How are you all holding up? No, really, jeez….
Currently, I’m mystified. How did common sense public health become emasculating? (Of course I know how, still, I’m experiencing a spike in incredulity!) My husband was verbally assaulted at the Credit Union, told to f*ck off when he suggested to a white man of a certain age that he should MASK UP. A friend encountered a mask-less white woman at the farmer’s market, screaming about her civil rights when my pal requested social distancing. Caring about the health of people around you should not be emasculating. It is MASKULATING.
Please, take care of yourselves, take care of your community. Here’s the science behind the mask.
I’m loving Red at the Bone, by Jaqueline Woodson. The novel is full poetry and drama, both dense and spare. In very few pages Woodson examines issues of class, ambition, racial prejudice, sexual orientation, identity, mother-daughter relationships, parenthood and loss.
I often talk to my students about authorial custody, about how much control or leniency a writer takes with her work. A low authorial custody book allows much of the work to be written in the reader’s head, while I high authorial custody book is measured and controlled, the author carefully guiding the reader. I am not arguing for one style or another. The book I just finished and adored, The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, was a high custody novel, while Woodson’s book is low custody. One style is that of a busy Australian Shepard, circling the herd, checking that things are moving along, the other, a relaxed sheep herder showing us shapes in the clouds.
If your attention span is still diminished, as mine is (covid-19, social distance, social justice protests, (un)learning, election, confusion), here is a quick and thoughtful read, The Trayvon Generation from the June 22nd New Yorker. Elizabeth Alexander writes about the trauma of witnessing violence, how bravado and urbane-hipness may be a smoke screen for low-grade depression, and the uplift of joyfully moving bodies. After reading the article, and this interview in the NYTs, I’m picking up Alexander’s memoir on love and loss, The Light of the World. Here’s a snippet of a conversation with Alexander in which she discusses community and love built by Art. “Art replaces the light that is lost when the day fades.”
Finally, a sweet story about a pre-surgical braid! A woman goes in for brain surgery, and wakes with her hair braided. “thinking about this black man braiding my hair to prepare to cut my head open is hilarious and endearing at the same time. also the fact that he’s that active in helping his wife with their girls, I love it.” Read about it. I promise you a smile.
I want to share this lovely journaling exercise with you. It’s from Jen Louden, my friend and support beam (I mean that in both senses of the word, a beam of strength holding up the house, and a beam of light). Jen does a wonderful job of describing the tinder box we’ve built up in our hearts, just in the act of living, and also during this time of unrest.
Prevent the Blast: Anger is NOT bad or wrong! Women, especially women of color, have been taught by the dominant culture that our anger is, at the very least, unseemly and bitchy. And at its worst? It can get you killed.
When we deny our anger, the personal and collective costs are devastating. We have to learn to work with it so it energizes us to take action, both for ourselves and for our world. Anger, among other emotions, has stirred millions of people to protest against systemic racism all over the U.S. and the world. This November will hopefully be the biggest voter turnout the U.S. has ever seen.
Here is one way to work with your anger:
The uncertainty of the pandemic…
Witnessing again and again the murders of innocent Black people…
The worsening global climate…
Lack of leadership…
A few small slights from loved ones…
Microaggressions from co-workers…
Worries about money…
Imagine the hard things that have happened to you and been witnessed by you as pieces of kindling collecting in the corners of your heart. As that kindling pile grows higher, it takes less and less for it to ignite into a huge conflagration. Our nervous systems are raw. It’s hard to focus on our work, our activism, our creativity.
It’s safe to say at this point in history that everyone’s kindling piles are at an all-time high.
- Write down everything in your kindling pile. Name the anger. Write fast. Things done to you, things you’ve done. Anything goes.
- Put your hand on your heart. Let out a long exhale through your lips while making a whoosh sound. Repeat a few times. Remind yourself you are safe.
- Recall a moment when you offered your natural warmth and goodness to another human. Recall what you do: spontaneous texts to friends, checking on an elderly neighbor, donating to causes. Feel your natural warmth and goodness now.
- Read your kindling pile list. Is there anything in it that you want to, and can, take action on this week? It could be writing a letter to your police department, cutting back on news, registering to get out the vote in your town. Break it down into two or three specific things you can actually do this week. Vague plans or feeling hopeless will only feed your future fires.
- Notice if there is anyone on your kindling list you have a personal relationship with and, if so, take a few breaths to remember they too are essentially good. They too extend warmth and kindness to others. They too have good intentions, if not always skillful means. (Note: you do not need to do this for anyone you don’t want. This is not about gaslighting yourself.)
- Take what is left in the pile, the specifics, as well as general feelings of outrage, rage, fury, frustration, bitterness, even hatred, and imagine all of it is being held in a field of love. Again, not as an act of ignoring what is wrong, but to feel the truth that love is a reality, that love is a force that changes the world in incredibly practical ways. That love is where transformation begins.
If Jen seems like your jam, and you’re interested in working with her (writing coach, writing community) check her website here.
If you’d like to work with me, I’ve got virtual classes about to begin with a few spaces left:
Finding Flow – July 10 -12.
Together we will visit some questions about our work. Why we write? Why we read? What’s at the root of our frozen moments? Feeling stuck is an opportunity to look at the way we work, the way we talk to ourselves, examine our expectations, and be honest about what we can handle at this time.
Beginning Fiction – July 22 – August 26.
Ready to get the stories in your head onto paper? If there’s a story you want to tell, but you have no idea where to begin (or you need a refresher), this course is for you. We will focus on a different aspect of fiction––character, dialogue, setting, and more––and explore it through stories by authors like Stephanie Vaughn, Jim Shepard, Edward P. Jones, Zadie Smith, Lucia Berlin, Tessa Hadley, Jhumpa Lahiri to illuminate that topic and inspire our own writing. We’ll put what we learn into practice through weekly exercises and writing prompts, and in the second half of class, you will have the opportunity to submit a full short story to receive feedback from the instructor and your fellow writers, to help you get a sense of what your strengths are, and how to build on them.
Turning Life into Fiction – August 6 – September 3
We have a wealth of story possibilities in our lives. What is a story that’s often retold to the point of folklore in your family? What is the anecdote that you trot out over a beverage with friends? In this class we will use life as the starter for stories to which we apply our imagination, the skills in our writers’ toolbox, and the joy that comes from being in charge of how the story ends!
And finally, the PIE!!
When I was newly married I decided to master the pie crust. I’m not arrogant enough to say that I have, in fact, I decidedly haven’t. My pie dough, when rolled out, always requires some patching together (I blame my insistence on whole wheat pastry flour). I never get that beautiful single round you see in magazine photos. In fact, I am like the Celeste Barber of pie crust. What I lack in elegance, I make up in substance.
But, I have a terrific recipe that I’ve been using for thirty years.
Here’s a pie I’m dying to make, (yet, alas, in reduced size) because, for now, we’re only able to be together in small gatherings. Though I would normally just use my recipe for the crust, this one, with the pepper (!) sounds pretty great.
Strawberry Slab Pie (From NYTs Cooking)
- 2 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons/360 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 cup/226 grams cold unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus more for buttering the pan
- ¾ cup/177 milliliters ice water
- 2 tablespoons buttermilk
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, the salt and the pepper. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into flour until the largest pieces of butter are the size of lentils.
- Sprinkle ice water over dough a tablespoon at a time, stirring and scooping the dough with your hands as you go to incorporate the water, until the dough just begins to adhere and you can gather it into an imperfect ball. (You may not need all the water.) Transfer dough to a piece of plastic wrap and press into a disk. Wrap tightly and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Lightly butter a quarter sheet pan with a 1-inch rim, including the top edge of the rim, and set aside. (Quarter sheet pans are usually 8 by 11 inches or 9 by 12 inches, depending on the manufacturer.)
- Lightly flour a large work surface, a rolling pin and the dough. Roll the chilled dough into an 1/8-inch-thick rectangle. From that, cut a rectangle three inches bigger than the dimensions of your pan on each side Reserve the extra dough.
- Gently press the dough rectangle into the quarter sheet pan, trimming excess dough at the edges. The dough should go all the way up and over the top edge of the pan, if possible. Transfer pan to refrigerator and chill for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, line another baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out reserved dough to 1/4- to 1/8-inch thickness. Using 1- and 2-inch biscuit cutters, cut out about 30 circles of different sizes (or use all one size if you prefer), rerolling dough as necessary. Transfer circles to parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate.
- 3 pounds strawberries, small berries cut in half and larger berries cut in quarters
- 3 to 4 tablespoons loosely packed dark brown sugar, depending on berry sweetness
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon grapefruit zest
- 1 ½ teaspoons grapefruit juice
- ½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- Make the filling: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Set aside for about an hour, while crust chills.
- Heat oven to 375 degrees. When oven is hot, paint some buttermilk on the edges of the pie crust. Transfer berry mixture to crust, patting the berries down into a roughly even layer. Place pan on a larger baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake for 30 minutes.
- Paint buttermilk over reserved pastry circles and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon granulated sugar. Place circles all over the bubbling berries. Continue baking pie until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, an additional 50 to 60 minutes.
- Run a small knife around the edge of the pie while it’s warm. Transfer the pie in its quarter sheet pan to a wire rack. Let cool for at least 2 hours before cutting and serving from the pan.