Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Litquake 2006: Women Writing—Generations of Stories


As I walked through the Bubble Lounge in San Francisco's North Beach, I had to navigate around everyone who spilled from the chairs, ottomans, and couches, as well as those sitting cross-legged on the floor. This Litquake event featured ten local women writers whose ages spanned from the 20's through the 70's, each sharing a story from their life. The following are highlights from this event.

Sera Beak, who was the youngest in the group, read from her recently published first book, The Red Book: A Deliciously Unorthodox Approach to Igniting Your Divine Spark. She described how mainstream culture has a knack for trivializing aspects of spirituality; yet, she sees that people have a real hunger for and curiosity about spirituality. Ironically, pop culture has at times broadened the knowledge and interest in spirituality. She pointed out that it was Madonna who brought much attention to the writings of the Kabala. Beak also considers humor to be extremely important in life because it keeps us from taking ourselves and our beliefs so seriously. “Humor is the necessary tool for igniting your own divine spark,” she read with a smile.

Beth Lisick, co-organizer of the monthly Porch Light storytelling series in San Francisco, read from her fourth book, which will be released in February 2007. The book focuses on her humorous quest to answer the question, “Can I improve my life by going to gurus?” She wanted to experience first hand the fitness and self-actualization movements in the U.S. She relayed how she often felt intimidated “ by the twin lions of Pilates and yoga… as strength-filled cores mocked me on the streets of Berkeley.” Lisick commented on the creative new terms to describe exercise, such as body sculpting and boot camp. The plaque on her high school's wall not only commemorates her record-breaking long-jump track record but also the last time she did any cardio exercise—19 years ago. “I thought that having sex and chasing buses were the only reasons to exercise,” she said. Lisick wrapped up the reading with her realization that she was ready for striped dolphin shorts. She had signed up for a weeklong aerobic fitness cruise with exercise guru, Richard Simmons, who happens to wear the aforementioned shorts.

Bharati Mukherjee emanated a regal air as she read from what she called her “accidental autobiography,” Days and Nights in Calcutta . She is a professor of English at U.C. Berkeley and the author of seven novels. This passage was about her visit back to her homeland, Calcutta, decades ago while she was in her thirties. (The book was written at that time.) It was an entertaining reading that evoked Indian culture from days past. She was the wife of a western man with two American-born young sons, and this trip was about reconnecting with her family, whose lives were steeped in another era. The excerpt was about the byzantine series of locks on the home's cupboards, with hidden keys, that her mother had arranged in order to store and protect valuables from possibly dishonest servants. Even the simplest daily tasks required the locking and unlocking of the cupboards. “Locking (cupboards) was a way of locking in a belief about karma that assumes a disaster would occur,” she read. Mukherjee felt that her mother, in her own way, had wanted to create a sense of security for her geographically distant family. Yet, it was her mother who had struggled hard to ensure that she and her two sisters were educated in America.

Jane Ganahl, co-founder of Litquake, is an author and a newspaper columnist who wrote for San Francisco newspapers for 24 years. She read from her book, Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife , which will be released in February 2007. She read about the transitional time in her life where three things started to happen: she was about to turn 50, she was changing careers, and she started to become invisible to men. Having had a life filled with brilliant men, she talked about the difficulty of dating an “average” man. Ganahl spoke of her friends' well-intentioned efforts to match-make on her behalf. One man, whom she refers to as “Elmer Fudd,” was a museum curator and considered a good prospect by her married friends. She agreed to attend a dinner party where he declared surprise upon realizing that she wrote a column about being single and dating, because he thought she was “a serious reporter.” But what really unnerved her was that he had an ironed crease in his jeans and wore shoes with tassels, just like her father's shoes. She seems to know that she will find a brilliant man and “not a man who wears creased jeans.”

The evening provided an entertaining variety of voices and generational perspectives that were laced with grace, humor, and wisdom.

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