Saturday, May 31, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
– I was surprised to learn that the Chinese government has requested, or is at least discussing logistics for, earthquake relief from Japan. If this happens it will be the first time the Japanese military has entered Beijing since WWII. It is significant for two reasons. First it shows that the governments of both countries recognize the importance of helping people in need. Secondly, it shows that the Chinese leaders are finally coming to grips with how to behave sensibly on the world stage. This latter is very important because there have been so many things said, and done, by the Chinese government to promote its international image that have had exactly the opposite effect. Somehow, China 's top leaders have begun to understand that asking for, and receiving, aid can be viewed as a sign of strength in the eyes of much of the world. This time, they are not "dropping the stone to crash their own toes." China – The Chengdu Area Military Command, Earthquake Relief Headquarters gave a press briefing on May 29 at . The following was reported: Through on May 28th the total number of people rescued from collapsed buildings by the army was 3,666. There were 305,000 wounded people treated and 656,000 victims relocated. There have been 44 temporary schools built, including 14 middle schools and 30 primary schools, as well as 148 temporary residence buildings constructed. There were 506,000 tons of relief goods delivered by land and 5,360 tons air dropped. There were 4281 kilometers of road repaired and 139 million square meters of polluted ground sanitized. There were 119,000 tents erected and 2,000,000 cubic meters of rubble removed. This was done with a total of 133,000 troops coming from military commands all over Chengdu . China – Within two weeks, through May 28th the Boston-Aid-Sichuan Committee has collected $613,000 toward the $1,000,000 goal set for June 14th. The relief concert held at MIT on Sunday May 25th alone collected $150,000. There will be a fund raising walk scheduled for Saturday May 31st in the Boston Common. On site registration starts at in the Boston Common, or for advance registration contact GBCCA (617) 232-0377. Boston
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
(Jerry Waxler is obsessed with memory and remembering. For both literary and personal reasons he is intensely curious as to how events transform themselves into memories, and the process by which those memories become written works. Jerry has put together a tremendous collection of writing and thinking on this topic. Valuable stuff for anyone trying to write a memoir, or even record memories, and also for fiction writers. In his interview with me we touched on the relationship between memory and imagination, a pretty fascinating topic. More to this is that his Memory Writers Network blog is full of well-written, informative, and interesting essays. I asked Jerry about his motivation for blogging, and the following is his answer. – Xujun)
The television show, Grey’s Anatomy, is about a group of medical interns. Even though they seem to be clumsy, barely born doctors, their status as “beginners” takes place at the end of an arduous struggle through high school, college, and medical school. They are reaching the top of a mountain they have been climbing their whole lives. After much striving and competition, one of the interns wins a coveted spot scrubbing into her first surgery. She watches what to the rest of us looks like blood and guts, but to her is the dance of life, healing a body by cutting and reorganizing some of those messy tissues. She floats out at the end of the surgery, totally saturated with this peak moment, a climax of the endless desire that brought her to this point. She turns to a fellow intern and asks “Why would anyone do drugs?” I feel the same wonder after my first year of blogging. It is the culmination of a lifetime of desire.
For my whole life, I’ve been intrigued by the variety of human experience. I also love to write. Over the years, these two passions have persisted and grown. I want to understand people, and I want to write. But until recently, I have been unable to combine these desires into one, so I wrote about other things. My first two books were about writing. When I was 52, I received a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology. After imbibing this rich array of insights into ways that people could grow, I wanted to put it all in writing, but I didn’t want to just keep it in a drawer, and I didn’t think it would be a publishable work. So I wrote it on my first website, mental-health-survival-guide.com, which thanks to the magic of the internet is still out there.
I kept writing and learning about people, and a few years ago I stumbled on memoir writing as a system into which I could pour all my passions. Memoir writing turns attention inwards, where we can examine our own journey. And it also turns our attention outward, learning how to shape a story that makes sense to others. This is what happens in a therapist’s office. During therapy people authentically share their lives and in the process they improve their own self-understanding. I wanted to extend this from individual therapy to include everyone who is looking for deeper meaning within their lives.
I did not study the value of memoir writing in school. I had to develop the ideas myself, so I began to study, reading memoir after memoir. Each one teaches me two things: what it was like being that one person, and what it was like turning that life journey into a story. The lessons poured in, and I began to organize what I was learning. Again, I did not want my ideas to sit in a drawer, so I turned to blogging. At first I thought this would simply provide an easy way to publish my essays. That turned out to be only the beginning. I continue to find more and deeper rewards.
The longer I blog the more advantages I discover. By receiving comments and visiting other blogs, and finding people interested in memoir writing, I was both discovering and creating a micro-community of like minded individuals. The opportunity to write, then publish my ideas, and get feedback and community from others has been enormously empowering. Like the radicals who printed brochures during the American Revolution, I can put together and hand out my ideas, and I don’t have to stand on street corners.
What is the revolution I am fomenting? I suppose in one way, blogging itself is a revolution. Turning your individual, unique knowledge, passion, and wisdom into story and publishing it to the world is one of the neatest ways I have ever seen to incite deeper understanding and sharing of self. By blogging our life stories we can learn about each other and perhaps improve world peace. Hopefully it will work better and more creatively than trying to promote understanding through street protests.
The blogging world is highly diverse and diffuse, and so it requires exploring to discover blogs that convey this passion but they are out there, sharing worlds, connecting and empowering people. Some are empowering politically, giving people a chance to express views they wouldn’t have a way to publicize any other way. Some are empowering culturally, because sub-communities, outsiders, cliques, ethnic minorities, or in fact any group can band together and share ideas. And others are empowering creatively, because the creative spark becomes brighter when it connect with people in the world. Is blogging the only and true revolution? I don’t think so. Blogging and writing are just tools. The revolution that interests me most is to grow, individually and collectively towards greater wisdom.
One of the most surprising things about blogging is that it’s a form of performance. I have always been shy, preferring to avoid the public. Now, as I blog, I am learning how to extend myself towards strangers. Some become friends, in this new internet sense of friendship, while others remain onlookers. This means I am a performer, which is a mindboggling expansion of my social skills that I never expected to be achieving in my sixties. (I just turned 61 so I’m in the thick of it now.)
What’s next? As I learn more about life story telling, I realize that stories become powerful not just because of external events, but because the storyteller found the power in the events. This has caused me to look more closely at situations in my life that I always assumed were mundane, and what looked like blood and guts becomes the powerful, exhilarating struggle to find meaning within the ordinary. I intend to reveal more of what I discover through my blog and perhaps someday in a book. Over time I expect my investigation will lead in new directions. I find that, in a way, aging is a spiritual experience and at some point I may shift from finding the wisdom in the past into finding wisdom in the future. For now, what’s next is my next blog entry. I’m on deadline every week, under pressure to learn and grow, and find words that let me share myself with the world.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
"It is still far away from our goal," the committee's elected convener Jiang Hong says. "We must work harder."
Jiang Hong says she is heartened by Beijing people's successful relief fundraising. Xinhua.net has reported that CCTV's benefit performance on Sunday night raised over two hundred million dollars, "the largest relief fundraiser in history." Internationally acclaimed film director Zhang Yimou donated $15,000.
Working toward the goal they have set, a member organization of Boston-Aid-Sichuan, the MIT Chinese Students and Scholars Association, will hold a benefit concert, to be performed at MIT on Sunday, May 25.
Another member organization, the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association, is planning a three-mile walk around Boston Common on Saturday, May 31 from 10am to 2pm. A $10 registration fee, which includes a T-shirt, and a minimal $25 donation are required for each adult participant.
For information on relief donations in general, contact Jiang Hong (蒋红): email@example.com
Monday, May 19, 2008
"Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in theirlives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth."
– Hannah Arendt (From: Men in Dark Times)
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Cambridge, MA, May 14 – Initiated by the board members of the Sichuan and Chongqing Folk Association in Boston, about fifty Chinese organization representatives met tonight in Building 56 of MIT, to coordinate support and relief efforts in the wake of the earthquake disaster that occurred two days ago in Sichuan, China.The animated discussion lasted for three hours, from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm, and the attendees reached a confident consensus on raising a million dollars to help the
Zhu Zhenya, a researcher at MIT, Jiang Hong, chairwoman of Yanhuang Performing Arts, and Tao Kai, principal of the Cambridge Chinese Language School moderated the discussion.
Represented in the meeting were Chinese language schools in various towns and cities, Chinese student associations in colleges such as MIT,
The attendees also agreed to report daily to Jiang Hong on their fundraising results.
Monday, May 12, 2008
- "City on Steroids, " video by Adam Yamaguchi at Current.com
Over two decades ago, one morning in July 1987, I was awakened by loud shouts from four floors below calling my name, “A foreigner is looking for you!" I had recently returned to my parents' apartment in Chongqing for summer vacation from my graduate school in
I grabbed a hairbrush and ran downstairs. Outside our building, on the sidewalk of
The young American, who later became my husband, was likely the first foreign tourist who rode a bike across
Not any more, and this is one of the biggest changes shown (albeit indirectly) in the video "City on Steroids" by Current.com. Now the
The video tries to find answers to that question and it captures several characteristics of today's
"Bang-bang" in this case means wooden shoulder-pole. Because of
"How hard are the roads in Shu / as hard as climbing the sky" – when Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai wrote those oft-quoted lines, was he near
Not only does speeding construction squeeze surrounding farmland, as the video shows, it has also squeezed the two rivers surrounding it. My townsmen have filled in along the rivers to make the "riverside avenues." When I visited home last year, I was brought to a famous scenic spot, a man-made one, on a new segment of road along the
I suppose not all mountains surrounding
The overheated construction also makes
There is another essence of today's
Aside from policy issues, too high a population density has been a dominating factor in creating the problems. I hope by now those Western human-rights fighters fussing over
One thing I wish Current.com's reporters had asked is what the struggling "bang-bang men" think of the Beijing Olympics. Do they care about it or do they not? Wouldn't it make better sense for
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
1. Richard Price, LUSH LIFE, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
2. Jhumpa Lahiri, UNACCUSTOMED EARTH, Knopf
3. Steven Millhauser, DANGEROUS LAUGHTER, Knopf
*4. Charles Baxter, THE SOUL THIEF, Pantheon
*4. Peter Carey, HIS ILLEGAL SELF, Knopf
*4. J. M. Coetzee, DIARY OF A BAD YEAR, Viking
*4. James Collins, BEGINNNER’S GREEK, Little, Brown
*4. Brian Hall, FALL OF FROST, Viking
*4. Roxana Robinson, COST, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
*4. Owen Sheers, RESISTANCE, Nan A. Talese: Doubleday
1. Nicholson Baker, HUMAN SMOKE: THE BEGINNING OF WORLD WAR II, THE END OF CIVILIZATION, S. & S.
2. Drew Gilpin Faust, THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING: DEATH AND THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, Knopf
3. Mark Harris, PICTURES AT THE REVOLUTION: FIVE MOVIES AND THE BIRTH OF THE NEW HOLLYWOOD, Penguin Press
4. Honor Moore, THE BISHOP’S DAUGHTER: A MEMOIR, Norton
5. Susan Jacoby, THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON, Pantheon
1. Grace Paley, FIDELITY, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
2. Frank Bidart, WATCHING THE SPRING FESTIVAL, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
3. Eric Gansworth, A HALF-LIFE OF CARDIO-PULMONARY FUNCTION, Syracuse University Press
4. Marie Howe, THE KINGDOM OF ORDINARY TIME, Norton
5. Robert Pinsky, GULF MUSIC, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Sunday, May 4, 2008
This attention is in sharp contrast to a recent complaint from Wolfgang Kubin, one of the most renowned Sinologists in
I happen to agree with Goldblatt. Growing up in
Now this weekend's NY Times Book Review astounds me again, this time in a pleasant way. Among the five novelists reviewed, Mo Yan and Wang Anyi are definitely the top novelists in
Jiang Rong is new to the literary scene, though he's from the same generation as Mo and Wang, and I doubt that he will write another novel. I'm in the middle of reading the Chinese original of his Wolf Totem right now, and from what I've read, I have to agree with Pankaj Mishra that "the novel's literary claims are shaky," despite the international prizes it received. The novel is of a "concept-driven" type; it certainly lacks the level of emotional complexity portrayed in the works of Mo Yan and Wang Anyi. It, however, raises important ecological and racial chauvinism issues. The phenomena that Wolf Totem has become a record best seller – the highest among all books sold in
Mo Yan's Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (a great title on a terrible cover) and Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem have both been translated by Howard Goldblatt. While the literary quality gap between these two authors is huge, I do think it is necessary to have both novels translated, and I recommend both to American readers. Wolf Totem, being a best seller in
By the way, in the aforementioned interview with
The New Yorker notwithstanding, now you can read these translated Chinese novels.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
The first time I noticed the term "ren rou sou suo" (人肉搜索) on a Chinese website, I was taken aback. "Human flesh hunting" is a literal translation, but the term, applied to the Internet, means a search engine that runs on people power – "human flesh searching engine."
Chinese netizens have made up their own cyber vocabulary. Some are "Chinesized" translation of words that Americans have turned into verbs meaning internet acts, such as "spam" and "friend." More are their own inventions that can perplex infrequent web users. A popular new expression, for example, is "very pornographic, very violent," used to describe something that is cool and interesting. Similarly, using the words "human flesh" (instead of, for example, "human powered") to modify "search engine" also reflects a fashion in diction. More>>
Related post: No Conversation on BBC
Update: Human Flesh Search: Old Topic, New Story
Thursday, May 1, 2008
(Pamela's novel, The Understory, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. The prize events and the LA Times Festival of Books took place from the evening of Friday, April 25 to
One of the things I was most anticipating about the Los Angeles Times Book Prize events and the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was the chance to meet and get to know zillions of other writers. And one thing I learned during the evening and day that I was able to attend (unfortunately I had to fly home early on Day Two of the two-day festival) was that many writers are as fundamentally shy and socially inhibited as I am.
The awards/festival folks did their best to provide us Book Prize nominees with numerous chances to meet-and-greet: a pre-prize ceremony dinner, a post-ceremony reception, an “Authors Green Room” at the festival with an unending buffet of salad and desserts—but as far as I could tell, most of us hung together in small clumps, desperately glomming onto the few people we already knew, or had thankfully gotten introduced to by some mutual acquaintance. Still, with that many writers around, one couldn’t help but meet a few people. So I’ll report on that in just a minute.
There were nine prize categories: Biography, Current Interest, Fiction, First Fiction, History, Mystery/Thriller, Poetry, Science & Technology, and Young Adult Fiction. The pre-prize ceremony dinner mixed the nominees with interested parties from the “outside” (also known as “real”) world who simply enjoy reading and wanted a chance for some book chat. When the time came we all shuttled over to the prize ceremony at beautiful Royce Hall at UCLA. I was startled by the sheer size of the audience, and also by the fact that my face was periodically flashed on a large screen above the stage as a continuous video loop scrolled through the nominees’ books and persons.
I was attending with an old friend of mine, Brian Alexander, a wonderful writer and the author of the recently published America Unzipped (a hilarious and informative read about the state of sex in this country; I highly recommend it). We were seated in the very first row of the huge auditorium—so picture being at the movie theater and having to lean back to see the goings-on. A silver-haired woman was seated to my left and in the tunnel vision engendered by my nervousness I didn’t realize until the ceremony was just about underway that it was Maxine Hong Kingston, the guest of honor that night.
The presenting judges did an admirable job of summing up each book in a few brief, smart sentences. The two acceptance speeches that struck me most were Elizabeth Samet’s and Tim Weiner’s. Samet, who won in Current Interest for Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point, talked of the challenges of teaching literature to young men and women who may soon be facing combat. Weiner captured the History category with Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, and warned that the decline in newspaper readership in this country could result before long in our government becoming the primary purveyor of news and information. “Don’t let that happen,” he urged. In my category the prize was taken by Dinaw Mengestu, who battled jet lag all through the long evening due to his recent arrival from Paris, but who graciously accepted for The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, a novel about three immigrant African men in Washington, D.C., and the white woman with a biracial child who becomes a neighbor of one of them.
Afterward we were treated to a reception on a big terrace with the
The next day, the first of the Festival, was very hot, but that didn’t stop the astonishingly large crowds. There was panel after wonderful panel, but I had various obligations to meet and so I’m embarrassed to say I missed all of them except, at the end of the day, my own (again, I flew home first thing Sunday and so had no chance to catch that day’s offerings). I appeared with Antonia Arslan and Ellen Litman, two of the other First Fiction finalists. Antonia’s novel, Skylark Farm, takes place during the Armenian genocide of 1915. It was written originally in Italian and has been translated into well over a dozen other languages so far (a Hungarian version has just appeared). Antonia, who is of both Italian and Armenian background, spoke movingly about hearing fragments of family stories about the massacre all of her life but not feeling as if she could tackle the material until late in her career as a professor of Italian literature at the University of Padua.
Ellen, the craftswoman behind The Last Chicken in America, a story collection about the lives of immigrant Russians in
All right, here’s who else I did get to talk to at least briefly over the weekend:
*the affable Stewart O’Nan, who was staying in my hotel and with whom I swapped comments about
*Marianne Wiggins, a co-finalist with O’Nan for The Shadow Catcher (the winner in the Fiction category was Andrew O’Hagen, for Be Near Me). Wiggins was warm and wonderful and made me feel simply very happy to be at the festivities.
* Daniel Smail, finalist in Science & Technology, who explained what in the world his book On Deep History and the Brain was about (answer: something very interesting).
* Mark Sarvas of the indispensable blog The Elegant Variation, who’s been wowing people with his new novel, Harry, Revised.
* Cecil Castellucci (Beige, The Plain Janes), whose name is pronounced Cee-cil, not Sess-il
* James Ellroy (The Black Dahlia,
* the poet Stuart Dischell (
* the irrepressible mystery/thriller writer Ake Edwardson (finalist for Frozen Tracks), who explained to my friend Brian and me how the
* the lovely poet Jean Valentine, finalist for her collection Little Boat, who offered to share her LA Times with me by the hotel pool.
* David Bell, finalist in History for The First Total War: Napoleon’s
* Lisa Fugard (Skinner’s Drift), one of last year’s First Fiction finalists and a panelist this year, who was dining with her adorable son.
* Laila Lalami (Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits), who moderated the panel “Not So Ordinary People” with Tony Early, Dinaw Mengestu, Stewart O’Nan, and Ann Packer.
* Babes in
Oh, yeah, I mistook Charles Bock for a salesclerk at Vroman’s Bookstore. You’d think I might have noticed the tall stacks of Beautiful Children that he was sitting next to and signing. It must have been the 90-degree heat. He was very nice about it, so I’m going out to buy his book tomorrow.