Practicing for the Book Trailer

Can’t see a thing without my glasses–good thing I memorized it.

Last thoughts for Women’s History Month


Betty Friedan used to say that the 1950s and early 1960s were a time when we wore girdles on our heads.

I think of that remark when I talk to writers. If I ask a group, “Who’s working on a novel manuscript?” A few will put their hands up, boldly, but I see many hesitate and even more squirm as if the manuscript were an uncomfortable telephone book beneath their bums. My goal in a workshop is always to get those hands in the air, waving with confidence.

I set Eve’s Garden in those days, when our heads were wrapped in layers of expectations that didn’t accommodate bold visions for women. In some societies, in some segments of our own society, those confining, latex-like expectations and teachings still prevail.

Eve and her mother, Maisie, and especially her grandmother, Evangeline, defy those expectations. And they pay the price, but not without gaining more than they lose. In fact, Eve has a plan to build greater possibilities for the girls under her care.

In October, I’ll be teaching a workshop for Jane’s Stories Press Foundation on what I learned about writing a novel during my time spent with these three wonderful imaginary women. Date and time and place (other than that it will be in the Chicago area) haven’t been announced yet, but if you’re floundering with your novel or just a bit stuck or maybe hesitant to take it head-on, I hope you’ll join us; watch here for details.

In the meantime, if you have a story about what confines you and what you’ve observed about bold visions, please drop me a line in the comment section.

And, by the way, what is the difference, do you think, between what’s above and Spanx, etc.? Are we a little sexier, but still “reducing” ourselves?

How Can I Keep From Singing?

I’m happy to be a resource for the above article.

It is humbling to know that had my ancestors not persisted through war, famine, pestilence, persecution to the point of becoming human game, and the many dark trials of slavery, I would not be here. In truth, many of our ancestors, no matter our origin, delivered us to this moment after great tribulations. Present fears may yet lead to future triumphs. I try to remember that when looking at our momentarily grim world.

It is my honor to bear my ancestors forward to whatever the future holds. And that future will certainly be forged through the present and future generations. I treasure my time spent with our young people, for they are optimistic and full of promise. If I can armor them against the world’s cruelties, even a little bit, by giving them a word, a song, a tool to fight despair, why would I not?

It is difficult to think of those Roma turned out into the streets in deepest winter, shut up into tenements without water or sanitation, accosted on their way to market or school by hardened souls, negated again and again by faint-hearted politicians who have not the courage to acknowledge our common humanity, or to prevent anger and hostility from taking hold.

Yet I am reminded of the Quaker hymn we sang in the civil rights movement.

In prison dark and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?

My friends are fighting back, and I must take up the song.

Wise Among Men

42355_pro Tonight, I will go out and look at the stars and thank whatever forces for good there are that sometimes we get better than we deserve.

When Nelson Mandela left his jail cell in South Africa after twenty-seven years, his release was reason enough to celebrate. But we got more, so much more to celebrate in his life after that point. Through his example of self-control, grace, and dignity, he taught us how to let go of resentment and reach for the future. Through his words, we all have had multiples lessons in how to conduct ourselves in the world. Consider these quotes:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (His statement during his trial in 1964.)

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“If I had my time over I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”

“Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.”

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” —Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” —Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

“I am not the only one who did not want revenge. Almost all my colleagues in prison did not want revenge, because there is no time to do anything else except to try and save your people.” —Larry King Live, May 16, 2000

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” —Rivonia trial, 1964

Nelson Mandela

His example will live on long after him, but his inspiration is even now a palpable thing in the world.


At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed his statement from the dock saying, “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal and he made it real.

He achieved more than could be expected of any man.

Today he’s gone home and we’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages. Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better.

His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or in our own personal lives. And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable. As he once said, “I’m not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. My very first political action — the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics was a protest against apartheid. I would study his words and his writings. The day he was released from prison it gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.

And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set. And so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him.


When a great man (sic) dies, for years the light he leaves behind him, lies on the paths of men (sic).

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) U.S. poet.

I remember the long struggle against apartheid. I remember, when we thought the time had come to push for Mandela’s release from jail, how we lobbied, how we challenged and boycotted the oil companies and others so they would help us pressure the government to let him go. But none of us, not even the most ardent supporters of Mandela, had any reason to expect the grace with which he would fulfill his destiny.

Everything we did to bring about his release was nothing compared to what he did. After all, he sat in that cell day after day, enduring cold and poor food and lack of medical care, and refused to hate his captors. That is the hardest task I can imagine, one few of us can master.

A profoundly good human being he was, no more and no less.

When I step out tonight to thank out Universe for the gift of this good man, I will also say a prayer of thanks that I was privileged to be alive while he was with us. And also that his story will be told down through the ages to encourage those who must endure the seemingly unendurable.

Who doesn’t love spring?

Good upbringing

How I appreciate parents who teach their children how to act in museums. Today at the High in Atlanta, a young man approximately twelve years old walked up to stand between me and the Warhol I was contemplating. His gaze was aimed toward a painting on the wall at a ninety-degree angle from me. He stood there only a second before becoming aware of my presence. He murmured , “Oh, I’m sorry,” and immediately stepped out of my line of sight. No parents in sight, until a few seconds later, when his father and younger sister joined him. Hats off to him and his parents.

If they’d only been the parents of the children running in my hotel’s halls last night. . . .Or the thirty-year-olds in their party who were doing it in the hallway at three a.m.

Well, there you have it, the best and the worst manners in one day.

Happy New Year to us all!

When I think of…

When I think of how dangerous yet edifying it is to refuse to suffer fools, how much we owe to one who could get that feeling down on paper, I think of Mark Twain.

“A good lie will have travled half way around the world while the truth is putting on her boots.”

When I think of how one can find an example of writing that entertains and enthralls with sheer wit, deepens one’s vision with surprising plots, and makes one glad to be alive and able to absorb the thoughts of another, I think of Mark Twain.

“A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words in a book or a newspaper the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.”

When I think of a man who suffered tragedy and loss without turning away from his purpose, I think of Mark Twain. 

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

When I think of someone who rose, and rose, and rose, on sheer talent, I think of Mark Twain.

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

On my list of people I am glad walked our Earth, I think of Mark Twain. Happy Birthday, Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

“”The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.””

More about this fabulous writer:

It’s a new world

I am greatly encouraged by three things about the Occupy movement, which began on Wall Street.

First of all, the commitment to both nonviolence and decisions by consensus–both choices so necessary to each other–is essential to peaceful change and to the growth of those who participate. Violence has a way of degrading the discourse and truncating any movement.

Secondly, the refusal to adopt an agenda before action was brilliant, and the open discourse that ensued has permitted the kind of networking and new networks that we haven’t seen since the 60s. Having been there then, I am elated to see a new generation adding their own brand– especially social media skills–to time-tested methods.

Lastly, they are holding teach-ins! Sharing knowledge on an equal footing is a mark of respect for each other and a strong commitment to the group’s wellbeing. Groups that share in such ways grow, learn, and, usually, survive long enough to really make change.

Is it too much to hope for one further development? Now that they (it would be “we” but I immobilized myself with a physical injury at the worst moment) have found inspiration and an example in the Arab Spring, will our young people make the kind of contacts with young people in Arab-speaking countries that will eventually forge new international ties and erase some of the damage from our ill-advised wars and drone attacks?

I don’t want to burden a young movement with too high a demand, but I dream it will be so. And I will be tagging along and learning from them as soon as I am able.

World Artists Initiative/Khetanes

This wonderful organization connects Romani artists and their friends from around the world, and uses the arts to challenge the poor conditions in which many of our people live.

Six Guilty Pleasures

From time to time, I think it’s wise to expose oneself. Well, at least a little. Not looking as great in a bikini as I used to, by necessity I have to take my self-risks more cerebrally. I think it’s safer! Flame me if you want, but here are six things I only admit to my good friends (until now):

1. I will read or watch a movie about almost anything that is set in Edinburgh or Paris, my two favorite cities so far. This means I have devoured all of Alexander Call Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie mystery series, and one of my favorite movies is French Kiss, with Meg Ryan having a spell of lactose intolerance on a train and Kevin Kline faking a French accent. I’ve enjoyed both tremendously, though neither counts as time well spent. I recently watched “Charade” again, with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and enjoyed it thoroughly, even though it is so unbelievably silly. But how many chances do you get to watch people glide down the Seine on a boat? Scottish accents just make me smile. Not to mention the very dry sense of humor that usually comes along for the ride.

2. Okay, I love everything French. I don’t understand their politics and I’m mad as hell at the French for their current treatment of Romanies, but there is something about their language and how they live that intrigues me. Perhaps it is because my grandmother’s Manouche Romani ancestors came from there, or some other out-of-body experience, but I am never happier than when I am stuttering French or nibbling French cheese (which somehow does not give me lactose bouts, a la Meg; my son says it’s because it’s fresh and the enzymes haven’t had a chance to congregate yet), and I wouldn’t give anything for my one (so far) stroll up the Champs Elyssée. (It was November, but there were still rose blooming under the evergreens. And the Yves St. Laurent store had its entrance wrapped as a giant gift box for the holidays. And everyone was incredibly nice about my stumbling French.

3.My favorite self-indulgence is crisp French fries. (But not from MacDonald’s; they’re still putting wheat flour on their fries, but they no longer lie about it, since they’ve been found out.)

4.I used to have a crush on Paul Anka. What was I thinking?!!

5.I still have a crush on Johnny Depp. I don’t care how overdone it is. Clark Gable had the same naughty twinkle, and if you don’t know who that is, go look him up. Why ask why we like naughty men? Like we girls don’t have an agenda?

6.Okay, this is the big one, the payoff, the real shock: I love my native state of South Carolina, from tip to tip–Charleston Harbor, the sand hills, the beautiful ribbon of the Blue Ridge. I never feel better than when I am there. But I will never live there, ever again. Not until they take that Confederate flag off the capitol grounds and admit that it’s a symbol of the deepest form of racism. Which means, sadly, never, ever again, because too many South Carolinians are too steeped in fake history to care or try to make things better for the people who suffer from the oppression that still results. If I could, I would make the entire state take an American Studies course taught by Vine Deloria and Alice Walker. But don’t ask me how many times I dream of mist and moonlight through the pines.

Oh, no, I don’t have just six, but that is all the exposure I can stand for now.

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