if input = output, why aren’t we more careful?

Are you taking care with your input? A steady diet of anxiety provoking headlines, television that pits desperate people against one another in a deadly game of red light/green light, the rise/fall/rise/fall of covid numbers, political logjams, it all takes a toll. I know you know this; input = output. How in the world can we be creative, experience joy, project a bit of happiness into the world if we’re eating misery and pain and stress?

I’ve banished my phone (and news headlines) from my bedroom. I’ve been rereading comforting books (Laurie Colwinanyone?), listening to songs I can shout/sing along with, binging Brene Brown/Ted Lasso content, trying new recipes, going on field trips in my town, and doing bit of volunteering.

Input = Output. Pay attention. Be thoughtful.  Here is something beautiful for you to see.

 

 


read

I read Stanley Tucci’s memoir, TASTE. Escapism is necessary. Italian food is a joy. Tucci is kind, funny, and self-deprecating. He’s a name dropper and a recipe dropper so you forgive him. If you have friends or family members that like a bit of Hollywood, a lot of Italy, some cocktails and pasta, some loss (because, well, who hasn’t had loss?), and humor, this is a great holiday gift book. Consider please:

A Negroni – Up

50 milliliters gin (1 generous shot)
25 milliliters Campari (1/2 shot)
25 milliliters good sweet vermouth (1/2 shot)
Ice
Orange slice

  • Pour all the booze in a cocktail shaker with ice.
  • Shake it well.
  • Strain into a coupe.
  • Sit down.
  • Drink it.

The sun is now in your stomach.
(There are those who consider serving this cocktail “straight up” to be an act of spirituous heresy. But they needn’t get so upset. I never planned on inviting them to my home anyway.)

What the heck is a coupe? Anyway, I’ve been a Tucci fan since BIG NIGHT. I’ve recently enjoyed his cooking/travel show, STANLEY TUCCI: SEARCHING FOR ITALY. And, I named my dog Stanley.

I also read THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS, by Sy Montgomery. Oh my. Just read it. A gorgeous and surprisingly moving book. Science, psychology, humanity, beauty… I underlined so many sections that showed me how to be a better human.

 

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 listening to a terrific writing podcast the other day, FIRST DRAFT, and was intrigued by questions the podcaster asks of all her guests. First, she wonders about a passage by another writer that meant a lot to the guest. Next, she inquires after a passage in their work that was really hard to write. So, I thought I’d interview myself.

This passage in Cheever’s story, “The Season of Divorce,” has always stayed with me. The first time I read it I was moved by the stew of upset. I was moved by how well Cheever got onto the page the compost heap of insults and events, some that you cannot even remember, that can lead to amorphous unhappiness. Just before this moment, a husband has been awakened by his wife crying in the middle of the night.

She sat up and slipped her arms into the sleeves of a wrapper and felt along the table for a package of cigarettes. I saw her wet face when she lighted a cigarette. I heard her moving around in the dark. 
            “Why do you cry?”
            “Why do I cry? Why do I cry?” she asked impatiently. “I cry because I saw an old woman cuffing a little boy on Third Avenue. She was drunk. I can’t get it out of my mind.” She pulled the quilt off the foot of our bed and wandered with it toward the door. “I cry because my father died when I was twelve and because my mother married a man I detested or thought that I detested. I cry because I had to wear an ugly dress—a hand-me-down dress—to a party twenty years ago, and I didn’t have a good time. I cry because of some unkindness that I can’t remember. I cry because I’m tired—because I’m tired and I can’t sleep.” I heard her arrange herself on the sofa and then everything was quiet. 

Like the Cheever, my passage takes place in the middle of the night, but this is between a mother and her teenage daughter. It comes near the close of my story, “Children are Magic.”

Barrett leveled her chin, slitted her eyes. She was electric. Swiftly, falteringly, she strode toward Sheila, hammering the air with the plastic pony. “Did you know? Did you ever imagine that I might like privacy? You and your sisters are surveillance cameras! Every move I make is viewed and judged. I am always on display and yet, still, somehow I’m invisible. I had no idea how exhausting it would be.” She would regret saying this. She would regret this entire exchange. She felt the shadow of regret already growing. 
            “What’s wrong with you?” Sheila took one step back. “Are you okay?”
            “Yes.” She felt the lying sting behind her eyes. “Nothing is wrong with me.” She looked at her hand, gripping the pony, shaking. How did she never realize the sting before tears was the same as the sting before milk lets down? 
             “Mom.” Sheila’s tone was both frightened and irate. “Are you drunk?”
              “I could be.”
              “This isn’t appropriate,” Sheila said. “You’re freaking me out. I’m your kid. You’re the adult.” 
              “I think, Sugar, I think you overestimate my maturity level.”

Please, interview yourself and let me know what work out in the world has inspired you? What of your own work has been particularly challenging?

In case I’ve encouraged you to try out some classes for yourself, hope over to my teaching page to see what’s up. I’ve got lots of opportunities for you!

 

 

 

 



eat

You’re welcome. These cookies will see you through the fall and winter. Double the recipe, roll sections into logs and freeze them so you can make them in a desperate moment, a cookie emergency if-you-will. If, as I’ve posited at the top of this newsletter, input = output, after these cookies your output will be delightful!

Almond Butter Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 ½ c rolled oats
  • 2 c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 c unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ c sugar
  • ½ c packed brown sugar
  • 1 T vanilla
  • ¾ c almond butter
  • 2 lg eggs
  • 12 oz bag semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Guittard)
  • 1 c (+/- depending upon your preference) slivered almonds or chopped pecans

1. In a bowl, combine oats, flour, soda, powder, and salt until well mixed.
2. In a mixer bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
3. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat well.
4. Add the almond butter.
5. Once well mixed, add the flour blend until just combined.
6. Add the chocolate chips and nuts.
7. Roll the batter into 2 or 3 logs, wrap in wax paper and chill for about 2 hours. Slice into rounds, place on a greased or parchment covered cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 8 – 12 minutes.

 

 

 

**********

 

Wishing you positive input and output. Stanley Pucci says, get out in the world! Have a beer and a card game with a pal!

why wasn’t I consulted?

Ever feel as if you’re moving through your week, minding our own business, and suddenly you’re bombarded by all sorts of bad decisions? Texas? I’m looking at you. Supreme Court? Don’t you turn your back on me! Anti-vaxxers—still? Anti-maskers—wtf? Florida? California recall? I can’t even.

I find myself wondering, why wasn’t I consulted? It bears repeating, Why Wasn’t I Consulted? #WWIC

 

via GIPHY

 

 

In case you feel similarly about things out of your control, I offer you this little spot of respite, in which Harry Styles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge dance it out in glittery argyle. Maybe we can find a way to feel good. Maybe we can treat people with kindness.

 

 


read

A wonderful friend/student suggested I read THE CHILDREN’S BIBLE, by Lydia Millet, and I’m so glad she did. A dystopian, climate catastrophe comedy? Who knew there was such a thing? The book is a generational battle royale. The kids are disgusted, the world is flooding, trees are coming down, the water is toxic, parents revert to lazy hedonism, taking MDMA in the midst of disasters. A young boy, Jack, stumbles upon a children’s picture bible and takes the stories to heart. You know, as a sort of self-help book, a code for survival.

At one point, he says about his book and about the abounding climate catastrophes, “And the proof is, there’s lots the same with Jesus and science,” Jack says. “Like, for science to save us we have to believe in it. And same with Jesus. If you believe in Jesus he can save you.”

The book is shocking and sad and funny, a gem, as well as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The same friend/student I mentioned above, Elyse Chambers, has a beautiful essay, “The Weight of Something Familiar,” that I hope you will make time to read. Not only is her writing beautiful and clear-eyed, but her story is one of resilience in the face of painful choices. Her story is particularly important now as we grapple with Texas and Greg Abbott and the threat to women’s reproductive rights.

In case you need a little uplift right now, in this moment, I offer this beautiful poem from the NYer. And, if you’d like to hear it read by the poet, click here.

 

Monday
by Alex Dimitrov

I was just beginning
to wonder about my own life
and now I have to return to it
regardless of the weather
or how close I am to love.
Doesn’t it bother you sometimes
what living is, what the day has turned into?
So many screens and meetings
and things to be late for.
Everyone truly deserves
a flute of champagne
for having made it this far!
Though it’s such a disaster
to drink on a Monday.
To imagine who you would be
if you hadn’t crossed the street
or married, if you hadn’t
agreed to the job or the money
or how time just keeps going—
whoever agreed to that
has clearly not seen
the beginning of summer
or been to a party
or let themselves float
in the middle of a book
where for however briefly
it’s possible to stay longer than
you should. Unfortunately
for me and you, we have
the rest of it to get to.
We must pretend
there’s a blue painting
at the end of this poem.
And every time we look at it
we forget about ourselves.
And every time it looks at us
it forgives us for pain.

 

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 mentioned in my last newsletter that I’ve been taking a few writing classes online and sitting in on some wonderful talks. One talk I particularly loved was from Dean Bakopoulos, “Creatures of Impulse: What Fiction Writers Can Learn from TV.” Gosh, not only was it full of wonderful insights, but it was funny and kind and true. Bakopoulos spoke about a creative sinkhole he fell into while in covid lockdown, and TV watching was how he muddled through.  Here are a few take-aways I hope enliven your work:

  • Get the characters to a place (a setting) and resist the temptation to deliver backstory, to digress, to explain. Lack of backstory can inspire curiosity in the reader and keep them turning pages. Also, trust the reader to fill in the backstory. Readers like it when you trust their intelligence.
  • Let secondary characters reveal things the main character cannot or will not talk about. Also, use your secondary characters for levity in tense scenes.
  • When a scene feels flat to you, introduce a third character. The new character will add energy, vary the mood, change the dynamic, and potentially provide an obstacle to resolution.
  • Give your characters secrets. Tension rises from keeping secrets! The reader wants to know when secrets will be divulged, what will the fallout be?  Remember to honor the thrill of the reveal.
  • No secrets, no trouble. No trouble, no plot.
  • Give your characters obsessions. Obsessions cause characters to act impulsively. Obsessions force the character through a one-way gate. They may do something from which there is no turning back, nothing will ever be the same. (For this section, Bakopoulos used The White Lotus as an example. If you haven’t watched it, give it a whirl, with a notebook in hand. Look at all the obsessions! Look at all the bad behavior! Enjoy!!)
  • Finally, Bakopoulos spoke about our obsession to write, and how we must guard it. He suggested that we must love ourselves enough to protect the joy we get from writing. We must love ourselves enough to practice our craft without expectation for approval. I hope you can do that! I hope I can too.

In case I’ve encouraged you to try out some classes for yourself, hope over to my teaching page to see what’s up. I’ve got lots of opportunities for you!

 

 

 

 



eat

My husband and I are not exactly changing our dietary habits, but neither are we willing to cook red meat anymore. We might, once in a blue moon, order it out at a restaurant, but mostly, we’re not eating it. We’re trying to have animal protein only once or twice each week. Which isn’t to say if you invite us over we won’t eat meat, we’re just choosing to opt out at home.

That said, my husband is a chicken man. Seriously, I have to leave the room when he picks the bones. Here is his latest chicken fav from NYTs Cooking (luckily with no bones):

Smashed Chicken Burgers With Cheddar and Parsley

  • ½ c mayonnaise
  • 1T plus 1t Dijon mustard
  •  Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 limes, 1 juiced (about 2 tablespoons), 1 cut into wedges
  • 1¼ c flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • ⅓ c grated Cheddar, plus 1/4 cup cubed (use fancy Oscar Wilde cheddar, it’s worth it)
  • 1 small shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1t ground cumin
  • ½ t red-pepper flakes
  • 1 pound ground chicken, dark meat
  • 2T neutral oil, such as canola
  • 3T olive oil
  • 1 large head butter or Boston lettuce, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1 ripe Hass avocado, diced
  • 4 burger buns, lightly toasted

 

  1. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise with 1T mustard. Season to taste with salt and the juice of 1 lime wedge.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix 1c parsley w/the grated cheese, shallot, garlic, cumin and red-pepper flakes. Stir in 1T of the Dijon mayonnaise mixture, 1t salt and grind of fresh pepper. Add chicken and combine. Form into 4 large, round balls.
  3. Heat a 12-inch cast-iron or heavy skillet over medium-high until very hot. Add the neutral oil, then add the chicken meatballs, spacing them out in the pan. Use a metal spatula or the back of a wooden spoon to press them until they form 1/2-inch-thick patties. Cook without moving for 3 to 4 minutes, until a deep golden crust has formed on the bottom, and they easily release from the pan. Flip the patties and cook until cooked through w/a nice crust on both sides, about 3 minutes more. If the patties need more time, you can cover the pan and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, adjusting heat as needed to avoid scorching.
  4. While burgers cook, in the bottom of a serving bowl, mix 2T lime juice with the remaining 1t mustard, whisk in the olive oil until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Add the torn lettuce leaves, avocado, remaining parsley and cubed Cheddar, and toss to coat w/dressing.
  5. Place the burgers on the buns, slather with Dijon mayonnaise, and top with a little of the greens and avocado from the salad. Serve with the salad, plus the lime wedges and any remaining Dijon mayonnaise on the side.

 

**********

 

We’ve all watched with horror the unfolding evens in Afghanistan. If you have the means, here is a way to help incoming refugees in the Portland area. Here is another opportunity, specifically for Afghan girls and women.

Wishing you a lovely mid-September. The air has turned in our little corner of the world. Maybe there is a way we can treat each other with kindness, eh? Stanley sends his love!

 

a summer of broken appliances and broken plans

It has been a summer of broken plans & broken appliances. I should be packing right now. My husband and I had plans for a five-week trip to France, two of the weeks I’d be teaching at Come to Your Senses, a wonderful writing retreat put on by the phenom, Karen Karbo. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be for us this year. I’m sure I will scroll through photos from the stalwart retreaters with some envy, some gloom, and some delight!

Meanwhile, here I am at home with a broken dishwasher, failed garage door opener, frozen air conditioner, and a washing machine that seems to be doing a dramatic, protracted death scene.

 

 

Fall is just about here, and thankfully, so is the appliance repair person! Pulling out my credit card. 🙁

 

 

 


read

Does it enlarge or diminish you?

If you’re a regular reader of my newsletter you’ve heard me lament that my reading abilities have diminished during the pandemic. A mix of anxiety, distractions (news feed anyone?) escapism television (White LotusHacks?), as well as the beautiful writing my students and editorial clients share with me each week, all of it stands between a book and me.

Now, when my thumb is poised above my iPhone or the TV remote, I try to ask myself, will this enlarge or diminish me? Maybe that inquiry will be useful to you as well?

Currently I’m reading, FOUR THOUSAND WEEKS, TIME MANAGEMENT FOR MORTALS, by Oliver Burkeman. It’s about getting off the hamster wheel of productivity and paying attention to what matters. Actually, it is a perfect book for the moment. It’s time to step away from joyless urgency. Some gems thus far:

It can’t be the case that you must do more than you can do. That notion doesn’t make any sense: if you truly don’t have time for everything you want to do, or feel you ought to do, or that others are badgering you to do, then, well, you don’t have time–…You’ll do what you can, you won’t do what you can’t, and the tyrannical inner voice insisting that you must do everything is simply mistaken

…merely to be alive on the planet today is to be haunted by the feeling of having “too much to do,” …. Think of it as “existential overwhelm”: the modern world provides an inexhaustible supply of things that seem worth doing, and so there arises an inevitable and unbridgeable gap between what you’d ideally like to do and what you actually can do.

Burkeman insists we must embrace finitude. Embrace the fact that we are all going to die, and then ask how you want to use your limited hours? “I’m aware of no other time management technique that’s half as effective as just facing the way things truly are,” says Burkeman. Or, as Mary Oliver says, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Or, as I’m saying, run like a house on fire toward your dreams!

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

Does it enlarge or diminish you?

The question was posed by my pal, Karen Karbo, in a weekend long, Writing Emergency 🔥class. I often take writing classes because I have so much to learn, because I want to remember what it feels like to be a student, and because I want to remain fresh and open to new ideas that I can in turn bring to my students. Boy am I glad I took this one!

Karen gave us plenty of room to roam in her lovely workshop. She gave us a prompt to seek out an object which inspires an unexpected emotional response. She asked us to list the things we would write about if we could, and then made us choose one and go for it!. She gave us beautiful insights:

  • What are the reader requests that the work inspires? In other words, anticipate what the reader wants to know and follow the questions.
  • Visit your work every day, even if you don’t write, engage in some way so that it remains in the forefront of your mind.
  • Writing inspires complicated feelings, of course it does! When you drill down, writing (both the act and the words on the page) is about love, and love is damn complicated.
  • When you feel stuck in your work, embark upon a boring task, see what comes up!

In addition to KK’s class, I also attended three of the recent Bread Loaf Lectures. I’ll only mention one today, it was “The Art of Revision,” from Peter Ho Davies. What a tender man! He told a beautiful story about his father and how his relationship to said story has evolved and revised over the years as Davies aged and came to understand more about his father. Here are just a couple take aways from his talk:

  • Once more, with curiosity! Progress in revision is not toward perfection, but toward learning something new, as Davies did about his father each time he revisited the story with curiosity.
  • When we keep looking we discover so many deeper, and perhaps more personal meanings to the story. What does it say about me, the writer? What does it say about shared emotion between the characters? What does it say about love? About shame? About wanting to be seen? About who we are?
  • Don’t be afraid of making the wrong choice. A dead end leads to knowledge. Go back and try something else if it doesn’t work. We can only find out by writing. There is no wasted endeavor.

I also want to give you this freeing thought from Naomi Shihab Nye, “If you believe in revision you don’t have to worry about perfection.”

 

In case I’ve encouraged you to try out some classes for yourself, hope over to my teaching page to see what’s up. I’ve got lots of opportunities for you!

 

 

 

 

 



eat

This recipe will definitely enlarge you!

Pasta w/Zucchini, Corn, Tomato, Ricotta and Herbs

  •  Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 lbs zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick pieces (for larger zucchini, cut in half lengthwise before slicing)
  • 2-3 ears of corn, slice kernels from the cob
  • One basket of sungold cherry tomatoes
  •  Salt and pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced, or 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic
  • 1 pound ziti or other dry pasta
  • 8 ounces ricotta, about 1 cup. Absolutely find the best you can, Bellwether Farms is my favorite brand
  •  Pinch of crushed red pepper
  •  Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Generous handful of fresh herbs, perhaps including but not limited to: parsley, tarragon, mint, oregano, basil, thyme, chopped
  • 2/3 c Marcona almonds, chopped

 

  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it liberally!
  2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, reduce heat to keep from browning. Add zucchini, and sungold tomatoes, season generously with salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until zucchini is soft, and the tomato skins have burst. About 10 minutes. Add corn to pan and turn off heat.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the chopped herbs, one clove of minced garlic, lemon zest, and chopped almonds in a bowl
  4. Cook pasta per package instructions but make sure to keep pasta quite al dente. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water, then drain the pasta.
  5. Add cooked pasta to zucchini in skillet and turn heat to medium-high. Add 1/2 cup cooking water, then the ricotta, crushed red pepper and lemon juice, stirring to distribute. Check seasoning and adjust. Cook for 1 minute more. Mixture should look creamy. Add a little more pasta water if necessary. Spoon pasta into warm soup plates and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Serve stat!.

 

 

**********

 

We’ve all watched with horror the unfolding evens in Afghanistan. If you have the means, here is a way to help incoming refugees in the Portland area. Here is another opportunity, specifically for Afghan girls and women.

Take good care of yourselves. Embrace finitude. Choose what really matters. Stanley consistently chooses his fish.

bliss out with a little away time

The other night I was having trouble sleeping. “Read the NYTs before you turn off the light,” says no one ever! But, that’s what I was did on this particular night, and I am so glad. I came across this beautiful essay from Andrew Rannells (Girls, Book of Mormon) about his quarantine time. He was fielding requests from people to send personal messages and recordings to them, to raise money for actors out of work during pandemic times.

Daily, I heard from young people, often in high school, sometimes older, many identifying as queer, others not specifying, all seeking messages of encouragement: statements from me saying, “You are OK,” “You are enough,” “You are going to be all right.”
I was surprised by this. I was saddened by this. I was also encouraged by this. I never would have had the courage to reach out to someone like that. To ask a stranger for a personal show of empathy. For guidance. The more I told people that they were OK, that they were enough, that they would be all right, the more I realized how much I needed to say those words. I was in need of connection and comfort, too. These interactions were more complex than I’d imagined.

Honestly, the essay is so vulnerable and true. What ultimately rises up is the question, “What can I say to you right now that will also comfort me?”

That’s it in a nutshell. Throw in some laughs, some universal truths, a story, and you’ve got the very reason I write!

 

 


read

Okay, bear with me. I know the pandemic baby-boom didn’t pan out. We all thought people stuck inside, frightened, with nothing to do, would result in lots of soothing, which leads to hugging, which leads to snuggling, kissing, which leads to… babies! But it didn’t happen.

That is simply not a good reason to skip this book. DARLING BABY, by Maira Kalman. Buy it! Put it on the coffee table, in the bathroom, somewhere that it will tempt you and your family, your guests, to pick it up and remember what it is to be still, to be quiet. What it is to observe the minutiae, the moment, the delight that is always around us, if only we would f*cking pause! (Well, maybe I’m just lecturing myself here, so please, accept my apology.) Here are a few pages:

I’m not embarrassed to say, I got a little weepy when I read it. The book is an ode to the common, vibrant beauty of life. Find a baby! Stat! Buy two copies, keep one for yourself.

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’m just back from a little DIY Writing Retreat. The first post-pandy gather with my amazing writing pal. We wrote all morning, cooked together (more on that down below), took long walks, talked work and life, laughed, and toasted our projects with pink wine. I got so much done! It is a joy and a gift to give yourself time away from home, to prioritize your creative work, to escape the niggling things (empty the dishwasher, pay the bills, the siren call of clean laundry awaiting folding!) and give over your mind wholly to the work. Seriously, it doesn’t take much… clear your calendar for even as little as one day, adopt a retreat mindset, if you can get away, do it! If not, make your retreat in your own home.

  • Set aside the day(s)
  • Plan some special/easy meals that you love. Prepare in advance. Buy good snacks.
  • Turn off social media!
  • Tell family and friends, “I’ll be writing this weekend, from 9-5 (or whatever hours). Don’t come to my door unless you are in flames.”
  • Print out your work. Read it aloud. Mark up what you love! Put question marks where you’d like to go deeper, to learn more.
  • Take walks. Move your body.
  • Make a playlist of lyric free music (here’s mine, the first song sets a mood) or don’t, if you prefer quiet.
  • At the end of the writing day, take a bath, enjoy what you’ve accomplished.
  • Drop me a note and let me know, what worked! What you did for yourself. Seriously, I want you to write. I want you to honor your creative impulses.

 

 



eat

Driving to our DIY retreat space on Whidbey Island, in Washington State, we hit Foxtail Farmstand and bought so many cherries, plus gorgeous turnips! Here’s what I did with them.

Roasted Turnips

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put a sheet pan in the oven to get hot as well.
  • Scrub the turnips, trim off the greens and set aside, cut in turnips in half, or for larger turnips, quarter. Toss with olive oil and good salt.
  • Dice ½ a sweet onion, and several cloves of garlic, or if available, 5-6 garlic scapes. Add to the turnips. Place the vegetables on the sheet pan, cut side down.
  • Roast for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Wash and chop the turnip greens. Remove the sheet pan from the oven, add the greens and roast for about 4 more minutes. Be absolutely certain NOT to overcook. Better undercooked greens (is there such a thing?) than mushy turnips, which, quite frankly, are awful.
  • Serve the turnips with a scoop of brown basmati rice, and this:

Delicious Yogurt Sauce

  • ½ c plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 T of honey, or to taste
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • A handful of rough chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Small, minced garlic clove
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix it all up in a bowl. Spoon liberally on the veggies and rice. Squeeze on some Sriracha sauce.

I’m telling you, this is brain food! The perfect lunch between writing sessions.

**********

 

I had a great time away, and I got so much work done. I felt somewhat blissed out driving home. Partly because of what I accomplished, and partly because I knew who was waiting for me at home! Joel (of course) but also Stanley! (Here he is a little blissed out as well!)

butterfly wings & groovy peacock pants…how will we emerge?

For the first time since March of 2020, I went into a clothing store and geez, was I surprised! The clothes looked like they were meant to cover a newly discovered happy-go-lucky species in yards cheerful fabric! Sure the de rigueur pile of 200+ dollar jeans still existed, but the majority of pants were soft, palazzo style in bright colors with elastic waistbands. Balloon sleeves dominated. Everything was loose and carefree, as I suppose we are now meant to be in a post-pandemic world. And yet, some of us are trying to make up for time lost in a bowl of popcorn and rewatching The Sopranos.
Keep in mind, during the zombie apocalypse, nobody brought a laptop and wrote a novel, no one learned Portuguese, or mastered Jiu Jitsu. So maybe go easy on yourself? You adjusted to the needs of the pandemic and did what you did.
As we leave the land of FOBI (fear of being invited) and re-enter FOMO (fear of missing out)? Maybe we need to dust off our social skills? And really, who would want to miss out if you had fabulous, colorful butterfly wings 🦋 fluttering on your arms, and if your legs were ensconced in pants, wide and soft and beautiful as peacock feathers 🦚?

 

 

 


read

I’m having a love affair with a book! I’m reading SECRETS TO HAPPINESS by Joan Silber and, my oh my, it is satisfying and smart. The book is a ring, which means that the stories are linked, but in surprising ways. As you move from one to the next, you don’t know which character will get the mic. A minor character in one story, is the tent pole character in the next. It’s so pleasing to watch Silber draw a web of connection, to guess who might inhabit the next story, and to piece together what the characters mean to one another, what insights I might gain with a change of perspective. Of course, as a reader I extrapolate these connections into my life and wonder, upon whom do I have more impact than I realize? Or—and this is another true pleasure— the story ring causes me to think about how much I don’t know about the lives of loose connections, those people I see in my daily life, the people who enrich my world, but aren’t really friends. If we lived in a world like a Silber story ring, we would all be well served.

I was lucky to attend a zoom conversation with Silber, on the Next Tribe platform. You can watch it here!  During her talk, she spoke about intimate gaze, and I had the chance about 39 minutes in to ask her what she meant. Here’s what she said:

“I’m very interested in what the character is saying to herself, or himself, about what is going on. I love that in other writers, I love hearing their version of events as they say it to themselves. That is quite fascinating to me.”

Another favorite moment, in responding to a question about the #metoo movement, Silber said, “I feel it’s great that men are afraid they will lose their jobs if they act like jerks.” But then she went on to comment upon her worry that women are “having too much of a sense of their own fragility.” That feels so complicated and interesting to me. How do we move through our lives, aware of the ramifications of toxic masculinity, in the workplace, in the world, even in our homes, and demand respect we deserve, while at the same time not feel swamped by a sense of fragility? Sounds like an amazing conundrum to address in a short 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

I’ve got brand new classes and opportunities for us to work together.

One Day Craft Talks:

  • A conversation about conversations, how to write DIALOG that truly earns its place on the page, coming July 17, from 10:00a – 1:00p PST.
  • Want to write full and round characters that stay with your reader long after they’ve turn the last page? BUILDING CHARACTERS is coming on July 16, from 7:30 – 10:30a PST.
  • Everything that happens in our lives and in our stories happens somewhere. Let’s talk about writing convincing SETTINGS, making the setting work double time to infuse your writing with tone, metaphorical meaning, and verisimilitude. August 20, from 7:30 – 10:30a PST.

Six Week Class:

  • I am really looking forward to teaching SIX (LOVE) STORIES IN SIX WEEKS beginning July 8, from 6:00 – 8:00p PST. This will be a playful, generative workshop, using stories from the collection, My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, edited by Jeffrey Eugenides, as a launching point into pieces of our own. Want to revisit that crush from high school? Want to write about unrequited love? The frisson of a first kiss? The motorcycle mechanic you dated to get back at your parents? Your mother’s boyfriends? This class, I promise, will be full of joy, and you’ll leave with lots of words down on the page and ideas to keep you writing the rest of the summer. Only 4 spots left! Don’t wait.

Whew! Now, as a thank you for reading through my offerings, here’s a prompt! I often use this as an icebreaker in my classes.

  • What was or would be your most depressing meal?
  • Would it be depressing because of the food, or the company?
  • What happens around the table?
  • How do you feel after?
  • Where do you go?

Please do feel free to share with me! I’d love to hear about your depressing meals. 😉



eat

I made this NYC Street Cart Chicken and Riceand I felt so comforted and loved! I don’t know why, but something about this dish, with its norm-core salad, made me feel as if I was wrapped up in my grannie’s crocheted afghan, sitting beside her on the couch and watching Love Boat. I know! What a sweet memory of a crappy show!

For the white sauce:

  • 1 c plain yogurt
  • 1 T mayo
  • 1 t white wine vinegar
  • 1 T harissa (more if you like a kick!)
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and set aside in the fridge.

For the chicken:

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • 1 T paprika (I used sweet, but you can use hot or smoky)
  • 2 t ground coriander
  • 1½ t salt
  • a few grinds of fresh black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl, add the chicken and stick in the fridge for 30 minutes to 24 hours.

For the rice:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1½ t ground turmeric
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 2 c brown basmati rice
  • 2 c chicken stock
  • ½ t salt

Heat the butter in a pan, add the spices and stir for a minute or two, until you smell the delicious warmth. Add the rice, toss to coat then add the stock and salt. Cover pan and cook until all liquid is absorbed.

For the norm-core salad:

  • 1 head of butter lettuce
  • 1 big, beautiful tomato
  • ½ small red onion, cut in slivers

Tear the washed lettuce leaves, chop the tomato into small cubes, toss in the onions.

While the rice is cooking, heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a fry pan over med heat. Place 3-4 (no overlapping) chicken thighs in pan and don’t touch for 4-5 minutes. They should easily let go of the pan at that point, so flip them. Cook 3-4 minutes more. Once all chicken is cooked, hold it in a warm oven.

When rice is finished, chop up the chicken and return to the fry pan with half of the rice. Heat well, scraping up the crispy bits of chicken.

On a large platter, pile the rest of the rice. Lay the chicken and rice on top. Circle the whole thing with the salad. Liberally dress with the white sauce. If you have pita, or naan, well made and worthy, serve alongside.  Invite friends! Serve with a fav beer!

Speaking of beer/alcohol. We are drinking less at our house (after pandemic slippage and reliance) which means, I want the alcohol I drink to be very delicious. Enter this NYTs article about the wine of summer. Spoiler alert, it isn’t white or pink!

**********

too long…. who cares? turns out, I do!

too long, who cares… so I said to a pal last week when she pressed a long article about a celebrity bad boy and his bedroom peccadillos into my hands. Too long, who cares…. is also my thought on making these homemade twisty cinnamon rolls (though if someone wants to make them and share–yes please!). Is it blasphemy to say too long, who cares… about the million hour Hemingway documentary series? Honestly, another white guy? Full disclosure, I LOVE the Nick Adams Stories, and Moveable Feast, but do I need to know more? 🤷🏻‍♀️

Too long, who cares… is that what Adam Grant at the NYTs meant when he wrote that we’re all languishing? Another smarty responded that we aren’t languishing, we’re dormant.  I’m just…meh. Like Bob Dylan here, who didn’t manage to learn the words to “We Are the World” and sort of hummed along. (Seriously, that link is worth a peek!)

 

 

 


read

Too long? Not short stories. I’m very excited to dive into Elizabeth McCracken’s newest collection, THE SOUVENIR MUSEUM. Here’s a little descriptive teaser:

In these stories, the mysterious bonds of family are tested, transformed, fractured, and fortified. A recent widower and his adult son ferry to a craggy Scottish island in search of puffins. An actress who plays a children’s game-show villainess ushers in the New Year with her deadbeat half-brother. A mother, pining for her children, feasts on loaves of challah to fill the void. A new couple navigates a tightrope walk toward love. And on a trip to a Texas water park with their son, two fathers each confront a personal fear. 

I love McCracken’s sharp wit and squishy heart. And, even better news, McCracken’s collection is the May pick for the Merriam-Webster Book Club. If you can stand another zoom, there will be a conversation w/McCracken in late May. You can sign up here. If you’ve not read her work before (oh boy, are you in for a treat!) I highly recommend, AN EXACT REPLICA OF A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION, and THUNDERSTRUCK.

Too long? Not poems. My friend, Kelli Russell Agodon, has a beautiful new collection, DIALOGUES WITH RISING TIDES, from Copper Canyon Press.  Equal parts funny and true and heartbreaking. Go ahead, buy the book, put it by your bedside to indulge in one poem each night before sleep.

Here is a small taste:

To Help with Climate Change, We Buy Rechargeable Sex Toys

When the saleslady says, this one gets about forty-five minutes 
before needing to be recharged, I joke, Forty-five minutes? 
What is this, amateur hour? Somewhere in another city
a woman is making a sign for a protest that reads,
The earth is hotter than my imaginary girlfriend.
We’re doing our part in different ways like the people
who arrived in a Prius holding a pamphlet, The Eco-Friendly
Guide to Sex Toys—they bought the handblown dildo
created by a local artist. As I pick up
the feather tickler from the bargain bin, I think
of the decline of North American birds, three billion birds
missing and how each year fewer cliff swallows return
to our neighborhood. And as I hold the blue vibrator
I was told Oprah recommended (a detail I kind of doubt),
I’m reminded of a sky I saw when I was eight,
before the brown haze of smog turned the city
into a health concern, the wife of a superhero dying
of lung cancer at forty-four even though she never smoked,
the thin layer of ash we wonder about and then wipe off
our car windows before we drive home.

If Kelli’s work appeals to you, and I hope it does, please save the date, June 2nd, at 6:30 PDT, for One Page Wednesday. Kelli will read, and so can you! Check it out here.

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

Who Cares? Me! I care. I recently read a quote which was a jab to my heart…

“It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy. Nobody wants to read your shit.”
-Steven Pressfield

And I fear it’s true. But, here’s the thing, we can’t let that stop us from telling our stories. In a recent NYer interview John Swartzwelder (a writer for The Simpsons) says:

Nobody wants to read a book. You’ve got to catch their eye with something exciting in the first paragraph, while they’re in the process of throwing the book away. If it’s exciting enough, they’ll stop and read it. Then you’ve got to put something even more exciting in the second paragraph, to suck them in further. And so on. It’s exhausting for everybody, but it’s got to be done. 

We just have to make the work so engaging that people keep reading. How? Well that’s the sixty-eight dollar question. Here’s some ideas:

  • Characters readers care about
  • Characters who yearn (we all understand yearning, yes?)
  • Humor
  • Good, clear writing that keeps a reader on solid ground + curious
  • Something meaningful happens
  • Snappy dialog
  • Solid settings
  • SCENE (put the reader in the action)

I guarantee that you are good at some of the things on this list and others, well, maybe not. But we’ve got to keep going. Get the words on the page, let them sit, then come back the next day to alter, tighten, make it all more specific and vivid and true.

Here’s Swartzwelder again, speaking about the next move once the first draft is down:

It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight. I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way. 

And, to get that draft down, here’s a prompt I hope inspires you:

  1. On 5 strips of paper jot down five specific locations.
  2. On 5 more strips of paper write emotions and antecedents (what caused the emotion).
  3. Finally, write on 5 more strips of paper an embellishment. Could be a sound, a texture the weather, some surprising detail.
  4. Pick one strip of paper from each pile and write for 10 minutes.
  5. An example:
    1. the dishwashing pit at a House of Pancakes
    2. angry character because the boss said she has to work on her birthday
    3. a wet kitten outside the window.

If you’re interested in working with me, I’ve got a number of one day craft workshops coming up. Topics will include how to write FULL AND FASCINATING CHARACTERS (June 5, 10:00 – 1:00), and, a conversation about conversations, writing DIALOG that truly earns its place on the page, coming July 17. Finally, I am really looking forward to teaching  SIX (LOVE) STORIES IN SIX WEEKS (Thursday evenings, beginning July 8), that will be a playful, generative workshop, using stories from the collection, My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, edited by Jeffrey Eugenides, as a launching point into pieces of our own.

 

 

 



eat

Who cares… even if it isn’t the best for you, we all need a little sugar in our lives now and then, right? I do. I’m totally going to make this Strawberry Snack Cake. I love the way the recipe says to place the strawberries “shoulder to shoulder” as if they are a marching band!

I’ve also dug out this family fav meal:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to think about how fine everything is

No thing comes even close
To what we treasure most
than to be with friends
                             Bobby McFerrin

 

 

We can be with friends! (McFerrin’s song, Friends, has been on repeat over here!)

Our neighbors invited us over to celebrate a birthday in their backyard. It was clear, it was warm, and in the newly free-from-lockdown world, it was even more delightful than usual. We paraded into their back garden bearing hot dishes, met by freshly mown grass, so vivid and fragrant, a set table, sparkling pink wine in glasses, and smiling faces. Since it was our friend’s birthday, I cooked, and when I’d asked earlier in the week what he’d like for his meal, he gave me a list of hearty, mom-style meals—fried chicken, meatloaf, mac & cheese, a broccoli quiche. Now, this pal is a gourmet with no qualms about whipping up a home sushi feast, popcorn flavored ice cream, olive oil cakes, you know, stylish and inventive food. This list he gave me? It warmed my heart. Honestly. No matter how old we get to be, childhood delights bring us comfort.

What would you want at your birthday meal, if, oh, I don’t know, you’d been deprived of friends and family because of a global pandemic for more than a year?  Honestly, I’d be happy with my favorite, red wine and buttered popcorn, if I could sit around and laugh with friends.

PS. I made our friend this meatloaf, and this mac & cheese (paywall, sorry), both of which I have shared with you in the past.

 

 

 


read

As we all begin to wean off the zoom cocktail hour portal and have more IRL friend visits, I thought it appropriate to read about friendships as well. Here are just a few books I’ve loved that celebrate pals– laughter, misunderstandings, compassion and competition, love, generosity, betrayals and abandonments– all of which are a part of our human friendships.

RAMONA THE PEST, by Beverly Cleary. RIP Ms. Cleary, and long live Ramona! Ramona, forever preserved as the subject of her own life, lives freely, with a joie de vivre of girlhood adventure, friendships, and a say yes attitude. My children and I spent many bedtimes reading about Ramona, laughing together and loving her world.

FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS, by Arnold Lobel. Not only are Frog and Toad friends, they’re practically Buddhists in their attitudes, kindnesses, and ability to live in the moment. Consider this from the story, “Alone,” when Toad goes to Frog’s home to find a note telling him that Frog isn’t home and that he’s gone off to be alone. The note sets Toad into crisis mode, worrying that Frog is sad. But, when he finds his friend, sitting on an island, staring over the pond, this is what Frog tells him:

“I am happy. I am very happy. This morning when I woke up I felt good because the sun was shining. I felt good because I was a frog. And I felt good because I have you for a friend. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to think about how fine everything is.”

I wish I’d had a bit of that attitude during the past thirteen months, bouncing off my four walls.

SWING TIME, by Zadie Smith. Not only is this a novel about a girlhood friendship that comes to an end when the characters hit their twenties. Not only is it about the complications that arise when friends share a dream of the future but only one achieves it, it’s got TAP DANCING!!

WHO WILL RUN THE FROG HOSPITAL, by Lorrie Moore. A gorgeous novella about a friendship, about the liminal time in girls’ lives when they go from girlhood to womanhood, when they shift from being the subjects of their own lives, to objects in the world. The time is fraught and powerful. How do we help a friend when we realize they need help before they are willing to accept it?

TRUTH AND BEAUTY, by Ann Patchett, is the story of her friendship with the writer, Lucy Greely. It was a complicated friendship, both blessing and burden, complicated but neither woman wavered in commitment. None of us escape the sticky moments, the times we feel that it is almost too much, but when loyalty and love prevail we feel lifted up, having built an even more solid intertwined history to see us through.
Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter.

 

 

 



write

A number of years ago at SFMOMA I stumbled into an exhibit called, Side by Side. Included were paintings by David Hockney, Frieda Kahlo, Alice Neel, Travis Collinson and Njideka Akunyili Crosby. I remember spending much time in the gallery, particularly in front of the Neel painting, “Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian.”

 

 

I love her work. The colors, the insouciance of the gaze, the casual, claiming arm slung over the back of the chair, it all appealed to me.

So I offer you a prompt: How did these two meet? Who are they looking at? What will happen once we turn away?

And, as an additional prompt, museums are opening up! Take yourself on an Artist Date. Bring a notebook. Scribble. Be curious. Fill your well.

If you’re interested in working with me, I’ve got a number of one day craft workshops coming up. Topics will include how to write VIVID SETTINGS (May 15, 10:00 – 1:00PT), creating FULL AND FASCINATING CHARACTERS (June 5, 10:00 – 1:00PT), and, stay tuned for a conversation about conversations, writing DIALOG that truly earns its place on the page, coming July 17. Finally, I am really looking forward to teaching a SIX (LOVE) STORIES IN SIX WEEKS (Thursday evenings, beginning July 8), that will be a totally playful, generative workshop, using stories from the collection, My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, edited by Jeffrey Eugenides, as a launching point into pieces of our own. As always please feel free to email me with questions or to get on my list regarding upcoming spots in my private (via zoom) workshops.

 

 



eat

Friendship. Springtime. This girl’s fancy turns to asparagus and strawberries. I’m all for eating what’s in season, hence my grocery cart currently can’t make it through the store without these two plopped in. Here are three recipes I’ve been making over and over, a simple salad, a delectable side dish, and simple dessert.

This salad is vegan, but if you like, a little goat cheese would be a nice addition.

Strawberry Asparagus Salad

  • 1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 20 medium strawberries, sliced
  • About 10 leaves basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Place asparagus on a parchment lined baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil and flakes of salt.
  3. Roast asparagus for 8-10 minutes, until just tender (do not overcook!)
  4. While asparagus is roasting, boil the balsamic vinegar until reduced to about 1/4 cup
  5. Divide asparagus among the plates and top with sliced berries, basil, and salt and pepper.
  6. Use a spoon to drizzle each serving of asparagus with the balsamic syrup.

Roasted Asparagus with Buttered Almonds, Capers and Dill (Yotam Ottolenghi)

  • 1 ⅓ pounds asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 3T olive oil
  •  Salt and black pepper
  • 2T unsalted butter
  •  1/4c sliced (flaked) almonds
  • 3T baby capers, patted dry on paper towels
  • ½ c roughly chopped fresh dill
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees Line a baking sheet w/parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl or on a work surface, toss the asparagus with 1T oil, a generous pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper. Arrange asparagus on the paper-lined pan, spaced well apart. Roast, shaking the pan occasionally, until asparagus is soft and starting to brown in places, 8 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove from oven and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat until foamy. Add almonds and fry, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes (reduce heat to prevent scorching). Pour almonds and butter evenly over asparagus.
  4. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and heat over high heat. Once hot, add the capers and fry, stirring continuously, until they have opened up and become crisp, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, remove capers from the oil and sprinkle over the asparagus. Add dill. Using tongs, mix gently, transfer to a large plate and serve warm.

And, my personal favorite of the bunch. When I was a young woman, starting out with my own dinner parties, my friend/roommate/sister-from-another-mother, and I served this often.

Stawberries Romanoff

  • 2 pints strawberries, washed and stemmed
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  1. Slice the strawberries. In a large bowl, toss three-quarters of them with the sugar and orange liqueur. Using a fork, mash up a few, breaking them to thicken the liquied and infuse w/flavor even more. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to macerate.
  2. Put the cream in a cold mixing bowl and, using the whisk attachment, or a handheld electric mixer, whip to soft peaks, about 12 minutes.
  3. Distribute the cream among 6 chilled bowls. Mix the plain sliced berries with the remaining macerated berries and place on top of the cream.

Serve to your gathered friends and feel très sophistiqué.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

micro happiness triggers

I’ve been thinking about triggers. Words, events, personal history, people, a slant of light that gives rise to a memory, any and all of these can trigger a trauma response in our bodies, igniting unhappy somatic experiences, shadows pass over our faces, our hearts. I’ve also been thinking a lot about agency and focus and choice.
Nearly every morning, while I (ma)linger in bed, my husband goes downstairs to let the dog out and to get us coffee. Soon I hear the patter of Stanley’s paws running back up the stairs, and then he pogoes into bed beside me. That galloping sound? That’s a happiness trigger. Same as it was when the patter was my children, running into our room in the morning. My husband, holding two mugs is also a happiness trigger. I started making a joke when the coffee, Stanley, and my husband arrived, “Well, best part of the day is over!”
But why? A happiness trigger is the expectancy of good to come. It’s anticipatory pleasure. Surely those can happen all day long. I want to pay more attention. Here’s a few of mine:

  • waking to birdsong
  • smell of popcorn
  • self-help section of the bookstore (hope springs eternal!)
  • ping of a text from a pal
  • opening notes of a fav song (“Sweet Baby,” by Macy Gray. “All I Want,” by Joni Mitchell. “April in Paris,” by Ella.)
  • freeway exit for my hometown
  • new Lorrie Moore, Tana French, James McBride book
  • onions and butter on the stove
  • tight fist of a peony
  • smart women talking and people listening

As we move toward a covid-thaw, after the last year of struggling, worrying, managing (perhaps barely), maybe we can look for micro-happiness triggers (henceforth to be known as MHTs) to see us through while we wait for everyone to be vaccinated.  I am truly curious, what are your MHTs? Maybe your joy will become mine as well.

 


read

In addition to my regular workshops, which I ADORE, I’ve been teaching a series called Let’s Talk Craft! I mention this here because I’ve been reading, re-reading, and enjoying all over again a lot of individual stories for our discussions. Here’s just a few great story collections:

NATASHA, by David Bezmozgis is so good. This collection came out in 2005 and I am delighted that I had the opportunity to reread the eponymous story. The collection is linked stories about Russian Jews who emigrate to Toronto and the difficulties of navigating two cultures. Funny, smart and wrenching.

ANTON CHEKOV STORIES, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is something any writer should own, but if you don’t have it in you to read a collection, you can find “The Lady with the Little Dog,” here. It is a gorgeous story about how even a cad can surprise himself by his capacity to love. Plus, the way in which Chekov conveys boredom with a watermelon is amazing! You’ll just have to read it.

HEART SONGS, by E. Annie Proulx. This is a beautiful collection full of weather and landscape, surprising tenderness and perseverance. The story, “A Run of Bad Luck,” is a favorite of mine. I will never unsee the  “high hat” of snow on a pick-up truck, an overnight accumulation that indicates infidelity, a man staying too long in the house. (Talk about the perfect detail!)

BARK, by Lorrie Moore. What can I say. I adore her. I wish I could have dinner with any one of her women. I particularly love the story, “Thank You for Coming.” Check this out:

 “Mom, What are you doing?” asked my fifteen-year-old daughter, Nickie. “You look like a crazy lady sitting in the kitchen like this.”
“I’m just listing to some music.”
“But like this?”
“I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“You are so totally disturbing me.”
Nickie had lately announced a desire to have her own reality show so that the world could see what she had to put up with. 

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter.

 

 

 



write

At the start of this note I mentioned triggers and somatic responses to triggers. Paying attention to those responses, the elevated heart rate, the exhaustion, the sinking feeling in your stomach, the agita, is not only good self-care (naming and pausing, baby!), it’s also good to notice for your writing.

Here’s a prompt, not only to consider how to convey emotions in your characters, but also to keep your writing butt in your chair.

  1. Think of an event that happened today, or yesterday, something which evoked an emotion in you. Record the event, but only moment to moment, through your senses. Never name the emotion. Never explain, analyze or interpret the emotion, just write the responses. After you’ve practiced this on yourself, try it for characters in your stories. Here are some cues to help get words down.
  2. Write about:
    1. Signals inside the body—temperature change, heartbeat, muscle reactions, neural change
    2. Signals outside the body—posture, gesture, facial expression, tone of voice, etc…
    3. Flashes of past/experiences of the emotion—little bursts that reference what we experienced in the moment of the event. (oh, I’ve felt this before when I was six and my mom was late to pick me up from school…) These come not as analysis, but as sense impressions.
    4. Flashes of the future—something we desire or anticipate or dread that comes to us through images, bursts of a waking dream.
    5. Sensual selectivity—our emotional culling of the environment to only let in certain clues.  For example the experience may put us into a space where we can only see positive things: the blue sky between the clouds, the tiny blooms on the azalea, etc… Or, of course, only the negative things: the ribs of the stray cat, the painfully scabby nose of the man living outside, the car driving slowly down the street with smoky windows.
  3. I encourage you to try this prompt when you feel stuck in your work, or when you feel a character isn’t coming to life on the page.

If you’re interested in working with me, check out these two upcoming classes. Let’s Talk: Scene online through Grub Street on April 3rd, find it here. My Craft Talk: Setting class is online through Literary Arts on May 15th, find it here. If a class/discussion on Dialog, Writing Beautiful Sentences, Plot (Meaningful Action), Endings, or Revision sparks your interest, shoot me an email and I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 



eat

I’ve been seeing articles and listicles about what we will abandon from the before-time, and what new habits and behaviors we’ll all maintain after the covid-thaw. One thing I know, I’ve permanently given up underwire. A thing I won’t give up? You’ll have to wrestle me to the ground to keep me from making the sauce that got us through the pandy.

Not. Joking.

I think I made it eight times. I kept frozen quarts at the ready. We had it on scrambled eggs with sauteed chard. On mushroom ravioli. With meatballs of every variety. We added more red pepper flakes and put it on shrimp and linguini. I ate spoonfuls while staring out the window, mystified and depressed at the rain and the empty streets. When our power was on-again-off-again during the ice storm, we simmered it and had it on cheesy polenta. I’m telling you, with this sauce, you can’t go wrong! Thank you, Ina Garten.

Arrabiata Sauce

2/3 cup good olive oil
1 c whole peeled garlic cloves (24 cloves…not joking!)
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
2 t whole fennel seeds, crushed
1 t crushed red pepper flakes (+ or – to taste)
1/3 c dry red wine, such as Chianti
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. In a medium pot or Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the garlic has softened and is lightly browned. (Watch carefully. Don’t get cocky and look away or it will burn and you’ll have to peel all that garlic again. You don’t want to do that!)
  2. Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes, place them in a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and pulse until they’re roughly chopped. With a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to the food processor and pulse again to chop the garlic. Pour the tomato mixture into the pot with the olive oil, add the fennel, red pepper flakes, red wine, salt, and black pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Pretty much I’ve just given you the keys to the kingdom! Put this on anything and you will be happy.

 

 

 

dinner party? my version of heaven!

Blah, blah, yeah, yeah—it’s been a year since we all locked down. I had planned on a big ol’ note about all the things that saw me through, 49 things, or 72 things, or a nice round 100 things. But then I saw so many articles, lists, and posts, I got bored. Yes it’s been a year. And, yes, I watched a lot of tv. I baked cakes. I read a few books. I knit a poncho!! I learned to mix up a damn good Boulvardier. But I’m ready to look ahead. Vaccines are rolling out. We’re seeing movement toward opening up—schools, restaurants, our homes, spring buds, the fragile green of newborn leaves.
We hosted our first dinner party (see menu below), indoors and mask free. Since all four of us had been vaccinated, we actually hugged! It was amazing. Hang tight. Change is coming.

 

 

 


read

My poor students must be so sick of hearing me wax poetic/drone on (depending on your point of view) about George Saunders’s newest book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.  In it, Saunders shares a story from a Russian Master, and then unpacks all the things we have to learn from the work. Not only do we get to read Chekov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, but we get to learn from Saunders, enjoy his wit, and his deep humanity. Really, just get the book.
To entice you, here’s a quote in which he discusses Chekov’s story, “The Darling.”

At the beginning of the story, we love Olenka because we perceive her to be good; in the middle sections we feel distant from her. In the end, we love her again, but in a deeper way: we love her even though we have, by way of Chekhov’s guidance, been urged to take her fully into account. We love her even though we see all of her. Maybe we didn’t know we could do that, love a person this deeply flawed, someone who is, arguably, doing harm (to a kid no less), but now we know that we can, at least for a little while.  

For me, love may be the wrong word. What feels more true is that I understand her yearnings, I know her, and therefore her humanity, and therefore my own. I stand beside her in acceptance and solidarity. Being a human is sloppy and hard. Wow. Literature does make us better people. Thanks, George!

I also read a gorgeous story in the New Yorker. “The Winged Thing,” by Patricia Lockwood. She is a contortionist! Writing about such a painful situation and filling me with wonder, a few grateful laughs, and a new understanding of how people make it through. You can listen to her read her story on The NYer: The Writers Voice podcast. The story comes from her new novel, No One is Talking About This, which is now on my TBR list, as well as her memoir, Priestdaddy. Plus, I’ve heard her twitter feed slays, mine does not, though I have a running twitter feed in my head all the time and it is really funny. Just sayin’.

And 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

In previous newsletters I’ve mentioned the craft talks I’ve been offering. I am having so much fun, zooming with writers, taking a deep dive into aspects of craft. So far we’ve discussed SCENE and PLACE, next up on the schedule: CHARACTER. In the late spring and summer I’ll be offering talks on DIALOG, THE CLEAR AND BEAUTIFUL SENTENCE, and MEANINGFUL ACTION.

In our time together we examine specific texts I’ve sent off in advance. I offer handouts, prompts, and lots of discussion. My class on SCENE is at Grub Street on April 3rd, find it here. My class on PLACE is coming up at Literary Arts on May 8th, find it here. And, if you’re interested in my CHARACTER discussion, or any of the others I’ve listed above, shoot me an email and I’ll keep you posted.

No matter where you are in your writing life, you will appreciate this little gem from McSweeney’s, The Literary Agent’s Manifesto.”

 

 

 



eat

As I said, we had a dinner party and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, or at least my version of heaven—friends around the table, feeling the love by being well fed, well cared for, laughing and listening. Wow.

I made this gorgeous Spanakopita from The Greens Cook Book, by Deborah Madison (which I’m afraid you can only find used).

 

 

Alongside I served what has become the go to chicken at our house, One-Pot Chicken with Dates and Caramelized Lemon. Plus, a butter lettuce salad with roasted asparagus tossed in a simple lemon/olive oil dressing, with flaky salt and ground pepper. We had these ice cream bars for dessert, because, come on, I can only do so much in a day!

 

 

 

 

valentines for the whole class

Remember when we used to make Valentine’s Day cards for everyone in our class? Well, currently everyone in our class is in need of some Valentine love. Romantic love, of course, but let’s also celebrate friend, family, good neighbor, grocer, wine-merchant, vaccine-giver, postal-worker love. Where can we share love? Where can we show up to undo some of the loneliness and heartbreak we’re all feeling in various degrees? Pop a Valentine under a neighbor’s door. Stick a stamp on an envelope and send one to your mom.

We had a Valentine factory at our home. Here’s the pile, ready for the post office!

 

 

 

 


read

I read Peter Ho Davies new novel, A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself. Man, he is the KING of the witty repartee! The DUKE of the bon mot! The KNIGHT of word play! All of that coupled with a tender, sincere examination of what it is to be a father, to worry and love, to fail and to thrive. I read so many books with families at the heart and rarely do I read a novel or a story from a father’s point of view. (For a good story from a dad’s POV, read, “Cold Little Bird,” by Ben Marcus in the New Yorker. A delightful and clear examination of bad behavior, with the acknowledgement–for the reader, not the character–that what we may think is our best is actually pretty shitty.)

In the midst of all the world trauma, I resisted picking up Natasha Trethewey’s, Memorial Drive. A memoir in which she revisits the loss of her mother, who was murdered by Trethewey’s step-father. Of course the language is gorgeous, as Trethewey is a poet, and the meticulous examination of her life, her decisions to be silent, her anxieties as a child, are so compelling, so vivid. Honestly, I’ve gone back to reread chapters as I’m making my way through. She also is fearless about playing with form, switching to second person point-of-view, and writing a meta-narrative in which she speaks directly to the act of remembering and the act of writing this book.

I’ve also started reading, Transcendent Kingdomby Yaa Gyasi. I loved her debut novel, Homegoingand Transcendent Kingdom promises to be wonderful as well. Gyasi has a confident storytelling voice, a character with whom I want to spend hundreds of pages, and big stakes. It’s the story of an immigrant family, a young woman scientist, addiction, and this far in, it seems to be about how we often make choices in our lives—career, partner, home—that try to undo the mistakes and losses of those we love.

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

Here’s an easy prompt that may fix a stuck moment in your work in the same way duct tape fixes, well everything. Take a phrase from your current project, a clause, half a sentence from the start of a scene that has been dogging you, and write it at the top of a clean sheet of paper. Examples:

  • When she opened the door,
  • Across the bridge,
  • That wasn’t the point,
  • Marci had the blow dryer on,

Set the timer for 10 minutes and write ONE LONG SENTENCE. Just keep going. Let your mind wander like a free range chicken. Trick yourself into liberation by saying, this isn’t even in my document, this isn’t even in my story, this is a quick walk around the block to see if I find anything new.
I have been very surprised by what I discover. And, I’m here to say, one of the things you may discover is how to vary your sentence length!

This covid pandy will soon be over. It will. Enough of us will be vaccinated. Numbers will drop and we will emerge from our homes, warily gathering to hear music, have a drink, go to a reading, and take an in-person class. We will cancel our zoom accounts. We will be set free. Seize this moment, I encourage you to find an online writing class. Meet writers from all over the place, study with authors you may not have had access to otherwise. Zoom and the pandy have exploded learning opportunities.
So far I’ve taken a memoir writing class, a generative story writing class, and an intensive weekend class on the sentence. I’m about to take a class about writing through our resistance. My go to spots are: Hedgebrook, Grub Street, Literary Arts, and Community of Writers. But, there are many others. Do yourself a favor, dig around, invest in yourself, invest in your work.

If you’re interested in taking a class with me, I am offering a monthly series, Let’s Talk, CraftIn January I held a class on Scene Writing. Ten participants read examples, shared ample handouts, discussed what makes a scene vivid and compelling, wrote and shared from prompts. It was a great Saturday morning. In February, Let’s Talk, Craft will focus on Setting/Place.
I’m really excited about these conversations! If you’d like to find out more, do drop me a line. If you’re kicking yourself for missing the scene class, don’t fear as I am offering it through Literary Arts on March 6, find out more here.

I am also offering another round of my ten week Memoir Infusion workshop through Literary Arts. I adore this class! If you’ve got some words down and are looking for a shot in the arm (oh, see what I did there! vaccine on the brain) as well as new skills to strengthen your work, plus a community, this is the workshop for you.

 



eat

As you know, this year, I am taking a deep dive into one cookbook each month, preparing as many recipes as possible. For January, I ransacked the pages of Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman. And, believe me when I say, I’ll be revisiting her salads especially. February has me staring down the gorgeous Simple, by Yotam Ottolongi.

Like President Biden with his plethora of Executive Actions, I’ve hit the ground running!  So far I’ve made:

  • Fried Broccoli w/Kale, Garlic, Cumin & Lime (meh…)
  • Roasted Asparagus w/Almonds, Capers & Dill (so so good!)
  • Roasted Carrots w/Harissa & Pomegranate (delicious)
  • Chicken Marbella (Silver Palette fans, this recipe uses molasses instead of sugar, a bonus)
  • Chicken w/Miso, Ginger & Lime (made this twice! once with tofu, see below)
  • Bridget Jones’s Pan-Fried Salmon w/Pine Nut Salsa (fantastic!)

So, here’s my version of the Miso, Ginger & Lime Tofu. Be certain to cook up your favorite rice to serve with.

Ingredients

  • 1 package (14oz) tofu, sliced into 8 slabs
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • salt
  • 2 1/2T mirin
  • 2 1/2T maple syrup
  • 2 1/2T soy sauce
  • 1/4c white miso
  • 3T peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1 lime, zested & juiced
  • Handful cilantro stems cut into 2 1/2-inch lengths
  • 2 red chiles sliced in half lengthwise
  • 10 green onions, sliced in half lengthwise

Step 1
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the tofu on a plate, drizzle w/1T oil and 3/4 tsp salt.

Step 2
Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add final T of oil, once hot, add tofu, cook for 3-4 minutes, turn over, cook for another 2-3 minutes, then remove from the pan. Set aside on a plate.

Step 3
Place the mirin, maple syrup, soy sauce, miso, ginger, garlic, lime zest, and lime juice in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Spread half miso mixture over tofu, flip and spread the remainder on the tofu so that everything is coated. Put the cilantro, chiles, and the 10 halved green onions into a high-sided baking dish. Place the tofu on top. Scrape the rest of the mirin-miso sauce over top.

Step 4
Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil, and return the dish to the oven for 15 minutes uncovered. The tofu will be golden brown, sticky, and tender and the chiles and green onions will be soft.

Step 5
To serve, mound rice on a plate and place tofu on top. Surround it with the cilantro, chile, and halved green onions. Finally, drizzle with any sauce you can scrape from the pan.