How Time Moves

How Time Moves

New and Selected Poems

by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Meadowlark Press, 2020. Paperback: 326 pages, 978-1-7342477-2-5

Buy your signed copy in advance, and get free shipping. Books will sent out in July.

How Time Moves: New and Selected Poems brings together over 30 years of Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's explorations of what it means to be human in a particular place, time, body, history, and story. "She is our teacher speaking from the sky, from the field, from the heartland," writes Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford of this stirring new collection. "Like William Blake’s 'doors of perception,' these pages lead readers inward and outward at once," Denise Low, past poet laureate of Kansas, says of the new poems. The collection also includes poetry from Mirriam-Goldberg's previous six collections: Following the Curve, Chasing Weather, Landed, Animals in the House, Reading the Body, and Lot's Wife. 

"In How Time Moves, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg offers us a magical gift: a compilation of new and selected poems, rich with memory and meaning. 'Expect to be startled,' the poet tells us. And we are," writes poet Joy Roulier Sawyer. Poet Patricia Traxler adds, "This is the real work of a poet--to see and speak the often-hidden truths of a human life in a way that enlightens and informs." Poet Diane Suess points out that "True to its title, time is a paramount issue in these poems—not simply its passing, but its potential, in complicity with imagination, to invent and resurrect the future."

Echoing through all the poems in this book, Mirriam-Goldberg illuminates how to live with greater meaning, vitality, and joy. As she writes in the introduction:

The humming is everywhere, those rhythms of one place or another unfolding where and who we truly are. Of course, we don't just inhabit place: we live in time, a human construct of how we order the world as well as the ecological ground of how seasons shift, weather migrates, and the cycles of birth, age, death, and renewal unfurl. I used to think I was primarily writing about place until it occurred to me that my poetry constantly grapples with what time is and how it moves. Like all of us, I live in the place called time, and that place—a field within the field—is dizzingly diverse and deep, made of stories and histories, callings and yearnings, hard-won wisdom and pure mystery. What does it mean to live in time? I circle around the fire of that question through my poems, gravitating toward what light and heat I glimpse.

Here are some of the new poems from How Time Moves:

Crossing Over

 

At the edge of the yard somewhere in Lithuania,

she takes it all in: the white bark of the forest,

the dark vertical shadows, the tall field between here

and horizon. Wind rises from the banks

of trees and rushes everywhere, reminding her

to lift her chest, inhale sharply, remember.

 

Who will come after her, and then what?

Will the grasses part the same way in tomorrow's weather,

the leaves sing their breaking song, the air hold

the weight of the world evenly around each being?

Is she the first or the last to hear the ending world?

 

From years ahead, I wait for her to turn into the future.

When she does, her face catches the late light,

and she sees me, sitting cross-legged on a wooden floor

in Kansas. What is there to say from there to here

that would help? A cow walks through a parking lot,

a peacock screams, all of us far from oceans, wars,

the urgency of living in a world on the cusp of vanishing.

 

My great-grandmother doesn't know she will die

in that very spot facing away from soldiers and fire.

How most of this village will face the gun or the gas chamber,

quickly or slowly in the camps or holes in the ground,

little space to think the best, last thought.

The air she exhales falls off the earth, like the sun

tonight and every night. Her surviving children

will spread like water on hard ground that softens over time,

so far from her view at the edge of the yard.

 

All she knows is the cleansing light of the wind,

the moment her life balances before her,

the way love can shelter itself as a dark bird not-so-hidden

in the birches, ready to exhale from the leaves

that keep remaking themselves and the breath

from her body that will one day be my body.

 

 

No One Tells You What to Expect

 

A downpour as you're running down Massachusetts Street

in sandals that keep falling off in unexpected puddles.

Ice on power lines. The dying who won't die,

then a single bluebird dead in your driveway.

The deadline or lost check spilling the orderly papers.

The part that isn't made anymore for the carburetor,

or the sudden end of chronic sinus infections

while walking a parking lot unable to find the car.

 

Your best thinking won't be enough to save your daughter

from a bad romance or your friend from leaving the man

she'll regret leaving. Across town, in a quiet gathering

of maples, someone drops to her knees in such sadness

that even the hummingbirds buzz through unnoticed.

The dog gone for days returns wet and hungry,

the phone call reports the CT scan is negative,

and your husband brings you a tiny strawberry,

the first or the last, growing in your backyard.

 

Life will right itself on the water when the right rocks

come along, so let the bend tilt you toward

what comes next: the bottoms that fall out,

the shoes that drop, the wrong email sent

while a cousin you lost touch with decades ago

calls, his voice as familiar as the smell of pot roast.

All the songs you love will return like an old cat.

 

Expect to be startled.

Praise for How Time Moves

"Those familiar with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s verse know the humor, the inventiveness, and the revelations. Her How Time Moves: New and Selected Poems samples generously from all of her books, a span of 25 years. The new poems show a master poet at work, as in 'Thresholds,' where story and song blend to create a further dimension, where 'all the gears of blossom / keep turning, all the doors continually open wide.' Like William Blake’s “doors of perception,” these pages lead readers inward and outward at once. Congratulations to her for this stupendous book! ~ Denise Low, 2007-09 Kansas Poet Laureate, Shadow Light: Poems, Red Mountain Press Editor’s Award

"This poet testifies her tug of kinship to feral storms, kitchen appliances, crows, the pluck of old ladies, helpless love, and other denizens of the wide world brought living to her pages. Drawn from twenty five years of lyric devotion, Caryn brings this harvest to Meadowlark Books in a collection with gifts for everyone: blessing, consolation, self-portrait, field guide, yoga gesture, biblical telling, song, memory, spell. She is our teacher speaking from the sky, from the field, from the heartland." ~ Kim Stafford, Oregon Poet Laureate & author of Wild Honey, Tough Salt

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is a generous and insightful poet, brave in her candor and ever awake to the world around her, ready for all the truth it can offer her each day. In Mirriam-Goldberg's poetry, even cancer becomes epiphany, an occasion of ecstatic awakening. This is the real work of a poet -- to see and speak the often-hidden truths of a human life in a way that enlightens and informs. In the cumulative power of her new and selected poems, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg accomplishes this with grace, insight, courage, and unceasing wonder. ~ Patricia Traxler, author of Naming the Fires

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s How Time Moves enacts the largesse and endurance of the upright piano on its cover, in poems that span a life with 'the urgency of living in a world on the cusp of vanishing.' True to its title, time is a paramount issue in these poems—not simply its passing, but its potential, in complicity with imagination, to invent and resurrect the future. 'From years ahead, I wait for her to turn into the future,' she writes of her great-grandmother in a Lithuanian village whose inhabitants 'will face the gun or the gas chamber,'…and 'the breath/from her body that will one day be my body.' The poems extend over the decades of Mirriam-Goldberg’s extraordinary life, from her childhood in Brooklyn, “where my fingernails formed in utero,” to the Kansas prairie. The bridge between past and future is 'a freeway of stars,' and wind, and breath, and always, for Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, poetry." ~ Diane Seuss, author of Four-Legged Girl and Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl

"In How Time Moves, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg offers us a magical gift: a compilation of new and selected poems, rich with memory and meaning. 'Expect to be startled,' the poet tells us. And we are. Mirriam-Goldberg’s distinctive voice is a steadying hand on the shoulder, as she gently steers us through her treasured Kansas landscape, or turns our gaze toward the faces of her beloveds. The poet reminds us that 'the holy does not play by our rules,' then deftly proceeds to make all things holy: her prayers tucked into Ponderosa pines, cranes who stencil the sky, clouds of tilted silver, the lingering touch of a lover or child. Through her brilliant mastery of craft and and ever-present compassion, Mirriam-Goldberg offers us a wise, humorous, breathtakingly diverse glimpse into her world—as well as the world of our shared human experience. As the poet tenderly says: 'I want to know this song that breaks the mouths / of humans.' Her own song is one of piercing honesty and exuberant hope, a rare voice in a fractured world. How Time Moves lingers long in the heart and mind, an enduring reminder of the deep and lasting power of poetry." ~ Joy Roulier Sawyer, author of Lifeguards and Tongues of Men and Angels

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg admonishes us: 'All the songs you love will return like an old cat. // Expect to be startled.' Believe her. How Time Moves is the glimmering songbook of her poetic oeuvre—a single volume containing a book’s worth of new work in four chapters along with choice excerpts from each of her previous six poetry volumes. Here, time becomes both particle (…the brown bricks chipped / by time and the stress of lasting') and wave ('The friend you love is all ashes now / waiting for you and others to scatter. // The ideas you have about time or what’s right / are lighter than all that ash'). Amidst the tumult of time's flow, there are also introspective interludes: 'Place a wintered leaf / of your old thoughts / on a flat rock. Wait. // Watch what the pine, an arrow / of desire for the sun, does with time…' It is the universality of time’s passage joined with the specificity and intimacy Mirriam-Goldberg uses to illumine and delineate her own times that make this a rare book to cherish, a consummate gift of grace." ~ Roy Beckemeyer, author of Mouth Brimming Over

"For Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, witnessing often means 'dwelling in what we don’t know.' How Time Moves, her stellar new omnibus, allows us to witness a world redolent of possibility, a half-known world in which we can fling ourselves across the dewy air to discover we can fly. Caryn writes, 'to be awake enough in any place is . . . to hear what sings beneath the human-made world.' Layer upon layer of this book houses new and sometimes familiar friends who find each other in the cleansing light of the wind. And if this new collection is indeed a type of house, it is surely a great tree that sings boldly from below our human doings, 'its arms holding up rooms full of birds'." ~ Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief of MockingHeart Reviewand author of Driving Together 

Praise for Previous Poetry Books

“The poems are as close to prayer as language can get, if prayer is vision that sees into the souls of things and music that makes us move to old healing rhythms. I find myself writing whole stanzas in my journal and quoting phrases to friends wondering, 'Now who said that?' Caryn Miriam Goldberg gives voice to what can't be put into words, sets us free of old paradigms, and writes like a dream.” ~ Julia Alvarez, author of The Woman I Kept To Myselfand Return to Sender

“'Nothing prepares you for the real/,” writes Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg in the soaring flock of tones and images that is this wonderful book of poems. Nothing prepares us, and so we stumble and fall and break into blossom, bite persimmons, and birth ourselves again and again. How any of us weather the darkening climate of these times is a wonder; it is such books as this that help us breathe." ~ David Abram, author, The Spell of the Sensuous

"Mirriam-Goldberg is a master of the paradoxical as she gifts the reader with insights that are at once disconcerting and comforting; as she holds joy and grief in the same hand, and asks us to trust the maker of these poems—her courage, her wisdom, and her truthtelling, as if she's lived infinity." ~ Maureen Seaton, author of Cave of the Yellow Volkswagen and Sex Talks to Girls

"The poems are silver threads that weave through the darkening sky and gates and light unspooling from the heart’s loom a dream of joy and ancestral echoes." ~ Jimmy Santiago Baca, author, A Glass Of Water and Singing At The Gates. Founder, Cedar Tree, Inc.

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s voice is imbued with love, humor and wisdom. She wields plain words powerfully. Her comprehension of nature borders on the absolute. Her wonderful poems state the seamlessness of the cosmic and mundane, the molten paradoxes of intimacy and otherness, identity and separation." ~ Stephanie Mills, author, Epicurian Simplicity andIn Service of the Wild.

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is a wise, witty, and wry poet." ~ Alicia Ostriker, author of The Little Space: Poems Selected and New

"These noble, ecstatic poems reflect a woman on the edge of life and death. She runs like any animal into the dark “that isn’t so dark” and with new eyes sees there what sustains her—a different light, a hidden room, hope and healing. Her words capture the richness of Kansas landscape and the internal wildness of animals that feed our very existence, give us courage to breathe in every minute and move on." ~ Perie Longo, author, The Privacy of Wind

"Animals in the House is a collection of poems that celebrates the power of the natural world to shape us into what we’re meant to be. These poems lift us out of the container we call our selves, shape us toward trusting what we can never completely know, place us more firmly on the trustworthy ground of earth that has the power to heal and renew. These poems tell us what matters is what’s up close and they make what matters close in case we’ve forgotten. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg walks through the fire – of her longing, her childhood, her desire, her hauntings – all senses pried open, through “a dark that isn’t so dark” into a light that 'dissolves borders into bluestem'."  ~ Renee Gregorio, author, The Storm That Tames Us

“'The earth is tilting',” Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg writes, offering us unexpected, empowering angles from which to reconsider our traditions.~ Diane Wolkstein, author of Inanna: Queen of Heaven

"There were never two women, just Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg split into myths, riper than pomegranates and out of all time. I love these poems." ~ Stanley Lombardo, translator of The Illiad

Teaching With Big Sonia: Everyday Magic, Day 957

Sonia and me

The tagline for the film Big Sonia is “Holocaust survivor. Grandma. Diva.” True that, but she’s also quite the Holocaust scholar, fluent in a dizzying amount of books, films, articles, and other accounts of what Sonia repeatedly and accurately calls “unbelievable.” Like many of us but even more so, Sonia Warshawski has been grappling with all the big questions regarding the Holocaust for a long time: How and why could this happen? What does it mean? Who embodied the worst of humanity and the best? What does not never forgetting mean in our everyday lives?

When it comes to the question of how someone survives the Holocaust and makes a new life in a new land after losing most of her family and finding her home community in Poland what she called “a ghost town,” Sonia embodies the answers. I got to witness this first-hand when she showed up as a student in my Osher class, “Triumph and Terror: How Two Men Survived Nazi Horrors.” The three-session class in Prairie Village, KS, based on my book, Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other, focuses on both the Holocaust and Polish and Jewish resistance movements. While I usually mainly explore this history through the lives of Lou (a Holocaust survivor) and Jarek (a Polish resistance fighter) who met in Lawrence, Kansas and became best friends, Sonia brought us a new dimension (through her experience and scholarship) of the Holocaust and the Jewish Resistance.

Sonia telling us some of her story

Bedecked in a leopard print coat and dressed to the nines, and well under five feet tall, Sonia is a 94-year-old force of nature. She’s also a vital voice in the wilderness calling for never forgetting or forgiving, but always moving ahead with love. She sat in the front row, and within a short time, I was handing her the mic at regular intervals because of what she had to say as an eye witness, survivor, and fierce advocate for Holocaust education.

Sonia was born in Międzyrzec, Poland, actually just down the road from where some of Jarek’s family lived in Biala Podlaska. She was only 17 years old when the Nazis invaded the ghetto where she was hiding with her family, forcing her and her mother to go to Majdanek, one of the death camps. Big Sonia, the award-winning and spectacular film directed by her granddaughter Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday uses animated illustrations, based on Sonia’s artful doodling, to show the excruciating moment her mother was ripped away from her to go to the gas chamber. Only Sonia and her younger sister, against all odds, survived, along with a small orange scarf from her mother that Sonia keeps in a plastic baggie under her pillow.

Sonia spoke eloquently about the role of the partisans (the Jewish resistance) helping her younger sister, who largely hid in the woods during the war, make it through these terrible years. She also told us of the times she was beaten, just as Bergen-Belsen was being liberated (after she spent startling time at Auschwitz-Birkenau), how she was shot. She hid among fallen bodies, endured terrible beatings, and even had to spread the ashes (some still holding bits of human bones) on fields as fertilizer. When I told the story of Lou’s needle in the bone — how he landed on something sharp one night but had to endure it, only to find out years later that he had a needle embedded in his heel — she nodded knowingly at me. She has carried her own needle in the bone for close to 80 years, and like Lou and many other survivors, she also found the strength and courage to start a new life, coming to Kansas City with her husband and their family-in-process in 1948.

It was one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to write about the stories of Lou and Jarek, then to find this is a gift that keeps moving, bringing me into deep and necessary conversation with others about the big questions at the heart of what it can mean to be human, at our best and at our worst. How do people go on after facing such annihilating forces and losing almost everything, everywhere, and everyone they know and love? Sonia answered this through the warmth, intelligence, and presence shone through all she shared with unflinching honesty.

Sonia also reminds us — and I get the sense she does this whether she’s talking to high school students, lifers in prison, or customers who come to the tailor shop her husband started that she still runs — about the importance of Tikkun Olam, repairing the broken world. She sees what’s happening clearly, particularly the rise of anti-Semitism and Holocaust deniers, and as she told the New York Times a few years ago, “….it’s a terrible hate what’s going on now. I hope that my speaking is a way of starting to repair the world, to change the direction for us.” May it be so, and may we all find the courage to repair the world however we can.

For more on Sonia, please see Big Sonia, now streaming on Amazon, read the New York Times article -“‘But It’s a Terrible Hate Going On Now‘” about her, listen to “A Conversation with Sonia Warshawski” hosted by the Kansas City Public Library. and watch her testimony with the Midwest Center for the Holocaust. You can also see my book Needle in the Bone here, and check out Jarek’s new book, Dance With Death: A Holistic View of Saving Polish Jews During the Holocaust. Top photo by Ken Lassman, bottom photo from Friends of Osher.

Finding Miriam in a Semi in an Alley on a Rainy Day: Everyday Magic, Day 934

Our long gravel drive was puddled and muddy, so there was no way the huge semi carrying my new book, Miriam’s Well: A Modern Day Exodus, could slip-slide to our house without asking for trouble, plus there’s the matter of the power lines it would rip through in the journey. So between ordering bierocks at Free State Brewery with Daniel and going home, we decided to meet the driver in an alley behind a local grocery store.

From there, it was a matter of a whole lot of weight lifting: 200 books x 575 pages each + the weight of boxes and packing materials makes for strong arms, and thank heavens, I had Daniel’s along with mine helping load 20 boxes into the back of the peanut-butter-colored CRV, then unload them onto the kitchen table, then unearth all the books, flatten all the boxes, and behold the great amount of Miriams. Then we noticed the table legs were starting to wobble, and given the weight of the Exodus, who could blame it? When the cat insisted on inspecting and climbing the piles, although she’s only 5 pounds, we started to worry. I’ve seen small kittens knock over big wood dressers before by how much force they exert from their back legs when they jump. We had to quickly haul vast armfuls of books to the shelves where I keep my inventory.

Now it’s time to pack and ship these babies. But first this moment: an overcast next morning, the branches in the distance only moving slightly in pale wind, the promise of spring on the wing, and just in time for Passover, a holiday celebrating the weight of freedom and lightness of liberation, my novel, 14 years in the making, ready to start its journey out into the world.

If you would like your signed copy of the book, mailed or, if you’re in Lawrence, delivered to you, please click here to go directly to Paypal, or email me. More on the novel here. If you already bought a book, expect it within a week. You can also see more at my wonderful publisher, Ice Cube Press.

Recipes From (and For) the Journey: Everyday Magic, Day 930

Okay, a confession: I wander through my days with great anticipation for the next meal. Even if it’s just a hot cup of strong tea and bowl of brown rice cereal, envisioning what I get to eat next is a great motivator for getting out of bed in the morning and getting off the computer in the evening. I just love food and always have, and eating is  surely one of the most fun things a person can do sitting down.

No surprise that food looms large in all my memoirs and novels, whether it’s the hunt for the best fried chicken in Kansas (in the memoir, Poem on the Range), or a vivid description of the magical rotating dessert case in a New Jersey diner (in

Meg Heriford and the Ladybird Diner always offer a dose of sunshine (and pie)

About a month before the manuscript was to mosey on over to my publisher, I couldn’t sleep at night because the idea of including recipes kept waking me up. Luckily, Steve Semken, owner of Ice Cube Press, said yes, and then so did some marvelous food geniuses in our community: Nancy O’Connor, educator director of our long-standing food co-op, The Merc, and author of The Rolling Prairie Cookbook; Jayni and Frank Carey, who have gathered and created many quintessential Midwestern recipes, particularly in The New Kansas Cookbook; Janet Majure, not only my weight-lifting coach, but a cookbook author with an eye for good dishes; and Lauren Pacheco, Kris Hermanson, and owner of the Ladybird Diner, Meg Heriford, who happens to make some of the greatest pie in the cosmos.

Close to 40 pages of recipes later, the cooking and baking in Miriam’s 40-plus-year journey through America becomes recipes for some of our journeys too. Here’s a sneak preview of two recipes, each named for a character in the book: Batty is Miriam’s mother, originally named Matilda, nicknamed Matty, and then called Batty for reasons you’ll see in the novel.  The Acadian Dream Inn is a resort on — where else? — Mount Desert Island of Maine where Miriam and her sister-in-law Cindy commandeered the kitchen to the delight of guests.

Please consider getting all the recipes and the whole novel through my Indiegogo campaign to help fund my national tour for the book — you can get advance copies of the book (and at a discount) here (other cool perks abound) until the campaign finishes on March 9.

My grandmother beholds the turkey, but she also beholded a whole lot of stuffed cabbage in her life

Batty’s Stuffed Cabbage

Batty learned this recipe from her parental grandmother, who died before Miriam was born. It was a dish the whole family, especially Miriam, loved, so Batty made it often. The smell of this baking filled the kitchen with such warmth and comfort that Batty was drawn to keep making on a regular basis long after she moved to the Southwest, and she even brought it to various potlucks, where others fell in love with the dish.

1 large green cabbage

1 lb ground beef

1 cup uncooked rice

1 large onion chopped into large slices

2 large cans stewed whole tomatoes

1 cup water

1/8 cup lemon juice

1/8 cup honey 

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional but highly recommended!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Boil or steam cabbage until soft enough to roll. While the cabbage is boiling, combine the rice and beef, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Lay out cabbage leaves, and roll in the meat/rice mixture, placing the meat at one end, rolling, then tucking in the sides. Place seam side down in casserole dish. For the sauce, brown chopped onions in pot until softened, add in stewed tomatoes and water, and mix well. Coat the bottom of a casserole pan with sauce mixture, place the cabbage rolls in, seam side down, and add in the rest of the sauce and water. Cover tightly with lid or foil. Bake for approximately three-four hours until done to your desire  Add in lemon juice and honey and  raisins in last half hour of cooking. Note: this dish can also be prepared in a crockpot.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe by Lauren Pacheco, based on a recipe from Caryn and Lauren’s grandmother, Molly Prusak.

The Acadian Dream Inn’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Miriam and Cindy together created this recipe one year at the inn when they had too much zucchini. It turns out that the zucchini made for an especially rich, even sinful-tasting, cake that everyone loved so much that they kept it on the menu until the inn went under. Both Miriam and Cindy continue to make this on a regular basis just because.

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups unsifted, all-purpose flour

1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups zucchini, finely shredded

1 (10-ounce) bag dark chocolate chips, divided

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the butter, oil, and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, dark cocoa, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter, and blend until well combined. Stir the shredded zucchini, and half of the dark chocolate chips (5 ounces) into the batter. Spoon the batter into a greased and floured 13” x 9” baking dish. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire baking rack and, while still hot, sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top. Let them melt and spread evenly over the cake. Variation: dark chocolate frosting can be substituted for the chocolate chip topping.

12 to 16 servings

Recipe by Linda Wilson, from Jayni and Frank Carey’s The New Kansas Cookbook

More recipes and the whole enchilada of the novel, Miriam’s Well, available through the campaign here, and you can see early reviews here.

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.