Posts Tagged ‘Writing Life’

Milk and sugar cubes

January 23rd, 2008    -    2 Comments


Those might be any of the days but every night ended in the same way, doused in the ritual scent of Old Spice. Grandpa shaved in the evenings because he got up before dawn. Oranges were a life but they weren’t a living. He worked for Union Oil Company on Torrey Mountain, wearing blue work pants and carrying a painted black lunch box and when he got up in the dark to do it, she got up with him. He would fix a cup for him and her too in a tiny Tupperware tumbler, mostly milk and two sugar cubes, and they would face the coming day together in a fearless way, sipping coffee and sitting side-by-side in silence on the davenport.

And if it could ever be so, this was a place where leaving, even the leaving, was the best part of all. Grandpa would load them in his car for the two-minute drive up to the two-bit migrant town, park along the stubby curb and open the screen door to Lechler’s Grocery. These are my girls, Harry, he’d announce, as the three little ones shyly advanced on the cool cement floor. Harry would then fix up three identical bags of penny candy, precious cargo for the long trip home with mom and dad. When the dentist decreed and mom imposed, grandpa replaced the forbidden candy with two dollars each cash spending money and still took the girls to Lechler’s just for the showing off.

Yes I can taste it

January 22nd, 2008    -    7 Comments


And then there were the rose bushes, giant, taller than her with blooms that dwarfed her head when her grandma propped her there in her white gloves and patent leathers for an Easter snapshot. There was the honeysuckle vine that crept up over the shade arbor, eventually collapsing it, with the tiniest little filament right there, that one, that she pulled so carefully and touched to her tongue yes yes I can taste it. There were the tree swings and the black barrel barbecue for roasting marshmallows, the orange push-up popsicles kept in the freezer drawer. No evening without ice cream, no sir, gallons and gallons of Knudsen’s vanilla for grandpa and her, which might have been the death of him, but which she could take on the back porch in an ice-cold bowl carefully carefully and if it was still light, mash and stir to a frothy soup in the game called Making a Cake for President Kennedy.

There were long, sunny days with water sprinkler chases and front-room dance recitals, LP singalongs to Marty Robbins or Patsy Cline and black pitted olives in a glass dish on the supper table. She popped the olives like palace guard hats on her fingertips and ate them off one by one. Most everyone frowned at that but not him. He laughed out loud and so she did it every time, his Irisher.

Letter from home

January 20th, 2008    -    9 Comments


Because these are the days when we watch for the oranges to ripen, and I can once again see them about to burst.

Home was once a funny word, since it was rarely the place that she lived.

She had been born in California, the granddaughter of a big-shouldered Illinois Irishman who’d come to the golden brink and ended up in all ways empty-handed. She was one of three little granddaughters, all loved so true that none doubted she was grandpa’s favorite, or that his house was where they belonged.

At home with mom and dad was a prickly kind of place, where the air sometimes froze and the ground swayed and the safest place to be was tucked out of sight. You could find her there, or you might forget to look.

At grandpa’s was different. It was a little patch of parched ground at the end of the road called the Road to Grandpa’s, an hour or so up the way from their starter house in LA and long after the littlest one in the backseat asked, “Are we still in California?” Grandpa’s was a tidy four-room box of a white and yellow handmade house in an orange grove ocean with a mountain in the distance, a mountain with a name they all knew, because grandpa always called it by name, Torrey Mountain, like he called everything by name, the names he gave if there were none, to pet pigeons and doves and chickens and the rooster and duck and dogs, sometimes cats, her grandmother, her sisters and her, the one he called My Little Irisher.

They would tumble out of the wagon on these, which must have been weekly trips when she was young, and her parents were achingly young and the cord that connected them all was noose tight but not yet torn. Tumble into the dusty earth and the endless rows of oranges which she knew stretched on forever at least until the highway way far away which was where grandpa’s two-acre spread played out.

First, yes there were the oranges, very special oranges which would be the very Sunkist oranges that you saw advertised on TV, which must be irrigated on rare and significant days known as Irrigation Days which were serious from beginning to end and produced the most luscious grade of mud which they were allowed to slog and squish through calf-high in the game known as Grand Central Station, these little raggedy girls having no earthly idea what a grand or a central or a station might otherwise be.

First there were the oranges. And then, and then.

Return to sender

January 18th, 2008    -    12 Comments


And so we come to the end of our series on writing, the day that we confront the rather convincing body of evidence that no one likes you, no one wants to read you, no one wants to publish you and you’ll never work in this town again.

No, no, no, no, no, no. A million times no.

First you start showing people your work. No.
Then you start sending queries. No.
Then you try an essay or article. No.
Then you start sending proposals or manuscripts. No.

Not at this time. Not a right fit. Not a good match. No.

I mean yes.

Because every one of these dead ends is a beginning. Seriously. This is not cotton candy rainbow fairy talk. Every time you hear no, every time the door slams, it swings back open just a crack and gives you a glimpse of where you should go. And it’s never that far away.

Sure, every time I went to the inbox or the mailbox and saw that SASE shoot me straight back through the heart, I fell hard. I fell face first. I laid there in the dirt. I rolled in it; I covered myself in it; I was filthy dirty low. Then eventually I’d get up and dust off.

“I’m giving up!” I’d tell my husband as I crept back to the desk, opened a file and started over. We tell ourselves that these blind, idiotic, insensitive, stupid editors and agents are blind, idiotic, insensitive and stupid. But they are usually right. It really isn’t the time, fit or match. You really haven’t finished. You really aren’t ready. You still have a little turn or two to make.

Rejections usually point you to the last place you want to go, dammit. To the place you’re afraid of exploring in your work, to the discipline and the form, to the point you’re afraid to make, to the authority you’re afraid to claim, to the resistance you so stubbornly clutch.

One day I really did give up. I stopped trying to sound like someone I wasn’t. I stopped hiding from who I really was. I stopped making stuff up! The very place you fear you are lacking is your source of hidden treasure. Go there.

If you’re afraid to start, start.
If you’re afraid to say it, say it.
If you’re afraid to cut it, cut it.
If you’re afraid to send it, send it.
If you’re afraid to try, try.
If you’re afraid to change it, change it.
If you’re afraid to let go, let go.
If you’re afraid to give up, give up. It won’t be the last of you!

No matter where it leads, trust your life completely and you’ll end up someplace new. In that spirit, I make a deep bow to the glorious eye, hand and heart of Denise, who just this week proved my point in multitude. Not only did she give this gift to her beautiful pregnant friend Stacie, they both gave the gift back to me. You see it here. And that’s how it always ends. I mean begins.


Photo Credit: Boho Photography

The daily dose

January 17th, 2008    -    8 Comments


Overdosed on all this talk about writing? Try reading something else. You won’t lose any time and you’ll end up in the same place only better.

We all know that good readers make good writers. You’ll be more limber, daring, confident and inspired by reading good writing.

A few days ago Kelli at the Zen of Motherhood gave me a Daily Dose award. Despite the family resemblance, she and I are very different, but we always see eye to eye. In the world of no coincidence, her gift was no coincidence. It inspired me to tell you this story.

One summer when my book proposal was stuck in reverse, I lost all drive. After a year of rejections, I wasn’t sure what I had to say anymore and why anyone like me should say it. I was no writer. I had nothing new to contribute. And so I set aside My Writing Failure and took up reading instead. I devoted the summer to reading women fiction writers to see what I could see. I wanted to hear their voices, and how they managed to find one. And when they found a voice how they managed to keep one. I picked one writer at a time and I read every title of theirs at my little public library. Thank heaven for little towns with little libraries. And what I saw was that these great, original, fearless women weren’t contributing anything new. Or at least the stories weren’t new. The point of view was new. They were contributing themselves, their lives, in work after work, as only they could. They were writing from experience, from memory, from sense and scenery so intimate and real that it could only have come from the landscape of their own lives.

I started with the immensely popular and readable Elizabeth Berg, who captures the words, thoughts, and whispers of modern women so transparently. I read Anne Tyler’s many stories of misfits and misfortunes on what seemed to be the same funky street in Baltimore. I read Alice Munro, the Canadian short storyist, capture the vast and humbling spaces of emotional distance. I read others, and then I quit going to the library for a while.

I had read myself back to writing again. And like the authors I’d read, I would write life as I saw it.

So I pass the Daily Dose award (non-pharmaceutical variety) on to Elizabeth, Anne, and Alice. To Willa and May. To Arundhati, Amy, Lisa, Margaret, Eudora and Jane. To Flannery, Tillie, Jhumpa and Louisa May. To Toni, Isabel, Charlotte, and Joyce Carol. To the really good book sitting under your coffee cup.

Lift your cup and fill yourself up with a premium brew. You can’t get enough of the good stuff.

Writing time

January 16th, 2008    -    9 Comments


“How did you find time to write a book when your daughter was little?” This is the question I’m asked most frequently. The answer is: I didn’t. First, I never found any time. Second, I didn’t think I was writing a book. And so third, the writing took me a very long while. If I’d had any expectations, I would have failed them all.

That sounds dismissive, but it contains truths that we have a terrible time seeing. The time is always now. There is no hidden time someplace else; no extra time we can uncover or clear. No way to push or pry it free. Time is never apart from us. Time is just us. Time management is self-management. Now, how do you manage yourself? I hope you’re kind, patient and forgiving, because how you manage yourself is how you manage to write.

Shawn, who is busy enough as a working writer but also busy enough as a mother of two-year-old twins, asks how I blend my life with blogging, writing-for-hire and writing for myself. I don’t have to do any blending. It blends itself. What appears before me is the thing that I take care of. It’s just not always what I wish it to be.

Although I write all kinds of things, I do not distinguish between them, just as Shawn does not distinguish between the love she feels for one daughter and the love she feels for another. I do not have a particular voice for one thing and a particular voice for another thing, I just have my voice. With practice, writers develop a virtuoso range. With practice, I glide through my range with relative ease. What I never do is contrive or falsify my voice. I practice writing anything and everything. The more I write the more I write, so I welcome any opportunity to write.

What I also try to avoid is judging one type of writing as more elevated than another, as in writing a Book. Or a Novel. Or an Article. Or just a Journal or a Blog. When I do that, in the very labeling, I set my writing apart from me and my life as it is. Besides, sometimes I lift the words from one place and I find they fit perfectly in another. It’s all one place.

Now, which one do I pick up and work on? The one that needs doing, according to the circumstance. To determine the need, I use circumstances as they are, not my preferences, which are by nature ego-driven and therefore highly suspect. If I have a deadline, I meet it. If someone calls or emails and asks, “When do you think you’ll have that done?” I finish it up. If it’s time to cook, clean, drive, play, shop, rake, I do that first. Not always happily, but always. To do otherwise, to set up my writing up as a priority output and my life as the obstacle, is to do what a friend observed recently as being “at war with me wherever I go.”

I don’t want to be at war with myself or my family or my home or my work; that’s why I don’t go for arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines or sign up for 30-day writing marathons. Yes, by all means, practice your writing, but don’t brutalize yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself unless you know that you need a kick in the ass. Pain comes from that kind of pressure and punishment – pain too easily spread. Few of us need more bruises. Let your writing be fluid and joyful, let it be spontaneous and useful, and then your life will be too. Or at least a little more bearable.

Practically speaking, there are times when I need to hire help or get away to write. But they are few, and only when the circumstances require. I went away for the weekend when I started writing what ended up as a book. I spent two days and wrote 1,200 words. I went away for the weekend when my manuscript was due. I spent two days and wrote 12,000 words. Four years came between them. The funny thing is, both times I thought that I was finished!

I understand a writer’s romance with writing. I understand a mother’s romance with a life beyond. When Georgia was little, I wanted desperately to break free into another life for myself – a life of merit, worth and recognition. I didn’t then and I haven’t yet. I still have troublesome ambition but what I no longer have is a troublesome baby. So where does the trouble come from?

There’s time now and time yet for writing. One day soon you’ll have more of it. In the meantime, write when you can, whatever you can. Don’t judge, don’t weigh, don’t measure. Write now, and let the outcome arrive on its own. It always does. Imagine your surprise when you find out it’s all yours.

Sprinkles on top

January 15th, 2008    -    8 Comments


To study words you must know the origin of words. – Dogen Zenji

I love words. I love it when people love my words. If I could eat and breathe words I would be happy. If I could make my living with words I would be ecstatic. Unfortunately, the business I’m in isn’t about the words, but about what’s underneath.

What exactly am I trying to say?

I’m so fond of my own language that the hardest part of writing is not starting or finishing. The hardest part is changing a measly word, particularly if it’s not my idea to do so. I’m attached at the tongue to my own cleverness. I mistake the notes for the melody, the brushstrokes for the painting, the rainbow sprinkles for the cupcake underneath. Ever taste just the sprinkles? Do and you’ll see that it’s not about them.

So what’s the point here?

A long time ago I got a fortune in a cookie that said, “Cleverness is serviceable for some things, but sufficient for nothing.” Left to my own cleverness, I can string together pearls like, well, a string of pearls. A very long string of pearls. With no clasp on either end, and no way for anyone to get any use out of it. But such a pretty string of pearls! Doesn’t that count?

You’re losing me.

When I’d first assembled 50 or so pages of early writing, not knowing a thing about publishing, I judged the writing to be so good, so obviously special, that I sent it to an agent. Not an agent I knew, but an agent whose name I’d overheard from a neighbor at my three-year-old’s swimming lesson. This agent was so kind to reply at all, even with a gentle refusal, to this mound of – what, sprinkles? – and give me my first awakening. It’s not about the words.

Are we getting any closer?

Of course we use the words, because it’s all we have to work with. Words are the only way we can approach the unsayable essence. But we don’t exactly write our way there; it is more like unwriting. We dive back into the mush of our muddled language to extract the pure shine. Every time we’re sent by critics and editors and unguarded husbands back to the keyboard it’s to find the source under our skin, the precise truth beneath our words that anyone and everyone recognizes. That’s the one that looks good enough to eat.

And tastes great too.

Not by the book

January 14th, 2008    -    12 Comments


You should look after water and grain with compassionate care, as though tending your own children without expecting any result or gain. – Dogen Zenji

Perhaps you have children. Remember when you were trying to conceive, and you thought it was only about getting pregnant? Or how about when you were pregnant, and it was only about having a baby? Then the baby was born and all your expectations were obliterated in the first week of terror and chaos. But I only wanted a baby, you might have inwardly wailed, as if you could straighten out a terribly mixed-up order. What you got was a life, a whole new wonderful awful horrible miserable magnificent life – yours– that you could never have imagined before.

We never quite arrive at the outcome that we have in mind, because nothing is quite what we think it is. It is so much more, and it keeps going!

Before too long we forget about the outcome and focus instead on tending the baby before us with compassionate care, and without expecting any result or gain. (I’m raising a daughter. We’re both happy I don’t think I’m raising a pianist.)

The book you’re thinking about? It’s not about the book. There might well be a book that surfaces some day, a couple hundred pages pressed between two cardboard ends, but writing a book isn’t about a book. The book is a word for your life, the vast, unknowable dynamic process of turns and trips and thumps, that transforms you as you go along, as you go along becoming more of yourself. Somewhere along this road, somewhere well after you begin and before you end, you might finally be born as a storyteller and a writer; you might arrive at an authentic voice, an enlivened heart. You might finally see, in the very light of your day and in the words on your screen, that you have something to say. And that only you could say it.

But if you think you know that before you start out, I will say with unwavering emphasis: You are wrong. It’s true that mechanistic and unartful things get written that way: by the book. And there are probably 99,000 mechanistic and unartful books published every year. But that’s not what you aim to write, do you? Leave that to the experts!

You stand before a stove with a soup pot and a spoon. What will you put in? Everything you’ve got. How will it taste? You’ll find out as you go along. How will you know what’s next? You’ll know it when you see it. How long will it take? Long past the time you get hungry but before you’re dead. How do I start? You already have.

If you happen to have read this far and you aren’t writing a book, know for a fact that you are. Everyone is writing a book. And the book is called your life. You are the writer and you are the reader, and – no flipping to the last page first! – you don’t know how it will end.

***

This week we’re talking about writing. Send me your questions, and we’ll turn them into something you can swallow.

Cooking the books

January 13th, 2008    -    11 Comments


An ancient master said, “When you boil rice, know that the water is your own life.” – Dogen Zenji

I like to cook. Not always, mind you. But I can honestly say I’m no longer afraid to cook; no longer preoccupied with how things will turn out. I don’t cook as sport or even as art. I cook just to cook, as a mysterious and fulfilling practicality. What most delights me about cooking is using what I already have on hand in ways I hadn’t planned. Kind of like a spontaneous symphony. Well, more like a whistle.

This wasn’t always true of me. I never learned to cook and I never had to cook. When I took up residency here, in this home as a whole woman and a wife, after accomplishing my life’s shallow ambition by the age of 35 and then falling splat on my ass, I began to cook. When my parents visited me here for the first time, my father came into the kitchen wide-eyed. “Artice,” he called to my mother. “You’ve got to see this. Karen made scrambled eggs.” He was just amazed, and so was I. Life is amazing! And breakfast is pretty miraculous too.

This week I’m going to write about writing. I just opened the cupboards and saw what I had on hand. Everywhere I turn, I see my friends talking about writing; they confess their aspirations and fears. Everywhere I turn, I see my own obstinate doubts and hindrances. I wasn’t always inclined to be so glib about writing. I stopped myself from blogging for a long time with the excuse that bloggers were “only writers” and therefore not my readers. Yes, I can be that way. I can be that mean and small and stingy and scared.

But now I feel a rush to get the word out so you have these encouragements and ingredients on hand. Please know that as I recite them I am nourishing myself. Here they all are, and I will take up each point separately in a longer post as circumstances allow.

Instructions to the Cook
1. Writing a book is not about the book.
2. It’s not even about the words.
3. The more you write the more you write.
4. Start writing but don’t stop reading.
5. Every no is a yes.

So this week, let’s read and let’s write. Send me your comments or questions, and we’ll scramble the eggs into something you can swallow.

Turn here

January 2nd, 2008    -    12 Comments


When we were little, my mother would drive us to our babysitter’s house early each morning so she could go to work as a schoolteacher. My big sister and I walked to our elementary school from there. My little sister, who was about 2, stayed at the sitter’s all day.

The three of us sat in the backseat as my mom drove the familiar few miles of the daily route. This was before car seats– egad – it was even before seatbelts, so you won’t be shocked to hear that my little sister stood on the hump of the floorboard and gripped the back of the front seat as we rode. She would stand like that and speak into my mom’s right ear, saying:

Turn here! Turn here!

My baby sister wasn’t giving my mom directions to the sitter’s house; she was giving her directions away from the sitter’s house. It was so funny: as if just hearing the words would cause my mom to steer away from the same old, everyday destination.

My mom, of course, couldn’t turn. But I can, and I do, every time I remember.

As always happens in the dharma, or your life, the very conversation you’re having gives you the inspiration you’re seeking. The very question you ask contains the insight you need. And so it happened in a dialogue yesterday about towels and trash and teeth flossing.

Why is it so hard to do what we know we should do?

Because it takes self-discipline, I replied. All practice is the practice of making a turn in a different direction. Toward one thing, away from another: the particulars in any situation don’t matter because we always know the right way. A different way. With practice, you get better at turning.

Even as I responded I was remembering a fascinating article I read in the paper a year or two ago. It was an account of the rather startling finding in the “Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance,” a book based on a study of how people get really good at what they do. The book shocked everyone by disputing the notion of talent. How people get really good at something is not because they have more talent but because they practice more.

Specifically, they do deliberate practice. Not just mindless repetition, but mindful repetition – directional, correctional and concentrative.

Turn here! Turn here!

Friends, this is my practice. This is Zen. It is not anything new you need to learn about. It is not some new information you need to study. It is not anything you haven’t heard before. It is just a turn you might not have yet made, or made again, and again, and again.

Maezumi Roshi used to say he was so sick of himself. So sick of hearing himself saying the same thing over and over again. Nyogen Roshi, my teacher now, says the same thing.
As a student, I get sick of hearing them say the same thing over and over again too. I’ve heard the same thing about a million times over. But then, for the first time, I might actually hear it. And then I might actually do it. And when I do, I arrive in a different place altogether: into the wide-open, beautiful, limitless and unknowable life right in front of me.

Turn here! Turn here!

Someone who advises me on my writing usually bounces things back to me with the encouragement to try again, reminding me that readers like to be taken on a journey. I’m sure that’s true, but this advice frustrates and perplexes me, at least momentarily. My readers are already on a journey – a desperate, painful, heart-wrenching, anxious, chaotic, and unfulfilling journey. They take this journey every day and night, incessantly, and even given the information and encouragement to go somewhere else, they usually never do. They might die on the same forsaken highway, having missed all the exits.

My practice is not a journey. Or if it is, it is a journey of one turn.

Here.

They also serve

December 28th, 2007    -    8 Comments


What can be said? Can the world be more insane? More predictably inhumane? More corrupt? More abrupt? More aflame? More inane?

In the darkness of this dark world, oceans away, I’ve said my piece. I penned it too. And although time still stands before the day, I’ve stood with other mothers, encircled in strength and multiplied by each our own true account: Enough.

Forever enough, until the seas gather and swell into an irreversible tide of we.

Who only stand and wait.

One voice among those in this forthcoming title, which will not arrive in time to soften the long shadows of this day, but to enlighten and uplift another.

One true sentence

December 17th, 2007    -    13 Comments

I’m half Jewish, half Buddhist and half Christian – Georgia Miller

Only the sublime logic of a child can sort through messes like the one I have. “I wish our street was called Miller Street so our whole family would live here!” she offered up one day, seeing through ideological distance with the wide eyes of a sage. Everything she says is so wholly true, it breaks open my heart, and much later, it might even lift my eyelids.

Lately I’ve been overcome by the oneness of it all: called by name, caught and dragged out onto the street to see how completely alike we are. The woman last week trapped in the deep recess of depression calling for a way out: I know that place. The friend who recently confided the tawdry abasement of a romance gone wrong: that was me too. And then this morning the email from a self-described gay curmudgeon who recovered in my memoir the stunning certainty of his own mother’s unfailing love. We are children, all. We are mothers and fathers, too. We are the mothers and fathers of our own true lives. Can we see it?

If you read nothing else today, I want you to read what this remarkable man wrote on his own blog, because he writes so perfectly to and for us all. This fellow said something else to me many years ago that he won’t remember but that I’ll never forget. He said, “You have written one true sentence.” What writer wouldn’t be gratified by that, but he gave me the only encouragement I’d yet been given to keep writing, and to keep making it true.

And now I’m called to live it true too.

My husband is Jewish. I am what I am. My daughter insists that she can be everything. And she can! Can I?

The problem, I tell myself, is not me. It is my husband’s family, more precisely, his brother, who has elected to live a most extraordinary Orthodox Jewish life in Israel. Of course, he objected to our wedding. He ultimately came but did not enter the ecumenical sanctuary for the Reform Jewish service. He cannot, by his law, touch me to shake my hand. He says next to nothing to me. I feel awkward and excluded in the midst of this family, and I imagine they feel it too.

That’s what imagination does: create boundaries that we then project out onto the street, the street that is not named Miller Street. Onto the family that does not love us nearly enough.

Recently my cousin recounted some family lore of my own. She said that my aunt, my mother’s sister, surmised that my mom must have been outraged when I became a Buddhist. But she wasn’t. What my mother said to me at the time was, “Now I don’t have to worry about you anymore.” She was a true Christian.

Can I be as true? As transcendent? By what calculus do I define my limits, my parameters? My share, my heart, my home?

Last week my Zen teacher, who knows too well my tired saga of religious persecution, called me by name. “Maezen,” he said, which always gets my attention. “When are you going to Israel?”

“It will be good for you,” he said. With a mother’s love. A father’s love. True love.

I told my husband and daughter that we will go to Israel next summer for sure. Everyone is thrilled. Like Georgia, I want to be half of everything. Like my friends everywhere, I want to be whole.

I want this one sentence to be true.

“God bless us, every one!”

Audacious

December 4th, 2007    -    11 Comments


Some people really have nerve. A few months ago a young couple had the gall to open a teeny bookstore in my dinky hometown. They have the impudence to think that people still read stuff that’s not on a computer screen. Furthermore, they’re the foolhardy kind who dream that people will buy from a store they have to walk into and cheeky enough to sell books no one has ever heard of.

It’s enough to make you believe in yourself.

Now you know where I come in. Since it’s the holiday season, and you’re not done shopping by a long shot, and you might have heard from someone more reliable than me about a nifty gift idea for your favorite mom with her finger in a light socket or a blissfully unaware mother-to-be, let me suggest that you straightaway contact Sally at Sierra Madre Books to order by phone or email either the classic hardcover edition of Momma Zen or the jazzy new identical-in-every-way paperback. I know you can get it anywhere, but here’s the last little audacious part: I will pop down to the store and sign the book along with an intimate and magical salutation to you or your recipient, and Sally will ship the gift to its yuletide destination. Be sure you tell her all the particulars.

It might not be enough to make you believe in Santa Claus, but I bet you’re mightily impressed by the woman in red doing a back swan dive off the high board. Pretend she’s me. I’m taking the dare, and I’m taking everyone with me.

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