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Susan Ito trying to do it all: reading writing mothering spousing daughtering working living

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

And now, some reality

Wellllllll... the aforementioned week at the beach was no trip to Hawaii. (50 degree, totally fogged in weather where we didn't see a speck of blue sky for eight days!) It wasn't any peaceful idyllic writing colony either, but it was a good week. Lots of kid chaos. The kids didn't mind splashing around in the absolutely frigid Pacific Ocean while the adults huddled in parkas on the sand. My adorable three year old godchild didn't integrate as seamlessly into the Older Kid Gang as we had hoped, but the OKG did provide a few much needed Grownup Walks and Moments of Peace. (moments! not hours) Three-day long Monopoly games. Giant oysters (which I was too chicken to eat). Yummy grilled salmon and a plethora of birthday cakes and multiple choruses of the Birthday Song. Some good walks through the fog which included deer sitings and some discussing of plot.

I did get a bit of writing done: an impromptu essay about a nanny who didn't, in the end, ever work for us. And I got some surprising reading done. This beachy, nautical house had an enormous and handsome hardcover of Moby Dick which I eyed suspiciously for a few days, and then picked up as if it were a live coal. I've always been intimidated by this book and others of its ilk (ie, classics). I never took a single English or literature class in my undergraduate life, and part of me feels woefully underread. So I've been scared. But one blustery afternoon I decided to pick it up and take a peek at the first page.

"Call me Ishmael." Okay, I said to the page, "Ishmael." I kept reading. And to my great shock, I liked it. I really liked it! I was actually soaking up those sentences. It wasn't horribly daunting OR boring. I kept turning the pages. I laughed out loud a few times, and smiled a great deal. Both of these things surprised me, a lot. I got about six chapters in and then we had to leave, and I had to leave the mammoth book behind.

But I'm going to get my own copy. Who knew! Moby Dick. I guess they don't become classics for nothing.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Ideal Vacation

My idea of the best vacation ever doesn't have anything to do with a great view, or cool places to sightsee, or skiing or jumping out of airplanes or anything like that. My best vacation is one where I can really work (= write). Hanging out with my best friend, who also happens to be a writer, walking and talking endlessly about plot, character development, and sentences. Having the children happily occupied with some activity while I scribble, read, discuss and dream. Having my spouse go off and do highly athletic things with his cousin-buddy, and then have us all get together for dinner at night.

Most people go on vacation to avoid work. My favorite vacations (and the reason I love colonies) are ones that allow me to work MORE. (true work, I suppose: heart work)

So I'll be gone until August 22nd, hopefully happily working. Have a great week, all.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

It's Cake Season

Next week will bring three birthdays: my own, my cousin-in-law's, and my goddaughter's. So I've been thinking a lot about cake and was thrilled to learn that there is a new cupcake-only bakery in Berkeley. Their menu makes me drool. And since they are just a couple of bites each, you can literally have your cake and eat it too.

Because really, a person shouldn't have to choose between red hot love (very red red velvet cupcakes made with Guittard® cocoa, topped with seductive cream cheese frosting), bunny love(carrot cupcakes with pecans and pineapple, frosted with classic cream cheese frosting), lemon kiss(light & fluffy lemon cupcakes kissed with lemon buttercream frosting), ginger babycakes (moist gingerbread cake topped with limoncello-cream cheese frosting) or chocolate maltball, (Guittard® chocolate cupcakes with malted milk frosting, topped with a chocolate malted milk ball).

One of each, please.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

There's No Place Like Home... for Author Readings

I had no idea that I was part of a wave of cultural hipness, but last year I began hosting book parties and author events at our new house. Lo and behold, Poets and Writers published an article saying that home readings are the future. I invited friends to hear my author friends Mary Sharratt, then Masha Hamilton and Fotokids photographer, educator and organizer Nancy McGirr. There's something so cozy and personal about having a home-based party instead of a bookstore event, with indifferent strangers and the distracting brrring of the cash register in the background. But we have the best of both worlds, because our great neighborhood bookshop, A Great Good Place for Books, sends a personal bookseller to staff a tableful of the gorgeous new books. It's a win-win.

I've decided to do more of these in the future, and maybe to stock up on my own collection of Cost Plus folding chairs, rather than hauling them up the hill from the bookstore every time. First up this fall will be Madeleine Kahn, my ex-professor and current friend and walking buddy. She has written a book with a provocative, eyebrow-raising title, Why Are We Reading Ovid's Handbook On Rape?: Teaching and Learning at a Women's College.

Why Are We Reading Ovid’s Handbook on Rape? raises feminist issues in a way that reminds people why they matter. We eavesdrop on the vivid student characters in their hilarious, frustrating, and thought-provoking efforts to create strong and flexible selves against the background of representations of women in contemporary and classical Western literature. Young women working together in a group make surprising choices about what to learn, and how to go about learning it. Along the way they pose some provocative questions about how well traditional education serves women. Equally engaging is Kahn's own journey as she confronts questions that are fundamental to women, to teachers, to students and to parents: Why do we read? What can we teach? and What does gender have to do with it?

Mark your calendars for November 19th (dessert, coffee, and lively conversation!) and the kickoff to this year's home reading series. I'm throwing around different name possibilities for the series. People have suggested Home Page (cute!), and the Shepherd Canyon Authors' Series. Any other ideas?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Got Plot?

I just received an email from Martha Alderson, aka The Plot Doctor(my name for her). She has been a tremendous help to me this year. I am pretty good when it comes to writing individual sentences, and I can see my characters pretty well, but it was that PLOT thing that always intimidated and eluded me. I took a one day workshop on Scene Tracking with Martha in the fall, and it was quite illuminating. She has developed a method for stepping back from one's own writing, on a closeup (scene) as well as big-picture level, and really SEEing plot in a fascinating, objective way. She's a generous, helpful teacher and I totally recommend her: she does workshops as well as private consults, she has DVDs and videos of her presentations, and CDs outlining it all, and she's got a great book explaining it all. She's a treasure trove of Plot answers, for those of us who have a hard time even formulating the questions. And it's not a formula for "you must do this, or your plot sucks." It's more like a new way of just seeing your own work and evaluating whether or not you want it to do what it's doing. Two thumbs up.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Would he REALLY do that?!

Last night I gobbled up another book: Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller. I have to admit that sometimes this fast-reading thing makes me feel ripped off. I pay money for a hardcover book, then within three hours, it's gone. Poof. I don't like that.

I wanted to read this book because it's set in Napa's wine country, and since I just spent some time there, I was intrigued. Plus, I like Sue Miller's family sagas. This one was a good one. I was really engaged with all the characters, and I was rapidly flipping those pages, until... one of the main characters just did something that stopped me dead. I just couldn't believe it. I kept flipping back and forth incredulously, saying, "No way." And after that, the book sort of died a little for me (this was about at the 75% mark). I just didn't believe that he (or anyone in his position) would do what he did.

I'm struggling with this a bit with my own novel in progress. I have a character who does a particular Something, and I'm having a bit of a hard time believing it mySELF. So I need to either change the character, to make him more credible, or I have to change what he does.

And I'm trying to differentiate, with the Sue Miller book: was it just that I didn't LIKE what he did, didn't AGREE with it, or I don't believe that this particular character - as I have come to know him - would do what he did. I think this is the most critical thing in fiction writing. Even if you don't like or agree with a character's actions, the most crucial thing is that it makes sense for the character. That it is IN CHARACTER.