Saturday, December 24, 2005

In case I don't have another chance in the hubbub of the holidays--and our trip to Toronto from 12/26-1/1--I want to wish everyone a beautiful, peaceful, joyous holiday season. 2005 has been a punishing year--so much natural and political disaster--but I end it with a sense of hope. We were able to prevent drilling in ANWAR. We were able to put some breaks on the Patriot Act. We were able to help expose the lies of our administration. May 2006 bring even more victories for humanity and the planet (and may it be a fruitful and fulfilling year for all of you on a personal level!)
My friend Jasmina Tesanovic is back in Belgrade after spending a year in LA. She sent me this powerful dispatch after attending a war crimes trial. She and other Women in Black were present to bear witness and provide support for the victims' families:

A Human Package

I hail a cab. It is snowing and gloomy, Friday 23 December. People in Belgrade are already hysterical because of the New Year holidays.

Please hurry to the special court, ex military court. Do you know where it is? Of course Madame I know, it is a very famous place these days, it is round the corner, you don't need a cab really.

True, the military court is an old renovated building for new war crimes, a monument to the last wars, my friend Stasa says. It's much fancier than The Hague court room. In my street live some war criminals, so no wonder they made their court there.

We Women in Black are official NGO onlookers. We enter the building with Natasa Kandic, the woman most hated by nationalists in Serbia, Natasa Kandic the representative of the victims and a human rights lawyer, plus the family members themselves: 15 women, all in all.

This is the last day of the first round of the trial of the Scorpions, the paramilitary formation which executed 6 Muslim war prisoners in the days of Srebrenica. During this mass murder of the Muslims, the Scorpions unwisely filmed their own crime. Last July, this video document was screened in The Hague during the Milosevic trial, and then all over the Serbian and international media. Some family saw the faces of their missing for the first time.

Now we see the faces of the arrested executioners. One young woman, a victim's relative says; it is so relieving to see their faces, so soothing, to see who killed your loved one, to see if he is a human, and to hear him speak for himself. It is so important to start making a difference between those who did the crime and those who didn't.That is the whole point in this trial: of the entire accused, only one pleaded guilty: he pulled the trigger, claiming that he obeyed orders.

The incriminated men are relatives themselves, they all look the same, big, dressed in black, bald or short haired, with tattoos on their necks: the symbol of scorpions. When Natasa Kandic asked them about the tattoo, they refused to answer, claiming it was personal.Aleksandar Vukov, who is the last being interrogated, is pleading not guilty. He claims he knew nothing of the execution: he was there in that no man's land only to receive 'ThePackage' as they called in code the ammunition. The Package did not arrive, but instead some prisoners were brought by the same ammunition van, and then executed. Vukov is lying; the judge, a blonde intelligent woman, is politely vivisecting him.

The accused arrives on red crutches, he lacks one leg. He is young, intelligent and well educated: he says, I am a double victim, first of one regime which made me an invalid, and now of this new one which is sacrificing me as a goat. Other accused show sympathy towards this young man who moves me with mixed feelings all the time, I am angry with my emotions. Then I realize he looks and speaks exactly as a very close friend of mine, who instead of being a war criminal is a war deserter, who instead of knowing everything about war games and disciplines plays Internet games. Do we all have our doubles who made the opposite choices in our dark times of no
choices? Is there a Hyde Jasmina somewhere in this courtroom too? This guy is not guilty of crime, the lawyer of the victims tells me, but he is protecting his military superior.

I am sitting behind their family and fans: they all look aggressive and afraid at the same time. They laugh loudly and wave their hands at the accused, through the glass that is dividing us. The five lawyers of the accused are grim and aggressive. They behave as war heroes; no wonder Mladic and Karadzic, the responsable Bosnian leaders, are not yet arrested but respectfully quoted in Serbian books as historical figures.We had great discipline and wonderful moral qualities: nobody was questioning the orders. We were actually protecting the oil fields in the region, and were well paid for that responsible job by the oil company. I joined the group after the Arkan's organization was dissolved and this formation was part of the Vukovar army: Legija was in it, too.

For those who don't know: Vukovar is the place of major Serbian war crime in Croatia, Arkan is the war criminal and bank robber famous for killings and looting of non-Serbian population, Legija is the guy who killed our Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. And this episode is part of the Srebrenica genocide when 8000 Muslims were executed by Serbian army led by Ratko Mladic. I am facing the best of the worst. My women are sitting behind me very sober; one of them says, I am illiterate but I understand everything he is saying. He is lying.

The one-legged accused is boasting about the fancy uniforms they had and NATO caps... The code they used to say everything is fine was 'Whiskey 55'...the war games played 24 hours, for years on end, reveal energy and volunteerism which resembles our Women in Black peace activism. Only we have no hierarchy: they have a chain of responsibility and system of mafia omerta, as in jails. Even if they are telling different stories in front of the judge, they avoid incriminating each other as much as possible. I remember how the word 'mafia' in its original sense meant solidarity, friendship, support, and high ideals and morality. Now it represents this Horror.

The first accused in the chain of responsibility, who denies his guilt of any war crime, says: I take off my hat to this young man who was my deputy and a neighbor. I saw him grow as a kid. His orders were to take off the heads of the Muslim prisoners not their hats. Those Moslem kids too were his neighbors and kids he saw grow up, but the code word for them was The Package. A package of flesh and blood turned into movie extras.

Nazis too filmed their genocide endeavors as art or war victories. Now that they are sitting and breathing only a few meters away from me, I feel painfully the difference between virtual and real. The silence of the dead is overwhelming: we who support the victims and their families are suffocating in the back rows behind the glass screen. It's been 10 years now since the genocide was successfully committed, and nobody is yet convicted. How can you tell good from bad guys anymore, who is the Jekyll who is the Hyde: the war invalid and the war criminal cannot control his transformation anymore? He is the same person.

The President of Serbia, after the trial, shook hands with the family of the victims for their courage to come to Belgrade, to attend the trial. To make us see that difference, to make the virtual become real.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The NY Times reports that undercover police have been infiltrating protests and vigils to monitor anti-war activity (and occasionally instigate conflict.) Not to get paranoid, but between this news and the recent wire-tapping revelations from Washington, I wonder if any of my own conversations have been monitored. Probably not--I am certainly small potatoes in the big scheme of things, but I have been in the news as an activist, and of course have spoken out against the administration in any number of ways. I can recall a couple of phone calls where I heard some strange clicking sounds, and I said jokingly "We're being bugged. Let's say something scandalous." I can't remember what scandalous talk followed, but no federal agents ever broke through my front door; I imagine those clicks were just mechanical glitches.

Still...I know that peace groups are being infiltrated; if not by the police, then by the right. In doing some online searching about CODEPINK, I found that one conservative blogger signed up for CODEPINK alerts under the name of "Lilith Vagina" or something of the sort, so he could keep tabs on our actions and blast them on his blog. A few years ago, I received a slightly menacing email from someone from a local Republican politician's office, referencing information that he only could have known by subscribing to the local peace group's listserve. But we can't let such creeps dissuade us. We still have freedom of speech, we still have freedom of assembly, and we need to take full advantage of these beautiful freedoms. Speaking of which, if any of you are in the Riverside area tomorrow night, please consider joining this candle-light peace vigil:

Peace on Earth Now

Sponsored by the Inland Communities Fellowship of Reconciliation (ICFOR)

A quiet, respectful memorial for all victims of recent and current warfare and a call for No More Victims.

Bring candles if possible.

Signs will be provided. Further info: 951.204.0818

Location: in front of downtown public Library, Riverside; Mission Inn Ave. & orange street (near the pagoda)

Time: 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

Date: Friday, December 23rd.

Hot beverages & holiday snacks for all at nearby Universalist Unitarian Church following event
It looks like Orhan Parmuk's trial may be thrown out. That would be a huge relief. But other Turkish authors/editors/journalists still face imprisonment:
An Istanbul editor is to appear before a court here over a novel by a Greek author that prosecutors say is insulting to the Turkish nation, a spokeswoman for the publishing company said on Wednesday.

Abdullah Yildiz of Literatur publishers risks up to three years in jail for "denigrating the Turkish national identity" by publishing The Witches of Smyrna by Greek novelist Mara Meimaridi, Eylem Ozcimen, the spokeswoman, said.

The novel, which is in its 25th printing since it appeared in Turkish in October 2004, tells the story of a Greek woman who uses magic spells to find suitors and climbs the social ladder in the western Turkish city of Izmir (Smyrna in Greek) during the last years of Ottoman rule.

In our own country, immigration officials have denied a Chinese author, Yiyun Li's, petition to become a permanent US resident. The USCIS rejected the claim that she is an artist of "extraordinary ability," even though she's
had stories published in prestige magazines such as the New Yorker and the Paris Review. She's won the Pushcart Prize and the Plimpton Prize for New Writers. Random House has signed her to a $200,000, two-book contract, which Executive Editor Kate Medina calls -- in what qualifies as a serious understatement -- "most unusual" for a literary writer at this stage of her career. Her first book, a story collection called "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers," was published this fall to wide praise.
She has appealed the USCIS' decision, and should get her answer in a few weeks.
"Things change a lot," as a character in one of Li's stories says. "Within a blink a mountain flattens and a river dries up. Nobody knows who he'll become tomorrow."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I sign several online petitions a week; I love how they make it easy to add one's voice to a cause. Here are some simple actions you can take today:

--Stop Bush's Illegal Wire-Taps
--Make Your Freedom of Information Act Request
--Ask Bush to Make Trade Fair

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I wrote a letter to Book Biz Santa again this year (mine is the top one in the post.) I hope Santa is listening!
Rebecca Solnit is one of the most thoughtful creative non-fiction writers around; her books, including A Field Guide to Getting Lost, offer lyrical and profound odes to the world. Here she offers a clear-eyed look back at the year 2005 (focusing on how it's been a "bad year for Goliath"). I especially love the final paragraph:
Thirteen months ago, when Bush was reelected, the despondent around me seemed to think that our future was graven in stone. But in the best and worst of ways, in this wild, wild year that ends so differently than it began, it has turned out to be written in water. Much of the news is grim, but the best of it is being lived out by nurses, immigrant farmworkers, Korean farmers, campers in the grass of Crawford, Texas, marchers in the streets of Washington, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, and elsewhere, scribblers on various blogs, volunteers in various crises, and the immeasurable force of people everywhere who won't let the official version go unchallenged anywhere.
As I've mentioned before, I was called upon to write some chants for the big peace march in DC this September; one of the chants I came up with was:

Apple, pumpkin,
Impeach pie
Kick out Bush
He told a lie

Well, it looks like impeachment may really be on the horizon. I can't express how exciting it is to see the call for impeachment move from the supposedly-fringe peace movement to the mainstream. The oven is pre-heated, ready for that pie. My mouth is watering...

Monday, December 19, 2005

My friend Masha, an amazing novelist and journalist, had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan last year. She shared this chilling story with me today:

I managed to get into the prisons in Kabul and Kandahar (luck and persistence) and in Kandahar, there was a 12-year-old girl. Guess why? Her mom had been shot one night by the Taliban, so her father was the sole parent, and one evening in a restaurant, he gave her away to a man HIS AGE as wife. She was balking at this (brave child) and apparently also flirting with an 18-yr-old shopkeeper. The discipline? slap her in jail!

Then I got to interview the Chief Justice of Kandahar, a man with a beard to his knees, literally, who had been chief justice during the Taliban period, so his interpretation of Islamic justice dated from then. He said "I am sorry to tell you, but women in our country are not able to take care of themselves, financially, emotionally, physically." (this despite the enormous numbers of households headed by women while men either fought or died in a quarter-century of civil war.) but he went on to say I shouldn't worry; they would get that girl out of jail within two or three months and marry her off (if he'd still have her) to the man her father had chosen...

(phew. what a relief, huh?)
I asked Masha if I could share the story here, and told her how in awe I am of her brave and powerful work. She wrote back to say "don't be in awe of anything do to with me. It's these women who are INCREDIBLE. truly. I came away so moved." Sorry, Masha, I can't help it. I'm totally in awe. And I'm grateful that you're able to capture these stories, bring them to light, so we can see how incredible these women are, too (and so we can see how much still needs to be changed in the world.)

I also have to mention that Masha just sold her new novel. I can't wait to get my hands on it. Tell me, does this not sound like an utterly profound and compelling read?
Masha Hamilton's THE CAMEL BOOKMOBILE, the story of an idealistic American librarian who leaves home to work in Africa for a relief organization that sends books on the backs of camels to nomadic tribes where most people had never held a book in their hands, to Jonathan Burnham and Claire Wachtel at Harper, in a good deal, by Marly Rusoff at Marly Rusoff & Associates (world English).
Congratulations, Masha! Thank you again for your fearless work.
My son is at driving school as I write this; he decided he wanted to use his first three days of winter break to learn the rules of the road. The class runs from 8:30-4:30; it's just classroom instruction, not behind-the-wheel time. He won't be able to get his license for a while--he just turned 15 in October--but he wanted to take the class with his friends. I'm sure his next birthday will be here before we know it. So hard to believe he's old enough to even think about driving.

Matt dropped Arin off at the school this morning on his way to work. I emailed him to ask how it felt; he wrote back with this:

"It wasn’t confidence inspiring to find out

That the place is called TRD driving school

Turd school? How good could it be?"

I laughed so hard, tea shot out of my nose. Even with the name of the school, I imagine Arin will have a much better drivers' ed experience than I did. I signed up with one of my friends, but on the first day of behind-the-instruction (which, strangely, came before the in-class instruction), she was sick, so it was just me and the creepy teacher in the stuffy yellow car. I had only driven once before in my life--and that time, I drove onto someone's lawn when I tried to make a turn--but this guy led me onto Green Bay Road, which was not only the busiest, fastest street in town, but also featured twisty curves through a ravine. I was feeling shaken and dizzy afterwards, so the teacher directed me into an empty parking lot at a school.

We sat there in silence for a while as I caught my breath. Then he leaned toward me and said, "Lick my finger." This request put me into a panic, but I was feeling vulnerable and trapped, and I couldn't bring myself to say no. I opened my mouth. I did what he asked me to do. His finger tasted like metal. I had no idea what he'd ask me to do next; I was terrified. I had never even kissed a boy before. He reached his finger towards my face. "You have something in the corner of your eye," he said, and wiped it slowly off with my saliva, grinning lasciviously the whole while. It makes me sad that I didn't feel like I could speak up, deny his request, say "this is weird". It makes me sad, too, that I didn't feel like I could tell anyone about it later; it was years before I mentioned it to my parents, who, of course, were horrified. This guy should not have been teaching teenagers. In further behind-the-wheel lessons, with my friend in tow, he would often ask us to speed up because he thought a woman in a car up ahead wasn't wearing a shirt. He did this several times, and we didn't even think to report him. Once the classroom instruction started, I heard several girls refer to him as "Chester the Molester," so it was pretty clear my experience was not unusual. I wish I could go back to my younger self in that car and tell her to stand up for herself, tell her to trust her instincts, tell her that she is strong and autonomous and doesn't have to put up with that kind of manipulation. Of course I can't do that; I can just try to teach my kids to stand up for themselves so they won't have similar stories to share in the future. I am eager to hear Arin's drivers' ed stories when he comes home...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

We put up our home-welded Christmas tree today. I wonder how long we'll keep it up this year. Matt is betting we'll take it down in May...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thank you, Democratic senators, for having the chutzpah to block the passage of a new Patriot Act. There's hope for the Democrats yet.

I found this image at SFGate's Day in Pictures feature and thought it was so lovely and heartbreaking all at once. Here is the caption:

264-foot batik chronicling last year's deadly tsunami is unrolled in Bangkok as part of a one-year memorial. The batik is the work of 25 former Khao Lak hotel workers who lost their jobs after the disaster.
Art can be so healing, so cathartic. I've seen drawings and paintings done by children who survived the tsunami, and they are both chilling and inspiring--giant waves carrying whole families away, dead bodies floating around, etc., as well as families holding on to one another, safe. I am grateful that we as human beings have so many ways to express ourselves, to process and share our most profound (and mundane) experiences.
The trial of Turkish author Orhan Pamuk was adjourned today. Pamuk is on trial for "denigrating Turkishness" during an interview in which he brought up the issue of Armenian genocide by the Turks. People are hopeful that he will eventually walk free. Still, as the article states, "damage has probably been done just by putting him in the dock."

"Turkey's image as a dynamic, reforming country negotiating its way into the EU has taken a hammering since the country moved against the prize-winning novelist for making what many outside Turkey would regard as a tame remark in an interview with a Swiss journalist."

The Independent Communications Network found 16 journalists had been put on trial in Turkey in the first nine months of this year, with 12 of them being found guilty.

The Publishers Association said that, in the 18 months until this summer, 37 authors were tried for criminal offences in connection with the publication of 47 books.
I am grateful that novelists are not being jailed in our country for speaking our minds, at least not yet. I hope our freedom of speech will survive this administration. It was recently revealed that the Counterintelligence Field Activity, an agency of the Department of Defense, has been spying on individuals and organizations who are speaking out against the war in Iraq.

The American Friends Service Committee, one of the peace groups under surveillance, has drafted a letter regarding this issue that you can send to your senators and representative with the push of a button. The letter ends with these lines:
The Department of Defense has characterized these groups as threats. I see a government agency spying on Americans exercising their rights as the real threat.
I hope many of us will speak out on the issue so we all can continue to speak out freely.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

My niece Mollie and I are both jellyfish nuts (but not jelly donuts, as far as I know.) I definitely wouldn't want to come upon one of these 6 ft wide, 450 lb. creatures, though. I'm sure Mollie feels the same way. The giant jellyfish are terrorizing fisheries in China, South Korea, and Japan, killing and poisoning fish and breaking nets. It's wild to think of this sort of underwater life; it's like a whole other planet down there.

In nicer deep sea news, researchers recently discovered that mother squids nurse their eggs for months. It was commonly thought that all mother squids abandon their eggs immediately after laying them, so this was a surprising find (and a sweet one, too.)

My short story, A Long Time, is up at Literary Mama. (I have a story in the new Literary Mama anthology, as well. Check it out, if you have a chance--both the site and the collection are full of wonderful mama-centric poetry and prose.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I mentioned the other day that my amazing editor showed me a bunch of quirks I didn't realize I had. I thought I should share some. When I was getting my MFA, one of my mentors pointed out that I overused the word "though." I never would have caught that on my own, and have been much more judicious about it ever since. Now, thanks to my editor, I know to also look out for the words "so," "suddenly," "swept"--I think that's it for the S words!--"gleamed" (or maybe "glittered" or some other equally sparkly word), and "heart." She also alerted me to the fact that I construct a lot of sentences like this: "I write a few words, add some more." Also, "I tend to list words, ideas, images" in twos and threes like this. It is so wonderful to have someone hold up a mirror so I can see myself and my work in a new, clear way. It will be nice to be more conscious of the things that have become habitual.

One of my students wrote a very sweet story for me--he cast me as an elfin queen who saves the world from an evil Bush-y empire. I love the story. It helped me see myself more clearly, too. In the story, the elfin queen has a nervous habit of tucking her hair behind her right ear. I didn't realize I did that until I read the story! Now I notice myself doing it all the time. I've also been noticing the fact that I have a tendency to pinch my lips with my fingers when I'm thinking. I am pretty sure this is a new habit (maybe to replace my tendency to put my tongue over my top lip when I concentrate) but it could be something I've been doing for a while and just didn't notice until now. I'm not sure how it came to my attention--no one alerted me to it. I just caught myself with my mouth in my hand one day. Strange the things we do on a subconscious level. I try to be mindful and awake, but there is so much that escapes me. Matt once pointed out the fact that I tend to hold fruit pits in my hand for a long time after I've finished the plum or peach. A theater director once noticed that I had a habit of holding my left forearm up, like Cher (embarrassing!) I wonder what other weird quirks will be brought to my attention down the road...
I wanted to write something more about Tookie Williams' execution, which continues to haunt me. Then I received this powerful essay from my friend Jasmina Tesanovic, a Serbian author/filmmaker/feminist publisher; she says everything I hoped to and more:

They did him in, Tookie; it is my first capital punishment in California. They say, however, that Texas held the first place in executions while Bush was the governor.

Now Bush has the whole world to sample, to decree who deserves to live and who to die, who is a terrorist and who is a patriot, who can have scissors and who can have guns. Good and bad guys, it all looks like Hollywood and cowboy films. It not only looks like it, it is really is like it.

This Tookie, this black Californian, I don't care if he is guilty or not, I say when interviewed by a TV, as if my opinion mattered: the death penalty is barbarism and a crime against humanity, like torture.

How do you feel? the reporter asks me with tender feelings. What does that matter, I scream, it is not about feelings, it is about human rights. In point of fact I feel awful. We are standing in front of a federal building where we try to squeeze in, as if we were employees, in order to use their toilets during a protest lasting longer than two hours. I am bleeding, and it is not my heart. I am hungry, and it is not my soul. Six TV reportage cars are parked around us, only a few cops and a lot of free lance photographers.

People, not that many yet, but not as small as these crowds can be. Faces I know: pacifists, hippies, mostly middle aged people, just like those few I saw in New York City, dancing in the wind against global warming issues and Bush's response to Kyoto. I feel awful because I come from a country where ethnic cleansing was done legally and in my name; I feel America is my country too by now, and I feel the worst side of my new patriotism. The guy was black, the guy was a writer, the guy seems to be a redeemed soul dedicating his book to radicals and pacifists.

Angela Davis is speaking in front of the San Quentin prison in San Francisco. Thousands of people are rallying there. Harold Pinter speaks on video at his Nobel Prize event, but where are those voices in the USA? What are my favorite American writers doing these days, Philip Roth, John Updike... If only one of them said half of the things Pinter said, American writers would be winning Nobels. Only a dying man from Old Europe, in a wheelchair, dares to name the facts with their proper names. Literature is dead, buried by corporate nuclear wars, depleted uranium and bombings. Oil is blood and writers are selling their souls, not their books.

What next? Democracy is not enough, free information is not enough, Internet is not enough. A rally is scheduled in front of Gov. Schwarzenegger's house up the hill. We drive slowly. The view is beautiful and misty, the fancy Sunset Boulevard houses decorated with toys and Christmas lights. At the top a sparkling gate opens as sesame, we drive in; the two blondes from Code Pink. On our sides are black limos and SUVs, men in dark suits smoking and talking busily on the cell phones; we pass them and reach the top of the hill; a dead end street.

The Governor's house is not lighted; nobody is to be seen. On our way back, the cars and people have vanished, only a few spooky man in black are seen here and there; we stop in front of the gate. One car approaches us. Do you need something? they ask us, no thank you we answer. They scrutinize us and leave.

The next security SUV is more insistent: my friend here is not feeling well, Jo lies. You can take her to the restroom, the guy offers with concern. I realize it may be that we have innocently entered a gated community, surrounding the Governor's house. I am thrilled, but not happy to be dragged by the security and interrogated.

We have a friend on the other side of the street, Jo says. As it happens, this is true. You don't live here? they ask, startled. They escort us hurriedly to the security gates, and make sure that we go up the other side of the hill. The friend is luckily at home. She opens the door, lets us in and gives us a drink and a phone. All the fuss with scissors and security and yet, we trespassed. Not only that, but we managed to get in with sticker on our car saying CODE PINK and STOP THE NEXT WAR NOW, but we also managed to get out without being harassed.

It is sad evening to wait for a person to be publicly and legally executed, and then go to bed thinking that we have done all we could. Life stinks. How do executioners feel? The decision makers, how do they feel? Why don't TV reporters demand to know their feelings? In any case, whatever we said and did will not be broadcast. Some of our photos with candles will be published, with captions saying stuff we didn't say and didn't mean. I don't believe in God or pure spirituality, I held a candle to make a difference in the dark. It didn't make much difference, that candle. It barely warmed my hands.
Every holiday season, I enjoy turning onto Chapman Drive, a road in the charming Wood Streets section of Riverside, an area full of Spanish and Craftsman bungalows. Chapman Drive goes all out for the holidays--every house on the street sets up a lavish display in their front yard. For all of the years I've lived in Riverside, the street featured an International theme. Each house represented a different country and had decorations honoring that country, often large wooden cut-outs covered with greetings in different languages. This year, the displays have changed. No longer are there tributes to France and Japan and Egypt and other nations (I wish I could remember all that were represented). This year, each house on Chapman features a generic holiday display--snowmen, angels and the like.

The new decorations are cute and fun, but they give me a sinking feeling. I worry that the neighborhood decided to change their International theme because they were concerned that it seemed un-American. Now, I haven't talked to anyone who lives on Chapman, so this is all pure speculation on my part. The neighbors may have just decided it was time to make a change after all these years. But I worry that there is a creeping xenophobia in our country, a burgeoning US-centrism, that pits Us against Them, the US against the world. I fear that we are closing our hearts to the rest of the globe, closing our eyes to our shared humanity. I hope that isn't the case on Chapman Drive, but I did notice that one of the angels in front of a house there is trailing American flag streamers. If angels did exist, I'm sure they wouldn't give a whit about national identity.

I love my flag of the Earth; it reminds me that I have an allegiance to something that extends well beyond our well-guarded borders.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I was driving around today, listening to NPR, when an announcer broke in to say that our Governator had decided not to grant clemency to Tookie Williams. Hearing the news made me feel physically sick. At 12:01am tonight, Williams, a man who learned to teach peace, will be strapped to a table; lethal chemicals will be injected into his veins. I can't believe our government can still condone such a barbaric act. How can we consider ourselves civilized if we practice state-sponsored murder?

Tookie Williams found redemption. Now Arnold is the one who needs to find it for himself. I hope he'll be able to feel Williams' blood on his hands.
I am nearing the end of my Self Storage revisions. It has been a very exhilarating process. My editor is a genius; her comments and insights have taught me so much about my own quirks and foibles as a writer.

I had an epiphany over the weekend about the end of my novel, which I needed to rework a bit. I felt a bit giddy when I wrote the final paragraph, the last line. I may decide I don't like it after I've cooled off a bit, but right now it feels very satisfying. It was fun timing to stumble upon this article about last lines in novels today.

I can't think of my favorite novel last line off the top of my head, but one of my favorite endings of a poem is this one, from James Tate's "Consumed".

...You are the stranger
who gets stranger by the hour.

That ending has stayed with me since I first read it almost 20 years ago. I love when a poem or story or novel has a resonance like that.

Friday, December 09, 2005

This is absolutely horrifying:

DHAKA, Dec 9 (Reuters) - A banned Islamist militant group blamed for a series of bombings in Bangladesh has threatened to kill women, including non-Muslims, if they do not wear the veil, a statement said.

The statement by the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen came hours after Thursday's suicide bomb attack in a northen town that killed at least eight people, the latest of a series of blasts blamed on militant groups in their campaign for an Islamic state.

"Women will be killed if they are found to move around without wearing burqa (veil) from the first day of Jilhaj," the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen said in the statement sent to a Dhaka newspaper office.

Jilhaj refers to the Arabic month beginning early January.

"Women, including non-Muslims, are hereby advised not to go out of home without burqa. Seclusion has been made compulsory for you," said the statement in Bangla language, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters on Friday.

It makes my blood boil to think of all the ways that certain groups attempt to gain power over women's bodies, women's freedoms. I think I've mentioned that one of my characters in my novel Self Storage wears a burqa. It is (mostly, not completely) her choice to wear it in the US. To suggest such restriction for even non-Muslim women in Bangladesh is utterly outrageous.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Imagine there's no countries.
It isn't hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for.
No religion too.
Imagine all the people, living life in peace.

We'll keep imagining, John. Thank you for your example. The world is a better place because you were here.

To shift gears completely, I look at the letters down the left margin of those Imagine lyrics--IINNI. I don't think John Lennon meant anything by that line of capital Is and Ns, but seeing them makes me think of an article I just read about a poem, "The Leader," that was recently removed from a textbook in Pakistan. It turned out that it was an anonymous acrostic poem--the letters on the left margin spell out PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH, and the poem extols his supposed virtues. I can't bear to share the entire thing here, but here is a taste:

Growing in strength he won't be unnerved,
Ever assuring he'll stand by his word.

Shudder. You can read the entire thing, and the story behind it, here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Harold Pinter uses his Nobel acceptance speech to criticize US foreign policy.

Go, Pinter! I love how even weakened by illness, he has the guts to give it to the powers that be.

He returned to the theme of language as an obscurer of reality, saying that American leaders use it to anesthetize the public. "It's a scintillating stratagem," Mr. Pinter said. "Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable."

Accusing the United States of torturing terrorist suspects in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, Mr. Pinter called the invasion of Iraq - for which he said Britain was also responsible - "a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law." He called for Prime Minister Tony Blair to be tried before an international criminal court.

Mr. Pinter said it was the duty of the writer to hold an image up to scrutiny, and the duty of citizens "to define the real truth of our lives and our societies."

"If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision, we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man," he said.
UPDATE: You can read the entire text of Pinter's speech here
Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, is creating a global online book club.

"People think of activism in terms of going to the White House or becoming political every four years, but I think activism is also very actively and consciously supporting a culture of thought and imagination," says Nafisi, who is speaking in Toronto tonight.

"I keep thinking that our slogan is going to be 'Readers of the World Unite!' "


For Nafisi, the struggle for freedom, in both the East and the West, always circles back to the illumination of literature. I'm really hopeful about reading and books," she says. "Literature is the most potent weapon against political stagnation.

"Great literature by nature is subversive because it always exposes or reveals what is behind the reality we are looking at; it always creates potential for how reality could, or should be."
You can make this a Blue Christmas by supporting companies that donate to Democratic groups and causes. I am grateful to Buy Blue for compiling the list. I try to avoid places like Starbucks and Barnes & Noble; they do push out mom and pop stores, but it's good to know they are not completely evil--at least they are progressive in their donations.
Another bizarre writing-related dream last night...

I was graduating from an MFA program with a lot of my Antioch friends. The group of graduates was brought into a grand library/bedroom in a mansion, or maybe even a castle, for a private audience with John Updike. All twenty or so of us squeezed onto a huge bed together, while Updike regaled us with stories of his writing life (I wish I remember what he said!). After he was done, he walked to the door, turned off the lights, and then he knelt beside the bed, and hugged me for a long time (I was right on the edge of the bed.) It didn't feel like a creepy, trying-to-hit-on-me hug; it felt like a "let me impart something to you" hug. When he turned the light on again, he was dressed like a clown, in a silky blue and white clown suit. And he did a whole comedy number about not being able to get out the door. He ended up shrinking down to about one foot tall and squeezing through the barely-open crack. Then the door swung open, and he was his full height again. A whole orchestra dressed in circus clothes was behind him, playing marching music for the graduates.

As we filed down the hallway, Updike came up to me and pointed out two paper grocery bags that were pushed to the edge of the wall. They were full of things he had weeded out from his home and was going to sell at a yard sale. "I'm giving you first dibs", he said, and I could see in the bags some tiny red and black cowboy boots and a collection of miniature books. I don't know what I did to gain Updike's favor like this--I'm usually not so lucky in my dreams--but it was pretty cool.

I haven't read any Updike for awhile--maybe this is a sign to pick up one of his books...

Tamara Siler Jones embarks on her whirlwind GCC tour today; she has blown into Fruitful-land to answer a few questions about her new book, Threads of Malice, a unique blend of fantasy, forensics, and suspense:

--What inspired Threads of Malice?

Oh boy.

When my publisher expressed interest in my first book, Ghosts in the Snow, my agent suggested throwing out a couple more mystery ideas for my sleuth, Dubric Byerly. One idea I suggested was that he’d meet a John Wayne Gacy type of killer. I was rapidly offered a three book deal and that concept evolved into Threads of Malice.

There are a lot of different types of serial killers, but the sexual predators seem to take the lion’s share of our attention. With that in mind, what’s more disturbing than a model citizen, someone active in the community on so many levels, a business man… who rapes tortures and kills teenage boys and buries them in his basement? And no one knows, no one even suspects… Heck, no one even knows for sure that they’re dead. He murdered at least thirty-three boys before anyone realized what he was up to. That’s chilling stuff, and it was a great leaping off point for the story concept.

--What inspires you, in general?

My mortgage. ;)

In all seriousness, it varies. Some days it’s the burning need to get the story told, some days it’s the thrill of discovery… Some days it’s just looking up to the wide open sky and feeling like part of something bigger than myself.

--Do you have any words of advice for aspiring writers?

Read a lot, write a lot, and never give up. That’s the simple answer. The tougher one is to learn your craft – first drafts often are pretty crappy, especially when you’re trying to find your voice – and learn everything you can about grammar, tense, voice, structure, pacing, characters and conflict (along with everything else). Approach writing as a business, as a job, and understand that publishers are out to make money, not make you feel good. If you can not take rejection and bad critiques personally, it can go a long way to help you maneuver through the hoops and hurdles on the quest to publication.

--Since I always have to ask a fruit-related question...What do you think is the creepiest fruit, and why?

Pomegranates. They’re full of these little blood-colored balls, and they give the most marvelous sensation when you crush them between your teeth. Resistance (a sphere is very structurally tough, after all) then spurt! Creepy yet cool.

--Thanks so much, Tamara--we'll have to celebrate National Pomegranate Month together next year! I just discovered that Trader Joe's sells little containers of pomegranate seeds; I've been eating them like popcorn all week. So good. Best of luck with your book and the tour!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It's been a very strange day. After I dropped the kids off at school, I came home and felt compelled to lie down. I conked out and didn't wake up until almost noon, which is almost unheard of for me. I can never sleep during the day. I thought I was over whatever bug has been in my system, but I guess not--my head feels like it's in a jar. Shortly after I woke up, I got a phone call saying there was a bomb threat near Hannah's school; Hannah was freaking out, and I could come pick her up, even though the school was in lock-down mode. I had to take a detour to get there because of all of the emergency vehicles and the cordoned off street. On the way home, we had to take yet another detour because downtown Riverside was full of the same types of emergency vehicles. I later found out that the California building downtown had received a bomb threat, as well. I don't know if they are related, but I hope that everything and everyone will be okay.

Poor Hannah is still a little on edge. She said that she knew what was happening as soon as she heard "Mrs. Glass is on campus, I repeat, Mrs. Glass is on campus" come over the intercom. There had been a bomb threat three years before (it turned out to be a teenage prank), and the same code had been used.

Hannah was feeling very unsafe as we were driving home, especially after we came upon the downtown barricades. She asked if we could drive through the park down the street from our house, just to make sure nothing was going on there, too. Happily, the park looked very peaceful and quiet; the sunlight was hitting the small lake in that glorious sparkly way, and even the shaggy palm trees had a luminous, numinous quality to them. A bunch of white birds were diving for fish in unison, their tails in the air in a clump, like a water ballet. When their heads surfaced again, I was delighted to see it was the white pelicans, back for the winter! A nice flash of joy in this strange, strange day.
Katha Pollitt has some great ideas for holiday donations over at The Nation.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Liam Callanan offers an intriguing writing prompt over at Old Hag. The prompt ties in nicely with Self Storage, since both have to do with the stuff people leave behind. I won't share Callanan's whole post here, but I can give you a peek:

Estate sales are usually of older couples, right? I mean, I’ve not been to many, but I get the concept: everything goes. And so you usually find yourself poking through a smelly, dusty, wildly outdated house looking at old dishes and wondering if they’re worth anything.

This house was not like that. It was well-kept up. Extensively redone, inside and out. True, it reeked faintly of that off-the-rack-style luxury favored by the suburban Sopranos, but this was no older couple. So why were they moving? (For sale sign out front.) And why were they selling all their stuff?

All their stuff. In the kitchen: egg timers, dishwashing liquid. In the living room, a huge menorah. Patio furniture outside. Upstairs, beds, televisions, computers. In the master bedroom’s walk-in closet, dozens of pairs of shoes, men’s and women’s.

He ends saying
What happened?

You tell me.

Anyone up for the challenge?
While I was recuperating this weekend (but still staying up way too late), I watched Saturday Night Live with my son. On Weekend Update, which I love, they did a brief segment on the recent study that ranked America's Most Literate Cities. Amy Pohler mentioned that Seattle was named the most reader-friendly city. Then she said something like "Coming in last place, once again, is Riverside, California". A graphic of a sign in the middle of the desert that said "Whelcum to Reevarsyde Kaleefermia" came on the screen. Arin and I looked at each other, laughing hysterically, not sure whether or not we should be pissed. He said that as soon as he heard her say a city starting with R, he knew it wasn't going to be good for Riverside. Our poor city gets such a bad rap. But even though we ranked poorly on the list--I checked, and we came in 58.5 out of 69 cities; at least we weren't really last!--I know of so many writers and readers and bookgroups and poetry groups within the city limits. As a whole, we may be word-deprived, but pockets of us are keeping language alive, robust in good old Reevarsyde.
Maud Newton invited Tom Piazza to her blog to say a few words about his new book, Why New Orleans Matters. Piazza wrote the book in five weeks, shortly after Katrina hit. He writes:

In writing Why New Orleans Matters in the weeks just after the hurricane, I felt almost that I was trying to will the city to stay alive, on the page at least, by summoning the sense of place and the music and food and human warmth that took me there initially.

He later goes on to say
I wish more fiction writers would tithe a certain amount of their energies to writing about politics and current events. If they are good they have tremendous evocative power at their disposal. I admire Denis Johnson and ZZ Packer for doing it. Sometimes, of course, it can go wrong. But fiction writers, because of the primacy they give to voice and point of view, tend to have more power available than your average reporter — more leverage on the objective events about which they report.

Interesting to think about political writing as a sort of tithing. It's a tithing I am happy to put my energies into. I have to admit that I don't always put as much care into my political writing as I do into my fiction--when I write about current events, I tend to do it quickly, without close attention to language (although that tends to be true during early drafts of fiction, as well--I just let it pour out in a rush). One of these days, it would be amazing to really take the time to develop more of a poetics around politics.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

How could I have missed National Pomegranate Month?
My essay White House Snow Globe is up at Common Dreams.
I woke up in the middle of the night with my throat so sore, I could barely swallow. Matt woke up, too--I must have been saying "Ow"--and went to get me a cup of ice chips. I asked him if I had a fever; I was getting that chilled-fevery feeling. He said "You feel pretty warm, but there's only one way to find out." I said "I don't think our typewriter is reliable." He laughed and said "Yep, you have a fever." Ah, delirium. Later, after some ibuprofen, I said "It feels a little less hurty to smallow" and then I couldn't stop laughing. I fell asleep wondering why I had flipped the W into an M, wondering what life would be like if I kept flipping letters upside-down. Fevers--always good for a dose of the surreal.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I woke up this morning with a quote in my head: "I am human, nothing human is alien to me." I couldn't remember where the quote came from, so I looked it up, and discovered that it is from Terence (aka Publius Terentius Afer), an African-born Roman playwright, who was born around 185 BC. As a boy, he was a slave to a Roman senator; the senator ended up educating him and giving him his freedom. Terence went on to write several comedic plays.

I love the quote, and knowing the history behind it makes it even more rich. I think Terence's words are a reminder to be tolerant and compassionate and open, to remember that we are all human, even if we have wildly different cultural practices and ways of being in the world. I think his words can also speak to fiction writers. When we write fiction, we need to be able to slip into the minds and bodies of all sorts of people (including horrible, unethical, bizarre, people) without judgement. We need to be able to empathize with all our characters, even the ones who do shocking acts. We need to keep our eyes open to all human experience, from the ridiculous to the gritty to the sublime. And in doing so, we realize, like Terence, that nothing human is alien because we all have dark and light inside us.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Last month, Afghani poet Nadia Anjuman was murdered, most likely by her husband.

SHE risked torture, imprisonment, perhaps even death to study literature and write poetry in secret under the Taliban. Last week, when she should have been celebrating the success of her first book, Nadia Anjuman, was beaten to death in Herat, apparently murdered by her husband.

The 25-year-old Afghan had garnered wide praise in literary circles for the book Gule Dudi — Dark Flower — and was at work on a second volume.

Friends say her family was furious, believing that the publication of poetry by a woman about love and beauty had brought shame on it.

“She was a great poet and intellectual but, like so many Afghan women, she had to follow orders from her husband,” said Nahid Baqi, her best friend at Herat University.

Self Storage, the novel I'm currently revising, features a woman from Afghanistan. As I continue to work on the novel, I will be thinking of Nadia Anjuman. I hope my story can raise further awareness of the plight of Afghani women.
Afghan human rights groups condemned Anjuman’s death as evidence that the government of President Hamid Karzai has failed to address the issue of domestic violence. It is especially tragic because she was one of a group of courageous women, known as the Sewing Circles of Herat, who risked their lives to keep the city’s literary scene active under the Taliban regime.

Women were banned from working or studying by the Taliban, whose repressive edicts forbade women to laugh out loud or wear shoes that clicked. Female writers belonging to Herat’s Literary Circle realised that one of the few things that women were still allowed to do was to sew. So three times a week groups of women in burqas would arrive at a doorway marked Golden Needle Sewing School.

Had the authorities investigated, they would have discovered that the sewing students never made any clothes. Once inside the school, a brave professor of literature from Herat University would talk to them about Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and other banned writers.

Under a regime where even teaching a daughter to read was a crime, they might have been hanged if they had been caught.
You can find out how to sponsor Afghani women who are teaching other Afghani women to read and write here. You can also learn more about the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan here.
Today is both World AIDS Day and Blog Against Racism Day.

I found some intersection between the two in this article, which states how different countries are marking World AIDS Day. I was touched to read about the women with HIV who marched in India:

Dozens of HIV-infected women stepped out of the shadows during a rally in Golaghat, a town in India's eastern Assam state, to acknowledge they were living with the disease and should not be shunned.

''I marched through the town with more than 70 HIV-positive women like me ... I'm happy many women have paid heed to our call and have openly admitted to their HIV-positive status,'' said Jahnabi Goswami, 28. ''Men with the disease need to follow suit.''
I think about the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s. The power of numbers, the power of people gathering to say "Wake up. We exist. Take us seriously." My novel-in-progress (not the one I'm revising) is set during the Civil Rights era, and as I read about Dr. King and his message of peace and tolerance, I am inspired anew. Racism, like AIDS, is still a scourge in our culture. We still have so much work to do. But things have improved on both fronts in the last few decades, and it's because people affected have allowed themselves to be visible, to be heard. The lines of communication have been opened. The same article mentions

In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Indians must overcome traditional taboos attached to sex and discuss AIDS more openly within families and in public.
This is how we'll evolve as a culture. By talking about the things that scare us. By taking our biases out of the shadows and shedding light upon them so we can understand our fears, and hopefully move past them. By acting when we see injustice being perpetuated.

Michael Moore released a letter today, marking the 50th anniversary of Rosa Park's courageous act. He writes:

Rosa Parks may have been alone on that bus at the moment of her arrest but she wasn't alone for long. The old order was shaken, the world was upended and, as a people, we were given a chance for a bit of redemption.

Perhaps the best way to celebrate this most important day in American history is to ask yourself what it is that you can do today to make a difference. What risk can you take to move the ball forward? What is that one thing you've been wanting to say to your co-workers or classmates that you've been afraid to say -- but in your heart of hearts you know needs to be said? Why wait another day to say it or do it?

There is probably no better way to honor Rosa Parks -- and yourself -- than for you to put a stop to an injustice you see, not allowing it to continue for one more second. Do something. Then send me an email ( and tell all of us what you did (I'll post as many as I can).

Fifty years later, the bus we're on could use a few more people simply saying, "No. I'm sorry. I've had enough. I'm not going to take it anymore."
On World AIDS Day, on Blog Against Racism Day, on this historic anniversary, let's all think about what we can do to move our culture toward a more peaceful and tolerant future.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Garrison Keillor on reading and writing. I especially enjoyed this paragraph:

One reads books in order to gain the privilege of living more than one life. People who don't read are trapped in a mine shaft, even if they think the sun is shining. Most New Yorkers wouldn't travel to Minnesota if a bright star shone in the west and hosts of angels were handing out plane tickets, but they might read a book about Minnesota and thereby form some interesting and useful impression of us. This is the benefit of literacy. Life is lonely; it is less so if one reads.
Rob Brezny's Free Will Astrology horoscopes pop into my inbox weekly; they are often wonderfully baffling, but sometimes, like this week, they hit the nail on the head:

ARIES (March 21-April 19): As I meditated on your immediate future, I got a vision of you making your way through an obstacle course--scurrying across booby-trapped terrains, shimmying through tunnels, climbing over barriers, leaping across ditches. Curiously, there was not the least bit of stress etched on your face. On the contrary, your eyes were wide and your expression was exultant. You seemed to regard this not as an ordeal, but as a welcome opportunity to expand your resourcefulness.
This reminded me so much of the revision process, which I am in the thick of. It does feel like an obstacle course, full of challenges, but I am enjoying it tremendously. The process is stretching me and making me ask hard questions and helping me whittle the story into its rightful shape. My editor is so brilliant. She is able to see things I never could have caught on my own--overuse of certain words, unintentional rhymes, habitual sentence structures, etc. She has such a clear view of both the microcosm and macrocosm of the book. I am learning so much from her guidance.
Ali Smith's new essay, True Short Story, is a gorgeous meditation on the nature of short stories, the novel, friendship, and illness. Well worth the read.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

My lovely friend Cindy has interviewed me at her great site Conversations with Famous Writers. Her introduction to the interview is so sweet, it made me misty-eyed. Cindy will be a famous writer in her own right some day; she is currently shopping around her humorous and insightful novels, and I know an agent is going to be very excited to snatch them up.
Congratulations to my brother-in-law, Tim Ormsby! Two of his poems were just published at The King's English, and they're amazing--funny and strange and deep. Click on "Current Issue"; the poems are named "Cosmonauts" (which contains one of the greatest phrases I've ever read--"kinder than blintzes") and "The Curator's Birthday". They're the first pieces he's ever published, and definitely won't be the last. Both poems have been haunting me all day.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Guardian asked a whole slew of authors to name their favorite books of the year. The very first book on the list just happens to be my friend Sefi's amazing novel, Everything Good Will Come, recommended by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Yay Sefi!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I had a wild dream last night. I was at some sort of writing competition at an indoor swimming pool. The pool was a narrow one, about two laps wide, and the water was cloudy, milky, warm. A bunch of writers had gathered; I am not clear what the contest was all about, but we had to swim the length of the pool and back with a jar of preserved fruit between our legs (quite a challenge! We had to swim on our backs). All of the writers were clothed, wearing business suits, not swim suits. I was the only woman in the competition; I'm not sure what I was wearing. The actor Rainn Wilson was in the contest (he's not a writer, but he's married to one--Holiday Reinhorn; what a great pair of names betwee the two of them!--so maybe that's why he was there.) His jar of fruit was very strange; he stopped me after the first length of the pool to show it to me. The fruit was shaped like alien organs; little grenades and stars in all sorts of murky, gleaming colors. He had names for all of the fruit, too--I think one was called "conga." He offered to let me taste it, but then I realized I had fallen behind in the contest, so I kept swimming. Very bizarre...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Stanley "Tookie" Williams is scheduled to be executed on December 13th. He co-founded the Crips gang in 1971, but since his incarceration, he has become a true peacemaker (to the extent that he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times for his work in helping to prevent gang violence. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature for his anti-gang children's books.)

You can find out more about the case (which is riddled with blatant discrimination on the part of the courts) here, and you can sign a petition to ask Arnold to grant clemency for Tookie here.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Happy Buy Nothing Day!

I love what the Pittsburgh contingent of CODEPINK is doing to mark the day:

For the second year in a row, Codepink will gather (dressed in pink of course) in downtown Pittsburgh on the most frantic shopping day of the year, to tell consumers to buy nothing - especially the war. We will take the opportunity to stress anti-consumerism, and anti-militarism. We will be passing out large pink price tags, reminding shoppers of the high human and financial price of war. We had a great crowd last year, and hope for more this year. We will be chanting our favorite "We're Women, We're Marching, We're Not Out Shopping".

If I had more energy today, I'd be tempted to throw on some pink and do this at the local mall, myself.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I love how Keith Knight gives thanks to simple pleasures through his "Life's Little Victories" series:
In the spirit of wanting to be thankful for everything on this earth today (with the exception of Bush and company and associated evil mongerers--although I suppose I'm thankful to them for making me even more committed to justice), I offer up this poem, "Geocentric", by Pattiann Rogers:

Indecent, self-soiled, bilious
reek of turnip and toadstool
decay, dribbling the black oil
of wilted succulents, the brown
fest of rotting orchids,
in plain view, that stain
of stinkhorn down your front,
that leaking roil of bracket
fungi down your back, you
purple-haired, grainy-fuzzed
smolder of refuse, fathering
fumes and boils and powdery
mildews, enduring the constant
interruption of sink-mire
flatulence, contagious
with ear wax, corn smut,
blister rust, backwash
and graveyard debris, rich
with manure bog and dry-rot
harboring not only egg-addled
garbage and wrinkled lip
of ornage-peel mold but also
the clotted breath of overripe
radish and burnt leek, bearing
every dank, maloderous rut
and scarp, all sulphur fissures
and fetid hillside seepages, old,
old, dependable, engendering
forever the stench and stretch
and warm seeth of inevitable
putrefaction, nobody
loves you as I do.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! May you be surrounded by delicious food today, delicious love, the earth blooming and seething all around us...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Et tu, Target?

Say it isn't so!

I may not be a Slave to Target, but I am, or at least have been, a real devotee--I love Target. Tar-jhay. I love the way it brings affordable and cool design to the masses. I love how I always see people I know when I go to the majestic-looking Target on Arlington Ave., with the scrubby hills rising up behind it. I have been boycotting Wal-Mart for years, and always assumed Target was the antithesis of that evil empire. I guess I assumed wrong.

I recently learned that Target has been allowing its pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions, including emergency contraception. Planned Parenthood writes: "Pharmacist refusals are a disturbing trend that can jeopardize women's reproductive health. Denying women timely access to health care is an act of discrimination that could lead to an increased number of unintended pregnancies."

You can sign a petition at Planned Parenthood to turn up the heat at Target. The women of Broadsheet have some great ideas to hit Target where it hurts, as well.
Matt's surgery went really well--a huge relief. He is zonked from the pain meds, but so far hasn't had any crazy hallucinations like he did last year, when carnies were hopping around and men with pompadours lived in the ceiling. And now we have a handful of shiny metal pieces that used to rest under his skin. I'm glad he's not a bionic man any more. I hope he'll be able to enjoy Thanksgiving tomorrow, despite his leg and his fuzzy head. I think he will. When I was in college, I had my wisdom teeth taken out the day before Thanksgiving. I ended up eating the feast slowly, with just my front teeth--and savoring every painful bite.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A day before Thanksgiving last year, my husband shattered his leg skateboarding. A day before Thanksgiving this year, he's having surgery to take the metal out of his beautifully-healed bones. We hope the doctor will let him keep the metal so he can make a sculpture or something fun out of it (or maybe just look at it and marvel that it used to hold him together). Sadly, the hospital wouldn't let him keep his bone chips last year--all spare body parts are supposedly sent to a DNA repository at the FBI (kind of creepy!) We're going into the surgical center early, early Wednesday morning--any good thoughts would be appreciated.

Monday, November 21, 2005

I was so inspired by Cindy Sheehan and Jodie Evans and Dolores Huerta and Daniel Ellsberg (and all of the wonderful presenters) at the Office of the Americas Awards dinner on Saturday. All of the honorees spoke so eloquently about how a single person can make a huge difference in the world, how when the people speak, the leaders will eventually follow. It was a thrill, a real energy boost, to be in the presence of such beautiful power. And I was seated next to a true soul-sister--Jasmina Tesanovic, a feminist author/publisher/filmmaker from Serbia, who is very active in Women in Black (and we even have the same curly crazy hair.) I am so glad I met her, so excited to stay in touch with her.

The rest of the weekend involved a staying-up-until-3am Bucksworth show, and an amazing massage/milk bath/facial--the first of my life--the next morning (my sister in law and I finally used the gift certificates my mother-in-law so generously gave us for our birthdays--mine in April, Heather's in June.) To make the weekend more wonderfully surreal, we left the spa in a relaxed daze, blinking at the sunlight, our limbs all oozy, and stumbled right into the Doo Dah Parade!
A wonderful article by Walter Mosley just appeared in The Washington Post--The Writing Life: On the novelist's obligation to employ politics and poetry. I especially love the final paragraphs:

It comes down to this: Writing novels requires an obsession with our truths. Those truths are not put into novels for witnesses but for co-conspirators. The good novelist knows that Truth is always accompanied by its silent partner: Guilt. She knows that our humanity makes us responsible for events that transpire in this world. She knows, too, that we're not willing to accept the blame. We don't see our culpability even though it's our dollars being spent, our God we prefer above all others, our own image in that silvered mirror that becomes our standard for beauty and innocence. The novelist has the potential to shine light on these blind sides. But she must do it deftly, with a sharp beam. Blindside a reader, and you forfeit everything.

For me there is no such thing as fiction without poetry and politics. If you excise either one, you have taken the heart of us all. You won't get rich following my advice, but you may come up with something close to true.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

In my last post, I visited Lara Zeises' blog. Now, I'm delighted to have her visit my blog on her own GCC tour. Lara is the author of three young adult novels--her latest, Anyone But You, was praised for its "pitch-perfect narration" by Kirkus Reviews (and that's high praise coming from the notoriously cranky Kirkus). Her recent book release party not only featured skate board demos, and custom-made Pop-Tart ice cream; it also raised money for some wonderful causes--10% of all book sales went to benefit the libraries destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, and proceeds from the skateboard raffle went towards building skate parks in Delaware. Very cool!

Lara's two other novels for young adults are Bringing Up the Bones (2002), an honor book for the 2001 Delacorte Press Prize Competition, and Contents Under Pressure, which also served as her thesis project at Emerson College, where she earned her MFA in creative writing. She was awarded a 2005 Emerging Artist Fellowship in Literature-Fiction from the Delaware (state) Division of the Arts.

In addition to writing, Lara teaches part-time at the University of Delaware, where she received her BA in English-Journalism. She also facilitates creative writing workshops for both teens and adults.

That last line prompted my questions to Lara:

--Your bio mentions that you teach writing to both adults and teenagers. What have you learned from your teenage students? Do you have a favorite writing exercise? And what words of advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Teenage writers are less likely to be inhibited. When I first started teaching the adult creative writing course, I couldn't get my students to commit to more than a paragraph at a time for homework. When I do one- or two-day workshops with teens, they dive right into the meat of things. They love to partner up and share their group work. They'll less concerned - believe it or not - of making fools of themselves.

My favorite writing exercise to teach is the one where you have to write an entire paragraph in single syllable words. It's so hard, but it highlights how easy it is to use fifty-cent words, when sometimes a two-cent word will do. The one I use the most, though, is writing letters or diary entries in the voice of my characters. It really helps me to get to know them better.

As for aspiring writers: READ EVERYTHING YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON. Even if it's outside of your comfort level. Read books, magazines, newspapers. Watch good movies. Watch bad movies. Soak it all up, because it will all shape how your perceive the world - and how you translate those perceptions onto paper.

Wonderful, Lara! Thanks so much for stopping by!

Today, GCC gives us two authors for the price of one--Lola Douglas is also popping into Fruitful to promote her first novel, True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet. I couldn't resist asking these questions after reading about Lola's favorite word:

--I noticed on your website that your favorite word is "luscious." That's my favorite word, too! I love how it feels in my mouth, how it sounds, what it means. Since I am obsessed with fruit, I have to ask--what do you think is the most luscious fruit and why? Also, what do you think is the most luscious part about being a woman author, and why?

An ice cold plum with crisp skin - because of that poem about the plums in the ice box. Mmmm. Plums. Even the WORD looks luscious.

Women authors are less likely to backstab - at least, in my opinion. The sisterhood is definitely one of the best things about being part of this profession. Plus, despite what some people say about pink covers and the term "chick lit," I find neither demeaning in any way. I love it when people consider me a chick lit author. That's who I'm writing for - cool ass chicks who like to read.
Thanks, Lola! Enjoy the sisterhood of the GCC...

Friday, November 18, 2005

My GCC tour is drawing to a close. My final stop (I believe) is Zeisgeist, the blog of Lara Zeises. You can learn my top 10 desert island cds, my 7 dream Jeopardy categories, and the tv show I would most like to live inside of. Fun (and surprisingly challenging) questions to answer.

Thanks to all the women authors who let me pop into their online homes--I appreciate your generosity tremendously!

Update--I have one last visit: Laurie Stolarz is hosting me at her blog--in the posting, you can read one of Ava's dreams from The Book of Dead Birds. And now we will put the tour to bed. Sweet dreams!
Active Duty Army Specialist, Katherine Jashinkski, has become the first woman Conscientious Objector in this war. You can read her courageous story at the CODEPINK site.

Speaking of CODEPINK--I'm thrilled I was invited to help represent CODEPINK at tomorrow night's Recruiting for Peace event, honoring Cindy Sheehan, Jodie Evans, Dolores Huerta, and Daniel Ellsberg. I can't wait.

And for those of you who will be in LA tomorrow night, my husband's band Bucksworth will be playing at TAIX at 10:30pm. It should be a great show.
I am having so much fun with my Self Storage revisions. It's cool to revisit the story after being away from it awhile--I can see it much more clearly now (and I mean that in two ways--I have more detachment, more objectivity, and that brings so much clarity into the process, but I also am able to actually visually see the characters, the setting more clearly. When I first write a draft, I write in a sort of white heat, and sometimes the people and the landscape blur as I race past them through the story. Now I can slow down enough to see the world in a more dimensional way.)

Part of me wishes I had written the book earlier so I could have taken advantage of this being the 150 year anniversary of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (since the book plays a large role within my book.) But everything else about the timing of this book has been so amazing, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. And I'm fulling enjoying Whitman's sesquecentennial. I was happy to read about this new Leaves of Grass exhibit at the New York Public Library; especially this line in the article: "As ever with Whitman, the goal is an open, perceiving, feeling self..." Thanks to Whitman, that's pretty much the goal of Self Storage, too.
A fun call for submissions. I am definitely a geek, although I'm not exactly the kind of geek they're looking for. I'll have to see if I can come up with something...

CALL FOR PAPERS: She’s Such a Geek, An Anthology by and for Women Obsessed with Computers, Science, Comic Books, Gaming, Spaceships, and Revolution

Slated for Fall 2006

Geeks are taking over the world. They make the most popular movies and games, pioneer new ways to communicate using technology, and create new ideas that will change the future. But the stereotype is that only men can be geeks. So when are we going to hear from the triumphant female nerds whose stories of outer space battles will inspire generations, and whose inventions will change the future? Right now. Female geeks are busting out of the labs and into the spotlight. They have the skills and knowledge that can inspire social progress, scientific breakthroughs, and change the world for the better, and they’re making their voices heard, some for the first time, in Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders’ book She’s Such a Geek.

This anthology will celebrate women who have flourished in the male-dominated realms of technical and cultural arcana. We’re looking for a wide range of personal essays about the meaning of female nerdhood by women who are in love with genomics, obsessed with blogging, learned about sex from Dungeons and Dragons, and aren’t afraid to match wits with men or computers. The essays in She’s Such a Geek will explain what it means to be passionately engaged with technical or obscure topics and how to deal with it when people tell you that your interests are weird, especially for a girl. This book aims to bust stereotypes of what it means to be a geek, as well as what it means to be female.

More than anything, She’s Such a Geek is a celebration and call to arms: it’s a hopeful book which looks forward to a day when women will pilot spaceships, invent molecular motors, design the next ultra-tiny supercomputer, write epics, and run the government. We want introspective essays that explain what being a geek has meant to you. Describe how you’ve fought stereotypes to be accepted among nerds. Explore why you are obsessed with topics and ideas that are supposed to be “for boys only.” Tell us how you felt the day you realized that you would be devoting the rest of your life to discovering algorithms or collecting comic books. We want strong, personal writing that is also smart and critical. We don’t mind if you use the word “fuck,” and we don’t mind if you use the word “telomerase.” Be celebratory, polemical, wistful, angry, and just plain dorky.

Possible topics include:

· what turned you into a geek
· your career in science, technology, or engineering
· growing up geeky
· being a geek in high school today
· battling geek stereotypes (i.e racial stereotypes and geekdom, cultural analysis of geek chic and the truth about nerds, the idea that women have to choose between being sexually desirable and smart, stereotypes about geek professions such as computer programmers)
· sex and dating among geeks
·science fiction fandom
· role-playing game or comic-book subcultures
· the joys of math
· blogging or videogames
· female geek bonding
· geek role models for women
· feminist commentary on geek culture
· women’s involvement in DiY science and technology groups
· Stories from women involved in geek pop and underground cultures. These might include comic book writers, science fiction writers, electronic music musicians, and women interested in the gaming world.
· women’s web networks and web zine grrrl culture
· Issues of sexism in any or all of the above themes

Editors: Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders are geeky women writers. Annaleeis a contributing editor at Wired magazine and writes the syndicated column Techsploitation. Charlie is the author of Choir Boy (Soft Skull Press) and publisher of other magazine.

Publisher: Seal Press, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group,
publishes groundbreaking books by and for women in a variety of topics.

Deadline: January 15, 2006

Length: 3,000-6,000 words

Format: Essays must be typed, double-spaced, and paginated. Please include your address, phone number, email address, and a short bio on the
last page. Essays will not be returned.

Submitting: Send essay electronically as a Document or Rich Text Format file to Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders at

Payment: $100 plus two books

Reply: Please allow until February 15 for a response. If you haven’t received a response by then, please assume your essay has not been selected. It is not possible to reply to every submission personally.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Today is the 7th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgendered people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgendered people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence.
Some surprising and hilarious search terms have led people to my blog lately--and that's in addition to all the searches from France, Romania, Mexico, Spain, Russia and the Netherlands looking for "girlfriend" within the past couple of days. I imagine my blog was a huge disappointment to them. And to the people searching for:

--There's a Dead Person Flowing My Sister Around

--George Bush shoots brother bb gun

--hot girl

--controversial sea

--how to tell you i love you gayle

(That last one is so sweet. I hope the person figured out how to tell the gayle in question that she is loved...)
China keeps rising up on my radar. A couple of my friends recently went to China, so maybe I'm more aware of Chinese references than I normally would be, but it seems as if China has been appearing in the news more and more lately--stories about bird flu, the Governator's visit, Bush's vist (it makes me crazy to hear him try to promote "freedom" in China when he is eroding it so ferociously at home), etc. Today, I found this article about Chinese poet and journalist, Shi Tao, who has been silenced by the Chinese government for writing an email about potential unrest in Tiananmen Square. He is serving 10 years in a prison on a small island, where he is "forced to do labour processing jewels." The sentence is harsh enough, but I found this the worst part: "He is not allowed to write anything while in prison, except for letters to his family." That seems like the worst punishment you could give a writer. I hope he is able to pour his heart out in those letters, hope he is able to express himself freely within his constraints.

Writers and poets are considered dangerous for good reason--we can tell the truth; we can cut through the veils, the lies, of power with a few sharp words. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that some governments resort to imprisoning, silencing, even murdering (as in the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa, which I mentioned yesterday) those who choose to use their voices to try to bring about change, but it breaks my heart every time I hear about another case. Freedom of Speech is under attack in our own country, of course; I was upset to discover that the Patriot Act is being renewed, that our government still has the authority to snoop at our library files, our bookstore receipts. I am grateful for the brave librarians and booksellers who have refused to hand over information. And I am grateful for all the brave writers around the world who continue to use their voices, even under threat of persecution.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A while back, I mentioned that I discovered a call for proposals for a panel about assuming ethnic identity in autobiographical fiction; The Book of Dead Birds was featured prominently in the abstract. I have since had the pleasure of getting in touch with the woman who proposed the panel, Cathy Waegner, an English professor at the Universitat Siegen in Germany. She used The Book of Dead Birds in her "African American Asian Cross Cultural Encounters" seminar, and recently shared some of her students' essays with me. It was so cool, and often very moving, to see how German students (writing in English) responded to the book. They interpreted the dream sequences of the book in ways that I had not even considered. They made beautiful thematic connections that never would have occurred to me. I have read reviews of the novel before, of course, but never academic analyses, and it was very eye opening. I'll share a few snippets that I found especially delightful:

--"Normally you should not judge a book by its cover. But the cover of "The Book of Dead Birds (and the title itslef--what should be so interesting about dead birds?!) appeared somehow strange at first sight and therefore invited me to think a bit about the book.

Looking at the cover, one can see a picture of a sea or river. The water has a pleasant color; some parts are lightened up by the sun. Nevertheless the photo creates a depressing and somehow cold atmosphere. No people or animals can be seen. The trees in the background do not have leaves; the plants in the water appear dark. The whole landscape seems to be lifeless.

The photo is a a mixture of light and dark with the darkness and tristesse dominating. Having read the first pages of the novel, I think that the photo reflects the lives of Ava and her mother. This light and dark relationship becomes obvious right from the beginning..."

(The student goes on to explore this dark/light dichotomy throughout the novel--I love it.)

--This sentence, from a different paper, tickled me a lot: "It seems quite unusual that a little author presenting a story makes it at the same time somehow interesting and the curiosity of the reader is awakened!"

--I found the conclusion of this paper very touching...(it has a bit of a spoiler, so if you haven't read the book, you might want to avoid it):

"The relationship to Darryl might not solve the non-communicative situation between Ava and her mother, but at least he could be the reason for Ava not feeling Other anymore, but maybe feeling herself, feeling unique and feeling loved in the end."
Another GCC stop--the ever-delightful Joshilyn Jackson interviews me at her blog, Faster than Kudzu.
November 10th was the 10th anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian author who was hanged for his work as an activist for environmental and Ogoni rights. PEN American Center commemorates his death and reminds us that many writers are still facing persecution around the world for speaking the truth.
A few more stops on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit...You can find me at the blogs of Mindy Friddle, Michelle Richmond, Jennifer O'Connell, and Sheila Curran. Thanks for being such gracious hosts, everyone!

Update: You can also read a portion of my essay from It's a Boy, "Zen and the Art of Extracurricular Activities", over at my friend Andi's blog (and you can read about Andi's recent experience as a tv superstar!)

I will be giving a reading at the Palm Desert Library tonight. If you happen to be a desert denizen, please swing on by! I love the trip out there--it's always a treat to drive past the Cabazon dinosaurs (even though they have been co-opted by Intelligent Design proponents), and surreal fields of windmills. Maybe I'll even pick up a date shake on the way. I wonder if I'll catch a whiff of the Salton Sea...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I was very happy to see this article in the LA Times today: Merging Movies and Activism. The piece profiles Participant Productions, a new film company that, according to its website, "believes in the power of media to create great social change. Our goal is to deliver compelling entertainment that will inspire audiences to get involved in the issues that affect us all." They not only are putting out some great films (including George Clooney's latest), but are also offering ways for the audience to get more involved in the issues raised by each film. The LA Times writes:

The company's website has a specific social action campaign built around each Participant film. "North Country" is linked to Stand Up, a campaign geared at ending sexual harassment and domestic violence. The "Syriana" site, which will launch next week, will be linked to Oil Change, a campaign to reduce America's dependence on oil.
I hope the adaptation of The Book of Dead Birds will end up on their desk. I think it would be a beautiful fit.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I have never sought out Shakira's music--I've only heard bits and pieces on commercials--but after reading this article about her in the NY Times, I feel compelled to. I'm not crazy about her hesitancy to be labeled a feminist, but she seems like a very cool person, and we share a lot of thoughts about the embodied creative process:

--"I think art, music should be sensual," she added. "Not necessarily sexual. I think that's a huge difference between that N and that X. It's more than the 11 letters of difference. Sensual is everything that refers to the delight of the senses. And that's what artists do, is stimulate the senses in any possible way. I don't think I have to hang myself a little sign that says 'Hey, I'm sexy,' and then take it off and now say, 'Hey, now I'm serious.' I can just fluctuate and oscillate from one side to the other whenever my instincts tell me to."

--And she was still working on "Oral Fixation, Vol. 2" after its single, "Don't Bother," had been released. She was under deadline pressure by that point but, she says, "You can't ripen a fruit by hitting it with rocks."

--"Sometimes a melody suggests in what language that song should be written," she said. "I just learned to listen to what the song wants to tell me."

--Rehearsal beckoned; in a few days, Shakira would be singing the songs in public for the first time. "Just today," she said, "I'm starting to get in touch with the songs from the performer point of view. O.K., how am I going to interpret this with my body? How am I going to start to have now a physical relationship with my songs?"

--"My hips tell me where and when I should move," she had said before returning to work with the band. "And my hips don't lie - my hips tell me the truth."