Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tradition of Giving Thanks Around the Table

Can you remember the first time you didn’t go home for Thanksgiving? In 1980 or thereabouts, I stayed in Berkeley and celebrated Thanksgiving with Ron and our friends instead of going back East to my parents. There were about 15 of us that first year and we created our own tradition that grew over time. But at that very first Thanksgiving, we filled our plates, sat down to partake, and then, before digging in, we went around the room and each of us gave our own thanks, said our own little piece, serious or humorous as the mood struck. Every year we have done the same. At one point during the years we began to take hands around the table. My children grew up with this tradition.

As the years have flown by, the Thanksgiving crew has changed, grown, shrunk, evolved. It started as a close circle of friends, extended family, that we built for ourselves. Ron and I had our babies who became children (as babies are apt to do), unruly teenagers, and, finally, adults. My parents moved to California and joined us at the Ranch Thanksgivings for 10 years before they packed up and went back East. Mom passed away in 2005. We have lost too many from our close circle over the years; lost to death, distance, life changes that prevent participation. Our dogs used to trot around the table sniffing all the yummy smells, until, with their short dog lives, they left us. When I wrote Memories from Cherry Harvest, I included a Thanksgiving dinner scene in the Rina section in celebration of the wonderful dinners we shared over the years with our family of friends.

So this year, my 21-year-old Sudi decided to spend Thanksgiving with his circle of friends in Oakland, mostly other students from California College of the Arts, where he is now in his senior year. He came home Friday to see his siblings and visit with the family. He told me about all the yummy things that he and his friends cooked for the dinner. And he said that when all the food was cooked and ready to eat, they each filled their plates, and 14 young people at his first Thanksgiving dinner away from home sat in a circle in the living room. He said they had no table, but they sat down in their circle and Sudi told them they had to go around the room and each say something. Give thanks. Blessings. Whatever. At first his friends thought he was kidding but he insisted and they soon realized he meant it. So before beginning their meal, they did it. Sudi says they went around the circle and each person spoke. Some said something humorous, others said something serious. They gave thanks, celebrating friendship, abundance, breaking bread together.

Thus the tradition continues, into the next generation:  giving thanks around the table. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Next Good Thing

It’s hard to put my head back into the old stuff when so much new stuff is rattling around in there.

This week I find myself stepping back and looking at the big picture. I had just started work on a novel when 9/11 happened and suddenly that novel just didn’t seem relevant any more after the twin towers fell. I set it aside and instead spent several years working on The Call to Shakabaz, a fantasy adventure for children that promotes nonviolent conflict resolution. It was a project that felt more timely to me. After I finished and published Shakabaz, I found myself returning to my 2001 project, entitled Penelope’s Odyssey. I completed it a couple of years ago, before turning my attention to revision and preparation of Memories from Cherry Harvest for publication.

After Cherry Harvest made its debut, a well-established, well-connected literary agent approached me to ask if I might have another novel in the works and if I might be interested in having her represent me. I spent quite a few weeks trying to figure out if I actually want to sign with an agent before deciding to explore that route to publication for Penelope. In the end, I told the agent it just so happens that I do have another novel and she asked if she could take a look at it. I learned a lot from working with my editor on Cherry Harvest and I felt that I could improve Penelope as a result. So I went back to the book and revised it again. This past week I sent it to the agent. And I dusted my hands off and thought to myself, finally I can get started on that new novel that is in my head.

My father is a mathematician. He just completed work on a revised and revamped version of a mathematics book he published many years ago. The publisher is typesetting it now and Dad will have galleys to read soon. His next project is work on the reissue of a book he published decades ago. He is beginning to work on that and the same publisher will be producing that book as well. Here’s the thing, though:  Dad told me that he has been thinking of some new mathematics ideas and he is getting impatient with rehashing all the old material when he has new and more exciting ideas percolating. I so identify with his situation.

I won’t deny that it’s a kick to talk with readers about Cherry Harvest now that it’s in print. And I won’t deny that I’m excited about Penelope and hopeful that the literary agent (who is reading the book in the next few weeks) will love the book and will place it with a good publisher for me. And I actually just spent a couple of years working on a sequel to Shakabaz, the first draft of which is presently out being read by young readers (for comment), which is cool. But all that aside, I have a new novel (for adults) in my head and it’s so much more exciting than rehashing the old stories that I know so well. Since 2005, I’ve been building what I call “a humanistic ecological post-apocalyptic sci-fi romance” in my head. Ha! Am I creating a new genre? That would be cool.

I’m with Dad. The most exciting thing is the next good thing. The emerging idea. A different direction. Horizons new. My imagination is a restless beast. It allows me no respite, no moment to catch my breath. So I have lost interest in all the words I have already written and the stories I have already told. I burn with a new tale to tell.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skeeky Thoughts

Yesterday my dear friend Jim had to put down his marvelous cat Skeeky. She was a grand dame who lived to the ripe old age of sixteen, a respectable lifespan for a well-loved feline. Skeeky’s lust for life and her ability to continue to survive quite happily in her later years, despite her reoccurring bouts with the cancer, was actually a bit inspirational. She always had a healthy appetite. In fact, she got very fat. Jim used to say, “She’s just a big-boned girl.” She had gorgeous calico coloring and enormous green eyes.

When I called Jim to give him my sympathy, my Ella was sitting in my lap. I felt guilty stroking her furry ears while talking to my friend who was saying good-bye to his beloved pet. I have had about a dozen cats during the forty years since I got my first kittens as an undergraduate in college. And for ten years I provided a home for the smartest damn Australian Shepherd you’d ever meet. It still astonishes me how much an animal can become an integral part of one’s life. If you never had a pet or if you don’t care much for animals, you no doubt have a hard time comprehending the attachment some of us humans have for our furry friends. There is no human-to-human relationship that matches the relationship of a person and a pet.

My cats, Ella and Golda, give me a category of delight in a class unto itself. My seven-year-old Ella is a black cat with green eyes and a goofy walk with her turned-out hind legs. Of all the cats I have ever owned, Ella is the smartest and she has the most character. Her face is remarkably expressive. This cat figured out how to open the screen door to the deck and she lets herself out when she pleases during the summer. She knows how the door handles work on the other doors in the house, but she’s not strong enough to open them. This does not prevent her from jumping up and batting at the door handles, an activity that gives me a good laugh except in the middle of the night. She only does this during the night when we have houseguests and she wants to get into their rooms to sleep with them. Therefore, poor Ella is banished to my study for the night whenever we have company.

I can’t help myself, I’m going to tell an Ella story. The other day I cleaned out the cats’ litter box only to discover that I had no more litter in the garage. Yikes! It was a cold rainy day so they had not been outside much, and in any case, Ella has a habit of using the litter box for serious business right after she eats her dinner. So I had already put their food in front of the sisters, emptied the box, and then discovered I had no clean litter. After eating, Ella strolled into the bathroom, looked at the empty litter box, and looked up at me in panic with those huge green eyes. “Mom, what were you thinking? What did you do to me?” she seemed to say. I told her to hang on and I raced out to the store. (My husband and children tease me mercilessly for talking to my cats.) When I returned, forty minutes later, she was standing in the utility sink in the laundry room right by the door to the garage waiting for me. I proceeded straight to the bathroom and dumped the fresh litter in the box. Ella immediately ran into the box and did her do. That cat is so well-behaved. She didn’t go elsewhere, but waited for me to come home with her litter. She trusted me to provide. Biggest smarty-pants there is! I could tell so many more Ella stories. She keeps me entertained and she’s such a cuddly sweetheart. Her sister Golda is a dumb-dumb who wants to spend her entire day shedding massive amounts of orange hair in my lap. Needless to say, her favorite time of year is football season, when she settles on top of me on the couch for hours. Now if I could only hear the football announcers over her loud purring.

I reckon my cats are of little interest to anyone else. So thanks for reading if you’ve gotten this far. As you can see, their personalities and behaviors keep me amused and delighted. I’m not sure I could call a place home without a cat in it. It is such a sad twist of nature that humans live so much longer than cats and dogs. When they go, they leave such an empty place in our lives. My heart is with Jim today, and the cold spot on his bed where Skeeky once curled up. He took terrific care of her, and there is nothing to warm the heart like a well-cared-for pet. My dad used to have a bumper sticker that said, “Oh Lord, help me be the man my dog thinks I am.” If I could be half the person my cats think I am, I would be satisfied with my life.

  Here is Jim with Skeeky. Such love.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Reflections on Hurricane Sandy

The events of the past week have certainly given us pause. Every day I see new images of heartbreaking devastation caused by Sandy. I have also heard stories of extreme bravery and heroism. I read about an off-duty firefighter who swam through water five feet deep in his street to rescue several people and their family pets (dogs and parrots) from the rising flood. I have had difficulty concentrating on work and my everyday activities as images of Sandy infiltrate my consciousness.

I left NY State in 1975 and never looked back, but I still have a lot of friends and family in the Northeast. My dad lives in NJ, my brother and his family in PA. I have cousins in Brooklyn and Rochester. I have friends living in Manhattan, Hoboken, Ipswich, NY, NJ, PA, MA. My friend in Hoboken posted on Facebook that she was sitting tight in her third-floor apartment but the first floor of her building had flooded under water four feet deep. Another friend in Sudbury posted that a tree had fallen across his driveway on his cars. Others posted that they had lost power, some are still without power as the weather turns colder. Seeing the NY subway under water and cars submerged in a parking lot in NJ seems surreal. Now that the storm has receded, I have seen photos of Atlantic City and Long Beach Island that look like the photos of Japan after the tsunami last year. The tsunami in Japan was far away from me. Sandy feels as though it was in my back yard, despite the fact that I live in Cali, because so many folks near and dear to me were in the middle of it.

Here are a couple of photos my friend Helen took of the street in front of her apartment in Hoboken.

And here is a photo of my friend Larry’s driveway with the tree down on top of his cars.

As the storm rolled in, I began emailing and texting my teenage niece and nephew in PA. They live not far from the Delaware River, which floods regularly under normal winter conditions. Fortunately they are on higher ground. They had no flooding but they lost their power early on and it was out for several days. They went to a neighbor’s house in the evenings to cook dinner on a gas grill. My brother bought a small generator they used to recharge the phones and go online for a few minutes every night to send me emails. I was so grateful for the texts and emails that kept me informed of how they were doing. Also, Facebook was a godsend. I got so much news from my family/friend circle there, and I continue to follow events unfolding as the power remains off for some of my people.

Interestingly, I had a conversation with friends on Sunday night about Facebook. They hate it and prefer to avoid it. It became abundantly clear to me this past week that I get my most local news on Facebook, where I find our how the events large and small going on in the world directly impact the people in my life. I have several levels of news input. National news from my weekly Time Magazine, daily newspaper, and the online news at MSNBC and NPR. Local news I get from the newspaper and from email newsletters and announcements. My most “local” intimate news about those dear to me I get on Facebook, which truly helped me get through Sandy by keeping me in touch with my people in the Northeast.

Finally, I want to talk about the lesson from Sandy that’s sitting in the middle of the road. Obvious to me and so many others but obviously not obvious to everyone. Much as the Republicans would like to pretend that the Dems invented climate change to win votes, it just ain’t so. Climate change is for real and it caused Sandy. Fools may question the science of global warming until their houses float off into the ocean, but it won’t stop their houses from floating away. Governor Cuomo said, “Anyone who says that there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality. I told the president the other day:  ‘We have a 100-year flood every 2 years now’.” The sea level has risen because of global warming. The increase in temperature is what caused the hurricane to form in the first place and what caused it to make landfall rather than dissipating out over the ocean. Global warming is what caused it to cover such an astonishingly large area. Recent warming in the Arctic played a role in the formation and movement pattern of Sandy. In short, Sandy was a manmade disaster.

So we have an election coming up on Tuesday and I think the most important question for people to ask themselves is “Who is going to fight for our survival on this planet?” I know who reads my blog. I’m preaching to the choir. I hope that some of those other people who don’t read my blog find a way to wake up before it’s too late for all of us. In parting, let me share with you the link to a short montage of images and Bloomberg’s words put together by my friend Andrea in NY and her partner Jacob. The images are photos that Jacob took in their neighborhood right after the storm. Here’s the link.