Cameron Awkward-Rich is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Modern Thought & Literature at Stanford University and the author of the chapbook Transit (Button Poetry, 2015). A Cave Canem fellow and poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine, his poems have appeared/are forthcoming in The Journal, The Offing, Vinyl, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. Cam’s debut collection, Sympathetic Little Monster, will be published by Ricochet Editions in the spring of 2016.
Here, he talks about the importance of pre-run coffee, food as the impetus for relationship, and a quiet ending to it all.
On his all-time favorite meal:
I should admit upfront that I’m not much of a food person. You know that delight people sometimes radiate when they bite into something really delicious? Well, I’m not sure I understand, precisely, that feeling (though I love to cook, to elicit that delight in others). Plus, with the exception of holiday meals with the extended family, food in my family has always felt pretty utilitarian, not an expression of love, caring, whatever. I’m not certain I really understood the concept of food as social bond, or food as affection, until college. There are so many stories. For example, the time my dear friend Nora and I were both staying in a house on campus that neither of us lived in. Everyone had gone home for Thanksgiving and we stayed behind and made a huge, slightly disastrous (two sticks of butter instead of two tablespoons kind of disaster) feast for just the two of us. Stuffing and mac & cheese and mashed potatoes and pecan pie and on and on. We didn’t really know each other at the time, but making that meal was thankfully only the beginning.
I guess my favorite meal/story, though, is the one about oatmeal. I had a crush on this person in my organic chemistry class, one of those enduring, pining crushes that wasn’t based on anything, really, because we’d never spoken. So. The year passes. Summer comes and goes. And then it’s fall again and she’s in my kitchen with a bunch of our mutual friends/acquaintances. And there I am, still pining. That evening, somehow, in the course of what must have been our first conversation, we decided to split a bulk order of thick rolled oats. I’m talking an enormous amount of oats. Pounds and pounds of oats. That was the beginning of our two years together, which involved, out of necessity, eating oatmeal in the morning. Habitual oatmeal. Ritual, even. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always liked oatmeal. It’s warm and simple and dense and filling. But now it’s also suffused with those years, which were astoundingly good ones.
Ugh, sorry. Saccharine nostalgia.
On what the light looks like during his favorite meal of the day:
Well, undoubtedly my favorite meal of the day is pre-run coffee. I’m a morning person, but I’m also not fully a person before coffee. Just a dull, vaguely incoherent, loose collection of moving parts. There’s nothing better than sitting at the table in that extended moment when everything is still calm and quiet, feeling myself re-congeal. Outside, the world is pinkish and hazy, that delicate morning light. The run is an important part of the “meal” because it tinges the whole thing with a slow, reluctant anticipation. I rarely ever want to run in the mornings, but love the feeling of taking those first steps, like stepping into a pale pink dress. Silk, you know, before it warms with the body’s heat.
On snacking while writing:
I snack on whatever’s around. Which, recently, has been a mix of raisins, walnuts, and chocolate chips. Or, I spend a lot of time writing in the coffee shop near my house, where I always order a cheese bagel with spicy hummus. And coffee. More coffee. Always coffee.
On his go-to late-night snack:
I’m sort of an old person in my sleep habits. Or, at least, I try to be, though other people’s schedules often get in the way. So. I’m not sure I really have a “go-to late-night snack,” as I try to avoid late night at all costs. I like to drink tea (peppermint w/ honey) with my 8pm book-in-bed, does that count?
On his food quirks:
I just asked my mother, who is sitting next to me. She says that my food habits are pretty normal, and she has a fairly low tolerance for “weird” habits. Right now she’s making a list of her partner’s food habits (which include: eating cold pancakes with yogurt; dipping french fries in mustard; putting the ketchup and mustard on top of a hamburger’s bun instead of inside…) and making a face of pure disgusted bewilderment. Though I guess the condiments on top of the bun thing is objectively pretty strange. I actually think I’ve grown out of most of my food quirks. I used to make ketchup sandwiches; my sister and I used to divide the work of eating broccoli…she only ate the tops and I only ate the stems; I’ve gone through periods of being unable to eat food if I don’t know its exact origins and components. But now? Not so much.
On his final meal request:
I’d be alone, at least mostly. I don’t like the idea of the people I love knowing that we’d reached the end. For my whole life, I’ve cultivated a talent for being selectively invisible, and I’d like to just slip out of the world like I slip in and out of rooms, unnoticed. That’s selfish, maybe. I don’t know.
Anyway, I’d come home from a day of being with my friends—we’d have done nothing in particular, maybe had milkshakes, sat around with our laptops at a coffee shop—and send a stupid text to my sister. Likely a photo of our mother making one of her patently absurd faces, the kind that make it clear how rarely she’s aware that other people can see her. Then I’d make myself dinner, probably grilled cheese with tempeh bacon and a kale salad, grab the last beer from the fridge. I’d eat in front of my computer, watching whatever, my cat on my lap trying to lick the rim of my beer bottle, as she always does. And that would be that.