The Practice-Just

 

 

The practice is inspired by Naomi Shihab Nye and her notion that words are like oars. Dip them in the water. Explore with them. Feel how they touch and bump up against one another. Let them take us further down the stream.

This word, this little word–just–is the bane of my writing existence. It weasels its way into sentence after sentence when I’m trying to almost say something but I pull back. Just a little. See? I didn’t pull back a little or a lot but somewhere in between so that I barely, hardly, simply don’t say anything. At all.

Just. Just. Just.

And then I look at the word a little more closely. It has another meaning. Fair. Right. Objective. Impartial.

What a strange little word. One use obfuscates the meaning of a sentence; the other deems an ethical balance. Put a chunk of -ice at the end and it becomes a word we fight for and march toward. Today.

What language we have.

The Practice-Delicious

The practice is inspired by Naomi Shihab Nye and her notion that words are like oars. Dip them in the water. Explore with them. Feel how they touch and bump up against one another. Let them take us further down the stream.

Delicious

I said this word this morning not because I had put something in my mouth and it was creamy or salty or sweet or crunchy or bitter or savory or any other word that might be related to food I am chewing, licking or nibbling or otherwise consuming. No, I said this word this morning to describe the moment between two people when there is the friction of difference. We hadn’t felt it before. Everything was easy and light and low fat. Maybe a little bit bland. And then comes this sweet moment when the differences of simply being two people in entirely separate skins creates friction, tension, dis-ease…and I have to decide: Will I let you in a little closer? Will I allow you to see a deeper part of me? Will I be more honest with you? Will I shift our conversation away from weather or sports to the deeper waters of feelings and miscommunications and big ideas and wanting, wanting, wanting. I love this moment. If I speak up now, if I say something that’s never been said between us before, we will step into unmapped area where we might become the best of travelling companions. Or we might not. I hold the moment. I savor it. This delicious moment before we become more complex.

Paperback Writer

EOTNS_hires-600x900Today, my debut novel Evidence of Things Not Seen is being released in paperback. To be honest, while I was writing Evidence of Things Not Seen, I always envisioned it as a paperback passing between students’ hands in the hallway of school. I envisioned girls’ saying, “Read Hypothesis. I can so relate to how Izzy feels about her virginity.” I could hear boys argue, saying, “No way that Alex dude would mind getting laid.”

I could hear them discussing about the star crossed lovers in The Proposal. They would debate saying Leann’s yes or not. I could hear boys saying how sick (in a good way) it was that the couple drove off the cliff. I saw all of them wondering about Karla Ray and if they would ever feel so mad and betrayed, they would kill someone. With a pick ax.

I loved writing Evidence. I loved thinking about kids who might read it. I wrote to them. I wanted them to think about open-ended questions: Like what really happened to Tommy? What is the difference between sex and intimacy? How do you love people who hurt you? What would make you run away from home? I was that kind of teenager. I loved the unanswerable questions, the what if’s. I still do. I wanted to write a book that spoke to them as young adults and allowed them to look over the edge into grittier parts of life.

Evidence is now available as paperback, which means it has another life yet to life. Being passed from hand to hand by kids who want to read an honest, tough book.

 

Me & Lorelai Gilmore

“In the parade of stupid and dumb, I’m the one twirling the flaming baton.”
-Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore

When I first learned I was pregnant, I was with a friend who had raised four boys, both with her partner and alone, after they divorced. I remember sitting in a coffee shop across from her, drinking tea, my eyes rimmed with tears, asking her, “What should I do?” I was not married and the father of my dividing cells lived in a foreign country. I wasn’t sixteen like Lorelai Gilmore but I had no idea how to take the next step.

“I can’t answer that,” my friend said. “But you definitely have a great support system around you, and if there is anyone who can be a single parent, it’s you.” She was right. Twenty years later, through the efforts of pretty much everyone who loved us, that cell explosion is freestanding  and in college.

Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of Gilmore Girls, got that community right in Stars Hollow. Yes, she made it a whole lot more quirky than my burg of South Austin (although I bet I could exaggerate a few of my neighbors on the page and give Stars Hollow a run for its money) but she wove that world of Stars Hollow characters around this single mom Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory so they could stretch and grow over seven seasons. In her weaving, Sherman-Palladino did a very smart thing: She made the big moments small and the small moments big. That’s how life is. We create over-the-top birthday parties for our one and only beloved child but what touches us is the birthday candlelight on her face.

My daughter and I came to G2 after it had been on for a while. We rented the early seasons from Vulcan Video and then watched the seventh and last season live during her last year of elementary school. Both of us loved the rapid fire, funny dialogue (scripts for most TV shows of that length are 40 – 50 pages long, Gilmore Girls scripts were known to hit 80 pages). I loved how the writers laced the script with cultural references–1552 over the seven seasons–from books, songs, movies and tv shows. This clip shows all the references from the first season alone:

Come on don’t you feel wittier and culturally smarter? And holy crap, that’s just Season One. Of course, I did the mom thing of asking my daughter if she understood a reference: “Honey, do you know who David Foster Wallace is?” TV as teaching moments.

Plus, I ascribed a whole lot of personal significance to the show. What could be better than having your daughter watch a college bound, pro/con list maker like Rory whose heroine (besides her mother) is Christiane Amanpour?

Wait, I know. Having her watch a single mother like Lorelai who flails in her romantic life yet manages to keep her priorities of raising her child and achieving her dream of owning and running an inn straight. Forgive me my missteps in love. I managed to never abandon my child and keep writing and publishing. If my daughter understands me a little better after watching the Girls, thank you, Amy Sherman-Palladino.

In short, these two women became very real to us. This weekend, my daughter and I will be tucked in together watching this other mom and daughter in the four-episode conclusion. In a weird way, watching will be like remembering where we were when we met these characters. Their memories are our memories. I suspect there might be some maudlin, sentimental moments in the forthcoming 360 minutes. I’m good with that. We get to linger in the goodbye. It’s a luxury we aren’t often afforded.

At the launch of Evidence

Me and my girl at the launch of Evidence of Things Not Seen

Of Women and Elephants

chained-elephant-e1395907988420A primer on internalized oppression

How do you hold a woman captive with a kite string? The same way you hold an elephant captive with a kite string.

First you start with a chain. A huge chain with links so big they would crush small children. Then you attach that chain from the elephant’s ankle to a giant iron pole drilled deep into the earth. At first the elephant struggles mightily. She pulls and pulls at the chain until her ankle is bleeding. The pole doesn’t budge. It mocks her pain in silence. Days and days pass. Her ankle heals and she pulls again. It bleeds again. She stops pulling. Each day, she pulls less. For every day that she doesn’t pull on the chain or bellow in sadness, a man brings her water and hay. The days twist from pulling on the chain to waiting for the sweet green hay and fresh clear water. One day the man changes the chain to one with links that would smash a mouse. The elephant likes the new chain. It is lighter. It doesn’t drag on her ankle. She doesn’t notice that if she were pull on this chain very hard, as hard as she was pulling before, it might break. Instead, she waits for the sweet hay and clear water. Decades pass. Each time the chain gets smaller, the elephant is happier. She barely notices that the hay is drier and the water is no longer as clear and fresh. A hundred years go by, the man ties her ankle to the iron pole with a kite string. The hay is moldy. The water is brackish. The elephant barely notices. She waits for the man by the pole. She forgets about walking around free.

I heard this fable about internalized oppression many years ago when I was trying to understand how I allowed my own oppression as a woman to take place on a landscape of seeming equal rights. Being polite. Not speaking up because I didn’t have it all figured out. Silently abandoning myself in my confusion. Not resisting the oh so attractive dinner invitations from rich and powerful men because I was hungry, because it felt good being wanted, because it seemed okay to trade my beauty for dinner. To this day, I don’t eat desserts.

Fables rarely touch on the inner world of their characters. They paint the world in graphic metaphors. This fable doesn’t tell about the shame that seeps into the bloodstream of the elephant every time she eats the hay and drinks the water. It doesn’t say anything about how that shame eats her muscle fibers and stills her powerful heart from trying to get away. It doesn’t speak about that moment when the elephant feels pride that this man loves so much he keeps her all to himself. By the time the kite string is attached to her ankle, she feels like she abandoned herself long, long ago. Where would she go anyway? She no longer belongs to her tribe of strong powerful elephants. She is all alone.

I tell myself this story again a week after we elected a man who pulled on all the kite strings that tether us to beliefs that we aren’t safe, that we don’t have enough, that we aren’t great if we aren’t the greatest.

I tell myself this story to remember my clear-eyed compassion for every one who voted for this man.

I tell myself this story to gather my strength and remember who I am.