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Huh, I guess I'm interesting...just ask my iPhone!
oh search history, you do not lie + the usual books, soup, cake, & writing prompts
Hyperpigmentation, vanishing-ass-syndrome (believe me, it’s a thing, I have lived experience), do I need to TikTok?, spinach veloute, active volcanoes near me, can you trust extra-hairy men? My iPhone knows the scope of my curiosity. Between searches, clicks, and Siri eavesdropping, my phone knows more about me than my therapist.
I always think in advance about what I’m going to discuss in therapy, kind of like preparing “a bit,” not that I’m not honest, in fact I’m alarmingly revealing, yet I feel a responsibility to “bring it” to her office. I mean, she has to listen to me all-the-time! And let’s be real, my struggles are ridiculously stagnant. This week on my way in, I was considering what I most needed to clear up for myself and it was more of the same. blahblahblah.
Thankfully, I first had a Hair Dr. appointment and my stylist, who has suffered some big losses this year, shared with me that she has found a Grief Counselor. She said she needs a place to process her heavy emotions. She doesn’t want to spew her feelings on her family and friends all the time, nor does she want to stuff her feelings and wind up ill in the future. My Hair Dr. is so wonderful and evolved and talented. Right then, in her chair, I gave myself permission to consider my own painful and big struggles worthy of ad infinitum examination. Of course I get to explore and try to understand month after month. And, I get to leave the woes in the safe space of my therapist’s office. Doing so frees up real estate in my head and heart, allows me to have wild and random and wonderful searches on my phone.
What are the random searches in your history?
Look! a button to press! ⬆️⬆️⬆️ Don’t we all love sharing and pressing a button! Win/Win. Thanks for introducing someone new!
I’ve just finished a novel, MOTHER-DAUGHTER MURDER NIGHT, by Nina Simon, which is set in my home region of Santa Cruz and Monterey. I picked it up during my recent bout of covid as I wanted something to take me out of my life. It’s a mystery and at its center is a feisty trio—grandmother, mother, daughter—who not only have a murder to solve, but they also must uncover a way to draw closer, as familial injuries (and really, can anyone injure you better than your family?) have come between them. Much of the novel revolves around wildlife and land use, which may not sound thrilling, but when coupled with a dead body in the slough, patronizing police officers, and a Nancy Drew/Columbo sensibility, it’s very exciting. Kayaking in Elkhorn Slough, ordering from Pizza My Heart, driving past fog-choked artichoke fields, all reminded me of my home town and kept me turning pages. The writing is cinematic, the characters delightful and crusty, and the setting is my joy.
I’m currently reading, ANOTHER BROOKLYN, by Jacqueline Woodson, a beautiful novella about female friendship and how dangerous the world can be for young girls on the cusp of womanhood. In the early pages the narrator has a chance encounter with a long-ago friend from her childhood which sets into motion a host of evocative and meaningful memories. The writing is gorgeous, here describing changing bodies:
But still, as we slipped deeper into twelve our breasts and butts grew. Our legs got long. Something about the curve of our lips and the sway of our heads suggested more to strangers than we understood.
here describing life after her mother vanishes:
If someone had asked, Are you lonely? I would have said, No. I would have pointed to my bother and said, He’s here. I would have lied even as the empty street on rainy afternoons threatened to swallow me whole.
I love Woodson’s work. Consider, RED AT THE BONE, also a slim novel with tremendous cultural and emotional reach, illuminating issues of class, education, ambition, racial prejudice, identity, mother-daughter relationships, parenthood and loss.
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Remember my pondering up top about trusting extra-hairy men? Well, it didn’t come out of nowhere… consider David Letterman… I don’t know. I mean, I love Dave, but how did he lose his way to the shaver?
I ask because I came across this helpful insight from another hairy man, Alan Moore, and I have to say, I would cozy up to his advice more easily if he had a relationship with a shaver:
(Of course I’m (mostly) joking about the hairiness) I think his suggestion is solid. Read horrible books because they inspire us to believe in our own voices. “I could write better than this!” is a terrific feeling, a liberating feeling. Figure out why you didn’t like the book, the story, the poem, and simply do better. I warn against snark, I warn against belittling while considering the bad book. Remember, writing any book is so hard. Celebrate the feeling that you could do it better.
Another piece of advice I think is worthwhile, and one directly related to my search history, work on being an interesting person that others want to be around, want to follow, want to read. How do you do that? By being curious. By having a weird search history. By pausing, looking, listening. By asking open ended questions of people in the world and paying attention to their answers. (This one is a twofer because you will also be letting these people know that they matter to you.) Share what you learn! Share what you love! I promise this will make you a better writer. I promise if you give your characters this superpower your work will become more interesting as well. Don’t just take my word for it, check out this post from Austin Kleon.
Here’s a prompt/series of considerations for you, which I’ve morphed and adjusted from smart writers who’ve asked me versions of these questions at different times in my life. (Including JEN LOUDEN, with whom I’m teaching in May!) I think the questions are relevant at the start of a project, in the middle when you feel lost, and as you embark on revision.
Why write? What do you get from the work you do? Is there an essential question you are trying to answer for yourself in your work? Consider Joan Didion, who says she writes to find out what she thinks. What is your raison d’être?
What is the thing you cannot turn away from? What weighs on your thoughts? An obsession is gas in the tank to keep you writing and exploring and being curious. Is there some way to turn your obsession into a question? Does it come from an ache in your life?
Who do you want to reach with your work? This is important, not because you write to cater to a particular taste, but because it helps you to understand that there are readers waiting for your book. People who will be touched, who will feel less alone when they read your work.
What brilliance will you own? Sing it! Own your talents and skills! Don’t be shy.
What is holding you back and how can you leave it behind? This could be a voice in your head, a person in your life, a fear. Are you a perfectionist? Man, that shit will hold you back. Also, it just isn’t fun. Are you lazy? That too will not help. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “become a deeply disciplined half-ass.”
What change can you make to invite more writing into your life? Be pragmatic here. Set the alarm. Send someone else to the market. Turn off the internet.
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This is quite possibly the weirdest meal I’ve suggested. And yet, I’m doing it. I had this soup the other day and it was glorious. Then, I had chocolate cake. There you go!
3½ c chicken or vegetable stock (use homemade stock for best results)
2 small garlic cloves minced
2 t neutral oil (um… olive is my default)
2 large bunches of spinach, well rinsed and stemmed OR a large package of prewashed baby spinach.
1 c half & half
2 T butter
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice to taste
In a soup pot, cook the garlic in neutral oil until it softens and becomes translucent. (I say this to be true to the recipe, but you know I used olive oil, right? What can I say?)
Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes, until wilted.
Add the stock of choice to the pot. Bring to a gentle simmer.
Stir in the cream. Cook for a minute more and then use your hand blender, or transfer to a blender. Blitz until very smooth.
For an extra rich and glossy finish, return the velouté to the pan and heat, then whisk in the cold butter.
Taste and season with salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and (if desired) a drizzle of olive oil.
It is gorgeous and delicious. The green is amazing and it goes perfectly with the brown of this chocolate cake! Green and brown! A match made in nature.
Stanley! Isn’t he dreamy?
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Remember to tell your people you love them, and take good care of your skin.