Yesterday was a day of lay offs at my school, including 2 from my department. We have schools across the nation, and each school had lay offs of a variety of people, including the restructuring of Student Affairs at each school. But I don't want this blog post to focus on lay offs.
Months ago, my friend and I had made plans to go down to Miami to Books and Books to see Chitra Divakaruni (see this post for my thoughts on her latest, wonderful book). Yesterday, my friend was one of the ones laid off.
We decided to go anyway, and I offered to drive. As we made our way down to the store, I thought about all my friends from outside the area who wonder why I don't go down to Miami more often. As we crawled along at 25 mph, I thought, this is why.
Still, we got there in plenty of time to enjoy the outdoor café and have a lovely dinner. Yesterday I had salad for lunch and salad for dinner--ah, the salad days of summer. Last night's salad had goat cheese, walnuts, pears, greens, and a guava dressing--yum.
But the real treat, the real nourishment of the night was the reading. Divakaruni is a master of the reading. She read from 2 chunks of the book, Before We Visit the Goddess, stopping at a dramatic point that would leave us wanting to know what happened.
She only read for 20 minutes, and then she spent 40 minutes answering questions. It was the perfect balance, and most of the questions were great. One woman asked about how autobiographical the characters are. Divakaruni smiled and said, "The parts you like best about each woman--that's me." She said it with just the right smile that said that she knew that she wasn't really answering the question.
Then she addressed the question of autobiography in her work. She said that whenever she uses a person whom she knows in real life, her imagination begins to feel constrained by what has really happened in real life, so she tends to create without that framework.
She talked about characters, how it's important to have bad things happen to good people. She talked about how she sets a goal for herself with each book so that she keeps growing. With this book, the challenge was to write a book told in stories.
I asked about her writing process--did she write the stories in the order that they were in the book, and I said I assumed she didn't. She said that she knew the first story and the last story, but the ones in between she crafted in a variety of order, and she wanted to avoid a strictly chronological presentation. She said that although she knew the narrative arc, yet she was still surprised along the way.
It was a delightful night--everyone had a chance to ask their questions, and then she stayed to sign books. A group of her students who had been chosen to study with her for one week in Miami were there. Afterwards one asked me, "Are you a writer? Your question made me think that you are." I said that I was, and we had a delightful conversation about writing, about linked stories, about the writer's life.
I thought about all the wonderful writers whom I have seen at Books and Books. I thought about all the great times with friends as we've come to see our favorite writers. I drove home, along the Interstate canyon between the sparkly skyscrapers, filled with gratitude, filled with the hope, ready to face what the daylight will bring.