Discover more from read.write.eat.
yes, be that happy, be that close to another human!
kind businesses, revisiting books from your past, and remembering your crush
I enjoy conversations with grocery clerks. The guy refilling the coffee beans says hello and tells me which he likes best. I’m especially fond of the produce people for a word or two, the tenderness they show the peaches, and the careful arrangement of the bright orange cherry tomatoes in their cardboard boxes. I enjoy longer exchanges with the checkout people—weather, TV shows, plans for the zucchini.
You can imagine my disappointment when 3 lanes were removed from my local market to make way for the self-checkout. I hate the self-checkout. Probably because I’m a writer who spends hours alone at my desk with pretend people and thus relish small exchanges with real people. And then a friend alerted me to this: Dutch Supermarket Adds “Slow Checkout Lanes” for Senior Citizens Who Could Use a Chat. I want to shop there! Plus, the market is called Jumbo, so it’s no little mom and pop place, but a chain that seems to not be wed to reducing labor costs. Huh. (Looking at you capitalism.)
I fell down a rabbit hole of kind businesses and I found this: Restaurant of Mistaken Orders. I hesitate to tell you more because I don’t want you to rush past the link. So, I’ll just show you a screen shot.
Loneliness is real. Say hi to people on the street. I love you.
Be a friend and press the button ⬆️⬆️⬆️! Share my newsletter, share the conversation! It would mean the world to me.
I’m kind of heartbroken. I’m rereading a book that meant so much to me as a young woman. I loved the powerful, give-no-fucks attitude of the young women protagonists. I was shaken awake by the way they didn’t apologize for their appetites, by the way they made bad choices but weren’t kneecapped. They got up, kept going. They, unlike me, had financial resources, rich families that kept them afloat, none-the-less, I strived for their resilience.
Reading the book as a young writer I was amazed by how much Ellen Gilchrist could throw into a short story without breaking its back! Jump ahead thirty years in the final paragraph? Sure! Geology and theology? Of course! An entire story in which nothing bad happens? The people simply fall in love? You bet. Childhood proximity to darkness that didn’t inspire an epiphany? Pfft, yes!
Reading now, the characters are entitled, racist, antisemitic, selfish. I can see what I admired, but I cannot see past the slurs, the stereotypes. I believe it’s fine, even wonderful, to have beastly characters. But somehow the book has to recognize the beastliness, and thus far, VICTORY OVER JAPAN, hasn’t risen to calling the characters out on their prejudices and blinders. Characters fall prey to their appetites, no matter the cost.
None of this is to say you shouldn’t read Ellen Gilchrist. She’s a National Book Award Winner. She has novels and story collections, mostly set in Arkansas, Mississippi, and New Orleans. She sticks with her characters, whom she clearly adores—warts and all, over many books. And consider this beautiful paragraph from the story, Music, in which 14 year old Rhoda Manning is taken to the hill country by her father, to see his coal mines, and to get her to quit smoking.
Rhoda looked down, caught off guard by the tears. No matter how many times [her father] pulled that with the tears she fell for it for a moment. The summer forest was all around them, soft deep earth beneath their feet, morning light falling through the leaves, and the things that passed between them were hard to understand. Their brown eyes met and locked and after that they were bound to start an argument for no one can bear to be that happy or that close to another human being.
Is there a book you read as a young human that meant a ton to you but now you find it somewhat insufferable? I’d love to hear about it because really it is an indictor of our growth, right? We find a book at the time we need it most and then we evolve.
Books I’ve recently loved: THE HEAVEN AND EARTH GROCERY STORE, James McBride, which is a tour de force of community and care. THE LEAVING SEASON, Kelly McMasters, essays about marriage and departure, parenthood and showing up.
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.
I agree with Butler re: plot and desire, but does fiction corner the market on human yearning? I think not. Poetry, memoir, plays, are all about human yearning, that’s the secret sauce that pulls me into story and keeps me turning the pages. I mentioned above a story from Ellen Gilchrist about two people who fall in love in which nothing bad happens. I raced through the story because the people were trying really hard not to fall in love, but they couldn’t help it! They worried about the fallout of connection. They yearned not to connect. Isn’t that often the plot of a romcom as well? After I read the story about two people trying not to fall in love, I tucked it away in my head as a challenge. I wrote a story in which the only tension arises from falling in love. It’s about teenagers and it was so much fun to write about the tumble into intense feelings. Recently a friend/student of mine suggested I watch ONLY YOU, with Marissa Tomei (oh what horrible eyebrows!) and Robert Downey Jr romping all over Italy trying not to fall in love. It’s fun to watch the will they/won’t they? The Pushmi/Pulliyu of the plot.
Here’s a prompt for you (expanded from a prompt by Steve Almond):
Write about a crush. A crush = overwhelming want dashed against the rock of possibly not going to happen. This prompt will access agonizing emotion. 750 words.
Orient us in time and space
Describe the crush
No fancypants prose, don’t try to be a writer, just write
Use sensory details
Make the reader fall in love with your crush
Then, what happened?
Big thanks if you’ve bought me a coffee! I’m grateful you took time to offer support and drop me a note. Yay you! The cute button below is for anyone who'd like to join in.
Remember those orange cherry tomatoes a described way, way up there at the top of the newsletter? Here’s what you should do with them:
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio with Fresh Tomatoes
1 pound spaghetti (please buy a good Italian brand, durum wheat)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño chili, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1-2 boxes of ripe cherry tomatoes (depending upon your desired ratio of pasta to tomato) sliced in half
½ cup chopped fresh basil and flat-leaf parsley
Finely grated Parmesan to taste
Bring lots of salted water to a boil. Stir in the pasta, then cook, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente. Reserve about ¾ cup of the cooking water, then drain in a colander.
In the same pot over medium-low, combine the oil, garlic and chili. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is light golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine.
To the pot, add the cooked spaghetti, ½ cup reserved pasta water and ½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Cook, tossing, until the pasta is al dente, 1 to 2 minutes; add more reserved water as needed so the pasta is lightly sauced. Off heat, toss in the herbs and cheese, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with additional cheese on the side.
I got the recipe from MILK STREET VEGETABLES, by Christopher Kimball, which is a reliable friend in my kitchen.
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