Thursday, July 28, 2005

What's Going On... my life. A random assortment of things really, but most of them quite good...

1. Been dealing with unpacking, cleaning up the old apartment, and settling into my new place in Oakland. Although I love my apartment and the neighborhood we're in, our noisy downstairs neighbors have been difficult to deal with. But they've been responsive to our complaints so far, so there's still hope.

2. Excited about my work co-coordinating an upcoming conference on social justice fundraising and movement building--how does money work in our organizations? How is fundraising connected to building power? What does tax policy have to do with creating a truly just and democratic society where people's needs are taken care of? All these questions and more will be addressed in what promises to be a kick-ass conference. Keep on the lookout for updates here, but it may be a while: the conference isn't until August 2006! But in the meantime I get to work with some amazing fundraiser-activists, like Kim Klein and Stephanie Roth, mine and many others' personal fundraising gurus.

3. In other fundraising news, an interview that I did with Wes Mukoyama, the Executive Director of the Yu-Ai-Kai Senior Center in San Jose, will appear as the cover story in the Grassroots Fundraising Journal next month (I think). The story's about how Wes was very resistant to asking for money from individuals when he first started out in a local training for non-profit fundraisers, and how he made the conversion to be a fabulous fundraiser who has raised a bunch of money for his organization and is about to launch a big capital campaign to improve their facilities. It's great to have my political and writing worlds come together in such a practical way that will actually help people with real everyday problems.

4. I'm in the process of setting up a small writing group of VONA alums with E. and others. Going to try to meet weekly, which will be excellent for my writing. I'm still writing between a half hour and an hour a day, and getting a lot of pages done. Working on a short story about a man obsessed with time as well as on my sci-fi novel entitled, tentatively, 'The Flight to Hass-Olam".

5. Gearing up at work for possible elections madness, if Arnold decides not to cancel this stupid special election in November. One of the issues we might work on is Proposition 73, which would require girls under the age of 18 to get their parents' permission before they can get an abortion. Even if CFJ doesn't work on it, I will somehow on my own. This shit is just sick and wrong.

6. And on a related note, I am glad to announce the premier of a new publication devoted to the complex, touching and often painful stories of women who have had abortions, Our Truths/Nuestras Verdades. It's available in both English and Spanish. I worked on the advisory board for the publication for a time and worked on the submissions committee. This is a much-needed publication that helps women break the often stifling silence—from both the right (who want to call women who've had abortions lost sinners, selfish whores or worse) and the left (which often wants to act as if having an abortion is as easy as walking to the corner store for some aspirin). I'm proud that I was involved in this publication and know it will have a big impact on the lives of many women and girls out there.

7. Lastly, got to see the end-of-summer-school recital of S., a friend's son. The summer school--I believe it's called Oakland Fine Arts Summer School--provides all-day arts programming for kids through the 5th grade. It was so cute...the kids (just about all Black, Latino and Asian) sang Stevie Wonder and Thelonius Monk songs, danced to Chinese music, and even did comedy sketches that they wrote themselves! The recital brought a lot of light into my day.

I hope your days are full of light, blessings, beauty and justice,

Monday, July 25, 2005

Pastors for Peace makes it to Cuba

After being detained last week at the Texas-Mexico border, where they were attempting to cross with a huge 'friendshipment' (I love that word) of material aid such as medicines, medical supplies, school supplies and other necessities to Cuba, Pastors for Peace's Cuba Caravan has made it to the Red Island. In addition, the Venceremos Bridgade, which I went on two years ago, is also in Cuba right now.

More later,

Monday, July 18, 2005

Reading Material

What are you all reading right now? If you visit, please comment.

My current reads:

Dune, by Frank Herbert, because Chitra told me I should read it.

Arranged Marriage, by Chitra Divakaruni. Excellent short story collection. It's interesting to read an author's work after being in a workshop with them. It helps extend the learning.

That's it for now. Although, of course, I have a shitload of books on the reading backlog, as any good writer does. ;-)


Sunday, July 17, 2005


I know a lot of people--some artists, some avowed non-artists--who think that writing (or any other artistic endeavor) is narcissitic. After all, we writers have to hole ourselves up in rooms or at cafe tables or prison cells to write, cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world and spending time honing our craft. I myself have struggled with this question: Does being an artist automatically means that one is self-centered, overly egotistical and, yes, narcisstic? Having had the unpleasant experience of working with many, many egotistical--and often abusive--artists, I know that this suffering-artist 'stereotype' is not entirely untrue.

But as I continue to explore and expand my resume of creative experience, I am glad to report that my answer to that question is a resounding NO. Artists do not have to be completely narcisstic and ego-driven to produce good art. Of course, there are plenty of examples of great artists who are not very kind or compassionate people. Chitra talked about this in our novel workshop at VONA, and about her own belief that one can be a good writer and a good person; she seems to be a fine example of this herself: best-selling novelist, creative writing professor, married and the mother of two sons (we got to meet her family at VONA, they all seem very happy). It's good to have a role model like her to emulate.

For myself, as I move into my own light as a writer, I find myself more generous with my encouragement and support of other artists' creative efforts. I seek out opportunities to tell my fellow artists that they're not crazy, that they're not alone, that they need to trust their visions of their art. For example, L., a co-worker, who is entering an undergrad creative writing program in a few weeks after several years of tireless movement/activist work, talked to me recently about feeling like writing is such a 'luxury'. The 'L' word reminds me, of course, of Audre Lorde's essay, 'Poetry is Not a Luxury', which can also apply to fiction-writing or any other creative endeavor. For me, writing is not a luxury, it is a necessity. I need to write in order to feel fulfilled, and even further, the stories I dream up as a Filipina-American writer living and struggling in the early 21st century need to be told.

To quote from Lorde's essay: "For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought."

That is what writing feels like to me. So I don't feel guilty anymore for taking time off from checking off my workaday 'to-do list' so that I can write for an hour a day. I don't feel selfish. At the same time, I know I need to help make space for others to create and manifest their dreams so that I am not just promoting myself, for my creative fulfillment and success are tied to the fulfillment and success of my fellow artists. Not all writers or artists feel this way, I'm sure, and perhaps the competitiveness that comes with material success will someday hit me as well.

But for now, I'm writing, and developing, and feeling an expansive hope through this process that makes me believe that a better world is not only possible, but is being crafted word by word, line by line, in my work and the works of my writerly comrades.

In Peace,

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Gettin' my VONA Fix

So last night I went to the VONA open mic at the cafe at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley and got my VONA fix, along with all the other 2005 alums that came through. Although the energy in the room wasn't as hyped as it was during my VONA week at USF, it was still beautiful and palpable, a feeling of warm writerly cameraderie and kinship that I don't think I've ever felt in any other group in my life.

Of course, there were lots of beautiful brown folks in the room, and I got to hang with my novel homies E. and R., who are going through VONA withdrawal too. We got to hear some slammin' poetry and prose from our fellow VONA alums and others, including a woman who read an 'Elegy for Iris Chang which was particularly moving. I wondered how many folks in the room knew who Iris Chang was; I hope the woman's poem inspires them to find out.

Checked-in with my fellow novelists about how their writing is going; everyone seems to be doing a little something-something, but everyone said they were missing the VONA vibe. I've been doing well, trying to write for an hour a day, which was the goal I set at VONA, and it's working out so far.

Got to hear some poetry from fellow activist-author M., who read a moving piece about her mother, who recently passed away. Even K.'s little girl, V., who is in the sixth grade, read some of her poems. It's lovely to hear a child read their own poems, crafted with so much sincerity and the clarity that only a child can have about life.

Ran into a bunch of folks, including some Frisco heads whom I was pleasantly surprised to see on this side of the bay, since I just moved here and thought I wouldn't be seeing them for a while. And then afterwards, we went to Luka's Lounge on Broadway and Grand, which I think may become a new kick-it spot for me. Nice decor, beautiful people, good drinks, even some fancy food (I'm a bit of a food snob, don't you know). Grooved to DJs Fuze and VNA breakin' it down on the 1's and 2's.

Now, back to more moving and unpacking. Ah, the real world.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

As the World Turns

The world is quite full of drama these days, isn't it? My one tiny hope is that I may help people think a little differently after reading my blog, or at least help them see an issue, a group of people, a set of ideas in a different light. I venture farther and farther away from the preachiness and soap-boxing days of my idealistic youth everyday, but that's a good thing, I think.

I got an email today from the Latin American Working Group about the impact of Hurricane Dennis on the Cuban people. So far, 16 people have lost their lives, and almost the entire province of Granma has been demolished. Forty people have been killed in nearby Haiti (the first free Black nation in the West) as well, which has already been suffering from civil unrest and poverty for decades. It's telling that Cuba, a socialist country, rarely has hurricane fatalities because it has built an infrastructure that can evacuate people quickly and effectively, while Haiti's US-crippled democracy leaves little for ordinary folk to rely on. Several people in the southern US states have also died. I pray for the survivors and the victims and hope the world helps these countries recover.

I visited Cuba two years ago this summer, and it was an incredible experience. For once, I felt as if I was in a country where I wasn't crazy for believing that a government has a responsibility to care for the basic needs of its people—namely, to provide a free education, free health care, food and shelter. For the first time in my life (that trip being my first outside the US), I was in a country where people took for granted that they could visit a doctor whenever they wanted and never have to pay (it's actually true, I had to get treated for a minor ailment by a doctor and was laughed at when I asked how much I owed them. My US-born-and-bred mentality couldn't fathom not paying for medical treatment.) I got to hear people talk about the use of solar power to power Cuban homes with electricity, and got to argue with folks about whether institutionalized sexism and racism really was dead in this socialist society (the short answer: of course they're not, but Cubans have a more sophisticated public discourse on both topics than many Americans give them credit for). I was embraced by an Afro-Cuban woman on the streets of Barrio Chino (Chinatown) in Havana, even though I had never met her before and was only asking for directions.

So it makes sense that I would feel a tug on the heartstrings when I hear of the hurricane's impact on the Cuban people. I would love to go to Haiti one day if it would help the Haitian people in their struggle for a real, sovereign democracy, without interference from the US, their 'Big White Brother' from the north.

But of course I also long to go to the Philippines, my 'homeland', where my ancestors are from and where my mother left her family behind more than thirty years ago. But that journey seems a long way away; it's too difficult, too painful, and too important to be treated as any other trip. But it will happen one day, maybe sooner than I think.

I've been thinking a lot about travel lately, ever since I heard Chitra, my VONA novel workshop teacher, say to another student, "Travel is good for a writer" or something to that effect. I've traveled quite a bit in the US, but not much outside of it, and I'm feeling the pull now of the open sky and sea, of lands far from home that are strange to me. I think travel would be good for me, too, not only as a writer, but as a human being. It can help open my eyes to new realities that books, newspapers and second-hand stories can only hint at.

But for now, back to writing, until an opportunity to hit the road arises.


Monday, July 04, 2005

Coming Down, Gearing Up

Coming down from my VONA high. Wow. WoW. WOW. This shit really did change my life. It sounds sentimental and cliche, but it's true. The main way VONA has altered my reality is by making me realize that I AM A WRITER. Not a wanna-be writer, not an aspiring writer, but a real-deal-Holyfield kinda writer. A fellow VONA alum said it well:

"...just being surrounded, immersed in writing, [made me feel like] a writer. It's not about skill or publishing. It's a feeling. A little, little hummingbird in my chest flutters. And in the vibrations of its even smaller wings, I hear and feel, Hey you might be able to really do this."
--Ky-Phong Tran

I've been writing stories, poems and the beginnings of novels since the second grade. But I don't think I truly felt I could claim that mysterious, glamorous title of 'writer' until this past week at VONA. And for that, VONA will always have my gratitude. Working with Chitra and my fabulous 'chicken' Novel workshop homies was a deeply engaging, inspiring, enlightening and emotional experience that I will carry with me everyday as I move forward in the world, pen and paper and laptop in hand.

More quotes from the week:

"The obstacle is the path."
--Zen Buddhist proverb, via Chitra Divakaruni.

In the same vein: "Go straight for the pain, because that's where the treasure is. And since people of color have a lot of pain, we have a lot of treasure."
--Jimmy Santiago Baca, via Miriam Louie.

"Poets do a little. But novelists do it for longer."
--Ricardo Wilson, my new novelist homeboy, after the novel workshop crew stayed out 'til 4am (well, okay, I was home by 2:30am) partying at Zam Zam's and Milk in Frisco while the VONA poets and short-story writers were fast asleep in their beds! And whoever said that poets were wild and crazy? Not to mention that one of our novelists didn't get any sleep at all because she had to catch a plane at 7am the next morning.

"You need to get grounded. It's about keeping your feet on the ground."-
-Miriam Louie, fellow novelist, after my emotional post-VONA breakdown left me drained and in tears. I caught up on sleep on Saturday and yesterday, and got my grounding after a week of open-heart vulnerability.

Gearing up: H. and I are moving this week to our new spot in Oakland, so we've finally started packing our stuff up. And boy, do we have a lot of stuff. I'm very excited to be moving back to my side of the bay, and being closer to my new VONA friends, my long-time friends and my family. I feel like I'm going home. And I've earned it.