In my novel What’s Left, her generation of the family will face some crucial decisions that resemble those their parents were charting when her father-to-be showed up in the household.
In a passage I cut from an earlier draft, she wonders:
What would you do?
While Dimitri and Barney have niches in the business, Nita has her chosen career. Tito, meanwhile, will likely have his hands in both the Zap enterprises and an independent law firm.
That leaves Manoula, who hopes to head off in a literary direction, not necessarily as a writer.
As I’m revisiting this, I’m getting a bit steamed. I realize how little guidance I had regarding my future. We didn’t talk much about it at home, and even college was somehow mostly off the table. The so-called guidance counselor at my large high school was mostly a disciplinary officer and military-draft registrar. College? No help from him!
I got more from the editor of the first newspaper that hired me as an intern. He had a knack for nurturing talent. I just wish he hadn’t retired when he did.
Dimitri seems to possess much of that skill, perhaps even more than Nita. They’d likely ask:
What would you really like to be doing with your life? What do you need from us to help? So what do you really want to do with your life? And what do you need to get there?
One of my favorite lines I cut out of my novel What’s Left, was this quip:
I want some backbone in my religion. You can’t sit without it.
But as I looked at the flow of the story, I just couldn’t find a good place to develop some pushback from Cassia in her teens, where it would have been most appropriate.
Still, if you know anything about the practice of meditation itself — often called sitting — you just might enjoy the double-meaning.
Another way I thought of raising more color regarding their Buddhist identity was through rounds of Tibetan holidays. The names and special touches alone can be charming: New Year’s archery; incense to drive away evil ghosts; Sho Dun “yogurt festival”; the Meeting of the Eight Guardians (stay inside to avoid evil outdoors); Golden Star to wash away greed, passion, jealousy and to abandon ego; the washing festival. Think of the picnics and ritual bathing.
I might have also built something on the Eight Auspicious Symbols, including conch shell, parasol (crown), victory banner, golden fish, or treasure vase. The Endless Knot is the name of a chapter, though.
Beyond that, I kept looking for synonyms for Buddha or Buddhism. One of my favorites, which I didn’t use, is the hanging cliff-side wonders. Some of those monasteries are no place for anyone with a fear of heights!
Many traditions have special dishes for specific holidays — secular or religious. Sometimes it’s even a family thing, rather than something everyone does.
Do you ever look around and see people who seem to get a lot more done than others? I could tell you about some of the lifeguards at the indoor pool where I swim, the ones who do their school homework when they’re not watching us splashing around. Uh, swimming laps — something they can do four times faster than us geezers.
Well, in my novel What’s Left, the narrator has a similar question, one regarding many members of her family. (You won’t find it in the final version of the book — but it’s true all the same.)
I return to the question, How do they manage? All that they do?
Her aunt Nita, as we’re told, sticks to a routine and limits her evening activities. Her father could easily split his workweek into 20 hours of photography and 20 of Buddhist focus. Her mother would be putting in more at the press but still devoting considerable free time to practicing and rehearsing music.
Some others just seem to go without sleep or rise before dawn to get an early jump on things.
Tell us about somebody you know who seems to be super-human. Do they have some secret you see?
My novel What’s Left includes reflections on a first generation of a family business dynamic, somewhat like one I also describe in passing in Nearly Canaan.
In reality, the model of a restaurant run by two brothers and their wives was one I observed in a small Midwestern city where I edited the local newspaper. In this case, their roots were Italian, not Greek, and the economy was essentially farming and two large factories, without a university or county seat to boost business.
Do you have any insights on ways siblings interact when they run a business together?
My novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks gives good reasons for Cassia’s future father to celebrate once he’s finally met her mother, as he does in my novel What’s Left. She quickly becomes the love of his life, and they’re well matched.
Do you know any couples who were brought together by a sage introduction from someone who knew them both well?
My novel What’s Left began percolating as I considered the dimensions of the hippie movement and realized it had never really died but continued disguised in many streams of action. Yes, I’d published my Hippie Trails series but so much still felt unfinished.
And, as a consequence of Cassia in the new novel, I went back and transformed the others into Freakin’ Free Spirits.
Looking at the world today, what pressing issues do you consider unfinished?
Why does the restaurant business sustain so many immigrant families? Just look at all our ethnic options in dining today, even in small cities. Not just Greek-American, like the one in my novel What’s Left.
What’s your favorite food stop? Is it run by a single family? Does it have an ethnic identity?
Having Cassia cast a Buddhist chant as a spell in my novel What’s Left, is a bit of an inside joke. She may be trying to intimidate her middle school classmates, but what she utters, Su To Ka Yo Me Bha Wa, translates as “Grant me complete satisfaction” or “Grant me complete satisfaction within me.” Not that they have a clue.
Besides, I feel a shade of Harry Potter here, without an ominous wand. These words can simply feel magical.
By the way, Cassia’s chant is one letter off from Su Po Ka Yo Me Wa, “Grow within me” or “Increase the positive within me,” which also fits.
Just in case you’re wondering.
Think of some word or phrases you repeat often.
Do you have your own “mantra,” a word or phrase to raise your spirits?
(My favorite 9-year-old introduced me to “Yay!” So yours doesn’t have to be the least bit exotic.)