Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Photos of the Inaugural Ball

Here is a special treat for my dedicated blog readers: photos from the Inaugural Ball. Me in my ball gown, Dancin' in the street,







Saturday, January 24, 2009

Baruch -- Blessings on the Inauguration

I woke up early on the morning of the inauguration and ran into the living room to see the TV before I even brushed my teeth. I burst into tears when I saw the crowds at the mall. It was only the first of many torrential episodes for me throughout the morning. I had some work that had to be done, finishing up a $2 million federal grant and sending it off for submission. I don’t know how I did it because I could not concentrate on work. I could barely tear myself away from the TV. Ron came home from work to watch the swearing-in with me. Our friend Jessica from Vallejo went to DC to stand at ground zero with the nation. We tried to reach her on her cell phone to tell her to raise her hand so we could find her in the crowd (that was Ron’s line). Jessica would call us later in the day and gleefully inform us that the crowd sang “Sha-na-na-na, hey, hey, good-bye” to Bush’s departing helicopter and we laid a real surprise on her: we could hear them singing that on TV! It wasn’t just the little group around Jessica, it was the whole assembly singing. Tuesday’s participation apparently represented the largest single group ever assembled in one place in the U.S. – I called it a cross between the March on Washington and Woodstock without the mud. And the DC police later reported not a single arrest all day.

When Obama emerged to take his seat, it hit me that this is real and happening. I remember on the closing night of the Democratic Convention, when Obama and Biden and wives waved and walked off the stage into the sunset. I thought, well, that was terrific, but was it the farewell? Can this thing actually fly? I remember Obama telling the nation something like, “I know I’m not the most likely candidate for President, but I’m the one who has presented myself at this point in time.” The love shown to him and his family by that multitude of people on Tuesday demonstrated that he is more than an unlikely candidate. He is the man for the job. After he officially became Mr. President, Ron leaned me back and gave me one of those V-Day kisses.

During Aretha’s rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” I experienced a moment when history telescoped. The line “Land where my fathers died” did it to me. Her fathers died slaves. Although Obama’s African heritage comes direct from Africa and not slavery, First Lady Michele is only five generations out from the Old South. Her great-great-grandfather, Jim Robinson, was born a slave on Friendfield Plantation in Georgetown, S.C., where he probably drained swamps, harvested rice, and was buried in an unmarked grave. (Michele only learned during the campaign that her forebears had been enslaved in the same town where she grew up playing with her cousins.) Imagine the thoughts going through Grammy Robinson’s head? Living in the White House to care for the girls. If Aretha’s singing cracked me up, and Elizabeth Alexander’s poem moved me, well, the actual swearing in brought me to my knees.

But the best, for me, was yet to come. Tuesday evening we held our own inaugural ball. I bought a (used) gown and even let Yael put make-up on me. I wore my (costume) tiara and my Grandma Wachspress’s (real) pearls, which I have never worn before. We rolled up the rug and moved out the dining room table and lo and behold we had a big dance floor. People poured through the doors. Apparently the word spread about our shindig. It was wild. There were lots of folks I didn’t know. Lots of folks neither Ron nor I knew. We had the TV on in the living room with the coverage of the inaugural balls in DC playing. The kitchen overflowed with champagne, caviar, and heaps upon heaps of food brought by the guests. For once, I stayed out of the kitchen. I DANCED!!! The dance floor was packed. Ron spun the tunes of course (that’s what got everyone up and moving). It was 34 degrees outside and we had the windows open and the fan on. I think I must have tossed 50 or more champagne or wine bottles into the recycling during the evening. We started early because it was a week night and we wound down early so as not to disturb our Republican neighbors. A highlight of the evening for most of those in attendance was the Dance-in-the-Streets. I grabbed drums, gourds, and tambourines, passed them out, and we ran out into the street for a triumphant loop around the “Plaza” (the circle where we live). We drummed, danced, and sang. “Ding dong the Bush is gone” and an “Obama” chant. It was an outstanding celebration.

The next day, I cheered the news that Obama had begun the process of shutting down Guantanamo Bay and outlawed torture. We are truly entering the Age of Aquarius. Peace and Understanding. Here are a few more reasons to love Obama: he has read all the Harry Potter books, he speaks Spanish, and he just paid off his student loans four years ago. Last night I saw a priceless picture in Time Magazine. While getting a cup of coffee during an informal meeting, Obama paused to speak with the coffee server, an older Black man. Respect for the server as one of his elders shows in Obama’s face; pride and love in the face of the server.

Here in Ukiah, Jessie’s mother is in a nursing home dying. She is bedridden and suffers from dementia. She has reverted to her native Yiddish, which no one in the nursing home understands. When Jessie visits her, she doesn’t even recognize her own daughter, but she always asks, “How is Baruch doing today?” She calls Obama “Baruch.” Barack is Baruch in Yiddish: Blessing. On Tuesday, Jessie told her mother “Baruch is the President now, Ma.” Blessings on the Inauguration.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

About Self-Publishing

A short article I wrote about choosing self-publishing was printed in an indie publishers trade journal (The Independent) this month. I am amazed at how many emails I have received about this one article. Here is an abridged version of “Just Said No.”

For nearly thirty years I waited for a publisher to discover me, to say, “Your manuscript is the best thing since Moses came down off the mountain,” to offer me a contract, to connect me with my adoring readers. I wrote, and dreamed, and wrote, and fantasized, and edited, and hoped, and wrote again, and sent out letters and more letters and emails and more emails and followed leads and methodically went through Writer’s Market with post-its and highlighter, and drafted flattering letters to distant agents and perfected the art of the query, and wrote, and hoped. Then I got wise. I researched and pursued self-publication.

A few weeks ago, the most remarkable thing happened: a bona fide small publisher approached me about publishing a sequel to The Call to Shakabaz and (slap me) I just said no. In under three minutes I convinced this publisher that I would be too much trouble to work with, that we would never agree on contract terms, that, in short, I am as batty as Lucy Ricardo on prozac and they want nothing to do with me. All the while, my inner voice was shouting, “What?! Did you just talk yourself out of a publishing contract?! You should be committed!”

The truth is that I love my little publishing company and I want Woza to get all the credit for publishing my book(s). I don’t want to share my meager profits. I’m not satisfied with royalties. I’m doing all the work. I want the reward. I want to market my books in my own fashion. I don’t want someone else mutilating my messages with clumsy advertising. I want to create my image, determine my audience, and select my venues. I refuse to engage in a brutal author tour when I can do just as well touring cyberspace and using the Internet to market my book. I don’t want to contribute to global warming and U.S. dependence on foreign oil by traveling to bookstores in places where I can’t go home to my own bed for the night. I’m a recluse. Why would I want to leave home? I don’t want to submit to an editor. I am an editor. How many publishers would allow me to edit my own book? I’d wager, none. But, I ask myself, who edited Beatrix Potter? D.H. Lawrence? Tolstoy? Flaubert? I admit, I’m not Flaubert, but who’s to say I can’t write and edit? I think I can. I think I did. (Not in French of course.)

I don’t want a publisher to change the title of my book, choose an author photo that makes me look as if I’d done my hair with an egg beater, decide on the cover design, select the interior fonts and the chapter names. I want to have the book printed on recycled paper, even though it costs more per unit. In short, I want complete control over the entire product and the entire process. I did a decent job the first time around, all things considered. I’m confident I can do it again. I like having my own publishing company, as impoverished and unknown as it is. I am that new breed of author who is self-published by choice, who refuses to buy into the traditional corporate established literary complex. I choose indie and I’m proud.

If you have read all the way to the end of this entry, here’s the punch line. I wrote this article in August. By the time it was published, this month, I must admit that the money I had earmarked to publish my next book has evaporated. Without going into the gory details of our family’s personal financial woes, suffice it to say that we are struggling on many fronts, all related to the fact that the economy has tanked. So publishing another book ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. Sigh. I received so many “bravo” emails for that article. How could I possibly cave in and accept an offer from a publisher if it comes my way now? I can’t win. Obama, save me.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Obsessive Compulsive

Do you know the TV show Monk? I don’t watch TV much outside of the NFL, but Akili gave Ron the first season of Monk on DVD for Christmas, so we have been watching Tony Shalhoub be Monk. Shalhoub is one of my favorite comic actors. In this show he plays an obsessive compulsive police detective who is unstable because his wife was killed by a car bomb and he never solved the mystery of her murder. Meanwhile, he has the worst ADHD on the planet and notices every painful minute detail of his surroundings. Why am I telling you this? Because as we watch this show, Ron laughs his head off at Monk’s quirks and general weirdness while looking pointedly at me because Monk’s weirdness is a lot like my weirdness. Not to the point of being scary (I think, God help me), but definitely to the point of being funny. I do have a habit of noticing minute details. And I do have a habit of wanting things put in their place, correctly, straight and tidy. I admit I’m obsessive compulsive about a lot of things, but I usually keep it relatively under control. I don’t straighten the pictures in other people’s homes. OK, maybe sometimes, like if I’m alone in the bathroom and no one can see me.
Last night we watched a Monk episode in which he has a romantic interlude with a woman who is entangled in a murder spree. She fears for her life so Monk offers to sleep at her house to protect her. To spend one night at her house, he brings two large suitcases. When she takes him to her guest room, he immediately unpacks a set of sheets. She says she just put clean sheets on the bed for him. He replies, “Well, as long as I brought my own sheets I might as well use them.” Ron probably lost four or five pounds laughing because I have done that and actually said those exact words. More than once. And the towels. I hate for people to have to do a load of laundry with my sheets and towels just for me to spend one night at their house. So I bring my own bedding and towels. Monk does it because he’s germaphobic. OK, I admit, either way, it’s somewhat bizarre behavior. I’m not as bad as Monk. But hey, I never claimed to be normal, whatever that is.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Year Shindig

I’m getting too old to party like I did on New Year’s Eve. Sheesh. The music was just too good and the folks we partied with were just too much fun and Ron and I didn’t get to sleep until close to 4 AM. I am never up at 4 AM unless I have insomnia worrying about money. We stayed in the guest room at the Frogsong Co-Housing Community in Cotati where our friends Mrs. Eris and Mrs. Leslie once again hostessed us, wined and dined us, and welcomed us into their community. Ron and several other musicoholics at Frogsong spun the tunes and everyone danced; young, old, and in-between. I wore an Evan Picone black fancy dress that Yael gave me for Christmas with the stipulation that I shave my armpits to wear it. (I did not; OK, I trimmed them, but shave them? Never.) I felt terribly overdressed but my girl has style and the dress looked good on me. It beats me how she knew my size.

At one point during the evening, someone played that ABBA song “Dancing Queen,” and suddenly the women and girls got up on the wall-to-wall bench that runs the length of the Common Room and performed animated synchronized hand motions and high foot kicks and other chorus line moves as they sang at the top of their lungs. ABBA is just not that good. What was up with this? I sat that one out and watched in bewilderment. Afterward, a woman sidled up to me and whispered, “I don’t even like that song. But it’s an annual tradition.” Then of course there had to be a male response so they played some hip-hop style song called “Be a Man” or something of the sort and the men all got up on the bench. Except Ron, whose legs don’t bend enough for such frivolity. After attempting to mount the bench, he gave up and sat down on it instead. Which prompted several other guys to sit next to him in sympathy. Which created a row of lap-dancing guys all seated on a hard bench. I’m not describing this very well. Use your imagination.

When we finally went to sleep, we didn’t sleep for long. I crawled down to Eris and Leslie’s for breakfast at around 10 the next morning and Ron soon followed. I took one look at him and burst out laughing. “Baby,” I said, “you had such a wild night that you forgot to put your teeth in this morning.” He had left his bridgework for his bottom four teeth in our room. In fact, he found them buried in his suitcase somewhere. Better than finding them embedded in the headboard of the bed, I guess. Ron never forgets to put in his bridgework. Is this a taste of what the year holds in store for us? I could use a fun year right about now, with or without teeth.