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.

**********

 

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

 

 

yes, those are my feet and I have news about crocodiles 🦶🏼🐊

 

 

 

Yes, those are my feet! We’re in Costa Rica on a sweet little vacation. To the right of me, just out of the frame is the Nosara Biological Reserve…howler monkeys, birds, bats, anteaters, fire ants, termites, and crocodiles in abundance.

We took a walk with a naturalist, Santos, and learned a ton. For one thing, did you know that once crocodiles lay their eggs, the gender is decided by the weather! The hot eggs will hatch into males. Cooler eggs will hatch into females. You know where this is going, right? Global warming is causing an abundance of males and since male crocs are territorial, this is causing an abundance of trouble. There simply isn’t enough territory for all these males. Santos told us that for the first time in his lifetime male crocs are eating one another. Add to this problem fewer females and, well you can connect the dots. Yes, this is terrible news. Though I’m happy to tell you that the monkeys are thriving.

 

 


read

 

 

One of my children’s favorite books was LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE by Bernard Waber. Lyle, a mute and charming crocodile lived in brownstone on East 88th in New York City and had amazing adventures. There’s a sweet little animated film you can watch here preferably with a child beside you, if you have no child in your home, perhaps you can borrow one! Also, who knew… but Uncle Google tells me there will be a new Lyle film coming out in November with Javier Bardem.

 

 

 

Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers who leave books behind in the Airbnb. I ran out of books on this trip and was lucky to find THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2020, ed. CURTIS SITTENFELD stashed away in a cupboard. I’d forgotten the pleasures reading stories from writers I love and also being introduced to new voices, all in one volume. A bonus of course is the essay in the front of the collection by the editor. In her essay, Sittenfeld says, “What makes a short story succeed? Whatever the writer can get away with.” She also says:

These stories are…windows into emotions I have and haven’t had, into other settings and circumstances and observations and relationships. 

And she is right, these stories are invitations to new worlds, in the same way travel invites us to see things through fresh eyes. So far, they’re terrific and a window into the last batch of stories that came before the pandemic. I can’t help but wonder what the zeitgeist will be for the 2021 edition.

 

To prepare for a class I’m teaching in May I spent an afternoon on the beach reading, THE ART OF TIME IN FICTION, by Joan Silber. It’s wonderful to be engaged with the mind of a smart writer/teacher. Silber breaks up time into categories for the book:

 

  • Classic Time: a season or a year
  • Long Time: decades, or a life, or multi-generational
  • Switchback Time: the narrative moves around between then, now, farther back, and future
  • Slowed Time: the focus comes down to a small event w/large impact for the character
  • Fabulous Time: time is magical, fluid, cyclical

As a writer and reader, I am most interested in switchback time. It’s the way I tell stories to friends, interrupting myself to add a detail from the past which enhances the present. As a writer it enables me to see the story from a less limited point-of-view, complicating and deepening my stories in a way that mimics the way I think, associatively. As a reader I love to learn what characters can’t let go of from the past and how it colors their present.

The book, like all the books in The Art of… series from Greywolf Press that I’ve read thus far, is helpful, with solid samples and clear descriptions.

 

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 short classes coming up! I’d love to meet you (over zoom).

LEAPING FORWARD, SLOWING DOWN: TIME IN PROSE, on May 6, 10:30 – 1:30 EST.
Time can be a challenging aspect to master when writing in any genre. When should we slow down and dwell in a scene? When should we summarize and move rapidly through weeks, years, or decades? When should we go back in time to reveal and understand a character’s motivation? How does the experience of time differ in a short story vs. a novel, or in memoir?
This workshop will explore how writers bend time to create different narrative effects. We will read work by Tessa Hadley, Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, John Cheever and others, as well as look at examples from TV shows and films such as Ted Lasso, and The Lost Daughter. After the discussion, we’ll work together with some prompts, expanding and contracting time to see how we can effectively utilize it when telling our own stories.

CONVERSATIONS WITH THE WORK: READING AS A WRITER, on May 28, 10:30 – 1:30 EST.
Many writers come to writing from a love of reading—the pleasure of being pulled out of the real world and plunged into the world of a story—only to discover how difficult it is to replicate that magic feeling. In this workshop, we’ll explore the tricks our favorite writers employ to create immersive fiction and nonfiction, and how we can borrow from them to enhance our own work.
We will close-read excerpts from authors like Michelle Zauner, Saaed Jones, Deborah Levy, Louise Erdrich, and Samantha Hunt to study their use of movement, scene, and summary, dialogue, conflict, imagery, and character revelations. We’ll then launch into a few prompts and share what we come up with. Students will come away from the seminar with a new set of tools to read with an eye for craft, and encouragement to mark up the margins of their favorite books as they converse with the work inside.

 

 

retreat.write.energize.

 

 

In my last newsletter I mentioned my upcoming retreat.write.energize on the Oregon coast. Well, details are falling into place and I want to keep you up to speed. We will gather at the Sylvia Beach Hotel from October 9 – 15 for a week of workshops, time to write, community, inspiration and the solace of the coast. All you have to do is arrive, ready to write, ready to make writer friends IRL, and share your beautiful work.  I don’t know about you, but I’m so delighted to shake off my covid cobwebs and be in community. If sharing your work with smart, engaged writers, learning, improving, and focusing is just what you’ve been craving… Drop me a note so I can get your name on the list! For this inaugural gathering we will be a small group.

SAVE THE DATE! October 9-15, 2022,

and do direct message me shoot me an email: natalie@natalieserber.com to get your name on the list. Our group will be very intimate and supportive. Cannot wait to share this beautiful gathering!

 

 



eat

The food has been delicious and fresh everywhere we go in Costa Rica. The fruit, out of this world! But I want to tell you about the regional dish, Casado which is easy to make and satisfying. Consisting of rice, black beans, and a protein such as chicken, beef, tofu, or fish, and a salad or coleslaw. Sides may include avocado slices, tortillas, or fried plantains. The name casado translates to married, and everything on the plate goes perfectly together.

I’ve looked around on the internet and can’t really find a recipe worth sharing, and the thing is, you don’t need one. Just make up a pot of black beans, perhaps flavor them with red bell peppers and onions, some garlic and cilantro. Cook some brown rice. Make a coleslaw or a salad of your liking with a simple vinaigrette. Here’s a great one from the NYTs (pay wall). Grill a piece of fresh fish and season with salt and pepper, a bit of oregano and lots of citrus, lemon or lime. If you have them, some fried plantains would be a great addition. Arrange all the ingredients on your plate and garnish with avocado slices, perhaps some pico de gallo, and pass the hot sauce.

I also plan on making this delicious thing when I get home!

 

 

**********

 

I hope you are all enjoying little glimpses of spring wherever you happen to be. It’s simply amazing here in Costa Rica. Meanwhile, Stanley’s been with his best friend Milo back in Portland. He was having a fine time and then it snowed (in April!?!).

 

 

Since then he’s been calling us to come get him!

 

Please, remember to tell your people you love them.
Happy Living!xN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am very pleasantly moved to tears.

Spring is rushing in. The sight of tender petals brightens my mornings. In Portland spring is quixotic, one minute offering enough warmth for the crocus and tulips and the stalwart daffodils to bloom, only to harass them with hailstones or heavy rain.

 

Maybe you’ve been feeling interior hailstones and heavy rain. News of war is hard. I encourage you to do some small act, besides consuming news, to give you a tiny sense of agency in a nonsensical situation. Give where you can (I have ideas at the close of this email), maybe find a Ukrainian church in your town and participate in the social hour after services, they often are selling pierogi and collecting money for their families abroad, attend a peace vigil in your community. Meanwhile, here’s a poem by Mari Andrew that may help you sit in the paradox of suffering/getting on with it.

I am washing my face before bed
while a country is on fire.

It feels dumb to wash my face and
dumb not to.

It has never been this way and it has
always been this way.

Someone has always clinked a
cocktail glass in one hemisphere as
someone loses a home in another,
while someone falls in love in the
same apartment building where
someone grieves. The fact that
suffering, mundanity and beauty
coincide is unbearable and
remarkable.

Mari Andrew

 

 


read

I’m listening to Frank Bruni read his memoir, THE BEAUTY OF DUSK. It’s a beautiful book which dwells in loss and resilience. Bruni suffered a stroke that affected the vision in his right eye. The memoir illuminates the possibility of loss as a growth point. I’ve been moved by many passages, enough that I’ve gone back to listen to some chapters a second and third time. His love of his dog certainly warms my heart! And his capacity for compassion is inspiring. I feel that Bruni is my partner in shine! Here’s a passage that moved me:

 

With my one good eye, I looked harder and longer, and I hope, more soulfully at everything around me, starting with my acquaintances and friends. I realized that we know too little about the people in our lives because we inspect them only superficially, ask the easy and polite questions, edit them down to the parts that give us the least complicated and most immediate pleasure. There is heartache in them that we don’t adequately recognize, triumph in them that we don’t sufficiently venerate.

 

Of course this is no lightning bolt revelation, but it is something to tuck in our pocket and remember. Perhaps make a pact with yourself to recognize heartache and celebrate triumph.

 

My mom and I went to lunch the other day and our paths crossed with an amazing woman! Danusha Lameris, sitting at the table next to ours, reading Louise Glück. My chatty mother struck up a conversation with Danusha and we were charmed by her warmth and her smile. Turns out we all had friends in common, we shared some laughs, and enjoyed sitting outside in the sunshine. When we said our goodbyes, it seemed we had a new friend.

 

When I got home and looked her up, as one does these days, I was further charmed by her poetry. BONFIRE OPERA looks to be a wonderful collection and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. Meanwhile, you can find one poem of hers here in the NYTs, and this one from her website:

 

Small Kindnesses   

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

I like your hat.

 

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

One of my many amazing students, Meriwynn, is working on a novel with a powerful character. Irina (the character) is an emigré, and an artist, who is a “Captain Happen” (that is, she gets things moving) for the protagonist of Meriwynn’s novel.  Because Meriwynn is wonderful and curious and deeply engaged with her book, she found a Ukrainian Etsy shop to buy herself a blouse, a vyshyvanka similar to one her character would wear. And then, well, war broke out.

 

Meriwynn wrote to The Fair Anna, to say, don’t worry about my blouse! Please, take care of yourself! What can I do to help? She also told Anna that she shared the shop with her writing group. Amazingly, Meriwynn got a notice that her vyshyvanka had shipped.

 

And she got this message from Anna:

I am very pleasantly moved to tears. I feel the support as well as the whole Ukrainian people from the countries of Ukraine’s friends. I am very grateful to you for distributing my small shop among your friends. These are very difficult times in Ukraine. The enemy destroys cities and razes them to the ground. These barbarians do not leave a single house, they destroy all living people in Ukraine. It hurts a lot I am very grateful for your prayers.

 

I share this with you for three reasons:

1. To remind us all that the war is real, not just television images.

2. To put us in touch with Anna’s Etsy shop where we can donate five or ten dollars straight into her bank account. I’m certain every little bit helps. Perhaps in sunnier times we can order a beautiful piece of clothing from her.

3. Look at where our writing can take us!  Meriwynn’s deep engagement with her creative work shrunk the world! Her novel-in-progress has brought all of us in touch with someone on the other side of the planet, and Anna knows.

Art is amazing.

 

 

retreat.write.energize.

 

 

n my last newsletter I mentioned my upcoming retreat.write.energize on the Oregon coast. Well, details are falling into place and I want to keep you up to speed. We will gather at the Sylvia Beach Hotel from October 9 – 15 for a week of workshops, time to write, community, inspiration and the solace of the coast. All you have to do is arrive, ready to write, ready to make writer friends IRL, and share your beautiful work.  I don’t know about you, but I’m so delighted to shake off my covid cobwebs and be in community. If sharing your work with smart, engaged writers, learning, improving, and focusing is just what you’ve been craving… Drop me a note so I can get your name on the list! For this inaugural gathering we will be a small group.

SAVE THE DATE! October 9-15, 2022,

and do direct message me shoot me an email: natalie@natalieserber.com to get your name on the list. Our group will be very intimate and supportive. Cannot wait to share this beautiful gathering!

 

 



eat

Ever have a cookbook that manages to be comforting and expansive? A MODERN WAY TO COOK: 150+ VEGETARIAN RECIPES FOR QUICK, FLAVOR-PACKED MEALS, by Anna Jones, is just such a book. Not only are the recipes truly quick, but she has delightful flavor bombs to add just before the food hits the plate and your palate. Minced herbs and nuts to sprinkle over pasta. Lemon zest with za’atar and a bit of walnut oil to adorn asparagus. The idea is to use fresh herbs, nuts, citrus and oils to offer a flavor wallop after you’ve done the cooking. It works beautifully. In this delicious salad (which I’ve changed up a bit to welcome spring vegetables) Jones makes a pecan and pumpkin seed brittle to toss on at the last minute, adding texture, a bit of protein, and sweetness.

 

Winter Vegetable Salad
Serves 4 as a main dish

For the salad:

  • 3 carrots (multicolor add beauty)
  • 3 beets (also a mix of color is a visual treat)
  • 1 radicchio head, julienned
  • 1 bunch of radishes, if you can find French Breakfast radishes, do use them
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 pear (I used bosc for the firm texture)
  • a large handful of pecans
  • a large handful of pumpkin seeds (I used tamari toasted, which added a nice salty finish)
  • a glug of maple syrup
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • feta cheese to taste
  1. Peel, chop, and slice all the vegetables and the pear as thinly as you can, making sure to shred the radicchio especially thinly; a mandoline may be useful here, but a sharp knife will do just as well.
  2. Put a sheet of parchment paper on a small tray or a plate, then put the nuts into a frying pan. Toast briefly, then add the seeds and toast until the seeds smell toasted and are starting to brown. Add the maple syrup and a pinch of salt and stir, then take off the heat, tip onto the parchment and leave to cool.

For the dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  1. Mix the dressing ingredients in a little jar.
  2. Put all the chopped veggies into a bowl, season with salt and pepper, pour in the dressing, and mix well. This would be a nice moment to add the crumbled feta cheese if you like. Scatter with the nuts and seeds, serve!

 

 

 

**********

 

As promised, here is a list of places to reach out and help Ukrainian people.

It’s beautiful here in Santa Cruz, where I’ve been the last week, visiting my mother, laughing with friends, riding my electric bike around with Stanley. I hope you are all enjoying little glimpses of spring wherever you happen to be.

 

via GIPHY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

yes, and…yes, and…yes, and…

You probably know the ‘yes, and…’ improv principle/infinity loop.

 

 But just in case:

In improv, when Person A offers something, “Wow, this line is so long.” Person B responds by accepting Person A’s statement (the “yes” part) and then building on it (the “and” part). “I know! But what do you expect, they’re giving away baby crocodiles!” Person A replies, “Perfect! Finally a way to get rid of the rats in my bedroom.”

The idea being you must be open to whatever is thrown your way (sorry, you’ll have to sit through a 4 second ad).

Why am I telling you this? Because I am trying to lean into flexibility and resilience in my life, in my writing, inside my head!

We’re faced with cruddy situations and events all the time—long lines, new variants, supply chain issues, trouble sleeping, cancelled plans—it’s what we do with those things that makes the difference. Starting with YES acknowledges the difficulty or disappointment. Ending with AND gives us the opportunity to build resilience. How are we going to cope?

Why have I been thinking about this? Because I read in the NYTs Well Newsletter about the notion of choosing one word for the entire year rather than making a resolution. The idea is the word will sit on your shoulder and gently guide you toward a new focus or a change, rather than trying to adhere to a resolution which may set you up for failure. In case this strikes your fancy, here’s a few words to peruse:

 

 

 


read

I recently read or heard:

 

“Writers must express things that normal people (meaning non-writers) cannot, but which normal people recognize as the Truth (my capitalization). Writers, like mothers, do the heavy lifting of emotional life for everyone else.”

 

That really resonates with me. When I recognize those emotional truths in a book I’m reading, I’m so damn grateful.

 

Currently I’m reading THE GREAT CIRCLE, by Maggie Shipstead, which is incredible. The characters are wonderful and maddening. I’m finding many moments of emotional truth.

A character says of the boyfriend she has jilted:

I guess I’m surprised he could walk away without needing to yell at me. Most people want you to witness how much you’ve hurt them. But not him apparently. I don’t know if that means I didn’t really hurt him or if he has more dignity than I thought.

Another character, a young teenaged girl has an interaction with a much older man and her understanding of the sexual power structure is described this way:

Her nervousness had given way to a gathered deliberate feeling. She knew, without knowing how she knew, how he wanted her to be. Amused, aloof, a little tough. She was aware of the sharp edge of the porch against her fingers. The way he watched when she stretched out her legs.”

 

 

I’m also reading (and sobbing through), CRYING IN H MART, by Michelle Zauner. This beautiful memoir about the death of Zauner’s mother disabuses us of the notion that talking about things can hurt us. Talking about things can heal us. Zauner talks about all the things, revealing much about expectations and pain in her relationship with her mother, followed by the tsunami of understanding, acceptance, forgiveness and love that floods her when faced with loss. Zauner gets messy on the page, letting us see her try to figure things out. She shows the machinery of writing, lets the reader watch her discover her book, and her return to her mother in the midst of suffering. Don’t shy away from CRYING IN H MART because it’s sad. It is resilient. Full of “Yes. And…” moments that will leave you enlarged.

 

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 exciting news brewing. Maybe a week at the beautiful Oregon Coast, sharing your work with smart, engaged writers, learning, improving, and finding deep focus is just what you’ve been craving…

 

retreat.write.energize.

 

 

Perhaps you didn’t even realize you need:

5 days of writing workshops
uninterrupted time to write
prompts to get you going
walks on the beach
gorgeous and expansive views to sweep away brain fog!
new writer friends
engagement with your writing through visual pathways
one-on-one conferencing with me
craft talks
morning yoga
healthy food you neither shopped for nor prepared
lots of laughter

If any/all of this sounds enticing,

SAVE THE DATE! October 9-15, 2022,

and do direct message me shoot me an email: natalie@natalieserber.com to get your name on the list. Our group will be very intimate and supportive. Cannot wait to share this beautiful gathering!

 

 



eat

The other day I just wanted some toddler style pasta with tomato sauce. I think I was spurred toward the craving by this Smitten Kitchen Instagram post. The sauce, I knew, was based on Marcella Hazan’s crazy-easy/crazy-satisfying recipe so I looked it up. (Side note: use only the BEST tomatoes.) Quick-fast I made it, and then I committed the colossal error of listening to my husband. “Don’t we have some frozen ravioli?” Shoot! Indeed we did, and let me tell you, nothing like soggy-ass ravioli to ruin my toddler dream of pasta with a simple sauce and some parmesan scraped over the grater. But that isn’t what I want to share with you.

In the past week I made this Smoky Sweet Potato dish twice. The first time I followed the NYTs recipe to the letter, and the second time I improvised and, dare I say, improved?  Here is my version.

Smoky Sweet Potatoes with Eggs and Almonds, à la Natalie Serber

  • 5T olive oil
  • 2lbs (okay, I didn’t weigh mine. I just used 3 good sized-about two fists pressed together- sweet potatoes), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • ¾ t kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1T ground cumin
  • 1T smoked paprika + more, I used dulce
  • 1t freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 3 to 5 thyme sprigs
  • 2T maple syrup
  • ½ t chili flakes, or more to taste
  • ¾ c plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 small garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
  • 1 lemon, both zest and juice
  •  Eggs, for frying, as many as you like
  • ½ c chopped Marcona or salted, roasted almonds
  • 1 generous bunch of kale, washed and julienned
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  •  Soft herbs, such as parsley, mint or cilantro, chopped, for serving. I used a lot! Go Big.

 

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together sweet potatoes, 3T olive oil, salt, smoked paprika, cumin, black pepper, chili flakes, thyme, and maple syrup.
  2. Spread the potatoes in an even layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Roast, stirring and flipping the potatoes occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 1 hour.
  4. As the potatoes roast, sauté the onion over medium heat in about 1T of olive oil. Once translucent, add the kale and cook until wilted. If the kale seems too tough, try adding ¼ cup of water and letting it evaporate as it cooks the kale further. Off heat.
  5. Place yogurt in a small bowl. Stir in garlic, lemon juice and zest, a large pinch or two of smoked paprika, and salt and black pepper to taste.
  6. In a large skillet, add remaining 1T of olive oil over medium-high heat and let it heat up for 20 to 30 seconds. Crack eggs into skillet and season with salt. Cook until the whites have set with crispy edges and the yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes, for a firmer yolk, flip the egg and cook for one minute more.
  7. To serve, spoon sweet potatoes into one half of an individual bowl, kale in the other side (picture a yin/yang symbol). Top with yogurt sauce and almonds. Place eggs on top, and sprinkle with paprika and a lot of the fresh herbs. Serve immediately.

I served this for a birthday brunch, along with bacon for the carnivores, and it was a huge hit!

Meanwhile, I’m still baking my way through SNACKING CAKES. I made this Chocolate-Almond-Olive Oil-Raspberry (page 139) joy bomb!

 

 

 

 

**********

 

Your dose of Stanley. Poor kid! Wherever he goes, he tries to make friends.