The Weekend Dish

Go outside and play.
That’s what our mother always told us.

When we were cranky, or rambunctious, or simply underfoot while she was trying to mop the kitchen floor.

Go outside and play is your mandate this weekend.

And shoot. Photos please, not birds.
If you’re particularly impressed by what you’ve done, consider entering The Great Outdoors Photography Competition sponsored by Matador Network, one of the greatest travel reading and viewing pleasures I know.

Oh and um, remember to wipe the mud off your feet before you come back in.

Dear one who sent me this note:

It’s hard to be confident in my writing when I read the works of geniuses like Andreï Makine or Irene Némirovsky. I read and I wonder if anything I write will ever be as good. But I’m trying to not be discouraged and to keep writing. Thank you again for all of your advice…


To this, I reply:
Oh cher étudiant,

Do these words come from the same woman I once described in a recommendation letter as having an “abundance of intellectual curiosity” with “the ability for sound discernment?”  It’s so simple to recognize talent and bursts of greatness in another; nearly impossible to see ourselves reflected with pleasure.

You do know that “I’ll never be as good” is a refrain from your own Songbook of Fear and Despair.

If you write to surpass your literary ancestors you may succeed. Or, you may not.  But you’ll certainly grow a weed of discontentment because, wild word child, how will you measure that kind of benchmark? Will the yardstick be labeled “sales” or “critical acclaim” or “awards won?”

Is this desire coming from the same woman who once argued in a paper, “They Can Save Their Self-Righteousness for a Better Cause,” that critics might censure literature while not realizing it could be their own unfamiliarity with perspectives from societal margins which creates literary discord, rather than some artistic failing by the writer?

You will write from the heart, with developed technique, because you can’t sleep at night until you have your say. You will write and rewrite and rewrite again because you’re building your personal House of Words and “as good as” be damned because your work is yours alone crafted with all the voice and character that sings from your own sacred self-space.

When you feel faulty, write ten pages, twenty pages, and put them away for one month. When you think you’ve got nothing to say, look at what you once wrote and highlight the passages that still make you smile.  When you feel sorry for yourself, remember the great failures of your literary heroes: Némirovsky was accused of anti-Semitism in her work, and Makine “was growing desperate” to be published before his first work was accepted.

We’ll keep this correspondence just between us because someday, when you know in your heart that you are a writer, you’ll be startled by your insecurity.  I look forward to reading more of your work, even that which you can’t quite stand yet.

Speaking of reading, Makine’s new novel, The Life of an Unknown Man arrives in June.  Do you want to read it together?

A Woman of Letters

Butterfly Days

Butterfly by Susan Greene

I’m rereading The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby because I’ve just introduced it to my students.  You’ve never read it? You must. And no, the film is no substitute because watching a man with Locked-In Syndrome go throw the motions of surviving isn’t the same at all as holding in your hand the book that he transmitted, letter by letter, to his physical therapist by blinking his left eyelid.

“In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.”




It’s everything that good writing is and it never fails to inspire me to write a little more diligently.  Plus its wickedly funny at times.

Prescriptive, favorite chapters, in no particular order:

When I wonder if its worth the time to write a note to a friend, to carefully choose my words, to share the thoughts which well within and rattle my heart, rather than let them lay in the stall of my core, I turn to “The Vegetable.”

When I feel trapped, when I want to write what I dream and when I wonder if life is a dream and does that make dreaming as real as bone and none of this is metaphor, I read and reread “The Dream.”

When I want to be snide and sarcastic, even though I detest those traits but sometimes it seems as essential as breathing to point out stupidity, I remind myself to be more graceful and revisit “The Wax Museum.”

And speaking of museums, The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, in our own backyard, opened its Butterfly Pavilion this week.  I haven’t gone yet. But maybe if you get a chance to visit you’ll let me know how it is.

Thanks for reading.  It’s alright to keep the back gate open and tell your neighbors to drop on by.
Ciao, Catherine