Dec 3, 2009

Virtually Yours

The national book tour ended about a week and a half ago, covering 15 cities in about eight weeks. Many thanks to everyone at home and elsewhere who made it such a memorable trek. From the salon at Wicki’s loft in NYC all the way to Tami’s invention of the Possibilitini Martini in South Florida (see recipe below) it was an illuminating two-month dialogue with readers and new friends that I’ll not soon forget.

I’m now on Day Two of a virtual book tour, which involves a lot less physical travel but quite a bit of interaction nonetheless. It means logging on to different blogs every day that are reviewing the book or posting interviews with me, and interacting with the bloggers and their followers. The tour is virtual in every sense: Ballantine in New York contracted with a woman named Dorothy in Virginia who runs a company called Pump Up Your Book! so that an author in California can be introduced to readers all over the country—and nobody has to leave the comfort of their computer screens.

In my case, it means sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee first thing in the morning before my kids get up, to check the first round of blog comments from the East Coast; then logging on again later in the day—usually from a café in Topanga—to see who’s joined the conversation; and then checking in a third time at night after the kids have gone to bed, to respond to the final comments and thank everyone for participating.

What this online tour is revealing, right from the start, is that I’ve written a much more controversial book than I thought I had, and for reasons I wouldn’t have expected. On the physical tour I encountered mainly people who hadn’t yet read the book or who’d read it and liked it. The internet is where the divergence of opinion shows up, and sheesh, has it ever.

I knew I was taking a risk with this book, although I’d anticipated that most of the flak I’d receive would be because of its spiritual message. Instead, I’ve come under scrutiny almost exclusively because of…my parenting. Depending on the reader, my character in the book was either courageous, or irresponsible. Honest, or overanxious. Thoughtful, or (and this is a big one being leveled at many female memoirists these days) self-absorbed.

Admittedly, the choices my husband and I made nine years ago were not ones that many parents would make. One blogger—and I’m reluctant to use the word “reviewer” because blogs are personal opinions, after all—yesterday objected so strongly to us as parents that she couldn’t find much of merit in the book to recommend. (Yet one of the reader responses to her post was “I love books like this! Thanks!”—proving the point that all publicity is good publicity, I guess.) Then another blogger today at identified so much with the parents of a troubled child that she called the book one of the five best books she’d ever read.

And there you have it, my friends. The Mommy Wars. Alive and kicking on The POE blog tour.

If you really want to see the battle in action, check out the book’s Amazon reviews, where opinions range from “I couldn’t put this book down” to “I kept wanting to slap the author.” (Real nice, ay? Thanks, Marcy, whoever you are! Love you, too, sister!) And please feel free to weigh in and share your own opinion, if not specifically about my parenting—because why should the choices one mother made nine years ago matter so much to another mother today?—then about why mothers are so quick to judge those who parent differently than they do. And how at a time when unity and cooperation are so essential, the only purpose this kind of criticism serves is to help the poster feel more secure and confident about herself.

Let’s try to raise the dialogue above that level, and into a type of discourse that actually does some public good. Anyone game?

The Possibilitini
1.5 oz vodka
.5 oz Triple Sec.
.5 oz pomegranate juice
.5 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp sugar syrup.
Shake with ice and pour over 1 tsp pomegranate seeds.

Nov 24, 2009

Writing About the Extraordinary

One of the best parts of being a nonfiction writing instructor is watching students transform over the course of a week as their stories come into focus and take shape. Not just because of the excitement that comes from watching a text emerge, but from witnessing the personal changes that takes place as they reach greater insights about what they’ve experienced and what it means in a larger, universal sense.

I had a similar experience while writing The Possibility of Everything. I spent twelve chapters explaining and analyzing my complete absence of faith and trust, both of which were shattered in 1981 when my mother died, and then, when I was within ten pages of finishing the book, I had what amounted to (for me) a revelation. In the middle of an otherwise innocuous sentence, I suddenly realized that if I hadn’t had at least a small amount of faith left I never would have agreed to travel to Belize at all.

It was my Dorothy and the Red Shoes moment, an illuminating insight that revealed a truth I’d been keeping a secret even from myself. I hadn’t strayed quite as far from my roots as I’d thought, and to me this was an emotional homecoming of sorts. Once I understood what it meant, I had to go back and revise some earlier sections of the story. The delivery of the manuscript was delayed by another week, but I think the final product is stronger because of it.

The journey my family took into the rainforest was life-changing, but so was the writing of the book. Because of both of these experiences, I’ve started teaching workshops for people who also want to write about their unusual, unconventional or just non-ordinary experiences in the hope that I can help them tell their stories in a believable manner and also discover new truths about themselves.

Next July at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival I’ll be offering a six-day workshop titled Writing About the Extraordinary. “Extraordinary” is defined broadly: it can be the story of an unexpected healing; a dramatic or unusual encounter; or a mystical story of transformation like the one in my bok. The ISWF online catalog will be posted in February and registration will begin soon after. If you’re interested in this one, I suggest committing as early as you can, since it typically fills up fast.

Even sooner, I’ve just been invited to join authors Joyce Maynard and Ann Hood to teach a weeklong workshop this February at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Joyce has been running this workshop for several years and I’m very excited to be part of it. It’s different from other workshops I’ve done, insofar that students can work with one, two, or three authors at once, and also participate in a larger community of writers. We’ll also be joined by YA Author Francesco Sedita and possibly another writer, too.

The dates for the Guatemala workshop are February 13-21. If you’re interested you can get much more info here, or by contacting Melissa at (Or by contacting me at

San Marcos la Laguna is a gorgeous, magical setting for writing, and the week offers the opportunity to get double or triple the instruction that most workshops offer. I’ll be there to work with students who have non-ordinary stories to tell, but I’m very happy to work with writers of more traditional memoir or personal essays as well. Plus, I’ll be taking a few exploratory outings during the week to look for native healers around the lake, including the renowned daykeepers who still keep time by the sacred Tzolkin calendar of the Maya, and you’re very welcome to join me on those trips.

Hoping to see some of you for either of these weeks!



Nov 9, 2009

Confessions of a Closet Mystic

As I've been traveling around the country, talking about the book and meeting readers, the number one question I hear is, "How much does Maya remember from your trip?"

Not "What does she remember from your trip?" or "Who does she remember from your trip?" but "How much?"

I find this a curious question, since I can't imagine what difference the quantity of a child's memories, nine years later, could really makes to a reader. So there must be a question behind this question, some impulse that makes people shape their inquiry this way even though there's another piece of information they really want to know.

I spent about the first six weeks of the tour trying to figure this out, and the other night at Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago, when an audience member asked the same question, an insight came to me in a rush.

I think people are asking this because what they really want to know is how much of the wonder and magic of early childhood gets carried into the pre-teen years and, by extension, how much of it might still survive in our adult consciousness today.

I'll try to explain.

A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend and I was telling him how, despite all that happened to us in Belize, I'm still a skeptic at heart who applies a cynical eye to much that comes across my path.

He said, "Actually, I think you've got it backwards. I think this whole skeptic thing you've got going is just an act so people don't accuse you of being too woo-woo. I don't think you're a closet skeptic. I think you're actually a closet mystic but you're afraid to admit it to anyone, even yourself."

I immediately started crying when he said this, which means he's probably right.

Since the beginning of this tour, I've been trying to position myself as Everywomen, so that I can look out at an audience and say, "See! I'm actually very normal! I'm just like you!" in the hope that this will help them identify with my family and my story. When in fact, the more accurate statement might be, "I'm a normal person, yet I nonetheless have these beliefs. You're a lot like me!" Because I know that if you peek beneath the surface of most people, you'll find one or more stories of experiences they've had they defy easy explanation, or cross over into the mystical and cannot rely on common language for description. Whether it's a story of an incredibly coincidence that made you stop and say out loud, "What were the chances of that?" or a dream in which you received information you couldn't possibly have known when awake--it's something that can't be explained but that we nonetheless know can happen, because we experienced it ourselves.

So the reason I think so many people ask me "How much does Maya remember from your trip?" is not even because they want to believe that the open door of childhood can persist into the teenage years and beyond, but because they already know it can and are looking for validation through hearing our story.

Here's what I think: that we're a whole society of closet mystics who've been conditioned to believe only in the sanctity of scientific proof, yet who nonetheless carry within us the deep knowledge that a whole lot is going on that the scientific method cannot explain to our own satisfaction.

What would it take to get more of us to come out?

Nov 6, 2009

Reporting from the Sacbe

Dr. Rosita sent me an email the other day that said, "Still on the Sacbe?" and it made me laugh out loud. Sacbes were the ancient Maya white plastered roads that ran from town to town, and between key points within cities. Yes, I'm still on the metaphoric sacbe, until November 19, at which point I get to go home and...take a three-day nap.

I'm in the Portland Airport now, about to take flight number 15 of 18 in total. Last night I did event number 21 out of 29. Whew.

Seriously. It's the longest sacbe ever!! Walking from Chichen Itza to Cozumel would be faster. But probably, with the mosquitoes and snakes and everything, a lot less fun.

Nov 4, 2009

A View from the Bay

Yesterday in San Francisco, I appeared on a local daytime TV show called The View from the Bay. It's been a while--at least two years--since I've done any TV, and to say I was rusty was a big understatement. I arrived at the ABC studio on Front Street minus a clean copy of my own book (bad, bad author!) and without any prep or practice at all.

Amazingly, it went well anyway.

These are the nicest, and I mean the nicest, staff and hosts I've come across in a long time. Everyone from Spencer Christian, who was one of the interviewers (remember him from ??) to Jason the segment producer to the guy who miked me before I went on stage was friendly and funny. Rarest of all these days, they all seemed to actually like their jobs.

This immediately put me as ease, so when a surprise of a question--"What did you expect to happen in Belize?"--was tossed my way and I blurted out, "Well, nothing!" and we all cracked up, it actually came across (I hope) okay.

The show is now Reason #357 why I'm in love with San Francisco. The fact that it's such a writing city and the existence of North Beach restaurants rank way up there, too.

You can see the show online here.

Oct 31, 2009

The Thing About Airports

Well, a couple of things about airports.

Carpeted hallways are much, much better than tiled ones. Way less noisy, and less likelihood you will slip and almost break your laptop while running to make a connecting flight.

Those little golf carts with the blinking light in front and the come I never notice them until they're just about to run me over?

I'm not convinced boarding people by groups speeds the process up at all. It might keep people from fighting for position, though I've only ever seen that happen in Tel Aviv.

Any coffee company other than Starbucks is a welcome sight.

Air blowers in the bathroom: are they really necessary?

Portland has the best airport stores. Los Angeles has the nicest Admiral's Club. At Cedar Rapids, you almost never have to wait in a line, and your bag is likely to get the single baggage carousel before you do.

If you leave anything on the plane like, say, the four decorated Halloween cookies you bought in Iowa City to bring home for your daughters in L.A.--forget it. They're already gone.

Oct 30, 2009

A gray Midwestern morning... lifted up by a steaming cup of coffee in the right cafe, with free wireless access as an added plus. This morning it's Cafe Deluxe on Summit Street in Iowa City. For those of you who don't know Iowa City, Summit Street is a beautiful, wide, treelined street lined with big Victorian homes with large yards. I don't know for sure, but I'd guess that the town bigwigs of the early 20th century all lived here. It's got that kind of look.

About maybe 8 or 10 years ago, a little cafe opened in a tiny house right next to the railroad tracks. It's got the aura of another era--not the 1920s, but more the 40s and 50s--chrome swivel barstools, cast-iron tables and chairs, and a big glass display case up front filled with homemade cookies and cupcakes. Some kind of low-throated acoustic blues music is playing over the speakers pointed my way. It's the kind of place where you can only get half and half to go with your coffee, never milk, never lowfat milk god forbid, and the only kind of sweetener available is an old-fashioned glass sugar canister full of white granules. Domino Sugar, I'm guessing.

My daughters and I come here every summer. It's one of our favorite local spots. We usually stop by on Saturday mornings, on the way out of town to the Amish farmers' markets in Kalona. We pick up a coffee to go (for me) and a cookie and tea for them. Or banana bread. For the road.

It's too far from campus to be a student neighborhood but close enough for professors and families to bike into downtown, and as I'm sitting here now through the big glass windows up front I'm watching yellow leaves fall in the gentle wind and locals biking past. Not on the ubiquitous beach cruisers that have overtaken LA, but still on mountain bikes and true retro Schwinns with elegantly curved handlebars and triangular seats with exposed springs in the back. Today is the kind of autumn day that reminds you it's closer to winter than to summer now, with a heavy sky that's like a white lid pressing down on the town. This morning my friend Jennifer, with whom I'm staying for these three days, said if this were spring it would be a risk-of-tornado day, but being October it's just an autumn tipping point.

Many authors feel the best part of book tours is being in the midst of readers, appearing at bookstores, sitting in studios answering challenging questions (hopefully) from radio hosts. Ideally, back in a city you know well, and have friends, or where you once lived. But for me the best part is these quiet hours in the middle of the day when I'm neither in transit nor on the stage, just sitting by myself to regroup, refresh, renew, in a familiar environment. Cafe Deluxe. Definitely fits the bill.

Oct 25, 2009

Live taping in SF on 11/3--free tickets!

On Tuesday, November 3rd I'll be taping a live daytime TV talk show on ABC in San Francisco. The show has very generously extended an invitation to tickets to any of my friends who'd like to attend. If you're in SF and would like to come, here's the info from the show's audience coordinator, Rachel Wyatt, below:

I would like to extend a special invitation to Hope Edelman's friends, family and colleagues to be in our studio audience the day that she will be appearing on “The View From The Bay” Tuesday Nov. 3rd, 2009.

Meet Spencer Christian and Janelle Wang and get a chance to see the behind the scenes of a live television broadcast. Tickets for the show must be reserved in advance. Audience doors open at 2:15pm with a cut-off time of 2:30pm, the show is live from 3-4pm.

To reserve your seats please call the ticket request line at (415)-954-7733 or visit and click on “be in our audience” and fill out a ticket request form.

Please be sure to note under “comments” if you are requesting a specific date to support someone scheduled to be on the show.

Please note that all seats must be reserved in advance. Tickets that have been requested will be sent via an email confirmation with detailed instruction on where and when to arrive at the ABC studio. Also note that audience members come in a separate entrance and time than guests appearing on the show. If you are a guest on the show and you will be bringing your guests with you they will need to check in with me (Rachel Wyatt) by 2:30pm to be seated in the audience.

Oct 13, 2009

Imagine This

After last Tuesday’s Oprah show, I received a flood of emails from friends and readers. The episode detailed the challenges and hardships faced by a Los Angeles family raising a 7-year-old daughter with severe schizophrenia. Their story first appeared in the LA Times this summer. Jani Schofield is a child who lives half in our world and half in her own, where dozens of animals and people compete for her time and attention—animals and people only she can see.

When I read the article online in July, I immediately emailed the link to my husband. “I’m not saying anything,” I wrote. “Just read it and tell me what you think.”

He emailed back within twenty minutes. “That was chilling,” was all he said.

To hear about a seven-year-old schizophrenic is troubling for any parent. It was especially so for us. As Jani’s parents revealed, their daughter’s hallucinations started at age two, when she began speaking of an elaborate posse of imaginary friends who goaded her into aggression. At first, they thought she had an overactive imagination. But then they became concerned that her behavior was taking an atypical turn.

As most of you know, our daughter also had series of “friends” at that age. This alone was not a problem. I had an imaginary companion as a child; my sister did, too. Ours came and went freely, and appeared completely benign. My daughter, on the other hand, talked about one of her “friends” constantly, in a manner more articulate and detailed than one might expect a two-year-old could manage. She described with utter conviction the island where he lived, a whole world she claimed she could see. As the months progressed, my husband and I became more than a little concerned.

Creativity or delusion? We couldn’t tell.

“It’s a normal developmental phase,” the pediatrician assured us. “She’ll grow out of it,” the therapist with whom we consulted said. When my daughter's behavior became mildly aggressive and she attributed her actions to her “friend,” we were told this, too, was within the normal range. But we were the ones who’d witnessed our daughter’s development every day since her birth. We felt that something else was going on, that the rote explanations we were given somehow weren't adding up.

Our quest to help our daughter eventually brought us to Maya healers in the Central American country of Belize. The trip yielded inexplicable yet effective results--a wholly unexpected outcome for a self-professed cynic like me.

To say some readers have disagreed with the parenting choices I made puts it mildly. Some have labeled me over-reactive and overprotective. The more blunt ones have called me a total nutcase.

What can I say? I also questioned my judgment, my motives, and my sanity nine years ago, and again as I wrote the story down. What kind of mother, I wondered, alows her imagination to tumble into such extreme and dramatic territory? Why couldn’t I sit back and let the “friend” disappear on its own? And then I read about the Schofield’s plight, and it confirmed that labeling (and self-labeling) a mother as an over-reacter is nothing short of maternal censorship. Sometimes, a mother’s intuition is her most powerful tool.

I don’t believe my daughter had early schizophrenia. Such a condition is incredibly rare, affecting only one out of 10,000-30,000 children, depending on the study quoted. I still don’t know what she had, only that in Belize its most negative aspects went away.

It’s possible she had a little-known phenomenon called a “paracosm,” a child’s fantasy world populated by people and animals, with its own geography and language. The Bronte siblings are believed to have had one; W.H. Auden, too. (Think of Terabithia, and you’ve got the idea.) Some researchers say paracosms are markers for extreme creativity in adulthood. It’s as atypical as childhood schizophrenia, though in a very different way. But to a parent who doesn’t understand the distinction, they look very much the same.

As every parent knows, raising a child is a journey, a rollercoaster and, above all, a mystery. We begin with the best intentions, only to discover we don’t have total control. No matter how many books we read, experts we consult, or plans we make, there is an unquantifiable element at work here, an enigmatic, indescribable ingredient that determines whether a child grows up happy, grows up secure, grows up safe. Parenting is as much about ambiguity as it is about certainty, as much about intuition and wonder as it is about fact.

It’s a tenuous, miraculous task to shepherd a child safely into adulthood. Yet we all carry within us the gut-wrenching, unspeakable knowledge that despite our best intentions, things can still go horribly wrong. It’s not hard to read about a family like the Schofields, a good, loving family that wants the best for their daughter and is determined to provide it, and think: if not but for the grace of god goes my family, too.

Frankly, if not but for the grace of something unknowable and unseen that guides parents—call it whatever you will—go us all.

Oct 12, 2009

Salons, salons, salons!

I've been traveling around for the past two weeks, so far in the New York area and in three sites in Oregon, soon to leave again for Austin, to promote The Possibility of Everything. The majority of these stops are for house salons, which are private parties where 20 to 30 people gather for an evening of food, drinks, and conversation. I read from the book and answer questions. We talk and eat and drink some more. Typically, book stores come to do off-site sales. I'm finding them to be more intimate and more personal than usual bookstore readings, even more rowdy at times. (With the exception of the reading at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, Oregon, which may be the last city in the U.S. where people listen to a radio show in the morning and then show up at a bookstore reading at 4 p.m. just because they're curious to hear more. Ashland, you are my new favorite place!) Plus, at a salon I really get to know readers, instead of being able to exchange just a few sentences with them when they hand me a book to sign.

I'm appearing at bookstores as well, and also literary festivals, but these house salons: they are a huge amount of fun. Still to come after Austin: Chicago, Iowa City, San Jose CA, Portland OR, and South Florida. Let me know if you'd like to host one in Central or Southern California--we still have room for a few more!

So many thanks to Wicki Boyle in New York City, Allison Gilbert in Irvington, NY, Jennifer Margulis in Ashland, Oregon, and Gretchen Newcomb in Hood River, Oregon, for hosting the first four salons of this tour. (That's me speaking in Gretchen's living room in the photo above.)

Sep 25, 2009

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Never seen my name on a marquis before. This was a very exciting first. Thanks to Bookworks in New Mexico for the thrill.

Sep 22, 2009

Topanga Book Release Party, September 20

What great fun was had on Sunday! Nearly 100 people showed up for the launch party for The Possibility of Everything, followed by a community event in Topanga for about another 25 readers. So many thanks go to Bill Buerge, owner of the Topanga Mermaid, for hosting the event; to Village Books for being our local independent on-site bookseller; The Boxer Cafe for delicious food; Monica Holloway for the hilarious and heartfelt toast; Jamie and Julia for all the organizing; Wendy for help with the drinks; and all the friends who came to celebrate with us. Special thanks to the fabulous women in my writing group for standing with me in front of the huge fireplace and talking about their experience helping me shape the story for the past two years. Especially Deborah, our resident skeptic, who revealed that although I hadn't quite yet convinced her in the Possibility of Everything, I've opened her up to the Possibility of More.

That's me in the photo with Katie O'Laughlin, the owner of Village Books in Pacific Palisades and champion of local authors, and Rachel Resnick, fellow Topanga writer and author of the powerful memoir Love Junkie, out in paperback now.

Sep 18, 2009

Release (Control) Day, September 15

Several people have asked how I spent September 15, which was the day the book was released. This is a posting I did that morning over at, where I've been posting the Countdown to Publication blog. It offers a pretty clear picture of how I spent the 24 hours leading up to September 15. Photos of Monica and I at the computer store to follow shortly...


If I hadn’t witnessed yesterday with my own eyes, I might not believe it happened. But it did, and I’m here to tell you the crazy story. I have to tell it in a fast first draft though, because the laptop I’m working on might not stay charged long enough for me to edit and post it. But I get ahead of myself.

Yesterday was a big marketing day, possibly even bigger than today. It was my last chance before release to let everyone on God’s earth and their grandma know that The Possibility of Everything is in stores today. I had about thirty tasks I’d left until the very last day. Postings, mass emails, personal emails, etcetera etcetera.

I woke up in the morning intending to start with posting to my Facebook friends, a list of more than 700 people I’ve carefully cultivated for the past year, but the system wouldn’t let me log on. What? I’d been on the site until midnight the night before, sending invitations to a public reception in L.A. this Sunday, inviting people to join the book’s Group page, posting a notice on my college alumni site. Did I do too self-promotion all at once? I seem to be doing way less than other authors I see on Facebook, but maybe I got nailed. Who knows? There’s no customer service number to call, no clear email address to appeal to for help. I sent a plea into the Facebook vortex, and received an automated response to the effect of “someone will review your appeal and get back to you.” Okay. In the meantime, no Facebook access. Well, I figured, as long as I’ve still got my email accounts, I’ll survive.

But then. At about 3 p.m., as I was working on my four-year-old laptop at a café, my battery warning light came on. This was puzzling, since the computer was plugged into the wall. I checked the charger connections. Everything looked fine. I tried another outlet. Same thing. I rushed the computer home to back up my hard drive files—because like everyone else I know, I don’t do this often enough and I’m about a month overdue—but the computer went into hibernation before I could finish.

I drove down to the computer store and pled my case. The nice guy with a nametag that said Om (I’m not kidding) diagnosed a bad battery and showed me how I could remove the battery and still use the computer plugged in to the wall. This worked fine in the store. It wasn’t a great solution, but it would work at least until I could get a new laptop. So I came home, ate dinner with the family, helped Eden with her second-grade homework, put both girls to bed. Then I tried to go back online.

Kaput again. No amount of fancy maneuvers from my high-tech husband could make it power up.

We took out my old laptop, the one where the power cord has to be plugged in just right for it to work. It was dead as well.

You know those moments when you feel like you’ve stepped into a zone beyond the beyond? This was one of them. It reminded me of Chapter Four in my book, where in spite of all our good intentions and efforts we keep missing our flights to Belize. What should half taken us a half day of travel instead took two. It was like one of those dreams where you’re trying to get somewhere important and keep tripping over your own feet. Or trying to dial a telephone and over and over again but keep skipping a digit or getting the number wrong.

At this point it was 9:30 p.m. and I was, literally, sitting on the couch sobbing. My husband had figured out a way to get my old laptop charged, but only if we kept it in a certain position on the kitchen table and didn’t move it an inch. It was better than nothing, but barely.

Then the phone rang. I told my husband that whoever it was, I wasn’t home, except it was my dear friend Monica. Monica Holloway, also an author with a book coming out this fall. She was calling to wish me good luck today and wasn’t expecting a slobbering mess to get on the line, but she rolled with that one quickly. And made me laugh. And told me that goddammit, she’s meeting me today at 10 a.m. at the Sony store in Woodland Hills and—I quote her here—we’re not leaving a f*&%ing man standing until I walk out of there with a functioning computer. And that then, yeah baby, we need to find someone to stir me something strong.

After we got off the phone, I borrowed my husband’s laptop and sent an email to twenty close friends, explaining the situation and asking them to be my presence on the internet today. This was a big stretch for me: it’s incredibly hard for me to ask for help. I’m the kind of person who always insists on doing everything myself. But the responses I’ve received have been instantaneous and beautiful, from the friends who assure me they’ll do whatever they can; to the ones who remind me that given the subject matter of the book, this is exactly how events need to unfold; to the ones who remind me Mercury is in retrograde and this makes appliances break down, so it’s not my fault.

It’s strange to have spent the last six months preparing for the release of this book only to have my hands tied on the very day itself, but maybe that’s the real message here. The book is the story of how I went from being a person without trust in anything or anyone other than myself to someone who learned to feel safe in the world again. So maybe for me, Release Day needs to be Release Control Day. I’ve done my work, and now the book has to go out there without me, born on the wings of my friends.

So what will I be doing on release day? Well, I’m going to post this quickly, before the computer dies again, and then brew a pot of coffee. I’m going to put away the laundry that's been sitting in the basket at the boot of my bed for a week. Then I'm going to put on my “Who says people in L.A. don’t read?” T-shirt and drive down to Best Buy with my AmEx card to meet Monica. Both of us will say a little prayer that my last advance check comes in soon so I can pay off the bill. Then I’ll pick up my kids from school and take Eden to her first ballet class. And I’ll keep reminding myself that the book, in stores today, belongs to everyone now and not just me.

There is much to be grateful for today. Books on the shelves, a publisher who backs it, a laptop that’s staying charged long enough for me to type all this to you, and extraordinary friends. And a cell phone on which my editor and publicist can reach me today, if necessary. Thank god my Blackberry is still working. For now.

Sep 14, 2009

Speaking of Memoir

The best interviewers are the ones who ask thoughtful and probing questions, and who have really taken their time to read a book and consider the writer's intent. On Friday I had the great fortune of speaking with two such interviewers, Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler, of

Our 45-minute talk covered memoir writing in general and my experience writing The Possibility of Everything in particular, and includes a couple of unique tips for writers I've picked up over the past 20 years. And the best part: the interview is available online, for free, at

Click here to hear the interview. You can read more about itin Matilda's blog at Story Circle Network, too.

Sep 9, 2009

Guest blogging

I've been telling people that I went into the writing cave two years ago to write my next book, and that when I emerged the entire marketing landscape for book publishing had changed. Case in point: the blogosphere.

People keep blogs as a form of journaling: that much I understood. But the use of blogs for marketing purposes was entirely new to me. Several bloggers have spontaneously reviewed The Possibility of Everything in write-ups that range from professional-style reviews to rambling paragraphs of personal opinion. It's a little like being invited to a big party, then being asked to leave the room while everyone talks about you behind your back.

That's why the opportunity to be a guest blogger on some sites has been a welcome opportunity. This week, you can find a piece I wrote over at, a site for both aspiring and accomplished women writers about how to avoid Kitchen-Sink writing, meaning how to not include everything when writing a memoir. The posting is here. On Monday, September 13 there will be a link there to a phone interview I did with the site's leaders about writing The Possibility of Everything, and about memoir writing in general. More on that soon.

Also, over at Fully, Carrie Link's blog, you can read a Q&A with me about the events in the book, and my experiences writing it.

More to come, including write-ups in People and Entertainment Weekly, we've been told.

Sep 6, 2009

September 15, Everyone's Big Day

The publication date for The Possibility of Everything is September 15--in nine days!--which sounds like a fine day to me.

Turns out, it's a fine day for a whole list of other authors as well.

It's the day Dan Brown's new book hits stores, as well as Jacqueline Mitchard's new novel, No Time To Wave Goodbye, which is the sequel to the blockbuster first Oprah pick The Deep End of the Ocean. Jon Krakauer's new nonfiction book about the football star turned solider who died in Afghanistan also comes out that day. And a novel about Jane Austen and sea monsters. I kid you not.

My editor says all this is good good good, since it'll drive a lot of extra traffic into bookstores that week. I'm thinking that the best I can hope for is that spouses of Dan Brown fans will be wandering aimlessly though the stores, waiting for their husbands' pre-orders to be brought to the front registers, when a bright blue butterfly on the cover of a new memoir catches their eyes.

Unless they're already skimming Jacqueline Mitchard's book, which they should be, because it's wonderful.

It's going to be a very, very busy and interesting week, next week.

Stay tuned.

Sep 1, 2009

While L.A. Burns

The fires in the San Gabriel Mountains this week have been bigger than anyone I know in Los Angeles can ever remember, which is saying a lot, since one part of another of the city seems to catch fire at least once or twice a year. At night, the girls and I go out on the deck and look at the neon orange line framing the mountaintops in the distance. If you watch it long enough, you can see bright flareups that look so alarming from 20 miles away it's nearly impossible to imagine how apocalyptic they must be up close.

It feels strange, to put it mildly, to be gearing up for a book release--only 15 days away--and going through the manic motions of last-minute marketing and publicity while such a disaster is unfolding just across town. I remember two years ago, in October 2007, when power lines came down overnight in Malibu, sparking a fire that nearly burned Eden's elementary school, took dozens of houses in its race to the ocean, and had us evacuated for four nights. As I drove the girls and the cat and whatever we deemed irreplaceable that could fit in the car down the mountain, I was struck by how normal everything was once we reached the San Fernando Valley. It felt as if we'd been sprinting toward safety as we drove out of Topanga, only to reach Mulholland Highway and find no sign of abnormality at all. Until we turned around, and saw the enormous cloud of smoke rising from the mountains behind us.

That's just one of the surreal elements of a wildfire, how localized it can be. And so while residents of Glendale and La Canada and Acton pack up and drive away with their children and pets, not knowing if they'll have a house to return to, at least this time over in Topanga Canyon it's business as usual. Optimizing the web site. Planning the book tour. Designing promotional postcards to mail out. Writing this week's blog entry for And hoping that one more story about a family's search for safety and security will be of interest to others.

Aug 10, 2009

The Ambivalent Exclamation

Walking around the Northwestern University campus on Thursday with Katherine and Will--it's been more than twenty years since we were all there together. Impossible to believe. Now we've returned with four daughters between us. And I have to say: walking down Sheridan Road in sub-Arctic temperatures with a chilling wind and icy sidewalks and twelve pounds of books in my arms when I was 21 was somehow much easier than walking down Sheridan Road on a perfect summer day with two kids to herd away from traffic when I'm 45, especially when one of those kids is hell-bent on climbing everything that doesn't move. That would be Eden. Who I swear is part monkey.

As we neared the big bend in Sheridan that marks the southern edge of campus, we passed the Victorian house that was once the departmental office for Anthropology, which was my minor. And in the strange, associative way that memory works, I remembered taking a class in that building during my senior year with the legendary Navajo scholar Ozzie Werner, which then made both Katherine and I remember we'd been friends with his son Derek, which made us wonder where Derek is now, which made Will remember that Derek had once been on a campaign to get people to adopt what he called "the ambivalent exclamation point." Essentially, it was the top of an exclamation point with a comma (and not a period) underneath it, to denote a slightly less than enthusiastic response. Or a non-committal reaction. Or a passive-aggressive response, although I don't think we knew the term "passive-aggressive" back then. Kind of like what Alaskans would have put after the headline "Sarah Palin resigns," explained Katherine and Will, who are longtime Alaska Democrats. (Proving that's not an oxymoron.)

I hope the ambivalent exclamation point hasn't disappeared into oblivion. If I could find Derek Werner, I'd ask him to revive it. Or at least to cede rights to its revival to me. Because I think it's a brilliant invention. Imagine all the uses we could put it to. I, personally, would stick it at the end of headlines that interest other people but about which I have to work really, really hard to care. "Bush Lonely in Dallas." "Octomom Gets New Reality Show." It's a way to acknowledge other people's interest, while politely yawning at the same time.

Punctuation: it's both sorely underrated, and in need of invigoration. When did we last get a new punctuation mark? It's time.

Aug 2, 2009

Hooverfest, West Branch, Iowa, August 1

Yesterday we went to West Branch, Iowa, for the annual Hooverfest. West Branch is the birthplace of Herbert Hoover, 31st president of the U.S., and the last president to steer the country into a profound economic downturn. Perhaps only in West Branch is Hoover celebrated as a hero. Elsewhere, he's remembered as the president who got the country into a very bad spot and couldn't manage to get it out.

If not for the Hoover mark of distinction, West Branch might otherwise be synonymous with any small Midwestern town, postcard-perfect with its main street, Victorian clapboard houses, and wide green parks. Though we've spent the past six summers in Eastern Iowa, this is the first time we've gone to Hooverfest. Usually we hit Solon Beef Days and, last year, the Lisbon Kraut Festival, but having missed both of those this year due to Maya's camp schedule, we decided to give Hooverfest a try.

It was more of an outdoor fair than a carnival, with a plethora of historical booths and craft demonstrations lined up throughout the town's central park. We walked through the tiny two-room house where Hoover was born, and saw his father's blacksmith shop. (Little known fact: Hoover was orphaned at age nine.) The girls had the chance to grind cornmeal by hand and try out a two-handled saw. We had a long talk with the women representing the West Branch Historial Society, as well as with a man named Steve from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Burr Oak, Iowa. Apparently the Ingalls family lived for a year in Iowa when Laura was 8 or 9, but since this predating the Little House in the Big Woods time (Book 1), she never wrote about it. Who knew?

Like most small Midwestern town fairs, this one had a strong military presence, with tent booths representing the U.S. Army and various other military branches and posts. Normally I'd find this unsettling, lifelong peacenik that I am, but I also have a corresponding deep respect for those who choose to defend the country. Also, everyone was just so darn nice all day, even the guys in military regalia adorned with more buttons and pins than I could count.

At about 4:00 everyone started setting up lawn chairs on the grassy spread next to the Presidential Library so we wandered over to see what it was all about. A musical performance began, with what looked like about 20 youngish men and woman singing and swing dancing to 40s big-band music. About halfway into the performance, a simulated radio announcer came over the microphone and announced that Pearl Harbor had just been attacked by the Japanese, and the performers all stood stock still as if just receiving and taking in the news. I looked around to see if anyone else thought this was as strange as I did, sitting on a lawn on a sunny, green Midwestern day with Japan now a major trade partner across the ocean and just a connecting flight away, but most everyone else seemed to be watching the show intently.

The storyline became a little hard to follow at this point, but then one of the performers announced they'd now be doing a tribute to the various branches of the military, and invited veterans to stand when they heard their divison's song. A group of men four abreast in identical naval uniforms stood when the first bars began. When the music changed, they sat and a few other men peppered throughout the crowd stood up from their lawn chairs and faced the stage, where the performers were engaging in some kind of hokey marching-in-place routine meant, I suppose, to represent uniformity and endurance? None of the men standing on the lawn were younger than 50, so we're talking Vietnam War here, and even some World War II. It was impossible not to notice how straight all the men stood, with such expressions of pride, such a simple gesture but also so profound. It was humbling to watch.
And then another division's song started and an elderly man in front of us stood up. He balanced his left side against a cane, and with his other hand pulled off his baseball cap and started whipping it around in circles above his head in time to the music.

Something about this scene--the senior citizen who could barely stand on his own joyously whooping it up during his moment of honor on a green lawn on a safe and glorious summer day, was almost more than I could handle, and the tears started running down my face. (I have a long history of embarrassing my daughters in public with my random crying jags when I witness things that move me, so they barely even acknowledged this one.) And I thought, what a beautiful, crazy, complicated, mysterious, goddamned fantastic country this is.

As a writer, what can you do with moments like these, what else can you possibly do with them, except go home and try to make art?

Jul 7, 2009

What You Get When You Let a Seven-Year-Old Be the Judge

Maya, Eden and I were playing Apples to Apples the other night.

Eden wanted to be the judge, so we said okay, even though she also decided she would moonlight on Maya's "team."

The card we picked was "Predictable."

Maya put down "Costume Party." I put down "Doctor's Waiting Room."

"A costume party is totally predictable," Maya argued first. "People have to wear costumes, they're told what time to show up, and they all dress like something else."

"Are you kidding?" I said. "A doctor's waiting room is the definition of predictable. Every office has one, and you always have to sit in it before your appointment, and you always have to sit in it for longer than you want to."

Eden mulled over the arguments. Then she directed a look of pure sympathy at me as she handed the card to Maya.

"I'm sorry, Mom," she said. "But Maya's right. Sometimes you have to wait longer than expected for the pinata."

Jul 3, 2009

My dear friend Kamy Wicoff and her business partners just launched a new literary networking site for women authors, and I'm proud to be an Alpha member. It's open to any woman writer, published or not, and will serve as a support network for marketing and promotion of books, as well as an information and social site for fiction writers, memoirists, journalists, screenwriters, poets, bloggers, and writing students.

The tag line is SHE WRITES...she teaches, she tours, she reads, she markets, she promotes, she posts, she coaches, she networks, she invents, she creates, she obsesses, she sells, she signs, she strives, she needs help.

Which pretty much says it all. Especially the obsesses part, in this house.

The site launched just on Monday and in four days already more than 800 writers have joined, proving that when an urgent need is identified, if you build a site for it, they will come. Evidently, in droves.

Congratulations Kamy, et al!!

Here's the link. If you are a woman writer, you don't want to miss this. I think it's going to be huge.

Jun 22, 2009

Weekend in Tucson

Uzi and I spent the last weekend in Tucson at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) annual conference. What an extremely interesting group of people. I first heard of them a few months ago when I went to a symposium in Malibu about honeybees--possible research for my next book--that was sponsored in part by IONS. I guess I got on their mailing list that day, because in late April I received a catalogue for their June conference, "Toward a Global Shift: Seeding the Field of Collective Change." It looked like a potentially useful conference to attend in preparation for the book release, and also just an interesting phenomenon to check out. And we figured, Tucson isn't that far, and our babysitter just got back from Spain and can watch the kids for two nights--it's been years since we've gone away together for a weekend--so why not?

Wow. This was a pretty amazing conference. More than 1,000 people in a ballroom every day listening to everyone from corporate CEOs to Indian gurus to African community organizers talking about how everyone can help transform the planet into a more sustainable, compassionate, abundant place for everyone. The Institute's mission is to nurture the conversation between science and spiritual values, vis a vis funding scientific studies, supporting green initiatives, and creating curriculums of non-violence for schools. They're interested in the role consciousness plays in everyday life and if you believe in the power of intention, as I do, it's fairly incredible to sit in a ballroom with a thousand other people who do, too.

We heard a speech by Edgar Mitchell, the former Apollo astronaut and one of only about a dozen Americans who've been to the moon. On his trip back to earth he looked out of the shuttle window and saw the earth from a vantage point few get to see, and had a profoundly spiritual moment, realizing we're all on this little planet together in the vastness of space. In his own words, "The presence of divinity became almost palpable, and I knew that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes." As a scientist and engineer, he didn't have a framework to fully integrate the awareness that reality might be more subtle and mysterious than he'd bargained for, but he went looking for others with the same belief, and in 1973 they founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences. (The name comes from the Greek word "nous," which loosely means "intuitive ways of knowing.")

Mitchell has a book I just ordered called The Way of the Explorer. The Institute is at for anyone who wants to check it out.

Jun 15, 2009

Let the Sun Shine

So, Maya's last day of school was Wednesday, and the school's annual talent show always takes place that morning. This year (like last year) she did a hula hoop routine. She set it to "Let the Sun Shine In" from Hair, and dressed up in green harem pants, a white Indian shirt, a green suede vest, and a headband with a big white flower pinned on it. I wish I had a still photo to post here, but I was filming it on video and didn't have a free hand. Plus, it's a new video camera and I don't really know how to use it very well, so it took all my effort to get that right.

She was the last act in the show, and if you know the song, you probably remember that the first three minutes is a medley of different voices and even pieces of different songs, and the next three minutes is full of very melodic but also unimaginative lyrice--it's just "Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in, the su-un, shine in" over and over again. For the last two minutes she invited the whole show cast on stage with her and all the kids were dancing and singing together. It was a really beautiful ending to both the show and the year. Because I'm such a sucker for kids singing on stage of course I started crying, and trying to keep a videocamera steady when you're reduced to a blubbering mess, especially when you're using the camera for the first time (see above) was a real sight to behold, let me tell you.

The top two contenders for songs to hoop to were "Let the Sun Shine In" and "The Age of Aquarius"--which is an excellent song for hooping, by the way. We've been listening to the soundtrack from "Hair" in the car (minus the R-rated songs, which I nearly always remember to skip over) pretty consistently since returning from New York in April, where we saw the play on Broadway. I'd loved the music from "Hair" as a kid, and have vivid memories of dancing around like a dervish in our wood-paneled basement singing "The air, the air, is everywhere." The movie came out when I was 14, and set me off on a long and torturous path of relationships with every man I met who looked remotely like Treat Williams. No job? Even better!

Seeing the play on Broadway, 40 years after its original appearance there, yielded a couple of large surprises. One was that I realized I still knew all the words to all the songs, even though I hadn't heard some of them in more than 20 years. Another was that bringing two kids, ages 11 and 7, to see "Hair" is a much more questionable parenting decision than I'd initially bargained for. I'd sussed out the nudity part in advance, and had been assured that it was handled tastefully (which it was). Plus, these are Topanga kids. Naked neighbors in backyard hot tubs are part of their landscape; I wasn't terribly worried about that part. I'd completely forgotten how raunchy some of the lyrics were, though. A few lines into "Sodomy" Eden leaned over and loudly whispered, "Mom! What do all these words mean?" I told her, "I'll explain when you're older" and she seemed okay with that. But the F-word was omnipresent, and there was lots of sexual mimicry on stage, oy vey. I hope I haven't inspired years on therapists' couches ("And my mother? My mother took me to see HAIR!"). Nonetheless, the play was a joyous celebration of nonconformity, with dancing up and down the aisles, and audience members invited to dance on stage at the end, a wild, colorful, uplifting party of a play. And the inspiration for a school talent show hula-hoop routine. Who would have thought?

May 31, 2009

The Powers of Persuasion

When I was down running errands this afternoon, the girls wrote an argumentative essay trying to convince one of us to bring them to a movie this afternoon. "I didn't even use any comma splices!" Maya announced, as she handed me the two-page, typed essay, tucked into a plastic report cover. And done in five colors of type. Here you go:

Why We Should See UP
By: Maya and Eden

Maya and Eden are anxiously awaiting your opinion on the following. We would like you to consider us seeing the movie UP, in digital 3-D. In this essay you may learn why we want to see UP, what UP is about, and when and where it is playing.

We would like to see UP because it is superbly-completely-totally-entirely-awesomely-radically-bodaciously in 3-D. We would also like to see it so we don't feel left out in school. It would also be a great pleasure to us to see a 3-D movie. I heart the cute little glasses.

UP is about an old, grouchy man who wants to go on an adventure...alone! Unfortunately a fat boy scout tags along. They go on the adventure of a lifetime by flying in a house held-up by balloons. They travel to Paradise Falls (I think) a remote place with no humans. However, there is a talking dog. Please let us see UP!

UP is playing today in Santa Monica at: 4:30, 7:10, and 9:50. UP is playing in Woodland Hills at: 2:50, 5:35, and 8:15. Eden and Maya made a haiku and limerick about UP.


UP is a movie
It has a house with balloons
It is in 3-D


UP has balloons
UP isn't a cartoon
UP is about a flying house
UP isn't about a mouse
In UP they get stuck in a monsoon

We Hope You Liked It Muchacho

Suffice it to say: while I'm home for the next two hours packing for New York, Uzi is down in Woodland Hills sitting through the 5:35 showing of UP.
We're such suckers for a good essay.

May 28, 2009

Spelling and More Spelling

News has come down the pipeline that the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District is going to experience somewhere in the vicinity of a bazillion dollar shortfall over the next two years, and that all bets are off on what's going to have to be cut. At first we parents thought we were looking at our kids losing art and music instruction (bad, but not devastating) and were worried class sizes would go up (which they very likely will). Now word is that one of the three Malibu elementary schools might have to be closed. Whoa. This is serious stuff, folks, and a direct result of the California legislature's inability to vote on a budget for many months now, resulting in a $5.3 billion statewide reduction in education funding next year, as well as voters' clear message when defeating five May 19 ballot measures that education isn't going to be a priority in these hard economic times.

I really dread becoming one of those mothers who goes on ad infinitum about her children's schools, but this is serious stuff, people. The only comparison I can make is the austerity measures of 1970s school districts in New York, but even then I don't remember music and art getting cut. Here in our district, we're all in wait-and-see mode, wondering how big the axe is going to be when (not if, but when) it falls. Which should be some time this summer, probably while the girls and I are in Iowa, a state that actually does care about education funding. And legal gay marriage. If only it weren't so damn cold there most of the year.

In the meantime, the first-grade spell-o-rama of random high-school-level words continues. Here's Eden's list of words to study for the weekly test tomorrow:
1. store
2. more
3. before
4. corn
5. or
6. for
7. morning
8. afford
9. prehensile
10. arachnid
11. amphibian

May 5, 2009

First-grade spellers

Eden goes to public school in Malibu--a small, well-funded, really excellent public school. Her teacher this year is the same one Maya had in the first grade, who we were hoping she'd get because we liked her so much the first time around, and like her just as much the second. Very high-quality academics. Still, the list of spelling words she brought home last week was off-the-charts funny. It's like the kids got eight years of spelling quizzes rolled into one. (They're learning about the rainforest this week, but still.)
1. by
2. my
3. fly
4. cry
5. try
6. pry
7. multiply
8. predator
9. emergent
10. camouflage
I'm not even sure I spelled camo correctly there.

Apr 8, 2009

Dispatch from Amsterdam

We've been here two days, having tagged along with Uzi on his business trip for the girls' Spring Break. I haven't been to Amsterdam since 1989, when I was backpacking through Europe and staying in youth hostels, and though the city center hasn't changed much physically, I'm here under a whole new set of circumstances now. We arrived on Monday morning, and after a four-hour nap Maya and I walked over to the Albert Cuyp Market to pick up some food. It's about 6 blocks from our hotel, in the multiethnic, bohemian De Pijp section of town--lots of bright colors and noise and activity. The people are just as friendly as I remember from 1989, and everyone speaks English. Pretty fluently. There are thousands of bicyclists on the street at all times, especially during rush hour--people walk their dogs by bicycle, text message, even put on makeup--and cyclists seem to have right of way under all circumstances. Minding the bike lanes takes some very focused practice to avoid getting plowed over.

Yesterday we walked everywhere because the sky was clear, and that's a rarity here this time of year. We tried to start at the Anne Frank House but even at 10:30 a.m. the line was far too we visited the Tulip Museum nearby, the Houseboat Museum, and climbed to the top of Westerkerk, from which we had a stellar view down on the annex where the Franks hid for two years. We ate pannenkoekem for lunch (the Dutch version of pancakes, which resembles ours only in shape), went to an Easter Carnival in Dam Square, and ended the day at the Van Gogh Museum. After a rest at the hotel we met my grade-school friend Kim (who's lived here for 7 years) for dinner at an Indian restaurant and collapsed into bed around 10 p.m. Whew.

A couple of random obervations. The stairs in Amsterdam houses are unbelievably steep. It's probably because houses here were taxed on their widths (a long way from Proposition 13) and aren't very deep, so to maximize living space people scrimped on staircase depth. To get to our guest apartment at the hotel we have to climb up two sets of the steepest, shallowest stairs I've ever encountered. The only appreciable different between them and a ladder is carpeting.

Except when riding bicycles, people don't use their cell phones in public--not while walking down the street, not in stores, not on the tram. It's a sad statement about the U.S. that I find this to be almost unbearably weird.

While the spoken language sounds a lot like German to me, I find the printed language hilarious. It combines letters you'd never see together in English, and often strings vowels and consonents in odd and fascinating combinations. Plus, the words go on forever. We amused ourselves this evening by selecting random words from the Dutch travel phrase book I brought with me. My favorite was voedselvergiftiging: "food poisoning"

Everyone in America talks about how the dollar is still doing poorly against the Euro, but once you deduct Amsterdam's 19 percent sales tax (which is included in sticker prices here) and add 9.25 percent (our brand-new state sales tax, thank you so much Arnold) to California prices, the difference is almost negligable on many items.

Some things here that are noticeably cheaper than they are in California:
museum entry fees
wooden spoons

Items that are significantly more expensive:
Restaurant food

Also, this city has the best coffee I've ever met, even though the portions are about half the size of Starbucks (haven't seen a single Starbucks here, blessedly). But there are two Chabads.

Mar 9, 2009

Coming Home, Take Two

This return from Belize was rockier than the last one, and I've been trying to figure out why. It wasn't that I wasn't happy to be back, or to see the family--I missed them terribly. And it wasn't just that I was reluctant to step back into the usual early morning/bus stop/errands/workday/dinner/homework routine/bed too late routine, although that was undeniably a part of it.

I've been back a week now, and here's what I think: that there's something to all the talk about how modern society is incompatible with living a spiritual life. After 10 days in Belize, where the pace is relaxed, the living is simple, the spirit world is an accepted part of daily life, and signs are everywhere and easily recognizable, Los Angeles was a startling transition. On the one hand, I stepped outside the airport with my bags and heard the familiar sounds and felt the inimitable Los Angeles night air and knew I was back home, a comforting feeling. On the other hand, re-entering the noise, the anxiety, the confusion, the chaos, made the window slam shut on all the spiritual openness I'd managed to achieve over the past ten days. Maybe not entirely, but mostly, it felt.

The real challenge for those of us who live ordinary lives in the U.S., I think, is not to find a spiritual connection, but to figure out how to maintain it in the face of all the distractions and responsibilities that clutter our days here. I'm not advocating abandoning those responsibilities, only musing on how to maintain a connection to the Higher Self when so many small moments of the day keep pulling us down to the mundane, lower vibrations that keep the city spinning.

In the meantime, while I'm trying to figure this out, here's a photo of some of the girls in Rosita's workshop in Belize. I'm the third one from the right.

Feb 10, 2009

Doing the Turnaround

Eight days in Belize, followed by seventeen days at home, followed by ten days in Belize. That's pretty much all of February. I'm in the middle of the turnaround right now, assisting with sixth-grade homework and sorting through mounds of laundry before I taxi back to LAX. The first eight days in Belize were nonstop research and filming, with small pockets of fun fit in. Jeff and I went twice to San Antonio, the Mayan village that's home to the first bush doctor I saw in 2000; stayed at Crystal Paradise Resort (whose owners appear in the story); crossed over to Guatemala for a day to visit Tikal National Park, transported once again by the Amazing Hugo the Driver; then drove ourselves four hours southeast to the Caribbean village of Placencia, where the final scenes of the book are set.
The Cayo district of Western Belize hasn't changed all that much in eight years, at least not by my touristy estimation, but the difference in Placencia is profound. Shortly after we left in January 2000 Hurricane Iris hit Placencia directly and some outrageous percentage of the buildings there were destroyed. Eight years later most of the damage has been leveled or repaired, but it seems that a number of businesses never recovered. About 50 percent of the places mentioned in my book no longer exist, or have been rebuilt, bought out, and changed. Still, I managed to get all my fact-checking completed, and we came back with about five hours of footage. More than enough for a two-minute trailer.
A highlight of the trip was bringing books and supplies to Teresita the librarian at the San Ignacio Library. I organized a book drive in December using Teresita's wish list for 2009 and quite a few of my writer friends generously contributed. Four boxes of additional books should have arrived at the library today, shipped from Los Angeles a few weeks ago. Some of the existing reference books at the library are so old they still bear the stamps of British Honduras--even though Belize was established more than 25 years ago--so new books are a welcome and needed commodity there. Jeff took the photo (above) of Teresita and I the day I brought the children's books to the library. It was a relentlessly hot day in San Ignacio, a Friday afternoon, but also bright and sunny, and Teresita walked us over to a building near the Macal River that's been designated as the new library. It's currently being used as a meat market, so they've got a big renovation job on the way. Stay tuned for more information about how to donate or help, as the year progresses.

Jan 27, 2009

Heading down to Belize

After an intense weekend that had me cooking for 30 people who came over for a book party Saturday night (to celebrate the release of Paula Derrow's new anthology, "Behind the Bedroom Door") and then filming a Spanish cooking video with two eleven-year-old girls for three hours on Sunday, I'm about to head down to Belize to fact check my book and open up to whatever unexpected or random adventures take place, as they often do down there. I'm a bit nervous about leaving the girls for a week, but Uzi knows the ropes well, and he's got a good support network of babysitters and friends around to help him. I'm traveling with the intrepid Jeff Wynne, my high school pal, who'll be toting one of those nifty small digital video cameras to shoot footage for an online book trailer. Internet access is bound to be spotty for the next week, but I'll undoubtedly have lots to report after our return on February 4. Stay tuned.

Jan 23, 2009

Stepping Back Into the Fray

What would make a writer vanish on November 9 and resurface in mid-January? Well, a book deadline, for one. Meaning...ta da! Finished. Manuscript brought to New York on January 8, went into production on January 9, and since then I've been full up with doing all the things that didn't get done for the past two months while I was chained to my office chair. The title is The Possibility of Everything, the publisher is Ballantine, and the publication date is September 29. All good. No, great. It's an enormous relief to finally have finished the writing.
And now, as all writers know, the work begins.
Not that I'm complaining. Because part of the work means heading down to Belize this Wednesday with my high school pal Jeff, who'll be toting one of those ridiculously tiny, astonishingly high-quality video cameras to shoot footage for a book trailer I can put on You Tube and on my web site. I'm also going down to fact check the manuscript, which means retracing some of the steps from the book in San Ignacio and Placencia. We'll be down there from Wednesday to Wednesday. It's still technically rainy season in Belize so hopefully we won't get too wet. I got a nifty new North Face rain jacket on sale at REI the other day, along with a dry bag for the camera equipment when we go canoeing, and when I put them in my suitcase along with my new forehead flashlight I felt like tres the adventure traveler. Well, except for the two makeup bags and the half-dozen bottles of anti-everything tinctures. But still.