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death + cake + losses that set us free
send this note to a pal in need of a delightful lemon cake!
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People in Gaza and Israel continue to suffer. The way I choose to help is by donating to World Central Kitchen whose mission is to feed humans in times of trauma. Wishing you all peace, good company, and comforting meals.
I hardly dare tell you this as I’m afraid I will jinx the gorgeousness we’ve been having. The sky has been blue, the air brisk, and I’ve been spending as much time outdoors as I can. Today a stranger told me this will probably be the last warm day until April, which made me stick my fingers in my ears. But it also made me think I better grab as much of it as I can.
I ran all my errands on bike and on foot. Walking behind a couple of young dudes, in ball caps and hokas, one pushing a stroller with an adorable sleepy baby, I overheard the dude-dad say to his friend, “Yeah, sure. It sounds great, but the thing is, I’m a dad at night too.”
Man! What luck! I can’t wait to put that delicious morsel of an overheard line into the mouth of a character.
Next I passed a fence covered in homemade art, espousing pretty good advice:
I don’t know, build a new logic and fuck this shit feel right just about now.
Which brings me to WeCroak, an app a pal mentioned, meant to remind us of our mortality (or of the last warm day until April) five times each day. Just the right amount of reminding according to a Bhutanese folk saying, “To be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily.” When you sign up, the app sends you five ‘invitations’ to stop and think about death at random, unpredictable moments, just like death! It includes quotes from poets and philosophers. I’m in! I’ll let you know what I think.
I hope you are enjoying the high middle of autumn, wherever you are, whatever you’re thinking about.
I’ve read two memoirs in the last couple of weeks, completely pulling myself out of my life and dumping me into the lives of people I’d really like to know IRL.
I discovered, THE BOY KINGS OF TEXAS, by Domingo Martinez, from a This American Life episode. Immediately after listening, I downloaded the audio book. The judges of the National Book Foundation (Martinez was a finalist) had this to say about the memoir: “With sentences that often burst like small fireworks, this is a brave book, an angry dissection of the macho values that dominated his upbringing and a sorrowful account of his love, often betrayed, for his family.”
With wit and tenderness, Martinez exhumes roots of toxic masculinity that pervaded his life from his grandfather, to his father, to him and his brother. Bar fights prevail, brothers break one another’s hearts, sisters dye their hair blonde and dress as “the Mimis”— transforming themselves into white girls. Martinez’s South Texas world is a place children are traded like commerce, violence solves problems, drugs are rampant, and sex is crude. The book is charming and painful. Read if you like Sherman Alexie, and Andre Dubus’ memoir, TOWNIE.
MEET ME TONIGHT IN ATLANTIC CITY, Jane Wong’s memoir is full of rage, grief, brooding, growth, a lovely and loving relationship between Wong and her mother, and gorgeous language (which shouldn’t surprise as Wong is a poet). Twelve linked essays form the book, which catalogues the highs and lows of her life, the joys of literary acceptance, the ache of rejection, the violence at the hand of her boyfriend, the sting of casual racism. At one low point in her relationship she asks a friend to text her this truth, “You are not hard to love. You are easy to love.” It is a touchstone for Wong who learns it is not an expression of love to endure cruelty and unkindness.
The memoir is much more than one bad relationship. It’s about a woman who picks apart all the microaggressions, the slights, and petty actions, unveiling their weak hearts and moving on. Read if you like, Saeed Jones, Natasha Trethewey, and Esmerelda Santiago.
The truth both memoirs sing loud and strong: Some losses set us free.
I've made a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I've recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is another way you can be a friend to the newsletter.
Please, check the FEMME ON COLLECTIVE podcast LIT FOR LIFE where I had a fun and funny conversation with Jess B. Davies about a book that formed me as a writer and as a young women. I was delighted to be invited on, and surprised by the way my chosen book stood up to time, yet also had big fails. One thing was certain, the women in the book I chose were unabashed about their appetites and refused to apologize for living large. Give it a listen here!
The other day my writing group was talking about the messages we have taped over our computers. You know, the little quotes to keep us going. I took the question to even more writers. Here’s the inspiration I gathered for you:
Don't make stuff because you want to make money — it will never make you enough money. And don't make stuff because you want to get famous — because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people — and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts. - John Green
…make something out of words that you’d think couldn’t be made out of words. - Deborah Eisenberg
Put things together that don't appear to have any connection. For example, the couple who spy on their next-door neighbors and the ants under the sink. In revision the connection becomes inevitable. - Raymond Carver
I have woven a parachute out of everything broken. - William Stafford
When you look out into the world, the world is funny. And people are funny. People always try to make each other laugh. I've never been to a dinner party where nobody said anything funny. If you're going to ignore that as a fiction writer, what are you doing? - Lorrie Moore
All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world. -E.B. White
If you can sit quietly after difficult news, if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm, if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy, if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plateand fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill, if you can find contentment just where you are, you are probably a dog. - Jack Kornfield
And, finally, here’s mine:
What is your note of inspiration? Please, do share:
Here’s a prompt:
My (insert important person here. Father/Mother/Sister/Brother/Partner) always/never ___________________. I never thought to ask why.
For example: My father always cried at the same Folger’s coffee commercial. I never thought to ask why….
Or: My mother never smoked more than half a cigarette. Our ashtrays were filled with long butts. I never thought to ask why…
And then you are off on a tear of discovery. You can gift this prompt to characters in your novel, or to yourself as you write memoir and/or personal essay.
News from my teaching world!
You can find out more about the Grub St. class and sign up here.
Also, I’m cooking up a 2024 writing reset in early January. For Portland people, I will be offering an in-person one-day GENERATIVE WRITING HAVEN. Think of it as a day spa to get your writing back on track after the distraction of the holidays. Stay tuned for more information. And again, you can let me know if you’re interested. It will be a small group.
I’m heading to my book group with a Semolina Lemon Cake in hand! The reason? The book we’re discussing features the cake as a fervent wish. I’ve told you of this book before so I won’t gush here, but damn, if you need to be reminded that you can laugh and love and grow your heart in the midst of TERRIBLE loss (um, death), go read WE ALL WANT IMPOSSIBLE THINGS, by Cathleen Newman.
Semolina Lemon Cake
1½ c almond flour or almond meal
½ c semolina flour
¾ t baking powder
½ t kosher salt
¾ c (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c sugar
1 t finely grated lemon zest
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t finely grated lemon zest
6 T fresh lemon juice
⅓ c sugar
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350°. Grease an 8” cake pan. Line with a parchment paper circle cut to fit the bottom. Grease the parchment and then flour the pan with semolina.
Step 2: Whisk almond flour, semolina flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl to combine.
Step 3: Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter, sugar, and lemon zest until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With motor running, gradually add eggs and beat until glossy, about 1 minute. Add dry ingredients and lemon juice and beat to combine, about 1 minute.
Step 4: Spoon batter (it will be thick) into prepared pan and bake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes.
Step 5: Make the syrup while the cake bakes. Bring lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar; reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Step 6: As soon as cake come out of the oven, brush or spoon syrup liberally over top (you may not need all of it). Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool completely before turning out.
I think this one is a keeper!
Stanley! On the bike.
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Remember to tell your people you love them, and take good care of your skin.