Discover more from The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad
Prompt 257. Beaucoup Hot Sauce
& a poem and prompt by Pastor Drew Jackson on learning by example
One of my greatest joys of the last few years was meeting my dear pal and the brilliant novelist Jonny Miles. Only a few months into the pandemic, my husband Jon and I wandered our way out to a little town on the Delaware River in rural New Jersey and settled into an artist’s residency. Jonny and his wife Cat lived only a few miles down the road, and their family and ours plus a couple of other strays became a quaran-pod. It was a lucky stroke. Jonny and Cat are some of the best humans around and the bests hosts too. Several times a week, they had us over for the most incredible dinners that devolved into bluesy jam sessions—their youngest son Sloan on clarinet, their daughter Callie on vocals, Jonny on guitar, and Jon on a very old, very soulfully out-of-tune upright piano.
Those were regular weekday dinners—for a special occasion, the Miles family takes it to the next level. When my memoir Between Two Kingdoms came out in February of 2021, I couldn’t go on book tour, but I did have a launch party, courtesy of Jonny and Cat. As usual, they spared no effort. Jonny made an incredible Swiss-Tunisian fish dish in homage to my roots, and he helped Sloan bake a cake in the shape of my Volkswagen camper van, with a tiny marzipan version of my late pup Oscar to complete the tableau. They also had handheld paddle fans printed with famous authors’ faces to boost the guest list, and we may or may not have prank-called one of the most critically and commercially successful writers of the 21st century. (It’s a good story. Jonathan Franzen is quite the mensch.)
To celebrate the release of Jon’s new album this week, we’ve been planning a gathering with their help. Jonny has outdone himself, to no one’s surprise. We’re all huge hot sauce fans, and Jon and Jonny cooked up a wild idea for a proprietary recipe they’re calling Billy Bob Bo Bob’s Special Sauce. (If you live within driving distance of New York, you can taste it for yourself at the Smorgasburg Food Festival this Sunday in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.) Jonny drove an hour to the only grocery store around here where he could get different peppers of varying spice levels in huge quantities, then brought them over to our house, along with a giant outdoor boiling pot, propane tank, N-95 masks, gloves, and protective eyewear. He’d also curated a playlist of songs with obscure references to hot sauce. It was such a fun day, with the sun shining, the dogs milling about, and the garden in bloom. At one point, I said to Jonny, “This is my favorite day I’ve ever had.”
The thing is—I’ve said this to Jonny before, more than once, and I mean it every single time. He’s the kind of person who, when you’re with him, is never checking his phone. He’s never distracted; in fact, he’s hyper-present. He takes great care of the people he loves and channels so much thoughtfulness into every little thing. It’s as if he’s taught me a new Jonny Miles-specific love language, one that goes beyond acts of service to acts of celebration. He really knows how to celebrate his people. He reminds me that simple gestures are often the most sacred.
It’s a quality I also recognize in today’s prompt contributor, the poet and public theologian Drew Jackson—or to us, Pastor Drew. Jon and I first met him at church, and when we bought our first place, we asked him to bless our home. He agreed, and I believe it laid the foundation for the happiness we’ve found there and for the growth we’ve experienced, both as individuals and as a couple. (It was also our good fortune that Pastor Drew was willing and able to show up to our very last-minute wedding, where despite the short time frame, he performed the most thoughtful, personalized, gorgeous ceremony in our living room.) For months now, I’ve been holding onto a poem of Drew’s, hoping for the perfect time to share it with you, and the time arrived today. Below you’ll find the title poem from his book Touch the Earth. It shakes me every time I read it and makes me think of lessons learned in a deeper, more holistic way. I hope it does for you too.
Some Items of Note—
Quick reminder: We’re meeting at the Hatch, our virtual creative hour today (August 20) from 1-2 pm ET. It’s always the most uplifting, creatively generative gathering. Find everything you need to join us here!
In need of a little pick-me-up? Check out the Isolation Journals Chat, where every Friday, we each share a joy from the week—big or small—that we want to hold onto. It’s our chorus of collective gratitude, and we’d love for you to chime in!
Prompt 257. Touch the Earth by Drew Jackson
Luke 9: 1-2 My father says more with his hands than he does with his lips. I cannot recall him sitting me down to teach me about love, but I watched him tend to my mother as cancer spread through her insides. He cried when her breath left her, though he never lectured me about grief. I am still grieving my mother, still gleaning what my father taught me. Gather it from memory. Let it touch the earth.
Your prompt for the week:
Write about what you’ve learned by example. Who taught it to you? How? Gather it from memory. Let it touch the earth.
Drew Jackson is a poet, speaker, and public theologian. He is the author of God Speaks Through Wombs: Poems on God’s Unexpected Coming and Touch the Earth: Poems on the Way. Drew lives in New York City with his wife, Genay, and their twin daughters.
For more paid subscriber benefits, see—
Cults, Boundaries, & Breaking Ties with Family, an installment of my advice column Dear Susu, where I answer a gorgeous letter from a reader named Petunia, who asks: “I was raised in a cult and left. Do you have any advice on how to heal those wounds?”
Writing Yourself Home and Whole, a replay of my Studio Visit with the writer Nadia Owusu, where we talked about journaling as creative source material, writing through trauma, and how memoir can be a radical act of reclaiming the self
On Conflict and Peace, an interview with the conflict resolution expert and author of The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker, where we talked about how assembling thoughtfully can inspire our work and improve our lives