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a [ ] of one’s own

UntitledA “woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write”. Woolf finishes that statement with ‘fiction’, but I think it is true for all kinds of writing. And also I think ‘woman’ does not have to be ‘woman’. I think many of us need rooms of our own in order and in which to write. Sometimes recently these are called ‘safe spaces’, which meets with a lot of derision (as if it is somehow an outlier to want to be safe). But really they are just places we know we can go into for the extended, vulnerable undertaking which is making new worlds and unmaking or remaking the ones we have.

Recently a well-respected magazine editor made it clear that he is unwilling to examine his aesthetics and vision for unconscious bias, and, therefore, that making openings in his magazine for writers whose work might fall outside that aesthetics is not a priority. What do I mean by this. I mean that as a white person, I was not taught to think about race in literature, except when reading a black writer, an Asian writer…because ‘white’ was unspoken, it became background. Ordinary. The norm from which difference was established. Which meant also that people who wrote like that (meaning: descended from a long tradition of writing mostly, sorry guys, by white men from Europe; later also by white men, and some women, from Europe and the US) wrote ‘normally’ and everything else was inflected, tinged by what were once called identity politics. As though identity, or the politics thereof, were a kind of contaminant. As if the invisibility of whiteness were not a politics of its own. As if a literature that invisibly aligns itself with whiteness (by saying ‘canon’ or appealing to certain habitual ways of making text) were not a politics. As if neither required examination. As if preferences were natural and not conditioned. As if I could ever just read a text by a writer not operating in that white sphere, without the history and practices I had been taught, surrounding literature, acting as lenses (lenses that generally say, this is no good, which means this doesn’t look like what I’m used to, without the hmm, why am I used to what I’m used to moment).

In response to this, someone in a conversation floated the idea of editors of journals who are committed to supporting the work of writers of color (and other minority writers) might have a sort of badge on their site. Some discussion followed, pointing out the difficult logistics of this (would it be quantified? Who would adjudicate? How would decisions be enforced?) as well as the way in which a ‘badge’ might operate essentially as a congratulations or reward for white editors who are doing what they should do anyway, i.e. reading openly and widely, soliciting from writers of color, examining their own learned and invisible biases (and the relation of these to power/white supremacy/kyriarchy…).

This is a short forum for a long idea. And pausing for a moment on this idea should not erase the fact that this moment is a small one in a long chain of moments which are experienced and narrated in complex and multiple ways by the people who live in and through them. I mean that I am by no means positioning myself as a be-all, end-all. And this text-moment is not thorough or complete. And my own education is ongoing and humbling. But.

I would not have a badge like that on 111O. I do not want to be noticed for publishing women, writers of color, or any other ‘underrepresented voices’, even though that is absolutely what I feel my remit is. I do not want to call attention to that. That seems self-aggrandizing and goes against my gut sense of what my job is. I feel it is my responsibility as an editor to seek out those voices and to listen to them (even to ones I don’t publish in the end. Especially). I want readers of 111O and MIEL’s books to see by our list whose work I am willing to read and support. (The list is not there yet. Nine out of fourteen writers are white. This is something that will change as the 2016 list comes out.) I don’t want a badge to tell anyone how I’m doing. I don’t want an official seal that somehow says “accomplishment unlocked!”. Paying attention to privilege is ongoing work for me. It doesn’t have an end moment. Learning to read again is perpetual and necessary; I have thirty-plus years of having been taught/having learned to read in that erasing way. If writers of color are going to feel comfortable with my publishing them, I think it will only happen if/when they can see that I have an ongoing, extensive commitment to hearing other writers of color and to supporting work regardless of whether I have learned to read it yet.

I deeply desire for MIEL and 111O to be homes—rooms—for writers who need that space, writers who haven’t necessarily had that space, and writers who don’t feel welcome in other spaces by virtue of the way who they are intersects with how they write. That’s what I feel called to do. I don’t want to talk a lot about it because I also feel that my job is to be modest, humble, and invisible wherever I can; certainly not to celebrate myself. But I wanted to write a little about why markers like this rub me the wrong way. They seem like patches over a huge wound; ones that soothe those of us who aren’t bearing the larger part of that wound.

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Cherry galette

It’s been a while since I’ve written about food. Which should not be taken as an indication that I’m not thinking about it. It is full-on summer here right now, which means that food is always on my mind. First of all, the house is full of residents. My own days are structured by the rhythm of preparing, setting out, and clearing away food for them, and my weeks are structured by the four-week meal plan we’ve carefully made to keep meals balanced, affordable, and interesting. The garden is beginning to produce and I can see that soon it will ask for more attention on a daily basis to put up and preserve the food coming from it. (For now we are eating zucchini—fruit and flowers—a few tomatoes, potatoes, garlic scapes, herbs, lettuces, rocket, Chinese broccoli, kale. The strawberries, raspberries, and sour cherries are done for the year. Our plum tree has one plum—not bad for its first year—and one of the first-year apples has an apple.)

Jonathan’s brother has a twenty-five-year-old cherry tree in his yard. Some years, like last year, it hardly produces. Last year’s cherries didn’t have much flavor, either. But this year it is absolutely covered in cherries. We picked about seven kilograms last week: about 1500 grams were eaten by residents in one form or another (raw or baked); the rest is in jam or frozen purée that will one day, later this summer, be ice cream. And yesterday we decided to go back (the tree still has I would guess 100 kilos of fruit on it—it’s too tall to be picked with just ladders) because we knew this week, hot again, would be the end of cherry season. We picked another three kilograms. Tonight I made what will be cherry jenever in a few months, as well as two more jars of jam. The rest of the cherries are pitted and freezing for winter cakes like this one. But what I have been making for the residents’ dessert is not meringue cake. No. It has been way too hot for that. I’ve been making—mostly at night, when it’s cool enough to bake—cherry galettes. This is a very, very simple way to make what’s essentially a fruit pie; you don’t need a pie plate, and you don’t need to worry about your crust sliding down.

cherry galette

You need some shortcrust or pâte brisée. For that you take 140g butter at room temperature, 300g flour (or I’ve also done 50g almond meal, 250g flour), a half-teaspoon salt, and a tablespoon or two of sugar, put them in a food processor (fast and easy way) or in a bowl with a pair of knives (slower but still effective way) and whir/slice them up/together until you have butter gravel coated in flour/dry ingredients. Then you take about 2.5 tablespoons of ice water and slowly add it to the mixture—while pulsing the food processor or while mixing. You want to keep the dough from getting too warm; do this as quickly as you can. Prepare a baking sheet with a lip by putting some baking paper down on it. Then roll the dough out into a rough circle about the same thickness as a pie dough on the baking paper. Let this sit just a few minutes in a cool but not cold place; while it sits, you can get the fruit ready.

(Heat your oven to 180°C/370°F.)

For the fruit, you could use just about anything. Peaches would be very good. Cherries are great. Berries would work. Even apples, pears, or something like nutella could work. I have almond meal on hand here all the time (I get it from here) and I put a little of that down on the center part of the crust as a base. Take your fruit—about 200g, but estimate based on the size of your galette—and wash it and cut larger fruit into pieces. Remove stones. Mix it with a couple of tablespoons of sugar (brown is fine), a teaspoon of cornstarch, and the juice of a half a lemon. Spoon the fruit onto the galette crust, and fold the crust up around the fruit (you can watch lots of videos that show techniques for this, but there’s no right way). Then pour in the juice from the bowl. Mix an egg with a tablespoon of milk and brush the crust with that; sprinkle it all over with coarse or crystal sugar. Then put the galette in the preheated oven and bake about an hour or an hour and ten minutes—the crust should be golden and a little shiny; the fruit should be oozing juice. I also made one version where I poured a little redcurrant syrup (made earlier this spring) over the cherries—they didn’t have enough juice to my taste—and that was a success.

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June postcard (17)

June postcard 17Bhanu Kapil’s The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers. Her use of colons and periods in writing I have read recently has protoshimmers here. “I should have seen my future then, in the way that woman carried what she loved along the length of her spine: her home/kept moving” (the slash is in the original, which is written in lines that go all the way across the page/prose; p. 16).

She does things I love with content and form and everything I have read from her is a reinvention. Some days more than others I lose patience with the default (which is to say, e.g., text on a left margin). I have only read this book and writing of hers online but I find her one of the most exciting writers and thinkers working now.

I read this roundtable discussion hosted by VIDA yesterday. What strikes me is how generous and intimate the discussion is. Yes outward-facing (the noun declines in the accusative). But tender.

The book I want to write which tells without telling being its object, Kapil has written. The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers is partly in-England/of-England. When I realize we are there I snap to and the world of the book is present not only in image or word but in memory. But that is my England/my book/my Kapil and not Bhanu Kapil herself/her book/her England (“If England is a test, then I have failed it”, p. 83). I traipse along after the poem(s) but get stuck in what I remember.

“Even this sentence is suspect: indefensible; potentially, already rewritten. It’s not even that. It’s the bloodiness of remembering everything. I am bored of memory. I am bored of description. (My brain is too exposed. Old jelly. Inedible.)” (p. 80).

I can think of several books that wanted to be this book but failed because they were coy; or flinching; or uncomplicated; or bound to narrative where narrative implies singularity; or myopic.