Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Classes are out and I'm writing and writing. It's such a treat. I can be a little obsessive and it's a great pleasure to fixate fully on my work again instead of my students and their stories and needs. I wandered over to This Recording to read what other writers say about writing. Chekhov's words I instantly copied and put many asterisks by (and, I confess, felt the urge to send to my students). The one I'm lingering on now is Toni Morrison:
You learn how to use time. You don't have to learn how to wash the dishes every time you do that. You already know how to do that. So, while you're doing that, you're thinking. You know, it doesn't take up your whole mind. Or just on the subway. I would solve a lot of literary problems just thinking about a character in that packed train, where you can't do anything anyway. Well, you can read the paper, but you're sort of in there.

And then I would think about, well, would she do this? And then sometimes I'd really get something good. By the time I'd arrived at work, I would jot it down so I wouldn't forget. It was a very strong interior life that I developed for the characters, and for myself, because something was always churning. There was no blank time.
And I looked at my iPhone sitting black and serene on the desk. How my blank time has changed since it entered my life. And I'm going to grandiosely generalize and make that an our, since every line I stand in is a row of people finger-stroking a little screen. Even waking up in the morning--that moment of easing into consciousness as the world materializes again, sorting the dream from the day and trying to make sense of it--has changed. Too often I cut it short, reach for the nightstand, and look for what the device has brought me in the night. Which is? E-mail.

For years now I've clenched my fists under the table at the friends who can't stop texting during the board game, who pause dinner conversation to attend to the clinking-glass sound of their iPhone, and so on, whose attention is divided between the here and the there.

It's annoying. But even worse, I think, is what it does to solitude. I tell my students that you can write everywhere, in your mind--in the shower, walking across campus at night, during the orchestra concert, etc. I solve a lot of story problems when I walk the dogs (notably, a two-handed affair). But alone, walking home or waiting in line at the post office, how often do I compulsively, absently pull out the iPhone and check something or other? Vs. what did I do before?

Nothing will doom writing, per se, I'm not saying that. But I think a lot of us are missing out on those unplanned moments where we go places in our minds. We look at the weather app instead of the sky.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


I emerge from weeks (months!) of bloglessness to shout this out. Amy won a James Beard Award in journalism! I can personally attest that Amy's gifts in the kitchen are equaled only by her eloquence and humor and grace as a writer. I have been a vegetarian since 1989, and still I will read with relish and delight Amy's accounts of, say, cutting up a whole pig in her yard or cooking steak in the Spanglers' sauna.

Go read her blog here for aforementioned and more. And here are the articles that won her the prize:
"From the Bean Patch, Plenty" ("Their pods pack as much insulation as an arctic-rated sleeping bag"
"Low-Tech Wonder" ("My first aioli separated. I fixed it, but sat through dinner beneath a black-mood cloud, undone by a broken sauce but loath to admit it.")  (I've got to make the recipes for romesco sauce, chimichurri, and hazelnut praline) (or just go over to Amy's when I'm home in MN and gaze at her hopefully from my kitchen stool perch)
"Walleye: Plentiful and Only a Phone Call Away" ("It turns out that walleye's firm flesh steams beautifully, and within 15 minutes after getting to work I was dipping moist, snowy chunks of sake-steamed walleye in a spirited ponzu sauce that I Midwesternized with a little freshly ground horseradish in place of wasabi.")

Proof you can live in the middle of the woods with six-month(+) winters thousands of miles from a coast and be the most kick-ass chef and food writer ever AND be recognized for your genius. (As does the brilliant artist she's married to, Aaron Spangler.) High fives, old friend.