Nervous? Confused? I feel you. I’ve written this newsletter three times in the last four days and I keep redoing it because, well, things change swiftly. I’ve gotten the horrible notification on my phone that my screen time has gone up–way, way up–since last week. I keep hitting refresh and my emotions run the gamut from freaked out to less freaked out. So, I’m jamming this newsletter with things to keep you busy, creative, and chill. And, here’s a short shelter-in-place soundtrack.
My attention span is about as long as my thumbnail. But, here’s what I’m thinking about reading:
1. Writers & Lovers, by Lily King. So far, I’m all in. The main character, a young writer, is struggling to build a creative life in the face of huge loss (the end of a relationship and the sudden death of her mother), as well as tremendous financial stress. I LOVED Euphoria, King’s last novel, so I’m excited about this one.
2. Tiny Habits, by BJ Fogg. I heard Fogg on the Armchair Expert podcast and it was a great convo. Big takeaway, you can affect the changes you wish for in your life by shrinking your goals. One example, want to be more creative? Promise yourself 10 minutes of playing an instrument daily. Just 3 chords on a guitar. It’s creative. It’s fun. It’s low pressure. The vibration against your body, expressing yourself, it’s all good for you.
3. Charms for the Easy Life, by Kaye Gibbons. From the flap copy, the main character, “possesses powerful charms to ward off loneliness, despair, and the human misery that often beats a path to their door.” Huh, misery beating a path to our doors? Sounds like a book for our times!
4. In case reading is hard right now (due to that refresh button thing) here’s a podcast I enjoy: Conan O’Brian Needs a Friend. Particularly this episode, a special self-quarantine conversation. I was on a walk, laughing so hard, people looked at me as if I was insane.
5. If you need to buy books, please, please buy from small businesses. Many bookshops are waiving mailing costs, offering drive-thru pickup if you pre-order online. If you don’t have those options, check out this website: Bookshop where you’re able to shop online and credit your local independent bookseller at checkout. If you who don’t have a local independent bookseller, may I suggest Cloud and Leaf? Being isolated as they are, in tiny and adorable Manzanita, Oregon, they will struggle. The writer Deborah Reed, whose work you can see here, just bought the store! Let’s give her a leg up, no?
6. War and Peace anyone? These times may call for Tolstoy! Check out this massive virtual book group, Tolstoy Together. Run by the amazing writer, Yiyun Li, it’s bound to be elucidating, and the commitment is small, 30 minutes a day. Are you in?
1. Buddy up! I once heard the amazing writer Jo Ann Beard talk about how she and a friend would chat on the phone late at night. They’d drink a beer and give each other a prompt, hang up (smoke a cigarette which I cannot support) to write for twenty minutes. Then they’d call back and read what they’d written. I was SO JEALOUS. It sounded so great to have a writer pal to encourage you, to trust with your brand new, baby words. So, get to it! Here’s a prompt. Write about a tv show and what it meant in your life and why…Check Beard’s essay, Bonanza to see how rich the prompt can be!
2. Take an online writing class. StoryStudio in Chicago has a series called “Pajama Seminars” that looks terrific.
3. My new year’s resolution is to write a love letter each month. So far, so good. I’m 2 for 2. With many elders shut in and not allowed visitors during this covid-19 situation, here’s an opportunity for us all to write letters. Shine a little light. Write notes to seniors, addresses provided here: Timeslips: Postcards
4. One Story Magazine offers online classes and this one sounds terrific: Write a Great Beginning with the wonderful, Will Allison. Will’s an all-around good egg, and great editor. Give yourself this gift!
5. Hire me! I’m building my coaching/editing business. Need deadlines? Need support? Need a macro read of your manuscript, a micro line edit? Both? Let me know. I’m also putting together small Zoom workshops that have been a real joy for all involved. Hit me up! Simply reply to this email and we’ll talk.
6. Sometimes it’s hard to write. That’s okay. Might I suggest emerging yourself in the oeuvre of a particular filmmaker you admire. Pedro Almodóvar anyone? Perhaps start with Pain and Glory, which took my breath away. About a director who can no longer make art. It’s gorgeous. Maybe listen to this Antonio Banderas interview on Fresh Air. There’s some great writing advice buried in the interview. Listen for the moment when Banderas talks about ‘humid emotions,’ and how much more powerful it is to try not to cry, rather than to cry. While your at it, why not make this Paella! (Fewer ingredients as it may not be prudent to run to a bunch of different markets at this time.)
I’ve been cooking a ton. It’s a combination of nerves and necessity! Here’s recent winners:
1. Creamy White Bean and Fennel Casserole, yes it’s behind the NYTs firewall, and because it’s so delicious and comforting, I’m including the recipe here. I served it up with garlic bread, a super lemony mixed green salad, and a glass of red wine.
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large fennel bulbs (about 2 pounds)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 (14-ounce) cans white beans, such as cannellini, great Northern or navy
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons juice (from 1 lemon)
- ½ cup fine breadcrumbs
- ½ packed cup finely grated Parmesan (about 1 ounce)
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Trim the fennel. Cut it in half lengthwise and slice it crosswise, about 1/4-inch thick (reserve about 1/4 cup roughly chopped fennel fronds). Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium. Add the sliced fennel, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but still retaining a little bite, about 12 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour 1 can white beans and its liquid into a blender. Add the heavy cream, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil and purée until smooth. Drain and rinse the remaining can of beans and transfer it to the skillet along with the bean purée. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Mix the breadcrumbs with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Add the Parmesan, lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss to coat. Sprinkle evenly over the fennel-white bean mixture.
Bake until bubbly and lightly golden on top, about 15 minutes. Broil until topping is browned in spots, 1 to 2 minutes, if desired. Top with reserved fennel fronds and serve.
2. Spicy Pork and Mustard Greens Soup from Alison Roman, my total chef crush! If you have NYTs cooking, check this version. It’s delicious. I added (you know it) mushrooms that I sliced and tossed with olive oil and salt, then roasted at 420 for about 15 minutes. I also added firm tofu, cubed, which I sautéed with the pork.
3. West African Peanut Soup from Mark Bittman. Delicious. Double it, freeze half, just in case
4. Chocolate Stout Cake @smitten kitchen. Look we all missed St. Pat’s day. We have next year, and we can still make this cake! Guinness is the way to go, says a student of mine who raves about this cake. I cannot wait!
5. A Steak Marinade from my son, who has been sending me pictures of his food prep.
6. Oh man, that is so much. I also have a great place to order knitting kits, if that’s your jam. Check out my facebook page and show me the face you’re going to make when Trump loses in November. Also, stay tuned, I’m going to try to learn to bake bread. Meanwhile I’m doing the best I can. I may send a mid-stream update with prompts and things to calm and sooth, like THIS.