Wise Women Friday: Anais Nin

Words of Wisdom from Anais Nin:

Beware of allowing a tactless word, 
a rebuttal, a rejection to obliterate the whole sky.

Have you read Anais Nin?  I have.  I've read some of her memoirs and after a while I had to stop because she just seemed so self absorbed.  But she definitely lived a full life and I love anyone who holds onto life like a tenacious jackal holding tight to a rabbit's jaw.  

And God bless her she was a writer.  Why do any of us want to be writers?  The constant rejection, the lack of profit.  It's ridiculous.  I think we must all be mentally ill.  The fact is people don't choose to become writers.  They write because they have no choice.  It's like a disease, an addiction.  There should be twelve-step program for us.  People tell me, their voices full of pride, that their children want to be writers and I say, "I'm sorry."  I pray that my children will want to be engineers or CPAs, but alas, already I see the signs: the burying of heads in books, the scribbling on paper when faced with disappointment, the preference for imaginary worlds.  I blame myself.  I've cursed them with my defective writerly genes.

But if one must be a writer, one must listen to Nin.  Because you will be rejected.  Your babies, your darlings, your beautiful words will be rejected.  Often.  And you must fight the temptation to let that "obliterate the whole sky."  You must be like Altadena Hiker and laugh, and paste your rejection on walls -- a tribute to your "Evident merit."  You must be like my friend Desiree Zamorano and you must pick up your pen and start writing.  Because the brutal, horrible truth of it is that the only cure for a writer facing rejection is to start writing some more.  


Clearly, what I'm missing is bacon

Alas, I now realize that my 10,000 hour plan to becoming a networking goddess will come to naught.  It's not baconcentric enough.  

The New York Times reports that a team of crazy barbecue dudes not only came up with a way to combine bacon, sausage and barbecue sauce into a torpedo-looking delicacy, but they also found a way to make it an internet sensation by using Twitter, social networking sites and something called Stumbleupon.  (Do you all know about Stumbleupon?  Have you been hiding it from me because I've never even heard of it.)  The crazy barbecue dudes posted their recipe on Christmas Day and within two days they had 27,000 hits.   

All I have is a fabulous unpublished novel.  They have bacon.  



Is that a bridge in your stimulus package, or are you just happy to see me

When I was studying women's history at UCLA, we used to talk a lot about how things could be gendered, sort of like Romance languages.  For example, In Italian you add an "a" to a feminine noun and an "o" to a male noun.  English does not have specifically gendered nouns, but it does have implicit ones.  Truck, for example, is implicitly gendered male.  So is construction worker, mass transit, freeway, investment bank, financial institution, commercial real estate, prison, infrastructure. It's not just that men predominate in the professions suggested by these words, it's that these word imply the kinds of power and control that we associate with definitions of masculinity.  

Of course, there are also implicitly gendered female words, like healthcare, library, elementary school teacher, arts institution, universal preschool.  Again, it's not just that many women work in fields suggested by these words.  These words themselves are engendered with female connotations about caregiving, service, collaboration and -- let's face it -- lack of profit.  

Now, I'm not an economist, but I know a gendered stimulus package when I see one, and it seems to me that, as the stimulus package is shaping up, it is becoming more and more male.  I'm all for safe roads and earthquake retrofitting, and apparently so are most policymakers.  These are the easy things to get people to agree to fund.  But just this morning I heard that family planning has been stripped from the stimulus package.  Yesterday, NPR did a report on how Republicans don't want to use stimulus money to support arts organizations, even though arts organizations provide jobs and make revenues that are often pumped directly back into local economies.  

It troubles me.  I worry that the privileging of institutions engendered male will weaken the already suspect cultural authority of institutions engendered female.  And I worry that that same privileging will hurt women because the fields in which they often predominate will be seen as unworthy of protection.  And, of course, when you hurt women you hurt children and families, and you even hurt men.  When even our institutions suggest to men that their work is the most worthy of protection, that their livelihoods are the most sacred to our society, we instill in men the kind of patriarchal thinking that can only lead to psychic damage and really bad things.  

On KPCC's Talk of the City, Patt Morrison spoke yesterday of the triggers of familicide.  This very uncommon yet horrific crime is almost entirely perpetrated by men deluded to believe that their success is so important to the family that the entire family would be better off dead than stuck with the humiliation of an inadequate male provider.  How scary is that?

Thus, as this nation tackles with this recession -- another 60,000 jobs lost just two ago -- and as it tries to negotiate its way out of this worrisome place, I can only hope that our representatives will hear the immortal words of Abigail Adams and, please, "Remember the ladies."  And not just the ladies, by their words.  


Goddess of the Week: Pomona

Pomona is the Roman goddess of fruit trees, gardens, and orchards.  She is unusual in the Roman pantheon because she is entirely Roman; she is not based on any Greek goddess.  

Unfortunately, she was too gullible for her own good.  She had determined never to marry, but the Roman god of nature, Vertumnus, decided that she was so lovely he couldn't live without her.  He was a shape shifter, and he came to her orchard dressed as an old woman.  The old woman tried to convince Pomona that she should marry, that she was wasting her time living alone, that she could never be happy without a husband.  Then, when the old woman had gotten poor Pomona all stirred up, she told her to marry Vertumnus.  "Oh, he's so good looking," said the old woman.  "Oh, he can turn into a million shapes," said the old woman.  "Oh, will he shine some light on your lovely apples," said the old woman.  Then -- poof-- he turns back into Vertumnus and Pomona gets all flustered, and the next thing she knows she's married to a god who never met a flower he didn't want to pollinate.  

Still, Pomona does have a very good college named after her.  (I hear it's even harder to get into than Yale!)  Plus, the Pomona Fruit Growers Exchange used to make some very lovely citrus crate labels in her honor.  

Oh! And farmers might want to sacrifice a fruit-laden cornucopia to her if they want to ward off the Asian citrus psyllid that spreads citrus greening disease and that may just wipe out California's $1.2-billion citrus industry.

Channel this goddess: when your prized orange and lemon trees are threatened by pestilent insects or when your creativity needs some Miracle-Gro.  Do not expect much help from her if you're having relationship problems.  That's one field she can't even plow herself.  


Wise Women Friday: Elizabeth Alexander

Words of wisdom from poet Elizabeth Alexander:

All about us is noise.  All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each 
one of our ancestors on our tongues.  

What you don't know about me is that I wasn't an English major.  And do you know why?  Poetry.  I'm terrified of poetry.  Its abstract metaphors and similes that I can barely wrap my poor brain around scare me.  Every week I try reading the poems in the New Yorker and, almost always, I stop by the fourth line.  I can't figure out what the heck they're talking about.  

So, even though the LA Times called Alexander's inaugural poem "prosaic," I like it.  I like it because I get it.  It is not overly complex.  It is not super deep.  It is a poem for all Americans, the English majors and the high school drop outs.  We are all the audience.  And that's the point.  

And how can you not love that line about ancestors on our tongues?  Don't you feel that way sometimes?  Don't you hear your mother or your grandmother walking right off of your tongue?  And who else is there?  Who is there that you've never met, whose name you never knew, but who is lying in wait on your tongue still making her mark on the world through you, through your tongue?   


Goddess of the Week: Durga

Ahhh...the warm glow of feeling connected to others, of feeling part of a larger whole.  Haven't the last twenty-four hours been wonderful?  Surely, the Hindu goddess Durga must have something to do with it.

Durga is both a warrier goddess and a goddess of compassion.  She feels her people's pain and is always ready to fight on their behalf.  She was created by the combined energy of all the other Hindu gods and goddesses when a fierce and unstoppable demon -- Mahisharsura --became bent on destroying the world.  Even the gods couldn't stop him, but the energy of their combined outrage created Durga.  Durga and Mahisharsura battled for days, but each time Durga would slay Mahisharsura, he would turn into another creature and battle her again.  He turned from demon to dragon to man, and on it went.  Durga never lost her patience or cool, and ultimately, she triumphed.  

Because she has a little bit of all the gods and goddesses in her, she has a wide array of talents and tools.  She has three eyes, ten arms, and all kinds of weapons.  She rides either a lion or a tiger depending upon her mood.  She represents all of the gods and is thus a symbol of strength through unity.  

Channel this goddess when:  You are feeling fragmented or overwhelmed.  Like Durga, you have everything you need right now.  It's right inside of you.  All your different identities add up to one fabulous, unstoppable whole.  


Wise Women Friday: Rosa Parks

Words of wisdom from Rosa Parks:

All I was trying to do was get home from work.*

It's not like Rosa Parks was the first African American to get arrested for sitting in the wrong part of the bus.  Plenty of African Americans got arrested, in part because African Americans always knew the difference between justice and injustice and partly because Montgomery had one crazy law.  The color barrier on Montgomery buses was fluid:  Whites in front, blacks in back, one empty row in between.  Where the front ended and the back started varied depending upon how many people were on the bus and what they happened to look like.  

The Montgomery chapter of the NAACP wanted to challenge that law.  But they needed the right person.  They wanted someone who would be respectable, middle class -- someone with unimpeachable character.  They did not want someone who worked for their own organization -- like Ms. Rosa Parks -- because they wanted the challenge to seem unscripted and unordained.  
But, one day, in 1955, the elastic color barrier on the bus moved.  And Rosa Parks did not.  She was just trying to get home from work.  And she just didn't want to move.  

It's fifty-three years later, and Mr. Obama is just about set to take his seat at the front of the bus.  It's not a perfect bus, and the rest of us, those riding along with him, are not perfect either. But the bus is moving forward.  Let's hope it stays on course.  Alleluia.  Amen.   

*Quoted in Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters. 


Close...but no agent

The good news is that a good agent from a prestigious house requested my manuscript last week.  Two days later she emailed me that she was "liking it" and that I should keep her posted if there was any "movement" regarding said manuscript.

The bad news is that the good agent -- who was very professional, very prompt, and very cordial -- just "didn't love it."  


The good news is that the good agent recommended another agent who might be a "better fit," which was very nice.  Really, I couldn't ask for a nicer rejection.



Goddess of the Week: Eos

This one is for you, Susan.  

As the goddess of the dawn, the Greek goddess Eos knew that no night lasts forever.  Light follows darkness.  Every time.  She made sure.  She drove her horse drawn chariot across the sky (although some say she made the journey herself with her beautiful feathered wings) and prepared the sky for her brother Helios, the sun.  In her wake, she left not only the beginnings of light but the morning dew, which she sprinkled on flowers and trees.

When she was not working, she was famous for upsetting the horses.  She had countless lovers, both mortal and divine, and when she saw a man she found attractive she had no qualms about kidnapping him.  In this way she was a lot like Zeus.  Some people say that Eos's lust was a curse.  They say that the goddess of love, Aphrodite, happened upon Eos and Ares (the god of war, who Aphrodite had a real thing for) "on the couch."  Aphrodite got so mad that she turned Eos into a slut.  But I don't buy this.  Zeus slept around, and no one called him cursed.

One thing is for sure.  Eos was capable of real love.  At least for a time, she truly loved Tithonos.  He was a Trojan prince.  She loved him so much that she asked Zeus to make him immortal.  Now, just so you know, when you ask Zeus for a favor -- as Eos did -- you really need to be as specific as possible.  Eos asks for Tithonos to be immortal, but she forgot to ask that he stay eternally young.  Hence, while Eos was able to maintain her lovely goddess figure and hang out with Helios as long as she wanted without even getting a wrinkle, Tithonos withered.  He withered and bent and shrank and got all bald and crotchety and he lost his teeth and couldn't sleep well and, after a century or so, he was really just a drag.  No fun at all.  Not for a fun-loving goddess.  Eventually, Tithonos turned into a cricket, and a cricket he remains.  

As for Eos, while it's a new day isn't it?  

Channel this goddess: when shrouded in darkness, when it feels like the day will never dawn.  It always dawns.  Follow Eos.  She'll lead you to the light.  


Wise Women Friday: Mrs. Patrick Campbell

Words of Wisdom from the English stage actress actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell (1840-1940):

It doesn't matter what you do in the bedroom 
as long as you don't do it on the street and frighten the horses.*  

Apropos of nothing.  Just good general advice from a woman who would probably know.   George Bernard Shaw wrote "Pygmalion's" Eliza Doolittle for her, and when George Bernard Shaw writes the part of Eliza Doolittle for you, I think we can safely assume that you know a thing or two about life -- including how to frighten horses.  

*Quoted in Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras' The Whole World Book of Quotations (Reading Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1995).


Ten Thousand Hours

My mantra for 2009 is "Ten Thousand Hours."  According to scientists -- and as reported by the prolific Malcolm Gladwell in his recent book Outliers -- it takes ten thousand hours of practice to truly master a discipline.  

You wanna be a master violinist: ten thousand hours.
You wanna be a master piano player: ten thousand hours.
You wanna be a master chef, a master accountant, a master mathematician, a master swimmer: ten thousand hours, ten thousand hours, ten thousand hours, ten thousand hours.

My goal: master networker.  Seeing that it my natural inclination to stay inside and avoid all contact with people I don't know, I will bank myself fifteen hours of networking over the course of my almost 44 years of life.  That means I only have 9,985 hours to go!

Now I've done a little math -- so you know I'm deadly serious -- and it turns out there are actually only 8,760 hours in a year.  Hmmm.  This might take a while.  Cause also I have a job and two unusually needy children who demand a lot of homework assistance.  Plus also a husband and an unusually needy dog.  Plus also I feel that it's important to exercise and to cook healthy meals for my unusually needy children.  And I'm one of those people who needs a lot of sleep.  Really, eight hours minimum.  Hmmm.

So here's what I'm thinking: I will network for one hour a day -- everyday -- and then I will be a master networker in 9,985 days, which translates into almost twenty seven and a half years!  At which time I will be a spry 70!  So it's totally worth it, and then, no doubt, I'll have so many contacts that my manuscript will avoid the slush pile and go straight to a fabulous agent's in box

That's my ten thousand hours: What's yours?


Goddess of the Week: Athena

It's hard not to admire Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.  She's ultra-smart, beautiful, athletic and very loyal to her champions.  The Athenians knew this, which is why they named their city after her, built her the very cool Parthenon, and ultimately whopped the Trojans.  

But the truth is -- and I mean no disrespect to Athena --  she kind of scares me.  She reminds me too much of those "it" girls who terrified humble, fat me in junior high school.  She's everybody's favorite, but she still can't cut the clueless and socially inept any slack.  Paris, for example.  There he is -- minding his flock of sheep -- when Hera, Aphrodite and Athena descend upon him and demand that he choose which of them is the most beautiful.  Hera promised to make him a king.  Athena promised to make him a great warrier.  Aphrodite promised him Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.  Truth be told, Paris was not the smartest rock in marble quarry.  He chose love.  He chose Helen.  And Athena made him pay dearly.  Her Athenians destroyed Troy; they destroyed Paris.  Poor, stupid Paris.  And that's the story of western civilization right there: warriors beat poor, stupid lovers.  

What we forget about Athena, after all, is that she is not just the goddess of wisdom. She is also the goddess of war.  Why war and smarts?  Why would she be the goddess of both?  I guess it let the Athenians self-aggrandize themselves pretty well.  It allowed them to excuse a host of sins.  It your goddess demands it, it must be ok.

Whatever the reason, Athena must be doing well for herself today, on this day when most children return to school after their winter breaks and when my newspaper declares, "Israelis isolate Gaza City: Hamas keeps firing rockets; militants, soldiers clash on multiple fronts."

Channel this goddess: carefully.  Smarts and wisdom aren't always the same thing.  Just because you know more doesn't always mean you know best. 


Wise Women Friday: Isak Dinesen

Words of Wisdom from Danish Writer Isak Dinesen (1885-1962):

God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road.

I'm ashamed to say that I haven't read anything by Isak Denisen, although I like the movie "Out of Africa," which is based on her work.  

Still, I like this quote, especially as we think about the new year and new beginnings.  Where will they lead?  How will they turn out?  When my imagination takes me down these roads, things almost always end badly.  I envision the worst: people I love die or get hurt, I die or get hurt.  It's never pretty.  Best not to wander at all, quite frankly.  Best to stay in the here and now.  And that's what Dinesen reminds us.  We don't know where our story is headed -- we can't see that far down the road.  So instead of scanning the horizon, check out the scenery and enjoy the local environs.  They'll be gone soon enough; what a shame it would be to miss them.