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July 12, 2018

Tabitha Blankenbiller's Playlist for Her Memoir "Eats of Eden"

Eats of Eden

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Tabitha Blankenbiller's memoir-in-essays Eats of Eden is a brilliant collection, one that features a recipe at the end of each piece!

Leesa Cross-Smith wrote of the book:

"Blankenbiller is a confident essay writer, making it look easy as she lets us into her hungry heart in this bright, satisfying collection. She waxes on food and being a writer and wrestles with rejection, ambition, and cheese-lust. Peppered with recipes, pop culture, sugar-sweetness, and plenty of nostalgia, this book is a unique, honest, funny, glittery, high-energy explosion of a sparkly cupcake—easily and greedily devoured."

In her own words, here is Tabitha Blankenbiller's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Eats of Eden:

This spring I published my first book, a memoir-in-essays titled Eats of Eden. The book traces a recent year of trying to write a novel, and all of the distractions, complications, and obligations that get in the way. One of the most common distractions when I sit down for an ambitious night full of writing is picking out what music I’m going to play in the background. I can’t write to anything with lyrics, so for me, it’s choosing the literal soundtrack of the night. The intensity of Inception? Unobtrusive melancholy of The Hours? Is Westworld: Season 2 available yet on YouTube? As I type this, Max Richter’s masterpiece score for The Leftovers streams over Tidal, just as it did for the hundreds of hours I poured into my book’s drafts and edits and open-Word-and-then-spend-all-night-on-Twitter fails.

Although I can’t work with competing words, I can’t write without music. The drama and emotion of the orchestra is a call away from the mundane conversations of the television, the clatter of dinner dishes, the lawn mower next door and the procrastinating twitch inside me that nags me to do something, anything but this. The songs that I love are crafted for narratives, for heightening moments. They remind me of the songs that punctuated the scenes I’ve elevated out of my own life for this book, those shorthands into a specific time and place, back into the rhythm of a former self’s heartbeat. These are the songs that float on in the background of EATS OF EDEN, some mentioned by name, one or two quoted directly, a few in spirit.

“Float On” by Modest Mouse
To this day, I can’t drive down Portland’s Northwest 33rd Avenue and not hear “Float On” bumping through my phantom Ford Aerostar’s speakers, from Modest Mouse’s album Good News For People Who Love Bad News. If I wasn’t torturing my family of Sims on my dorm room desktop PC, that CD was spinning in the drive, a loop for winking at bad dates on and catching my friends on instant messenger. It was a set of dirges dressed up in millennial pink, and I was too young and dumb to understand the sadness until years later, which is the best metaphor for being 19 in 2004 that I can imagine. It’s this song, and this sorrow, that takes center stage in my book’s second essay, “Accidental Fire,” which does have a happy ending after all—with the reason I became a writer in the first place.

“Oh Well” by Fiona Apple
The jacket copy of my book claims that my book is about food and writing, but more than that, it’s about a best friendship that I lost. Chloe was my adopted sister for that pivotal 8th grade through sophomore year of college stretch, a seven-year stretch that feels like two decades in adolescent time. She was a friend for a miniature lifetime that I’d assumed would be around for the whole thing. That idea fell apart during our third year in college, when I met my then-boyfriend, now-husband Matt. I’d spent the run of our friendship single, the sidekick, the best friend who was as available for a random hook-up as she was a girl’s night in. When that ended, so did our relationship. As I watched it deteriorate, I became desperate to salvage it. When I failed at that, I was crestfallen. So I did what any hurt 20-year-old would do: posted a passive-aggressive MySpace note mourning the estrangement of my closest friend with Fiona Apple lyrics. “What wasted unconditional love/on somebody who doesn’t believe in the stuff. Oh well.” Unlike my calls, emails and texts, Fiona Apple did get Chloe’s attention, and we had one last phone call fight where she called me out with the same lyric.

“Such a Loser” by Garfunkel and Oates
If I could tell you the theme of my book, I’d say “forgiveness.” But then I’d bring it up again after the conversation had already moved on and say, “wait, no. Failure. It’s really about failure.” Failure is so present within my book (and by extension, my life), that it’s practically a character with a seat at the dinner table. I appreciate art that isn’t afraid to remark on failure, and how frequent it occurs, and how much it sucks. That’s the whole reason I write anything, because it makes me feel less alone with the hope that it does the same for someone else. Garfunkel and Oates’ sweet melody about falling on your face and getting up anyway makes me cry and fist-bump in the same moment because “it’s better to be a loser/than a spectator.”

“Fluorescent Adolescent” by Arctic Monkeys
The Arctic Monkeys released this funky song about a woman feeling past her prime in 2008, the same year I married my husband and eventual memoir scene-partner, Matt. I was 23 at the wedding, and characteristic of someone that young, I thought I could only be one thing. To be a spouse, I thought I had to bury everything I’d been before: the lingerie saleslady, the party girl, the one who took chances, the creative one. I “landed in a very common crisis” waking up in our house out past Portland in rural Oregon, a dilemma deconstructed in the essay “A Matter of Tasty.”

“Riptide” by Vance Joy
Riffing off of the last song and the themes in “They Killed Portland, You Know,” this essay describes the very strange summer of 2014, right before the year-of-writing-a-novel takes place. Matt and I had been living in Tucson, Arizona for a year and a half due to his job transfer. I didn’t take well to the desert. By the time another Sonoran summer rolled around the calendar, I couldn’t take it anymore. I played an ace for a ticket back up to Portland, and when I was offered a job back home, I took it. Matt had to stay behind and wait for his company to relocate him, which took an agonizing four months of waiting and wondering. This song was a favorite of the local alternative station and played over and over while I drove through our previously shared turf, feeling both ecstatic that I was back, and also like I was falling through the floor into an abyss—what the fuck had I done? I did get a lump in my throat with that lyric about singing the words wrong, because I was steering out story in the wrong direction, but with all the worst moves.

“Trouble” by Cage the Elephant
Yes, another “They Killed Portland, You Know” song! I’m sorry! But that essay has a very special place in my heart (that’s why I put it in the book), and it takes place at Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge, for god’s sake. It’s bound to be an especially musical interlude. When I moved back to Oregon from Arizona for a new gig, leaving job-transferred Matt in Tucson to fend for himself, I felt like I was in free-fall. Every day felt like “trouble on my left, trouble on my right.” Good people didn’t leave their partners behind for indeterminate amounts of time. It was one of the most difficult and uncertain times that either of us have been through, and I initiated it by insisting that we just had to come back to the Pacific Northwest. As I haunted Southeast Portland bars and restaurants along for that single summer, this song played over practically every drink, every meal, every drink pretending to be a meal. “I said it was love and I did it for life” exposed my motivations for what they were—absolutely self-serving.

“Sandcastles” by Zero 7
Now that my book has been out and people have had time to read it, I’ve had numerous instances of strangers and not-so-close acquaintances telling me, “I love Matt! He’s my favorite character.” This is nice because yeah, I like the guy too. Matt gets me but, thankfully, isn’t like me. He’s not a writer and he’s not expressive. He supports what I do but tugs me back to reality when someone really, really needs to do that. This song, the first dance song from our wedding, oddly foreshadows that dynamic that had yet to form:

You put my feet back on the ground
Oh, did you know you brought me home
Yeah, you were sweet and you were sound
You save me

Despite the disagreements, the distance, the differences, we simply love each other. I’m happy to know that genuinely shows through the pages.

“Bird Set Free” by Sia
My ticket out of a quarter-century crisis? Giving in to the urge to write and pursuing an MFA in Writing. Before I went to grad school, I knew nothing about how to publish an essay, let alone an entire book. I still called memoirs “novels.” I thought Tin House was an Airstream. I had zero background or connection to the literary world, but I knew that writing was an act that I had been driven my entire life to do, even without direction or discipline. Being around other writers for the first time in my life and discovering that this was a pursuit you could actually do didn’t change the direction of my life, it replaced it with an entirely new rail system. I don’t think I’ve ever been as high on anything as I was those first semester residency fumes. Sia is my favorite artist right up there next to Our Lady Fiona Apple, and this ode to embracing your potential and happiness typifies that moment. Plus the song was initially rejected by both Rihanna and Adele…THEMES!

“Sometime Around Midnight” by The Airborne Toxic Event
Throughout the book, I’m trying to write a novel that’s a roundabout way of coming to grips with a best friendship I couldn’t keep. I was angry at myself for my inability to forget about my estranged best friend Claire, an instinct that kept manifesting itself in my subconscious. I had a reoccurring dream where we accidentally ran into each other at some errant coffee shop, and laughed off the years of being ridiculous. What were we fighting about? I would always wake up and curse myself for thinking about someone who was definitely not thinking of me, and still wishing that after all the years, I could fix us. This song about a man catching the ghost of his lost love always reminds me of this curse, even if it is about a romantic relationship. There aren’t a ton of songs about losing your platonic best friend. Not a whole lot of anything, actually. It’s a grief without the cultural touchstones we have for breakups and death. That’s why I thought it was important to write a book about it, something I failed at while attempting the novel, but turned into in Eats of Eden.

“Sandcastles” by Beyoncé
Yes, Beyoncé gets an entire essay in my book. Because of course she does. She’s The Queen. In “Sandcastles,” I finally face down the fact that I can’t “find” or “reconcile” with Claire because she doesn’t exist now. Just like the girl I used to be back in our era has vanished into a different woman’s being. Those younger lives are the sandcastles that have washed away. Fortunately, there are still friends that like this newer version of myself, and they are the best, because they come with me to Beyoncé concerts.

“Someone in the Crowd” from the La La Land Soundtrack
Another personal favorite from the book, “Soup at the Ritz” takes place during the 2016 Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Los Angeles. It’s a big yearly writer conference that bounces between cities each year, and in this particular year gave me the chance to spend time in a place I’d only seen from the freeway. I didn’t expect to love LA as much as I did (Pacific Northwesterners aren’t renowned for our SoCal affection), just as I didn’t expect to love the movie La La Land as I did/do/will always. Both opinions require defense when I bring them up, and in the case of this song, it’s the fact that nothing else encapsulates the effervescent aspiration of being in a creative capitol of America for a weekend as I found myself in Hollywood Hills parties I wasn’t invited to, ordering drinks from the same bar counter as the writers who define the literary scene. It was a few blissful months before the election and the death of optimism, when forward progress felt inevitable, and “a little chance encounter could be the one you’re waiting for crackled with possibility that, admittedly, hasn’t aged well.

“The Sadder but Wiser Girl for Me” from The Music Man Soundtrack
Here’s a confession: I haven’t seen The Music Man. Although I have seen the “Marge vs. The Monorail” episode of The Simpsons a hundred times, so I think I get the idea. When I’m at my day job in corporate marketing, a keep-the-lights-on affliction that’s a reoccurring theme throughout the book, I listen to things that transport me out of that cubicle and into alternate universes. When I’m tired of Disneyland ride-through tracks and Zelda: Ocarina of Time remixes, musical theater streaming stations fit the bill. Since I don’t have the cash to go to the theater with any regularity, I play a game with myself where I try to guess the plot of Broadway shows by the one-off songs I hear on the station. It’s a little puzzle that gets me through the workday, so I can get home and complain about not feeling like I can write. The first time “The Sadder but Wiser Girl for Me” came on, I had to go back and listen to it three more times to catch all those delightful lyrics. “I cheer, I rave/for the virtue I’m too late to save” is exactly how I like all the people in my life, and what I love about memoir and essay. We are all such hilariously flawed people cosplaying at having it “together.” I don’t find this genre depressing, as it’s often misunderstood. It’s an invitation to see yourself in another person, if only in slivers. It’s a reminder that you’re not the only one who has lost and failed and repeated. It’s a chance to feel the exhilaration of words that capture yes, that’s exactly what this shit feels like. The sadder but wiser book for me.

Tabitha Blankenbiller and Eats of Eden links:

the author's website

Atticus Review review

The Coil interview with the author
The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
Split Lip interview with the author
Steph Post interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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