Our Continent and Then Some

Tuesday I lay in bed in my nightgown until 7pm, resting and reading Saving the World by Julia Alvarez, which is an interesting but flawed novel. It is made of two stories--one about the life of a Julia Alvarez-type (her age, her background) writer, and the other about the adventures of a a 19th century Spanish orphanage director who helps spread smallpox vaccines in the New World. The writer, we're told, loves in different ways her husband (romantic) and an elderly neighbor (platonic), who is dying, but I didn't feel the love in either relationship. I did feel it in the historical story. And though the novel's shape is fine, you can see too easily the gears of the plot. Certain plot elements seemed to have been dropped in from above. I bought the book Monday night in my neighborhood used book store, Bookworks. I'd read mixed reviews, and I can see why. I'd wanted to read it, though, because I have worked for 16 years, off and on, part of the time in Berkeley, on a book about a performance artist who is researching a certain legend from the Holocaust. The book has taken on many forms, all of them unfinished, even though two sections of it were published. I never felt comfortable recreating scenes from the past, as Alvarez has done. I can't seem to inhabit it enough, or to be confident enough to be able to recreate all the interiors and carriages and streetscapes of the past. I wrote an essay in Berkely in 2005 that uses some of my research. It's going to be published soon. The trouble with using all the research to create fiction is that I want to keep my distance, or rather, I can't help keeping my distance. In the essay, I can swoop into the past, but briefly, and always aware of my swooping. Which is why my friend Miz P said to me, about seven years ago, You're a nonfiction writer. So I thought that was the answer. Then.

I got dressed Tuesday finally to go to dinner at B and S's house. Our friend L the II was visiting from Australia. He says typical Australian humor is poking fun at your mates. So I was more audacious than usual about insulting people who were there and at one point S and I laughed until I was teary-eyed. Later she touched up my fading henna. Besides the half-block excursion to dinner, I didn't leave the house all day. I didn't walk my three miles. I didn't go to the immigration rally downtown. I felt guilty but I didn't feel like going and I would only be going so that I could say I'd gone if anyone asked me. I made excuses to myself: my stomach has been upset for a few days, I need to rest, I HAVE CANCER. I don't know how effective it is to use the cancer card with yourself. I needed L to tell me that I should rest when I feel like it and he did. I want to be in favor of everything the rally was in favor of, but I don't honestly know where I stand on immigration. I suppose deep down I believe everyone should be able to live anywhere, but the earth would tilt because so many people would come to the US and Europe. I do believe the US has some responsibility for the economy of Mexico, but I don't believe, as I heard Rev. Slim Coleman say on Friday, that the US is responsible for the factors that pushed Elvira Arellano, the illegal immigrant who has found sanctuary in his church, to come here. The US, he said, devalued the peso and dumped cheap corn on Mexico's markets, driving down the price of corn in Mexico, which her family planted and sold. It can't all be the US's fault. But if I were to hear someone blaming everyone but the US, I would think the US was culpable. (Now that I read what Slim Coleman said, in my own words, it sounds reasonable.) I don't think it's right that Arellano is sending her eight-year-old son all around the country to make speeches. But maybe that's what he wants to do. Maybe he feels helpless otherwise and is proud to speak on behalf of his mother. As I said, I don't know where I stand in immigration--amnesty for more than 12 million, which would encourage millions more?--but I should stand somewhere.

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