I know there are a handful of readers here from India, though I think you are mainly in Delhi. Nonetheless, I thought of you when I heard the news of the terroist attacks. Shocking and terrible. Hope it’s resolved quickly.
I know there are a handful of readers here from India, though I think you are mainly in Delhi. Nonetheless, I thought of you when I heard the news of the terroist attacks. Shocking and terrible. Hope it’s resolved quickly.
I know I have at least a couple (Hi, Mom! Hi, Sis!) more conservative readers here, so let me say at the start that I had no strong feelings against McCain. He showed his his dignity and grace in concession speech, and I was honored to listen to him. I believe in our system and its multiple viewpoints.
However, my life, my world, my family, my biracial children, my lifelong passion for inclusion, my intense feelings for this particular race made it nearly impossible to post here, and that’s silly. You read my books–I suspect that you probably already figured out what side of the party lines I fell on. I’m not going to suddenly start posting all kinds of political commentary. There are many other places you can find that (or avoid it). But sometimes, maybe on Wednesdays, I’ll want to write about what we can all do to serve, to become involved, no matter what side of the line we’re on, or what country we call home. It’s a small world and we’re all in it together. As with all things, I’ll keep it positive.
That said, and even though it isn’t Wednesday, here is how I spent my election day:
I volunteered to be an election judge, which was a way to keep myself from freaking out all day long. It was a long, long day. I got up at 4:15, was at Centennial Hall by 5:30, and started driving home at about 8:45 or so. Then I stayed up till past midnight, drinking wine and talking via phone and chatrooms and texts to my kids and friends all over the country. Yesterday, all I could do was stare at the ceiling. Not much got done.
What I will remember: I was on the provisional ballots table, where there were two observers watching like hawks, until they heard me tell every, every single person who came through that they could call the number on their receipt and find out when THEIR OWN BALLOT was counted. Then they backed off.
There were a lot of provisional ballots because there were a ton of first time voters. Lots of young ones, but at least two women in the middle years, and a woman from Asia who was quite worried about exactly how to vote. I’ll remember the trio of African American youths, not a one of them over twenty, coming in with their giant coats and giant shoes and the boys in corn rows, so oddly shy in this official environment, so earnest. They bolstered each other, taking it seriously. I’ll remember the very young woman, very nicely dressed up in cheap clothes, who took a long, long time in the booth and when she came back said, “Is it okay if I didn’t vote on all the amendments and stuff? Because I didn’t understand all of it.” No problem.
I’ll remember the Latino men who came in with their kids so the kids could translate.
I’ll remember that every single person asked me, “Will my vote count?”
I’ll remember seeing all the old soldiers and knowing how much it mattered to them that McCain be president. I’ll remember the army of student judges, in high school, most of them doing it to get out of school and get the $140, but learning so much as we went along.
I’ll remember when the polls were closed, and all the voters were gone, and I texted my older son to say, “Any news?”
And he called me back in two seconds to say, “You haven’t heard? Obama took Pennsylvania and Ohio and New Mexico. He’s going to win.” He said when he heard that, he went to his office and closed the door and burst into tears. I said, “Wait! I can’t cry yet, so I’ll talk to you after while. He had called his dad and his brother already. We were celebrating as a family, even though we were all in different cities.
I finally got out of the polling place at 8:30 and turned to NPR and they were calling Virginia, which I knew had been a swing state, and I knew he’d won, and that’s when I finally could cry. And all this huge emotion came pouring out, and I cried all the way home, and laughed, and then laughed and cried for about three more hours, as my friends called, and my kids. CR and I watched the acceptance speech and it was so thrilling–just looking at that crowd, white and black and brown, young and old, rich and poor.
My younger son called me from work, and he was happy and then he just broke down and sobbed. He said when Obama first started to run, “If he becomes president, I will know America has really changed.” On the phone he said, “it really happened,” and then he couldn’t speak through his tears.
My ex-husband and I talked yesterday morning and congratulated ourselves on raising such passionately involved children, but also on creating this multiracial family that contributed to an America that could vote a biracial man named Obama into office.
Somewhere we lost our idealism as a nation, and I’m so encouraged to see the passion returning. We must all remember that this is not the end of our service, but just the beginning. We can take a few weeks to recover, but then we all need to ask ourselves, what can I do now?
What was your election day like? Please share your election day experience in the comments. (And yes, you can share no matter where you are, whether you could vote or not, or which party you supported. If you had an experience you want to share, please do.)
I’ve known for a long time that there was a person at Unity who worked in Mozambique. Doing something with orphans. You know, on a mission or something. Noble work and very nice, of course. I liked to think about the church sending some pennies on my tithes over there to help her cause.
But you know. Africa. Mozambique. A mission and orphans and HIV/AIDS…Africa. Such a huge and tragic place at the moment. How do you even begin to start thinking about it?
And Mozambique. Nice word (Moo-zzzam–BEEK!)–you could dance to it, in a chant—but who even knows where it is? (I bet some of you do here, because you are very smart readers, but mostly, we don’t remember geography in places that have no immediate meaning to us.)
So, a couple of weeks ago, I arrived and sat at my usual place, on the aisle, in a particular row. A woman came and said, "Oh, just let me move these things," and I was embarrassed to realize she had stashed some things under the chair in front and I hadn’t seen it. Pretty, well tended. Dark hair and good clothes and sparkling eyes. Apologizing profusely, I moved over.
Of course she turned out to be the woman in Africa. The "missionary." Sort of not what I was expecting, and when she spoke, she was even more not what I was expecting, and cut right through a lot of my defenses without a single plea to the emotions, just these simple stark facts and a wry sense of humor about her "call" to go to Africa.
Call. Well. You know. That’s pretty extreme stuff.
Except, that’s what I’m always telling writers to listen to, that whisper of spirit calling them to writing. Not by accident, on purpose, to do specific work.
And again, she disarmed me, talking about that call a few days later at a concert CR and I attended to help raise money for that far away land that still had no face except hers. A face that was very like all the faces in our gatherings. Well tended. Vigorous Colorado folks, living the good life.
She said with laughter in her voice, that she was there one morning, in Woodland Park (a very beautiful spot) with her house with its beautiful views of Pikes Peak, and her good shoes (she stuck one out to show us) and writing in her dream journal and doing a little yoga (and CR nudges me) and she said she walked into Starbucks one stunningly beautiful Colorado morning to order her 3.50 caramel macchiato and looked over at the New York Times. The headline said, 12 Million Dead of AIDS in Africa (or words to that effect). And she looked at her macchiato and thought to herself, "we said we would never let 12 million people disappear again," and went home and started packing her boxes.
A few weeks later, she was studying Portuguese and off on her call.
It’s like…you know–you–going to Africa to work with orphans. Like me. Like knowing nothing and giving up all the beautiful things you like, and the easy stuff like lattes and gorgeous shoes and that great view, and going to a place where there is cholera and malaria and not enough money and you have no idea what you’re doing.
And you do it anyway. And figure out some answers. Not every answer to every ill, but one or two that make a difference for some people in one community in a country you weren’t even sure where it was, Mozambique (Mo-zzzam–BEEK!) and come up with a plan to give people something to bring in some money and create a new way to teach the community about the transmission of HIV and maybe stop some pregnancies and save a life or two.
Her name is Amy Gillespie. Her story moved me deeply. Read about the AIDS Orphans Skills Center.
And this is what I learned about Mozambique:
It is on the southeast coast of Africa.
The language spoken is Portuguese
Total population: 18 million
Percent of population under the age of 15: 45%
Urban population: 29%
Life expectancy: 34 years (recently revised down from 50 years as a result of HIV/AIDS)
Now you know, too.
Educational, but also very, very lovable, no?
I belong to a tightly knit group of long-time writers (we straggled over to the Internet when the old Genie service died, an actual victim of Y2K) who have been together so long we’re sometimes like a grouchy bunch of sisters. By now we can often predict what any of us will say about anything, and we go through periods of annoyance and exuberance by turns. We talk about the craft of writing and the writing life and our families and children and health and diets and agents and everything else. I’m not sure how I would have weathered some of the crises in my life without them, and I formed invaluable professional alliances as well as formed deep, enduring friendships. I met two of my dearest friends there.
One practice we have is a place to list the things we’re grateful for each day. It’s a powerful tool, one that will almost certainly transform a person over time. I’m a great believer in positive thinking, affirmation, encouragement and faith, and there is a lot of science lately that supports the idea that gratitude and positive thinking contribute to health and greatly improved quality of life.
But here is the honest truth–I was very, very grouchy yesterday. I had a slight headache from the weather and had to start the day without breakfast because it was time for my physical (I really hate to start the day without my tea) and when I returned home to cook breakfast, my pepper mill broke and spilled a hundred million peppercorns into my lovely, almost finished omelette and I had to start over. I hurt my hand and knee in a hiking mishap on Sunday and my hand is very sore and swelling and I couldn’t life anything and nobody was taking it seriously (thank goodness I can take it seriously enough for three people!). There’s an annoying snarl with my driver’s license that keeps interfering with my car insurance and no one can seem to get the thing fixed. And I’m behind on the proposal! And—
So, there’s me in high drama mode. Not exactly thankful.
Then one of the writers on this magnificent loop posted a link to an article in the Washington Post about gratitude, and then I read an article about gratitude theory and the way it affects our health. I read about a practice of being grateful for 100 things everyday. My darling CR offered exaggerated sympathy over my sore knee and hand and made me laugh. And the skies clouded up and it snowed and I’m going to go see August Rush this afternoon and eat some popcorn and later make some pie (actually, an apple-blackberry crumble with extra crumble and custard from the English store, and a banoffee pudding) to take to my friend Renate’s house tomorrow, and boy #2 is driving up tonight and it’s going to be CHRISTMAS!! hooray.
I’m grateful for books, for mine and for everyone else’s, and for writers and readers and booksellers and librarians and editors and agents and publishers and book designers and audio readers and Amazon and independent bookstores and big box chains and computers to write on and Ipods to take with me to coffee shops so I can actually write there instead of just plotting.
Grateful for all of you. XOXO
Really in love with the new material, which is seducing me back to the other computer, so just a little bit of fun for you this morning.
An excellent writer blog:
Tess Gerritsen keeps an insightful and honest blog about the writing life, and a post this week was particularly honest in a way you don’t often see from writers, many of whom are always worried about keeping up appearances. A snippet:
Over the past twenty years, I’ve had twenty books published. My career
has been a see-saw ride, and there’ve been times when I thought my
career was, if not dead, then headed for oblivion. My first nine books
were paperback romantic thrillers, eight published by Harlequin, one by
Harper. None of them earned out more than $12,000 in their first
printings. Since I’m a slow writer, and couldn’t turn out a book any
faster than every eight months, I knew I’d never get rich as a writer.
And then a little later….
By the time GRAVITY was released, it was clear that my sales were in a downward spiral. Despite publisher enthusiasm and rave reviews, GRAVITY
could not find an audience among women readers. That doomed it in the
marketplace. And once your sales start to slip, the pre-orders for
your next book, and your next, begin to plummet. Just as depressing
were my foreign sales, which had been so bad that I was having trouble
finding anyone to publish me in the UK.
I took off a year to re-group. I wrote my next book entirely on
spec, without a contract. This time, I was writing just for myself. Read the whole piece.
I have written whole books several times for various reasons, most often because I was frustrated by the external market and needed to connect back to myself and my own body of work. It has always been a Very Good Thing. One was In the Midnight Rain, which has become one of the most beloved of my romances. Another was Heart of a Knight, a medieval romance that won the RITA. The most recent is Elena’s story, working title Cooking for the Dead. (We’re all batting around title ideas still.)
It’s also something I highly recommend to my students. Often. Published even more than unpublished, and especially if they’ve hit a wall–internal burn out or publisher disinterest or a need to change direction. Have you ever done it?
Cooking and travel
I’ve been thinking it might be fun to go on a cooking holiday, and what popped up in my email this morning? A link to a travel-cooking site that has some lovely, lovely trips. Wouldn’t it be cool to go to Morocco and cook? Of course, the coming year is already packed with travel, so it will have to go on the back burner, but I really think I’d have a blast…..
‘m sure I’ve mentioned that my eldest son, his girlfriend, and virtually all of their entire circle of close friends, are vegetarians. This happened one week when Ian and his former debate partner did research for a case and read about the meat industry in the US. The both became vegetarians overnight. I kept thinking they’d go back, but it’s been years now, so I think the change is complete.
And while none of them proselytize, their commitment intrigues and impresses me. I’m also working on deepening my yoga practice, and often vegetarian eating is a part of that.
So I’ve been keeping a vegetarian kitchen this week. Experimented yesterday with a lower fat, healthier version of that wintertime comfort food fav, macaroni and cheese. Turned out spectacularly well, enough that Christopher Robin gave it the British stamp of approval. I’ll post the recipe Friday. If I can read all my notes.
NBC is doing something interesting this week: it’s Green Week, and everything is about going green. I’m loving all the little tips they’re giving the audience. The local news station has done bits on a business using entirely solar panels and how to cut down your electric bill. Biggest Loser had tips throughout the show.
A good thing, and I’m learning new things. The easiest ones for me:
Going vegetarian once or twice a week
Unplugging appliances that are not in use
Replacing incandescent light bulbs with flourescent (I resisted, because I’m a lighting fanatic. I hate harsh light, but so far haven’t notice a lot of difference. I’m hoping to find bulbs with yellow or rose tones–they must exist)
Recycling everything. Once there’s a system in place, it’s not that difficult.
What are your fast & easy tips?
I’ve not really recovered from my weekend. Not really because of the bad run but because two days later was One of Those Days and I was already tired. The charming South American orienteer came back through and we had some fun, though we got stuck in a bomb scare at the airport. The sad story is this:
My beloved dog Jack is a protective creature. He doesn’t allow strangers in the back yard. The young teen who mows my grass knows this and rings the doorbell so I can get Jack in the house before he mows. On Monday, he–for who knows what reasons–did not wait for me. I was away, fetching the fetching orienteer. His mother was taking his brother somewhere. He had something to get done that morning and wanted to knock out the job. I get all that. As the mother of sons, I can even follow the non-logical thinking of going into the back yard, thinking it would be okay.
It wasn’t. Jack is a good watchdog. He is very friendly when I tell him to be so, but if I’m not around, watch out. He bit the boy. Not badly. He came back and mowed the back lawn later (but only because his mother insisted, I’m pretty sure.) The boy’s name is Jack. I don’t think he’ll want the job of feeding the cats when I happen to leave.
In other news, I saw a beautiful photo on another blog tonight:
It’s a great visual, but it would be quite challenging to row with those yards and yards of fabric getting wet.
I also revised many pages today.
Last night, I watched WATER, recommended in a discussion either here or in the discussion of Bollywood triggered by Liz Bevarly’s music post on the now-defunct Squawk Radio. Set in 1938, it is the story of a little girl who is widowed at the age of seven, and sent away to an ashram to live for the rest of her life, as is the custom. Chuihya’s head is shaved, she’s dressed in white, and she is sent away from her family to the grim environs of the ashram, where she meets three women who all influence her fate. One is the beautiful young Kalyani (Lisa Ray) who falls in love with Narayan (John Abraham), and their star-crossed tale is woven into the struggle for faith, the desire for happiness, and the excruciating tale of women condemned to a life of nothing after a husband dies.
Which makes it sound as if it would be a grim movie indeed. It is not. Water is lyrical and earthy, and highly romantic. It is also a visual feast, filmed with extraordinary attention to light and composition without ever being self-conscious or haughty.
It also raises my on-going and pleasurable debate with myself over wanting to visit India. So beautiful and so challenging and so poor and so rich, spiritual and severe, romantic and sexist and sensual and ignorant and wise. It is a swelter of ideas and possibilities; frightens and perplexes and intrigues. I’m afraid I will go and hate it. Maybe just as afraid that I won’t.
Beautiful film. Thanks to those who recommended it. On one site, it said the move is banned in India. Does anyone know if that is true?
I’m a list maker. I like making lists and plans, then recording my progress in various colors of ink. On my
walls are two dry erase boards, each with its own purpose, three calendars, and giant post-it notes for brainstorming. All are written in many colors.
I have charts for recording my writing progress each day, and charts for how much exercise I’ve done, of what sorts. Each evening, I make a plan for the next day, and most days, I stick to it. This probably goes against the picture a lot of people have about the creative personality–all this planning and listmaking seems very type A, doesn’t it? In truth, it’s the only way I’ve ever found for reigning in both my ability to be absolutely languorous and conversely, mentally racing through 500 tasks at once. I have trained myself to do One Thing At A Time (breaking the rule for household tasks and talking on the phone–I don’t consider that multi-tasking. Obviously, God designed the phone for women to have someone to talk to while doing chores).
This week, I had lots of plans. I meant to finish the hard-copy editing of Cooking for the Dead, and block out the scenes I need to add. I had planned to go to yoga twice, work with weights twice, walk 30 minutes each day.
Instead, I’ve been gently derailed all week. I say gently because it was nothing dramatic. No one is ill or upset. I’ve had a minor virus that’s not doing much of anything except making me really tired, so I drape myself like a cat over this couch, that pile of pillows, yawning and dozing and learning how to flip houses from 700 shows on about the art. I’ve been arranging a trip, which seems to be going slowly, too, and we had a very intriguing surprise guest from Argentina, and of course, I had to gently coax her story from her, because that’s what I do, collect stories. Charming woman. And tomorrow, I’ll be orienteering again, another orange. (CR has been training all spring for this week’s events, so if you can spare a thought for speed his way, please feel free.)
I have maybe read about six chapters. Scribbled notes about one scene. Captured a new character who walked on stage and insisted she be heard for the new, brewing book. Walked the dogs two or three times, but even that was almost too much.
As I headed home from one such walk, I felt guilty that I’d missed yoga. I missed because I was just too weary to imagine it. I did an ambling walk in the fresh cool morning to ease the kinks, and that took all I had. (It sounds worse than it is, so don’t anyone worry or anything. ) It occurred to me that I’d listened to my body, which is what yoga would tell me to do. I hadn’t the energy for vigorous asanas. I hadn’t the energy to work with weights. I didn’t have the mental acuity to edit my pages.
What a lovely recognition. In peacefulness, I slept a lot more in the basement. I watched three episodes of the Sopranos back to back, and the Kate Winslet move Holiday, and My House in Umbria, with Maggie Smith, which was absolutely charming. I read two novels. Today, I was refreshed enough to take a long walk with the visitor from far away, and listen to her story.
On Sunday evening, I’ll make my lists and plan my time, because that makes me more productive. On those empty blocks of chart I have waiting on my walls, I’m going to draw smiley faces in different colors, because what I did was recharge the batteries, and that needs doing, too.
But this is also something I need to notice, something I tell my students and then forget to practice: I need down time. A lot of it, actually. I tend to overextend myself mentally, and then fall to an exhausted heap as I did this week. I like to order my time, but I need to notice when that little voice is saying, "Um, can we go to the movie? Please." And go. Play time needs to go on the schedule.
Goes back to being present. Now. Every day.
A couple of days ago, I desperately wanted to read a book recommended to me by memoirist and debut novelist Nora Gallagher,* The Situation and The Story, by Vivian Gornick. I accessed the library computer from home, discovered the system had two copies—one downtown, but checked out, the other at a branch I’d never heard of, in a weary neighborhood on the city’s east side. After supper, I drove over there, and entered another world.
The branch is located in a mostly abandoned strip mall from the seventies, taking up a civilized space about the size of an old Duckwall’s or Ace Hardware. At first, I thought I’d go the address wrong, because the mall was so deserted. But there, at the far, far end of the lot, was a cluster of cars like palm trees around an oasis.
It was seven o’clock on a Monday evening, and the place was packed. Packed. I saw a lot of teens and pre-teens, but also a lot of women and a few older men. They lined the computer banks, row after row. They sat at tables and talked to each other. Books in a language I didn’t recognize and decided later must be Korean were propped up on the displays alongside glossy hardcover Spanish-language editions, alongside the latest bestsellers from Nora Roberts and James Patterson in English. A huge young adult collection, I noticed, wandering through the aisles. Fans blew overhead, sending that beloved, dusty scent of books dizzily into the air. A patient, overworked man with a slightly red face manned the desk.
I wanted to cry. It was quick and sharp, a sudden wave of intense emotion welling into my throat, my mouth. At that moment, I didn’t take time to analyze it, since it would be inappropriate (even for me) to be so emotional in public, and just squished it down. I found the Gornick, then wandered down the fiction stacks to see if they had any copies of my books (they did). and headed for the desk, admiring a lushly beautiful young woman speaking Spanish and the slave of a youth who was reading to her in English, and the sharp coyote face of a woman making notes from the computer screen in front of her. A boy of about twelve, dusky and plump, with a voice so soft I could barely hear him, asked for something of the desk clerk, who explained to him how whatever it was worked. A cluster of tiny teenagers came in, chattering in an Asian language, again probably Korean, since when I left I noticed Korean grocery stores and a Korean church just down the street.
I stepped up to the desk. "Busy night!" I said. "And you sure have a lot of computers here."
He nodded his very Scottish head, red-faced and red-headed and grizzled beard. "Fifteen!" he said proudly. "And they’re that busy every day, from the moment we open the doors until the time we close."
"You can reserve one if you want. I recommend it."
"Thank you," I said. "That’s great." I checked out my books. The memoir how-to, and another book I found on Edith Wharton’s travel writing.
As I walked to my car, I thought of my three computers. I thought of the I-phone, $500, plus monthly service fees. I got in my car and felt winded and grateful, for both my life and the library that isn’t in it, that oasis of computers and books in many languages. Nothing fancy, just a lot of shelves in a forgotten strip mall, and a good electronic connection across the street from blocks and blocks of affordable apartments. It’s a world I don’t enter very often anymore. But once, I lived there. It was before computers took over our lives, and I used the library for finding books, for studying craft, for reading and reading and reading, absorbing all the things that were completely outside my blue collar world. I found myself in libraries. Without them, I could not have found the life I found.
I know sometimes people complain about computers in libraries, but consider how impossible it is for a minimum wage worker to have a computer. Even if you could afford the computer, by finding a reconditioned model, maybe, or saving up for a big sale, how will you afford the access to the Internet? It suddenly seemed breathlessly, incredibly wonderful to me to see all those people accessing the Internet there in the library. What are they using it for? I don’t know. Email. Research. Job searches. To see photos of a niece, far away in Korea, or maybe Mexico. To stay in touch. To read about a subject that fascinates them. To get a break from life. All the reasons I use the Internet.
As I drove home, leaving behind one world and entering another by driving fifteen or twenty minutes up the road, a world were there is probably not a single house that doesn’t have a computer, and probably most of them have many computers, I thought again what a marvelous, amazing thing our library systems are. Each one is an oasis of hope and knowledge and possibility, representing the best of us, the most democratic institution in our world.
It seems appropriate on this 4th of July holiday to say, VIVA the library system, and viva the Ruth Holley Branch in particular, because it didn’t just have all those things for everybody else, it had the book I most desperately wanted to read, too.
Do you have a favorite library story? Tell us about it.
* I heard Gallagher in Albuquerque at the librarian’s day I attended. Then she happened to be in Santa Barbara, where she lives, and happened to sit beside me at the booksigning. I also have her books now in my TBR pile.