Six Tips on Writing Inspired by My Farmers Market

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On Writing


Lincoln Perry

  1. By now, we’ve all expressed appropriate outrage about being advised to “write what you know.” At the farmers market, farmers are also growing what they don’t know. “Clemony!” last week’s vendor told me, handing over three stalks of Cleome. She’d probably conflated the flower with Lemony Snicket. My dictionary icon gives me access to the information that Cleome means “a different plant.” Lesson: write or grow things with which you’re unfamiliar.
  2. Think for a moment of the plight of the painter—for example, my husband. “See if you can get those things, the ones, you know, with the … ” (fingers squiggle the air in a Cy Twombly way). “Do you mean those— ” “No, not those, the, they’re sort of big bulbs, they have … ” He means kohlrabi. “I’ll try, but they’ll probably have cut off the whalebone corset things,” I say, knowing that he wants to do a painting of kohlrabi, not eat it. Lesson: human beings struggle to find the right words, whether they’re visual artists or writers, or maybe dancers who rise up on their, you know, pink things, their ballet slippers, so they can stand on tippy-toes like this, Whooooops!” (Last word was the lesson.)
  3. My favorite farmer is Lettuce Man. He has a rather ordinary name, but in no other way is he ordinary. His celery looks like something you could climb if you needed to get leaves out of the gutters (a final reference to my husband who, unlike Trump, is not always pleased when I refer to him). Until Lettuce Man’s business card faded into invisibility on the fridge, I often looked at Bill’s name with great respect, in anticipation of the next market, wondering what new miracles he’d manage. Lesson: Handing out a business card is fine, as long as you’re already sure the other person actually likes you. Otherwise, as a writer, rethink it. Lesson: not just snobbery, but reverse snobbery, exists in the arts.
  4. Notice the number of really oddly dressed people milling around the truck bed with its lowered hatch, displaying heirloom tomatoes your grandmother would definitely have passed up (a brown tomato flecked yellow?), and microgreens. If there’s one-upmanship conversation among these bizarrely attired people, they’re chefs, not yet in their ubiquitous red patent-leather clogs and puffy pants. You may pick up a few helpful hints no person who isn’t on drugs would ever come up with. Lesson: you don’t have to be part of the Trump administration to tell bizarre, grandiose lies.
  5. Ask questions about the sugar content of the small-batch pies numbered like lithographs that have been made by the nice man in the bodice-pleated gingham apron, whose information sheet says he made the crust with organically grown rye ground into flour, using extra-virgin Tuscan olive oil as “fat” and hand-churned butter from free-grazing cows whose astrological signs are compatible. Lesson: it’s better to have an agent.
  6. Goth jewelry, however interesting, does not properly belong at the farmers market, but as you browse silver skulls with genuine acorn eyes, do ask what she buys at the market. She will have gotten there very early and have tastes different from yours (or do goths buy fiddlehead ferns?). Again, you might get cooking tips, or at least some good stories. Lesson: if you don’t bring up your galleys, she probably won’t bring up the manuscript she’s working on. Go home, keep quiet, and cook happily.

Ann Beattie is the author, most recently, of The Accomplished Guest. Read her Art of Fiction interview here.

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