Monday, January 31, 2005

I just saw this terrifying headline on the AP wires:

First Amendment No Big Deal, Students Say. The First Amendment is no big deal?!?!?! I'd say the First Amendment is a pretty damn big deal. And if we don't protect it, if we get apathetic about it, we're in real danger of losing it. How can these students not see how precious our freedom of speech is in this world? Do these students Want to have their words censored, stifled? Aaargh!

There was a much less depressing article about freedom of speech--in this case, the physical freedom of speech--in this Sunday's Los Angeles Times Magazine. The author, Marjorie Miller, had throat surgery which made it difficult for her to speak. This lead to her lovely meditation on the weight of words, the muscularity of words, the power of both words and silence. It is always a delight to see someone acknowledge the lusciousness of language. I know just how she feels when she writes

Words for me are textured and physical. That is why "cloud" and "bluff" annoy me, as the sounds are contrary to their meanings. Clouds are fluffy and bluffs are hard drops. "Plethora" is full-bodied, as it should be. And "persnickety" is as fussy and staccato as it sounds. A joy to say, albeit a pain to live with, I know.

When writing is a chore, my hands feel leaden. But when I write something that excites me, my fingers tingle as though they are conducting electric words. I like to read my writing aloud to see how the words feel on my tongue, and how they sound.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Shields Date Gardens is closing! This makes me more sad than seems reasonable. Maybe because I love their date shakes and their date samples and the wonderful old sign for their "Romance and Sex Life of the Date" filmstrip. Maybe because my main character Ava went there on her first date with Darryl in The Book of Dead Birds. Maybe just because it's the end of an era.

I'm always sad to see vintage buildings or businesses disappear or succumb to "modernization" which inevitably strips away their charm. I hope that won't happen to the Flabob Airport Cafe, which has been around for decades (and where Matt and I go for breakfast on a near weekly basis--we were just there this morning). They have done some rejuvenation of the building outside, but inside, there is still quilted metal on the wall behind the counter, and pictures on the walls that have been there since the 40s, and a cool vibe that comes from being part of the community for ages.

We met the Flabob gardener, Jungle Jim, today. He has been working at the little airport for a year, and has brought the place to life with native plants and wild flowers--it's the kind of messy, vibrant gardening that I love. We asked him about a strange, prehistoric looking plant; it was obviously a succulent, but it had this crazy cone of tiny yellow daisy-looking flowers springing from the top. I had never seen anything like it. He told us it's called a "Schwartzkopf" ("Like the general" he said. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but I detected a small sigh as he said this.) He pulled a plant straight from the ground and gave it to us. We warned him that we have black thumbs, but he said that all we have to do is stick the plant in our yard and it will flourish. Then he asked us to raise our thumbs. He pressed his thumb to ours and told us he was giving us gardening luck. It felt like a real blessing, like we were in the presence of a holy man. He obviously has a deep connection to the plants he works with. He gave us his card; we might see what magic he can do with our front yard...

Monday, January 24, 2005

My website has been down for well over a month due to provider transfer issues, but it has a temporary home now. Hopefully you'll be able to access it via its normal url ( soon!

Update: My site is up! Yay!

For those of you out in the desert, I am going to be reading at the Peppertree Bookstore in Palm Springs this Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 7pm. I've heard great things about the store and look forward to checking it out.

The Spanish edition of The Book of Dead Birds, El libro de los pájaros muertos, comes out next month. I just discovered the website of my Spanish publisher, Alfaguara. If you plug my name into their search engine, you can read the synopsis of the novel and my bio in Spanish! You can also find me in their Galeria de Autores (which points right to this blog. Hola to any Spanish readers!)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

My parents are playing musical houses in Oceanside--my dad was living in my mom's house while she was living in an apartment in San Diego; he moved into his own townhouse in Oceanside last weekend, and my mom moved into the house today. I drove down to Oceanside to see them and help out with the move. At some point, I went outside to get in my dad's car, and one of the movers handed me a folded piece of paper. "I think this is your mom's," he said before he got in the truck. I opened it up, and it was the report card from my 8th grade journalism class! 8th grade was probably (no, make that definitely) the worst year of my life, but my journalism class--which I had completely forgotten about until today--was a refuge. The teacher, Mrs. Kurz, had written:

"Gayle does outstanding work and participated in all phases of writing, layout, and sales. It was a pleasure to work with her. I plan to enter her article on the art mural in the Columbia student contest."

I don't remember anything about the sales aspect of the class--sales is still something I am trying to make peace with in my writing/publishing life--but I am starting to remember that article about the mural. A WPA mural had been uncovered in a local school, and I researched it, spoke to local historians, and watched as the rest of the drywall covering the mural was removed. The painting had been covered up because it was considered too "communist", the workers depicted on the mural too somber. It was a great moment, one that made me feel as if I was part of something bigger than myself, bigger than my own personal angst (which was raging that year.) I remember the article had to do with censorship and free expression, topics that are still so important to me today.

It's so wild that I happened to be walking by the mover just as he discovered the paper on the floor of the truck, that the page happened to be about my writing self instead of a report card of a math class or a receipt from a hair cut. It feels like a sign, somehow. I'm not quite sure what it means yet, but I'm going to try to listen to any cues...

Saturday, January 22, 2005

My friend Kate's play, Orange Grove is going to be staged at UC Riverside next week. I am very excited to see it--this is a play that lived inside of Kate for so long; it is a thrill to see it find its way into the world. If any of you are in Southern CA, be sure to check it out!

Friday, January 21, 2005

One of my favorite words is luminous. I love how it feels in my mouth, love how it looks on the page, love what it means. So I was happy to discover this cool piece on Bioluminescence over at The Believer's website. Who knew shrimp vomit was beautiful?

I don't know what it is about pearliness, iridescence, that draws me so. I guess all of us are drawn to shiny things, but I have a particular fondness for streaky, opal-y, shimmer. Not gems, really. But the inside of an abalone shell, the swirl of rainbow on a puddle of oil, those things light something up in me. My friend Kryn has a new iridescent tea set, and it's so glorious, I couldn't keep my eyes off of it. I realized at some point that many of my poems have gleaming things in them; I guess it makes sense that the name of my--as yet-and-maybe-forever-unpublished--poetry collection is Lack/Luster.

Speaking of as-yet-(but-hopefully-not-forever) unpublished stuff, my new novel, Self Storage was supposedly shipped to HarperCollins on Wednesday. Hopefully I'll get some news within a couple of weeks. The publishing world is full of so much waiting. I'll have to find some shiny things to stare at to keep my mind busy in the meanwhile...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Here's a way to boycott Bush's inauguration:

Not One Damn Dime Day

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I was at the library yesterday, and spoke briefly with my friend, who is a reference librarian there. She was faced with a disturbing situation--a patron had contacted her (I think by phone); he said that he wanted to join the KKK, and wanted to know how to find them. My friend told me she wasn't sure what her responsibility as a librarian was in such a case. She was tempted to tell him to go find the information, himself. She also wondered if perhaps the caller was doing an academic study just to see whether someone could get that sort of information through the library. I am curious to know how it all unfolded (D, if you're reading this, please let me know.)

This got me to thinking--what is my responsibility as a writer? This is something I think about a lot, actually. Part of me feels that my only responsibility is to become transparent, to tell the stories that want to come through me without imposing my own agenda. I want to be an open, unbiased, channel. At the same time, I feel a real responsibility to keep the voice of dissent alive, to speak up about the things that disturb me, to give a throat to those who are voiceless. The honors I have received (not to mention the current oppressive political climate) have made this feel even more imperative to me, but it can be a tricky balance. I like to think that if I allow myself to be an open channel, my passions will find a way to seep through. At the same time, I have to be open to anything; if a character who wants to join the KKK speaks up inside of me, I need to listen, to follow that story. And I think that is ultimately where the most healing aspect of fiction comes in--it allows us to look into the heart of the other (even if that heart is a dark one); it helps us realize that the other isn't so other after all. Which ultimately helps increase our capacity for connection and compassion. That, I think, is the best goal of all.

Monday, January 17, 2005

I wanted to write something about Martin Luther King, Jr. today, but Laila over at Moorish Girl and Bob Herbert at the New York Times said everything I wanted to say (and more). I'll just put big ditto marks under their words, and pray that one day our culture will truly awaken to MLK's dream.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

My friend Donna introduced me to a new fruit Friday morning--jujubes! (not to be confused with this type of jujube.) They are also called dried Chinese dates, but they are not very date-like. They are the size of small plums, brick red and wrinkly. They look like they would have a plum-like heft, too, but they are surprisingly light. The inside is tan and spongy, almost like a soft wood fiber. The flavor is sweet and a bit musty, like candy from an attic. The farmer at the market said jujubes make good tea, boiled down.

Donna also brought me to an African dance class. It felt so good to get my body moving! I've been trying to figure out how to reincorporate dance into my life, and this seems a great way to do it.

Dance and a new fruit--an excellent day, indeed.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

One of my presents over the holidays was the book Astonish Yourself! 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life by Roger-Pol Droit. It's full of all sorts of weird and cool exercises to help you see the world freshly. (The first exercise I found when I opened the book was "Drink while urinating"! The author promises "bizarre sensations almost immediately".)

I was very excited to stumble upon Exercise 35: Contemplate a dead dird. I have been contemplating dead birds--mainly fictional ones--for the last few years, of course, and never imagined that others would see fit to write about the experience of starting at bird corpses. I particularly like these two paragraphs:

"If you look closely enough, you'll probably find the sight a sad one initially. A life snuffed out. A body misplaced, a bird lying on the ground, all stiff. Something resembling defeat and failure. The experiment consists of going beyond that, by seeing more and more clearly and distinctly.

"You see that the bird will never live again. And also that it feels nothing. That this is how it is, beyond help and complain. Innocent of nostalgia or recrimination. The longer you look the clearer it should become that there is nothing, concerning this little corpse, that can be cause for regret. There is only the present. And you start to realize that it is perfect. Because it is the only tense there is."

I wish my character Ava could have seen the dead birds this way!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I have a piece in the great new anthology, Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts. It's a fabulous book to read if you've made a New Year's resolution to be more creative in the midst of all of your family frenzy! I have an extra copy and would be happy to send it along to the first reader who pipes up (just write to me at gaylebrandeis at hotmail dot com or comment below.)

(A book cover observation--this is the third book I've appeared in within the last year in which the spine of the book features a thick bar of yellow. It must be something like the recent legs trend...)

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The pelicans are back!!!

I'm so excited! Last year, I spotted pelicans--about six of them, pure white ones--in the mucky manmade lake at the park down the street. The lake attracts ducks and geese (and, to my delight, egrets and occasionally a heron or two), but in all the years I've lived here, I had never seen pelicans in Lake Evans. They stayed a few weeks last year, looking very regal and strange, before they took off again. And now they're back! I wonder if they've decided to bypass the Salton Sea on their migratory route--maybe they remember the catastrophic die-offs (the ones that put them back on the endangered species list). Whatever the reason, I'm thrilled to see them. I've had such a maternal feeling towards pelicans since writing The Book of Dead Birds.
In an effort to be more proactive in reaching out through my books, I have created two new blogs:

Self Storage, a blog related to my recently completed novel by the same name


Thunder Thighs, a blog related to my thigh book proposal currently making the rounds.

I am currently waiting to hear the fate of both projects, and thought that if I give each book a presence, even a virtual one, in the world, it will send some good energy out.

This will continue to be my primary blog (even though I don't blog as often as I would like! I imagine the others will be updated even less frequently for the time being, but please do check in every once in awhile. I am hoping that both of those blogs will spur a lot of discussion in the Comments areas.)