I write to you from my deck on a sunny morning. Despite the breeze and the blue sky, I woke up feeling a little low. Just tired of bad shit (large and small) in our country, in the world, with my people. It doesn’t help that my generally glass-half-full husband is out of town. So, I took my dog around the block, made strong coffee, chatted with a neighbor (thank you, Steve), and listened to this ridiculously silly Tiny Desk Concert. Not every day starts with a parade. And that’s okay, as long as I remember I get to choose where I put my attention..
Like everyone else, I’ve got a TBR pile for summer. Here are my top five, in no particular order:
Sweet & Low, by Nick White. I had dinner with Nick and he’s a delightful human being. His story collection is described in this way, “The poignant, dry wit of these stories–imagine if Faulkner wrote an episode of “The Golden Girls”–will have you falling in love and cackling. But it’s the reckoning honesty within each tale that will truly melt your spine.” I’m in!
Nick and I appeared on the Be Reel podcast together, talking favorite movies about writers. The podcast is a real treat, each episode the hosts, Noah Ballard and Chance Solem-Pfeifer, talk and rate movies. Add it to your podcast library.
Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicome, by Evan James, which, from the description in the NYTs book review, sounds like a companion to Jane Austen and Emma Straub–a comedy of manners that’s just my cup of tea. A depressed, newly retired pop-psychology guru, a son home from his year abroad, declaring, “I hate the very idea of fun,” a houseguest who makes up for his “carefree loafing with his charm and wardrobe,” all brought together in a rambling home on Bainbridge Island. Yes, please! I want to spend a couple hundred pages with these peeps.
Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, sounds like another winner. From the booklist review, “…enthralling, affirming debut of midlife, marital, and existential despair. It asks and answers if there’s such a thing as fairness, in marriage or in life, and if the story of a marriage can ever be told from all sides—or the outside.” Really? Answers if there is such a thing as fairness in life? I can’t wait to get my hands on this!
Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead. On the subject of his novel, a reform school for boys, Mr. Whiethead says, “It was a story I hadn’t heard before, and it was emblematic of so many injustices that go on every day that you never hear about. The survivors are never heard from and the guilty are never punished, they live to a ripe old age while their victims are damaged for life. It seemed like a story worth taking up.”
Everything Inside, by Edwidge Danticut, an absolute favorite writer of mine. I have no idea what the stories are about, but in the nimble, smart, insightful hands of Danticut, I’m certain to be amazed by language, and to be brought close up to our human follies and frailties.
What is it about a new season that feels like a starting gun? Memorial Day weekend sets the summer clock ticking and suddenly I’ve got a million goals. Re-vamp my deck space to a comfy outdoor living room, plant a garden, walk 10,000 steps a day, finish my manuscript, get out of town, catch up with friends. Lucky for me, my pal and writing support coach, Jennifer Louden, recently brought home for me the idea of “Conditions of Enoughness.” Rather than bury myself beneath lofty goals, why not take a moment for a reality check. What am I capable of completing given the life-containers of available time, available cash, responsibilities to others, and hours in a day? Smarty Jen reminded me to set conditions I can accomplish, and make time to celebrate said accomplishments. Pat myself on the back for writing 750 words, for replanting the pots on my deck, for inviting pals over for an alfresco meal. By creating conditions of enoughness that are attainable, we won’t be burdened by failing to meet our own expectations. We won’t open our writing project already behind and grumpy, but with an “I can do this!” attitude. Writing is hard enough, why make it harder by expecting too much from each session?
Which brings me to pomodoros. Here’s how they work: break your writing time into chunks, twenty-five minutes, forty-five minutes, whatever suits you best. Then give yourself a built in break of five or ten minutes (coffee, pee, snack, social media if you absolutely must, walk around the block). How many pomodoros can you fit into your day? How many do you need to meet your condition of enoughness. I love pomodoros because I get a built in reward every time I sit down to write. And, yes! I am such a dork, I love the timer!
In my last two newsletters I spoke about the pleasure of rereading beloved books, which inspired me to crack open cookbooks from my past. I’m particularly re-upping my love affair with Deborah Madison and two of her books,The Greens Cookbook, and The Savory Way. Back in the 80s and 90s, when I was a vegetarian for 10 years (I broke my resolve on a trip to France, faced with so much saucisson!) these two books were always on my counter. My husband, a consummate meat eater, is a little disgruntled by their reappearance, but I’ve been all in lately. Here’s a sample of my stand by recipes, noted by the food stains on the pages: Spinach Pasta w/Ricotta and Walnuts, Cold Noodles w/Peanut Sauce, Cilantro Salsa (on everything!), Filo w/Goat Cheese and Spinach (a great reboot of Spanakopita), Provençal Potato Gratin w/Olives and Lemon Thyme, Basil Fettucine w/Green Beans, Walnuts and Crème Fraîche. (I know, I know, it’s frustrating that I don’t have links to the recipes…but they aren’t online. You just have to take my word for it and avail yourself of one or both of these lovely books. You can find used copies really cheap online.)
Hmmm… in looking over this recipe list I notice every one, but for the potato gratin, is green! Could it be that the early summer world is so burstingly beautiful I just want to eat it?