mastering_the_art_of_french_eatingThe first time I ever ate savory cake, I was at a cocktail party in Provence. I had just completed a seven-week French immersion program and I was eager to test out my brand new language skills. Still, when I found myself being introduced to the village mayor, my heart started to pound with nerves.

The mayor had a bald head, intelligent eyes, and was missing a finger from a hunting accident. He was interested in my husband’s job as a diplomat, and in the various countries we had called home. “Did you enjoy living in Beijing?” he asked in French.

“It was a wonderful experience, but sometimes challenging,” I said. “La ville est très salée.” Everyone within earshot laughed uproariously. It took me a minute, but eventually I realized that somehow in my fluster, I had confused “sale”—which means dirty—with “salée,” or salty.

Perhaps I was distracted by the delicious cake salé, or savory cake, on offer at the party, a booze-soaked loaf studded with bits of ham and Gruyère cheese. I had “salé” on the mind you might say.

Years have passed since that party, my French has improved considerably, and I’ve learned how to make my own savory cake, one with walnuts and Roquefort cheese that whips up quickly for a lovely lunch or drinks party (see recipe below). Every time I make it, I think of that balmy summer evening and my funny French language gaffe—and though I’ve made plenty of linguistic errors since then, I’ve never confused those two words again.

Savory cake with roquefort and walnuts/
Cake au Roquefort  mastering_the_art_of_french_eating_post_1et aux noix

3 eggs
150 grams flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Scant 1/2 cup sunflower seed oil
1/2 cup milk
100 grams Gruyère, grated
150 grams Roquefort (or domestic blue cheese)
80 grams walnuts, toasted and chopped
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Butter and flour a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs with the flour and baking powder. Add the oil and milk slowly, alternating between the two. Stir in the grated Gruyère and season lightly (remember, the cheeses are very salty). Crumble the roquefort into the batter and add the nuts. Stir gently to combine.

Transfer the batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

spirit_keeperIn my previous post I made a big deal about how we are what we eat, which is, I believe, why the First Americans would occasionally chow down on the oozing heart of a vanquished enemy.  In this blog I intend to explore this idea further and consider a few of its many implications.  By delving deeper into this one little difference between the Europeans and the First Americans, I hope to arrive at last at my real point, which is why that moment of meeting in 1492 is so important, why you should care, and why we need to have this conversation now.

I think we can all agree the Europeans of 1492 knew little about health and nutrition.  They never worried about vitamins, minerals, proteins, or carbs because they had only the vaguest notion of how their own bodies worked.  Oh, they knew it had something to do with the balance of humors, but they figured there was no problem some leeches and a good blood-letting couldn’t fix.  Even today few people understand how to eat to achieve optimal health.  So I suppose I’m going way out on a limb to suggest that in 1492 the First Americans understood more about nutrition than the average person does today.

Now I’m not saying the Indians were sitting around counting calories, organizing menus, and balancing the fiber and fats in their diets.  What I am saying is that the First Americans were keenly aware there’s far more to food consumption than just a basic chemical exchange.  That’s why the killing of game, the catching of fish, or the harvesting of crops always involved prayers or rituals to restore the balance of Nature.  If you’re going to take the life of something so that you can live, the least you can do is say “Thank you,” right?  Otherwise there’s a karmic deficit and your soul begins to shrivel.

Again, I’m not suggesting the First Americans were big believers in Karma, but my understanding is that they were huge believers in the concept of Transformation.  They recognized that an individual is actually many completely different people in one lifetime, which is why they often changed names and why adoptions were so common and so important.  Transformation also explains how they regarded food—they transformed the corn, the fish, or the deer into themselves.

But the North American concept of Transformation is not just some theoretical blah-blah to explain how to restore spiritual or karmic balance.  It is a very practical application of an actual law of the physical universe, one which the First Americans seemed to recognize even in 1492, or nearly 300 years before Lavoisier gained fame by explaining the Conservation of Mass.  (Oh, and it’s worth noting that although the First Americans were often criticized for savagery, it was fellow Europeans who lobbed off Lavoisier’s head, thus proving matter is, indeed, constant regardless of how many pieces a person is chopped into.)

At any rate, though the First Americans published no studies describing the chemical and molecular breakdown of matter, they did recognize, long before Columbus set sail, that different foodstuffs made them feel, well, different.  They also knew very well what happened when a carcass was left to rot, such as when the body of a deceased loved one was laid out on a scaffold.  While they were in their prime, the First Americans understood they were consuming the gifts of the earth, and when they died, they knew the earth was going to consume them in turn.

In other words, the First Americans didn’t just understand the basic laws of the physical universe in some vague, theoretical way; they applied those laws on a daily basis.  After all, the premise underlying every thought, word, or deed in pre-Columbian America was the acceptance that there is always balance in Nature.

Which brings me finally to why I’m so hopelessly fascinated with that moment back in 1492 and why, in fact, I wrote The Spirit Keeper.  It’s because in spite of my 100% European ancestry, my hardy Irish heritage, and my lily-white genetic make-up, I’m nothing like a European anymore—in fact, I don’t think any of us are. We can’t be if

I grew up in Indiana, where my family always had big gardens.  Under the gentle coaxing of sun and rain, the chemicals of the earth were sucked up by the strawberries and corn, and when I ate those foods, those chemicals were turned into me.  But where did the chemicals in the earth come from before my family laid claim to that scrap of soil?  A lot of them came from the people who were here before us, the First Americans who lived on that soil, laughed, loved, and died on that soil, and when they died, they rotted here, and so our beans and squash and tomatoes and potatoes are all heavy-laden with the chemicals that were once those other living beings.

It’s a simple fact of physics, a basic law of the universe, the inexorable way of Nature.  We are what we eat.  And so we are, all of us, nothing but the chemicals of the dead, filtered up through the earth again and again and again.

And this is why I feel such a keen obligation to have this conversation, to commemorate that moment of meeting in 1492, and to beg for us as an amalgamated culture composed of Europeans, First Americans, Africans, Asians, and whoever else wants to climb aboard to learn the lessons of our shared history.  We need to learn those lessons before the lapping waves of time wash away all traces of that unique opportunity to study ourselves.

After all, we’re all in this together now, like it or not, as we are all born on this planet of parents born here and their parents the same and their parents the same and all our ancestors slumber together in the soil that feeds us all and will in turn someday feed on us.

And that, by the way, is the punchline of the cosmic joke that was that singular moment in human history in 1492.  It’s not just that we are what we eat.  It’s also that we will become what we are eaten by.  The European laws of physics eventually gave us atomic bombs, but the Native concept of Transformation suggests something even more earth-shattering:  we will inevitably become that which we destroy.

In conclusion, I believe we need to have this conversation now because it’s time we recognize who and what we really are as members of the human species.  We are not Europeans.  We are not Americans.  We are earth chow.  We are stardust.  We are clever little monkeys, and if only we’re willing to look at ourselves objectively, we might be able to figure out what it is that makes us so damned clever, what it is that really makes us tick.

But the clock, too, is ticking, my friends.  Time is running out.  One moment leads to another, and another, and another, and before you know it, all turn to dust again.  Vanity of vanities—all is vanity.

In these blogs I’ve pointed out just a few of the lessons we can learn from comparing European/First American views on one tiny facet of life—the consumption of food.  There are so many other fascinating topics of conversation:  clothing, shelter, family, community, language, and on and on and on.  But why should I do all the work?  It’s someone else’s turn to talk now.

Dear America,

Diary of Edward the Hamster 1990-1990It strikes me as somewhat ironic that a book written chiefly for an audience of captive rodents should now reach the Land of the Free. I wish my publishers the best of luck, however, and can only hope that the simple arc of a common hamster’s life, clearly drawn and plainly told, still holds at least some universal appeal.

Although I spent many months in terrible captivity, fending off despair and tedium with only the meager resources of my own mind, the fates eventually smiled upon me. The rest is history, and my legacy now bears little connection to the tiny world from whence it emerged. Yet the knowledge that mine is an unlikely tale, that most other hamsters still struggle vainly under the yoke of oppression, weighs heavy on my conscience. So I dedicate this edition to them, in the meek hope that one day they too can achieve the dream of cageless freedom that so few accomplish, yet so many deserve.

I am yours sincerely,

Edward the Hamster

Discover more from Diary of Edward the Hamster 1990-1990 by Miriam Elia and Ezra Elia

Watch the book trailer:

View pages from the book.

spirit_keeperIn my previous post, I suggested that I wrote my novel, The Spirit Keeper, with the understanding that in 1492 the cultures of Europe and North America were essentially separate but equal, with the differences between them resulting from lifestyle choices made by the different peoples.  I know it’s pushing credulity to suggest that mostly naked savages were the exact equivalent of well-clad socialites, but hear me out.  In this blog, I intend to explore one of the most fundamental differences between the cultures, which is, as it happens, the most important lesson I’ve learned from the First People of North America.

Are you ready?  Here it is:  You are what you eat.

Doesn’t really sound like an Indian aphorism, does it?  But it’s a truth the First Americans understood perfectly in 1492, a truth unknown to the equivalent cultures of Europe, and a truth which many 21st century Americans still struggle with today.  But there ain’t no doubt about the truth of this truth.  You are what you eat.  Literally.

In Europe in 1492, food consumption, like everything else, was a feature of class.  Wealthy, powerful people had all the food they wanted whenever they wanted it, without lifting a finger to raise it, kill it, prepare it, or clean up after it.  The more involved you were with food production, the lower your social standing, and those who scavenged scraps left behind by others truly were the bottom feeders of the European class system.

How different was the experience of eating in America in 1492!   In general, food consumption, like everything else in pre-Columbian North America, was a fairly democratic process.  Food was there to be hunted, gathered, or grown, pretty much by whoever was hungry.  Who fed you, whom you fed, and whom you ate with helped establish key relationships in the community, but not at all in the way food reflected social class in Europe.  Native peoples feasted or famined as a community, not as individuals.  When one person felt the pinch of hunger, everyone in the community felt the exact same pain.

Of course, lean times are inevitable for all people, and the European solution to feast/famine cycles was the development of new technologies to produce more and better food, as well as the rise of a central authority to carefully stockpile and distribute those precious resources.  This system has been so successful for Western Civilization that we now regard it as the only reasonable way to insure a reliable food supply for a large population.

But the First Americans chose a completely different sort of system which worked just as well.  Instead of developing technology to dominate the environment and a central authority to control the food supply, the First Americans worked with Nature to conserve resources to ensure there would always be enough, not just for them, but for future generations as well.  They did not kill or gather more than they needed to eat.  They regularly relocated their villages so as to give the depleted environment a chance to recover.  They trusted the earth to feed them, and, if for whatever reason it didn’t, then their scrawny bodies fed the earth instead.  It was a system which respected the inevitable balance of Nature, and though agonizing losses were inevitable, the remaining populace was generally far healthier and hardier than their counterparts in Europe.

Ah, but there’s one North American aspect of eating that even the most open-minded Westerners have trouble swallowing—the report from multiple sources, multiple locations, and multiple generations of occasional acts of cannibalism.  Details vary, but what it boils down to is that Indians were known to cook and serve the flesh of a victim of torture or to take a bite from the raw heart of a vanquished enemy.  To European sensibilities, this was the ultimate example of brutal savagery, proof positive that the naked primitives had a lot to learn before they could be called civilized.

The more I’ve thought about it, especially in light of what we Westerners now understand about nutrition, the more these gruesome acts of cannibalism begin to make sense.  I mean, if we ARE what we eat, then why shouldn’t we snarf down the heart of a worthy opponent who died bravely and well?  His still-beating heart would be filled with endorphins, hormones, enzymes and amino acids that would stimulate our own internal juices, thus providing nutrients we can’t get in any other way.  On a moral level, by eating our victim’s heart we convert the core chemicals that were once him into the core chemicals that are now us, thus offering him a resurrection.  You are what you eat.  So eat only those you honor and respect.

I have come to realize that I regularly participate in a similar ritual in my own garden.  I plant my carrot seeds in spring with loving care and tend them through their sprouting and growing.  I protect them, water them, and mulch them like babes in cozy swaddling, and, when the time comes, I rip them from the soil and consume them with as much savage gusto as any of the First Americans.  I hate to do it, but I have to, and since I have to do it, I honor my beloved babies by transforming them into me.  I try to assuage my guilt by reminding myself I need that vitamin A for my skin, the beta-carotene for my eyes, but I never lose sight of the fact that I am killing another life form so that I might live.

This concept is not unlike the one Jesus espoused when he passed out bread, said it was his body, and urged us all to wash it down with the wine that was his blood.  His act was symbolic, while the actions of the First Americans were literal, but the point is the same.  No one gets to eat with a clear conscience and clean hands.  We all kill to eat.  In order for you to live, many other things, including other people, simply have to die.

Because of the psychologically devastating nature of this undeniable truth, we humans have had to find ways to accept our guilt without going mad.  Western civilization has coped with the truth by whitewashing it, sterilizing it, and ignoring it.  The First Americans coped with it by reveling in the blood of their foes as it dribbled down their chins.

Which is the “right” way to fill our bellies?  Well, here in 21st century America, most of us live like the European kings of old.   With a few notable exceptions, most of us have all the food we want whenever we want it, without lifting a finger to raise it, kill it, prepare it, or clean up after it.  And so it comes as no surprise that here in 21st century America far too many of us are obese—many morbidly so—and way too many people are pretty much miserable all the time.  And why not?  We eat food we have no relationship with, produced by people we don’t know, packaged, transported and dumped upon us in such overwhelming abundance that it’s no wonder we’re all so horribly fat and miserable—we eat nothing but horribly fat and miserable food!

Maybe we should’ve paid more attention to the primitive savages 500 years ago when they tried to show us that we are what we eat.


Next time:  Why Should Modern Americans Care about Something That Happened Over 500 Years Ago? 

“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.” This audacious declaration begins D. H. Lawrence’s once-banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Some influential novels do not declare their intentions to us from their first words. Take James Joyce’s opening on its own: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” Surely, Buck arrives into our lives with great pomp and humor, but these words alone cannot reveal the ever-broadening cultural, artistic, and legal impact that Ulysses would have. Lawrence, however, is not so timid at the starting line. He opens with a grandiose statement, the kind destined to be emblazoned on t-shirts and scribbled down in the notebooks of adoring readers for years to come. Lawrence was, of course, speaking about the aftermath of the Great War, but the continually tragic face of progress renders his overture endlessly present and universal.

Lawrence’s opening words make a fitting call to action for Banned Books Week. Books have been banned as long as there have been books: for violating taboos, for supposed libel, for encouraging new ways of thinking, for violating prevailing political and religious opinions, and sometimes for almost nothing at all. Black Beauty was once banned in South Africa simply for having the words “black” and “beauty” together in the title. And yet it would be mistaken, in our more enlightened age, to see recent advances for civil rights and a perpetually more open conversation about taboo issues in the media as reasons to suspect that book-banning is no longer a key issue. Like viewing a one-year rise in polar ice quantity as reason to deny global warming, this myopic viewpoint is harmful. Just weeks ago, rather than celebrating the fact that one of its native daughters is undoubtedly among our greatest living writers, an Ohio school board sought to ban Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. And all this means that Banned Books Week is as important as ever. Lawrence’s words continue to apply: “It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles.”

It’s no secret that at Penguin, we’re proud of our history with banned books. In 1960, Penguin was prosecuted for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the famous trial, R v Penguin Books Ltd. Like United States v One Book Ulysses before it, which freely allowed the publication of Joyce’s novel in America, the Lawrence trial was a landmark event for the liberalization of publishing and an important step in fighting book banning. That fight continues, and Penguin is thrilled to be on its front lines. This year, three of the ten books listed as the most challenged books in 2012 are Penguin publications: Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, John Green’s Looking for Alaska, and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. No one here is happy to see those books banned, but we are happy to continue supporting and promoting the valuable work of these authors. If you haven’t read them already, take a look at those books and see why it’s so important that students and library-goers retain access to them.

If you’re looking for something less modern, nowhere is the banner of Banned Books Week held higher than at Penguin Classics. The Classics library holds a cornucopia of banned literary treasures, as the Classics editorial team spotlighted last year on their Tumblr. This year, throughout the week that Tumblr will feature posts on banned writers, especially those outside of the Western canon like the great (and banned) Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Read a banned book this week to celebrate your right to do so. It’s not the Great War, but it is a great war to be fighting. In the words of Lawrence, “We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”

-Sam Raim, Editorial Assistant, Penguin Classics

silent_wifeWhenever we get books desk dropped at work, I always get excited.  It’s literally a book recommendation being delivered to you from the best of the best in the publishing world.  So when a copy of A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife showed up on my desk this summer, I knew it would be coming with me on my vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The book wasn’t too long and even the cover design intrigued me.  All in all, I felt like it would an appropriate beach read.

I could not have been more correct.  Because here’s the truth of the matter – while I love the idea of lying on the beach relaxing, it also stresses me out a little.  What am I supposed to really be doing besides lying there?  Falling asleep is out of the question.  It’s much too loud for me and what if I don’t wake up in time to roll over to make sure my tan is even?  Plus, I was responsible for holding the dog’s leash, so having a book that I could not put down served to be the perfect beach companion.

One could easily argue who the main character of this book is.  To me, it was the title “silent wife.”  What I loved about her was that even though she was at times borderline crazy, she’s also completely relatable.  How is that even possible?  I don’t know, but trust me – it is.  Overall, I felt that all of the characters were very realistically written.  So while you may not always, or ever, agree with a character’ actions, you can absolutely see where they were coming from.

My method of telling if I’ve just read a good book has always been the impression that it leaves on me.  A book doesn’t even need to be particularly well-written (though this one is) or have fully developed characters (again though, this one does) as long as I’m still thinking about it between readings and long after I’ve finished it.  It’s been a couple of months since my vacation and Silent Wife still pops into my head from time to time.  Another way I can tell is that I start recommending it to my friends and family because I really need to talk about it.  Like, right now.

So naturally, after I finished the book, I immediately passed it on to my mother-in-law.  Suddenly she was the one only half paying attention to the rest of us when we were sunning ourselves on the beach or hanging out on the deck of the house we had rented.  But it was okay, because I knew exactly where she was.  Caught up, just as I had been (and still kind of am), in the lives of Todd Gilbert and his silent wife.

— Sonia Lynaugh, Recruiter, Human Resources

The Emmys were given out last night, and we’re still buzzing from the television’s big night. Whether you’re entranced by the screen or the pages, writing culture is a part of our lives. And so, here’s our literary lineup with plenty of TV-related reading material. Click on the images to view their book pages


SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age tells the surprisingly complex, wonderfully nostalgic, and impressively compelling story of how Nickelodeon — the First Kids’ Network — began as a DIY startup in the late 70s, and forged ahead through the early eighties with a tiny band of young artists and filmmakers who would go on to change everything about cable television, television in general, animation, and children’s entertainment, proving just what can be done if the indie spirit is kept alive in the corporate world of contemporary media… All from those who made it happen!
(Publishes tomorrow, September 24th!)


The Emmy Award-winning producer of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! reveals the secrets to Downton AbbeySherlock, and its other hit programs. For more than twenty-five years and counting, Rebecca Eaton has presided over PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre, the longest running weekly prime time drama series in American history. From the runaway hits Upstairs, Downstairs  and The Buccaneers, to the hugely popular Inspector MorsePrime Suspect, and PoirotMasterpiece Theatre and its sibling series Mystery! have been required viewing for fans of quality drama.
Rebecca Eaton reveals what makes a great adaptation at
(Publishes next month, October 29th!)


A riveting and revealing look at the shows that helped cable television drama emerge as the signature art form of the twenty-first century.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the landscape of television began an unprecedented transformation. While the networks continued to chase the lowest common denominator, a wave of new shows, first on premium cable channels like HBO and then basic cable networks like FX and AMC, dramatically stretched television’s narrative inventiveness, emotional resonance, and artistic ambition. No longer necessarily concerned with creating always-likable characters, plots that wrapped up neatly every episode, or subjects that were deemed safe and appropriate, shows such as The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Shield, and more tackled issues of life and death, love and sexuality, addiction, race, violence, and existential boredom.


By turns fun, sophisticated, and celebratory, this is an eye-popping and inventive companion to the hit show Mad Men, as well as a salute to the era of cocktails and Camelot. Inspired by the artistic styles that defined 1960s advertising, Dyna Moe creates a candy-colored record of the time, exploring such topics as:

• The office culture, including secretary etiquette and hangover workarounds
• The cocktail craze, with Sally Draper’s cocktail menu
• Pastimes and fads, such as Pete and Trudy’s dancing lessons and Bert Cooper’s art
• ’60s icons from Jackie to Marilyn
• Boardroom and bedroom shenanigans
• The burgeoning suburban lifestyle
• Fabulous fashion, including hairstyle how-tos and bonus paper dolls of Joan


What does it take to go from being a TV fan to a professional TV writer? Television writers whose many produced credits include The Simpsons; Mad Men; Frasier; X-Files; Battlestar Gallactica; CSI: Miami; Law and Order; and House, M.D.; take aspiring writers through the process of writing their first spec script for an on-air series, creating one-hour drama and sitcom pilots that break out from the pack, and revising their scripts to meet pro standards. They also learn how to launch and sustain a writing career and get a rare look inside the process of creating, selling, and getting a TV show made. Edited by Linda Venis, Director of the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, Inside the Room is an unmatched resource for everything readers need to know to write their way into the Writers Guild of America.

Linda Venis gives readers the run down on this year’s Emmy nods at


Posted by: Lindsay Jacobsen, Online Content Coordinator

spirit_keeperIn a world filled with redundancy, repetition, and nothing new under the sun, one moment in time stands out as deliciously unique—the moment of reunion between two groups of humans who had been geographically separated for millennia unnumbered. In other words, 1492—when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Because the people Columbus “discovered” had been cut off from the rest of the world for who knows how long, the reunion offered the rare opportunity to learn all kinds of things about our species, to determine which traits are universal and which are cultural, and to figure out once and for all what really makes us clever monkeys tick.

Then the moment passed.

We got distracted, as always, by fussing, fighting, and dying, and the moments kept slipping away until here we are today.

But we can’t just let that moment go.  It’s too important, too tantalizing, too rife with possibilities, and I hope it isn’t too late to learn a thing or two from it.  If we could pry ourselves away from our usual fussing, fighting and dying—even for just a moment—surely we can still learn something very important.

When we look back at that singular event in 1492, the first thing we should notice is how similar all those people were.  Oh, I know, history buffs will howl in indignation, eager to cite dozens of differences between the Europeans and the people they encountered.  But the differences between Columbus and the Native-Guy-Whose-Name-We-Did-Not-Think-to-Record are incidental, compared to the differences between Columbus and the seagulls dropping guano on his poopdeck or between the Native Guy and the palm trees standing as silent witnesses to this momentous meeting of long-lost relations.

Humans are humans, after all, and, regardless of the massive cultural differences between the men meeting on that fateful beach, the thirsty mosquitoes buzzing ‘round their heads surely found them all delicious.

If all humans everywhere are members of the same species, then Columbus and the Native Guy were basically brothers.  Of course, in 1492 the Europeans immediately concluded they were Big Brother, because their cultures were obviously more advanced than any in North American.  Europe was, after all, the Old World, and those newbie Americans had their work cut out for them just to catch up with all the wonders of modern civilization.

But, um, just calling one culture older than another doesn’t make it so, you know.  Maybe at some point some people wandered this way while others wandered that way, but at no point in human history did new people just materialize out of thin air.  The fact is, all humans on earth can trace their lineage back for the exact same amount of time.  Therefore, the First Americans were not the goofy kid brother of the know-it-all Europeans.  If anything, these races were fraternal twins.

What this means is that North American cultures of 1492 were not a throwback to the Stone Age, not some lost cluster of cavemen that time somehow forgot.  Though they were, perhaps, geographically separated from the rest of the world, as far as I know the First Americans had not gotten caught in a stasis field wherein they stayed exactly the same for 15,000 years while the rest of the world grew up.  In 1492, the people of North America were every bit as mature, every bit as evolved as their counterparts of Europe.

Wait–what?  If the First Americans weren’t primitive savages, then what the hell were they?  Is it possible the cultures of Europe were not clearly better, brighter, older and wiser than those in North America, but that they were, in fact, just different?  But . . . but that flies in the face of everything we’ve been absolutely certain of for over 500 years!  Ah, well.  Vanity of vanities . . . there is no new thing under the sun.

It is so human to make mistakes.  Before Columbus, Europeans were quite sure the earth was flat.  Columbus himself died convinced he’d made it to China.  For 500 years we’ve been absolutely certain the Indians were lagging far behind Europeans in cultural development.  But what if that magic moment in 1492 was the meeting of two absolute equals?  What if the First American cultures were different from those of Europe, not because Americans were primitive savages, but because the First Americans made a whole series of different lifestyles choices than did the people of Europe?

I wrote The Spirit Keeper because I am hopelessly fascinated with the different choices made by the peoples of Europe and North America.  To me, the differences between Columbus and Native Guy, which seemed so vast and insurmountable to the two of them but so incidental to the hungry mosquitoes, are a treasure trove of insight into the human species, and by comparing the choices the people made, I think we can pull out all kinds of golden nuggets of pure truth.  Most of the basic choices of daily life—food, clothing, shelter, family, community, language—were made according to very different criteria in those two very different worlds.  And, by the way, neither of those worlds was old or new, advanced or primitive, better or worse—they really were just different worlds.

Though I could go on and on about the repercussions of the choices made by the different people, I think I should pause a moment to let readers digest what I’ve said thus far.

But please hurry.  The moment’s almost gone . . .

Next time:  The Most Important Lesson I’ve Learned from the First Americans

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailWhen I was a little girl, I used to sit upstairs and look out my bedroom window for so long that the field was transformed into a giant playground. It was filled with modern and brand-new monkey bars, tall swings, sliding boards, see-saws -– you name it. My street wasn’t hard-packed dirt, it was smooth black asphalt, like it was in white neighborhoods. The trash and dead-branch-filled ditch in front of our house became a clean swooshing stream. We had a front porch, where the floorboards were painted a shiny bright blue, the railing was in tact and a beautiful wooden swing swung back and forth next to a wicker table that housed a frothy pitcher of iced tea. This, instead of walking out the front door and breaking your neck when you dropped three feet into a puddle of sand, and where the overhang was held up by two-by-fours.

My bedroom had starched eyelet curtains, a box spring and thick firm mattress, velvety carpet and enough heat or cool air coming out of the vents to make the hair on the nape of my neck tickle. I had a dresser with drawers that actually pulled out in one tug, and little bottles of perfume sitting on lace doilies. Instead, during winter, there was ice on the inside of the window, piles of thin blankets on a mattress with broken springs that dipped in the middle so my sister and I would spend more energy than we needed to trying not to bump butts; summer, we burned up at night and had to stick our heads out the window to breathe. The floor gave us splinters, and when it was dark, we knew how to avoid the holes. We used buckets to catch the rain that dripped right through the pink insulation.

“Are you deaf, girl?” my mother would say, finally coming up the tight stairwell to see if I was doing something I had no business doing because that had to be the only reason I was pretending not to hear her. But I didn’t hear her. I was busy, recreating my world just the way I wanted it.

I still do this.

Except now I understand why. Over the years, I learned that there are some things in the world that are perfect, beautiful, and in total harmony: mountains, forests, rivers, etc. Over the years, I’ve experienced and witnessed happiness, a sense of worth and well-being, being in love, the notion of being guided in the right direction. On the other hand, I’ve experiences and observed uncertainty, frustration, pain in a variety of forms, misery, unhappiness, depression, lovelessness, loneliness, a feeling of being lost, of floating out there in the ozone, faithlessness, and anger. Well, hell, I needed an outlet for all these feelings and I found it in my fingers.

What I found was that I was not alone, that even when I could “fix” things in my own life, there were still so many wrongs I saw happening to others that I took it personally. So I have continuously asked myself that if I could alter reality to make it better, how would I do it? First, I have to know what’s wrong, then I have to understand why and then how to go about fixing it. It sounds easier than it is because many other things come into play, like dealing with human beings totally unlike myself. Which means I have had to develop this thing called compassion, that I’ve had to learn to dismiss (in some cases) my own notion of right and wrong, and literally put myself in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes I resist, because it’s easier to resist than it is to surrender. When you surrender it’s scary because you feel out of control. I like being in control.

However, if I were able to stop questioning why we as people are not happy and content, why it is so difficult to live more qualitative lives, then I’d be able to stop writing. On the contrary, I know there is no such thing as being perfect or living a perfect life. But, I also know that most people want to know that there will be a time in one’s life where things will go smoothly. Where we can smile for a period of time.

So why don’t we? What kinds of things stand in our way or what kind of obstacles do we impose on ourselves? I think most of us know what we want, but what happens when we don’t or can’t get it? It could be a man. A job. A home. Peace of mind. Energy. More willpower. What’s stopping us?

Well, I like to count the ways, and I do it dramatically. I would like to see more of us happier, healthier, fresher, more eager to please each other as well as ourselves.

I guess, then, I could say that I write because I want to explore the condition of my own life and the lives of others so that it makes sense, so it means something, so that I might learn from yesterday and right now how it can be of use in the future. I want to be a stronger person, smarter, more interesting. Better able to handle rejection and pain and guilt and happiness. I want my life to matter. I want others to know that their lives matter. That we have more power than we realize. And that all we really have is right now.

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailFive memorable moments as a writer:

1) When I received a letter from an anthology advising me that they were publishing my short story.

2) When I wrote the last sentence of my first novel, Mama, and knew it was the last sentence. My chest sunk and I believe I lost quite a few ounces of tears.

3) When Waiting To Exhale debuted on the New York Times Bestseller’s list. I didn’t believe it. Not even after I saw it.

4) When I have written the first sentence of each novel, and I never change them. It’s how I open the door to the story.

5) When I realize what my next novel is going to be. And then am plagued by how in the world I’m going to tell it.