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  • Joan Schweighardt

Five Directions Press Authors Dish: Indulgences

“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” Mick Jagger has said. And we agree. To a point. Regarding some things.

C. P. Lesley: Indulgences. Well, there’s chocolate, of course. And wine and cake and days at the beach. And coffee—really good coffee that tastes the way it smells. But much as I love those things, the Achilles’ heel of my willpower isn’t food, drink, or leisure. It’s books.

Assorted books on a shelf

Yes, I love books the way Imelda Marcos loves shoes. Old books, new books, e-books, print books—everything except audio books, which is funny, because I host a podcast on the New Books Network, where I produce audio about books. I have books stuffed in corners, piled on the floor, crammed three deep on the shelves. When I start a new project, they’re the first place I go. Sure, I’m a scholar and a novelist, but that’s because I love books.

So here are a few titles picked at random from my library—some invaluable, others never opened, with a short description of why I have them.

So You Want to Be a Fashion Model? (bought for a stillborn project that would have included a model, a profession I know nothing about);

Collection by Design: A Paper Doll History of Costume, 1750–1900 (same project, so not much more useful, but costumes are always fun);

A Concise History of Poland (Juliana’s world in a nutshell);

Russian Fairy Tales (perfect for Song of the Shaman, if I hadn’t lost track of it, then fallen over it when I no longer needed it);

Rude and Barbarous Kingdom (the go-to guide for 16th-century travelogues to Russia); and Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons—a pearl beyond price, as they say, because a smart author doesn’t call the local police for advice on how to send people to their graves.

Now, tell me those aren’t an indulgence.

Home office

Joan Schweighardt: With the exception of a few jobs in the early years, I have worked—as a writer, editor, ghostwriter, publicist, etc.—from a home office just about all my life. This means I dress daily in T-shirts, shorts, and sandals—and most of the time I don’t wear a bra. It means that the woman you see tapping her fingernails on the steering wheel and muttering obscenities under her breath as she sits in morning rush hour traffic is not me. While she is inching her way down the highway, I am meditating to Tibetan chants. While she is waiting to be seated in her favorite lunchtime bistro, checking her watch to determine at what pace she will have to eat to be back in time, I am dining on yogurt (with mixed berries and granola) at my desk. While she is pushing papers around at the end of the day so the boss won’t start her on something new with only minutes to go, I’m putting aside client work in favor or my own projects. While she is making her way back home, I am at the gym, working off the pounds I put on by being static most of the day.

There have been drawbacks, sure there have. My children are grown now and I am currently dog-less, but I can tell you numerous stories of interruptions dogs and kids have created while I was on business calls, often with people who might otherwise have believed me to be talking to them from an office suite on Madison Ave. Once, for instance, while I was talking to a book distributor I very much wanted to impress, my then nine-year-old son walked in and dumped a pillowcase full of candy on my desk so I’d know how well his late-afternoon Trick-or-Treat excursion had gone. It was a lot of candy. It made a lot of noise. The distributor inquired and the conversation ended soon after. And I can’t count the times my dogs, certain we were under attack from the red cat out the window, barked so ferociously I had no choice but to apologize and offer to call back later.

Still, working from home will always be at the top of my list of indulgences over the course of my life. Nothing beats it in my book.

Plane flying in sunset clouds

Courtney J. Hall: I was born into a clan of homebodies. Since my (fairly recent) ancestors left Ireland and arrived on Ellis Island, putting down roots in the Mid-Atlantic area of the United States, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of their descendants who ever want to leave—until I came along.

I wouldn’t necessarily say I have wanderlust. I’m mostly a homebody, too, and fine with it. But sometimes it’s good to get away from everyday life. I don’t mean a trip down the shore (or, for those who don’t speak Philadelphian, to the beach, preferably one of those in New Jersey). That’s all well and good, but the risk of running into someone I know from home is still far too high. No, when I want to get away, I want to get away. I indulge in travel.

In the last 13 years, since meeting my husband, I’ve been to Boston twice, Virginia once, the Dominican Republic six times, Jamaica once, Mexico once, and the United Kingdom once, soon to be twice. I’ve traversed dizzyingly unfamiliar city streets, swam in bluer seas than I would ever find closer to home, and walked in the path of some of history’s greatest figures. Nothing sparks joy in me like learning how much exists outside my small circle of southeastern Pennsylvania.

There are dozens of other places I’d like to see—France, Italy, Spain, (certain parts of) Russia, Istanbul, even North Africa—but although they might never happen unless I hit a lottery I don’t typically play, I still like to dream about them. In the meantime, I will continue to indulge in my desire to experience places and people I wouldn’t typically get to know whenever I do get the opportunity, and revel in the fact that there’s more to the world than what I see through my own car windows.

Delicious cake

Gabrielle Mathieu: This piece of cake in the photo is both a potent psychoactive sugar bomb and the symbol of a satisfying week.

I’m comfortable alone and resistant to assimilation, though I can simulate accents, and even attitudes, given incentive. In German they have a special word for a loner, an Eigenbrötler, literally someone who does not break bread with others. Distrustful of the demands of community, skeptical of networking, and still seared from a recent experience with an abusive boss who turned my workmates against me, I melt away at gatherings and disappear into a corner to mutter acerbic observations.

This time though, when I attended a European conference for traditional Chinese medicine in the quaint town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, along Germany’s Romantic Road, I overcame my hermetic tendencies by offering to translate from German into English. It was rewarding, more than I expected. I was unprepared for the warm welcome from the community, including the doctors for whom I translated. There was applause, even hugging. I stayed at a family-run lodging, a quaint old mill by the river, had a sweet roommate I shared food with, and met people from all over, including a Swiss acupuncturist who spoke fluent Chinese and flawless English and an down-to-earth herbalist with a close connection to plants.

Thus this culinary indulgence, the egg-liquor chocolate cake: it’s a manifestation of richness of experience, consumed at a table in a meadow, basking in the sun that followed a cold morning.

Images © C. P. Lesley, Gabrielle Mathieu, Joan Schweighardt, and Tom Barrett (via Unsplash).

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