Sunday, October 30, 2005

I am so happy that Calvin and Hobbes is back in the LA Times, even though they are all strips I've seen before. I had forgotten that Calvin and Hobbes had an encounter with a dead bird; it appeared in today's paper, and is so sweet and tender and deep. I tried to find a link to the strip online, but haven't had any luck. I did, however, find the "transcript" of it on Wikipedia, and imagine it's okay to share it here:

A dead bird lies before Calvin and Hobbes
Calvin: "Look, a dead bird!"
Hobbes: "It must've hit a window."
Calvin: "Isn't it beautiful? It's so delicate. Sighhh... once it's too late, you appreciate what a miracle life is. You realize that nature is ruthless and our existence is very fragile, temporary, and precious. But to go on with your daily affairs, you can't really think about that... which is probably why everyone takes the world for granted and why we act so thoughtlessly. It's very confusing. I suppose it will all make sense when we grow up."
Hobbes: "No doubt."
Calvin and Hobbes recline against their tree, watching birds around them, in silence
If it all made sense when we grew up, I never would have written The Book of Dead Birds. I love Calvin and Hobbes so much.

As I was searching for the strip, I also came across this site: Everyone has a dead bird story. And it's true. People shared some amazing dead bird stories with me when I was on tour with The Book of Dead Birds. A woman who came to one of my readings told me that the week before, she had been driving around Santa Cruz, listening to me talk about the book on the radio, when a bird flew into her windshield and died! I felt strangely responsible...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I've always loved looking through microscopes. Inner space is just as vast and mysterious and gorgeous as outer space (I remember first realizing this when I saw the amazing Powers of 10 film in 6th grade. Plus, my sister and I had our own microscope, and we were always blown away by how luminous and textural a single strand of hair looked when it was magnified.)

Nikon has sponsored a Small World Photo Contest, for photos taken through microscopes. Above, you'll see a frog cell and a grape. There are dozens of other incredible, radiant photos at the site.

Friday, October 28, 2005

As long as I'm posting strange entries about food, I might as well share these:

San Francisco in Jello



Another smell-y link: Strawberry Smell Trademark Denied. The article chronicles a French company's recent, failed, attempt to trademark the smell of fresh strawberries.

The company argued that while strawberries may look and taste different, they all smell the same, and as a result could be trademarked.

The court took a different view, and smell experts found that instead of just one aroma, strawberries can in fact have up to five different, distinct scents.
I wonder how they came up with the number five. I am sure I have noticed more than five distinct scents in a strawberry (those of you who have taken my Fruitflesh or sensory writing workshops know what I'm talking about.) Each individual strawberry has its own unique perfume, its own unique personality (fruit-in-ality?). I'm glad the smell can't be trademarked. It would be like trademarking a kiss.
Sometimes headlines tickle me to no end. A recent one was something like "Woman finds bullet in pork casserole." And now there's this: Good Smell Perplexes New Yorkers. The story itself seems like something out of a not-quite-so-lyrically-written Gabriel Garcia Marquez story. I love the mystery of it. Here's the opening paragraph:
An unseen, sweet-smelling cloud drifted through parts of Manhattan last night. Arturo Padilla walked through it and declared that it was awesome.
And the closing one:
There were conflicting accounts as to its nature. A police officer who had thrown out her French vanilla coffee earlier compared it to that. Two diplomats from the Netherlands disagreed, politely. Rieneke Buisman said it smelled like roasted peanuts. Her friend Joris Geeven said it reminded him of a Dutch cake called peperkoek, though he could not describe that smell.

Smells, as we discuss in my Writing from the Senses class, can indeed be challenging to describe (but they can end up being so evocative on the page. And, as Diane Ackerman writes, "One of the real tests of writers, especially poets, is how well they write about smells. If they can't describe the scent of sanctity in a chruch, can you trust them to describe the suburbs of the heart?")

Perhaps if Joris Geeven tries to describe peperkoek one day, he'll end up writing volumes, just like Proust with his madeleine.

(I've also been tickled by the indictment headlines, I have to admit. I had been holding my breath, waiting to hear Fitzgerald's announcements today. I'm still holding my breath re. Karl Rove. It is quite thrilling to see this administration unmasked.)
Utne Magazine just released their list of Independent Press Awards Nominees. I was very happy to see my friends at Hip Mama nominated in the Personal Life Coverage category, and the ever-fab Ayun nominated in the General Excellence: Zines category for her ever-fab East Village Inky. Many of my other favorites, such as Bust and Orion are nominated in various categories, as well.

Utne does such a wonderful job of bringing together the best of the independent press. I met Nina Utne in Washington, DC, and she is as sparkling a force as you would imagine. I am thankful for her commitment to independent voices and visions (as well as her own powerful voice and vision.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Just in case my recent political focus has become burdensome--which I imagine it could; just because it is my current preoccupation doesn't mean it is yours--I want to lighten the mood with a gorgeous poem by Mary Oliver. Her work is such a touchstone for me, such a grounding force (and it's political, too, in the broadest and most generous sense of the word...)


You can
die for it--
an idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Last night, I felt moved to send a letter to the editor at Salon, in reponse to an article about egregious cuts in VA benefits. You can read it here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I was delighted to come across a review of The Book of Dead Birds (couched within a discussion about The Bellwether Prize and socially conscious fiction) in Third Coast Press a progressive Chicago newspaper (it's in PDF format here; scroll down to page 18, if you'd like to read the article.) It's so nice to be recognized by my sweet hometown (soon to be home to the new World Series champs! I'm a Cubs fan by blood, but I'm very happy to see the White Sox rocking the baseball world.)

Heather Dewar ends the piece with this wonderful paragraph:

Good fiction saves the world of the writer who feels compelled to write, and of the reader whose imagination and soul is fed by the story the fiction writer tells. Good fiction does not offer up the calories a hungry man craves, or the medicine a sick woman needs. But the Bellwether Prize, in its mission to "support the imagination of human possibilities", takes the step of acknowledging those needs, and assigns to the fiction writer the task of helping to satisfy them. The prize's strength and essentialness, the important as readers of looking out for the books it produces, comes in its commitment to both social responsibility and good writing--two things that, when taken together, can certainly change the world, if not save it.
My recent doubts about the relevance of fiction have drifted away; reading this helps blow away the last lingering shreds.
Medea Benjamin and I have written an op-ed to mark the 2000th US military death in Iraq, which sadly, and all-too-predictably, happened today. You can find it at the CODEPINK site, as well as other media sources.

Monday, October 24, 2005

I just came home from my class, where my students are doing such amazing work; between tonight and the fabulous Women's Gathering yesterday, it's been a very inspiring couple of days. I did my normal news-glance as soon as I got home, and was so sad to see that Rosa Parks died. I'm so grateful for her refusal to give up her seat in 1955; amazing how a simple act by a single human being can change the world in such a deep way.
"At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this," Mrs. Parks said 30 years later. "It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in."
I know I keep saying this, but I need to keep drumming it into myself, drumming it into the world: we have so much power, both individually and collectively. Let's use it well.

Thank you, Rosa Parks. RIP.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

If you think the experience of being published will be all wine and roses, that it will dispel all traces of your self-doubt as a writer, take a look at this hilarious, sobering article, Publish and Perish.

I am so incredibly grateful for all of my publishing experiences; I know how lucky I am to be in this position (especially now, with--bestill my heart--my new situation at Ballantine), and I don't ever want to lose sight of that. At the same time, I saw more of myself than I would have liked in this article--that potent mix of hope and despair that swells up and cycles around after a book comes out. It just serves to reinforce, yet again, how the writing process itself holds the most enduring source of joy.
Every Friday, MJ Rose is turning over her publishing blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype, to Dr. Sue, a therapist (and writer) who focuses on issues relevant to writers. Her first two columns are filled with very wise and compassionate advice. I look forward to soaking up words like this every week:

When you feel yourself falling into the trap of self-doubt, take out a piece of paper and write the following: "This is new territory. I am an explorer." Tack it up on your bulletin board. Look at it once an hour, and write it over again if necessary. Remind yourself that the most important work you are doing is in the process itself. You are discovering and recording aspects of yourself and the world that are uniquely yours. If this were easy, there would be no point to it. You are mapping out new territory, and it may be harrowing—and, for that matter, you may not arrive at the destination you had set out for. But you will experience wonders along the way, and you will transmit them to paper to the best of your ability. The world may expect one thing from you, but you are free to deliver something else entirely. In writing, you are obligated only to yourself and to the work. Clearly, you are up to it.
I will be teaching a writing workshop (focusing on women's relationships with food) at Gather the Women tomorrow, Sunday, October 23, at the Holistic Renewal Center in Beaumont. The event will take place from 9am-4pm (I believe my session will be in the morning) and will feature many creative workshops, including drumming, journal making, and altar-creating, as well as workshops on social activism, ritual, and spirituality. The cost is only $25, which includes a light vegetarian lunch. For more information, you can call 951.237.6857. It should be a lovely day.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Burt Bacharach apparently is a philosopher, after all (apologizes to Monty Python's Meaning of Life!) He has written several anti-war songs for his new album.

"You could say 'how does a guy who has written love songs his entire life suddenly decide to rock the boat?'" he said.

"I thought that was very important because I couldn't have somebody else write these lyrics."

He added: "I never was a political person in my life. I wrote songs during Vietnam, not about Vietnam. I was just writing love songs. Leading my own life in my own insulated world."

I'm grateful he decided to take himself out of that insulated world. It will be interesting to hear the album. My mom took my daughter to a Burt Bacharach concert over the summer (or was it last summer?) Hannah loved it, even though her musical tastes lean towards punk. I'll bet she's going to love him even more now.
Elizabeth Merrick of (dearly departed) Cupcake Reading Series fame has created a new reading series to celebrate women writers--the Grace Reading Series. It sounds fabulous, and even has a blog, Miss Grace's Salon.

Today, Megan Crane swings into Fruitful-land on her Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit tour. Megan is currently promoting her new book, Everyone Else's Girl. Here's a synopsis:

Meredith McKay has gone to a lot of trouble to create the picture-perfect life for herself-- far away from her troublesome family, thank you. When her father's car accident forces her back to her hometown, however, she soon discovers that there's no running away from family issues-- there's only delaying the inevitable. Can anyone sort out a lifetime of family drama in one hot summer? Throw in a hot guy from back in high school with an axe to grind, a best-friend turned enemy turned soon-to-be-sister-in-law, and, of course, the sometimes irritating/sometimes delightful members of her own family, and Meredith is on her way to figuring out that sometimes a little trip through the past is the best way to move forward.

Despite the title of her novel, Megan is very much her own girl (I even had a chance to meet her in person at Martha O'Connor's LA reading earlier this year; you can see pictures of the day here.) I asked Megan a few questions about her book and her process:

--What inspired you to write Everyone Else's Girl?

I wrote the bulk of EVERYONE ELSE'S GIRL while involved in what I like to call an "extended move" from York, England to Los Angeles, which really means I spent six months hidden away in my parents' attic finishing up my dissertation, something I felt I was unlikely to do once I escaped west.

What, I thought at the time, was more likely to make a grown women revert to her absolute worst than an extended stay right smack in the middle of her adolescence? And from that thought came Meredith!

--How was writing your second novel different from writing your first?

My first novel just sort of poured out of me, over the course of about three weeks one summer. (It took much longer to edit, of course.) But there was no pouring with EVERYONE ELSE'S GIRL. Every word was a struggle, every scene was a fight. I changed from first person to third person and then back again. It was like running uphill! But I hear most second novels are like that, so I'm just glad to be finished!

--You have a PhD in literature; what aspect of literature did you focus upon, and did it influence the writing of your novels?

I wrote my dissertation on AIDS literature in New York from 1980-1996. At first glance, this has nothing at all to do with chick lit. But one of the authors I concentrated on, David Feinberg, wrote hilarious novels/memoirs-- like Sex In the City if you happened to be gay, urban, HIV positive, and an activist in 1980s New York. That might not sound funny. The fact that it really, really is speaks to Feinberg's genius. His work has turned out to be a tremendous influence on me.

--Any words of advice for aspiring writers?

Just keep writing! And don't worry about the market-- worry about your story. In the end, it's all that matters.

--What are you working on now?

I have a third novel which we're hoping to sell, so fingers crossed! In the meantime I have some work-for-hire projects on my plate, and a bunch of readings in the Los Angeles area for EVERYONE ELSE'S GIRL. It should be a busy fall!

--(I always ask a fruit-related question, since my blog is called Fruitful). What is your main character's favorite fruit and why? What is your own favorite fruit and why?

Meredith is definitely a citrus kind of girl. She'd like the tang in an orange. But I'm a sucker for a perfectly ripe mango. Yum.

--I second the mango yum. Thanks so much, Megan! Good luck with the book; I'm sure our paths will cross again somewhere down the line...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Matt and I went to our favorite breakfast spot, the Flabob Airport Cafe, this morning (we go there at least once a week.) I've mentioned their little "library" before--people bring in books and set them on top of the fireplace; you can bring them home for free and either keep them or return them later. Today, I picked up a novel by the poet Stephen Dobyns (The Church of Dead Girls, which has a nice rhythmic similarity to The Book of Dead Birds!), and A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: Notes from a Secret Journal by Edward Abbey. The Abbey book is full of aphorisms--some of them goofy, some of them cranky, some of them profound. There is a whole section called "On Writing and Writers, Books and Art." Here are some samples:

--In writing, fidelity to fact leads eventually to the poetry of truth. (I just realized that I wrote "fidelity to face" by accident when I first posted this; that made an interesting sentence!)

--Any hack can safely rail away at foreign powers beyond the sea; but a good writer is a critic of the society he lives in.

--I would prefer to write about everything; what else is there? But one must be selective.

--"The mind is everything," wrote Proust. No doubt true, when you're dead from the neck down.

--Literature, like anything else, can become a wearisome business if you make a lifetime specialty of it. A healthy, wholesome man would no more spend his entire life reading great books than he would packing cookies for Nabisco.

--Poetry, even bad poetry, may be our final hope.

--The artist in our time has two chief responsibilities: (1) art; and (2) sedition.

--Good writing can be defined as having something to say and saying it well. When one has nothing to say, one should remain silent. Silence is always beautiful at such times.

--In art as in a boat, a bullet, or a coconut-cream pie, purpose determines form.

--My books are not taken seriously. But that's all right; they are given playfully.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

My essay, Stewarding Liberty (which is all about my experience organizing a post-9/11 benefit concert) is up at The New America issue of The Mississippi Review. Cool timing, coming right on the heels of the hurricane relief benefit show (and amazing company in the issue. My name is listed just above Noam Chomsky's!)
Bill Moyers recently gave a speech to the Society of Environmental Journalists Convention. It's a rousing and bracing call to action. You can read it at CommonDreams. Here's a taste:

The Gilded Age has returned with a vengeance. Washington again is a spectacle of corruption. The promise of America has been subverted to crony capitalism, sleazy lobbyists, and an arrogance of power matched only by an arrogance of the present that acts as if there is no tomorrow. But there is a tomorrow. I see the future every time I work at my desk. There, beside my computer, are photographs of Henry, Thomas, Nancy, Jassie, and SaraJane - my grandchildren, ages 13 down. They have no vote and they have no voice. They have no party. They have no lobbyists in Washington. They have only you and me - our pens and our keyboards and our microphones - to seek and to speak and to publish what we can of how power works, how the world wags and who wags it. The powers-that-be would have us merely cover the news; our challenge is to uncover the news that they would keep hidden.
Myla Goldberg's novel Bee Season is one of my favorite books of the last few years--such a fun and lovely meditation on language and family and spirituality. I mostly look forward to reading her new book, Wickett's Remedy; I say mostly because it's set in a flu epidemic, and I find myself unreasonably nervous about the potential Avian flu crisis (thanks for stirring up fear, media!) It makes me a bit hesitant to read the novel--which might make my nervousness even more acute--although I suppose it's best to face those fears head on, and deal with them with clear eyes. Plus it will be cool to get another infusion of Myla Goldberg's words.

Powells has a new interview with Myla Goldberg on their site. I was especially taken with this exchange:

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.

"...human speech is like a cracked tin kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars."

The first time I read that, in Madame Bovary, I had to stop reading and look at the floor for a while in order to recover.

That quote from Flaubert captures the limits of language (which I've been grappling with) and the gorgeousness and depth of language all at once. I may need to look at the floor for awhile to recover, myself.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

According to this article in Salon, I (along with hundreds of thousands of fellow peace activists) may have been exposed to biological weapons in Washington, DC last month. The article mentions that several CODEPINK members were sickened. This is pretty scary. I'm sure I would have shown symptoms by now if I was truly infected (although I read the list of symptoms--headache, joint aches, etc.--and it's easy to convince myself that I've experienced them. Then again, I can read an article about any disease and convince myself that I have it. It's a nasty habit I've had since I was a kid and loved to pore through medical books. Maybe I should have a blood test, just to set my mind at ease...)

I am not a conspiracy-theory person by nature, but I find myself wondering...What if the government released the tularemia bacteria themselves? What if they saw the peace march as an opportunity to sicken, to weaken, thousands in the anti-war movement? I am not accusing anyone of anything, but I have to admit I wouldn't put it past them.

Monday, October 17, 2005

As I get more and more involved in political activism, I find that sometimes I question the relevance of literature; stories can feel like frivolous and selfish luxuries when I think of the real work that needs to be done in the world. Two articles this weekend helped remind me why I love stories with all my heart, and why they are indeed important as we try to understand the world both around us and within us--

Literature, now more than ever, by David Ulin in the LA Times (the article is limited to registered members, but you can get registration login info at, a great resource for free passwords to registration-only sites. They offer this one up for the LA Times: email:, password: dailykos. is a great site in its own right!)

Ulin interviews Jane Smiley (on the occasion of her new book, 13 Ways of Looking at a Novel, which I am excited to read):

"We don't connect with literature in the intellect," Smiley says. "We connect to it where we attach to dogs or boyfriends — at the deeper level of the self. The desire we have for long narrative forms is intrinsic; it's a natural human thing. A lot of people worry about the future of the novel, but I don't. It's a part of who we are."

The novel, even when I question it, is definitely a large part of who I am. I feel so lucky to be able to read novels, to be able to write them, to be able to learn from them.

The New York Times review of Helen Vendler's new book, Invisible Listeners, also affirms the relevance of literature, and literary criticism. And the review even mentions Whitman!

Anyone who has felt himself directly addressed by Whitman in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," as if the poet were present on the page and looking at us, will know what Vendler means by "intimacy" and be grateful to her for describing the sensation. That is one thing a critic can do for us - verbalize our experience of great writing. It doesn't undo the effect, but deepens it, as when Vendler explains how Whitman brings "his future surrogates" - that is, us, his readers - into existence by imagining our future moment in the present tense, and casting his own present in the past: "Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt, / Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd, / Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh'd."

I love the thought of us being "future surrogates" of Whitman. I am refresh'd by the gladness of his words.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Inspire Hope 2, the benefit concert I co-organized last night, was a true inspiration. Four hours of gorgeous poetry, mesmerizing dance, rocking music. A silent auction full of beautiful art and books and other treasures. Together, we raised over $1000 for grassroots hurricane relief. I am so grateful to all of the performers, all of the artists, all of the generous donors who made it happen.

I MCd the entire evening, which was a lot of fun. Not something I ever could have envisioned a few years ago, when speaking in front of people felt like a terrifying hurdle, something I didn't even want to attempt. I am amazed by how comfortable it has become. I remember one of my poetry professors once told me that he threw up before he taught his first class, he was so nervous. I couldn't imagine it; he was such an incredible teacher, so confident and at ease(at least that's how he seemed to me.) His words gave me hope; if he could overcome his fear of teaching, of speaking, so could I. And, to my astonishment, I have for the most part (although I still can get painfully shy and tongue-tied at times.) Of course the fact that the audience was so supportive and receptive (and generous) last night helped me feel at home at the mic. Thank you to everyone who came, everyone who performed, everyone who made the evening so special. When people come together, amazing things can happen. I love that our community will be helping the communities of the Gulf Coast; I can't wait to mail the check to CODEPINK to support their hurricane relief and rebuilding efforts.
This photo appeared on the front page of the Redlands Daily Facts--or, as Redlanders like to call it, the Redlands Daily Fact (it is a small paper. But they are very wise in their choice of cover girls! My daughter Hannah is Juliet, crumpled on the floor. She dropped the bottle of poison so dramatically that day, it shattered! You can see a picture of her face in another photo from the paper below; she is the one with the yellow cape and the purple dress.)

I figured I got all of my tears out of the way at the dress rehearsal, but no--I cried at every single performance. Hannah was such a powerful Juliet. I'm very proud. All of the kids did a wonderful job--learning Shakespeare is no small feat, and Katherine Thomerson (also pictured below) was able to get kids as young as 4 1/2 memorizing and embodying Shakespeare's words.

Friday, October 14, 2005

I didn't have a chance to post this link yesterday, and the High Holy Days are officially over now, but you can still read my thoughts about Days of Awe over at CommonDreams.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The next few days are going to be very busy in the Brandeis-McGunigle household...

My daughter Hannah is performing in Shakespeare for Children at the Performance Loft in Redlands this Thursday and Friday at 7pm. The show, directed by the luminous Katherine Thomerson, contains excerpts from 5 different Shakespeare plays; Hannah is playing Juliet (the balcony and the death scenes.) Tonight was dress rehearsal, and Hannah blew me away; I cried my eyes out.

To make Friday more complicated, both of my husband's bands--Old Brown Shoe and Bucksworth--are going to be playing that night at the Fender Museum (the concert will benefit the museum's Kids Rock Free program.)

And speaking of benefit concerts, this Saturday marks Inspire Hope 2: Riverside Responds to Hurricane Katrina, the benefit show I am organizing with my friend Nancy at Back to the Grind in Riverside. It will be an evening of spoken word, belly dance, and music (and yes, Old Brown Shoe and Bucksworth will both be playing short sets, so if you miss them Friday, you can get a taste of them on Saturday, along with a taste of lots of other wonderfully talented local artists.) A silent auction begins at 5:30; the show begins at 6:30 (and should stretch well into the night--over 20 performers have committed to the event.) Every penny raised will go to grass roots hurricane relief efforts. If you have any questions, please let me know...

And because it seems every single one of us has to perform this weekend, my son Arin will be gracing football fields with his school marching band on both Friday and Saturday. I wish I could quarter myself (or maybe clone myself) so I could be in four places at once.

Come Sunday, I think we'll all be ready to chill (hopefully together)...
An interesting article on "Why Americans Can't Write Political Fiction". I don't agree with everything the author says, but I am delighted that he chose to include this paragraph about my beloved Whitman:

Walt Whitman—a former clerk for the U.S. Department of the Interior—recognized that the true frontier of America was not, in fact, geographic, but political. With the most deadly political failure fresh in the nation's memory, Whitman, in 1871, issued his famous call for a distinctive, politically minded American literature in his essay “Democratic Vistas.” A new national literature, Whitman argued, was the only force adequate to heal a newly sutured American nation. The country's “most fundamental want,” Whitman wrote, was “the clear idea of a class, of native authors, literatures, far different, far higher in grade than any yet known, sacerdotal, modern, fit to cope with our occasions, lands, permeating the whole mass of American mentality, taste, belief, breathing into it a new breath of life, giving it decision, affecting politics far more than the popular superficial suffrage, with results inside and underneath the elections of Presidents or Congresses—radiating, begetting appropriate teachers, schools, manners, and, as its grandest result, accomplishing, (what neither the schools nor the churches and their clergy have hitherto accomplish'd, and without which this nation will no more stand, permanently, soundly, than a house will stand without a substratum,) a religious and moral character beneath the political and productive and intellectual bases of the States.”

I can't say my forthcoming Whitman-themed novel, Self Storage, is an explicitly political novel, and I can't say it lives up to Whitman's ideal of what American literature should offer, but it definitely has political undertones humming beneath the surface; I like to think Whitman would approve.
Sheesh, I got a little scoldy with those spammers, didn't I? I guess vomiting all night can make a girl a little cranky. Now I feel kind of bad for those poor dog-coat-makers. I hope they find the perfect audience for their wares (if the guy who invented Neuticles can, I'm sure they'll do fine. Just not on my turf.) As guilty as I feel, though, I do need to find a way to get in touch with my inner crank--my daughter is dealing with some ultra mean mean girls at school (she came home today saying it was the worst day of her life) and I'm trying to figure out the best way to deal with it. I don't want to turn mean in the process, myself, and I don't want my daughter to turn mean in the process, either; I just want to figure out how to help turn the situation around. I want to do this in a peaceful way, but I have a feeling it will require a bit more assertiveness than I am usually comfortable with--I can be all ballsy (neuticles-y?) in my writing, but in my life, I tend to shrink away from confrontation. Wish us luck...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

One of my new heroes, Diane Wilson, is refusing to go to jail until Warren Andersen, the former CEO of Union Carbide, is extradited to face manslaughter charges in Bhopal, India.

“I’m going to go on the lam,” Wilson told Corporate Crime Reporter today. “I realize I have to go to jail. I’m quite willing to do that. But Warren Andersen – who jumped bail 13 years ago – needs to go to jail too. I’m going to stay out to expose the inequality – corporate executives don’t go to jail for high crimes and little citizens go to jail for misdemeanors.”

In August 2002, Wilson scaled a Dow Chemical facility in Seadrift, Texas and unfurled a banner that read – “Dow Responsible for Bhopal.”

When she came down, she was arrested and charged with criminal trespass.

In January 2003, Wilson was convicted of that charge and sentenced to four months in prison and fined $2,000.

An appellate court affirmed her conviction earlier this month.
I had been looking forward to meeting Diane (who I had interviewed by phone when she was in Crawford; when I was asked to recommend three books at, her amazing book was one of the first to spring to mind) on my trip to DC; she was scheduled to speak at the Green Festival, and I was disappointed she wasn't there. I thought that perhaps Hurricane Rita had kept her home--Seadrift, Texas was right in its path--but maybe this is the reason she couldn't make it. I am sending her lots of energy and strength as she continues to stand her ground (which is the ground we all stand on, the ground she is working so hard to protect.)
Happy birthday to my Dad (pictured here with my mom in La Jolla Cove), the youngest 86 year old I know! Thank you for teaching me to love language, to love life. I love you so much, mine Papa. Schmeernik!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Last night, I was up all night throwing up--partly from the massive amounts of Mongolian BBQ I ate on Sunday, I'm sure; partly, I imagine, from worrying about the state of the world, and partly from the still-mysterious causes that make me throw up all night every few months or so. I am trying to convince myself to go to bed, convince myself that it's not going to happen again tonight. As in love as I am with the human body, it sure can be unpredictable, sure can be a pain. As I spent the night cramping and heaving, I tried to tell myself that the experience was helping me get in touch with all the suffering in the world, that it was helping me feel connected to those buried in rubble in Pakistan, those clawing through mud in Nicaragua. Of course, my stomach troubles pale in comparison; my pain is so small connected to the larger pain of the world. But I think my stomach does try to take on the pain of the world, sometimes; I think sometimes my body rebels when I just can't stomach what's happening. My body manifests my feelings of lack of control, of helplessness in the face of destruction, of disaster, of loss. I hope my body will understand that it doesn't need to take that on, that it's when I'm feeling healthy and strong that I can begin to address these issues, that I can try to do something about them. I hope I'll wake up in the morning feeling ready to take on the world, ready to be part of the world, rather than feeling the weight of the world in my gut.
Dear peddlers of Dog Coats and "Brush Coat Dog Kings" (and any other potential spammers),

I have deleted your comments. Other than my occasional personal recommendations and publishing-related announcements, Fruitful is a commercial-free zone. It is disrespectful to me and to visitors of this site for you to hawk your wares in my online home. It makes me feel as if there is an uninvited Amway salesperson in my living room. Not a nice feeling. If my site had anything to do remotely with dogs, it might make more sense for you to post your link in my comments, but I don't have a dog, I don't write about dogs, I'm allergic to dogs, and I don't think anyone is coming to my site to find out about dog-related products. If you continue to spam me, I will have to turn off my comments feature, and I would hate to do that; even though I don't receive a flood of comments, I love the ones that do come in, and I love being able to keep the door for dialogue open. Thank you for hearing me out. We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming...

Friday, October 07, 2005

I've been doing informal research in the last few months about community writing programs/projects; I want to put together an anthology about different programs, with essays from the program directors or teachers, and writing from the community members themselves. It would be a resource for those who want to start a writing programs in a shelter, a hospital, an after-school center, etc., as well as a cool and inspiring book to read. You can probably see why I was excited to discover the Washington Write a Story Day earlier! I've been doing more research today, and came across the Neighborhood Story Project:

The Neighborhood Story Project works with high school students and their families to write about their lives and neighborhoods. Students learn to write creative non-fiction and vignettes, conduct in-depth interviews of family members and neighbors, and take photographs. Community writing projects allow us to be the authors of our own stories, and infuse our community with real and important literature.
The project reminds me a bit of the Family Voices Project, which I've been part of for the last four years (I'm going to begin my fifth year soon. I work with students at five local high schools, helping them research and write family stories. It's such a gratifying thing to be part of.) There is one huge difference, though--the Neighborhood Story Project is set in New Orleans, and many of the neighborhoods that were part of the program no longer exist, at least not as they once did. The website notes

In the aftermath of the destruction, we are in the process of re-envisioning our work and our city. We are beginning to organize an oral history project about people's lives in New Orleans, their experiences with the storm, and their hopes for the future. We are currently looking for financial support to make this project a reality.
You can donate directly at the website if you're moved to do so. I'm glad some of the neighborhood stories will be saved, even if the neighborhoods themselves cannot.
A lovely essay by Cindy Sheehan about how a poem her daughter wrote pulled her out of despair after her son's death (and how her experience at Camp Casey helped her feel hope again.) Poetry and community can both be so healing; I'm so grateful that Cindy was able to tap into these resources, and not only come out stronger, but become a healer in her own right.

I helped Jodie Evans edit her introduction to Cindy's forthcoming book a couple of days ago; in it, Jodie talks so much about how Cindy is a true mother, a true nurturer, and that is what the peace movement, what our entire country, needs right now. I didn't have much of a chance to talk with Cindy in DC, but we did give each other a hug, and that hug felt like such a blessing.
I wish I could go back to DC this weekend for the Washington Write A Story Day. This visionary event was created by novelist Joyce Hackett. She is asking Washington residents to write stories about experiences they've had in public DC places. Around 40 free creative writing workshops will be offered all around DC this Saturday (at places such as libraries, shelters, jails, religious centers, and hospitals) to help people unleash and craft their stories.

I so admire Hackett's impulse to create this event, and her execution of it (even--especially--in the face of fear). Very inspiring. She writes:

Throughout the planning I kept referring every morning to my literary mug, which has the Eleanor Roosevelt quote : "Do something everyday that scares you." ...

WWASD is my attempt to do something that scares me; to help people who have a story to tell do something that scares them; to bring the resources of the literary community to people who don't always benefit from them; to map the city via narrative; and to open a conversation between Washingtonians about their experience of public space and of each other.

I hope similar events will crop up around the country. I can definitely envision a Riverside Write a Story Day...
Lorrie Moore on politics and fiction writing from her interview at The Believer:
BLVR: The other day someone told me that our current president said he was a big fan of Thoreau—specifically, that he loved On Walden Pond. This probably wasn’t intentional humor, unfortunately, but I thought of your character ZoĆ« in “You’re Ugly, Too.” She’s writing about humor and the American presidency. How would you describe the relationship of fiction writing and politics, and where does your own work weigh in?

LM: I hadn’t heard that On Walden Pond remark. This is funny—but funny and sad, no? One laughs but then sighs. As for the relationship of my writing to politics—in the broadest sense, of course, everything is political, and I am interested in power and powerlessness as it relates to people in various ways. I’m also interested in the way that the workings of governments and elected officials intrude upon the lives and minds of people who feel generally safe from the immediate effects of such workings. All the political things we discuss with our friends are things my characters consider, too. Or almost all. Of course, in short fiction, things are put forward in abbreviated ways.

BLVR: Intrude upon?

LM: Or insinuate or enter or otherwise come to call, visit, make themselves known in quiet or not quiet ways.

BLVR: And these intrusions have more power the safer people feel?

LM: Oh, no, I’m not suggesting that. I’m just trying to register the way we, here in America, live. Everyone’s life is deforming, to some extent, but some more than others. In this country there is a great range in the way people live, and this has to be acknowledged and felt by all of us, no matter how lucky and safe we may feel—and in fact are—at any given time.

That final sentence reminds me of Laila Lalami's essay; both stress the importance of honoring how all our fellow Americans--and fellow human beings around the globe--(not just the pretty, rich, ones) live, in our work.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Laila Lalami, aka Moorish Girl (and the author of the new story collection, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, which I am very eager to read) has written an important essay, Fiction in the Age of Poverty for An excerpt:

There can be no doubt that terrorism is a threat to Americans as well as to millions around the world. But, as Hurricane Katrina has shown, poverty is as much, if not a greater threat. And yet, despite the increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots that affects the entire world, where is the talk of the state of fiction in the age of poverty? Where are the novels that address class divides? Why aren't people wondering whether fiction can truly reflect a reality where the richest monopolize media attention while the poorest are seen only in times of crises?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I stumbled upon a very cool site today: Bookpaths: Bringing together literature and place. A woman named Donna McIlvaine explores ways in which place makes itself known through the written word; she also explores other ways in which literature connects with the wider world. In her latest post, she includes a link to an article by Arthur Blaustein about creating a socially conscious reading group. (Arthur Blaustein is a lovely and amazing gentleman; he has dedicated his life to social justice, and helped Barbara Kingsolver create the Bellwether Prize. I had the pleasure of meeting him at one of my readings.)

I was delightfully surprised to find that Donna McIlvaine's bookpaths led her to The Book of Dead Birds. I am grateful for her thoughtful review, and her suggestions for further Salton Sea explorations. I look forward to spending more time on her site.
Happy 15th birthday to my wonderful son, Arin! 15. How is that possible?! How is it possible that the little squirmy creature who came out of me is now taller than me?! Life is so wild. And you are so cool, Arin. I was so worried about you becoming a teenager, but so far, it's been a treat. You have a zest for life and a true kindness that both amuse and inspire me. I feel very lucky to be your mom. It's amazing to watch you grow, to watch you claim your intelligence, your sense of humor, your easy energy. I can't believe you'll be driving next year. And possibly moving out a couple of years after that. I look forward to seeing where those size 13 feet take you. I know it will be a grand adventure, and I know you will take it all in stride. Happy birthday, my beautiful son. I love you with all my heart.

We've been talking a lot about the music industry in our house lately (my husband's band Bucksworth has received some interest from a major label—I'll keep you posted…) so it was fun to discover that our current GCC visitor, Jennifer O'Connell, has a new novel, OFF THE RECORD, set in the music world. Here is the premise:

There's no way a rock star would ever write a song about Jane Marlow, the straight-as-an-arrow narrator of OFF THE RECORD. She isn't the type to wear red garter belts or rhinestone butterfly thongs under her conservative navy blue suits. She's a true-blue good girl: a plain, predictable, and perfectly responsible estates attorney.

But then Jane's brother catches an episode of Music One's "Off the Record," and makes a startling discovery that threatens to take Jane out of the law library and into the spotlight. Former pop sensation Teddy Rock isn’t just a has-been rock star attempting to make a comeback, he’s actually their childhood neighbor Theodore Brockford...and his one-hit wonder twelve years earlier wasn't just a catchy tune that took the charts by storm - it was a song about Jane Marlow.
Of course, complications and hilarity ensue. I asked Jennifer a few questions about her process…

--What inspired OFF THE RECORD?

Remember “Jenny 867-5309” from way back? Well, I was a kid when the song came out, and at that point in my life everyone called me Jenny. All I remember was everyone wondering who Jenny was, calling the number to ask for Jenny, and hearing stories that the people with that phone number had to have their phone disconnected because it wouldn’t stop ringing (that’s probably an urban myth). In any case, the idea always stuck with me, and every time I hear a song I wonder what inspired the writer and whether the content of the lyrics are real or mere imagination. I also thought it would be cool to be so inspirational that someone would write a song about me. I wanted to write a book about a woman who is an unlikely candidate for musical muse, and yet finds out she did inspire a song – and the world finds out as well. And I wanted that discovery to be just about the least desirable thing that could happen to her (she’s way more evolved than I am).

--Did you listen to any particular music as you wrote the book? What is your writing process like, and does it change from book to book?

I write in a top secret location (a local coffee shop), so there’s usually random Muzak playing, which really doesn’t do much to inspire me. I’m not a super structured writer, but get more structured as I go along to keep my head straight. I just finished my first teen book, which will be out in March, and it was the least structured yet. And ended up being so much fun because all of a sudden my character was doing these unexpected things that cracked me up. I always start with a sheet that looks like a calendar, it has a bunch of squares and each one is a chapter. I fill them in with the main four or five things that happen, that way I know where the story’s going and don’t get confused. Other than that, I don’t do a thorough outline. I’m more of an on-the-fly writer.

--Tell me about the "Fictionista Chick Lit Tour"

The “Fictionista Chick Lit Tour” is the brain child of author Josie Brown. She thought that bringing authors into fun, hip places for after-work happy hour events would be ideal for fans of the genre. We have a wine sponsor introducing a new wine from Italy, and there will be special cocktails created just for the tour. There are four authors at every event, we’ll read from our latest books, answer questions, and just generally talk to readers. Books will also be available. I think of it as a kind of ‘literary Lilith Fair.” Here are the upcoming cities I’ll be touring:

Washington, DC Monday 10/10 - 7pm @ Hard Rock Cafe, 999 E. Street
New York, NY Friday 10/14 - 5pm @ Sugarcane, 245 Park Ave S.
Chicago, IL Monday 10/24 - 5pm @ Liquid Lounge, 171 W. Randolph St.
Memphis, TN Tuesday 10/25 - 6pm @ Hard Rock Cafe*
Atlanta, GA Thursday, 10/27 - 6pm @ Aiko, 128 East Andrews Dr.

--Finally, to continue my fruit-question tradition--what do you think is the most rockin' fruit, and why?

Is it obscene that my first thought was a banana? Maybe because I’m thinking of all those rock ‘n roll front men and their preoccupation with their own fruit. On another note, bananas are very nutritious (I always tell my kids that bananas are the “perfect food,” I think I’m being brainwashed by Chiquita’s advertising campaign), they travel well, and yellow is a happy color.

--Thanks so much, Jennifer! Have fun on the tour (take lots of bananas with you)!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

RIP Nipsey Russell. I love the little poem included in his obituary:

The opposite of pro is con
That fact is clearly seen
If progress means move forward
Then what does Congress mean?
HOWL turns 50, and we can still hear Ginsburg's voice, howling across time. I wonder if it would be possible for a single poem to have such a deep impact today. I doubt it; we have so many sources of information now--hundreds of tv stations, millions of websites--our minds are pulled in so many different directions; I think it would be hard for one poem to take root, to change the culture, the way HOWL did. Media was simpler then, less diffuse; also, there was more room to revolutionize language--the Beats did things with words that hadn't been done before. Of course there is always room for revolution, for evolution, but at this point, language has been turned inside out, upside down, explored from every angle. There aren't as many traditions to smash now. I imagine technology is providing the new creative frontier, the new howling space.

When I was getting my MFA, I took an amazing seminar on ancient cuneiform poetry with Cass Dalglish. She talked about how cuneiform can be read in many different ways--each symbol has multiple potential meanings, and the reader thus has a lot of freedom; the text itself becomes a fluid, living thing, rather than something fixed. It is open to interpretation. She gave us each clay and reeds, and we wrote our own cuneiform poetry in the style of Enhedduana, the writer of the first signed text (she wrote a hymn to the goddess Inanna 4,000 years ago.) As we drug the reeds through the red clay, forming ambiguous curves and lines, Cass Dalglish told us that hypertext is bringing back that same multi-layered way of reading--reading on the computer has become less linear than reading on the page; we click on links that take us to new places; we make associative leaps that aren't possible with the printed word. I find this so interesting. Perhaps the next HOWL will be more like a chorus, a melding of the human voice with the technology that amplifies it, that multiplies it. I am in love with the bare human voice, the bare printed page, but the possibilities of hypertext are very exciting.

Speaking of technology, I have my computer back. Yay! It's fast and clean and it feels so good against my fingertips, the balls of my hands.

Monday, October 03, 2005

I am writing from Matt's computer. I had to take my laptop into the shop on Friday--it had been acting strange for the last few weeks (weird messages about low memory and the "trusted zone" kept popping up, and programs were slow to open) but then it started to crash, giving me the black screen of death once, and then the blue. I had a dream Thursday night that the grim reaper was stalking me--a strangely literal dream, complete with skeleton and cape. I worried when I woke up that something might happen on the drive to Joshua Tree (it was a wonderful trip, by the way; a weekend of glorious air, great friends, good music, gorgeous and bizarre surroundings, and a rescued dog that liked to stand on its hind legs and chase horses--not at the same time, though; that would be quite a sight!) In retrospect, I imagine my dream must have been about my computer. I hope to be able to pick it up this morning. Amazing how quickly and deeply we can become reliant on technology. I feel very vulnerable with my laptop out of my hands; it's like I'm missing part of my body, part of my own "trusted zone".