According to the outage map I’ve been refreshing diligently for days, the power still isn’t on in my home, but I’m hoping that will change by the morning. I would just love to be home, in my house, and for everyone I love to be home, too, safe and sound.
In the meantime, I spent the last week in Gainesville, staying in a house graciously, generously offered to me by Lauren Groff and her family. (Lauren’s brilliant new novel, Matrix, is out tomorrow – everyone should buy it!) Unsurprisingly, I haven’t been able to get too much work done. I did try to keep my head in the game every day, looking at a few paragraphs from my novel-in-progress, but basically my brain was toast.
Still, on those days when I would write a few sentences I felt comforted by the words and tended to by myself in a way that no other exercise in self-care could. I just needed to know my brain was present. There was even a day when I was on a walk and a few words popped into my head summarizing everything I had been thinking about with this new book, themes I was interested in uncovering, but hadn’t been able to articulate quite yet. All the direct — if brief — engagement in my work paid off in one way or another. Even if there weren’t perfect sentences, I felt forward motion. Even without power, my brain still worked.
But the greatest success of the week revolved around a loaf of bread.
I live by myself and it’s rare I would ever buy an entire loaf of bread unless I’m having guests. I’m talking about one of those big rustic rounds, beautiful and fresh and warm from the bakery in the morning. It’s a serious commitment to sandwiches, to buy a loaf like that, and I never know where the wind will take me most days.
But on impulse, my first day in Gainesville, I bought a sourdough round from a nearby bakery. I thought I would only be in town for the weekend, and maybe I’d give the rest to Lauren and her family when I left. I didn’t want to waste any food. I mean I never do, but in fact it would have felt particularly wrong and misguided to waste anything at that particular moment in time. Still, I bought the whole loaf. My gut told me to buy it. Someone would eat it, somehow.
But then I didn’t just stay the weekend as I thought I would — I stayed an entire week. And every day I ate some more bread. Sometimes with cheese, sometimes slathered with butter. One morning I bought some gravlax from a local shop and I had gravlax sandwiches every morning for breakfast for three days and it was fucking delicious. I didn’t even need to put anything on the bread, the natural oiliness of the gravlax was enough.
Day after day, the bread sustained me. When I felt too dead to leave the house and face real interaction with the world, sucked in by news from the internet, or just the spinning state of my head zapping what little momentum I might have, there was the bread. I could not picture sitting in a restaurant, or grocery shopping for myself and preparing food. I wanted really basic things, slices of bread, folded in half, eaten while leaning against a kitchen counter. A simple, easy thing in my mouth. I did not want to have to think about it. I just wanted a meal that was comforting and ready for me.
When I left town this morning, there were still a few slices of bread left. I thought: Why not? I threw the remains of it in the car and then I hit the road and drove through Labor Day traffic and then, eight hours later, got to my next stop in Mobile. There, on this national holiday, the only thing I could find open were some fast-food restaurants and a small grocery store. I liked my odds better in the grocery store. I found some salty prosciutto and soft cheese and tomatoes and some jalapeno potato chips and two cans of white wine and I sat in my quaint Airbnb in the backyard of a stranger’s house and I mumbled thank you to the bread for taking care of me these past seven days. And then I fed the heel of it to my dog.
You know he’d just been waiting for that all week.
I’m giving myself the next few days off to get my life in order, and to see how I can best be of assistance in the city. I’m going to leave comments open today to see if anyone has any actual writing questions for me, and perhaps I will address them next week, when hopefully we will back to business here.
This week’s donation is going to the Funds for the People of the Bayou, who have been impacted by Hurricane Ida.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere).