Readers, I’m moving. It’s been three years here at my sunny, friendly, definitely quirky Cambridge apartment. I’d stay for three more, I think, but I’m also ready to move on as life circumstances change. I’ll be dealing with a very transitional housing situation this fall, and then I’m on to the big city of Chicago. I’m excited!
There’s plenty of time to think about the city of Chicago and all it means in the future; as I navigate a narrow goat path of boxes in my apartment now, I’m feeling nostalgic in these last few weeks. I’ll still be in Boston for the next several months, but most of my things will be in storage and I’ll be preparing for yet another move. I’m looking out the windows at my quiet street, at the restaurants and shops and hard-to-nab parking spaces, and I’m missing Boston already.
Several out-of-town friends have happened to visit lately, and it has given me the chance to do all the touristy things Boston has to offer again. I’ve visited Faneuil Hall and toured the campuses of MIT and Harvard; I’ve strolled over the Mass Ave bridge and seen the Smoots (locals will know this) and passed by Paul Revere’s house and Old North Church. I’ve walked through the Boston Public Garden this past weekend, loving the orderly chaos of green, how every tree is a different species, the unexpected rat-a-tat of a revolutionary-era parade band going by. I feel like I’m living inside the pages of Make Way for Ducklings these days, sweeping benevolently through Boston’s prettiest, oldest places, looking with the eyes of a friend.
It’s an exciting time to be a writer in transition. My family is still here and I imagine I’ll be returning regularly to Boston; but I’ll be trying my hardest to carve out a new home in a strange new city, one that doesn’t hold my childhood in its hand. Walking through Boston on a sunny summer day, I can feel embraced by this place, the sights and smells so familiar (and superior to New York’s summer smell of hot garbage!). I’ll probably be in a state of perpetual nostalgia for this place in the months to come; each time I visit the Boston Public Library or walk through Copley square, I’ll feel the pang that this might be my last time for a while.
I hope I’ve made the most of the time here; but I’m also ready to go. Many famous writers known for their evocation of place only truly captured that place once they left it. Nabokov, forever haunted by the Russia he lost, continued to write about it; under house arrest, Milton wrote of the woods and fields of England in his pastoral poetry. I think the best example of this is Joyce, who only so brilliantly captured Dublin in his novels once he had left it. I think this mournfulness, or nostalgia, is just the complication of emotion we need to capture a place. As I leave Boston, I imagine myself writing about it all the more; and my description will have that extra sharpness of feeling that comes from loss.
Issue 3 has been burning up our computer screens this month, readers. It’s full of hot, exciting new poetry and prose that will get you geared up for the new season. We’re finalizing the issue and it will be dropping in the first week of September, so be sure to spread the word. In the meantime, here’s a little preview from one of our authors, the incomparable Brian Fanelli:
Summer nights we pitched a pup tent
in grandma’s yard, pinched our noses
against the stink of skunks,
while we stretched out on the lawn,
gazed at the sky and hoped
for a flash of something unidentified,
a streak of colors unexplained.
We grew up on prime time X-files episodes,
wanted to be Mulder and Scully,
clenching flashlights, chasing the unknown down alleys.
Some nights we pondered the universe,
infinite, filled with other life, we said,
maybe dimension-hopping beings,
or time-traveling creatures.
We never saw triangle objects or bright lights,
just planes flying low,
a few shooting stars.
We passed out in sleeping bags as the sun
climbed over mountains and blue dawn
shined on the familiar and known.
Boston is a hot restaurant town these days. We may not be able to compete with New York in terms of size or variety, but we’re holding our own in a few exciting areas of world cuisine. Lately I’ve had the chance to try a couple of different trendy spots in the area of Asian fusion.
This new category has faced its share of controversy. Some purists only want the authentic Chinese or Vietnamese or Japanese eating experience; blending it with American or French styles ends up watering down the whole menu, “Americanizing” it. I’d agree that Asian fusion restaurants aren’t capturing the authentic, traditional cuisine of their countries, but food has always benefitted from the sharing of culture and tradition across national lines. What we think of as mediterranean food, for example, is an exciting melange of Spanish, French, Greek, North African, Turkish and other influences. So why can’t Asian food continue to update itself and be informed by the cultures it rubs shoulders with? I’m excited to report what I found at Myers and Chang and at Blue Dragon.
First, Myers and Chang is a restaurant in the south end whose founders are better known for their baking. The owners of this restaurant started the wildly popular bakery and lunch spot Flour. I’ve gone many times to their Central Square location and enjoyed the tarts, pies, and scones, so I thought it was time to try their Chinese Dim Sum-inspired restaurant. The menu is eclectic and exciting; you get a series of small plates, and if are paralyzed by too many decisions, can order a grouped series, such as the health-conscious dishes or the duck-lover’s dishes.
We went for a little of everything; standouts included the squid stuffed with lamb, salmon and brown rice (wonderfully flavorful), bitter bok choy, and spicy pork spring rolls. Everything we tried tasted strongly of unusual mixes of flavors, both evoking Chinese dishes and with an extra touch of American style greasiness and home comfort.
The other tapas-style Asian fusion restaurant I visited recently was Ming Tsai’s Blue Dragon. This is a smaller, more casual pub-style restaurant near south station that is a kind of spin-off of his much-loved Blue Ginger. Ming Tsai has been all over public television with his cooking shows, and his dishes live up to the hype; every dish is a surprising blend of flavors, lovingly prepared, startling and tasty. Some favorites of mine included the terrific bison burgers, Thai fried rice, juicy slim slices of duck breast, soft shell crab sandwiches, shrimp shumai, and tuna tartare. I couldn’t rave about the flavors of Blue Dragon enough; everything felt like discovering a new season of taste. The key word there is season, though; the menu is seasonal and changes frequently. So go, but be ready to be surprised by what’s on the menu.
There’s nothing like discovering a new, very different restaurant; it’s one of the pleasures of life to explore new flavors. What restaurants have inspired you lately?
I’m back, readers, from a writing conference that took place in Tennessee, a state I’d never been to and a world unto its own. I had a wonderful time meeting other writers and sharing my own creative exploits, as well as hearing many a reading from some very distinguished southern writers.
What can a writer expect to get out of a writing conference? There are some writers who go hungry for the next big leap of their careers. They’re there to network, to shake hands, exchange cards, find the right person, the right reader for their books. On the other end of the spectrum are fledgling writers unsure of who they are or what they want, seeking permission to be writers for the first time in their lives. And there are all those in between, looking for advice, for validation, for a community.
For those of you seeking these things in your writing lives, I couldn’t recommend a good writing conference enough. It’s a wonderful balm to one’s spirit to be among people who already understand what you’re trying to do and why, who welcome the story of your journey and your work, your trials, triumphs, and frustrations. At the conference I attended, I found likeminded souls eager to share their work; I met poets who loved prose and fiction writers who devoured poetry; I gained a little insight into playwriting, a form I had barely understood. More than anything I felt that it was OK to be a writer; in fact, it was a good thing, an important thing, a quest to enrich my life and the lives of readers.
I also heard some heartening words about failure and patience. It was refreshing to hear award-winning writers like Alice McDermott and others explain how there comes a time in every novel’s life when it feels like the thing is a sinking ship. In that moment, McDermott explained, there’s a choice a writer must make; whether to abandon ship or try to steer the thing to shore, perhaps in a different form than what you thought it would take when you set out. We need to press on, to work through the disappointment, and discover the new surprises on the other side. We need to accept that feeling of a loss of control.
Now I’m back in my office, looking out on a street in Cambridge, still a little stunned that I won’t be plied with wine and cookies each evening anymore. It will take some adjusting to return to the real world; but I’ll carry the advice, the friendships, and the generous spirit of creative community with me.