Antoinette Tuff: The Power of Stories and the Power of . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Aug 29, 2013 Under Uncategorized

. . . Compassion.

A remarkable young woman prevented another shooting in a school, and she did it without a gun.

oaklandFor a number of years, I taught ninth grade English in Oakland Unified School District, a job Wayne la Pierre and the NRA would like me to be armed for. I started out in a school in a mostly Mexican neighborhood so bad it was called “the kill zone”. Everyday, I parked my car behind concertina wire and passed through a metal detector to reach my classroom.

I believed it was my job not only to teach English but to teach the path of peace. My students saw so little of it.

We started each year with an essay by Alice Walker describing how she lost her eye in “gun play,” and then we moved on to a story by Fresno writer Gary Soto called, “Being Mean,” which the kids all loved. In the story, the children of a couple who are employed in a broom factory are left to their own devices during the summer. They do all the scandalous things you would expect kids to do under those circumstances, and needless to say, it does not turn out well. The first line of the story was this: “We were terrible kids I think.”

gary soto3By the end of the student’s writing and reflecting on the story, I always revealed something of Gary Soto’s biography, that he was the son of farm workers in the Central Valley and now was a full professor of English at UC Berkeley and a renowned poet. Is there anything in this story, I would ask, that would predict this transformation from a terrible kid to an English professor? Just as I hoped, someone would inevitably point to the first line, to the phrase “I think”. The writing assignment that night always involved comparing a time you acted without thinking vs. a time you acted upon reflection.

By the time we got to Romeo and Juliet, the students could see that Romeo’s impulsivity led to his being banished etc., and they did not think he was “Fortune’s fool,” as he wailed at the end of the Act. “He should have reflected on his actions,” they would write.

Can you imagine my teaching those lessons with a loaded gun?

This stupid idea reveals many things, but for sure, it shows an absolute ignorance of teaching in today’s world. Does the NRA think that teachers are standing at a podium in front of a chalkboard like in the 1800s, gun at the ready? Maybe. But in the real world where I lived, the kids worked in groups; I moved all over that classroom, guiding, questioning and so on.

Tell me where would the gun be then? Locked in my desk? It would HAVE HAD to have been locked in there, you know. The key, of course, would have had to have been in my purse, which would have been locked in my file cabinet. Well, you get my point.

Maybe the NRA would suggest that I put it in a shoulder holster and strut around the room with it. And what if a rather large ninth grader, maybe even a kid held back who was maybe fifteen or sixteen, decided to wrestle me to the ground for it? What then, Wayne?

I’m sure the NRA answer would be more guns. They are, after all, a gun manufacturer’s organization in the business, you know, of selling guns.

My answer is more people like Antoinette Tuff. (and Gary Soto,too.)

Here’s what she did:

antoinette-tuff“Tuesday’s gunman incident at an elementary school near Atlanta ended with no injuries or deaths. This is mainly thanks to Antoinette Tuff, a school clerk who spent about an hour calmly persuading the gunman to put his rifle down and surrender.

Tuff feared the worst when she encountered the gunman carrying an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons in her school office. She told reporters, “I saw a young man ready to kill anybody that he could.”

She told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that much of her conversation focused not only on trying to understand the gunman, but also on trying to get the gunman to relate to her. “I just started telling him stories, ( emphasis mine)” she said, and things like, “You don’t have to die today.” Tuff told him a story of tragedy in her own life, and explained to reporters that she simply asked him to put his weapons down and surrender to police. She “talked him through it” by reminding him that “life will still bring about turns, but we can learn from it.”

Thank you Antoinette Tuff and all who walk in the way of peace.

(from Ranger 995 on Daily Kos)

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Fish Stew: Like One of
Ina Garten’s Recipes Only . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Aug 22, 2013 Under Uncategorized

. . . easier ( and just as good).

Paso Robles Wine CountryUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock and not reading my blog or downloading my book( link), you probably know my great affection for Mexico and all things Mexican.

So, it’s not surprising that one of my favorite little California towns is Paso Robles or La Ciudad del Paso de los Robles, with its leafy town plaza and wineries.

Okay, so now the town is sort of like Old Mexico meets Italy and Spain infused with San Francisco foodie culture. It was a great place to celebrate our anniversary this year before heading to the coast.

We wined and dined at the enchanting Villa Creek restaurant, the area’s old Mexico roots showing in the restaurant’s decor — oxblood colored walls, tapestries from Oaxaca, wooden box beams, austere Mission-style architecture, and of, course, a charming patio garden.

Villa Creek was serving a Fish Stew that was a lot like my recipe, and as it turns out a lot like Ina Garten’s recipe. What can I say? Great minds and all.

I thought I’d write this up for everyone. I have never served this dish that someone has not requested the recipe. It’s a lot easier than Ina Garten’s Fish Stew recipe.

The real trick to this is the quality of the seafood. I’ve used a combination of Cod, Monkfish, Filet of Sole, Shrimp, Scallops, and Clams. But, ALWAYS use shrimp and a little Filet of Sole. The Sole sort of falls apart, leaving a nice texture and some sweetness that I like. The total amount of fish shrimp and fish should equal four pounds.

Jane’s California Coast Fish Stew

(with a nod to France and the Mediterranean)

2 lbs. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 medium raw Idaho potato
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. hot pepper flakes
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsps. dried basil
1 tsp. leaf saffron, crumbled
2 whole cloves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups peeled tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 cup dry white vermouth
1 lb cod cut into large pieces (or other white-fleshed fish like striped bass)
1/2 lb. filet of sole
1/2 pound monkfish cut into large pieces
( You could also use bay scallops, but throw them in at the end and cook just until opaque)
1 TBS. Pernod

1. Clean and shell shrimp and set aside
2. Peel the potato and split in half lengthwise. Cut each half into slices about half an inch thick. Drop the slices immediately into cold water and set aside.
3. Heat oil in a dutch oven. add onion and cook until translucent
4. Add the garlic, hot pepper, thyme, basil, saffron, cloves, salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and vermouth and bring to a boil. Put through a food mill and return to skillet. Add the potato, cover and cook fifteen minutes.
5. Add the cod, monkfish and filet of sole. Partially cover the pot and cook eight minutes.
6. Add shrimp and cook about five minutes, partially covered
7. If adding bay scallops, throw them in after the shrimp has cooked about three minutes. Cook until scallops have just turned opaque,
8. Right before serving add the Pernod.

Serve this stew with crusty bread and a simple salad. A chilled Viognier would be the perfect wine.

California Coast

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Ina Garten’s Recipes Only . . .

Bird of Paradise: Romantic Suspense Novel Set on the . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Aug 15, 2013 Under Uncategorized

. . . West coast of Mexico!

Finally! After all the proofreading and all the formatting and all the figuring out how to get Palace of the Blue Butterfly on Amazon Books and Goodreads, I‘m starting to revise my second romantic suspense novel Bird of Paradise.

This is sort of what I look like these days—only no fishbowl, no fish, no green branches, just me staring out into space.

Any normal person would wonder what I’m doing.

Well just FYI: Yesterday, my imagination took me to a beach on Mexico’s Pacific coast. I felt the sand on the soles of my feet, the wind in my hair, heard the waves, the shells being pulled out to sea, and in this trance, characters emerged from nowhere, for example, the French guy— Francois Richter. Where did he come from? He wasn’t in my first draft. But Bee, my main character, opened the door of the van, and there he was in the front passenger seat. I’ve spent my insomniac hours between 2 and 4 am trying to figure out who he is, what he’ll do.

I suppose the rest of you have real jobs, right?

Bird of Paradise started a long time ago when Dave and I took a trip to the west coast of Mexico. Our plan was to hit the funky beach towns around the Bay of Melaque for a few days and then luxe it up at Costa Careyes before heading east to Oaxaca, San Cristobal and Palenque.

Unfortunately, the first night in Barra de Navidad, I came down with a horrible flu—fever, coughing, absolute misery. In desperation, Dave went to the local pharmacy in search of some Mexican version of Nyquil and returned bearing a brown glass bottle, retrieved, it appeared, from some sorcerer’s den. “I don’t know about this,” he said, holding the bottle up to the light to see if it had congealed. “The guy got it from the back of the store. It was covered in dust.”

Since the bottle came with no instructions, I figured two tablespoons would do it. Boy did they. I think I hallucinated for a week; everything I heard or saw—the vacationing pot growers from Humbolt County, the surfer dude expats, the beautiful Europeans at Costa Careyes, swathed in gauzy, white pareos, who punctuated everything they said with the words “tu sais, tu sais” regardless of what language they happened to be speaking — charmed me.

It — the place, them — all seemed larger than life, mythic, iconic. Wow was I stoned!

Tropical beach in Mexico

Anyway, I never forgot them. Neither have I forgotten the stunning woman —an American travelling alone— writing in a notebook as she lay on her chaise lounge in front of the small cove of Playa Rosa, lifting her binoculars every now and then to look at birds.

Who was she? I wondered. What was she doing there alone?

Bird of Paradise is my answer.

Mexican Beach

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I Keep Thinking About Something Adrienne Rich . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Aug 8, 2013 Under Uncategorized

. . . wrote about women and lying.


Well, because I’ve been thinking a lot these days about blogging and truth-telling. You know, the opposite of lying.

I discovered women’s blogs when I moved out of the city. How? Looking for recipes. Back in the Bay Area, I would have simply grabbed a copy of Saveur on the way into the supermarket. Oh look. We’ll have Thai inspired shrimp skewers with cilantro jasmine rice. Done.

In the boonies, it’s not so easy. See Jane search for recipes and come up with all these women’s blogs. Like Etsy, you can get lost reading about these women’s live. What struck me then, and what I think has been lost, is how honest they were, which is why I was thinking about the essay I’m going to share with you.

I mean back in the day even Pioneer Woman was writing things like this little poem:

“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, their war crimes pierce my brain.
Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, I slowly go insane.”

Now, that she’s on Food Network it’s all sweetness and peonies 24/7.

Not that I blame her. Her children have the right to their privacy now that she’s a big star. But, I think the national conversation anonymous women were beginning to have with each other has been diverted. That’s too bad.

I set out from the beginning in this blog trying to tell the truth, well, as much as I could, without spilling the family secrets and all. Maybe I focused too much on the positives. Here are some things I might have left out:

Living in the middle of nowhere is not always easy.
I miss going to foreign films in San Francisco. What I don’t miss is the city’s nightmare traffic, so Yoo-hoo. Netflix. But, it’s not the same. It’s just not.
Rattlesnakes scare me, and they are part of life here. Only one this year so far.
Killing rattlesnakes scares me.
Dave killing rattlesnakes scares me.
I worry about my cat when I hear the coyotes.
I will never waste days freezing tomato sauce again. It’s the fresh tomatoes I want anyway.
The heat in July gets to me and makes me crabby.
I even get tired of the relentless sunshine.
And yes, I get tired of cooking ALL. THE. TIME.

And this list covers the externals. It doesn’t reveal what goes on inside, all the self-doubts, weak moments, fears, disappointments. I told Dave that this year I felt like a sponge just soaking up everyone’s sorrows. But, my friends and family have the right to their privacy. So, I can’t really talk about it.

What I can do is share something that guides me in my blogging, my fiction writing, my friendships and my life. This quote comes from a book by Adrienne Rich called ‘Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying’, (1975).
Here goes—

The possibilties that exist between two people, or among a group of people, are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting things in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.

When relationships are determined by manipulation, by the need for control, they may possess a dreary, bickering kind of drama, but they cease to be interesting. They are repititious; the shock of human possibilities has ceased to reverberate through them.

It isn’t that to have an honorable relationship with you, I have to understand everything, or tell you everything at once, or that I can know, beforehand, everything I need to tell you.

It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the posssibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us.

The possibility of life between us.

Anyway, this explains why I haven’t even tried to go commercial— no photos of Land-of-Lakes butter or Kraft cheese.

I want to create a space for myself that’s safe for “groping tentative words” a place that extends the possibilities of truth and of life between us.

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Thinking about Derek Wolcott, Adrienne Rich and. . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Aug 1, 2013 Under Uncategorized

. . . me.

I read an article recently in which a critic made a disparaging remark about women’s blogs, how it was fortunate that so many women out in the sticks had an outlet.

An outlet? An outlet? As opposed to, say, writing book reviews in a journal that probably has far less readers than those little, ole, bloggy thingies, right?

Okay, Jane, breathe. Breathe deeply.

Anyway, the snide remark got me thinking about a speech the poet Adrienne Rich gave at Smith College thirty four years ago during the height of the feminist movement. I had to dig around to find the quote I wanted. Here it is . . .

“When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you . . . when someone with authority describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing. It takes some strength of soul to resist this void, this non-being, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.”

That strength of soul is what you are witnessing in many women’s blogs and self-published books. They may seem traditional on the surface, but that belies a greater subversiveness I think. In another statement, Rich tells us “A revolutionary [ work of art] reminds you where and when and how you are living, and might live. It is a wick of desire.”

Is that not true of so many of the non-commercial women’s blog and novels? And that wick of desire? That’s what my novel Palace of the Blue Butterfly and my website represent to me.

And then I remembered a poem I wanted to share with you by the Caribbean, post-Colonial, Nobel Prize winning poet Derek Wolcott. He uses the convention of a traditional love poem, but this time, the returning lover is the despised colonized self who has broken free from the colonizer’s destructive grip.

This poem reminds us where and when and how we are living and might live

Love After Love
by Derek Wolcott

The day will come,
the time will come,
when with elation you greet yourself,
arriving at your own door.
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
saying “Sit here, eat.”
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine, give bread,
give back your heart to itself.
To the stranger who has loved you all your life,
whom you ignored for another,
who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs
the desperate notes.
Peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit, feast on your life.

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