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 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?
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.)
In my novel What’s Left the family-owned restaurant is a local institution, one set at the edge of campus even before her grandparents and their siblings took over and made it distinctly their own. Everybody in town seems to know them.
Have you ever been recognized because of something your parents or grandparents did?
Would you agree that a close-knit extended family like the one in my novel What’s Left, is uncommon in today’s American society? Of my own five surviving first-cousins, only one remains in communication — a brief note every Christmas. None grew up in our city; two lived in the other corner of our state; the other four, at the time, in California.
In a passage I cut from the final version:
It wasn’t quite like that when Baba shows up, but only because we kids aren’t yet on the scene. First, we need some marriages, like when Barney and Pia get a new generation rolling, followed by Tito and Yin and then my parents.
And if Cassia’s uncle Dimitri or her aunt Nita had been adding to the gene pool, we’d have an even bigger slate of first-cousins to draw on. When it came to the novel, I had to limit things somewhere.
Have you ever been introduced to family members and found yourself asking yourself: Just who are these strangers? Have you enjoyed some of your kin at one point in your life but not at others? Do you ever feel some have been treated better than the rest?
Just what was I thinking? Was this supposed to be a philosophy class moment? A reflection on time versus space? Or fate versus free will? No wonder the paragraph failed to take root in my novel What’s Left.
History is filled with unique moments when something flashes up and takes hold. Or a singular intersection of trajectories appears in the universe of motion.
The novel, by the way, has many of these situations, just as life itself does. We just didn’t need to get preachy.
I suppose this just might fit a story about baseball. Or think of football. The great play no fan will ever forget.
There are also those accidents, seemingly chance encounters, like the late-night crash that kills Cassia’s grandparents or the avalanche that claims her father. A few moments one way or the other, and her story would be much, much different.
I was more likely reflecting on those seconds where you have to make a decision one way or another. Say something. Do something. Yes or no. The beginning of a romance, for instance, once you’ve introduced yourself. Uttered the joke that could have as easily fallen flat.
Can you recall a significant moment in your life when something had to happen right then — or never at all? One with no second chances? Please share it! Be bold!
In early drafts of my novel What’s Left, I considered going into detail on her uncle Dimitri’s practice of micro-lending and startup investing. Here at home we discussed including a whole list of failures and successes — or reasons applications were approved or rejected. Just think of all the once bright options that soon failed, as well as the ones that have since gone mainstream.
One proposal that didn’t survive my second-thoughts was this:
Thus, when friends decide to launch a local winery, we support them.
At the time I first noted this, 45 or so years ago, a local winery would have been cutting edge. Now there seem to be wineries everywhere, and their output can be widely uneven and often overpriced.
My experience as a home brewer, making more than 2,500 bottles of beer, was fascinating. We relied on kits from a local aficionado and never had a bum batch. But we still haven’t tried making our own wine.
Gardening, of course, is another matter. As is composting.
Do you raise any of your own food? Make your own bread or yogurt? How about jams or jellies or artisanal vinegars? Any other hands-on touches?
Think of the names of bands and singers having a food tag. (Will Red Hot Chili Peppers or Smashing Pumpkins get your thoughts bubbling?)
Throughout my novel What’s Left, her uncle Barney has rock playing prominently in the restaurant kitchen. Does this provide a good counterpoint to his thoughts and actions? Do you find it amusing? Annoying? Confusing?
Who would you like to add to the food-themed playlist?