Saturday, April 26, 2008

I was invited to contribute a post to ReadingGroupGuides.com. Here is my humble offering. I love visiting book clubs (in person and by phone) and hope this little piece will lead to more yummy visits!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Last week, Andi wrote a beautiful post about living responsibly, and tapped me and three others to post about the causes and issues we're passionate about.

It's hard to know where to begin. Everything is ultimately connected--our planet is such an intricate web, and I care about each thread, the entire ecosystem and all the plant, animal and human life it supports. I am grateful for any organization (or individual) that works to alleviate suffering on the planet--suffering that comes from poverty and war, suffering that comes from lack of clean water and air, suffering that comes from sexism, racism and other forms of intolerance and injustice, suffering that comes from cramped feed lots and other inhumane practices.

I would say that my passions tend to coalesce into a few main areas, however:

--Working for peace. My work with CODEPINK is deeply gratifying. I love writing the action alerts each week that go out to 200,000 people and inspire some to take action, whether it's write a letter to the editor, arrange a meeting with a Congressperson, or just put a sign in a window to spread awareness. I love that CODEPINK uses creative (and often fun!) actions to combat the destructive energy of our current administration, the devastating effects of war (as does my local group, the Women Creating Peace Collective). I love how we remind people that each of our voices matter. Which leads to my second passion:

--Empowering others to use their voices. Whether it's through writing or teaching, I love helping people realize that their voices can make a difference in the world. I especially love empowering girls and young women (since it's often more of a struggle for us to speak up and out) and am grateful for groups like WriteGirl and Girls Write Now that give girls a forum and platform. Which is related to my next cause:

--Breaking through the beauty myth. As those who read this blog or have read my book Fruitflesh know, I am deeply disturbed by the media's portrayal of women and how it damages our relationships with our bodies. I want us to be able to feel fully alive inside our skins, to live our bodies from the inside out rather than be concerned about our appearance. There are certainly more pressing issues in the world, but how can we work to eradicate poverty or create peace if we're putting all our energy into worrying about our thighs? (Something I've been guilty of at times myself...)

--Protecting the environment. This may be a bit of a leap, but I believe that our cultural mistrust of the body has only made our environmental crisis worse; if we can't honor the integrity and wholeness of our physical selves, how can we honor the integrity and wholeness of the body of the earth? We pour crap into both our mouths and our landfills, and we need to learn how to take better care of both ourselves and the planet. As I mentioned in my Earth Day post, I have been concerned about environmental issues since I was a little girl, and these issues are still close to my heart, and continue to affect my actions. Which leads to a related cause:

--Healing our waterways. Of course this is an environmental issue, but I have a particular passion for it. I think it probably comes from the fact that I grew up right across the street from Lake Michigan and am still completely in love with that beautiful body of water--I think of it as my true home. As a teenager, I worked for Illinois PIRG, going door to door to ask people to help stop water pollution. I keep returning to water in my fiction--the beleaguered Salton Sea in The Book of Dead Birds, the fragile Sacramento Delta in my novel in progress. Life started in water; water continues to give us life. We need to protect it and the amazing creatures within it.

Andi asked me to tag four people to write their own posts, but I think I'll just issue a blanket invitation to anyone who wants to explore their own passions. Thank you, Andi, for helping me clarify mine!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I've thought this before, so it was fun to see an article by Paula Marantz Cohen that explored how the current cultural idea of the body is just as fearful of the body as Victorian times.:
When I initially began to think about this trend, it seemed to reflect an increased comfort with the body. After all, to let professionals touch you in the way required for a Brazilian wax is not to be a prude. It also seemed to me that bodies without clothing were everywhere. Not just on TV and the Internet, but in the world at large. My female students, for example, displayed an astonishing amount of décolletage, as did the 70-year-old ladies I bumped into in the supermarket. This suggested an exceptional level of comfort with this portion of the anatomy among a very wide age range.

But a friend pointed out that the exposed body nowadays is a far cry from the exposed body of the 1960s. That was the era of hairy underarms and legs, frizzy unkempt hair, and bra-less breasts that sagged under macram√© T-shirts. Compare this to the perfect orbs that protrude like hothouse melons from the tank tops of 70-year-olds. “Let it all hang out” has been replaced by “let it all be nicely exhibited.” Walt Whitman (and his hippie successors) sang the “body electric;” we sing the “body electrolysis” — also, siliconed and liposuctioned.
Another article that recently rocked my socks: Men Who Explain Things by Rebecca Solnit. I especially love these last lines:
The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled many women -- of my generation, of the up-and-coming generation we need so badly, here and in Pakistan and Bolivia and Java, not to mention the countless women who came before me and were not allowed into the laboratory, or the library, or the conversation, or the revolution, or even the category called human.

After all, Women Strike for Peace was founded by women who were tired of making the coffee and doing the typing and not having any voice or decision-making role in the antinuclear movement of the 1950s. Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have certainly gotten better, but this war won't end in my lifetime. I'm still fighting it, for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Happy Earth Day, everyone!

It seems fitting that today, I am writing an action alert for CODEPINK that addresses Jimmy Carter, thanking him for continuing to work toward peace in the Middle East.

When I was a little girl, I wrote many letters to Jimmy Carter. Most of them had to do with asking what I could do to stop pollution. I was always excited to receive replies from the White House--including a big box filled with garbage bags printed with Woodsy Owl (Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute!) and a letter suggesting I start by cleaning up my own neighborhood. I would bring those bags across the street to the Lake Michigan shoreline and pick up bottle tops and cans from the sand. It was a fairly clean beach, so the bags didn't get very full, but I still felt as if I was doing my part (and I even had a presidential mandate to do it!)

It's exciting to me to see how environmental responsibility has reached the public consciousness (although I'm sorry that our planet had to get to such a crisis point to wake people up.) Woodsy Owl would be so proud--remember: Help Woodsy spread the word, never be a dirty bird!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Me as Shiva. :)

Here's Gypsy Soul, fresh (and sweaty!) off the stage at the Festival of Dancing Colors this afternoon. It was a fun performance, and a meaningful one--we dedicated it to Nancy's mother, who died Monday (Nancy's in the center, Debra's on the right, yours truly is on the left.)

A little note on my costume: I got it for $10 15 years ago. I was going to buy it for $200 in monthly (or maybe weekly) installments from a woman in my bellydance class, but she ran off with our teacher's husband after my first payment and I never knew how to reach her. A very unexpected bargain!

Another note on my costume: if you click to enlarge the photo, it looks like some sort of adult diaper is sticking up over my belt, but it's actually my white underskirt; I guess my belt and red overskirt slipped down a bit, alas.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

If you happen to find yourself in San Bernardino on Sunday and feel like watching some shimmying and shaking, I'll be performing at the Festival of Dancing Colors at CSUSB. It's a jam packed roster; my troupe is slated to dance from 3:44-3:51. Don't blink or you'll miss our bubblicious performance (and yes, chewing gum is involved!)

Here is the lovely Woman of Distinction Award I received on Wednesday from the San Gorgonio Girl Scout Council. You may notice the same background as the last photo I posted--I recently discovered my new lap top has a built in camera, so now you can see what is behind my head as I write this. :)

When I received the award, I opened my acceptance speech by saying "When I got kicked out of Girl Scouts over 30 years ago, I never imagined one day I'd receive such an honor." I wish I could say I was evicted for doing something really dramatic--desecrating the cookies, perhaps, or slashing a girl's sash to get her badges--but my story is less than spectacular. Essentially I got kicked out because I didn't attend enough meetings.

I got into Girl Scouts as a fluke; during my brief and awkward stint as a child model, I landed a gig where I had to act like a disgruntled Girl Scout, rolling my eyes at my father whose car had broken down. I got to keep the uniform, and figured I'd put it to good use. My friend Joelle Baxter's mom ran the local Girl Scout troupe; I enjoyed going to her house and learning songs, exploring different cultures, making things out of popsicle sticks. I had a skating show coming up, though, and my rehearsals often conflicted with the Girl Scout meetings. Skating was more important to me than earning badges (my favorite badge was the one featuring an ice skate, anyway), so I drifted away from Girl Scouts and eventually was asked not to return.

As I mentioned in my little speech, though, I'm sure that the Girl Scout organization would appreciate the fact that I was committed to one of my passions, even if it didn't involve a green uniform. I certainly appreciate how committed Girl Scouts is to girls--how it empowers girls to find their voices and passions, learn new skills, realize they're capable of more than they originally believed. Something I try to do in my own work as a teacher and writer and activist. It was a real honor to receive the award with 9 women who are doing great work in the community to empower girls and young women through science, through nature, through health and physical education, through education in general. I neglected to thank my parents from the podium that day, so I want to thank them now for being at the luncheon, and for always supporting me (even when Girl Scouts gave me the boot)!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Among the wonderful words I received for my birthday was this poem from Cati Porter:

I'd like to tell you

When we were young we didn't contemplate
what we'd be like, what we'd like, when we turned
forty. We drank kool-ade and sat eating
cookies in the sun. The sprinkler churned
out rainbows so that we believed in them,
and in luck. Later, when love turned our insides
to butter we laid it on thick. What we skimmed
we now savor, not knowing then the prize
would forever elude us. Nothing keeps.
There's something tragic in that, and that we
can never turn back, even in sleep.
I'd like to tell you that turning forty's
not like a precipice, there's nothing to fear,
but I won't be turning forty for three more years.

Don't worry, Cati--it doesn't feel like a precipice from here (at least no more than any other day feels precarious and precious, which is pretty much every single one of them!) Thank you for your amazing words.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I'm 40 today. So weird. I still feel about 10 inside. It's cool to know that growing up doesn't mean we become totally different people, that some voice inside us stays whole and true even as we morph and grow.

I had the sweetest birthday party yesterday--in lieu of presents, I asked people to bring poems/quotes/songs/blessings that spoke to turning 40. I was showered with the most beautiful words and thoughts, from spontaneous on-the-spot rhymes to Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" to a long, loving letter from my dad. Plus my mom brought a fabulous brunch spread; the whole day was a feast, in every possible way. I'm still feeling sated and grateful.

This morning, I went ice skating. It felt like the right way to usher in this new decade--the freedom and fun and nostalgia of it, a way to both honor my past and glide into the future. As I was skating, a bright pink balloon drifted onto the ice, a bit withered but still buoyant with helium, probably left over from a weekend party, "Happy Birthday from Icetown" printed on its side. The bottom of the string was tied into a wrist loop. I slipped it onto my own wrist and let the pink orb bob above me as I skated--my festive dance partner, my touch of magic on this landmark day. The tshirt says it all.

Friday, April 11, 2008

It's 11 days into April, and I have yet to acknowledge National Poetry Month. Time to remedy that! Over the rest of the month, I'll try to post a few poems that have been important in my life. Here is one by James Tate from the Oblivion Ha-Ha which rocked my world my freshman year of college (a world-rocking poetry year in general for me):

Consumed

Why should you believe in magic,
pretend an interest in astrology
or the tarot? Truth is, you are

free, and what might happen to you
today, nobody knows. And your
personality may undergo a radical

transformation in the next half
hour. So it goes. You are consumed
by your faith in justice, your

hope for a better day, the rightness
of fate, the dreams, the lies
the taunts--Nobody gets what he

wants. A dark star passes through
you on your way home from
the grocery: never again are you

the same--an experience which is
impossible to forget, impossible
to share. The longing to be pure

is over. You are the stranger
who gets stranger by the hour.

At first this may seem like a very negative poem, but as an 18 year old, I found it exhilarating. I still do. I continue to be consumed by my faith in justice, to have hope for a better day--the poem hasn't taken that away from me--but it also reminds me not to take myself too seriously; it reminds me that sudden, radical change is a possibility, that life is all about change, that we can never truly know ourselves, that nothing is written in stone. And there is something both scary and freeing in that.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Writing is fun again. What a relief!

I don't think I had realized how far I had drifted away from my own process. I don't think I had let myself acknowledge how affected I really was by my novel Immensity being turned down last year. How much self-doubt and fear had crept in, even though my wonderful editor continues to have faith in me. Sure, doubt and fear are still present, but so now is joy. So now is play. And they've pushed the doubt and fear off into the wings.

It helped so much to go to the Sacramento Delta, to steep myself in the world of my novel-in-progress (it especially helped that an incredibly generous pear farmer and his wife took 4 hours out of their busy day to answer all my questions and then some.) I can picture my novel clearly now, and that makes a huge, huge difference. It also helped that a friend let me and my daughter use her fabulous Palm Springs house as a retreat for a few days last week. All that light, all that space, brought forth a ton of writing (I think the fact that the home was once host to a wild party with Hunter S. Thompson helped, too--some gonzo energy must have still been sparkling through the air.) Plus I still feel deep inspiration reverberating from the International Women's Writing Guild conference in Santa Cruz, the CODEPINK International Women's Day training camp in Malibu, the Women Creating Peace Collective's Inspire Hope Event here in Riverside--all amazing, energizing gatherings of women. My students, with their willingness to push themselves and stretch creatively have helped me push forward, as well. And I know I've been inspired by California itself--in the past few weeks, I've been able to breathe in desert and ocean and redwoods and rivers, and it's rejuvenated me. I feel more awake now. So does my writing.

I don't know how long this new creative surge will last, but I'm going to enjoy it while it does. Thanks to everyone, everything, every place that has both brought me back to myself and helped me get out of my own way.

Friday, April 04, 2008

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed 40 years ago today, my mom put her hand on her pregnant belly and wondered what type of world she was bringing her child into. It was (and is) a world much better for having had Dr. King in it.

Exactly one year before he was shot, Dr. King gave a talk called Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. In it, he quoted Langston Hughes' poem, "Let America Be America Again":

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

America will only be the America Hughes and King dreamed about if we continue to break the silence about unjust war, if we continue to speak truth to power against the risk of our own silencing. That bullet didn't silence Dr. King. May his voice continue to live on through all of our actions.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I am excited and humbled to announce that I have been named a Woman of Distinction for Achievement in Arts and Culture by the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council. There will be a luncheon on April 16th (two days after my 40th birthday!) if you'd like to attend. For more info, click here. I'll try post something about my own very un-distinguished Girl Scout experiences soon...