Monday, September 29, 2008

Caroline rants political...what, again?

Ok, I know, I know. I am beginning to feel like Ed Anger from the old Weekly World News who was ranting about everything, but this is serious. This is scary. This is fundamentally and morally wrong.

Wall Street is becoming more of a nightmare every second. But even as deals were trying to be struck, don't you feel that members of Wall Street were looking for ways to profit? Certainly NYC's Rudy had the brilliant idea to hire his own firm to handle things and the big Investment firms want to oversee all the assets that the Treasury is going to take off the books of financial institutions. As Michael Moore says "Wall Street created this mess and now they are going to make out like bandits."

While Republicans blame many people for being able to get mortgages they couldn't afford, Moore suggests we look at another reason why we are in crisis--perhaps people could afford their mortgages if their health insurance wasn't a thousand a month or more. Perhaps they could afford their mortgage if there wasn't so much money tied up in the obscene Iraq War. The bailout will protect the obscenely wealthy. The robber baron is alive and well. Bush and his cronies should have been in jail year ago and certainly shouldn't have been elected again.

So can we do anything? Yep. Write or call your senator and your congressperson. Write or call Obama's office. Do something. Even if you think it won't matter, there is always the chance that it might.

How We Do It, Two Writers Talk Technique

Here is another installment of my column with Clea Simon. (For my response, check out her great blog. We're going to be posting once a month on each other's blogs about issues that mean something to writers. (This month we have a double column and will be posting about the "thousand words a day" rule, too.)

When I taught high school, the kids all thought that writers all had beach houses and tons of money. (Why then, did they think I taught them?) Most of the writers I know have to have other jobs, and it isn;t always an easy mix. You need incoe, but you cant be so bogged down in work that you have no time to write.

Here's Clea's take on the subject (and thank you, Clea!):

Blame the Feds. I’m no more broke than usual, but on Monday I took on another quickie editing assignment, copyediting a calendar. It’s due at the end of the week, and money being tight, I’m tempted to drop everything and get to it.

But if I do, I won’t work on my work-in-progress. And not only do I have a deal with Caroline that we each try to churn out at least 1,000 words each workday, but I have a deal with myself. I left an editing job at the end of 1999 because I wanted to focus on my writing. And even though the journalism, the book reviews, the odd magazine assignments, and the occasional bits of editing pay more – and pay more promptly – I can’t let this work take over. To do that would be to abandon my dream.

Do some authors write full time? Sure, many. But the vast majority of us are stuck in this creative time share. It’s hard! Back when I first tried writing fiction, I had a job that started at noon, so I spent each morning at my computer. I was so disciplined: I made a pot of coffee and sat down and wrote. But that was before email, before I was totally freelance, before I had a mortgage and a million other bills – and, besides, I never finished that novel.

These days, I try to stick to the same schedule. But I can’t always. On Mondays, for example, I have to pull together my Globe column for the week,. That often means doing phone interviews, and I take those whenever I can get them. Eight a.m., noon, whenever. On Tuesdays, well... you get the idea.

I like the idea of writing first thing, before my super critical superego takes over. When I can’t, I try to envision the day in two-hour blocks. I know if I can find two hours, I can get the rhythm, I can get into it. Some days, of course, I can give myself more than that. On the good days, I can’t stop – and when I do finally come up for air, I wonder where the next check is going to come from. But that’s another story, for another day.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Debates, anyone?

It;s hard not to think, live, breathe anything but the election. I did work on my script, teach my class, write my novel and most horrifyingly FORGET TO GO TO MY SON'S SCHOOL'S BACK to SCHOOL NIGHT!! We all remembered a half hour after it was over, and now we must write notes to all three of his teachers and beg for a meeting. This is what I need to do beside the above things and besides worry and obsess about politics:

1. Think of a Halloween costume for the big parade in the city and please don't suggest that I go as Sarah Palin. I was a soccer mom lat year, which meant I sewed twenty socks to my jeans and t-shirt and wore a purple wig. Hey, I almost won a prize. Jeff was Alan Ginsberg,, carrying a copy of HOWL and sporting a devilish mustache, goatee and beret and wearing a peace sign. "Hey, are you dressed up to be French?" someone asked. I give up.

2., Finish the script rewrite. Really. Get. it. Down.

3. Go to the eye doctor. I can read with my left eye and see the computer with my right. Having one eye very near sighted and one very far sighted is not fun and makes for some lively headaches.

4. Call health insurance and scream about why they didn't pay for my mammogram this year.

5. Figure out why my Mac gives me a "warning, check compatibiity" message every time I try to save a document.

6. Learn the new Dreamweaver that came with my Mac.

7. Eat more chocolate and try to obsess less.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A historical perspective

This incredibly handsome lad is my son Max, at age four, during the very first Bush election. He's at a NYC rally proudly wearing his STOP BUSH button. Below, of course he is twelve and he has his Obama button. He's a news junkie like his dad and me, and as the election gets stranger and stranger, I can't help but feel a pulse of hope.

Laura Bush says Palin lacks foreign policy? McCain, seeing his numbers go down, insists there be no debates so they can work to solve the Wall Street horror he's part of? Biden maybe bowing out so Hillary can come in (I would love that!)

I'm so used to having political hopes dashed but maybe there is such a thing as karma.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Let there be light and hope

These lovely things are Tibetan prayer flags that were hanging in the next door yard by my mother's house in Boston. Peaceful and hopeful. And Pain and McCain's numbers are going down. That's peaceful and hopeful, too.

I feel hallucinatory with all the writing I've been doing, too, and I am wrestling with my fear, that constant question: Is this novel too out there? Is the subject matter too strange? But my job is not to listen to that pesky voice and to push on, to act as if this is a novel I am simply writing for myself, so the audience doesn't get in the way of that driving need to get words on the page. This is why it is so important to have supportive writing friends who understand, who tell you in the kindest possible way to shut up and get back to work.

By the way, Michael Moore's new film is available for free download! He's offering it--it's not pirated. I have a soft spot for him because before he was infamous, we all met him at a book conference and he signed a book for Max, who was two at the time, "Grow up and Raise Some Hell!" We also, at the same conference, convinced Jimmy Breslin to sign a book for Max, too.. He wrote "Read this book and get your copy in to me by nine in the morning!"

Monday, September 22, 2008

Act Now

Please take a minute and click this poll on "Is Sarah Palin qualified?"

The news in the NYT was disheartening. A Kentucky senator actually said of Obama that he "didn't want that boy with his finger on any red button." An equally intelilgent official from Georgia called both Obamas "uppity."

I'm going to lunch with another writer and then I'm writing. But first I'm sending this link to everyone I know. Fox people tend to be lemmings and I think if we can boost this poll, that might be something.

Friday, September 19, 2008


OK, I am officially in the dazed and confused part now. The beginning seems sound but the novel is now veering off in all directions and not listening to me at all! I know this is al process, and I also know that I forget this every book. Luck for me I kept notes on my last book about process and a friend told me something telling, which is that I am like a crow hunting crazily around for that shiny thing and sometimes it takes me a while to find it.

Since I am fascinated by how others work and write (and I once knew a writer who insisted that writing was easy and if it wasn't why do it? This writer also said there was nothing to do but "follow your pen" and that why would you want to hurt characters you loved? Wasn't it better to give them happiness all the time? Despite the lunacy --I think--of these remarks, said writer has written some fine novels and is acclaimed, which means all different processes and thoughts can produce art.) So, how do you write? What daunts you?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wall Street Blues

Does anyone out there understand the best thing to do right now? I have calls in to our money guys, but I'm wondering if it is best to keep things where they are (we have no stocks, just mutual funds and college funds and SEP IRAs) or move it into treasury bonds and/or gold. I find it all very disheartening and am wondering if stuffing money in the mattress is not such a bad idea.

On the other hand, it is heartening news to see the turn in the polls! I saw a video of McCain last night and when he was asked about the economy he froze, then took a long sip of his coffee, shifted in his chair, looked horrified and said his "the fundamentals are sound" sound bite again. Remember, in the Great Depression, it was a Democrat who got us out of this mess.

Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory:Women Scientists Speak out

Emily Monosson edited this fabulous book about women and science and motherhood, which I think is particularly timely. Her interview is below, but first, a disclaimer from Emily:

- I’m no expert on women in science or work-life balance! The only reason I started to read up on the topic of women/families and science was because the editor at Cornell asked that I expand the introduction and conclusion in order to get the book published! Although it’s something I think about every day – how to keep my career going while changing diapers and cleaning up Cheerios – it’s always been personal. I thought I was struggling because of the choices I’d made. Not because of any problem with the “Scientific Institution,” and that I was alone. That everyone else had “figured it out.” But, over the years, as I had to explain to grant agencies that no, I didn’t even want a full-time tenure track position, or to colleagues at universities that I’d have loved to apply for a part-time faculty position (non-existent at the time,) I started to think that there just has to be more and different opportunities for those of us who want to dedicate time to family, but who also remain dedicated to developing our careers. Then there was that NYT article, and the subsequent email to the AAAS list – and I realized I wasn’t alone – and that there were some really bright dedicated women struggling to balance family and maintain some shred of their career just like I was. So I thought it’d help to get the word out.

First, can you talk about the difficulties women scientists have forging a career while tending their kids?
This is a tough one – I don’t want to say that science is different from some other careers – I don’t know that it is. What I do know is that the typical scientist heads off to graduate school straight from college, and it’s not unusual for a PhD to take up to five or six years to complete – which means by the time many young women have PhDs in hand they’re nearing 30. Then there are the requisite post-docs. I think my mother had the hardest time understanding what a post-doc was. All her friends kids who were doctors and lawyers just went out and got jobs – but not her scientist daughter! I did post-docs, which are a sort of job-limbo, a time to “mature” as a scientist, to prove that yes you really can do research on your own (even if you’re in someone else’s laboratory), that you know how to write grants – basically prove to the greater scientific community that you’re worth hiring. For some that’s a two-year gig, for others it can last years. So now, our young scientist is early thirties and ready to take the plunge into her first job (if she’s following the traditional career track – which means starting up her own laboratory, writing grants, advising graduate students - she’s working far more than a 40 hour week.) Problem is, while she was “maturing” so were all those little eggs in her ovaries. It might have been an ideal set-up decades ago, for the average young man, whose wife took care of the kids – but I think for many dual-career families (not all) – something’s got to give. Basically the career track for scientists like so many others was designed by men whose family responsibilities (aside from financial) were minimal.

1. Have things changed at all since you wrote the book?
Well, it just came out May 2008, and I started working on it March 2006 – so that’s not a lot of time for real change. There is a lot of emphasis on developing family friendly policies (part-time positions, extended tenure clocks, redefined “personal time,”) at larger institutions though I think some are still trying to figure out just how to do that. I’m hoping as (or if) the book gains momentum and more women will speak up about their desire to remain in science while also caring for family – and that those in a position to hire these woman will take note of their dedication, experience, and willingness to work – even if not full-time (at least for a while. Some would love to scale back during certain years – and then step back into full-time when the kids have grown.)

2. Although the book is written about female scientists, are there any male scientists (single fathers, perhaps) that you know of who face similar dilemmas, and how do they solve the problem of combining being a parent with being a scientist?
Just to clarify – I’ve been focused on those who clearly are making space in their work-world for family. I don’t want to suggest that those who don’t (who work full-time or more than forty hours a week by choice) aren’t parenting their kids. I think my husband Ben is a good example of a male scientist who has the full-time science job – but he’s also there for the kids. He’s fortunate because he’s been able to succeed in his work (he’s an ecologist) without spending insane hours getting his research program off the ground. And he’s fortunate because his partner (me) decided I’d take on the primary child care. When things got ugly and I was pining away for a “real job” he didn’t hesitate offering to step back from his work so that I could go on the search for a full-time position (then I’d come to my senses – I think all-in-all I’ve had it pretty good.)

But if we’re talking about those who do struggle with the balance, it’s interesting that you suggest the dad would be single to take over family duties. When I was seeking essays (via internet, posted to various science list-serves) I actually got one guy who responded (well there were three – but two were wrote about their wives difficulties.) He was a single dad, Harvard PhD in chemistry, staying home with his boys (his ex-wife was a full-time business exec.) To pay the bills and keep up with science he’d turned to writing. I’m sure there are other men out there who face similar problems as women – but my guess is that the numbers just don’t compare.

To answer your question – there are NONE, not one male scientist that I know personally, who scaled back on work because of family by choice. I know a couple who assumed the primary care position out of circumstance. Their wives had tenure track positions, and they were in the difficult position of finding a job in the same location. This was also the case for one of the contributors to the book, Marla McIntosh – whose husband took care of family while seeking a job. Though I guess in a sense, those couples made a decision about who would take the lead when it came time to find jobs. This is another maybe even larger issue – many women in science tend to be married to other scientists or academics. It’s not the same for men. It’s hard enough to find one job for a PhD scientist, let alone two in the same locale.

I think (though I’m no expert in this area) if there’s going to be a primary care-taker – it’s usually the woman. But, in the book there are a couple of essays by women who split the housework/family care with their partners. Most work full-time as do their partners, one couple splits an academic position – and did so because they wanted to also equally share in the house/family work.

3. Can you tell readers about your own experiences (I know this is in the book, but I'd like to bring it out here) balancing motherhood and science? Where do you think you best succeeded--and where did you fail and why?
At one point, a post-doctoral advisor characterized me as a “thoroughbred,” I was ambitious, had raced ahead, had a good “pedigree” and was off and running. It didn’t hurt that I came to him with my own funds, having convinced a New York funding agency that I could do whatever it took to get the job done while following my husband-to-be to North Carolina , where he was just starting his PhD. I don’t think he was too far off. I was truly dedicated to my work. In those days, I loved mucking around with fish, particularly when it involved field work. Before husband, I had the opportunity to steam out to Georges Bank in a converted U.S. river gunboat which was, at the time the EPA’s “Research Vessel.” I was seeking the least contaminated winter flounder I could find on the east coast. That boat was long and thin – exactly what Sebastian Junger described as the wrong kind of boat for the banks. Fortunately the weather was calm. I’ve also had the “thrill” of wading waist deep, with my colleague and good friend Adria, in contaminated New Jersey muck setting out caged fish for an experiment (you can imagine our surprise when someone actually bothered to steal those cages.) We’d bring live wild-caught fish into the lab and keep then for weeks or years – it was always a challenge just to keep them alive so that we could then expose them to various environmental contaminants. I loved the combination of field and laboratory work. I had fulfilled my idea what a scientist was, and loved it.

But once my husband graduated, one of us needed to find a real job. By that time we our first child Sam was six months old. I couldn’t imagine leaving him all day long while both my husband and I worked. I was also a bit cocky, I’d survived pretty much off of soft-money, from one grant to another for a few years and thought I could keep going. Maybe it was the hormones and I wasn’t thinking clearly – or maybe I was enjoying what seemed to be the perfect combination of motherhood combined with the ultimate in flexible work. As long as I got the project done – it didn’t matter when or how I worked. Only after a while, depending on soft-money not only got old, but got harder. Especially when one is essentially unconnected to any university – and doesn’t have a lab of her own (I had set up an aquatic lab in an old concrete block building that UMass allowed me to use.) And then Sophie, our second child was born. With two little ones, two years apart, reports and manuscripts to complete I was busy enough – and essentially stopped thinking about “what next,” it took too much energy that I didn’t have at that time.

Fortunately a few months later, literally with Sophie at the breast – I received a call from a consulting group looking to hire me for a large project. It wasn’t field or lab work but it was literature research and synthesis – something I could do at home. Once again I was off and running. Since then I’ve continued to work primarily from home, adding in some teaching at one of the local colleges and writing.

My biggest failure? I think that by taking this route, at some point, I strayed too far from the lab to easily return except as someone’s lab tech or as an “elderly” post-doc (positions which at this point, I’m not interested in considering.) I’d also strayed too far from research and academia to consider applying for a faculty position. When I realized I’d strayed down this one-way street I think I was pretty depressed. What had I done? I was no longer the scientist I thought I’d be.

My biggest success? The flip side of the above. My time is my own. I’m free to pursue whatever topic science I’m interested in, though not always paid, and not in the laboratory and, I can volunteer to coach the kids’ soccer team or chaperone the school trip to Vermont or hang out by the river with my daughter on a hot spring afternoon. In terms of career, I really enjoy what I do. Ferreting out data, reading new studies, digging into the history of a contaminant and putting that all together – it’s like a puzzle. And hopefully in some way, the outcome is a useful contribution to the science, even though I’m not mucking around in the field, am unaffiliated (I do have loose connections to the local colleges, which have provided me with the most valuable tool of all – access to the vast scientific literature and an occasional opportunity to teach) and never know what I’ll be doing a year from now.

4 Given the need and desire of women to work, what do you think it will take for more places of work to simply provide quality childcare onsite?
It seems to be such an obvious solution to me, with so many benefits, yet companies are loathe to do it. Is there a psychological reason for this rather than a monetary one? Not having been associated with any institution that would be offering daycare I’m not sure I can address this question. I do know years ago one EPA laboratory I’d worked at had onsite (or very nearby) daycare. This was before I had kids, but it sure made life easier for those who did. I know one contributor to the Motherhood book who worked for one of the federal agencies in DC and faced a 2-year waiting list with over 1000 kids on the list! But I think in addition to day care – job flexibility would also help retain women (or whoever chooses to be the primary care-giver.) Not just flex-time but more part-time job options. These are easier to come-by (I think) for those who have worked at a particular institution for years probably because they’ve had the opportunity to “prove their worth,” and dedication. But as I mentioned earlier, many times the first job coincides with the first child. But I think there’s a perception that those of us who work part-time just aren’t as dedicated to our work – maybe to some extent that’s true – since we’re not willing to sacrifice time with young kids for work – but I guess I’d hope one day it’s not a question of either-or. I know it’s cliché – but it’s true – it’s the quality of the work not the quantity!

5. One scientist, Marla Mcintosh states apologetically that she did not want to be with her kids 24/7 and still wanted to be in the world of science. Do you think that's part of the problem, that women have been made to feel guilty for wanting a life outside their kids (as if wanting that meant they didn't still adore their children?)
I think women, particularly those of us raised in the 60’s and 70’s got a lot of mixed messages. Having a career was important – go for it and all that. But then there were the all pervasive role models (our parents, television moms, moms in ads – which haven’t really changed – she is washing the floor, preparing dinner, cleaning the bathroom and changing diapers. She’s not rocking the baby with one foot while responding to reviewers comments, or writing a grant. She’s not handing her baby off with a package of Pampers to the daycare provider.) So yeah, I think some women may be made to feel guilty if they don’t take on that role. And, there are certainly times, particularly when things aren’t going so smoothly that I’ve wondered if I’d be a better mom if I’d spent less time with the kids – and let someone else deal with them afterschool.

Lastly, what question didn't I ask that I should have?

Maybe “what it means to be successful in the sciences?” Science as an institution is still male-dominated and traditional, for scientists in many fields there is the perception that if you’re not a tenure track academic scientist there must be something wrong. I’ve heard this even from government scientists whose careers have been quite successful by any measure yet they still feel like “second class scientists.” If they feel that way imagine how the rest of us do! This needs to change.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mac school and American issues

I haven't been in class in a long time but I went to a class at the way cool Apple store in Soho today. I was very shy in college and seldom asked a question but now that I am brave and bold, I couldn't stop asking the friendly guy teaching the class, "But what about this? And what about that? And wait, I just have sixteen more questions---" I'm going to go back to learn about Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, but I wish they had a class for Dreamweaver or someone would guide me through it in the one on one classes I bought up. I do have the great TEACH YOURSELF VISUALLY books, so that should be a snap.

Back on the soapbox, it occurs to me that people are veering from the issues. Yes, we need to refute Palin, but McCain is the one running, not her, and he's sort of been hiding behind her "story." (As a novelist, I resent the use of the word story with her!) What we need is an ad in a paper like USA Today that lists the facts and where to find them, that shows the truth up against the lies. For example, McCain in a video saying that he doesn't know much about the economy right next to a news item about the devastation on Wall Street. Or McCain saying Obama wants to tax everyone right next to a news item or video of Obama saying he is only going to tax the very rich and lower taxes on the middle class. Yes, I passionately care about book banning, gay and women's rights, the environment and choice and I do honestly fear we are turning into an American Taliban with the move to teach creationism in the school, but I think the average voter that we need to reach and convince cares more about issues like health care, the economy, taxes and the war. Those are the issues we have to hammer home and the best way to do it is with the truth--documented in videos or interviews or statistics. Why would McCain repeatedly say he doesn't know much about the economy if he does? All of a sudden he gained expertise in the past few months? Hmmmm, that might change a few minds, don't you think?

By the way, if anyone reading this is for McCain and is furious and irritated by me, please do email me. Let's discuss and I hope I can change your mind about voting against your own best interests--and everyone else's.

Monday, September 15, 2008

New York Magazine and the sad state of books

New York Magazine has a terribly depressing article about the sad and frightening state of the book business. Books, apparently, are no longer considered "mass media." How sad is that? I wonder if the houses could simply stop paying multi-million dollar advances, and consider putting all books out in more affordable trade paperback.

I can't believe that novelists are the dinosaurs of the near future. I love to read far too much, and writing is my passion.

Whoops, forgot this!

This is the blog for women against Palin.


Oh yes, I have been playing. This is my son and I acting like fools with the various backdrops Mac supplies. I realize the new photo on the left shows the eliptical trainer looking as if it is emerging from my head, but I'm on a learning curve. I've just discovered video ichat, but does anyone know if you can have these chats with people who are not on Macs?

And I'm proud to report I wrote a snarky letter to the NY Daily News because I'm tired of people writing in to say that they are voting for Palin simply because "they like her." I'm sure I'll get a lot of nasty letters back, but I have tough skin. Well, sometimes....

Sunday, September 14, 2008

We Can't Do McCain, no, no no

Thanks to Leora Skolkin-Smith for sending along this link.

And to Alex for this:
Check out The Point's anti-Palin, swing-state, crowd sourced ad-campaign. It brings together folks to make pledges towards a "We Stand Against Palin" newspaper ad.

Fight Back: give swing voters the facts about Sarah Palin:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Women Against Palin--like me, me, me

Female? Think it's important to keep Roe vs. Wade? Believe in evolution, sex education and want a separation of church and state?

Join the club. Below is an email I received from Women Against Sarah Palin. I instantly wrote something, and I urge all of you to do the same.

Perhaps like us, as American women, you share the fear of what Ms. Palin and her professed beliefs and proven record could lead to for ourselves and for our present or future daughters. To date, she is against sex education, birth control,the pro-choice platform, environmental protection, alternative energy development, freedom of speech (as mayor she wanted to ban books and attempted to fire the librarian who stood against her), gun control, the separation of church and state, and polar bears. To say nothing of her complete lack of real preparation to become the second-most-powerful person on the planet.

Vice President. Ms. Palin's politicalviews are in every way a slap in the face to the accomplishments that our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers so fiercely fought for,and that we've so demonstrably benefited from. First and foremost, Ms. Palin does not represent us. She does not demonstrate or uphold our interests as American women. It is presumed that the inclusion of a woman on the Republican ticket could win over women voters. We want to disagree, publicly.

Therefore, we invite you to reply here with a short, succinct message about why you, as a woman living in this country, do not support this candidate as second-in-command for our nation.

Please include your name (last initial is fine), age, and place of residence. We will post your responses on a blog called "Women Against Sarah Palin," which we intend to publicize as widely as possible. Please send us your reply ( at your earliest conveniencehe greater the volume of responses we receive, the stronger our message will be.

Quinn Latimer and Lyra Kilston
New York, NY

Friday, September 12, 2008

Writing Memoir? Read this book

I'm happy to be interviewing fellow UCLA instructor Lisa Dale Norton whose book Shimmering Images can jumpstart anyone wanting to write memoir. Thank you so much, Lisa!

1. Why do you think more people are writing memoir today?

I think it¹s a circle: As various books of memoir pull the spotlight‹and more and more do; all you have to do is scan the bestseller lists‹more people pay attention to memoir. They see it as a viable form, an outlet, something they too could try their hand at, and that action, by countless individuals, simply serves to make the form more visible further spinning the circle of popularity.

Plus, ours is a culture of self-revelation. From blogs to MySpace and Facebook, to reality shows, more and more people seem to crave the ³realness² of life experience, clothed in the garments of ³this really happened to me² (as opposed to the wisdom shared through fictional accounts), as a way to make sense of their lives. And in the end I do think that is why people come to memoir: to make sense of their lives. The process of writing memoir is a process of ordering the randomness of events and assigning meaning to those events‹this has to do with the very demands of story, of what it means to make a story, of what a story must do to be a successful narrative (as we have come to define it in contemporary Western culture). When this process of making a story from the material of the past (writing memoir) is done well, it opens up new possibilities for how a person might live in the future. That is the hidden power of memoir, and once realized, it is addictive and contagious in its appeal.

2. Can you talk about the pleasures and the pitfalls of writing memoir?

The pleasures cleave to the act itself. The very work of writing is a joy. And writing about one¹s own life contains within it the possibility of epiphany, or deep insight, a reordering of awareness. All this transformative kind of stuff is the meat of memoir, and while it is hard work, it is full of deep, enduring pleasure.

The pitfalls? Well, there¹s a learning curve, as with all the arts, and those who have had little practice and think they can just take up pen and paper and produce a great, publishable story‹because, well, it¹s their life, right?‹discover very quickly that such is not the case. Like all good art, writing memoir is simply not that easy. Just like the writing of fiction, poetry, or drama, memoir requires work. For many, this is THE biggest pitfall: the deceptive simplicity of writing memoir.

3. Can you tell readers what you mean by a shimmering image?

Shimmering images are iconic memories that stay with us throughout our lives of specific moments in time, which for some reason‹divined through the writing of the shimmering image‹we have never forgotten. These memories come back as little snapshots in our mind. They are not movies. They exist like photographs frozen in time. But there is a world behind each of those images, a world of story. And that is what writing memoir is all about: unearthing the meaning embedded in those images and in the reasons they have been remembered.

I have a Shimmering Image in my mind right now of a summer afternoon with my best friend when I was 12 years old. We are sitting on the stairs of my childhood home opening gifts we have given each other‹45 rpm records we bought at the drugstore of our small Nebraska town. The image exists as a still picture in my head of Terri sitting a couple steps below me. She is wearing a plaid cotton sleeveless, button-down blouse and a pair of shorts. Her hair is cut square around her face and her bangs ride the top of her dark eyebrows. She is wearing glasses.

And that is all there is to that image. I know though that there is a story behind that ³picture,² that shimmering image. That is part of why I say such memories ³shimmer.² There is the energy of the story, housed in the image, waiting to be told, and it brings a kind of visible resonance to the memory, which I swear, makes it shimmer. Were I to explore this Shimmering Image further in a piece of memoir writing, I am sure I would discover a deep sea of unexplored feeling and meaning attached to the memory.

Here¹s a little of what I would discover if I went one step further on the memoir path: A tornado warning has just been issued for our town. The crazy up and down howling of the siren from the fire station on the hill has alerted everyone for miles around to take cover. I can see the greenish-grey sky outside the kitchen windows, at the bottom of the stairs, swirling with clouds. My mother is telling Terri she must run across the field to her house; her mother will be worried and expecting her, but Terri and I sit placidly, slowly unwrapping the records, caught in that place of childhood immunity, stubbornly clinging to our summer day.

It is through this kind of exploration of our Shimmering Images that we arrive at the core of the transformation that is fundamental to the process of writing memoir. Because we can not know beforehand what will be revealed we, as memoirists, must trust the organic process of discovery and pick our way forward on the path of revelation as we work with material from the past.

Shimmering Images are the doorway to that path.

4. I'm obsessed with how writers spend their days, so can you tell me how yours is spent?

A work with many clients who are writing narrative nonfiction books, and so much of my time is spent talking on the phone with those clients, reading their manuscripts, writing critiques and supporting their process of creation. Midwifery, you might say. I read. I putter. I teach classes for UCLA, and I speak publicly around the country at conferences and workshops, so some of my day might be spent preparing for that work. My garden and my birds absorb me. I swim. I spend a lot of time keeping my main relationship healthy and my career alive, and I write‹all sorts of things: interviews, like this one; short pieces for anthologies and newsletters; missives to family and friends; critiques of stories; emails; web material; blogs for the Huffington Post ( ), where I muse about the power of story as it intersects with current events, and articles for my column on ( And always I am searching my bookshelves and my memory shelves for the next piece that will guide my new book.

5. What are you working on now?

A new piece of literary nonfiction, the shape of which is currently like a ghost in the shadows. I feel parts of it, but do not have a complete sense of the threads I will bring together. I do know, though, that the story is set in Europe.

6. What question should I have asked that I didn't--and why?

The question is: What aspect of your new book, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR is most sacred to you?

The reason why that question should be asked is because it allows me to get at the heart of why I wrote SHIMMERING IMAGES.

What I have to say about this follows:

I firmly believe that the act of crafting a personal story from the random and often blisteringly chaotic events of a life is an act of sanity. It is a way of making sense of nonsense, of assigning meaning, and of organizing the core of who we are. Writing memoir allows us to reorder how we interpret the past; if we ³re-see² what we have always believed the past to mean, we establish new soil out of which the future can grow.

I see the act of making a memoir as an act of personal transformation. I have had this happen. When I wrote HAWK FLIES ABOVE: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE SANDHILLS, I had no idea that it would close my past in such a profound way. I did not know that one narrative, that one choice of how to select and package the past would become so definitive. By writing HAWK FLIES ABOVE I learned that the one story we commit to in a book of memoir becomes our default interpretation of the past; it becomes our history. I didn¹t really get that before.

Many people think that memoir is just: This happened to me...and then this...and then this. But that is a serious misunderstanding. Memoir is the crafting of a narrative arc from an endless list of possible life experiences. Which ones we choose to include define how we, and others, will view our lives. The events that are left out of the story fall away, and this is as it should be; not everything can or should be included. (That is not memoir. That might be autobiography or just a compiled list, like something you might take to the store while shopping.) But a story has very specific demands‹in this respect memoir is no different than fiction. We must adhere to the demands of story when we craft a tale from life material.

What that means, though, is that we must be clear about the choices we make and why we make them. They shape our past, our present, and our future. When we realize this, we see that writing memoir is one of the most powerful forms of art. Inherent in it is the act of transformation.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Welcome to Macland and writing day

Now I feel like the new wife who keeps her ex around for chores. I am working on my beloved shiny new Mac but I have my PC running beside it with AOL opened and my blog. I admit I like having two computers because I am always afraid one will die and then where will I be? I know I should probably sell the Dell--it's only a year and a half old and then I'd have so much desk space I could rent it out to tenants if I wanted (which I don't really want, by the way.)

Hard writing day. Over two thousand words but none of them very good. Whenever I start a new book, it's always hard for me to untangle myself from the old. Nothing seems as good as what I just completed (never mind that the completed work is usually 4 years and 14 drafts and the new material is in draft one.) I feel as though I'm bastardizing parts of my last novel and it takes a while for the book to stand on its own legs and stretch them a bit. I'm not sure what the solution to this is except to keep writing, to trust that things will unjell, to say screw you to my fears and keep on going until the book unlocks itself for me. As Clea Simon says, "You have to get the rust out of the pipes before the water flows."

There is a fantasyland for writers that I imagine, a big glossy place with a huge welcoming arch and when you enter, you sit down to write and your story unfolds. All the plot pieces are in place, the layering of theme is nuanced, and on the first word, you are in that other writing world. It goes without sayint that you are also supremely confident. I sometimes, in my dark moments, imagine that ever other writer has free admission to this place, but I don't even have enough for a ticket.

Back to work...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Guest Blog, How I Write by Clea Simon

My colleague and friend Clea Simon is guest blogging today. Clea is the author of of Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings (Penguin), Fatherless Women: How We Change After We Lose Our Dads (Wiley), The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats (St. Martin's), and the Theda Krakow mysteries, Mew is for Murder, Cattery Row, and Cries and Whiskers (Poisoned Pen Press)and the upcoming Probable Claws! Many thanks, Clea!

How do we get started? Wow, that’s a big topic. But since Caroline and I are both starting new projects (dare I call them “books” yet?), this is what we’ve been chatting about. She’s letting me ramble on a bit – THANK YOU, CAROLINE – and I’m running her thoughts on my blog. How We Do What We Do…

The blank page is a daunting thing. No matter how many great ideas we have in the shower or while driving (always a favorite place for bits of dialogue and plot complications to pop up), when I sit down at the computer and see that blank page, my creative mind goes into hiding. Whatever I write won’t match those daydreams. However I craft a sentence, it won’t be as graceful, as evocative. As good.

So how do I get started? I’ll be honest, I almost forgot. This summer was eaten up by revisions and small projects, and although I’d promised myself that I’d start my next mystery in September, Labor Day came and went with nothing written. But then I was talking to a friend, another writer, who is thinking of recasting her screenplay as a novel, but was having problems. And it just came out: “Think of a scene and write it.”

Simple, huh? But that’s how I do it. Each night, as I make dinner or floss, I try to imagine what happens next. Not in a grand sense, necessarily, of motive or overall theme. But just what would naturally be the next scene. It might be chronological – the characters are going to sleep: Did they dream? Did they wake refreshed? Or do I not care about that and want to jump ahead to the next day at work, when I know someone is going to pick a fight? I don’t know what will happen, or how long that scene will be. Or even if that scene will make it into the next draft! But as long as I have a set up, a conversation, or even something my character has to do – well, I have something to work on the next day, and the page gets filled!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I want to marry my Mac

I am thrilled to announce the wedding of me and my Mac. It's almost set up, along with the Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Dreamweaver and two other packages of software I got for a song at an educational discount (Plus they threw in an itouch and a color printer/scanner!) Everyone is invited to the wedding, and yes, we intend to have lots of children--I think an Iphone or two is about to be born in another year. Twins! No gifts for the happy bride and groom, just any tips for a onetime PC user to ease into using the Mac.

Some days the writing flows and other days, like today, I'm stuck. It's like writing through chocolate pudding, only not delicious at all. I can't seem to write a single sentence that feels real today and I might go and make empanadas instead of working,exept for the fact that I've made a pledge to do 1,000 words every day, and so I'm struggling on. I think it's important to realize that sometimes, that's just part of the deal.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Why I love Gloria Steinhem (and you should, too)

This article by Gloria Steinem about Sarah Palin was in Friday's LA Times.

Wrong woman, wrong message By Gloria Steinem

Here's the good news: Women have become so politically powerful that even the anti-feminist right wing - the folks with a headlock on the Republican Party - are trying to appease the gender gap with a first-ever female vice president. We owe this to women - and to many men too - who have picketed, gone on hunger strikes or confronted violence at the polls so women can vote. We owe it to Shirley Chisholm, who first took the "white-male-only" sign off the White House, and to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who hung in there through ridicule and misogyny to win 18 million voters.

But here is even better news: It won't work. This isn't the first time a boss has picked an unqualified woman just because she agrees with him and opposes everything most other women want AND NEED. Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It's about making life more fair for women everywhere. It's not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It's about baking a new pie.

Selecting Sarah Palin, who was touted all summer by Rush Limbaugh, is no way to attract most women, including die-hard Clinton supporters. Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Clinton. Her downhome, divisive and deceptive speech did nothing to cosmetize a Republican convention that has more than twice as many male delegates as female, a presidential candidate who is owned and operated by the right wing and a platform that opposes pretty much everything Clinton's candidacy stood for - and that Barack Obama's still does. To vote in protest for McCain/Palin would be like saying, "Somebody stole my shoes, so I'll amputate my legs."

This is not to beat up on Sarah Palin. I defend her right to be wrong, even on issues that matter most to me. I regret that people who say she can't do the job because she has children in need of care, especially if they wouldn't say the same about a father. I get no pleasure from imagining her in the global spotlight on national and foreign policy issues about which she has zero background, with one month to learn to compete with Sen. Joe Senator Biden's 37 years' experience.

Palin has been honest about what she doesn't know. When asked last month about the vice presidency, she said, "I still can't answer that question until someone answers for me: What is it exactly that the VP does every day?" When asked about Iraq, she said, "I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq."

She was elected governor largely because the incumbent was unpopular, and she's won over Alaskans mostly by using unprecedented oil wealth to give a $1,200 rebate to every resident. Now she is being praised by McCain's campaign as a tax cutter, despite the fact that Alaska has no state income or sales tax. Perhaps McCain has opposed affirmative action for so long that he doesn't know it's about inviting more people to meet standards, not lowering them. Or perhaps McCain is following the Bush administration habit, as in the Justice Department, of putting a job candidate's views on "God, guns and gays" ahead of competence. The difference is that McCain is filling a job one 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency.

So let's be clear: The culprit is John McCain. He may have chosen Palin out of change-envy, or a belief that women can't tell the difference between form and content, but the main motive was to please right-wing ideologues; the same ones who nixed anyone who is now or ever has been a supporter of reproductive freedom. If that were not the case, McCain could have chosen a woman who knows what a vice president does and who has thought about Iraq; someone like Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. McCain could have taken a baby step away from right-wing patriarchs who determine his actions, everything he does, right down to opposing the Fair Pay Act and the Violence Against Women Act.

Palin's value to those patriarchs is clear: She opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women's wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves "abstinence-only" programs, which that increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to use taxpayers' millions for a state program to shoot bears and wolves from the air but didn't spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation rate in the nation; she runs with a candidate who opposes the Fair Pay Act but SHE supports $500 million in subsidies for a natural gas pipeline across Alaska; she supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, though even McCain has opted for the lesser evil of offshore drilling. She is Phyllis Schlafly, only younger.

I don't doubt her sincerity. As a lifetime member of the National Rifle Assn., Association, she doesn't just support killing animals from helicopters, she does it herself. She doesn't just talk about increasing the use of fossil fuels but puts a coal-burning power plant in her own small town. She doesn't just echo McCain's pledge to criminalize abortion by overturning Roe vs. Wade, she says that if one of her daughters were impregnated by rape or incest, she should bear the child. She not only opposes reproductive freedom as a human right but implies that it dictates abortion, without saying that it also protects the right to have a child.

So far, the major new McCain supporter that Palin's selection has attracted is James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Of course, for Dobson, "women are just merely waiting for their husbands to assume leadership," so he may be voting for Palin's husband.

Being a hope-a-holic, however, I can see two long-term bipartisan gains from this contest. Republicans may finally learn they can't appeal to right-wing patriarchs and most the majority of women at the same time. A loss in November could cause the centrist majority of Republicans to take back their party, which was the first to support the Equal Rights Amendment and should be the last to want to invite government into the wombs of women.

And American women, MORE OF WHOM may suffer because of having TO DO two full-time jobs than from any other single injustice, finally have support on a national stage from male leaders who know that women can't be equal outside the home until men are equal in it. Barack Obama and Joe Biden are campaigning on their belief that men should be, can be and want to be at home for their children.

This could be huge.

Gloria Steinem is an author, feminist organizer and co-founder of the Women's Media Center. She supported Hillary Clinton and is now supporting Barack Obama.

Let's hear it for Lit Soup!

Lit Soup is a fantastic blog run by literary agent Jenny Rappaport. She's offering new writers a chance to give back to the writing community and promote their own work by writing 500 word pieces on aspects of craft as it relates to novels/works in progress. I think this is a brilliant idea--and an incredibly generous one.

Go check out Jenny's fabulous site for more details.

John Scalzi is also opening up his blog for guest authors to talk about craft.

I plan to do both of these things myself, if they will have me, when it gets closer to my pub date.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tomorrow is Mac day!

Tomorrow, I get my Mac. I have to say that there is something about starting a new novel (even though I have a hundred pages done already) on a new machine that is so hopeful, and so wonderful. We all use every trick we can to get immersed in the long process of writing a novel, and I've decided that for me, there are stages to the process.

1. Stage one is the honeymoon stage. I have a premise that I am absolutely and totally obsessed with, characters I love, a first chapter that works (and this first chapter is my life support. I will cling to it when the novel gets rocky.

2. Stage two is disaster. I'm in the middle of the novel and I have written too much to junk it (plus there is that first chapter) but I have no idea what I am doing. The plot seems boring or nonexistent, the characters are cartoons, and the writing is slightly better than an 8th grader in a remedial class. Make that an 8th grader who doesn't read.

3. Stage three is panic. The novel is done and it makes no sense. I wail to Jeff that my career is over and he always grins and says, "Oh, must be going well then." I am mortified to call my agent and editor and I think seriously about how nice it might be to go to dental school instead, to laugh at this little stage in my life when I actually thought I could be a novelist.

4. Stage four is after ten more drafts when suddenly I realize the theme. I see what I have been writing about, which is generally nothing like what I started out on. I feel like I've run an 800 mile marathon, and gradually as I reach the finish line, I see a new idea forming for a new novel and the whole cycle begins again.

5. But wait there is another stage--the publishing stage. Many writers think publication will change your life. Ha ha ho. If you are lucky, you get reviews and good and bad ones, too. You may shake your head at the good ones (Am I really the next Hemingway? Last time I looked I didn't write about gruff men who like to hunt and I certainly don't write in chopped sentences) and weep bitter tears over the bad..("the tiresome Leavitt..."). In the space of one day, I got a full page rave in the Washington Post and then a full page pan in another paper (I'm still too wounded to mention the name), and the pan loathed everything the rave had adored. So who is right?

Many writers don't read their reviews. Many read to see if there are suggestions on how they can be better writers. Many read just for an ego boost. I always try to see if there are valid points where I can grow as a writer, and I admit, when I am in stage 2,3,4, I will pull out my good reviews and reread them to give myself courage to continue.

There is media--radio and TV--and then finally, it dies down and there is the bliss of you, the blank page, and a story you are obsessed to tell. (And hopefully a Mac to write it on!)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Book this Fundraiser

This is from an email from Amy Tan--Jeff and I just signed our books (I drew a coffee cup with a fork and spoon and stars on mine) and sent them off.

Dear Fellow Writers,
Below is a plea from Ayelet Waldman for contributions to a fundraiser. No, you don't have to WRITE a book for Barack. We are talking about THIS year's election. But if you are inclined toward voting for Barack/Biden, please be further inclined send one of your masterpieces, masterfully signed to Ayelet Waldman at her address below. If you are inclined toward McCain/Palin, don't disclose who you prefer, [OTHER], or [NONE OF THE ABOVE], please excuse the intrusion.
Also please feel free to send this to other writers who might be similarly inclined toward what we hope you are inclined toward.


This one is from Ayelet:
Hey guys,
We're doing a fundraiser (one of MANY) for Barack out here that's going to include a silent auction. I'd be your best friend if you would send me a signed book. I know I should be offering to buy one and send it to you with a return envelope, but I'm hoping you'll decide to just go ahead and give me one from your stash, and if it was for any other of my philanthropic ventures, I'd do that. But since the world is going to come a fucking end if Obama doesn't get elected, I'm thinking maybe you'd be willing to donate the book and the postage. The event is in 2 I'd need it before then. I hope to get a few thousand dollars for this "signed book basket."
I'd also love you forever if you'd ask a few of your friends to send one, too. Turns out I have far fewer email addresses than I thought.

FOR THE ADDRESS, PLEASE CONTACT ME at I don't feel right putting Ayelet's address up on my blog.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Save us from Sarah, Part Two

A note to all by Anne Kilkenny--who lives in Alaska and knows Sarah Palin

Dear friends,

So many people have asked me about what I know about Sarah Palin in the last 2 days that I decided to write something up . . .

Basically, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton have only 2 things in common: their gender and their good looks.

You have my permission to forward this to your friends/email contacts with my name.


(Google: anne kilkenny Alaska for more info about her.)

I am a resident of Wasilla, Alaska. I have known Sarah since 1992. Everyone here knows Sarah, so it is nothing special to say we are on a first-name basis. Our children have attended the same schools. Her father was my child's favorite substitute teacher. I also am on a first name basis with her parents and mother-in-law. I attended more City Council meetings during her administration than about 99% of the residents of the city.

She is enormously popular; in every way she's like the most popular girl in middle school. Even men who think she is a poor choice and won't vote for her can't quit smiling when talking about her because she is a "babe".Her experience is as mayor of a city with a population of about 5,000 (at the time), and less than 2 years as governor of a state with about 670,000 residents.

During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running this 0A small city was turned over to an administrator. She had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.

Sarah campaigned in Wasilla as a "fiscal conservative". During her 6 years as Mayor, she increased general government expenditures by over 33%. During
those same 6 years the amount of taxes collected by the City increased by 38%. This was during a period of low inflation (1996-2002).

She reduced progressive property taxes and increased a regressive sales tax which taxed even food. The tax cuts that she promoted benefited large corporate property owners way more than they benefited residents. The huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration weren't enough to fund everything on her wish list though, borrowed money was needed, too.

She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtness of over $22 million. What did Major Palin encourage the voters to borrow money for? Was it the infrastructure that she said she supported? The sewage treatment plant that the city lacked? or a new library?

No. $1m for a park. $15m-plus for construction of a multi-use sports complex which she rus hed through to build on a piece of property that the City didn't even have clear title to, that was still in litigation 7 yrs later--to the delight of the lawyers involved!

While Mayor, City Hall was extensively remodeled and her office redecorated more than once. These are small numbers, but Wasilla is a very small city.

As an oil producer, the high price of oil has created a budget surpplus in Alaska. Rather than invest this surplus in technology that will make us energy independent and increase efficiency, as Governor she proposed distribution of this surplus to every individual in the state. In this time of record state revenues and budget surpluses, she recommended that the state borrow/bond for road projects, even while she proposed distribution of surplus state revenues: spend today's surplus, borrow for needs.

She's not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas or compromise. As Mayor, she fought ideas that weren't generated by her or her staff. Ideas weren't evaluated on their merits,20 but on the basis of who proposed them.

While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin's attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the Librarian are on her enemies list to this day. Sarah complained about the "old boy's club" when she first ran for Mayor, so what did she bring Wasilla? A new set
of "old boys". Palin fired most of the experienced staff she inherited. At the City and as Governor she hired or elevated new, inexperienced, obscure people, creating a staff totally dependent on her for their jobs and eternally grateful and fiercely loyal--loyal to the point of abusing their power to further her personal agenda, as she has acknowledged happened in the case of pressuring the State's top cop (see below).

As Mayor, Sarah fired Wasilla's Police Chief because he intimidated her, she told the press. As Governor, her recent firing of Alaska's top cop has the ring of familiarity about it. He served at her pleasure and she had every legal right to fire him, but it's pretty clear that an important factor in her decision to fire him was because he wouldn't fire her sister's ex-husband, a State Trooper. Under investigation for abuse of power, she has had to admit that more than 2 dozen contacts were made between her staff and family to the person that she later fired, pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law. She tried to replace the man she fired with a man who she knew had been reprimanded for sexual harassment; when this caused a public furor, she withdrew her support.

She has bitten the hand of every person who extended theirs to her in help. The City Council person who personally escorted her around town introducing her to voters when she first ran for Wasilla City Council became one of her first targets when she was later elected Mayor. She abruptly fired her loyal City Administrator; even people who didn't like the guy were stunned by this ruthlessness. Fear of retribution has kept all of these people from saying anything publicly about her.

When then-Governor Murkowski was handing out political plums, Sarah got the best, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: one of the few jobs not in Juneau and one of the best paid. She had no background in oil & gas issues. Within months of scoring this great job which paid $122,400/yr, she was complaining in the press about the high salary. I was told that she hated that job: the commute, the structured hours, the work. Sarah became aware that a member of this Commission (who was also the State Chair of the Republican Party) engaged in unethical behavior on the job.

In a gutsy move which some undoubtedly cautioned her could be political suicide, Sarah solved all her problems in one fell swoop: got out of the job she hated and garnered gobs of media attention as the patron saint of ethics and as a gutsy fighter against the "old boys' club" when she dramatically quit, exposing this man's ethics violations (for which he was fined). As Mayor, she had her hand stuck out as far as anyone for pork from Senator Ted Stevens.Lately, she has castigated his pork-barrel politics and publicly humiliated him. She only opposed the "bridge to nowhere" after it became clear that it would be unwise not to. As Governor, she gave the Legislature no direction and budget guidelines, then made a big grandstand display of line-item vetoing projects, calling them pork. Public outcry and further legislative action restored most of these projects--which had been vetoed simply because she was not aware of their impo rtance--but with
the unobservant she had gained a reputation as "anti-pork".

She is solidly Republican: no political maverick. The State party leaders hate her because she has bit them in the back and humiliated them. Other members of the party object to her self-description as a fiscal conservative. Around Wasilla there are people who went to high school with Sarah. They call her "Sarah Barr acuda" because of her unbridled ambition and predatory ruthlessness. Before she became so powerful, very ugly stories circulated around town about shenanigans she pulled to be made point guard on the high school basketball team. When Sarah's mother-in-law, a highly respected member of the community and experienced manager, ran for Mayor, Sarah refused to endorse her. As Governor, she stepped outside of the box and put together of package of legislation known as "AGIA" that forced the oil companies to march to the beat of her drum.

Like most Alaskans, she favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She has questioned if the loss of sea ice is linked to global warming. She campaigned "as a private citizen" against a state initiative that would have either a) protected salmon streams from pollution from mines, or b) tied up in the courts all mining in the state (depending on who you listen to). She has pushed the State's lawsuit against the Dept. of the Interior's decision to list polar bears as threatened species.

McCain is the oldest person to ever run for President; Sarah will be a heartbeat away from being President. There has to be literally millions of Americans who are more knowledgeable and experienced than she.


*"Hockey mom": true for a few years

*"PTA mom": true years ago when her first-born was in elementary school,
not since

*"NRA supporter": absolutely true

*social conservative: mixed. Opposes gay marriage, BUT vetoed a bill that would have denied benefits to employees in same-sex relationships (said she did this because it was unconstitutional).

*pro-creationism: mixed. Supports it, BUT did nothing as Governor to promote it.

*"Pro-life": mixed. Knowingly gave birth to a Down's syndrome baby BUT declined to call a special legislative session on some pro-life legislation

*"Experienced": Some high schools have more students than Wasilla has residents. Many cities have more residents than the state of Alaska. No legislative experience other than City Council. Little20hands-on supervisory or managerial experience; needed help of a city administrator to run town of about 5,000.

*political maverick: not at all

*gutsy: absolutely!

*open & transparent: ??? Good at keeping secrets. Not good at explaining actions.

*has a developed philosophy of public policy: no

*"a Greenie": no. Turned Wasilla into a wasteland of big box stores and disconnected parking lots. Is pro-drilling off-shore and in ANWR.

*fiscal conservative: not by my definition!

*pro-infrastructure: No. Promoted a sports complex and park in a city without a sewage treatment plant or storm drainage system. Built streets
to early 20th century standards.

*pro-tax relief: Lowered taxes for businesses, increased tax burden on residents

*pro-small government: No. Oversaw greatest expansion of city government in Wasilla's history.

*pro-labor/pro-union. No. Just because her husband works union doesn't make her pro-labor. I have seen nothing to support any claim that she is pro-labor/pro-union.

I've always operated in the belief that "Bad things happen when good people stay silent". Few people know as much as I do because few have gone to as many City Council meetings. I was one of the 100 or so people who rallied to support the City Librarian against Sarah's attempt at censorship. I looked around and realized that everybody else was afraid to say anything because they were somehow vulnerable.

You may have noticed that there are various numbers circulating for the population of Wasilla, ranging from my "about 5,000", up to 9,000. The day Palin's selection was announced a city official told me that the current population is about 7,000. The official 2000 census count was 5,460. I have used about 5,000 because Palin was Mayor from 1996 to 2002, and the city was growing rapidly in the mid-90's.

Anne Kilkenny

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Save us from Sarah

Just the Sarah Palin fact's, ma'am. Or: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

1. Banned Books Week is coming up so in honor of that, let me point out that Palin wants certain "objectional" books banned from the local library. This is truly scary. 1984 anyone?

2. She doesn't believe in evolution and wants creationism taught in the schools. This is also very scary. What happened to the wonders of science?

3. She advocates abstinence only education, and yet her daughter is pregnant at 17. And even after this, she doesn't see anything wrong with abstinence only education. As someone who talked to teenaged mothers for over a year, I know what a rough road this is for them and how easily a life can be shut down and/or ruined. You can't shut down hormonal surges, but teaching kids about birth control and responsible behaviors could do a lot to stop the huge and growing problem of teen pregnancy.

4. As a mother, I would eat nails rather than put my child in a maelstrom of bad publicity, and yet that's what Palin's done because surely she knew that she would be putting her teenage daughter front and center. Yes, family is a private matter and off bounds in most cases, but when someone makes part of her creed an insistence on abstinence only education, and then her teenager gets pregnant--well, that's indicative of a certain hypocricy, don't you think? If Palin takes office, her daughter and her husband will have Secret Service. Great way to ruin a life.

5. Oh, let's not forget about her position on guns.

I'm afraid.

The Devil, The Lovers, & Me

Kimberlee Auerbach really needs to be bottled and sold. She's fresh, funny, and she's written this glorious memoir that I absolutely love,
The Devil, the Lovers, & Me: My Life in Tarot that I raved about in my column in Dame Magazine

Kimberlee was gracious enough to allow me to pepper her with questions, too.

1. The structure of the book, with each chapter jumping off from a specific tarot card, is really part of its wildly unique charm. How and why did you decide to do the book this way?

I played around a lot with structure during the crafting of my one-woman show. I consulted a great dramaturge/director, Scott Embler, who kept telling me that the audience, and in this case, the reader, “wants to go on a journey with you, wants to understand things when you understand them.” If there is no journey, there is no discovery, so we made the choice to have the tarot reading span the course of one night, having it all unfold in real time, creating two protagonist arcs—the person in Iris’s apartment who is being illuminated by the reading and the person in all the flashbacks who is being illuminated by life experiences. I originally had it structured in a less dramatic way: I went to a tarot reader, she pulled some cards, I was like, what the hell, and then during the course of my life, the lessons started to click. Not bad, but not as good.

2. I see in the PR notes that you read tarot yourself, and as a fledgling tarot reader myself, I'm fascinated. How did you begin reading the cards? Do you read for others? (And who was that West Village tarot reader? I think I want to go.)

My older half-sister Lisa introduced me to tarot when I was in high school. She’s seven years older, so when I was a junior, she was already well on her way to establishing a career in New York City. The rest of my family and I lived in New Jersey at the time, so I’d hop on a bus and visit her for the weekend. We’d stay up late, light candles, listen to reggae and read her Mother Earth cards. I loved the magic of it, not the Ouija board of it, but the ritual aspect of it. When she got married for the first time in Squim, Washington a few years later, I bought my first deck, Healing Earth Tarot, with all these woodland creatures and crystals and bolts of fire. I loved it. There was one card of a woman inside an elevated cage, clutching the bars, screaming to the heavens in such incredible pain. Behind her, the door to the cage was open. She could leave at any moment, but was too focused on her pain to see her freedom. That really resonated with me, and thus started my tarot deck collecting and studying. I used to think the cards could tell the future, but the more I read them, the more I understood that they’re more like a Rorschach inkblot test than a tool for divination. I read cards for people all the time. Sometimes I get paid. Sometimes I do it for free. Other times I do it for charity. When I visit book clubs, I talk about my book and then read cards for everyone, which is a lot of fun. (Hey, all you book clubs out there, I’m here and available for you!)

As for Iris, she’s really my inner crone/wise woman. The two tarot readers I based her character on are Yris, who used to read tarot at a little place on Greenwich Avenue, which shut down a couple of years ago, and Carole Murray, who is still seeing clients on the Upper West Side. They’re both great, safe, insightful and super kind readers. I’d be happy to give you their number. I’ve met a few other ones since. We should tawk!

3. One of the many things I loved about this memoir was your notion that we make our own futures, that the cards merely act as a guide. Can you talk a little more about this? What do you think people can gain from a tarot reading--and what shouldn't they expect?

Well, unfortunately, there are a lot of scam artists out there, which is why tarot has such a bad rep. They prey on vulnerable and weak people. A while back, a friend of mine stopped into one of those neon sign storefront psychic shops. The reader told her that someone had put a curse on her and in order to get rid of it, my friend had to give her $300. She promised to say a little prayer and put the money under her mattress. My friend felt bullied, asked where the nearest ATM was, and came back with the money. RUN, if anyone tells you that they need to put your hard-earned money under their mattress in order to lift a curse. There are other readers who are psychic. They often use the cards as an access point to the collective unconscious or a higher intuitive wavelength. If you go to one of those readers, they could very well be right on target and tell you what you need to hear. They might helpful and insightful, but I would warn against giving anyone else too much power. I believe we have choice in every moment and can shift our lives based on belief and action. Nothing is written in stone. I prefer the kind of reading where the seeker does most of the work. When I give readings, I let people make their own connections. I simply tell them what the placement means, what the cards mean in that placement. I will point out themes, tie things together, but mostly, I back off. To me, gentle guidance is the way to go.

4. Your relationship with Noah is fascinating because it doesn't end up with marriage, but it most certainly ends up with a strong and wonderful love between the two of you. You talk about "not holding on so tight." Can you say a bit more about that and why that's the way to go?

Have you seen the movie Out of Africa? I think it handles love and attachment and the desire to own things and people so beautifully. Karen, played by Meryl Streep, moves to a farm in Africa, and over time, learns that she has little to no control over the land and that she can’t hold onto anything. When it comes down to it, we own nothing and no one. We are simply here for when we are here, love when we love. It’s a very Buddhist message. I’m not a Buddhist per se, and I’m certainly no Buddha. I struggle all the time with this concept. I am constantly reminding myself to let go, to love openly, to be free, to let others be free. I loved Noah and still do. I broke up with him a couple of months before my book came out, because we were still stuck and had become unhappy. I kept thinking marriage would be a panacea, that my needs would be fulfilled if we walked down the isle, if he committed the rest of his life to me. It would have been a disaster. I really believe some people come into our lives to teach us lessons, to help us grow and heal and learn. That’s what we did for each other. I still believe in marriage, but if I ever get married, I want it to be that we both keep showing up because we want to, because there is flow, because we know that loving is risky business and scary-as-shit, but we do it anyway, in the face of potential loss, change and death. We do it until we don’t want to do it anymore or until we die. I know, so dramatic. I used to think I could control people… if I was loving enough, pretty enough, perfect enough, then someone would never leave me. I don’t want to have to work so hard. I also think it’s much better to focus on loving than being loved. I think when you love you experience love, which means you can always have love in your life. Love is not something you can touch or hold onto or grip, and when you try to keep it the same, you suffocate it. That is what I have learned.

4. I'm obsessively fascinated with how writers work. Can you talk a bit about what your writing day looks like?

When I was writing my book, I tried to listen and pay attention to my rhythms. There were days I could write for ten hours straight and other days I would be lucky to be able to concentrate for ten minutes. I think it’s about finding your flow and not forcing the moment. Also, I am a firm believer in something Natalite Goldberg said, “If you are a writer, you are writing even when you are not writing.” That’s not an exact quote, but you get the point.

6. What are you working on now--and why does it obsess or interest you?

I am playing around with a few ideas. I want to veer into a self-help/self-transformational direction. I’m really interested in healing… in helping people, especially women, live more authentic, joy-filled lives.

7. I have to ask you about your job at Fox News because I know from the Observer article about you that you got a lot of flack about it. Do you feel that as a writer, it's easier in a way to take these soul-killing kinds of jobs because you can escape into your imagination and/or because everything is material in some way? (And will this be material?)

When I took the job at Fox, I was a kid, well, 25. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to do on-air hosting, which I could still see myself doing. I thought working behind the scenes would be like going to graduate school, which in some ways it was. Oh, how we justify our lives away. After a couple of years, when I knew it was not the job for me, fear kept me there, fear of the unknown, fear of trying something new. And then, when I figured out I was a storyteller and writer, I wanted to put all my energy into that, instead of looking for a new job. I figured there would come a point when I could take a leap into a new life, and sure enough, I was right. I just had no idea it would take 9 years! I feel so grateful for the leap I took, for my new life. The cool thing about leaps is the unexpected. I used to dread not knowing what my life was going to look like, and now I find magic in it. My book helped me stumble upon a great, new, unexpected passion: teaching. I love it so much. I love helping people unearth and form their own stories. It gives me so much joy. I look forward to letting more new, unexpected passions unfold in the empty space I have created for myself.

7. What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Hmmmm. How about what am I reading now? You can check out my vlog on A New Earth:

8. Will you read my tarot cards? (Just kidding.)

Hells yeah!