Working Hard on Not Working (So) Hard: Everyday Magic, Day 937

Usually, April, what T.S. Eliot called the cruelest month, is, but it’s also stunningly beautiful, a paradox for a working poet and a gal who, all too often, couldn’t say no. Because I make a hunk of my living from gigs — readings, workshops, talks, projects — and a good many poetry gigs are often ghettoized into April (aka Poetry Month), my Aprils were often overbooked. Not so coincidentally, I often was rocking a sinus infection that wouldn’t let up, a bout of migraines, and a heavy dose of insomnia during this time of the blossoming world ecstatic with life, the same world that inspires me to write poetry (and other things) in the first place.

For a good many years, I’ve been working hard at not working so hard, not just in April but in other months prone to get over-laden with too many yeses and not enough common sense. I can’t tell you how many times I looked at my calendar and realized that when I said yes to a three-week class, a half-day writing workshop, an online class, and a 600-mile round-trip talk (not to mention several volunteer gigs), I didn’t realize all happening within two weeks. “Stop hitting yourself,” we would joke as kids while repeatedly hitting ourselves, but the joke loses its humor when a woman is downing antibiotic, strong coffee, herbal wellness tabs, echinacea, and despite the trouble I have with sugar, a donut because “just fuck it” kicks in at such moments.

This year I’m pleased to report that April, as well as March and May, are spacious with time for 10 minute naps, perusing the New York Time, watching James Corbin’s crosswalk theater production of The Sound of Music three times (once while on hold with AT&T), and covering the bases of my work. I’ve also had the luxury and necessity of being outside more with the glimmering Redbuds and the dew-shining fields.

How I got here drew on the same obsessive planing that got me into this mess in the first place. With my therapist, friends, and on my own, I talked through, made charts of, analyzed late at night and too early in the morning, and fretted over what to say yes and what to say no to. Some of the no’s hurt. Some of the yeses were hard-won. In addition to my usual scheme of questions about how to make a decision based on if it’s mine, there’s a great team involved, it doesn’t hurt my health, and other factors (more of the advice I doled out for years without following it so well here), I worked the numbers. I vowed to keep myself to a certain number of events each month, and I looked at the actual income I would make versus the time involved in making it. I was astonished at how little some things I love doing actually bring in to pay the bills once I factor in preparation, arrangements, driving to and fro, and actually doing the thing itself. I also looked at how many free or nearly free things I do, none of which I regret, but which I need to cull to keep peace in the forest of my health and life.

Did I mention I’m also beginning the book tour for Miriam’s Well? Having driven myself crazy with things I’ve done to promote past books, I spent ample time studying what actually worked in the past and didn’t work. Driving to Oklahoma City and back was fantastic for seeing some beloved family members, who were the only ones who showed up to a reading I had booked. Paying some hundreds of dollars to do a blog tour for which I had to write 15 long posts or interviews with myself only to find a bunch of them posted on sites promoting romance or sci fi novels? Not such a great choice. I also decided to spread out my tour over 18 months since this book is heavy on the Jewish content, the number 18 (which is also the letter Chai) means luck and life in my religion, and mostly because such a wide swath of time means less at once. Because of not overbooking myself, I’ve been able to really focus on the launch events this Saturday without feeling too harried.

The work is just started, and as my friend Stephen reminds me, the road goes on forever. Also, there’s June, and let’s just say I didn’t do such a good job not overdoing it for June. Like making any change, it’s cha cha steps forward and back, plus some Marx-brothers-type tumbles into the ground. As I get older and realize I’m not so good at playing out the energizer bunny without having to pay the devil big-time, I’m committed to show up at the dance with more presence and health, and to stay home marveling at the ordinary a whole lot more too.

Making Stuff Up From Mrs. Potato Head to Eat the Earth: Everyday Magic, Day 928

My cohort in making stuff up

What to call a fictional women’s collective running a potato farm in Moab, Utah in my novel Miriam’s Well? What else but “Mrs. Potato Head” (yes, the Mrs. instead of Ms. is an ironic touch, which fits the women’s sense of humor). Likewise, when naming a L.A. non-profit organization that trains inner-city teens to grow and cook  their own food, Miyako the cat and I came up with the name “Eat the Earth.” Because this novel retells a biblical story, that of the Exodus but from Miriam’s point-of-view and set in Contemporary America, I named a North Carolina ecovillage “Garden of Eden” and a utopian Idaho community “New Egypt.”

Such is the thrill of writing fiction: you get to make up all kinds of stuff, and name towns, organizations, and projects, not to mention characters, which is a little like naming our children. Sometimes the name came to me easily, and sometimes in a dream, glimpse, or great suggestion from a pal. Of course, there were also many real places, plucked from travel guides and web searches, because of their names, such as Maine’s Mount Desert Island where I placed the made-up Acadian Dream Inn, and Idaho’s East Hope, sporting a fictional restaurant with the slogan, “Eat and get out!”  I even got to dream up an arts parade to benefit a San Francisco hospice at the height of the AIDS crisis, titled “Soul Train,” and stealing heavily from my own experience of once organizing an arts parade in Lawrence which also featured marching existentialists who regularly called out questions like, “What about the children?” and “What does it all mean?”

Along with this, since the book has 35 pages of recipes, I got to make up meals, then track down recipes from wonderful cooks and bakers I know (thanks so much to Nancy O’Connor, Jayni and Frank Carey, Meg Heriford, Kris Hermanson, Lauren Pacheco, and Janet Majure) or write out my own made-up recipes. Of course, this entailed eating real food from fictional impulses, but that’s all for the good.

Now that the book is about to go the printer so it can mosey on out at the end of March, I’m doing another kind of making-stuff-up-as-I-go, organizing readings and workshops in various states and states of mind. Although we live in a time when the real is seemingly far weirder than fiction, it’s nice to know there’s ways to immerse ourselves in fiction that I hope brings new slants of light on more universal truths.

You can see a short video about the book at my Indiegogo page, another way to make things up by selling books in advance to help fund the book tour, right here.

Miriam’s Well

Get your Copy of Miriam's Well: A Modern Day Exodus here.

A novel released on Passover (March 30) 2018, Ice Cube Press.

ISBN: 9781888160970, $21.99, 586 Pages (including recipes). Click here to get your copy (free shipping).

In this modern day retelling of the Exodus, Miriam wanders the political and spiritual desert of a changing America, torn between her roots as the Jewish daughter of a Black father and white mother, her yearning for home, and her brothers Aaron and Moses. Beginning in the middle of the 1965 New York City blackout, when stuck in the pitch-black subway somewhere in the East River, Miriam's family encounters a mysterious rabbi, who persuades the family to go to Israel where the family is caught in the 6-Day War. The losses from the war break apart the family, scattering Moses to western Kansas to live with evangelical Christians, Aaron to New York City to practice corporate law, and Miriam all over America. An astonishing cook and singer, Miriam has a knack for showing up to feed and help people at at landmark events, including People's Park during the Summer of Love, the Wounded Knee encampment in South Dakota, the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, the Oklahoma City terrorist attack, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. As she seeks the promised land, she shows her people, and eventually herself, how to turn the chaos and despair of our times into music, meals, and miracles.

The novel also includes over 35 pages of real recipes from the fictional cooking and baking Miriam does throughout the book, including delicious dishes from Nancy O'Connor's The Rolling Prairie Cookbook, Jayni and Frank Carey's The New Kansas Cookbook, Janet Majure's Recipes Worth Sharing, and Meg Heriford of the Ladybird Cafe.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's retelling of Exodus is a sprawling tapestry, woven of all the threads of a modern-day Miriam's ancestors, and her own present and future. From the Badagry Point of No Return and a sukkah in the Sinai Desert to a series of camps, communes, and cafes all across America, Miriam's Well delves into the mystery of how we find our place in the world, within our families, even within ourselves. ~ Bryn Greenwood, New York Times bestselling author of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

I fell in love with Miriam’s wisdom and her sweet engagements with the people she meets along her lush and vibrant travels. I was plunged to the depths of her nightmares, soared with her song, and emerged blessed to have made the journey with her. Miriam’s Well is the latest terrific book by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.  ~ Jocelyn Cullity, author of Amah & the Silk-Winged Pigeons

Miriam’s Well is truly a hearty feast, and a song of life’s bounty, of its “fragile miracle,” of its sorrows and its cycling, its joy, its mystery, its sorrows, its journeying. The vibrantly moving and compelling storytelling is immediate, intimate, and resounding; bringing us into a complex weaving of tales, told and untold, from the Biblical epic to the painful legacy of United States, which frame the story of one brave woman with an inexhaustible well of caring. Daughter, sister, lover, neighbor, friend, mother, Miriam is one extraordinary ordinary woman whose life is emblematic of our absolutely interdependent web of relationships, physical and metaphysical, over the seasons of a lifetime and the histories of our own time. In Mirriam-Goldberg’s rendering of the web of story that is Miriam’s, Aaron’s, Joseph’s, Moses’, and our own, we are brought into the gift of tenderness and compassion in heartening human response to our historical conundrums. The work is big hearted, embracing, and wonderfully embodies love’s plenty and the power and the beauty of the story, the song, the telling, to remember and transform us. ~ Gale Jackson, author of Put Your Hands on Your Hips and Act Like a Woman: Song, Dance, Black History and Poetics in Performance

Miriam’s Well is a page-turner that gently pulls the reader into the heroine’s quest while also chronicling the country’s cultural revolutions, gastronomic recipes, political causes, women’s communes, spirituality, the AIDS crisis, Oklahoma and Twin Tower terrorist attacks. A compelling writer, Mirriam-Goldberg’s Miriam’s Well captures a quintessential American story, its multitude of nations, of immigrants and indigenes, in the quest towards a meaningful national identity.  ~ Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka, Professor of Theatre, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Kansas

This startlingly insightful and quietly confrontational novel by poet Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg courageously inserts the biblical prophet Miriam into many of the most daunting and provocative ethical conflicts since the early 60's civil rights revolution, as though we are Israel after the Exodus from slavery and before the Promised Land. Mirriam-Goldberg’s story calls on readers to consider "Have I done enough?" and "What is it that the Lord requires of you?"  A surprising page turner featuring multiple plot twists and turns, the moral challenges and clarity deserve more than attention, they demand debate. Do yourself a favor and share it with friends. ~ Rabbi Mark H. Levin, author of Praying the Bible

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg brings back the charged days of the 1970's revolutions and their aftermath in the decades to come in her novel Miriam's Well. For those of us who lived through those times, the book is a reminder of their importance.” ~ Thomas Pecore Weso, author of Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir.

With this novel, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has extended her considerable poetic talents to the  narrative form, giving us sustenance for the body (her character's recipes) as well as inspiration for the spirit and the mind.  A masterful adaptation of Biblical wisdom to the challenges of the modern age, entertaining while informing all along the way.  And the storyline provides a marvelous overview of the cultural inflection points in 20th century American history along with an unforgettable character experiencing them.  This is one not to be missed!  ~ Mark Scheel, author of A Backward View: Stories and Poems

Podcasts & Videos

Kansas Public Radio Presents with Kaye McIntyre: Interview (see second podcast listed)

The Exodus, Midrash, and Miriam's Well: Podcast with Rabbi Mark Levin

Miriam's Well: A Modern Day Exodus

Finding the Promised Land in the Exodus of Our Times: Podcast with Rabbi Lori Wynters

Miriam and the New York City Blackout (excerpt from Chapter One)

Miriam's Well in the News

"Thoroughly Modern Miriam" by Jennifer Leeper in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle

Lawrence Magazine feature on Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (and click on + under image to make it bigger)

Eliza Gale's Interviews

Blog Posts

Recipes From (and For) the Journey

Making Stuff Up From Mrs. Potato Head to Eat the Earth

When Miriam Finishes Wandering the Desert

Please Help Me Find Cover Art for Miriam's Well

More

Miriam's Well newsletter special edition (with a great recipe for rugalach)

Miriam's Well Excerpt

Press Kit Here

Book Tour!

Here's the list in progress of events that will take place over the 18 months of the book tour. Please visit my events page for details. All events are open to the public. Want me to come to your community? Please contact me here.

June 23: Topeka, Kansas - Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash & Personal Mythology to Revision our Lives: 2-4 p.m., Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 SW 10th St., Topeka, KS. A writing workshop based on Miriam's Well to unearth, explore, and revise our life's myths. More here.

June 23: Topeka, Kansas - Miriam's Well Book Launch & Havdalah Service7 p.m., Temple Beth Sholom, 4200 SW Munson, Topeka, KS. Join us for a reading from Miriam's Well, short Havdalah service ( to welcome in the new week) and reception. More here.

June 30: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash & Personal Mythology to Revision Our Lives and Miriam's Well Reading10 a.m. Temple B'Nai Israel, 4901 N. Pennsylvania  Oklahoma City, OK 73112. Workshop and reading followed by lunch featuring recipes from Miriam's Well. More details here.

June 30: Wichita, Kansas - Miriam's Well ReadingWatermark Bookstore, 4 p.m., 4701 E. Douglas, Wichita, KS.

July 8: Prairie Village, Kansas - Miriam's Well Reading & Brunch:  Cafe Ohev at Temple Ohev Shalom,  5711 W. 75th St., Prairie Village, KS 66208. Brunch and a reading. More here.

July 13: Minneapolis, Minnesota - Miriam's Well Reading and Party: 7 p.m., Mojo Coffee Gallery -  2205 California St., Minneapolis, MN 5541. Reading with delectable treats made from the novel.

Aug. 3: Lincoln, Nebraska - Miriam's Well Reading and Reception: 5:30 p.m. at the Burkholder Project, 719 P Street
Haymarket District, Lincoln -- part of First Fridays.

Sept. 13: Topeka, Kansas - Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Washburn University. Details tba.

Sept. 20: Atchison, Kansas - Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Benedictine College. Details tbs.

Sept. 27: Basehor, Kansas - Miriam's Well Reading and Dinner Featuring Recipes from the Book: 6:30 p.m., Basehor Community Library, 1400 158th St., Basehor, KS.

Oct. 3: Kansas City - Miriam's Well KC Launch at Function Junction 5-8 p.m. featuring short readings from the novel at 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30. The event features Susan Hancock singing some of the songs Miriam sings and friends of Function Junction baking and cookies some of the recipes from the novel, plus there'll be wine and a 10% discount on Function Junction goods and Caryn's books.

Oct. 10: Burlington, Vermont - Miriam's Well Reading & Writing Midrash Workshop: 7 p.m., Congregation Ruach Hamaqom, a renewal movement synagogue, 168 Archibald St., Burlington. 

Oct. 11: Montpelier, Vermont - Miriam's Well Reading:  7 p.m., Kellogg Hubbard Library, 135 Main St., Montpelier, VT. Sponsored by the library, Temple Beth Jacob, and Bear Pond Books.

Oct.  21: Lawrence, Kansas - Writing Jewish SymposiumSponsored by Jewish Studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland, Lawrence, KS. part of a day-long symposium featuring multiple speakers and recipes from Miriam's Well. More here.

Oct. 23: Kansas City, MO - Read Local at the Plaza Library: 6:30 p.m. 4801 Main St., KCMO - reading and discussion of Miriam's Well.

Oct. 27: Madison, Wisconsin - Miriam's Well Reading & Havdalah Service: 7:30 p.m., Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound St., Madison, WI. Please join us for a reading from Miriam's Well followed by a short Havdalah service (to  welcome in the new week) and reception. More here.

Nov. 15: Lawrence, Kansas -- Special Event: Osher Institute, University of Kansas: 7 p.m.:  Sponsored by the Osher Institute, a reading, discussion, and reception featuring recipes from the book.

Past Events:

April 28: Lawrence, Kansas -- Book Launch sponsored by the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, Lawrence Public Library, The Merc, and the Raven Bookstore.

For Book Clubs

Would your book club like to read Miriam's Well? If so, just have your club buy six or more books (free shipping!), and Caryn will visit your club via video or phone conferencing or, if you're near where she is, in person. contact Caryn here. 

When Miriam Finishes Wandering the Desert: Everyday Magic, Day 911

Late last night, as I sent my novel Miriam’s Well to my wonderful publisher, Steve Semken of Ice Cube Press, I reworked a summary of this 500-plus page book that’s been at the heart of my writing life for 13 years:

In this modern day retelling of the biblical story, Miriam wanders the political and spiritual desert of a changing America, torn between her roots as the Jewish daughter of a Black father and white mother, her yearning for home, and her brothers, Aaron, a successful New York City attorney, and Moses, a Kansas autistic artist. An astonishing cook and singer, Miriam has a knack for showing up to feed and help people at at landmark events, including People’s Park during the Summer of Love, the Wounded Knee encampment in South Dakota, the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, the Oklahoma City terrorist attack, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. As she seeks the promised land, she shows her people, and eventually herself, how to turn the chaos and despair of our times into music, meals, and meaning.

The amazing painting (sunset on the Platte River) by Anne Burkholder that will be on the cover of the novel.

This morning, waking up to the first day in the many years when I wasn’t finishing this book, I realized, that for all intensive purposes, the Miriam of my imagination is done wandering the desert. I got off easy compared to biblical Miriam’s 40 years of wandering, after which she never even got to the promised land (at least in that telling of her life). I’ve gotten lost, and eventually found, in many sentences in the writing and revision of the book, thanks to my tried-and-true process of writing what Anne Lamott calls “shitty first drafts,” then reworking my words for eons. I’ve read the in-process book in entirety aloud to Ken twice, and parts of it to Brave Voice participants occasionally, but from here on, the “in-process” part of the process is finished.

It’s a strange feeling to complete a big book that takes everything you think you can do, and asks of you to do more and go farther. So many times, I couldn’t figure out how to develop a scene, flesh out a curve in the plot, or show, with greater transparency but still enough mystery, who a character is. As I tell my students and workshop participants, sometimes you just have to tell yourself you’re not just smart enough to write something at the moment, shrug it off, write something else, then return to the page. Also, writing is a way of knowing: my hands on the keyboard had led me often to language that was far beyond me thinking into words.

Now I’m sitting on the porch in the rain during a morning thunderstorm, reminding myself I don’t need to rework something in the book that I loved writing so much. Despite the glory of being finished, I’m sad. Then I remind myself: I’m only leaving the writing of it. I’ll be doing readings from this novel for anyone who will listen for years, and I’ll be talking at length about its nuances, and what might happen to Miriam after the end of the novel (although I wish I fully knew). Of course, there will be many more times to proofread the book, even after the advance copies are printed and distributed this fall in time for us to garner some reviews for a Passover 2018 release date.

In time, just like Miriam, I’ll be done wandering, and in the case of such a long-term project, wondering how to shape each paragraph, lift and close each chapter. Miriam will find her next story, and so will I.

Please Help Me Find Cover Art For Miriam's Well, My New Novel: Everyday Magic, Day 900

I’m looking for art for the cover of my novel Miriam’s Well, coming out from Ice Cube Press when the clock strikes 2018. This 12-year-in-the-making novel is about biblical Miriam and her brothers Aaron and Moses, but it’s set in the U.S. and has Miriam wandering the spiritual, political, and cultural desert and lushness of this country for 40 years, starting her wandering in People’s Park in 1969. I describe the book as somewhat like Forrest-Gump-Meets-The-Red-Tent. I’m looking for original art to use that resonates with Miriam, her well (way of feeding people and keeping up their spirits during the long haul), wandering, seeking home, the kaleidoscope of family and life, or any related theme. Little caveat: ain’t nobody getting any advance on this book, so I don’t have a budget for art, but I can pay the artist with extensive gratitude, a big pile of books, his/her/their profile at the end of the book, and other ways to share more about this wondrous artist. Thank you for your help! Below is a longer synopsis of the novel. If you know of any art – photography, painting, pastels, sculpture, quilting, etc. — that might fit, please email me at carynmirriamgoldberg@gmail.com. Thanks for reading this far and considering what images would do the trick!

Miriam’s Well Synopsis

From a young age Miriam sees visions she can’t cope with or stop. Growing up Jewish in Brooklyn with Aaron, her boy genius brother, her black father and white mother, she finds her place in the world best through singing and feeding people, much like her biblical namesake. That sense of belonging is shattered when, as a teenager, her worst nightmares come true. After her high-strung mother gives birth to a third child, Moses, who is more Miriam’s than her mother’s, the family moves to Israel. Caught in a freak accident during the Six-Day War, Miriam’s father is killed, her mother disengages from the family, and Kansas relatives take Moses away from her. Shattered and lost, Miriam and Aaron return to their old house in Brooklyn, now owned by their aunt and uncle, to piece together their future. Miriam embarks upon an opposite journey than her career-driven brother Aaron as she takes to the open road.

For the next 40 years, Miriam wanders, yearning for home and meaning while dwelling in the edges of America. She feeds a giant house full of hippies in Berkeley, attends women’s Black Panther meetings in Oakland, and sneaks into Wounded Knee during the 1973 occupation to cook for everyone. She sings to people at soup kitchens in Denver, homeless shelters in New York City, and a San Francisco hospice during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. She even bakes the Cuban bread the leaders of Key West throw at U.S. government officials when the city tries to secede from America in 1982.

Many of the places Miriam lives, first on her own, and later with her half-Lakota, half-Italian husband Joseph, and their daughter Laura, are geographically, politically or spiritually on the edge of America, from Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine to the beaches of Key West to an extreme west Texas small town. She tries to salvage a relationship at an Idaho back-to-the-land commune, leads women’s rituals at a feminist potato farm (Mrs. Potato Head) in Utah, and runs a cafe at an Alabama ecovillage. Working with the homeless or the hungry, at-risk L.A. Teenagers or overlooked New York City elders, Miriam reaches beyond the edges of her upbringing.

Miriam is continually plagued by her visions and driven by an unquenchable desire to save people while puzzling over what do with her own family. She helps a man search hospitals for his wife after the Oklahoma City bombing, rescues a a teen who overdosed during the Whittier-Narrows earthquake, runs toward the World Trade Center during 9/11, and feeds hundreds after Hurricane Katrina–all to the fury and fear of her family. Her many visits with Moses in western Kansas teach her that she can’t rescue her autistic brother from his quiet life among evangelical Christians, but she can dwell with him there. She can’t live the life her brother Aaron wants for her, but over decades, she helps him recover his own visions. She can’t stop missing her father, but over time that deep yearning changes from overwhelming roar to dull ache. After decades of avoiding, blaming, and distancing from her mother, Miriam discovers Batty isn’t who Miriam thought she was, and her family is intact in a mosaic she never could have imaged.

Much to her own surprise, Miriam finds home in a kaleidoscope of family and friends, healing in the middle of cancer, and peace in the thin places between the world lost and the new land on the other side of her wandering.