Ever feel as if you’re moving through your week, minding our own business, and suddenly you’re bombarded by all sorts of bad decisions? Texas? I’m looking at you. Supreme Court? Don’t you turn your back on me! Anti-vaxxers—still? Anti-maskers—wtf? Florida? California recall? I can’t even.
I find myself wondering, why wasn’t I consulted? It bears repeating, Why Wasn’t I Consulted? #WWIC
In case you feel similarly about things out of your control, I offer you this little spot of respite, in which Harry Styles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge dance it out in glittery argyle. Maybe we can find a way to feel good. Maybe we can treat people with kindness.
A wonderful friend/student suggested I read THE CHILDREN’S BIBLE, by Lydia Millet, and I’m so glad she did. A dystopian, climate catastrophe comedy? Who knew there was such a thing? The book is a generational battle royale. The kids are disgusted, the world is flooding, trees are coming down, the water is toxic, parents revert to lazy hedonism, taking MDMA in the midst of disasters. A young boy, Jack, stumbles upon a children’s picture bible and takes the stories to heart. You know, as a sort of self-help book, a code for survival.
At one point, he says about his book and about the abounding climate catastrophes, “And the proof is, there’s lots the same with Jesus and science,” Jack says. “Like, for science to save us we have to believe in it. And same with Jesus. If you believe in Jesus he can save you.”
The book is shocking and sad and funny, a gem, as well as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
The same friend/student I mentioned above, Elyse Chambers, has a beautiful essay, “The Weight of Something Familiar,” that I hope you will make time to read. Not only is her writing beautiful and clear-eyed, but her story is one of resilience in the face of painful choices. Her story is particularly important now as we grapple with Texas and Greg Abbott and the threat to women’s reproductive rights.
In case you need a little uplift right now, in this moment, I offer this beautiful poem from the NYer. And, if you’d like to hear it read by the poet, click here.
by Alex Dimitrov
I was just beginning
to wonder about my own life
and now I have to return to it
regardless of the weather
or how close I am to love.
Doesn’t it bother you sometimes
what living is, what the day has turned into?
So many screens and meetings
and things to be late for.
Everyone truly deserves
a flute of champagne
for having made it this far!
Though it’s such a disaster
to drink on a Monday.
To imagine who you would be
if you hadn’t crossed the street
or married, if you hadn’t
agreed to the job or the money
or how time just keeps going—
whoever agreed to that
has clearly not seen
the beginning of summer
or been to a party
or let themselves float
in the middle of a book
where for however briefly
it’s possible to stay longer than
you should. Unfortunately
for me and you, we have
the rest of it to get to.
We must pretend
there’s a blue painting
at the end of this poem.
And every time we look at it
we forget about ourselves.
And every time it looks at us
it forgives us for pain.
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 mentioned in my last newsletter that I’ve been taking a few writing classes online and sitting in on some wonderful talks. One talk I particularly loved was from Dean Bakopoulos, “Creatures of Impulse: What Fiction Writers Can Learn from TV.” Gosh, not only was it full of wonderful insights, but it was funny and kind and true. Bakopoulos spoke about a creative sinkhole he fell into while in covid lockdown, and TV watching was how he muddled through. Here are a few take-aways I hope enliven your work:
- Get the characters to a place (a setting) and resist the temptation to deliver backstory, to digress, to explain. Lack of backstory can inspire curiosity in the reader and keep them turning pages. Also, trust the reader to fill in the backstory. Readers like it when you trust their intelligence.
- Let secondary characters reveal things the main character cannot or will not talk about. Also, use your secondary characters for levity in tense scenes.
- When a scene feels flat to you, introduce a third character. The new character will add energy, vary the mood, change the dynamic, and potentially provide an obstacle to resolution.
- Give your characters secrets. Tension rises from keeping secrets! The reader wants to know when secrets will be divulged, what will the fallout be? Remember to honor the thrill of the reveal.
- No secrets, no trouble. No trouble, no plot.
- Give your characters obsessions. Obsessions cause characters to act impulsively. Obsessions force the character through a one-way gate. They may do something from which there is no turning back, nothing will ever be the same. (For this section, Bakopoulos used The White Lotus as an example. If you haven’t watched it, give it a whirl, with a notebook in hand. Look at all the obsessions! Look at all the bad behavior! Enjoy!!)
- Finally, Bakopoulos spoke about our obsession to write, and how we must guard it. He suggested that we must love ourselves enough to protect the joy we get from writing. We must love ourselves enough to practice our craft without expectation for approval. I hope you can do that! I hope I can too.
In case I’ve encouraged you to try out some classes for yourself, hope over to my teaching page to see what’s up. I’ve got lots of opportunities for you!
My husband and I are not exactly changing our dietary habits, but neither are we willing to cook red meat anymore. We might, once in a blue moon, order it out at a restaurant, but mostly, we’re not eating it. We’re trying to have animal protein only once or twice each week. Which isn’t to say if you invite us over we won’t eat meat, we’re just choosing to opt out at home.
That said, my husband is a chicken man. Seriously, I have to leave the room when he picks the bones. Here is his latest chicken fav from NYTs Cooking (luckily with no bones):
Smashed Chicken Burgers With Cheddar and Parsley
- ½ c mayonnaise
- 1T plus 1t Dijon mustard
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 limes, 1 juiced (about 2 tablespoons), 1 cut into wedges
- 1¼ c flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- ⅓ c grated Cheddar, plus 1/4 cup cubed (use fancy Oscar Wilde cheddar, it’s worth it)
- 1 small shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1t ground cumin
- ½ t red-pepper flakes
- 1 pound ground chicken, dark meat
- 2T neutral oil, such as canola
- 3T olive oil
- 1 large head butter or Boston lettuce, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 ripe Hass avocado, diced
- 4 burger buns, lightly toasted
- In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise with 1T mustard. Season to taste with salt and the juice of 1 lime wedge.
- In a medium bowl, mix 1c parsley w/the grated cheese, shallot, garlic, cumin and red-pepper flakes. Stir in 1T of the Dijon mayonnaise mixture, 1t salt and grind of fresh pepper. Add chicken and combine. Form into 4 large, round balls.
- Heat a 12-inch cast-iron or heavy skillet over medium-high until very hot. Add the neutral oil, then add the chicken meatballs, spacing them out in the pan. Use a metal spatula or the back of a wooden spoon to press them until they form 1/2-inch-thick patties. Cook without moving for 3 to 4 minutes, until a deep golden crust has formed on the bottom, and they easily release from the pan. Flip the patties and cook until cooked through w/a nice crust on both sides, about 3 minutes more. If the patties need more time, you can cover the pan and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, adjusting heat as needed to avoid scorching.
- While burgers cook, in the bottom of a serving bowl, mix 2T lime juice with the remaining 1t mustard, whisk in the olive oil until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Add the torn lettuce leaves, avocado, remaining parsley and cubed Cheddar, and toss to coat w/dressing.
- Place the burgers on the buns, slather with Dijon mayonnaise, and top with a little of the greens and avocado from the salad. Serve with the salad, plus the lime wedges and any remaining Dijon mayonnaise on the side.
Wishing you a lovely mid-September. The air has turned in our little corner of the world. Maybe there is a way we can treat each other with kindness, eh? Stanley sends his love!