“a fab food-ish poem”

I’m back from Maine and slowly making my way through all of the emails and RSS feeds that have piled up this week like an unseasonal snowdrift, but I wanted to share something Marcella sent to me earlier today.  See, clearly I’m very interested food, but what might not be clear is that I also tend to sometimes be a little bit morbid, so the “fab food-ish poem” that Marcella emailed to me just about hit all the right spots.  It’s featured on Poets.org as “Today’s Poem,” but here it is regardless of the day:

My Autopsy (Excerpt)
by Michael Dickman

There is a way
if we want
into everything

I’ll eat the chicken carbonara and you eat the veal, the olives, the small and glowing loaves of bread

I’ll eat the waiter, the waitress
floating through the candled dark in shiny black slacks
like water at night

The napkins, folded into paper boats, contain invisible Japanese poems

You eat the forks
all the knives, asleep and waiting
on the white tables

What do you love?

I love the way our teeth stay long after we’re gone, hanging on despite worms or fire

I love our stomachs
turning over
the earth

Happy end-of-May, beginning-of-June.

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A Weekend Writing Conference, or Ann Patchett is my Spirit Guide.

This past weekend in Boston was utterly gorgeous, and I spent about 94% of it indoors.  You know what, though — I loved every minute of it.  The sun is bad for you, after all, and writing is not.  So instead of lying in the park with my T-shirt rolled up, I was at Grub Street‘s Muse and the Marketplace writing conference.

The Muse is two packed days of workshops, readings, signings and lectures.  The whole event is pretty rigorously paced, with three workshops or lectures each day.  As a participant, I could have also signed up for lunch with published authors, meetings with agents and query letter evaluations (last year I met with an editor to discuss my work) but this year I specifically chose lectures that addressed topics I needed to tackle with my own writing.

Here’s what went down:

Saturday
Got to registration a little later than planned and therefore missed the free breakfast.  This didn’t bother me but I was sweating profusely from walking to the Park Plaza and desperately needed something to drink.  Bumped into Farrah from my writing group before heading to my first lecture, “Time Travel In Fiction: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”  I chose it because I’m working on something with a lot of flashbacks, and besides, who doesn’t like a Joyce Carol Oates reference?  The class — which was both incredibly fascinating and terribly helpful — was led by Alix Ohlin, who was clever and a great speaker and very smart, and as I took notes I realized my pen’s ink matched my shoes exactly, teal.  My only other pen was, um, light teal.  Grabbed a coffee before “Traits, Quirks, and Habits: Crafting Characters from the Inside Out” with Lynne Griffin.  Took more notes with teal pen.  Caught up with my friend Terry over lunch; we took a great Grub class last summer with Kate Flora, and now Terry has a fantastic and funny idea for a book I can’t wait to read.  Poked at a dry piece of chicken and stole extra rolls while Alan Cheuse and Dinty W. Moore read excerpts from their work, and Mr. Moore described the conference as “the grubbiest” he has ever attended, which got lots of laughs.  Met up with Farrah again at Rakesh Satyal‘s “Culture Clubbing: How to Write About Ethnicity Without Beating Your Readers Over the Head.”  Farrah and I are both of Lebanese descent, and apparently equally interested in including this is our respective work.  Afterward went to an hour-long lecture on “The Art of Column Writing” with Suzette Martinez Standring.  Braced myself for the heat, began perspiring as soon as I left the hotel.

Sunday
Got to the hotel with enough time to grab a cup of coffee and a marble bagel, which I promptly wrapped in napkins and stuffed in my bag, before bumping into Steve Almond; tried to have a chat before getting separated in the elevator, but learned his four-month-old is named Judah Elijah, which I think is a nice name, particularly with the reverse alliteration.  Attempted to balance my notebook on my knees during Merrill Feitell “Mechanical Physics for Fiction Writers,” which was so straight-up good that I filled pages with notes when I wasn’t too busy laughing at her jokes and stuffed bunny prop.  Immediately afterward, ran downstairs to the Porter Square Books table to buy a copy of her anthology, Here Beneath Low-Flying Planes, along with The Missing Person by Alix Ohlin, The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry and Naming the World by Bret Anthony Johnston.  Ran back upstairs for Steve’s lecture on “How to Achieve Sudden Impact,” and am pleased to report his sense of humor in front of an audience is the same as his humor in front of one person.  Farrah and I ate lunch together (soggy chicken) and listened to Ann Patchett‘s keynote speech.  In the middle of it, I sent a text to Marcella and Keith: “Ann Patchett should be my spirit guide.”  She spoke for something like forty minutes without notes, and bluntly about writing.  This is the best job you’ll ever have, this is hard work, there’s not such thing as doctor’s block so why writer’s block?*  Clapped until my hands felt sore then made my way back upstairs for “Diving Into the Novel” with Vyvyane Loh, who was so full of information that I could practically see the story I am working on come together right in front of me.

* This, of course, is paraphrased.  Ann Patchett is much more clever than that.  And she spoke about much, much more with an almost intimidating amount of intelligence and a lot of humor.  Ann Patchett is funny!

Food + Drink: A Mix CD.

Lately all I’ve been wanting to do is make mix CDs.  I’ve been working on an epic one lately that’s meant to be encouraging/inspirational for writing; it includes such songs as “The Slow Descent into Alcoholism” by The New Pornographers and “I See A Darkness” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy.  It’s really been helping.

Anyway, I told my friend Stephanie about my fixation and she was so intrigued by my need for an underlying thematic element that I immediately volunteered to make her a mix.  Since, like me, Stephanie’s constantly obsessing about food, it only seemed fitting that I put together a food-centric playlist.

  1. Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog” by Johnny Cash
  2. “My Sugar So Sweet” by Nick Drake
  3. The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1” by Neutral Milk Hotel
  4. “Meat” by Noise Addict
  5. Oyster” by Jawbreaker
  6. “Pork + Beans” by Bettie Serveert
  7. Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young
  8. Gimmie Some Salt” by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
  9. Just Like Honey” by The Jesus + Mary Chain
  10. You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” by Spoon
  11. Apple Scruffs” by George Harrison
  12. For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea” by Belle + Sebastian
  13. (Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister” by The Stone Roses
  14. Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones
  15. Bird Stealing Bread” by Iron + Wine
  16. Lips Like Sugar” by Echo + the Bunnymen
  17. Apple Bed” by Sparklehorse
  18. Fortune Cookie” by Pizzicato Five
  19. Coffee + TV” by Blur

I’ve got to say, it came out really great.  Drop me a line in the comments if you want a copy and we’ll set it up.

Café Round-Up: Peet’s Coffee + Tea.

Who: Peet’s Coffee + Tea
Where: Harvard Square, Cambridge.
When: Two hours in the early afternoon.
Ordered: Almond croissant and small latte for $5.52
Info: Not a lot of seating.  Classical music in the background.  I don’t get a seat at the bar or on a bench, and find the chairs very uncomfortable.  Consider bundling up coat and scarf to make a supportive pillow of sorts for lower back.  Very limited sockets.  End up sitting next to the bathroom in order to plug in.  Very high-traffic area — don’t want to breathe too deeply, especially when door swings open.  Am so uncomfortable I contemplate leaving without writing; instead reposition self so can spy on patrons sitting in Ideal Spot on a high bench next to a socket.  When they leave I shall swoop in.  Feel like a vulture.  Free wireless, but access code needed to log in.
Conclusion: Avoid if you plan to linger or get any real writing done.

Peet’s Coffee + Tea
100 Mount Auburn Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
617.492.1844
peets.com

Peet's Coffee & Tea. on Urbanspoon

Café Round-Up: Boston Common Coffee Company.

Who: Boston Common Coffee Company
Where: North End, Boston
When: Three and a half hours spanning early morning to just before lunchtime.
Ordered: Toasted onion bagel with lox and plain cream cheese, and a medium coffee for $6.20
Info: An utterly ridiculous amount of tables and chairs, though a slightly cluttered/cramped layout; the chairs seem awfully close to each other. Surprising amount of foot traffic, including many babies and lapdogs, but everyone seems to know everybody else; there’s a very neighborhoody vibe.  Bright and sunny, thanks to ceiling-height windows, but it’s awfully cold near the door. Comfy-looking sofa and armchairs next to a woodburning stove and an interesting panino selection — if I didn’t have a lunch date elsewhere, I’d certainly  take a break from writing to also order the “Sal”: prosciutto, Fontina, roasted red peppers and a fig spread. Next time though. Also: free wireless.
Conclusion: A cozy spot off of Hanover Street that probably gets packed with tourists on the weekend.

Boston Common Coffee Company
97 Salem Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02113
617.725.0040
bostoncommoncoffee.com

Boston Common Coffee Co, on Urbanspoon

Café Round-Up: Carberry’s Bakery + Coffeehouse.

Who: Carberry’s Bakery + Coffeehouse
Where: Central Square, Cambridge
When: Two and a half hours in the late afternoon.
Ordered: Foccaccia with chicken, mozzarella, red onions and chipotle mayonnaise, and a bottled Diet Coke for $8.80
Info: Extremely quiet, Magic Lite FM playing in the background so softly I have my iTunes on the lowest volume and still all I hear is my own music.  Patrons are definitely on the older side — I would guess forty is the average age.  Wooden chairs have excellent back support though the metal tables’ textured surface takes some getting used to, especially if writing by hand.  Two of my favorite features are 1) the huge, bright windows which let in a great deal of light, and 2) the small customer-only parking lot.  Wireless situation unknown.
Conclusion: Good for writers who need a quiet, bright space.

Carberry’s Bakery + Coffeehouse
74 Prospect Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
carberrys.com

Carberry's Bakery and Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Café Round-Up: Flat Black Coffee Company.

Who: Flat Black Coffee Company
Where: Financial District, Boston
When: Two and a half hours early on a weekday afternoon, beginning at lunchtime.
Ordered: Iced vanilla latte as sweet as pudding for $3.83
Info: Nice big windows on two walls, counters running along the length of them with saddle stools tucked underneath.  Aside from a pair of businesspeople sitting in glossy crimson chairs and having a tête-à-tête over coffee, I am the only other patron so I have my pick of seats and sockets, the latter of which there are an impressive amount.  Surprisingly loud considering how empty it is — samba-ish world music playing at practically full volume whilst employees chatter amongst themselves.  Even with my headphones plugged in and my iTunes on the highest I’ve set it yet, I can hear a steady bass rhythm and the baristas’ conversation over both my typing and The Meadowlands.  Supposedly free Internet, but my laptop doesn’t want to connect.  Most likely I am doing something wrong.
Conclusion: Not for those averse to tribal beats.

Flat Black Coffee Company
50 Broad Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02109
617.951.1440
flatblackcoffeecompany.com

Flat Black Coffee Company on Urbanspoon