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.