Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Abby Frucht, an author I admire tremendously, has come up with a beautiful way to support Jill Carroll:

Okay. Here's what we'll do. We'll each send, to al-Jazeera, instead of our books - an empty journal, an empty notebook, or even a small sheaf of paper if you don't have a book. On the first page, write a letter like this one: To Al-Jazeera News. I am one of a group of readers and writers sending you this blank book in the hope that Jill Carroll might soon be able to fill it. Please do your best to convey this message to her captors: Let Jill Carroll go, so that she might continue to write about the things that have made you so eager to claim our attention. Through Jill's work, and through the gesture that you will make by setting her free, we other readers, writers, and thinkers will better understand the differences, and the vast similarities, between our corners of the world. Please set this cycle of understanding in motion by letting this brave young writer take her place in it again.

Send the blank books asap to: Al-Jazeera International, P.O. Box 23127, Doha, Qatar
I'm not sure I'll be able to tune into Bush's State of the Union address tonight. Just hearing his voice makes me feel unclean, somehow. I'll just wait for the transcripts. I was happy to hear Gore Vidal give his own State of the Union address on the radio today, though. Here are a couple of choice snippets:

This is an unpatriotic government. This is a government that deals openly in illegalities, whether it is attacking a country which has done us no harm, two countries -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- because we now believe, not in declaring war through Congress as the Constitution requires, but through the President. ‘Well, I think there are some terrorists over there, and I think we got to bomb them, huh? We'll bomb them.’ Now, we’ve had idiots as presidents before. He's not unique. But he's certainly the most active idiot that we have ever had.

You know, it’s at a time when people say, ‘Well, it makes no difference what we do, you know, if we march and we make speeches, and this and that.’ It makes a lot of difference if millions of Americans just say, “We are fed up! We don't like you. We don't like what you're doing to the country and what you have done to the country. We don't like to live in a lawless land, where the rule of law has just been bypassed and hacks are appointed to the federal bench, who will carry on and carry on and carry on all of the illegalities which are so desperately needed by our military-industrial corporate masters.”

I think a day dedicated to that and to just showing up here and there around the country will be a good thing to do. And so, let the powers that be know that back of them, there's something called "We the people of the United States,” and all sovereignty rests in us, not in the board rooms of the Republicans.
We recently hooked my printer up to our network, so now people can print from any computer in the house (rather than emailing me their documents and asking me to print them.) Yesterday, I heard the printer go off. I asked the family if any of them were printing something, but they all denied it. I didn't look at the page that had printed until today. Here's what it says:

Dear Gayle,

Oh, don't be shocked. This is your printer. I need to tell you a few things. I have some demands/complaints, you hear?

1. You work me too hard! I'm not as young as I used to be!!!!
2. You always write in "Times New Roman". I like more fun fonts like "Comic Sans" and "Webdings"
3. I want more ink!!! I know I'm not out yet, but it's my food for Giga's sake!
4. I am not your slave! I expect payment next time...
5. You are always leaving paper in me! That is very uncomfortable. So stop!

If you continue to abuse your rights, I will take action and go on strike, so stop what you're doing. I expect more respect.

Your Printer
Funny, my printer sounds a bit like my daughter... hmm...
I wrote the Acknowledgements section for Self Storage yesterday. It felt so good to be able to thank everyone who supported me as I wrote the book. I have to admit, this recent article about Acknowledgements in the New York Times and a subsequent--and very funny--letter to the editor from Katharine Weber (scroll down to the second one) made me question whether I should write an Acknowledgements section at all--I know my tendency towards effusiveness could be all-too-easy mocked, like the excerpts from the article, and I definitely do provide a "map" to my life, as Katharine Weber astutely mentions, but you know what...So what? I am very glad that I am able to publicly thank the people who have helped me along, plus I know how thrilled people have been to see their names in my books, so there you have it. Thank you.
There's been some sad news this week. Coretta Scott King has died.

She was a supportive lieutenant to her husband during the most tumultuous days of the American civil rights movement, and after his assassination in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, she kept his dream alive while also raising their four children.

"I'm more determined than ever that my husband's dream will become a reality," King said soon after his slaying.

She goaded and pulled for more than a decade to have her husband's birthday observed as a national holiday, first celebrated in 1986.

King became a symbol, in her own right, of her husband's struggle for peace and brotherhood, presiding with a quiet, steady, stoic presence over seminars and conferences on global issues.

"She was truly the first lady of the human rights movement," the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement. "The only thing worse than losing her is if we never had her."

King also wrote a book, "My Life With Martin Luther King Jr.," and, in 1969 founded the multimillion-dollar Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She saw to it that the center became deeply involved with the issues she said breed violence -- hunger, unemployment, voting rights and racism.

"The center enables us to go out and struggle against the evils in our society," she often said.
In London, she stood in 1969 in the same carved pulpit in St. Paul's Cathedral where her husband preached five years earlier.

"Many despair at all the evil and unrest and disorder in the world today," she preached, "but I see a new social order and I see the dawn of a new day."
May we continue to move the Kings' work forward so that new day can keep dawning, keep growing...

Monday, January 30, 2006

I said I would post a picture from my son's first formal if I had a chance. Here it is! He and his beautiful girlfriend Michelle are toasting sparkling cider at their friend Chris' house before the dance.

Thanks to Michelle's mom Julia for sending the picture!
I was heartsick to see this photo of Jill Carroll at BoingBoing.net.

The Christian Science Monitor offers this update:
A new 40-second video of Jill Carroll aired Monday on Arab TV station Al Jazeera. The video, broadcast without audio, pictures Ms. Carroll wearing a white headscarf and weeping. Al Jazeera's newscaster says on the video that Carroll is appealing to the US military and the Iraqi Interior Ministry to release all Iraqi women prisoners, and that this "would help in winning her release." The footage appears with a time stamp of Saturday, Jan. 28, two days after the US released five Iraqi women prisoners along with 414 men prisoners.

Monitor Editor Richard Bergenheim immediately released this statement: "Anyone with a heart will feel distressed that an innocent woman like Jill Carroll would be treated in the manner shown in the latest video aired by Al Jazeera. We add our voice to those of Arabs around the world, and expecially to those in Iraq, who have condemned this act of kidnapping. We ask that she be returned to the protection of her family immediately."
RIP, Wendy Wasserstein.

For your viewing pleasure: Demonic tots and deeply disturbing cuisine.
Project Censored has released their list of the top ten censored news stories of 2005.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The line "I wake to sleep and take my waking slow" has been slithering into my head at random moments for a few weeks now. I couldn't remember where the line originally came from--Emily Dickinson? William Carlos Williams? I finally looked it up today and found that it is from the poem "Waking" by Theodore Roetke. I'm not sure why it has lodged itself in my brain, why it continues to surface over and over again. Maybe it's because I wish I could take my waking slow rather than having to pop up with the alarm each morning to get the kids ready for school.

Strange how certain words and phrases cycle through our heads. When my sister-in-law Heather was in labor with her son, the word "Cochise" kept hissing in her ear. Funny pairs of words have been popping into my daughter's head lately--renegade salesman, octavious cocktail, outlandish butler. It's like her brain is an automatic band-name generator. Where do these words come from? What are they trying to tell us? I suppose I'm glad I don't understand the phenomenon--I like the mystery of it. If I have to be haunted by something, it might as well be words.
Jodie Evans, Medea Benjamin, and other representatives of CODEPINK are currently attending the World Social Forum in Venezuala. You can read their inspiring blogs, which include chronicles of their meeting with President Chavez, here.

Speaking of Venezuala, I was happy to find a CITGO gas station not too far from our house. CITGO gas comes from Venezuala--buying from them can help wean us from our dependence on Middle Eastern oil (and thus, hopefully, our implicit reasons for going to war there). I also like the fact that CITGO sponsors important social programs in Venezuala. Of course, I'd rather not use fossil fuels at all, but until alternative fuels like biodiesel are more readily available, I'm glad to fill my Civic Hybrid with Venezualan gas.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

This has been a night of new experiences.

I watched my son leave for his first formal dance this evening--limo, corsage for the girlfriend, the whole works. He looked lounge-a-rific in his burgundy velvet jacket, his baby blue ruffled tuxedo shirt, his blue skate shoes. My dapper boy. I brought him to his friend's house, where the five limo-sharing couples, looking both stunningly grown up and touchingly young in their fancy clothes, congregated. All the mothers took copious amounts of photos (except for me--sadly, we never found our lost camera, but other moms have promised to send me copies of the pictures; I'll post one later if it's okay with Arin.) One of the moms secretly gave all of the boys boxes of Sweetheart candies; at a designated time, they all pulled the boxes out of their jacket pockets and said, in unison, "Will you be my sweetheart?" to their dates. A lot of blushing transpired. Very sweet. The limo should be heading back now. I can't wait to hear about their night.

After I dropped Arin off, I took Hannah to an audition for a community production of Annie Get Your Gun. One of the directors came up to me and said "Why don't you audition, too, as long as you're here?" I had no plan or desire to participate--I have never officially acted before, and am not much of a singer; I had just intended to sit on the sidelines and watch Hannah do her thing--but then she latched onto the idea, and convinced me to go for it. I figured the worst thing that could happen was I'd make a total fool of myself. How bad is that, really, in the big scheme of things? Plus, I like taking creative risks, going outside my creative comfort zone. I decided to push through my initial resistance, have fun with the audition and chalk it up to new experience.

The whole thing ended up being a blast. I was relieved when the director started off by teaching us some choreography. Even though I haven't been in a dance studio for a few years, my body felt right at home doing jazz squares and counting off "5-6-7-8." Later, I was asked to read some of Annie's lines in a Texas accent, and sing both "Happy Birthday" and a bunch of scales in front of a room full of people--this felt a lot less familiar than the dancing, but not as scary as I imagined it might be. It was actually kind of exhilarating. And it was very cool to share the experience with Hannah (who rocked, by the way). At first I thought that if I miraculously happened to get cast in the show, I would automatically decline--I have so much on my plate as it is--but then I started thinking about how much fun it would be to be in a show with Hannah, to learn choreography together and get to know myself as a performer. Already I could feel myself stretch tonight--I found more power in my voice than I realized I had, and I had to tap into some usually ignored stubbornness to read Annie's lines with gumption. I am used to slipping into other skins in my fiction, but to do it (or at least attempt to do it) with my body and voice was a new sensation. A whole different kind of transformation. I have no idea what I'll say if I do get offered a part (as unlikely as that may be.) I'll keep you posted...

Friday, January 27, 2006

I am a big fan of word play and unintentional word humor--wacky typos, etc.--so it was fun to find this Spooneristic rift, as corny as it may be, in a recent Publishers Weekly newsletter. It came out around the time the Caldecott Medal was announced.:

Maldecott Kettle and Other Musings
by Jon Agee

Poor Larry. He's got a bad case of Spoonerisms—you know, the habit of flip-flopping the initial sounds of words. For example, the other day, at ALA midwinter in San Antonio, he approaches Kevin Henkes.

"Kevin!" he says. "Congrats on the MALDECOTT KETTLE! Here, let me give you a HAIR BUG!"

Then he sees David Macaulay. "Hey, David!" he says, "You're one FART SMELLER! I've BURNED A LUNCH from your books!"

An elegant, older woman walks by, looking for a place to sit down. "Look!" says Larry, "It's CLEVERLY BEERY! I gotta SEW HER TO A SHEET!"

But he trips and falls over a table of books.

"OW!" he says, "I HANGED MY BED and hit my BUNNY PHONE!"

That's when he spots Thacher Hurd's cousin Terry. "Hey, it's HAIRY..." And that's when I headed for the exit.

So yes, Larry has a problem. I'm just glad it's not contagious. Or is it? MOLEY HOSES! I hope not.

--Agee, a recovering palindromist, has a new book this spring from Hyperion/di Capua, called Smart Feller Fart Smeller and Other Spoonerisms.
Part Two of AlterNet's Progressive Publishing Roundtable has been posted. Here's an excerpt which explores one of the questions I had sleepily addressed the other night (these people are much more awake than I was then):

DH: Let's stick with this question. Jennifer wrote in March '05, coming off the Lakoff-Elephant book, challenging progressive authors including Amy Goodman, Michael Moore and Al Franken to publish with indies. She offered that a big advance does not make a bestseller. It should be about how many people buy your books. She connected her critique to the notion of media reform and saving democracy. If this were to happen, if everyone were to publish with independent presses, would we have a better democracy?

AA: I think the problem is that we don't want to cede the terrain of corporate publishing to the Right, and that's, in effect, what we would be doing if we followed this strategy. If we said we're only going to publish radical and progressive voices with smaller independent houses, the effect would be to self-marginalize to a certain extent. We need to contest, in the mainstream, the politics of the mainstream. I welcome the opportunity for a Noam Chomsky to be available in an airport bookstore, I welcome the fact that Michael Moore had such a breakthrough success with a commercial publisher that was able to leverage his books in a way that even the best of the independent publishers couldn't have leveraged.

To be honest, I think there's a thrust to what Nix is saying, which I think is important, which is, I'd love to see a Michael Moore having had that success to then give a book to the New Press, give a book to South End Press, give a book to Seven Stories. And he's in a position where he could do that, so that it shouldn't become an only "either/or" proposition, but I think either side of that equation is wrong. It would be wrong to only publish with commercial publishers; it would be wrong for us to give up the ground of trying to get radical, progressive voices into the mainstream.
I wanted to let you know about some cool events I have on the horizon...

Wednesday, 2/8, 7:15pm, I will be featured at Poetry at the Loft in Redlands (I will be reading fiction, Gail Mazur will be reading poetry, Jo Dierdorff will be dancing to Gail Mazur's poetry, and Old Brown Shoe will be opening and closing the night with their fabulous music.) The Performance Loft is located in The Mitten Building at 345 N. 5th St. in Redlands. You can get more information here.

Thursday, 2/9, 7pm, I will be reading from and discussing The Book of Dead Birds at Imagine That! Bookstore, 5225 Canyon Crest Drive, Suite 13 in Riverside.

Saturday, 2/26, 6pm, I will be reading from The Vagina Monologues with other members of Women Creating Peace Collective at Back to the Grind, 3575 University Ave, Riverside.

Saturday, 3/4, I will be teaching a workshop, Writing to Surprise Ourselves, at Gather the Women 2006, a conference I am co-organizing to celebrate International Women's Day. The conference will take place at the California State University, San Bernardino campus from 9am-4pm. It should be an amazing day, full of workshops, discussions and performances. Our keynote speaker will be Jodie Evans, co-founder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace. Registration is $25; some scholarships are available. For more information, call Nancy at 951.237.6857 or email her at saahiragypsy@yahoo.com.

Hope to see you along the way!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I have been holding my breath, waiting to hear some news about kidnapped journalist, Jill Carroll. I find myself identifying strangely with her--it could be something as simple as the fact that we both have dark hair, that we both are idealistic writers. But I think it's also the fact that if I didn't have kids so young (I was studying abroad in Bali when I found out I was pregnant with my son), I may well have spent my 20s trekking around the globe like her, listening to people's stories, giving their voices a forum. It's something I still want to do; I am happily able to do this within my community now, but I would love to spend more time exploring the rest of the world, as well. I am terrified for Jill Carroll, but I am also holding out hope for her safe release. At the Christian Science Monitor, you can read updates about her situation, and letters of support from all over the world. I was especially touched by this statement to the kidnappers from her father which reads, in part:

I wish to speak to the men holding my daughter. I hope that you heard the conviction in Jill's voice when speaking of your country. That was real. She is not your enemy.

When you release her alive, she will tell your story with the same conviction. Alive my daughter will not be silenced.

Yours is a story which can be told to the world by Jill. Allowing her to live and releasing her will enable her to do so.

As you know by now, my daughter is honest, sincere, and of good heart. Her respect for the Iraqi people has been shown through her words as a reporter.

Jill started to tell your story, please, allow her to finish it.
Residents of Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar have accused the US military of seizing a popular young poet from a mosque and holding him without charge.

(Thanks to Moorish Girl for the link)
Part One of AlterNet's Roundtable Discussion on Progressive Publishing

Here's the intro...

In our world of fast-changing technologies, information overload, instant pundits and a relentless global 24/7 news cycle, books are, perhaps surprisingly, still vitally important. Yes, in the era of the Internet and media convergence on the web, Gutenberg's invention is still holding its ground, even though there is some decline in the number of books being sold, in a business sector that has its ups and downs.

There are many reasons why books remain a central part of many of our lives. One heartening reason is books represent deeper thinking than what we get in our day-to-day news scanning, and, happily, many people still want to dig and know more to make sense of our crazy and disconcerting world. And in some cases, book authors get enough respect and attention to jumpstart a national conversation.

Nevertheless, the trends in book publishing reflect media consolidation in other areas -- there are the big conglomerates and the little guys. As much as 80 percent of trade publishing is controlled by large publishing houses. Still, book sales are big business: Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon are all battling for market share. The Internet is helping to make many more books available than the brick and mortar stores can contain -- the so-called "long tail" that is supposed to strengthen small, independent publishers.

One might think that the smaller independent progressive book publishers would be thriving, especially in the face of the Bush administration's rampant unpopularity. But, surprisingly, political publishing is in the doldrums. The publishing boom of post-9/11 and the earlier Bush years have faded, along with the effectiveness of progressive activism. Is there a connection with books and the state of political engagement?
An interesting discussion follows (you can read the whole thing in the link above). I look forward to the second installment, when they'll discuss
--Should prominent progressive authors who sell a lot of books publish only with independents?
--Are these authors selling out when they go with corporate publishers?
--Has the New York Times Book Review section gotten much more conservative?
My own pat answers (which I should probably go into more depth with, but I'm falling asleep at my chair):

--It's a wonderful idea.
--No (speaking as an author grateful to be with a large publisher, of course), but I do think that authors should find ways to support small presses. I am in love with so many small presses and hope to do an anthology or poetry collection with one soon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

When we first moved into our house six years ago, our friend and new neighbor Dave told us "You're going to have to figure out what to do with your donut." I was puzzled--wouldn't I just eat my donut? (not that I had one on me at the time)--until he pointed to the bush that ringed the bottom of our redwood tree.

Our street is lined with redwoods--not the majestic giants you find in the Redwood National Park; our redwoods are skinnier, splindlier, but not without their own lanky beauty. One is planted in front of each house on the street; each has a donut springing around its base. Some of our neighbors keep their donuts trimmed in close to the trunk; some of them have larger but still well-manicured donuts. Others have decided to shave off their donuts entirely. (I should mention that I had been using the word "bushes" instead of "donuts" in the preceding sentences, but I realized it sounded too much like a discussion of my neighbors' pubic hair, something I can't claim, and don't want, to know about!) We were pretty much the only house on the block to let our donut grow wildly. Over the years, it came to resemble a sprawling sea creature more than a donut, sending tendrils out over the sidewalk, sometimes snagging people's pants as they walked by. I loved our donut, loved its cheeky wildness.

The city's been doing some tree-trimming in our neighborhood lately. I saw orange cones in front of our house on Monday, and imagined that a few spare branches were going to be cut near the top of our tree. When I came home after picking up the kids at school, though, Arin said "The donut is gone!" The city had shaved the whole thing off. And even though I tried to avoid pubic hair references above, they seem more appropirate now. Especially given the fact that the trunk splits into two trunks near the base, like upside down legs, slightly parted. The juncture had been hidden by the donut, but now it is naked, exposed to the world. Our sexy, vulnerable tree. I hope the donut will grow back soon and return it to its old wild modesty.
Today is national call-in day to protest the Patriot Act.

Please consider calling your senators and representatives to support the Senate version of the bill, which "has much stronger protections of civil liberties and more meaningful opportunities to challenge unwarranted information requests and gag orders." For contact information and talking points, click the link above.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Cindy Sheehan on Matriotism

I also know that the women of the world who don't have a voice, such as the mothers of Iraq who are struggling just to survive in their needlessly destroyed country, are counting on us women who do have voices to use them to end George Bush's manifestly idiotic doctrine of preemptive wars of aggression based on the justification that "I think that country might be dangerous to me and my pals."

War will end forever when we matriots stand up and say: "No, I am not giving my child to the fake patriotism of the war machine which chews up my flesh and blood to spit out obscene profits."

"It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens." ~ Baha'u'llah

Matriotism above all is a commitment to truth and to celebrate the dignity of all life.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ravens have returned to England and crows have returned to our neighborhood. West Nile Virus had wiped out most of our local crow population over the last couple of years. A never ending stream of crows used to fly over the Santa Ana River around sunset every night--an amazing peppering of the sky--but they had disappeared. So had the smart birds that dropped nuts on our street and waited for cars to run over the shells before they swooped down to eat. Now they're back. I used to be a little scared of crows, used to associate them with bad luck, with death, but now I'm happy to see them fill our pecan tree in the morning, hear them fill our backyard with their symphony of squawks.
I just learned my friend Peggy Hong was recently named Poet Laureate of Milwaukee! So exciting! Milwaukee is very lucky to have her--I know she will find a way to inspire the entire city with her brave and soulful work.
While Americans may not experience the kind of censorship writers face in other countries (at least not yet), certain editorial decisions can hold the smack of censorship. Case in point, my beautiful sister-in-all Magdalene's letter to the editor, which appeared in yesterday's New York Times Magazine. Magdalene shares her story here:
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a letter to the NY Times Magazine. The Letters editor wrote back that they would like to publish it in the 1/22 magazine with edits for "length and clarity." Some of their edits are excellent, but one bums me completely.

Here's what I wrote:

"One look at the all-male photographs accompanying Arthur Lubow's article "The New Leipzig School" made me want leap up and yell "Where are the Guerilla Girls?" Even when painter Neo Rauch mocks American collectors' blind approach -- "Is he young? Does he come from Leipzig?" the question of the painter’s gender doesn't come up, it's already assumed to be male.

Thankfully Rauch, who stops working each day to cook lunch for his painter wife Rosa Loy, doesn't ignore artists with vaginas the way American art collectors do. Perhaps the collectors could learn to follow his lead in this, too, and throw the gals a crumb."

Here's what they published:

"The New Leipzig School"

"One look at the all-male photographs accompanying Arthur Lubow's article (Jan. 8) and I wanted to leap up and shout "Where are the Guerilla Girls?" Even when painter Neo Rauch mocks American collectors ("Is he young? Does he come from Leipzig?"), the painter’s sex is assumed to be male.

Thankfully Rauch, who stops working each day to cook lunch for his painter wife Rosa Loy, doesn't ignore artists who are women the way American art collectors do."

They took the "vaginas" away!

Odd how frumpy my edited letter made me feel.... like a stodgy old
conservative feminist instead of a wild exciting one.
I think censorship is all about fear--in this case, fear of speaking openly and honestly about women's bodies. At least that's how it seems to me. Yay to Magdalene for speaking for vaginas! The New York Times Magazine may try to silence them, but I'll happily give those vaginas a forum here.

Speaking of vaginas, I'm going to be taking part in a reading of The Vagina Monologues on February 28th at Back to the Grind in Riverside. I'll let you know when I have more details...
Some good news today: Turkey has dropped all charges against novelist Orhan Pamuk. This doesn't mean, however, that Turks are now able to enjoy full freedom of speech.
While Pamuk supporters were pleased his ordeal was over, anti-censorship lobbyists noted that scores of others - writers, publishers, and academics - still face trial for "denigrating Turkishness" or for publishing books deemed to be offensive to Turkey's official self-image.
Let's hope one day all Turkish citizens will be able to speak out freely without fear of persecution.

Today, our GCC guest is Laurie Stolarz, who is zipping through the blogosphere to promote the latest book in her series of magical teen thrillers, Red is for Remembrance:

Stacey Brown’s gift cuts both ways. Her predictive nightmares keep her on the lookout for the marauding maniacs that seem to find her wherever she goes. The folk magic she learned from her grandmother helps protect her and her friends from things that go bump in the night. However, she longs for the quiet life of an ordinary, hormone-plagued high-school girl. Luckily for her droves of dedicated readers, Stacey’s nightmares just keep on coming.

I had the chance to ask Laurie a few questions about her creative process:

--Dreams play a large role in your novels. Do your own dreams influence your writing process?

I'd like to say yes, but not really. I have, however, learned that you can train yourself to dream about what you want/need to know, much the way my main character does. It takes practice and patience, but it's definitely possible.

--What inspired this series?

I first started Blue is for Nightmares in an adolescent fiction writing workshop at Emerson College. I knew I wanted to write a mystery/thriller. I loved suspense novels as a young adult and I really wanted to write something that would have appealed to me at that age. When I started the novel, I had no idea I would delve into the world of magic and witchcraft. That is until I did a free-writing exercise in my workshop class. I had my main character meditating in front of a blue candle, looking for answers. Because I had made Stacey originally from Salem, MA, like me, people in my writers group made the witchcraft connection with the candle. They encouraged me to go in that direction. Even though I grew up in Salem, I didn’t know too much about the formal practice of the Craft, though I had heard growing up that my grandmother had experience with the sixth sense. I started doing research and asking lots of questions. I learned a lot this way. I learned of passed down home remedies, interesting family superstitions, tea readings, card readings, and specific experiences with the sixth sense, some of which find themselves in the novel. I also researched the more formal practices of Witchcraft and Wicca, as well as other folk magical practice/home remedies that pass down within families. Having done this research and seeing the way that Witchcraft is so often negatively portrayed in the media, I wanted to show the true peaceful nature of this earth-based religion, without the hocus-pocus. I wanted to weave an education into the story, using Stacey Brown as a reflective, self-empowering young woman. After writing Blue is for Nightmares, I knew I wanted to create a trilogy, which I did, however, I also knew that the ending of Silver is for Secrets begged for a sequel. That is how Red is for Remembrance came to be.

--What inspires you, in general?

Good food, good friends, good reality TV (if there is such a thing), yoga, healthy cooking, writing a really great scene, and especially my readers. I have the most supportive readers; I'm very lucky.

--You write for a teenage audience. Do you do anything special to connect with your readers?

I can't tell you the last time I read an "adult" book. I read what they read, including magazines. And, I watch an embarrassing amount of MTV, including all those reality shows. I eavesdrop on teens when they talk. I also teach part-time at a local college and that connects me to older teens.

--Any advice for aspiring writers?

I would recommend reading what it is you love. Ask yourself why you love it, why you feel it works. What technique does the writer use that works for you? What point-of-view? What do you like about the dialogue? The characters? Do the same for books that don’t appeal to you. Become a better reader. By answering some of these questions, you’ll become one. You’ll be able to identify what works for you as a reader. Then, apply those elements to your writing. Also, join a writers group. I rely heavily on mine. They’re there for inspiration as well as critiques. We support each other through every step of the process – from that first idea to the finished book. And lastly, of course, it goes without saying that before you send anything out, know the market. Know which editors are looking for your type of book, what their policy is on reading unsolicited manuscripts, if you’ll need an agent, and which agents are accepting new clients in your genre. Also, be sure to ask your agent for a client list, check that they’re a member of AAR (http://www.aar-online.org/mc/page.do), and never pay reading fees.

--I always ask a question about fruit. Since your book is centered around nightmares--what do you think is the most nightmarish fruit and why?

Definitely blood oranges. I think the name says it all.

--Thanks so much for stopping by, Laurie! I wish you sweet dreams and fruitful nightmares as you continue your tour...

Friday, January 20, 2006

The LA Times has a great front page story today about Mary Ann Wright, a woman who, after 30 years as an Army colonel and diplomat, quit her position to protest the war in Iraq. I loved reading about her transformation, and was especially tickled by this passage:

Offering advice on protest techniques, she said: "I am a brand-new person to this. But it sure seems to me that the physical acts get a lot of attention."

Wright spoke with pride about being ejected from a Senate hearing last fall after excoriating the witness, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "You, the Senate, were bamboozled by the administration on Iraq and you cannot be bamboozled again! Stop this woman from killing!"

Within seconds a guard was escorting her out of the room. Wright slipped her arm through his elbow and walked out as if he were her date.

The article ends with these lovely paragraphs:
"She was on the inside, and so she really understands what's going on. And yet she gave up all that power and privilege," Theberge said. "To me, that is the definition of what an active conscience is. And that is her real draw."

After decades of government service, Wright, in turn, has found a new community. The Army officer and diplomat is at home among Americans who are anguishing about this war. "We are on the same sheet of music," she said, adding that she would continue to make her voice heard, as long as the war goes on.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

If there is indeed a tunnel we pass through when we die, I hope it will look like this tunnel of books. Can you imagine it--all the books we've ever loved swirling around us, filling us with their stories, saying goodbye?
How beautiful is it that Chile and Liberia have both elected their first women presidents?!! One day we'll have some ovaries in the Oval Office, too...
My trip to the Bay Area last week was such a treat; I feel like I packed two weeks into two days. I saw so many people I adore--old friends, new friends, friends I've known online for years but had never met in person until now, plus my lovely editor (who took me to the pastry shop where she read Self Storage for the first time. So cool to go there now that we're almost done with revisions.) The reading at Diesel was a true pleasure--so many stirring, fun, powerful mama-readers, such a generous, responsive audience. The fabulous Andi Buchanan has written a full account of the evening. I'm sorry I won't be able to fly up again for the Literary Mama reading this coming Saturday!

Now, back to revision-ing...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I received my contributor's copies of The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel today. The anthology is chock-full of wonderfully strange and sexy poems. It's cool to be part of it (my poem's title is "Prick". And no, it's not what you're thinking. Well, not entirely...)
Kevin Smokler has a fun meditation on the word pulchritude over at his guest blogger stint at Powells.com (he likes the word because it sounds nothing like what it means. "Pulchritudinous" is even more wonderfully dissonant, I think.)

Kevin asks "What are some other words that don't sound like what they mean?" I can't think of any off the top of my head, but I remember that Natalie Goldberg, in one of her books--Wild Mind, maybe?--mentions how beautiful she finds the word "bulimia", even though the meaning is not so lovely. The syllables do roll fluidly off the tongue (which, I suppose, is strangely appropriate!)

My favorite words--luscious and luminous--sound exactly like what they mean, at least to my ears.

I suppose agapanthus sounds more like a disease than a flower, and bilirubin sounds more like a real estate agent than a product of blood...
My friend Jasmina Tesanovic attended the recent massive pro-choice march in Milan. She sends along this powerful chronicle:

The Knights of the Fetuses

"Exit the Silence," the 14 January feminist pro-abortion rally in Milan. It was huge, it was Italian, "La donna e bello."

The march started at the central railway station and ended at the Piazza Duomo, which was packed. It takes well over a hundred thousand people to pack the Duomo's massive plaza, but there they were: mostly women, of all ages. And quite a few men.

A seventy year old beauty holds a banner -- Menopausa (less pausa) / piu Azione (more action). A loud line of painted young girls drives a caterpillar street-puppet, saying: Out of our panties and skirts, priests and fascists. Procreation clerically assisted! Vatican out of homes. We all bear our own crosses!

A woman in a fancy fur coat, with a handsome furred white dog on the leash, stands at the edge of the flowing crowd. A photographer says: I've never seen a faster march. Are women faster than men? The woman in the fur coat stands at the edge of an edgy question: she is a little bit pregnant today...

Abortion is a dangerous issue in Catholic Italy. A peril for your soul to go to hell, while your body would be flung into jail or into a secret clinic. Only yesterday, the new Pope pronounced that RU-486, the pill which kills the fetus without clinical intervention, is even a bigger sin for women, because it is so painless. An actress on the third channel, RAI, the only national television channel uncontrolled by Berlusconi, has a comedy show -- she is asking the new Pope if she is allowed to cook spaghetti tonight, or better yet, maybe some rice.

Anarchist groups, trade union groups, feminist groups, and just women, from all over Italy , arriving in buses, in trains from Verona, Venice, Ravenna, Sienna... The loudest are from Venice, they are chanting and dancing and whistling, they are angry, and they have a lot of followers...

I am joining my Women in Black, the Donne in Nero from Ravenna: they have our international signs shaped like black hands; we kiss and exchange information quickly.

Luisa Morgantini just stormed in and kissed all. They tell me this is a networking turnout, it's grass-roots, pass-the-word organization. Not a word about this in the media, which is deaf, or killed by Berlusconi. There is a parallel demo happening in Rome, named PAX, for the civil unions, between two people, free of churches and dogmas.

A month ago, in the Milan trade union meeting, a woman said; we must do this, our rights are attacked. Two aspects of Italian private life are being reclaimed by the Church: reproductive freedom and civil unions.

A Woman in Black is telling me: the law 194 is endangered, the law that is protecting us women. Now we have so-called social workers who try to persuade pregnant women not to use their rights. This country has gone really bad -- even though the abortion has dropped 40 percent since abortion was legalized.

We are marching in the strict, wealthy downtown of Milan, the luxury shopping district. Oh, says a marcher, look at those gorgeous shoes. How cheap... this is the New Year sales...

Oh shut up, her mother tells her, then glances sideways and exclaims, Oh my god...you are right...

At the stage in the Piazza Duomo, a piece by Franca Rame is read to the massive crowd. She is the wife and coauthor of the Nobel prize winner Dario Fo. She tells how she once had an abortion, and how she could not ask her mother for help, because they were both ashamed to admit the sin.

When I got pregnant as a teen, my mother told me: that is not possible, you are not married. She was a pediatrician, a medical doctor. Now this Italian mother and daughter are walking hand in hand quarreling about Italian shoes. At least mother-daughter relationships have grown better, if not the world and its laws.

Men are here too, quite a few; men of all ages, looking rather happy, straights, hippies, punks, and carrying slogans: Stop the Division...The Movement of Househusbands.

A young man in suit is carrying a baby which has written on its scarf: Freedom for Moms. Nowadays the fetus has been made our biggest enemy...

A woman poet on the podium in Piazza Duomo is reciting her poem:

I am a dangerous woman, I don’t carry bombs or babies,
and I don’t
to fight a war for you, I will never forgive, but I
will never sell
your life as you sold mine...

Fetuses, wars, and abortions and babies are all interconnected; fighting against women is no way to grow a nation stricken by wars and poverty.

The women in this crowd look beautiful, 'la donna e bello,' the feminist motto from the Italians Seventies is obvious today. But this crowd of gorgeous women in the center of Milan is invisible to media or to mainstream Italy; because it is an underground smart mob.

As soon as Janis Joplin ends the rally with her screams, these beautiful Cinderellas vanish like bubbles into a no-woman's land. Italy, the US, Serbia, and all the world are repressed by the new fundamentalists. The land of the beautiful has yet to be freed from Popes, Bushes, Berlusconis and other knights of fetuses.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The literary world has been abuzz lately with the recent James Frey fray and the unmasking of JT Leroy . I'm enjoying following the trail of outrage and indignation in the wake of these revelations, and appreciate the important issues about authenticity and artifice in writing that are being raised, but somehow I haven't quite figured out how I feel about the whole mishegas. I think this could be because I have been preoccupied with lies that feel more pressing and dangerous--the blatant lies of our administration. If only the media could latch on to those lies with the same wolf-pack ferocity they've shown with these publishing scandals. Sure, it's compelling to watch literary bad-boys fall from grace (ah, the schaudenfraude), but there are bigger fish than Frey I want to fry.
Yesterday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 77. Today, as we honor his legacy, I feel compelled to dip into his words, let them sink in deep. Here are some excerpts from his speech "The Drum Major's Instinct" (which I found on the King Center website):

"Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's "Theory of Relativity" to serve. You don't have to know the Second Theory of Thermal Dynamics in Physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love, and you can be that servant."

"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. Say that I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things in life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say. If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he is traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain."

Salon has compiled a collection of stirring and heartbreaking audio recordings from and about Dr. King, and CODEPINK has created a Flash movie to pay tribute to his legacy as a peacemaker. He is still our drum major, and we'll keep drumming, keep marching, keep finding ways to embody his teachings...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hope to see some of you at the reading in Oakland tonight (I'm not listed on the website since I confirmed at the last minute, but look at the amazing list of people I'm reading with!) See you here in a few days...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I've written an essay for the Women Say No to War campaign.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I found out recently that Diane Wilson, who I interviewed last summer, and whose book, An Unreasonable Woman, I recommended during Buy a Friend a Book Week, is in jail.

Here's the information, from her publisher's website:

Diane Wilson was arrested in Houston on December 5th while infiltrating a fundraiser for recently-indicted U.S. Representative Tom Delay. At the time of her arrest Diane was wanted in Texas on Crimial Trespassing charges from 2002, when she had climbed a tower at Dow Chemical to protest the company's continued irresponsibility following its 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, where 150,000 people were poisoned. Diane refused to turn herself in for the trespassing charges until Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide, turned himself in to the Indian government, where he has been wanted for thirteen years for the Culpable Homicide of thousands in Bhopal. Following her arrest in Houston, Diane is currently serving a 120 day sentence for the trespassing charge in Victorial County Jail.

As of December 21, you can now help Diane by donating to the Diane Wilson Support Fund through the Environmental Health Fund (EHF), a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Your contributions are tax deductible and can be sent care of:

Gary Cohen, Executive Director,
Environmental Health Fund
41 Oakview Terrace
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Ph: 617-524-6018
Fax: 617-524-7021

Please make checks out to the 'Environmental Health Fund' with 'Diane Wilson Support Fund' in the memo of the check, and thank you for your support!

You can write to Diane (she can only receive letters) at the following address:

Sylvia Diane Wilson
CR # 65510
Victoria County Jail (Calhoun County Inmate)
101 North Glass
Victoria, TX 77901
I learned through CODEPINK that Diane can also receive books, as long as they are sent through a retail distributor like Amazon. She is especially interested in books on meditation and women activists, but any books would help her pass the time. Diane is such an inspiration to me; I can only imagine this experience will make her all the more fired up about her work as an environmental and political activist.
I have read some fabulous books lately, most notably The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country by Louise Erdrich while on our trip (trips are always good for getting some real reading done). I am currently reading Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie, an utterly gorgeous novel set in Pakistan. I am realizing now that all three books, each in their own way, are about love and language and place; all of them are about deciphering writing (through translation, through pictrographs, through code) to find the enduring truth within. It doesn't hurt that all three are written with such beauty and tenderness, either. I recommend them highly.
Hot on the heels of Andi Buchanan, Sheila Curran is swinging through on her GCC tour. Actually Sheila herself is unable to swing by, but I was able to cobble together a virtual tour stop from the information on her thorough and engaging website.

Sheila is currently promoting her first novel, Diana Lively is Falling Down:
A comedy-of-manners in the tradition of Le Divorce and The Jane Austen Book Club, this novel begins in Oxford, England. Diana, a talented British architect, builds dollhouses so she can tend to her three children and overbearing husband. Enter an Arizona ammunitions tycoon, visiting Oxford to dedicate a small library of Arthurian texts to the memory of his late wife, a fan of Camelot. After meeting Diana and her husband, one of the world’s leading scholars on Arthurian legend, Wally experiences a vision. As a tribute to his wife, he will construct The King Arthur Theme Park and Museum, in Lake Havasu, Arizona, next to the transplanted London Bridge. The next day, Wally makes the college an offer they can’t refuse, and the Livelys are dispatched to spend a year in Arizona. And so our story begins.
The book sounds like great fun; the Q and A section of the website touches upon some important issues, as well:

5. It was hard to tell from reading your book what you thought of the environmental movement out West. Are they flakes, blow-hards or saviors of the modern world?

All three. I’m a rabid environmentalist myself: at the same time, I loath camping, avoid the outdoors at all costs, and, if allowed, would bring an air-conditioner with me to a desert island. What I would like is for this country to get back to our roots in thrift and throw ourselves into preventing waste. Did you know that about half the water use in this country is due to leaks? Did you know that conservation technologies alone would be a win-win towards energy independence? Don’t get me started. Go to the NRDC website, or the Sierra Club or The Nature Conservancy. But remember, the people who react against environmental regulation almost always have a vested interest. As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has said so eloquently, “You show me a polluter, I’ll show you a subsidy.” What he means by that is simple. If you don’t clean up after yourself, then the taxpayer has to. Which means we’re helping that business pay the cost of its enterprise. How could it be any more simple than that?
Sheila's website is full of all sorts of helpful, playful content, including the genesis of the novel, a Vile Husband contest, and recipes!

Have fun on your GCC tour, Sheila! Best of luck to you and the book!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The recent West Virginia coal mine tragedy has me thinking a lot about the power of language--the power language has to create joy, to bring devastation, to heal. It was words, a mishearing, misinterpretation of words, that led people to believe their loved ones were alive. It was words that later informed people their loved ones hadn't made it after all. These puffs of breath, these small units of sound, can make our hearts soar, make our hearts stop.

I was touched by the fact that the miners chose to write farewell messages to their loved ones. They knew their words would survive them, would carry their love, carry some modicum of comfort, to those they left behind. Words could never in a million years replace the flesh and blood presence of these men, of course, but what a gift for grieving relatives to be able to read "Tell all - I see them on the other side," and "It wasn't bad, I just went to sleep," and "I love you." Think of how much darker the void would have been without those words offering pin pricks of light.
Cindy Sheehan's latest call to action

If I hear one more rendition of "We Shall Overcome" and then watch the vigilers or marchers go home and turn on their TV's and crack open a brewsky content in the fact that they have done something for peace that day, I am going to scream! We can't overcome unless we take the proverbial bull by the horns and overcome!

Hold your vigils and marches in relevant places: such as warmongering local Congressional offices. So many Senators and Congresspeople come to mind. Or in front of a recruiting station. Or Federal Buildings. Or military bases. Then instead of going home and cracking open a beer, or uncorking a bottle of wine, sit down and say "we aren't leaving until you call for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq." Put your butt on the line for humanity.

Change will not happen until we make it happen. We can't make change happen by wishing or praying that it will happen.

We actually have to do something.

I actually believe vigils do do something; I think it's always good to send concentrated energy for peace out into the world (especially in a visible way). I understand Cindy's point completely, though. We need to move towards real action. And that can take so many forms--sitting one's butt down, or lifting one's pen, or creating new ways to speak to power, to educate the public, to inspire lawmakers to change. I'm trying to decide how best to "do something" in 2006. Do any of you have any specific resolutions/plans for action this year? I'd love to hear about them...

My friend Andi Buchanan (author of the essential book Mother Shock, and editor of the fabulous It's A Boy, Literary Mama, and the forthcoming It's a Girl anthologies) is wrapping up her GCC tour. I would do a big juicy GCC post about her, but I'm going to be part of her book blog tour next month, and thought I'd wait until then (plus, I don't have the time to do the post justice right now.) I'll get to see Andi this Thursday, when I'm going to be part of her anthology reading at Diesel Books in Oakland. I'm very excited! Andi and I have known each other online for years; I feel very close to her, even though we've never met in person. It will be a treat to bring our friendship into the real world!

In lieu of a regular GCC post, take a look at Andi's stunning recent post about maternal judgement on her own blog (which also features links to other GCC stops on her tour.)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Two cool novel-related online discoveries:

Novelist Jane Smiley has a blog over at The Huffington Post.

Novelist Louise Doughty has a new writing-related column, A Novel in a Year, at the Telegraph.

Smiley's blog is an engaging mix of political and literary musings; Doughty's column seems like it will be full of writing prompts and inspiration. Both promise to be a lot of fun...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I love meeting with book groups. In person is best, but if the group isn't local, it's a lot of fun to meet by phone, too. If any of you have book groups out there and would like to arrange a speaker phone visit (or a face-to-face visit if you live in Southern CA), please feel free to email me at gaylebrandeis at gmail dot com. Thanks!
This website explores how the FBI could use Amazon Wish Lists to track subversives. I wonder what the feds would think of my strange little wish list...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I'm very excited; I received a letter today saying that my application to become a member of PEN American Center has been approved.
PEN American Center is the largest of the 141 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. International PEN was founded in 1921 to dispel national, ethnic, and racial hatreds and to promote understanding among all countries. PEN American Center, founded a year later, works to advance literature, to defend free expression, and to foster international literary fellowship. The Center has a membership of 2,900 distinguished writers, editors, and translators. In addition to defending writers in prison or in danger of imprisonment for their work, PEN American Center sponsors public literary programs and forums on current issues, sends prominent authors to inner-city schools to encourage reading and writing, administers literary prizes, promotes international literature that might otherwise go unread in the United States, and offers grants and loans to writers facing financial or medical emergencies. In carrying out this work, PEN American Center builds upon the achievements of such dedicated past members as W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Marianne Moore, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck.
The line about PEN offering grants and loans to writers facing financial or medical emergencies is especially meaningful to me--I received one of those grants in 1993. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time; our insurance (through the state) covered most of my midwifery care, but not all of it, and we had no idea how we were going to pay the rest of the balance, which amounted to several hundred dollars. My husband was in school, and we were barely scraping by, living on student loans. I applied for a PEN emergency grant, even though I knew they normally went to established writers and I only had a few bylines, a small number of awards, to my name. When I received the generous letter of support (along with a similarly generous check), I couldn't stop crying. I vowed that I would find a way to give back to PEN some day. And now I can.

On another writers-helping-writers note, I found out that my friend Martha O'Connor (author of the fabulous Bitch Posse) and her family were flooded out of their home in Marin. Backspace, an online writers collective (one I've been meaning to join), has set up a relief fund for Martha and her family. I am very grateful for a way to help across the miles.
Inspiring links of the day:

An interview with Marjorie Kowalski Cole, author of Correcting the Landscape, the latest winner of the Bellwether Prize.

Women Say No To War

Monday, January 02, 2006

I forgot to mention that when we got home at 1am last night, we found a Christmas tree lashed to the towering ash tree in our front yard! It was attached to the trunk by a whole bunch of plastic wrap, about six feet up in the air! It was quite a sight. I found it hilarious, but Matt got a little worried, wondering how long it had been there. He was concerned it was like a billboard flashing "No one's home! Go in and take stuff!" Luckily, everything in the house was intact. And it turned out that Arin's mischevious/industrious friends had only put it up the night before. They had to use a ladder. I really wanted to take a picture of it, but Arin had dismantled everything by the time I woke up today (and then it turned out that we lost our camera somewhere on the way home anyway. I hope America West will find it and return it to us. So many precious pictures in that camera.)

The ash tree had dumped almost all of its leaves while we were gone (and I don't think it was because it was frightened by the Christmas-tree wielding boys!) They were everywhere--blanketing the yard, the driveway, the front porch, the sidewalk, the street in front of our house. A whole little ecosystem had developed amid the leaves; a tree stump in the front yard was blooming with the hugest mushrooms I've ever seen. Dozens of them, about the size of salad plates. I should look up some information and try to identify them.

It's quite amazing to see what happens to our yard without any human input. It definitely takes on a real life of its own. Not that we do a lot to tame it when we're here. We pretty much let it run wild, only mow when things are looking really shabby. The hibiscus and birds of paradise plants keep blooming and thriving without any help from us. A tiny kumquat tree by the front steps is fruiting this year--we've been here six years, but only realized it was a kumquat tree last year when a couple of tiny fruits emerged. Now, it's postively springing with them, and we did nothing to encourage it; it has its own internal urges. The Mexican sage under the ash is going strong (although a friend has told me we should prune it if we want it to be healthy. And I keep meaning to, honest. But it keeps putting out velvety purple flowers, regardless.) I love how nature keeps cycling. One day, I'd love to learn how to really care for plants--I hope to have a vegetable garden in the backyard at some point--but I also love watching them do their own thing, without any human attempts at control.

The yard is still covered with leaves, but Arin and his friend (one of the tree bandits) raked up the walkways today, so it looks a little less chaotic. But chaos can be a friend. Entropy can be a friend. Change can be a friend. I wonder what would happen if we never touched a rake again, just watched the leaves decompose, watched what sprouted from their mulch. I'm sure the neighbors would not be too thrilled. But I kind of would be.
Happy 2006, everyone!

We're back from Toronto--a fun, relaxing, exhilarating, love-filled week with my sister and her family in their new house. My kids had their first taste of snow, and I had my first taste of mangosteens in almost 16 years (they were my favorite fruit in Bali, but are forbidden in the US. The white lobes of fruit inside the hard magenta shells are just as delicious and tender as I remembered.) I skated with my sister for the first time in what could be 25 years; we skated together after school, and sometimes before school, almost every day as kids, so this felt very significant. We held hands and spun around super-fast--all I could see was my sister's beautiful laughing face; the rest of the world blurred around us as we whirled, and I was back in that wonderful bubble we created around ourselves as girls. Watching the fierce love between our daughters now fills my heart to bursting; it makes me so happy that our connection will continue to shine long into the future. The future that, as a midwife, my sister is always bearing witness to, not to mention ushering forth. She showed me all of her midwifery equipment; I am in awe of what she can do with her hands. The women of Toronto are so lucky to be in her care.

I am still full from all of the amazing Toronto food--luscious Ethiopian "splint peas", gorgeous little puris filled with chick peas and cilantro and all sorts of tangy sauces on the street in Little India, spicy noodles from Sweet Lulus, glutinous rice rolls from Chinatown, walnut cakes from Koreatown, Jamaican vegetable patties, Portugese custard tarts, etc., etc. Toronto is definitely a great food town. And culture town. Not to mention a progressive town, where even used Kleenex can be recycled and public transport is swift and accessible. Elections are coming up soon--it was slightly disorienting to see red signs for the Liberal party and blue signs for the Conservative party (and it was cool to see signs for the even more liberal NDP and Green parties, as well.)

There were only a few small short-lived blips. My son fell while tobaggoning and sliced his face open, but he's okay (and even thought it was kind of cool that he blacked out for a moment). One of our bags was lost on the flight home, but it arrived today. In Customs, the form asked for countries visited; I wrote "1", and the agent had a good laugh at me (it turned out I was supposed to list the names of countries. Strange that a word person would resort to numbers like that. I had a good laugh when I realized what I had done, too.) There were a couple of other airplane-related frustrations, but all in all, it was a very easy traveling experience (and how cool to see night-time cities glowing through the thick clouds on descent. It looked like nebulae, like something out of a science fiction movie.) Amazing how quickly we can travel thousands of miles. If I think about it too long and hard, I get a little dizzy.

It's good to be home, but I miss our Toronto people so much already. I love you, Elizabeth, Craig and Mollie!