Jul. 18, 2010

Sunday Dinner

by Dan Masterson

Linen napkins, spotless from the wash starched
And ironed, smelling like altar cloths. Olives
And radishes wet in cut glass, a steaming gravy bowl
Attached to its platter, an iridescent pitcher cold
With milk, the cream stirred in moments before.

The serving fork, black bones at the handle, capped
In steel, tines sharp as hatpins. Stuffed celery,
Cut in bite-sized bits, tomato juice flecked
With pepper, the vinegar cruet full to the stopper
Catching light from the chandelier.

Once-a-week corduroyed plates with yellow trim,
A huge mound of potatoes mashed and swirled.
Buttered corn, side salads topped with sliced tomatoes,
A tall stack of bread, a quarter-pound of butter
Warmed by its side. And chicken, falling off the bone:
Crisp skin baked sweet with ten-minute bastings.

Homemade pies, chocolate mints and puddings,
Coffee and graceful glasses of water, chipped ice
Clinking the rims.

Cashews in a silver scoop, the centerpiece a milkglass
Compote with caved-in sides, laced and hung
With grapes, apples, and oranges for the taking.

"Sunday Dinner" by Dan Masterson, from All Things, Seen and Unseen. © University of Arkansas Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer Elizabeth Gilbert, (books by this author) born in Waterbury, Connecticut (1969). She's best-known for her memoir Eat Pray Love, about the time she spent in Italy, India, and Indonesia after her divorce, traveling alone on a soul-searching journey. The memoir became sensationally successful when it was published in 2006. It has sold more than 7 million copies around the world and been translated into more than 30 languages. And it's also been made into a Hollywood movie, with Julia Roberts playing the role of divorcée Elizabeth Gilbert.

The book did not come out of the blue — Gilbert had been writing all her life, and she'd been in the running for major awards for a long time. Her first short story collection was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her first novel was a New York Times Notable Book. And her first nonfiction book, The Last American Man, published in 2002, was a National Book Award finalist.

As a teenager, she had one major life goal. She said: "My goal was to publish something — anything, anywhere — before I died. ... And I was young and healthy." She said: "I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing."

She didn't think that an MFA program was the thing for her. Instead, after college she created her own postgraduate writing course. It was a transient lifestyle. She said, it "entailed several years spent traveling around the country and world, taking jobs at bars and restaurants and ranches, listening to how people spoke, collecting experiences and writing constantly. My life probably looked disordered to observers (not that anyone was observing it that closely) but my travels were a very deliberate effort to learn as much as I could about life, expressly so that I could write about it."

She's written for The New York Times Magazine, GQ, and Spin. Her books include Stern Men (2000), a novel about territorial wars off the coast of Maine, and a nonfiction work, The Last American Man (2002), a biography about an Appalachian transplant named Eustace Conway. Her most recent book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (2010), came out this year.

She said, "I believe that if you are serious about a life of writing ... that you should take on this work like a holy calling."

And she said: "As for discipline — it's important, but sort of overrated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you. [...] Continuing to write after that heartache of disappointment doesn't take only discipline, but also self-forgiveness."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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