Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Home for the holidays

In honor of the concept of home, and the diversity of home-concepts, I present a simple multiple-choice quiz, with the pleasurable side benefit that there is no right (or wrong) answer. Which of the following homes most suits your innermost alternative-home fantasy?

Home number 1? Earth-sheltered house.
Home number 2? Tree-stump house.
Home number 3? Hanging-over-paradise house.
Or home number 4? Personal-moon house.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Last Frontier

I remember when my father joined the Gray Panthers. It must have been the early or middle 1980s, and it seemed very cool to me--a riff on the Black Panthers, a riff (and not just a riff but a movement) growing out of rage and focused on activism in the face of negative attitudes toward one's group.

I liked the idea of my father as an activist, and I remember when he came to Chicago for a regional Gray Panthers convention. Gray Panthers was started by Maggie Kuhn, who said "We are the risk takers; we are the innovators; we are the developers of new models." Here's Maggie.

I am writing this because although I am old enough to be a Gray Panther (and in fact, my hair is gray--that is, I allow it to be gray and thus find myself in a minority), I am still subject to ageist thoughts and reactions. I will level with you. At one of my readings in Michigan, two women came from a nearby seniors housing community. The activity director brought them. One was in a wheelchair. The other used a walker. Their posture was bent. And although I greeted and introduced myself to most of the people who attended the reading,  I did not approach those two women. I realize now that it must have taken significant effort for them to come.
I can't say precisely why I ignored them, or I am too ashamed to say. I barely even glanced at them, though I was aware that they were there. After the reading, however, I noticed that my friend William was deep in conversation with them, which drew me over. William introduced me, explaining that one of the women had been a professor at Wayne State (can't remember now, what her field was; literature? anthropology?), had written extensively in her field, had donated her writings to the Walter Reuther archives at Wayne State and the Burton Collection of the Detroit Public Library. Only then did I begin to engage with her, to listen to her, and also to feel shame at my earlier ignore-ance of her.
     As my friend Pat pointed out when I told this story, one sad thing is that it focuses solely on what this woman used to be. What about the present?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I just returned from the most extraordinary week in southeast Michigan and a series of book events--six of them in four days. I must have spoken to hundreds of people, both in groups and individually. I was delighted to learn that high school students at Cranbook in Bloomfield Hills and the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf school in Ann Arbor have been reading my book. Some of the Waldorf students came to my reading at the Ann Arbor Public library, and they warmed my heart with their earnestness and interest. I met people from my past, people who knew my sisters, people who knew my parents. People who did remember me from elementary school and high school. People who didn't remember me from elementary school and high school.
     I read from my book, spoke about identity and Halloween, spoke about dreams and aspirations (what drives us and what limits us). I read passages from my novel--the opening scene in which Harry is driving to work, the one about Harry and the bike giveaway, the one about Harry's visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts when Diego Rivera is painting the frescoes, the one about Ruth on the way to her meeting, the one about her when she finds herself at Margo Solomon's Moroccan luncheon.
     The capstone event was my visit with the U-Michigan Honors students and parents. I first met with them in an informal lunch setting, where I spoke about my life path, from shy, intimidated college student who never said a word in class, to editor and writer, now standing before them and not even nervous. A miracle. Here is the story that one student wrote about that lunch. Later that afternoon, I spoke to an audience of parents and students in one of the university's big lecture halls, and even then, I WAS NOT NERVOUS (unbelievable).
     At that session, I read a section of the novel that I had not read aloud before. It's from the beginning of the Riot/Rebellion chapter, when Alvin and his friends are heading out on a Saturday night, and it's the closest the reader gets to Alvin's inner life. I'd never thought about reading that scene aloud before. I've always felt a little skittish about Alvin--that perhaps I had taken too big a risk in trying to write from the point of view of a black teenage male. But I remembered something from a recent book event, where the facilitator pointed out that the wide-ranging book discussion had failed to say much about either Alvin or his father, Curtis, and that perhaps this represented a kind of discrimination or ignore-ance. So I read to the U-Michigan audience about Alvin, and I loved doing it. I felt that the section had energy, momentum, that it portrayed him (and his anger and his doubts and his wisdom) with respect. And I'm so glad I chose that section.
     I could say a million more things about this visit to Michigan, but now I am back, and now I am exhausted. Plus I am undergoing the rebellion of the electronics--both my oven (with Thanksgiving coming) and my laptop (with another novel to write) seem to be in a state of distress. And I have an award event to attend tonight--the prose competition of the Guild Complex (which I judged).