A few years ago, my son’s longtime girlfriend Shannon did a capstone project for her grad school program in design. The assignment was to come up with a novel idea for a non-profit organization and design all the graphics for it; at the end, a panel of professional designers came in to judge their presentations. Shannon’s group’s project was The Rescued Radish, a company that would go around to grocery stores and pick up all the older, less attractive, but still usable produce – the spotty bananas, the pock-marked peppers, the brown-edged lettuce, the frosty carrots – and take them to soup kitchens and food pantries and also sell them at a deep discount to impoverished college students and others living on ramen.
On July 14, 2020, my 2005 collection of essays, Above Us Only Sky, is being reissued by Counterpoint in both paper and digital editions. To the original essays, I’ve added 22 new ones, 17 of them written for this column. That’s why the new edition is dedicated to Baltimore Fishbowl founder and publisher Suzy Dunn – without her support, most of this new work would not exist. And you Fishbowl readers, you too get credit. Some writers produce masterpieces in isolation, but I can’t write 500 words without believing that somebody will read them, and soon.
I used to think the most unbearable feeling in the world was being misunderstood. Now I am misunderstood so often that it must be I who misunderstands. Most problematically, I seem to misunderstand myself. The big thing that’s happening now, where white people who didn’t think they were racist are finding out they actually are? That is happening to me, and not just on the social justice front. In the end, it may turn out I was a very deluded Shetland pony or a Catholic nun in the grip of a fever dream.
Last month I got a whole column out of the idea that I had nothing to say, and I still feel that way, only more so. The mental disconnect continues. Perhaps you know what I mean.
I found myself thinking about something the poet William Stafford wrote in his essay, A Way of Writing. “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.” In this month of blankness and difficulties, I searched for such a process to guide my way. Stafford’s own approach, daily writing pages, seemed unlikely as I felt unable to put together even one honest sentence.
How a Baltimore Singer/Songwriter Predicted This Whole Mess: Q&A With Sarah Pinsker, Author of ‘A Song For A New Day’
Back in September 2019, local sci-fi/fantasy author Sarah Pinsker launched her first novel, A Song for a New Day, with an event at the Ivy Bookshop. An award-winning author of short science fiction and fantasy, Pinsker’s short stories have been translated into many languages and are collected in Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea. In addition to being a successful author, Pinsker is also a singer/songwriter with three albums and a local darling rock band called the Stalking Horses.
Calling all readers who have enjoyed recognizing Charm City landmarks in the novels of Anne Tyler – Matthew Norman’s entertaining new domestic comedy, “Last Couple Standing,” is Baltimore to the bone. While Tyler’s characters traditionally shop at Eddie’s on Roland Ave, Norman’s crowd has moved to the suburbs, so shop at Graul’s. But they frequently come into town for scenes at Bar Vasquez (where they reminisce about when it used to be Pazo), the Greene Turtle, Bond Street Social, Towsontown Mall, the Ivy Bookshop, the Under Armour store, the Senator Theatre, Tark’s, and more. And they don’t need a GPS to get around. “In the city, Falls Road is as congested and annoying as any other street in Baltimore. In the suburbs, though it opens up into a scenic highway through horse farms, like you’re time traveling.”
In the face of a bizarre disaster that has derailed daily life everywhere, in the face of isolation, fear, disappointment, and a constant flood of bad news, a spring-green fuse of creative energy is sizzling and popping all over the world. The memes and parodies, the YouTubes and TikToks, the Italians singing to each other from their balconies, the New Yorkers pounding pots at 7 pm. The Getty Museum art challenge, the family in London with their adorable rendition of Les Mis, the spandexed mom doing her Jane Fonda workout to I Will Survive. The Israeli woman in dark glasses ranting in Hebrew about online elementary school.
In the late 1980s, after struggling for years to write fiction and poetry, I stumbled on the possibilities of the personal essay. I was inspired and energized by the possibility of telling the truth about my life and experiences. It was a challenge to see how honest I could really be – how far I would go. There were things it seemed impossible to discuss in public. What the hell, I thought, and did it anyway. And once I did, I experienced the redemptive and sometimes thrilling powers of confession, which is what this essay celebrates. Later, after “Telling” became the title essay of my first collection from Random House, I experienced some of the less fun aspects of baring one’s life and soul, like being criticized for being exhibitionistic and seeking only to shock. Reading this essay 30-plus years later, I think I may in fact have gone a little overboard. Welcome to the “Oy Vey” edition of Telling, with illustrations.
In 2015, popular Baltimore novelist Jessica Anya Blau (The Trouble With Lexie, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, etc.) decided to try her hand at something completely different — ghostwriting. After working behind-the-scenes on a few books, including a bestselling memoir of child abuse and dysfunction, she was offered the opportunity to collaborate on a very different project – the memoir of a sorority girl from the University of Southern California who ended up working for the CIA and the FBI. An ex-spy named Tracy Walder, then a high school teacher in Dallas, was ready to tell her story.
Toward the end of winter break, my daughter Jane and I took a one-week trip to Sevilla, Spain, with a detour to another Andalusian all-star, Granada. In the olden days, I would have written a piece called Ten Reasons to Go To Sevilla or Thirty-Six Hours in Sevilla or What’s New in Sevilla for a newspaper or magazine travel section; unfortunately, here in 2020 both my freelance career and print-media travel sections have fallen on hard times. But you know me, I gotta write it down. And now it turns out, Jane’s gotta take pictures of it. And so the spunky little Ten Reasons story lives on, with about twice as many words as I would have had in the days of ink and paper.