A woman navigating a socially-fraught world with a cookie as her compass
Presidential Candidate Pistachios
By Alysia Sawchyn
In February, Donald Trump came to my university’s campus. There was a last-minute announcement followed by a flurry of anxious outrage from many of the faculty and graduate students in our English Department. I teach at and attend a state school in Tampa, and the demographics of the surrounding area are a predictable, Floridan mix. The Tampa Bay Times described Trump’s address as an “hour-long stump speech of his greatest hits from the campaign trail to a standing-room only crowd.” The arena where it was held holds 10,000 people.
Our campus, like most, advocates for “open dialogue.” As instructors, we are supposed to model civil discussion. Coming from a rhetoric background, I was raised by professors who believed that first-year-writing classrooms are political spaces, even if, especially if, they are devoid of explicit political talk.
Let me get this out of the way: I’m female, quietly bisexual, and racially vague in appearance. My family is upper-middle class. I will soon have multiple graduate degrees. I am an unobtrusive minority who is also highly privileged; back when Game of Thrones was in its early seasons, I joked with a friend that I was like Daenerys' Dothraki handmaidens—dark enough to be considered “exotic,” not too dark to be threatening. Teaching then, is often an exercise in navigating authority.
I announced to my composition class that Trump was coming. We weren’t scheduled to meet the day of his visit, and I spoke of it broadly: He’s coming; traffic will be hell; go if you want; I will be far, far away.
One student, B., was from Mexico. He was one of my favorites—not because he was the best writer or most diligent student, but because he was clever and kind and quick-witted. After class, on his way out, he said, “I’m going Friday. I want to see what it’s like.”
I replied that he was a braver person than me. Because he is.
“I’m only telling you so you know, if I’m not in class on Tuesday, I probably got hanged.”
He grinned, then I grinned. The first-year writing attendance policy is notoriously strict. I could’ve hugged him.
Immediately after, another student, S., approached. She hung around after almost each class meeting and liked to ask questions she didn’t need answers for and and often replied in non sequiturs. She, too, wanted to tell me she was going, and seemed interested in hearing Trump’s ideas in a serious, attentive way.
Here is what I did not say:
— I have never voted Republican.
— Why are you interested in going?
— You know I’m not white, right?
— What do you find appealing about Trump’s views?
— My mother became a US citizen after I was born.
Instead, I mhhhmmmed. I smiled awkwardly. I might’ve said, Okay! in an overly cheerful tone. I packed my bag and walked away. It was the most perfect teachable moment I remember experiencing—an overeager student who sought my approval, a relatively private space to have a challenging conversation—and I walked away. I’m not sure what this means about myself yet. That I am cowardly, likely. That I am lazy, perhaps. That I am ashamed, of course.
Bake “Presidential Candidate Pistachio” cookies. Eat two. Give the rest to your students as acts of kindness. While they are chewing, calmly discuss the responsibilities of the presidential office and provide them with a writing prompt about qualities they find admirable in mentors and leaders. Urge them to think of specific examples.
Basic Cookie Base (from the back of a Ghirardelli chip bag):
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
The Good Stuff
3/4 cup dried, tart cherries (the “tart” is important)
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
3/4 cup shelled, chopped pistachios
1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and eggs, beat well.
3. Blend in flour, baking soda, and salt.
4. Stir in The Good Stuff.
5. Shape cookies using two spoons into 1-2 inch lumps and drop onto cookie sheets.
6. Bake 8-10 minutes.
These cookies are a good mix of sweet, salt, and tart. You may use their flavors as a model for sound, well-crafted argumentation: Lure in with a wanted, expected sugary welcome and surprise with balanced, yet unexpected, brightness.
Alysia Sawchyn currently lives in Tampa, Florida. Her writing has appeared in Indiana Review, Midwestern Gothic, Burrow Press Review, and elsewhere. She is the managing editor of Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art and a nonfiction editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection. She can be found on Twitter @happiestwerther.