Monday, November 29, 2010

Out of Hibernation

Perhaps I should give up apologizing for the long spells between blog posts. I do now have an iphone, thanks to techno-savvy son. Now I just have to ask him to set it up so I can blog from it like from the former antique. He's probably moved on to bigger and better. I'll ask about blogging from my brain. Actually, you guys don't want to see all that.

Okay, in writing we call what I just wrote above "clearing my throat." Ehh-hem.

The exciting news is I've been taking a class on "Metaphor" with George Lakoff up at UC Berkeley. Unbelievably exciting stuff. Makes my head spin. I recommend all his books, but perhaps the best one to start with is "Don't Think of An Elephant." Then there are many more if you are as into it as I am.

I wrote my first piece incorporating the teeniest bit of cog sci for military.com. It looks at the polarizing effect of the Oscar Grant shooting and subsequent trial, and suggests that the very different interpretations/reactions to the event make total sense from a cog sci perspective. From that insight I find a ray of hope as to how we might be able to use these different reactions to learn more about ourselves and to come together with people who are different. You can read it here.

I thought of a new feature for the ol blog called "Dove/Hawk Nightstand" where I'll share the reading going on at my house. As I've said, I'm reading a lot of George Lakoff. Also I am revisiting The Hours by Michael Cunningham and a bit of Shakespeare. Barrett is reading "Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine" by Robert Coram. He says it's pretty good, if "way too anti-Army."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Blog from Cellphone!

My young son just set things up so I can blog from my cell phone! Will I be blogging more often? Well to my son's great consternation, my cell phone is an antique and not that easy to text on. Is an iPhone and more blogging in my future? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Ticket to the "Man-Chest"


Hello there,
I wrote a few months back that I had pitched a column at military.com. Well it took awhile for them to respond but...I am now in the company of Ollie North and many others as a regular contributor there. (To be accurate, Ollie is a so-called "Hard news" columnist, whereas I am a so-called "Lifestyle" columnist.)

I made my debut last week. My overall theme of "Purple Marriage, Purple America," is also the title of my first column. I plan to write "underneath and around" politics, drawing on my bipartisan marriage, personal experience, as well as interviews/ discussions and reading. Please have a look! In it I talk about B.'s "man-chest," which is not a part of his body, but rather a personal treasure chest of manly gifts. After reading the column I thought you might get a laugh out of the photo, taken on Christmas morning, as Uncle Cameron utilizes his Christmas gift from B., a "ticket to the man-chest." Enjoy!

p.s. if you have ideas for column topics, I'd love to hear them. I will be writing somewhere between monthly and quarterly, a reasonable schedule for this busy mom.

p.p.s. The only way I could bring myself to do the column is to ignore any "troll" comments I may get. So if I get them, please don't mention them!

Blessings to you and your families in the New Year!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Making Space

Making Space

Hi All, time swirling faster and faster it seems. I am reading a book, slowly, as is appropriate, called In Praise of Slowness. Actually, it was my reader present from my recent reading at Pegasus Books in Berkeley (thank you to all who made it). While waiting for people to arrive, I spied this little dark book. When I read the title, a strong feeling of relief washed over me. I think it came from realizing that the very existence of this little book meant there must be many other people who feel like I do, that they are being bombarded, sensorily, and who crave slowing down and doing one thing deeply. The book made me feel like this feeling was not crazy and that slowing down might actually be allowed.

Spell check is telling me “sensorily” isn’t a word, but I can’t think of the right one. You get the idea.

In Praise of Slowness
reminded me, yet again, of how I miss the time when I was deeply engaged with writing Love in Condition Yellow. I loved it because I was allowing myself to follow thoughts and ideas along a meandering course, and not rushing myself, but trusting that I will find an interesting insight or at least a nice shady place next to a bubbling stream where I might linger a while, maybe even have a picnic. In the book I described that feeling of deep engagement with an idea as “yoga for the mind.”

The thing is that it’s hard to allow myself to follow my little baby ideas in this beginning phase when I don’t really know what I want to write about. Because really - what hubris! Whose to know where it will lead? More likely it’s just a giant waste of time. It was much easier to do when I had a book proposal with a chapter outline, and then a book deal and a deadline and an editor tapping her fingers. Without those it is easier for the demons to get in, the questioners, the Critics, and start mucking everything up. Lately I have been ducking them by not writing and doing things like cleaning out closets. I think of it as Making Space. I am hoping the practice of making space in the physical world will allow me to Make Space for a little Room of My Own, if you will, only in my head, away from the grocery and to-do lists and recipes and real estate searches that seem more acceptable endeavors to the Critics. Plus I find closets are quite nice places: dark and quiet.

I did write a draft intro column for military.com but not surprisingly, the editor hasn’t written back (or posted it). I say, not surprisingly, because said editor has responded to roughly one out of every twenty of my emails. I could send him an email every day or two until I reach the twenty needed to get his attention, but I realize I don’t want to. I think for right now I'm just going to go slow and see what happens.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Purple America

And other meditations on Overcoming Differences, Relationships, Politics, Fear, and Peace.

I’m starting up blogging again with a vengeance. This is the new me. The blogging me. The blogging without fear me. I am going to try something new for the rest of 2009. I’m going to get over my need to polish my work before I publish it, if only for a blog. I know it might seem odd to y’all that someone like me, who has published a book about her personal life, would be reluctant to “reveal” herself, but there it is.

The truth is Love in Condition Yellow is actually a fairly polished view of my private life. By polished I don’t mean “gilded,” but rather that I worked long and hard to get it “right,” in the sense of tone and three-dimensionality.

But I’m not going to worry about that here! You will get to observe the process of me honing down to an idea I might write a longer piece about. (There is a saying by Confucius related to sausage-making that may apply here…)

But enough blowing smoke. The writers among you know that one way to figure out what you want to write about next is to do “morning pages.” These may or may not happen in the morning, but morning is a good time to do them. Actually anytime you can get your sorry butt to do them is a VERY GOOD TIME to do them. Morning Pages are a sort of data dump of your thoughts. You put on a timer for five or ten or fifteen minutes and then you type. There is only one rule. You are not allowed to stop typing. You cannot lift your fingers from the keyboard. You cannot let them stop moving. Even if you are typing, “blah blah blah.” Or “oh my god, who wants to hear this? this is so na├»ve, what are you thinking, going into the maw of American politics, and talking about Purple America, trying to explain the left to the right and the right to the left. Girl, they are going to chew you up and spit you out!”

From the blog I will refine a nugget or two for a column that I am hoping they will still want me to do over at www.military.com. The Editor invited me but that was back in July and although I notified him I couldn’t start till September, I haven’t heard back. ‘Course out of about twenty emails I sent Ed., he only answered one or two and both of our phone conversations got cut short because of calls from the White House. BTW, Ollie North will be my fellow-columnist. But (I'm pretending)I’ve got no fear. Purple America, baby!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fantasy Writing

Oh what a bad blogger I've been. Too many ups and downs. Too many urgent small things to attend to. But more than anything, I've been too busy desperately trying to crank my actual experience of publishing my first book over to the fantasy experience I've been subconsciously tending lo these years as an emerging writer. You know the one - where I go on Oprah and the book rockets to the top of the best seller list?

I had such an amazing launch party: Kitty at Books Inc is a totally class act; there was a standing room only crowd; my talk went well. Kitty told me afterward that we sold more books in relation to the number of folks attending, than she has ever seen in her ten years of bookselling! The former Oakland Police Chief was there. Police and Army friends were there. My old friends from Stanford protesting days were there. I couldn't have felt more launched, and in a very post-partisan fashion.

Writers have a joke about the anticipation for one's book to launch: they call it "the calm before the calm." Which is not to say that I am calm. In my heart it's been more the storm before the storm. I have been waiting for the paparazzi to start banging on my door. I don't know how many people have told me I belong on Oprah. And I don't disagree. I think the book's story of a post-partisan love affair between a peace activist and a soldier/cop is particularly relevant right NOW in our post-Bush world. I think "love in condition yellow" is a great personal philosophy and not a bad basis for our foreign policy either. But Oprah, alas, is not calling back. She is in fact, on summer break. And here's the reality my book has launched into:

Many bricks-and-mortar book stores are closing their doors.
People are reading less books.
There are more and more books being published.
Newspapers are being shuttered.
There are fewer and fewer outlets for book reviews and features.
The internet is providing some outlets but it is more fragmented than in the days of yore.
The vast majority of books sell a small amount of copies (average: 2000 copies), while a tiny few sell an enormous amount.
There is almost no middle ground.

I have dutifully checked my NYT Book Review, and oddly, I am not on the best-seller list. The truth is, I don't really know how my book is selling. There are still hundreds of bookstores in the U.S. and they order books but can return them if they don't sell. So we won't really know for months the true numbers. The sometimes frustrating thing about bookselling, is NO ONE CAN PREDICT WHEN A BOOK WILL DO WELL. Some books get tons of coverage and nevertheless tank. Some books get almost no media attention and sell well through word of mouth. It's an alchemy no one can measure or quantify or dissect, and I realize I'm glad there is an element of magic and mystery to it.

When I evict my Oprah/NYT best-seller list fantasy, then I start to see how cool this has all been. First, like I said, I had an amazing launch. Then the book was selected by the American Booksellers Association as a June Notable Book, putting me in the company of talented writers like Walter Mosely, Andrew Sean Greer, Mary Roach, and Rick Atkinson. I did my first radio show, Mornings With Jeff Schechtman, KVON's public affairs show, (kind of a FORUM/Michael Krasny for the wine country. You can listen to it on my News & Events page. I've hit the blogosphere with a feature in Slate's new women's magazine, Double X and a blog post in MilitaryOneSource's BlogBrigade. And more exciting things are around the corner: appearances on KRON TV on June 21st, on West Coast LIVE on July 4th and a feature in the SF Chronicle Magazine on July 5th.

The wierdest twist is when I do get media coverage I can't say it makes me "happy" like it's supposed to in the fantasy. It makes me excited, for sure, but also kind of scared and nervous. I guess that's why they call these fantasies fantasies. They ain't real! The real thing is a whole hodgepodge of emotions. Like life.

What I try to focus on are the wonderful, supportive comments and encouragement of my family, friends, and readers, who relate to the book in so many different ways: A Marine dad came up to me at the launch and thanked me for disspelling stereotypes about servicemembers. He says his son is a Marine, and also a meditating vegan! Civilian women have written me about how they relate to overcoming differences in their marriages and families that have nothing to do with the military, but they related to the book. There was a comment attached to my last blog post (you can read the Literary Mama Q&A she is referring to on my site here) from someone who lives in a muslim country and found my ideas relevant. That's the real joy of this experience, connecting to other people who are sharing ideas and working to overcome differences. So thank you to all of you for keeping me grounded!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

From Iraq to Oakland

I feel like my family is beginning the healing process from the shock of the police shootings in Oakland. Of course the families of the fallen have infinitely deeper trauma and our first thoughts and prayers must go to them. But still, 3/21 hit B. and me hard, harder than when people he knew were killed in Iraq. That makes sense, of course, because everything that happened on 3/21 was “closer to home” in all senses of that phrase: B. was there, on duty when it happened, B. was close friends with two of the four officers killed. It hit me hard too because even I knew Erv and had met Dan, and because but for random chance, it could have been me standing next to a coffin with a flag over it. Have I said that a bunch of times? I'm sorry to belabor. It haunts me...

It made me think about a couple things. We as a society have come such a long way in recognizing that the troops need our support whether or not we agree with our country’s foreign policy. But the immense outpouring of support after the Oakland shootings notwithstanding, in many circles, the respect for the difficult dutiful job of the soldier in wartime has not been extended to the difficult dutiful job of the police officer every day.

I am not trying to say police officers are perfect and never make mistakes, or are never mean and scary, or even that blatant misconduct doesn’t occur. And I – shamefully – understand better than most the flat, cardboard cut-out view of the police because while I was an activist in college and the years after, I largely shared it. In Love in Condition Yellow, I describe my attitude “Barrett is part of a monolithic bloc of impassive guys with bristly mustaches and mirrored sunglasses that I generally try to avoid.”

What I’m trying to say is it’s worth digging under that stereotype to the rich complexity underneath, and it would be worth it for our community to do that vis a vis the Oakland Police Department, just as it’s worth it to dig below racial stereotypes to the rich individuality.

What I find particularly upsetting is the notion that by humanizing one side, we are somehow against the other side ie. by humanizing police officers, we are somehow in opposition to low income communities of color. This is not right. In fact I think it is just the opposite: the gentler we are with ourselves, and with others, the more impact we can have for positive social change.

I dug around a little on-line and found an interesting article about how back in 2003, the Madison, Wisconsin police force invited Thich Nhat Hahn to provide a five-day retreat for the city's emergency workers. It was called “Protecting and Serving Without Stress or Fear.” How cool is that?

The lady that organized it, herself an officer and a practicing Buddhist, was drawn to action because she saw the day-to-day toll police work took on officers and their families: higher than average rates of divorce, higher than average rates of suicide. I wonder if I could contact her and find out how it went. That led me to poking around to see if there are any organizations to support police families much in the way there are to support military families. And the brief answer is: virtually none. When a police officer is killed, the Oakland Police Officers Association stands by them and advocates for them. In fact, Renee Hassna of the OPOA is incredibly dedicated hard-working lady and I take my hat off to her. But I’m talking about day-to-day support, networking, community-building for families of working officers.

When I get a chance – because book promotion is taking almost all my time right now – I want to interview a few people to get ideas on how to translate some of the military family support ideas to the police. I also want to explore how we might better equip our police officers – and their families - from a mental health perspective, to manage the challenging emotional aspect of their work. I would love to hear your ideas!

Now, for Love in Condition Yellow news: the book is shipping from Amazon, and should be hitting bookstores any day! If you are inspired, I need Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, and goodreads.com reviews.

I am excited to announce I will be participating in a Book Club roundtable on Slate with two lovely and talented military spouse writers: Lily Burana and Alison Buckholtz!
Got a glowing review in the magazine ForeWord, but it’s not quite out yet, so I can’t quote specifics. I look forward to seeing Bay Area people at the Book Launch party at Books Inc. in SF on Friday, May 1st. I am deeply grateful for your support!
To go back to my main website home page, click here.