Archive for the ‘Dance/Arts’ Category

#WeNeedDiverseBooksIt’s been a while since I’ve done a Friday round-up, but I’m eager to restart, and this week has been one of plentiful material on the various topics I tend to follow. And I like to share.

Books:
All lists are subjective and incomplete, and often omit entries one feels should be included, but here’s a list of books to add to your To Be Read pile, from the Washington Post’s list of “top 50 books for 2014.”

The cyber-waves were all a flutter over the past couple of days, for good reason, about Daniel Handler’s (a.k.a Lemony Snicket) racist gaffe in his speech at the National Book Award ceremony, wherein he made a crack about Jaqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming, being allergic to watermelons. (Yoinks! Who says such things? I guess we know who.) To his credit, Handler apologized for his comment (which of course he says he meant as a joke) in a very real way: not just words, but a pledge to contribute $10,000 to the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and to match donations for 24 hours up to $100,000. That, folks, is a meaningful apology, although of course it does not erase or excuse the shameful behavior. I hurried over to make a donation.

On the topic of racism, Toni Morrison (swoon) says it like it is, with her trademark perceptiveness and gentle tone, on the Stephen Colbert show. If you don’t already love the woman and her writing, this will convert you. Makes me want to read Beloved all over again. (Thanks to Anjali Enjeti for calling this to my attention. The world should have more Anjalis, methinks.)

And in other Fabulous Author news, Ursula K. Le Guin makes a moving tribute to “writers of the imagination” and to books as art. Do take a look/listen.

Meantime, I just finished Nayomi Munaweera’s Island of a Thousand Mirrors, a very powerful book set during the decades long war between Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. Raw and devastating, it is also sweet and loving. A slim volume, an engrossing read.

Kids’ book club:

The fact that I run a children’s book club has garnered more attention than I ever anticipated. Attention was never what I was seeking. However, I’m glad to have been featured a few months ago in the Boston Globe, to have a piece on Parenting.com on the dos and don’ts of kids’ book clubs, and just today I had fun being interviewed by Barbara Dooley of the Barbara Dooley Show based out of Athens, GA. She wanted to know all about my motivation to start the club, and any advice I have for those wanting to do the same. This month, we are reading Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, which is proving to be a somewhat wacky, incredibly creative and altogether enjoyable read set in Nigeria. How can this urban planner not love a young adult book that mentions, on the first page, the Lagos electricity company?

Urban planning:

Take a peek at Le Corbusier’s legacy in India via this series of photos by Paris-based photographer Manuel Bougot in Chandigarh. A different side of India.

Indian dance:

Here is a heart-warming and powerful story about a young woman with Down Syndrome who put in years of focused study to achieve what is a rite of passage for may Indian girls: the bharatanatyam “arangetram,” a solo performance. “Her father tells the crowd that [Hema] Ramaswamy’s arangetram was more than a dance graduation; it was the day she became, in the eyes of the world, a full individual.” This young woman’s strength and determination are inspiring. Additional photography by Preston Merchant.

Parenting:

This article needs very little description. It’s a spot on, non-blaming, humorously written description of what it means to be the “default” parent—the one who knows the kids’ shoe sizes, the dates of friends’ birthday parties, the location of the favorite barrette (on the floor of the living room behind the arm chair, mental note made at some point in anticipation a getting-ready-for-school meltdown). If you are the default parent, every single line will resonate with you. If you are not, you’ll gain new appreciation for the one who is.

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kriti-logoI’ll be at the Kriti Festival, run by Desilit, this weekend in Chicago. Looks like there’s a fabulous array of speakers and topics prepared. Here’s where I’ll be–perhaps I’ll see some of you?

(NOTE: Kriti is co-sponsored by the English Department, the Asian Studies Program, and the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and will be held on campus, at 750 S. Halsted, Chicago.)

Thursday, September 25th:

4:00 – 6:00:  Opening reception, photographic diasporic history art exhibit, and rapid-fire reading, in collaboration with SAAPRI, the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center, Campus Programs, and UIC’s students, faculty and staff. (Ward Gallery, Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted St.) This event is free and open to the public. Speakers include featured photographer Preston Merchant. Readers: Fatimah Asghar, Sonali Dev, Anjali Mitter Duva, Syed Afzal Haider, Soniah Kamal, Parul Kaushik, Mina Khan, Neha Misra, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Rajdeep Paulus, Shakuntala Rajagopal, Phiroozeh Romer, Ankur Thakkar, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Vidhu Aggarwal, and Bishakh Som.

 

Friday, September 26th:

Friday 12 – 12:50

Paths to Publication (brown bag lunch)

What are today’s alternatives to “traditional” publishing, and how do you decide if one of them is good fit for you? The publishing industry has undergone, and continues to undergo, massive and rapid change. The array of publishing options now runs the gamut from traditional publishing to self-publishing, each with its own characteristics. What is happening in the middle of the spectrum? How is a writer to decide what path to follow? What are the relative pros and cons, and what are the questions to ask oneself in order to ensure a positive publishing experience?  This panel will address small press publishing, self-publishing, crowdfunding, social media, and more. As it occurs over lunchtime, please feel free to bring a brown bag lunch. (Anjali Mitter Duva, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Rajdeep Paulus)

 

Friday 4:00 – 4:50

Dirty Laundry

There is a clear market in the West for a certain kind of expose/pathos story from South Asia: child prostitutes, wife beating, widows in Brindhavan, untouchables, street kids, etc. When does exposing an evil move over into exploitation? What responsibilities does the writer have (if any)? (Tanaz Bhathena, Nayomi Munaweera, Anjali Mitter Duva, Soniah Kamal)

 

Saturday, September 27th:

Saturday 10 – 10:50

Blowing Your Own Horn: Marketing Yourself as a Writer

With so many new writers emerging, it can be difficult setting yourself apart from the crowd. Writers discuss various methods for marketing themselves and their work, from setting up a web page to hiring publicists and beyond. (Anjali Mitter Duva, Ankur Thakkar, Gotham Mamik)

 

Saturday 12:00 – 12:50

Vocal performance and reading

(Tara Swaminathan / Anjali Mitter Duva) (20 min each)

 

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Mithila painters. Photo by Abhishek Singh, via Wikimedia Commons

Mithila painters. Photo by Abhishek Singh, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m adding in some categories that weren’t here last week, mixing it up a bit, although many are related and overlapping. Happy perusing this weekend.

Storytelling

This one is hard to categorize, but I’ll use “storytelling” because it will suck you in. A beautiful and astonishing piece on exorcising the “hungry ghosts” after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. (Via author Ruth Ozeki who, I have to point out since I’ve been scrutinizing author photos recently, has a fantastic photo of herself on her site.)

Writing. But also filmmaking, and women.

Picking up on Dodai Stewart’s declaration on Jezebel that 2013 was “a great year for women over 40” in film and television, Bloom contributor Vicraj Gill continues with some great links about the negative impact that age can have on a writer’s prospects (and the advantages of ebooks and social media in that respect), the reasons for which publication shouldn’t be the sole differentiation between “writer” and “non-writer”, and more.

Writing–craft and business

Grub Street Writers has posted a preview of its offerings this year’s The Muse & the Marketplace conference, taking place in Boston May 1st through 3rd. I highly, highly recommend attending this conference. The caliber of the workshops, the quality of the services, the camaraderie, the opportunities for networking have all served me greatly over the past seven years since I first attended. (And this year, I get to be one of the presenters!)

India

Professor Veena Talwar Oldenberg, author of one of my bibles of research for my work in progress, narrates this entertaining story relating to mass sterilization efforts in India in the 70s. (Men might want to skip the minimally graphic yet still squirm-inducing drawing of a vasectomy at the start of the article.) And yes, the story is entertaining for the humor with which it is told. But a lot of people were far from entertained. Let’s not forget that.

Art, and South Asia

At the end of February, Syracuse University is presenting a symposium devoted to South Asian folk art traditions around the world. Watch a compelling video about Rani Jha, master painter and teacher at the Mithila Art Institute in Madhubani, whose inner fire is apparent under her calm and thoughtful demeanor.

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The walls of old Delhi

The walls of old Delhi. Via Wikimedia Commons

 

New year, new feature: the Friday Round-up. Below are some features that I found noteworthy over the past week of so (although not necessarily dated within the past week). Filed under some of the rubrics that tend to garner my attention. Morsels for the mind and soul.

Art (Photography)

A while ago I discovered Tasveer Journal, an online magazine for photography in India and elsewhere, and I was struck by many of the collections and articles it features. For example: spend some time with Renunciation. These photographs that Pooja Jain has taken of the world of Jain nuns in Rajasthan will transport you to another time and place, not only of this planet but perhaps of your mind as well.

And in a completely different direction: the pictures that Elena Shumilova takes of her children and animals on her farm are magical. They will make your heart sing, if it doesn’t melt first. The noble, shaggy creature in the first few reminds me of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In fact, many of these look taken out of a fairy tale. The comment stream is interesting, if not particularly eloquent, because of the debate regarding photoshopping and other means of altering an image. Is it the photographer’s natural skill with a camera that matters most, or the final image?

India

This article in The Atlantic, and its accompanying videos, depicts a certain side of the Indian capital: what is left today of Delhi as a sanctuary. (This is not the Delhi that has been so infamously featured in the news of late.) Over the last eight centuries, wave upon wave of immigrants have washed into Delhi, seeking refuge. By conservative estimates, there are now about 30,000 refugees in the city, says the article. Video interviews put a human face to their experiences: an Afghan man who has yet, after 26 years, to feel a sense of accomplishment; a Burmese doctor offering free health care; a musician who found an opportunity which never existed for him at home.

Meanwhile, photographer Stephanie Sinclair, who has dedicated herself to documenting the harmful repercussions of child marriage, shares these pictures of young children in Rajasthan who have taken a stand against their own parents and refused to be married. Cynics may point to the fact that this is yet another western woman going into the dark recesses of Indian society and pulling out horror stories, but the mission is undeniably important, and these snapshots are compelling.

Food

This series has been going around for a while, but it never grows old, and it certainly bears looking at several times: what a week of groceries looks like around the world. As they say in France, sans commentaire.

Journalism

“This is Danny Pearl’s final story.” Intense, and very well told. A decade after journalist Daniel Pearl is beheaded on video (the story and images are haunting), his close friend and colleague Asra Nomani comes face to face with his killer at Guantánamo.

The craft of writing

“The what of the story … doesn’t matter one whit if you’re missing the why.” Read this piece by Ann Bauer who brings home the importance of focusing on reader-based writing, not writer-based writing.

The business of writing

“Should Women’s Fiction Have its Own Category?” Don’t get me started. Just about anyone who writes, and probably anyone who purchases books, is likely to have an opinion about this. The idea of categorization is on my mind these days as my publisher needs to provide the distributor with three categories in which to place my book. Here’s one take on the subject, by Yael Goldstein Love: that category needs to go. (via Lisa Borders.)

Writing and India

The Code of Writing: Vikram Chandra’s quest to recover his Indian self.” On computer programming, Sanskrit, storytelling and the culturally split self, among other things. Lengthy, but a good read, especially if you have read at least part of Vikram Chandra’s body of work. (I highly recommend Love and Longing in Bombay.)

Urban history & development

The historical soundscape of New York City. Here is a fun reconstruction of the sounds of the city in the Roaring Twenties.

Art (Dance)

Returning to the stage at 55, and with an artificial hip, Alvin Ailey dancer Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish has some beautiful reflections and video footage here. “When you’re younger, you have everything — you have the flexibility, you have no fear. But you don’t savor every step, every movement of every fingertip, every beat of the music. I feel like I’m tasting food for the first time.”

 

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Raja Ravi Varma, Goddess Saraswati

The recent and horrific gang rape of a young woman in Delhi who subsequently died from the injuries inflicted during her ordeal has catapulted India’s women into the headlines of media around the world. Someone recently asked me what I thought of this. Is this good for India or bad, she asked. She went on to say that she assumes it will be terrible for tourism. She, for one, would hesitate to go now.

I found myself having several concurrent and conflicting responses. There are so many things to think, it’s difficult to untangle them. As a person of Indian heritage, I felt my hackles rise in defense of a country that has so much culture, tradition, integrity, beauty and richness. Specifically as a woman of Indian heritage, I wanted to remind my friend that India, unlike many more “developed” nations, has in the past elected female prime ministers. As a practical, realistic person, I wanted to point out that this type of thing surely happens in India, and in other countries, much more than one wants to imagine. As a woman traveler, having felt the eyes and hands of strange men in buses and crowded streets in foreign (and not so foreign) countries, I understood her visceral fear.

Indians are trying hard to make the recent tragedy count for something. To that end, the extensive media coverage is a good thing. Public scrutiny, foreign scrutiny, internal scrutiny, these are what can really shake up the status quo. Add to that powerful awareness-building movements such as last week’s Feb 14th One Billion Rising and you have a recipe for change.

But how does one untangle India’s deep, long history of treating women as both sacred and profane? Of venerating female deities—among them Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science whose annual celebration, Saraswati Puja, was just two days ago—while denying some female children education? Of worshiping one’s own mother while copping a feel at someone else’s in the street? Of viewing female temple dancers as auspicious vessels of the divine, yet paying those temples for their more carnal services, as experienced by the central character in Faint Promise of Rain?

Perhaps one doesn’t untangle. One just acts. One takes what is good, and beautiful, and strong, and just, and one spreads it as best one can until it pushes out the rest. In a reversal of the last juxtaposition mentioned above, the New Light Foundation in Kolkata is working with (among others) the children of sex workers to empower them to find opportunities for themselves beyond the world their mothers have inhabited, and has included kathak dance classes as a means toward this empowerment. Kathak, the very dance that originated in those Hindu temples many hundreds of years ago. Pandit Chitresh Das, master kathak dancer and teacher, and the Kolkata branch of his school, has been involved with New Light:

Five years after this clip was shot, another was made with girls from New Light dancing, on the occasion of One Billion Rising. (Thanks to my mother Sara Mitter, author of Dharma’s Daughters who has worked with the New Light founder, Urmi Basu, for calling this to my attention.)

The videos speak for themselves. There are changes to be made. There are changes being made. So yes, I say to my friend. Absolutely. Go to India.

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Ancient Jain temple inside Jaisalmer. Photo by Sangeeta Dhanuka (Wikimedia Commons)

Ancient Jain temple inside Jaisalmer. Photo by Sangeeta Dhanuka (Wikimedia Commons)

In Rajasthan, a five year old child is likely never to have seen rain. For centuries, the monsoons have been elusive, and it was no different when I was young. So it is understandable that when I was born during the first rainstorm in so long, some considered me special. In the royal palace of the citadel not far from our home, the walls of children’s rooms were, and are still, trimmed with black and blue cloud designs, so when the gods finally did send rain, the little ones would not be afraid. But for others such as my brothers and sister, who grew up looking at thatched roofs and endlessly blue skies, the day of their first rain can mean an intensity of both fear and hope.

I have no doubt that I now possess an unusual gift, but it came late in my life. I began as all children do, accepting of my lot for it was the only one I knew, and living by the decisions my father made for me. When I was old enough, I began to understand that I could shape my own path. And although I struggled greatly along the way, the gods must have approved of what I chose to do with it, for many, many years later they gave me this gift. I am not sure why they acted as they did, or how they chose what knowledge to grant me and what to keep concealed. Was it a moment of selfishness on their part? Was it for our dance? For humankind? Or, possibly, just for me? Whatever the reason, knowing now the minds and hearts of some of those close to me when I was a child allows me to tell this story. It is not the story of me alone, but mine alone to tell.

www.faintpromiseofrain.com

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What kind of sales should I expect of my debut novel if I go the indie route? This is what I am asking myself these days, today in particular as I draw up a balance sheet of estimated expenses and revenues, to help me decide whether or not to launch into independently publishing Faint Promise of Rain. Of course, part of me feels like it would be the natural thing to do, in keeping with the whole being-the-people thing, but I still need to understand the nitty gritty of it all.

With enough poking around, I was able to obtain some concrete numbers on the expenses side such as the per copy cost of printing if I do a short-print run, the shipping costs for online sales, the standard retailer wholesale discount (which I was shocked to learn is 55%) and other such data points. For other expenses, the Internet is providing me with enough examples for me to make some informed guesses, such as how much to spend on a publicist, and what editorial services should cost for a manuscript which, my agent tells me, is in good shape.

But when it came to what to expect for revenue, the Internet became my enemy . Not only because I cannot find much in the way of concrete examples of debut literary fiction sales figures, but because I am finding posting after posting filled with depressing predictions. Apparently, if I am to believe what the doom-and-gloom folks out there are saying under the guise of bracing indie hopefuls such as myself for misery, I would be lucky to sell 5,000 copies of my book. In total. Not in one year. Not in five years. EVER.

And this is where turning to the Internet can be so destructive. It’s like allowing yourself to drown in a sea of information regarding an illness, and all its possible horrible ramifications, and how it could, it just might, ruin your life, and how in some cases it will cripple you, and how there are support groups to help you cope because otherwise you might just want to end it all now. You read the discussion forums of those who are suffering and while your heart goes out the them, you quake at the prospect of ending up like them. Ok, perhaps this is an exaggeration, but I see it this way: I could choose to throw in the towel and declare that there’s no point for just 5,000 copies, or I could stand tall and say: 5,000 is nothing to sneeze at, and in any case, I can easily beat that. (And the illness metaphor is not totally gratuitous, as I’ve had some experience in that realm.) The darn thing is, I do believe I can beat that. Five thousand copies? That seems like nothing to me! I think of the connections I have in the dance world, in the Indian community, all the people I know who revel in literary fiction, the fact that India is, for good reason, a popular setting and topic in fiction, I think of all the people who have told me my manuscript is beautiful (thank you!), the fun ideas I have for promotion, and 5,000 seems more than feasible.

And yet. Those glum predictions hang over my head, because now that I have read them, I can’t un-read them. Despite feeling confident in my manuscript and my marketing ideas, there is a voice in the back of my head asking me why I have the hubris to dismiss the cautions of people who purport to know more than I do about the ins and outs of publishing. But then, in the nick of time, the Internet comes to my rescue. Because therein is the beauty of the Internet: it can, in one day, in one hour, mete out despair and hope in equal measure. One of my go-to sites for realistic, supportive advice and ideas regarding publishing, Grub Street, posted this entry just today by Terri Giuliano Long entitled “Indie success: hold on to your dreams.” In it this writer takes us back to when she was, essentially, in my shoes, believing 5,000 copies would be her ideal, through her indie publishing experience, and her sales of 120,000 copies in the past twelve months. And that is when I knew to stop trawling the web for information. I’d found what I wanted.

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After just over four years of dance, K, who will turn turn eight in the summer, received her first set of bells on Sunday. These are the ghungroo*, the little brass bells that are woven (by the dancer, or in this case, the dancer’s mother) onto a length of thin rope. These are the bells worn by the kathak dancer around the ankles, wound tightly in coils over a protective layer of felt, the bells that turn the dancer into a musical instrument. The bells arrive via mail in a clump, purchased in bulk (from bellsonline.net, of course) and then we loop them (75 per leg in K’s case) onto the rope in a time-consuming but meditative process that involves a lot of jingling and is sure to wake a napping baby.

The conferring of ghungroo takes place through a traditional ceremony of the type we rarely take the time to slow down for these days. The hall we rented was decorated with Indian cloths and garlands of flowers, the little stage transformed into an altar of sorts, with pictures of the dance gurus (the lineage of teachers of  Chhandika, our dance school), a statuette of Nataraja, Lord of Dance, an incense holder. Each dancer brought an offering of a coin, an element of nature and sweets or fruits to share. The bundles of bells are neatly lined up, each one wrapped in red felt and tied with a ribbon. Our teacher, Gretchen Hayden, sat cross legged on the floor in front of the altar and called up each student in turn, taking his or her bundle of bells, holding it to her forehead to symbolize the mind, in front of her mouth to symbolize breath and speech, and to her heart before handing it to the student who did the same. Despite the thousands of bells in the room, the dozens of children and parents, the video cameras and cell phones, there was peaceful silence in the room as everyone appreciated the significance of what was taking place, the connection with an art form that is so ancient and beautiful, the commitment we each make to carrying it forward, the gratitude we have for our teachers, our students, our children.

It is ironic just how much planning, organizing and running around had to take place just so that K and I could be present for this moment of stillness, tradition and meaning. This was a particularly chaotic weekend during which my other half, J, was away teaching at a black belt martial arts camp, I was enrolled in a two-day writing conference with meetings set up with my agent and possible editors, and apparently both K and her two year old sister required care and feeding. I started planning for the weekend weeks in advance, lining up a series of friends and relatives to tag team to be with S (and K the rest of the weekend), typing out a glossary of her odd vocabulary so that when she started frantically pointing to the fridge and yelling “DEE!” the kind soul who was with her would understand she was asking for cheese, or so that when she touched her nose and said “dodo” it would be clear she wanted to sleep. (Yes, I do have a two year old who asks to sleep, and yes, I do realize how lucky I am.) I had lists and piles everywhere, of things to bring to the conference, of items to bring to the ghungroo ceremony, of things to pack for the little one’s stay with a friend. I had to remember who to leave the stroller with, who would need K’s carseat when, where to leave the present for the birthday party she was going to attend in my absence, when to buy the flowers for the ceremony so that they’d still be fresh for the event itself. I had to remember to leave a change of shoes in the car for when I went straight from the ceremony to the conference, to pick up the ceremony program from the printer before they closed at 5:00 on Friday, to pack tissues and DayQuil in my bag because yes, of course I had to have a cold, to find time to rehearse the elevator pitch for my book, to pre-pack K’s lunch for the break between the ceremony and the class with Pandit Chitresh Das that she was going to attend as well.

And was it worth it? A hundred times over. And not just because of what I experienced for myself, which was augmented by something the lovely author Julia Alvarez said later in the day at the conference keynote address and which I’ll address in a separate post, but because it showed K that this was a matter of importance. Now, of course, she had no idea of the level of mad logistics involved which enabled her to receive her bells that day. She did not see the lists, did not notice the piles, had no insight into the complex logistics.

And that is the way it should be. She is seven. The fact that her parents were overextended that weekend, the fact that we had so many things to juggle all at once, that we are constantly feeling like we have to give one thing up in order to do the other, that is our own doing. Perhaps when she grows up she will be better than we are at finding the right balance. But for the moment, having her think of her attendance at the ceremony as a matter of course, having her find it a normal and fully-integrated part of her life, that is what matters the most.

And now here is what that little asterisk next to “ghungroo” is all about: As I was making edits to the ceremony program before sending it to the printer, I consulted with my teacher as to how to spell the word for the bells. There are so many ways that it is transcribed—ghunghru, gungroo, ghunghroo, ghungroo—and we wanted to pick one and be consistent with it. Then my teacher sent me an email with the following subject line: Is it a g or a gh, an u or an oo?!! And something silly was triggered in my brain:

The question is how do
You spell the word “ghungroo?”
Does it end with a U?
Or do O’s make the oo?
Is there one H or two?
If I only knew
We could then say adieu
To this pesky issue.
It seems the circumstances
Under which one dances
May well affect the chances
Of different types of spelling.
But when someone will choose
To use the O’s or U’s
Or downright refuse
The H–there is no telling.
But some advice for you:
Don’t put them on askew
Or up to your genoux
(for the French among you)
Or tie them to a gnu
Or EVER wear them to the loo!

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People ask how I do it—children, freelance work, dance, volunteering, home and meals, writing, but the fact of the matter is, the secret is, very often I just don’t. And when I don’t, it’s the writing that is the first to go. (Well, except for when Next Doors is providing the meal, in which case I can happily let go of the cooking knowing a fantastic dinner is on its way.) Anyone in my situation—and I know that means a lot of people– will understand this. I know I am not alone, and usually I manage to cope, but there are times when I start to despair that I’ll ever get two sentences down for my next book. Because the problem that I have now recognized is that I can never manage to enter and then inhabit the world of my book, across the world and nearly two centuries ago, long enough to get the muse going. How do other writers in this predicament do it, I wonder? And why have I set myself up to place my next story in a setting that requires me to transport myself into another world? (Well, that’s a whole other story, one that David Rocklin touches on in this post on Beyond the Margins.)

Take the other day, for example. It was not even a particularly, remarkably complicated day. Just an average one. But even with one child attending school and one with a sitter for a the morning, I was not able to extract myself from the household scene until 9:30 am, almost three full hours after getting up. There were lunches to make and pack, a full breakfast to cook so we could have a solid meal and some family time to get the day going, negotiations about attire appropriate for the weather and school activities, the spare crib to set up for the Next Doors child who spends Wednesdays with the sitter as well, dinner logistics to arrange, and so on.

When I finally managed to retreat upstairs with my twice reheated tea, leaving two babbling toddlers with the sitter, I found a slew of emails pertaining to my dance group’s performance, including logistics relative to costumes, the cues for the lighting and sound techs, the order of the dance items and more. I skimmed them, responded to as many as possible, and turned off my email program so as not to be distracted by the notifications of new mail. I averted my eyes from the pile of envelopes and papers in my inbox marked “To Deal With Now” which was leaning precariously because of something lumpy buried somewhere underneath, the identity of which I have not tried to elucidate for fear of causing an avalanche of papers that might reveal long overdue bills.

I put my teacup down and wondered if I should, instead of drinking it, go upstairs to practice my dance piece, then decided not to because a serious practice would then entail a shower, and the whole process would seriously cut down on my already dwindling and precious work time. Instead I turned on the music to the piece and went through it a few times in my head. Better than nothing, I told myself, although I still felt guilty. Guilt is a large part of trying to do so many things: one is never fully satisfied with the level at which one is managing to do any given one of them.

Finally, after running the gauntlet of aforementioned toddlers in my living room, I escaped to a coffee shop, settled in, was distracted for a while by the conversation at the adjacent table which I started mining for ideas for another story. By the time I opened the book I’d been toting around for days, a book that looked like it would yield some good research, it was 11 am.

I was right—the book I launched into, singer Sheila Dhar’s Here is Somebody I’d Like You to Meet, was, despite its unwieldy title and dreary cover, engaging, funny, smartly written and full of colorful anecdotes which drew me into the world of Indian classical musicians in the early to mid 1900s, their eccentricities, their art. (See her obituary here. I wish I could have met her in person.) I felt myself slip into that world, and ideas for my own characters started forming. I jotted down some notes, noticed that I was doing so, smiled to myself, then glanced at my watch. And the whole mood was instantly lost. I realized I had only one hour until school pick-up, and that before then I needed to check into my work email for edits to a cover letter for an overdue federal grant proposal. Ugh. I started despairing as to when I’d have another chance to enter that world and recapture the source of story and character ideas. (It’s now over a week later, and that chance has not yet come.)

This is the true challenge of the writer: to be able to create (or re-create) and inhabit a whole different world, to have lengthy and complex experiences in it, to see it in all its detail, and to fit all this into just an hour or two of actual existence. That space is like a dream, one that one can conjure up at will, in which a whole day’s events are compressed into a few minutes of sleep time, or like the cloud at the top of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree which holds within it an entire universe in which Fanny, Jo and Bessie can have fantastic adventures with Moon Face and Saucepan Man, but be home in time for supper.

I want one of those clouds, one of those dreams. I want a place I can jump into for an hour, and experience ten hours of ideas and adventures. Someone mentioned to me recently that I should apply for a MacDowell Colony fellowship, and so I looked it up, and watched this video, and realized this is it. What a magical-sounding place, where for two weeks (more would be impossible considering children and such) I could be given a studio in the woods, quiet time, lunch delivered in a picnic basket by a kind soul on a bicycle, and the evening company of dozens of other artists with whom conversation would spark ideas and creativity and energy. I could get a year of work done in fourteen days. Of course, there’s the minor issue of being selected from amongst the thousands of applicants each year. But I think I’ll try. If not that one, which is so highly selective, than others, as long as they are open to all sorts of artists, not just writers. In a year or so, when a draft is hopefully well underway and Little One is bigger, I think I’ll try to enter that cloud for just a wee bit of time, and see what happens.

And now Little One is about to wake from her nap, Big One has been chatting at me for a while, and it’s my turn to make dinner. At least the grant proposal is in.

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