Book of Marvels
Saturday, March 24, 2007
What's on my nightstand...

Well, not really on my nightstand. It's on my dining room table so that every time someone stops by, I can pick it up and shriek, "Look! look!"

I didn't expect to be this excited about the book's release. After all, I'm only the co-author and you have to turn a few pages before you even see my name. You might even have to put on your reading glasses to see it. Maybe my subconscious was being hypervigilant, guarding my ego against the slings and arrows of non-attention. But what the heck, my ego seems to be saying. It's still really exciting.

The book is so pretty! Of course, I saw the cover image months ago and have been observing it daily at Amazon. Then the editor at Random House sent me a copy last week, well in advance of the book's arrival in bookstores April 10. There's something very different about holding it in my hand. It's pleasing in a satiny, tactile way. And that color that the designer used around the border and in the Kabul Beauty School font--fresh and vivid, like the new leaves about to unfurl in the next couple of weeks. I like it very much.

The Kabul Beauty School is more than a book for me, too. When I was asked to help write it, my second or third question was, "Will I have to go to Afghanistan?" I was so pleased that the answer was yes. It didn't occur to me to be nervous until the night before I left, when I actually went to the globe and saw how far away Kabul was-- really, on the other side of the earth. I had to remind myself to breathe deeply for about an hour on the plane. After that, I was fine.

I've always wondered about people who wind up living atypical lives far from home, either people who live by travel and only touch down now and then or who actually sink into another culture entirely. I've wondered how they wound up living in Saumur or Rome or Kabul and I've wound up living in Cleveland-- not a bad choice, I hasten to add, but it's not Saumur or Rome or Kabul. I've wondered if this was a conscious decision that they made at some point in their lives or if they were sort of blown there by the winds of serendipity. In either case, I've wondered if that meant that they were deeply, truly not at all like me. I generally embrace the fallacy that everyone is basically just like me.

So I spent six weeks in Kabul and met all sorts of expats there-- Debbie and many others. I don't really have an answer as to what snaps that thread that ties you to the familiar, but it fascinates me. I'm going back in May for a month to write some articles. Snapping my own thread briefly, then knotting it back to my ordinary life again at the end of June. Posted by Picasa
Thursday, March 15, 2007
  Page 123

Page 123

I confess to reading too many blogs these days. It’s a pleasant, mind-drifting counterbalance to the pile of work that keeps getting bigger. Anyway, here is a meme—which I’ll define as a combination bloggy echo and relay race—a theme that gets passed from blog to blog—in which you go to page 123 of your novel-in-progress, drop down four lines, and then copy the rest of the paragraph. I actually have two novels-in-progress, so this is a chunk of the more recent one. (I picked up the meme from Writing Under a Pseudonym)

*People have to look a little harder these days for the random find. I’m not the only one wandering along the banks of the river after heavy rains, looking to see if the high water has dislodged the sediment of years to reveal an arrowhead, or an adz, or a spear point, or even a t-drill. It’s always thrilling when I find one. I might only catch a glimpse of a jagged edge poking out of the sand, and I’ll stop and stare until I’m sure that I’m not imagining the succession of half-moon chips where the maker pushed away the blunt stone. I used to imagine those marks on every bit of rock when I was a kid. When I walked the paths from my mother’s house to the mountain or the river, I was sure there were thousands of stone points below my feet– the work of centuries buried, gleaming in the dark earth, swimming like ancient stone fish back to the earth’s surface for someone to catch them. When I was a kid, I could hardly walk barefoot, so sure was I that the stone points would break through the thin crust of earth and bite at my feet. I yelped on the garden path as if I were walking on a bed of nails.*

The photo is from the Feather River near Oroville, which is the setting--although fictionally reengineered--of this novel. I have a better photo of it in Picassa, but can't seem to drag it here. Oh, I struggle with Blogger!

Sunday, March 04, 2007
Portland Art Cars

We drove up one rainy street and down another looking for a parking place. Then, out of the fog and mist and late-winter wistfulness, this magnificent vehicle appeared!

"Look," I shouted to my daughter, who was driving.

"It's an art car," she said, as if this were entirely commonplace. Which I guess it is, in Portland.

Now, I'm thinking of gathering an assortment of geegaws to glue onto my Subaru. I had wanted my neighbor Steve to tart up my car with some flames or wings or something-- he does that for a living, although mostly of the business logo variety. But now, my longing for car tattoos seems terribly tame.

I love both public art and folk art, and I love the way they converge in the art car. I think it's a form of public service to lavish this much attention--this much loving, idiosyncratic detail-- on something that everyone gets to enjoy. How rude, how shocking that one of Portland's finest seems to have given this art car a parking ticket (see yellow envelope at bottom left of front window). It should have been a citation for creative valor!

I confess a fondness for over-the-top Christmas displays--front yards that feature wooden nativity scenes and old plastic Santas and and wicker raindeer and lights hanging everywhere (I draw the line at those giant inflated snow-globes that are hooked up to generators and churn away night and day. Was happy to watch, from my office window, as one on the next block gradually deflated and collapsed a few months ago. People should either make or inherit their kitch.) I love outlandish Easter displays, too. Somewhere on the east side of Cleveland, there's a guy who turns his whole front yard into a picture mosaic every year using plastic eggs. I can't believe I've lived here as long as I have and not yet seen it.

Front-yard gardening is also public art-- a gift from one person to everyone who walks, bikes or drives by. I don't have the yard of my dreams yet, but people still stop on my sidewalk and tell me how much they enjoy my garden. "Just wait," I always mutter under my breath. "Wait until next year."

Now I'm imagining an art car parked in my driveway. I probably have about five square feet of clutter in this house, stuff that I can't sell or give away but can't bring myself to dump. Broken masks from Mexico, single earrings, chipped china, old political buttons, gum-machine toys, cyclops glasses...maybe all this can be fashioned into an arty swirl on my car. A modest one, though, because I don't know that I have the patience or the talent to attempt something like the bear-head car.

I could probably replicate the faux birdshit on my bumpers, though.

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