It was during the first event of last month’s great April book tour boogie (thirteen events! nine cities! One of those cities three times! Renting and a returning a car six times from various airports! Getting
off and on an airplane 22 times!) that I realized: hey! I really no-kidding have got to start a blog! The book I was traveling with and about was my latest cookbook, The Cornbread Gospels, which was published on Thanksgiving Day, 2007, by Workman Publishing.
Now, this first event was something of a home-coming, for it brought me back to Little Rock, where I
used to live, and where I met my darling late husband, Ned (with whom I spent 23 years; a picture of us taken in August of 2000, three months before he died in a bicycling accident). I still have many dear friends, some of whom share decades of joint history, in Little Rock; returning is always, like chocolate, rich, dark, sweet, bitter and irresistible. Most of these friends, knew Ned, and knew us as a couple.
A tornado arrived in Little Rock the night after I did. My friend Starr Mitchell hypothesized a connection (harumph). I met Ned in Starr’s former home; I was staying in her present home, shared with her husband, George West, when the tornado sirens went off. The three of us, and their younger son, Cane, who is on hiatus from college, alternated between watching the reports of the storm on television, watching it from the upstairs loft, and going out on the porch to watch. The Mitchell-Wests dug out the large closet in Cane’s room, the architecturally most secure spot in the house, in case we should need to scurry into it for shelter. Fortunately, we didn’t have to, as Scratch, the family cat, had peed in one of its far corners, with lasting results, in the olfactory sense.
But meteorological events and friendships notwithstanding, what I was really there for the Arkansas Literary Festival, the main fund-raiser for the Arkansas Literacy Council. This was one of the causes close to my heart when I lived back in Arkansas, and for that matter, still (literacy, anywhere, anyhow, always will be).The opening event was a ticketed meet-the-authors thing, buy books, snack, drink, gossip, get books
signed, cocktail party-ish. The horribly unflattering picture to the left was taken that night; it’s of me and another old friend, Louise Terzia, who works with the aforementioned Starr, at the Historic Arkansas Museum. I’m the red-headed one, but trust me, said photo does neither of us justice. Anyway, the featured drink of the night was a pomegranatini, which I stayed away from (I get looped on two sips of wine, so I never drink at all if I have to be remotely on; besides which, I could just imagine my late father, at times fanatically devoted to "an extra dry martini with a twist of lemon peel", who viewed the addition of an olive, with its noxious brine, as a travesty, going into a horrified rant at the very idea of any kind of a fruit-ini … if you want to know how serious he was about liquor, until he gave up drinking in late middle age, check his article on absinthe). As to the food, I was delighted to find excellent guacamole, and what was for me a first on a cocktail party buffet: really good from-scratch mashed potatoes, with grated cheese and oddments to sprinkle on them. Of course there was also all the usual meatballs, artichoke-crabmeat dip, etc. But as a vegetarian – hey, those mashed potatoes made me happy. (Speaking of which, here’s a very happy mashed potato recipe, which I developed for Relish Magazine some years back; it has marscapone and celery root).
At most such events writers wind up talking quite a bit with other writers. I plunked myself (and my cocktail-sized plate of mashed potatoes) right down next to Suzette Haden Elgin (in Blog-Land she goes by Ozarque). We hadn’t visited in some time and we got right to everything important: writing, health, relationships, gossip about mutual friends and not-friends. Because I had been angsting about whether or not to blog, I asked her if she did. At which she lit up, smiled a great big smile, and said yes, and she was finding it amazing and thoroughly enjoyable though a hell of a lot of work. I quizzed her ruthlessly. In essence, she said: "It’s time consuming, it’s good, you can do it in your pajamas and you don’t have to go anywhere, you won’t believe how many people read your work, it’s fun, your book sales go up, I actually got paid decently for a poem I posted there, it’s a constant surprise." She also told me, "Don’t write about religion!" (Which it turns out I manage to have done, in this very first post… Sort of. A bit. Later on. But.) Suzette writes sci-fi, and non-fiction (the latter primarily in the field of linguistics — her Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense is a classic). Neither of these are my genres. But we are both poets as well, and feel comfortable with each other, and are both Arkansas, and Ozark, authors — though I’m an Arkansas/Ozark author who now lives in Vermont, or perhaps a Vermont author who used to live in Arkansas (the first feels more accurate to me, though).
Anyway, I am back home, in my new-old home, Vermont, after 30 days crammed with traveling (exhausting) and cornbread adventures (energizing). (The house in Vermont is pictured. Unlike the picture of me and Louise, this one is incredibly flattering; it was taken when my aunt, who was more moneyed than I am, owned the place as a summer home, and she really kept it up. It’s a bit funkier now, though still an amazing piece of property.) A tsunami of stuff has accumulated in
my absence, and it would like some attention. Yet Suzatte’s enthusiasm stays with me, as does that of another writer I also queried on the pros and cons of blogging last month: Judy Blume. And so, here I am, commencing to blog. How did this become front-and-center on my To-Do list? (Well, when a list has assort receipts, catch up with emails, pay bills, do laundry, make dentist’s appointment – the stuff every human being contends with, and which Starr, many years ago, once referred to in a piece of writing as LPTs, Little Piddling Things – starting a blog looks much more compelling. I realize that "the stuff every human being contends with" presumes that you, dear reader, are in fact a human being, despite the New Yorker cartoon of two dogs hunched over a computer, one gleefully telling the other "On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.").
This last month’s goofy narrative will continue over the next few weeks, up to and including the grand finale, The National Cornbread Festival, in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, last weekend (It’s always the
last full weekend in April, FYI; [icture, left, one of the many food vendors at the Festival. This particular shot taken in 2003, by David Koff: note the blue sky and green mountains).
All told, April was one interesting, story-rich month for me: revisiting these experiences in writing, instead of merely thinking about them, will be pleasurable, a putting things away as important, in its fashion, as unpacking. (Someone, I think W.H. Auden, said famously, "How can I know what I think till I see what I say?").
But, of course, why stop with last month? I’ve had, and still do, an… interesting life. I vividly remember a telephone conversation with my father, the writer Maurice Zolotow, who I already mentioned vis martinis, and who was, among other things Marilyn Monroe’s first biographer. I can still picture the kitchen where I was standing as we talked, me on a wall phone with a curly black cord. I was facing out across a laminate counter, bright orange, looking out through the window behind the counter into our small Atlanta backyard garden, dominated by a larger wisteria. Maurice, in LA, would have been in his small office, one room of his West Hollywood apartment, cluttered with paper and open books and the detritus of a working writer’s working life. What I can’t remember is what my father asked me that sparked whatever story, also vanished, I told him in response. But I can still hear him saying admiringly, with great relish, his customary over-the-top enthusiasm, and maybe even a little envy, though his own life was far, far from dull: "By God, Cres! You could live the rest of your life in a nunnery and you’d still have plenty of material to write about!"
I was 29 then. I’m 55 now. So you can imagine.
But we have miles to go before we sleep. I do, anyway.
Which brings to mind the following: when my husband, Ned, was alive, late one night we somehow got into a long, long passionate discussion about how those who follow various religions so often commit
atrocities in their name, despite the fact that the doctrines of most such religions at least in part support peace and brotherly/sisterly love. Bear in mind this must have been in, oh, 1990 or 92, way before 9/11. Ned and I discussed Christians. We moved on to Jews. We had just reached Sri Lanka and the long and terrible civil war essentially between Hindus and Buddhists… I glanced at the clock. "Good Lord, Ned!" I said, startled, "Do you realize it’s way past 2:00 a.m.?" He gazed at me balefully, raised his eyebrows, and sighed. "And Muslims to go before we sleep," he said. (Another picture of Ned, this one when he was very young, before I knew him: as a teenager, throwing pottery. What a sweet, funny, smart good guy he was. )
I guess that story is a long way from cornbread, from being back home in Vermont on May Day, 2008 … But you know? Everything’s connected, which may be why I chose to put up that picture of beans and cornbread, which are certainly connected on plates around the world. Or maybe I chose it because it was taken by my boyfriend, David Koff. Because though I miss Ned greatly and still, I am living proof that life and love go on in altered form, and that human beings are incredibly resilient. And perhaps, because I do talk about Ned a lot, I didn’t want you, unknown reader, to put me into the "grieving widow" file, though there were certainly years when that’s exactly where I was.
But not now.
As I was saying: Everything’s connected, and nothing is wasted on the writer. I trust digression. I go with it.
Now, thank you: for going with me.