Are teddy bears a thing where you are? Here in Portland, PE for the home schooled kids now means a teddy bear hunt. We’re putting bears in our windows so when the kids take a walk they have something to look for. And isn’t that just it? Aren’t we all looking for something right about now? Like a reason to get out of bed at our normal hour? Or, another zoom chat so you can enjoy your cocktail with friends? New way to combat climbing the walls?
I’m all over the place in my reading life. A YA novel? Why not! Some self-help motivation? You bet! Short Stories? Bring it.
My bright-light friend, and coach extraordinaire, Jennifer Louden (who’s tugged me through a rough slump or two) has written a new book, WHY BOTHER? Discover the Desire for What’s Next. Jen knows what to bring and when to bring it. WHY BOTHER comes out at exactly the moment we may be asking ourselves basic questions like, “why bother to get out of our pajamas?” let alone, “why bother to be creative?” Her book is the perfect shelter-in-place exploration. And, she has a plan to counter our malaise! This book is a perfect kick in the pants.
I just finished the National Book Award Finalist, I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER, By Erika L Sánchez. Characters, pacing, conflict, themes, desires, it’s all going on in this book. If you have a high school student at home, this would be a terrific together read. It would open the door for important conversations about mental health, parental expectations, privacy, and the push and pull between our individual yearnings and family obligations. Julia, the young woman at the center of the book, is a force I won’t soon forget.
For a beginning fiction class I’ll soon be teaching online at Grub Street (more on that here), I’ve been rereading a few short story collections. Did any of you miss, LOST IN THE CITY, by Edward P Jones? Man, that book slays me. All of the stories take place in DC, all within the African American community. It’s so gorgeous, filled with palpable yearning, so much love of family, people trying their best in the face of unbearable obstacles. There is so much to learn about building character, about plot and setting. I am so excited to revisit this work.
Are you getting anything done writing-wise? If so, I’m so pleased for you, and if not, I feel you. I have had some great writing days and others where all I can manage is to refresh my news feed or click over to the livestream puppy cam. I hope you aren’t being too hard on yourself if your not getting anything down.
Either way, here are a couple prompts to keep you going:
Jen Louden wants us to consider, are we getting too comfortable in with the gap between where we want to be and where we are? What might we leave behind, just for the next writing session, that would free us to write with joy and truth?
All of this aligns so nicely with a project I’ve been following from Suleika Jaouad, The Isolation Journals. Jaouad is quick to let us know that while she doesn’t consider herself an expert on many things, she is an expert on quarantine due to a long struggle with leukemia. She has invited writers, musicians and artists to gift us all with a daily prompt. And, don’t fear if you’ve missed out, the prompts are archived on the website.
Here’s one from Lori Gottlieb: (an opportunity to leave behind the story that we cling to, perhaps gain some insight, at least gain another view)
Think of a story that’s keeping you stuck—it might be a story about a friend or family member, a co-worker, or even yourself (some version of “I’m not loveable” or “I can’t trust people” or ‘Nothing ever works out for me,” etc.). Now imagine the story from the point of view of every other “character” in the story. How would they tell it? How would their version of the same event differ from yours? What can you see now that you weren’t willing or able to before? How does including their points of view add complexity and nuance to the storytelling? How does taking responsibility for your role in the story make the story far more interesting and compelling to the reader?
And another from Kiese Laymon: (for a bit of that joy Jen was talking about)
What’s the funniest thing that happened to you last year? Write a paragraph from the point of view of an inanimate object that bore witness to it. Could be your hat. Could be your wedding ring, a streetlamp or the plant in the corner of the bar. Use as much sensory/sensual language as possible to describe the memory from that object’s perspective.
Yup! I tried two new things and I loved them. First off, rutabagas. Who knew? Those heavy looking root vegetables that can be big as a baby’s head, tinged with purple, they look terribly grainy and dull? Well, a couple arrived in my CSA (community supported agriculture) and I rose to the challenge. If you’ve been reading my newsletter, you know of my love for maple syrup and it didn’t fail me here. From NYTs cooking:
Farro and Rutabaga salad.
- 1 ½ pounds rutabaga, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 ½ cups farro/BROWN RICE WOULD BE GREAT, TABOULI, FREEKAH TOO WOULD WORK WELL
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, more for drizzling
- 1 fat garlic clove, minced
- ½ cup crumbled ricotta salata or feta cheese/ I USED MANCHEGO, WHICH I HAD ON HAND
- ½ cup toasted, chopped hazelnuts/SUBSTITUTED WALNUTS AS THAT’S WHAT I HAD
- 2 bunches watercress or arugula, cleaned and trimmed/SPINACH WAS A GREAT SUB
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss rutabaga with 2 tablespoons oil, the maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast, stirring once or twice, until rutabaga is very tender and browned, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Meanwhile cook your grain of choice. Use this guide from Bon Appetit And, go ahead and double up, the cooked grain freezes beautifully for the next time you want to make a grain bowl.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the shallot, vinegar, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk in 3 tablespoons olive oil and some pepper.
- Drain the grain well and add to bowl along with rutabaga, tossing everything well. Let cool slightly (it can still be warm but not hot), then mix in the cheese and nuts. Taste and add more salt, pepper and olive oil if necessary.
- In another bowl, drizzle watercress or arugula with a little oil and vinegar and toss well. Serve salad on a bed of watercress.
The second thing I used, fava bean greens! Yes the leafy tops of the fava beans are terrific in a stir fry, sautéed up with some garlic and red pepper flakes with a poached egg on top and it’s a little bit of heaven.
Finally, I woke up feeling low this week. Spent my morning making these fantastic whole wheat apple muffins, to which I added a few stalks of rhubarb. Overall, I know I’m lucky. We’ve been regularly donating to a food bank in our community. If you can swing it, here’s a link to find yours: Feeding America Another spot to consider donating to: Meals On Wheels