Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I hope you will read my friend Peggy Hong's breathtaking piece: Embracing the Other, a talk she gave this past Sunday at a Unitarian church in Milwaukee. Here is a taste:
I believe our task as evolving social beings is to make ourselves more comfortable with discomfort. I believe we should deliberately place ourselves in situations out of our comfort zone. Once that becomes comfortable, go to a new place and push the envelope further.

For instance, if you are white, place yourself in situations where you are the racial minority. Go to a black church, shop in a black or Latino neighborhood, ride the city bus, go to a foreign country and stay in a hostel or a 2-star hotel instead of a 5-star resort, work for an organization run by people of color, move into the central city where thousands of beautiful houses wait for refurbishing, teach for MPS.

But go not to convert, but to be converted. Go not to lead, but to follow. Go to educate yourself, not to educate others. Go in humility, not in pride. Go not to be loved, but to love.
Important, powerful words.
If you're in the area, I hope you can swing by!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When I was in college, I belonged to a briefly-lived guerilla theater group called Normal Jungles--we would go into public places and do strange little performance art happenings. I recall us crawling around on the floor of the Redlands Mall, whispering "Put your zucchinis on the porch" to people; eventually we met in a circle in the center of the mall, yelled "Smash all your avocados!" at the top of our lungs and then walked out of the mall as if nothing happened, leaving a lot of confused people in our wake. I am a huge fan of Improv Everywhere, which performs guerilla theater "missions" in public places, but on a much grander, yet more accessible, audience-friendly scale than our weird attempts at the avant garde. This particular performance involves fruit, too, so how I can I not love it? Forget about smashing your avocados--let's squish our fruits together!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diane Ackerman's book, A Natural History of the Senses, is one of my favorite books of all time, so I was thrilled when the San Francisco Chronicle invited me to review her latest book, Dawn Light. You can read the review here.

Update: Just wanted to mention that I received the loveliest email from Diane Ackerman in response to this review. I had wondered if she'd have a chance to read the review, but never imagined I'd hear from her. It made my day and then some!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I love this quote from Michael Chabon about the parallels between writing and cooking:
As a cook, I came into this inheritance of different traditions, of the American tradition, my Jewish tradition, my mother's family and the family she grew up in. My cooking kind of emerged from both a written inheritance, actual recipes written down by my mother and grandmother, and also in the cookbooks that became important to me, and I also involve my own approach, my own changes in recipe.

I think in a way, that's sort of what you're engaged in doing as a writer, too. You come into this inheritance of things that have been done and the ways in which they have been done, and people who influence you sort of pass along what they think is important, and what they think you need to know how to do. But over time you begin to make changes, what you think are improvements or alterations, because you like the way it comes out better. In that sense, there's less a question of rejecting or accepting the past, less an anxiety of influence kind of thing, than there is an evolution of your own culinary style as applied to language and storytelling.

You tend to make the things you like to eat. For example, I don't care for fish terribly much, so I don't waste a lot of time trying to figure out how to prepare it. As a writer, I try to write books that I think I would love to read. You cook the foods you'd love to eat, you write the books you'd love to read.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

For the last few years, my dad has been filling up notebooks with what he calls his "wonders"--his musings about the animal world, the human world, the world of language and other amazements. As part of his 90th birthday celebration, the family decided to compile his wonders as a bound book. The Book of Wonders came out looking gorgeous (and it was so wonderful to see the surprise on his face when we presented it to him on Saturday. I wish I had a clearer image than this one to share! At least you can see the cover clearly below; the guy doing the limbo is my dad in 1969--the coolest cat ever. My mom is looking pretty groovy herself in her straw hat and sunglasses behind him.) You can order the book here and fill your own life with wonder(s).

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Some family kvelling...

Check out the video of the alternative high school program my brother-in-law Craig established in Toronto:

And my dad (who will be 90 in 10 days) recently published this letter to the editor in the North County Times:
I thought, when I started reading George Will's column in the September 10th NCTimes about California's problems, that I wouldn't have to grab my dictionary. He always has at least one "big"" word, usually more, that I and probably most people have never seen before. Now why does George do that? Is he just showing off? Not George. He's a rabid Chicago Cubs fan . So am I. Cubs fans have nothing to show off about. To give George his due, maybe he's trying to lift us to his vocabulary level.

At any rate, George did it again. This time, in explaining California's massive problems, he used the word "dystopia", I suppose I should understand that word. But I don't. So I reached for my Webster dictionary which defines dystopia as "an imaginary place which is depressingly wretched and whose people lead a fearful existence," Wow, this is horrible. Let's hope it's only imaginary.

George, I know you're being a bit melodramatic to illustrate your point that California is a lousy state. But, c'mon, surely you can find something a little positive to say about beautiful California.

Maybe a nice "big" word?

Buzz Brandeis

I feel very lucky to be part of such an engaged, passionate (and fun!) family.

Here's a fun way to be engaged, yourself: take the OMG GOP WTF?! quiz sponsored by CREDO mobile (a great progressive cell phone company). This week, every right answer will send 10 cents to CODEPINK.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Here it is: the cover for My Life with the Lincolns! I wish I could figure out a way to share the entire cover so you could see the back and the flaps as well, but I haven't been able to convert the pdf into a jpg file. I absolutely love it. It's not what I had been visualizing (I had seen an image of Lincoln sitting in an Eames chair in my mind) but this is perfect; I love the groovy 60s (but also very current) vibe of the font, the colors, etc.

I got my first blurb, as well, from Lauren Baratz-Logsted, whose latest YA, Crazy Beautiful has just been released and looks fabulous (it's a contemporary retelling of Beauty and the Beast.) Here's the blurb:
Gayle Brandeis expertly marries a humorous manner to serious matter in MY LIFE WITH THE LINCOLNS, an original and timely Civil Rights Era novel about a young girl learning to take part in a cause greater than herself. It's a winner.
I received my first blurb for The Delta Girls, too, from the wonderful Jo-Ann Mapson:
Readers will fall in love with the women of The Delta Girls and cheer at the choices they make to keep their children safe. Brandeis transports the reader into California's verdant Delta country, where whales make wrong turns, where orchards bloom and must be picked in a matter of days, and reveals the lives of laborers and the industry behind them. I loved this book and wanted it to never end.
I'm so grateful for both blurbs!

As those of you who have followed this blog know, The Delta Girls has taken me on quite a wild ride. Well, the ride has taken a new turn--my second editor has left Ballantine/Random House, so now the book is with its third editor. I just spoke with her yesterday; she seems wonderful, and I trust I'll be in good hands, but it's all a bit discombobulating. At least the book hasn't been "orphaned" (such a sad term for books that lose their editors and no one else steps in to care for them); I am hopeful that my new editor will be the same sort of champion and advocate for the book that the two previous editors would have been. The manuscript is actually in production now--I should be receiving copyedits in a couple of weeks, and will hopefully get to see a cover image soon--so there isn't much true editing to be done at this point, but I definitely want to have someone in house rooting for the book. We'll see how it all unfolds. I'm sure there will be more unexpected twists and turns along the way!

Friday, August 21, 2009

When I was in NY on my honeymoon/familymoon, I had the chance to meet with my lovely editor at Ballantine, Lea. It was wonderful to be able to put a face to a name--she's just as sweet as she had seemed in her emails and phone calls (and she took us to an amazing lunch at a vegetarian restaurant called GOBO: Food for the Five Senses. I'm still drooling over the tea-smoked seitan and the cold honeydew soup!) She gave us a tour of the Random House building (which is designed to look like three books inside two book ends); the lobby is awe-inspiring, filled with floor to ceiling book shelves featuring first editions of books they've published, from Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer to more current award winners. It was humbling and exciting to feel myself as a small part of this grand tradition.

I had a chance to meet Lisa, the publicist I worked with for Self Storage, as well as a bunch of other people I've had contact with over the last couple of years, which was very cool. And I met Anna, the woman who will be designing the book cover for The Delta Girls; she was just finishing reading the novel, and I was so happy to hear how enthusiastic she is about it. She told me that had the book been named Pears, she might not have been able to use pears on the cover, since they like to go against expectation, but now that the title has changed, she can bring pears into the mix. She showed me that she had actually been looking at images of pears that day; she had a whole screen full of different pear pictures on her computer. She said she especially enjoyed working on food-related covers, which was wonderful to hear! Lea told me that Anna's her favorite designer there, and showed me a couple of the books they've worked on together. You can see them here. She said that she knows Anna will come up with the perfect cover for The Delta Girls, one that will capture the spirit of the book, even if the title doesn't. I can't wait to see it!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Look what I got in the mail--the first pass pages for My Life with the Lincolns! It's so cool to know what the book is going to look like on the inside. Supposedly the typeface is going to change a bit, but I love how the designer has used the Lincoln hat motif throughout the book. Yay!

I also have a potential title for what I still think of as Pears. I spoke with my editor at Ballantine today (who I'll get to meet in person next week--I can't wait!) and she said the copywriting team came up with The Delta Girls and the publisher is very excited about it. Now, this is completely different from anything that I would have come up with on my own. When I first heard it, something inside me withered a bit. I thought it sounded like a book about sorority sisters (when I brought this up with my editor, she said they hadn't considered that and she would talk to the team about it.) It doesn't have the juiciness, the poetry of the titles that you all so generously recommended (thanks again for all of your input!) In this economic climate, though, the publisher is looking for marketability, not poetry, and they think The Delta Girls will sell.

I certainly know how a title can hurt a book--even though I love The Book of Dead Birds as a title, many readers have told me that it was off putting, that they never would have picked up the book if they hadn't had to for a book club or a class, and I'm sure the title did limit its audience. Part of me cringes to think about my title being chosen by committee, being chosen with numbers, not language, in mind, but of course I'm grateful to be in this position and grateful that they want my book to reach as many people as possible.

I ended up writing a new scene that makes The Delta Girls work on a couple of levels (right now, it's just connected to the fact that most of the story takes place in the Sacramento Delta) and if my editor gives the okay to include the scene in the novel, it will definitely help me make peace with the title. The final decision has to be made by noon tomorrow (Eastern time)--I'll keep you posted. Thanks again for all of your help and support.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The New York Times recently featured a wonderful essay by Mark Dow, No Choice About the Terminology, in their new Happy Days blog (which explores what happiness means during times of economic downturn.) The essay made me happy indeed; it delves into people's quirky and precise relationships with language, and it helped me fall in love with words all over again. I especially appreciated these lines:
We write things down, and hold on to them, for many different reasons. To stop time and keep the “edge of marveling” honed, or at least handy. To create pockets of order. To prove to ourselves that we exist. To be able to immerse ourselves in whatever matters to us but is gone.
I love how both reading and writing can keep the "edge of marveling" alive in our lives; this essay certainly did that for me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

While I wrote about my wedding over at Mama, Redux yesterday, I thought this would be the right place to share the poetry we used during the ceremony.

Our four "chuppah sisters"--my sister Elizabeth, Michael's sister Mette, and our symbolic sisters, Nancy and Jenn, each stood at a corner of the chuppah (the ceremonial Jewish wedding canopy) and read this poem. I included their initials so you can see who read what part; it was so lovely having their four voices chiming all around us, at times joining in chorus:
The Chuppah
by Marge Piercy

E The chuppah stands on four poles.
M The home has its four corners.
J The chuppah stands on four poles.
N The marriage stands on four legs.
ALL Four points loose the winds
that blow on the walls of the house,
M the south wind that brings the warm rain,
N the east wind that brings the cold rain,
E the north wind that brings the cold sun
J and the snow, the long west wind
bringing the weather off the far plains.

ALL Here we live open to the seasons.
M Here the winds caress and cuff us
contrary and fierce as bears.
N Here the winds are caught and snarling
in the pines, a cat in a net clawing
breaking twigs to fight loose.
J Here the winds brush your face
soft in the morning as feathers
that float down from a dove’s breast

E Here the moon sails up out of the ocean
dripping like a just washed apple.
Here the sun wakes us like a baby.
ALL Therefore the chuppah has no sides.

M It is not a box.
N It is not a coffin.
J It is not a dead end.
ALL Therefore the chuppah has no walls.
M We have made a home together
open to the weather of our time.
We are mills that turn in the winds of struggle
converting fierce energy into bread.

J The canopy is the cloth of our table
where we share fruit and vegetables
of our labor, where our care for the earth
comes back and we take its body in ours.

N The canopy is the cover of our bed
where our bodies open their portals wide,
where we eat and drink the blood
of our love, where the skin shines red
as a swallowed sunrise and we burn
in one furnace of joy molten as steel
and the dream is flesh and flower.

E O my love O my love we dance
under the chuppah standing over us
like an animal on its four legs,
like a table on which we set our love
as a feast, like a tent
under which we work
not safe but no longer solitary
in the searing heat of our time.
Later in the ceremony, my anam cara, Catherine, read this poem:
Honey Locust, by Mary Oliver

Who can tell how lovely in June is the
honey locust tree, or why
a tree should be so sweet and live
in this world? Each white blossom
on a dangle of white flowers holds one green seed—
a new life. Also each blossom on a dangle of flowers
holds a flask
of fragrance called Heaven, which is never sealed.
The bees circle the tree and dive into it. They are crazy
with gratitude. They are working like farmers. They are as
happy as saints. After awhile the flowers begin to
wilt and drop down into the grass. Welcome
shines in the grass.

Every year I gather
handfuls of blossoms and eat of their mealiness; the honey
melts in my mouth, the seeds make me strong,
both when they are crisp and ripe, and even at the end
when their petals have turned dull yellow.

So it is
if the heart has devoted itself to love, there is
not a single inch of emptiness. Gladness gleams
all the way to the grave.
Marge Piercy and Mary Oliver are two of my very favorite poets, so it was wonderful to be able to incorporate their rich, wise words into the ceremony, and to have them read by such beloved friends and family.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I just posted a bunch of personal news over at Mama, Redux (a boy! a wedding!), but thought I'd share some writerly news here. I recently found out that My Life with the Lincolns, my first YA novel, is going to be released as an audio book when the book comes out in February! I'm so excited--none of my other books have been recorded in this format before. I can't wait to see who they'll choose to give voice to my character Mina. You can actually pre-order the audio book already on Amazon, which is so cool. I hope to see potential covers for the book soon--I will keep you posted.

Still no news on the Pears-title front, but I'll keep you posted on that, as well. Thanks again for all of your great suggestions and support!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Hi everyone! Sorry for my long absence--between the Antioch residency (amazing), wedding planning (fun but hectic), starting the summer session at UCR and other various life-related distractions, I haven't had time to blog. I hope you are having a wonderful summer!

I heard from my PEARS editor yesterday. I guess I can't really call her my PEARS editor anymore because Ballantine wants me to change the name of the novel. I'd grown very attached to PEARS (I'm even going to have marzipan pears on my wedding cake), but I know how important it is to have a resonant title, so I've been listing potential alternatives, and would love some input. I am hoping the title will speak, even subtly, to both threads of the story--those following the mother and daughter who end up at a pear orchard in the Sacramento Delta, as well as the pairs figure skating team bound for the Olympics. And of course I want something that will inspire people to pick up the book (Ballantine thought that PEARS wasn't evocative enough.) These are my top picks so far:

--How to Pick the Perfect Pear
--Compulsory Moves
--Picking Pears
--Pear Season
--Pears on Ice
--Ripening (or maybe Ripeness or Ripe)

Let me know what you think, or if you have any other suggestions. If I come up with other top picks, I'll let you know

I have a pub date now, which is exciting--July 10, 2010, almost exactly one year away. The book will be released as an original trade paperback instead of in hardcover first. With the economy the way it is, this makes a lot of sense to me (USA Today featured an article titled Trade paperbacks thrive in tough times earlier this year.) Most readers I know tend to wait until a paperback is released to buy a book, so hopefully this will bode well for the novel; my editor told me that if a hardcover doesn't do well (and none of mine have), bookstores are less likely to order many copies when the paperback comes out a year later--original trade paperbacks have more of a clean slate. So we shall see how this goes!

Thanks in advance for your help--I love the idea of this being a collective experience...

Monday, June 08, 2009

This Saturday, June 13 at 2pm, I will be reading at the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. I was graciously invited by festival co-founder Heidi Durrow, whose novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, is the most recent Bellwether Prize winner and will be published next February by Algonquin. It will be lovely to meet another Bellwether sister, and to be part of a day dedicated to celebrating multicultural stories. I have to admit, I do find myself struggling a bit with not feeling worthy of speaking at this event, since my own roots are pretty homogeneous, and all the old internal voices that told me I had no right to write The Book of Dead Birds, etc. are rising up inside me again, but I'm trying to quiet them so I can bring an open, humble, non-defensive heart to this beautiful, open-hearted festival.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Happy 70th birthday, Mom!

To honor my mom's birthday, I put together this little video (well, I should say Michael actually did most of the technical putting together.) As you can hear, whatever vocal training I received for Annie Get Your Gun has flown out the door, but it was fun to sing a song to my mom that she sang to me when I was little, and such a treat to go through all of these old photographs.I hope this whole year will be a very sweet one for you, Mom (and I look forward to your own movie finding its way into the world!)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

As I was driving to campus today, I burst into tears when NPR announced that Prop 8 had been upheld by the California Supreme Court. Such a dark day for our sunny state. The Courage Campaign remixed their moving Fidelity video in response to the news; you can see it here (and click here to help get it on the air):

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Today is the National Media Day of Action on Afghanistan--people around the country are blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, calling radio shows, writing op-eds and letters to the editor, etc. to educate the public about Afghanistan and call for the end of war there. My contribution to the day, On Afghanistan: Compassion and Action through Storytelling, is currently up on PinkTank, CODEPINK's blog. You can find many other National Media Day posts there, as well. Please use today to inform yourself about Afghanistan (and spread the word with your own blogs and tweets!)

If you don't have time to click on my post, please do click on a link I mention within the post for the Afghan Women's Writing Project, an online school my friend, the amazing Masha Hamilton, started to give Afghan women a way to develop their voices. I will be teaching a class online there later this year, and am so thrilled that I'll be able to help Afghan women--who are so often silenced--get their stories out into the world.

Monday, May 04, 2009

I think I've found the blog of my dreams, Literary Food Porn: Descriptions of Food from Literature. Food, books, who could ask for more? I can even remember drooling over the picture they use for their banner as a child (although I can't remember which book it's from--The Country Mouse and the City Mouse, perhaps?) Thanks to Maud Newton for the link!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

I've lived in Riverside for almost 19 years, but didn't know we had wild finches in the area until just about a month ago. I was walking to the post office and noticed a swarm of small yellow birds around a feeder in a neighbor's yard.

"Those look like finches," I thought, amazed, and took a moment to enjoy their bright darting and flapping before I continued walking. A few days later, Michael and I were at a local nursery, and I saw a display of "finch socks" for sale--long mesh bags filled with thistle seed. I immediately grabbed one, and we hung it in our back yard when we got home.

The sock dangled forlornly for a couple of days--I worried that the finches would never find it, that the seeds were duds, that I had hung it in a bad spot--but eventually the birds caught on. At first just a couple of sparrow-looking birds with orange heads (I still haven't identified them)--but soon the yard was alive with goldfinches, their yellow feathers catching the sun. This morning, at least a dozen of them were swooping around the feeder, taking turns, scaring each other away, circling back for more.

When I was a kid, my family bought two finches and kept them in a bamboo cage in the corner of our dining room. We named them Romeo and Juliet, but later changed their names to Romiette and Julio after Romeo laid a few tiny eggs. We were so excited when the babies hatched; unfortunately, the parents were not. Romiette pecked a couple of the babies to death and started to attack Julio, as well. Traumatized, we consulted with the pet store and at their suggestion, bought another cage and gave Julio and the surviving baby their own place. They did okay for a while, but somehow I was never able to love our little pets the same way that I had before the carnage. I'm happy that now I can love finches again, in all their wild and greedy glory.

A bird feeder is such a simple thing, but it gives me a real thrill to be able to see and feed these creatures that I didn't even realize were my neighbors until just recently. It makes me wonder what else has been around me for 19 years and I haven't had my eyes open enough to notice...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Please sign our petition at codepinkalert.org/torture to urge Nancy Pelosi to support an investigation that will expose the torture and abuse committed in our name and hold the perpetrators accountable. Thank you!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Yesterday, Michael and I went to the Inland Agency Peace Festival, a lovely event centered around a local after school arts program called A Sense of Peace. The students at Santiago High School created several life-sized canvas people, stiffened with wax, each one representing a different issue--women's rights, animal rights, school bullying, etc. A very articulate young woman, one of the students in the program, led us around the exhibit and explained the different techniques and intentions used for each figure (the animal rights one, for example, was covered with scratch marks made from forks dipped in paint and charcoal, as if animals were trying to claw their way to a better future.) I especially loved how each figure's belly was open, donated items spilling out--these students weren't just exploring social issues through their art; they were also working to make a real difference in the community. So the women's issues figure was filled with clothing for women and children that will be donated to a local women's shelter, the environmental rights figure was filled with food that is going to be donated to a local food bank, etc. I always love to see how people are finding ways to bridge art and social change, and it makes me very happy to know such projects are happening in local schools.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I have some big news--much to my shock, I recently found out I am pregnant(!!!) I plan to chronicle the experience at a new blog, http://mamaredux.blogspot.com; I'll continue to post here (in my whim-driven, sporadic way), but if you'd like to follow this new adventure, please join me over at Mama, Redux.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I've been meaning to let you know about this lovely new anthology for a while, but wanted to wait until my mom and daughter had a chance to read the essay I contributed. The editor of Because I Love Her, Nicki Richesin had invited women authors to write pieces about what we had learned from our mothers and what we hoped to pass along to our daughters; "Poison Pens" explores how my mom taught me the power of the written word, and how I want to encourage my daughter to claim her true boldness (hopefully without burdening her with expectation.) The piece veers into some sensitive territory, and brought up a lot of emotion when I shared it with my mom, but it led to some deep and important conversation, for which I am grateful. And ultimately the piece is a tribute to her, and I know she knows that, even if a couple of lines rub her the wrong way. So thank you, Mom, for being so understanding, and thank you again for showing me how powerful the pen can be. Thank you, too, to Hannah for accepting the essay with such a generous spirit. I am honored to be part of this moving collection.

I also have been meaning to post a link to my short story, Generations, which first appeared on WomenWriters.net in January. I shared this story during my Rhapsodomancy reading a couple of months ago, and think I may have freaked some of the audience out a bit. It's a funky little story.

Thanks to Google Alert, I learned today that The Book of Dead Birds was one of the books featured in this great article: Environmental Activism Fiction Reflects Troubling Truths. It's very cool to be mentioned in the same breath as Edward Abbey and John Nichols and Ruth Ozeki, plus I love that the author Kate Skinner calls my novel "a lyrical, edgy little book, angular, imaginative and pure." She writes "These four titles were selected to highlight in review for the way that each deals with environmental activism. Through the eloquent expression of truth in story, we explore those difficult, profound existential questions: what is personal responsibility, what is the link between what we do and what that does to the planet and ultimately: how do we live as greater (better) human beings?" These are issues I want to continue to explore in my work (and hope I do to some extent in Pears...)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Last night, Michael and I went to the Opening Ceremony and Pairs short program portion of the World Figure Skating Championships. It was perfect timing--I had received news earlier in the day that my new editor loves my novel Pears (I had sent her the revisions last week, and was so relieved I didn't have to wait long to get her response, and of course even more relieved that she likes the book.) One of the main characters of Pears is an Olympic-hopeful pairs figure skater (yes, I'm playing a bit with pears/pairs) and after spending so much time visualizing skating in my mind, it was a real treat to see it in person.

One pair in particular--Ekaterina Sokolova and Fedor Sokolov from Israel (pictured here)--reminded me of my character Karen and her partner, Nathan; not an exact mirror image, but close enough for me to feel as if I was getting a glimpse of my characters in the flesh. I also loved the fact that they skated to part of The Nutcracker, since I was in the Nutcracker on Ice every year from the time I was 5 until I was 13, and that music is so deeply ingrained in my bones (plus I recently started a writing project loosely based upon the Nutcracker, so it felt like two books merging.) The fact that the pair was wearing CODEPINK pink made me love them, too (speaking of CODEPINK, be sure to check out Medea Benjamin's article in Newsweek about CODEPINK's presence at the AIG hearings). The pair didn't fare all that well in the competition, but they were my favorites of the evening.

I found myself tearing up throughout the night--after I stopped skating, for many years, I wasn't able to watch skaters on tv without crying, but these tears were different. They weren't tears of loss, of grief; they were more tears of gratitude, of nostalgia, of amazement at watching such grace and power. I never achieved anywhere close to the ability of the skaters I witnessed last night, but as I watched them, my body could remember the soaring freedom of double jumps, the dizzy bliss of a really fast scratch spin. I'm so happy that I had the chance to honor the journey of my book and my own embodied history by sitting in those wonderful chilly stands.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This video has to be one of the most incredible things I've ever seen. Who knew sheep herding could be so artful?
Diane Sherlock, one of my wonderful students in the MFA program at Antioch University, recently learned that her novel, Growing Chocolate, is a quarter finalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel competition. Diane is an amazing writer--evocative, funny, insightful, authentic; in short, the real deal. You can help her move on to the semi finals by clicking here to read an excerpt and write a review. Thanks for your support!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I recently read the charming novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (translated from the French by Alison Anderson) and was delighted to find a passage about two of my favorite things, books and fruit:
The cherry plum test is held in my kitchen. I place the fruit and the book on the Formica table, and as I pick up to the former to taste it, I also start on the latter. If each resists the powerful onslaught of the other, if the cherry plum fails to make me doubt the text and if the text is unable to spoil the fruit, then I know that I am in the presence of a worthwhile and, why not say it, exceptional undertaking, for there are very few works that have not dissolved--proven both ridiculous and complacent--into the extraordinary succulence of the little golden plums.
This book definitely passes the cherry plum test for me (not that I had any cherry plums as I read--I wish I had! But the book made me cry in the lobby of America's Tire while I was waiting for a repair, and that seems like an equally important test.)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a very philosophical novel, one that reminds me that novels can be about ideas if the ideas are deeply grounded in character; I often resist ideas (or, I should say, Ideas with a capital I) when I write fiction because I don't want my stories to become tracts, stark intellectual exercises, but this book helped me remember that stories can be powerful when they enter the realm of the mind as well as the realm of the body and heart. This novel follows two narrators, 59 year old Renee, a concierge and closet intellectual at a fancy apartment building in Paris, and 12 year old whip-smart Paloma, a resident of the building who plans to kill herself when she turns 13. It's lovely to see how both characters help one another take their light out from under their respective bushels. I read that a French psychologist prescribes this book instead of Prozac, and I can see why; it's a lovely meditation on the beauty that can be found in our world.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Such a rollercoaster of a week!

This Monday, I was delighted to help introduce Sheela Free at the launch for her first book of poetry Of Fractured Clocks, Bones and Windshields. I met Sheila last year when I spoke at San Bernardino Valley College's Humanities Day; she is an English professor there, and we had a wonderful, energizing conversation about teaching and writing and the senses following my talk. She later sent me some of her poems by email, and I was moved by their raw, from-the-gut power. She had never published her work before, and asked for my advice. I had an intuitive sense that she should send her poems to Plain View Press, a small publisher in Austin, Texas committed to melding art and social change. Sheela pulled a manuscript together, sent it off, and much to our mutual thrill, Plain View wanted to publish it.

The launch was held in the same room where Sheela and I met last year. The auditorium was packed with her friends and family and students and colleagues, everyone so excited. Several people gave introductory remarks; when I gave mine, I mentioned how I felt a bit like a matchmaker or a midwife, helping the book find its way into the world (although of course it was the book, not me, that was the true propelling force). I am so proud of Sheela and so happy that I could help make such a celebratory day possible. Her reading was one of the most exciting I've ever attended; she made her poems participatory--she had all of us snapping and clapping in rhythm, doing call-and-response, standing up and pretending to hold a strap on a bus as she read a poem about her mother riding the bus to work (her mother was in the audience, beaming with pride.) She read with such passion, such humor and grace. It was truly awesome to behold.

The next morning, I was still coasting on the energy of the event when I got some not so happy news--because of the budget crisis in CA, there are no classes available for adjunct lecturers like myself at UCR next academic year. UCR is my main source of income, so this (while not unexpected) was quite a blow. So many people I know have been affected by the economic downtown, and of course now it has hit home more than ever. I trust that I'll be okay--already, other possibilities are percolating--but my heart aches for those who have lost jobs and don't know where to turn.

One thing I'm hoping is that this scary economic climate will help us remember the power of community. Friends have been talking recently about putting together a sort of co-op where we'd share food from one another's gardens, have weekly communal meals, etc. When my kids were little and we lived in Family Student Housing at UCR, we would often have neighborhood meals, each family bringing a course, and it was a way to save money and share in community--everyone was in the same boat then, poor but hopeful, and as many of us are in the same boat now, there are great opportunities for helping one another out (and keeping hope alive.) Sheela's reading was another wonderful example of the power of community--much of Sheela's work is rooted in unimaginable grief, and I could feel the room supporting her, buoying her, as she shared poems about losing her daughter, celebrating with her as she shared poems about the pleasures of delicious, sizzling dosas. It may be a cliche, but it feels truer than ever right now: when we can share our sorrow, it becomes easier to bear; when we can share our joy, our joy multiplies. Thanks for letting me do both here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Maira Kalman is as in love with Lincoln as I am. Click here and keep scrolling down to see her wonderful tribute to Abe in images and words. Now I'm fantasizing about her doing the cover for My Life with the Lincolns!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's been a while since I've logged in to blogger...There's so much I've been wanting to blog about, too--I wanted to say happy birthday to Abe, wanted to share with you the valentine I wrote to Obama for CODEPINK, wanted to tell you about my experiences seeing Bruce Sterling and Junot Diaz and Col. Ann Wright speak (all inspiring in very different ways). But mostly what I've wanted to share is a sense of renewal.

Last weekend, the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies (nee the Johnston Center for Individualized Learning, nee Johnston College) at the University of Redlands celebrated it's 40th anniversary, and hosted a big reunion (in this case, called a "renewal") to mark the occasion. Johnston is a progressive, innovative, alternative living/learning community where students create their own B.A. programs (mine was "Poetry and Movement: Arts of Expression, Meditation and Healing"). The weekend was full of reconnection through food and seminars and dancing and storytelling and ritual and just plain hanging out (you can check out the schedule here); so wonderful to see old friends, to hear about the amazing things that people have been up to (creating intentional communities and schools in Hawaii, doing humanitarian work around the world, raising beautiful children, creating jobs that let them live out their passions).

For me, the weekend most importantly offered a real sense of integration. The last year has been such a year of change for me that I've almost felt as if I had entered a different universe than the one I had inhabited before. At the reunion/renewal, I felt my past and present come together into one big whole; I felt my writer self, my dancer self, my activist self, my student self, my teacher self, my friend self, my entire self settle into itself more fully than I can recall. A joyous and healing time.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Take a look at this great article from The Nation, Stimulus: One Perfect for the Imagination, and be sure to sign the linked petition asking Congress to allocate 1% of the stimulus package for the arts.

Newsweek recently featured a wonderful piece about Obama and the importance of the arts, Will Act for Food, that opens with a shout out to Walt Whitman:
Since election day, pundits have exhausted themselves trying to locate every last reason for Barack Obama's win. But the fine-tooth combing has missed something—or, rather, someone: Walt Whitman. Nobody has pointed out that Obama shares his victory with the generations of writers and musicians and painters in the fervently democratic tradition that descends from our national poet.


Since Ralph Waldo Emerson issued his call for homegrown American creativity 130 years ago, and Whitman answered him with the all-embracing poems that helped shape the psyche of our polyglot young democracy, the arts have offered the various tribes of this country some of our best chances to know ourselves and one another, and to see the pleasures and pain of our interactions more clearly: think of what we've learned from Huck and Jim, "Invisible Man," Alvin Ailey's dances, "Angels in America," the blues. Better yet, try to imagine how we'd relate to one another without them.
I am hopeful that Obama will find a way to support the arts during his time in office, but we may need to remind him to do so. Please sign the petition today.
Rebecca Traister has written a cool article for Salon--The Great Girl Gross Out, with the subtitle "Female writers are getting more graphic than ever about the messy realities of their bodies. Is it too much information or enlightened honesty?" I know I fall into the latter camp, myself--I love the fact that women are being more honest about living inside our female bodies (it's why I wrote Fruitflesh, after all!) When we take what is normally hidden and unspoken and bring it to light, we remove the shame that surrounds it. We can begin to share our experiences more fully and openly. We can begin to realize we're not alone. The body is how we live in the world--by telling its stories, we honor the whole of our existence.

I am grateful that more and more women are feeling free to write about periods and sex and other bodily experiences that had been shrouded in secrecy for so long--these things are part of us and should not be excluded from our storytelling. I am especially grateful for women writers such as Anne Sexton and Sharon Olds who paved the way for women to write freely and boldly about our bodies today (Sharon Olds was instrumental for me, personally--her work truly gave me permission to be more honest in my own writing).

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter if you have a chance to read the article!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

My dad recently published this moving letter to the editor in the North County Times; he had titled it "The Awful Rope", but they retitled it "Images of a segregated US still resonate":
As I watched Barack Obama's inaugural address, I thought of my experience in World War 2. I'm a white man who was a lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps assigned to a service company consisting of 4 white officers and 228 black enlisted men.

After training these men at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, we went overseas in a Liberty ship, disembarking at Liverpool, England. For our first meal in Liverpool, we entered a room and were confronted by a large rope stretched down the middle of the room with these directions: "whites on this side, blacks on the other side". That rope symbolized the segregation policy of the U.S. Armed Forces. The image of that rope remains deeply etched in my memory.

During World War 2, black soldiers were treated like second class citizens. Today, we salute Barack Obama, our country's first African- American Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces. I hope that some of the men with whom I served and were victimized by what that awful rope represented are still alive to witness this great historic time.

Buzz Brandeis
I'm so proud of my dad for writing this letter, so proud of him for knowing how wrong segregation was when he was in the thick of it. I was shocked as I was researching The Book of Dead Birds to learn that this sort of segregation was still happening in the US military well into the 1970s. Thank goodness our culture is continuing to evolve--I'm thankful my dad can remind me just how far we've come within his lifetime.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Michael and I went to the Go Green Expo today at the LA Convention Center. We enjoyed wandering around the booths, sampling organic cookies and marveling at the softness of bamboo fabric and checking out solar panels, but the highlight of the expo was the screening of short films from the Elevate Film Festival and the panel discussion that followed.

Elevate seeks to use film as a medium for personal and social transformation, and I was so inspired to see the films themselves--moving and beautiful and funny stories (both documentary and dramatic)--and to hear the filmmakers speak about their process and intentions. Many of them spoke about Obama, and how he reminds people that we can't just sit around and wait for him to fix everything--we need to be active and involved in bringing that change forth, ourselves. As they talked about their desire to create community and inspire change through their work, I felt a deep resonance. They were speaking my language, even though we use different art forms to express it. It's so exciting to me to know that artists all over the country--and the rest of the world!--are finding ways to make the world a better place through their creativity and generosity.

Among the people on the panel were Jenny and Otis Funkmeyer. I don't think I can even begin to describe them--you are just going to have to experience them yourselves. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I've been wanting to try miracle fruit for years. I first learned about it when researching Fruitflesh--it is a berry, that, when consumed, makes sour and bitter foods taste sweet. Since then, the subject has come up many times; Miracle Fruit is the title of one of my very favorite books of poetry, and the New York Times did a cool article on flavor-tripping miracle fruit parties last year, but it wasn't until my daughter noticed that miracle fruit tablets were available on ThinkGeek.com that I took the plunge and ordered some. Last week, I did some flavor tripping, first with Hannah and Michael, then with Michael and our friends Kate and Christian. It's really quite amazing--you let the tablet dissolve on your tongue, and before too long, lemons taste like lemonade, grapefruit tastes as if it's been sugared, pickles taste more like cucumbers and wine tastes almost cloyingly sweet. The most dramatic change was in the marinated mushrooms--garlicky and vinegary before the miracle fruit tablets, they tasted as if they had been dipped in honey afterwards. It's quite wild--the texture was the same, but the flavor (especially the aftertaste) was completely transformed. I recommend the experience highly--it's great fun to taste the world in a brand new way.

The box of the tablets touts "Life Can Be Sweeter!" Even without the miracle fruit, doesn't life taste sweeter today with Obama in office?!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun."

--Elizabeth Alexander, from her Inaugural poem, "Praise Song for the Day"

As I sat, rapt, during Obama's stirring Inaugural address, I couldn't help but notice the way the light hit the American flag pin on his lapel. Every once in a while, the sun would shoot off the metal in radiant beams, like something from a comic book or maybe religious iconography. Today's sharp sparkle, embodied. The promise of a shimmering new beginning. The restoration of glimmer to our shared stars and stripes.
"On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light."

Monday, January 19, 2009

We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody, that is far superior to the dischords of war. Somehow, we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness humanity's creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a peace race. If we have a will- and determination- to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Earlier this week, when I saw news that Random House announced more job cuts, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Today, I learned that my editor's job was among the ones eliminated.

Anika Streitfeld was the editor of my dreams. We met at Book Expo America several years ago; she was working for MacAdam/Cage at the time (where she edited, among other amazing books, two of my favorite novels: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffinegger and Sleep Toward Heaven by Amanda Eyre Ward). I had written a blurb for one of her books, and introduced myself when I saw her at the MacAdam/Cage booth. We hit it off and kept in touch; both of us spoke about how much we would like to work together some day. When I finished a draft of Self Storage, I noticed in Publishers Lunch that Anika was moving to Ballantine; I asked my agent if she could send Self Storage there. Anika ended up acquiring my novel as her first at her new publishing house (Ballantine is under the Random House umbrella). It was such a joy to work with her--she gave me thorough, thoughtful, deeply intelligent notes that helped the book grow, and helped me grow as a writer. I loved how she understood my vision for the book; our work together felt like a true collaboration.

I had been on pins and needles waiting to hear her response to my latest novel, Pears, after I turned in a draft last September. I know I shared some of my angst on the blog--I may have mentioned how I had been worried that she hated the book and just wasn't sure how to tell me yet (ah, the neuroses of a writer!) It turns out she was just extra busy with deadlines, plus dealing with the vagaries of early pregnancy. When she did call with her feedback, I was in the middle of a workshop during the December Antioch MFA residency and couldn't answer the phone. During a break, I told my students that the call had been from my editor, who I had been waiting to hear from for a few months. They encouraged me to listen to the voice mail in front of them, which I did--my heart pounding, not knowing what to expect. Whether it was good news or bad, I figured, it would be helpful to share it with the students--a way to give them a window in life as a published author. Happily, the news was good--Anika called the book "wonderful" on the message and said she looked forward to sharing her ideas for revision. It was so cool to share the moment with my students, who were very excited and supportive.

Anika and I didn't actually have a chance to speak until after the holidays, since our schedules were both so bonkers. Over the last couple of weeks, though, we finally started discussing revision strategies. As always, her notes were incredibly helpful, and while I felt a bit daunted by the amount of work ahead of me, I was also inspired and definitely excited by the opportunity to work with her to get the book where we both wanted it to be. I am sad now that I won't get to share that process with her, but I am grateful for her suggestions, grateful that the novel will be imprinted by her touch even though from this point on, I'll be working with another editor (who I will connect with soon.)

Anika assured me that she'll be okay--the layoff is actually good timing for her, since she'll be able to spend some real time with her two year old before the new baby arrives. I am eager to keep in touch with her, to share book recommendations and writerly inspirations and stories about our lives.

Thank you, Anika, for all that you have given me. I am a lucky, lucky writer indeed to have had the chance to work with you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Some events on the horizon...

--I will be on a fiction panel at the Celebration of Inland Authors at the Feldheym Library in San Bernardino at 1pm on Saturday, January 24th (I believe I'll also be reading that day, but am not sure when. I'll update when I find out.)

--I am going to introduce literary agent Betsy Amster at UCR Writers Week on Wednesday, February 4th at 11am. You can check out the full Writers Week schedule here

--I (and I'm super excited about this) will be part of the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series on Sunday, February 8th at 7pm at the Good Luck Bar in LA, a groovy little venue that looks like something out of a 1960s-era Peter Seller's movie. I'll be reading with Paul Lisicky, Carine Topal, and Lynn Thompson. This series is curated by the fabulous Wendy Ortiz.

--If you are a Johnston Center/College alum or supporter and will be at the Johnston Renewal over President's Day weekend at the University of Redlands, I will be co-teaching a class on Renewal through Fiction: Becoming 'The Other' with novelist Jo-Ann Mapson Saturday, February 14th at 1pm. It will be so wonderful to see old friends and get a dose of that great Johnston energy!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I drove down to Oceanside today to have dinner with my parents and go to my mom's latest art opening (yay mom!) At some point along that route, I always lose the signal for NPR--a frustrating experience, since it usually seems to happen right in the middle of This American Life or Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me--but today I remembered I had a book on CD in the stereo (thanks to a wonderful student/friend who gave me a huge stack of them): From Fear to Fearlessness by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun. The audio book explores how using the Buddhist teachings and practice of lovingkindness can open our hearts and help us face the painful parts of our lives, parts of our lives that make us contract with fear.

Pema Chodron's voice washed over me as I drove past casino billboards and mountain-goat-like orange groves planted on the sides of terraced hills. I hadn't realized how much I needed to hear her words. Life has been good, more than good, but lately I've found myself grappling with a lot of sadness in the wake of my divorce being finalized. Mainly sadness about feeling estranged from the larger circle that had encompassed my marriage, the circle that tightened around Matt after I left (and that I know is still open to me, but in a changed and complicated way.) As Pema Chodron led her audience through the practice of maitri, extending lovingkindness (or, as she sometimes sweetly called it, "friendliness") first to oneself, then to those one is grateful for, then to those one is neutral to, then to those one has issues with, then to all beings, I felt myself melt. I hadn't realized that I had been feeling sorry for myself, and I could feel myself let that go as I wished happiness to all the people in that circle that has sustained me and is now sustaining Matt. And of course I wished happiness to Matt in the process, too. I hadn't been wishing anyone ill before, but to actively wish happiness felt incredibly healing.

Just as Pema Chodron said something about opening the heart, I looked up and saw a heart forming in the sky; the plane creating it was too far away to see--it looked as if the white heart was writing itself onto the blue. I felt my breath catch in my chest, then deepen, at its beauty, its perfect timing. As I continued to drive, I watched the heart change, dissipate, eventually dissolve--it, along with Pema Chodron, reminded me that change is the only constant in life, that we need to continually let go of how we think things should be in order to embrace the shifting reality of what truly is. Our own human hearts beat for such a short time before they dissolve into nothingness--it makes no sense to waste time contracting them in fear or resentment or bitterness. Open them, open them, even when (especially when) it hurts.

May all beings enjoy happiness.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Last year, my amazing friend, Masha Hamilton traveled to Afghanistan and wrote a blistering piece for Salon.com on the epidemic of kidnapping there. She recently heard from a brave young Afghan woman, Meena Yousufzai, who went to Kandahar to talk to some of the schoolgirls who had been burned by acid by men who oppose education for girls and woman. Masha asked if I could get Meena's voice out--it desperately needs to be heard.
Dear Ms. Masha:

I found Kandahar to be very quiet and isolated. According to people many middle class
families have left the province to live in Kabul or emigrate back to Pakistan and Iran.

A lot of the people I met were mainly complaining about unemployment and poverty. There were only a few restaurants and hotels in the whole city. According to the natives the only well paid jobs are with the foreign NGOs and many think it is a big risk to take.

I was staying in a dormitory along with eight other absolutely adorable girls from Uruzgan and Helmand who were studying to be midwives. Surprisingly all of these girls were Persian speaking Shia citizens of their provinces where they make a very tiny minority. While asking them about the conditions in their home provinces they told me that in Uruzgan Persian speaking people have their won communities, where government has more power and Taliban are not very powerful. The also told me that Pashtuns do not let their daughters to go to school or work that is the reason why majority of the doctors, nurses and teaches are Persian speaking Shias although, in these provinces Pashtuns make the majority. According to the girls they do not even wear a burqa in Helmand and Uruzgan while they are inside their own communities. Nafisa from Helmand told me that her mother runs a special class in her house for the girls who have dropped out of school. The home school is supported by the government so her mother is paid about three and a half thousand Afghani (almost 60 USD) a month. This is a very good income in Helmand. She told me that because the government sometime helps the course students with some wheat and cooking oil, even some very conservative families let their daughters and wives to attend the class. (From this you can see how severe the poverty really is).

I was shocked when Sohila and I were stopped to enter a restaurant because we did not have a male relative with us (absolutely like Taliban rules).on the streets you can only see a few women after 12:00 at noon. Almost every woman wears a burqa and sacks to cover their feet. People over all but women especially looked so much scared of the Taliban. They were almost paranoid about it. They thought that Taliban follow each and every of them and can hurt them and their families anytime.

Unlike Kabul I did not see many signs of the central government (like our national flag, Posters of the President and etc..). The only photos even in the government owned vehicles I noticed were of the late King, Zaher Shah, and Kandahar’s former governor Gul Agha Sherzoi, who seemed to be very popular. Surprisingly, a majority of the police in Kandahar were Persian speaking (looked to me more from Parwan and Panjshair) with little familiarity to Pashto language and Pashtun culture. While asking why that would be from a Taxi driver and a friend their reply was that the government does not trust Kandaharis because they can be sympathetic to Taliban.

I met eleven out of the thirteen girls (the media was wrong about fifteen or sixteen) from the acid attack and their families. All of them had great hatred for Taliban but meanwhile had no faith in their own central government. Asking some Shias about their religious freedom in Kandahar, they were very happy that they were being somewhat treated equally by the central government.

Just a very interesting story, one of the men named Naim who had sprayed acid on the girls was not caught by the police but his own mother called the police after watching the news and told them about her suspicions about his son’s involvement in the attack. Naim was tortured and killed in Police custody.

Wearing a burqa was a very interesting experience. It was the first time I ever wore a burqa for that long. Just after getting out of the airport , my friend Sohila, who was already wearing a burqa, asked me to wear mine. I did wear mine but I pulled up the front part meaning my face was not covered. The plan was for Mr. Ted to go with a car that our contact from Human Rights commission sent. And for us was to go in a taxi, whose drivers was a family friend to Sohila. We said good bye but suddenly my instincts told me not to trust the driver of the car. Wearing my burqa but not covering my face I ran to stop the car and go in the same car with Mr. Ted. Behind me Sohila was getting mad and shouting “You are not supposed to be running with a burqa on and without covering your face”. But I did.

Of course wearing a burqa was uncomfortable but it was easy to deal with. The hardest part for me was that I had to wear a burqa because of fear of the Taliban and men’s injustice in our societies. I was wearing a burqa not because I wanted to but because I had to. Finally I decided that I would not cover my face. And I would deal with whatever might happen. It was not really like Taliban will beat you or something they do not have that much power. But people would stare at you and gave you bad looks. Of course my friend Sohila did not let me do it all the time but whenever she was not there I did it. Once after dropping Sohila home. I got myself a Pepsi and asked the driver to go through Bazar. I uncovered my burqa, relaxed and drunk my Pepsi. Nothing really happened but made me feel much better. During the nights I slept in a room with four other girls. Till late we all would be chatting. These girls were of ages 16 to 18 and some married and two already mothers. In the first night they were shy and quite but the other nights we made really good friends. I asked them about different things in their provinces especially women rights. I was so mad when almost all of them thought it is fine for men to beat their wives and sisters. And the best thing for a Muslims woman is to keep quiet and have patience. I talked a lot to them about women in Islam. They looked so thirsty for information. I told them that If it is fine for Prophet (PBUH) to divorce his wife why not for us, who are nothing but ordinary followers of him. If in the Quran it says that Nekah is Sunnah (Actions Prophet (PBUH) has done and Divorce is Farz (Muslim’s duty if husband and wife are not happy). Then who are we to do the opposite. While talking to them I felt that I would for sure work for women rights all through Afghanistan but especially in Pashtun areas. These girls told me that they are still very lucky to be born as Persian speaking. What would they do if they were Pashtun women? They girls absolutely loved the freedom we have in Kabul. It was just great for them. They had a feeling that they can not do anything. others need to change things for them. For example Nafisa from Helmad told me that “I can not wait for Americans to take out every woman’s burqa in Helmand and Kandahar”. I told her it is only us, Afghan women, who can and who will do this. It taught me something. I wear my Islamic hejab and if Allah willing I will always but I hope every Afghan women would be able to follow their religion based on their own version and personal believes, They will do it because they want to not because they have to.

Over all I found Kandaharis to be one of the biggest victims of Taliban. They are very much in need of help. They are poor, illiterate and very easy targets for Taliban to use.

Meena Yousufzai YES ‘08
January 4th , 2009
I am grateful to have this sobering window into the current Afghan female experience, which we don't hear about often enough in the media. If you feel moved to help, the Afghan Women's Mission is a wonderful organization providing health, education and other needed programs. And if you are inspired by Masha's work (which always features a beautiful blending of art and social responsibility), please consider taking one of her writing workshops; she will help you be brave in your own creative work.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy 2009! I hope everyone had a peaceful, delicious holiday season.

Since my blogging chops are rusty right now, I think I'm just going to post my Free Will Astrology horoscope (Rob Brezny is eerily accurate almost every week):
Aries (March 21-April 19)
It's a great privilege to live in a free country. You're fortunate if you have the opportunity to pursue your dreams without having to ward off government interference or corporate brainwashing or religious fanaticism. But that's only partly useful if you have not yet won the most important struggle for liberation, which is the freedom from your own unconscious habits and conditioned responses. Becoming an independent agent who's not an unwitting slave to his or her past is one of the most heroic feats a human being can accomplish. And you, Aries, will have more mojo to do that in 2009 than you've had in a long time.
Wishing all of you the mojo to access new levels of creative freedom this year! And wishing for the world the hope and change that we have been promised--let's do whatever we can to bring it into being.