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.
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.
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.”
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!