I'm not really a foodie, but we thought this four-hour tour would be fun, and we were right. Sophia Dimokratin, our amazing guide, took us through the "real" Athens north of Monastiraki Square. We started at 11 a.m, and ate our way through the traditional cafes and food markets, starting with Greek pie. We would know it as philo dough stuffed with various ingredients such as spinach and cheese. The milk pie (Sophia says any bread is called "pie"), is like a sweet custard--delicious. We sampled their traditional doughnut, seasoned with cinnamon and honey, and walked through all the food markets (the fish and meat markets were the most interesting). Of course, after several hours of shopping the food markets, we had to do as the Greeks do and have traditional Greek coffee. Not that strong, but very thick and sedimenty. We finished the day with a scrumptious traditional Greek salad: tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese sprinkled with oregano. Accompanied of course, by Santorini wine and ouzo. Many thanks to Sophia Dimokratin and Athens Walks Tour Company for a fabulous day.
Traditional Greek breakfast "doughnut."
Cottontails? Rabbit is very popular in Greece, as are goat, pork, chicken and beef.
Rob hamming it up.
Octopus and squid.
Nuts and spices.
Sophia and Rob, tasting roasted and raw pistachios.
Traditional Greek coffee: coffee grounds and water are put into a small copper pot and nestled into hot volcanic sand until it percolates.
Sophia offers a variety of olives for tasting.
Tasting Greek olive oil (and wine). Most "Italian" olive oil actually comes from Greece.
A red wine from Santorini, where the best wines are reportedly made.
Spicy beef, sausage and water buffalo with cheeses and stuffed grape leaves.
The Acropolis from our hotel roof deck.
Gorgeous corn moon.
Temple of Zeus ruins. The view from our hotel room.
I recently completed an online poetry workshop with Kim Addonizio. She is a perceptive and skilled poet and teacher who was both fun to work with and discerning in her critiques. I highly recommend her. As part of the workshop, each participant was asked to pose a question for discussion on the group blog. One of the questions was, What feels dangerous in your writing?
Interesting, yes? Here’s what I wrote: Everything. The fear of not getting it right, of not being able to express exactly what I want to express in the way I want others to receive it (ridiculous control issue there). The fear of being rejected (especially by the “people who matter”—I'll come back to that in a minute). The venturing into a way of writing that I haven’t done before, whether it be poetry or something experimentally genre-bending.
Vulnerability is scary. We open ourselves up in our writing, more than most artists do. There is arguably greater risk, it seems to me, in writing something that has potential to bring on condemnation—if not death, as in the case of dissident poets in totalitarian regimes—than in painting or musical composition or dance. And if we assume the persona of another, whether in fiction or poetry or even nonfiction (as in the case of trying to understand someone else’s motivations), we are inevitably being dishonest. But sometimes it takes that to get to a larger truth.
I was intrigued by the Lionel Shriver controversy last year, because I think novelists particularly have the right to and should write what is true for them, and if it means assuming the persona of another gender or ethnicity or race, then I’m okay with that. Memoirs of a Geisha was written by a man. But I also see the other side. Sherman Alexie writes a lot about what it’s like to be a Native American in a white world, and I, too, found the problem of choosing work based on the ethnicity of a name pretty provocative. At AWP in 2012, Claudia Rankine took Tony Hoagland to task for writing in the voice of a racist narrator in his poem, “Changes.” And Kate Gale added to the fray last year by suggesting that the organization didn’t have a diversity problem, when it clearly did. All of this is to say that we, the writing community, perhaps has as far to go in communicating and understanding our diverse voices as our divided country does today. Okay, I veered off into politics, so let me get back to voice and vulnerability and risk-taking.
I think any time you pick up a pen or pencil and write something from the deepest places inside you with the intention to share, you step into a place of risk. There have been many times when I’ve read something I’ve written to an audience, and had people come up later and tell me what they got from it—and frequently it’s not at all what I intended. So, yes, it’s scary and risky and makes us vulnerable, but in the end we write for ourselves, because we have no control over how others will respond to it.
Now, as to writing for recognition from the groups we aspire to be a part of. There is inherent risk to sending out work and seeking approval from the “legitimate” literary community. I sought approval for a long time, then decided I would learn as much as I could and apply it the best I know how. If something is accepted for publication, I’m thrilled, of course. But I don’t stake my self-worth on it. Sadly, I have some writer friends who do. What I’ve learned is that if you do in fact write outside the expectations of others, you’re less likely to win the approval of editors (especially younger MFA-trained ones) who follow the latest trends. And that’s okay. The only critic you really have to satisfy is yourself, and sometimes that’s the toughest one.
Shout out to Mary Sheldon and Penny at Tecolote Books in Montecito, and to all the folks who came out for my book signing on Saturday, July 22. It was a lovely afternoon, and I appreciate your support so much.
And hop on over to the new Weeping Willow Books website and check out our books and forthcoming titles, including our anthology, Unmasked, Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. You can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter here.
On Saturday afternoon, July 22, I will be at Tecolote Book Shop in Montecito, CA, to read from and sign copies of my newest collection of poetry and photographs, Ireland, Place Out of Time. Come join me from 3-5 p.m. for conversation, wine and appetizers.
Tecolote is at 1470 East Valley Road, in Montecito, near Santa Barbara. If you can't make it, you can order my book here.