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 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?
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?
Her aunt Nita in my novel What’s Left, has an interesting insight on showing up for work before all the others. It doesn’t fit every job, but it did hers. And then I cut this from the final version of the book:
If you’re the first one in and the last one out, you can disappear in the middle of the day and your coworkers and bosses are none the wiser. They just assume you’re out on assignment.
Not all jobs require you to punch-in or punch-out on some kind of clock. I’ve never had to work one of those, fortunately, although I’ve often had to fill out weekly time cards before being paid.
What I did find, though, was that even when I was putting in a lot of unpaid overtime (the joys of being low-tier management!), I could still feel the judgmental eyes behind my back.
Are you ever considered a slacker on your job? How does it feel? How do you respond?
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!