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 siren...how 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...

...is 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 www.viewfromthebay.com 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.)