Friday, December 23, 2016

The airing of grievances.

Today, at the gym, I ran across this, whilst resting between chest press sets:

via @betches (on Instagram), via @instaseinfeld

I thought: hey, FESTIVUS! Because I'm a Christmas celebrator, I rarely think of Festivus (for the rest of us). But I did think this: hey, I do have a few grievances. To wit:

1) I am not getting enough sleep, even though school is out. Oh, Bruiser, you magnificent aging beast, the very epitome of an old dog who cannot, will not learn new tricks, such as sleeping until seven.

2) Hey, after baking some babka before seven (the loaves had been rising slowly all night), I fell asleep until 10, what the hell. All the flex just flew out of my day.

(--chocolate babka, fyi:

this is one of the more attractive baked goods I have ever made,
if I do say so myself. Also, I believe that the first place I ever even
heard about babka was on Seinfeld. Also fyi: I wrote about the Seinfeld/
babka connection here.

3) I drove in such a dreamy (/sleep-deprived? you be the judge) state that I missed my freeway exit once and had to drive through hella traffic, and almost missed a different exit, on my way to the gym. Yes, I gave myself a talking to, but that dreamy (/sleep-deprived?) state persisted.

4) Straight up Christmas melancholy. I basically doubled down on it by listening to Carrie & Lowell on my way to an appointment. Just straight up said, shoot the melancholy right into my ears to the universe.

5) Rider to Item #4: Children live so far away. If that is not a legitimate grievance, I don't know what is!

Still, I baked that babka. I ate a piece warm, and it was sublime. I restored myself a little with that morning nap. I had lunch with a friend, drove through the hella traffic to buy the very last groceries (tempting fate, right there) I'll need for Christmas. I worked out.

I finished my chest presses. I looked up at one of the giant TVs.  Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer are all together, Kramer yet again proving to be a guinea pig in excess, this time drinking several shots of Hennigan's scotch, so Elaine and Jerry can see if they can smell it on him. Jerry buzzes George up. Kramer lunges at him.

"HEY." he says, pulling George in close by the crook of the elbow. "I'm going to tell you what I think. I know you don't care what I think, but I'm going to tell you. I think you..." there's some dramatic pausing--"...are terrific."

I was never much of a Seinfeld fan, even though I watched it plenty, and laughed at it plenty. The fact is, this episode, with the scotch and the drinking and the declaration of feelings--I don't even know where it occurs in the overall Seinfeldian arc. I did find myself stitching it into my version of the Festivus celebratory practices--the airing of grievances, the feats of strength, the Festivus miracles. Fellow-feeling? Possibly a Festivus miracle.

Hey, you there: I'm going to tell you what I think. You might not even care what I think. But I'm going to tell you. I think you...are terrific. I hope you have some babka, or failing that, some other delicious baked good, and sweet dreams, and a nap, should one be necessary if a beloved dog wakes you before there's light.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Today, I got up.

I get up every day, but today I got up with a plan. To be clear: most days I also get up with a plan. Today was Sunday. Sunday, I prefer to keep my plans a little loose. Today, my plan was tight, because my writing group was coming over, I had a lunch to prepare and a lunch, therefore, for which to shop. I had a poem to straighten out so it could fly right. Also, I have other writing to do and grading to do. Also, my environment, especially my study, is a little crazy. Okay, mostly my study. Also my side of the bed. Pretty much anywhere I am keeping my personal possession. So, as you can see, I really needed the plan.

Earlier this week, I had my instructional team over for our post-semester review, aka The Post-Mortem. I made some spinach lentil soup and a lovely salad. At the end of my preparations, as I was making the salad happen, I got in a little bit of a hurry and cut my finger. I cut my finger whilst preparing vegetables pretty often. Also, and in a perhaps not unrelated trend, I am often in a hurry whilst preparing vegetables, especially when people are coming over. The people: I should learn that hurrying and sharp knives are a bad mix. But I never do. There I am, slicing red onion super thin, because if you're putting raw onion into a salad, it needs to be super thin so all the sweet can be on the surface and the raw has to hide. That's a theory, anyway, a theory of how to slice an onion. Do you need more cooking theories? I've got loads. Slicing a red onion--right? that's where we were?--and then, a cut finger, which slows down your slicing considerably.

My hands have, ever since, been in motion and also a little bit on the raw side. It's cold, for one. A cut finger likes to take its time healing because hands are necessary. For work, you see. So this week, while I trimmed a billion anthologies on the big Duplo DocuCutter, and counted them a billion times in their boxes, in case I missed one, and hung up my clothes for the billionth time, and hung cold wet clothes on the rack, and made cookies, and decorated a Christmas tree, and picked five pears and two persimmons and a wedge of gorgonzola and four Christmas cactuses at Trader Joe's, and made scallion pancakes and squash laksa and a pear cranberry gingersnap crumble, my hands were on my mind.

In my practice, when I take a poem out to work on it, it means I open a virtual file and find the latest version of a digital document. If I'm lucky, I find I've left notes for myself on the poem, that will help me to remember where I left off, what I knew I hadn't yet done in the poem when I put it down.

I'm working on a poem called 'smart bomb,' set in a car while the speaker was driving to work and a story about the bombing in Syria was on the radio. This was a few months ago, after one of the cease-fires had yet again gone south. In the poem, the speaker turned the radio off, just as I often do, when an interviewer asks a muddle-headed question, or a caller's response is unbearable, or, as sometimes has happened in the past, the host has a cold and her voice sounds phlegmy. Sometimes, I just can't take the sound that the radio makes in my ears. In my mind. In my everything. I guess now is a good time to say that 'the speaker' in the sentences above is, for all intents and purposes, me.

I've been thinking about how information--ideas, events, cataclysms--detonate, how its blast ripples wide. I've been thinking about the what to do problem. About the what to feel. Also: about how much it feels like none of my answers are sufficient. Feeling isn't sufficient. Not even doing.

In my plans for the week upcoming, I have grading to finish. I have, perhaps, a few more meetings. A finite number, I hope I hope. I have more writing to finish. A lunch with a friend. Shopping for grandchildren. Two little grandsons who will just have driven in with their mom and dad from Arizona, coming over to say hi and bye really quick tomorrow night. I know I will get several reminders of daily political actions in the civic sphere, which is to say, in the world where we live: calls to make, emails to send, places to show up and lend my voice, however I feel. I have necessary sleep I must hold a place for. I hope for a day when I can stay in my quiet house and bake.

This last week, I bought some lights on an impulse at Target--dewdrop lights, they're called, little beads of light on copper wire that you can wind around things. In the dark, dark of winter, I do love a glow. The wire and lights came wrapped around a card. You had to unwind, then load three batteries into a little pack, then click a button. The first set of batteries made nothing happen, light-wise--I think I may have lodged one of the three batteries inexactly into its slot. So I patiently extracted the three, then tried another three batteries, and this time, they lit up, brightening at intervals along the wire.

I wrapped the wire around a vase of roses, which I also bought whilst shopping for my poetry lunch. The lights illuminated the glass urn, the stems crossed in the still water, the red and white blooming out the lip. I love roses at Christmas. Roses and lights. Roses, lights, and a tree. Roses, lights, baubles, and a tree. Roses, lights, baubles, quiet, and a tree. Unwinding and winding a string of light.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

America, my hair was on fire: an open letter.

Dear America,

I trust that you know how I feel about pumpkin pie, especially in November, especially made with a freshly roasted sugar pumpkin. This year, I ran across a recipe that called for maple in the puree, your usual assortment of ground spices, a chocolate crust, and--get this!--a brûléed topping. As in: get out your blow torch, which is always a good time.

Whilst preparing my offerings for the family feast, I mentally inventoried--as we all did, I think, America--the various political persuasions of my family members. I thought, as I pierced the skin of the pumpkin with the tip of a knife, perhaps we can all just agree--without ever saying so out loud, or in words--to talk about other things. I pulled the spices from their rack, and guesstimated the measurements, and thought, it'll all be fine. I thought,  I might lose it if someone says I have to be grateful for America. Because--no offense, America--America is really making me sad these days.

Before you get up in my face, America, let me just state for the record:

Well, never mind. It's an ugly list. I'm trying really hard to not pick fights--which, I'm not even sure that's a good idea--and you're just going to have to read my mind, America. Hear me out in a private hour. As Allen Ginsberg said, and he should know, "America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?" Except substitute sinister for silly.

Anyway, I did my thinking-and-cooking, my meditation-and-chopping, my pureeing-and-praying, as you do when the republic hangs in the balance. (America, this is quite serious.) I assembled my salad and roasted my cauliflower and put everything into sensible containers and carried it all out to the car. Oh, and I tested my blowtorch. It worked great. I brought it and extra fuel, for just in cases.

We had a beautiful dinner. I was touched that my dad asked me to say the prayer. My nephews and niece were there, and many children, and my sisters and brother, my mom and dad. Me and the historian. Everything was delicious.

Because I was full of sass, what with my fancy pie and the drama of a blow torch in the offing, I kept asking: is it time to brûlée the pie? Is it time now? How about NOW? And so forth. It was a little comedy routine and everyone indulged me. So when it came time for the brûlée-ing, lots of people came to the kitchen.

It goes without saying that, at precisely this point, my blowtorch decided to take a powder. I added more fuel. I clicked the switch--there was a flame, but it stopped as soon as I tilted the torch to get to work on the sugar. 

I consulted my nephew, the firefighter. We tested all the various switches and combinations thereof. Nothing doing. More fuel. Still no joy.

"I can hear the fuel," he said.

I clicked the switch--a quick flame, then a flame-out. "You can?" 

"Yeah, you can hear it when you tilt it," he said.

I clicked it as I lifted the torch to my ear and shook it a little. A collective gasp--at least that's how I remember it--went up in the room. I heard a cascade of your hair's on fire, Lisa, your hair's on fire, and then my nephew patted it out with his firefighter hands.

Just like that: my hair was on fire, and then it wasn't. And that will always be part of the legend of that Thanksgiving, with the chocolate crusted maple-scented pumpkin pie brûlée. It was delicious, by the way.

America, this may or may not be a metaphor. The fire in my hair, at least. I went back to school on Monday and didn't tell a soul, not because I somehow didn't want to, but because I forgot. I forgot that my hair had been on fire, but it was, and I'm telling you now. America, I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations. It's not exactly a good time right now, America, but it's time to talk about it. It's time to talk, and deal with the fire, and also--not to be trivial--it's time to share the meal that allows us to do all of that.

America, it's too late for all of that to happen at Thanksgiving this year, but Christmas is right around the corner,


(lines from Ginsberg's "America" are scattered, like grains of sugar before they're brûléed, throughout this post.)

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Hey, 'sup.

I got a note from Ann the other day:

To which I replied:

Just like that.

It feels like it's been a hard year, maybe for a bunch of us. In no particular order:
  • the hideous, soul-scarring election
  • my own heightened awareness of race and policing and all manner of injustice
  • shouldn't I have known this more piercingly all along?
  • why didn't I know it all along? why didn't I let myself know it?
  • busier than ever
  • the historian has retired--which is awesome! but it has thrown me for a loop.
  • my loop, being thrown ( < metaphor)
  • an illness during the spring and summer for the historian
  • my workplace is now absent the historian, except in memory
and so on.

That list of bullets is, more or less, why I've not been writing. As I considered the things I might write about, the weight of everything seemed so thoroughly to counterbalance it that 'what-I-might-write-about' seemed like feathers. Like piffle. Like lighter than lightweight. I felt terrible for even thinking about writing about, say, pie, or pancakes, or whining in my usual recreational way. 

I read this, while preparing for Danez Smith's visit to our college this past September:
I came to talk to you, my partners in verse who build a life’s work documenting their brief time on this earth. I come you to asking to question the landscape of our pastoral muse. I ask you to question what makes you safe? What frees you to write odes of the low country of America, to mention the trees and not their wicked history, to write the praise song of night, but not sing of what dark bodies hide cold in daylight? My family, and I pray we can call each other family, I am asking you to do what you do best: Write.
Writing in these dark times feels necessary and also harder: recognizing that writing is always risking not getting it right, and if you only do the thing you already know how to do, you aren't risking enough, you aren't willing yourself to learn. 'Odes of the low country of America'? That's me, folks. Having conceded that, then, what would I write?

I've written a lot in the past year, most of which I've shared only in the smallest of circles. But I haven't written here. Each time in the past few months that I've approached writing here, I've felt sad and wrong, and I've stopped myself. But I've been thinking that I want to break that sad/wrong circuit. Recently, I also read this, by Matthew Zapruder, "Poetry and Poets in a Time of Crisis":
Poets, if you find yourselves worrying that your poems are not “about” political matters, here is my suggestion: every single time you feel that worry, finish your poem, make it as beautiful as you can, and then do some kind of concrete action. Support threatened communities, or the environment. Pledge yourself to participating in a voter registration drive. Give money to a political organization working tirelessly for change. If you do this, the world will benefit in two ways: from your activism, and from the beautiful poem you have made. 
Regardless of how poets feel about aesthetic matters, we all agree we are citizens. We have the same obligations to activism and engagement as anyone else. Some poets I know have been working very hard in these ways for a long time. Others of us have been mostly asleep. One of the only good things I can say about this undeniable crisis is that it has made absolutely clear what some have never forgotten: that we all need to wake up and start putting our queer shoulders to the wheel (Ginsberg, “America”). Whatever kind of poetry anyone writes, or whatever art we make, there is always time to do the necessary work of making our society better.
It's not like one of these poets, both of whom I admire so much, is right and the other is wrong. It's that I want to write, I want to risk more, I want to try to get it right and have the courage to face that I might very well get it wrong, and still keep trying. I want to hear and respond to the call to speak to my times. I want to make beautiful things with words. I want to write.

So, to you, anyone who might still want words from me: Okay, I will.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

here you are, summer-into-fall cold! I've been expecting you!

Dear summer-into-fall cold,

Yep, here you are, sidling into my sinuses with all the subtlety of a ten-wheeler, reminding me that I haven't been sleeping enough, that my stress levels have been absurd, that I haven't yet figured out how to quiet my own mind, and all the rest. Thanks, summer-into-fall cold: I forgot about all of that, because not sleeping enough, electric stress, and an unquiet mind are not bad enough by themselves.

In case you missed it, here's a blow-by-blow (yes, pun intended, obviously) of my experiences since you arrived:

1. Salutatory sneezing in class
2. Hallucinatory participation in department meeting
3. Second level hallucinations in the hall, where I think there's a halo hovering over my head that turns out to be a curved ceiling molding at the periphery of my sightline
4. Extended quality time with Twitter, which I constantly refresh to keep up with what's happing with Donald Trump's horror show
5. Arising at 6 a.m. to obtain cold medicines from the store, along with a doughnut, because: Saturday
6. Extracurricular sleep
7. Cold medicine dose watch

....and more Twitter. (In case anyone wants to know what Twitter is good for, it's good for things like this.)

Summer-into-fall cold, I am giving you today. All of today, probably, a day when I hoped I would eat an enchilada and see a movie and maybe go shopping and maybe, maybe even grade a little bit. Instead, I am cozied up with the Vicks and the Mucinex and the dog, in bed. I hope you see the injustice.

Summer-into-fall cold, you and Donald Trump can burn in hell.



Thursday, September 15, 2016

Peak Big Meeting.

Let me first concede: other people have jobs that are just as hard, or harder, than mine. More tedious, onerous, meeting-filled, snackless, and so on. My incipient whining, therefore, allows for all of this, which to say that this is, perhaps, recreational whining. Whining to while the time away. I'm in a long meeting, I'm saying, and I'm blogging. Weight this whine, therefore, as you see fit.


We are here in a big room, at round tables, talking about a thing called 'meta-majors.' Which may or may not be a thing that helps our students in realizing their educational goals. But we're going to do them, and what that means--doing them--is both the text and the subtext of what we're talking about.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: I'm telling you that this conversation is simultaneously prickly, spark-y, flammable, Babel-like in its tendency to have people speaking different languages at each other. I'm telling you that I am simultaneously engaged and also checking all my social media in a somewhat irritable manner. I'm telling you that the ideas of what education is for are various, are multitudinous, can be divided into Same and Other and are also etcetera.

Also, the snacks are all the way across the room.
I'm saying, it's week 4 and it is already meeting meeting meeting meeting.

I'm saying I'm already four weeks behind.

SIGH, is all I'm saying.

This meeting will last exactly nine more minutes, nine more minutes in which I will finish and publish this blog post, contemplate how I have been rejected, poetry-wise, a healthy and robust number of times as of late, think about how I am hungry about a billion times, and, in a related matter, how I am going to make baked pasta for dinner and how delicious that is no doubt going to be. Will these thoughts take up the remaining nine minutes, where a practically infinite number of people will say what they think about 'completion' and 'meta-majors' and 'the purpose of an education'? Probably not. Thoughts about dinner and hunger and rejection are both eternal and fleeting, when the big meeting is still in progress.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Other careers I am considering, because my current career is currently stressing me out.

  1. Baker. Or maybe, actually,
  2. Patissiere.
  3. Stay at home grandmother.
  4. Writer of bon mots.
  5. Poet with a benefactor of mysterious origins.
  6. Owner of a scallion pancake food truck.
  7. Mystic.
  8. Power napper.
  9. Mystery shopper.
  10. Pundit.
  11. Professional organizer. Because if I didn't have my current job, I would have time to be organized. Professionally.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Pancakes, or The Song Remains the Same, and also slightly different.

It's been all food around here, and by that I mean we've gone to the farmer's market twice in two weeks, the first visits this season, and we are making hay while the sun shines. By this, I mean we are buying tomatoes and peaches like there's no tomorrow. Which leads me to this weekend.

This weekend, the first holiday weekend of the semester, and thus the first of the 'devoutly to be wish'd' elements of academic life, I said I would accomplish the following:
  1. review all poems. By this, I meant that I would read through all the poems I've written this year (something like 90 poems) plus poems I wrote in April of the past two years, to see if there was a manuscript hanging out amongst them.
  2. review Ephemerist, which is the current title of my current manuscript, the one that had some success this summer, placing as a finalist and semifinalist in small press competitions. Which either means it's coming together pretty nicely or it is an abysmal failure, you be the judge.
  3. clean/organize. This means wresting order, or more order, from the gaping abyss that is my life. Or something.
  4. see the Dixie Chicks.
  5. see a movie with my daughter.
  6. see other movies.
  7. see my auntie.
  8. bake homemade pop tarts
  9. bake turnovers
  10. bake a ricotta cake
  11. make scallion pancakes.
I mentioned the last four items to my husband the historian, who is a devout supporter of my writing life, and who would fight to, well, probably not the death, because that's ridiculous, but would fight with great vigor to protect my writing time.

"I'm going to work on my new manuscript," I said, decisively. This met with general acclaim, vows of support, hypothesizing as to the best manuscript work strategies, &c &c. 

"And I also want to bake homemade pop tarts, and make blueberry turnovers, and a ricotta cake, and scallion pancakes," I said, decisively.

"That's not going to happen," he said, which--predictably--brought out the don't tell me I can't! in me. Which is a powerful resident in my soul. It might actually be my soul, the don't tell me I can't! I don't know. How can you tell the dancer from the dance, you know?

Anyway: since I am the boss of myself and my baking AND of my writing, I got up on Sunday morning and whipped up two pastry doughs--the pop tart dough and the turnover dough. I made the pop tarts last night. 

A photo posted by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

I would have made scallion pancakes for dinner last night, but I didn't read the recipe carefully enough, and there was a lot of resting time for that dough. That dough is apparently a finicky diva of a dough. So scallion pancakes had to wait for today.

It's a recipe that makes big claims for itself, but I'm going to tell you this: I'm not going to say they're wrong. You have to make the dough, then let it rest. Then you divide the dough, roll out each piece, put some oil on it, put a bunch of chopped scallions on that, then roll it up, then roll the roll (you'll have to read the detailed instructions here, it's kind of a project), then let those little roll-after-rolls rest some more. Then you roll them out one more time and bake them on a griddle until they are toasty and smell like the best thing ever.

In real life, I made the dough, then went to work out. Then I came home and divided/rolled/rolled again. While they roll-upon-rolls were resting, I made the ricotta cake and put it in the oven. (Do make this. It is superb.)

I heated up the griddle, rolled the pancakes-in-waiting into five inch circles and put them on to cool, turning them regularly so they didn't scorch. I cut up three tomatoes and made the dipping sauce for the pancakes out of white vinegar, soy sauce, chili oil, a pinch of sugar and a pinch of dried crushed red chiles.

While all this was happening, I had just enough time for the errant thought: what if these are, contra the Bon Appetit article, in fact not the best thing in the world but rather an abysmal failure? But I am here to tell you, America: those scallion pancakes lived up to their advance billing and were outstanding:

In conclusion, I would like to say that I accomplished many things on the agenda, including some substantial writing and Dixie Chicks-ing, and movie going, and auntie-visiting, but I also accomplished all of my baking goals save one. What I mean is, 'twas a consummation devoutly to be wish'd.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Possibly the best sandwich known to man.

Dear America,

Last week, I found myself in need of a 'main dish' to bring to a pot luck. I also found myself in need of something that would not require me to apply heat to food, since it's hot, America, it's hot, still, as it is still summertime, despite the fact that the community college teachers are back to work, the swimming pools are about the close, the days of perfect tomatoes and corn and peaches are, while upon us, numbered. Summer is almost over--kind of already is over--and yet it is still hot. Not that I'm whining. At least, I'm not whining more than I usually whine. Although really, who can verify that? What are the metrics? I ask you.

I considered my main dish options. Is tabbouleh a main dish? Is fattoush? They would be at my house. But I feared that, for purposes of the pot luck, they would be considered salads, because, in fact, they are salads. I was just about to venture down the road of the salad-main dish, prepared to make my argument (because that's a time-honored tradition at pot lucks, right? arguing over whether something is categorically a main dish or a salad or a side or an adornment or a garnish or whatever?) that a salad can be a main dish. But then, the idea of sandwiches came upon me and the debate was transformed.

Sandwiches, America, are a main dish. I submit to you the hamburger: clearly an item that is central to a plate. Accompanied, perhaps, by potato salad, or potato chips, or french fried potatoes--something something potato, in other words--and perhaps a pickle, and maybe adornments such as a sliced tomato or a leaf of lettuce or perhaps a slice of cheese. A hamburger is a sandwich, ergo a sandwich is a main dish.

Obviously, I would not be schlepping hamburgers in a  covered dish to a pot luck. But I could, perhaps, make the kind of sandwich that is built upon the baguette, and sliced into sections, a classic dish for a French picnic, such as Pan Bagnat, aka the Nicoise Sandwich, aka the French Fancy Tuna Sandwich of Glory. Also: a caprese sandwich. So two baguettes' worth of main dish sandwichery.

The pan bagnat is a wonderful thing. I had never made one before but I had a memory of a vegetarian version from the first The Vegetarian Epicure. Basically it involved stuffing a bunch of delicious stuff into the halves of a baguette with loads of olive oil, then pressing the sandwich firmly so that the stuff and the bread became intimately acquainted and not too fall-y apart-y. (That's a pipe dream, by the way, but anyway:). I Googled (as you do) 'Nicoise Sandwich,' the sandwich of the Niceans, hahaha, no: the southern French people who live in Nice, and found a glory of a recipe.

Dramatic reenactment of my sandwich
It was not so tidy as this one, but it 
also was juicier. I'm surmising.
One key factor: oil. All the oil. The bread will be madly oily and everything else with it: oily, too. That's a great thing, since oil carries the flavor and brings the bread into discourse with its destiny, which is to absorb and be the vehicle for all the sandwich's goodness.

So: the goodness: you take two kinds of onion, super thinly sliced, then add salt and pepper and olive oil and vinegar to it, and then you squish all of it together with your hands. For five minutes. Per the instructions: 'Do not rush this part.' Yes, I got all meditative with the onions, the oil, the salt, the pepper, the vinegar whilst all of it moved through my fingers and around the bowl.

A million minutes, or five, I guess, later, you take the oil-packed tuna--do not substitute your sad water-packed tuna!--and mix that into the whole situation, along with a squeeze of lemon juice, since lemon juice makes everything monumentally better.

Let me tell you, America, that tuna-onion-oil plus flavorings was already happening, as in, you'd want to eat it straight from the bowl. But wait: it gets better.

You sliced the baguette lengthwise. You open it up. You layer leaves of lettuce on one side, then slice tomatoes on top of that. It helps a lot if the tomatoes are amazing, as in, you picked them from your own vines or you bought them from the farmers market that very morning. The latter was the case for me. Then, you spread the tuna-onion situation on the tomatoes--by 'spread,' I mean 'dollop and gingerly edge outward'--and top that with: (a) slices of freshly hard boiled egg, (b) a strewing of sliced scallion, and (c) slices of radish.

If you happen to have Nicoise olives, you can also strew these. The recipe says that the olives can be 'pitted or not.' Hey, Nicoisians: I submit to you that an olive pit is not a nice addition to a sandwich. As I did not have Nicoise olives, I used a lovely olive tapenade, and spread it on the other length of baguette. Then, I put the olive-y baguette half on the tuna half, carefully, and wrapped the whole shebang in waxed paper and foil so that it could consult its own soul in a private hour, aka marinate in its own juices.

When I unwrapped this sandwich at the potluck to the tune of a great swarming of yellow jackets--yet another of the glories of summer--it was perfectly delicious and fresh tasting. Because it's supposed to marinate, it also can keep for a couple of days if you pack it and keep it cold. In fact, I just ate the last of this sandwich for my own workaday lunch, and it was still splendid.

Sandwiches, America! I salute them at the end of a summer and recommend this one to you, along with good wishes that the last ears of corn you buy be sweet, that your tomatoes be juicy, and that the remaining watermelons of August open with a promising crack.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Day the first: an orientation.

It begins, the beginning of the academic year, in the middle of a week which already feels long. To wit:

  • Sunday, when we drove home from Idaho. Does this count? Didn't we go to Idaho for the fun of it? Does driving home on a Sunday count, legitimately, as a part of a long week? I'm not saying I'm being a grownup about it, okay? I'm saying that driving home from a vacation, just like flying home across the Atlantic and practically a whole continent after spending a blissful nine days in Scotland, is the worst, and it categorically inaugurates everything that comes after it as 'long.' 
  • Whew, so much whining after a vacation!
  • Monday: meeting meeting meeting. Meeting! Even with friends: meeting x 4 = math, which is the worst.
  • Tuesday: MEE E E E e e e ting. So much meeting.
  • Wednesday: the first day. After which come Thursday and Friday, with their iffy qualities and also: more meetings.

allow me to illustrate.
Well, just so you know that my whining game is legit. Because it is LEGIT.

I had a good writing summer. June and July, I wrote a poem or revised a poem every day. Adding that to the poems I wrote in April (the cruelest month), I have about 90 poems happening. Add to that: my current manuscript was a finalist twice and a semifinalist once in national book competitions. And now summer is over, and said manuscript is done being a finalist, which, no matter how many pep talks you give yourself, or how many times you remind yourself of encouraging things that your writer friends have said, you have to pick yourself up from it, frankly. It feels a little bit like failure.

This helps.  To wit:
And indeed, when I came to the U.S. to become a poet, and when my first book was rejected by the first three publishers I sent it to – FC2, Coffee House, and Wesleyan University Press, as I recall – I was undaunted.  And when my third book took nine years, over 20 revisions and 4 cycles of rejections before it came out, I never thought that this was wrong. It’s not that I thought that my writing was so great and that all I needed was to keep putting it out there until I’d reach the occult threshold of the 76th attempt, but rather, that I came to believe in duration. How a narrative becomes itself in time. How cycles of dormancy and expression are weirdly nutritive. How failure itself becomes a site of possibility: an aperture for chance; for the conditions of the work to arrive in a different time to the one in which it was begun. I learned to continue, to keep moving forward, to keep writing, whether the outcome of that writing was visible – perceptible – or not. I learned how to re-write my work with as much passion and joy and curiosity as I had given to the writing of it. I even invented a chant: Re-writing is writing. Writing is re-writing.

Yep: "cycles of dormancy and expression are weirdly nutritive....failure itself becomes a site of possibility: an aperture for chance; for the conditions of the work to arrive in a different time to the one in which it was begun."

I hope you noticed that I linked to Bhanu Kapi's commencement address. I block-quoted from it. And then I quoted from the block quote. I'm trying to reorient myself. Not a bad thing for a person to do at the beginning of the semester.

In other news, there are practically no vegetables in my house. Not to mention not much of anything else, what with all our travel travel travel (and the subsequent meeting meeting meeting). So once I conclude this orientation session--orienting you to my new semester, since no students showed up for this actual orientation session IRL--I am going to work out, and then buy some broccoli.

It's going to be great. Everything--the writing, the nutritive failure, the semester, the workout, the broccoli. Maybe especially the broccoli though, which is itself super-nutritive.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Waking and dreaming in Idaho.

First, I'm definitely not getting enough sleep. Chalk that up to jet lag, but also the early morning dog, and also jet lag, and the argument my body makes, rather insistently, when I'm in this sleep deprivation mode, that everything is terrible and it will never get better and why WHY is that damned dog coming to our room so [expletive] early in the morning?

Bruiser, expressing his wish to travel to Idaho with us
by climbing into the passenger's seat.

Second, yesterday, I gave a getting-ready-for-school meeting the slip, leaving it midstream, to hightail it out of Salt Lake for the north, aka Idaho. Nothing against the meeting. It was a great meeting. It's just that we had a date with Idaho.

Was I tired whilst we drove? Yes, I certainly was. Did that sense of the persistent terrible tag along, like a sad little cloud? Sure it did. Still, as we drove the Mesa Falls loop to evade probably terrible road work, saw the Tetons over there in the distance, fields white with wheat, then lodge pole pine and aspen interspersing in a thickening forest, that sad little cloud seemed smaller. That voice less strident.

Thirdly, this place never fails me.

I still woke up way too early this morning (see: jet lag). I have a poem to write, and that's what woke me up. Well, that and some achiness (hey, spell check: achiness is not Chinese!). As I lay there in the dark, paying attention to my breath, I felt, rather than thought, the injunction: Steady now. And the poem began to articulate its own edges, and I kept breathing (as you do), and more came to me. So I got up at 5:45 a.m., and started to write.

The naps here are unparalleled. That's fourth.

Also? Early morning light. And early morning toast.

Friday, August 05, 2016

We're here we're here we're here.

We arrived in Aberdeen after the usual bearable, but only just, trains-Atlantic flight, and a long-ish layover in Charles de Gaulle airport. Somehow, seeing these faces makes pretty much everything else disappear. After dinner, we walked by the canal and the river in the rain. Picked raspberries from bushes along the car park. The fireweed, which is my favorite, bloomed everywhere. We intend to live it up while we're here. It's been a crazy summer. Living it up seems like the only rational response.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Between the wars.

It's now a trope, to talk about the cascade of the worst possible things--Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, the violence in Dallas and in Baton Rouge--plus the ongoing misery that is American politics right about now, how all of it renders everything else absurd. For me, writing here, in this space, the kinds of things I usually write seemed--as it has seemed from time to time in the past--spectacularly beside the point.

I don't know what to say about it, except I'm trying, like many other people, not to let the fire die down, not to let myself off the hook. As they say, to stay woke. To have courage and to add my actions to those of others.

Also: I know there is no 'between' in the wars we're living in. They are unrelenting and have been with us from the beginning.

I guess I also want to say that we, chez megastore, have been laying pretty low--the historian's surgery and recovery have meant that we're conserving our energy, looking for the healing sign, trying to keep a good thought. Also, still eating pancakes and baking pies and watching television and listening to music. Writing poems, as you do. No matter what.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Megastore recommends: when the party's over edition.

Yesterday, after the historian came home from a medical procedure, buoyant despite feeling dragged out, no doubt, from anesthesia and so forth, we both rested for awhile. In the afternoon, and then in the evening. And in the evening, after resting, I arose from the bed and said, I shall make two kinds of cake. Thus, a festive mood was set, as my son and his wife jointly worked on a tricksy word puzzle and I beat butter and sugar together, etcetera.

The party is almost over--the long June that saw family coming and going, a giant festive celebration of my mom and dad's sixty-years-long marriage, my brother and family in town, swimming, dinners out and dinners in, fancy breakfasts with grandchildren at my table, a medical procedure near the end.  I told my son today that while I'm in the whirl of such a wonderful month, it can feel so intense, that concentration of so much fun and so many beloveds, that I feel overwhelmed, but when it's over, I feel overwhelmed with sadness. What to do?

...+ this equals the breakfast
that will see me through.
1. Eggs for breakfast. The departure of beloveds calls for a substantial breakfast, one that will fortify you and make you feel sturdy and, basically, the embodiment of survival. I have eggs. I have potatoes. I have, or will have, green chiles. I plan to make eggs with a good cheese and green chiles, fried potatoes, and toast on the day everyone leaves. If I need to cry, on and off, all day, those eggs will back me up and right the ship. I'm counting on it.

the title of this is 'don't cry about it,'
but my advice is precisely the opposite.
2. Speaking of crying, go ahead and cry. There's really no point in trying not to. So what if you look like you had an encounter with grave difficulties and only barely escaped with your wits? SO WHAT. Feel free to wear your dark glasses outside and, frankly, inside, if it's called for. Also? Feel free to rest in a darkened room with a damp cloth. PRO TIP: you can get the necessary crying started by listening to whatever pop song does that for you. The car is a perfectly good place to cry, but do abide by all traffic laws. In conclusion: the crying is its own event. Suit up.

something along these lines.
3. Work out, for the love of everything holy. Is it possibly true that, whilst all the fun was being had and the day at the hospital was happening, and while two cakes were baking and so forth, that the two a days fell by the wayside? Of course it's true. And while it was worth it--who wants to be that person, who won't have the fun because she has to go to the gym?--it was definitely worth it, it's also true that the workout canNOT resume soon enough when the people leave, abandoning to us to our own resources. Our own resources, which include working out. Which, by GOD, get on it.

the first step is to write PLAN
on a sheet of graph paper, obviously.
4. Make a plan. This week, the historian and I are pretty much hanging out together. I am insisting that he eat nutritious food on the regular and policing his meds like it is my job (I sound super fun in this scenario, I realize). Next week, I have a few meetings hither and yon, and a couple of engagements I'm looking forward to. I've been writing every day this past month, even with the full-on family extravaganza, and I intend to continue with this regimen. We bought tickets to go to Scotland. The plan is essentially your counter narrative to the 'everyone is leaving and life is a bitter and empty shell' story that is kind of inevitable when everyone leaves and, well, life is a bitter and empty shell. If you have a plan, the terrible story built into the situation will, possibly, have a shorter half life. Possibly. These are the hopes we hang on to.

I realize that I am making these recommendations to myself, by the way. Of course I am.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Episode 1: The Great Summer Cull of the Vast Wardrobe of Overconsumption.

1. Sparkly librarian sweater. I realize that this characterization makes, potentially, an insinuation about librarians. So, to clarify: librarians are awesome. Librarians exhibit the entire spectrum of style. This sweater, sparkly navy blue, made me look like someone I'm not, or, worse, like I was aspiring to that look. It did not work. Into the donation bag it went.

2. Game of Thrones knit.  Provenance: Target. I bought this last summer, when, frankly, it was too hot to even try on. I literally thought: this has a Game of Thrones vibe. I imagined wearing it with long black articles of various sorts. And directional, simultaneously futuristic and medieval footwear. Have I ever seen a single episode of Game of Thrones? Were there, in fact, occasions when Game of Thrones looks were called for, in my day to day life? No, and no.

3. Pink knit kimono of great wideness and too-short sleeves and NO POCKETS. There is nothing about the description of this item that was, or is, or ever will be, right, by any definition of the word.

4. Brocade coat that won't button. Provenance: eBay. I have often had excellent luck with eBay purchases, namely in the form of a small suite of linen coats that are treasures and workhorses and give me hope for the entire future of outfits. My outfits. This brocade coat, however, resulted from what turns out to be an ill-judged and rather long-lasting obsession with brocade. It is nominally my size, but it only buttons with a strong dose of persuasion. The people: your clothes should not have to be argued with to fit you. Your clothes should not judge you by not buttoning. Your clothes, in a word, should not insult your body. I draw the line.

5. Brocade coat that would hold two of me. Also eBay. Sometimes a swirly flowy effect can be the effect of an item of clothing that is a bit on the expansive side. That was my thought, anyway. But this brocade coat (see: "an ill-judged and rather long-lasting obsession," above) turns out to look more like a bathrobe, except a bathrobe out of which you could pitch a tent. No.

On the bubble: campfire sock sweater. It is made from that kind of Ragg knit that campfire socks are made from. Is a campfire sock a thing? I think it's a thing. I thought to myself, at first, NO., because I am not much of a camper. But then I tried it on (too hot to try on sweaters, but anyway). It looked cozy (and too hot) and actually kind of cute. I thought, sweater for cozying up at home? while reading a book? and hung it back up. We'll just have to see.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Top 5 (sets of three edition).

1. Three excellent breakfasts in a row. One: Wednesday oatmeal, which I have perfected according to my own tastes (one half cup oatmeal, 1 1/4 c. water, golden raisins galore cooked in the microwave for five minutes while I (a) make tea, and (b) chop ten almonds, then serve with milk. And possibly a little raw sugar.) Two: Thursday breakfast with my daughter, her three children, and her niece at Little America coffee shop. Eggs & bacon & rye toast! (c) Friday buckwheat pancakes made at home. Breakfast is super satisfying.

2. 'Live it up' as my new motto. Or summertime motto, anyway. I have been testing it out: when we went to Arizona, I said to the historian that we should live it up, and we did. It was great. This morning before I got out of bed, I texted my oldest darling friend, whom I am visiting next weekend:

And last night, I floated the idea to the historian that living it up, together, should be our big plan. I say 'live it up,' as a motto, has legs, and thus I am sticking to it.

3. One two three poem days in a row. I am doing an online writing community group accountability thingie (sounds so sexy does it not?) this month, in which I have committed to write a poem every day, and send it to my little group. Sort of like Poem a Day/National Poetry Month, but with higher expectations, i.e., small fear of shaming, fear of letting down the team, fear of being an embarrassment to the entire endeavor. Basically fear-based poetry writing, in other words. The great news is that I am doing it, and have written three poems in a row. I texted my poet friend, who was the one who invited me to do this:

Good advice! I am working on that 'don't think about it' thing, even though it is not my strong suit NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT.

4. One two three two-a-days in a row. I was chatting with my daughter today about her beautiful philosophy ('fake it till you make it'). Conversation turned to my long-time beautiful philosophy:

Sometimes the thing I have to talk myself into is getting up to work out. Summertime, most days, allows me the beautiful reward of having a leisurely period when I am still in bed, for purposes of the self-talking-to, and possibly other self-improving thoughts. But this week, after we lived it up in Arizona, I got myself out of bed, whenever that may have 'occurred,' and worked out ('Trust and Believe!'), and then at the end of the day, I got myself to the gym and worked out a second time.

As ever, working out like a fiend makes me feel like I am living my life instead of the reverse (i.e., my life is living me). It's weird how summer brings out the structural recalcitrant who lives inside my head and perhaps my soul. But for the past three days, me and my inner grouch worked out, and we feel much the better for it.

5. Sing Street for the third time. First time: with the historian. Blissful. Second time: with my friends, also blissful. Third time: with my son and his wife, in Arizona. Also blissful! The conclusion, America, is that Sing Street is basically and entirely blissful, and you should see it--if not three times, then at least once.

BONUS ITEM: I have listened to this at least three times (well, realistically, many more than three):


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Arizona in tacos.

"Let's live it up when we go to Arizona," I told the historian. Not like it was an actual proposal. Maybe more like a directive.

"Yes, let's!" he replied, because he is good-natured like that, and also living it up was maybe a more or less agreeable proposition, as far as directives go.

"And let's eat tacos every day," I said, by way of an addendum. A rider on the directive, if you will.

"Sure," he said, for the same reasons as above.

Herewith: a taco report.

DAY 1: We eat pizza, at Organ Stop Pizza. Also, we see Zootopia. Altogether a good way to go, day 1.

DAY 2: We head to Tucson. We arrive at the borders of Tucson just about lunchtime. I Google and FourSquare Tanias.

A photo posted by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

Tania's is excellent. After a rather lengthy tutorial from the proprietor, in which we are told that it would be extra foolish not to get the maximum combo, if we want tacos, because: side of rice and beans plus a beverage!, and in which my daughter-in-law, upon requesting black beans, gets this in reply: "No no no no, this is Sonora, not New York!"--which basically means "pinto beans"--we all order excellent plates: three tacos for me (plus rice + beans + a strawberry agua fresca), including a potato and green chile one, a cauliflower one, and a carnitas one. The historian gets three various vegetable tacos, and so on. It was an auspicious and perfect beginning to our taco extravaganza

After some saguaros on the east side of Saguaro National Park, and a visit to my middle school (!):


 we find our way to the very first Mexican food restaurant I ever ate at in my life. IN MY LIFE.

I have a green corn tamale. Actually, I order two of them. They are enormous. However, I do not have a good sauce situation. Also, and to be truthful, I possibly had eaten more tacos, at Tanias, than I had already digested. Still, and in any case, it is meaningful to me to eat at Cafe Molina. I ate there the first time when I was in sixth grade. That, plus the middle school, plus being there with people I loved, plus the chips and salsa: saturated with meaning. The tamale qua tamale is kind of beside the point.

 DAYS 3 & 4 & 5: We are over saturated with the taco quest. My son had chosen some chorizo concoction at Casa Molina and it is having lingering effects, the details of which I will deftly leave to the side. We go to a Village Inn for breakfast and have various snacks at the cafe in the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Perfectly good and fine.

A photo posted by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

On our way home from Tucson, I admit I ate an apple pie from McDonald's. The next day, we have naps and sandwiches while we continue to recover from our road trip. Also: coffee cake, which one grandson helps me whip up, and which is estimable.

On Memorial Day, we go for a wander at the park, and eat at Flower Child--Dr. Write's recommendation, entirely wonderful--just before we have a visit to the butterfly sanctuary. On the way home, we buy a pineapple and a watermelon and stuff to make my best pasta salad, and a loaf of French bread. These comestibles restore us further.

I hope you're seeing that I am capable of setting an agenda aside if it is for the greater good.

We also get a babysitter for the boys, and see Sing Street, at which we eat popcorn.

DAY 6: Today is a glorious day in tacos. We eat at Mucha Lucha, which is my son's favorite Mexican
restaurant. I have three shrimp tacos and they are pretty much everything a taco should be. The line is just about out the door the whole time we're there, so we have to be patient (which I can totally do, and be), and we have to be prepared (me also). When I take my tacos to the table where the little boys are each eating a small quesadilla, and where the historian is eating a large vegetarian quesadilla, and my son is eating a burrito, and my daughter-in-law is eating street tacos, we all heave a collective sigh of joy, the ultimate joy of sublime tacos entirely achieved.

A photo posted by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

A photo posted by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

In conclusion, here are the lessons we learned:

 1. Chorizo is dangerous. Proceed with caution.

2. A taco agenda, while worthy as agendas go, is, like all agendas, to be taken up with humility and the willingness to adjust, especially where there is new data of which to take account. Data that is chorizo-inflected, for instance.

3. Returning to one's (taco) agenda is, however, a joy. A taco-centric vacation is an excellent vacation, even if the center does not hold, at least not entirely, when chorizo is involved.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Category error.

We got in to the airport in plenty of times, because like the rest of America, we were afraid of long ass TSA lines. Which fears, of course, proved to be unfounded. I don't want to brag, but you're looking at a TSA Pre holder here, who knows how that happened, but I am totally putting it down to unspecified character strengths. So we sailed through, leaving us plenty of time to do airport things, such as:
  • Buying a Times (the Thursday edition is the best edition);
  • Logging on to the wireless;
  • Etc.
...and then realizing that it was elevenses, and therefore time for a snack.

"I don't want to eat a lot, but I need a snack," I declared. "Because I'm a little bit hungry."

"Well, it sounds like you'd better find something," said the historian.

I perused my options, which, as per usual, were thin. Dubious looking cookie at the coffee shop? Bagel? Bag of potato chips (a perennially trusted option)? Yogurt cups? With granola on top?

Well, I wandered past the airport Wendy's, the very same Wendy's that was once the site of a previous bad airport elevenses episode. Be that as may be: I saw a fancy picture of fries (where admittedly I have a weakness) with cheese on them, and also chopped peppers. Yes, America: I fell prey to a marketing strategy, in the form of fries. Ghost pepper fries.

I'm sure you can imagine that I thought I would be getting actual cheese, in its grated form, on my fries. But I watched as the behind-the-counter guy ladled the cheese sauce over the fries he'd harvested from the fry warmer, I thought, oh, right. Cheese SAUCE.

A SMALL DIGRESSION ON CHEESE SAUCE: There are people in my life who love what we call 'nacho cheese,' e.g. the Kraft product that is sold in jars to be heated and consumed with tortilla chips. See also: queso. I find this product repugnant. To me, this product bears the same relation to cheese that Pringles bear to actual potato chips, or that butter-flavored spray bears to actual butter, or any gross simulacrum to its legitimate forebear. However: there hath not been queso/nacho cheese/cheese product in my house for a long time. Maybe this is why, though I should have known better, I did not, and was led astray by the attractive picture of the grated cheese, aka the ghost pepper fries.

Did I eat the fries? Yes I did. Some of them. Some of them were not bad, or not fatally bad, anyway. In my defense, I was hungry. Okay, I know: that's not a real defense. 

Did the historian eat some? Yes, yes he did--in fact, he finished them up, when there was too much of the cheese sauce drowning the remaining few potatoes. Would I order them again? Jeez, I hope not. But the airport elevenses might be a felicity condition for bad snack choices, and that's the (possible) truth.

In Tempe,

People really like to play Minecraft. Also: eat pizza and listen to organ music. Also: watch Zootopia.


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