Aphrodisiac cookies

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In connection with the Red Hen Press authors’ reading at Politics and Prose bookstore, I made a batch of aphrodisiac cookies, using 3 (or 4) known love-enhancing ingredients. Now, an aphrodisiac is not like viagra. It’s not about pure libido. Instead, it’s mean to inspire love and passion in the particular person to whom the philter/potion/ingredients are fed.

honey-rosemary-chocolate cookies

Now, you can use basically any chocolate chip cookie recipe for these, but sub in 1/4 cup of honey for some of the brown sugar, and add two teaspoons of rosemary. But for those of you who want a step-by-step:

  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp of your beloved’s favorite beverage–tea, coffee, single malt scotch, what have you

Preheat the oven to 375. chop the rosemary very finely, then work it by hand in a bowl through the white sugar. The–you don’t have time to waste, throw all the remaining ingredients (except chips) in a bowl and mix like crazy. Add the chips. Bake on a lined baking sheet for 10 minutes. Serve by hand, straight to your lover’s mouth.


if you have a dog like mine, you will need three sticks of butter.

Review of my dreams!

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With gratitude to Kathryn Cowles for this review in Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

Mellie is in Boston in 2010, one month clean, raising Juni, her damaged toddler daughter, solo, and doing her best to stay off the memory-scattering drug “cloud” when a familiar SUV she can’t place pulls into the driveway, flicks a familiar cigarette in a familiar way, then pulls away before her memory can catch up. There are so many things she can’t remember, including who in the wide world Juni’s father might be.

Also, Mellie is a ninth grader in Boston in 1988 sounding like a ninth grader—smart-cadenced and hilarious and bored and awkward and full of conflicting desires, pretending not to be scared and scared; this Mellie is trying cloud for the first time: “Grow up,” she tells herself. “It’s a command. Grow up. Then, it’s a wish, an incantation. Grow up. Grow up. Grow up.

Also, Mellie is in college in New York City circa 1993, her cloud addiction full-blown, her ethical center untangling; this Mellie is whip-smart and charming and also failing out of school and wild with abandon for an old flame. “It is twilight,” she writes. “In Morningside Park, a blue peculiar to this region of Manhattan descends. For a moment or an hour, the light of dusk and the light of the city are in equilibrium, and everything appears washed of detail. There are no angles, no edges. At my best, I am like this hour, blurred.” 

Melanie Conroy-Goldman’s terrific debut novel The Likely World is all of these Mellies and more, shifting back and forth non-chronologically between time frames as whole swaths of Mellie’s memories disappear to the fictional memory-affecting drug. The plot twines around the dark, missing memories that Mellie tugs and tugs at, trying to uncover forgotten and yet looming mysteries that have made her what she is as her past starts to come after the loved people in her present. 

The book’s characterization is driven by Conroy-Goldman’s luminous prose, which is hard to excerpt because its effects are cumulative and experiential, while the plot is driven by Mellie’s memory loss and its coincident narrative withholdings. It’s rare for a novel so formally innovative and so deeply literary at the level of the sentence also to be a real page-turner, and yet this novel is. The structural innovations of its storytelling, coupled with Mellie’s selective memory, lend the whole thing a clear detective-story feel. And yet the book will not settle easily into the detective genre, constantly disrupting generic expectations and shifting to a different mode.

Genre shifts ground in other ways too. Though the novel begins as speculative fiction, with its invented substances and the almost science-fictional parallel world that cloud addicts seek, it also reads like the memoir of an addict and therefore feels appropriate to our time as a clear-eyed and true, yet also empathetic, portrayal of addiction. It takes seriously its task of using its fictional elements to tell us something urgent and nonfictional about ourselves and about our world. 

Too, the way the narrative echoes backwards, sometimes mimicking earlier syntaxes of important sentences from previous chapters, the way images recur like premonitions, along with snippets of key words and characters, gives you the feeling of being high on cloud yourself, of being right at the edge of rational sense, almost able to catch the flickering connections between things, to scratch some vague itch of intuition, of being sure you remember something but unable to place where the memory comes from or what it means. It’s like having all the scattered pieces of a puzzle before you, but not the picture quite yet. 

Through it all, Mellie’s pitch-perfect, gorgeously articulated voice feels true to itself in each individual time frame, each iteration carefully crafted as a different incarnation of the same person. These Mellies are continuations, but un-identical. They are also disruptions, isolated from one another by the blurring effects of cloud. (It’s worth mentioning that the writer’s name too is a kind of Mellie.) The novel moves back and forth between lively humor and swooned-up love, parental shame and human grief, the beautiful and the disturbing, the hilarious and the heartbreaking, unsettling genre or ease any time we’re tempted into thinking we’ve got it all figured out. This is not an ordinary novel, as it skirts the borders of genre and voice in ambitious, experimental, and also deeply entertaining ways. No, The Likely World is its own world entirely.

***

The Likely World
by Melanie Conroy-Goldman
Red Hen Press, 368 p.

Literal Trash Can Fire: A How-To

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Literal Trash Can Fire: A How-To


Like everyone in a somewhat northerly climate, I’m looking ahead to how to get through the winter. Like everyone everywhere, this year of corona, I’m desperately missing normal social interactions. Never have we so deeply understood the importance of physical connection, that mystery alchemy that happens when you share space with another human which does not happen when we meet via media. 

In some places, people have a tradition like a paseo, an evening walk on a familiar route, along which one is likely to encounter friends for a brief chat. In Havana, where spending cash is too scarce to afford nightclubs and bars, younger residents in particular bring their drinks and music down to the Malecon, where they will gather until the wee hours. 


Not so, my town–oh, we throw a good festival, but we’re not really a spontaneous gathering kind of people. Exhibit A: I’m pretty excited (possibly manic) about voting, so I went out on the first day of early voting to get in line to cast my ballot. There were hundreds of people! Line two and a half blocks long! And, yeah, it was a bitter, rainy day, but everyone was kinda sour. Why isn’t voting a giant celebration? Why aren’t there live bands, food carts, dancing in the streets?  My friend Emily got all dressed up, including a spectacular hat, for the occasion. I ordered coffee delivery for the line. But (frowny face) no one would take my coffees. (I found out later that two people snagged the hot cocoas, so not a total loss.)


I just feel like my people are lacking in imagination or possibly just too inhibited to get around this. We’re scared, yeah, and we don’t want to be responsible for passing the virus, true. But we know pretty well that outdoors, masked and at a distance is safe. (Same friend Emily has a cool blog post on this topic which is here).  I really think we’re just afraid to look dumb or weird.

This, as my 12-year-old, or the people in line near me as I tried to push free hot coffee on them, will tell you, is not a problem for me.


I give you the literal trash can fire—your solution to winter blues, a cheap (probably hella dangerous) way to keep connection during the coming winter. All actual labor done by my husband, Charles. 

ONE: Equipment: power tool, metal trash can, cutty thing, wood, Amazon boxes (blow torch not necessary, but this amusing/incel video used one, and they’re fun, so we started out that way).

Everything you need to party in 2020!

TWO/Method: Drill two holes, close together, near the base of the can. Repeat, at about 12 “ intervals, all the way around. This is for ventilation or something.


Safe, fun, effective

THREE: Use the cutty thing to connect the two holes, making a larger hole. 

FOUR: Throw some flammable items—Republican campaign literature, stolen yard signs from your right-wing neighbors, bras, etc. into said trash can.

FIVE: Light, and step back. This thing produces an f-ton of heat.

SIX: Do not do this.


SEVEN: When you are done, the handy lid is at the ready to cut off air, and put out the fire.


This is how we’re celebrating election night—with literal trash can fires and a handful of friends. What could be more fitting?

XO  Melanie

Oh, and while you’re here, did you know that you can just download my book, The Likely World, onto your device?  Did you know that I’ll be reading with a fantastic crew of folks on Nov. 17th?  Have you seen my cool post in Medium?

In Praise of Teenagers

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I’ve always had a particular affinity for teenagers. I’ve taught them for 20+ years as a college professor. When I was a young adult, my two half-siblings were in their teens. When my dear friend Deborah Tall was in the final stages of her life, I was honored to get to know her teen daughters who have turned, over many years, into friends. When I married, I acquired two beautiful girls on the cusp of adolescence and I’ve been blessed by watching them grow through these years. 

I know what we’re supposed to think: teenagers are moody, irresponsible, contrary, self-absorbed. They’re the size of adults with brains that ricochet between those of four-year-olds and those of cocaine-addled macaws. When I tell people I live with three adolescent girls, they invariably offer me condolences.

Teenagers are our bogeymen right now–college kids who literally can’t stop partying to save their lives, super-spreaders with their frats, swapping spit and sharing Solo cups. Who would trust them?

And yet, that’s the heart of it, if you’re a parent. You have to trust them. My youngest, my only biological child, is twelve. Although, to be honest, she was nine last year and she’s fourteen this year. I don’t know if it’s partly the pandemic but she became a teenager overnight. It happened at a fingersnap.  In June, she woke at 6:30 a. m. to ‘make the day last longer’ and then, on a certain day in August, she began waking at 10:00 and woe to me if I tried to get her up any earlier. It happened that quickly.  

I remember when she was a toddler, and I’d think I figured it out—how to make her sleep, eat, follow instructions, avoid harm. Then it would just suddenly shift as she entered a new developmental phase and there she was doing pencil drawings on the wall or sloshing her own pee from the potty as she carried it down the hall. She went through a cute phase of stealing my jewelry and hiding it. I didn’t realize until I found my gold bracelet, a gift from my aunt, stashed behind the now-obsolete nursing rocker. 

It’s like that again. I’m playing catch-up with how to parent her—each day, a new thing.  So far, this summer, I’ve learned a few things about her that will probably be useless by the time the first leaf falls. But here they are:

  1.  Listen.  Although I may not be interested in the recitation of the plot of her latest anime passion (does anyone want me to recite the narrative of Tokyo Ghoul? Because I can), she needs now more than ever to be listened to. And often, somewhere between an instance of face-eating (does anyone want to enlighten me as to why there’s so much human-eating in anime?), she’ll slip in a Very Important Revelation and I’ll learn why she’s sometimes sad.
  2. STFU: things will pop into your mind, mom. You will want to say them. They might be lovely things, about how pretty she is, or instructional things, about how friends should treat one another, or simply observations about the trees you are biking past—don’t say them. Keep your mouth closed. If you interrupt her train of thought, she might pull her head back into the turtle shell and it will be days before she pokes back out. STFU.
  3. (by contrast) Insist. Although two months ago, her needs and her instincts aligned pretty well, and you could kind of let her impulses guide her, her impulses are no longer reliable. She will sit in her room all day staring at a screen if you let her, and this is Not. Good. For Her. You need to insist she reach out to her friends. Insist she eat regular meals. Insist she get exercise. She will fight you. 2/3 times she’ll be miserable and whiney throughout. But you do it for the third time, when she’s suddenly smiling and glorious again. You do it for the long term.

I’m a weirdo whose favorite students to teach are first-years and sophomores. Don’t get me wrong—I also love working with students in upper division classes who want to nerd out with me about experiments in narrative form, cross-genre devices, intricacies of point-of-view, who are going to introduce me to that new writer or narrative form I’ve never encountered, but I really like teaching intro. I even really like teaching first-year seminars. Students in these classes sometimes don’t really get college yet—or even commas.  But they’re also more prone to revelation. Something utterly familiar to me is suddenly made magical and new in their eyes. And when I return to the basics, I realize a) they’re not that basic after all and b) I don’t really know them. One can never know anything completely.  

Adulthood, I’m sorry to say, is the process of calcifying thought, of absorbing pre-existing notions as one’s own. Adolescents are just as smart as adults, have the same raw brain power, but they don’t have the same context. This makes them behave stupidly sometimes, but it also means they see bullshit as bullshit. Sometimes, teaching, things that look true to me suddenly are unmasked as total horse manure.  This is what an eighteen-year-old can do that a forty-eight-year-old can’t.  

The standard line on teenaged feelings is that they’re fleeting. They’re in love, and then they’ve broken up. They’re sad, and then they’re laughing. A critique I’ve often heard of Romeo and Juliet is that it’s not a love story because the two lovers are ‘only’ adolescents.  It’s as though we believe young people’s feelings simply evaporate.

Why, then, does so much lifelong trauma date from those years between twelve and twenty? I recall it, my own adolescence, the intensity of pain. It sang, my loss and my shame, my heartbreaks.  Maybe objectively, the boy who rejected my invitation to the sophomore semi-formal wasn’t my life partner. Maybe the objective stakes weren’t that high, but my tender brain contended with the grief as if it were.

The quality of those feelings, not their object, is what’s important. How a drive around the rotary, windows down, music pumping, could thrill me. How I ached for days after I’d said a cold word to a friend. I had two best friends in high school—mistake—and they did not like one another very much. They also lived on the same street. I remember the ricochet between them—shuttling between houses, trying to make it up to one when I’d wounded, and then to the other.

I guess I think our attitude towards them should be awe. They have no armaments, and they are still out there, trying to grow. Awe isn’t a parenting style, but I don’t mind if it informs mine, which is what the first two rules on my new list are all about. STFU, and listen.

My novel, The Likely World, is a lot about my love for teenagers, and you could boil it down to this: what happens to teenagers is significant. What they go through lasts the whole life long. We need to be tender to them.

I want to say this thing: when I was that age I didn’t get high to dance. The music was enough, the smell of bodies. I want to say this about teenagers. That all of them are a hundred times more beautiful than the most beautiful adult. It’s being uncorrupted by failure and gravity and entropy, but it’s not just that, not just youth and innocence. Teenagers, the chubby ones pulling down their too-short dresses, the ones who aren’t smiling because they are hiding their braces, teenagers are studies in vulnerability, have only the broadest cloth with which to cover themselves. Teenagers are lovely and when I see them now at the meetings, Jim from Mondays in Brookline, the pink-haired girl on day pass from the hospital, when I see them, I wish I had wings and breathed fire. I wish I could stand in front of them until they were good and ready to face the world. I wish I could go back, and stand in front of myself.

The Likely World

Wandering for Writers

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At dusk, several weeks ago, my family and I went on a picnic at the majestic Treman State Park. It is important to go to places at the wrong times, I think. 

My husband and I have been the only people on a volcano at high noon, and my family were once alone in a crumbling pyramid. One winter, long ago, I wandered through the ruins at Ephesus so unobserved I could have stolen a statue. It’s hard to get the imaginative jolt that comes from a place when it is packed with people, but when it was just us, as evening thickened, everything sparked. The wall of colored stones felt like messages from another realm. The dark gaps in the shale presented as entryways. The deep pools looked bottomless. 

Yesterday, we returned to Treman in a rainstorm. Just Coco and I. Coco likes the rain, and I had a hat, so we forged past the sheltering hikers until we were by ourselves in the dark, wet woods.  There’s something totally magnificent about this place. Much of the trail work was done during the WPA in the 1930s, but because of the moisture, and the way the soft shale crumbles, the stonework looks centuries old. 

The path is twisty and changes grade frequently, so you are always coming around a corner to something unexpected. On this visit, the journey was auditory, the dripping of the rain, the rustle of branches, the rush of the stream. Above you are precariously perched trees, hanging onto the cliff face by their toes. There’s a little sense of danger from the plummeting heights and narrow paths.

I already have a story from it, though maybe it’s one which will stay in the mulling realm and never see the page. Coco announced that she was going to put a waterfall in the narrative she’s been writing through pandemic. Not all experiences become writing, but certain conditions help. Quiet, movement, solitude, being somehow out of season.

“Robert H. Treman State Park is an area of wild beauty, with the rugged gorge called Enfield Glen as its scenic highlight. Winding trails follow the gorge past 12 waterfalls, including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls, to where visitors can see a mile-and-a-half down the wooded gorge as it winds its way to the lower park.“–https://parks.ny.gov/parks/135/details.aspx