A long time ago I was a teacher in a nursery school classroom and in that classroom was a child named Lily who spent a portion of every day sitting in her coat cubby chatting with someone the rest of us were unable to see. They had an absolutely great time together. I’d been trained in teacher school to identify this associate as Lily’s “imaginary friend,” though I was savvy enough to know the companion could also be a Pooka.
Seeing how Lily and her Pooka got along so famously, I tried to co-opt the principle for myself, there in my mid-20s, by inventing an imaginary valet named Gustavo. To my mind’s eye, he looked a lot like Raul Julia and dressed impeccably and always had some dry observation in my ear as I sat in sat in faculty meetings. Sometimes I envisioned him gliding around my apartment while I was at work. I tried to feature that he’d just done a last sweep of tidying up before my key turned in the lock, twitching the fresh flowers just so in their vase and lowering the flame on whatever he had simmering on the stove. Reality proved to be potent competition for my man Gustavo, because when I opened the door dinner wasn’t in fact made and the apartment was still as messy as when I’d left it in the morning. Even so he was excellent company and I gave him a solid reference when we both moved on.
I thought of Lily, and Gustavo, years later when with no coaching or guidance from me, each and every one of my own personal children developed a rich and verdant parallel universe for themselves at Lily’s same age (about three), well-populated with entities they could see and hear and talk to and the rest of us could only hear about, in stories so lush with detail that they remain a permanent fixture in family lore. The oldest had a trio of companions who threw parties and gave endless advice. My second had an expansive collection of friends who worked hard at very interesting jobs and were referred to, fondly, as the Yucky Guys. Like most beings of their ilk, all of these folk retired without fanfare when each girl was about four. When the youngest turned up with hair-raising tales about a fellow named Simon (who was perennially getting attacked by snakes or flattened in the road), his sister remarked in proud delight, “hey! He has Yucky Guys!”
I think sometimes that this whole writing business is pretty closely related to the dynamic at play in the Pooka thing. I sit here, tapping away on the laptop and getting up to see if there are words in the fridge and coming back to the laptop and walking the dog to check for words outside and trying again at the keyboard, all the while imagining who I am writing for aside from myself. Some of the people who read this blog are people that I know to exist in the flesh, and the rest of you out there are a big question that is reflected, anonymously, in numbers in the analytics panel and pins on a map and more often just assembled vaguely in my head. I don’t know how many of you look like Raul Julia, or can be seen by others.
Writing as an exercise is valuable in its own self-contained way, but it’s undeniable that it also matters to the idea of writing that someone may read it. For bloggers, proof of readership is not required for entry into Wordpress or Weebly or Wix. Your writing is public once it’s posted. ANYONE COULD BE READING IT AT ANY TIME. It's possible to just never look at the analytics panel (highly recommended strategy regarding that panel, I can assure you—neither low numbers nor high have a realistic or tonic effect on self-regard). An imaginary readership is sometimes all you need to get yourself to the desk, and begin purging the thoughts from your head and heart to the virtual page.
Who is reading, and how many of them there are, matters more to the idea of writing when things slide from digital to physical, as in a book. If business-minded people are going to publish a book, with all the paper and ink and person hours and tape and stamps that such a project entails, then they kind of want to know that flesh and bone type people will be interested in reading it.
Which is my way of saying that I am writing a book. A book! In fact, I have written it, and all the magic things that happen between the desk/fridge and the bookstore are nearing the final abracadabra.
Soon enough—November 13th, to be specific—the book ceases to be imaginary and will become a thing on a shelf. As you can see from its selfie above, the book is called Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting + Building Community, and it is being published by Roost Books, and there’s a number of things about it that fill me with pride and happiness. Here are three of them.
It has a rabble-rousing foreword by Julia Turshen, who is a splendid human.
It has gorgeous papercut illustrations by the also splendid Anna Brones.
There’s even more that I’m happy about. I’m happy for the things I was able to fit inside its covers that I imagine other people will find delicious or helpful. I’m happy for the high-class help and encouragement I received while trundling between the desk and the fridge to produce it. I’m happy it may help others in the world get fed, because Roost is partnering with hunger-fighting organizations that will receive a portion of the book’s proceeds. And I’m ever-increasingly happy to be hearing more and more from people about how they like to show up for others with food, and about the kind of support they like to receive. It gives a person hope, to learn about the web we weave as a community around each other—the kind of hope that functions as counter-evidence to the toxicity in the news cycle.
The book has more than 70 recipes for things to bring or send to your ailing neighbor, your cousin who had a baby, your bereaved coworker or your homesick nephew. There’s big thoughts about how to pack food for transport, about who is hungry for what, and about why it matters that we give each other good things to eat.
As November 13 nears, thanks to modern life and its conveniences, you, dear Velveteen Reader, can pre-order the book. This turns out to be phenomenally helpful for books in the world. Preorders are to books as claps are to Tinkerbell.
You can preorder the book through my local bookseller (or yours).
via Barnes & Noble
and over chez you-know-who.
As well as wherever you personally find books.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.
Pre-ordering the book means you are taking chance at winning one of two lovely collections of recipes geared to feed the rise of compassionate feelings: Julia’s Feed the Resistance, or Anna’s Protest Fuel. Both of these collaborative volumes speak to the idea of fortifying goodness in the world by fortifying people with good food, and I’m delighted to be associated with them, even just categorically. I have one copy of each book to give away, and you can throw your name in for a chance to win by leaving a comment here letting me know you’ve pre-ordered the book. Head over to Instagram to throw your name in from that direction as well. I’ll draw a name on September 1st.
There will be more about the book, about who we are partnering with, more presents for you and more sneak peeks inside the cover as November gets closer. In the meantime, other ways to prepare for the nearness of November include supporting progressive candidates and getting out the vote.
Goodness knows we’ll need plenty to eat to build strength for all of that. If you’re currently inundated with zucchini, as is the way where I live, then you might want to start your personal fortifications here and here.
Thank you so much for reading!