How’s your summer going? Do we call this summer yet? (The academic calendar makes me think of mid-May-onward as summer.)
Mine is good. Once classes are out, I have no—or less—of an excuse to avoid writing my novel, so I’ve been attempting to really beat myself into submission. A thousand words per weekday is my goal. I meet it….usually. Sometimes. 75% of the time? Roughly. Today, maybe not. We’ll see.
Other news: 2.5 years after buying our house, we are renovating the kitchen and bathroom. (The kitchen had red formica countertops that were painted—yes, painted—beige, and the bathroom was a bright-pink South Philly special.) Here, I’ll show you:
(Can you tell this is all pink? It this photo it sort of looks….orange. Trust me: bright pink. Even the toilet.)
(Excuse the garbage bag….we had just finished cleaning the whole thing out pre-renovation. Notice the dot on the counter: that is the red, peeking through.)
I will definitely show you the afters. Stay tuned.
Anyway, this is exciting but disruptive. Because we have no shower, we have been in and out and often staying elsewhere for a couple of weeks, and this means that I have had to be very disciplined about building a routine in the absence of one. But I’m trying, and mostly succeeding. Small victories.
Speaking of: time to write now. I hope any of you who are also trying to write are finding the time, someplace. And that you’re also finding the time to enjoy the summer that we EARNED after our Winter of the Polar Vortex. Remember that guy? Wow.
My little sister’s been living in New Orleans for the better part of a year, so Mac and I decided that this year would be a good year to go to Jazzfest. He’s been before; I haven’t.
This was my fourth time in that city and it grows on me each time. There’s something lonely about it, and something magical, and the beauty of the architecture and the landscape gets under your skin. In April, things are flowering. It’s too hot at noon and just right in the evening.
I hadn’t seen B in too long. The first order of business upon getting into her car at the airport was taking a terrifying selfie to send to our parents:
After that there were donuts on Magazine Street (don’t worry, Federal Donuts, you still have my heart):
And crawfish at Manning’s, where we went to watch the NBA playoffs and torment Mac….
…..who has a major, potentially irrational disdain for all things Manning-related, which he is demonstrating here:
And then came Frenchmen Street, and a night market that was something like an outdoor living room:
And many, many brass bands:
And an annual Moore sister photograph, which we intend to pose for until my arms fail me:
…and, of course, Jazzfest itself, on Sunday. Here is Ms. Ruby Wilson’s tribute to Bessie Smith:
And Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles:
And, because Jazzfest wasn’t enough music, we went to Tipitina’s at the end of the night to see Black Joe Lewis:
And Mac couldn’t help himself (he also bought a T-shirt and an album).
Our last night in New Orleans was dinner at Peche and a Sazerac at the Columns, where an older couple danced (well) down the hallway to a Zydeco band playing in the next room.
In every way, I am a tourist when I go to New Orleans—I experience only the sweet parts of it, not its trouble or its sorrow. And yet those things are right below the surface of it all, making it complicated and haunting. I’m back in rainy Philadelphia now and feeling gloomy about leaving both New Orleans and my sister, whom I miss all the time.
In closing, here’s a picture of Mac looking up at the Tip’s sign. Something about it captures the way I think of, look at, remember New Orleans.
In December, I was very newly married, very happily working at my full-time teaching job, and generally content. Living abroad, although it’s something that I’ve always had a feeling I wanted do someday, was not something that entered my thoughts about the immediate future.
The American Academy of Arts & Letters, which is incredibly generously funding the prize, needed me to tell them whether I’d accept, if I won. So I spoke to my university—they’re kindly granting me a year’s leave. I spoke to my husband, who told me I’d be crazy if I didn’t accept. And then I spoke to the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and told them that I would.
In February, I was notified that I’d be receiving the award. Last night, at the Rome Prize ceremony in New York, the announcement was made public.
This means that, beginning in September, this will be my view (all photos courtesy of the American Academy in Rome website):
The craziest part: I’ve never actually been to Rome.
Also, I speak zero Italian. (Though Mac and I just signed up for Sunday-afternoon lessons, which I’m pretty excited about.)
Life works in unexpected, wondrous ways. I’ve worked full-time since the end of college, with a brief break for grad school, so a year to write is an immeasurable gift. I’m still wrapping my mind around the luxury of it and dreaming of what I’ll do.
Finally, if you are an expert on Rome, fast’n’easy language acquisition, the visa application process, or all of the above……send your advice my way.
3. Catch up on Oscars Homework (tm), a term coined by my first, fantastic boss, who was a movie fanatic with a film degree. She loved and eagerly anticipated the Academy Awards and would attempt to watch every film nominated for every major category. Every year she would ask me how I was coming along with my Oscars Homework.
First up: the end of Dallas Buyers Club, which I’m about 3/4 of the way through. (Speaking of Matthew McConnaughey, are we all watching True Detective? Good.)
File under: things that make me feel like I am hallucinating
The Korean translation of Heft arrived today.
I wish I could read it. One of the weirdest parts of having the book translated has been putting my faith in the (very talented, I am certain) people the publishing companies hire to translate. Sometimes—especially when it’s in a language that one cannot easily enter into Google Translate or the equivalent—I think, they could be saying anything. I have no idea what is happening on this page. Anyone speak Korean?
Also, apparently this is how you write “Liz Moore”:
So, curious, I googled that phrase and it led me to this recipe.
Which, in turn, led to this dinner:
All Those Vegetables sponsored by my weekend in New Orleans, where few vegetables were had, unless canola oil is considered a vegetable.
Things I did differently than the recipe: added garlic, zucchini, and kale; seared chicken on both sides before drowning in broth; put a lemon slice right in the bowl with the soup. Delicious. Do recommend. Thanks for the suggestion!
P.S. Can we all agree that this soup’s official name should be Lemony Chickett? Great.
In many ways, the past two years have been the fullest years I’ve ever had. I have little in the way of downtime. My job seems to have gotten busier at the same time that I’m waist-deep in writing a novel (yes, I’m writing a novel….we’ll talk about it soon). We’ve also been traveling on weekends for various things, with more traveling to come, and there’s stuff that needs (immediate) fixing on the house, and I keep…taking…on….more. I don’t know why. I don’t like to say no.
That said, I’m writing. So far, I’m writing. I used to be spoiled: I could only write in the morning, I thought, and only at home, and only if I had two hours ahead of me. Now, I write in the cracks. I write whenever I have any time at all. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t write.
This is the secret that it is hardest to convey to students or to the many people who have said to me, over the years, that they’d like to write but that they never have time. No one has time. As Jami Attenberg just noted, what separates writers from non-writers is….writing. Working. Finishing the damn thing.
The other secret is white noise. That’s right. Download a white noise file onto your laptop and bring some good headphones along wherever you go and you will feel like you have a superpower. I am Write-Anywhere-Woman. I can write in the loudest coffeeshop of all and still maintain concentration. (Personal favorite: “White Noise Ocean Waves” from the iconic album Original White Noise, available on iTunes. Rock’n’roll.)
The point is: wean yourself away from the idea that you have to have very specific conditions in which to write. Be prepared to write wherever or whenever you can. Don’t wait for inspiration: find the free hour you have in the middle of any day (or the beginning or the end) and do it.
Say, for example, that you’re alone in a public space with one other person. You don’t know the person. The two of you are in a locker room, for example, or on an otherwise-empty subway platform, or in an otherwise empty bus.
The other person begins to make remarks, as if to himself or herself—something about the weather (“Hoo, it’s cold out there!”) or perhaps there’s music playing in the locker room, and the other person begins to sing along, loudly and obviously.
A) Make a small-talky remark back to the person
B) Smile at the person and go about your business
C) Completely ignore the person. Pretend nothing is happening.
This happens on a somewhat regular basis—in fact, it just did—and I never quite know what the appropriate reaction is. The question is: are these people who are looking to engage? Or are they people who just actually talk to themselves as they’re going about their day? They aren’t looking at or speaking directly to me, and yet we’re the only ones in the room…
Usually I end up just doing some combination of B and C and then scurrying away. And yet I always have the feeling that I’m being rude.
For the first time since I was about eight years old, my family decided to do Thanksgiving at our house in upstate New York, rather than the house I grew up in outside Boston.
I am the only one of the four cousins on this side of the family who is old enough to remember Thanksgiving at the Lake (henceforth referred to as TATL), and therefore the only cousin to fully understand both the perils and the rewards.
The perils of TATL:
1. The risk of heavy snowfall that would basically prevent departure due to the long inaccessible dirt roads, the lack of town-sponsored snowplows, and the prevalence of citified sedans in our family
2. The risk of plumbing failure, heating failure, oven failure, or electricity failure in our old house. In the summer, these things aren’t so bad. In the late fall—especially when a cold snap results in 8-degree temps outside—these things are somewhat concerning.
The rewards of TATL:
1. You know that song that begins, “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go”? (AKA the only Thanksgiving carol in existence?) It should have been written about this house.
2. It is the coziest place on earth
3. There is a particular kind of beauty about it in the winter that we never really get to see, since normally we close the place in October.
Fortunately for everyone involved, no major systems in the house failed, and the potentially heavy snowfall that was predicted never really materialized.
(I hope you all had very merry Thanksgivings and happy post-Thanksgiving sandwiches as well. And that you used nutritionless white bread on said sandwiches. Nutritionless white bread is the only way to go.)
Guess what this weekend is? Philadelphia’s very own literary festival, organized by Joey Sweeney of Philebrity.
The 215 Fest starts Thursday night with a reading at the Free Library by Nicholson Baker (!!) and Dara Horn (!!) and continues with a reading/concert/dance party (made up the dance party part, but you never know with writers) at Underground Arts. I shall be at both.
I am totally going to self-plagiarize for a moment, but here’s what I said in a recent interview with The Head & The Hand about why this festival’s important for Philadelphia:
"LM: This year’s festival has some incredible names attached to it—I can’t wait to see Nicholson Baker. It’s important for Philly because I see Philadelphia as a city brimming with literary potential. Your press, all the writers who live here or have recently moved here, the long tradition of journalistic excellence associated with Philly, the interesting subject matter….the cheap rent….ALL of these things make Philadelphia just primed to be a terrific city for literature. So I am absolutely excited about participating in a festival that celebrates that. And I aim to spread the word about it, through my very rudimentary social media skills, but more importantly by peer-pressuring my friends to come."
Long story short: you should come. It’ll be fun. It’ll be good for Philly. I like you.
Preying on the neuroses and phobias of city folk with targeted ads on Facebook that, as you are scrolling down through all of the baby and wedding pictures of your friends and “friends,” leap out at you with the headline, “Attention Philadelphia! Bed bugs are everywhere.” And a nice little picture of the life cycle of a bed bug as well.
(See screen cap below. I kept it small so as not to do the same thing to all of you nice people on Tumblr.)
Two weekends ago M stayed in Chicago, where he’s been working, and I went to visit. It was the third time I had been and the first time I got it, as a city….the first two times it had felt too spread out, disparate. The streets had felt too wide. The restaurants had felt too large. I’m not used to space in cities.
This time was different: for one thing, I got to spend lots of quality time with two great friends, Heather and Christine (the latter of whom moved to Chicago since the last time I visited). Heather is a very good friend to have, not only because she is incredibly kind and funny, but also because she is incredibly professionally tuned in to Chicago’s food and culture and therefore made excellent recommendations to us.
Christine is one of my closest friends from college, and she recently made the brave and awesome decision to pursue acting, which precipitated her move. I had never seen her act before, but she was conveniently opening a show while we were there, which we had the pleasure of seeing. It’s called Inventing Van Gogh, and you should see it too. Look for this lady:
(Seeing her act was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. She’s….really….good. Seriously. A natural. Whatever it is, she’s got it. And that was so moving to see, and even more incredibly, she’s only just begun…)
We stayed at Longman & Eagle, which I could not endorse more enthusiastically. It’s a small city inn with a great restaurant/bar downstairs (I am still dreaming about a fried soft-shell crab dish…) and, upstairs, a handful of thoughtfully decorated rooms.
This was ours:
(Pants on bed, shoes on floor not included)
The tub was magical, as was the room-sized shower on the other side of that wall. And each room comes equipped with reasonably priced, delicious snacks and drinks in the fridge.
We also went to Dillman’s, which I think had opened the day before (A+ pickles), and Taxim.
The low point of the weekend was sustaining a non-life-threatening, albeit face-threatening, injury that sent M and me to the ER for six hours in the early morning Saturday. The bad thing about the face is that it bleeds a lot. The good thing about the face is that it heals quickly.
(See: me, four days ago, making a carrot cake. See also: the cut on my eyebrow that looks 75% better than it had a week before.)
In conclusion: Chicago, you won me over. Not that you needed my approval. I’ll be back and ready for more eating ASAP.
This summer is going (has gone?) by fast, in part because of all the little trips we’ve taken. Updates and recaps soon to come.
For now, pictures from two…
A view from the roof of a nearby apartment building.
Went to the East Hampton Library’s Authors’ Night, in which my sweet friend Jess Soffer was participating, in support of her book Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots (which you should all read if you haven’t yet).
Cities are fall places, and definitely winter places, and absolutely spring places (all that promise of fun summer getaways ahead of you). But being in a city in the middle of a hot day in the middle of July can feel a bit post-apocalyptic. Everyone else has packed up and gone to the beach.
An 80 piece orchestra of laid-off music teachers performed a farewell concert Monday in the administrative offices of the Philadelphia School District bidding adieu to themselves
I’m actually crying.
This city is so fucked.
The theme of today is losing faith in all levels of our government.
This is appalling. Yesterday was a bad day for Philadelphia. Here’s hoping the state reconsiders the drastic effect its funding cuts—$274 million less in aid to Philly schools over the past three years—will have on Philly’s school system, and, hence, the city itself.
It’s an exciting time to be in Philadelphia, and the forward momentum here is palpable. But this is a huge step back for this city, and my thoughts are with the hundreds of hard-working teachers and staff members affected by this, and their distraught students.
The best writers not only create worlds beyond our imagination but also lead us into places we’d never dare venture alone. Over their long careers, Stephen King and Margaret Atwood have continually surprised us with their dark worlds. In his new short story “Afterlife,”…
I have a short story in the current issue of Tin House, the “Summer Reading” issue, and because a variety of circumstances combined to make me unable to either get to a bookstore or check my mail for the past couple of weeks, yesterday was the first time I saw it.
It’s beautiful. Stephen King has a story in there about the afterlife. My story comes after his story. I’d make a joke about that if I were funnier.
Also, Margaret Atwood and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are interviewed, and there’s an essay that begins with an excruciating narrative about a college writing workshop so filled with secondhand embarrassment that you can’t stop reading even if you want to. (But hold on—it gets less embarrassing.)
My story is called “Shy-Shy.” It’s about an 11-year-old girl at summer camp. It, too, is filled with secondhand embarrassment.
Summer and winter are the best times to read, in my opinion, and this issue is as good as any reading you can find out there right now.
Jason Mulgrew’s “236 Pounds of Class Vice President” comes to Chip Roman’s Ela
“… I did not have a vegetable that was not a potato, corn, or prefixed by ‘creamed’ or ‘cream of’ until college. A salad was something that came with dinner when you went out to eat and which you pushed to the…
I realize that this blog has become a “come to these things I am doing/going to!” blog, and promise to return with more substantive programming soon. (Specifically, I will be detailing, and providing photographic evidence of, a surprise birthday weekend [mine], a wedding [not mine], and a trip to New Orleans.)
Briefly, though, I would like to say that this event sounds amazing and my lovely friend Erin and I will be in attendance.
For the link-phobic among you, here’s a brief description:
Although storytelling is an ancient and universal human activity, Narrative 4 helps people all over the world tell their stories in a new and powerful way. We identify those who may not have been heard—whether it be teens from the south side of Chicago or on the streets of Dublin, or under-represented youth in Kabul or in the Barrio—and offer them sanctuary to share significant stories from their lives.
As a fundraiser, Narrative 4 and Esquire magazine asked many authors to contribute stories, all called “How to Be a Man.” My story is in there. So are stories by Khaled Hosseini, Tea Obreht, Colum McCann, Roddy Doyle, Ian McEwan, Gabriel Byrne, Mona Simpson, Salman Rushdie. And on and on.
It costs $5 to read them all, and your money will go to a unique, important project.
Today I am pleased to introduce you to your newest Tumblr friend: my agent, Seth Fishman.
Are you a writer? Are you an aspiring writer? Are you an agent? Are you a reader? Are you an aspiring reader? Are you a human? If so, you should follow Seth. (Don’t follow Seth if you are a robot, however. And I know a lot of you are.)
Just look at this dapper man, with a dapper beer in his hand:
How could you say no?
Seth is not only a talented agent, but a talented writer. In fact, his first novel, a YA thriller called The Well’s End, is due out soon. Here’s the description:
Sixteen-year-old Mia Kish’s small town of Fenton, Colorado is known for three things: being home to the world’s tallest sycamore tree, the national chicken-thigh-eating contest and one of the ritziest boarding schools in the country, Westbrook Academy. But when emergency sirens start blaring and Westbrook is put on lockdown, quarantined and surrounded by soldiers who shoot first and ask questions later, Mia realizes she’s only just beginning to discover what makes Fenton special.
And the answer is behind the wall of the Cave, aka Fenton Electronics, of which her father is the Director. Mia’s dad has always been secretive about his work, allowing only that he’s working for the government. But unless Mia’s willing to let the whole town succumb to a strange illness that ages people years in a matter of hours, the end result death, she’s got to break quarantine, escape the school grounds and outsmart armed soldiers to uncover the truth.
having completed a substantial piece of non-writing-related work, I am buying four new books and I intend to read them all greedily in quick succession and it feels like the best, most luxurious indulgence I have ever granted myself.
I’m happy to announce that Heftis one of the winners of Philadelphia’s Athenaeum Literary Award. I’ll be giving a brief talk and book signing tomorrow night as part of the award presentation, which is free and open to the public.
Information here: “There is still time to sign up for the Athenaeum Literary Award presentation on Wednesday, May 8, at 5:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but reservations are requested. RSVP to Susan Gallo at 215-925-2688 or email@example.com.”
(By the way….the Athenaeum itself is a pretty great place, and you should visit if you haven’t been! My first job out of college was in the Publications department of the Morgan Library & Museum; therefore, special-collections-libraries/museums are near and dear to my heart.)
The Philly Burger Brawl (yesterday). Please note that it has been approximately twelve years since I have had any part of a hamburger, having first given up all meat at 18, then slowly reintroduced seafood and poultry. Hamburgers….are a different level of meat. But yes, I bravely had a bite of every one that M tried, and my conclusion is that I liked the toppings better than the beef. It wasn’t the violins-and-shafts-of-sunlight reunion that I have heard other former vegetarians speak of. So…probably no more hamburgers in my near future.
My personal favorite, above….Percy Street BBQ. It included an egg yolk and prosciutto.
And a close second…Barbuzzo. That cocktail was delicious.
Here’s an even more exciting thing that happened (and, upon saying that, I realize the extent of my agedness):
I went away for the weekend two weekends ago and when I returned M had ORGANIZED OUR BASEMENT COMPLETELY WITH THE HELP OF A LADY WHO ORGANIZES STUFF. It was a surprise. It was the best surprise ever. Now, a year and a half after moving into the house, the basement wasn’t totally out of control…but it was heading in that direction, thanks to a small leak during Sandy (during which we shoved every single box into a haphazard heap) and then the concreting of a basement crawl space (before which we moved said heap across the basement into a different heap).
Just look at this masterpiece.
(Oh hi, guitar that I now have no reason not to access/play.)
Every box is labeled with its contents. EVERY BOX IS LABELED WITH ITS CONTENTS.
Way to go, M. (Pictured here on our way to watch the Derby at a divey place on Saturday, just wearing his Derby hat for kicks.)
In the meantime, here are a few select excerpts of our conversation, the complete version of which can be found here.
In your novel you write about food with a sense of nostalgia and warmth and fondness. It seems like the antidote to suffering. Do you have your own fond, familial memories of food? If so, what are they?
I come from a long line of people who believe in the curative powers of food. My father was born in Baghdad, Iraq in the 1920s and his mother was a healer. She believed in eating for one’s well-being, to strengthen and fortify and enrich the body by eating particular things. Iraqi Jews of that time also believed in eating by color: yellow fruits and vegetables for happiness, rose petals for love, shunning black and unlucky foods, such as the skin of eggplants. When my father came to the United States, he was forced to abandon his family, his Jewish faith, his national pride, and so food and the flavors of his childhood were the way he reestablished a home in New York, by replicating his mother’s recipes.
I love this answer. I also see so much of that in you: your first question, every time I walk into your apartment, is, “What can I get you? Tea?” (I’ll overlook the part about how you then ask me if I want hemp milk in it, the thought of which chills me to my bones.) I think food, offerings of food and drink, are such a beautiful part of friendship. I think I have told you about how weirdly sentimental I get when people split fruit with me—like, “here, want half of this orange?”—because it’s such a primitive gesture and triggers some uncanny ancestral memory in my cerebrum, and it also speaks to the fundamental good of human beings. We humans have been splitting fruit with each other for millennia. I know some animals do it too, but we split fruit with people outside our family, or herd. This is not a question yet. I guess my question is, do you feel that way too? Do you offer food as a gesture of something?
I have three things to say to that. First, asking about the tea has to do with you. How I want you to stay a while, forever, always. And tea is a good start. I keep ice cream in the freezer because I know how you prefer it not only to hemp milk, but to world peace, puppies and winning the lottery. Second, asking that question has to do with my childhood. My mother is not much of a cook but she is a professional at making people feel at home: sitting them down on the couch with a good book, tucking their feet into a wool blanket when she’s only just been introduced. My father was a more traditional in his home-making. The Iraqi Jews believed in being generous hosts: dried fruit and nuts for days when any Tom, Dick or Harry dropped in. Third, asking that question has to do with always wanting everyone to feel comfortable in my presence. If you get my name wrong, I will not correct you. I don’t want you to feel weird. It’s not a question of allowing myself to be walked all over—which I won’t allow—but with something that you and I talk about often: empathy. How some writers have it in spades (I’m not assigning judgment to that at the moment): they rely on it, are burdened and motivated by it, and it’s what allows them/compels them to write about people who are not themselves. That is the case with you and me, which means that we can imagine standing at the door awkwardly, not being offered tea. So we ask: tea, ice cream, a soft place to land?
I have now been in Philadelphia almost four years. In some ways it feels as if I’ve been here for much longer—especially since we bought the house, it feels like home here—but in others it feels like a dream. Like two days since I’ve been here.
That is why it was especially nice to have three of my New York-est friends (and an honorary French/Washingtonian New Yorker) come to visit Philadelphia this past weekend for the first time. For one thing….the weather. Let’s talk about the weather these days.
This is my kitchen. This is me looking very concerned about something in my cabinet. This is Bergen photobombing me.
These are my friends. Aren’t they attractive? This is all of the cheese we bought from the Italian Market. Isn’t it attractive? (And some terrible, terrible strawberries. We couldn’t have known.)
This is the Barnes Foundation. We went there.
And these are fancy cocktails. And some of us looking quite serious.
In all it was an excellent excuse for some sightseeing and so, so nice to have a little piece of New York in Philadelphia, just for an overnight. Miss them already.
some more important friends (the cuties in the middle) got engaged, and
I went to Boston for the AWP conference and it snowed a lot, and
I went to the Barclays Center for the first time to see a Nets game (and thought, “Holy crap, I’ve been gone from Brooklyn a long, long time,” and “How did this happen?” and “This was a train yard” and “This mac & cheese is delicious”), and
We took M’s Pop-Pop to see a UDel women’s basketball game, because he is Elena Delle Donne’s biggest fan, and on the way back we stopped at Woody’s Crab House in North East, MD, and he won a $200 gift certificate because he ordered the 2 millionth crab cake. Those are balloons that he’s holding.