FEAST OF WORDS: leap of faith w/beth lisick + john ingle

[ Tues Apr 17 12 ]

Irina Zadov and Lex Leifheit hosted the monthly literary potluck Feast of Words, held at SOMArts, with special guests Beth Lisick and John Ingle. The series pairs a literary guest with a culinary guest to a theme, and this was “Leap of Faith”. Ingle met the theme by asking the hosts to trust him not to prepare a menu before the day of the show (you can hear what he came up with and see a plate in the second video, above). Lisick read the first chapter of her novel-in-progress. Both were absolutely delightful (and you can experience Beth’s part in the 4th video. Also, you can toggle the playlist to jump directly to the clip of your choice by clicking the button directly to the right of the video time; a bar of clips should come up).

SOMArts is pretty cavernous, if you don’t know: a large gallery currently exhibiting I Am Crime: Art on the Edge of the Law. There was a car with flashing caution lights circling the room and a piano in the corner, which a special guest played while people arrived. Somehow—perhaps because we all knew dinner (with story) was forthcoming—the large room was very intimate. Close human interaction was there, if you wanted it, but art adorned the perimeters if you didn’t.

This night was special for two reasons: the first is that, as Irina explained it, Beth was one of the original inspirations for Feast of Words. When she moved to the Mission about four years ago, “unemployed and friendless”, she found Beth’s first book, Monkey Girl—a startlingly original collection of tales that is still my favorite of hers—in a bargain bin, picked it up and immediately recognized a kindred spirit. Not too long after, she saw that Beth was teaching a class, signed up, and through that experience realized maybe she could perform in public; because of Beth thought ‘maybe I could do this’.

Also, this was Irina’s last show before taking the Feast of Words concept on the road: first across the country and then into Belarus (where she is from) throughout the summer. That is another story, and a wonderful one I will tell you soon enough, but for now let’s get back to dinner.

Let’s start with the price. Pay in advance: $10 ($12 at the door). This includes dinner. You’re eating cafeteria style after getting to know one or two people from standing around and waiting for the food. Checking out the art on the walls. Say you start talking to one person. There’s a cash bar, and people are milling about. More people are showing up, because you were early. There’s no formality to the serving: not even a microphone announcement: the chef puts out a half dozen plates at a time and soon everyone is eating. You probably sit next to the person you were talking to. In either case, you have just met someone. Doing that again is a bit easier. The people around you have all just been open with others, too. You think: this food is really great! If you brought a dish for sharing, you only had to pay $5. Whether you brought a dish or not, you can eat from any of them.

“Everyone – including me – left happy and full, and how many readings can you say that about?”—Literary Guest Simon Sheppard, Dec ’10

As I was walking to SOMArts, I was thinking: sometimes I’m late for a reading, but I’m never late to dinner. The difference is the atmosphere; you’re going to have a potluck, and the reading – and the subsequent writing you do – is auxiliary. Because of this, there is a heightened receptiveness to the people in the room; no stress or pressure; it’s like being at home during the holidays: you’re going to be in the same space with these people for a certain amount of time, and therefore you’re more accommodating: you indulge in a story or two, you include a few more details: you play with the kids, set your own worries aside for the moment. In short, you are present.

The subsequent writing: after Beth read, and we took a short break to refill our plates, Irinia brought Beth back up to announce a prompt (determined by the literary guest each month). Beth’s idea was for everyone to write on a notecard the following information: a character name, means of making money, and a present location (whether something as specific as Feast of Words in SOMArts or as general as China); we then put all these cards together on one of the tables and grabbed a separate card; took 10 minutes to tell, in the first person, what we (the characters) were doing in that present location. After the ten minutes, we shared (if we wanted to) amongst the people around us (in groups of 4 or 5) what we had written. Then, Irina brought 10 volunteers up to read to the group as a whole. Those who read were entered into a raffle for one of the prizes donated by the guests. So much fun! I was going to read if there weren’t enough volunteers, but there were (and my card was read! Guess which one it was (spoiler: #8). Watch them all above.

Exercises like this prompt are so fantastic for your creativity; they remind you how easy it is, natural even, to be creative, and how most of the time you’re only thinking of being creative you could actually just be sitting atop a hill appreciating the clouds. Or, of course, working on that manuscript without so much stress. This was especially true within the potluck setting. If you can’t tell, I sincerely cannot recommend this experience too heartily. At only $5 and a dish, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back on a regular basis. Click here for a bunch of excellent pictures.

Next month is a great time to go, too, as Cassie J. Sneider is going to be the literary guest! I’m sure you know how much fun that will be (and if you don’t, click here and here). Plus they’re going to announce a new co-host! Then, over the summer, Lex will be brainstorming with past literary and culinary guests to come up with interesting ways to build on what they’ve already got going on (personally, I’m not sure what needs improvement, but have a feeling they’re going to outdo themselves. “Maybe an expanded web presence”, she says, “maybe something entirely different like planning a weekend of more in-depth writing workshops”). Stay tuned.

But go ahead and figure out what dish you’re going to bring, or just show up on Tuesday, May 15th for Back to the Future. Is there a better theme for Cassie? Get your tickets now.

In the meanwhile, Feast of Words is looking for culinary guests — especially those interested in collaborating with the featured writers. If you know someone who might be a good fit, send them a shout at feastofwords@somarts.org.