when I play the accordion everybody dances

I wanted to give you a tiny gift. I don’t know about you, but I’m in need of distractions right about now. I’m keeping my chitchat to a minimum and sending along diversions from news of the world. I’m writing this on Sunday night and have no idea how things will turn out on Tuesday. Some of us are guaranteed to be unhappy.

Maybe this little list will offer you some uplift. And, this little sidewalk collage. Gosh, I sure hope so.

 

 


read

THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT, by Maggie O’Farrell is all things wonderful. If you want to be transported to another time and place, Italy in 1561, if you enjoy vivid and intense feelings, being consumed by an intricate and propulsive plot, this is the novel for you. The gorgeous Arno river, Italian light on the landscape and architecture, white mules with incredibly long manes, forests and fen, loneliness and love, pageantry and barbaric actions, it’s all here. Honestly, I couldn’t put this novel down. And, if you’ve not read O’Farrell’s novel HAMNET, I envy you! It is beautiful, gripping, and one of the best depictions of grief I’ve ever read. I am putting her memoir, I AM, I AM, I AM: SEVENTEEN BRUSHES WITH DEATH, on my TBR list.

TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, by Gabrielle Zevin, is (thus far, I’m halfway through) equally as compelling and equally other worldly. Set in the 1990s in Boston and LA, spanning thirty years, the novel is about friendship, physical suffering, betrayals in love and life, and (hello?) gaming. I am a n00b and know as much about gaming as I do about phlebotomy! And I love learning about new things. The main characters, Sam and Sadie, are best friends, colleagues and collaborators in a wildly successful video game called, “Ichigo.” The novel does a beautiful job depicting creative passion. How lucky these two are to be so driven! And, because this is fiction, because we need tension, something nefarious is on the horizon. I can’t wait to survive whatever it is with them.

ALIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, by Saeed Jones, is bold and ruthless and hilarious. I was lucky to see Saeed Jones on a panel last weekend at the Portland Book Festival. He said many wise and funny things. He, or maybe the moderator of his panel, said of his poems, “they bring catastrophic laughter,” and “the book has its own anxiety medication prescription.” This is how he left us, “This is real. This is bad. But get the fuck up. Not everyone has the luxury to lie around.” If you’ve not read his memoir, HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES, I hope you’ll check it out. In it Jones tells us, “The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.'”

 

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.

 



write

Along with Saeed Jones I was lucky to hear George Saunders (LIBERATION DAY)  and Jess Walters (THE ANGEL OF ROME) speak about short stories at the Portland Book Festival. They were smart, funny and a balm to my worried self. Here are a couple of lovely quotes that may see you through the week. (I was writing as fast as I could, so I may have mixed up a word here or there, but the intention is true.)

On tone, or modus operandi:

  • GS: “I write from a place of good-natured pluckiness.”  
  • JW: “I write from a place of wistful hopefulness.” 
  • GS: “To work out of affection is better than working out of agitation.”
  • GS: “I don’t get to be who I want to be; I have to be who I am. I want to be Bach, but when I pick up the accordion, everybody dances.” 

 On revision: 

  • GS: “I have faith that if I apply my subconscious to it over and over I will spit something out of value.” 

 On putting together a short story collection: 

  • JW: “I have to decide if it’s a yard sale or a concept album.”

 During these difficult times I feel:

  • GS: “Responsibility of connecting with readers is more essential post-pandemic. The world is falling apart and yet…there is Chekov. Literature is not a fading sideshow. A reader and writer meet over a made object, a book. If they keep asking, what is true? What is true? If they can land there (at truth) that is beautiful.” 
  • JW: “Reading literature, getting past systemic issues and seeing what it is to be human, lonely, misunderstood, unable to connect with people…when I read of loneliness it always strikes me as true. Social Media hasn’t helped us.(This line got a HUGE sardonic laugh!) Lonely is how many of us feel.…communion between reader and writer is highlighted and I feel more grateful than ever for my readers.” 

 

 



eat

Sweet and salty things are comforting, yes? Here is my favorite comfort snack that doesn’t have to choose one or the other, it embraces both! Kinda like this (but better)!
  • Buy yourself a beautiful loaf of bread. Something hearty, mixed grain, chewy, and sour.
  • Cut a giant slice… really, just cut a slab.
  • Toast it to your specifications.
  • Slather with delicious butter, the best you can find and don’t be meagerI like this.
  • Spread with honey. This is my favorite brand
  • Sprinkle with flaky salt. I like this brand.In fact, I like this salt so much, I travel with it.
  • Repeat as often as necessary.
If you just want to order in ice cream, try Jeni’s. I sent it to family members that were sick with covid and I do believe it was a hit.

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:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

Thank Goodness for Stanley!
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

right now I feel I don’t suck

When asked about a takeaway from my writing retreat, a participant bravely stated (with a slight break in her voice), “Right now I feel I don’t suck!” 

Sheesh, did that make my heart expand 3xs! That my work could contribute to this acceptance, this belief… Wow, am I grateful. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about it, because, come on, don’t we all sometimes feel we suck? Recently I taught a class that sucked. It was on endings, and try as I might to be helpful, to give advice, to share wonderful examples that I found successful, I could not connect. The more I yakked on about what works at the end of a novel or story–resolution, shapeliness, truth revealed, expectations subverted–the more I sucked! Everyone left the zoom room exhausted.Aren’t we all just beat when we fail? We keep straining and trying and sometimes it just doesn’t hit. I have neither an answer, nor a proposal to make things different. I’m not here to solve, just to normalize. Sometimes we suck. That has to be okay. Sometimes we find a community or a pal that says, you are wonderful as is! I believe in you! And then we feel we don’t suck. Maybe, can we befriend ourselves and be okay with the gaff? I wish you many, many suck-free moments.

 

 


read

Anyone in a book group? Anyone actually talk more about the books than drink wine and share about their lives? (BTW, I have no ill feelings about drinking wine and sharing about one’s life.)

Currently I’m leading a book discussion group about Deborah Levy’s Living Autobiography series. Y’all, I love being in a room, zoom or otherwise, with people who want to share joy, frustration, curiosity, about their reading life. Now that winter rain is lurking, I’m looking for book group advice. Drop me a line if you have a moment. I’d love to hear what makes your book group zing, what books have spurred fantastic conversations?

I’m reading Celeste Ng’s newest novel, OUR MISSING HEARTS, which is frightening. Set in what seems to be now, it’s about living in a police state where anti-Asian hate crimes flourish, book banning is expected, and children are re-homed. (Another book that explores a totalitarian police state is Philip Roth’s, THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, with perhaps one of the most sorrowful scenes of a child eating cereal that I’ve ever read and will never forget.)

The main character in Ng’s novel is twelve-year-old Bird, touching and naïve as he goes off in search of his poet mother who has left him behind with his father. The novel explores motherhood and responsibility. Is it a mother’s job to secure safety for children just within the walls of home, or must we go into the world to try to secure safety for all children? How much can we do? I’m just halfway into the novel and I’m wrapped up in the story.

 

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.

 



write

At the recent retreat.write.energize., a participant (did I mention she’s terrific?) who’d just finished up a long project asked, “How do you start something new? Do you have any advice for how to jump in?” I wanted to offer something meaningful and truthful. My first thought, “How should I know?” Once we got past the usual list of characters, desires, obstacles, setting, tension, I quietly sat for a moment longer and then added, “You’ve got to love your characters.”

Hold up, before you get excited, note I didn’t say your characters have to be loveable, I said you must love your characters. And by love, I mean you must believe in their f*cked-up humanity. You must be curious about them, make them multi-dimensional. The world is a very interesting place. Life is interesting. If you don’t love your characters enough to let them be bad actors, to recognize shreds of your own vanity, pettiness, and selfishness in them, and to love them anyway, I think you’ll have a hard time sustaining the long haul of writing a book. You must be accepting of the contradictions in people. The difficulties or weird things about people, the things that make them unhappy or unkind, the things that paralyze them, those are the things that make them stellar characters, not problems to be solved.

Extrapolating from that position…if we are able to love our characters, if we are agreeable with Charles Baxter’s assessment that, “Characters are under no obligation to be good, they just have to be interesting,” then perhaps we will find ourselves a little (a tiny bit?) more tolerant of one another in the world. We’re flexing our muscles of understanding and insight and we’re remaining curious.

 



eat

My poor husband is looking ahead to a bleak winter of joint replacement surgeries. We are going to be housebound for a good bit of time and won’t be traveling to be with family for Thanksgiving. Which is sad, sad, sad. In an effort to make things fun and interesting, I’m tossing out the traditional Thanksgiving feast because, well imperialism and historical misrepresentation…

On Instagram last year I read about someone who celebrates Hanksgiving and that’s what we’re going to do. This person, I wish I could remember who, makes an enormous Indian Feast and binges Tom Hanks movies with her family. I’m kind of excited! I’m hoping for a super rainy, super cozy day. I’m thinking about butter turkey, dahl, winter squash korma, sag paneer, basmati rice, and yes, okay, pumpkin pie.

Here’s the BUTTER CHICKEN recipe I will morph into Butter Turkey:

MARINADE

  • ½c whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1t fenugreek seeds (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1T finely grated ginger
  • 2t kosher salt
  • 2lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (As mentioned above, I’m going to swap out for turkey)

SAUCE 

  • ½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 5 green cardamom pods
  • 1 whole clove
  • 2 t fenugreek seeds (optional)
  • 2 med onions, sliced
  • 2 serrano chiles, split lengthwise
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 T finely grated ginger
  • 1 T garam masala
  • 1 t paprika
  • ½ t ground turmeric
  • 2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • ½ c heavy cream
  • Chopped cilantro, steamed basmati rice, and naan (for serving)

MARINADE

Whisk yogurt, garlic, fenugreek, if using, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 3.

SAUCE AND ASSEMBLY

Step 1
Melt 4 Tbsp. butter in a large wide pot over medium heat. Cook cinnamon, cardamom pods, clove, and fenugreek seeds, if using, stirring, until slightly darker and fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Add onion and chiles, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden and beginning to caramelize, 8–10 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until very fragrant and ginger starts to turn golden and sticks to bottom of pot, 2–3 minutes. Add garam masala, paprika, and turmeric and cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, breaking up into pieces with a spoon, and cook until brick red and most of the liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute. Using a potato masher or large spoon, smash tomatoes and continue to simmer, uncovered, until sauce is the consistency of a thick ragù, 40–50 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick (leave other whole spices).

Step 2
Transfer mixture to a blender and purée until smooth. Cut remaining 4 Tbsp. butter into pieces. Add butter and cream to blender and purée until creamy; season with salt. Return sauce to pot and bring to a simmer.

Step 3
Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Arrange chicken in a single layer on a wire rack set inside a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Broil until chicken starts to brown in spots (it will not be cooked through), 7–8 minutes per side. When cool enough to handle, cut into ¾” pieces. Add chicken to simmering sauce, cover, and cook until chicken is cooked through, 8–10 minutes.

Step 4
Top chicken and sauce with cilantro. Serve with rice and naan alongside.

Do Ahead: Butter chicken can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool; cover and chill.

And, if you have a favorite Tom Hanks movie we shouldn’t miss, drop me a line, I’m queueing up the viewing list.

**********

 

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:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

Just back from a visit to California to see friends and family, I’m short on Stanley photos. In lieu, and in honor of Halloween, here is a zombie baby living their best undead-life!
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

come sit at my table

It’s been a whirlwind here! I’m packing up, planning, scheduling, cooking, preparing for the first  retreat.write.energize. Like the ten amazing women joining me on the Oregon Coast, I’m a little nervous and a lot delighted to be spending a week with people for whom writing their stories is a calling, as it is for Annie Ernaux, our newest Nobel Laureate (one of only seventeen women to be lauded by the committee).

One of the many pleasures I’ve had in preparing for the retreat is in re-reading THE CRANE WIFE, by CJ Hauser, our retreat book, which I’ve already recommended to you in this newsletter. This time through, I am noticing friendships which stand out as if in neon. Her friends show-up, in joyful times, through sorrowful break-ups, when she must spread her grandparents’ ashes, when covid lockdown makes traveling home impossible. She has new friends, old friends, friends whom she has harmed and now seeks to repair. It’s a beautiful swath of connection, and it is making me aware of how I want to be in the world, what I want to emphasize. I want to be the friend who, if you find yourself suddenly in my town, I say “Your room is ready! Come sit at my table. You mean so much to me.” The NYT’s recently had an article about exactly this, making and keeping friends. The article says (I doubt lightbulbs will go off here, but):

…the quality people most appreciate in a friend is ego support, which is basically someone who makes them feel like they matter. The more you can show people that you like and value them, the better. 

The world is a tough room these days, friends and family are what will see us through.

 


read

I’ve been deep into student and editorial manuscripts these days. On the other side of my retreat, along with exploring Annie Ernaux’s books, I have a deep TBR list!

THE MOST HUMAN HUMAN, What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Human, by Brian Christian. This book is totally out of my wheelhouse, and yet, CJ Hauser mentioned it in her book, and Krista Tippet recently mentioned it in her newsletter, The Pause:

The book begins with a loaded provocation regarding artificial intelligence: maybe it’s not so much that machines are encroaching on the distinct qualities we humans possess, but that, perhaps, we’ve been receding in our own humanity.

THE WONDER SPOT, by Melissa Bank. I’ve never read this collection by a writer who inspired me so much as a young woman. It was the follow up to her collection THE GIRLS GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING, which I adored. I can’t wait to crack this one open.

REFUSE TO BE DONE, by Matt Bell. I learn so much from Bell’s newsletter, Writing Exercises how could I pass up his craft book?

Humor me with two more by favorite writers of mine:

THE HERO OF THIS BOOK, by Elizabeth McCracken. She is inventive, sly, and a writer of gorgeous sentences.

LUCY BY THE SEA, by Elizabeth Strout. She simply writes the best interiority of anyone. Plain and simple.

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.

 



write

I was all set to write a rant here, in which I excoriated editors and agents (not all editors and agents) but those who don’t respond to writers. As I mentioned, the world is a tough room. We writers are making fools of ourselves in public every day, trying to show our insides on the outside with what we hope is meaningful and beautiful writing. Of course we won’t be everyone’s flavor, of course we will get it wrong. Please don’t leave us hanging. But I’m not going to write that rant. 

Instead I have a prompt. This sentence is from Joan Didion’s 1967 essay “Goodbye to All That.” 

When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already, even in the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever sung and all the stories I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never quite be the same again.

I challenge you to use this sentence as scaffolding, as a flying buttress.

 

 

Write a serpentine sentence that reveals place, time, and character with as much verve as Didion does here. Invoke the senses. Send me your sentences! I’d love to read.

You can also try the Seven-Minute Sentence, a nifty prompt I’ve adapted from Janet Fitch:

When you feel dull and stymied in your work, try writing a serpentine sentence. Imagine a depleted helium balloon and the game of keeping the balloon aloft. That is your job with this long sentence. Replace periods w/commas, use connective words that keep a sentence going (where, but, while, and, too, except, until, then, surely, yes, anyway, maybe, still, so…etc…) Also, use lists! They are a great way to extend a sentence. Maybe write a list of the things your character would never do? Day drink? Wear pajamas to work? Eat steak tartar? Start your sentence with a dependent clause, for example:

Ever since she got home…
Across the room..
They walked out the front door…
When he first saw…

Now, set a timer and write.
 



eat

I love Pasta alla Norma. I mean, eggplant, cheese, tomato sauce, and pasta? What’s not to love. Thus I’m all in for making this, which I also found in the NYTs cooking App.

Eggplant Parmesan Pasta

  • ½ c extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ c panko bread crumbs
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • ½ c finely chopped yellow onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1½ lbs eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (8 cups)
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes, crushed with your hands in a bowl
  • basil sprig, plus ⅓ c chopped basil leaves
  • ¼ t dried oregano
  • 1 lb short pasta, such as rigatoni, fusilli or shells
  • 2 T freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced and at room temperature

Step 1
In a high-sided large skillet with a lid, heat 2 T of oil over medium. Add panko, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden and crispy, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.

Step 2
Wipe out the skillet and heat 2 T of oil over medium. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add eggplant and drizzle over the remaining ¼ c of oil. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is softened, about 8 minutes. Add in tomato paste and stir constantly until lightly caramelized on the bottom of the skillet, about 2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, basil sprig, oregano and 1½ c of water, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Step 3
Cover the skillet and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally and smashing some of the eggplant, until the eggplant is very tender and the sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Discard the basil sprig.

Step 4
Meanwhile, in the large pot of water, cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve ½ c of pasta water and drain.

Step 5
Add cooked pasta, reserved pasta water and the eggplant sauce to the large pasta cooking pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until sauce thickens and coats the pasta, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in ¼ c of the chopped basil.

Step 6
Add Parmesan to the panko and mix well. Divide the pasta in bowls and top each with some of the mozzarella. Sprinkle over cheesy breadcrumbs, and garnish with the remaining basil.

**********

 

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:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

Stanley says, “Why yes, I am a prince.”
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

Madame, are there stones in your luggage?

Do you feel a bit shamed when it is your suitcase that the TSA people pull aside for further inspection? I do. Traveling home from a recent visit with our daughter in Italy, the woman at the Milan airport heaved my suitcase from the conveyor belt.  

          “Madame, are there stones in your luggage?”
          Well, yes.

The stones on the shoreline in Camogli, Italy were hard to pass up. Smooth, dark as onyx, marked with circles and swirls of white—they are called wishing stones and I’d decided to bring some home as gifts. I thought my writer friends might put one on their desk, a place for their eye to land, or something to hold in their hand as they considered the next word, the next scene, what detail of setting would be perfect. 
          Alas, it was not to be. I was chastised for “stealing Italy.” I showed her the beautiful collection and said I hoped she would at least take them home, but she told me no. They were destined for the airport trash. How was that better?She did let me keep one and it is a place for my eye to land, to remember how we’d slip down to the Ligurian sea between the first espresso and our breakfast, to float and pretend Italy was our home. 
 

 


read

I’m thoroughly enjoying LESS IS LOST. Have you read LESS? It deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017, a terrific novel, by Andrew Sean Greer. And the follow up (which I’m listening to) is keeping me entranced as I walk around my neighborhood, combating jet lag, often laughing out loud. Greer is funny! A passage about a mediocre gay men’s chorus singing Leonard Cohen is particularly hilarious. But the novel is not always tra-la-la. We know comedy arises from pain and Greer smoothly transitions into the profound. Mixed with the humor are beautiful moments about love, loss, and perhaps not taking ourselves too seriously. (My favorite subject!) The writing is vivid and often gorgeous. Consider this passage when our hero, Arthur Less, has had a touching goodbye with his father, in the dark in South Carolina. He bears a lot of (not-unfounded) resentment towards his dad. And then he finds himself surprised by the exchange.
 
As for what Less came all this way to say, there is really no reason to say it out loud. Wind shakes rain loose from the Spanish moss and if falls to the road like a briefcase of diamonds. 

I wish I wrote 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.

 



write

When we left on our trip I had every intention of keeping a notebook. I wanted to try my hand at travel writing that wasn’t merely about place and food (we have phone cameras to document all that) but observations about people. Exchanges in which I learned about the world and about myself. And yet, I didn’t do it. I didn’t want to stop the experience of ‘living’ the trip to record the trip. 
 
Here are two moments: 
 
Before I left for Italy, I learned basic words: buongiorno, buona sera, grazie, un bicchiere di vino rosso, per favore.  I also learned to say, I’m sorry, as I thought it would be useful for when I bumped into people, or said the wrong thing, or took time gathering my euros to pay. After about ten days of this, some kind Italian said to me, “What do you think you are saying?”
         “I’m sorry,” I reported. 
          He smiled. “No you are not saying, mi dispiace. You are saying, mi piace. which means, I like you.”  
          Apparently I was bumbling along, getting in people’s way, giving the wrong amount of money, and announcing, “I like you. I like you.” Which is true. I did like the Italians I met. 
 

The maître d at breakfast will not let us take our plates to the veranda. He will not let us take coffee away in a real cup. He does not smile, and asks again and again, “Madame, what room are you in?” He is a large headed man in a dark blue suit, the pants shiny from wear. When I look in his face for signs of tenderness, I see none. What is he fiercely protecting? He lords over a crappy buffet with the worst eggs I’ve ever seen in a chaffing dish. And then, one morning he has spied us out the dining room window, swimming before the sun is up and when we arrive, hair wet, ready for our second espresso, he softens. The skin around his eyes puckers and I see when he smiles that his teeth are gapped and tobacco stained. We are now his favorites. He tells us places we must visit. Walks we must take. Every morning he stands at the window and waves at us in the sea. 
 
Why am I telling you this? Because I am encouraging you to take the time on a trip, to notice the goofy things you do, your missteps, your new friends, funny signs, fathers and their children, the pleasure in the fisherman’s face when he watches you bite into his fried anchovies.

 

                                                                   

 

I’m a little upset with myself for not recording more. How about you? Do you record your trip when you travel? Do you have secrets to share?

 

 



eat

We went to many a wonderful marché and I did very little cooking. One night, with pals in our Airbnb, Joel did BBQ a steak and I made a terribly French carrot salad. I have no recipe, but here’s what I did:

Carottes Râpées (otherwise known as, grated carrots)

Luckily there was a giant box grater in the kitchen, and I made short work of grating about 5-6 carrots on the large holes. Then I simply used what I had on hand. Briny green and black olives – pitted and chopped, but not too fine. A few glugs of olive oil.  Fresh lemon juice to taste (I like a lot!). A liberal sprinkling of black pepper and minced fresh rosemary, which grew by the roadside. Finally, a handful of chopped parsley and salt, which we did not have. The men-of-the-house merrily left to seek salt from the neighbors.
“Mon dieu, pas de sel! c’est une catastrophe,” said a delightful family who sent them home with an egg cup of salt.

Mix all the ingredients and set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes. I served mounds of the salad atop the most gorgeous late summer tomatoes.

**********

 

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:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

I hope you and yours are well. I hope you’re embracing the change of season, and for those of you who celebrate, Shana Tova. May the new year bring sweetness into all our lives.

For your viewing pleasure, beautiful Camogli rocks. (Stanley will be back next time!)

 

via GIPHY

 

Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

are you sludgy like me?

It’s been nearly ten-years since I went through all the breast cancer crap. I’d just published my first book, turned 50, was about to begin my audacious empty-nester life, when I received the breast cancer diagnosis. In a pique, I posted on social media that up to that moment, each time my phone buzzed with an unknown caller, I’d pretended it was Oprah, gushing. Hence forth unknown caller meant a different O–oncologist. (Sad trombone sound is appropriate here.) And yes, all is well. I’m grateful and happy and healthy.

But what I want to talk about is kindness and literary citizenship. After my family and inner circle heard my news, I wrote that sad-trombone post and my friend Cheryl responded immediately. She also responded immediately after my book was skipped over for an award. She also was the first writer I met in Portland, who made time to meet me, talk about the city, and about writing. She is a grand example of generous human and stand-up literary citizen. (Thank you, Cheryl!)

Now, it’s hot. I’m lethargic, and instead of turning into a sludgy-ice-cream-eater, I’ve turned myself into an imitation of Cheryl. I’ve been sending a lot of supportive emails and snail mails. I wrote fan letters to two writers. (Guess what? They both wrote back!) I’ve been meeting and supporting writers over zoom. I’ve connected a handful of writers and agents and editors. I took a writing class! I’ve been putting myself in the world in a positive way. You know, I don’t feel as sludgy, and a lovely friend sent me flowers!

Who can you send a little love note to? Who can you link up? I promise it will lift you!

 


read

’m antsy with excitement to read HYSTERICAL by Elissa Bassist. I just took a Funny Personal Essay class from her and let me say, she is hilarious, smart, quick, so generous, and she has a Yorkie named Benny who I know Stanley would love! Please, put HYSTERICAL on your TBR list. Here’s a description:

Growing up, Bassist’s family, boyfriends, school, work, and television had the same expectation for a woman’s voice: less is more. She was called dramatic and insane for speaking her mind; she was accused of overreacting and playing victim for having unexplained physical pain; she was ignored or rebuked like women throughout history for using her voice “inappropriately” by expressing sadness or suffering or anger or joy. 
           Because of this, she said “yes” when she meant “no”; she didn’t tweet #MeToo; and she never spoke without fear of being “too emotional.” So, she felt rage, but like a good woman, repressed it. In Hysterical, Bassist explains how girls and women internalize and perpetuate directives about their voice, making it hard to emote or “just speak up” and “burn down the patriarchy.” 

I’m nearly finished with THE LATECOMER, by Jean Hanff Korelitz and I’m conflicted. Two thirds through the novel, I despise all the characters. Either cruel or pathetic, I keep asking myself, why am I still reading? And yet… the writing is so strong. The plot keeps me deeply engaged. Who are these a-holes? Will they get their comeuppance? There’s a bit of a (pretend) mystery–for much of the book we are “supposed” to wonder who the hell is narrating. The novel has a wildly dysfunctional family. I promise, your family will shine so bright compared to these prigs. And then, Part 3! Finally someone to care about and now everyone seems redeemable. I’m having a hard time putting it down. I have a feeling there’s a group hug coming…in the best sense!

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.

 



write

OMG! Please take a writing class—from me, from anyone. It is such a joy to be in a room with striving writers! Check Literary ArtsGrub Street, my teaching pageLighthouse Writers WorkshopsHugo House, and Catapult for writing opportunities.

A prompt from my recent teacher, Elissa: Grab a book off your shelf and find a sentence. Here’s the one I found from the wonderful Lorrie Moore, in her collection, BARK “I watched her broad tan back and her confident gait. She was a gorgeous giantess. I was in awe to have such a daughter. Also in fear—as in fearful for my life.”

Elissa asks you to change up the sentence using the same parts of speech but making them your own. Here’s my sentence. “He heard her skittering footfalls and imagined her moving about the kitchen, scooping vanilla ice cream into a small bowl. She was a sugar-fairy, a hummingbird in the dark. He was in awe to have such a girlfriend who delighted him with midnight snacks. Also afraid, as in terrified that he would come to depend upon her playfulness.”

Your turn. Go forth. Find a sentence. Change it up. And then send it to me!



eat

I’m having a secret affair with ice cream bars. Throughout the day I obsess, I visit, take a nibble, and leave them open, in the freezer, awaiting my return.

 
I won’t give them up, and, here’s something that’s equally delicious and doesn’t take too much effort (remember? I’m sludgy.):

Midnight Pasta (from the NYTs)

  • 1 large head of garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ c plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 c firmly packed parsley leaves
  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • ½ t red-pepper flakes, plus more for garnish
  • Black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Decapitate about ¼ inch off the head of garlic to expose the top of the cloves, place on a piece of foil, cut-side up. Sprinkle exposed cloves with salt, then drizzle with 1 t oil. Wrap the garlic in foil and roast until soft and golden brown, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven, open the package and let the garlic cool.
  1. When you’re ready to make the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Finely chop the parsley leaves. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.
  1. While the pasta cooks, in a large Dutch oven, heat remaining ½ cup oil over medium heat. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into the oil and cook, breaking them up with your spoon, until very fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red-pepper flakes and a few generous grinds of pepper. Remove pan from heat to infuse the oil while the pasta finishes cooking.
  1. When the pasta’s done, heat the garlic oil, add the cooked pasta, ½ c reserved pasta water and the parsley, and simmer, tossing constantly and adding more pasta water as needed, until the pasta is glossed with sauce.
  1. Serve with more red-pepper flakes, black pepper and Parmesan.

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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:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

Stanley is so excited for the end of summer! It’s been too hot.  Hope your August brings you joy!
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

kiss the joy as it flies

I recently had an editing client who expressed disappointment regarding my edits of his work. And honestly, who can blame him? He said he’d been hoping for a note in which I crowed from the rooftops his skill, his humor, his insights. A “where have you been hiding yourself, you talented son-of-a-gun!?” letter. Isn’t that the letter we’re all aching to receive?

 

The thing is, there is no such thing as an overnight success. All those writers and painters and film makers, musicians and actors and chefs who have major successes… they’ve been at it for years, decades before they “burst” on the scene.My client’s very human response got me thinking about Oscar speeches and the joy we see on actor’s faces when they’re recognized for their heart’s work. Check out this one! Even still it makes me weep a little and smile a lot. Here is the poem he quotes.

In case you need a little solace for your creative heart, please do watch this, CONVERSATION WITH A WHALE.

 


read

I am one of those jerky people that thinks I won’t like what everyone else adores. If too many people are raving, I shrug, “probably not for me.” Well, let me tell you all the raves for FELLOWSHIP POINT , by Alice Elliot Dark are legit. It is a wonderful novel, a wide canvas, beautifully written. Dark’s main subject is friendship, the friend you’ve had since elementary school, the one you would call at two in the morning when your heart is broken. She also takes on environmentalism, the prison system, love (both requited and unrequited), motherhood, disappointing children, loyalty, marriage, and mental health. Miraculously the book does not break beneath the weight of–well, life. Supremely satisfying. If you’ve not read it, where have you been keeping yourself you son-of-a-gun?

I’m also reading HUSBANDRY, by Matthew Dickman, a poetry collection that’s also a memoir. The poems orbit what it means to be a husband, a father, a man who yearns to make a family and stumbles. One of the most touching moments for me is in the poem “Father,” in which Dickman cares for his sons, and at the same time, cares for his boyhood self.

I lift my three-
year-old up into the air

and then catch
him but also catch

myself. In the story of
my life I put

my arm around
my thirteen-year-old

But also around
myself. When I feed

them I feed
myself. When I cool

a fevered forehead
with a cold

rag I cool my own
anger. When I leave

I also return to them
and return

to myself. I know
there are

really three children
in the story of my life.

I must make a home
for each of them.

If you’d like a sample, here is his poem, “About Love,” which is from the collection.

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.

 



write

It’s nearly time for the first day of school and I’ve got fun classes coming your way! I’ve got a workshop on Reading as a Writer, a two day class called Stamp Collecting, in which we approach memoir writing through the small vignettes that have snagged in our memories. And, a class on writing satisfying endings that leave room for imagining beyond the story’s close: Leave the Door Open on Your Way Out.

Do check my TEACHING page for information.

I’ve stumbled upon the wonderful newsletter from the writer, Matt Bell. His WRITING EXERCISES looks terrific and there is an archive!  So, anytime you’re feeling parched in the creative well, take a peek. 



eat

I’ve made this three times!

Chop Salad á la Nancy Silverton, from Food 52

FOR THE VINAIGRETTE

  • 2 1/2 T red wine vinegar
  • 2 T dried oregano
  • Freshly squeezed juice from 1/2 lemon (1 T), or more to taste
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, 1 smashed flat and 1 grated
  • 1/2 t kosher salt, plus more to taste
  •  freshly ground black pepperto taste
  • 1 1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil

FOR THE SALAD

  • 1/2 red onion, cut in half from top to bottom
  • 1 generous head of romaine lettuce
  • 1 head radicchio
  • 1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes, such as Sun Golds cut into quarters
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 c no-salt-added chickpeas, drained
  • 1/3 lb aged provolone, cut into big matchsticks
  • 1/3 -1/2 lb roasted chicken meat, light and dark or your preference, shredded
  • 5 pepperoncini (stems discarded), cut into thin slices (about 1/4 cup)
  • Freshly squeezed juice from 1/2 lemon, or more to taste
  • Dried oregano for sprinkling

FOR THE VINAIGRETTE

  1. Whisk together the vinegar, oregano, lemon juice, the smashed garlic and grated garlic and the salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes (to marinate the oregano). Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly to form an emulsified vinaigrette. Taste for seasoning, and add salt or lemon juice as needed. You’ll use up to 1/2 cup for this salad, and the remainder can be refrigerated for another use.
FOR THE SALAD
  1. Separate the layers of the onion and stack two or three layers on top of one another, then cut them lengthwise into 1/16-inch-wide strips. Repeat with the remaining onion layers. Place the onion in a small bowl of ice water to sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Drain the onion and pat dry with paper towels before adding to the salad. DO NOT SKIP THIS!
  2. Cut the romaine lettuce in half through the core. Remove and discard the outer leaves. Separate the lettuce leaves, stack two or three leaves on top of one another, then cut them lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Repeat with the remaining leaves; thinly slice the radicchio in the same way.
  3. Cut the tomatoes in half, season them with salt to taste, and toss gently.
  4. Combine the lettuce, radicchio, tomatoes, chickpeas, provolone, salami, peperoncini and onion in a large, wide bowl. Season with salt to taste, and toss to thoroughly combine. Drizzle 6 tablespoons of the vinaigrette over the salad, then sprinkle with the lemon juice; toss gently to coat the salad evenly. Taste, and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, plus salt and/or lemon juice as needed.
  5. Transfer the salad to a large platter or divide it among individual plates, piling it like a mountain. Sprinkle the dried oregano leaves on top and serve.
I promise you, it’s so delicious. Hearty, cold, crunchy, salty and sweet.

**********

 

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:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

I managed to sneak in a waterfall hike. Unfortunately no dogs allowed, so Stanley was home, eating ice cream bars, watching OZARK. (He can go dark, that little Stanley!)
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

the mortician’s delightful giggle

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?

 


read

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.

 



write

I’ve got some prompts for you:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.

 



eat

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?)
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar and salt. Whisk in oil.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

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!

 

Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

I feel the pull of the world…🌎💔😥

 

 

 

 

Flying home from Colorado, smudges of snow cling to the mountains. I’ve been teaching at Aspen Summer Words and I’m equal parts energized and exhausted. A week immersed in natural beauty and smart conversations, engaged with inspiring and challenging writing, making new friends, participating in terrific panels—was a gift! Please, put yourself in the path of beauty and creative growth. No matter how you express your creativity seek the company of talented and dedicated people. (Maybe a week at the Oregon Coast could be perfect? Join me! retreat.write.energize)

At 10,000 feet, I feel the pull of the world. My students broke the SCOTUS news to me in workshop, and though I knew the repeal of Roe was coming, I was overwhelmed by an instantaneous flood of sorrow and rage. Politicians and ideologues have taken away freedom to make decisions about our own bodies. We’ve failed to preserve dignity and opportunity for our daughters and their partners. Maybe you feel exhausted, even hopeless. Rest up. Stay hydrated. Nourish yourself (creatively too). We have a lot of work to do. Opportunities for action at the bottom of this note.

 

 


read

I just finished Tom Perrotta’s novel, TRACY FLICK CAN’T WIN. I was all in. The characters were funny. There’s a sweet, lesbian love story, a twelve-step program, and the pacing… fantastic. If you have trouble with the rate-of-revelation in your work, if you worry about page-turnability, reading Perrotta is a master class. Take notes. How does he hook you? Humor, characters misbehaving, stakes, causally related actions, some cringe factor… all of it is tantalizing.

And yet, ultimately I was angry! (Spoiler ahead) First off, Perrotta doesn’t write female friendship. By the time poor Tracy makes a friend, the writing turns to summary. We are never in scene with the women laughing, listening, and supporting one another—you know, the way we all spend time with our female friends! Second, in the world of this novel, the only way Tracy Flick wins is by taking a bullet in a school shooting? Seriously? A woman has to get shot to get the promotion she deserves? Perrotta honestly couldn’t think of any other way for Tracy to get her due? It felt like a cheap (and easy) way out of her predicament.

Here are 11 books that celebrate strong women who struggle, screw up, and thrive on their own terms. These are the books we should be reading now. If you have some favorites of your own, please, I implore you, send me the titles. (And yes, I know I should read CIRCE, Madeline Miller)

I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK, Nora Ephron
THE VANISHING HALF, Brit Bennett
INDIGO, Ellen Bass
BECOMING, Michele Obama
WILD, Cheryl Strayed
STATE OF WONDER, Ann Patchett
I AM MALALA, Malala Yousafzai
IN PRAISE OF DIFFICULT WOMEN, Karen Karbo
HARRIET THE SPY, Louise Fitzhugh
THE LAST BLACK UNICORN, Tiffany Haddish
MANHATTAN BEACH, Jennifer Egan
HAMNET, Maggie O’Farrell

 

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.

 



write

Two things I gleaned at writing camp:

Stay current! Expand your TBR stack with books entering the zeitgeist now. Look to the finalists (not just the winners) for awards like the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN America Awards, Smart, incisive readers have vetted these books for you. 
  
Authority. We can talk about this from two angles. Narrative authority refers to readers’ confidence and belief in the narrator. We want our readers to trust they’re in good hands, and we make that happen with a true and consistent voice, with vivid and believable settings (even if it’s a made-up world).
 
We must also have authority to tell our stories. When we don’t believe we have any business putting words to page, when we worry about our right to speak, the work is of course wobbly. We have to learn to value and recognize what interests us. We have to pay attention. (And, maybe don’t internalize our self-deprecating jokes?)
 
“Who’s going to give you the authority to feel that what you notice is important? It will have to be you. The authority you feel has a great deal to do with how you write, and what you write, with your ability to pay attention to the shape and meaning of your own thoughts and the value of your own perceptions. Being a writer is an act of perpetual self-authorization.”
from SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING, Verlyn Klinkenborg

A prompt: On your way to coffee, to work, to the market, to meet friends for dinner, pay attention to the world around you. When you reach your destination, make note of seven things you noticed. Use all your senses. Just seven things. You can make a voice memo, send yourself a text, or jot them down. Make a habit of noticing. And then, make a habit of noticing what you notice.

Another way to give yourself authority is to invest in yourself:

RETREAT.WRITE.ENERGIZE!

an opportunity to focus, to validate, and to get some serious work done. A week on the beautiful Oregon Coast, October 9-15.

  • workshops each day
  • craft talks
  • writing timeAll the info is here!

For more opportunities to work together, check the updated TEACHING page.

 



eat

I sat on a panel in Aspen in which we discussed maintaining our writing momentum at home. One question from the excellent moderator: where do we turn in low moments, when we may be despairing. A colleague suggested The Marginaliananother colleague suggested reading poetry, and I, forever the outlier, suggested baking. When I feel low, I like something with a satisfying and easily achievable beginning, middle, and end. I like to stir, and dice, and move my body around the kitchen.

Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler/Cake ala NYTs

  • 3 c fresh nectarines in 1/2-inch slices, or a combination (about 1 pound)
  • ½ c sugar
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • ¾ c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 ½ t baking powder
  • ⅛ t salt
  • ¾ c buttermilk
  • ¼ c sliced almonds
  • 2 T Demerara sugar

 

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the fruit slices, ¼ c sugar and lemon juice. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a simmer, then take the pan off the heat.
  3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until it smells very nutty, turns golden, and flecks of dark brown appear, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the brown butter into an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish.
  4. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, remaining ¼ c sugar, baking powder and salt. Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
  5. Scrape the batter on top of the brown butter, use a spatula to even out the batter but be careful not to mix it into the butter. Scatter the nectarine slices and juice on top of the batter without stirring. Sprinkle with the almonds, and Demerara sugar.
  6. Bake until golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm.

**********

 

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:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

To help women with no access to abortion, consider donating to:
National Network of Abortion FundsTo help normalize abortion please consider sharing to:
Jessica Yellin at News Not Noise. She asks, “Have you had an abortion? Has someone you love had an abortion? Please share your story and we will share here. Call our voicemail at 805.222.6462.”

If you need help obtaining an abortion pill, please check here:
Plan C

This will be a long battle. Make noise. Vote. Do what you can.

Stanley sends his love.

Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

we are made of get up again muscles 💔😔😑…🥲😘❤️‍🩹

I recently read somewhere that we are made of get-up-again muscles. I love that! Since we’re all destined to be slammed by heartbreak and disappointment at some point in our lives, toning our get-up-again muscles seems wise. According to resiliency theory, our bounce-back ability flourishes when we have feelings of control and competency, as in “I got this…”, when we nurture our coping skills (pause, breathe, rest), by feeling connected to others and believing in our character, and finally by having an opportunity to contribute to the general well-being. This all sounded well and good to me, and then the shooting happened at Robb Elementary School.

How in the world do those families, children, and teachers, crushed so hard by violence and loss, locate their get-up-again muscles? Resilience seems pie-in-the-sky when the landscape feels barren of hope for change.

I know we are all thinking of them, and we may feel hopeless. I do. Maybe we can look at some of those words, connect, contribute, control, cope. I’ve got some solid opportunities at the end of this letter. Meanwhile, here’s a quote from Pema Chödrön, the American Buddhist nun that may help.

 

          Compassion is not a relationship between the wounded and the healed.

          It’s a relationship between equals. It’s knowing your darkness well enough

          that you can sit in the dark with others.

 

I am right here, beside you.

 


read

Mary Laura Philpott’s essay collection, BOMB SHELTER, Love, Time, and Other Explosives, starts with a health crisis. Her son suffers a seizure in the middle of the night, she and her husband wait for an ambulance, then navigate the mysteries of brains, electricity, and our limited capacity to make everything okay. What I love about this book is Philpott’s generosity. She’s kind to the turtles who live in her yard, to college kids that can’t get home due to bad weather, to exhausted mothers behaving badly in public, even to SUV drivers who won’t get out of the way for an ambulance. Lucky them, she muses, they’ve never white knuckled the phone, counting the minutes for the ambulance to arrive.
She’s also kind to herself, which is often the most jagged pill. “I don’t mean to muck up the beauty about now with my tears about later. I’m sad because I’m so happy, see?…What I do know is that the stability of right now will not hold.” I feel seen! Philpott is funny, smart, insightful, someone I’d love to invite to dinner, but not too often because I fear her anxiety would feed mine. Ultimately she leaves us feeling hopeful:

 

I am always looking for some gratitude, warmth, or hope…

when I see something that makes me feel joy,

you’re damn right I applaud. Way to go adorable cat on a leash!

Thank you server who brought my pizza hot!…

I say yes for things that offer some pleasure. 

Yes for people who choose to be friendly. 

Yes for any glimmer of light through all the darkness.

I mean that yes. I need it. Seriously. 

 

What did you say yes to today?

THIS TIME TOMORROW, by Emma Straub, is fluffy, and has teeth. Just what I want in a summertime read. Stuff happens, it’s fun to read, there’s female friendship, time travel, delicious class satire, a loving relationship between father and daughter, a cat named Urusla. And in the midst of all the fun there are lovely truths about human nature that stick the landing. I listened to the audio book and honestly, it was a joy.

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.

 



write

Play is a crucial part of healing. I want to create an opportunity. Consider this write section like a game of pickle ball, but better! It’s a fun time spent w/o purpose and no threat of pulling your Achilles tendon. Get some words on the page. Be free. Be without judgment.

Your prompts:

  • Write about being frightened at an amusement park
  • Write about breaking the law as a kid
  • Write about excessive heat
  • Write about a your anti-dream house
  • Write about a cup you broke
  • Write about a lost toy or a found toy
  • Write about the grocery store your family shopped at when you were a kid
  • Write about waiting for someone who never arrived (see Exquisite Pain, by Sophie Calle)

If these prompts seem like fun, are fun, if time whizzed by and you stood up from your desk feeling refreshed, consider joining me for 6 WEEKS, 6 STORIES. We’ll meet over zoom on Saturday afternoons, we’ll do some writing together, read some short stories, chew the fat on craft topics, and we will listen to one another’s work! It’ll be great. There are a few seats left. I’d love to work with you!

For more opportunities to work together, check the updated TEACHING page.

 



eat

I think we all need dessert right now.

 

Strawberries Romanoff

  • 2 pints strawberries, washed and stemmed
  • ¼ c sugar
  • ¼ c orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau
  • 1-pint good quality vanilla gelato
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  1. Slice the strawberries. In a large bowl, toss three-quarters of them with the sugar and orange liqueur. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to macerate.
  2. Put the gelato in the refrigerator to soften.
  3. Place the heavy cream and half the macerated strawberries in a chilled mixing bowl (or in your stand mixer with the whisk attachment) use an electric mixer, whip to soft peaks, about 12 minutes. Carefully fold in the gelato.
  4. Spoon the strawberry cream into six bowls, or four bowls, or just two bowls if you’re having this for dinner. No harm, no foul! Mix the plain sliced berries with the saved macerated berries. and place on top of the strawberry cream.

**********

 

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:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

Here are a few ways to exercise your get-up-again muscles (remember from way back up at the top of this note: cope, control, connect, and contribute). Help families in Uvalde, Texas.

Donate:

VictimsFirst (a network of families of the deceased and survivors from over two decades of previous mass shootings) have started this fund to make sure that 100% of what is collected goes DIRECTLY to victims and families.

Community Foundation of Texas Hill Country

Write a letter of condolence and mail to:

Sacred Heart Catholic Church
408 Fort Clark Road
Uvalde, TX 78801

Robb Elementary School
715 Old Carrizo Rd.
Uvalde, TX 78801

Here’s some help with how to write a condolence letter, how to speak to the unspeakable and offer comfort. It is important for the people suffering from this tragedy to be reminded that they are not alone, give them the support and show them love.

If you live in the area and are in need of counseling, here is a resource.

Act:

Mom’s Demand Action
Text “act” to 64433, they will get back to you, plug you in where you live

Call the US Senate Switchboard: 202.224.3121
Here’s a list of Republican Senators who may vote in favor of a compromise gun safety bill:

Cornyn (TX)
Toomey (PA)
Collins (ME)
Portman (OH)
Murkowski (AK)
Romney (UT)
Capito (WV)
Burr (NC)
Tillis (NC)
Rubio (FL)
Graham (SC)
Cassidy (LA)
Blunt (MO)

Please, only call if you vote in that district/state. If live in another state and you’d like to help out, post the information on your social media. Here’s a link.

Learn more:

97Percent, whose mission is to reduce gun deaths in America by changing the conversation around gun safety to include gun owners, conducting original research to identify common ground, and leveraging technology to make our communities safer.

 

Grief takes as long as it takes. There is no rushing. Be like Stanley. Rest.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

shalom. aloha. namaste. pura vida.

Pura Vida. Shalom. Aloha. Namaste.

Each of these beautiful words has multiple meanings.
  • Hello.
  • Goodbye.
  • Peace.
  • Go with Grace.
  • I bow to you.

And they’re all said with friendly intentions. I wonder, what words in what languages serve the same kind and generous purpose…do you know of any? If you’ve got one, please do send it to me.

 

 

 

Of course this puts me in mind of the joke, what’s the difference between NY and LA?

In NY when someone says, “Fuck you!” they are really saying hello.
In LA when someone says, “Hello!” they are really saying fuck you.

Wherever you are, I am saying hello!

 

 


read

 

I got my MFA from Warren Wilson College, where I met Lan Samantha Chang. She was never my supervisor, but I did benefit from her lectures. I loved her collection of stories plus a novella, HUNGER

Over the years I ran into Sam at various conferences where we’ve had warm exchanges. She now directs the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and I’ll be on faculty with her at Aspen Summer Words.  How wonderful for us all that she has a new novel out, THE FAMILY CHAO. Sam has called the novel an homage to THE BROTHERS KARAMOZOV, with thematic similarities, family saga + trial. The novel is about three adult brothers, each of whom is complex and worthy of our care and attention. The setting is largely the family restaurant, the Fine Chao, which is a boon for the reader as the food writing spurs hunger pangs and mouthwatering! Ultimately the novel explores and exploits the gap between how we wish to be seen in the world and the chaotic insider-truth of who we are. Don’t we all live with that gap? Sometimes we hide in the gap and sometimes we want to be authentic and diminish the gap. It is similar to the painful gap writers experience—how their work appears in their mind and how the work appears on the page. I have a feeling that for Chang, the gap is far smaller than it is for many of us.

***

 

AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT,  by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin. The book is hard to categorize. On my bookshop page I’ve called it a memoir and non-fiction, but I also think it could be self-help and poetry. It’s really so much about struggle and healing and what we’ve all been living through. The prose is deceptively simple, the art freeform and inviting a viewer to free associate. It’s a poem, it’s a story, it’s a call to action. If you’d like to hear the writer in conversation with our girl, Brene Brown, check this episode of her podcast, UNLOCKING US. Meanwhile, check this:

 

 

 

and my brother won’t look up from his video game, even whenI put my hand on his, turn my elbow into a fist and punch the bendy big-knuckle into his ribs to try to knock his heart awake

Reynolds is striving to knock all our hearts awake. It’s a beautiful book.

 

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.

 



write

I recently started a practice, I try to do it every day as part of a morning pages ritual you know how those things go, right? On again/Off again. But I love this one right now. Write in response to each of these five things:

 

a memory, an image, a topic, an observation, a thought

 

Do this in any order that inspires you. I usually start with a memory, whatever rises up without being forced. Because I am very human, I sometimes/often (sheesh!) have a negativity bias, meaning the memory that rises comes preloaded with tension, misplaced yearning, miscommunication, loss. It’s a great place to start, because the complex memory gives rise to a thought, and then maybe an observation, etc… I have found the prompt to be both fun and illuminating. If you choose to give this a try, I’d love to hear from you. How did it go? I’m messing around with some ideas for how we could make this a community (online) practice.

***

Here’s a great essay on the hard work of the first sentence: HOW TO BE AN INCIPIT, by Paul Vacca. He begins,

For a long time, the first sentence went to bed early, waiting discreetly under the cover of the book for someone to come and wake it up. Novel opened, first sentence awakened, it stood firmly in the front row to welcome readers with the heavy responsibility of taking them into a new world.
 

  • tips us into the world of fiction by suspending our disbelief
  • tells us – sometimes in the background – that something will happen, a story is coming
  • gives us the foreknowledge of a conflict, a subtle source of intranquillity
  • does not wear too much make-up, isn’t noticed for itself, but for the charm it exudes and passes to the next sentence

A first sentence participates in SHINE THEORY, right? It helps the rest of the work, the story/novel/memoir, whatever it is that you are writing, be its best self.

Here’s a random first sentence that pulls me in and stirs me up, from Deborah Levy’s memoir, THINGS I DON’T WANT TO KNOW. 

That spring when life was very hard and I was at war with my lot and simply couldn’t see where there was to get to, I seemed to cry most on escalators at train stations.

Please, do shoot me a first sentence you are in love with!

 



eat

In my last newsletter I threatened to make Alison Roman’s cheesecake and I followed through on my threat. The first time it came off without a hitch. The second time… well she asks you to weigh rather than measure the graham crackers for the crust and I think I eyeballed it completely wrong. I don’t have a scale, do you?

So, the crust was a bit too crumbly in cheesecake 2.0h well. The filling was delicious both times, and, if you are a regular follower of this newsletter, you know me, I reduced the sugar.

Here’s a link to the recipe. Here’s a link to a video of charming and chill, funny and fun (maybe the Lucy Ricardo of cooking video, but she always nails it!) Alison Roman making the cheesecake. And, here is what happened to mine:

 

I made it. I stuck my hand in it. Don’t ask.

 

**********

 

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:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

Stanley set a high bar! He bought me a mocha!!
Remember to tell your people you love them.
Happy Living!xN