Wednesday, March 31, 2010

 

Barnes and Noble Unabashedly Bookish

Jill Dearman, who interviews authors for the Barnes and Noble "Unabashedly Bookish" blog, read Picking Bones from Ash, then sent me some questions to answer. Below, a snippet of our conversation.

JD: The metaphysical aspects of your novel were particularly fascinating to me. What are your interests in that area? And how did you find a balance between grounding a generational family tale with some of the more surreal aspects of the book?

MMM: My Japanese family owns and runs a Zen Buddhist temple in the north of Japan. I spent a lot of time there as a child, stumbling by accident into “the bone room,” where cremated remains are held for people who can’t afford burial plots, and climbing around the hills behind the temple structure. In Japan, most people have Buddhist funerals, and return to temples and priests for regular memorial services. And since priests are so involved in death and dying—and rebirth—they are also necessarily involved with ghosts and lingering spirits.

I grew up absorbing all of this before I could even really make sense of it. I heard my mother’s cousin chanting sutras at six in the morning. My grandfather would talk about repeatedly meeting the benevolent spirit of a woman when he was out climbing mountains. He knew the secret to exorcism, and used it when necessary. My mother’s cousin, who currently runs the temple, has done the same.

These are educated, modern people. Their beliefs are reflected in ghost stories, folk tales and fairy tales, much in the same way as a western person might blithely mention “happily ever after” or “knight in shining armor” or “she was such a witch” without pausing to think of the origins of these terms. We are all a reflection of our cultures, and the kinds of stories we grew up hearing and absorbing.

I would also say that in general, I’m drawn to studies of religion and spirituality—anything “weird”—even though I myself am a rational person. I just think that there is a reason why spirituality in one shape or another continues to mean something to us. I don’t feel that the God versus science debates are really a helpful way to tackle the question of how we all came to be here. A more useful observation of religion would be to say that the toughest problems most of us face—love, grief, suffering—are spiritual. Our wealthy and technological advances don’t seem to make us immune to suffering. So, how can a modern person live with a healthy and realistic degree of spirituality? It seems like a timely and interesting question. And Japan and the US, as two very wealthy and modern countries, seemed like natural places to explore these themes.


Read the rest, then check out more interviews!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

 

Linky

A few recent links of interest--my apologies to anyone I've inadvertently left out.

Lillian Slugocki has a fascinating project which fuses fairy tales and feminism and sexuality. These are things that go together, after all. She writes here about her project, and responds to a blog post I wrote earlier on feminism--and my role as a feminist. We haven't met in person yet, but I hope we do some day soon.

Daniel Powell--writer, teacher and blogger--read my mournful cry of frustration at debuting last fall. He responded (I think) by reading my book and posting his thoughts here. This was moving to me on so many levels--that a blog post I wrote could prompt someone to read my book, that someone who writes in a different genre than I do would take the time to read me and to see the "genre" elements in my writing, that he is a guy . . . and that he'd then write about it all.

This post is a bit overdue, but the lovely Sarah Laurence--writer and artist--wrote up some thoughts on my blog and included some gorgeous snowy photographs, that captured the mood of the last part of Picking Bones from Ash. She and I have corresponded and she's a very smart and kind person. I'm looking forward to reading her book.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

 

Scotland Vs. England



(Warning: Another personal posts. Some thoughts on writing soon).

Ewan's Scottish grandparents arrived last week. And so, over the weekend, we all participated in a necessary event: the first Scottish rugby game. I ate my Irish breakfast while three generations of Drummond men rooted for "the home team." Ewan had on his Scottish rugby gear to help cheer on the team he has adopted for his own--for genetic reasons.



These rugby games are a funny look into ex-pat life in New York City. The games are shown in sports bars run by the Irish. We have to pay about $20 just to get in the door.

Europeans from different countries show up with their mates and their jerseys. There are always very few Scots. We sit quietly, not really cheering too loudly, though at this particular game, there seemed to be quite a few people rooting for Scotland (though, to be honest, I think they were mostly Irish, and they were rooting against England, and not necessarily for Scotland).

On a really busy weekend, you might have South Africans with booming voices sitting at one table, and some French hanging on the bar counter, and Australians in another corner.



I have to confess to always feeling a bit nervous about any Scottish rugby game. That is--I've never seen Scotland win. It's to the point that I think the problem is partly to do with me. I really didn't want Ewan's first game to be yet another loss. A friend in town from Scotland once asked me not to go watch the game, but to stay home. I went anyway, and Scotland lost.

But this time, amazingly, Scotland tied with England! We did not lose!



Among the gifts to come to New York for Ewan--this Dundee football shirt, and two tickets to a game. I don't know what to make of this photo of Ewan. My sweet baby looks, well . . . like a football fan. This worries me.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

 

Central Park



A new baby can make you think you'll never leave the house again. How do you manage something so fragile, with the stroller and all the extra crap and what if the baby cries or is hungry or you forget a blanket? Etc.

Well, I've been going to a "new mothers" group a couple times a week. We all had babies born this winter and we meet in the one coffee shop in our neighborhood, which we we fill up with so many strollers, it is impossible for anyone else to maneuver around us, but the coffee shop proprietor is very nice and tolerant because he too has a young child. We are a nonjudgmental group and we talk about everything.

For the curious--these mother's groups exist in Manhattan, but you have a pay a fee to join. Oh, and you can get kicked out. We don't do things this way in Jackson Heights.

At any rate, we've been having some nice weather here, and so I proposed a trip to Central Park with the babies. I said it would be easier if we all went together. And if we once made the trip, then we'd know that it was possible. I showed up at the coffee shop at 10 AM, not sure who would be there to take me up on my dare, but a few mothers and babies were waiting, and off we went.



Our train station fortunately comes with an elevator(s). Not all subway stops in NYC do. The big problem with our subway station, however, is that it seems to attract the most competitive elevator riders you have ever seen. By this I mean: the elevator is supposed to be for disabled people, or mothers with strollers. But teenagers ride the elevator. Perfectly healthy men. And worst of all--and I don't care if I get flamed for this--pushy middle aged women. It stresses me out to ride the elevator. I have to position the stroller so Speedy Gonzales doesn't slide around me, cut in line, and take up my space.

Fortunately, we had a secret weapon. Her name is Anna and she grew up in Queens and she was on our stroller team. She was going to make sure we all got on every elevator and every subway. And we did (Ewan in foreground, on the right).



Ewan is very nice about riding on the subway. I thought: my son is going to grow up thinking that the subway is the most natural thing in the world. He's going to grow up completely accustomed to seeing so many different people from different places. I rather like this.



I had it in my head that we would have a picnic in the park, and to that end, I did pack up a nice sandwich for myself. It was, however, a little bit cold to sit on the grass. But there were signs of life--some nice crocuses in the foreground. And two of the mothers and strollers in the back.



At one point, Ewan woke up and looked up at the sky. I imagine that he was staring at the outline of trees against the sky. Babies at this age are supposedly very interested in strong contrasts--black and white.



A funny thing--we were approached by two women who asked: "Are you new mothers?" "Yes," we said. "Are you looking for a nanny?" I mean, it makes sense. The park was full of nanny-baby combinations. And if you wanted to find a moneyed family, the East Side of Central Park would be a good place to scope out a potential employer. Somewhere in all of this is a good New Yorker cartoon. I just know it.

I wanted us to pretend that we were all nannies. I thought we could do this politically incorrect thing where we all put on fake accents and pretended our children were not our own. But no one else wanted to play this game. I think they thought I was joking when I suggested it.

Anyway, it's very nice to go out on the town with other mothers. There is always someone there to rock the stroller while you go to the bathroom, or hand you an extra blanket, or encourage you to change a diaper on a park bench. Sadly, our weekly mother's meetings are coming to an end. Everyone is going back to work--maternity leave is over. And I guess my so-called maternity leave is ending too. There will be other outings, and soon there will be playdates. I will miss the weekly meetings and have been grateful for them. And I'm glad we ended on such a high note.

What started as a late morning activity turned into an almost all day affair. We had such a good time, we went around and around the park . . .

. . . and finally ended up at Sarabeth's where I ate French Toast. Why did I do that? I still have a whole stone to lose. Oh well. But all in all, it was a good trip--the first of many. I do have a vested interest in teaching Ewan about trees and grass and things other than concrete.


Monday, March 01, 2010

 

Girl's Day (With a Boy)



Tomorrow, March 3rd, is Girl's Day in Japan--it's also Doll Day (which is sort of like being a girl, from a certain point of view). For the equality conscious, don't worry-there is a Boy's Day on May 5th, though this has since become "Children's Day." I love that in Japan, a holiday is set aside to celebrate the spirit of children. But anyway, when I was growing up, Boy's Day was still for boys. All the same, my parents let me celebrate both. I figured I'll do the same for Ewan.



The lovely Kyoto-style shop "Kiteya" in Soho hosts cultural events-in addition to selling adorable scarves and bags and hair accessories. I am on their mailing list and jumped at the chance to take Ewan to a Girl's Day gathering, even if he's a little young (and a boy). As it turns out, he was not the only little boy there, as other multi-ethnic parents had the same sort of idea in mind. Here, a shop worker reads a story in Japanese using a technique known as "kamishibai." With kamishibai, a story is broken down onto oversized cards, with text on the back, making it easy for a reader to display pictures of children's tales, while reading aloud. This story was about a little dog whose sleep was disturbed by a strange sound, and he went off to find its source. The reader read in Japanese and it was moving to see how many bi-lingual kids were in the audience.



Once the story was over, the kids were given dual-language instruction in origami folding. Of course, I did this with my mother as a child. I wonder if it is the kind of thing that shapes a child's mind early on-all the concentration and precise folding of paper and love of making things . . .



As I mentioned, my mother is here, so she assisted Ewan. Only a little.



Ewan proudly displays his cup and ball, which he put together as though requesting a scoop of ice cream. Clever boy . . .

There was really only one thing to do after an afternoon "in Japan." So, off we went to Blue Ribbon sushi. Ewan sat in the window in his car seat and the rest of us feasted happily. After eating one round of sushi, we all discussed what we'd like to eat for a second and smaller round. I remember my parents talking about sushi like this as a child-that was back in the days when my folks would drive 2+ hours to San Francisco to find sushi, because it hadn't gone mainstream yet. They would talk about what had tasted particularly fresh and good and how much more room they had to eat, etc. My husband, mother and I had the same conversation (I wanted sea urchin, Gordon and my mother wanted eel) and I thought to myself that Ewan would grow up hearing the same thing, and that made me happy.


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