March 22, 2021 § 3 Comments
In her latest book, Processed Meats: Essays on Food, Flesh, and Navigating Disaster, Nicole Walker continues her deep essayistic dive into sustainability, climate change, global food issues, and her own eating obsessions, layering in the overlapping impact of our unsettling pandemic year. Her insights remain refreshingly honest and are, at times, spiced with unexpected humor. Brevity founder and fellow pancetta-enthusiast Dinty W. Moore interviews Walker on her book, on digression in the essay, and on the possibility of hope in desperate times:
Dinty W. Moore: First, a confession. More than a decade ago I was visiting the Arizona city where you live and you invited me to join you for dinner. “How about charcuterie?” you said, pronouncing it as if you knew exactly what you were proposing, and I instinctively blurted, “Yes, I’d really love that,” because I didn’t want to seem unsophisticated. Back then, I had no idea what “charcuterie” really meant, though I do still remember the enticing selection of meats, cheeses, pickled vegetables, and spreads that ensued. So maybe I’m not the best person to speak with you about Processed Meats, or maybe I am the perfect person. In any case, it is too late – we have agreed. So, here’s my question: Do you remember that dinner and I did I fool you at all?
Nicole Walker: This question is the most on-point question you could ask. I just wrote an essay for the NYT and the only real edit was, can you make it clear how you know what charcuterie is and how much privilege comes with making sure your kid eats 9 colors of fruits and vegetables a day? An obsession with food isn’t becoming. Making your guests feel out of place is definitely against the Emily Post’s rules of etiquette. Your graciousness at that dinner covered for you, if not me. I remember us sitting on the deck, eating cheese and prosciutto, and then maybe also having tacos? Max and Zoe adored you. You talked to them like they were the adults they thought they were, even though they were two and six at the time.
This story is making me want to hang out with you. If I could spend the energy to build a teleport machine instead of curing strange meats, I should. But maybe charcuterie is its own kind of teleport machine. I know books are. The main reason to publish books is to be invited to places to read or to be invited to talk with you. It’s a kind of teleport machine. The book came out earlier this month. I made pancetta for the book release, which took four weeks to cure. With book and pancetta, I am bringing myself to book readers and charcuterie eaters, which is all I ever really wanted to do.
DWM: Speaking of charcuterie as its own kind of teleportation device, what I love about your book is how processed meat, your ostensible subject, becomes a vehicle to explore so many deeper themes: pregnancy, plastic waste, parenthood, pandemic, owlets, and anti-bodies. The Greek philosopher Anaxagoras first expounded the theory of “everything-in-everything,” which is the basis for poetic (and essayistic) metaphor. Look closely at any one thing and all things will be revealed. Did you imagine at the outset of Processed Meats that salami, capicola, bologna, and prime rib would lead you in all these directions, open all these portals into culture and human existence?
NW: I was talking with a friend who is working on this big book project about her father’s time in a concentration camp in the Ukraine and she was trying to figure out a structure to the book because otherwise she just chases after details and the book sprawls. I said to her, well, you can just be like me and see where the words take you, but I get that such an approach is an unconventional one. Maybe even a vilified one. Cohesion. Topic sentences. Stay on target, Luke is told when he’s gunning for the Death Star’s weak spot. Max says of nachos that the triangle ones are better for chasing the cheese. It is nice to have a target and maybe even an angular and pointed kind of targeting device. Circles have a hard time getting the cheese.
But in writing, the target is always moving. Derrida said so in “Structure, Sign, and Play,” obviously riffing off Anaxagoras—you’re more likely to get at the thing if you approximate the thing itself. If you get closer to it. Sidle up. Don’t spook it! And metaphors are the best approximators. I take my cue from poetry so I can leap and play but I also know it can seem unserious—that I’m not making a point and completing an argument in my essays.
But my larger, forever-point is that we can understand things better from supremely local positions. Bologna and prime rib, shrimp and capicola we can know. Meat in particular is a weird way to approximate the center. Our bodies are subject to so many strange manipulations—not so many as the cow’s, of course, but still—from sitting unmovingly in church to forcing it on 100-mile runs, to suffering real hunger to letting the doctor’s take a big chunk out for biopsy, we know through our bodies and our mouths abstractions that are hard to understand otherwise. If I can mete out the steps from mouth to body to soil to tree to big global catastrophe, maybe the everything-in-everything theory that Anaxagoras offers us not only makes sense in a cognitive way but in a visceral one as well. (Puns apologized for, but not regretted. Well, a little regretted.)
DWM: All this talk of Anaxagoras and Derrida may mislead potential readers, overlooking what I find equally compelling about your book: the humor, the silly asides, the basic optimism. Processed Meats doesn’t fail to acknowledge our difficult times—not just our pandemic nightmare but our toxic consumerism and the climate crisis that we’ve been avoiding for too long—but I found the book itself to be a bit of a lift, a buoyant and invigorating read.
So, tell me Nicole. Do you still have hope? Despite it all?
NW: What is wrong with me? Why do I read about the fires and the melting and the storms and the dislocation and still find hope? I am, as flawed as it is to be, an American. I’m full of optimism just as I am full of cheese. Optimism is dangerous. It’s often plain wrong. But when I look at the twenty-year old kid who invented a boat to pull plastic from the ocean and the water protectors from the Hopi and Navajo nations bringing attention to the rapidly declining aquifer and the local farmers and community-supported agriculture, all I can see is promise. It’s brighter than the bad news—not because it’s bigger. In fact, maybe because it’s smaller. I can relate to the person who grows heritage pigs and feeds them acorns from his hand and still manages to slaughter them and sell that pig to his local pork product purveyors because he spent so much time and energy with them. They had a good and industrious life. The acorns did too. The soil researchers who worry that at a certain temperature the forest becomes a bigger producer of carbon than a carbon sink look at layers of sand and at the nearly invisible microorganisms chowing down on the decaying leaves and I think, those microbes, if not those scientists, will figure something out. I’m Generation X. We aren’t supposed to believe in anything or have a lot of hope, but I think underlying all that biting realism, there’s a layer of “fine. We’ll get it done.” I believe we’ll get it together. And by we, again, I might mean the microorganisms more than the people, but still. Getting it together will be got.
Nicole Walker is the author of Processed Meat: Essays on Food, Flesh, and Navigating Disaster, The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet and Sustainability: A Love Story and A Survival Guide for Life in the Ruins. Her previous books include Where the Tiny Things Are, Egg, Micrograms, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and This Noisy Egg. Her work has been published in Orion, Boston Review, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, The Normal School and other places. She curated, with Rebecca Campbell, “7 Artists, 7 Rings—an Artist’s Game of Telephone” for the Huffington Post. A recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she is noted in multiple editions of Best American Essays. She’s nonfiction editor at Diagram and Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Dinty W. Moore is editor-in-chief of Brevity and author of To Hell with It: Of Sin and Sex, Chicken Wings, and Dante’s Entirely Ridiculous, Needlessly Guilt-Inducing Inferno.
January 22, 2021 § 2 Comments
By Hiram Perez
I am eight years old and lost in my daydreams outside Kmart as I weave in and out between the iron bars used to keep people from stealing shopping carts. Suddenly I become aware of my father’s gaze. I meet his eyes and find myself immobilized by the disgust in his scowl.
He speaks—calmly, matter-of-factly: “Papo, if I ever find out you are a maricón, I will kill you and then kill myself.”
I don’t know what maricón means, though I hear it hurled at me enough times by other boys, along with pato. I think it has something to do with my skin being lighter than my father’s. I think it has something to do with how I cry too easily. I think it has something to do with how all my friends are girls, and I have no interest in playing baseball. I do not know what maricón means, but I know I am found out. I do know being a maricón is the worst betrayal imaginable. But what is it that betrays me? A hand gesture, I wonder, or the way I carry myself. Do I daydream too much for a boy? It is something in my eyes perhaps. Do they betray how much I am afraid all the time?
January 21, 2021 § 3 Comments
By Noah Davis
A sow bear and a cub were hit by a truck on the road outside my neighborhood.
The cub’s torn black fur and cracked claws lay crumpled beside the blown tires. The sow bear, something soft ruptured behind her bones, scrambled up the incline into the green of Pennsylvania June and died in such a hidden place that turkey vultures still haven’t found her heft.
Today, a week later, in light as full as an afternoon, a surviving cub runs paw-heavy through my family’s backyard. She turns up the side yard smelling for some root or ant hill. The apples that dropped from the trees, too hard and sour to tempt her, the blueberries corralled behind a fence. Finding nothing sweet, she crosses the street and tunnels into the neighbor’s bushes.
The neighbor calls my mother, and we leave our tea in the kitchen—my mother, father, brother, wife, and me—and rush out across the street to the last bush where the bear was seen. Pulled by our desire to love something motherless.
Read the rest of Noah Davis’ essay in Brevity‘s latest issue
January 19, 2021 § 6 Comments
By Jesse Lee Kercheval
Outside there is a pandemic and I am in lockdown in Montevideo, Uruguay, far from my daughter and son also locked down, but in Kanazawa, in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, and I am inside drawing, drawing, drawing, filling sheets of paper, pages drifting to the floor, as if I were the boy in the Japanese fable who also draws and draws and draws but only cats. Cats, cats, cats until his farmer father gives up and sends him to a monastery where the boy draws the monastery cats until the head priest too gives up and tells him to go home. As he leaves, the old priest warns the boy, saying: “Avoid large places at night. Keep to the small.”
I am keeping to the small, tucked inside my rented apartment, inside my body, the very idea of outside frightening to me now—and the boy too is afraid, but of returning to his father, so instead he travels to another temple in the hopes he can ask the priests to stay there, not realizing they have all fled a giant goblin-rat. The boy arrives, and finding the place deserted, begins to draw cats all across the walls.
Continue reading Jesse Lee Kercheval’s flash essay in Brevity’s Latest Issue.
January 18, 2021 § 2 Comments
Our new issue launches this morning, with wishes for a safer, healthier world and brilliant essays from Jesse Lee Kercheval, Elena Passarello, Hiram Perez, Michael McAllister, Dorian Fox, Tyler Orion, Noah Davis, Ira Sukrungruang, Sonja Livingston, Anne Panning, Kate Hopper, Lizz Huerta, Melissa Stephenson, Francis Walsh, and Laurie Klein. Also, an array of wonderful photos from Kim Adrian.
In our Craft section, Nancy Reddy explores the “community we” and David Perez uses his acting background to show how reading our work aloud can make the written word come alive.
And we have a request as well: Brevity comes to you with no subscription fees, but we do have expenses. We have no institutional funding, and our volunteer staff is unpaid, but we pay for our website, domain name, backup software, website security software, and various other operating expenses. And we are very proud to say that we pay our authors.
If you appreciate the work we publish or are one of the many teachers who utilize Brevity in the classroom, please consider a small donation.
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November 23, 2020 § 7 Comments
By Dinty W. Moore
I have always been a doodler — in grade school, high school, hiding in the back row of large college classrooms, eventually in faculty meetings, and often just to pass the time while waiting in a doctor’s office. Having a pencil or pen in hand and some paper, or for that matter a little free space in the margins of a magazine, has always been calming for me, meditative, and amusing, all at the same time. So I was pretty darn excited to hear that Rebecca Fish Ewan had a new book out, Doodling for Writers. How do these little scribbles of ours improve our writing? In more ways than I imagined.
I was especially pleased by the book’s release because Rebecca wrote a stellar craft essay on the graphic form for Brevity and has been featured more than once — see here, and here — on the Brevity Blog .
I was so tickled that I decided to doodle a picture of her to celebrate:
And it was the most horrible doodle ever doodled. Worse even than the drawing I did of my friend Jackson’s Labradoodle:
But Doodling for Writers is nonetheless a clever, lively, funny little book, and the advice is sound. On pacing and voice, for instance:
“Voice and breath are inextricably linked. In poetry, line breaks indicate a breath. In prose, it’s, commas, that, signal, inhalations. When I draw, I become more aware of my breaths. The lines I lay down on the page keep pace with my breathing. If I want calm still lines, I slow my breaths, which in turn slows my heart rate, which then calms my hand so it can give me the line I need.”
Fish Ewan offers up a wonderful chart detailing the links between perspective in drawing and literary Point of View. She has excellent points and pointers as to how exploring our characters in ink can help us learn more about the folks we write about in our memoirs. The prompts throughout the book are brilliant!
I like also that she regularly advises tossing out the rules, like the one about how to draw heads, which never worked for me, unless I was trying to draw the head of a pig:
The real message of Doodling for Writers is that one corner of the creative brain can stimulate another corner, that drawing, or doodling, can happily stimulate the writer’s mind, and that, what the heck, writing can still be fun (like drawing.)
Dinty W. Moore is the editor-in-chief of Brevity and he drewed these pictures all by his self.
November 16, 2020 § Leave a comment
This week, The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction begins shipping from warehouses across the country (and becomes available at your local independent bookstore through curbside service or distanced browsing.) We are excited about early praise for the book, grateful to everyone who pre-ordered, and thrilled to hear from those of you who plan to give the book a test run in your writing classes next semester.
We also have two launch events this week, our West Coast Launch in Los Angeles and our East Coast Launch on the Three Rivers Coastline of Pittsburgh. We hope you will join us to celebrate!
Here are the particulars:
SKYLIGHT BOOKS, Los Angeles, Wednesday Nov. 18th at 6:30 pm PST (9:30 pm EST)
Best of Brevity co-editors Zoë Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore will be joined by authors Daisy Hernández, Nicole Walker, and Ira Sukrungruang. Following a reading of three brief (of course) essays from the anthology, there will be lively discussion about the flash nonfiction form and tips for those wanting to write, publish, and teach flash nonfiction. An audience Q&A will follow. You can pre-register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/skylit-best-of-brevity/register
WHITE WHALE BOOKSTORE, Pittsburgh, Thursday Nov. 19th at 7 pm EST
At this East Coast event, Zoë and Dinty will be joined by authors Julie Hakim Azzam, Lori Jakiela, and Deesha Philyaw. Following a reading of their three brief essays from the anthology, there will be lively discussion about the flash nonfiction form and tips for those wanting to write, publish, and teach flash nonfiction. An audience Q&A will follow. Preregister for the event here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/east-coast-launch-for-the-best-of-brevity-registration-127005140795
And here’s more on the book:
Featuring examples of nonfiction forms such as memoir, narrative, lyric, braided, hermit crab, and hybrid, The Best of Brevity brings you 84 of the best-loved and most memorable reader favorites from the journal, collected in print for the first time. Compressed to their essence, these essays glint with drama, grief, love, and anger, as well as innumerable other lived intensities, resulting in an anthology that is as varied as it is unforgettable, leaving the reader transformed.
With contributions from Jenny Boully, Brian Doyle, Roxane Gay, Daisy Hernández, Michael Martone, Ander Monson, Patricia Park, Kristen Radtke, Diane Seuss, Abigail Thomas, Jia Tolentino, and many more.
“The Best of Brevity feels like the condensed energy of a coiled spring. A vibrant collection, dynamic in its exploration and celebration of the flash form.”
-Karen Babine, author of All the Wild Hungers
September 15, 2020 § 2 Comments
The “Experiences of Disability” issue is guest edited by Keah Brown, Sonya Huber, and Sarah Fawn Montgomery. Artwork by Jill Khoury.
September 8, 2020 § Leave a comment
We are posting one of our September Craft Essays a bit early to celebrate the recent release of Rebecca McClanahan’s new book, In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays (Red Hen Press). In this craft contribution, Nancy Geyer talks with McClanahan, a frequent Brevity contributor over the years, about the crafting of her memoir, with a focus on conveying setting.
Here’s an excerpt,
Nancy Geyer: In one of your craft essays for Brevity, “Forest in the Trees,” you mention recurring patterns or motifs as a way to unify a book. They can also reinforce the feel of a place, right? I’m thinking of your squirrels and park benches.
Rebecca McClanahan: Yes, recurring motifs seem a natural way to unify a book and to situate the reader in a place. And you’re right about animals and park benches! Squirrels do indeed scamper now and then through the book’s pages, but quite a few other creatures make appearances as well—pigeons and ducks, including the duckling in the Hans Christian Andersen statue, and the dogs in the park, and even the baby bird that the homeless man shows me nesting in the lining of his jacket.
And yes, the park bench was such an important part of my experience of New York—not only as my own physical (if temporary) stake on the landscape and a place from which to view the scene, but also as an opportunity for conversations with strangers, who were always eager to share their stories and their sometimes strange but always intriguing wisdom. In that way, a park bench is where the public and private meet, right? Which seems to echo the experience of living in New York. At least my own experience during the time we lived there.
Now, take a moment to pop over and read the full interview here.