Weekend Reading
March 14, 2021

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

I came across a snippet from an interview with the playwright Tracy Letts this week. In it, Letts shared a candid account of what his life as a writer has looked like in quarantine. It’s candid, a little sad, and very relatable.

He says,

I’ve made nothing. On four separate occasions, I arranged my schedule with [my wife] Carrie so I could have six uninterrupted hours a day to write. All four times, I emerged from my office after two or three weeks, rattled, defeated, feeling lousy about myself. My wife finally said, “Here’s what you have to do: read books, watch movies, cook dinner and take care of our boy.” That is what I’ve done. And while my family is my focus and my joy, from a creative standpoint, this year for me has been a dust storm. I’m normally involved in a number of creative endeavors, in different forms, but the theater is my lifeblood and I don’t know who I am without it. The plug getting pulled on “The Minutes” was truly devastating for me. I feel like a heel even saying that since so many people in this country and around the world are suffering as a result of this pandemic in ways I can’t even fathom. But it’s the simple truth. I can’t do the computer theater, it’s too depressing for me, and I’ve turned down a couple of on-camera jobs because I am just as scared of this virus as I was a year ago. Creatively, I’m lost. It’s why I’m doing this interview. I’m guessing there are some other artists who identify.

The quote is part of a larger interview that with 75 artists, which was published this week in the New York Times. The artists were asked the following questions:

  • Did you make anything that mattered?
  • Who and what comforted you?
  • Which moments will you remember?
  • Which ideas would you like to forget?
  • What would a do-over look like?
  • And what’s still on your to-do list as “normal” comes into focus?

Some of the responses are really funny. When asked, “what art have you turned to in this time?” the photographer Nan Goldin replied “I’ve tried to cook and bake with no great success.”

Karen Russell has apparently gotten into makeup tutorials.

Letts isn’t the only artist who struggled with the usual cadence of creative output. When asked “what’s one thing you made this year?” novelist Ali Smith responded, “a compost heap.”

If you were to replace theater with cooking, Letts’ response would sum up a lot of my creative experience in the pandemic year. At a moment when I wanted so very badly to turn inward and create, I found it completely impossible to do that. I can’t remember the last time I had such a hard time with cooking and photography. (Writing, at least, hasn’t been a struggle.)

I can relate to Letts’ sentiment of “the theater is my lifeblood and I don’t know who I am without it.” 2020 and early 2021 did help to clarify my sense of what matters most. Like many people, I developed a deeper appreciation of family and friends.

But I’m feeling a little lost, too. Recipe creation is part of my professional identity, and its my lifeblood, just as theater is to Letts. It’s weird to find myself avoiding it, reaching for the next sandwich or frozen thing so that I don’t have to face how few recipe ideas I have.

Right after I read Letts’ comment, I came across a series of illustrations and words by Morgan Harper Nichols on creativity. Nichols declares, “Taking time to process is just as much a part of the creative process as anything else.”

Seeing those words at the moment I did felt almost serendipitous. Every period of creative abundance in my life has been preceded by a long period of struggle or stillness. I need to remember that each time I feel frustrated: we’re experiencing the creative process even when we’re not activity producing anything.

Perhaps my favorite answer in the Times interview was that of Tiwa Savage. In response to the question of what one thing she made this year, she said, “I’ve made peace with myself. I chose to no longer stress over the things I have no control over.”

I can’t exactly claim to have made peace with myself this year, but I did learn how to tap into a new reserve of gentleness and self-compassion, one that wasn’t there before. And I’m getting better at not worrying about the things I can’t control.

Maybe the interview or MHN’s words will give you a little comfort today, help you to make peace with a creative pause, or remind you that we’ve all done the best we could this year. They helped me a lot.

Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

I love the shape of Constanze’s Franzbrötchen (Northern German cinnamon buns).

I’m always collecting recipes for air fryer staples, and Brita’s tofu cubes are calling to me this week.

Ania’s roasted leek and cauliflower pasta looks excellent.

A great looking vegan bolognese from Shanika.

It’s PI Day! Here’s a bright, beautiful slice of vegan blueberry pie from the Baked blog.

Reads

1. The psychological toll of the pandemic has been on my mind this week. It’s saddening to read about how this has affected kids.

2. Similarly, reporting on what the pandemic year has cost teens.

3. Intimate partner violence and other types of domestic violence have increased around the world. Time magazine reports on this pandemic-within-the-pandemic.

4. There are a lot of misconceptions about OCD, a lot of stereotyping about the disorder that happens in pop culture. This essay is clarifying.

5. A little good news: Ford Motor Co. has been working on clear N95 masks, so that people with hearing loss can read lips while protecting themselves from Covid-19.

It’s now been more than a year since the WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, and I need to say how grateful I am for the presence of this community in the last twelve months.

So grateful. Thanks for getting me through it!

xo

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    4 Comments
  1. I just want to echo the other comments sharing gratitude to you for what you do! Over the years I have loved your recipes and cookbooks, but what keeps me coming back to your site is your writing, your thoughtful posts, and the great resources you share. Thank you so much for sharing so generously with all of us! xo

  2. As a writer myself, I cannot tell you what a comfort it was to read your post today! Just what I needed.
    Your weekend reading is always a pleasure to peruse by the way. Many thanks!

  3. Gena,
    Thank you for this post today. It is a timely, wonderful post.
    You say right at the end of your post that you are grateful for the presence of this community. I can only say in return that I am truly grateful for you and your blog and your presence in this community. Your voice matters and makes a difference(whether or not you cook or post recipes!).
    Sending love,
    Rebecca xo

  4. Loved this post Gena–I’ve experienced some creative execution slowdown, not only in the pandemic but during the previous four years. Nichols wise words remind me of Vivian Gornick’s most useful advice in The Situation and The Story. She calls that phase of creation “percolation.” That seems perfect to me. Some things have literally been percolating for me for YEARS, and now they are starting to click. It’s all part of the process and all so mysterious and amazing even when it’s excruciating or seems “gone.” Thank you. xoxo

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