Monday, December 24, 2007

I went to Poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets, to check out which poems they are highlighting for the holiday season. When I saw that they recommend Archaic Torso of Apollo by Rainer Maria Rilke for New Year's, my breath stopped for a moment. This poem has spoken to me before, but never more than now.

May the holidays and the New Year bring you peace and joy and, if this poem speaks to you the way it does to me, fruitful transformation.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I have a couple of fun events this week; swing by if you can:

Wednesday, December 5, I will be speaking about writing and activism at the University of Redlands, 1200 E. Colton Avenue, Redlands, CA in Gregory Hall, room 161 (in the Science Complex) at 7pm.

Thursday, December 6, I will be part of a poetry event called “Women's Work” at the Riverside Public Library, 3581 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA at 6:30pm. I'll be reading with a bunch of amazing women poets, all friends; we'll also be discussing how our work relates to the "wisdom of the divine feminine."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thanks to my friend Susan Ito's blog, I discovered freerice.com, a web site where you can both test your vocabulary and help end hunger all at one (for every correct answer, they donate 10 grains of rice through the United Nations World Food Program.) What a cool, fun way to combine literacy and human rights!
Some fun news--I learned that Target has chosen Self Storage as a "Breakout Book" for the month of February (when the paperback comes out) and will feature it on their "Bookmarked" shelves around the country. I love me some Tar-jay!

Friday, November 16, 2007

This is a picture of what was once Bransky's Hall, the aforementioned ice cream shop owned by my great grandfather in Baltimore (which I learned was also a confectionery and a place to buy coal. The Branksys lived there, too--I imagine on the upper levels.) It was very exciting to learn the address, to find more about the place through the archives at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Driving to the place itself was quite a terrifying adventure--the neighborhood is very economically depressed now, and I guess I looked like a target in my shiny rental car; I had to do some scary and illegal maneuvers to get away from a beat up van that was trailing me, and I had to race away from a couple of women chasing my car on foot. My finger is in this cell phone photo because the picture was taken in great haste. I wish I could have gotten out of the car, examined the building, touched the original brick that still edges one wall, but I'm so happy to just be able to place the building geographically, to begin to visualize it as it once must have been.

My trip was wonderful--beautiful family togetherness, amazing food (including one of the best new pickles ever at Attman's Delicatessen, which has been around since 1915 and has some fun menu listings, a "Gay Liver-ation" sandwich among them), kick ass bookstores (including a progressive one, and a totally free one), a quick trip to the CODEPINK house in DC, and a stop at the American Visionary Art Museum, which houses one of the most wild and awe-inspiring collections I have seen. My time at Cecil College was a lot of fun, too--I surprised both myself and the audience by singing a bit from Annie Get Your Gun during my talk (I wasn't expecting to do that at all, but the talk was on a stage that was set for a play, and it just triggered something in me.) I'm grateful for the warm welcome there, for the time spent with my sisters, for the time spent reconnecting with my roots, even for the time spent running for my life. Re-entry into my life here has been a bit discombobulating--I got home late Wednesday, taught all day Thursday, and my daughter had her tonsils out this morning--but I am grateful for all of that, as well (especially the fact that Hannah is recovering so beautifully! I wish Bransky's Hall was still around so I could give her some ice cream made by her great-great-grandfather to soothe her aching throat...)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Good luck to everyone who signed up for NaNoWriMo this year! Like a fool, I signed up, myself, fully intending to fall wayyyyy short of the 50,000 word mark. I'm already ridiculously behind. I just wanted to give myself some inspiration to move forward with my novel this month, even in the midst of total life chaos, plus I love the camaraderie of NaNo. Hopefully I'll spill a few words before December.

This Friday, I leave for Baltimore. If you happen to be in the area, I will be speaking at Cecil College on Nov. 13, talking about art and activism. You can find more info here. I'm so excited. My father's family landed in Baltimore after fleeing Russia, and stayed for many years, my great great grandfather funding college education for his 10 children through his ice cream store (which began as a shaved ice cart.) I've never been there myself and am eager to explore my roots and visit relatives who live in the area (as well as my sister who is flying in from Toronto). Speaking of family, please send good thoughts to my brother's liver. He just got a new one today.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I'm doing a couple of events this weekend. Come say hello if you can (and if you come on Sunday, bring a poem or two for the open mic!):

Saturday, October 27
California Writers Week Author Panel

A panel discussion featuring five authors: Judith Merkle Riley (Water Devil-a Margaret Ashbury Novel), Gayle Brandeis (Book of Dead Birds and Self-Storage), Jim Brown (The Los Angeles Diaries), Maurya Simon (Ghost Orchid) and journalist Mike Rappaport. Get your questions ready. They'll answer them.

October 27, 2007 11:00 AM
Location: In Store

Montclair
5055 S. Plaza Lane
Montclair, CA
Phone:909.625.0424

Sunday, October 28

OUR POETIC SOULS - Where words go when they want to play
Sunday October 28 - 2:30 PM to 5 PM San Dimas, CA
featured poets and open mic poetry reading

There are two types of poets that inspire me. The first are the ones I hear and respond by saying, "I can do better than that." The second are the writers that cause me to say, "Wow! I wish I could do that. Both of this Sunday's features fall into the second category.

We are located approximately halfway between LA and the Inland Empire. We try to make the most of that location by featuring poets from both sides of the county line. It is common for poets to come from as far away as Palm Springs and Santa Monica to read on our stage. Our presenters' diverse elements of style combine to make a refreshing and intoxicating cocktail of verse that you likely will not find at any other reading.

If you are available, we'd love to have you spend a Sunday afternoon with us.


Oct 28 Features - Rick Lupert & Gayle Brandeis

Rick Lupert
Rick Lupert has been involved in the Los Angeles poetry community since 1990. He served for two years as a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets, a twenty-five year old non-profit organization which produces a readings and publications out of the San Fernando Valley. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, including The Los Angeles Times, Chiron Review, Stirring, poeticdiversity, Zuzu's Petals, Caffeine Magazine, Blue Satellite and others. He is the author of 10 books: Paris: It's The Cheese, I Am My Own Orange County, Mowing Fargo, I'm a Jew. Are You?, Stolen Mummies, I'd Like to Bake Your Goods, (Ain't Got No Press), Lizard King of the Laundromat, Brendan Constantine is My Kind of Town (Inevitable Press), Feeding Holy Cats and Up Liberty's Skirt (Cassowary Press). He serves on the Artist and Community Advisory Council of Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California. (Though he's not sure how that happened or what it means.) He has hosted the long running Cobalt Café reading series in Canoga Park since 1994 and is regularly featured at venues throughout Southern California.

Gayle Brandeis
Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperSanFrancisco), Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications), and The Book of Dead Birds: A Novel (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change. Her second novel, Self Storage, has recently been published.

Gayle’s poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies (such as Salon.com, The Nation, and The Mississippi Review) and have received several awards, including the QPB/Story Magazine Short Story Award, a Barbara Mandigo Kelley Peace Poetry Award, and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Her essay on the meaning of liberty was one of three included in the Statue of Liberty’s Centennial time capsule in 1986. In 2004, The Writer Magazine honored Gayle with “A Writer Who Makes a Difference” Award.

Gayle holds a BA in “Poetry and Movement: Arts of Expression, Meditation and Healing” from the University of Redlands, and an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction from Antioch University. She is writer in residence for the Mission Inn Foundation’s Family Voices Project, and has taught at universities, libraries, community centers, and writing conferences around the country. Gayle is also a community activist and was recently named Communications Goddess of the international women’s peace organization, CODEPINK. She lives in Riverside, California, with her husband and two children.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Home Brew Coffee Company
661 West Arrow Highway
San Dimas, Ca. 91773
909-394-1964
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Our Poetic Souls
It is a laid back easy reading atmosphere for poets at all levels of experience. We appreciate the master, encourage the novice and have lots of open mic time to let you experiment with style and delivery. It is a great place to try your wings or soar to new heights.

We want to hear your work, but you may also enjoy hanging out with other poets that share your love of words. Discover great coffee or smoothies in a delightful setting and read on a stage that flashes you back to the East Village of the fifties. It is a bohemian backdrop for modern verse.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
No Fees Taken, No Fees Given
Performers are encouraged to present their works for sale
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It is easy to get there from anywhere in Southern California.
(For those unfamiliar with the area: San Dimas is on the East side of the San Gabriel Valley. It is famous as the home of Raging Waters and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. It is where the 210 and 57 freeways meet, and is only a few minutes drive from most anywhere in LA, Orange, San Bernardino, or Riverside counties. OK... the few minutes thing is a stretch if you live in Blythe, but you get the idea. It is very near the LA County Fairgrounds, so really it isn't far.)

Information including a link to a map is on the web - http://www.chrystinedrums.com/PoeticSouls.html

Located across the street from Lowes Hardware, one block North off the I-57 freeway, Arrow Highway exit. On Bonita Ave., in the shopping mall area. Corner of Bonita Ave. and Arrow Hwy. Turn in where you see the Boot Barn, look for the corner of the mall with the school house steeple.

The only way we could make this easier would be to send a limo for you. However, if you read the "No Fees" line you will understand why that is beyond our budget.

Hosts: Jim Lyon / Lee Collins / Chrystine Julian

2:30 to 2:45 - SIGN UPS FOR OPEN MIC READING.
Readings 2:45 - till we finish.
(This is a very public forum and we often have a mixed age audience, so appropriate vocabulary is a must.)

Let us know if you'd like to be featured poet at an upcoming OUR POETIC SOULS reading.

We are proud to present poets at all levels of skill and experience and would love to feature your work. Please submit samples of your work and/or a brief publishing history or other relevant information to the e-mail address below.

Contact: Jim Lyon - jamesmlyon@adelphia.net / Chrystine Julian - LadyLovesDrums@aol.com

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


It is such a pleasure to welcome back Donna Druchunas, whose latest book, Ethnic Knitting Discovery, was just released. Even though I am not a knitter, I am fascinated by Donna's work--she does a beautiful job weaving together her art and social change, as you can see on her Subversive Knitting page. Donna and I have been email friends for quite some time now; I look forward to one day meeting her in person! You can find out more about her work on her website, Sheep to Shawl. I am honored to be a stop on her book blog tour as she promotes her new book; what it has to say about the creative process can apply to any art, not just knitting.

>--Welcome to Fruitful, Donna!

Thank you for hosting this stop on my Ethnic Knitting Discovery blog
tour. Your book Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write
is one of my favorite writing books. It's so inspirational that I
come back to it every time I start working on a new book of my own.

--Thank you so much, Donna--that means a lot to me. You speak about how you prefer to make things up as you go along when you knit. It sounds very similar to my approach to writing. Do you approach other aspects of your life the same way, and how else do you find that your life and your art intersect?

I do a certain amount of planning in my life -- to have some sort of
overall structure -- but I like to let the details work themselves
out. For example, when I went to Europe last summer, I bought my
plane tickets and made my hotel reservations pretty far in advance,
but I didn't plan very many day-to-day activities. Instead, each
night or even in the morning, I would take a little time to think
about what I wanted to do the next day. And I didn't fill my days too
much, so if something interesting came up, I could be spontaneous. I
do approach my writing in a similar way as well. I outline my books,
and sometimes even my chapters, but I allow myself to free write and
disregard the outline as I write my first draft, and even the work
develops. I call it "having a plan from which to deviate." I hadn't
realized it before this blog tour, but several people have asked me
similar questions and it's quite interesting to see how my life, my
knitting, and my writing all function in such similar ways.

--You use knitting traditions from around the world to inspire your work. Why would you say it is important for us to explore other cultures? What have you learned about yourself by delving into these practices from around the world? What do you hope your readers will discover about the world and themselves?

It's so easy to think that everyone is just like we are, on an
individual, regional, or even on a national level, but that's just
not true. I always thought I was a little weird and my family was
strange until I went to Lithuania last summer. Suddenly, I understood
everything! It was like I had finally learned the cultural language
that my family speaks, even though we don't speak the actual
Lithuanian language (I'm learning and will be going to a 4-week
language school in Vilnius next year). We may not be normal
Americans, but even after three generations, we are still normal
Lithuanians!

I've also been reading a lot about traveling to different places. One
book that is really influencing my thoughts is Grammar Lessons:
Translating a Life In Spain by Michelle Morano. The author explores
how culture and language are all tied together and she is constantly
surprised by her own expectations and assumptions and how they are
continually torn apart by her experience with language and living in
a foreign country. The book is making me want to spend a few years
overseas. I guess I'll have to wait until I can "retire."

I'm finding that learning languages (I spent the last few years
studying German) and knitting techniques from other cultures can
break down the habits of thinking that I've been captured by for so
many years. It's an incredibly liberating experience if you can
overcome the initial fear of "otherness" that might attempt to hold
you back. Knitting -- making small stitches with yarn and sticks --
seems like such a simple task that it's hard to imagine that it can
break down so many walls in your psyche.

--I love how your book empowers knitters by giving them concrete steps for how to overcome their fears. I was particularly taken with the section where you speak of "fear of color" and "designer's block". What words of advice would you have for an artist in any discipline (including writing) who is experiencing some sort of creative block?

I think most -- if not all -- creative blocks are caused by fear or,
in its milder form, anxiety. We are afraid to fail, we are afraid to
succeed, sometimes we are even afraid to try.

I write in spiral notebooks with pink ink so I don't take myself so
seriously that I can't write at all. I write what I consider "pre"
drafts in my notebook, and I only count the material as a first draft
when I clean it up a little bit as I type it into the computer. I
find that when I write directly on the computer, I expect my thoughts
to be as neat as the type is, but when I write in my terrible
handwriting and funky colors of ink in a notebook, I let myself play
with the words and I let myself write whatever comes to the surface
without censoring myself. Some material comes out whole, like a third
draft already organized and polished, and some material comes out
like a heap of garbage with one or two interesting sentences buried
in the middle waiting for further exploration. Either way, the time
has not been wasted and I feel like I've accomplished something by
filling the pages.

In knitting, if I don't like the way something is working, I can rip
it out and start over. That's part of the beauty of the medium. In
sewing, once you cut out your pattern pieces, you are committed to
making a certain garment. But with knitting, you an unravel your
project even after it's completely finished, and your yarn is no
worse for the wear. You just wash it and reskein it, and when it's
try, you can start over again from scratch. Another liberating
revelation.

I think whatever you can do to make the "work" seem more like "play"
goes a long way to breaking through blocks. I read somewhere that the
best way to overcome writer's block is to lower your standards. I
think that's true. Like Ann Lamott, I strongly recommend letting
yourself write "shitty first drafts."

--Writing is such a process of discovery for me, so it was a treat to see that your title contains the word "Discovery." Could you speak a little bit about the role of discovery in your creative process?

The discovery is my favorite part of the process -- doing research,
trying new techniques, shopping for yarn. The conceptualization of a
project is what excites me. I know this is true for many knitters.
While many writers are afraid of the blank page that faces them when
starting a new project, we knitters love starting new projects. We
may even have 20 started projects hanging around our house waiting to
be finished, and we'll still be tempted to start something new. I
have a hard time keeping the excitement level up once a project is
starting to take shape. Then it's locked down and I feel like the
discovery part of the process is ending. I think all artists should
fiddle with other media because it gives us an opportunity to
approach our own discovery process with a different frame of mind.

--I noticed that your publisher is part of the Green Press Initiative, which is committed to preserving ancient forests and natural resources. I love that the publishing industry is becoming more conscious about their use of paper. I wonder whether the knitting world is working to become more green--in the cultures you describe, there is a real emphasis on using local wool. Is that something that American knitters are exploring, as well?

Yes, I'm very happy that I was able to work with a publisher who has
an environmental conscience. This is a trend in knitting, both in the
use of local fibers and the creation of "green" knitting supplies and
tools. Two of the major knitting publications had issues on the theme
of green knitting this year, and a wonderful book called The Natural
Knitter came out this year as well. Hand spinning and dyeing yarn
with natural materials are also gaining popularity.

--Any other thoughts or inspiration you'd like to share?

I think I've babbled enough already. Relax, breathe, have fun. Enjoy
the process. That's the best advice I can give, even if it's advice I
sometimes have trouble following myself!

--Thank you so much for all of your wise words, Donna--I need to follow this advice myself right now. It was a real treat to have you here again!
I wish I had time to write about the devastating fires blazing across Southern California; for now, I'll direct you to an essay I wrote during fire season four years ago, Smoke Inhalation.

Monday, October 15, 2007

This article in the New York Times, "Politeness and Authority at a Hilltop College in Minnesota" by Verlyn Klinkenborg really spoke to me--as a writer, a teacher, a mother of a teenage daughter, and a woman who still struggles on occasion with speaking her own truth:

And yet that is the writer’s work — to notice and question the act of noticing, to clarify again and again, to sift one’s perceptions. I’m always struck by how well fitted these young women are to be writers, if only there weren’t also something within them saying, Who cares what you notice? Who authorized you? Don’t you owe someone an apology?

Every young writer, male or female, Minnesotan or otherwise, faces questions like these at first. It’s a delicate thing, coming to the moment when you realize that your perceptions do count and that your writing can encompass them. You begin to understand how quiet, how subtle the writer’s authority really is, how little it has to do with “authority” as we usually use the word.

Young men have a way of coasting right past that point of realization without even noticing it, which is one of the reasons the world is full of male writers. But for young women, it often means a real transposition of self, a new knowledge of who they are and, in some cases, a forbidding understanding of whom they’ve been taught to be.

Perhaps the world will punish them for this confidence. Perhaps their self-possession will chase away everyone who can’t accept it for what it is, which may not be a terrible thing. But whenever I see this transformation — a young woman suddenly understanding the power of her perceptions, ready to look at the world unapologetically — I realize how much has been lost because of the culture of polite, self-negating silence in which they were raised.
I've been so busy, I've neglected to let you know about the October pledge at CODEPINK to Stop the Next War Now! We're asking people to pledge to do a simple action each week this month to prevent war with Iran. The first week, we connected with our hearts by printing up photos of Iranian children and creating Don't Bomb Iran necklaces; the next week, we connected with our minds by reading a list of important articles to educate ourselves about Iran; this week, we're connecting with our lawmakers by calling our Reps and asking them to sign a letter calling for congressional oversight of Bush's plans for Iran. It's not too late to join us; you can pledge here (and forward the pledge to your friends and family. Whoever inspires the most pledges will win a week at the CODEPINK house in DC!)

You can also sign our petition urging Canada and the FBI to stop blacklisting peacemakers. CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin and retired colonel and diplomat Ann Wright were denied entry at the Canadian border because they had been arrested for acts of non-violent civil disobedience. We are delivering the signatures next week to Canadian consulates around the US and directly to the Canadian parliament, as well, and we would love to get as many signatures as possible. Please help us keep the borders open for peacemakers (I feel a personal urgency with this issue since my sister lives in Canada and I can't bear the thought of not being able to visit her.)

Thanks for your support!

Monday, October 08, 2007

You can read some of my thoughts about reincarnation on M.J. Rose's Reincarnationist blog. It saddens me a bit to read this interview because I answered the questions when I still thought my novel Immensity was going to be published next year (that was the case with the interview I posted a few days ago, as well; that one was even conducted when my ill-fated-for-now novel was still called My Life With the Lincolns.) I had fun answering MJ's questions, though, and am grateful for the exposure. I look forward to reading The Reincarnationist--it's been getting great reviews and coverage; check out the compelling premise:
"Photojournalist Josh Ryder survives a terrorist’s bomb, only to be haunted by near hallucinatory memories of a past life in Rome as a pagan priest whose dangerous congress with Sabina, one of the Vestal Virgins, poses a transgression so serious the lovers will face a certain death if exposed."
Intriguing, yes?
Tomorrow, on John Lennon's birthday, Yoko Ono is unveiling the Imagine Peace Tower, a column of light powered by geothermal energy, on Videy Island in Reykjavik, Iceland. You can send your own wishes for peace to the tower through the link above. Maybe I'll visit the Peace Tower on Mt Rubidoux tomorrow in solidarity. It's just down the street from my house, but I don't walk there nearly often enough. I helped edit the second website I linked to, and learned a lot about Riverside in the process, especially its history as a center for peace. I want to do what I can to bring that legacy forward.

Friday, October 05, 2007


It was bound to happen sooner or later. The amazing folk art of Martin Sanchez at Tio's Tacos, just a few blocks away from us in Riverside, has been discovered. I'd been toying with the idea of writing about the amazing gardens and installations at Tio's, myself--every time I go there, I find something new: a chapel made of recycled bottles, a person made out of Barbie dolls, a walkway under arched plumes of water, a marble patio floor etched with the names of social justice icons (including "Abramham Lincoln")--but I was torn. I wanted people to know about this amazing work, but I also didn't want the world to intrude on Mr. Sanchez's process. We'll see whether this new exposure makes a difference, but I probably have no reason to worry--he has such a clear and driven vision, such passion for his continual quirky cycle of creation; I doubt recognition will derail him. I was surprised to learn that Mr. Sanchez is only in his early 40s--the depth and extent of his work led me think that he must be an eccentric old guy. But no, he's pretty young, and crazy-talented, and while the food is not the main draw of his restaurant, they make the best, most refreshing, mixed fruit aguas frescas around.

It's interesting to see Riverside on the art map. This weekend, our town hosts Baby Tattooville; many of the hottest contemporary artists (including Riversider Jeff Soto) are going to be meeting with serious art collectors at the Mission Inn for a few days of art talk and exploration. It sounds like a very cool event, but I'm afraid the $1500 registration fee is too rich for my blood.

Speaking of art and Riverside, I was also excited to discover the existence of Small Wonder Foundation, a new group which "seeks to support cultural development in the city of Riverside and surrounding areas by providing a quality venue for fine art and literary education, and rigorous creative experimentation, collaboration, and exchange." I'm going to meet with one of the founders soon, and am eager to learn more about her vision.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Sorry the blog has been so quiet lately--life has been just the opposite. Here are a couple of places where you can find me while I'm getting into my teaching rhythm--a new online interview at Writer Advice and in person this Saturday as part of the Writing from the Desert series in Rancho Mirage (details on the flyer above). I will try to find my way back to posting soon--thanks for your patience!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

This week, I was juror #11 in a drunk driving trial--my first time on a jury. The timing was not the greatest; I start teaching next week (2 classes at UCR--my UCLA class starts the following week) and was planning to use this week to prepare, but I was glad to be able to do my civic duty. I got a little misty when the clerk swore us in; the American justice system, when used properly, is a beautiful thing.

In court, I realized that so much of a trial is about storytelling--who is the most believable storyteller? Who uses specific details to back up their story? So much of the legal language is about storytelling as well (the defense attorney said "Objection, narrative" when the officer responded to one of her questions with a story rather than an answer, and both attorneys asked the judge--who wore a different bow tie every day--if they could "publish" the evidence to the jury.)

I was very ready to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt even after hearing compelling evidence against her, but then she testified and the story she shared was full of holes. At one point, she said she didn't have anything to eat all day but a pastrami sandwich and fries at noon--later she said she also had pizza at her mom's house that evening. At first she said the officer didn't offer her a blood test; later, she said that he did but that he told her she had to go to jail to take it. She said he made her take the breathalyzer test 6 times, then 8, then 10. She contradicted herself left and right, and her attorney tried to keep the story straight, but her arguments ultimately were muddled and transformed over time as well. Meanwhile, the prosecutor and the arresting officer and the criminalist who testified against her were clear and succinct and backed up all of their points with specific detail (the scent of alcohol, the red watery eyes that wobbled as they followed a finger, etc.)

Of course I had to remind myself that these people were practiced witnesses, that they knew what to say, how to say it, that the defendant was nervous, inexperienced, that I couldn't let myself get swayed by the witnesses' eloquence (well, relative eloquence--the criminalist had quite a robotic delivery) or be biased by the defendant's inarticulate responses. The content was the important thing, not the form. I raised this point during deliberations (how cool to be in a room with random members of the community, to speak about law and justice with fellow citizens who had been given such a sacred responsibility together.) Ultimately, though, we determined the content itself spoke volumes (as did the fact that no one else testified on the defendant's behalf, despite a list of potential witnesses) and decided she was guilty on both counts of driving under the influence, plus the special circumstances of her high blood alcohol level.

Later, as we were leaving, a couple of the women on the jury (only 4 out of 12 of us were women) and I spoke about how we felt sad handing a guilty verdict to the judge, but we knew we had done the right thing, the lawful thing--what if the defendant had hit a family's car instead of driving into a ditch? Still, I wonder how this verdict is going to affect this woman's life. This woman who was born exactly a week after me (I was surprised when the judge shared her birth date. I had imagined she was several years older.) I thought about myself as a week old baby, her as a newborn, not knowing our lives would take us into this same courtroom 39 years down the road. I hope the guilty verdict will be a wake up call for her to make good changes in her life. I hope her sentencing won't involve any time in our over-crowded jail system.

During questioning, the defense attorney asked me if I'd be comfortable 5, 10, 15 years down the road with having made a binding decision in court. "I hope so," I told her. I think she could see that I have a tendency to be a bit indecisive, that making binding decisions is not always easy for me (especially when it comes to determining someone else's future.) I'm trying to learn how to be more clear and firm and decisive in my life, and I'm grateful that my time as a juror gave me an opportunity to put this, be it ever so briefly, into practice.

Friday, September 14, 2007

My amazing friend Laraine Herring's gorgeous new book, Writing Begins with the Breath, was released this week. Here's the blurb I wrote for the back cover (but I could go on and on about it. This is a book that will wake you right up):
“Laraine Herring takes you on a journey toward wholeness as a writer – she not only explores every aspect of the writing process; she also invites you to explore every aspect of your writing self – body, mind, and spirit. Anyone who writes – or wants to – will find this book as essential and inspiring as breath.”

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I took the Facebook plunge today (as if I have time for a new online diversion!) If you're on Facebook, feel free to send along a friend request (it was fun to see how many of my friends--and my sister! and my daughter!--are already hooked in). The thing that cracked me up when I was registering: the random two word verification code I had to type was "Liberals suggest". I guess I belong there.
You can hear my recent interview on Writers' Webcast here and read a follow-up blog as well. I very much enjoyed my conversation with Chris Angelos.

You can also find a lovely review of Self Storage here (sorry it took me so long to post it, Andi--I'm so grateful for your kind words!)
CODEPINK has started a fun new campaign to Whip Congress into Shape. We're asking people to sign a pledge to do a simple action every week (such as call your Congressperson) to end the war. The person who inspires the most pledges each month will win a free week at the CODEPINK house in DC. If you're feeling inspired to pledge, click here.

We've been getting so much great press for our recent actions at the Petraeus hearings. I especially love this article in The Nation; it does call us "obnoxious", but as we said in the latest alert, we're proud to be obnoxious for peace.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

eleven

(an essay I wrote shortly after the 9/11 attacks)

The definitive post 9/11 essay, in my mind, is the one written by John Hodgman over at McSweeney's. Who knew the guy who plays the PC in the Mac commercials and gives such dry, wry commentary on the Daily Show could be so eloquent?
So if art cannot contain or describe this event, and if for now the suffering is too keen to be alleviated by parable ... if stories are for the moment not as critically needed, as courage, as medicine, as blood, as bacon, they can at least revert to this social function. As time goes on, this will all pass away into memory, into a story with a beginning and a middle and finally an end. And that transition from the real into fable will bring its own kind of comfort and pain. Now, though, we may gather and distract one another, take comfort in our proximity, and know that we are, at this moment, safe.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I just finished reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. I'm not sure how I managed to avoid reading it before, but I'm so glad I read it now. It left me teary and shaken and grateful. Steinbeck wrote this novel with such compassion and craft, such open eyes. What a heart-wrenching book--a stark look at how our country often fails the poorest among us, and a beautiful reminder of how change can happen when people come together to help one another.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

“The more I work, the more I see things differently, that is, everything gains in grandeur every day, becomes more and more unknown, more and more beautiful. The closer I come, the grander it is, the more remote it is.”

--Giacometti

I found this amazing quote on Hillary Rettig's blog. I had never heard of Hillary Rettig before until I saw a mention on Salon.com of her book, The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way, which looks like a must read. You can find an excerpt here: Ten Ways to Avoid Burnout. I have been feeling a bit burnt out and overwhelmed lately, so this appeared at a good time; I am eager to read the rest of the book. And I look forward to getting back to the place in my work that Giacometti talks about above--that grand, unknowable, place. I hope I can find it again.

Friday, August 31, 2007

One of Grace Paley's final poems (it just about kills me):

Drowning (I)


If I were in the middle of the Atlantic
Drowning far from home
I would look up at the sky
Veil of my hiding life
And say:
Goodbye


Then I would sink


The second time I'd come up I'd say:
These are the willful waves of the watery sea
Which is drowning me
Then I would sink
The third time I'd come up: it would be my last
My arms reaching
My knees falling
I'd cry oh oh
First friend of my thinking head
Dear flesh
Farewell

orignal link

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Come join me!

--Tonight at 5:30pmPST/8:30EST to discuss My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices through the first ever CODEPINK Book Club (click the link to join the online discussion group.)

*UPDATE* The discussion is actually going to take place at this chat site.

--Wednesday, September 5th, 7pm, at Diesel Books in Malibu, I'll be reading with Chris Abani and Karen Harryman for the second installment in the Art & Activism: Writers on Politics Now series presented by CODEPINK.

--Sunday, September 9th, 11:50am, I will be part of the Writing the First Novel panel at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program's 2007 Writers' Faire. The event takes place from 11-3; it's free and features tons of panels about different aspects of both the craft and business of writing (plus if you register on site, you can get discounts on most of the program's writing classes; if you're considering taking my online Novel Writing class this fall, come say hello and get 10% off!)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

RIP, Grace Paley, writer and (in her own words) ''combative pacifist.'' I am grateful for your example.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death, I thought I'd share this poem, which I wrote at least 12 years ago. Francine, wherever you are, this is for you.

Freaking Out

"My neighbor freaks out
over Elvis," I said,
the first time I talked
on the phone with a boy
(Timmy Murakami, who
just moved across town,
who stood at the end
of the rink to watch
me skate after school,
Timmy, who wrote me a
"I like you and I hope
you like me" letter,
a plastic locket tucked
in the corner of the wide-
lined paper.)

"My neighbor freaks out
over Elvis." I don't
know how the subject
came up, but those words
rang in my nine year old mind
long after the call. Those words
made me cool, worthy
of being liked by a boy.
I never talked like that--
"freaks out"--and the words
sounded grown up and funky
in my mouth.

The neighbor was Francine,
the landlord's wife.
Their living room sat
on the other side
of my parents' bedroom.
The wall vibrated
with "Jailhouse Rock," "Hound
Dog," over and over again, daily,
loud, and we couldn't call
to complain to the landlord
because it was the landlord
making the noise in the first place.

My sister and I played, loud,
in the long, common, hallway,
to cover up that music in our ears.
We’d spin each other into statues,
run the fifty yard dash, somersault rug
burns into our knees, until Francine
barreled out of Apartment 5-C,
her Elvis iron-on cracked,
strained across her chest.
"Keep it down, will ya?"
she'd bark at us,
and we'd spill back into 5-B,
"Love Me Tender"
thumping through the walls.
This image is my inspiration for the day.
I deeply admire Taslima Nasrin; not only is she a gorgeous poet, she is also a powerful human rights activist. My book Fruitflesh includes an excerpt from her poem "Eve Oh Eve" (translated from the Bengali by Carolyne Wright and Mohammad Nurul Huda)--I love how it ends with the lines "Eve, if you get hold of the fruit/don't ever refrain from eating"; it captures Nasrin's sense of both defiance and celebration. She has been the subject of numerous death threats from Islamic fundamentalists over the years, but she continues to speak out, to speak her truth. I was disturbed to hear that she was attacked at her recent book release event. I am even more disturbed to learn that now she is facing charges for "inciting religious tensions". If I can find any actions to protest this, I will let you know.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I wanted to let any budding novelists out there know that I'm going to be teaching Novel I: Writing the First Novel online for the UCLA Writers Program this fall. I love being part of this program and am excited to get started; the classes run from October 3rd to December 5th.

I also wanted to let you know that my amazing friend Masha Hamilton is going to be teaching novel writing online this fall, as well; she is supportive and insightful and deeply talented, and I know that her classes will be rich and wonderful. I wish I could take them myself. Here's the scoop:

Take a ten-week novel-writing class online from Masha.

Dates: Sept. 4 through Nov. 13.

Novel Writing I is right for any writer who has been thinking about starting a novel or is up to halfway through. The class will include weekly lectures, critiques, and exercises aimed at helping you see your work freshly. We'll motivate you as we cover discovering the essence of your novel (and learning how to convey it in a single sentence), as well as the importance of the opening chapter. We’ll discuss where to start the story, how to create a strong protagonist, the dramatic arcs of major characters, choosing a point of view, and exploring the voice of your novel as well as individual characters within it. We'll analyze scene and delve into the dramatic possibilities created by strong dialogue. We'll also look at setting, pacing, profluence and psychic distance. Finally, we’ll consider the business end – where and how to market your novel manuscript – and you’ll get guidance on the next step. Limited to 10-15 students. $500 for ten weeks.

Novel Writing II is for the writer who has more than half of a novel completed and is looking for a critical, helpful eye before the manuscript reaches the agent or editor. In this class, more of your work will be critiqued, and you will be called upon to write detailed weekly critiques yourself. Lectures will spring more naturally from the nature of the work. We'll talk about motivation in the soggy middle of our manuscripts. This will be a chance to workshop a large portion of your completed work, and resubmit if you choose. We'll focus on the skills of revision and layering your novel, as well as how to become our own teachers, learning by reading the work of others. The class also will include guidance on what to do once the manuscript is finished. Limited to 6-10 students. $650 for ten weeks.

Classes are small to allow for lots of individual attention to manuscripts. Please email me at masha at mashahamilton dot com for more details about either class.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I am very excited to announce the first CODEPINK Book Club! I hope you'll be able to join us in reading My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices, edited by Lila Azam Zanganeh; it's an eye-opening look at life in Iran from some of the country's greatest writers, artists and thinkers.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I'm a big fan of the blog at Powells.com, and its ever-changing roster of guest-bloggers (usually authors with new books out.) I especially enjoyed today's post by Michelle Wildgen, The Thursday Pleasure Blog on Food and Sex. It has some great tips for writers, such as
For those of you who write, I suggest challenging whatever your inclination may be — if you always cut to the bedroom scene, stay in the living room. If you have a character remaining a little opaque to you, toss them in bed with someone. It may not make the final story, but you may find it extraordinarily helpful to know them in this way. Plus, a good sex scene that doesn't fall back on clichĂ© is not an easy task. Similarly, what food do they eat when no one's watching? Sardines on toast, ice cream with peanut butter on top? What's their comfort food and what's their idea of culinary taboo?
I'm trying to get to know my new characters now, and this is very helpful advice to remember...
After all the commotion of the last couple of weeks, I have a new novel brewing, and I'm starting to get excited about it. The ideas are still green and fragile, but I can feel them start to take root. I feel a new spaciousness inside me, as well, as if my mind and heart are making room for the characters and their story. It feels good. I'm moving forward with my skating memoir, too--and my skating; I did a flip this week (which probably sounds more impressive than it is--it's not like a somersault in the air, but it is a full rotation jump that I didn't think I'd be doing again so soon...)

Thank you again for all of your support--I know it has fueled this new creative surge.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Happy International Blog Against Racism Week! It's cool to see bloggers joining together to raise awareness about racism. I thought I'd write a little bit about racism and housing.

The novel that I recently turned in (and that was even more recently turned down) is set in 1966, during the Chicago Freedom Movement when Martin Luther King, Jr. moved to Chicago (specifically the neighborhood of Lawndale, which once was a Jewish ghetto but had become an African American one) to spearhead a campaign for open housing.

I'll share part of a scene that takes place right after Al and his 12 year old daughter Mina attend a speech given by Dr. King at Soldier Field; they join a procession to City Hall where Dr. King posts the demands of the Chicago Freedom Movement on the door. Here's Al's response:
How could he not have known how bad the housing situation was in Chicago? Rats biting babies, trash piling in hallways, no coal for furnaces. Much worse than when he was a boy. It wasn't just in Dr. King's building. It was a plague, a blight in the city. White landlords--Saul!--not fixing anything. Asking for higher rents in slums because they could get away with it. The nearby areas—neighborhoods where white people with more income were paying less for bigger homes—wouldn't even give colored people rental applications.

He and his dad always knew their cramped apartment in Lawndale was temporary. Sure, they couldn't buy a home in northern suburbs like Kenilworth—Jews were barred from ownership by law at the time. But in the early 1900s, the Irish and German residents of Lawndale didn't want to rent to Jews, either, and look what happened—40% of Chicago's Jews ended up living there. Once his dad found a better job, spoke better English, they knew could find a better situation, even if that just meant a better apartment, one of their own, down the street. The families in the neighborhood now were stuck.

The crowd filled the street curb to curb. Some carried signs such as "End Modern Slavery—Destroy Daley Machine" and "Open Up Chicago" and "Hate Costs Too Much!" Some carried banners announcing their affiliations—Methodist groups and Quaker groups, peace groups and housing groups. Someone would start a song--”We Shall Overcome”, “Amazing Grace”--and it would spread through the crowd, more and more voices joining until the lyrics became a roar Al could feel vibrating inside his ribs.
Things have improved since then thanks to these marches, this effort--housing laws have evolved, and the real estate industry can no longer sanction discrimination in their practices--but inequality continues to plague our country's housing. We can see that in this Chicago study, but especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina during which housing discrimination was laid painfully bare. Thank goodness organizations like the National Fair Housing Alliance exist to act as watchdogs and advocates, but it breaks my heart that such groups are still necessary today.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Thank you to everyone who expressed support over my book situation. I am feeling less heartbroken about it now and more curious to see what will emerge (although of course there is still some residual heartache). My editor and agent are being so amazing and supportive, as are all my friends and family (and even people I've never met in person--thank you again!) I am very lucky indeed.

So is my husband. He was in a bad motorcycle crash on the freeway yesterday. It is quite miraculous that he only ended up with a nasty case of road rash (and soreness from head to toe. Tumbling on the asphalt will do that to you.) Spending hours in an emergency room definitely puts the book situation in perspective.

Last night, I watched a nurse clean his wounds, so patiently, so thoroughly, getting out all the gravel and tar, and it felt like a lesson to me. I need to be patient and thorough now too (and not be afraid to look directly at a big bloody mess, to treat it--and myself--with tenderness.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Last week was quite a rollercoaster. I'm still trying to process it.

Highs include being with my sister and her family, going to a meeting for OBJECT, an awesome new feminist organization, being invited to teach at a writers conference in Alaska (!!!!) next summer, and doing a camel spin for the first time in 26 years. This is not to mention the five speaking/reading events I did over the course of the weekend, each of which was a gift in its own way.

Lows include loads of family stress (which I won't go into out of respect for all involved), a disastrous hair cut (actually the cut wasn't so bad, but the styling--which thankfully I was able to shower away--was hideous and left me in totally stereotypical tears), and the big doozy: getting a phone call from my editor, who told me my new book isn't right for her list. I'm still reeling from this last one.

I love and trust my editor, and am very grateful that she is looking out for my long term career, but it was hard news to hear. This new novel was supposed to be the second book of my two book contract, but she believes it reads more like a young adult novel and won't grip a wide adult audience the way she wants my next book to. So now I'm trying to figure out what to do. She generously agreed to take a look at an old (over 10 years old) novel that I think still has some life kicking around inside of it, but I'm not expecting anything to come of that. I'm hoping to convince her and Ballantine that the skating memoir I'm working on should be my next book (it's the book that is burning inside me right now) but they seem to think that the next book should be a novel. I just need to really sit with this and meditate and decide what my next move should be. I'll keep you posted...
I've already told you I'm a saltoholic, so perhaps you won't be surprised when I tell you that when I first saw this picture of a salt hotel in Bolivia, all I wanted to do was lick it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Yay! I can blog again!

I've been away from my computer a lot lately; once I returned, itching to blog, blogger locked me out of my account because I had been tagged as a "spam blog" for some reason. The verification process took awhile, but happily I can get back in the blogging saddle now (or at least I can when I have some time. I'm between two events today and have to scramble to get ready for the one posted below. I hope you'll come--I'm very excited about it; Diane Lefer and I both spoke at an impeachment rally last night and I'm eager for more time with her, plus all the amazing people of CODEPINK. And another person has been added to the line-up: Tom Hayden! Pretty amazing!) If you can't come tonight, perhaps I'll see you tomorrow at 2pm at the Corona Public Library (sorry I didn't post this info sooner.)

More to come, barring any chaos (this has been a week of much chaos, so we shall see...)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

My sister and her family are in town (they drove from Toronto!) so I probably won't have much chance to blog for a while, but I wanted to be sure to let you know about an upcoming event at Beyond Baroque that I'm very excited about:
28 July, Saturday - 7:30 PM

Code Pink WOMEN FOR PEACE Presents: Art & Activism: Writers on Politics Now, with GAYLE BRANDEIS and DIANE LEFER

Join us in exploring "Art & Activism: Writers on Politics Now," with GAYLE BRANDEIS - winner of Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change. Her novel is Self Storage (Ballantine/Random House), a post-9/11 story of a woman buying and reselling of storage unit contents, launched on a path of self-discovery. DIANE LEFER's California Transit (Sarabande) examines the difference between justice and law in Southern California, "land of dislocation and assimilation." Oscar Hijuelos praised Lefer as "one of the most gifted and witty writers around."
Diane was one of my MFA mentors, and helped guide me through a radical revision of The Book of Dead Birds. She is a true force of nature, and a real model for weaving together art and social responsibility. I am so honored to be able to read with her. And I just found out that Jill Sobule is going to be playing!

Hope to see you there...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Friday, July 06, 2007

To anyone who found your way here via the San Diego Union-Tribune, please note that I'm actually not going to be present at the Oceanside Museum of Art's book club event tomorrow, as the article states. My mom, however, will be there, as will other lovely people, and I may make a brief appearance via speaker phone, so please do still consider going. You can check out some cool art while you're there!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I've been tagged by the fabulous Jordan Rosenfeld to share 8 random facts about myself. Here are the rules:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Here are 8 things that may make me look insane (some of them I've mentioned before in my blog; others are things few people know):

1. I am a salt-o-holic. In fact, I often lick my palm, shake salt on it, and lick it off.

2. As a girl, I regularly wrote letters to Jimmy Carter, asking what I could do to stop pollution.

3. I like to read digital clocks upside down because they often spell words. For instance, I'm always happy when I see the clock at 2:17 because it looks like LIZ upside down and my sister is Elizabeth. I don't like looking at the clock at 11:34 because it looks like HELL (and even though I don't believe in hell, it somehow seems like a bad omen to look at that time.)

4. Speaking of numbers, the number 47 keeps showing up everywhere in my life--I'm usually driving behind a car with 47 in its license plate, etc. I used to think it meant I would die when I was 47, but I've taken it to mean that when I see 47, it means I'm on the right path.

5. When I turn off the radio or close a book, I try not to end on a word that has negative connotations, like war or murder (or hell!) Somehow I worry the energy of that word will hang around me, like a dark cloud. The word doesn't have to be positive--it can be neutral, like "and" or "the" (although positive is nice!)

6. I posed nude for a series of photos in college (it was my friend Christine's senior art project). At the opening of the exhibit, I sat in silence and stillness on a pedestal in the corner of an L-shaped hallway Christine had installed inside the gallery, the walls lined with masks she had created. I was wrapped in a dark cloak so only my face showed, and many people thought I was just another mask. It felt much safer sitting there stoically than milling around the gallery watching people stare at my naked body!

7. When I take my daughter to auditions, things happen. I took her to an audition for a CODEPINK play and ended up on the national CODEPINK staff. I took her to an audition for Annie Get Your Gun, was asked to audition too, and, much to my shock, ended up with the lead role!

8. I was a competitive figure skater when I was young, and have decided that my next book project is going to be a memoirish chronicle of learning to skate all over again. Hopefully my old joints are up to it!

TAG, you're it:
Barbara Card Atkinson
Martha O'Connor
Erasmo Guerra
Greg Walloch
Rachel K. So
Susan Ito
Cati Porter
Hasty Teen Flick

Have fun!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Britt Bravo of Have Fun*Do Good just posted a fabulous piece about Writing to Change the World. She's assembled a great collection of resources--links to conferences, books, authors and organizations, many of which I had been surprisingly unaware of until now, that foster writing as a tool for social change. Beautiful!

Friday, June 29, 2007

My friend Cindy posted the sweetest picture for me--Marilyn Monroe holding a photo of Abraham Lincoln! Cindy knows all about my Abe obsession. Right now I am wearing an Abe-kido t-shirt from McSweeney's. I would link directly to a picture of the shirt, but it's not listed anymore--needless to say, it's Abe doing martial arts (Akido, to be precise). I bought it for a couple of reasons--I had seen it at the store at 826 Valencia and had been tempted, but for some reason never got around to buying it. I decided to order it to mark finishing a draft of my new Lincoln-themed novel, and also to help McSweeney's out during a time when its distributor filed for bankruptcy and the press lost $130,000 in revenue. The McSweeney's folks are doing incredible, important work--please send some business their way if you can. The marvelous Soft Skull is hurting too--please help keep them alive (I personally plan to order Jamestown and The Amputee's Guide to Sex. Everything is 40% off through today...)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007



I first met Rachel Kann at Ladyfest Los Angeles in 2002. Somehow shy me (and I was still *really* struggling with shyness then) was tapped to emcee the Spoken Word stage. I read the intros for amazing writers like Terry Wolverton and Francesca Lia Block and tried to look up from the paper at the audience every once in a while. Rachel Kann was the last performer of the day. I stepped off the stage, awkward, and she stepped on it and was so at home, so magnetic, so Alive, it knocked my socks off. Her voice is raspy and deep and honest--pure, unadulterated Rachel. I have been a great fan ever since, and was so delighted to hear that she had ventured into fiction. Her first fiction collection, 10 for everything, was just released by Sybaritic Press. You can order it through her MySpace page, linked above (you can also hear some of her poems there.) In case you can't read my blurb on the back cover (isn't her author photo the greatest ever?!) it says:
Anyone lucky enough to hear Rachel Kann perform knows that this woman has a Voice. A voice full of power, raw and gorgeous and alive. What a thrill to see this voice translated into fiction, into a wide range of other voices, voices that burn right through the page with their yearning for, and fear of, connection. Rachel Kann has crafted stories that are fresh and surprising, with a true human heartbeat.
I asked Rachel a few questions about her work:

--How did you get started as a poet? A performance poet?

as high school riff raff, i had no interest in poetry or spoken word, but i loved me some hip hop. i saw no connection whatsoever. i also hated all poetry and shakespeare i was force fed by the SLOUSD.

luckily, i attended a good college with the best shakespeare teacher ever, gale fury-childs. i now loved shakespeare AND hip hop. i still had next to no interest in poetry. i remember liking a randall jarell poem or two. freaking out for savage/love by sam shepard. it still didn't occur to me that that was POETRY. duh.

then i moved to nyc. finished college. still no interest.

i attended a j.c superstar audition, met amy steinberg. we became instant soul sisters. she nagged me for one year to "try poetry," saying i had the weirdest way with words ever. i shrugged it off. after one year of nagging, i randomly and inexplicably busted out my first poem ever. i read it to amy who, of course, gave me total support for my endeavor. i wrote some more.

i decided i needed to find out if i sucked or not from someone who did not love me unconditionally. i talked to tureka turk, who i waitressed with at C3 on washington square park. i knew she was down with spoken word and stuff. i asked her where i should go read if i really wanted my ass handed to me on a platter if i sucked. i wanted no ass kissing. i wanted to be booed if i sucked. (don't ask me, i am a masochist. i didn't want to waste my time if i sucked. i needed outside perspective, for whatever reason, at that point.) she advised me without a moment's hesitation to go do the open slam at nuyorican on wednesdays, if brazen feedback was what i sought.

so...
the first poetry reading i ever attend,
and the first slam i ever attended,
and the first poetry reading i ever read at,
and the first slam i ever slammed in,
...all happened on the exact same night, at the exact same moment, at the nuyorican poets' cafe. luckily, i did well. shutup shelly, who was hosting at the time, called me the next day and encouraged me to continue to slam and come to events and get going. she booked me for the next invitational slam. this is all extra funny if you know me. i would never advise someone to use a slam audience's response as a marker of their worth as an artist! never ever ever. slam if you like, but don't do it for approval. i am glad it worked out well for me, but it was possibly dumb luck.

i think this is why i have never struggled with feeling derivative or finding my "authentic voice" or being unique or truthful or whatever. i started in a COMPLETE and total vaccuum, completely ignorant of modern poetry and spoken word, and then threw myself in the shrk infested water, headlong. luckily, it worked. thank god.

i would not necessarily suggest that path to anyone.
but it was my path.
it was awesome.

--What inspired your shift into fiction?

i was very blessed to receive a community access scholarship from PEN West to attend 3 classes at UCLA Extension Writers' Program, just about a year and a half ago.

it was quite an indulgent luxury for me. naturally, i took a poetry class first. i had never taken one in my life! i enjoyed it very much, it was taught by suzanne lummis, and i am so glad i had that experience.

after that class ended, and it was time to sign up for class number 2, i looked at the glorious opportunity before me to try something totally new...something that scared the crap out of me. my new year's resolution was to follow my fear...if something scared me, i resolved to do said thing, as long as there was no actual danger involved. so running out in front of moving vehicles was out of the question, but studying fiction...that was a great idea.

i have always been a huge lover of fiction. all things being equal, i am more likely to dive into a book of fiction than poetry, i always have been. short stories always appealed to me. i remember devouring ray bradbury when i was very young. and when aimee bender's "the girl in the flammable skirt" came out, it totally blew my mind.

i was blessed to end up in tod goldberg's class (amazing) and then took rob roberge's class (also amazing) immediately following.

and that's how it started.

--How does writing fiction differ from writing poetry for you, process wise?

i am still very much in the honeymoon phase with fiction, because its still so very new for me. i think its interesting that i went from a completely untamed wildly impulsive place in poetry (at least where i began from,) to starting out in fiction in a classroom setting. so i was lucky to have the structure of having assignments. that really worked for me, because fiction, even short stories, seemed so huge and overwhelming.

all that being said though...for me, poetry is to fiction as ballet is to modern dance, in a way. coming to fiction as a person who obsesses over every word choice, for example, (what shade of blue was the sky exactly??) helps my craft, i think. it makes me careful. i am in love with language.

its nice to have more room for a sense of humor, too. and curse words. fiction affords me those luxuries.

--Where do these stories come from?

they're mostly the arguments between the voices in my head. i like to delude myself into thinking the stories are completely divorced from my reality.

i always thought that poetry had to be the most therapeutic form of writing. its got nothing on fiction on that count! i love writing in the voice of men, stuff like that.

--What is your favorite part about being a writer? A performer? What
is the scariest part of all of it?

my favorite part is that i know how extraordinarily lucky i am. i am very blessed. anytime people listen to you, or take time to consider what you have to say, on paper or performed, that is a rare and sacred gift you have to be grateful for.

i am also very glad to do it when young women and girls and hell, females of any age, tell me that they are inspired to write something. that's always good.

really though...i am a needy needy attention whore. when people clap for me i feel like i have a right to live.

the scariest part is the financial instability.

--What are your wildest dreams for your work?

my wildest dreams are to be financially stable.

--Any words of advice for aspiring writers/poets/performers?

please, i am begging you, read. read. read.

--Amen to that. Thanks so much, Rachel. I can't wait to see (and hear) what you'll come up with next!
I had a lot of fun writing this week's CODEPINK alert: Tell Cheney: SHAME ON YOU!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Here's the first glimpse of the Self Storage paperback cover (it's still early, so things may change a bit before the pb comes out in February). I really like the warmth of it. I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Friday, June 22, 2007

It's been exactly a year since I stepped on stage as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, a completely unexpected, life changing adventure--one I never in a million years could have anticipated. This post on Powells.com feels like a good way to mark the occasion--Kristin Hersch, formerly of the band Throwing Muses, talks about how the late Betty Hutton, who played Annie Oakley in the film version of the musical, was her best friend in college (another thing I never could have anticipated, given their multiple-decade age difference!)
"Why do we entertain?" [Betty] would ask — and then answer herself — "to make people happy!" She said this all the time. I didn't think I made anyone very happy by playing and I told her that. "Well, you do scream a great deal don't you? Which isn't very nice. But that's the style these days. And they jump around when you play. I think that means they're happy. So you gotta show them that you love them back. You gotta earn their love."

I couldn't tell her that I wasn't trying to earn love, that I was trying to own violence. I couldn't tell her this because it would have sounded as pretentious then as it does now. So I said, "I play to make the math work".

"Oh! Like tap dancing!" Betty was so beautiful.
Being in Annie Get Your Gun helped me own so many parts of myself (including the violent part, since I had to wield rifles and push people around. I finally have a dvd of the show; if I can find a way to do so, I'll post a little snippet of it.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I was tickled to read this piece on Salon about Manhattan Mini Storage, which has been posting such billboards as "Your Closet's So Narrow It Makes Dick Cheney Look Liberal" and "Your Closet's Scarier Than Bush's Agenda." I'm going to have to send them a copy of Self Storage for sure!

Monday, June 18, 2007

I sent my new novel to my wonderful editor today. I'm not sure if I want to dance or throw up! The novel is not polished yet, not by any stretch of the imagination; it's at the stage, though, where I know I could fiddle and fiddle with it indefinitely but it would be more fruitful to fiddle with it with her. We have until October to get it into shape; I have no idea how much work lies in front of me (probably a lot!) but I'm very eager--and a bit scared--to get her notes.

Oh, and I have a new title: Immensity. What do you think? My previous working title was My Life with the Lincolns, but that didn't fit as much once I shifted the narrative into third person and brought in another voice. I pulled the word Immensity from a quote from Mary Lincoln--she was relieved when her son's ghost sat on the foot of her bed because she had been worried about him being out "in immensity" all alone. I suppose the title could change again, but for now I really like this one.

Turning this manuscript in feels immense to me indeed. I wasn't sure I'd ever finish the beast, or give it a heartbeat. Hopefully it has enough life to sustain it now.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


My AAA membership lapsed, but rather than renew it, I just signed up for Better World Club, which is like a green AAA. They offer pretty much the same benefits as AAA (roadside and travel assistance, etc.) plus they donate a portion of their revenue to environmental clean-up and advocacy, and even offer opportunities for activism through their policy campaigns. Pretty cool, huh?! I'm glad we can vote with our dollars through companies like this.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Friday, June 08, 2007

I was deeply saddened this week to learn that Julie Seiler, who had the studio next to mine at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, died of breast cancer in December, just two months after our time together. Julie was going through treatment at the time, and always wore a hat or scarf over her bald head, but I didn't realize she was so gravely ill. She was a sweetheart, so passionate about writing and nature and life. I'm so glad I had a chance to meet her and am grateful to learn more about her in this beautiful online tribute.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

An interesting article on the history of the novel, and the essay-writing-novelist (especially the political essay-writing novelist.) There's even a shout out to Whitman:
Jm Coetzee approaches politics with a similar combination of irony, seriousness and principled reticence. His political attitudes may be connected with the difficulties of being a liberal white South African, but they have their intellectual origins in his prodigious work as a novelist. His latest collection of essays, Inner Workings (Harvill Secker), keeps returning to the question of "the novel form," and how Cervantes created it in order to demonstrate the power of the imagination. One of the great virtues of the novel, according to Coetzee, is to teach us that there is no perfect way of carving up the world or recounting its stories. This is a lesson that bears on politics as well, counting against any political aspiration that arises from nationality, identity or tribal loyalty.

But Coetzee does not confine his attention to novelists, and an outstanding essay on Walt Whitman allows him to explore a conception of democracy that he himself would evidently endorse: democratic politics, he suggests, is "not one of the superficial inventions of human reason but an aspect of the ever-developing human spirit, rooted in eros."
I love thinking of democracy rooted in eros. It makes sense--true democracy does stem from a passionate belief in equality, and in the voice of the people.

The writing I do for CODEPINK is very different from my personal writing--it is not about expressing myself as an individual; it is about expressing the passionate desires of a group for peace. This writing reaches so many more people than my fiction ever will--the alerts are sent out to 200,000 people a week. I love knowing that those words are spurring people to action, getting them to call their congressional reps or sign a petition to protect Iraqi women or stand out on the corner to protest war. I've been meaning to post links to the alerts each week for those of you who don't subscribe (it's easy to subscribe--just go to www.codepinkalert.org and click on Get Action Alerts.) Here is last week's alert, addressing Cindy Sheehan's resignation from the peace movement.

Update: Here is this week's alert, which includes a link to a petition to protest the stoning of Du'a Khalil Aswad, a 17 year old girl in Iraq, whose only crime was to fall in love with someone outside her sect.

Monday, June 04, 2007

I tend to be a swoony reader. I often finish reading a novel, hold it to my chest, and think that it was the best book I've ever read--forgetting that it's soon to be replaced by another "best" book. I just read Ian McEwan's Atonement, though, and know this is no schoolgirl crush. This is truly one of the finest novels I've read.

McEwan writes with such sensitivity and patience, such exquisite detail--he captures the nuances of emotion, of place, of character, of thought so beautifully. What really knocked me out about this novel, though, was that it was ultimately a meditation about writing--about how joyful and dangerous and healing and misleading writing can be. What a pleasure to follow the unfolding of a writer from the time she is 13, to see how truth and lies and intention and regret form both her life and her work.

Here's a little taste:
She had dreams in which she ran like this, then tilted forward, spread her arms, and, yielding to faith--the only difficult part, but easy enough in sleep--left the ground by simply stepping off it, and swooped low over hedges and gates and roofs, then hurtled upward and hovered exultantly below the cloud base, above the fields, before diving down again. She sensed now how this might be achieved, though desire alone; the world she ran through loved her and would give her what she wanted and would let it happen. And then, when it did, she would describe it. Wasn't writing a kind of soaring, an achievable form of flight, of fancy, of the imagination?

Friday, June 01, 2007

I have some events on the horizon. Come say hello if you can!

Thursday, June 7, 11am
Oceanside Museum of Art Book Club
704 Pier View Way
Oceanside, CA 92054

Sunday, June 10, 11:55am
San Diego Reads
Hillcrest Book and Literacy Fair
Fifth and Robinson
(Washington Mutual parking lot)

Wednesday, June 20, 7pm (NOTE: this is Wednesday, not Thursday, as I had originally posted)
Borders--Riverside
3615 Riverside Plaza
Riverside, CA

Saturday, June 23, 3pm
Borders--Brea
429 S. Associated Rd.
Brea, CA

Sunday, June 24, 2pm
Claremont Library
208 N. Harvard Ave.
Claremont, CA 91711-4758
(this will be a poetry reading)

Wednesday, June 27, 7pm
Borders--Chino
3833 Grand Ave
Chino, CA

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I was hoping to be a less neglectful blogger this month, but life keeps getting in the way. My new deadline for my novel is July 1. I have a lot of work to pack into the next month, but it feels do-able; I feel like I'm finally on the right track with the book. I am having daily epiphanies about the story and the characters; I wake up thinking about them and they stay alive inside me all day--they push me to get their story down. All of this energy was lacking in the first draft, and I missed it--I missed that deep pull to write, that deep connection with the characters. Now it's there, and I'm so relieved. I just hope I can do the story justice.

I was tickled to come upon these Self Storage reader comments over at BookReporter.com. I knew they had given away several copies of the book, but I didn't realize they were going to post reader responses--it's lovely to know that people who hadn't read my work before say they'd like to read more of it! Now I have to get this novel in order so they'll be able to do just that...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

A lovely review of Self Storage is up at Feminist Review.



Some pictures from our beautiful Mother's Day Peace Festival (thank you to Michael Dunn for being our photographer!) What a gorgeous, inspiring, community-building day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Writers know that when we write, we feel the world move; it is flexible, crammed with possibilities. It certainly isn’t frozen. Wherever human existence permeates, there is no freezing and no paralysis, and actually, there is no status quo. Even if we sometimes err to think that there is a status quo; even if some are very keen to have us believe that a status quo exists. When I write, even now, the world is not closing in on me, and it does not grow ever so narrow: it also makes gestures of opening up toward a future prospect.

I write. I imagine. The act of imagining in itself enlivens me. I am not frozen and paralyzed before the predator. I invent characters. At times I feel as if I am digging up people from the ice in which reality enshrouded them, but maybe, more than anything else, it is myself that I am now digging up.

From a beautiful essay--both wrenching and inspiring--written by David Grossman, an Israeli author who lost his son last year in the Israel-Lebanon war.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

As you may know, Mother's Day started out in 1870 as a call for women to rise up and demand an end to war. Many groups, including CODEPINK, are working to reclaim this original purpose. You can check out our latest alert (which includes links to send a letter to Nancy Pelosi and to sign our Mother's Day Appeal to Congress) here.

I am co-organizing a Mother's Day Peace Festival this Saturday, May 12th from 11am-5pm, in front of the Riverside Public Library, 3581 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501

Family-friendly activities will include crafts, performances, storytelling, and labyrinth walking for peace. To promote the idea that peace begins in the home, families will be able to sign a Family Pledge of Nonviolence. Children of all ages can create peace flags and peace-related cards to give to their mothers for Mother's Day. The film Women Say NO to War: Iraqi & American Women Speak Out will be shown concurrently throughout the day in the library auditorium.

The event is co-sponsored by CODEPINK: Women for Peace, the Women Creating Peace Collective, the Inland Communities Chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Inland Yoga, and Citizen's Actions for Peace.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Today, you can find me over at Large Hearted Boy, where I've put together an imaginary soundtrack for an even more imaginary Self Storage movie...

Monday, May 07, 2007

In lieu of a new post (I'll try to be up and running again soon), you can read my guest blog, In Praise of the LA Times Book Review, over at Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle board of directors.

Monday, April 30, 2007


Sorry things have been so quiet around here lately! My time in Illinois was so rich and full, I had no time to blog, and in the hubbub of catching up, I haven't had much time since I've been back.

I was originally supposed to turn my novel in to my editor tomorrow, but I'm going to have to ask for an extension--between wanting to incorporate the new research I uncovered on my trip, plus hearing from my agent that the voice of the novel isn't quite right yet, I still have a lot to do. I'm sure my editor will understand.

I'm still glowing from being in Chicago. What a pleasure to visit all the places I loved so much as a child--including the park and the beach near my old apartment building. And how amazing to speak at my elementary school, to sit on tiny chairs in what had been my first and third grade classrooms and try to imagine my young self there, soaking in information about guppies and Aesop's fables and life on the prairie. The kids in the classes were so sweet, so excited to have me there. As I was leaving, one boy raised his hand for a high five; after I returned it, he said, in an awed voice, "I touched a real author!" My first grade home room teacher--one of my favorite teachers of all time--surprised me at one of my events, and I cried for about the first 10 minutes of my reading, I was so touched. She even brought a picture with her of my first grade class; we had fun trying to remember everyone's name.

I also spoke at one of my junior highs, a gorgeous building modeled after a palace in Venice. I don't think I fully appreciated the beauty of the building when I was a student there. As I walked up the stairs with the principal, I remarked that I remembered the tiles that lined the stairwell, showing pictures of Medieval times. "Oh yes," he said, "the Don Quixote tiles." As a student, I had no idea that those tiles told a progressive story--Cervantes, no less! I probably would have paid more attention to them, had I known. The kids in the class I visited didn't pay much attention to me, either--a marked difference from the elementary school, but that was good. To go from being a rock star to a rock in the matter of an hour keeps you humble!

I made a point of eating a veggie Chicago hot dog and some Chicago spinach stuffed pizza while I was in town. (YUM!!!) I visited some old favorite sites--The Shedd Aquarium, for instance--and some dazzling new sites (like Millennium Park.) I was delighted to realize that even though I haven't lived in the Chicago area for 21 years, my muscles often remembered where I was, where I needed to go. I had a chance to visit old friends and a beloved cousin I hadn't seen in ages, which made the trip even more meaningful (as did the Chicago area CODEPINK group filling the crowd at one of my readings. What inspiring women!)

My time in Springfield was also very moving. I got quite emotional visiting Lincoln's home and office, and even more so visiting his tomb. It was amazing to be in the very spaces where he lived and worked, the space where he was laid to rest. It helped me feel much more connected to my novel. So did going to Downers Grove and finding my characters' house, finding where their furniture store would be, soaking in the places where the story unfolds. Now I just need to translate all of that to the page!

When I got back to the Chicago area, I stayed at the Write Inn in Oak Park--a fun place to write! In all my years in Chicago, I had never been to Oak Park, and I was amazed at the beauty of the town. I didn't have time to really explore the area--I didn't visit the Hemingway museum across the street, and only got to Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio one day after it closed, but driving past all the homes he designed (and the stunning Unity Temple) I was overcome by awe. I realized that even if I had had the chance to delve into the history of these buildings, the technical details of their craftsmanship, it was that awe that would have stayed with me, so perhaps I didn't miss much. That is definitely the main feeling I've taken home from this trip: awe.