Friday, April 22, 2011

Maxine Hong Kingston's new book

I had a mid-afternoon snack in the cafe at 30th and Church; if I ate later, I might be sleepy at the 6 o’clock event at Mechanics Library where I was to meet up with Martha and Leslie to see Maxine Hong Kingston.  I took the 24 Divisadero to go to the Castro, to then take a Muni train downtown, and, while I was on the 24, Martha got on; she was on her way to sing with 2 other women, members of the Threshhold Choir, going from room to room, in the Coming Home Hospice.  We kidded around, of course, and acted silly, and as she got off the bus she said, “See ya later, alligator,” which made me groan, but made other people on the bus laugh.
I went downtown and read under the dome at Bloomingdale’s until it was time to go to the Mechanics Library.  The event was packed.  I sat in front of my sweet Code Pink sisters, who work so hard for peace and justice, Leslie and Martha, and before the program had started, they, of course, lay a hand on my shoulder, gave me a sip of wine, placed one of their hats on my head, but they soon settled down.  To begin with, the head of the Asian Foundation gave Kingston an "Asian heroine” award.  

Kingston read from her new book about how she feels about aging (she is only 65!), I Love a Broad Margin to My Life (from a quote from Thoreau), then she was interviewed by Andrew Lam, and they made their conversation political, and progressive, as well as literary.  The audience at Mechanics Library is neatly Middle Class, well groomed, not likely to balk at the inexpensive membership, and I guess none were alarmed to hear her speak openly about being the child of illegal immigrants; she mentioned how that had affected her style where she kept everything relative, for example, in one story, confusing the reader with three versions of her father, in order to conceal the truth about the real one.  I cannot cover everything talked about, all very interesting, but it is interesting that her first novel, WARRIOR WOMAN, is used very extensively in classes in China.    
In spite of heads always blocking my view, I photographed Ms. Kingston precisely at the moment when she was talking about her work for peace.  I have seen her speak before the Veterans for Peace, and she has done extensive work, helping veterans recover from war (reflected in her last book).  She addressed the feeling people may have that  demonstrating for peace seems hopeless, recalling how she and Alice Walker were arrested in protest of the planned invasion of Iraq, and, of course, that did not stop that horror.  My answer would have been that the saying, "Faith can move mountains," is quite literal; it means the patience and stubborn will to move a  mountain, if necessary, quite literally, one grain of sand at a time, as if one had centuries of time.   She had her own way of expressing that, reading from a passage in her book that our work for peace here would not save anyone in our time, but would save someone from death on a battlefield far in the future just as some unknown person centuries ago did something that helped her be now where and who she is – Her dream-like view of reality and a Chinese sense of the long span of time.  

It turned out that Leslie and her guy were to be married many years before, with a ceremony ministered or administered by Ms. Kingston's husband, Earl; Kingston’s hair, now a silver waterfall, dramatically white, "was still black," said Leslie.  But they were still acquainted.
Martha gave Ms. Kingston some peace symbol earings. 

As usual with peace activists, they all knew people in common, and compared the work being done for peace.

I photographed Leslie with her old friends.  
I ended up with Martha, Leslie, and Thom.  Thom ordered some Chinese food from Alice’s Restaurant, and he soon went down the street and picked it up.  Martha made some green tea with something roasted in it, so that it tasted very Japanese.  Martha said that, earlier in the evening, when she and the other two women from Threshold Choir were singing, going from room to room at Coming Home Hospice, they came to two rooms where the patients had visitors.  The visitors asked them to go ahead and sing, and some of the visitors joined in so that they became seven singers.  
That's about 10 precent of what happened, but I don't feel free to speak about other people present without their permission -- and, of course, the focus here was on wonderful Maxine Hong Kingston.  Ms. Kingston knows that reality, dream, and fiction are the same thing, with many mysterious lacunae in the mix.  It's like the quotation from Marcel Proust at the beginning of the Alchemist's Pillow blog:  "If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less, but to dream more, to dream all the time."

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