Sunday, November 30, 2008

Just wanted to say that things will likely be pretty quiet around here for a while--my daughter and I are packing to move to a new house (hit me up if you need my new address) and I'm gearing up to teach at the 10 day Antioch MFA residency.

I still haven't heard from my editor re. my novel Pears, and am continuing to feel very nervous about it, continuing to feel as if I turned it in too soon. I will let you know if I hear anything. I completely trust my editor's judgment, though, and know whatever feedback she gives me will help the book grow stronger, whether it ends up on her list--which of course I hope for, since I love working with her--or not. The Lincoln book has (re)taught me that a manuscript can have life beyond rejection. But I'm getting ahead of myself! I look forward to jumping fully into the revision process in my new house, where I'll have fruit trees right outside the office door.

I wish everyone a peaceful and fruitful December!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I am grateful to have found two wise posts about gratitude in today's uncertain world. One by my wise and amazing friend, Laraine Herring, which explores why writing matters even as publishers are closing their doors, and one by Michael Morford in the San Francisco Chronicle titled Change and Gratitude: How the hell can you be thankful in a time of fear and meltdown?

These words of Laraine's really spoke to me:
Write directly into the heart of the moment when reading changed you. Writing matters. Stories matter. You have a gift and a desire to tell a story. Rather than be fearful of what you might not be able to accomplish, instead be grateful for the gifts of language. Don't let the fear of the distribution (or not) of those stories get in the way of the telling. Your burdens will become greater by remaining silent. Perhaps especially in economic times like these.

Write what you were given to write and let the rest go.
These words by Michael Morford also resonated:
Maybe this Thanksgiving, it's all we can do to be grateful for, well, for change itself. Any kind of change. Because change is still required. Change is still the universal law. Without it, everything stops. Without it, we die. Change is the only thing we really know for sure. It's the only thing that actually makes any sense, even when it doesn't.

It is the grand rule: "Change and be grateful." Even here. Even now.
Yes. I am so grateful for words that can reach into my heart and make it pound harder. I am so grateful to people with whom I can share words and thoughts and moments and love. I am so grateful to be alive on this planet, which continues to be so beautiful and abundant even in these lean and confusing times. And yes, I am grateful for change, in all its terrifying, exhilarating glory.

May everyone have a gorgeous and delicious Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

If you found your way here via my National Novel Writing Month pep talk, welcome! I hope your month of novel writing has been a fruitful one indeed. My experiences with NaNoWriMo have been so crucial to my life as a writer--both liberating and affirming. NaNoWriMo got me back into my own writing flow a few years ago, during a time when I was feeling completely frozen by expectation (mostly my own, but also what I perceived to be external expectation, as well). I found that when I churned out words that quickly, there was no time to worry about whether what I was writing was perfect and beautiful; it shut my inner editor right down. Giving yourself permission to make a big old mess on the page is incredibly freeing. I hope you're giving yourself that permission and having lots of fun with the process!

For those who aren't taking part in NaNoWriMo, here is my pep talk that went out to all the intrepid November novelists today:
Dear NaNoWriMo writer,

The metaphor of writing-as-birth is not a new one—perhaps it may even be a bit overused—but I can’t help but think about it this month. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man; you’re pregnant with a novel—congratulations!

Of course, one month is a pretty short gestation period, but hey, that’s all the time rabbits need, and NaNo certainly requires a “no time to say hello, goodbye” White Rabbit breakneck pace.

I remember how amazing it was when I was pregnant with my kids—each day, my body had transformed into something new. This month, you have transformed, too, moving from aspiring writer to novelist, from someone who has wanted to write to someone who actually is doing the hard, juicy work of getting words onto the page. You have learned new things about the creative process, about the depths of your imagination, about the themes and images central to your subconscious life. And even if you are way behind on your word count, even if you’ve only written the first scene of your novel, you have taken a profound leap. You are a writer now. How awesome is that?!

If your experience is anything my like NaNo experiences have been, this has been a time of exhilaration and frustration, inspiration and despair (and, hopefully, big slices of pumpkin pie!) A journey from that first thrill of conception, through moments when the story feels heavy and unwieldy, to times when it kicks inside you and fills you with awe. And now the end, your due-date, is in sight—at least as far as the calendar is concerned. Now you’re not just pregnant—you’re in labor.

In fact, you’re probably at what midwives call the transition stage—the point where the contractions are coming fast and furious, and you’re almost ready to start pushing your book baby, whole, out into the world. Some people get a rush of energy of at this stage, a super human surge that propels them through the birth—a mad flurry of words, a tumbling of scenes that seem to write themselves toward their own climax. Other people, when they get to this stage, suddenly feel as if they’re going to die. As if they can’t go on. As if they don’t know why they ever wanted to have a baby/sign up for NaNoWriMo in the first place. If you can breathe through this transitional period, if you can find a way to quiet those nagging critical voices and keep moving forward, your story will ultimately find its way into the bright oxygenated air (even if it’s long after November 30th.)

See if you can use this final stretch of time to stretch yourself creatively, to try something new and playful with language, to let your characters surprise you, to let yourself surprise yourself. Never let yourself forget what a profound thing you’re doing. As Margaret Atwood says “A word after a word/after a word is power.” You have that creative force inside you. You are poised to give birth to a whole new world.

Congratulations again!
Gayle Brandeis

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You can read a portion of "Raising a Ruckus with CODEPINK: Women for Peace", the speech I recently gave in Toronto, at CODEPINK's online magazine, PinkTank.

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's always such a treat for me to visit book clubs (such as the lovely one pictured that I visited in Claremont last Friday.) I love connecting with such passionate readers; they always come up with the most wonderful, thoughtful questions and help me see my work in fresh ways. One woman at the book club on Friday wisely commented upon how Self Storage couldn't have been set in today's post-election world; the fear and intolerance that were such hallmarks of the post-9/11 Bush era wouldn't have the same resonance in a story set after Obama's win. I hadn't thought about this before, and am so grateful that Self Storage now represents only a small, dark sliver of American history.

I am also so grateful to see how the word YES has exploded since then. In 2002, YES was not so easy to come by; when my main character Flan found the word inside a box in a storage auction and decided to go in search of her own source of YES, it felt like an almost radical act. The world at the time was so full of NO. As I wrote the novel, I had no idea that in a few years, millions of people would be chanting YES WE CAN and working together to say YES to the future. Such a beautiful and joyous affirmation. The host of the book club even baked a YES cake, the letters shaped with Hershey's kisses, so we had a chance to literally embody the word.

I am visiting another book club next week; I am eager to hear their questions and see how they'll open my eyes anew.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

GOOD Magazine (a great newish progressive journal exploring arts and culture and the environment) recently launched a book blog; I was delighted to find this post linking Barack Obama to Walt Whitman. It closes with these lines:
At Grant Park, Obama was evidence that, as Whitman wrote in the preface to his epic “Leaves of Grass,” “The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.” Obama absorbs Whitman, we absorb Obama, and “the United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.”
There is mention of Abraham Lincoln, who was Whitman's contemporary, earlier in the post, as well. It's fun that I've written novels inspired by both Whitman and Lincoln, and now they've found nexus in our new President!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What a day for new beginnings! As we launch into this new era for our country, we have some fresh starts in our own household, as well: my daughter just enrolled in a new school, which hopefully will prove to be a better fit for her for the time being, and my contract for my first YA novel just arrived! I was offered the deal in June, but didn't want to say anything publicly until I saw the actual contract. Now it is here and I can say with confidence that My Life with the Lincolns will be published by Henry Holt, Spring, 2010.

My Life with the Lincolns tells the story of Mina Edelman, a 12 year old girl in 1966 Chicago who believes her family is the Lincoln family reincarnated and it's her job to save them from their fate. It's set during the Chicago Freedom Movement, when she and her father get involved in Martin Luther King Jr.'s campaign to work for housing equality. I love knowing the book will be published during an Obama presidency--so much of the book is about community organizing in Chicago, which of course is such an important part of Obama's own history (be it in a different era). Plus I know Obama feels such a deep connection to Lincoln, himself. My biggest, wildest fantasy is an Obama blurb for the book, but I think the President might be a bit too busy to offer one. :)

All the happiness of this day of course is tempered by the passing of Prop 8. How heartbreaking that on a day of such celebration, a day of breaking barriers and stepping forward as a country, our state decides to take a step back toward inequality. This is proof that we can't just relax now that Obama has won; there is still so much work that needs to be done. I have faith that the American people are up for the task and will ultimately work together to ensure equal rights for all, but it's going to take time and energy and commitment. Obama's campaign proved that we have that--may we continue to band together and use it well!


So wonderful to wake up today to a new world, to find out that the dream of last night is actually real. Here are the stirring newspaper headlines people woke up to around the country and around the world.

And be sure to check out this wise and beautiful open letter to Obama by Alice Walker

I have never been so proud or happy to be an American. Yes We Can, Yes We Did, Yes We Will!

ETA: I realized I didn't share anything about my election night experience. Michael and I went to Nancy and Jenn's house for an election night dinner party; the group decided to turn on Comedy Central to see what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert had to say about the election proceedings, and a minute or so later, Jon Stewart got all teary and declared Obama president. We couldn't believe it--it was just after 8pm; the polls in CA had just closed. When had the decision ever been made so early? We all looked at each other to say "What?" "Could this be true?" "It is live", "That's real emotion in his voice," so we switched over to MSNBC and learned that yes, it was indeed true. Obama had won. We were all in complete delighted shock; it took a moment for the reality to sink in. I'm still reeling with joy.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

As I nervously, hopefully await the election results, I find myself thinking about community. I have felt it in different powerful ways in the last couple of weeks, and as someone who tends to be a bit of a hermit, I am reminded of how important it is to get out of my own cave and connect with others.

I felt community in so many ways when I was in Toronto--just being with my sister and her family was such beautiful communing in itself. My sister and I created our own community as we were growing up (both metaphorically and literally--we invented a little land called "Purcell" in the side yard of our apartment building, complete with its own laws and language and customs) and being with her always feels like coming home, no matter where we are. I loved being able to visit some of her favorite places (including the sweetest little tea house you can imagine, where we drank lavender mint tea and ate an assortment of fall delicacies, our sweets all centered around pomegranate, fig and persimmon.)

I found another powerful sense of community at the Motherhood Movement Embedded conference--connecting with mothers who are doing important work around the world to promote peace and justice was very inspiring indeed. And after my speech, my sister and I raced back to the city so we could be part of Night of Dread, one of the most amazing communal experiences I've ever experienced. Night of Dread is organized by Clay and Paper Theater (the link is a few years old, but will give you the gist of the night), and is an artful, fun, moving way to face and exorcise fears as a community. It begins with a huge procession with giant puppets and drumming and people dressed in black and white wending through the streets of Toronto before landing at Dufferin Grove Park, where there is a wonderful, kinetic series of performances and experiences, from fire dancers to fado music to a ritual burning of fears (written out on pizza boxes painted white and planted into the ground with stakes--fears ranging from millipedes to Sarah Palin.) My daughter, who joined me on the journey, and my niece Mollie were both "death dancers" (I actually found a picture of them online in this slide show; they're in the 7th picture, where you see three figures with white and black masks and white robes (Hannah's the one on the left and Mollie is in the center.) At one point in the evening, the death dancers invite the crowd to dance with death, and later they come out with platters ringed with marigolds and full of the "bread of the dead" (cooked in cool community ovens in the park) which they wordlessly invite people to partake in. Such a powerful evening, full of wild imagery, cathartic chanting and overall awe-inspiring spectacle. I hope I'll have a chance to experience it again (but I hope to see my sister and her family again much much sooner than that!)

Since I've been back home, I've experienced other beautiful instances of community--a gorgeous Samhain ritual at my friends Nancy and Jenn's house, during which we each honored a loss from the past year by making altars and meditating on what we had learned from that loss, and what lessons we'll bring forward with us into the future. I made an altar for my wedding ring; it was very emotional and healing to be able to honor the years I spent with Matt and think about how to take the lessons I've learned from my marriage and divorce forward. The ritual culminated in Nancy and Jenn's legal wedding--a profound celebration!

Our Inspire Hope 4: Rock and Shimmy the Vote this Sunday was celebratory in itself--Nancy and I pulled the show together so quickly, but it ended up being a wonderful mix of poetry, music, dance and storytelling, with a great engaged audience. I'm so thankful for the community of artists who were able to jump in at the last minute to share their talents and inspire us all to use our voices at the polls.

And speaking of polls, my boyfriend Michael and I decided to vote a day early yesterday. We had to wait for three hours at the voters registry office, but it was well worth it. I was deeply moved to see hundreds of people waiting patiently, happily to vote. Most of the voters there were people of color; we overhead several people talk about how they hadn't voted in 15 or 20 years. I got teary several times as we waited and the enormity of this election crashed over me. Seeing people come together to bring change and hope to our country is a beautiful thing indeed. May all our hope prove to be fruitful. My fingers will be crossed for the next few hours!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Two things to do Sunday, November 2nd:

--If you're in the Riverside area, come to Back to the Grind at 3575 University Avenue from 5-8pm for Inspire Hope 4: Rock and Shimmy the Vote, an evening of poetry, music and bellydance. We'll be inspiring people to get to the polls, and raising money for the local homeless shelter. Hope you can join us!

--If you have a tv, please tune in to PBS at 10pm to see my brother's documentary, Dissonance and Harmony: Arabic Music Goes West, part of PBS's new series, America at a Crossroads. Jon spent many years (and much heart and belly ache) making this film, which traces the journeys of five Arabic musicians in their home countries, and as they travel to the US to collaborate with Western musicians. I had the pleasure of seeing the musicians perform in LA, and am very excited to see the documentary, which I know will inspire great cross-cultural dialogue and understanding.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I'm very honored to be mentioned in Katie Granju's article celebrating Hip Mama's Ariel Gore. It's fun to think of myself as a "momoir" writer, even though I rarely write about my kids any more--it feels different, more like a violation, to crack open our lives now that they're teenagers. This time period is certainly full of material, though--maybe one day in the future, they'll be comfortable with me looking back to this time on the page (assuming we survive it!) I am so grateful for Ariel Gore and Katie Granju and all the other writer mamas who supported one another as we worked to give our parenting experience a voice.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I hope to write about my trip to Toronto soon; in the meanwhile, here's a little essay I wrote about Sarah Palin and my own brief experience as Annie Oakley: Sarah, Put Down Your Gun.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Just in case you haven't seen this yet:
My daughter isn't a fan of Amy Poehler (she doesn't like the fact that she's married to Will Arnett, who Hannah wants all to herself) but even she was impressed by Ms. Pohler's fierce pregnant rapping!
It's been so gratifying to see Republicans speak out against the McCain/Palin campaign and the hate-mongering turn the GOP has taken. I especially love these quotes:

From former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan:
In the past two weeks [Palin] has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn't, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagines is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. She could reinspire and reinspirit; she chooses merely to excite. She doesn't seem to understand the implications of her own thoughts.

No news conferences? Interviews now only with friendly journalists? You can't be president or vice president and govern in that style, as a sequestered figure. This has been Mr. Bush's style the past few years, and see where it got us. You must address America in its entirety, not as a sliver or a series of slivers but as a full and whole entity, a great nation trying to hold together. When you don't, when you play only to your little piece, you contribute to its fracturing.

In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.
From Colin Powell (I'd love to quote his entire Meet the Press interview, but this is the quote that has stayed with me the most. It is clear that he feels the need to atone for his part in the ramp up to war):
I'm also troubled by, not what Sen. McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said such things as: "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is: he is not a Muslim. He's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is: What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is: No, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she can be president?
And from someone I'm more than a little fond of, my wonderful just-turned-89-year-old father, Buzz Brandeis (while he has never been a Republican and comes from a long line of proud Democrats--his dad was a Democratic precinct captain who once ran for Congress--he is a former admirer of John McCain). He wrote this letter to the editor at the North County Times:
We will soon have a new president. The promises, rhetoric and slogans of the campaign will quickly be forgotten. But the character and temperament of our new president will remain constant as he assumes office.

As I recall, "compassionate conservative" was not heard after George W. Bush became president. We listened to his campaign rhetoric, but we failed to understand his character. Eight years later, we suffer from the mistake we made in electing him.

We must not make a mistake this time. We, the voters have the profound responsibility of making sure the right man and his vice-president have those intrinsic qualities that define their strength of character and temperament.

Once again, during the last debate, McCain's anger and temper were so close to the surface ready to explode, a serious character flaw which would dominate the decisions he would make, including going to war. And that flaw is not counter-balanced by Sarah Palin.

That is why I will vote for Obama and Biden who have the inner qualities of strength of character, emotional intelligence and wisdom to lead our country during the very difficult challenges which lie ahead.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

As I write this, the screen is swimming in front of my eyes and my head is pounding, but I'm so glad to be in my house, in my purple velvet desk chair, able to put my fingers on these clacking keys. I was in the hospital Tuesday-Friday--not how I intended to spend my week, but life always has a way of surprising us.

I can't remember whether I've mentioned this on my blog before, but every few months (sometimes longer, sometimes shorter), I have intense vomiting episodes. They start off as a subtle pain on the left side of my belly, and quickly grow into doubled-over pain that comes and goes intermittently, like labor. After a couple of hours of this (along with full body sweats and tremors and the deep desire--every time--to take a hot bath, even though it doesn't help), I'll start to throw up, and it doesn't stop until I go to a doctor's office/urgent care for a shot of Phenergan (it used to be a shot of Compazine until I had a crazy distonic reaction to it that made my lower jaw shoot to the side and get stuck there). No one quite knows what causes this vomiting--it may be my Acute Intermittent Porphyria. It may be abdominal migraines. It may be Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome. It's been happening for 12 or 13 years, but no one's been able to pin down the cause. Whatever it is, though, this time felt different. The pain was more violent--it seriously felt like someone was trying to saw me in half--and the vomiting didn't stop, even after two shots of Phenergan. The urgent care doctor wanted to send me by ambulance to the ER, but my sweet boyfriend Michael drove me instead (you know a guy is built of good stuff when he is willing to clean out your barf bowl.) In the ER, they gave me a dose of morphine for the pain (man, I can see why people get hooked on that stuff) and did an abdominal CAT scan that showed a possible obstruction, so they admitted me to the hospital, where I had a few days of tests and IVs before they let me go, still not knowing what causes this; the obstruction and "bowel thickening" they saw somehow disappeared after the attack was over, and the only thing that showed up on other tests was the fact that I'm anemic. I'm feeling completely wiped out now, but much better than I was, and very grateful to be home and able to eat again. I have to take a few more tests as an outpatient (including swallowing a pill-like camera that will take pictures of every inch of my digestive tract--I'm a bit nervous about swallowing the thing, but think it's a super cool technology. My sister said it's like the Magic School Bus!)

My time in the hospital was boring and uncomfortable--for much of it, I was too zonked to read--but there were moments of grace. Visits from friends and my parents (and of course my lovely boyfriend) helped so much. So did the sweetness of my roommate, who was recovering from a mastectomy. On the day that I was allowed to eat again, my breakfast tray never arrived. "Would you like some fruit?" she asked from behind her curtain. Of course she couldn't have known how important fruit is to me, but it felt like a profound blessing. For her, recovering from something so much more severe than myself, to be so generous and thoughtful, moved me tremendously. I got an email from her today and learned that she has put me on several prayer lists. In return, I ask that you please send good energy to Lee for a swift and full recovery (and to my student Gloria, who is just beginning her journey with breast cancer, as well.)

One thing that blew my mind was the fact that my gastroenterologist studied with the gastroenterologists in Chicago who treated me when I was ill as a teenager with what at the time was diagnosed as Crohn's disease. I haven't quite processed what this means to me fully yet, but it did help highlight an important contrast for me: when I was sick as a teenager, the illness became the center of my life. It was my source of identity, my source of purpose. I let it define me. Being "the sick girl" made me special, kept me safe. I no longer have that relationship with illness. I see myself as a healthy person. Illness, when it comes now, is just a blip, an inconvenience--it's no longer who I am. I am very grateful to have made that shift.

Of course I also want to look at what illness can mean. I think stomach issues come up sometimes when I literally can't stomach something, and of course there is much in the world I can't stomach right now. I just have to remind my body it doesn't have to take on the weight of the world. In the hospital, my friends gave me a card that says "Things to do today: inhale, exhale, inhale, ahhh." "These are your instructions," said Nancy, and I'm trying to follow them. I have so much work to catch up on, but my students and administrators are all being patient and understanding. There will be time to get up to speed on work, on my mountain of email--for now, I keep reminding myself to rest and be gentle with myself, to breathe in, breathe out, to try to let go of all the lingering tension in my body. Even writing this blog post is taking up more energy than I probably should be expending at the moment.

I hope I will be up to traveling to Toronto this Thursday. I'm supposed to represent CODEPINK at the Mothering Movement Embedded Conference next weekend and want to be able to give my presentation the oomph it deserves (plus I want to be able to take full advantage of the time with my sister, who lives in Toronto.) I'll keep you posted, and hope that everyone reading this is staying healthy and happy during these trying times. Toward that end, I am going to lie down and close my eyes. Inhale, exhale, inhale, ahhh...

Friday, October 10, 2008

I saw this comic strip in the paper yesterday, and could relate in a couple of ways--like Mr. Drabble, I always used to kiss my manuscripts before I sent them out into the world as a little good luck bon voyage send off (not so easy to do nowadays when most of my submissions are electronic!) Also, like Mr. Drabble, I am thinking of a bunch of changes I'd like to make in my novel now that I've sent it off to my editor, but I know that we can discuss and work on those things after she's read this draft. I am feeling very nervous as I wait for her feedback!

It's fun to see the little rituals and superstitions that different writers I know have around the submission process--mailing them on a certain, significant day, using a special pen or carefully chosen stamps, saying a little prayer before pushing "send", etc. We do whatever we can to give ourselves the bravery we need to share our work with the world--otherwise, it can be so easy to feel too vulnerable and naked to move forward.

In times of crisis, it is understandable that people tend to reach toward ritual and superstition and prayer, as well. I have mentioned before that the number 47 has become meaningful to me, that it keeps popping up everywhere in my life for years; at first I was worried it was some sort of sign that I would die at 47, but I later took it to be a sign instead that I was on the right path. In this period of personal and national stress, 47 has become a strange little security blanket. I am always so glad when it appears (just about every time I drive, I seem to end up behind a license plate with 47 somewhere on its metal face, and it reassures me, somehow, that I'm where I'm supposed to be.) It's so silly, but I guess we need to turn toward the things that give us comfort, however random they may be.

I finally decided to do some research about the number 47 and learned that there is actually a 47 society that posits that 47 is the "quintessential random number of the universe." The society started as an inside joke at Pomona College, but has attracted many 47-sighters along the way. I joined their listserve and have been amazed to see how many people have a deep relationship with the number and see it everywhere, too (and not just because a Pomona College alum was able to inject a 47 into almost every Star Trek episode when he worked there as a writer and producer!) Part of me is excited to know that I have somehow tapped into this weird collective experience, but I admit another part of me is a bit sad to know that 47 is not just my special number alone.

I hope that everyone who is experiencing unrest right now has their own little source of comfort, even if it's just a number that pops up now and again like a small beam of light. I hope that in a time of such collective unease, we as a culture will figure out how to support each other, how to work collectively toward a more sustainable future, rather than retreat into our own compact balls of misery. It scares me to see the mob (almost lynch mob) anger that is rising up at the McCain and Palin rallies--the shouts of "Kill Him!" and "Off with his head!" and "Terrorist!" that are being directed at Obama. It scares me that people right now want to lash out instead of finding constructive ways to work together. I worry that a McCain presidency would perpetuate and deepen the Us vs. Them mentality that has become so prevalent in our country in the last 8 years. I can only hope an Obama presidency will heal some of these rifts (even though I can see the fury being hurled in his direction). As silly as it is, it gives me hope to know that Obama is 47 years old. That has to mean something, doesn't it? ;)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

We just launched our Give Peace a Vote Campaign at CODEPINK. Here is the text of the alert I wrote earlier this week:
The election is exactly four weeks away. Where is the national conversation about peace? With the economic crisis and the media’s attention on bulls and pitbulls and pigs and lipstick, Iraq has been pushed off into the shadows. It’s up to us to pull it back into the spotlight!

We saw how Congress bowed to the demands of Wall Street, turning a deaf ear to the needs of the people. And while the nation was focused on the bailout, Congress quietly passed a $615 billion defense spending bill! We can’t let this happen again, not when so much is at stake. Let’s use these last four weeks of the election cycle to bring the issues of Iraq and peace back to the forefront. Let’s get out into our communities and build the people power we will need to bring the troops home and prevent future military disaster in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

Click here to pledge to be a Voter for Peace and for the next four weeks, engage with your community to spread the message of peace. Talk to your friends and neighbors and attend political events, community events and debate parties with our petition and ask people to commit to peace. Not just with their vote, but beyond November 4th.

We’ve made pledging for peace fun! You can win great prizes, including a trip to DC in January to be with us in action during the Inauguration, and watch your influence spread across the map as you inspire more people to pledge to vote for peace.

Together, we can build the team we will need to keep the pressure on through the next administration, no matter who ends up at the helm. As we saw last week, Congress caves all too easily to the call of Wall Street and the White House, pouring money into bailouts and defense that could have been put toward education and health care and renewable energy. Let’s remind them that Peace needs to be at the top of their agenda.
I hope you'll join me in pledging to vote for peace!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

My beautiful friend Laraine Herring gave me permission to share part of her recent email, which made me feel I could take a deep breath for the first time in a long while:
There is a lot going on now. This has all been coming for a very long time. It’s the election, sure, but it’s the economic collapse — which has been on a collision course for years. It’s the environment. It’s too many people. Too much consumption. It’s the helplessness of realizing our economy has been built only on consumption, and if we try to live responsibly & simply, our economic system as we know it cannot survive. These are necessary collapses. America is coming undone and that’s going to put everyone on edge. I have had so many students (young ones too) extremely ill — strokes, cancers, etc) this semester — very odd — a visceral, body response perhaps to what is happening in the world? The suffering that has been hidden is coming into the light — the inequities of the way we’ve been living is pushing up from inside the earth and forcing us to look at what we’ve done to each other & to our planet. This has been coming a very long time. I don’t know if that makes me more confident that Barack will be elected because we so desperately need a leader to take us to the next level of collective consciousness, or if it makes me more confident that McCain will be elected because we are still not yet ready to release the things that are keeping us in this cycle. All I can tell you is that whatever happens, the key for working through it is taking care of yourself — not in a selfish way, but in a very profound spiritual way. It is a time for shedding and releasing. A time for going deep within ourselves & see how we have contributed to this unsustainability & to see what we can do — and it begins within. Getting simpler, living simpler, noticing small beauties, and above all else, doing the work we were put here to do without regard for outcome.

I really believe that alignment through these upcoming trials is going to come through walking an authentic path moment to moment. If you let yourself go too far in the future, it will be too easy to spin out of control. It’s a very edgy time. It’s very scary when belief systems fall away. That’s what’s happening. People’s beliefs on marriage, love, race, etc — they’re imploding pretty much all at once. Charles Johnson has an interesting piece in this month’s Shambhala Sun on an Obama presidency & the illusion of race in America. Even the belief in the American economy. Dead. And it’s OK — things fall apart so they can be put back together. Nationally, we’re seeing that we had no control over things to begin with — another illusion shattered. It’s scary. Keep letting go. Stand naked & shimmering in your beautiful self. That’s where you’ll find freedom (& all of us will). Keep yourself healthy. Maintain a practice of some kind. And, to paraphrase the Tao, when a house falls on your head, be yourself.
Wise words, indeed.

I have been trying to look through a lens of love instead of a lens of fear, to open, not contract, my heart, but it's not always easy when so many things in my life feel uncertain. I love this picture of my son looking through a heart-shaped tube. Arin turned 18 on Sunday; I have an adult kid--how crazy is that?! I am so proud of him--he really is someone who lives life fully, who makes the most out of every single moment; he's smart and funny and strong and kind and just an all around wonderful person. And he gets to vote next month, which makes me so excited--another yes for Obama! In the meanwhile, I keep reminding myself to both let go and cherish, let go and cherish, and try to be myself even when a house lands squarely on my head.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

As we wait to verify the authenticity of the previous post about John McCain, I thought I'd offer a link to a no-authentication-needed round-up of renowned women speaking out on Palin and the election. Enjoy!

UPDATE: I decided to delete the post in question--I don't want to perpetuate untruths (even though the story still does ring of truth for me.) As a poster so wisely said, we have enough ammunition against McCain without spreading undocumented stories.

The last few weeks have gotten me seriously off-balance. I haven't felt so ungrounded in a long time. A lot of it is election-related, I'm sure (just looking at Palin and/or McCain makes my blood boil); I know now is the time to be more grounded and vigilant than ever, but I find myself feeling afraid and angry and out of sorts more often than I'd like (although the recent polls have me much more hopeful than I had been.) I'm also dealing with some confusing parenting issues right now with my 14 year old, and that plus financial stress, publishing uncertainties, and allergies that are kicking my butt have all put me in a bit of a funk. I suppose it's a good thing to be down every once in a while--I tend to skew toward Pollyanna-ish, and it's good for me to drop into my own shadow from time to time. I am seeing a lot of things I am not happy with in myself right now, and hopefully this will be a real opportunity to grow (and grow stronger.) If I want to change the world, I have to be willing to change myself, as well.

Don't worry--I know I'll be fine, and there's a lot of really great stuff going on in my life, too, but I thought I should acknowledge the lows as well as the highs.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

When I was working toward my MFA at Antioch University, I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia Harrelson, a finely-attuned writer with a vibrant, contagious smile. During our time at Antioch, Patricia fell in love with a woman named Cindy, and left her marriage of 33 years. I remember seeing her and Cindy dance together at a school party--there was such joy between them, such pure, clear love, I felt happy just dancing near them. Now Patricia has written a gorgeous book about that time in her life and how falling in love with Cindy turned her whole world upside down. Between Two Women: Conversations About Love and Relationships explores Patricia's journey toward understanding and embracing her new identity as a lesbian. In the process, she develops a beautiful friendship with a 69 year old woman named Carol, who knew she was attracted to women from the time she was a young girl, and begins to interview Carol about her life. The result is a fascinating, moving meditation on identity, culture, and the deep bond between women. Patricia Harrelson writes about her experience with such open eyes, such an open mind and heart; her book reminds me how powerful and healing sharing one another's stories can be.

I had the opportunity to ask Patricia a few questions about her book and her life. Here is the resulting conversation between these two women :)...

--Your book is so beautifully honest and brave--you tell the truth about living in a woman's body, about the fear and exhilaration that came with leaving behind everything you had known, with such grace and power. How does it feel to have your story out in the world now? I am curious to know how people in your life have reacted to seeing your story in print (has your ex-husband read it? Your children?)

My armpits dripped perspiration as the publication date approached, wondering what part of me had decided to be so self-disclosing. However, once the book was in print and I began to get readers' responses, I knew the story had hit a resonant chord. The reactions of my family are another thing. The discussions with my ex-husband and his new wife, both of whom have read the book, have been nothing short of remarkable—confirming and insightful. My children have NOT read the book, though one of my sons helped finance the publication. While we have come to a reasonably comfortable place of interaction, two of my kids share a significant ideological (religious) difference regarding my relationship with Cindy. We basically have agreed to disagree and we tiptoe around the issue very carefully. I don't know if those differences will be resolved in my life time, but I wanted my perspective available for my grandkids should they ever want to know.

--Along with your own story, you do such a lovely job exploring your friend Carol's rich and passionate life. What a gift to her (and to the reader) to be able to capture her experience on the page. I would love to know how she has responded to the book. I'd also love to know how she's doing now--what is she up to?

Carol also was nervous as the publication date approached. At the book launch, however, she had a shining moment when the audience of about 100 people gave her a standing ovation. She later said, "I'll live on that moment for the rest of my life." Carol, who is now 78, still lives alone. Along with advancing age, she is dealing with diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, but she gets a lot of help from three of her former lovers who live nearby and from her huge network of friends. She continues to go to a fitness class twice a week and she enjoys promoting the book and calling me with orders for more copies.

--You mention several books by and about women that were instrumental in guiding you through such a transitional time in your life and helping you understand your experience--Adrienne Rich, in particular. Could you talk a bit about the importance of reading in your life? Have you read any books recently that have rocked your world?

I'm a consummate reader and always have 2-4 books going at any one time. I listen to audio books in the car, when I walk each morning, gardening, and doing housework. I read for entertainment, insight, and information. My first inclination when faced with ANY question is to turn to books and that is exactly what I did when I fell in love with Cindy. I'm currently reading Anna Karenina for the first time, and I have to say it is rocking my world. Tolstoy was an unbelievable observer of the human experience. I'm impressed by his understanding of so many different perspectives, especially a woman's point of view, and I'm awed by his omniscient narrator. I adore the love stories, finding in their portrayal so many parallels to my falling in love with Cindy. Another book that I read recently was The Gathering by Anne Enright who creates fluid yet surprising prose, moving between real and imagined events, past and present with astounding grace and skill. I'm a huge fan of Margaret Atwood and just read The Blind Assassin, marveling at the way she continues to dive deeper and deeper into women's issues. An excellent non-fiction read of late was The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner, a provocative inter-faith discussion between a Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian.

--I know your time at Antioch introduced you to many of the authors who became so important to you. I'd love to hear more about how your experience at Antioch has impacted your life as a writer (and a woman!)

My experience at Antioch converged with falling in love with Cindy and leaving a 33 year marriage. I have trouble teasing the two apart. What I know is that I learned reams from my instructors (Elosie Klein Healy, Paul Lisicky, Louise Rafkin, Peter Levitt to name a few) and my classmates, including you, Gayle. You introduced me to Clarice Lispector and The Stream of Life, a mind-expanding read that I reference in the prologue of my book. I now move differently in the world than I did before Antioch and before Cindy, less afraid to move against the current but also much more sensitive to a multiplicity of currents that pull and push upon me. I also move easily and rapidly to writing as a creative outlet, be it in a poem, an essay, a blog post, a book or theater review. My time at Antioch helped me find and trust my feminine narrative voice—the lushness, quirks, and soiled underbelly of my stories.

--How are you and Cindy doing these days? I hope you're still dancing joyfully together! :)

We recently danced joyfully on the courthouse square of our small rural California town after getting married—a dazzling and delirious moment in our time together—one we are still floating high upon.

--Do you have any words of advice for aspiring writers?

For me having an expansive network of writer friends has been important. I've been in a writing group for over 15 years and I enjoy connections near and far with friends I made at Antioch and at writing workshops, retreats, and conferences around the country and internationally. My advice is to give generously to your writing friends—critique their work when asked, write notes of congratulations and support, comment on their blogs, buy their books, write reviews and letters of recommendation, and applaud loudly and long at their readings. At the risk of sounding corny or cliché, such generosity is truly an unbroken circle of love and respect that I'm certain sustains all writers.

--I know just what you mean, Patricia, and am so grateful to be part of the circle you describe. May you and Cindy continue to have a joyous life together, and may you continue to write with such courage and power!
I've been meaning to mention that there is a feature article about me in the newly launched DeQ Magazine (enter "20" in the page number window and press the "go to page" button, and you'll find the start of the article.) Thanks to my former student Pauline Moc for setting everything up!

Speaking of students, the fall quarter started at UCR this week--I am eager to see what doors I can open for my new/returning students, what doors they can open for each other in turn. I know I'll learn a lot from them!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sorry for the silence around here. I'll be back when I have more time and energy...

Monday, September 15, 2008

From my beautiful sister Elizabeth, a midwife in Toronto:
Dr. Phil is calling for homebirth and midwife horror stories. A campaign is underway to inundate him with positive stories instead and to pressure him to represent a more balanced perspective (at least).

Please circulate this link as widely as possible. Thanks!
Our culture medicalizes birth too much already; let's not let Dr. Phil scare women into thinking that homebirths and midwives are dangerous and irresponsible!
I was so happy to see all the wonderful pictures from the "Alaska Women Reject Palin" rally in Anchorage (click on the link for the full gallery, plus great video of the event).

When I was in Alaska a few months ago, I was in a bubble of writers, so it was hard to get a sense of the pulse of the state; I certainly didn't think to ask anyone about their governor. Anne Lamott's keynote address of the conference was a public event, though, and she held no punches when she spoke to the packed auditorium of her hatred of Bush and his cronies. A small number of people stormed out in protest, but the majority of people there seemed so happy to hear their own thoughts spoken out loud on stage. I know I was! It is always a relief to connect with like minded folk; it's always an inspiration to see like-minded folk banding together in the name of justice, in the name of a more hopeful future, as the photos of this Anchorage event so beautifully display.

I was in Oceanside this morning with my dad and my boyfriend, and saw a small demonstration of "secure our borders" Minutemen. I yelled "boo" from inside the car as we drove by, but I had to remind myself that they had every right to be there, that it is wonderful that in America, we (still) have freedom of speech. I intend to use that freedom tonight when Karl Rove comes to speak at Claremont McKenna College. Any suggestions about what I should put on my protest sign? I'm thinking something along the lines of "Rove Drove Us in the Wrong Direction", but that's not short or punchy enough. Maybe I could just have one that simply says "Shame"...

UPDATE: While I still plan to vociferously protest Rove tonight, I almost want to kiss him today for saying McCain's ads have gone too far. As the linked article states: "When Karl Rove is saying your political ads have gone too far, you know you must be doing something dishonest." Bless you, Turdblossom.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It was such a shock to learn about David Foster Wallace's suicide. He had been teaching in Claremont, about half an hour away from me, since 2002, and I had harbored the secret hope that one day we'd cross paths. I didn't think we'd become best friends or anything--he'd probably see me as annoyingly earnest--but I still wanted to meet him, this post modern legend, and let him know how much I admired his work. Now that I'll never have the chance, I wish I had been more bold--I wish I had at least sent him a fangirl email. I wish I had not assumed that I'd have years to bump into him.

His death and the recent Metrolink crash remind me how quickly and unexpectedly life can be taken from us, from those around us. It makes me want to savor each minute all the more, to tell those I admire how much I appreciate them, to hold those I love even closer to me in this brief beautiful time we have together. I think about the last lines in Mary Oliver's poem, The Summer Day:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I want to never forget how precious each moment is, how lucky I am to be part of this wild, amazing planet. And I will try to be more brave and not let opportunities for connection or action pass me by.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

This great letter is making the rounds--it's ended up in my inbox at least a dozen times--but I thought I should post it here just in case it hasn't reached everyone yet:
Friends, compatriots, fellow-lamenters,

We are writing to you because of the fury and dread we have felt since the announcement of Sarah Palin as the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Republican Party. We believe that this terrible decision has surpassed mere partisanship, and that it is a dangerous farce on the part of a pandering and rudderless Presidential candidate that has a real possibility of becoming fact.

Perhaps like us, as American women, you share the fear of what Ms.Palin and her professed beliefs and proven record could lead to for ourselves and for our present or future daughters. To date, she is against sex education, birth control, the pro-choice platform, environmental protection, alternative energy development, freedom of speech (as mayor she wanted to ban books and attempted to fire the librarian who stood against her), gun control, the separation of church and state, and polar bears. To say nothing of her complete lack of real preparation to become the second-most powerful person on the planet.

We want to clarify that we are not against Sarah Palin as a woman, a mother, or, for that matter, a parent of a pregnant teenager, but solely as a rash, incompetent, and all together devastating choice for Vice President. Ms. Palin's political views are in every way a slap in the face to the accomplishments that our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers so fiercely fought for, and that we've so demonstrably benefited from.

First and foremost, Ms. Palin does not represent us. She does not demonstrate or uphold our interests as American women. It is presumed that the inclusion of a woman on the Republican ticket could win over women voters. We want to disagree, publicly.

Therefore, we invite you to reply here with a short, succinct message about why you, as a woman living in this country, do not support this candidate as second-in-command for our nation. Please include your name (last initial is fine), age, and place of residence.

We will post your responses on a blog called 'Women Against Sarah Palin,' which we intend to publicize as widely as possible. Please send us your reply at your earliest convenience the greater the volume of responses we receive, the stronger our message will be.

Thank you for your time and action.



Quinn Latimer and Lyra Kilston

New York, NY
UPDATE: Be sure to check out the resulting website at How exciting to learn that a letter that was originally sent to just 40 friends ended up resulting in 100,000 women sharing their thoughts and feelings about this election!
On a sad day, this is making me smile: my kids having fun with stop motion photography.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I so wish I could have been at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions with my CODEPINK co-madres. How exhilarating and inspiring to see CODEPINK women stand up and speak truth to power during Palin and McCain's speeches. When McCain said "please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static" as Liz Hourican and Nancy Mancias were hauled away, I thought about Bush dismissing hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to protest war as a "focus group." Mr. McCain, you have to know that the only thing static is you (even though you purport to promote change)--we will keep moving, keep speaking, and we will hopefully rise up together enough to keep you out of office.

I have posted this before, but it feels appropriate to share it again now--my essay Disrupting Power chronicles my own experience creating "ground noise" at a political event.

If any of you are in the Riverside area on the evening of 9/11, we are planning a much more peaceful event. The Other 9/11, held in front of the Gandhi statue at Mission Inn Ave. and Main St. in Riverside, will commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s first nonviolent action for justice on September 11,1906 in addition to honoring the victims of September 11, 2001 and exploring alternatives to violence. There will be music, speakers, poetry (including some from yours truly), and plenty of information to help you promote peace in your life and community. It should be a lovely night.
Super late notice, but I wanted to let you all know I'll be reading from Self Storage at the Murrieta Public Library tomorrow, Saturday, September 6th, at 2pm. The address is 24700 Adams Ave in Murrieta, CA.

I was recently lamenting the loss of the Murrieta Hot Springs Resort--it was a beautiful spa, with wonderful old buildings from the 1920s, plus a great vegetarian buffet; my mom and I went there together once when I was in college and she was visiting me from Chicago. We each took a private mud bath--very relaxing, but then an attendant came into each of our rooms, barked for us to get out of the mud, and sprayed us down with cold water from a garden hose, as if we were zoo animals. That part, not so relaxing. Over all, though, a lovely, rejuvenating stay. The resort is now a bible college--I hope they haven't plugged all the "devilish" hot springs up with concrete or anything silly like that. Anyway, it will be nice to be in Murrieta tomorrow (especially if I get to see my friend Cindy who lives there!) and I promise not to hose anyone down. ;)

Thank you to everyone who left comments about finishing the draft of my novel--I am so grateful for all of your kind words. I know your support will sustain me as I muck through the revision process. The initial glow of finishing the draft has faded, and doubt has set in--I find myself worrying that the book is no good, that it's flat, full of cliche, etc. I have to keep reminding myself that this is part of the process, that there will be time to flesh it out, give it more dimension and freshness, etc. Ah, the ups and downs of the writing life!

It probably doesn't help that I recently received my first one star review at Amazon (the fact that it was posted early last month and I didn't see it until now tells me I'm not obsessively checking my Amazon rankings any more--that's progress, at least!) I know not every reader is going to like or connect with my work, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't smart a bit to know that someone absolutely hated it. It appears that this reader mainly objected to Self Storage on an ideological level--one of the lines of the review is "I'll sum it up. America BAD. All Muslims GOOD", which of course is not how I would sum up the novel, but once the book is in a reader's hands, it becomes their book, not mine. At least the reviewer advocates recycling--the headline is "Store this one in the recycle bin". ;)

As I launch into the revision process of my new novel, I'll try not to worry about potential future one star reviews. I'll try not to worry about pleasing anyone. I'll try to stay as true to the characters and their story as I can, to give them the respect they deserve by spackling up holes and trimming off excess and keeping their hearts beating with these imperfect human hands.

Monday, September 01, 2008

I finished the first draft of my new novel today.

I am excited and relieved and surprisingly at peace. The wholeness of the story is settling inside of me now--I feel full to bursting with it and wonderfully emptied of it all at the same time.

There is still much work ahead of me, of course--this is a very rough first draft--but I didn't know how the story was going to end, didn't know where the random scenes I had written were going to fit (if they were going to fit at all). It was great fun to see the puzzle pieces come together as I wrote, to let the questions answer themselves as the story unfolded. When I realized I was nearing the ending today, I started to cry. I cried through the last few paragraphs, cried when I wrote the final sentence. I always tend to cry when I finish a novel, but this was the first time the tears began before the last word. Tears and delicious shivers. I hope that final page isn't utter nonsense--I could barely see the screen as I wrote!

I have been flooded with ideas for new writing projects over the last few weeks--I can't wait to see which one will muscle its way to the top of the heap. It's been a while since I've felt so open to inspiration. I thought for sure it had to do with the fact that I could see the end of this draft in sight, but I was able to hang out with my friend Peggy Hong recently, and she said that she's been feeling full of inspiration lately, too. She thinks it's because the Bush presidency is almost over. Under Bush, poetry felt insignificant to Peggy; she felt there was more urgent work to be done. She thinks our country is still suffering from PTSD from the trauma of the Bush years, which makes total sense to me--everyone I know has been traumatized by the reign of this administration. "I think an Obama presidency will be great for poets," she smiled as we sat on the beach and watched dolphins play in the water. I certainly hope she's right!

Monday, August 25, 2008

I found this time lapse video of a man trapped in an elevator for 41 hours strangely beautiful (if a bit claustrophobia-inspiring!) It also made me think of Neighborhood News, the little local newspaper I created when I was ten years old; my first headline was "Girl Stuck in Elevator!" I sold subscriptions door to door in my apartment building and learned that writing could be a way of connecting with my community. I suppose the alert writing I do for CODEPINK is a virtual extension of that!

Update: I recently learned that Madonna plays a remake of this video on her new tour, but Britney Spears is the one trapped in the elevator. It seems as if trapping Britney in an elevator might not be the best idea--the poor thing has been through so much already (then again, maybe she found it cathartic to freak out on camera in an intentional way!) You can see that video here

Friday, August 15, 2008

Another fruit-loving animal. :)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jennix over at Daily Kos has written a thoughtful post about literature and activism. She opens it with this wonderful anecdote:
True story. The scene is a Manhattan supper club, circa 1952. Eleanor Roosevelt approaches a table at which John and Elaine Steinbeck are dining. Elaine makes introductions, and then...

Eleanor Roosevelt: "When I go to the Soviets, they ask, 'Does that awful treatment of farmers still happen in the U.S.?’ I say, 'No, my husband and John Steinbeck took care of that.’"

John Steinbeck: "That is the best literary review I've ever received."
I can't imagine a better literary review, myself--I love how Grapes of Wrath woke people up to the plight of the farmer, and, as a result, changed the country's perspective.

I was saddened to hear that Jennifer Nix, along with other activists, had abandoned reading and writing fiction in order to focus upon activism; thankfully she realized that
As activists, we must not lose sight of art, or its value to the work we do and the sustenance and inspiration it can provide...I also realized that we needn't choose between the "activist path" or the "artist path" either. We can do both. This epiphany made me want to have these issues discussed in public forums, particularly on progressive political blogs, because I believe bringing more art into our mix will have a profound effect on our individual and collective imaginations.
I agree whole heartedly. The classes I've taught on Writing for Social Change, both online for UCLA and at the Mendocino Conference, reinforce how many people out there want to use their voices and their art to make the world a better place (and are doing beautiful, creative work in such service). If we abandon our art to serve our activism, we're abandoning one of our most powerful activist tools--our ability to reach people's hearts in addition to their minds. As Jennix writes, the best stories create empathy--they help us look deeply into the lives of "the other" and find human connection there. And that's where change comes from--when the "us vs. them" divisions dissolve and we realize we're all "us" and we need to work together to create a more just and sustainable future.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

I crossed the 50,000 word mark with my novel in progress, Pears, yesterday. This feels hugely significant to me, possibly because 50,000 words is the goal of National Novel Writing Month, plus it's such a nice big juicy round number. These 50,000 words took a year rather than a month to write, though--one of the most challenging years of my life; between the separation/divorce, taking on more teaching, and dealing with other assorted life issues, it hasn't always been easy for me to find the time/energy/focus to write. Some small part of me was worried I'd never finish this novel, that I'd have to keep renegotiating my contract with Ballantine, but reaching this milestone makes me feel as if November 1st is a do-able deadline now. Of course I'll have plenty of revision to do after this draft is complete--this draft almost feels like an outline of what the book wants to become--but just getting the story down will be such a relief. The fact that I've done NaNoWriMo twice gives me confidence that I can crank out the rest of the book with a little less than three months to go. If I finish in time, maybe I can even take part in NaNoWriMo this year!

The pears that I picked up at the Pear Fair in the Sacrmento Delta two weeks ago are ripe now; it is so lovely to be able to picture the orchard the pears came from, to watch them transform from hard and green to soft, yellow, fragrant, delicious. My novel doesn't feel ripe yet, but it's getting there, and I can finally trust that it will come to full fruition.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

California is an amazing state. Sure, we have the occasional earthquake that goes on and on until you're not sure the ground beneath your feet will ever be stable again, and sometimes our mountains catch on fire, but man. What a gorgeous place. I'm not necessarily talking about Riverside (although, despite my daughter's protestations, it does have its own beauty and charm). Over the last couple of weeks, I've had a chance to take in different parts of the state's character--the slow, quiet pace of the Delta region, with its burgeoning pears and ears of corn and rivers that can't help but make you take a deep breath and settle into yourself a bit. The gentle rolling hills of Sonoma wine country, the unexpected drive through redwood forests (where the light changed as it came through the trees, turned green and syrupy, like really good olive oil). The signs to watch out for deer, and then actual deer appearing, bounding through the woods. The bursting out onto PCH with its rugged drops into the ocean. Breathtaking, truly.

I had never been to Mendocino before, and am so grateful I had a chance to soak it in during my time at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, even though my time was abbreviated; I had to miss the first couple of days of the conference because of my teaching schedule, and then missed my Friday night reading because of a late plane and bad (5 hr) traffic--by the time I got to the bookstore, everyone was gone, alas, and only a few cubes of cheese remained on the snack tray. But the time I did get to spend at the conference was rich and sweet; an utterly lovely group of both faculty and participants, all brought together by the director, Charlotte Gullick, who is charming and funny and does a beautiful job of making the conference tick--all while giving it a social change emphasis. To top everything off, she put me up in a stunning local guest house that had a huge skylight over the bed so I could see the stars as I fell asleep at night, and windows out to the ocean and the deer during the day. I look forward to returning to the area some day and having more time to explore, more time to partake of all its gifts.
Another reason to like Obama--he believes in fruit. :)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

This is super last last last minute, but I wanted to let you know I'll be bellydancing at the Orange County Fair today at 4:30pm on the Main Mall Stage. It's fun to think about dancing at a county fair again--until this year, the last time I performed as a bellydancer was at the LA County Fair 15 years ago, when I was six months pregnant with Hannah! I seem to be in fair mode right now--last weekend, I attended the Pear Fair up in the Sacramento Delta as extra research for my novel; a sweet and yummy day.

I'll be teaching at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference this weekend; I hope to do more blogging upon my return. Until then, take care!

Friday, July 25, 2008

I was gearing up to write a blog about how my 14 year old daughter was stranded alone at the airport in New York for several hours on Wednesday (seven of those in a grounded plane with a faulty AC system before the flight was canceled), how scary and frustrating it was to be so far away from her and not be able to do anything, how vulnerable and helpless I felt. But then I received an email this morning that put everything in perspective.

Vicki Forman, who writes the beautiful Special Needs Mama column at Literary Mama, lost her son Evan to a sudden unexpected illness yesterday. I just had dinner with Vicki and a bunch of other writer mamas last month after the Maternal is Political reading in Pasadena, and she spoke of Evan, who would have turned 8 on the 30th, with such tenderness and humor and love. My heart aches for her and her family as they process this incomprehensible loss.

I find I can no longer complain about Hannah's airport ordeal. Sure, it was a long confusing day, and Hannah didn't get home until 4am, but she is home, and she is safe and I can wrap my arms around her. As I waited for her at the gate at LAX, there was a large crowd waiting to board a plane to Guadalajara, and they had turned the terminal into a party--little kids running around, people playing guitar and drums and doing raucous versions of the Macarena at 2am. The rest of the airport was totally quiet except for the floor cleaning machines, but this little corner had become a festival. It was a lovely way to welcome Hannah back.

I can only begin to imagine the silence that Vicki and her family are facing today, even with all the support the community is sending their way. Marjorie Osterhout has set up a memorial fund in Evan's name; if you wish to make a donation, please click here

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A couple of events on the horizon...

--I'll be teaching a workshop on Writing for Social Change at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference August 2nd (my sister/niece/grandmother's birthday!) The conference runs from July 31st-August 3rd. I'm excited--I've never been to Mendocino before, and have heard wonderful things about both the area and the conference.

--I'll be speaking at the annual fundraiser for the Democratic Club of Carlsbad-Oceanside on Sunday, August 10th (thanks to my mom for setting this up!)

And, because things have been so quiet around here lately, let me leave you with an image of someone who seems to love strawberries as much as I do (thanks, Michael, for sending me the link):

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I was delighted to see this reference to Obama talking about writing and reading at a recent event:
There was one question in particular of interest to us book lovers, and that came from a woman who asked what Obama would say to young writers. He was surprised by the question, which he admitted was one he hadn’t heard before, but didn’t hesitate to answer. He referenced his two books, and specifically mentioned how he wrote them himself, along with many of his speeches. With a light inflection, he said, “In terms of getting a job, knowing how to write is a good thing.” He talked about how he kept a journal, and how it was important for teaching him not only how to write, but also how to think. But my favorite part was when he said, “Over the course of four years I made time to read all of the Harry Potter books out loud to my daughters. If I can do that and run for president, then you can find time to read to your kids. That’s some of the most special time you have with your children.”
How refreshing to have a potential president who can actually read and write and think (his recent FISA vote excepted!)

I was also delighted to read about this recent Barbara Ehrenriech event at Skylight Books in which she shifted the spotlight away from herself and invited labor organizers who work with local car wash employees to speak about their current struggle. She was able to get the audience engaged in this very real issue--I love how she took her activism off the page and into the room, how she used her platform as a writer to give others a voice. Very inspiring indeed.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

If you've read my book Fruitflesh or taken any of my classes, you're probably well aware of the fact that a strawberry changed my life. You probably not know, however, that there is a wild horse connection to that life-changing strawberry. I myself had forgotten about it until just recently.

The subject of wild horses has been rising up all around me lately. In the LA Times last Sunday, I read the front page book review piece about Deanne Stillman's latest book, Mustang with great interest. A couple of days ago, I received an email from Deanne, a fellow teacher at UCR Palm Desert, although we haven't yet crossed paths (I loved her first book, Twentynine Palms). She asked me to pass along info about her upcoming reading in Norco for local readers (sidenote: I was once the movie and restaurant reviewer for the now defunct rag, the Norco Pony Express--I have many stories to share about that experience). Norco is a fitting place for a reading about wild horses; it is a real horse town--my niece trains for horse shows there, and there are places where people can tie up their horses in front of every fast food establishment (not sure if people can ride them through the drive-throughs, too!) Here's the info about Deanne's reading:
it's at the Norco library in Riverside County on July 26 at 11 am. Address is 3954 Old Hamner Rd, Norco 92860.

"Mustang" tells the story of the wild horse on this continent, from prehistory through its plight today, with chapters on its return to the Americas with conquistadors, its partnership with Native Americans, its role on the frontier, and its plight today (round-ups, massacres). The big question my book asks is why are we, a cowboy nation, betraying the horse we rode in on?

It was while finishing up my previous book, "Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave," that I began my journey down the wild horse trail, after learning of the massacre of 34 wild horses outside Reno. Two of the accused were Marines and one was stationed at Twentynine Palms. Having grown up around horses, I was drawn to the story.
I find myself drawn to the story now, too. Just today, I received an email petition from Care2 asking us to urge the BLM to not kill wild horses, as they have planned. I hope we can find a way to protect these majestic creatures.

As for the strawberry/wild horse connection...After Ms. Sweers gave everyone in my high school philosophy class a strawberry and had us explore it with all our senses but taste for five minutes, then take five more minutes to eat the strawberry, slowly, mindfully, she showed us a short, wordless film of wild horses, set to soaring music. Wild horses stampeding across fields, wild horses crossing rivers, wild horses--strangely, disturbingly--running through fire. It was only after the film was over that she asked us to write haiku about our experience. I had forgotten about the film part of the exercise until now. I was so thoroughly mindblown, woken up, by the strawberry, it makes sense that's what has burned most brightly in my memory over the years, but now I remember feeling some wild part of me stir as I watched those horses gallop across the screen, strawberry still zinging on my tongue. The horses didn't enter my poem, but they set something racing inside my heart at the time. It makes me very happy to think of them still running free; may that ever continue, despite all the challenges they face today...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

This Sunday, July 13th at 7pm, I'm going to be part of a panel on Activist Writing sponsored by PEN Center USA. The other panelists are Celesete Fremon, George Larkin, and my amazing former Antioch mentor, Diane Lefer. It will be so wonderful to reconnect with her, especially now that I am an Antioch mentor, myself. My time at the residency was incredibly rich--inspiring and energizing (even as it was exhausting!) I am thrilled to be able to work with my group of mentees.

The event this Sunday is going to be held at a private residence in Los Angeles; if you're interested in attending, please email Victoria McCoy at and she'll send you the address (you can email me for the info, too, but you'll also have to email Victoria to rsvp.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Sorry for the silence around here--life has been a dizzy spin (sometimes exhilarating, sometimes disorienting) and my brain has not been able to find any blogging space for a while. Until I do find that space, here is a blast from the past--an "Odd Shelf" I pulled together for Readerville five ago has been reprinted at the now-online Readerville Journal. It's great to see the Journal resurrected. The same part of my brain that doesn't have time for blogging hasn't had time--in ages, alas--to dip into the vibrant forums at Readerville, but I'll be forever grateful for the community and friendships I found there.

Hope you're all having a wonderful summer. I have some good writerly news to share, but I think I'll wait until the contract is signed before I spread the word in a public way--I don't want to jinx myself! If you're super-curious, drop me an email and I'll whisper it in your digital ear...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Talk about fruitflesh! Here, artist Sigalit Landau floats naked with watermelons in the Dead Sea. Imagine how it would feel to be bobbing in salt water, surrounded by cool round fruit. A good feeling to access in the middle of all this heat!
I have been moved to tears by all the beautiful photos of same sex weddings in the media this week--it's humbling to see such pure joy. I was delighted to learn today that one of my lovely Palm Desert MFA students, Bryan Burch, and his partner Mark, were the first same sex couple to get married in San Bernardino County. Mazel tov, Bryan and Mark, and all other couples who can finally tie the legal knot that should have been yours all along.

This is a much much less historic occasion, but still a landmark in my little world--tomorrow (well, today, to be technical about it) I begin my stint as a faculty member at the Antioch MFA residency. I graduated from the program in 2001; it is awfully cool to be able to step through the looking glass and join the program now as a mentor; I'm sure I'll learn just as much in this role as I did as a mentee!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Today, I took part in the UCR graduation--my first graduation as a faculty member. I felt like a little kid playing dress up--the only robes they could find for me were huge; they swept the floor as I walked, and my hands got lost inside the enormous sleeves. I sat on the stage with other faculty members and watched my wonderful students--some of whom I've had every quarter since I started teaching at UCR last summer--get their diplomas. I think back to when my husband graduated from UCR 13 years ago and I was a shy young mother, just starting to write fiction, sitting in the bleachers under the hot sun. I never could have imagined that 13 years later, I'd be on the stage among the faculty. I never could have imagined that 13 years later, I'd be in the middle of a divorce. Life is full of so many surprises.

My son graduated from high school on Tuesday. He'll be starting UCR in the fall. I can barely wrap my mind around the fact that we will be able to have lunch together--him as a college student, me as faculty--on the same campus where I used to push him around in a stroller when we lived in student family housing.

At his graduation, I sat on the "Visitor" side of the field while his dad sat on the "Home" side--this wasn't intentional; the crowd was utter chaos, and my parents and I took seats where we could find them. It was fitting, though--my son is living with his dad, while our daughter is living with me, so I am very much a visitor in his life right now. It is hard to not see him every day, but thankfully we're still close; I suppose when kids reach this age, we're all just visitors in their lives. It's such a time of letting go. I am grateful for any amount of time I can spend with my beautiful boy (who has grown into a beautiful man).

Congratulations to Arin and to my graduating students. I am so proud of all of you.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

In Liz Bradfield's fantastic workshop, "Rough Music: Incorporating Other Voices into Poems", she had us do a very cool exercise. She asked us to quickly write lyrics from songs we knew in high school, then she had us write down as many facts as we could about Alaska, then a list of words or rules from a trade, then phrases we knew in foreign languages, with translations, then mathematical or scientific formulas, then phrases we had overheard recently. She had also given us a sheet full of information about glaciers and the natural history of the area and asked us to circle the words and phrases that jumped out at us. After we did this, she had us pass the resulting pages to the person on our left, and she asked us to write a poem using their words.

This is what I came up with--all the words are from my neighbor, none are my own, yet in stringing them together, and choosing a line of her lyrics as a refrain, I found they spoke to me in an unexpected and profound way:

I have more memories than if I were a hundred years old
But you don't know me.
Saws, hammers, nails, vises, levels, drills, planes, screwdrivers, screws, chisels
But you don't know me.
But you don't know me.
Four or five ducks rose out of the sedge
But you don't know me.
The sky is above the roof
But you don't know me.
Plumb lines, trucks, lifts, siding, sheetrock, tiles, concrete
But you don't know me.
Magpies were in the balsalms
But you don't know me.
Cirque, corrie, cwm
But you don't know me.
They disappeared with a magic velocity
But you don't know me.
Je vous en pris (You're welcome)
But you don't know me.
During one of his wonderful talks at the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference, Alaska State Writer Laureate John Straley talked about how as a child, he would take pictures with his mind. He'd look at something he wanted to remember, click his eyes like a camera shutter, and burn the image into his brain. Because I couldn't take many pictures with my camera, here are some mental snapshots from Homer, Alaska:

--Watching otters roll through the water, their hands clasped together as if in prayer, their bodies obviously loving the slow sinuous turning. Seeing some mother otters swimming on their backs, their babies perched on their bellies. Learning that otters have over a million hairs per square inch of their bodies to keep them warm in the cold water.

--Glancing out my window as a bald eagle soared by (this happened several times, but never grew old!)

--Hearing Nora Dauenhauer, Tlingit elder, read her classic poem, "How to Make Good Baked Salmon" (which we were told is read at barbeques all over Alaska.)

--Meeting the most wonderful group of people (I wish there were pictures of all the participants as well as all the faculty!)

--Seeing Anne Lamott pick up one of my books during one of her talks, and say "This is why we love books", then ruffling through the pages to show people the sound of a book, raising the book to her rose to show people how delicious books smell. So cool to see The Book of Dead Birds in her hands! So cool to get to know Anne, too, and to soak in her inspiration (I have many mental snapshots of her sweet face).

--Watching John Straley and David Gessner emerge, stunned and triumphant, from the frigid bay after their post-reading dip (it wasn't surprising to learn that David can be quite the wild man!)

--Watching the light change over the course of the day, gathering in luminous pools on the tops of certain mountains, turning thin and silvery at times, pink and golden at others. Coalescing into the most brilliant rainbow I've ever seen the first night I was there.

--Not seeing whales (sadly), but meeting several people who study whales and who will be great resources if I need to pick brains as I write the whale scenes of my novel-in-progress. Eve Saulitis has studied killer whales for 20 years, recounted in her amazing essay collection, Leaving Resurrection; Nancy Lord has written a wonderful book, Beluga Days, about her work with white whales; Liz Bradfield has studied humpbacks--the whales in my novel--with her partner, and has several whale poems in her gorgeous collection, Interpretive Work; John Straley's wife happens to be a humpback expert, as well. I was deeply moved and inspired by the number of writers at the conference who are also naturalists (it was a boon when we were on the boat tour and Liz was able to name all the birds we saw and give us great information about their behavior; her binoculars, which she let me look through a couple of times, were not too shabby, either). It made me want to spend more time in the wild, observing, learning.

--Marveling at the dandelions. Alaskan dandelions are the most beautiful, robust dandelions I've ever seen. They're dandelions on steriods--big and bright and healthy, their stems succulent and strong. I'm sure 20 hours of light a day helps contribute to their vigor. Of all the wildlife I saw in Homer, it's strangely the dandelions that burn most vividly in my mind now.

--Listening to the amazing, generous work the participants produced in my workshops. I taught three classes--"Finding Your Authentic Voice", "Writing from the Senses" and "Embodying Our Characters"--and the writing that sprang from them blew me away.

--Finding a moose! My last hour in Homer, I told Jo-Ann Mapson (with whom I've shared both professors and editors over the years--so wonderful to connect with her) that I hadn't seen a moose yet, and I asked if we could go in search of one. Everyone else at the conference had seen a moose, it seemed, but I had not been so lucky. So we set out in her car and drove around Homer to no avail; as we were headed back, though, Jo-Ann said "There's one!" I wouldn't have seen it--a pale moose in a little dip of grass by the road--if she hadn't said anything. She pulled over and I ran across the street with her camera to get closer (she's going to send me pictures later); it turned out the moose was a mother, and her baby, a darker caramel color, stood right behind her. The mother turned her head and stared at me, the hair on her back raised and bristled. Jo-Ann later told me that I had gotten a bit too close. But I'm grateful that I was able to get a good close look, that my moose quest was successful. It was a wonderful way to end my time in Homer.

Flying into the Ontario airport was a bit depressing--everything looked so brown and smoggy and industrial. It made me miss the pristine, wide open space of Alaska, the fresh air, the wildness. I hope to return someday and spend even more time exploring the area. For now, I have my mental snapshots to take me back!