Friday, September 28, 2007

Beyond FRIDAY: A Bookish Meme

Dear Lisa at Eudaemonia (who tagged me for a fun but thought-filled meme last night. This is an overly long comment in response to her related post):

Okay, smarty-mcsmart-smart, I finally posted my answers but they’re nowhere near as enlightening as yours. I feel like I’ve been in back-to-school mode for fourteen years, since my son turned one and I finally returned to creative writing, which I’d completely abandoned in college. Big regret for me, especially since the graduate writing program at my alma mater, Syracuse, is top-notch, but as an impoverished undergraduate I felt compelled to get a major that would get me a job, so I went the communications route. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since, yet another reason why those darn Lighthouse classes are so terrific. Patry once commented that her blog has served as an MFA program of sorts for her with the community it provides. For me, reading others’ blogs, like yours and Patry’s and Carleen’s and The Writers’ Group, serve as my MFA because of the constant hints and direction you guys provide regarding writing, reading, links to so many other authors’ sites and blogs, and just how to work all this into the everyday to make at least some sort of literary life possible despite so many other demands on one’s time, energy, and other limited resources. Surely all this is proof not only of a desire to write and write well, but of an innate love of the written word. Thank goodness so many writers are social animals more than willing to reach out and receive, to share and exchange. Without you all, I’d be reading in a vacuum as well as writing in one, which would be no fun at all.

(Sorry for the lack of links as I toss around titles but hey, I’m bushed!)

Total number of books: I have no idea. Suffice to say I use shelves in my closet for a library (and so does my eight-year-old. I love that.).

Last book read: I got a sneak peek at Carleen Brice’s upcoming Orange Mint and Honey (at lunch today with her and Lisa at the fantabulous Jerusalem Restaurant near DU) and can’t wait to read it, but I guess that doesn’t officially count. I also read the first few pages of Tobias Wolff’s Old School before listening to him speak at a recent Lighthouse event, but again that wasn’t a complete read (yet). And I’m still reading short stories from the current issue of Glimmer Train Stories, but that’s also not done. So I guess the most recent completed book was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, read for a neighborhood book club and not thoroughly enjoyed because it needed to be edited down a few hundred pages and used some devices that just didn’t work for me. How about the last book I finished and LOVED and can’t wait to read again? That would be The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

Last book bought: Tobias Wolff’s Old School (not a first edition but signed, woohoo! I love that, too)

Five meaningful books: Yikes, this one’s loaded, isn’t it? I’m going to stick with YA (young adult) titles since I’ve read so many on my own and through Junior Great Books and still love these dearly: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Island (and anything else) by Gary Paulsen, The Pigman by Paul Zindel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

Five People to Tag:
Some favorites from Patry’s blog…
Matt from Empathy
Steve from On the Slow Train
Gerry from TwoBlueDay
Tara from Paris Parfait
…and a very (!) funny new friend:
Patti from Welcome to the Patti-O

To all of you, feel free to keep your answers brief! No need to babble on like yours truly, though this has been fun. And I just read how busy some of you are with travels and such. Just let me know if and when you get a chance to list any answers. I’d love to see what you’re reading.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Beyond FICTION: CANE RIVER and RED RIVER by Lalita Tademy

And suddenly it's Yom Kippur. Yikes, time flies. So here's another quick note with a very grateful link, this one to fellow Denver literary lady Carleen Brice over at Pajama Gardener for pointing the way to this LitMinds interview with author Lalita Tademy. I recall hearing about Lalita Tademy and the publication of her book Cane River, which explores four generations of her ancestors' legacies as Creoles living along the Cane River in Louisiana, in 2001. Cane River has since been followed by Red River, and I'm looking forward to reading both. The LitMinds interview reveals so much about Lalita Tademy, including aspects of her own personal history, what drove her to write these books, and what kind of reactions she's received. Her mother's concern that Lalita would "stir up all that old mess" fascinates me, as do references to old practices within African-American communities regarding skin shades, references that reveal once again how people have long been seen and judged and limited based on their complexions. I have a feeling Lalita Tademy offers significant details about historical events and attitudes that continue to impact contemporary race relations in all of her talks, articles, and books. It's no wonder her town of San Francisco has named Cane River their newest One City, One Book pick. What's surprising is that it took them six years to do it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Beyond FUNNY: A Little Rosh Hashanah Humor

Thanks to Madame Maud Newton for featuring a glimpse into the Lyrical Ballad bookstore in (sigh) Saratoga Springs (yes, I’m from upstate. And I always get homesick in the fall. Yellow aspens just don’t cut it when you’re from the Northeast. That’s why we have an Autumn Blaze maple in our front yard) written by John Williams of A Special Way of Being Afraid. After reading John’s story and pining for Saratoga I couldn’t resist checking out A Special Way, which currently features a VERY funny snippet of Rosh Hashanah humor. (Have I mentioned how much I miss New York?) Enjoy!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Beyond THE FUTURE: Reinventing Philanthropy

There’s so much good going on in this world that it’s hard to wrap my arms around it sometimes, much less write a concise post about it. It’s nice, then, to stumble across a resource that’s already done so much of the hard work. The August 21 issue of The Wall Street Journal featured an article by Rachel Emma Silverman entitled “A New Generation Reinvents Philanthropy” with the subtitle: “Blogs, Social-Networking Sites Give 20-Somethings a Means to Push, Fund Favorite Causes.” Ms. Silverman mentions a slew of top-notch sites, including: “a nonprofit that allows people to make zero-interest ‘microfinance’ loans over the Internet to needy entrepreneurs in developing countries.” a blog “devoted to Kiva enthusiasts.” “a social-networking site” whose visitors “can join ‘virtual foundations’ of peers dedicated to specific causes, such as fighting AIDS in Africa, and raise money for the charities or political candidates that support those issues.” A nonprofit which “seeks to get young people involved in social action.”

“Some young philanthropists are turning to ‘viral fund raising’—sending appeals to their network of contacts that are forwarded on to others—to maximize the power of small donations,” the article states. Users of, “a program launched by nonprofit site Network for Good, can create a ‘charity badge’ listing their favorite cause and send it out to their acquaintances. The badge keeps a running tally of how much has been raised and how many donors have contributed. Since the program was launched in January (2007), users have created some 6,000 charity badges, raising some $740,000.”

I learned of the Silverman article through the blog, Blog for Change. In a post also dated August 21, Founder and CEO Ben Rattray discusses the importance of this article in a journal as prestigious as the WSJ, but laments the article’s emphasis on the involvement of youth in social networking sites that impact philanthropy. “The movement that we’re helping to drive forward to empower donors and radically improve the giving experience does not appeal only to a younger generation of donors,” Rattray notes, “and we’re therefore not going to have to wait 10 or 15 years to see it become fully mainstream. Rather, I think it will be increasingly embraced by donors across generations, and that it has the potential to truly transform traditional philanthropy for the better.”

Isn’t it exciting to read about organizations like,, and One theme of a recent meeting I attended turned from an emphasis on individual artistic efforts to an overall feeling of hope for humanity. While legitimate powers-that-be along with the dictators and tyrants and terrorists hell-bent on destroying everything within reach continue to operate on a level far beyond the mainstream’s influence, every-day people are reaching out to help one another in outstanding, creative ways, regardless of superfluous associations such as nationality, race, religion, gender, or age. These people sometimes can’t give much and often operate under the radar of the mass media, but organizations like and and offer them easy ways to connect and contribute to a real movement for good. Why we participate goes beyond the fact that we’re human and finally realize it’s unhealthy for everyone involved if the well-to-do (and we’re ALL well-to-do compared to the poorest of the poor) continue to turn a blind eye to the suffering that exists in this world. The need to somehow contribute to the healing in the face of monumental, at times incomprehensible, suffering has become severe, we’ve realized, and can be accommodated in only one way: through simple acts of kindness. Through organizations like and and, those simple acts can have a huge impact. What an easy way to truly effect positive change in our world.

“Charity” © 1989 Joseph Holston as viewed on the D.C. Public Library site.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


© Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Beyond FAREWELL: Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007)

Thanks to Patry Francis over at Simply Wait for waking me up to the news that author Madeleine L’Engle had passed away. After reading Patry’s Friday post I read a New York Times tribute to Ms. L’Engle. She led such a full life and impacted so many. I love to think of her as a young mother of three children who worked with her husband to resurrect a general store in the small town of Goshen, Connecticut, while her artistic life—temporarily put on hold—waited patiently to be picked up, brushed off, and rediscovered when time and circumstances allowed. I feel like I’m at that point of rediscovery and real growth these days, and appreciate all she must have done to keep it all together despite so many demands on her time and energy.

I discussed a particular, personal moment of wonder with the Images and Identity class at CU-Denver last week and shortly after was reminded of another when I began reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. On page eight, the main character recalls overhearing this statement: “Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.” For me, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was that book.

I still remember the small rack of paperbacks stashed in the storage area/back entranceway of my parish school; the back entry led to a sidewalk to the convent. That rack of books comprised my school’s “book fair” and somehow I found myself alone as I perused the small collection. I’m sure I held tight to a few folded dollars and maybe some saved change, savings I’d hand over to my teacher if I found something I could afford. I remember standing near a small window and light streaming in (really; it was that kind of fourth-grade moment of wonder) and I remember finding a copy of A Wrinkle in Time that fascinated me on the spot. I don’t know how many times I read that book back then, but the images of Meg and Charles Wallace and the unique, almost mystical language used on those pages stayed with me for a long time. As I commented on Patry’s blog, at some point Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time convinced me that nothing but a writing life would do, though it took me many years to fully accept and pursue that calling.

The past few weeks have been full of creative wonder for me as I’ve written another short story, beefed up my blogging activities, met a number of other local authors thanks to Patry’s blog (meetings which then led to my introduction to even more local literary types through the Denver chapter of the Literary Ladies Luncheon), and my Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute presentations at CU-Denver. Today, I thoroughly enjoyed a meeting with the six other RMWI 2007-2008 associates. I’d been impressed at our first meeting with the diversity of this group; now after viewing some of the other artists’ work, hearing more of their stories, and learning what compels them, I’m convinced my participation in this group represents an important step in my development as a writer. While I’ve got many people to thank up and down the line for all these recent riches of experience and inspiration, it all leads back to Madeleine L’Engle and that fourth-grade moment of wonder as I reached for one of her magical books, a book that would speak volumes to me for many years to come.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Beyond FRESHMAN YEAR: Images and Identity Class at CU-Denver

Not that they’re all freshman. The Images and Identity class in the College of Arts and Media at the University of Colorado at Denver is attended fall and spring by students of various ages and areas of study. Taught by Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute director and CU professor Elizabeth Braden, the class is designed to “demonstrate inter-relatedness and diversity of the arts” and involves presentations by current RMWI associates (like yours truly). In my first of two full-class presentations today, we had plenty to discuss after the viewing of the film Bird by Bird with Annie on Tuesday, as well as two free-writing exercises to tackle. I’ve never presented to a college-level class before; I’ve never given in-class writing assignments. And I have to admit I found it fun to see more than 30 students bent over pen and paper to free-write, first about a memory of a past job or other role of responsibility, and then about a moment of wonder they’d experienced.

They wasted no time, got right to work, and kept writing (and writing!), surprising me as well as themselves. That they surprised themselves became apparent not because they all lined up to share their work, but because so many appeared pleased after each ten-minute free-writing session; some seemed simply satisfied that they’d fulfilled yet another requirement of yet another day at school, but most appeared proud of what they’d written. When one girl’s eyes became reddened and teary during one session, I suspected she’d hit upon something that rang so true for her it hurt. Another offered to read, wondering aloud if she’d “done it right.” Then she read her short piece about diabetes, her perspective on her father’s management of this disease in his life, and her “moment of wonder” one day after leaving a class that had discussed diabetes in a very matter-of-fact, clinical manner. Her moment of wonder centered on her awareness of her own healthy self, her own healthy pancreas, and how that wave of appreciation resulted in a sudden elation which impacted dramatically the way she viewed the every-day scene in which she found herself. Not only had she “done it right” by writing about that moment, but she wowed everyone in the room with the depth of emotion she’d invoked through her writing—and her willingness to share it.

When you’re entrenched in the day-to-day demands of your routines, it’s something to be transplanted into someone else’s drastically different reality and asked to participate in it. And it’s amazing when your reason for being there translates into experiences of discovery for yourself and others, especially when creativity and identity are among the topics at hand. Today’s experience was truly memorable. I’m looking forward to next week’s class and am grateful to Elizabeth Braden and the Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute for making all this possible for myself and other RMWI associates, past and present. What a gift!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Beyond FRIENDS: Fellow Bloggers and Other Favorites

I’ve tried to keep my list of links at right limited to resources that celebrate diversity or promote tolerance or otherwise offer helpful insights to BEYOND Understanding visitors. There are so many (!) blogs and sites I enjoy out there, though, that I wish I could link to all my favorites. At least I can mention some in a post, so here goes:

I discovered Simply Wait, a blog from author Patry Francis, last year and checked out practically all her archived posts because I enjoyed reading her personal, insightful, highly entertaining accounts of life in her neck of the woods (Cape Cod, to be relatively exact) as a mom, waitress, and soon-to-be-published writer. I still think she ought to put together a collection of her stories of the unique personalities who’ve crossed her path over the years, and hope some day her agent will agree with this inspired idea of mine. At this point, Patry’s busy working on her second novel. Her first, The Liar’s Diary, was published in January and is now available in like, 16 languages. Read my review of Patry’s book on Literary Mama (a favorite site I’ve featured before and, I’m sure, will feature again) here.

Simply Wait has always been a fun chatty blog with lots of regular visitors. Through Patry’s blog, I’ve been introduced to bloggers located across the country, including multi-talented Oregon author and artist extraordinaire Laini Taylor at Grow Wings; environmentally inspiring, Washington-based Roger and Robin Andrea at Dharma Bums; closet historian and worker on the railroad, Illinois-based Steve at On The Slow Train; and phenomenal photographer and everyday philosopher Gerry at Two Blue Day, located on the Cape or in Florida, depending on the season.

Then there’s former reporter and Middle East correspondent, freelancer ex-pat Tara Bradford of Paris Parfait based in (you guessed it) the City of Light, whose photography of French sites and antiques wow me every time I visit. Her recent posts from a trip to England include views from the historic City of York and photos of incredibly spiffy ladies on a recent race day. (We’re talking horse racing here, not NASCAR, kids. Talk about fancy hats.) While I love to travel, window shop, and visit European antique shops vicariously through many of Tara’s posts, I’ve been most grateful to her for her direct, revealing stories about the social ups and downs experienced by French citizens on a daily basis and the political forces that impact these issues. Other recent photos, for instance, highlight the plight of the homeless in Paris, an interesting contrast to the ladies of York.

When I noticed recently that Lisa Kenney—yet another Simply Wait regular—lives in the Denver area, I checked out her blog Eudaemonia and touched base to say hi. Turns out we live within 15 minutes of each other and got to meet up for lunch the other day. How cool is that, especially when your lunch conversation about blogging and writing, favorite authors and bloggers (like Patry, of course!) lasts much longer than a mere hour. I think it was more like two. I swear I took notes because Lisa turned out (as I’d anticipated) to be a terrific resource. We’ve both been involved in different ways with the popular Denver writing institution, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and had plenty of notes to compare on that front. Her best leads, however, involved Souvenir author Therese Fowler of Making it Up; another Denver author, Carleen Brice (whose popular books I’ll feature soon in another post) of Pajama Gardener; Denver poet laureate Chris Ransick’s blog WordGarden; and a “group blog” from a tight-knit Boston-based writing group called, appropriately enough, The Writers’ Group. Lisa Kenney offers links and insights to resources like these on a regular basis on her blog. She also features discussions of visual artistry and creative writing and how the two fields so often correlate, as well as occasional samples of the breathtaking work of her artist husband, Scott Mattlin.

Is it any wonder I love to blog?? I know many people consider blogging a waste of time and effort, but I’ve found it an enlightening hobby, to say the least. How’s this for a blogging “bumper sticker” of sorts: “It’s a blog thing, you wouldn’t understand.” Chances are if you’re reading this, though, you do.