Spring is rushing in. The sight of tender petals brightens my mornings. In Portland spring is quixotic, one minute offering enough warmth for the crocus and tulips and the stalwart daffodils to bloom, only to harass them with hailstones or heavy rain.
Maybe you’ve been feeling interior hailstones and heavy rain. News of war is hard. I encourage you to do some small act, besides consuming news, to give you a tiny sense of agency in a nonsensical situation. Give where you can (I have ideas at the close of this email), maybe find a Ukrainian church in your town and participate in the social hour after services, they often are selling pierogi and collecting money for their families abroad, attend a peace vigil in your community. Meanwhile, here’s a poem by Mari Andrew that may help you sit in the paradox of suffering/getting on with it.
I am washing my face before bed
while a country is on fire.
It feels dumb to wash my face and
dumb not to.
It has never been this way and it has
always been this way.
Someone has always clinked a
cocktail glass in one hemisphere as
someone loses a home in another,
while someone falls in love in the
same apartment building where
someone grieves. The fact that
suffering, mundanity and beauty
coincide is unbearable and
I’m listening to Frank Bruni read his memoir, THE BEAUTY OF DUSK. It’s a beautiful book which dwells in loss and resilience. Bruni suffered a stroke that affected the vision in his right eye. The memoir illuminates the possibility of loss as a growth point. I’ve been moved by many passages, enough that I’ve gone back to listen to some chapters a second and third time. His love of his dog certainly warms my heart! And his capacity for compassion is inspiring. I feel that Bruni is my partner in shine! Here’s a passage that moved me:
With my one good eye, I looked harder and longer, and I hope, more soulfully at everything around me, starting with my acquaintances and friends. I realized that we know too little about the people in our lives because we inspect them only superficially, ask the easy and polite questions, edit them down to the parts that give us the least complicated and most immediate pleasure. There is heartache in them that we don’t adequately recognize, triumph in them that we don’t sufficiently venerate.
Of course this is no lightning bolt revelation, but it is something to tuck in our pocket and remember. Perhaps make a pact with yourself to recognize heartache and celebrate triumph.
My mom and I went to lunch the other day and our paths crossed with an amazing woman! Danusha Lameris, sitting at the table next to ours, reading Louise Glück. My chatty mother struck up a conversation with Danusha and we were charmed by her warmth and her smile. Turns out we all had friends in common, we shared some laughs, and enjoyed sitting outside in the sunshine. When we said our goodbyes, it seemed we had a new friend.
When I got home and looked her up, as one does these days, I was further charmed by her poetry. BONFIRE OPERA looks to be a wonderful collection and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. Meanwhile, you can find one poem of hers here in the NYTs, and this one from her website:
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
I like your hat.
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.
One of my many amazing students, Meriwynn, is working on a novel with a powerful character. Irina (the character) is an emigré, and an artist, who is a “Captain Happen” (that is, she gets things moving) for the protagonist of Meriwynn’s novel. Because Meriwynn is wonderful and curious and deeply engaged with her book, she found a Ukrainian Etsy shop to buy herself a blouse, a vyshyvanka similar to one her character would wear. And then, well, war broke out.
Meriwynn wrote to The Fair Anna, to say, don’t worry about my blouse! Please, take care of yourself! What can I do to help? She also told Anna that she shared the shop with her writing group. Amazingly, Meriwynn got a notice that her vyshyvanka had shipped.
And she got this message from Anna:
I am very pleasantly moved to tears. I feel the support as well as the whole Ukrainian people from the countries of Ukraine’s friends. I am very grateful to you for distributing my small shop among your friends. These are very difficult times in Ukraine. The enemy destroys cities and razes them to the ground. These barbarians do not leave a single house, they destroy all living people in Ukraine. It hurts a lot I am very grateful for your prayers.
I share this with you for three reasons:
1. To remind us all that the war is real, not just television images.
2. To put us in touch with Anna’s Etsy shop where we can donate five or ten dollars straight into her bank account. I’m certain every little bit helps. Perhaps in sunnier times we can order a beautiful piece of clothing from her.
3. Look at where our writing can take us! Meriwynn’s deep engagement with her creative work shrunk the world! Her novel-in-progress has brought all of us in touch with someone on the other side of the planet, and Anna knows.
Art is amazing.
n my last newsletter I mentioned my upcoming retreat.write.energize on the Oregon coast. Well, details are falling into place and I want to keep you up to speed. We will gather at the Sylvia Beach Hotel from October 9 – 15 for a week of workshops, time to write, community, inspiration and the solace of the coast. All you have to do is arrive, ready to write, ready to make writer friends IRL, and share your beautiful work. I don’t know about you, but I’m so delighted to shake off my covid cobwebs and be in community. If sharing your work with smart, engaged writers, learning, improving, and focusing is just what you’ve been craving… Drop me a note so I can get your name on the list! For this inaugural gathering we will be a small group.
SAVE THE DATE! October 9-15, 2022,
and do direct message me shoot me an email: email@example.com to get your name on the list. Our group will be very intimate and supportive. Cannot wait to share this beautiful gathering!
Ever have a cookbook that manages to be comforting and expansive? A MODERN WAY TO COOK: 150+ VEGETARIAN RECIPES FOR QUICK, FLAVOR-PACKED MEALS, by Anna Jones, is just such a book. Not only are the recipes truly quick, but she has delightful flavor bombs to add just before the food hits the plate and your palate. Minced herbs and nuts to sprinkle over pasta. Lemon zest with za’atar and a bit of walnut oil to adorn asparagus. The idea is to use fresh herbs, nuts, citrus and oils to offer a flavor wallop after you’ve done the cooking. It works beautifully. In this delicious salad (which I’ve changed up a bit to welcome spring vegetables) Jones makes a pecan and pumpkin seed brittle to toss on at the last minute, adding texture, a bit of protein, and sweetness.
Winter Vegetable Salad
Serves 4 as a main dish
For the salad:
- 3 carrots (multicolor add beauty)
- 3 beets (also a mix of color is a visual treat)
- 1 radicchio head, julienned
- 1 bunch of radishes, if you can find French Breakfast radishes, do use them
- 1 fennel bulb
- 1 pear (I used bosc for the firm texture)
- a large handful of pecans
- a large handful of pumpkin seeds (I used tamari toasted, which added a nice salty finish)
- a glug of maple syrup
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- feta cheese to taste
- Peel, chop, and slice all the vegetables and the pear as thinly as you can, making sure to shred the radicchio especially thinly; a mandoline may be useful here, but a sharp knife will do just as well.
- Put a sheet of parchment paper on a small tray or a plate, then put the nuts into a frying pan. Toast briefly, then add the seeds and toast until the seeds smell toasted and are starting to brown. Add the maple syrup and a pinch of salt and stir, then take off the heat, tip onto the parchment and leave to cool.
For the dressing:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Mix the dressing ingredients in a little jar.
- Put all the chopped veggies into a bowl, season with salt and pepper, pour in the dressing, and mix well. This would be a nice moment to add the crumbled feta cheese if you like. Scatter with the nuts and seeds, serve!
As promised, here is a list of places to reach out and help Ukrainian people.
It’s beautiful here in Santa Cruz, where I’ve been the last week, visiting my mother, laughing with friends, riding my electric bike around with Stanley. I hope you are all enjoying little glimpses of spring wherever you happen to be.