WATCH: Poet Natalie Diaz in Conversation with Chef Evan Hanczor
Live with Tables of Contents
On the second episode of TOC Snacks, a new series of Instagram Live interviews with Tables of Contents, watch National Book Award finalist Natalie Diaz in conversation with Evan Hanczor. They share snacks and talk cooking, writing, and cocktails, plus discuss her new collection of poems, Postcolonial Love Poem.
From the episode:
Evan: [Gregory Porter’s “Be Good”, which Natalie chose, plays in the background. Evan opens bag of onion rings with more effort than such a thing should take.] Hey y’all. We’re going to wait a few minutes for Natalie to join and start at six. Make a drink and we will see you in a minute… [a minute passes] Hey Natalie!
Natalie: Hello! Nice song.
Evan: Yeah, nice choice. I hadn’t thought about Gregory Porter in a long time, but I remember seeing him perform at Madison Square Park maybe eight years ago, nine years ago. It’s like one of those beautiful days in New York. Outside on the grass. I didn’t even know the concert was happening. I just walked by and that memory made me a little sad. That’s not happening soon.
Natalie: Yeah! He’s always on repeat here. Always on one of our loops, so.
Evan: Yeah. Such an amazing voice and like on stage the performance is pretty straightforward. But he is such a presence. It’s pretty amazing to watch him up there, just like owning the whole thing without doing too much more than just singing.
Natalie: The stories in between, too, are pretty great. I’ve also seen him in so many airports. He’s probably the celebrity that I’ve seen the most traveling ever. Like four or five times I’ve seen him in an airport.
Evan: You guys are on a wavelength. I don’t know what it is, but you’re on something.
Natalie: I think his wavelength is a little different than mine. But it’s led us to be in proximity for sure.
Evan: Well, thanks for kicking it tonight. I’m so impressed by this bar setup behind you, although I shouldn’t be, given all the drinks I’ve seen you make.
Natalie: Yeah! It’s much more impressive than my desk, so.
Evan: It’s hard to make desks that impressive. Where are you right now?
Natalie: I’m at Fort Mojave. I’m home, home on my reservation. We just started winter. It’s finally shifted today and yesterday.
Evan: Today also started to feel like a shift here. We’ve had like a fake out not towards winter but towards true fall. And I think today is like where it’s starting that descent, which I’m kind of ready for, I think emotionally. I’m not mad at that. I guess, before we get started, hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in! This is TOC snacks. This is our relatively new kind of Instagram live conversation, drinks, kitchen-centric MTV Cribs sort of thing, we’re peeking inside, you know, authors’ kitchens and bars and talking about, you know, what we’re eating and drinking and I guess what we’re hungry for right now. If you don’t know our guest, this is Natalie Diaz. I’m super excited to talk to her. I’ve been reading her book, Postcolonial Love Poem. If you haven’t read it: pick it up. It’s amazing. National Book Award finalist, very deservedly. Congratulations. She’s, you know, a multiple award winner, MacArthur Fellow, Native Arts Council Foundation Fellow, former professional basketball player. Your kind of what I dreamed I would grow up to be. Honestly I was like, a basketball player and then a poet. And then I couldn’t do either of those professionally. And so I started cooking. And now I’m really excited to talk to you, so thanks for hanging out.
Natalie: No, it’s my luck. In my family, we all have this really sensitive sense of smell. And so for me, like foods and like drinks, they’re just a very sensual experience. And so I think in some ways, you know, food, I mean, it’s a language right? So, you know, we’re in the same areas for sure.
Evan: I mean, that’s sort of why we started Tables of Contents, because it felt like there was so much overlap between cooking and writing, between what food does for us, what language does for us and for our families and our cultures and, you know, our souls in a very similar sort of way.
Natalie: It’s been lucky, even though I can’t meet with my friends, I have these kind of like alcohol exchanges and bitters exchanges and coffee exchanges with some of my friends, like by mail, and that has been something that’s been really lucky and like a way of staying in touch, you know, like touch and taste with them again.
Evan: So has that been, I mean—maybe that was something you did before Covid and quarantine—but has that been your quarantine project? Like the sourdough bread thing happened. And the banana bread, but you’re just making bitters and cocktails.
Natalie: Yeah, it’s probably the only thing I’ve stayed completely committed to over the course of quarantine. And, you know, I go through phases of whether I post on Twitter or not, but every night with maybe one or two exceptions, I spend, you know, forty-five minutes to an hour on a drink. And even if it’s like wine, I spend extra time thinking about it and trying to pair, you know, small bites with it. And it’s just that time that I can step out of time and nobody bothers me. My partner leaves me alone.
Evan: How did that become your thing? Do you remember when you started making drinks or doing drink and snack pairings?
Natalie: No. I mean, I’ve always liked it. We grew up—my father’s Spanish and Mexican—so we grew up with a lot of tapas and small plates. And also just kind of like with whatever’s around, you make it seem abundant. So, yeah, when there’s 20 plates of, you know, very few amounts of things, suddenly you feel like you have a feast. And then I, I really like wine. And I lived in Spain for a while and my partner there, her family had like a very large wine and vineyard operation. So I started getting into wine and then bourbon and scotch. I guess…the cocktail hour for me is like one of the most sensual moments of the day. I can’t fail at the day when I, when I’ve been able to, you know, to win the cocktail hour so to speak.
Evan: That feels like what I would hope the experience of a cocktail hour should be. I feel like once you have your bar stocked and together and you’ve started developing a bit of understanding of what makes a drink come together in the way that you like it, you know, it’s not difficult. It’s something that you can make and like you say, see the tactile product at the end of the day. And just like have that process culminate in something, which I assume, I mean, from my experience, writing doesn’t always happen. You don’t always end up with something you can hold, much less drink.
Natalie: Nothing to hold, like a glass of something!
Evan: Yes. I mean I used to say this at the TOC readings we used to hold: that cooking drew me away from writing. I was writing poems and I was cooking, thinking that would just kind of keep me afloat while I figured out the poetry side of things. But I couldn’t get anyone to read my poems, but anyone would eat something that I made! So my ego just like, swept me in that direction. And here I am.
Natalie: No, I mean, it’s a really beautiful way I think—of touch and hold—to be able to feed someone and as well to be fed, you know. I love that, you know. Yeah. There’s appetite, but there’s something about that reciprocity that doesn’t seem selfish to me. You know, when someone sets something in front of you, whether it’s something meager that my mom or some of my elders would offer me, to watch them watch me be filled in some way, it does feel it’s like, I guess when you’re eating, it’s almost like the person who’s made the meal…(Natalie receives a phone call)…Of course everyone decided to call me right now. So really, I feel like it’s a really beautiful way of touch that feels lucky.
Evan: Yeah, there is a line in Postcolonial Love Poem where you say, “to write is to be eaten / to read, to be full”, which felt really like that act, that’s what you’re doing. Like in either case when you’re writing you’re giving something of yourself, you know, to…the ether, to the reader, maybe back to yourself in a way when you read that thing that you’ve written. And as with cooking, you know, you give oh, you put a lot into that act in order to make someone else feel full and feel sated and cared for. I agree, I think it’s really a beautiful process in both disciplines.
Natalie: Yeah. It’s a really great return to the land, too. And I mean, not always, right? It’s easy to not be thoughtful about that. But that’s something I try to think about, is like where my water has come from, where my food has come from. All of the different hands who have touched it and delivered it. And that also just feels incredibly lucky. Like, you know, what it means to be alive is that we’re alive among so many other lives, you know. So, yeah. Yeah, it feels lucky, that. I’m glad we both have some part of that in our lives.
Evan: Yeah, me too. I mean, I hope everyone has that in some way, I do think food is, you know, the most visceral, embodied way we can have that relationship with other lives and with the land. For most people, you know, the most accessible way to bring that literally into ourselves and into our lives on a daily basis. You know, you have decisions that you can make at least a couple of times a day that really have an impact on your physical self and on the land that you’re choosing to buy products from. Before we get too far, can you tell me about the drink you made? I know you said you were whipping up something medicinal.
Natalie: I’ll just make it while I’m talking, too. So. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve been trying to figure it out. But, you know, and it could be the energy and what’s happening. I have this strange exhaustion in me that is unusual for me. And because I was such an intensive, you know, athlete, and of course, I still have that sensuality, I notice every little thing that’s off about me. You know, I feel like I know where my thoughts come from or, you know, like when I have worries, they happen in my body before my mind hits them. But, yeah, I just haven’t been feeling myself and in my family, we say “out of sorts”, which could mean, like, you’re sad or like your brother stabbed somebody. It’s like “out of sorts”, like it covers everything. But anyway, I’m not a big hot toddy person, but I want to engage with it. Like, you know, I lived in Vienna and, you know, mulled wine, I wandered the streets, you know, with mulled wine, bumping me around many times. But I’m just wondering about the hot toddy. So, I don’t know what they call this. I’m not very skilled at this, I just enjoy it. So I just kind of like, you know, where they throw the cloves in the lemon. So I’ve set this in a little bit earlier, so this lemon is very clovey. And then I drizzled it with like a ginger honey. Though like it’s been setting for a while, normally I kind of char them, but I didn’t do that. And then I have a little bit of fresh rosemary and…I’ll be quick because I don’t have, like, the suave way of moving, like one of those videos they do in like junior high, where there’s someone below the table, you know, feeding you! So seeing myself do this is a little strange. So anyway, this is about like a half an ounce, I made like a ginger honey syrup. I use honey a lot, sometimes agave. So this is like half an ounce of ginger, honey. And then this is like 30 milliliters, so more or less close to an ounce. So this is just stuff, like strained lemon juice. And then I’ve been pretty much equal parts lately, this is socapa, it’s one of my favorites. It’s not too pricey. Like I feel like I don’t have to ration my drinks and then I drink a lot of port. I love port. So this is like an old bottle that I’ve had forever and I’m slowly going through it. It’s just a cheap bottle. Ramirez reserve Latina. And so I’m just kind of throwing it in here and I might just, like, top this off after. But, I usually add as I go along. And then, I have a really lucky…I work at Arizona State University and I work among some incredible just people. And of course, thinkers. But the dean of humanities, Jeffrey Cohen, made me a set of bitters. And this one is called Comadram. He actually made one for the book, which is why this is called a coma dram, and it has black and green cardamom in it, peppercorn, lemon rind and gentian root. So. And I’m pretty heavy handed on the bitters. Yeah. Like I say, I just kind of add along and then some folks who I really admire, Canisia Lubrin and Kristina Sharp were up in Canada and sent some really amazing bitters, and this is a chai wallah, chai bitters, the bottle’s beautiful. I feel like I should drink it and turn into something else.
Evan: It looks like an Alice in Wonderland sort of bottle.
Natalie: Yeah! So I do anywhere from I say like three to eight batches of bitters, it’s a pretty wide net. And so I’m just going to put this clove studded lemon and honey and I’m just going to toss it on the bottom of the glass. So it looks pretty. We have these really cool ceramic glasses. I don’t drink out of glass, glass, clear glass. And then just, you know, I just kind of beat up the rosemary a little bit.
Evan: Bruise it up.
Natalie: I feel like a jerk when I do this. But anyway, I’ll throw that on top. And there’s not much in here to strain. So I’m just going to pour it in. I have the strainer over there, but it’s just the lemon juice. I already filtered that. And then I just usually, I say usually I’ve been doing this just today, I’ve arrived here, well, tested. But then I just top it off with hot water and then I just set my little… Yeah, I’ll have to drink it and then I can show you a little bit.
Evan: This is amazing. This is like a dream come true. Its beautiful! I love the cloves and the lemon.
Natalie: Yeah, I saw a picture of it and I think it was for like, of course, Thanksgiving is coming up. As much as they like, studded our bodies with bullets and things they love to stud fruits and animals with herbs..
Evan: Tradition, tradition, right.
Natalie: Got to take those traditions back. Anyhow, it’s also lucky to be with you. Like I was able to think about something new, and it’s really lucky because like I say, the day’s been a little rough. And now I feel like normal, like I forgot that I didn’t feel good earlier. I think the rum and port have helped.
Evan: Yeah! I made this one. It’s actually not too dissimilar from yours in flavor but the spirits are different. But you know, we made a cocktail sort of inspired by “Ode to the Beloved’s Hips” and “Waist and Sway”, where figs show up in both those poems. And in “Ode”, there’s the Orchard of Alcinous, there’s apple, there’s figs, it’s spiced. So this is like a fig syrup, fig, clove, star anise, peppercorn, orange rind, little apple cider vinegar and then just honey. Honey and water.
Natalie: It’s beautiful! I saw some of the photos.
Evan: It felt like a very fall recipe that you laid out in that poem. Not that it was intended for a cocktail, but, like, to follow it to its cocktail-y end. And then just some amaro and bourbon. I think it was a bottle of bourbon that… I had like recently cleaned out my bottles, and I just poured a bunch of bourbons together. So it’s a “house blend” of bourbon, we’ll say. It’s really delicious, like sweet, spiced. I think it would actually probably work as a hot toddy.
Natalie: Yeah I was already thinking about stealing that from you. And also like the figs. I love figs. We grew up with, I mean, my reservation was crazy, but we grew up with, like, mulberry trees and berries and figs. And we stopped to pick them for all the elders on the reservation. And we used to hate it, which is so simple, right, to pick the figs. And I miss, I realized like what a luxury that was just to have figs all the time. And so we tried to get em every chance we get. And now we have, you know, like the dried figs because we don’t have them in season anymore.
Evan: Yeah. I look down in my backyard, our landlady is 94. She’s been here for a long time, owned this building forever. And she has these fig trees in the back that I see, but I can’t access. So I’m like…very close to fresh figs! But I’m using dried ones at home.
Natalie: Don’t pick the cabbage, you know. Then you’ll be stuck in your tower forever. Isn’t that Rapunzel? I think it is.
Evan: Yeah. I don’t know, I gotta say I don’t know my fairy tales that well, which I don’t think is like an enormous loss honestly.
Natalie: You’re probably missing some of the really colonial structures that they suture into us through fairytales.
Evan: I hope so. I think I’ve absorbed a lot of that growing up, you know, like a white male in central Florida and Connecticut, but at least I’ve avoided some of the generational ones. Yeah. I’ve been listening to a bunch of your podcasts and the podcast you’ve been on recently, I know you did Thresholds with Jordan Kisner, who is a TOC collaborator. Hearing about how you are holding stress, like in your forearms…just before this, I went out and shot some hoops, there’s a little half court near my house and I feel like that (basketball), and cooking and making cocktails are these processes that no matter where I’m at, if I can get into that, like even for a minute, that sort of flow state that comes up when you’re in that embodied activity, you don’t have to think about it, it clears and wipes it all out. It’s a really amazing thing.
Natalie: Are there sounds…so like for me that, like, basketball is so sensual and you know, it’s like that space, right, where it’s like in-between touch and sound. There’s like a physicality that I like, that I’m sensing somehow, you know, it’s even the same with making drinks. Like sometimes I’ll come in the morning and just imagine what I might do later and just smell everything. I’ll have everything out on the table. My partner is like, it’s 7:00 in the morning, what are you doing?! Every bourbon we own is out. Even like mixing or when the ice cracks when I pour something. Yeah. Those are like sounds I love. Do you have cooking sounds that for you feel that kind of like rhythmic, you know, where time suddenly stretches?
Evan: Of course. I mean, I feel like in the every day when you become really attuned to sound, you do feel the physicalness of it. I was thinking as you were speaking about the difference that I feel in my feet—which is physical, but it’s also something to do with the sound—of my foot sort of skidding on a basketball court outside on asphalt versus indoors on wood. And that physical or whatever the difference is, is enhanced or maybe it’s only because of the sound itself. But in cooking…I know a lot of chefs talk about the kind of music they like to listen to in the kitchen. But I can’t listen to music in the kitchen because the sound of cooking is so critical to arriving at the right place for me. I’m sure some food scientist would tell me this is not true, but I think I feel like vegetables make a different sound, sizzling in the pan after you’ve added salt versus before. And I think that may be true because salt draws out more liquid and it might be more of a steam than a sizzle. But yeah, I cook so much by hearing what’s happening to the point that, I feel like for a pretty big portion of the cooking process, I don’t have to look at it. You know, I might be cooking eggs, but looking somewhere else and chopping something. And if you were watching me, it might be like, what are you doing? Like, you forgot about the eggs. But you don’t have to watch them all the time because you’re hearing what’s happening. Hearing what goes along. So, yeah, I feel like that impact of sound, guides that process for me. Do you cook a lot at home as well as make cocktails?
Natalie: I don’t “cook” cook. I like to make little things. I’m like my dad. I mean, my dad can cook. But my mom is the one. But my dad is like the magician in the kitchen. Like, we don’t have anything to eat. And suddenly he like, comes up with something. The thing I do love is like Spanish, like tortilla or Spanish omelet. I can put anything in one of those. You know, I recently made the one in The New York Times. I forget whose it was, but it had potato chips in it.
Evan: Oh yeah. There’s a Ferran Adrià one that’s like potato chips and eggs.
Natalie: Yeah! And my partner loves potato chips and so I just cooked them and she was a little skeptical. But I mean, you know, it was salty, it was good. And then a friend of mine tried it also and she said it was good. So that’s like my go to. Otherwise I’ll make lots of very small, tiny things. And again, like it looks like I cooked, but I didn’t. I just picked things. My partner’s a good cook so..
Evan: Do you have a snack with you now?
Natalie: No, but, [laughs] I put this on Twitter, I’ve been eating garbanzo beans all day. We’ve been eating a lot of beans and now it’s like soup season. So yeah.
Evan: So we closed our restaurant a few weeks ago, about a month ago because of Covid. And before that happened, when I knew it was coming, I bought like twenty-five-pound bags of dried beans and flour. And now I have a pot of beans around all the time. Like this bag of beans is going to get me through the winter.
Natalie: You might as well be Mojave then, because that’s like Mojave magic. My mom has one of those, it’s also a menudo pot…so it’s like a big black, sometimes they’re blue speckled. I think they’re like retro, now. But that’s just what we used. It was this giant black pot. We called it the galaxy pot because you know, we could like smell the beans. You could smell them like a block away, like mom’s making beans, you know. And they were good, it just meant that it was the bean time of the month and it’s going to last for a while.
Evan: Beans for like the rest of the week!
Natalie: Yeah. So pinto beans. And then, like, you know, in the good times, like good parts of the month, you had like bacon and stuff. And I still love beans. Like beans and tortillas, you know, beans and eggs, they’re kind of my go tos in the morning. Now everyone uses a crock pot, but I prefer the old pot.
Evan: Yeah, I usually use a pressure cooker for beans if I’d like to forget to cook them the day before, but otherwise I like to just, like, throw them in the pot and, like, check on them throughout the day. It’s like this little pet or something, that you need to just keep an eye on but not watch too closely.
Natalie: Oh! Tommy Pico’s asking what we’re drinking.
Evan: Oh shit. I missed all this. Hey, Tommy! You go first.
Natalie: Well, I’m drinking a Kumeyaay hot toddy. Tommy and I share parts of our language and we share lots of lots of things. So, yeah. So I’m naming this my Kumeyaay hot toddy.
Evan: I love that. You also now share being a TOC Instagram collaborator. We had Tommy early on which was amazing. It’s still one of my favorites. I have a fig, bourbon and amaro cocktail. We called it the Orchard of Alcinous after a line in Natalie’s poem. And speaking of chips, I know you said your partner is a big chips person, I’m a huge chip person. Chips are like my weakness. I’ve told all my friends, don’t ever bring chips and French onion dip to anywhere I’m going to be, because I’ll eat it all. I’m a big chips person. I’m not a big, like, Funyuns person. (Shows bag) But I bought these, um, it’s a Korean brand called Nongshim. I actually bought these for the language because I looked at it first and it said onion rings. And then I notice the flavor, “oh, onion flavored rings.” This is like some fucked up marketing shit. And I thought of you. I’ve been listening to you talk about language a lot. Okay, let’s have these.
Natalie: [laughs] Well, they’re being honest, right? Here’s some rings. And there’s something like an onion flavor in there.
Evan: They might make you think of onions somewhat, but they’re actually really good. They’re sweet. And there, like a lot of Korean or Japanese snacks as opposed to American snacks, made of wheat instead of corn, which gives it a different texture. It’s really light it’s actually really good.
Natalie: I’m gluten-free, lately, mostly.
Evan: Well, then you know you’re not going to like them. So I also brought two other things based on what you might like. This is some daikon kimchi that I made and some canned Spanish octopus. So like very highbrow, lowbrow.
Natalie: I’ve never had the cans but pulpo I love. It was always like a special thing, if like someone from l the coast of Mexico brought it into my grandmother. But yes, she would make pulpo but we had it kind of cold and in salads, you know, a little olive oil on top. And then, like, you know, she’d sear it sometimes. I love that, but that wasn’t necessarily how I grew up with her making it.
Evan: Yeah it’s actually pretty good, canned. And then you can use it the same way and just like toss it in salads or like basically it’s a tapas meal, right? It’s like onion crisps and pickles and octopus, which is also a way that I like to cook most of the time. I was wondering when you were saying that like, that’s how you approach cooking…something we are often asking people is like, how does your cooking style or maybe in your case, how does your approach to making cocktails or cooking, how is it similar or different than the way you approach writing? Like are you structured and organized in both? Are you a little bit more like improvisatory in one versus the other? Is there some overlap?
Natalie: Yeah. I’m not very structured. I mean with anything. Actually, I think probably once a week my partner and I talk about things and I’m like you know what, I really want to find a system. I feel like every morning I have a new way that my day will be different. Today I was like, well, what if we both sit by the altar and we both just you know, you can light as many candles as you want, I’ll light as many candles. I mean, what if we just start there. Whereas, like, last week I was like, OK, what if what if we say the first 90 minutes of the day are for no talking and reading, you know, or what if I don’t have any Zoom’s until 11:00? There’s always something. But I guess the main thing is just curiosity and sensuality, you know, like I mean, it’s in the book and to the point where I don’t try to get in the way of it. It’s just the way I work. It’s the way I move in most things. But I’m so curious that I’ll follow something anywhere. And it can be really messy in certain structures like, you know, like I run the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands, and I need someone else to be organized because I’m not. I have a ton of energy. But where do I put it? And I’m not looking for efficiency. That’s one thing I don’t ever want to be, like, efficient in language. But, I work in constellations, so I feel like for the last two years I’ve been saying sensuality and momentum, but those are the places, like I’ll get to the fringes of those words, but until I do, there’s still something in there for me to know of myself. But it’s the same with making cocktails, with like the small plates and stuff I put together. I just want to know everything. I want to know every place it’s been; you know. I spend so much time. Like when I get a new bottle of something, I’m not just like, you know, who made it or how it was made, but I want to know, like, where their water came from, you know, and I want to know, like, what happened on that land before or like, you know, like there’s like for example, there’s this winery that we, I think it was Tess Taylor who invited me to this pairing of a Sommelier and poems in San Francisco a while back. And my poems were paired to this wine from Obsidian Ridge, because there’s a bed of obsidian beneath it. And that just fascinated me, you know, because we have obsidian out here. There were volcanoes, so there’s like a lot of lava beds and you know, thinking of Central South America, all the ways obsidian has been important. And so I started like researching their wines and vines and everything. I keep looking over here because we just got a shipment in, and it’s like an altitude shipment. So they’re taking us through the different altitudes. But I think the ways that I look at those things, it’s how I think of language. Like, I want to know all the different words for it and all the different things. And like, it’s also something I’m not, in some ways, I’m not overly crafted at it. Like poetry, there are crafts, there are patterns there. But I’m always interested in what’s outside of those things. And also, like, just the pleasure, right? I love to drink. Like, I love the way things taste. I love the way things smell. I like to take my time with things. And then next thing you know, it’s like 3:00 in the morning and you’re investigating poems. I met some of my best friends through both. You know, and then it’s also like intimate. Like I have this joke that says I don’t drink tequila with strangers.
Evan: Probably smart. Probably a good rule generally speaking.
Natalie: But then there’s also some things in, like poetry where, like I said, I have a small group of family who I’m willing to, like, share certain things about poetry with. So, I don’t know. I mean, I’m interested in kind of thinking about—you know, because I mean, we’ve talked about basketball and writing and cooking and I mean I guess I’m always interested in, like, what is intimate. What is private? What is what is intimate, public, which is like maybe you feeding people? But are there places that you feel like this is only for me as you’re doing some of that?
Evan: Yeah, well, it’s funny. Honestly, I think during this time of Covid, speaking of intimate public, basketball has been this thing that I never thought of as intimate, but it’s so intimate that it’s not something we can do now. Right? There are other sports that I can go out and play, like tennis or things that are far away. But in basketball, you’re just like in people’s bodies the whole time and in their face and breathing and sweating and hugging each other, essentially, you know? So much touch, so much close contact, and that this sort of intimacy of that sport has been highlighted for me because I miss it so much. And it’s like, oh, this is it. This is the thing I miss because it means something really important to me in an intimate way. And because of that intimacy, I can’t do it. If it was less intimate, it would be something I would be able to do right now. There was a series of parties, that my friends used to throw called The Arena parties, they threw them around the city, they were amazing. And for a long time, even to this day, pretty much, my wife and I don’t tell our friends about them, because like we have friends and we love seeing them…We have friends, guys trust me…but we wouldn’t tell them about these parties when they were happening. Because, like, this is our thing. We’re going to go there, we are with a whole different group of people and we’re going to be one version of our other selves there. So that feels like something that’s public also. But it is like a part of my life that I kind of held in a different space than the rest of it. And again, something that can’t be done right now. And there’s so much intimacy that we’re lacking right now. You know, I’ve been able to feed people, which is another thing that’s really important to me, but in a much more limited capacity and in less, you know, intimate settings…always outside. You know, always sort of like being careful. You know, we made a birthday cake for a friend the other day and there was this moment where she was like, I can’t blow out these candles. So, yeah, so much of that physicality of sharing food has been, you know, it doesn’t feel lost, it just feels like it’s out of reach right now. Which I think on the one hand is going to make me appreciate it. Like, I am a little concerned about how overwhelmed I’ll feel when that comes back. But also excited for that in some ways.
Natalie: I’ve been thinking a lot about this. And I also feel like, you know, it’s something I normally just talk with, like my intimate friends with, because I do think there’s a way that I can come across as being like, you know insensitive or something. I think it’s the opposite. I think a lot about migration and we’re so far away from migration that we have this like very static or stable life. And I feel like in some ways this could be a very important return to sensuality. Like, it doesn’t mean this is easy, right? I also don’t want to take for granted, and I want to be very intentional about so many of the lucks in my life right now. I have a roof over my head. I have a good job. I am with my partner. Like, I’m not starving for touch. But I feel like…not but, AND, I feel like, there was a time when we waited great lengths or great distances of time. And when we arrived to one another, like, I think a lot about arriving and receiving. And in some ways, you know. Yeah. Kiss. Kiss on the cheek. That’s it. That’s like my Spanish. A hug, a hey, you know. But I feel like there’s a way right now that we arrive and receive one another that that is something that I want to be better at. And I want to continue like blooming or evolving in that way.
Evan: Yeah. I think there’s something about the inability or the hesitation to touch. It’s almost like a natural reflex. But for me at least, I’m a hugger. One of my languages is hugging. I’m an excellent hugger. But now seeing someone and having that moment where you sort of get close and then you’d sort of back up…you don’t actually get there. I think, you know, it’s making me and probably others, really aware of that space before the touch, which is so charged. And now that’s where we’re stopping. You know, I think you’re right. Like, it makes me appreciate the absence of that. You know, I just hugged my mom last week for the first time in six months. And of course it was more charged, it was bigger, it was fuller and moved through me differently than it would have when I was in the place of, you know, hugging her every week, or every time I saw her. So I think you’re right. I think it’s going to have that sort of impact.
Natalie: Yeah. And like, I think the worst thing will be if, I mean, I’m in Arizona, so my res is in Arizona. My mom lives on the other side of the river. So she lives in California. But I mean, I think the thing that feels to me the saddest is that as things open up, some of the first things people do is like go to the bar, go shopping. And it’s like…is that what, quote, liberty meant to everybody? Like, that’s what’s wild to me as we’re thinking about this. And even this. This is such a generosity to stop the day and to think about snacks. But that’s what a life is made of! Yes, feasts, and those are the big moments. But your life is in some ways a series of small touches, small feedings, small energies like through the day that feel really lucky. And then when you arrive at some point in the day when you know your body differently because you realize like you haven’t. Had a meal or a snack. There’s something ingrained in us all, too. Or at least I feel like very much the silver lining of things. So, of course, in these moments, I’m like, well, this you know, this could also be this. This could also. But the fissure of touch, I also think is in some ways a type of touch. And it’s not easy, but I think language, of course, helps. I think moments like this help, in trying to relocate. And I mean, the luckiest thing about dislocation is relocation, I guess. And so trying to figure out how we do that. And I don’t know, something that’s kind of incredible is I don’t even know you. And here we are. So distance has created that. Like, what is a stranger anymore? Because we are in these spaces that become intimacies. And that’s always been a hard thing. And it’s been a hard thing, I think, especially for people who present like I do, and become the projections that I am often. And also for anybody…how do you make a public space feel intimate? And yet we’re doing that and there’s so many extractive things about technology, of course. And we’re going to have to engage those and be better about engaging those. This is kind of an incredible thing, is that here we are sitting here, I’m like the most comfortable I’ve been all day. And yeah, I’m a little bit, you know, smoothed out but we’re willing to meet in this space, which is the unknown. And that is usually a tension that people can’t deal with. Right? Like if I ever walk into a room, you know, if I’m comfortable, I’m great. But it takes me a while to get comfortable and I’m like, I can walk into a room even where I’m supposed to be, and like, kind of slip on the edge of things. Like, my partner is great about leading the way. And yet wherever the third spaces that we are is really lucky.
Evan: I’m so grateful to hear that. And I also feel it as you’re saying it because, you know, we’ve been doing this kind of thing…seeking to make up for what we’re what we’re missing, right? We used to have monthly gatherings and I think one of the great things about Tables of Contents for me, and why I love it so much and I think why the authors and our guests were willing to participate in it, is because somehow we were able to make that intimate public space. And now that’s like, we don’t have that. Or we have it but in very small settings, and there’s something I think about the intimacy of that space, which had to do with not knowing everyone closely, because you have to adopt a certain level of vulnerability. With friends, you get to a level of vulnerability, but you don’t have to sort of readopt that every time, you can fall into that rhythm of “this is how we are.” But to have to readopt that with new faces and sharing food across the table and having these conversations with folks who, you know, you never met, it felt like it really opened something up. Yeah, and I agree it feels like tonight really opened something up for me. And I really appreciate you being a part of that.
Natalie: And vulnerability. I think a lot about vulnerability. It’s lucky when vulnerability is not a weakness or a deficit. It’s a sensuality. Like, so if I’m vulnerable, I can trust that something matters. I can trust that I matter to myself in that moment. Like when I feel that, you know. And there’s something very like Valhalla about dreams and moments like this, you know, where it’s like, yeah, we’re all part of a community. But suddenly we’re showing up here and going to watch each other eat…you know, like I mean, what’s crazy is that we are in each other’s homes. And what that means. And how we decide, like, there’s no way in hell I’m showing you my kitchen right now because I’ve made so many syrups today that it’s a disaster in there. My partner won’t even walk in there right now. So I guess there’s also the ways we project, and then there’s something like I mean, I’ve seen so much of people’s lives. I don’t know what it means yet, about what the person is. But now we’re seeing the person. I mean, it is getting a little bit idealistic and it’s lucky, you know.
Evan: Yeah we’re like on Zoom calls on our bed, you know. Like I’ve seen people go into their bathroom and it’s like….hopefully we’re not crossing too many spaces of vulnerability. But, you know there are different exposures. Exposure might be the wrong word given like the recent events, but. Well, listen, I could stay and drink cocktails all night. I know we planned for this to end ten minutes ago, and I’m so grateful that we didn’t!
Natalie: Yes. Gracias. (shows drink).And from here I go into a meeting about a building.
Evan: What kind of building?
Natalie: It’s just for the center. We’re trying to build out an architecture, some creative space that doesn’t feel the same as other spaces.
Evan: Well, I really appreciate you spending this time. I so appreciate your work. It’s honestly, I think I read all these poems in a day and reread them the next day, and they all felt as fresh and new and as intimate to me as they did the first time. So thanks for sharing that.
Natalie: Oh gracias for sure. And you always have a place at our table, you know, when we’re able and in Phoenix, you know, we’ll feed you good. And you always have an open invitation. The bar is always open. The kitchen is always open as well. So and I would love to introduce you to some of our food families.
Evan: I would love to come.
Natalie: Well, I’m wishing you good dreams. Yeah, eat well, be well, dream well. And until the next time.
Evan: So thanks so much, Natalie. Good luck with the building. Thanks y’all for tuning in.
Tables of Contents uses food as an entry point for experiencing books, music, art, and culture. They run monthly tastings in collaboration with the world’s greatest literary talents; publish a monthly(ish) digital zine called A WINNING CAKE; throw spectacular dinner parties to take you course-by-course through an artwork; develop recipes and creative collaborations with artists; partner with brands on custom events and special projects; and make bomb ass biscuits. Sign up for their newsletter here.
Natalie Diaz is the author of the poetry collection When My Brother Was an Aztec. She has received many honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship, a USA Fellowship, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. She teaches at Arizona State University.