I’m just back from my hometown and a visit with my 82-year-old mother.
She’s experiencing some slippage and convincing her to accept support around her home creates (ahem) strife and worry. I want her to be more secure, to have a bit of company, but my mother is a hard NO. As a friend told me, my mother knows what she wants, and everyone has the right to folly.The push and pull has got me wondering why we have a hard time accepting help. Perhaps we don’t want to be burdensome. Perhaps we’re embarrassed to admit we can’t do it on our own. We’ve internalized the Horatio Alger myth that we should all bootstrap ourselves into doing just-fine-thank-you. It’s as if pride and shame and capitalism have clogged our capacity to receive. Self-sufficiency bests mutual aid.
But doesn’t needing help make us human? By asking for a hand don’t we set the example that it’s okay to be vulnerable? With every casserole, basket of clean laundry, and watered garden, with every gesture of kindness that we accept, we allow the pleasure of caring for one another to flourish. Don’t we all ultimately wish to be overlong in our gratitude?
I’ve just finished CJ Hauser’s, THE CRANE WIFE, a memoir in essays. Oh my, what a gorgeous book! Honestly, I felt so bereft after I finished I began to read it again. I want to buy 10 copies to give away to the people I love. I may choose the book as the community read for my writing retreat this autumn. Not only do I love the way she writes—with clarity, compassion, and curiosity—but I adore her voice, her nimble mind. She is frank. She is funny. She is gifted with a capacious heart. I wish I found myself beside her on a long-haul flight and she felt like chatting with her adoring seatmate, me!
In one essay, “Siberian Watermelon,” she talks about why readers don’t find many happy short stories, she notices how boring a happy love story is on the page. “What’s there to tell?” she asks. And then she talks about her father.
Who always loved me in ways I felt and knew and could rely on. And if that doesn’t sound radical to you? Doesn’t seem worth writing about? You’re wrong. To have a person, any person in this life who offers you that kind of love, is a goddamned miracle. It’s more than most of us get. I’ve decided that this is also a kind of love story. Maybe the best that a person can hope for.
Thank you, CJ Hauser!
Please do take a moment to read this beautiful essay, Cancer and Motherhood, by my friend and student, Elyse Chambers. In it she writes about motherhood, cancer, and abortion access. I wish we’d all tell our abortion stories. Not just the ones that deal with health crises or violence, but the stories about seeking an abortion because we just got accepted to grad school, we don’t want to be a single mom, or we made a mistake, or we want to go to the arctic. Women should have the right choose their own adventure. Why do I even have to type that?
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.
I’ve got some prompts for you:
- The Mortician’s Delightful Giggle: Write a very short story that is a secret love letter to an old flame or a movie star. To ensure it doesn’t turn overly precious, use one or more of these words: vermin, mortician, cottage cheese, disposal.
- Remember a swimsuit that you loved. One in which you felt comfortable, so comfortable that if someone broke up with you while you were wearing said swimsuit, you’d still feel badass! Start a story or a memoir piece with, “I was wearing my bikini the day…” For inspiration check out John Updike’s story, A&P
- Write about a time you refused help. Write about a time someone refused your help.
Under the heading of VERY exciting news, I’ll be teaching in Collioure, France in June of 2023! My smart and delightful friend, Karen Karbo, runs retreats in her adopted home in the South of France. COME TO YOUR SENSES promises to be a week of generative writing, new friendships, and rejuvenation. Come to France!
For more opportunities to work together, check the updated TEACHING page.
It’s so flipping hot in Portland. I’m offering you a simple recipe that requires neither heat nor stirring.
Fresh Fig, Tomato and Blue Cheese Salad
- 1 T balsamic vinegar
- ¼ t fine sea salt
- ¼ c extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 T pine nuts or Marcona almonds, chopped
- 1 lg or 2 sm ripe tomatoes, about 8 ounces, thinly sliced
- ½ lb fresh figs, cut into quarters
- 1 oz crumbled blue cheese, like Rogue River Blue
- Black pepper
- A couple tablespoons of chopped herbs (parsley? thyme? mint? chives? All 4?)
- In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar and salt. Whisk in oil.
- If you’re using pine nuts place a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast pine nuts, shaking the pan occasionally, until light golden, about 2 minutes. Be keen eyed or they will burn.
- Arrange tomato slices on a large plate. Scatter fig quarters and nuts of choice over tomatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and herbs, drizzle with dressing and finish with pepper.
- Please feel free to change up the ratio! Use as much damn cheese as you like!
A little program note: I’ve been writing and sharing what I love for nearly 3 years! I love it and many of you write to let me know how much you enjoy my thoughts and recommendations, and for that I am truly grateful. Honestly, it makes my day to hear from readers. Also, it takes time and consideration to put my thoughts together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to show appreciation buy clicking below:
Which brings me to Joni Mitchell. Did you see this clip of her surprise performance at the Newport Folk Festival? Joni in her jaunty beret! Belting out her songs! What slayed me was that everyone on stage—supporting her, reveling in her joy—was seated. I assume because of her age and the aneurysm she suffered in 2015, Joni can’t stand for too long. Every musician sat with Joni, beside Joni. That was beautiful. That was caring. That was love.
Stanley and his pal Millie are a mutual aid society for dropped morsels of food!