In my new novel, What’s Left, her aunt Pia arrives as a kind of Cinderella, but, my, how she arises from the ashes!
Gone from the final version is this tactile stroke:
When she starts exhibiting her love of fabrics – and textiles – as delights to both the eye and the touch, we could add weaving to her bucket list.
Along with this photographic suggestion:
And Thea Pia, perhaps Baba’s second favorite subject, after us kids, produces some of Manoula’s most insightful remarks. He did have some great models at hand!
Well, as it turns out, Cassia’s father had a number of favorite subjects in the family. Pia would have to come down a few spots, but it’s still quite a trove Cassia uncovers. Each of the women in the family can be seen embodying a unique style.
What is your idea of uber-feminine?
In the family, Cassia may have had food like this.
a woman in a white nightgown hovers sleeping from a red wall over a red bed as a walkway to a half-red moon a pale leaf with a flickering red eye has a stem of rootlets flickering the way lightning coagulates no boom-boom / just drip-drip how she loves the lurid red surges the two […]
A central suggestion arising at the end of my first novel, which then shapes my new one, What’s Left, is that her father will be crucial in guiding the family in its embrace of Buddhist practice. Even if I cast that as spirituality rather than religion, it’s a big challenge.
In the course of multiple revisions, this was greatly toned down and redirected.
While Cassia’s concerned with more fully defining who her father was, the novel’s primary focus is on her. Here’s some background that’s much fainter in the final version:
Where had he come from, what prompted his interests, what were his pet peeves, what made him truly angry or truly delighted?
To make this little more concrete:
Some people contend my Baba was a lama. Not the camel-like pack animal from the Andes but a Tibetan Buddhist born in a humble city along the Mississippi, of all places. After college in Indiana and a broken heart, he looped into Dharma by way of, well, a hippie farm where Thea Nita also lived. And then he found refuge in something like a monastery. And then he magically returned here. You thought a monk couldn’t get married? Technically, no, though we’re dealing with an American twist in the mechanics of reincarnation. Or so they’ve told me.
In the end, much less of the responsibility falls on him. Rather, he helps establish an institute having a resident teacher, Rinpoche, who becomes his colleague.
For Cassia’s father, religion is a way of engaging life more fully. He might even say it is liberation from the tangles of daily life.
Let’s open our range of focus a bit wider.
Where do you go or what do you do to be free? Can you describe the feeling?
I wonder if the longstanding tradition of morning cleansing of marble steps at the front door in many inner city neighborhoods of Baltimore has survived the stresses of two-income families or single-parent households? Who knows when it started or in how many other locales it’s also practiced. This has been a custom of row houses, connected to each other – blue-collar communities, in fact – and not of detached suburban housing. And that makes the foremost difference.
These poems consider what women do and preserve – though not always exclusively. Yes, I’ve known women who bale hay or decipher monastic manuscripts, and I’ll also admit men can know nothing of bearing children or nursing. Yet, somehow, many women seem most at home around the kitchen, even if it’s nothing more than a teacup or a picnic. Even her garden, should she be so inclined, seems to extend from that table or the alchemy of her oven. And that goes for flowers, as well as vegetables and berries. (Remember, though: not all mothers and daughters can stand to be in the same kitchen at the same time, though they both be masterful cooks.)
Looking back on Baltimore, I remember my next-door neighbor, each morning in season watering the black locusts between our houses and the street. Maybe she did her stoop, as well. But the trees, which seemed to have always been there, were beautiful and timeless, as if spreading their own table.
When it comes to sex, love, and relationships, my new novel, What’s Left, offers a full range of examples over its four-plus generations of her family.
Her mother’s line in the New World begins with a round of scandal. Her great-grandfather and his brother break tradition by marrying sisters against the wishes of their parents and their village, and then flee Greece altogether for Indiana. Her other great-grandfather marries a non-Greek, a Cuban he loves intensely amid another scandal, and relocates to Chicago.
Her grandparents’ marriage includes sibling rivalry and another scandal, as well as a packet of letters from the war years that Cassia discovers wrapped in lace ribbon.
Her parents’ generation includes sparkles of free love before her father-to-be is introduced to the family in what might be considered both love at first sight and an arranged marriage, thanks to her aunt Nita’s role as a matchmaker. Then there’s the whirlwind when her uncle Barney falls hard for her aunt-to-be Pia. In contrast, her uncle Tito and aunt-to-be Yin present a much more restrained story off in San Francisco. As for her uncle Dimitri, we’re back to scandal, as far as many in town would be concerned.
Cassia’s father leaves a rich photographic history of these events, along with three years of daily love letters to his wife-to-be. Maybe there are things a daughter would rather not see? Or is temptation too much to resist?
Well, however much their story can resemble a fairy tale, not everything turns out happily ever after.
As for her own generation? Times and traditions have changed, right?
Cassia’s is a much livelier family than many I see around me. I imagine it could be pretty demanding, as well as rewarding in its own way.
Would you like to marry into this family? Why – or why not?
I suppose you’d want more details, even if this prompt’s redundant. So I cut it from the final version of my new novel, What’s Left:
Dimitri’s too alpha for all that. And too much a center of attention to observe anything long from the sidelines.
Some leaders are simply too competitive to stay out of the fray, but that doesn’t mean they have that extra glow, one sometimes described as charisma.
Certainly you know someone who usually winds up in the spotlight, especially at the helm of what’s happening. Tell us about him – or her! Are they good lookin’? Or is something else the attraction? Do they get your vote when it’s asked?
In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.