November 26, 2018

Six Posts I Didn't Write & Alex Guarnaschelli

I was going to tell you about being in Oxford, Mississippi, for the annual SFA symposium to launch Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance. I was going to tell you about how Monique Truong rocks a lecture like no other. I was going to tell you about a meal inspired by the work of Zora Neale Hurston--Tabasco-braised pulled rabbit, collards with pork tails, whole roasted whitefish--courtesy Chef Mashama Bailey of The Grey in Savannah, Georgia. I was going to tell you about being brought to tears by the unexpected kindness of SFA staff conspiring with John Currence & City Grocery restaurant crew to make sure I could try the food being served, amidst the allergy minefield of creative catering for 200+ people. I was going to tell you about getting to read poems alongside Kevin Young, and recording for the Vinegar and Char-themed GRAVY podcast, seeing old haunts and old friends, buying a Blair Hobbs painting, and stealing an extra day to go buy records at The End of All Music

I was going to tell you about "Showrunner," one of my favorite in-class exercises that I've developed for teaching Writers in Print and Person at American University. This small-group project solves two problems at once--how to facilitate discussion of prose when students are midway through the book (in this case, Leslie Pietrzyk's terrific novel Silver Girl), and how to help students experience a variation on the agency of the writing process. We move the novel or nonfiction work to the medium of television and, from there, they pitch me the show they would create: from genre and format--to theme song--to casting, to key scenes, to cliffhangers. I love hearing the excitement in the students' voices as they collaborate and even bicker about the decisions to be made. The only challenge is having to calibrate my knowledge to their era of pop-culture references (having to remember on the fly, for example, how to spell "Cara Delevingne").

I was going to tell you about going to North Carolina for the West End Poetry Festival--where the Carrboro Poets Council partners with the town to produce four days of reading upon reading upon reading, inclusive of all styles and topics. (A 12-person council that hangs out in someone's living room once a month, and is trusted and given the resources to organize. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could so easily facilitate the DC government's relationship to poetry and the arts? Ahem.) I got to talk about poetry of food, I got to hear Ruth Awad, the Chief of Police volunteered to be on-site monitor so we could drink wine in the Century Center, and signs that would usually direct traffic instead directed "Slow Down for Poetry."  I was going to tell you about helping someone write an ode to barbecue, and watching that same gentleman (husband to our hosting Poets Council member) run the toy trains in the garage-loft where we'd been staying. I was going to tell you about buying hatch chiles and okra from the Farmer's Market. 

I was going to tell you about getting the best brunch of my recent memory at Crook's Corner on our way out of town. The one thing I was really hoping to have was black-eyed peas, and they delivered. With a side of bacon. Chef Bill Smith, who I'd met at the SFA symposium in Oxford, "saw" I was in the dining room courtesy of Twitter and, from afar, sent out a spicy sorbet. (Yes, that's what I meant to write--a spicy sorbet. He is generous enough to publicize the recipe, which you can find here: water, sugar, OJ, zest, and Red Hots. Legit.)

I was going to tell you that I then headed to Delaware's Seashore State Park, and for three nights shacked up in a cabin by the Indian River with Leslie, workshopping with eleven poets while she workshopped with eleven prose writers. The boats harbored in the marina rocked and squealed. We had morning seminars on topics such as working from autobiography, giving a good reading, and radical revision. We finished with an open mic. The students gave us each a brown paper bag full of thank-you notes. I was going to tell you that I made time for walking on the beach barefoot. 

I was going to tell you that I drove straight from Delaware to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where I spent a very rainy but wonderful day and a half at Dickinson College. The last time I was in Carlisle was years ago, when my father was at the War College. My primary host was Adrienne Su, who I would choose to have lunches with every week--smart, funny, kind, and ridiculously talented at wielding the traditions of poetry. People like Adrienne are why people opt for jobs with colleagues. There was a cat in residence at the roadside farm en route, where I bought fresh cider and purple cauliflower and local mushrooms, and a cat in residence at Whistestop Bookshop. For good measure, I bought a copy of Doris Lessing's On Cats.  I also encountered no less than five horses (with Amish buggies) on the roads of rural Pennsylvania, but I couldn't stop the car to get a proper photograph. 

After my last classroom visit, I should have gotten on the road to drive home. But instead I improvised a two-hour detour into The ClothesVine. After eight years of being on the road more than I'd ever imagined, my wardrobe is tired. And too damn tight. I'm banishing a certain size pants. I'm investing in huge, soft sweaters. 

I wish I didn't feel insecure about that. I wish each new expenditure didn't feel like paying tax on lack of discipline. I have traveled thousands on thousands of miles since 2010. I've tested out myself as a teacher. I've written a books, with another in the hands of the editor right now, and edited an anthology. Am I going to romanticize back when the menu consisted of orange juice, twelve almonds, a banana, five Triscuits, another five Triscuits, spinach, tomatoes, one whole avocado, and maybe french fries, if craving something hot?

This brings me to Alex Guarnaschelli. Nothing particularly epic, except the realization that I find it tremendously soothing to watch talented female chefs like Guarnaschelli (or Amanda Freitag, pictured here as her competitor on "Next Iron Chef") do their thing. There's a centering here. There's palpable bad-ass-ery. If there is a distillation of my 2019 goals, it's to be found somewhere in this generous, stylish confidence.

I'm going to tell you that new red shoes were a gift worth giving to myself.

I'm going to tell you that even though chefs took great care of me while on the road, it feels good to cook from scratch again. 

I am also going to tell you that cooking is complicated by the revelation that my ten-year-old cat has a new proclivity for jumping on countertops. 

Pableaux Johnson took my photo in Oxford. I look a little older than the girl in the upper-right of this blog design. But I think I look a little more accomplished, too.