But, now, back to me.

Last weekend, I sat in Skyler and Alicia’s kitchen and answered their questions about myself. Skyler had been asking to do this for awhile and I was happy to oblige. I like asking about others better but over the past few years talking about myself has become a lot easier.

Katherine told me at the bar that she’ll probably never listen to the talk we taped because she hates the sound of her own voice. It’s pretty common for people to feel that way or to worry that they’ll come off tongue-tied or stupid. It’s like anything else, the more times you do it the easier it gets. It’s not that I love the sound of my own voice or get dazzled by the insights I come up with on the fly, it’s just that it’s become a habit and no big deal to listen to myself yap.

Between this new interview, the deep dive into the old sketchbook, and the ongoing assemblage of the new art survey book, I’m generally in a retrospective self-examinatory mode these days. Writing, editing, and designing material having so much to do with myself specifically is not novel or special but I do find that I have to take a bit of a bemused, perhaps slightly ironic stance on the thing to get through it.

When I was young I used to paint and draw self-portraits all the time. It’s a no-brainer rudimentary exercise for any aspiring painter but also makes a lot of sense for times in a life when one finds oneself fascinating or maybe a mystery. The prospect of sitting before a mirror any longer than it takes to wipe soap or shaving cream off my face is not a thing I want to ponder these days.

In this country, self-discovery seems like a never-ending pastime and hobby full of wonder but, if anything, I’ve long wished to know less about myself or at least forget some of the things I already know. I’m stuck in this meatsack for whatever time I have left but I don’t have to be charmed or enthralled by that fact.

When I think about it in a glass-half-full mode, I’m just another character in the ongoing comedy I’m watching. Not usually the star but not an extra either.

The good thing about the book I’m putting together is that a lot of the work is from long enough ago that I can pretend it was made by someone else. I know that thing about how we replace all our cells every X number of years so we’re literally different entities afterwards, but damnit, there’s still so much of the old molted skin et al that trails after into every successive iteration.

There’s just no damn escape.

But at the same time, I can’t imagine myself as anyone else.

It’s a real conundrum.

Narrated Drawings

I continued to iron out the kinks in my epic sketchbook scan project from last week. Wasn’t happy with how they turned out the first or second time, so I did it all over again.

Then I wrote out what I could remember of the things I’d drawn in the book, read it into a microphone, and made a slideshow.

All that to say I’m a little talked and writed out at the moment.

So enjoy the links above as well as my talk with Katherine Eremia about art and growing up in the South and the one with Mallory about My Friend Dahmer.

Back next week with more words for you.

Pelmeni

Dumplings of All Nations is an annual event that takes place at an undisclosed location in Little Village. I learned about it a few years ago when the hosts invited me to read an essay about food to the audience. I chose a thing about the Egg Palace, a gone and, blessedly, mostly forgotten diner on Cermak.

On Wikipedia there’s an impressive alphabetized list of dumplings which I’m sure is incomplete.

When I get this year’s invite I ask whether I can read again in lieu of cooking. No dice; they don’t like having repeat readers. The host suggests I just pick up some takeout from a favorite spot. That sounds like a copout. I could skip it this year or actually make something.

I’ve loved pelmeni since I was little. It’s a foundational Russian dish, like pad thai or meatballs & spaghetti.

I have a memory of visiting family friends in NYC and watching the woman of the house roll out dough on the kitchen table and cut out circles with a drinking glass. There’s flour all over the place. When I call my mother she says the memory’s right but it was Montreal rather than New York. I ask her about making pelmeni and she tells me her recipe.

The three or four recipes I look over online all recommend using a Kitchen Aid or such but I’m not about to invest hundreds of dollars for a one-off. I do get a rolling pin and a couple mixing bowls from the thrift store. Then I spend most of the rest of the day turning my kitchen into a flour- and dough-covered disaster area.

I add chili oil to the filling but otherwise mostly go by the recipe. I put three or four pelmeni in a boiling pot of water and stow the rest in the freezer for Saturday. They taste alright. Better than what I expected in the hours of their assembly.

On the day, I go back to the thrift store and buy a cheap porcelain serving dish. I’m one of the first guests to arrive and spend the next half hour waiting for water to boil while people squeeze by to get drinks or put away their coats. It’s kind of stressful and by the time I put the steaming dish out on the living-room table among all the other dumplings of the world I’m ready to go home.

I think the people who tried them liked them but next year I’ll make something different if they invite me back. It’s one of those things where the payoff isn’t nearly as satisfying as the build-up.

But maybe that’s always the way.

I talked to writer/podcaster/lover of remote locales Tyler Dempsey about many things.

My aunt sent me back an old sketchbook of mine that I’d given to my grandmother. I spent an entire day photographing and formatting for my site. It’s from a pretty crucial time. Covers my first stint as a cabbie, my move back to Chicago, and records traces of many long-gone places and people. I’ve never kept diaries so sketchbooks help me to remember.

There’s a drawing in there that’s the first thing I made towards what became Hack. Before I’d written a single word.

A shame this comment on a previous letter is spam:

“Thank you for your sharing. I am worried that I lack creative ideas. It is your article that makes me full of hope. Thank you. But, I have a question, can you help me?”