s a beautiful writer who imagines the inner life of a teenage boy, the sole survivor of an airplane crash in which he loses his entire family, as he tries to remake his life. The novel toggles between Edward’s life post-crash, and the events on the morning of the crash—boarding the plane, taking seats, the inner lives of many passengers, the flight attendant’s excellent maneuverings, what the passengers are leaving behind and hurtling toward. It is a lovely examination of our humanity, and what an engine drives this book! For even though we know the plane is going down, we’re compelled to turn pages and find out how everyone deals on their way out. I mean, isn’t that one of the major questions we live with? What amazing hopeful and brave creatures we humans are, knowing we’re going to die and yet getting up and often being happy as we face a day that brings us closer to the end! We’re amazing!
I’m also reading Don Waters’ THESE BOYS AND THEIR FATHERS. It’s an open hearted memoir of seeking. How do we form our identities independent of our birth families? Where do we find a reflection when our caregivers abandon and/or fail us? The book, with gorgeous sentences and heartbreaking honesty, blends memoir, fiction, and reportage to tell a story of discovery, masculinity and fatherhood.
In my memoir writing class we’ve been talking about shame. The conversation started with a quote from Jonathan Franzen in Best American Essays, 2016.
“My main criterion in selecting this year’s essays was whether an author had taken a risk…the risk I feel most grateful to a writer for taking: shame.”
When I read this the first time I had an OUCH jolt! Franzen goes on:
“As Arthur Miller once said, “The best work that anybody ever writes is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.””
Miller calmed me down. Shame is such a loaded word. Where do you go if you feel shame, which isn’t rooted in empathy, it is not “I did a bad thing” it is “I am bad.” There’s no room for change. Guilt on the other hand is relational, one feels bad for how they made someone else feel, and that seems adaptive. (Thank you, Brene Brown!) Guilt holds up our regretful actions against who we hope to be. Doesn’t that sound like fodder for a good story?
In our writing we have to run straight into the hard things, moments we’d rather not talk about. Sugarcoating characters (and if you’re writing memoir, please know that you must see yourself as a character), denying them of dark thoughts and actions, robs them of their humanity. By showing, through scenic action, bad choices and behaviors, our own or those of our fictional characters, we let readers know that the world has room for their screw ups. And that my friends, is art.
Try this prompt if you dare! (adapted from Claire Dederer)
1. Write a list of 3 truths about yourself you’d rather not share. Secrets that make you inwardly cringe. Pick one that interests you.
2. Write about it for 7 minutes, as you would have in a diary with a little key that you hid between your mattress and box spring when you were in middle school. That’s to say, wallow and whine!
4. Make a list of times in your life when you wrestled with your secret. Pick one that interests you.
5. Write the scene! Be certain to include a specific time and place, characters, and sensory details.
I’m feeling a little bad about the brownies from the last newsletter. Don’t get me wrong, they’re delicious, but I’d like to contribute to your health.
And so, tofu! (Don’t run away!) Ma-Po Tofu (adapted from NYTs cooking), simmered with a soupçon of pork is so good and so easy. Make it. Serve it in a bowl with some steamed rice and tuck in while you binge watch THE MORNING SHOW, which is not hard hitting, but easy to enjoy.
1 T peanut or other oil, plus more to coat veggies before you roast
1 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger
¼ t crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
¼ to ½ pound ground pork (optional)
1½ cups sliced shitake mushrooms (optional)
1 bunch broccolini (optional)
½ cup chopped scallions, green part only
½ cup stock or water
1 pound soft or silken tofu, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt to taste
Minced cilantro for garnish, optional
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss mushrooms with a bit of oil, salt and pepper them, and put them on a sheet pan lined with parchment.
- Wash and trim broccolini. Cut into down the length of each piece, creating similar size sections. Toss with a bit of oil, salt and pepper.
- Roast the vegetables in hot oven. Mushrooms for about 15 to 20 minutes, until they begin to brown. Broccolini for about 6 minutes until al dente. Remove and set aside.
- Meanwhile, put oil in a deep 10-inch skillet or wok, and turn heat to medium-high. A minute later, add garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes, and cook just until they begin to sizzle, less than a minute. Add pork, and stir to break it up; cook, stirring occasionally, until it loses most of its pink color.
- Add scallions, mushrooms and broccolini and stir; add stock. Cook for a minute or so, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon if necessary to loosen any stuck bits of meat, then add tofu. Cook, stirring once or twice, until tofu is heated through, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the soy sauce; taste, and add salt and red pepper flakes as necessary. Garnish with cilantro if you like, and serve over rice.