“Re-reading”: The Makioka Sisters and Downton Abbey

When I was nine months pregnant, I decided to re-read Tanizaki’s masterpiece “The Makioka Sisters.” Written during the days before Japan’s fall in the Second World War, the novel harkens back to a quieter if modernizing time. And its major questions are the marriages of four sisters.
I realized years later that I was re-reading my favorite novel because unconsciously I was afraid I’d die–this was my last chance. Consciously, I feared I’d never read again. It was a blissful time in immersion in another world.
I didn’t die, but kept reading, and watching TV series too. Recently I saw all of the third season of “Downton Abbey.” Seen en masse, its roots are clear–some 19th century novel, a hearty dose of Nancy Mitford, a dollop of the soap opera from Dickens to now. Like “The Makioka Sisters” it is about a group of sisters–and who will marry, inherit, reproduce, die, etc. etc.
For some mysterious reason, I then felt compelled to re-watch the first two seasons. Maybe to keep certain now dead characters alive? Or just the pleasure of watching the plot for nuance, not just narrative.
I don’t re-read enough. I spent my childhood re-reading “Little Women” and “Lord of the Rings” to the point of memorization. As an adult, I wanted the new. But every so often–late pregnancy, spring break, an inner sea change–I want the flow of the expected, with the serendibity that can also bring.

New Book–and new paintings–from Natalie Goldberg

Natalie’s new book The True Secret of Writing will be on shelves March 19th.


This groundbreaking new book based on the innovative small, intensive workshops Natalie has taught for over a decade reveals her secret for getting down to the heart of your writing work. Her lessons and prompts, including secrets and inspiration she draws from the work of other great teachers and observers of life and mind, will guide you in creating your own personal silent retreats or group practice. The capstone to four decades of teaching, The True Secret of Writing shows how Natalie Goldberg’s unique method works and why it continues to help so many people with their writing – and with their lives.

“The True Secret of Writing is a rich voyage, a priceless distillation of [Natalie’s] accumulated wisdom and experience as a writer, coach, and instructor on mindfulness.”— Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

To learn more about The True Secret of Writing, to pre-order your copy, or to see the locations and dates of her upcoming book tour, visit nataliegoldberg.com.


THE BALLAD OF POPE’: Freedom Fighter by Lorenzo Atencio

Pope’ was born in a Pueblo.
Okay Owengee is its Tewa name.
An outlaw priest of the Spirit faith
Was put in jail to quash his fame
The Crown is worlds away.
Yet tells the people how to pray.
Ignore all you have ever learned .
He was told what not to say.
“Ours is the one true God”
The Crown did firmly insist
For many, many scores of years
The people of Pueblos did not resist.
But Pope’ clung to the old ways.
Call it pagan if you must.
He didn’t need a new religion
To tell him what is just.
He continued to worship the Spirit.
So the Crown charged him with heresy,
Cause he prayed to all things in nature,
Not just to the man from Galilee.
The Crown could not lock up his soul.
He continued once they set him free,
To stir up the other Pueblos
To fight for their liberty.
“Enough!” He cried to the people.
We can’t live in this economy.
We do all the work,
And they get it all for free.
“Arise and kill the white devils!
Take back our lands and our right to pray,”
Preached the Spirit priest,
“Even if you have to slay.”
For many hundreds of years
The people have died here and remained.
Their spirits walk among us.
While time moves like a wheel, unrestrained
The chain of creation was broken
By greed, consumption and might.
Saved by a spell yet unspoken,
Pope’s answer was to fight
Pope’ fought to repel tyranny;
A protector of human rights.
He belongs in the hero hall of fame
For leading the freedom fight.
It took a revolt to teach
A lesson about liberty.
Freedom to worship as we please
Was enhanced by Pope’s victory.

This image is from the Wikipedia article.
It shows the statue of Popé, or Po’Pay, now in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the US Capitol Building as one of New Mexico’s two statues.

Answer to POV Question

Jim Mafchir POV of woman not there

Claudia Long Of course! Through internal monologue she can have a very rich pov.

Anne Pedersen Yes

Miriam Sagan So I shouldn’t just let the other characters just project on to her?

Barbara Robidoux No let her speak even if only to herself

Libby Hall yes, please!!

Claudia Long @miriam, you can do both. I can’t wait to read the beauty of your creation.

Julia M Deisler Hmmm… it depends where the story’s center is & what you’re trying to do. The other characters projecting onto her could be interesting–maybe especially if there’s some way to hint (at least) at the contrast/disjunction (if any) between their projection and her reality. Well. There’s that, for what it’s worth.

Susan Nalder speaking to herself works, musings, maybe in italics

Devon Miller-Duggan Characters who want their own POVs probably need to have the
Mystie Brackett yes, of course!

Novella Question: Does A Dying Woman Get Her own POV?

Right in the middle of the semester, I got hit with an idea for a novella. I saw the whole thing laid out clearly. Terrible timing though, as I’m really busy. But I started writing a bit anyway. Almost like taking dictation at first. But as I get deeper into the first draft, I have some questions.
Set-up—five very different women meet in a new mom’s group about 30 years ago. Flash forward to the present. One has a terminal disease, and has asked the others to assist in her suicide. The time line is twelve hours–the day they help her. Back stories are told as reminiscence/flashback.
Of the group, the ill woman is the one secretly liked the least by the group. She is elusive (or private). Not an engaged mom, and given to romantic entanglements. But beautiful, intelligent, and caring in her own way.
The question–do I give her a pov? At first I thought not–four characters is already a lot, and they have children, partners, exes. Then she wanted a chapter of her own–a kind of suicide note. Then I realized she might have left a will. Then a man who’d loved her wanted to speak.
What to do? I don’t want to have to re-read AS I LAY DYING. Ideas?

Interview with Terry Wilson


Interview questions–

1. I think of your material as funny, quick witted, and based on
observations of daily life. Can you say what your major sources of
inspiration are?

My whole family is funny, and sometimes visiting my Mom (and the rest of my siblings in Buffalo) gives me material for a few new chapters! 😉 I often tell my students that sometimes the hardest experiences are the ones that I (and they) can write about later, once we have some distance on them. I think that even when I’m going through a painful bump in the road, there is a part of my mind that detaches and can see the humor in it. That helps so much! My father taught me comic timing though he wasn’t always easy to be around. And my Mom can still get us all laughing even though she’s 95. Growing up in an Irish Catholic family often inspires dark humor when you least expect it!

2. What are you currently reading? Favorite authors?

I am currently reading My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir. She’s such a strong person and has an amazing attitude about life and her own success. I read a lot of memoir; favorite authors are Mary Karr (Liars’ Club),Jeannette Walls (The Glass House), Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and Anne Lamott (Traveling Mercies and of course, Bird by Bird—not a memoir but a comical writing guide.) Rhoda Janzen’s memoir, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is hysterically funny. In fact, many of these stories are rich with humor, and that’s a big draw for me. I also love historical fiction; a book I’ve read a few times is an older book, Rumors of Peace by Ella Leffland (about WWII) and also, Winds of War. Annie Proulx is another author I read a lot of, though it’s hard to beat her Pulitzer prize winning, The Shipping News. And I’ll devour almost any book about Africa; Malaria Dreams (by Stuart Stevens) is hilarious and Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari is an easy book to get lost in! As far as poetry goes, I love Mary Oliver. My husband, Mark, and I used to read her poems to each other. (Hey, Mark, we need to start doing that again!;-)

3. Your first book is out! How exciting. Can you describe some of the
process of editing it all together? What are the major themes?

My book starts with stories about growing up Catholic in the Rust Belt of Buffalo, NY in a large Catholic family and the kind of insane logic that goes with looking up to suffering and dead saints as role models! Another theme is how I survived Catholic school and also my father’s drinking, and then I move on to the strange events that happen to us all while living in Santa Fe (including trying to be a Buddhist)! I discuss my Mom’s Alzheimer’s toward the end of the book and how we still all love her desperately and completely as she clings to life in the green lounge chair in her Buffalo living room with snow raging outside. I finish the book by reclaiming some aspects of Catholicism and spirituality that work for me today.

4. How can readers buy your book?

My book is for sale on Amazon.com; I will give the link below. Also, I have a web page called ConfessionsofaFailedSaint.com (or just look for me on Facebook at Confessions of a Failed Saint). This FB page functions as a blog if anyone wants to discuss my book or just spirituality, humor or life in general. Here’s the link to buy my book! And thanks so much, Miriam for this interview!