Peeps and More Peeps

Barbra Streisand had a huge Top 40 success back in the sixties with a song called “People.”  Though I was only thirteen at the time, even then the song made me scrunch up my face and say “huh?”

Still does. People who need people?  Well, who doesn’t?  And aren’t at least a few of them unlucky?   Although the spoon-induced gag reflex hadn’t yet reached the American vernacular, this would have been a good point for a debut.

I suppose the song may have done some good in pointing out to a typically self-involved pubescent girl that there actually are other people in the world, and that someone as popular and famous as Barbra Streisand seemed to think they mattered, but of course I figured all this out eventually without her.

Novelists have a strange relationship with people.  We write about people we invent based on our experience with people we didn’t invent. In doing so we create an intimacy with some of our creations that is deeper than with many of the “real” people in our lives (I added the quotation marks because my fictional characters are, to me, neither unreal nor fake).  Nevertheless, some writers are as reclusive as Hughes or Garbo, not wanting any of the messiness and unpredictability of the world of flesh and blood. These writers do all or most of their human interaction through their fingertips at their desks.

But even the most sociable of writers have a difficult relationship with people. Deep into writing a novel, we generally prefer the world we are creating to any other, or at the very least we are captured by it with no ability (and little desire) to escape.  It’s very difficult to go back and forth between the fictional and the “real” world.  Though it’s possible to read a few pages of a novel while on hold on the telephone, or commuting on public transportation, or waiting for the dentist, it’s impossible to write a book that way.

For this reason, many times during the long slog of writing a book, we have to choose between one and the other, between the “real” world and the world in our heads.  For most of us the choice is not easy but it is obvious, rather like the sentiments of Robert Browning’s lovely little poem, “Parting at Morning”:

Round the cape of a sudden came the sea,robert-browning1
And the sun looked over the mountain’s rim:
And straight was a path of gold for him,
And the need of a world of men for me.

So I have learned to accept and even to relish those times when people draw me away from the world of my novel, even though I regret the transition as much as Browning bemoans the arrival of morning after a night of love.

And what a fabulous place the world of men and women can be.  Mine is populated with a wonderful partner, a handful of good friends, throngs of great colleagues and acquaintances, an intelligent and amusing family, hundreds of students past and present, and many delightful people I meet in connection with my writing.

Case in point:  In the last week, I haven’t written a word, but I taught a full load of fifteen hours of lecture.discussion and hung out in my office hours with students and passing colleagues. Everyone has a special way of being that brightens my days.  I spent hours on the phone planning a trip at the end of May to Cairo with a high school classmate. I went to a packed memorial service for a much-loved friend, Lawrence Waddy, and reconnected with two other friends over wine and tapas afterwards. I went to an incredible production of “La Traviata” at the San Diego Opera with another friend. I played tennis twice with my sweetheart.  I hadDSCN4432 dinner with another novelist, Barbara Quick, and her partner Wayne Roden, the night before a panel on “Women, Work, and Writing” at my college, where we were joined by two other delightful friends, Caitlin Rother, and Kathi Diamant. Just last night Barbara and I were the featured speakers at a Vivaldi-themed dinner with wine pairings at the UCSD Faculty Club. Here we are in a photograph.

Peeps, and more peeps. Okay, Streisand wins–I am one of the luckiest people in the world.  But now, my other world awaits.


Just Juggling Along…

If I ever need a reminder of how quickly time passes (which I rarely do!), all I have to do2006_08_28_juggler is look at the last time I posted an entry in this website diary.  Three weeks is a long time, and I hope you haven’t given up on me.

Many things have occupied my time, not the least of which is the imminent sale of my house in Lake Arrowhead, California.  Though not a good time to sell, I had to get real about how long it would take to rebuild its value, and how much money I would be investing every month in payments, taxes, insurance and repairs if I waited for its value to rise. The ideas I had about a little nest where I could live after retirement have given way to the realization that for many reasons the house wasn’t suited to that.  I’m dealing with more than twenty years of experiences and memories, some extraordinarily painful, but most sweet and wonderful, and recognizing that it’s time to move on.

I’m working on rebuilding my strength and stamina after surgery last December. Don’t let anyone brush off laparoscopic removal of the gall bladder as anything other than major!  True, it’s not anything like it once was, but you still wake up with wounds and innards that have been poked, prodded, cut, and shuffled around, and the older we get, the less our body appreciates the equivalent of a home invasion robbery.

It’s the last month of classes before summer vacation, one of those lights at the end of the tunnel that is both open sky and a locomotive coming at you.  A deluge of work fills the last month of any semester, and I’m hunkering down, while at the same time I’m telling myself that everything I complete is a step toward the finish. Every semester after I file my grades I call my partner to tell him “I’m unemployed,” and though that is bittersweet in these days when so many truly are, it is a good feeling to be at least temporarily without work obligations.

The best news is that the lack of obligations will be lengthened considerably for me, because I will be on sabbatical next fall.  I’ll be researching the period in Spanish history known as the Convivencia, the period of Muslim rule and the early part of the Christian Reconquest when a difficult, complex, fragile, and often violated peace was achieved between Christians, Muslims and Jews, in recognition that diversity works better and produces better results for a society.  Overly simplified, of course, but perhaps there are messages for me, my students, and the readers of my books in what I will be learning.  The sabbatical is connected to my novel in progress, set in this era, though the first draft will probably be finished before the sabbatical officially starts in late August.

Busy, busy!  But why complain, with such opportunities for sustenance and growth!