Like the story of the princess and the pea, the little bump of snow in the center of the table is an echo of sea shells, which my dear friend and amazing poet Elena Georgiou gave me. Even in winter, summer is present. Even in adulthood, the child in us still shapes who we are. Thank you to all the people and events that have bumped me, and made me who I am.
News for February 2010
A question from Rob Brezsny:
Do you promise to push hard to get better and smarter, grow your
devotion to the truth, fuel your commitment to beauty, refine your
emotions, hone your dreams, wrestle with your shadow, purge your
ignorance, and soften your heart — even as you always accept yourself
for exactly who you are, with all of your so-called foibles and wobbles?
Do you pledge to wake yourself up, never hold back, have nothing to lose,
go all the way, kiss the stormy sky, be the hero of your own story, ask for
everything you need and give everything you have, take yourself to the
river when it’s time to go to the river, and take yourself to the
mountaintop when it’s time to go to the mountaintop?
To mark today – which is the Day of Remembrance for the Japanese-Americans, the 68th anniversary of the Executive Order that would put 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry into American internment camps – a small excerpt from the manuscript of my new memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning:
“There’s a little girl in my head with Shirley Temple curls and freckles playing in a dustswept road. She is the enemy. She looks about six, even though she shouldn’t be: my mother was not five when she was released from the internment camp, but no pictures survive from that time so age six is the youngest image I have of my mother, the only image I have from ‘war time’ was taken after the end of the war. Of course, this little girl – skirt flying, dancing with tumble weeds – is not my mother, not exactly. She is my first character from my first book.
My mother could not remember the camps, so I invented them for her. That’s how my first novel began. I made them up, pulling from a mixed bag of the photographs that could be taken, from the questions that the man with the year book at the internment camp “reunion” had asked, the man who wandered through the community center full of former internees eating home lunches of sushi rice and teriyaki, searching for anyone in the room who was three when he was three in camp, who might have been in a nearby block, who might have been his friend.
I pulled from dreams.
I created the children first – this little boy, the little girl who was his friend – and even while I was doing interviews, gathering the details of how the brick floors in the barracks had to be shellacked to keep the dirt from rising, I must have known I wasn’t dreaming up a “book about the internment.” Write a potboiler, a kindly, grandfatherly man had told me in passing, in the halls of one of the elder homes I visited to do my interviews. That’s what people want to read. The facts are boring. His advice stuck, though I was never aware of following it. I began to fictionalize, to trace family ties that could never have existed but could still be realized and, more than that, could be made so persuasive that my mother could fill in her past with them, tucking her adopted life into bed each night without acknowledging its true parentage until it was hers by nurture. I recreated my mother’s memories before she began to lose her own, and now she too cannot remember what is real. I have been left with fragments of my own creation, with fictions, and now that I am in Japan, I’m discovering new creations and new memories of my mother – older, different – of times with her that I never experienced.”
I’ve been rendered speechless by the idiocy in the conversation about Obama’s plan to build more nuclear power plants.
Is it the counter-argument about regulation? (Nuclear power plants are problematic because regulations are so restrictive…so let’s just ease those regulations, eh? Where have we heard that brilliant solution before?)
No, it’s this quote, from The Atlantic, which offers arguments against the arguments against the idea (already I am dizzy):
“Then there’s the worry of a terrorist threat. What if someone flies a plane into a nuclear reactor? Thousands could die. Well, what if someone flies a plane into a giant building? Thousands could die. Should we not build them either?”
Happy Your Day
Thinking about Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day. Our best Presidents, the ones we really need, are pathmakers. Writers are also pathmakers. Someone (okay, an incredible writer and a witch) once told me that I was a pathmaker, that it was my job to walk into the dark forest and make a path so others could follow, and so others could make their own paths off of mine. I loved this image – who wouldn’t? – and when I shared it with another incredible writer friend, she looked at me kindly and said, “of course.” As in, of course, you silly child, we (writers, artists, lovers, creative thinkers) are ALL pathmakers, how could it be that you are only now understanding this about your forty-something year old self?”
So I am writing today to celebrate President’s Day. I am going to clear the path all the way through Chapter Two of my new book. I am doing it at the temporary expense of the two manuscripts on my desk that I have to read, and in doing that – putting myself above others! – and I am also celebrating Valentine’s Day. For how can I give love without understanding how to love myself? How can I offer myself in service unless I have nurtured the strength I need to serve? For me, that means feeding that thing I do best, that makes me whole: my writing.
Hey Obama, Happy “Your” Day. What a beautiful morning to pick up your sword or scythe or shining heart or Buddha nature and start clearing that path to health and peace so the rest of us can follow.
Where the Love Is
Last night in the Rizzuto household: two boys age 13 and 11 wandering around in the kitchen, suddenly hear strains of a new song on the radio in the back room. They run in, yelling, “I love this song!” “This is a great song!” “I know all the words!” They then proceed to dance around, singing:
“And to discriminate only generates hate
And if you hatin you’re bound to get irate
Yeah madness is what you demonstrate
And that’s exactly how anger works and operates
You gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love y’all”
(Where Is The Love?, Black Eyed Peas)
Of course, then they began smashing into each other, and wrestling, and ending up in a happy heap on the floor because they are boys after all.
Thank you, Black Eyed Peas for lyrics that are much more inspiring and apparently as catchy as “lovely lady lumps.”
And thank you, New York City for another anecdote from the lives of these boys: Last year, my sons were really engaged in the presidential election, staying up late to watch the debates, following the issues and considering what was important to them in the platforms. They were, and still are, big Obama fans. When I asked them if it was important to him that he was African American, they said, “Yes.” (Hey, they are also multiracial with Hawaiian roots and are big shave ice fans, so I wasn’t sure.) When I asked why, they said, “Because we need an African American president.” When I asked, what portion of the United States do you think is black?” they said: “Fifty percent.” I said, “What portion do you think is Hispanic?” and they said, “Twenty-five percent.” Which leaves less than a quarter of the country to the Caucasians. J This is, of course, the mix of kids in their very good Brooklyn public schools.
I like this part of this world we are living in. Let your soul gravitate to the love.
“This wasn’t a game or an exercise or a movie; these were real soldiers with real blood and real families waiting back home. What had I done wrong?”
(Craig M. Mullaney, The Unforgiving Minute)
When war is not felt, it cannot be avoided. If I learned anything from the survivors of Hiroshima, it is this. After the atomic bomb was dropped, the world was treated to visions of power (the mushroom cloud) and might (the devastated landscape). Pictures and video of what happened to the people – of what a living creature looks like without a face – these were confiscated because of their potentially incendiary nature. In other words, if we could see them, then we might feel them. And if we had to grapple with, and even take responsibility for, such suffering, we might lose our taste for war.
This is why the narratives from the “well-written war” are so important (New York Times, 2/7/10). If our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are willing to speak from their nightmares and publicly wrestle their ghosts, we should be listening. These men and women risked their lives; they risked limbs, senses, “ability.” If they no longer believe in a war they would have died for, we need to know what they thought war was, and what turned out not to be true. We owe it to them to understand this. We owe it to our children to feel it.
It seems to me the answer is in the word: absurd.
“The civil affairs officer, Lt Jackson, stares
at his missing hands, which make
no sense to him, no sense at all, to wave
these absurd stumps held in the air
where just a moment before he’d blown bubbles
out the Humvee window…”
(Brian Turner, Here, Bullet)
Thank you, Christian
And so, it begins…
A gorgeous new website created by Christian Peet. An artistic and sensitive collaborator, an inspiring poet, and a nice person too. Peruse the many faces of Christian on his website, and check out his essential literary journal, Tarpaulin Sky.