Friday, December 29, 2006

Hannah wanted to go skating for her birthday, so we took her and five friends to the local rink.

When I was young, I was a figure skater. I started when I was five, and skated like a fiend until I was thirteen. My sister and I were in two ice shows every year--The Nutcracker on Ice every December, and a big revue in the Spring. We also competed in local and regional competitions and came home with our fair share of ribbons and trophies. Skating was a huge part of my life; for a couple of years, we skated almost every day after school and some days before (for some reason, I have a very clear memory of waking up for an early session one morning, crumbling some chocolate chip cookies into cereal bowls for me and my sister, pouring milk over them, and telling my mom we were eating Quaker 100% Natural cereal. I recall thinking that the extra sugar would help give us more energy for our skating.)

Every session of skating club would start with an hour of figures (or "patch" as we called it, since each skater was assigned a patch of ice to practice our figure 8s). I enjoyed the hush of the rink during figures, the slice of the blades on ice, the whir of the scribe (the big compass that we used to trace circles on the ice that we'd try to follow with our blades--or that we'd use to measure how close to a circle we were able to get on our own.) After the quiet, focused hour, we'd change into our freestyle skates (which had different blades, with an extra toepick) for an hour of jumping and spinning and footwork, for practicing our routines, and working with our coaches, and going as fast as we possible could, the air cold and sharp in our noses, eyes watering, hair flying back like streamers.

I can't begin to do the double jumps and intricate spins of my youth, but getting on the ice still feels like home to me, like freedom. You can see my edges blurring in this picture, my skates edging me toward flight.
I had so much fun writing the latest CODEPINK alert.

What's your New Year's Revolution Resoultion?
Somehow this study that concludes housework cuts the risk of breast cancer smacks of propaganda to me. Then again, I am one who says yes to mess (I love this article. Here's a taste:)
Mess is robust and opposed to brittle, like a parent’s rigid schedule that doesn’t allow for a small child’s wool-gathering or balkiness. Mess is complete, in that it embraces all sorts of random elements. Mess tells a story: you can learn a lot about people from their detritus, whereas neat — well, neat is a closed book. Neat has no narrative and no personality (as any cover of Real Simple magazine will demonstrate). Mess is also natural, as Mr. Freedman and Mr. Abrahamson point out, and a real time-saver. “It takes extra effort to neaten up a system,” they write. “Things don’t generally neaten themselves.”
I used to think that one day I would be more organized, more neat (and therefore more "grown up"), but I have pretty much resigned myself to the fact that that's not going to happen.

I am a fan of entropy. I like to see how things unfold, evolve (sometimes devolve) over time. I remember my Physics for Poets professor said that entropy is very powerful because it's the way of nature--things fall apart, then find a new sort of order. It's the whole cycle of creation and destruction. "That's why it's so hard to keep your room neat," he told the class. "You have to work against entropy. It's a losing battle." I prefer working with entropy. It's much more interesting and comfortable (and it definitely saves time.) Not that I live (or want to) in squalor and filth--I just don't mind a cozy jumble. Every once in a while, I get self-conscious about clutter--especially if someone shows up at my house unannounced--but the feeling tends to pass pretty quickly.

I know some people who find cleaning to be meditative, relaxing, empowering. And that's wonderful for them. It's like with writing--everyone has to find their own best process, their own path to bliss. It's so individual. And I know my own personal path to bliss (and health) doesn't require a feather duster.
My daughter turned 13 on Wednesday. So amazing that both of my kids are teenagers now, that I'm the mother of teenagers. How did that happen?! I can so vividly remember being 13, myself (although part of me wishes I couldn't. I know 13 will be a much better year for Hannah than it was for me.)

Happy birthday, my sweet, smart, funny, beautiful, talented girl.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Life is B-A-N-A-N-A-S right now (thanks to Kit Stolz for alerting me to this wonderful image!) but I thought I'd take a moment to touch base and wish everyone a joyous and decidedly non-banana-like holiday season (unless, of course, that is what you are hungry for!)

Some fun Self Storage news...You can also find the book in the January issue of Redbook (recommended on the same page as my friend Laura Ruby's new book, I'm Not Julia Roberts!) Here is what they have to say

Celebrate Yourself.

Flan Parker's Children and friends mean everything to her, but she still yearns to find her own place in a confused, fearful post-9/11 world. Guided by the words of her favorite poet, Walt Whitman, Flan sets off on a surprising journey of self-discovery in Gayle Brandeis's witty and heartwarming novel, Self Storage.

Self Storage doesn't hit stores until January 23, but Bookreporter is giving 10 free advance copies away to people who would like to preview the book and comment about it on their website. You can find out more here.

Happy holidays, everyone! Hope they're warm and delicious and meaningful for all of you.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I never considered my writing glamorous before--and I still don't see it that way, but I suppose I can call it Glamor-ous now, since I'm reviewed in the Jan 2007 issue of Glamour Magazine! I just picked up the copy today. It's great fun to see my book recommended on the same page as Gwen Stefani's new album and Naomi Watts' new movie!

Here's the text (under the headline 2 LOST WOMEN, 2 MUST-READ NOVELS--the other novel mentioned is Vendela Vida's Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name):
Self Storage by Gayle Brandeis

Flan Parker's life has spun out of control. But when she hides a burka-clad neighbor from vigilantes post-9/11, she finds the strength to help herself.
Pretty cool, huh?!

(And for other burqa-related writing, check out this cool essay at; it finds parallels between burqa-wearing and recent celebrity waxed-nether-regions flashings!)

Friday, December 15, 2006

One more quick blog about place. I recently discovered Poetry Thursday. It's such a great concept; the hosts post a writing prompt every Sunday, and then anyone who wants to can play with the prompt and post the resulting poem on their blog on Thursday. This week, the site suggested being inspired by a street. I am cheating a bit--this is a poem I wrote several years ago, and today is Friday, not Thursday, but I hope to participate in future prompts on a more timely basis.

The poem, Sheridan Square, honors the street I grew up on in Evanston, IL, right on the border of Chicago. You can see it on Google Maps here.

Sheridan Square

It wasn't a square, really,
just half of one,
the L-shaped street
I grew up on.
I loved saying I lived
on an L-shaped street;
maybe that's where my love
of letters grew from,
living on the forearm
of those two perpendicular lines,
lines that instantly lulled me
as I turned the corner
at the green mail box
on the way home from school,
the L bent like an elbow,
holding me close
to the heart of my life.
Please forgive my lapse in blogging lately--it's such a crazy time of the year. I wish I had had the foresight to post about my local readings in the last week for the wonderful new anthology Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California's Inland Empire

I've lived in the "Inland Empire" for 20 years--it is a much-maligned, misunderstood part of Southern California. I doubt David Lynch's new fever dream of a movie, Inland Empire, is going to change that in any way--a review in the New York Times made reference to the "bleak Southern Califonia region" of the movie's title. And yes, the Inland Empire is bleak in places, but it's also beautiful and wild and complicated and growing, and, as the back of Inlandia notes, it's a "breeding ground for passionate literature." The book features a diverse mix of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction, from Joan Didion, John Steinbeck, MFK Fisher, Mike Davis, Laura Kalpakian, Susan Straight, Alex Espinoza, Michael Jaime-Becerra, and many other voices (including an excerpt from my novel, The Book of Dead Birds.) I am very grateful to Heyday Books for honoring this adopted home of mine, for celebrating it through the written word, for helping people begin to understand the majesty of this often misread place.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

You can read about (and see a picture of!) one of my bookcases--the very bookcase I'm looking at from my desk, in fact--at The Librarian's Own Grove (the Riverside Public Library's lovely new blog.) Arin's purple cast is pointing to a corner of the same bookcase here:

Monday, December 04, 2006

My son fractured his wrist Friday night--a scaphoid fracture, which apparently is difficult to heal. Today, an orthopaedist fitted him with a full arm cast (a purple one--Arin's color choice.) He's going to have to wear it for 3 or 4 months, possibly longer. My poor skateboarding, guitar-playing boy. He's taking it all in great stride; I think the news was harder for me. As the doctor explained how the injury happened right where the artery supplies blood to the hand, and if the bone is displaced, it will cut off the blood supply in the hand and bones will start dying inside him, I started to feel dizzy. Arin and I had been joking earlier about the little vials of smelling salts taped to the cabinets in the room, but I began to think I might actually need one of them. I always get a little light headed when anything happens to either of my kids.

Arin had to take off his long sleeved shirt to accomodate the cast. We were in a room divided into two exam areas; the two women--one probably in her late 30s and her mother--waiting in the adjacent area couldn't take their eyes off Arin's bare chest. The older woman actually took a few steps closer to get a better look. So interesting to see women staring at him that way (although I don't blame them; he is a gorgeous 16 year old guy.) I looked at Arin's shoulders, and remembered a portrait of him from when he was about 6 weeks old. A photographer came to our house to take pictures, and propped Arin up, his little arms crossed on top of the cushion in front of him. His shoulders looked so burly for a baby as he rested on his elbows, so well muscled and defined, lightly feathered with hair. They look almost just the same now, only on a much larger scale. My baby, almost all grown up.

I think of Arin's hand bones, shoulder bones, forming inside my belly, and it makes me dizzy again to think of anything happening to any sweet part of him.

I was recently asked to read two novels in manuscript. In both of them, women lose their sons when they are young men (one dies of an overdose; the other dies in an accident after being kidnapped in Africa.) I have been feeling such sharp stabs of loss as I read these beautifully written stories. They remind me that Arin's skateboard accident could have been so much worse. Still, his injury can't help but drive home how fragile life really is, how the world as we know it can change in one swift moment, how we need to hold those we love close to our hearts because we don't know how long we'll get to keep them there.
Hooray for Bolton's resignation! I love this picture of CODEPINK's Gael Murphy speaking truth to power during one of Bolton's hearings--I am forever indebted to her and Medea and Jodie and all the other CODEPINKers who dare to ask for peace (and are often dragged away as a result!)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Janis Cooke Newman shares ten things she knows about writing. I particularly like the second item on her list:

2) Every scene has a mood, and everything in that scene should contribute to that mood. Just as in poetry, where each word counts, each sensory detail, description, and image should work to evoke the mood you intend. Nothing you put in a scene should be arbitrary — every word should count towards creating the overall tone.
Yes (although these issues come in to the picture during revision for me, not during the initial writing, when I am usually not very conscious of what I'm doing). I am not sure how I feel about the next item on her list, which talks about manipulating the reader's emotions. I try not to think of the reader as I write. I try to not have an agenda or be manipulative in any way (although I often do feel manipulated by my characters--they toss me all over the place.) I am in awe of writers who have a handle on the tone and effect of their work; it tends to be a big mysterious mush for me.

I still haven't read Newman's book, Mary. I am very eager to do so.

For another perspective on writing, here is an Author's Prayer from Ilya Kaminsky. I especially love these lines:

I must write the same poem over and over
for the empty page is a white flag of their surrender.

If I speak of them, I must walk
on the edge of myself, I must live as a blind man

who runs through the rooms without
touching the furniture
I went to my montly poetry group tonight. I love meeting with this group of poet women--all of them are so talented and insightful and fun to hang out with. One woman, Lavina Blossom (an amazing name, yes?) shared a prose poem that holds one of the greatest sentences I've read in a long time: "As for me, I seemed to be slipping into something comfortable that felt like infinity."

That's how reading and writing often feel to me, like slipping into something comfortable that feels like infinity.
Sorry I've been in non-blogging mode--life has been ultra-consuming lately. Until I get around to posting again, here are my latest CODEPINK alerts:

Give the Gift of Peace

Remembering Iraqi Women

Hope you're having a happy December (how is it December already?!)...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, my wonderful brother and his equally wonderful wife were in town; Jon is producing a show about Middle Eastern music for PBS, and he brought several of the musicians to the States to perform at the Roxy Theater in Hollywood. It was an exciting, diverse program--everything from Lebanese hip hop to Egyptian street music to haunting Arabic ballads. We met several of the musicians, including Ilham Al Madfai, a guitarist whose family had to make a swift escape from Iraq after his teeange son became the target of Uday Hussein's wrath. It was very moving and humbling to hear the musicians' stories; it reminded me that sharing our tales, sharing our culture, our art, is such a beautiful and important way to build bridges, to realize the Other is not really other at all. Our culture, of course, has developed a nasty habit of demonizing anyone from the Middle East; just today, a group of Muslim clerics were asked to leave a plane because they made one of the other customers uncomfortable. Such intolerance has become frigteningly pandemic. I am grateful to my brother for bringing these musicians to an American audience, for reminding the American people that we're all humans sharing this planet.

After the concert, my family got into a van along with Lebanese singer/songwriter Tania Saleh and her band to head back to the hotel. A wildeyed man who looked a little bit like a dirty and disheveled Santa Claus had been hanging around the front of the theater, pushing his bicycle, chanting something about Death. My daughter was getting very freaked out by him as we stood on the sidewalk, and was relieved when the van arrived and we were able to get inside. The man, however, proceeded to get into a tussle with one of the musicians still standing outside, and ended up opening the van door right next to my daughter and lunging toward her with all his anti-Santa-Claus rage. She jumped across my lap, screaming--I've never seen her move so quickly before. Thankfully someone was able to pull the man away, and we shut and locked the door before he could get back in.

My daughter was deeply shaken, of course. I was so moved to see how this group of Lebanese musicians--men who might be mistaken for terrorists by ignorant Americans--worked to calm her down. One of the men asked her her name. When she said Hannah, he asked if she knew that it was an Arabic name. Hannah shook her head--we had only known it as a Hebrew name. Hannah means "happiness" in Arabic, he told her. "Be your name," he said with a gently teasing smile. He was able to get her to stop hyperventilating, get her to relax, even laugh.

It is direct experiences like this one that can really break down preconceptions and help us as human beings open our hearts to one another. We need more cultural dialogue like this, more avenues toward understanding. I am so glad my brother and his wife built this bridge of music; the show will probably air sometime in April--I will be sure to share the information when the time draws near.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

The amazing David Abrams graciously invited me to be a guest blogger on, where he writes a regular blog about Christie's work. You can read how her books helped me through a dark period of my life here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Self Storage got such a lovely review from Booklist:
The Book of Dead Birds (2003), Brandeis’ debut, won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize. In her second brisk, covertly trenchant novel, Brandeis manages to weave Walt Whitman, 9/11, and secondhand goods into a provocative story about the nature of one’s self and the intrinsically human need to find meaning in life. Flannery cherishes an old edition of Leaves of Grass, her only bequest from her long-deceased mother. With Whitman as her spiritual guide, she lives hand-to-mouth with her soap-opera-addicted graduate-student husband, high-strung young son, and escape-artist toddler daughter in a Riverside, California, enclave for international scholars. To make ends meet, Flan buys and resells the auctioned-off, memory-laden contents of abandoned self-storage units. As though life isn’t precarious enough, Flan is drawn into a high-stakes drama involving her burka-wearing Afghan neighbor, the target of prejudice and hate crimes. Executing a marvelous narrative sleight of hand, Brandeis uses slyly insouciant humor and irresistible characters to delve into the true significance of neighborliness, advocate for doing the right thing, and celebrate a Whitmanesque embrace of life. ––Donna Seaman
I am very grateful.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Until I have time to post a real blog, you can find me in a couple of places:

NPR's Novel Ideas: How Writers Create Their Fiction (scroll down to the bottom of the page)


an interview at Mom Writers Literary Magazine

How about them elections, by the way?! I am still beaming.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Happy Election Day, everyone! Please be sure to Give Peace a Vote.

Here is a handy progressive voting guide for those of you in California.

We have the chance to make some real change today--I am feeling very hopeful.
If you want to know what I was reading at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, you can read my dispatch over at Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

It is my great pleasure today to welcome Donna Druchunas to Fruitful. Donna is currently on a blog tour to promote her new book, Arctic Lace. I asked her to share how she weaves together writing and knitting and social responsibility (a mix that is central to her life). Here is her beautiful and inspiring response:
Hi Gayle,

Thanks so much for inviting me to post a guest entry on your blog. I am very excited to talk about social responsibility and how it relates to my writing and knitting. It’s something that I think we writers forget about sometimes, when we get sucked into the rat race of book sales or we focus too much on using our writing solely to fulfill our own creative needs.

When I first thought about writing my second book, Arctic Lace, my goals were basically selfish. I had read an article about a group of 200 Native Alaskan women who knit delicate lace using fur from the arctic musk ox. I wanted to know more. I wanted to read a book on the subject, but it didn’t exist! So I set off on a journey to follow my obsession with the story. I thought it would be straight forward and I would write a “normal” knitting book about my discoveries.

However, as I worked through my research, and especially as I traveled in Alaska in 2004, I began to realize that there was a lot more to this story than I originally anticipated. Not only is it the story of a unique style of knitting and an unusual type of yarn, but it is the story of empowering women, of protecting the environment, and of appreciating and preserving cultures that differ from the mainstream.

When the Musk Ox Project, as it was first called, began in the 1950s, it was headed by a Vermonter named John Teal who had a vision to domesticate the musk ox and to create a cottage industry that would provide income to Native Alaskan people living in rural villages. At the time, the only job available to most women was to be a man’s secretary. Several of the women who were very influential in the birth and development of the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Co-operative, as it came to be known when it was incorporated, were hired as secretaries. Today, however, the co-op’s director is a woman, most of the people who work in the retail shop are women, and the Musk Ox Farm’s manager is a woman. My how things have changed! But the lack of economic opportunities that provide independence for women is still a huge problem around the world.

In Eskimo villages around Alaska, life for women is more difficult than it is for those of us who live in cities, suburbs, and even in rural towns in the lower 48. Because the villages are so remote, the cost of every-day items is outrageously high. When I visited Unalakleet, a village of 600 on the West coast of Alaska, I went to the general store and did some comparison shopping. A pack of hot dogs cost $7, a gallon of milk, $6.99, a quart of apple juice, $4.59, and one pound of low-quality chop meat cost $3.49. In addition, most of the food available was processed and frozen, and the selection of fresh, healthy items was all but non-existent. At the same time, jobs are scarce, often seasonal, and usually go to men first. This is true all over the Yukon Kuskokwim River Delta, where most of the knitters from the Oomingmak Co-op live. With so few opportunities to make money and little healthy food available for sale even at high prices, the people there still depend primarily on traditional food gathering techniques for their survival.

Most of the Yup’ik people who live in the delta want to preserve their Native traditions and live off the land, but that does not eliminate the need for cash. Today snow mobiles have largely replaced dog teams for winter transportation and aluminum fishing boats have replaced kayaks for summer travel. Both of these vehicles run on purchased fuel. Traditional fur parkas have been replaced by modern Polar Fleece and ready-to-wear winter clothing. Indoor plumbing, heated houses, and computers have become necessities of life in Eskimo villages, just as they have for the rest of us. These are just a few examples of how modern technologies are being incorporated into the traditional subsistence lifestyle. And all of these things cost money.

Knitting gives women in these villages the ability to make money while they travel to fish camps and berry picking areas in the summer, preserve food for the coming winter each fall, and care for young children or elders throughout the year. (There have been a few male knitters in the co-op but none are actively involved today.)
Traditional Yup’ik society was much more egalitarian than today’s capitalist culture. Wealth was often redistributed at annual feasts and ceremonies, and families took care of one another in a way that is not common in modern American society. The changes that have come, in many places just over the past 40 or 50 years, have not been easy for many Eskimo people to accept. They struggle to maintain the important aspects of their culture while adopting modern tools to help them gain a stronger political voice and to make life easier for themselves and their children.

One of the most basic values of the Yup’ik people is the protection of the environment. A core philosophy is to make sure that any decision made and any action taken is not only right for the current moment, but also for the future of the next seven generations. It is often difficult for the older Native people to understand how the actions of those of us so far away in the lower 48 and around the world can impact their environment so destructively. And yet they stand almost powerless as they watch the polar ice melting and the sea swallowing their villages. At least two of the member villages of the Oomingmak Co-op will have to be moved due to erosion caused by global warming. In addition, the loss of polar ice disrupts the food chain, as marine mammals are forced to change their normal migration paths. While politicians in Washington ignore the scientific data that does not support their ideology or the goals of corporate lobbyists, Native Alaskans are watching their lives and livelihoods being washed out to sea.

In addition, the musk oxen that provide the fiber for the Oomingmak knitters, are not suited to living in warm climates. The animals evolved to live in a frigid, arid climate and they can overheat in temperatures as low as 70 deg F. They also cannot survive in deep or wet snow. Their hooves are suited to dig only through shallow snow to find food in winter, and they are so well insulated that if they are caught sleeping in an icy storm they can be frozen to the ground and die. With the climate in the arctic changing at a much faster rate than in other parts of the world, the future of the musk ox is, at best, in jeopardy.

As I learned about these things through my research, I decided I would have to incorporate all of these ideas into my book or I would be selling my readers short. Although some of the topics I discuss can be controversial, and I might have been advised that to talk about these things could diminish my book sales, I decided that I had to speak the truth that I learned.


Here are a few links for those who would like to help the Oomingmak knitters or other socially-conscious knitting related groups:

The Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Co-operative sells unique hand knitted items, knitting kits, and musk-ox related gifts. The profits of the co-op are distributed annually to member knitters. A portion of my royalties for Arctic Lace also go to the co-op, and the book can be purchased directly from them, as well as at local yarn and book shops around the country.

Lantern Moon is an organization that sells beautiful and functional handcrafted products that provide income, education and self-reliance to Vietnamese women and their families.

Mango Moon sells recycled yarns and other products that help provide income and independence to women in Nepal.

Himalaya Yarn is a small company offering mostly handspun and hand-dyed yarns made with recycled and Nepal-grown fibers. The company provides business opportunities for local people. For instance, its recycled silk yarn is handspun by women’s cooperatives and the profits support women’s shelters and programs.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Good luck to everyone embarking upon National Novel Writing Month! I am not going to register this year, but I am going to try to keep up with the NaNo word count (around 1700 words a day) and see if I can finish the first draft of my novel-in-progress this month. After my time in Virginia, it feels do-able. We shall see...
I have a new essay up at Common Dreams about CODEPINK's latest campaign, Walk in Their Shoes.
Rest in peace, Uncle Vic. We love you.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Well, I'm back from VCCA. After a couple of days in the hubbub of the real world, my time there already feels like a dream. It was such a fruitful time--what a pleasure to wallow in words for over a week, to have nothing to do but write and eat and sleep and commune with nature and creative people. I hope I'll find a way to maintain the momentum I developed there--I really reconnected with my novel, which I'm very grateful for (I think part of the trick will be to continue to limit my internet access--it's amazing how much time I fritter away online). I will try to share more details soon, but for now here's a poem I wrote my last full day there:

An ode to VCCA

On the cow-flanked road
between bed and desk, a patch
of asphalt has fallen away,
exposing large chunks of quartz
beneath, as if the road itself
is a geode, broken open
into radiance. We all break open
here—"I had a break through today,"
I hear again and again, from writer,
from artist, from composer, each of us
cracking through the stone skin
of our lives to find hidden minerals
that startle us with their color, their ability
to catch the light. One day, I opened
my studio door to find the room full
of ladybugs, walls seething with them,
air alive with specks of red, and I knew
my own heart had burst open there,
coating every surface with its jagged,
winged, hum.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I am leaving tonight for my residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I am so excited to have a span of days to do nothing but write. I have been spreading myself thin lately, and my writing has become fairly anemic as a result. This time in Virginia should help make it more robust again.

I am going to try to go on a media diet while I'm there (I loved Shalom Auslander's recent column about how the media affects his writing process) and severely limit my time online. So if I blog between now and October 25, please give me a kick in the butt and tell me to get back to work!

See you when I return...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I am quoted in this lovely, timely Sojourners article: From Imagination to Action: Can fiction be a vehicle for social change? This is an issue very close to my heart, of course, and Valerie Weaver-Zercher explores it in a very thorough and thoughtful way. I am delighted to be included in the conversation.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

I have a small collection of hilariously-translated pencil boxes on my desk. They have been here for so long, I rarely notice them anymore, but today they jumped out at me, fresh and new and joyful, and I wanted to give them some appreciation.

I'll try to post pictures when I can find my camera, but until then, here is the text of each:

--Sandy & His Friend (featuring one Peanuts-like character, and one blobby, less distinct character, both in baseball garb)

Love always bring us luck

They only say
loftyness is that the more time goes
the more it adds the value.

The world of shining hope for
you and me

--Bobi & Tom (featuring two dinosaurs and a teddy bear)

From time to time, the usual moment seems terribly beautiful

--Super Happy Girl (featuring, not only a super happy girl with a super happy dog sitting on her head, but free floating strawberries, doodles, and random newspaper clippings about Bill Clinton)

A new morning came to seen. My eyes glittered at the moment.

(and, my favorite)

--Animal Kids (featuring kids wearing hugely-headed animal costumes)

I'll sticky about my favorite things. Waves of joy, coming with feeling. How are you?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Happy 16th birthday to my amazing son, Arin! How is it possible that my wrinkly little baby with the wise eyes is now a 6 foot tall guy who can grow a beard and has size 13 feet?! Crazy. His eyes still have that same wisdom, though.

In this picture, Arin is jumping his skateboard from one roof to another at the elementary school down the street. I asked him not to do this any more after I first saw the photo (the fact that the portable buildings in question have recently been dismantled will help enforce this!) but I have to admit, the picture gives me a thrill. I love seeing his grace and courage. I love seeing him soar.

May this be a year full of the best kinds of flight.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

If you have a chance, please click on CODEPINK's first Give Peace a Vote PSA today between 10:30am-11:30am PST. We're hoping to get it to the top of the most-viewed list on YouTube so it will reach more people (and hopefully inspire them to sign the Peace Vote Pledge). This PSA features Jackson Browne; others are in the works as we speak. Thanks so much for your support!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

My segment on the Food Network has started to air in the last couple of days--I've heard from a couple of people who have seen the one minute story on tv, which is exciting. You can see the three minute version of the piece online here (click on A Single Strawberry).

I am amazed at how the producers were able to take seven hours of footage and boil them down to one and three minute stories! Such an incredible editing process.

I had so much fun the day of the shoot. My mom and my friend Stephan acted as Production Assistants, setting up snacks and moving furniture and doing whatever the producers needed them to do. I had to pull together a writing class very quickly for the shoot--it was during the summer when school wasn't in session yet, so I sent out frantic emails calling for potential students, and, with the help of friends and family, was able to assemble a class of twelve wonderful people (including my son--he's the one who says his strawberry was "buggy".) The crew was great and made me feel so at ease, even though I normally am a bit camera shy. I learned a lot from them (including the fact that voice over artists eat apples to get rid of "mouth sounds" before a recording session!) And even though I have a hard time watching myself on film, it is great fun to see the fruits of that day.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I got my first real review for Self Storage, from Publisher's Weekly. When I saw an email from my editor with "first review!" as the subject line, my heart started pounding a million miles a second--I wasn't expecting a review to come in so soon. I am hesitant to post it here because it gives away more of the plot than I would like to share. If I can find a link, I'll post it here so anyone who's curious can take a look. My agent and editor assure me it is a good review (it calls my main character "endearing" and "juicy", which makes me happy) but there is one negative sentence and it's a doozy. It just about knocked the wind out of me. It calls the political musings in the book "unsatisfying and banal." Unsatisfying and banal! Yikes! I think this cut deeply because the political aspect of the book (not to mention my life) is very important to me. Ah well. My agent told me she has a friend who references all his bad reviews when he does readings, and always gets a laugh. So if I say something along the lines of "I'm reading from my politically unsatisfying and banal book" at a reading, you'll know why! It's crazy how those few negative words can burn into the brain while all the lovely ones fade away so quickly! is featuring an essay today written by a first time author struggling with bad first reviews. As my editor assured me, the trade reviewers (PW, Kirus, etc.) tend to be a little cranky. I hope the author of the essay will find some more thoughtful reviews elsewhere--his book sounds wonderful. Plus, I need to keep reminding myself that my PW review is not bad; it just has that one whopper of a sentence!

The sting of that sentence was alleviated greatly by the fact that I received an amazing blurb from Barbara Kingsolver today. Barbara read an early draft of the book and was very honest with me about all of its flaws and all the work I had ahead of me. She said she would only write an endorsement for a book she truly believes in. I'm so delighted that she believes in it now. Here's what she wrote:

"With fluid skill, bold as brass, Gayle Brandeis has revised the "Song of Myself," reconfiguring "self" as an open circle. This is a novel of passion and consequence, identity and accountability. I love the narrator, her children, her wild ride, and this truly American story of getting mad and getting wise."
Her feedback means so much more to me than any anonymous reviewer's!

In other review news, Google Alert recently pointed me to this lovely review of The Book of Dead Birds, written by the fabulous author Damian McNicholl. Thanks so much, Damian!
It was a real treat to come across this essay by Janis Cooke Newman, whose novel, Mary (a first person account of Mary Todd Lincoln's life), was just released.

In the essay, Newman writes about how she baked some of Mary Todd Lincoln's recipes (namely her "white cake", a vanilla/almond confection) to help get under Mary's skin. She talks about how the scent of almonds during the baking process helped her understand Mary's response when the spirit of her dead son Willie came to her during a seance. Willie's skin smelled like almonds, Newman decided, so when Mary smelled almonds in the air, she knew his spirit was in the room with her.

The main character of the novel I'm working on is a 12 year old girl who thinks her family is the Lincoln family reincarnated; she believes she used to be Willie, herself. It's interesting to see how another author envisions Willie's life/death. I don't plan to steal Willie's almond-smelling skin for my own book, but I'm eager to see what Newman does with the Lincoln family in her novel. And I definitely want to try that cake.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Happy International Day of Peace!

You can read my latest CODEPINK alert here.

I look forward to watching the movie Peace One Day today; my dad rented it from Netflix and lent it to me last week. I've been meaning to watch it since then; today feels like the perfect day to give it a viewing.

(And because peace activists need to have fun, too, I am also very much looking forward to the season premiere of The Office tonight. Go Jim and Pam!)

Monday, September 18, 2006

If you'd like to know some of my thoughts about writing and music, head on over to

Looking at the interview now, I wish I had named so many more musicians/bands as my favorites. I think my brain freezes a bit when I'm asked to name favorite books or albums or foods--I love so many; it's hard to boil all that love down to a handful of names. The artists I listed are definitely among my favorites (especially my beloved Talking Heads!), but I neglected to mention so many others--The Beatles, the Stones, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Queen, Ella Fitzgerald, Feist, Tom Waits, Aterciopelados, David Bowie, Luscious Jackson, Le Tigre, Le Chic, De la Soul, Deee-lite, Led Zeppelin, Louis Prima, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Portishead, and so many that aren't at the tip of my brain at the moment.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Today, as I was driving down my street, I saw a hawk standing in my neighbor's front yard. Just standing there like some sort of Egyptian statue. This was quite strange and amazing in itself--I don't think I've ever seen a hawk on the ground before, just on telephone poles and wires and in the air (and it's always a thrill for me to see them in any of those places. I see hawks quite often, but they never fail to get my heart pounding a bit faster.) Then the hawk dipped its head down and I saw that it was standing on some sort of creature--a small bird, I believe--that it must have recently killed. The center of the creature's body had been ripped open and was scarlet red inside; the hawk bent down to eat, pulling up one bright dripping strand of flesh after another. It was a brutal thing to witness, but strangely beautiful, too. Such wildness on a manicured lawn. Such raw life seen through the window of my car.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My latest CODEPINK alert builds on my recent 9/11-Gandhi post:
September 11, 2006 not only marked the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks; it also marked the 100th anniversary of Gandhi's original call for peaceful civil disobedience. It is time for us to listen to Gandhi anew. While our administration wants to use this anniversary to instill a fresh sense of vengeance in our hearts, Gandhi reminds us that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Our administration squandered the opportunities presented by 9/11 -- the opportunities to bring those who attacked us to justice, while at the same time pursuing true international dialogue, cross-cultural understanding and diplomacy. Now, with the November elections on the horizon, we have an opportunity to create a new post-9/11 America, an America where security doesn't mean intervention or force or an erosion of our rights. An America we can be proud of once again.

Last week, CODEPINK launched our Give Peace a Vote campaign. We hope you have had a chance to sign our Peace Pledge to let our candidates know the Peace Vote is a mighty force to be reckoned with.

Now you can step up your involvement. You can join Susan Sarandon, Jackson Browne, Willie & Annie Nelson, Michael Franti, Alice Walker, Anne Lamott, Steve Earle, Cornel West, Dolores Huerta, Vanessa Williams, and many others by becoming a Peacemaker. A Peacemaker commits to getting at least 100 people to sign the Peace Pledge. As a Peacemaker, you will carry on the noble tradition of Satyagraha, which Gandhi described as the "Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence." Our goal at CODEPINK is to gather 1,000 Peacemakers and 100,000 peace voters in time for the November elections.

There are many creative ways to inspire others to sign the Peace Pledge -- talk to your friends and family; host a Give Peace a Vote house party; bring sign up sheets to movie openings and concerts and vigils; the possibilities are endless. All the materials you need are available on our website.

From this day forward, we need to keep our focus on the November elections. Let us, like Gandhi, commit ourselves to promoting peace, and encouraging those around us to only support candidates who will further our call for peace.
I plan to sign up to be a Peacemaker, myself. If my posts inspire you to sign the Peace Pledge, please feel free to list me as the referring Peacemaker.

Monday, September 11, 2006

In my desire to focus on peace today, I would be remiss if I didn't mention CODEPINK's exciting new campaign, Give Peace a Vote. Please take the Peace Vote Pledge and let our candidates know that we will only vote for them if they commit to a speedy end to the war in Iraq and will work to prevent future unprovoked attacks on other nations. Together, we can create a powerful voters bloc and make the Peace Vote a real force to be reckoned with.
Today not only marks the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks; it also marks the 100th anniversary of Gandhi's call for non-violent civil disobedience. After the 2001 attacks, we had such an opportunity to begin an open international dialogue; we had such an opportunity for connection and cultural evolution. Instead, our administration squandered this opportunity to further their own power-hungry agenda, a disastrous agenda that has led to the needless deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis as well as thousands of our own troops. I want to focus on the message of Gandhi, the power of satyagraha--the force of truth of love, or non-violence--on a day when our administration and the media will do their best to try to stir a renewed quest for vengeance in the American heart. I plan to attend this local event tonight:

On September 11, 1906, Mohandas Gandhi convened a meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, to mobilize his community to oppose racially degrading legislation. That evening, more than 3,000 people solemnly pledged to disobey the proposed law, despite the consequences and without the use of violence. Here began the model of nonviolent action for achieving social justice, as employed in the Civil Rights Movement in this country via Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We will honor Gandhi’s devotion to nonviolent action, reminding ourselves and our community of our inherent right to peace, and of this powerful alternative to war and violence. We will help each other find the courage to work nonviolently towards achieving justice and peace in our own daily lives, in our local communities, and in the whole world.

September 11, 2006 -- 5:30pm to 7pm

Downtown Mall in Riverside, CA
Event begins with Peacewalk at 5:30 pm
Meet at the Martin Luther King Statue (near city hall at 9th St)
(signs, banners, and candles provided)
continuing to the Candlelight
Commemoration & Program
at the Gandhi Statue, Mission Inn Avenue at the
Downtown Mall

Sponsored by
Inland Communities Fellowship of
Reconciliation (ICFOR)**
and the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP)**

the Mission Belles, Terry Boyles and John Rockwell of the Congregational Church, plus members of IC-FOR and Unitarian Universalists in Sing Alongs.

Speakers include, among others, Katherine Pitts of the Pasadena Mennonite Church, Jerry Hobby of the Riverside Community Center for Spiritual Living, Linda Dunn of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, and Marilyn Sequoia of IC-FOR. Participants will have an opportunity to speak briefly or to read the Peace Quotes that will be distributed.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Here is the text of my latest CODEPINK alert. Please do try to call your senators today. We need to give Bolton the pink slip!

While our CODEPINK delegation was in Lebanon witnessing firsthand the pain and suffering caused by the conflict with Israel, US Ambassador John Bolton was at the United Nations trying to block a ceasefire.

Talking a leaf from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's 2003 criticism of France and Germany as "old Europe", Bolton called the French ceasefire initiative "old thinking". We at CODEPINK believe Bolton is the one who truly represents "old thinking"—his thinking that might makes right, that we need to go it alone, that compromise is a sign of weakness, are all sadly antiquated notions of power.

This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on whether or not John Bolton will continue to represent the United States at the United Nations. Please call your senators TODAY- Wednesday, September 6- and urge them to oppose John Bolton's nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.

We are grateful that, despite Bolton's protest, the international community forced a ceasefire through the Security Council, and Italy and France took the lead to send peacekeepers to the border.

CODEPINK is delivering flowers to the French and Italian embassies to thank them for working so steadfastly toward peace.Their contributions of peacekeeping troops—2,450 from Italy and 2,000 from France—will help enforce the ceasefire along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Please send your own words of gratitude to let them know how much we appreciate their diplomatic efforts.

French Embassy

Italian Embassy

It is time for true diplomacy in our own country. We need to get John Bolton out of the UN and replace him with an ambassador who will acknowledge that we are part of an interdependent, international community. An ambassador who believes in the power of negotiation and international cooperation to create positive change in our world. That is certainly what we need right now to end the violence in Iraq and get our troops home.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I received another very generous Self Storage blurb today:

Peppered with wry wit and Walt Whitman, Self Storage is a skillfully told treasure hunter's tale of compassion, coming of age, and, most importantly, transforming the life you've got into the life you want. In the American tradition of songs of oneself, Gayle Brandeis has written for her characters a standout song of personal growth accelerated by social awakening.

-Maria Dahvana Headley, Author of The Year of Yes
It is so lovely to have Maria's blurb, since her book is all about Yes, and the word Yes is so central to Self Storage. Yes!
Ha! I just found out someone has been messing with the Wikipedia entry about me. Check out the last two lines. Hannah, my subversive Wikipedia-changer girl, was that you?!

Friday, September 01, 2006

I still plan to blog about my Food Network experience (speaking of food, I've also been meaning to blog about an amazing five course dinner I had with my friend Greg at Farm Artisan Foods a couple of weeks ago.) Until I find the time and energy to do either of those things, though, I thought I'd share some fun news...

My poem Buttered Women was nominated for the Best of the Net anthology


I am officially a staff member of CODEPINK! According to the website, I am now the CODEPINK Communication Goddess(!), and will be helping out with weekly alerts and other writing-related campaigns. It is a true honor to be on board with such creative, kick-ass women.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Last Wednesday, I filmed a segment for a new Food Network series, The Power of Food. I have been meaning to blog about the experience (which was very fun and rewarding!) but somehow haven't been able to find the time. Until I'm able to do so, you can read Darcie Flansburg's account of the day over at the Redlands Daily Facts.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

My website redesign is up and running! Deep thanks to Eula Palmer for all of her hard work and creativity. I am very, very grateful.
A new Self Storage blurb:

The personal and political collide in Gayle Brandeis' complex and witty new novel, Self Storage. Like the flashlight Flan shines into storage lockers to find treasure, Brandeis' novel illuminates the way we define our loved ones, our neighbors, and ourselves.

--Amanda Eyre Ward
Amanda is such a wonderful writer (and wonderful person!); it's a real honor to receive her endorsement.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A beautiful essay from Garrison Keillor on the censoring of the 9-1-1 tapes from 9/11.

In the end, what we crave is reality. The woman crying on the 83rd floor was real. Our countrymen died real deaths on a warm September morning, and then, to avenge them, even more have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. In our hearts, we know we're on the wrong road, the road to unreality, but the man says to stay the course. And now as November nears, congressmen who have supported the war, no questions asked, find it convenient to admit to having "questions" about it. "We are facing a difficult situation," they say. They are "troubled."

The woman who cried on the 83rd floor was more than troubled. She saw death. It is indecent for New York to stifle the voices of the people in the towers. The congressmen who deal so casually with life and death ought to sit down and listen to those phone calls.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

I'm often frustrated by how the media latches onto diversionary stories, like the strange development in the JonBenet Ramsey case, to make us forget what is really happening in the world, what our leaders have really gotten us into. But sometimes I appreciate a bit of diversion in the news, so it was kind of fun to see this headline, nestled between "Journalists in Gaza Protest Kidnapping" and "Israeli Commando Dies in Lebanon Raid" on the AP Wires: Man Trapped Waist-Deep in Chocolate.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Whenever I teach a sensory writing class, I remind my students to not just write about beautiful sensory experiences--there is power in our prickly, disturbing sensory experiences, as well. So I was tickled to find this article in the Washington Post about a writer's quest to find the stinkiest spots in New York. He takes a retired sanitation worker and a perfume maker along to help him map out Manhattan's most disgusting smells (the perfume maker gets quite overwhelmed at times, and has to walk away from the most offensive odors.) In A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman explores about how difficult it is to write about scent, since it is such an ephemeral sense--we have to come at it sideways, through metaphor. Here are some metaphors I appreciated in this article:

--There is a fish market nearby with an assortment of scallops and lobsters cooling on ice, but those odors have been overwhelmed by something else, something vile and pitiless. Hints of rotten mustard, a soupcon of ammonia, undertones of armpit. The scent evolves in your nostrils like an argument that escalates -- it starts off testy, then insults your mother.

--This is like honeyed rot marinated in hummus, as odious as a wet kiss from a wino.
--If migraines had an odor, they would smell like this.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Because my second novel is coming out in a few months, it was very interesting to read this Newsday article about second novels. Of course, this article mainly focuses on the sophomore curse for authors who have had blockbuster first novels. Since my first novel didn't reach anywhere near blockbuster proportions, perhaps I can avoid that curse (and maybe the fact that Self Storage is actually the sixth novel I've written, not the second, will help.) We'll just have to wait and see. In the meanwhile, I'm hoping my third(/seventh) novel will start to find a better flow soon...

Monday, August 14, 2006

This story breaks my heart

The son of novelist and peace activist David Grossman has been killed in southern Lebanon, the army said Sunday, just days after the author urged the government to end the war with Hizbullah guerrillas.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Jill Carroll has begun to tell the story of her experience as a hostage in Iraq.:

They wanted to know my name, the name of my newspaper, my religion, how much my computer was worth, did it have a device to signal the government or military, if I or anyone in my family drank alcohol, how many American reporters were in Baghdad, did I know reporters from other countries, and myriad other questions.

Then, in a slightly gravelly voice, the interpreter explained the situation.

"You are our sister. We have no problem with you. Our problem is with your government. We just need to keep you for some time. We want women freed from Abu Ghraib prison. Maybe four or five women. We want to ask your government for this," the interpreter said. (At the time, it was reported that 10 Iraqi women were among 14,000 Iraqis being held by coalition forces on suspicion of insurgent activity.)

"You are to stay in this room. And this window, don't put one hand on this window," he continued. "I have a place underground. It is very dark and small, and cold, and if you put one hand on this window, we will put you there. Some of my friends said we should put you there, but I said, 'No she is a woman.' Women are very important in Islam."
I felt very invested in trying to help secure Jill Carroll's release in whatever teeny tiny way I could at the time, and am so happy and relieved that she is free and able to give voice to her experience. The link above leads to the first installment of what will be an 11-part series; I am eager to read the rest of it over the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In the midst of all the chaos in the world, it can be easy to feel as if one's writing, one's voice, can't make much of a difference. I am grateful to Dr. Sue O'Doherty for reminding us that our words matter.
It is not an accident that so often an invading army’s first triumphant act is to sack and burn the libraries and museums. A people without access to its art and accumulated wisdom is indeed vanquished. It is significant that dictatorships make a practice of imprisoning dissident poets and novelists. Real artists—people who distill and communicate the truth, often at great personal cost—are the most dangerous figures in a repressive society. And that is why you are needed, desperately, now.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Small Businesses Poorly Named After Classic Literature

(I was especially amused by Song of Myself Adult Bookstore, given the Song of Myself/Self Storage connection!)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The lovely Jordan Rosenfeld recently told me about an online class she and Rebecca Lawton will be offering online next month: Creating Space: The Law of Attraction for Writers and Other Inspired Souls (based on their book of the same name which will come out next year.) They describe the book (and the class) as "part writer's guide, part spiritual journey." It sounds deeply inspiring and transformative--I'm tempted to sign up, myself!

I just finished reading my friend Ayun Halliday's delicious and hilarious book Dirty Sugar Cookies: Culinary Observations, Questionable Taste. Along with vegetarian fumblings, poistcoital breakfasts, and other motley adventures in eating, Ayun explores my favorite fruit in the world--mangosteens! That section of the book is available online for your reading and gustatory pleasure.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Yay! I can upload pictures on Blogger again! Which means I can show you my Self Storage cover now. Isn't it cool?!
I love the idea of using peaches as a source of fuel. Fruitflesh power!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Women in Black vigil was a beautiful experience tonight, and a lovely turnout for such short notice. So powerful to stand in silence with others praying for peace. You can read about us in Thursday's Press-Enterprise.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Happy, happy birthday to my sister Elizabeth and her daughter Mollie (and our grandmother, Molly, who would have been 122 today.) I miss you so much already!!!!

After I dropped everyone off at the airport yesterday, I headed over to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown LA to protest Tony Blair's support of the war in Iraq (Blair was presiding over a lunch inside). I was glad to have a positive way to channel my heartbreak after saying goodbye to my lovely people.

It was a funny little protest. The hotel takes up an entire city block, and we were told that the sidewalk surrounding the hotel was private property, and we were not allowed to stand there. This led to a lot of protestors wandering around, not quite sure where to set up camp. I was dressed head to toe in hot pink, and looked around for other CODEPINK people to stand with. Eventually I found another pink woman who looked as lost as I felt, and we tromped around together, looking for more pinkness. Eventually, a cluster of people converged on the street behind the hotel, directly across from all the parked motorcade motorcycles. Only a small pink contingent turned up, but it was delightful to be with them--CODEPINK people know how to make protests fun. This particular protest was overall a bit more strident than fun--there were a lot of people yelling over a microphone, a lot of angry faces (which is understandable--the present world sitatuion does call for a healthy sense of outrage). I tend to prefer vigils like the Women in Black event we're planning for tonight, where participants try to embody peace rather than countering war with more aggression, or CODEPINK events where creativity and life-force and play offer an antidote for all the destruction in the world. But I was glad to be at this protest, too.

One of the coolest things about the event was the presence of Danza Azeteca Cuauhtemoc, an Aztec dance group, which consisted of at least three generations of dancers, from the very young to the beautiful white haired leaders. They drummed and danced and chanted in their elaborate costumes, and held signs calling for peace. Very inspiring. There were some comic--if disturbing--moments as well, when a couple of Bible thumpers came by to tell us the errors of our ways, and preach about how we need to wipe Islam off the face of the earth. When one of my CODEPINK friends asked the vitriol spouting man who Jesus would bomb, he looked at her and yelled "The Muslims!" without any trace of irony. Jesus would be so proud. Sheesh.

Another funny overheard moment--some people were walking by, and one of the protestors asked them if they liked Bush. A woman turned to him, said "I HAVE a bush and I like it!" and kept walking.

(Speaking of funny overheard moments, my friend Jordan is starting a weekly "Overheard around the World" feature on her blog. Be sure to send her your best eavesdropping treasures!)

At the protest, I was interviewed briefly by Harrison of Harrison On the Edge (a progressive radio talk show). Even though I felt a bit giddy and inarticulate, I was able to wax rhapsodic about CODEPINK for a while, which I was glad to be able to do.

The protest fizzled out before Blair left the building, so I didn't get to see the motorcade drive by. I'm not sure how effective our presence there was, but it is always a treat to be with other like-minded people, to know that we are not alone in our desire to bring some peace into this crazy world of ours.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Please join me for this event if you can...

WOMEN IN BLACK call for a special vigil this Wednesday, August 2nd, in response to the recent outrageous attacks in the Middle East.

The Violence Must End

Join us in silence to meditate, pray and raise energy towards PEACE

WE STAND IN SILENCE, because words alone cannot express the tragedy that wars and hatred bring.

WE STAND IN BLACK, mourning for lives broken or lost through violence in the United States, Afghanistan, Palestine/Israel, Iraq and in all wars.

WE STAND IN WITNESS to the suffering of victims of violence all over the world.

WE STAND IN SOLIDARITY with people all over the world who struggle for justice and peace.

WE STAND CONVINCED that the world's citizens can learn the difference between justice and vengeance, and can call world leaders into accountability to employ nonviolent means to resolve conflicts.


Riverside Women in Black is part of an international network of women standing in silent vigil, calling for peace, justice and non-violent solutions to conflict. Begun in 1988 by Israeli and Palestinian women, it has spread to conflict areas all over the world. Each group is autonomous, related to the others by the way women stand in silent vigil dressed in black.

Join us this Wednesday, August 2nd, from 7-8pm, at the Main Public Library, 3581 Mission Inn Ave., dressed in black clothes. Please keep silent during the vigil unless you are leafleting. Men in support of Women in Black are welcome.
For more information: please call (951) 237-6857

Monday, July 31, 2006

After a week of sun and sand and surf and lots of family togetherness, I am feeling wonderfully limp. Tumbled goofy by the ocean. The water felt so good--silkier than I remember it, embracing (and, at times, a bit cheeky. The waves seemed determined to strip my bathing suit right off.)

On top of all the beachy goodness, I got some great news last week--I was awarded a residency in October at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I am very excited; it should be a fruitful, inspiring time. Another fun thing--my advance copies of Self Storage arrived! They look gorgeous. It's so cool to see the story as a real book. And it's so cool that my sister was with me when the copies arrived, since she was also with me when I got the news about the book deal last summer. What a treat to share these pivotal moments with her.

Another fun thing to share--thanks to my mom, all the women/girls of the family went to see Wicked on Saturday; such a transporting, electric show. The lead was played by the understudy, Maria Eberline, and she was incredible. While we were waiting in line for the restroom during intermission, we happened to meet Maria Eberline's mother. She had just found out that morning that her daughter was going to be stepping into the role of Elpheba that day (Maria found out at 1:30am, herself.) Maria's mom was half an hour late to the play because she had to cut one more person's hair to pull together enough money for a ticket (fortunately, when she arrived, someone walking by handed her an extra). Her excitement and pride were so lovely to witness. The whole show brought back the thrill of my own (very small in comparison) stage experience. It made me hunger for more.

I hunger for more time with my sister, too. I don't want to have to drive her and her beautiful family to the airport in a few hours. I may need to create a diversion to keep them here. Maybe if I burst into song...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Even though it's been years since I wrote The Book of Dead Birds, I find the characters and the story are still breathing inside me. I keep seeing articles that remind me of parts of the book, like this one about a woman facing charges after her bird died in her car (if poor Ava had been charged with her bird killings, she'd probably still be in the slammer), and this one about a rescued pelican (I have felt so maternal toward pelicans ever since writing the book.) When I saw this recent article about differences between the Korean and English languages, and learned that "in English, birds sing. In Korean, birds cry", I was beside myself. I wish I had come across that fact when I was researching the book--I could have done so much with it. Ah well.

I hope to see a lot of pelicans when I'm in Oceanside the rest of the week...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Blogging will probably be light around here for the rest of the month--my sister and her family are in town (yay!) and we're going to be galivanting around Southern California, so I won't have a whole lot of computer time.

Before they arrived, Elizabeth and her family spent 10 days in San Francisco (the town where she and her husband met.) They showed up at our house with some treats from the Ferry Building, including a vegetable I had never even heard of before, but I can now count as one of the best things I have ever tasted. Sea beans (also known as pickleweed) are a sea vegetable harvested off the Oregon Coast; you can see a picture here if you scroll down to the second row. Sea beans look like little succulents, green and firm and slender. They have a satsifying crunch between the teeth, a nice pop. But the best part is--they're salty! I am in love with salt. I am for all practical purposes a saltoholic. So to find a yummy presalted green vegetable is like heaven for me. So is having my sister around.

See you later, alligators!

Friday, July 21, 2006

I received my contributor's copy of Get On the Bus: An Anthology of Short and True Tales of Bus Travel today. The anthology is part of a larger exhibition that included art, film, and panel discussions, sponsored by City/Space, which seems to be a very cool organization. They conceived the exhibition as
a reconsideration of the experience, culture, and meaning of our nation's least-loved transit mode. Stigmatized as the transit of last resort-the realm of the poor, elderly, and infirm-the bus nonetheless moves millions of people every day. On the cutting edge in some cities, marginalized in others, the bus evokes a surprising range of emotions for people, planners, cities and artists. Get on the Bus will begin to illuminate the world of the bus as a ubiquitous but neglected arena of city life.

I wrote the poem that appears in the anthology--"on buses, and off"--many years ago, when bus travel was more a part of my life. I wish we had better pubic transportation in Riverside; on the rare occasion when I do take the bus now, I always seem to end up with some sort of disturbing story to tell.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I admit I can be a bit of a literary snob, but I would never claim to live the life of the mind at the expense of the life of the body (the life of the body is so rich and compelling!) So I really enjoyed seeing this post today from Miss Snark, the literary agent:

Some pretentious Proustian said "I live the life of the mind" the other day. It was all I could do not to bop him with my parasol and say "mind this, fuckwit".

I despise that kind of intellectual pretension. Ya sure I read Beowulf and take a stab at Joyce's Wake once a month, and I've been known to blather on about the importance of the canon but don't think for one minute I "live the life of the mind". Nosirreeebobbypins.

A happily significant part of my life is engaged in the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and the location of the best cupcake, not to mention the softest comfiest pillow and sandals that don't make me reach for the wheelchair.

There's not much intellectual rigor attached to those activities but it sure doesn't make them less interesting, important or fun than say..reading Proust.

People who get all holier than thou about what they read, and how above the fray they are are the worst sort of intellects. They're dishonest. The life of the mind is in no way disconnected from the corporeal world, and all you need to do to know this is stand in front of Jackson Pollock painting and feel the frisson of energy. You don't have to understand to feel it, but it's important to understand that not FEELING it means you don't understand it.

Life of the mind, my ass.
With all the divisiveness in the world right now, it is inspiring to see writers making bridges. Writers from North and South Korea are banding together to create a single Korean literary organization.. I love how art and writing can break down the artificial barriers people create to keep each other apart.

I am also grateful that art and writing can serve as acts of witness during such difficult times. Mazen Kerba, an artist and musician in Beirut, has been keeping a blog documenting his experience of the current conflict (incorporating his drawings and the music he has composed to go with the sound of bombs). While I and other readers appreciate having this window into Beirut life, Kerba is struggling with his own balance between witnessing and art...
anyways, music and drawing are the only things keeping me going these days. i recorded two hours of bombs + trumpet from my balcony yesterday night. some bombs were really close (what kind of mouthpiece do the israeli pilots use to have this sound?). the tension you get in your playing is incredible. also, i draw all time. i always said that i regret not being adult during the war to see if you can do something in these situations. now i feel bad to draw or play music while people are burning. i convince myself by saying it is my only way to resist. that i have to witness. that it is very important. but i am not really convinced. i try to be a fucking witness. to show a little bit what's happening here. in my own way. but having regards for what is a good drawing or a good music track drives me crazy. i cannot stop saying after a bomb: "yeah, this one was huge. i'll leave a long silence then make a small sound to balance the track." this is totally crazy!
It may be crazy, but it makes sense that an artist would not want to let go of his craft even in the midst of such chaos. I hope Kerba will continue to share his art so that we can share in the lived human experience of this horrible war.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I started reading The Girls by Lori Lansens tonight (my sister lent it to me and I want to read it before she comes into town on Friday). It promises to be amazing. The main characters, conjoined twins, work at a library, and I realized that the last three novels I've read all have librarians as their main characters. I'm not sure what this means, other than the fact that I am definitely due for a library visit...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lately, it's felt as if the whole world is ready to burst into flame. I look outside and see clouds bulging over the desert, the mountains, full of smoke. I think of all that's happening in Israel and Lebanon and India and North Korea and Iraq and Iran--so much potential combustion. So much potential flame and smoke and ash.

Closer to home, I am grateful that so far one of my favorite places in the desert has been spared. Last time we were in Pioneertown, I had recently been cast as Annie Oakley. We stayed in the room at the Pioneertown Motel where Barbara Stanwyck lived while she was filming her Annie Oakley movie, and walked down the street where Gail Davis played Annie Oakley in the eponymous tv series, and my daughter and I sang the songs that were still new to us then at the top of our lungs, trying to soak in all the residual Annie Oakley energy in the air. I think it helped. And now it makes me so sad to think of those historic streets in danger. It makes me sad to think of so much of our planet in danger. I feel so helpless in the face of all this fire.

The makers of a film centered around Arundhati Roy recently sent me one of her quotes, and that quote is giving me some sustenance now:

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I have often thought about putting together a scratch and sniff book for adults, along the lines of the ones I loved as a kid, but with all the senses, sort of like Pat the Bunny. It would be easy to make a dirty scratch and sniff book for adults (Pat the "other cute furry animal", maybe. And of course there's this) but that's not what I have in mind. I'm picturing something beautiful and literary--maybe a book of poetry--where the sensory things on the page really enhance the reading experience. On one page, maybe, you would eat a piece of candy as you read about sugar; on another, you would listen to a track of music that amplified the rhythm of the language (Laura Esquivel sort of did this with The Law of Love--the book comes with a cd, and you listen to particular tracks, mostly arias, on particular pages of the novel. She also brings vision into the mix with many pages of illustration.) Scents both swoony and rank could enhance the text, too, as could patches of velvet, sandpaper, big swaths of color. I don't know whether I will ever actually see this through, but it's fun to think about.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I finished reading Alice Hoffman's novel The Ice Queen today. I started sobbing as soon as I read the last word--it was one of those books that hit deep; I wasn't ready to leave its spell. Hoffman's language is both simple (in the most elegant way) and lush--she mines basic archetypal metaphors (fire, ice, the color red) with such resonance throughout the novel. The story--boiled down to its most basic bones--follows a woman after her wish to get hit by lightning comes true; it is ultimately a story about passion and healing and redemption, and it crackles with life. You can read an excerpt from the beginning here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I'm so proud of my friend, Medea Benjamin, putting her body on the line for justice. That woman is fearless--she goes right into the Senate hearings, right into places where power gathers, and uses her own peaceful power to bring the truth to light.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tonight, I went to hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Redlands Bowl. It was a beautiful, balmy evening; the music was raunchy and clangy and joyful, but I found it very moving, too. As the trumpet player sang love songs to New Orleans with his raspy voice, I was so grateful that the music of the city has survived and flourished when so much else has been lost. I still hope to go to New Orleans some day, to help with the rebuilding effort either with my hands or my tourist dollars (or both). The Preservation Hall website has a link where you can donate to directly aid musicians who were affected by Katrina last year.

It's hard to believe it hasn't even been a year since the hurricane; it's already left so many people's thoughts, it seems. I have been following New Orleans' author Poppy Z Brite's blog as she continues to cope with the aftermath of all of it. It's a good window into that broken region. Voices of Witness is currently putting together an oral history of Katrina survivors; you can read a few excerpts from the interviews on their website. It's so important to keep these stories (and this music!) alive.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The lovely and brilliant Andi Buchanan is featuring my "Zen Mind, Daughter's Mind" essay from her It's a Girl anthology on her blog today. Thanks, Andi!
The novel I'm writing right now is set during the Chicago Freedom Movement of 1966. I just found out that there is going to be a conference exploring and celebrating the 40th anniversary of the movement later this month in Chicago. My sister and her family are going to be visiting us then, so it doesn't make any sense for me to go--I relish every precious minute I can spend with them--but I hope I'll be able to get some of the literature from the conference. Today is actually the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rally led at Soldier Field by Martin Luther King, Jr. that really launched the whole movement. The rally led to a march down to City Hall, where Dr. King taped these demands to the door.

The main goal of the Chicago Freedom Movement was to end racial segregation and create fair, open housing in Chicago. While progress has certainly been made in the last 40 years, I look at the way Katrina exposed housing issues in the South, and remember that there is still so much change that needs to happen. Writing this novel, I hope, will be a way of keeping that awareness alive.
M.J. Rose is a visionary. Not only is she is the author of deeply charged erotic thrillers; she is also a passionate and committed advocate for writers and a more evolved publishing industry (check out her blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype). Now, with the release of her new novel, The Venus Fix, she has created a philanthropic challenge. For everyone who links to her website and the Vidlit trailer for the book, she will donate $5 to a charity to be determined via a poll at her Venus Fix MySpace page. She will also donate $1 for every new MySpace Friend request until August 15. I love how she is combining writing, promotion and social action--very inspiring!
I was so sad to hear about Cody's Bookstore closing in Berkeley. It was a true honor to read at the illustrious store when The Book of Dead Birds came out (and it was even more of an honor to be introduced by the amazing Maxine Hong Kingston, who also served as emcee for the recent farewell ceremony there.) It was such a beautiful evening--many friends showed up to the event, and I had a glorious dinner with my wonderful agent and her husband and my beloved Fruitflesh editor at Chez Panisse beforehand. The reading will always carry a tinge of sadness for me, though--it took place the same day that my mother-in-law's husband Jack was diagnosed with brain cancer. I dedicated the reading to him, and asked everyone present to send good thoughts to his brain. My publisher was able to get me an earlier flight home after the reading so I could be with Jack and the family at the hospital over the weekend before I left for my Denver leg of the tour. It was on that plane that I had the conversation which planted the seed for my writing Self Storage. I never would have written the novel if it hadn't been for Jack's illness, for that changed flight. Now, I wish Jack was still here and the book had never been written, but I'm glad I'm able to keep his memory alive through the novel. Of course I've dedicated it to him.

At the hospital, I was able to tell Jack about giving the reading in his honor at Cody's. It was the last lucid conversation we had--his brain was so taken over by the tumor that most of his speech came out in surreal, often mind-blowing nonsequiturs (and actually the conversation about Cody's ended up turning into a strangely beautiful soliloquy about "animal participants". But he remembered the store well, and seemed touched by the dedication.) I will always associate Cody's with Jack. And now that the store is closing, I feel his loss all over again.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Friday night, I took Hannah to an audition for Little Shop of Horrors. I fully intended to not audition. I fully intended to just sit back and enjoy watching the process. But somehow my friends at the studio convinced me to give it a go. You don't have to do the show, they reasoned. Just have fun with it tonight. And so, against my most rational judgement, I jumped in. The singing part felt a little scary--the singing style is very different from Annie Get Your Gun, and I am not a belter, as this show requires--but it was also exhilarating. And of course it felt good to dance.

Becky, my singing coach, came up to me afterwards and told me to let her know within the week if I am serious about not wanting a lead part (on the application, when it asked what part I was going for, I wrote "None"). I am going to have to call her and let her know I can't do the show at all, as tempting as it may be. I have a novel to write. I need to keep my focus strong. But, as she observed, I've caught the theater bug. She said that now that I've accessed that new wild part of myself, I won't be able to turn it off, and she's right. It will be interesting to see where it will take me next, once I'm done writing this current novel-in-progress (and once I'm done promoting Self Storage, which is also going to keep me busy for a while). Call backs for Little Shop are next Friday--I will take Hannah and watch her with pride, and will do my best to keep from jumping back into the fray myself...

Friday, July 07, 2006

AlterNet has a great new interview with Ani DiFranco. I found this section particularly inspiring:

DZ: A lot of people talk about the idea of "All good politics is local," and you seem to promote that with the work you've been doing in your hometown.

AD: I come from Buffalo, and it's a very abandoned post-industrial city. It's definitely a small city that's a victim of "white flight," and suburban sprawl, and meanwhile it has this beautiful architecture heritage that's being devastated. Decade after decade, they've been tearing down half the city. So, saving buildings in Buffalo has been part of what Righteous Babe's work has been in recent years.

We took on this old 1870s sandstone cathedral that was going to be torn down. My manager and label president and good buddy Scott Fisher said, "Is it OK if I take some Righteous Babe money and hire an appraiser, an assessor to say, 'You don't have to tear this cathedral down, goddammit'?" We've done that with a few buildings in Buffalo, just personally invested in fighting the city demolition apparatus.

We saved this cathedral from demolition, and over the years we kept having connections with it, and our karma just seemed to be wrapped up with it, so we decided maybe this should become our new offices, and so it is. It's also a performance venue and an art gallery. We hooked up with this preeminent not-for-profit arts organization, called Hallwalls, that does avant-garde cutting-edge kind of galleries, theater, and art spaces that have been around for a few decades now. They're in part of the building; it's a real artistic hub that's in downtown Buffalo.

DZ: There was a book, "The Rise of the Creative Class," about artists being necessary for the vitality of a city's economy.

AD: Buffalo, for generations, has been a place that the young and dynamic evacuate as soon as they can. They head to New York or to Chicago because Buffalo can't sustain them. But if you're dissatisfied with your city, rather than leave it, change it! Start somethin'!

Not only is acting locally or getting involved in something in your community where it's at politically in terms of "changing the world," though -- it's fun. It's invigorating. We forget that. Even the act of registering to vote -- it's very simple, very easy, and then just taking a half hour out on Election Day and standing in that booth, it makes you feel better. This has been my experience. We feel so helpless and disempowered, but no matter how much faith you have in your vote or whether it's even going to be tallied, just the act of doing it, to be active in that half hour is a good feeling.

In New Orleans, you can go down to Habitat for Humanity and just show up and volunteer for a day and someone will hand you a hammer or a saw, and you can work for a day. For me, it lifts my heart. I think if people understood how much better they would feel with these small acts locally … I think we get a little tied up sometimes thinking that we have to change the world, but it's amazing how much we can just change our hearts and lift our hopes if we just make these small acts.

DZ: Is that how you recharge your batteries?

AD: For me, it's every night on stage, that's how my batteries are recharged. It's inspiring people through music and getting together with my community every night and being inspired by them. I have my own little subset of activism that I've turned into a job, and it's absolutely what keeps me going and feeling active -- and empowered.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of reading my friend Laraine Herring's forthcoming book, The Awakened Writer: Deep Writing Through the Union of Body, Mind and Spirit, which will be published by Shambhala next year. It is the most integrated, honest, wise, warm, helpful book about writing I have read. I know it will change many people's lives. It certainly reinvigorated my relationship with my writing! I will be sure to let you know when it is available--you won't want to miss it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I'm always amused by the search terms that bring people to this blog. In the last couple of days, people have ended up here during searches for

--Pennsylvania mushroom pick Amazon
--petticoat unhooking stories
--Becky's blog orgasm video
--penalty for faking one's death

I'm sure all of them were sadly disappointed!