>I wonder if I am sufficiently energetic to participate in yet another week-long fiction writing workshop. No matter—the fees are paid, the plane ticket in hand, and I am off to Mexico tomorrow for Under the Volcano 2005. This year’s edition promises to be substantially different from last year’s, mainly because the stars are so different: last year the amazing Russell Banks; this year the astonishing Grace Paley. Last year also featured fiction writer Jessica Hagedorn, who was a wonderful surprise, in addition to the workshop director, Magda Bogin. One of these days I’ll write more about Banks—I need to finish his latest novel—but in the meantime there is the workshop to prepare for.
There will be seven us working with Grace. Each has sent our first submission to the group by email and we will share a second submission when we meet in Mexico. I’ve been surprised that four of the group are workshopping novel excerpts. Given that Grace is one of our pre-eminent short story writers, I would have thought short fiction was the way to go. (I’m using two of the stories from my planned collection, pieces I’ve been working on for quite a while.) But the work is good—some of it extremely good—and I’m looking for ward to meeting the gang.
A word about the location. The workshop takes place in a village called Tepoztlan, which is in Morelos state, about an hour and a half southeast of Mexico City. A mile high, with mountains (including the volcano) all around, the climate is delightful. I’ll spend a few days in Mexico City before the workshop, and then will pick another city for a few more days of sightseeing (and, I hope, writing) before heading home. Tepoztlan has a dozen or more internet cafes, so I expect to file reports on our progress, right here.
Grace Paley’s work, especially her short fiction, is well known to most fiction writers, I assume. But she has also published poetry and a collection of essays, both worthy of attention.
>At the recommendation of a young writer friend, I am reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. I think my friend doesn’t know me very well, because there is little about the emphasis L’Engle places on the relationship between Christianity and Creativity that rings true for me. At the same time that she pleads with Christians to be open in their acceptance of who is a Christian (she makes a welcome case for cross-denominational tolerance, for example), she doesn’t think much of those of us who can’t operate solely on the basis of faith (particularly in the faith that Jesus was God on Earth), nor does she express much willingness to see creativity in other religions, or in non-religions. Instead, she ascribes Christian creativity to all works of beauty, whether created by the atheist or the Jew or the Muslim. This strikes me as a bit too much like the L.D.S. practice of posthumous baptism to take very seriously. Still, I am glad to have been exposed to this book. Not only because I like to think about where creativity comes from, but also because I am struggling to understand faith, particularly the narrow, intolerant brand of Christianity that is so vocal these days.
>Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool that repeats his folly. Proverbs 26:11
On this first day of 2005, a day of dappled clouds and unseasonable warmth in my corner of the world, my thoughts are with the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Asia, and the families of the victims. And what a diverse and mournful congregation it is: the poorest of the poor swept from their barely adequate villages, and the foreign visitors, jet-setting tourists, backpacking stragglers, sunbathing royalty, all washed away together in the shocking wave. More than a hundred thousand dead. Many thousands missing, missing forever. Their families will never know what happened. The earth shuddered, the wave came, and then what? There are countless options for helping in this catastrophe. Here is one: Red Cross
When George Bush belatedly acknowledged the disaster and pledged a meager sum to aid the nations affected by it, a debate flared (like a fire in a coal seam that burns stealthily and erupts into view miles from where it began) over the timing and the adequacy of the pledge of American help. There should be no debate: the pledge was late and was paltry. Period. Yesterday, though, the President stood a little taller, increasing that pledge tenfold. But the debate will continue. After the initial pledge, I joined, briefly, an online chat that allowed many hopeless ignorant loudmouths the opportunity to gripe about everything, all in the context of a discussion over the US response to the disaster—terrorist attacks on America, the serial hurricanes in Florida in 2004, Bill Clinton—and to argue that America should not raise a finger, or spend a nickel, to aid these countries. It was astonishing, but should have been nothing of the sort. The recent election should have taught me that intolerance is endemic in this country and the lack of compassion a hallmark, despite the Christian aspirations of the loudest and most foolish among us.
Which leads me to what is likely to be a focus of these occasional ramblings: the hypocrisy of American conservatism. Stay tuned.