January 24, 2005

Peg's Hand

In an effort to simplify the most gruelling part of the book-publication process - the dreaded Authour Tour - I dreamed up the concept of a remote book signing device. The author would be able to relax at his or her home base, and could see and speak with a book-buyer in a bookstore thousands of miles away. That much can happen already.

But in addition, the author would be able to actually sign - in real time, and with real ink - the book-buyer's book.

Margaret Atwood, Me and My Monster Hand, The Globe and Mail, Saturday, January 22, 2005

You go, girl! If any person deserves not to be put out, to be comfortable and calm, complete with mimosas and fuzzy slippers, it's you, Ms. Atwood. You've done your share of ground breaking, barrier busting, literary stuff (invisible hand included), paving the way for fem-lit newbies, like me. Run with it, sister. I salute you.

I'm still a doe-eyed writer caught in the headlights of the publishing biz, daydreaming of her first book tour. Never having had a 'following', I see the dreaded author tour differently. Don't get me wrong, I love my children, adore my husband - but that doesn't change the fact that I'm the mother of a high-powered three-year-old and I haven't had more than three hours of uninterrupted sleep in almost four years. I'm not looking forward to my first book tour for the Pringles (my mother always taught me to take a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam, and a loaf of bread wherever I went). I'm in it for the sleep.

I'm also interested in seeing who might be out there. (Even if it's just two people who have wandered into the bookstore to get out of the cold.)
Darned if I can't remember his name, but I once heard an author say, "If there's less than five people at one of my readings, I ask them where the nearest pub is, and we grab our coats and carry on with it over a pint or two."
Barkeep, make mine a rum and coke.

And I think some authors actually enjoy the obligatory tour.
Once, while visitng a Target store outside of Evanston, Illinois, I happened upon a major book signing event. I had gone there to pick up lightbulbs and toilet paper, and wound up in the middle of an Anne Rice signing for Servant of the Bones. The place was packed and at first glance I thought, "Oh God, you poor woman." Then I saw the look on her face as each person stepped up to meet her. There in her weird, wild headdress and get-up, she was beaming, her countenence, down-right rapturous. She seemed to be thriving on the whole affair. I'd like to think she wasn't faking...but then of course we all know that women can fake more important things than a smile when the situation requires it.

Is your invisible hand creepy, Ms. Atwood? Nah.
Smart? Yes.
But maybe a little too detached for me.
I'll be honest, I had a nightmare about it last week.

I was in grade four all over again. Miss Feller, my wide-hipped english teacher glaring over my desk. "You'll stay after school and write 5000 times, 'I will not question authority.'

As I sat in the cold, empty classroom, a beautiful, golden pen with a long pink ribbon appeared on my desk. Attached to the pen was a note that read, "choose me". I picked up the pen, my world went Alice, and the desk started to contrict around me, holding me tight. I couldn't let go of the pen. It forced my hand to sign my name over and over again and with every signature a part of me dissappeared. My toes, my feet, my hair, my eyes, until all that was left was my hand. Signing, signing away.

So, good luck with it, Ms. Atwood. Maybe I'll be singing a different tune one day, but for now I'm just a sucker for a touchy-feely experience.

Oh, before I forget...I've been picking up all kinds of literary tips in preparation for my some-day tour and I came up with something that might interest you. (In case the whole detached hand thing doesn't work out.)

The only difference between the author-at-a-distance and the author-in-the-flesh would be that no author's DNA would get onto the book, and no readers' germs would get onto the author.Margaret Atwood, Me and my Monster Hand

Some authors pass out sticky-notes to the audience before a reading/signing. This way, the fans can put down whatever they'd like for an inscription ahead of time. Less times you have to say, "Is that John with or without an 'h'?" Instead of sticky notes, you could pass out surgical masks. They are inexpensive, and just for the hell of it, you could sign them in the privacy of your own home, in your fuzzy slippers and all.

Writer's Blog/web site of the Week
Ms. Atwood, of course!
Check out her wonderful essays and lectures in the "On Writing" section of her website. The Margaret Atwood Refernce Site

January 12, 2005

Thank You, Susan Sontag (1933-2004)

I first read Susan Sontag's Illness as a Metaphor while working on my radio documentary, Daughter of Family G. Despite the controversy that has often surrounded her writing, I will always appreciate Ms. Sontag for the honesty she brought to the page and her straight forward approach in writing about cancer.

"I want to describe, not what it is like to emigrate to the kingdom of the ill and live there, but the punitive or sentimental fantasies concocted about that situation: not real geography, but stereotypes of national character. My subject is not physical illness itself but the uses of illness as a figure of metaphor. My point is that illness is not a metaphor, and that the most truthful way of regarding illness - and the healthiest way of being ill - is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking." (Sontag - Illness as a Metaphor)

Ms. Sontag is someone to whom I should have sent a thank you note before it was too late. Nearly thirty years after she penned Illness as a Metaphor and over fifteen after AIDS and its Metaphors, I'm left wondering 'what happens next?'

In 1977 Sontag wrote: "Now it is cancer's turn to be the disease that doesn't knock before it enters, cancer that fills the role of an illness experienced as a ruthless, secret invasion - a role it will keep until, one day, its etimology becomes clear and its treatment as effective as those of TB have become."

With genetic testing available, testing that can isolate genetic markers for hereditary colon cancer, breast cancer, and other cancers, there is something of a fortelling at hand. Not yet a blatant 'knock on the door', but more of a postcard saying, "Not sure when I might arrive, but expect me sometime...maybe when you're 45, 57, 60? At any rate, I'm pretty sure I can make it. Don't make a fuss, just keep an eye out for me. I'll let you know."

"The very word 'cancer' is said to kill some patients who would not have succumbed (so quickly) to the malignancy from which they suffer." -Karl Menniger, The Vital Balance

Now it seems that the challenge for the new tribe of those who choose to be genetically informed is not the wait for the 'word', but in finding a balance between awareness and forgetting. Knowing the list of annual tests to request, knowing the signs of disease well enough to detect it at the earliest stage possible, yet being forgetful enough to keep the thought of cancer from crippling our daily lives.

"since getting cancer can be a scandal that jeopardizes one's love life, one's chance of promotion, even one's job, patients who know what they have tend to be extremely prudish, if not outright secretive about their disease." (Sontag, Illness as a Metaphor)

I'm glad to say that it seems much of the stigma associated with having certain types of cancer has lifted. Through public education and media campaigns, people are sharing their thoughts about the disease more than ever before. However, when I look at that last quote from Ms. Sontag, I am prompted to say that those same things can be said about those who know they have a genetic marker for cancer. Many have a real fear of losing health insurance, life insurance, job security, and even intimate relationships. Some, who know they should be tested will refuse, out of fear or the feeling that they don't want to be labeled as 'broken'.

Ms. Sontag also wrote in, AIDS and its Metaphors an explanation of what she had hoped to accomplish in Illness and its Metaphors. "I wanted to offer other people who were ill and those who care for them an instrument to dissolve these metaphors, these inhibitions. I hoped to persuade terrified people who were ill to cunsult doctors,or to change their incompetent doctors for competent ones, who would give them proper care. To regard cancer as if it were just a disease - a very serious one, but just a disease. Not a curse, not a punishment, not an embarrassment."

Not a curse, not a punishment, not an embarrassment.
Thank you, Susan Sontag. I promise to carry on and speak the truth.

Genetics and Cancer live Chat Session
People Living With Cancer is sposoring a live, online chat
Thursday, January 13. 2:00-3:00 ET

HNPCC Support Group
Support group for those with HNPCC (hereditaty non-polyposis colorectal cancer)in their families. Topics include: genetic testing, living with the genetic mutation, screening for HNPCC, living with the disease, survivor and tribute stories.

Discrimination and Genetic Testing

January 06, 2005

Butterfly Peace Garden Kids

Photo - Paul Hogan

January 05, 2005

Butterfly Peace Garden

Surrounded by images and news of the aftermath of the Tsunami in South East Asia, we in the West are left feeling helpless and wondering what we can do to help. So many have already given what they can, but of course we know that it's still not enough. Others haven't gotten around to it yet, too busy with getting life back to normal after the holidays, or simply feeling lost when faced with having to choose from the many organizations reaching out to the world for assistance.

I offer the following, not as another poke with the charity stick, but as a choice that might be right for you, especially if you are wanting to feel connected to your choice...through a place, an idea, or through words.

This came today:

The Butterfly Peace Garden in Sri Lanka Needs Our Help

Dear friends of Geist:

The Butterfly Peace Garden near Batticaloa in Sri Lanka is a refuge for Sri Lankan children traumatized by war. (It was the subject of a story in Geist No. 33.) Batticaloa was destroyed by the tsunami in December and many thousands have died, and many more thousands are homeless. Fr. Satkunanayagam who administers the Garden has lost his home, and the family that lived there were all destroyed. Paul Hogan, Creative Director of the Garden since its inception in 1994, has lost his home and all of his possessions. The Garden itself is on high ground and is still intact, and has been transformed into a refuge for the homeless, who are now threatened by disease and floods.

Our story of the Butterfly Peace Garden has been put up on the Geist website, along with more information on the organization and how you can donate.

Thanks for any help you can give. Please forward this link to friends:

The staff at Geist