Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I wish I had known about this Peace Not Poverty Write-In before the registration closed. It's a great idea--I would have loved to have been part of it. I'm happy to know it's starting today. Write on, all of you write-inners!
Once again, we are lucky enough to plug into the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit. Our guest today is Kathleen O'Reilly, author of The Diva's Guide to Selling Her Soul. Here's some PR:

The Devil Made Her Do It

What would you sacrifice to be a size zero? For more than a few women, the promise of thin thighs in 30 seconds might just convince them to deal with the devil. Award-winning author Kathleen O'Reilly's The DIVA'S GUIDE TO SELLING HER SOUL (Apr., Downtown Press) is a story for every woman who knows that getting celebrity-style skinny involves a pact with Lucifer‹or in this case, the silver-tongued Lucy. She's the trashiest gossip columnist in the city and she's working a pyramid scheme that's truly evil. The more clients our "innocent" heroine V recruits for her "Life Enrichment Program," the more of V's decadent desires will come true. Unfortunately, V soon discovers there maybe something worth saving in her after all, which means when she made the deal with the devil she may have truly damned herself -unless she can figure a way out.

I asked Kathleen to write a little something about body image and the expectations society places on women, and how this inspired/affected her novel. Here is her response:

We moved two years ago from Texas, the land of big hair and big butts, to New York, the land of platinum hair, platinum jewelry, and size zero jeans. Sadly, I stood out - literally. And I'm only a size eight. It's not like people stop you on the street, or stare as if you're disabled, but it creeps into your psyche when you're surrounded by women of toothpick proportions - or smaller. I started Diva's Guide To Selling Your Soul, because I realized that when it comes to the haves and have-nots, Manhattan exists only for the haves. The wants and the needs creep into your blood slowly and make you burn, just like a healthy shot of Jack Daniels on a cold winter's night. I love New York, I don't want to live anywhere else right now, but sometimes I pinch myself (and perhaps an extra Oreo) to remind me exactly where my priorities lie.

It was easy to write the main character, V. She's sold-out to have everything she wants, and damn the consequences. She's got a great life in the book; this isn't a story where the devil turns all the soul-less into zombies or something. Unfortunately, the time comes when she has to examine the choices that she made, knowing that she can't go back.

There's a lot of people in this city who defend their choices and justify them, but you hear the worry in their voice. They know what their doing. They're trying to keep up, and in the process, they sold out some important piece of who they are. Envy is a lot like alcoholism -- each day brings up new battles: new shoes, a massage, the latest It-bag, but you just gotta take it one day at a time.
Thanks so much, Kathleen!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I have resisted writing a new entry because it would mean that the entry about my Aunt Mimi's death would disappear from the page. Somehow that would make her feel all the more gone, and I'm not ready for that. So I wanted to write something else about her to keep her memory alive in this space.

Every time we went to Mimi's apartment in Park Forest South when I was a girl, my sister and I would play Tiddly Winks (using the same brand of set found in this picture.) I have such vivid memories of sitting on the floor in Mimi and Bob's olive green guest bedroom and playing the game--I remember the dusty smell of the little felt squares, the click of the plastic disks against one another, the satisfying thunk I felt in my hand and chest when the large disk made the small disk fly towards the target, and the higher, brighter clink I felt inside when the disk landed in one of the plastic scoring bins. I rarely hit the bullseye, but when I did, I was flooded with happiness. Mimi would come into the room to check on us, bringing a snack or a drink. She was always so proud of us, no matter what we did--even if we missed the entire Tiddly Winks target, she was proud of us. We would often perform in her living room, do little songs and dances for Mimi and the other gathered relatives, and Mimi always cheered the loudest. My dad said recently that Mimi had a child's pleasure in the world, and that's true; she was truly joyful. And generous.

I remember her sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. I remember the Cream of Wheat she made for me when I wasn't feeling well. I remember her console television set, the collage of family photos on the walls, the powdery floral scent of her bathroom. She and my uncle Bob, who died a few years ago, always sounded like cartoon characters to me--his voice reminded me of Winnie the Pooh; her voice reminded me of some sweet character that hadn't been invented yet--she would be a bird, probably. I like to think of her as a bird now--a Mimi bird with platinum feathers and the loveliest song.

Monday, March 28, 2005

I mentioned butterflies in my Cultures of Life piece below because I've noticed droves upon droves of butterflies this week. When I drive down the street, butterflies careen in front of my windshield, float across the intersections by the dozens. Each time I see one, an endless stream usually follows--sometimes with large gaps of air between them, sometimes a clumped cloud of orange flutter. I thought they were small monarchs, but it turns out they're Painted Ladies; there is a record number of them this year because of the rain. They make me feel like I'm in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story. Much better than locusts and frogs, I have to say. A happy plague.
Fruit Fiction!

Friday, March 25, 2005

If you live in California, please take the time to sign this online petition to save public libraries in Salinas (and throughout California.) Code Pink is also going to be part of a very cool 2 day Read-In in Salinas April 2nd-3rd; I wish I could be there. It makes my heart sick to think of libraries shutting down; libraries are such treasure troves, such life lines. If a community loses its library, it loses part of its soul.

Speaking of communities and souls, I took part in an anti death penalty rally today; it always does my heart good to connect with people who are working to bring about justice. I shared a poem I wrote about my meditation on the term "culture of life". It's not my greatest poem by any stretch--I dashed it out in a few minutes this morning--but I'll share it here because of its timeliness.

Cultures of Life

We hear a lot of talk about a "culture of life" these days.
On this spring day, I feel life all around me—the trees bursting
with blossoms, the rash of butterflies stirring the air.
The culture of life that our administration promotes
pollutes the true culture of life.
How can a culture of life support the death penalty?
How can a culture of life start an unjust war?
This administration supports a culture of power, not a culture of life—
power over women's bodies, power over the natural world,
the Third World, the entire world.
This administration doesn't celebrate life; it subjugates life.
A culture of life would value freedom of expression,
a culture of life would ensure we had clean water, fresh air,
a culture of life would ensure health care for all.
A culture of life would not be so quick to drill for oil
in our most pristine places,
a culture of life would not be so quick to send people off to their death,
whether in our military or our prisons,
a culture of life would support education, not incarceration,
a culture of life would do what it could to eradicate poverty.
Our administration fosters a culture of lies, not a culture of life.
I ask all of us to listen to our own beating hearts, not the talking heads,
I ask all of us to pay attention to the way life blooms forth in the natural world,
to cultivate our own living culture, a culture that honors
not just those of us who can further our political agenda,
but all of us who breathe this same air, who walk this same earth.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

My friend Laraine Herring's book, Lost Fathers, arrived in the mail today. Laraine is a brave and beautiful writer, and it's a thrill to see her amazing work make its way into the world. The book's subtitle is How Women Can Heal from Adolescent Father Loss; I know it's going to be an important and healing resource for so many women. Laraine weaves a lot of her own experience, and her own gorgeous poetry, into the book. Here's a sample:


It is only a few moments
on the clock of my life.
Each year that passes increases the space
between when we were family
and when you were dead.
The who I was when we were family
stopped moving somewhere on the way out of the coffin
toward the sunflower field.

It is very gray here
because even though the clock stops
time still passes
and gray looks like blue or yellow or green
whether my eyes are open or closed.
It’s the same.

Oh god, is that comfortable.

Let me sleep here wrapped in the gauze of my wounds.

When the coffin is closed
and gray turns black I will scarcely notice
the colors that dance on the black canvas spinning away.

I will have died with you,
your skeleton locked around me.
If only you would move your arm I could stretch,
but you can’t because you’re dead
and I, dutiful daughter,
will never break that bone.


Those last lines give me chills every time I read them.

Congratulations, Laraine!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Thanks to the incomparable Sefi Atta for recommending The Book of Dead Birds over at Moorish Girl! My books were mentioned at Cupcake a few days ago, too. I love both of these blogs, so it's a real treat to see my name over there.

I mentioned my discomfort with using the word "bitch" the other day; now the New York Times weighs in on the current cultural state of the word.

I can happily say "bitch" outloud when referring to Martha O'Connor's novel, The Bitch Posse. It comes out in May and it is fierce! An amazing, amazing book. It's going to take the world by storm, I know it.

Friday, March 18, 2005

I mentioned over at my other blog that my new novel, Self Storage, was turned down by my editor at HarperCollins this Monday (the same day as Mimi's death). I didn't mention that I had an apocalyptic dream that night, in which white birds--doves, I suppose--were falling from the night sky by the droves. I'm sure there is all sorts of symbolism to be found in this dream--my fears of endless war (doves of peace plummeting), my sadness about Mimi's death, etc., etc. It feels connected to the book situation, somehow, too. The fact that HarperCollins published The Book of Dead Birds surely has something to do with it--the dream was full of dead birds, after all. But I think that their whiteness may also symbolize my early innocence as a writer; I feel as if I have lost a lot of that, even before I received this news. The publishing world has given me many, many gifts, but it can also be a cold place. Once I became published, it took me awhile to find joy in the writing process again; thoughts of marketing and sales numbers entered my consciousness and prickled like burrs. I have reclaimed that joy, but it is a joy suffused with a new knowledge of the wider world now. My birds are no longer so white.

I am full of hope, though. In the rest of the dream, a friend and I were able to shut down a power plant (or maybe restore power there--it's hard to remember exactly what was going on, but it involved a lot of ladder climbing and big gray machines) and in doing so, we essentially saved the world. I know the world of my book is going to be saved; it will find new life elsewhere. I am doing some revision now, based on great, specific, advice from Barbara Kingsolver; my agent will send the book out far and wide when it's ready. She assures me it will find an excellent home. Maybe even one where brightly colored birds fill the sky.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Bellwether Babes! This picture was taken at the Poets & Writers banquet in NY. From the left are Barbara Kingsolver (beloved Bellwether goddess), me, Marjorie Kowalski Cole (the newest Bellwether winner; her book, Correcting the Landscape, comes out later this year), and Donna Gershten (whose novel, Kissing the Virgin's Mouth, was the first Bellwether winner). What a great night! Thanks to Marjorie for sending me the picture!

The Girls are back!

Our guest today is E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List. I received a copy of The Boyfriend List yesterday, and was instantly pulled under its spell--it's a fun postmodern young adult novel that captures all the angst and hope of teenage life (and features a most fetching frog on the cover--see below). Here is a synopsis:

Ruby Oliver is fifteen and has a shrink. She knows it's unusual, but give her a break -- she's had a rough ten days. In the past ten days she:
-lost her boyfriend (#13 on the list)
-lost her best friend (Kim)
-lost all her other friends (Nora, Cricket)
-did something suspicious with a boy (#10)
-did something advanced with a boy (#15)
-had an argument with a boy (#14)
-drank her first beer (someone handed it to her)
-got caught by her mom (ag!)
-had a panic attack (scary)
-lost a lacrosse game (she's the goalie)
-failed a math test (she'll make it up)
-hurt Meghan's feelings (even though they aren't really friends)
-became a social outcast (no one to sit with at lunch)
-had graffiti written about her in the girls' bathroom (who knows what was in the boys' !?!)

But don't worry-- Ruby lives to tell the tale. And make more lists.

I asked E. to create a different kind of list for her visit here, a list of women she admires. Here is her wonderful response:

Women I Admire by E. Lockhart

I admire women who live large. Who are unafraid and unapologetic for their choices. Who are voracious. Who are physically or artistically surprising. Women who remind me what is possible.

1) MFK Fisher. The food writer. But she was so much more than that. She wrote miraculously meticulous sentences that I recall years after reading them, and she was unapologetically sensual.
2) Katherine Hepburn. The actress. For cross-dressing. For being unafraid of popular opinion. For style.
3) Bonnie Blair. The speed skater. Because she was a freakin' superhero on that ice.
4) Margaret Cho. The comedian. For being so very unafraid. And for making me laugh, repeatedly and loudly, on the subway while listening to my ipod. (the clip: "Daddy Gay Story")
5) Iris Murdoch. The novelist. Her novels are engrossing and perpetually surprising to me. And I love, also, that she was both decidedly homely and remarkably sexy.
6) Kristin Chenoweth. The singer. She's got a voice that runs the gamut from ridiculous to sublime.
7) Ruth Krauss. The picture book writer. Her writings were utterly original and joyful.
8) Amy Schwartz. Also a picture book writer. For finding truths and rhythms in every day lives, and articulating them perfectly.
9) Julia Child. The chef. What's not to love? Even an imitation of her cheers me up. And she taught me how to cook.

So glad to be on your blog! And so fun to make this list. I could have gone on and on. PS. My favorite fruit is mango. --E

Thank you so much, E! It's a delight to have you here!

Why is this frog visiting my blog? Stay tuned...

Monday, March 14, 2005

My beautiful aunt Mimi died this morning at the age of 89.

I am crying as I write this. The winds are crazy today. Through the window, I can see dust devils rising in the back yard, dust swirling across the ground, and I feel those same storms inside myself--raw and wild and disorienting. I'm grateful for the wind, though, grateful for my feelings, grateful for the people in my life.

My sister and her daughter were in town from Toronto all of last week (I miss them so much now!!!) Our parents took us whale watching. We spent about an hour and a half on the sea without seeing anything but water (ripply, pewter, powerful water.) I made peace with the fact that we probably weren't going to see any whales; at least we were all together, enjoying the sea air, the motion of the boat, the day. Then we happened upon a pod of dolphins. And not a small pod. I'm talking hundreds of dolphins. They leaped towards us, swooped under the boat, raced the boat, surrounded us with muscular joy. They looked so happy, their bodies sleek and dappled, their bellies white. And we could hear them talking--clicks and whistles and squeaks. What a pleasure and honor to hear their language. My sister later told me that she had always worried that humans had irrevocably fucked up our planet, but when she saw these dolphins, she realized that the world was doing okay, that we hadn't ruined everything, that the planet was still a beautiful and amazing place.

And it is. But it's so hard to imagine it without Mimi. I last saw her two years ago when I was on tour for The Book of Dead Birds. I was in Olympia, WA to give a reading at my cousin's bookstore, De Colores (my cousins are amazing, by the way. The whole story behind the bookstore is detailed at the site.) I developed a coughing fit during the reading, and Mimi gave me a strawberries and cream life saver to soothe my throat. She was always doing whatever she could to help people--she was the sweetest, most generous woman, with the softest skin and the cutest voice. It was a gift to spend a couple of days with her and her family. I remember when we said goodbye and I watched her walk slowly up the stairs to her apartment, I worried it was the last time I would ever see her. It breaks my heart that this proved to be true. And it breaks my heart that I didn't speak with her while she was in the hospital (although we sent messages back and forth through my dad.) She kept her sense of humor and grace until the very end.

She was going to turn 90 in May. A huge birthday celebration was planned in Washington, the same weekend as my cousin Sahra's wedding--it was going to be (and still will be, I'm sure) a wonderful family gathering. Now instead of celebrating Mimi's birthday with Mimi present, we'll celebrate her whole life in her absence.

I miss her already.

An update: I learned later that my incredible cousin Bobby arranged to have Mimi's body taken back to her apartment for the rest of the day. He didn't want her to go directly from the hospital to the funeral home; it felt too impersonal. I didn't know it was possible to do such a thing, but he was able to bring her home and put her in her own bed for a few hours so friends and family could sit with her on her home turf, in her warm apartment. I find this one of the sweetest, most beautiful things I've ever heard. If I wasn't 2,000 miles away, I would have been there, for sure. I keep hearing Mimi's voice in my head, keep remembering our holidays together when I was a girl, keep virtually walking through her apartment, with its beaded doorway and the silk pillows on wheels, keep remembering all she taught me about generosity and kindness.

Thank you to everyone who emailed condolences; I'm very grateful.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Happy International Women's Day, everyone!

Please consider celebrating by participating in the Global Women's Strike. There are actions in the works all over the world to help stop poverty and promote peace. We have a lot of work to do!

Monday, March 07, 2005

At the suggestion of a friend, I just plugged my URL into Gizoogle and this is what it came up with:

Gayle Brandeis is tha prize-winn'n author of The Book of Dead Birds n Fruitflesh keep'n it real yo: Seeds of Inspiration fo` Bitchez Who Write . Aint no L-I-M-I-to-tha-T.

It's true--there is no limit for Bitchez Who Write! Oh man, even writing that word makes me feel squicky. I am glad that the women of Bitch Magazine have reclaimed it and turned it into something powerful and fun, but I don't think it could ever become part of my personal vocabulary.
Paula Kamen, guest hosting over at Cupcake, wrote an interesting post about what she names Sick Lit. She writes

"Sick lit," as I've termed it, is women fighting shame and isolation through telling their stories about "invisible" illness. Sometimes in a literary way, sometimes through memoir, sometimes with reporting added (like yours truly).

and later says

I see this genre as relevant to recognize and validate a greater Third Wave (postboomer feminism) phenomenon, something you wouldn't have seen even 20 years ago, of women "coming out" out about illness. They see it as a fact of life, as part of the diversity of humans -- and less about something that reveals a deviant "moral weakness" of theirs. And we need this type of openness to relieve the isolation of individual women, and then help everyone else see their stake in this issue, to organize for better treatment and research.

Recent Sick Lit books that have found their way under my skin include Sickened by Julie Gregory and Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig. If my Sick Girl project ever finds its way into the world, it will definitely be part of this genre (and I only hope I can be as honest and funny and moving as these women have been.)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Okay, this is very last minute--I have to run out the door--but I wanted to give details for the International Women's Day Conference in case anyone wants to come. It will be held at the Holistic Renewal Center in Beaumont, CA today from 9am-5ish pm (with a concert at 6 after a dinner break.) Registration is $25, which includes lunch. My workshop, Writing Your Passions, will be held at 9am. The Center is located at 914 Beaumont Ave. It should be an incredible day--lots of wonderful energy!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Oh. My. Zogg.

(Be sure to click through all the pages. Those of you who grew up with Little Golden Books are in for a creepy treat.)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Girlfriends Cyber Circuit is swinging back into town! Today our guest is Johanna Edwards, author of The Next Big Thing. Here is a synopsis of the novel:

In this funny, poignant debut, a plus-size heroine becomes a reality TV show contestant and discovers she's already beautiful enough to be the next big thing.

Kat Larson figured she had nothing to lose by becoming a contestant on the new reality show From Fat to Fabulous-except maybe a few dozen pounds. Then she'd finally be able to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Nick, the British hunk she met online, who still thinks she's a size four. She'd finally be confident and graceful and thin-and there's that big cash prize, too, to pay for all those slinky new clothes she'd need. She'd finally have the perfect life.

Rather than do an interview, I asked Johanna to share a few words about body image, since that is such a central theme in her book (and such an important issue to me and my work.) Here is what she wrote:

When I was 19-years-old a friend bought me a refrigerator magnet with a picture of a scale on it. In bright red letters were the words TIME TO GO ON A DIET! I will never understand why people do things like this. Do they get some kind of sick joy out of hurting someone else's feelings? Or am I reading too much into it? Was her "gag gift" really just an innocent joke?

I've spent most of my life fielding off people's jokes, backhanded compliments, and outright insults. Let's face it -- excess weight makes you an easy target. I guess people think you're fair game. For a long time, I thought I was fair game. I don't anymore. And that's why I decided to write THE NEXT BIG THING. I wanted other women -- whether they're insecure about their weight or their nose or their skin -- to know they're not alone, and to know that they can overcome their insecurities. Or, at the very least, to know what to do if a well-meaning friend gives them a mean-spirited magnet. Tell her to shove it.

Amen (or, I should say, Awomen!) Thanks for stopping by, Johanna!
I had an amazing time in New York. I am jetlagged and tired out of my skull, but very happy. I got to see The Gates! I didn't think they'd still be up--they were supposed to come down on 2/28--but there they were, in all their orange glory, vibrant against the new fallen snow. Central Park was a fluffy white wonderland. I wandered around in a hallucinatory daze--I had flown all night without sleeping and my hotel room wasn't ready, so that tinged everything with a very surreal glow. I walked for hours--through the park, through the Met, around Broadway. My legs are so sore today, but it felt so good to walk. And the banquet was amazing. Barbara Kingsolver is amazing. It's all amazing. I'll try to share more details when I'm more coherent. I apologize to my New York friends who I didn't touch base with--I was either busy or in a weird sleep deprived state, so I was not as sociable as I could have been. I hope to see you next time I'm in town!

One more thing before I collapse--JetBlue had Sideways as its feature movie. I love Sideways, and was very happy to see it again. But the film had to be altered a bit to make it suitable for airplane viewing--desexed, delanguaged. All of the swear words were changed, and some of the results were hilarious. "Asshole" was changed to "Ashcroft," so people would say things like "Don't be such an Ashcroft" and "What an Ashcroft." A little bit of political humor! I much preferred the original version, but this particular change cracked me up to no end.