(Originally published in Granta‘s February email. Reprinted here in its entirety six months later.)
What is it? Vinegar-based soda. I love weird sodas (except for Moxie, which is disgusting). There’s a company in Vermont that carbonates and bottles maple sap. It’s delicious. Shrub (popular in colonial America; reintroduced, apparently, by time travellers) is a drink made by mixing soda water with whatever kind of vinegar/fruit syrup seems most delightful. You can make shrubs yourself by following the instructions, or you can buy vinegars in almost any flavour. I’ve tried lavender, tangerine and cranberry pear. Shrub tastes best in summer, when you want something a little wersht. But I like to drink it in winter and pretend that it’s miserably hot outside.
2. Echolalia, Winterpills
I’d recommend all of the Winterpills CDs. Their most recent, Echolalia, is an album of covers and thus has a twofold appeal: there’s the pleasure of Philip Price’s and Flora Reed’s harmonies and then there’s the pleasure of seeing what kind of music/material they are drawn towards and what they then do with those songs. I’ve been playing ‘One Day’ (Sharon Van Etten’s original version is also heart-piercingly good) on repeat off and on again for over two months now. ‘Museum of Flight’ (Damien Jurado) is another current favourite.
3. Franciscan Hospital for Children
On 23 February our daughter Ursula will turn six. She was born in 2009 at 24 weeks, weighing a pound and a half. We spent the next year and a bit in hospitals with her. First the NICU at Baystate in Springfield, Massachusetts, then Boston Children’s Hospital. Finally we ended up at Franciscan Hospital for Children, where the doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists slowly weaned her off of ventilator support, and where my husband and I learned a new set of temporary skills: among other things, changing Mic-Key buttons and trachs. Before we got to Franciscan, everyone warned us, ‘It’s not very fancy.’ It wasn’t fancy. It felt, instead, homey. Ursula had her own room, experienced nurses, matter-of-fact therapists. After seven months of crisis after crisis, complication after complication, it was reassuring to be somewhere that wasn’t fancy. It meant that things were looking up. And there were high-school-style cafeteria meals for parents and caretakers, and sandwiches that appeared, mysteriously, every night in the family room refrigerator. Strangest of all, it turned out that the Franciscan Hospital for Children was located literally next door to the white house (the only house on Warren Street, as a matter of fact) where my husband and I, years ago, had rented an apartment. Way back then, we’d never even noticed the hospital next door. We’re all back home now, and in good shape. Franciscan Hospital for Children will always remain dear to my heart.
4. The Vampire Diaries
All of last year I watched The Vampire Diaries with two friends, poets David Pritchard and A.B. Robinson. Is there anything better than hanging out with friends and watching a television show in which vampires make terrible decisions? This year our schedules don’t mesh, but sometimes we still get together for horror movie nights. Next I think we’re due to watch The Unknown (Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford in my favourite Tod Browning movie).
Anyway. I recommend The Vampire Diaries if you like doppelgängers, ludicrous but awesome plot twists, or Castle of Otranto-style gothic high jinks. Think Nashville, but less singing. And give it six episodes. The finale of the first season and the first episode of the second season are my two favourite hours of television. In a nutshell: I’d be perfectly content if, after my death, someone put on my tombstone – ‘She made a lot of people watch The Vampire Diaries.’
5. The Clarion Workshops
I went through the Clarion Workshop in 1995, immediately after finishing an MFA programme at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Clarion is a summer workshop, geared towards science fiction, fantasy and experimental work, in which participants workshop with six different instructors and, over the course of six weeks, write six stories. You don’t sleep much. You do spend a lot of time talking about your and other people’s stories. There’s almost always a lot of practical advice about the publishing industry from the instructors, and one of the best aspects of the workshop is, week to week, the disagreements between current and past instructors about what makes a story work and how writers should write. Ideally, participants come out a little punch-drunk, but with their own model in place for writing, as well as a sense of community. I loved my MFA programme. I loved Clarion too. I’m sure there are mediocre workshops out there. But I haven’t been in one so far.
There’s a Clarion Workshop in San Diego and there’s one in Seattle. I’ve taught at both. They’re both excellent. The deadline for applications for Clarion at UCSD runs through 1 March. Applications for Clarion West in Seattle are also currently open.