Here’s my little quixotic, rhapsodic essay on life at the (now-quaint?) point of week 7 in quarantine, as we lived it in Utrecht, Holland. Published by The Farmer General, which casts a culinary eye upon the world, my focus was on food, comfort, and finding meaning in the quotidian during troubled times. Real talk: it was just another excuse to thumb through Amanda Hesser’s 2004 memoir-cum-cookbook, Cooking for Mister Latte, in which she waxes on about salt air and fresh oysters and little butter and prosciutto sandwiches for long airplane rides… I’ve basically been trying to be her intern these 16 years since. No word on that as yet, but I will surely keep you posted on my progress…
I have nearly completed a working draft of my first novel. Having reflected a bit on the writing process in general, and what I have learned through my own experience in particular, here are my 18 takeaways:
- Get the best education you can.
- Surround yourself with smart people.
- Notice the habits of mind and ways of thinking that those people exhibit.
- Notice your own habits of mind and ways of thinking. How are they similar to, and different from, thinkers you know and admire?
- Gravitate toward questions. Use questioning as a way to discover and explore deeper truths.
- A good question is one you can chew on for a long time, revealing many angles and insights.
- A whole novel can be built on a single, excellent question.
- Read widely and without prejudice or undue judgement.
- Don’t waste time– feel the urgency of the essential question(s) your novel is answering, and allow that urgency to spur you on.
- Be in conversation with several books at once. Consider how the book you are writing is or will be in conversation with existing books.
- Always with you: your notes, your notebook, something to write with.
- Listen to people– how they speak, what they say, what the do not say. Omission can be just as (if not more) revealing as inclusion.
- After a period of listening and reflection (following Faulkner’s concept of “inward listening deliberation”) consider the new and various questions that have emerged for you. What do these questions offer you and your story’s growth and development? How are your emerging questions in conversation with your grounding, essential question(s)?
- Explore, develop, and retain writing in (or that has flowed from or through) unexpected places such as:
- Emails with friends or a close family member
- Your own notebooks
- Other ephemera
- STAY ORGANIZED: Good ideas come and go in a flash. Capture and work from what you can. Do not be too upset if if came to you and is, now, gone again. The good news is that a truly strong, compelling idea– if it is in fact that– will come back to you often in better, more complete form than it did the first time around.
- Sleep well and respect sleep. Pay a degree of light, measured attention to your dreams. Only the rested mind can be a creative mind, for true, engaged, and meaningful creativity can only come from the centered, rested mind.
- Put another way: Your mind is the potter’s wheel. Your idea (or essential question) is the clay. Everything must be centered, balanced, and calm if you are going to make a pot or really anything of value and use.
- What, in the context of writing, is valuable and useful? That which can grapple with and authentically answer a good, essential question. Here are a few example of essential questions that came to and through me across my own drafting process:
- Can a lie help you to become more authentically yourself? (Dropped this one)
- What is the relationship between love and pain? (This one is still in heavy rotation)
- Does the past determine the future, or is reinvention possible? (Ditto)
- If reinvention is, in fact, possible, what is the role of love in the process of or quest for that reinvention? (Also still into this one)
- When you have considered your own essential question(s) deeply and have remained honest across the answers, the creation and experience of those answers (no less important– nor more important– than the realization of the original questions) will form the basis of your work.
- Be confident that your work and process is your own. Your voice, once honed, is singular. No one can sing like you can. No one can write like you can.
- Now is the time.
For courage and fortitude, please now listen to this song, “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” with words by Woody Guthrie (hear his version here) and music by Billy Bragg, featured on Billy Bragg & Wilco’s 1998 album Mermaid Avenue.
Here is why I am sharing this song with you right now: This song is about you. It is for you. You know who you are and you know what you can do, what you need to do. No one else can do it, not the way you can. And the world is waiting. We are patiently waiting with our hands politely clasped in our laps, looking you in the eye, waiting for you to begin.
Gunna talk the talk and walk the walk at a bonsai of the vanities this Thurs at the Japan Society. Are you in New York? Do you adore small, expertly curated, finely cultivated things? Any interest in hearing some of your hardest hitting bonsai questions finally answered? Come one, come all!
Married domestic by day, dashing secret agent by night, Pamela has done and seen it all. But the years have taken their toll and it is finally time to hand the work over to young blood. In this exclusive exit interview, Pamela describes her closest calls, her greatest exploits, and the trip to Paris that nearly did her in.
Summer preview! June 30 is poet and professor Czeslaw Milosz’s birthday, born in Szetejnie, Lithuania in 1911. He maintained “Language is the only homeland,” was fired from his radio position for his leftist views, and received a tip that the Stalinist government was going to arrest him and put him on trial so he fled.
It’s spring in New York and I’m in a flap of a mood having found a stack of papers and books in Columbia’s Butler Library with titles like “The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald” and “Conversations with F. Scott Fitzgerald”. The best of the writings deal with Fitzgerald before Zelda and, in the deep of the season, I like hearing from the man himself about how he held together through transition, time, and matters of the heart. Fitzgerald knew something about pain.
So many poems have been falling out of the sky lately and landing on my head/page/lap/grocery list/tire repair receipt– everywhere. I love this gift of life and learning, the hard work that goes into it, but also the inevitability. The roll of it. Honoring this means stopping to get against a solid service to get the line down, and it also means granting permission to do so rather than denigrating my talent with bullshit like “Oh, that’s stupid” or “Who even reads poems anyway?” or “I can’t do this.”
Answers: “No it’s not.” “Everyone, whether they realize it or not.” “Yes you can.” Good, glad that’s clear now.
…Turn those lemons into a short story complete with a raucous reading by old friends! I wrote this piece for a competition (that I lost), but went on to place it with FIVE:2:ONE and their esteemed audio-centric site. How funny to watch a truly terrible professional experience emerge as belly-chuckles art. Lemons! Lemons, everywhere I say!
Today, the Guggenheim exhibit “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” closes here in New York City.
I did not go expecting to see any works of great beauty. To be sure, there were none. But so, too, did I not expect to see a view of China’s artists straining so mightily—and exclusively—under the weight of the CCP regime. That is the singular narrative. Portrait after portrait, list after list, needle after needle, video after video: oppression. I wondered: could there not be even just one alternate voice, one perspective from a slightly different angle that had turned its head not to the sun but, instead, toward the sky?