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Strands Paperback – December 16, 2009
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From the Author
When my grandmother was in her nineties, living in a nursing home, I began to write about her life. Just before she died in 1992 at age 99, I made a promise to her that I would write her tragic story so that her life would not have been lived in vain. Strands is my way of keeping that promise.
Envisioning a book devoted to her life, I researched, interviewed her and others and at one point my sister and I visited the mental institution in Michigan where she had lived for thirty seven years.
Soon after that trip, I decided that if I were going to write a novel, I needed to take a creative writing class. The class I enrolled in was at Laney College, a community college in Oakland, California taught by Adam David Miller who later became my husband.
At some point, I realized the story I wanted to tell was not just her story but the story of the mother-daughter relationships throughout the generations. I worked on crafting something that would involve all the generations, interviewing my mother and researching. But no central story emerged and the material I was collecting grew more and more unwieldy.
A major direction came from a dream: I was on a journey with my mother and I was carrying the Strands manuscript and struggling to climb sand dunes. I ended up handing the manuscript to my mother. She walked up the dunes without effort and I followed. I woke up and decided to base the lead character on my mother.
Around that same time, my sister and I were planning a surprise seventieth birthday party for our mother and fiction and fact began to weave themselves into a new reality that became the story for this book. I decided to work on the book in Ireland and the flat I lived in there became the prototype for Emma's flat in Ireland.
The first draft of the story came out completely in dialogue form as I wrote what I heard in my head. Many of the dreams in the book are dreams I actually had in Ireland as I wrote the book.
I always told my mother that I was writing the book but I advised her never to read it. I didn't know how she would handle the change I put this character through. Until finally, we planned to spend a week together alone in my sister's cabin in Oregon. I knew I was getting close to publishing the book and in a telephone conversation with her before we went to Oregon, I blurted out that I would like for her to read the book while we were there. And then, of course, I panicked. Not only was she going to read the book, but she was going to read it in my presence!
And there was an added layer just to make things more stressful, just before I went to Oregon I learned that I had a form of potential breast cancer that would require my having a mastectomy and that because of other physical conditions I could not have breast reconstruction. I was in a state of heightened anxiety and distress. I am in a healing circle called Dare (see BayAreaDare.com for more info) and the founder of the group, Elenna Rubin Goodman suggested that we call a Wisdom Council for the night before I left on the trip. This is the letter of invitation I wrote to my women friends:
I have come to the next step in my journey both with the tumor in my breast and with the work of healing the Motherline. Please join me in a women's sacred circle at Elenna's house. Your presence and support there would be greatly appreciated.
This sacred circle joins a larger field that is coalescing, that is calling. In the field are the relationships among the tumor, my breast, the Dare community, healing and peacemaking, women in my life, and my grandmother ancestor Harriet's awakening me to the desire to (as Elenna has stated it so clearly) pull the motherline through into the present.
After much praying, wailing, begging, losing sleep, confusion, information gathering, sacred story/illness work with Elenna, consultation with ancestors through Owl Snake, and consultation with other dear friends, I have decided to have a mastectomy on my right breast. Without this procedure, I feel I would be constantly looking over my shoulder for the time when a cancer could develop and without warning metastasize and move to any organ of my body through the blood stream. As Owl Snake said to me, "you must pick your battles." While my own health is important to me, it is not what I want as the focus of the rest of my life. I cherish this life and work that I have been given and am willing to offer myself to it.
Part of the work I have been given is the healing of the motherline, both my own personal strands and the multitude of strands that have been relegated to silence in this culture. The novel I am about to publish is about this subject and gathers as its material the life histories of women in my family--me, my mother, my grandmother and my great-grandmother. On the day after our sacred gathering I leave for a family reunion which will be followed by a week alone with my mother on sacred land in Oregon. My mother will be reading for the first time this novel in which the lead character is based on her. I expect that we will be doing very deep work around the mother-daughter line and that there will be much opportunity for healing.
The hope for this sacred ceremony created on Tuesday is that we will pull through and together all of our motherlines and those of future beings. I cannot say what this ceremony will look like because I do not know.
Please prepare for this circle as you might any sacred gathering, doing whatever work of your own that needs to be done ahead of time so that nothing prevents you from being fully present.
The power of that gathering of fifteen women cannot be overestimated.
My mother's reading of Strands was an incredibly humbling and heartening experience. Before I handed it to her, we talked briefly about what I felt the book was about: that I am using the facts of our lives as a vehicle for healing both our own motherline (four generations of women in my family) and the healing of our society's so-often ruptured motherlines. She cried even before she began reading saying that every time she thinks of her mother's life, she cries. I didn't even know that. In fact, what is remarkable is how little I did know of what I was actually doing in writing this book.
As she read, my mother would sometimes pause and ask if something I wrote was true or if I made it up. At one point, she read a passage where her mother says she loved her and fought to keep her. She asked me if that was true and I answered that I was pretty sure it was. Time stood still for me when I realized that I had just delivered a message from the grave that her mother loved her! Without my knowing it, this was one of the reasons I wrote the book.
And my mother loved the book! And she keeps thanking me for letting her read it. I asked her just what it was that she liked about it. She answered in her way, "It was organized so well." Well, I translate that to mean that her story now has a coherence it never had before.
From then on, I was on a roll to finish the book by the end of the year. On September 4, I had the mastectomy and three months later I sent the files off to be published. (for more information regarding my experiences around the mastectomy, please read the book called When Things Happen to People: the Field Beyond Good and Bad.
After I received a hard copy of the book, I conducted a ritual with it and my grandmother's picture facing each other. I sang her an improvised song about how her life had not been lived in vain; her story was now told. And I let her go. Blessed journey, grandmother!
From the Back Cover
"Am I the Dealer or the Dealt?" wonders 70-year-old Emma, as she recalls herself at age six when she was taken from her biological mother and adopted by strangers. Because Emma's life has been a series of compromises for the sake of emotional security, she has no idea who she is or how to answer such questions. A chance invitation to a Peace Weaver's workshop in Ireland enables her to uncover and bring together long-lost strands of her identity.
This is a multi-layered story of four generations of women, their conflicts, secrets and healing. While it is a story of particular women, it is also the story of Women in patriarchal society and the absolute necessity of women's wisdom to weaving a peaceful world. If we can answer the questions that women ask, we will revolutionize the world.
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Principally set in Ireland's dramatic landscape, Strands provides the reader with universal themes that will speak to millions around the world. Honesty is juxtaposed with the "culture of liars" that continues to be acceptable in the United States, continuing the question of honesty's value despite the norm that provides the foundations for individuals and corporations. The author examines what really happens to those women who take a less-traveled road while exposing the truths that people are not what others say about them. The label of crazy is re-examined in a sensitive way as facts begin to be revealed in stories, and the author provides the reader with a philosophy of "The Between" that suggests a way to resolve societal and internal conflicts. Added to all of the above is a smart and witty dialogue, laced with hilarious sarcasm, that results in heartfelt chuckles while the probing of the protagonists' lives has one running for the Kleenex box.
I loved how the author used the amazing weaving workshop as a frame for the narrative,
the way Emma learned the truths about her mother and grandmother,
her relationship with her own daughter,
and the relationships among all the women. Very satisfying.