Sunday, May 29, 2016

Weird Food Adventures in Oxford (With Bonus Risotto Interlude)

See? Lots of people drink them!

Item One: A Beverage Tragedy


I just spilled my nearly-full dirty chai all over platform three at the Swansea train station. I'm cranky, caffeine-deprived, and underfed. Now that I'm on the train, I just want to sleep. But I don't really want to sleep, I want to do stuff like read and blog and play Scrabble on my phone.

So, navigating the aisles of the train, I walk/stumble/almost-fall to the cafe car and order an espresso. The coffee guy advises me that the espresso measures all of 1/8 an inch. So he makes me an Americano. I add a little sugar for fun and down it.

Update:

I slept.

(Note: A dirty chai is a chai latte with one or more shots of added espresso. This is apparently a shock for the baristas in Swansea, who looked at me as if I had ordered a double espresso with a dollop of chamomile tea sprinkled with paprika.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Poems and Pints and a Play at the Queens Pub, Carmarthen

Dominic Williams and Annie Butler read
The Nice View by Cynthia Veal Holm
Last night at the Queen's Pub in Carmarthen, two Welsh writers/actors, Dominic Williams and Annie Butler, performed an award-winning play by Lesley University's own Cynthia Veal Holm. In April, Cynthia won the Gary Garrison award for her ten minute play, The Nice View, which was one of four featured works performed at the Kennedy Center. Yeah, that's what I said: MY FRIEND Cynthia's play was performed at the frickin' Kennedy Center. Last night was hailed by Dominic as its "UK premiere."

As usual, the Welsh know how to do literature right: mixing an ancient literary tradition with a passion for the spoken word and lots of cider and ale. Poems and Pints is a group of writers who meet every month in Carmarthen to share their work while enjoying delicious beverages. I don't even know what kind of cider I was drinking--just whatever was on tap, which in Wales is always good.
Cynthia's award

We three Americans were the "guests of honor" at this event--sponsored by Write4Word--which means we got to read a little of our work along with the rest of these passionate, talented writers. What a pleasure to be in a land where literature is so treasured. The writing was first-rate, and the group was full of people who know how to listen.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Cider, a Potato, and... oh yeah, a Castle!



A view of Laugharne from the castle grounds
Sometimes you just want a lamb shank. It's the ideal Welsh lunch--some shank of lamb, cider, and a gorgeous sunny day in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, Wales. 

And then you order, and the charming lady serving you at your perfect patio table regretfully tells you that they're out of lamb. We're in Wales, and there's no lamb to be had.

But hey! I'm flexible! I loves me some lamb, but I loves me a lot of things. Cider, check: made by  Tomos Watkin, who makes the "Great Ales of Wales." Espresso: they got it, just gonna wait 'til after I eat. Lamb: nope, but potatoes! Baked potatoes served with any variety of ingredients I could possibly desire. Even a salad on the side.

Arthur's, home of friendly service, delicious potatoes,
and easy-drinkin' cider
So, toppings: cheese, natch. Then the server asks if I'd like brie or cheddar. Brie, please! And bacon! And I'm happy.

Not that's it's difficult on a day like today. I'm hanging out with two fantastic women, enjoying wonderful weather, thinking about the castle just down the road.

Oh, yeah--there's a castle! Laugharne Castle it's called, which is good, because I can actually remember the name. I haven't really seen it yet, because I've been, um, eating and... drinking wine, and, that other thing I like to do... sleeping. And some writing, believe it or not.

The grounds of Laugharne Castle
My potato arrives with a load of proper Welsh bacon and two big SLABS OF BRIE. Oh, people, the things that make me happy.

I eat it all. I drink a rather large bottle of cider. I drink my espresso, then the three of us stroll to the little craft store. Which is really fun for me, because the lady who runs the shop speaks full-on Welsh with a few of the customers. I understand almost nothing, but I just love listening to the fluid vowels, the distinct but soft consonants: lots of mild "th" and "ch" sounds, not choppy like English.

Then, we actually do walk to the castle. We hope to take a tour tomorrow, but for today, we're content to look at scenes like this:

Jill admires Laugharne Castle while enjoying homemade
chocolate Welsh ice cream


And this:


Part of the estuary that runs by the castle

And I simply take a moment to feel gratitude for being in this place at this time. On the walk home, I pass a pub with a rather large blue banner printed with white letters:

There's no food here

Behind the low fence, on a small chalkboard, someone has written "NOT SERVING FOOD." We asked, and they in fact do not serve food. I guess the banner is just a Welsh tease.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

When Things Go Wrong, Awesome Stuff Happens

Dylan Thomas' Birthplace in Swansea, Wales
Say the word "yarn." Now say it with an "l" instead of a "y" - "larn." Now extend the "ah" sound just a little: "lahrn." Well done! You are now able to pronounce the name of the town in which I reside at the moment: Laugharne, which is in Carmarthenshire, Wales.

I know how to pronounce this word because of a very kind lady my friends and I met at a tiny pub yesterday in Swansea, also in Wales. We had arrived on a train direct from Paddington Station in London. We made our way to the Europcar place where I had reserved a vehicle, which I planned to drive around this beautiful country, because I love to drive, even when I have to be on the left and read road signs at the same time. This is the kind of challenge that makes me happy.

But. We were an hour early, because we traded in our train tickets for earlier train tickets, thinking we were just oh-so-smart. I called the car dude and said, hey, it's six, we're here an hour early! and he said, lady, I'm not coming until seven, and I said okay then! because when you have no choice, it's best to retain, or at least fake, a good attitude.

Monday, September 14, 2015

3 Reasons Why It's Okay To Sleep at a Writing Retreat (When You Should Be Writing)

I just spent a week at a writing retreat called The Porches, a lovely spot in rural Virginia on the James River. Many times I've taken myself there to work without distractions, in a private room with a solid desk, and lots of peace and quiet. I got some good writing done that I look forward to continuing. I also edited a piece and submitted it. And I drank some good wine.

Also, I slept.

Trudy Hale, the owner and operator of The Porches, once told me that many writers arrive, set themselves up for good, focused work, then spend two days mostly sleeping. They are always surprised by this, and wonder why they're sleeping in or napping every day when they were so geared up to work. It's simple, Trudy says. They're tired.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Writing Habits: 3 Ways to Engage Your Subconscious Mind

Yesterday I read this article in Observer by Benjamin Hardy. This paragraph got me thinking about the power of the subconscious mind:

The first thing to do when you wake up is output. This may be in the form of writing in a journal to capture all the work your subconscious has been doing while you were sleeping. Or immediately getting to the project you’re working on. When you get out of a meeting or finish any form of activity, rather than going directly to your email or other input, maximize your subconscious by going directly to output—your work. 

I've never thought in terms of "input" and "output" before, but now I'll probably use the words all the time because they fit so well into my beliefs about how the subconscious powers our writing.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Now This is Cool: Non-Profit Dedicated to Studying the Brain Through Writing

Oliver Sacks died just a couple of days ago: August 30, 2015. I miss him already. His writing--elegant, precise, and compassionate--inspires me not just to be a better writer, but to be a better human. He believed in the power of story to heal and to better understand the human mind.

While doing some research on his life, I found this: The Oliver Sacks Foundation. Then I got all excited when I read this:


The Oliver Sacks Foundation is a nonprofit organization devoted to increasing understanding of the human brain and mind through the power of narrative nonfiction and case histories.
The foundation’s goals include making Dr. Sacks’s published and yet-unpublished writings available to the broadest possible audience, preserving and digitizing materials related to his life and work and making them available for scholarly use, working to reduce the stigma of mental and neurological illness, and supporting a humane approach to neurology and psychiatry. (emphasis mine)

Those of us who love to read already know the power of storytelling to make meaning from our lives and better understand our internal worlds. I've never bought into the dividing line between art and science, between what we think is quantifiable and what we think is not. Sacks clearly felt the same, using his tremendous writing talent to share the experiences of and humanize his patients and himself.

Narrative nonfiction, you guys! Let's get into it!

I remember you, Oliver Sacks, M.D. RIP.