Hi, {name}:

Greetings from the fog of COVID. Like many of us, I Was Not Supposed To Get This, given all my caretaking, but then you take a long trip abroad and that term acquires a different meaning, within your now different culture. If there was an illness we all vocally worried about in Lisbon, it was monkeypox, given that Portugal and Spain were the epicenter of this new outbreak spreading mostly among MSM, just in time for Pride festivities. The US State Dept gave Morocco a much less strict travel advisory than Portugal, but traveling through a country is different than sitting in one of its airports for 12 hours, among other stuck travelers.

Yesterday I tried to figure out how I got COVID, and a little bit of why, and what it all meant that I did. This is either a personality flaw or an occupational hazard (or both): making everything mean something. As much as I've gone off against story chauvinism, here was another form of it. I wanted to turn the actions of last week into a plot point, which meant accepting some terms of COVID that had been written by others. Ultimately, I decided I got COVID because I went outside. It doesn't mean, it is.

At any rate, writing is hard these days. Things (I mean words and concepts) aren't coming to me like they normally do. But the Shenny must go on!


Endorsements (Basic Travel Writer Edition)

1. Pastéis de Nata
Hundreds of years back, Portuguese clerics used egg whites to starch their gowns and overthings, and given all that grace from God they decided to use the leftover yolks to make custard tarts. One is called a pastel and many are called pastéis, which in the way Portuguese is spoken sounds like pastayesh. (De nata means 'of cream'.) They're a little scorched on the top and look like this (stolen from online; we failed to take a pic):

How do they taste? Good, if you grab them from the board of pastries at your hotel's breakfast buffet. If you grab them for €1 at Manteigaria in the TimeOut Market in Lisbon? I can't begin to describe how good thoe pastéis taste, if anything because COVID is preventing it. It's like if a Dunkin Donuts Boston Creme went to grad school.

2. Moroccan Mint Tea
You'll be served it seventeen times a day if you go to Marrakech. Writing about this drink is like telling you they do pizza a little differently up in Chicago. But I tend to hate tea in general and mint teas especially for this headache-inducing queasiness they give me. Mint tea tastes like reading in a redlamp'd darkroom. It's off. Moroccans serve theirs simply: brew green tea, add a fistful of fresh mint leaves to the top, and drop in plenty of sugar. It's sweet and easy. There's a brief bit of pageantry when they pour, raising the pot high in the air to splash on entry, thus giving an aromatic head like in a well poured beer. The glasses even look like little pilsners. Here's mine and N.'s, from check-in (with teapot hard to make out):

Do I endorse drinking hot tea from handleless glassware? To each their own. But I love Moroccan mint tea. Like me, our mint plant got sick while we were gone, but N. already bought a new one I'll need not to decimate too soon.


Fever Dreams

They run around you. I've had my share this last week, and throughout my life, I got big bad rotten fevers as a kid that had me sweating and delerious all night, and the general experience is of being at the center of a carousel. This COVID's early fever dreams were of all the shops and souks of Marrakech whirling around me, too fast to enter any of them. And there's usually some burning ill-logic sewn in to a fever dream; this time it was that I had bought too many not-good things and I needed to drop those and pick up more good things (from the shops, was the idea) in order to feel better. But how? I raced through the night trying to figure it out.

As a kid, my fever dreams were nightmares of wrong scale. I'd be in a regular room and instantly it would seem like the largest room ever built. An Easter basket I was looking at and thinking of picking up was suddenly now immediately in front of my face and big enough to swim laps in. I remember one morning, Shani telling about coming home late the previous night, when I was sleeping feverish on the sofa (why not in my own bed when I never shared a room?), and urging her to tell me whether Dad was going to take me shopping in the morning, an errand fever had invented for me.

Urgency. Insistence. Burning need tied to no logic you can follow while awake. When I wanted to be a novelist, I got easily discouraged. My dreams were always more interesting than anything I could invent for my fiction, their characters somehow more idiosyncratic and believeable, the setting details far more specific. Then I'd sit at my laptop and write about Generic Adult Male sitting in a room thinking about ideas.

There was an artist sleeping in my head all day, is how it felt. How could I swap places with him? I'd already been writing down my dreams (I'd read it helps you remember your dreams, and I've since found it to be very true). At some point in grad school, I decided to try to write a story from one. I was walking through an old house, and the floor was like a see saw. It teetered lower and lower the further you moved from the center.

It gave me an obvious metaphor, my first (and last) There's A Gun At The End! story, my first non-realist story, and my first fiction publication: "An Uneven House" in the 2005 Beloit Fiction Journal. (It's also in my story collection.) It's maybe the last time I trusted dreams so thoroughly in my creative process and today I'm wondering why that is. What might the role of dreaming be for the essayist? How might I work it into the work?


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