September 21, 2008

Life Is A Verb comes to Princeton!

Oh, look, here's Patti! We're so thrilled you could make it... how was the trip? (Your imaginary trip to Princeton, that is.) D, you can go back out and play on the swingset for a while, but leave the book here, buddy. Patti, can I get you anything? There's probably still some banana bread, but it's not vegan...

Well, I do love a nice cup of earl grey tea… and I brought you some vegan cupcakes, so let’s start with tea and small eats!

Thanks that sounds great. Mmmmm, these are good. Well, first off, let me just say that the book is fabulous! So full of hope and real life... and the art! I need more exclamation points!!! I think I would be oohing and ahhing even if p. 194 didn't feature a certain someone whose now almost 7 yr-old self is often featured over here at But Wait, There's More! You must be so pleased and proud. Another blogger whose book came out recently said he discovered that "You can't write a book and maintain a blog at the same time. If you try, one or the other is going to suffer — usually both." But this seems to have been manifestly not the case with you. Can you talk about the blog/book balance a bit? Did you know from the outset that 37 days would beget a book, or...?

Thanks for the very kind words and all those exclamation points!!!!!! I am particularly fond of page 194 for some reason as well…

I had no idea that 37days would beget a book, but I knew I wanted it to at least beget a notebook. When I first started writing it, I printed each essay, three-hole-punched it, and put it in a binder. That notebook was to be the instruction manual for my girls. A few years into writing 37days, a publisher came to me and asked about making it into a book, which is how Life is a Verb came into being.

I’m not sure I would have sought it out otherwise—the 3-ring-notebook was doing its job by achieving my ultimate goal of writing these essays for my daughters. That said, I’m very very very very (times 100) proud of this book and am fully satisfied that this book is my greatest gift—or certainly one of them—to my daughters. I feel fully satisfied. Did I say that already? Fully satisfied.

I do think it is difficult to write a book and maintain a blog at the same time, but not impossible. At the moment, I’m engaging 37days readers quite a bit, asking them to answer the question I’ve been trying to answer these past three years: “What would you be doing today if you only had 37days to live?” The answers have stunned me in their enormity. They are beautiful testaments to the human spirit, and to our quest for meaning, and to all the ways in which we are more alike than different. Readers are also taking others on a Life is a Verb Blog Tour—just as you are doing here—and I’m dedicating space to that at the moment, linking to the blogs of others. It feels right to me at this point in time, to reach out to others, to hear what others are saying, to continue the literary epic poem we all seem to be writing together.

That said, I’m itching to start writing again as I did in the beginning, to regain that focus and intention and sense of urgency. And perhaps some of that solitude. It’s easy to get lost in the outward manifestation of our work, and neglect the internal journeys it represents. I’d like to find my way back to that—and soon.

I confess that I've had a hard time coming up with questions to ask you, partially because like so many other 37 days readers, I feel like I already know you. I still remember what it was like to wait for the next "episode" of your blog to appear, and what I remember most clearly was how delighted I was to hear your human stories. So these next few questions are more story prompts than actual questions, if that's cool...

Could you tell us a story about being a counter-cultural mom?

It’s a description I guess I would never think to apply to myself! In many ways, I imagine I could be considered a pretty mainstream mom. I don’t perceive myself as an “earth mother” by any means though I did insist on wooden toys for Emma when she was younger, much to my mother-in-law’s chagrin!

My kids go to public school and play in the marching band and play video games and text like fiends on cell phones. They have too many toys and not enough chores and probably don’t have a real good sense of where beets come from. Each did spend time in Montessori school, but transitioned into a regular school environment by first grade, and I’m sure they’ll survive it and thrive in it.

I’m not sure it’s counter-cultural, but the ways in which I pass along stories of what it means to be fully human and to consider everyone around you to be fully human regardless of their circumstance—maybe that is counter-cultural to some. Perhaps raising my kids as vegetarians in a meat-and-potatoes culture is counter-cultural in some ways. Mostly, I’m raising them fully inside this culture, with an eye to opening their minds to alternatives to it or alternatives in it. One way I’d love to be able to do more of that is by traveling more with them around the globe.

Could you share a story of a time when you were surprised to find a commonality with a friend or stranger? (I am thinking of the night when my dear friend Becky and I discovered that we both had a particular spoon in our kitchens that we preferred to use for eating ice cream.)

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this in my life is the story of my meeting my friend, Yaron, from Israel. After first rejecting his attempts at connection when we met on a plane, I found myself spending hours talking with him, recognizing myself in him in significant ways. We seek those points of connection all the time, even while we reject them, don’t we? When we find someone who shares our favorite book, we feel closer to them. Our challenge, I believe, is to feel closer to people who share nothing with us except our shared and significant humanity.

You've mentioned that you attended Guilford College for your undergraduate work... can you talk about the ways in which your Quaker connections continue to play out in your life?

Guilford was an extraordinary place for me as an undergraduate. My interactions with faculty were lasting—I just did a reading for Life is a Verb in Asheville and two of my very favorite professors from Guilford surprised me by showing up, some 26 years after I graduated from Guilford (Lord, that makes me feel old). Our classes were small and we were encouraged to really think deeply in broader contexts. The Quaker tradition that served as a grounding for Guilford is one that I am very drawn to still, even though I don’t actively attend a Quaker meeting at the moment. The thoughtfulness, social activism, and relatedness that I found at Guilford are values I try to live daily.

How has your transition to eating veganously been going? There have to be some good stories about that!

I have to admit that I’m at about 94.7% vegan at this point. For the first month, I was 100% vegan, and then one night a slice of gorgonzola cheese roasted potato pizza started calling my name… So while I’m not as militantly vegan as I was in the beginning, I’m definitely still making very deliberate choices not to consume animal products, and staying pretty true to the course with very few exceptions. One thing this focus has engendered is an interest on the part of my older daughter, Emma, in veganism—and in cooking in general. So she and I are watching a lot of cooking shows together now!

It seems like one of the things you've been learning through your blog is how manifestly un-alone you are in your desire to live with greater authenticity and intentionality. Will there be more "group assignments" for the circle of like-minded folks who have gathered to listen to your stories? Or....? What's next?

I have been overwhelmed by the essays written by 37days readers about their own 37 days journeys. So I imagine you will continue to see us all engage together in dialogue—I’d like that, and am searching for good online ways to do that. I have so much to learn from all of you.

What’s next for me is another book of 37 essays like Life is a Verb, followed by a book I’m working on with my business partner, David Robinson, that translates the six practices for intentional living from LIAV into a work context. That is—how can I be fully human at work, in a world in which we pretend we can park our human-ness at the door. David and I are also finalizing a children’s book called Kichom and Fucchi, wisdom tales from the smallest of teachers, about our friend Kichom in Japan and the lessons he has learned from a small bug he called Fucchi.

That sounds terrific; I'll look forward to seeing those projects come to fruition. And now I have to scoot, I think... our Meeting is honoring International Peace Day by hosting an installation of the Eyes Wide Open exhibit, and I'm helping out with that. And YOU probably have a ton to do, or maybe you'll be able to squeeze in a nap, after what I hear was a fabulous reading last night at Malaprop's! But thank you so much for stopping by again, Patti, and warm wishes for you on your journey.

My thanks to you, Shelley, for being such a constant source of encouragement to me. Are you sure we’ve never met? It sure feels like we have. For all the cards and emails and for participating in the art project that made the book a work of art itself, and for helping me figure out technical stuff, and now for participating in this blog tour, my deepest thanks.

(For more outstanding Life Is Verb goodness,
click on over to the book's site here.
Buy several and get a headstart on the holiday season!
Opportunities to see Patti live & in person
are here, at her book tour site.)


suzanne said...

I loved this interview, Shelley. It was fun and different and really creative. I'm from Somerville (Branchburg, actually) but now live in California. I'll come back and visit your blog again. Promise!

Cloudscome said...

Great interview Shelley and Patti! You are so right - page 194 is the cutest one in the book.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Lovely interview! I got a pang from hearing that Patti originally started her blog for her daughters: I originally started mine as a way to keep my Mom up to date with the little things going on in my family's life! But it turns out she doesn't like to use the internet. Maybe I should print it out and mail it all to her?!

Anyway, Shel and Patti, you two are both life-affirming and inspiring: thank you!