Friday, March 31, 2006

Musical theater can be punishing! I woke up this morning with a knot on my forehead from pressing it, ram-like, into my co-star's forehead last night during blocking for "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better." I hate to think how the actor whose head I kicked by accident--with my clog, no less--must be feeling right now. It was our first time working with the song, and it's a lot of fun, even though it's beating us up. I get to be petulant and aggressive and all the things that I tend to shy away from in my normal life. Annie Oakley is like my shadow self, my id. It's cool to tap into that energy, to let myself be a little raw and wild.
Al Martinez imagines Walt Whitman at the recent march in LA:

The singing he might hear if he walked the streets of 21st century America would include the rising voices of diversity that filled the air Saturday when up to a million people gathered in the heart of L.A. to announce a new presence at the bargaining table of decision making.

It was a joyful sound, an a cappella in Spanish and English, a "yes we can!" in two languages, challenging the moral antinomies that exist in the silence beyond the harmony. The music was a symphony of hope sung by Latinos and whites and Asians and blacks, in the new America of many voices.

Whitman would have heard the music of protest, sung fortissimo, because poets sense what others miss. They perceive the strings as well as the drums, and glory in the grand union of their orchestration.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Anne Lamott calls for a revolution based on kindness, libraries, and fruit. Here's a taste:
Additionally, it would be great if everyone could bring a bit of fruit to share, and maybe a few dollars, in case one runs into someone desperately poor.

Bananas are great, as I believe them to be the only known cure for existential dread. Also, Mother Teresa said that in India, a woman dying in the street will share her banana with anyone who needs it, whereas in America, people amass and horde as many bananas as they can to sell for an exorbitant profit. So half of them go bad, anyway.

Maybe, come to think of it, that wasn't Mother Teresa. Maybe that was Ram Dass, or my neighbor Irmgaard, but it doesn't matter. Trust me: Fruit is a nice touch. Apples, oranges, it doesn't matter, and it would not be mandatory that you bring any fruit at all.

All we would ask is that you show up and help us foment a revolution, based on kindness and that silly old idea our parents taught us, about fairness. Maybe we'd sing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." No offense in that, really, is there?

Today, as I was driving to a local high school to inquire about using their theater for our still-homeless production, I happened upon a bunch of students staging a walk-out. I have been so inspired to see how many people are taking to the streets to protest HR 4437, which would make it a felony to enter the US without authorization. The images of half a million people flooding downtown LA on Saturday thrilled me. I remember how moving and overwhelming it was to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people marching for peace in DC last fall. There is great power in numbers. In 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr. said "I'm still convinced there's nothing more powerful to dramatize a social evil than the tramp tramp of marching people." How heartening to see this happening in my community now, and to see young people leading the way.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I just remembered another conversation I had with Mr. Stamenkovic. He asked "What do you do when you are not doing this?" as I set small trays of food on his dining room table. When I said "I'm a writer," his face lit up. "So," he said in a very mischevious voice, "you are dangerous!"
I was saddened today to learn of the passing of Hrista Stamenkovic. When I used to volunteer for Meals on Wheels, the Stamenkovics' house was always the highlight of my route. The tiny couple, who immigrated from Serbia in 1962 and retained their beautifully thick accents, were always so warm and sweet to me. Mr. Stamenkovic had words of wisdom to share every time I visited, especially when I had my kids in tow. "Knowledge is the most important thing," he would tell them as he handed them a $5 bill (which he would never let us return, even when we protested). "Don't ever forget this. Don't ever stop learning and using your mind." He was a great example of this--he published a book "Innovative Shear Design" in 2002, at the age of 84, which revolutionized the concrete industry. When I arrived at his book-filled house, he was often reading, bent toward a large screen that magnified the pages.

Mr. Stamenkovic was very courtly towards me. He would kiss my hand, and then I would kiss his hand, and then he would give me a long, warm hug. "Don't ever get old," he would tell me, and kiss my hand again. When I decided to let go of my route, I didn't tell him at first that it was my last day, but he seemed to know. He gave me a longer hug than usual and told me "You keep me young." Then he said "I'll never forget you." I cried as I drove away. Every once in a while since then, I would see him from a distance, shuffling down the sidewalk, trailing his oxyen tanks, as I drove through his neighborhood. I would wave, but I don't think he ever saw me. I told myself that one day I would visit again, just to say hello, to find out more about his and his wife's life. I knew they must have some incredible stories. Then today I saw the obituary and my heart is still aching. Goodbye, Mr. Stamenkovic. I will never forget you, either.
I just started reading Kathryn Davis' The Thin Place, and, oh, the language!

There is probably nothing more beautiful and implausable than the world, nothing that makes less sense, the gray bud of the willow, silky and soft, the silk-white throat of the cobra, the wish of nature or humans to subsume all living matter in fire, and flood. I will hurt you, hurt you, hurt you, says the world, and then a meadow arches its back and golden pollen sprays forth.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

This is so awesome. Cecilia Fire Thunder, the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe at the Pine Ridge Reservation, is challenging the new abortion law in South Dakota.
“To me, it is now a question of sovereignty,” she said to me last week. “I will personally establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on my own land which is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation where the State of South Dakota has absolutely no jurisdiction.”

Of course it would be even more awesome if South Dakota hadn't banned abortions in the first place.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I am not a Good Housewife
There's no business like show business...

Rehearsals continue to be a lot of fun--I get to be lifted high into the air by a 6'7" guy, and also carried across the stage on my side by three dancing men; it makes me feel like a little kid, getting hoisted around like this.

The production has hit a bit of a snafu, though--the director found out a few days ago that the Corona Civic Center Theater is undergoing major renovations and may not be ready in time for our show. We're scrambling to find a new performance venue now. I suggested the auditorium at the Sherman Indian School, among a few other places. I have been so concerned about the portrayal of Native Americans in the show--the play was written in the early 1940s, and is very un-PC, very culturally insensitive--and thought that it would be good to get the local Native American community involved as we revise the script to make it less offensive. The director is working to change the most egregious lines, but I'm worried some will remain. I have changed some of my lyrics, as well--I have to sing a song called "I'm an Indian, Too", which contained all sorts of horrible stereotypes. I'm working to make it much more respectful. Anyway, it turns out that Sherman is no longer loaning out their auditorium, but some of the native dancers from the school might be able to join the production, which would be wonderful (assuming we find a place to stage the show...)

Monday, March 20, 2006

To mark the third anniversary of the war in Iraq (or, as The Peter Weiss Foundation for Arts and Politics in Berlin calls it, The Anniversary of Lies), I have joined many international authors in calling for a worldwide reading of Eliot Weinberger's What I Heard About Iraq. You can read the text, find the location of today's readings, and peruse the list of signees at the link above.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

My friend Andi Buchanan has launched a cool new project, When I Was Twelve, to explore what it's like to be a twelve year old girl in America. Andi writes:
I'm hoping to interview hundreds of women of different ages, races, geographical locations, economic backgrounds, and careers, and have them tell me their stories. With this project I hope to examine the ordinary and extraordinary experience of being 12 through the voices of real women as they share their stories from that crucial year in American girlhood.
I just sent her my thoughts about being twelve. You can share your own stories through her website...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I have had a couple of very affirming days of writing news.

Today, I found out that my poem, "Pear", received one of three Honorable Mentions in the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred contest judged by Sena Jeter Naslund. This is meaningful to me in so many ways--I've deeply admired Merton and Naslund from afar for years, plus my husband's great uncle and namesake, Monkle Matt, was friends with Merton when they were both living at Gethsemane. Monkle Matt died before I met my Matt, but we have a wonderful collection of his letters, and he is someone I know I would have loved, for his commitment to peace after witnessing the atrocities of Hiroshima, as well as for his deep love of literature (and his wonderful spirit). I want to dedicate this honor to him.

UPDATE: You can read the poem (and beautiful fellow honorable mention poems) here.

I also found out yesterday that my story A Long Time was selected as a Notable Story of 2005. And I received a wonderful report from my editor about the "launch" meeting for Self Storage yesterday--very exciting!

Now I just have to do some real writing today to justify all this lovely writerly news...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

You can vote on America's Favorite Poem. I feel like I have a vested interest in "Song of Myself", since my coming-out-next-year-novel Self Storage is structured around the poem. It's in second place right now (after Prufrock)--wanna help me bump it up to first? (Not that I want to stuff the ballot box or anything. If there is a poem you really love on the list, of course vote for that one. But it would be pretty cool to be able to put "Structured around America's Favorite Poem" somewhere on my cover...)

Monday, March 13, 2006

A fun call for submissions:

Doing it in Strange Places... And Making Change:
Young Women Fighting for Social Justice

A commonly asked question at social justice events is, "What can I do
to get more involved?" This question is usually answered, according
to third wave feminist writers Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards,
in one of three ways: send money, call politicians, and volunteer.
Unfortunately, none of these foster a sense of investment in an issue
or offer solutions for how to solve the injustices in the world. It
also doesn't account for the lack of time, money and resources that
these three answers require. What if we could just incorporate our
politics into our every day lives? In fact, that is just what most
activists do.

In this anthology, we want to hear from young women from all walks of
life who have found creative ways to use their passion (from writing
to banking to being a homemaker) as an outlet for social justice
activism. We seek to make activism accessible and inspire others to
use the resources that they have to contribute to social justice.
Changing the world won't happen over night, so let's share our daily
successes and strategies for making all of our visions of a better
world possible. Tell us what worked and what didn't because all
experiences are valuable. We want to be sure multiple voices and
perspectives are represented in the anthology. Writers of all
experience levels are encouraged to submit work. All work must be
original and should not be published elsewhere.


Mandy Van Deven is the editor and publisher of Altar Magazine, a social justice publication
focusing on art, music, culture, politics, and activism. She also
works as the Director of Community Organizing at Girls for Gender
, a grassroots organization in Brooklyn,
NY working to create opportunities for girls and women to live
self-determined lives. Mandy believes that all opinions are valuable
and because her voice is loud, she works to help others raise their own voices.

Submission Guidelines

* We prefer to have submissions sent via email in a Word or Rich Text
Format document to with "Doing it in Strange
Places" in the subject line. Otherwise, submissions can be mailed to:

Mandy Van Deven
955 Metropolitan Ave, #4R
Brooklyn, NY 11211

* If you would like your submission returned to you, please include
a SASE. * Word count: 2,500 - 5,000

* All submissions require your name, address, phone number, email
address, and a short bio.

Submissions should be received (not postmarked) by May 1, 2006.

Please direct any questions you may have to
Rehearsals have been so much fun these last three weekends. I'm beginning to feel as if I'm possessed. It's very cool. So different from being possessed by a character when I write. That's a more cerebral possession. Annie Oakley is coming into my muscles, my vocal chords. I'm finding myself saying "What the hell" just the way she does, in my daily life. I'm learning how to swagger (although that's confined to the rehearsals--I'm not the swaggering sort!) I am under no delusions that I am going to become a great actor, or that I'm going to wow the audience, but it feels more natural than I thought it would to slip into a character's skin. This weekend, we started really working with scenes--the lines felt so different when I said them out loud with my whole body than they do when I read the words out loud from the page, script in my lap. A much more dynamic experience. Especially because there are other people's faces and bodies to respond to. For those of you who have acted before, this all must be old hat, but it feels like such a revelation to me. It's marking me, too--my knees are all bruised up today. I have to slide on them across the floor as I sing "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun". Next time, I will definitely bring kneepads. I'm looking forward to it...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I am such a word geek--I love any humor involving word play, and am a big old sucker for poorly translated phrases. This site had me laughing so hard, I could barely see straight. The menu goes on and on...

"A west bean pays the fish a soup", anyone?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Jasmina Tesanovic sends along this powerful account of her experience in Belgrade on International Women's Day:

Code Pink/ Women in Black, Belgrade

Sunny freezing day, 8th of March; at ten sharp we
spread our banners in front of the US embassy in
Belgrade facing the marines with machine guns and few
startled visa seekers: Women Say No to War, Code Pink,
Not in our names Not with our Money, Women in Black

...Security gets nervous but since we were on the
other side of the street they can only warn us not to
take any photos of them: we don’t, we take photos of
our beautiful selves; it is International Women's
Day. A pretty girl approaches us:" Please, I am
looking for this very famous hairdresser somewhere
here. Dressed in pink and black with fuzzy hairs and funny
eyeglasses we must seem the right people to ask.

- Who are you, she wonders
- We are women for peace
- Are you against Americans
-We are against all military

She gets it in a second: careful gals...they will
shoot you from the windows from all sides like
pigeons and she runs away...

Not really; two women are entering the US embassy to
meet the political matters person and deliver him
the signatures we collected for the "Women say no to
war" Code Pink international action. The meeting goes
on for 45 minutes: the embassy person is eager to
convince us, he claims he read everything about Code
Pink and Women in Black initiatives but he still
thinks that peace can be brought by weapons, that
powers like US have moral issues to intervene...

Oil as blood trail, is that a moral issue?
Did you protest when NATO bombed you, he asks
No Bush, No Saddam
No NATO no Milosevic

Back on the streets, to the Russian embassy: Niet, not
working day, says the sleepy single guard...

We have a letter to deliver, we women for peace, we
protest against Putin who fights the Chechens and
hosts our war criminals...

Ha, says the guard, speaking between Serbian and
Russian give it to me, I deliver tomorrow.

No machine guns, no security, no official reply or

Russians do not even fake democracy as Americans do.
We rush to deliver a press conference on women who
write against war, it is well attended, but the press
has questions, we have them.

In the republic square, a performance follows ;
international banners, lots of cameras and a personal
security squad led by an elderly policeman not in
uniform. He claims he is in charge of our safety and
seems proud of it. Until recently police were are main
source of danger though. Winded chinese baby dolls
are squeaking in the middle of our circle
symbolizing the forced birth of a nation. Some male
onlookers are sulking but in silence.

Then we march the local streets of Belgrade to the
parliament. We are shouting Mladic to Hague, More
condoms less religion, Crime has no nationality...At
the front door of the parliament a woman delegate is
waiting for us: we are delivering two letters to the
officials; one a women's security resolution and the
other against financing the war criminals in Hague.
Both ignored for months on end by the parliament.
These are hot days in Serbia, only two days ago the
major leader and accomplice of the Serbian criminal
regime Milan Babic, now witness of the accusation
committed suicide in prison in Hague. Seems like
ordered suicide and Hague neglect.

The same day in the major film theatre in Belgrade
"Grbavica" a film on war rape in Bosnia directed by a
Sarajevo woman featured by a Serbian actress was
screened: the theatre was full, the police were
everywhere, few nationalists tried to intervene with
insults and provocations at the beginning but were
thrown out and the show was an utmost success. The
film won the first prize in Berlin film festival this
year, Belgrade managed to cope with that.
There are two kinds of globalization we conclude at
the Women in Black network workshop; a good one and a
bad one. When war and war crimes are committed in our names by
different kinds of war fundamentalists, it is a bad
one; when we gather together all over the planet to
make sure they will not get away with it, it is a good
one. Crime has no nationality, time or place border.

Warriors of the world beware, women of all colors are
everywhere...We don’t want your flowers, we demand
your weapons...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Happy International Women's Day!

Here's a fun history of the day. And here are some things you can do to honor it:

Help stop violence against women in Darfur

Send a letter of appeal regarding the criminal defamation case against Mexican writer and journalist Lydia Cacho.

Join a peace rally

Test your knowledge of pioneering women writers

Find your own way to celebrate the wonderful fruitfulness and power of women!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I'm getting ready for my trip to Oregon, but I wanted to let you know that two of my short stories are now being featured at Amazon Shorts for 49 cents a pop. Take a gander, if you'd like: Cherry Cherry Cherry and Collateral. More info--why I wrote each story, etc.--will be up there soon, but I thought I'd give you an early peek...
Gather the Women was a gorgeous, celebratory day--what a pleasure to connect with so many peaceful, creative women. A reporter from the Press-Enterprise attended; you can read her account here.

Friday, March 03, 2006

One final reminder about tomorrow's Gather the Women event. I am very excited!

And for my friends in Oregon...

I will be the keynote speaker at the Conference on Gender and Culture at Oregon State University in Corvallis on Tuesday, March 7. I will also be part of an International Women's Day Celebration organized by my friend Kryn in Albany, OR on Monday, March 7. It should be such a lovely trip. (Hopefully my voice will be up for all the speaking and singing I have to do in the next week. I have a tremendous sore throat...)

Note: Thank you to everyone who "attended" my NAWW teleseminar today. I had a fabulous time!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A beautiful essay by Michael Chabon on the Future, triggered by hearing about The Clock of the Long Now, a clock in development that is supposed to keep time for 10,000 years. Here is his gorgeous final paragraph:
When I told my son about the Clock of the Long Now, he listened very carefully, and we looked at the pictures on the Long Now Foundation’s website. “Will there really be people then, Dad?” he said. “Yes,” I told him without hesitation, “there will.” I don’t know if that’s true, any more than do Danny Hillis and his colleagues, with the beating clocks of their hopefulness and the orreries of their imaginations. But in having children—in engendering them, in loving them, in teaching them to love and care about the world—parents are betting, whether they know it or not, on the Clock of the Long Now. They are betting on their children, and their children after them, and theirs beyond them, all the way down the line from now to 12,006. If you don’t believe in the Future, unreservedly and dreamingly, if you aren’t willing to bet that somebody will be there to cry when the Clock finally, ten thousand years from now, runs down, then I don’t see how you can have children. If you have children, I don’t see how you can fail to do everything in your power to ensure that you win your bet, and that they, and their grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren, will inherit a world whose perfection can never be accomplished by creatures whose imagination for perfecting it is limitless and free. And I don’t see how anybody can force me to pay up on my bet if I turn out, in the end, to be wrong.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Carlos Reyes-Manzo, a poet who had been imprisoned and tortured during the Pinochet regime, speaks to the Guardian about the marriage between poetry and politics:
It seems to him that poets have a duty to engage with these problems. "It's a political act, writing a poem," he says. "There is not one poet who doesn't express a political opinion. Even the ones who write about the flowers of Kew Gardens, still they are clearly expressing opinions about society."