Hey-Ho! I hope this note finds you well and happy enough. I’ve been having a hard time mustering up holiday vibes what with it being pandemic Christmas 2.0. Plus, the sky has been perniciously grey and low, like feral, out-of-control eyebrows that block my vision and set my mood. Turns out I don’t love cloud cover. Who knew?!?
Today the sky was bright, the air chilly, and I’ve strung up some lights, hung stockings and I feel a bit of joyful stirring in my heart. I found a cake I want to bake,a cocktail I want to try. We are planning an open house for friends to stop by and share something sweet. I hope you too are welcoming in a celebratory spirit.
Finally! I cracked open REAL ESTATE, by Deborah Levy, the third in her Living Autobiography Trilogy. (The first is THINGS I DON’T WANT TO KNOW, the second is THE COST OF LIVING, and I loved both so much I am leading a discussion group on all three in the spring. More news on that to come.) REAL ESTATE has been languishing on my nightstand for weeks. I don’t know why I haven’t leapt in—part wanting to have something to look forward to? Part diminished attention span? Part my pandy related bad habits? News scrolling at the end of day which depresses me and interrupts sleep, then I do puzzles on my phone which diverts me. (Have you tried WORDLE? Or SPELLING BEE?)
I started reading the book the other night and already I’m writing in the margins.
Consider this: The narrator has pulled a book off her shelf, a gift from her now ex-husband, and the inscription reads to “my darling love.” She ponders this:
“The odd thing was that the book itself (by a famous male author) was about a man who has left his family and sets out about making a new life with various women. One of the young women adores him so much that she reaches over to take the snot out of his nostrils. She has made him her purpose in life and we are clueless about her own sense of purpose. They have lots of sex but we have no idea if she enjoys it as much as he does. If this author’s female character feels or thinks about anything at all, her feelings and thoughts are about him.”
Levy says that she thinks she may have asked for the book. Now she is interested in it because she is still trying to learn how to write characters:
“particularly female character. After all, to think and feel and live and love more freely is the point of life, so it is an interesting project to construct a female character who has no life. The story in this book was about a woman who has gifted her life to a man. This is not something to be tried at home…”
Hmmm…perhaps you wonder what I wrote in the margins?
- Has everyone gifted their life at times?
- Is there a way to “gift” that doesn’t result in erasure of the self?
- Erasure vs. Altruism a knife edge! Dangerous for women!
Which made me think of that tree in Shel Silverstein’s, THE GIVING TREE. That damn tree gifts so much of herself (yes the tree is gendered!) that she ends up a mere stump for the greedy little boy to sit upon in his dotage. And the tree is supposed to be happy! Altruism? I think not!
As you see, I’m engaged in a conversation with the book. Already I am thinking and feeling more freely, just as Levy wishes. I hope you all read with a pencil in hand. Conversations with a book enrich the experience tremendously for me. And I don’t mean that because I fawn over the author, sometimes I aggressively disagree. It feels like a conversation, or as Patricia Lockwood puts it: “There’s a way of reading that is like writing. You feel in collaboration… You have a pen in your hand, you’re going along in a way that’s, like, half creating it as you go.”
Just 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.
I got a big boost of creative energy from a recent workshop I took with the writer, Janet Fitch. It was focused on dialogue, which is my favorite thing to write and my favorite to read. I love the way dialogue looks on the page. I love the white space and the dynamic speed with which I move down the page. I love the mix of spoken words, gestures, interior thoughts, embodied sensations and the way landscape enhances meaning. I love the tension and desire in good dialogue. Characters want something and someone always wins in a dialogue scene.
Here’s a delicious tool for you!
Janet talked about making a Rosetta Stone Notebook in which you write on the page a feeling, such as confident, anxious, afraid, excited. Directly below, list sensations one might experience in the body which are associated with the feeling .
Solid, limber, warm, even keeled,
aligned in the body, buoyant
chest feels light, hands open,
muscles relaxed, legs able, knees
Prickly, sunken or hollow in the chest,
Sweaty, heart rapidly beating, eyes
wide and darting/scanning the room,
Creating this resource for myself is busy work, which I love! It’s like folding laundry, easy and pleasant. It’s low-risk creative work that may help when I am deep in the writing. Doing this work, this observing and considering will make me more aware of my own body responses, as well as what I see in the world, in a film or tv show. Plus, this kind of awareness can only help to make me a better human, no? Why not strive toward a bit more empathy and understanding of how others embody their emotions? Remember our theme from Deborah Levy? Say it with me: we want to think, feel and love more freely.
Okay. This is the first time I am sharing an entirely original recipe. Go me! We went to lunch the other day at Coquine, a restaurant the NYTs loves. They served a Pear & Celery Root soup that was garnished with chopped hazelnuts and maybe parsley? Anyway it was delicious, and I’ve been perfecting my version over the past couple of weeks. So here you go:
Pear & Celery Root Soup
- 3T butter, unsalted
- 1 celery root (about the size of a newborn baby’s head), peeled and diced
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 2 Comice pears, very ripe, peeled and chopped
- 4c homemade chicken stock
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- ½ lb spinach, washed and stems removed
- 2T olive oil
- ½ – 1 cup cream OR half & half
- ½ lemon
- Salt and pepper
- Melt butter in a 5 qt Dutch oven over medium heat.
- Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add celery root and continue to sauté for four to five minutes, then add pear and a teaspoon of salt. Continue to cook for another 7 or 8 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet and add the garlic. Watch carefully and when the garlic softens, add the spinach in handfuls until it’s thoroughly wilted. Off heat.
- Add chicken stock and about 2 cups of water to the pear and celery root. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes or so.
- Add the spinach and simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Using a hand blender, puree the soup. Alternately you can puree in a blender in batches and return to pan.
- Add the cream to desired thickness. Add salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze in the lemon.
I think the soup would be terrific with crumbled croutons on top for texture. Some crushed hazelnuts if you want to go for the whole Pacific Northwest thing, prosciutto crisped up in that already-dirty-from-cooking-spinach pan would be delicious as well.