book cover art by Mollie Ito Roark

book cover art by Mollie Ito Roark

I’m so excited. My mini-memoir, The Mouse Room, was published by SheBooks a few weeks ago.  Yahoo! I’ve been working not this crazy story for decades- first as fiction, then as part of longer piece, then finally as this little 33-page memoir. I’m proud of it. I worked really hard at it and had some fabulous editing by the folks at SheBooks.

I’ve gotten wonderful responses so far. Some very cool Amazon reviews. But one of the things I was not expecting, was to hear several people say to me, “I’d love to read your book, but I don’t have an e-reader!”

Don’t have a Kindle or a Nook? No problem! There’s a free Kindle reading app, so you can read it on virtually anything with a screen. Your laptop. Your phone. Your iPad. Your smart television!

free kindle

It takes a few seconds to download. Voila! Some people said, “Oh, cool! I didn’t know that! I’ll go do that right now!”

But some other people said, “I’m sorry. I’d love to read it. But I only read on paper.”

Wait. Really? But didn’t you just say this on email? Or in a text message? Or on Facebook?

You only read on paper?

I can understand this. I love paper books. In fact, I own thousands of them. THOUSANDS. I love the way that they look and feel and smell. I love being able to scribble in them. And turn down their little doggie ears. (another sacrilege to many, I’m sure)

On the other hand, I’ve had other people comment that they won’t buy or read a book if it’s NOT electronic, because too many trees have already been killed. And because books are too heavy and take up too much space and the bookshelves are already toppling over from the weight.

Noooo! Not the trees!

Noooo! Not the trees!

I was discussing this with another writer/reader yesterday. She said, and I think this pretty much sums it up for me,

“I love words. I just love words, in any form.”

That’s how I feel.

She went on. “What if Gutenberg said, Look at this amazing piece of writing I just produced on a printing press! Many people can read it at once!” And what if some people responded, warily, “No. I only read works that are written, by hand, in calligraphy. I only trust writing made by humans, not machines.”  And what if the first calligraphers were told by suspicious naysayers, “I’ll only read it if it’s chiseled in a stone tablet. Or painted in animal blood on a cave wall.” Etcetera.

What’s this about? Is it fear of change? Dislike of technology? I can relate to this on many levels. I, who was once (long ago) so enchanted by the zippy magic of email, am now mounting a personal handwritten letter campaign so that I can again enjoy the thrill of finding a personal letter in my (actual, wooden) mailbox. (yes. if you write me a handwritten letter, I promise that I will write one back.) I am even taking a calligraphy class next month in order to bone up on my rusty Weaver Writing Style!

write to me. I'll write back.

write to me. I’ll write back.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Just because we take up reading e-books, which I am doing more and more of these days, (I looooove getting free samples on my iPad to see if I really want to invest the time and money in a book), it doesn’t mean abandoning books forever. I love being able to increase the font size in an e-book to assist my (cough) aging eyes. I love carrying a hundred books with me in my phone that I can read while waiting in pesky lines.  My husband is fond of reading Gilead during half-time at Warriors games. (that’s my guy: preferring Marilynne Robinson over the Warrior Girls!) But I also love reading paper books and writing paper letters.  And even making paper.

making paper with our own little hands

making paper with our own little hands

So what’s it for you?  Would you never read an e-book? Never kill another tree for literature? Or do you just… love words?

 

blurry but brilliant Audrey

It’s funny. I first started this blog, way back in 2005 (!!!!!!!!!!!), after attending a reading that really inspired me. Tonight I went to a reading that re-ignited that inspiration: a reading series in Sausalito called Why There Are Words. My friend Audrey was reading with 5 other writers. It had been a long day at work, I was supposed to do a bike-run workout, and Oakland and Sausalito are probably two of the most inconveniently located spots (from each other) in the Bay Area. There’s no easy way to get there from here.

But it was my FRIEND, whom I love (and love her writing as well). She doesn’t do readings that often and I really wanted to go. So I scrapped the workout (shhh! don’t tell my other blog!) and headed over a bridge to get there.

I used to have these other friends who called me “Susanito from Sausalito” and kept urging me to move there so I could have an address like that. Hahaha. It was cute. But I’ve always had a weird little affectionate place in my heart for that touristy little town. When I first moved to California, maybe the first week, my cousin took me to the no name bar. I remember the green, plant filled garden out in the back, the fact that it seemed like a secret, magical place with no name… I think I had my first Irish coffee there. Or something.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in touch with that cousin (insert quiet, melancholic moment). But I was happy to be driving back to Sausalito to go to this reading.

Being there reminded me instantly why I love readings, and writers, and writing. It felt like it had been SO LONG. (it had). I used to go to readings all the time, like I go to workouts now. Sigh.  But the good thing about being away from a thing that maybe you used to take for granted, is that when you come back it just seems all the more wonderful.

Everyone in the place seemed to feel that way. It’s a gorgeous, airy art gallery with art that just made me feel happy that there is such a thing as art. I sat next to some people and asked them if they knew any of the writers. They said no. And this blew me away! Because usually, the vast majority of audiences at readings are comprised of the writers’ friends (who are usually also writers). And not people who are just coming because they happen to… what? Love literature? Like actualy patrons of the arts? This also made me really happy and like, wow, the world is not such a bad place after all.

My friend Audrey read from a short story, “Retreat,” that happens to be set in a place that is so near and dear to my heart. I happen to be hosting a writing/art/movement retreat (!!) at that very place in just a few weeks. (notice to the five people who are still reading this blog – there are spots open, and some MAJOR scholarship/discounts available!) It was, without bias, the best thing read all night. The audience burst into laughter about every 30 seconds, and people were chuckling and chortling and making resonant sounds throughout the whole thing. Audrey read dramatically, dryly and hilariously. We loved it.

The whole evening made me feel so in love with words again, and stories, and writers. Several members of my own (long-neglected) writing group were there, and I was so happy to see them and have missed them so much. I have GOT to find a way to get back. I must. I must.

So: check out this fabulous reading series here, which was founded and coordinated by this wonderful writer here.
And: Check out the “Stories of the Body” writing retreat! It is going to be amazing and blissful. It is the place of my heart.

the Hermitage at Santa Sabina

And go to a reading this month! Pick one out. I bet you can find one. Support a writer who has put his or her heart into those pages. It will do the world a lot of good. Then come back and tell us about it.

The wonderful Bloglily wrote on her blog recently about the idea of “bookstacks” – in fact the photo here is from her blog. I had kind of forgotten what (her definition of) bookstacks were, so I concocted my own notion of them in my head. Yes, it’s a stack of books. But for BL, it’s about wrapping a stack of books for a loved one. I guess they are new books.

MY idea of what “bookstacks” might be, was something different. Yes, a stack of books. Yes, giving to loved ones. But here’s my idea.

I’m going to make a bunch of special bookstacks for holiday time. I’m going to wrap them festively (like the picture) and put them underneath my tree. But this is going to be the deal: they are going to come from my (enormous) library. And I am going to give them to friends.

I am going to make bookstacks in the following categories (one stack each)

  • children’s books
  • cookbooks
  • short stories
  • parenting
  • poetry
  • adoption
  • nonfiction
  • fiction (novels)
  • writing

In order to be eligible for one of these stacks, all you need to do is come to my house, share a cup of tea or cocoa and a little snack, and visit for a short while. One stack per person. (your choice of category until the stacks are all gone) Email me to arrange a time to do this. If you desperately want one of the stacks and it is not feasable for you to come in person, then you must…. um… WRITE ME A HANDWRITTEN LETTER telling me about what is new in your life.  If you do not have my snail mail address, email me.

The thing is, I want to visit with people. Connect with people. And I need to decrease the # of books in my house, because I need to make room for the NEW books I put on my Santa wish-list. :-)

If you do not want any books (how could that be?!?) and just want to visit, that’s good too!

imagesThings are getting a little crazy around here. Time for another “Quickie Blog.”

 

Read/Reading:

The Beck Diet Solution – the first “diet” book I’ve ever read that really goes to the heart of what I struggle with, which is All In My Head. They have a swift and pithy response for the hundreds of “sabotaging thoughts” that derail someone wanting to lose weight. If anybody out there is reading/has read or wants to read this book and would like to buddy-up, let me know!

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama – omg did this book make me cry. I can’t believe this person is our president. It resonated on so many levels I’m still all discombobulated.

Fieldwork: A Novel by Mischa Berlinski – my book group read this but I was a delinquent and did not read it. They loved it though.

Lark & Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips – I LOVE her work so much and was so excited to get this, but it has been a bit slow going. I hope I will be able to immerse better on my next plane trip.

Wrote/Writing:

brochure for Pact Camp, which has  just opened for registration. YAY!

new column in the works

my talk for the Literary Mama panel coming up at AWP next! week!!!

Viewed:

Annie Liebowitz: Life Through A Lens – I LOVED this documentary and actually watched it twice.  It was incredibly moving, inspiring and brought back so many familiar and new images. Two thumbs up. Rent it on Netflix!

On TV: Top Chef, Biggest Loser, the Office, and LOST. My five hours of TV per week.

Memorable eats:

Ate Out:

  • lunch, and then dinner again the same night at Kaka’ aku Kitchen in Honolulu, Hawaii (yeah I was there). My great buddy Twice The Rice brought me there and introduced me to the most awesome spinach/fried calamari/bacon and sweet chili salad. Unbelievable! It was so good. I dragged the whole family back the same night.

Cooked:

Happenings:

  • Trip to our first timeshare condo in Hawaii. Not the most idyllic ever, but convenient and pretty fun. Did a really nice whale-dolphin-sea turtle-snorkeling trip. Also took kids to the very same waterfall pool where Kate and Sawyer found the submerged plane on LOST.
  • Gave private blogging lessons to two good friends, and they have launched their blogs! It was so fun (and I realized I actually know some stuff about this) that I am considering teaching a Blogging 101 workshop sometime this spring.
  • Preparing to go to AWP in Chicago and then driving up to visit my girl in Wisconsin! Yay!
  • visited my cardiologist. Had an EKG and echocardiogram. He said my heart is “robust” and that “rumors of your imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated.” He’s a real peach. Next week, the endocrinologist. I’m on a merry go round of doctors lately. I also have the most irritating nighttime cough I have ever had. I have to sleep sitting up, or I end up coughing so hard that other bad and involuntary things happen. I really, really hope this goes away soon.

 

Overall, things are good but just a smidge too busy with all the traveling. I’ll settle down again after mid-February.

Ooooh, I am in a book group again. It’s been many many many years, partly because for a long time I had no time for reading, and then no time for monthly meetings. (if you count up all the monthly meetings I attended, it added up to really having some sort of meeting every 3 days) I was in a mother-daughter book group for a lot of years, and that was great, but you know, different.

I used to be in a fabulous book group but that was long ago and somewhat far away. So I was verrrrrrrry excited when I got an invitation to join this new startup group. Our first meeting was last night, and the book we discussed was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Wow, what a book. I gobbled it down in one sitting (actually, lying on the bed) during our vacation. It’s a total page-turner. Beautiful, horrible, devastating, intense and really unforgettable on so many levels.

The discussion was fantastic. Our terrific host had a list of thought-provoking questions and the answers were super animated, deep, smart and brought up many ideas that had never occurred to me. I could just FEEL my brain lighting up like crazy, neurons firing like sparklers as we all talked. It was great. Yummy treats, too: Rice Krispie treats, chocolate chip cookies, strawberries and tofu!! (although if it had been my old group, we would have been eating book-themed food like canned beans, Coca-Cola and powdered grape drink)

Did you know that The Road is going to be a movie coming out in November? I think we might have to take a little field trip outing to see it, although some people felt that the visuals were just too awful to want to actually watch on screen. I don’t know; the father character is played by Viggo Mortensen and that’s not something I want to pass up.

We haven’t chosen next month’s book yet but I am really looking forward to it.

It’s hard to believe the state I’m in right now, relaxed and with so much time and space around me. Today I had an amazing post-birthday lunch with a friend, then came home and took a long nap in the afternoon heat. I woke up. I contemplated going to an air-conditioned movie, but now the air is cool coming in through the windows. I got first dibs on the New Yorker that came in the mail, and actually GOT TO READ IT THE SAME DAY THAT IT ARRIVED. (more on that later)

For so long (how long? I can’t even remember) I have NOT had a day like this. I am so used to answering, when someone asks, “How are you?” the constant “I’m crazy! Crazy crazy crazy! As always!”  By crazy, I mean hectic and nonstop and just going at a frenetic pace, multitasking and racing from thing to thing. And I wasn’t really complaining, just hyperventilating and feeling that there wasn’t really any alternative.

But now my older daughter is in college.  Our contact has been reduced to a few lines (if I’m lucky) of text-messaging a day. We are left with one extremely low-maintenance dog, which I only understand since the high-maintenance dog is gone.  The younger daughter left this morning for a week-long camping trip with her high school. (what a civilized way to begin a school year! she is in Yosemite, taking classes in “bread and cheese making” and “spoon carving.”) My job is in a lulled state, down to two days a week, post-camp. I’m teaching an online class but it has not begun yet.

So today I had time to do things that I really could only dream about. I read a bit of a new novel I got last night. I sat on the sofa and actually leafed slowly through a coffee table book that has sat on my coffee table since a few Christmases ago.

Tonight, since my movie idea didn’t pan out, I grabbed the New Yorker which had arrived in today’s mail and headed to the coolest room in the house. Normally, my husband will sequester away the New Yorker and keep it hidden on his side of the bed and he will read it weeks or even months before I ever get to it. But today I got to it first! And what a treasure. A new story by Alice Munro!!!! (this is akin to a new song being released by one’s favorite band) And: (be still my heart!) A review of Marilynne Robinson’s new novel, Home. I had to really reach for the smelling salts on that one. As long time blog readers may know, her novel Gilead is one of my all-time favorite books EVER and probably the only book other than Little, Big that I have read cover-to-cover  more than three times. (children’s books don’t count, because often you have to read those three times a NIGHT)

So I learned that this new novel has many of the same characters as Gilead, kind of a spinoff. And as I read the review, I started crying, just as I did when I read Gilead. Just a few passages quoted, and also the beautiful analysis by the reviewer, and it just did me in. I think that is a first. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever cried from reading a book review. I do know that often authors cry when reviewers are cruel about THEIR books, but this is different.

Anyway, you might be wondering about the writing. Why am I not writing, with all of this delicious time? Well, I did do some writing last night. After being on hiatus for too long, I returned to my freewriting group last night and managed to crank out a few rusty pages. It wasn’t pretty. But it was something. And it was very, very good to be returning to the company of these very fine and talented people. (note to others who are also on hiatus: come back!!!!!)

I’m writing a really long blog post right now, something I haven’t done in such a long time. And it’s not about Sarah Palin either, hooray!

This weekend I will meet up with a brand new book group. I used to belong to a wonderful book group a million years ago, ie. before children, and for a while I belonged to a mother-daughter book group with my older daughter. But this feels like a very good return. I am really looking forward to it. The first book on the list was The Road, which completely blew me away.

I don’t know how this leisurely existence will last (um, probably through the weekend) but all I have to say is, I like it. Finally, my blog title fits: I’m reading, writing, and living. Ahhhh.

As soon as I got my copy of Mama, Ph.D., I knocked my forehead and said, “Why didn’t I write something for this?” And then immediately, I knew. When I first read the title for the call for submissions way back when, I sent it to all my mama friends who HAD Ph.Ds. I didn’t really consider my lowly MFA to be worthy of consideration.

But as I thumbed through the poignant, intelligent essays in this collection, I soon understood that a lot of the women in this anthology didn’t have Ph.D.s either. They were abandoned or veered away from when children raised their siren calls.

I gave birth to my second child a week after waddling across a hot stage to receive my master’s degree in writing. Many of my classmates were on to doctoral programs, but I felt I was at the end of my particular line.
So it was with a mixture of envy, regret and relief that I read this collection; reading of the intense sacrifices of mixing a life of academy + family.

It seemed that most of the women in this anthology were pursuing Ph.D.s while pregnant or with very young babies or children. I would have been very interested in reading about women who pursued graduate or doctoral degrees when their children were older, in high school or college or beyond; maybe, coincidentally because now that my elder child is heading to college, it is the first time the notion of a Ph.D. is wiggling its seductive little finger at me. I don’t think I’ll probably go down that path, but for so many years it was “No, no, no WAY” and now again it’s “Hmmm… could I do that? Do I want to?”

The writing in this book is alive, often very humorous, often fraught. The quality of these narratives is uniformly excellent. It’s creative nonfiction at its best: true stories that often read like fiction, with compelling narratives, and characters for whom much is at stake. I was pulled in immediately by the funny-but-extremely-thoughtful first essay, Jamie Warner’s “The Conversation.”

Jamie: Do you think you want to have kids?
George: I don’t know. Do you think you want to have kids?
Jamie: I don’t know either… and why don’t you know? What else needs to happen? Is this a question of timing, or is more of an existential question?
George: I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I also loved Sonya Huber’s exquisite “In Media Res,” an ode to her unborn “Goat-baby.” I want to see you; I am hungry for the plot, for the tiny details of your story contained in the pads of your fingers, and your plans for rebellion and creation.

Loved Jennifer Eyre White’s “Engineering Motherhood,” about a “troubled youth” turned electrical engineer/mother/grad student. Susan O’Doherty’s “The Wire Mother” masterfully examines motherhood and psychology, and Elisabeth Rose Gruner’s “I Am Not A Head On A Stick.” My daughter, still in utero, used to kick books off my belly when I’d rest them there to read. My husband and I joked that she knew they were competition. Maybe it wasn’t a joke.

I have to admit that in reading this, I was biased. I was biased towards the mothers who hung in there, who used their Ph.D.s, who walked around their universities with people calling them “Doctor.” How could someone go through so much and then… not use it? Are there people who battle their way through medical school and then decide not to become doctors? Maybe it’s because of my own road-not-traveled regrets and longings. I have to say that I felt a twinge when I read editor Caroline Grant’s “The Bags I Carried,” which described her leaving academia and really not looking back. She ultimately found Literary Mama (for which I am personally grateful!), which gave her another powerful venue for the world of words and ideas, of sharing them with other thinking, writing mothers. But I couldn’t help hoping that when her children are older that she might turn back to her Ph.D.

Only after reading the entire book did I feel like maybe it was a bit … TOO uniform. I would have loved to have heard more from older women, lesbians, more women of color. Hmm, is that why they call it the Ivory Tower?

This is one reason why I particularly loved Angelica Duran’s essay, “One Mamá’s Dispensable Myths and Indispensable Machines.” She brings in the many layers of race, culture, gender, and grapples with them beautifully.

While my mother would have been patient with me if I had used her as a babysitter from my Anglo-American contextual culture rather than appreciated her as an abuelita from my Latino root culture, I managed to be a mamá so that she in turn could be an abuelita.

Truly, every piece in this collection is strong, provocative and gives much food for thought. I’ve been turning these womens’ stories over and over in my head for weeks, having silent debates with them and myself, and I suspect the conversation is going to go on for a long time.

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