It started with Hanukkah. When she was three, my first daughter came home from pre-school toting a dreidel and singing a Christmas carol. My Irish Catholic/English husband shrugged and gave the top a whirl. A month and a half later, she came home, plopped a red lantern on the table, and chortled, “Gung Hay Fat Choy!”
My husband raised his eyebrows. “What?”
I cleared my throat. “She’s wishing us happy New Year,” I explained.
He wrinkled his forehead. “New Year’s was last month.”
“This is Chinese New Year,” I answered. “And it’s the year of the Golden Pig.”
“Yes!” my daughter crowed. “The pig!”
Since then, she has participated in a Native American drumming ceremony, learned about Buddha and the goddess Pele, and danced around a maypole. My second daughter is asking to take hula lessons and yoga. My friends, welcome to San Francisco, where sushi is the national food, chakras are in balance, and gender is totally optional.
I once heard Isabel Allende say (in a complimentary way) that San Francisco is the weirdest place she’s ever been, but I think this is a marvellous thing for a fiction writer, and I’m doubly lucky that I was raised with it. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to write what you know, but I’ve always chafed under that rubric. It seems so reductive. Writing is an act of imagination, which is easy to understand when you grew up in a place where everybody eats Chinese food, Episcopalians like me go to work on a kibbutz, men dress as women, and families take naked dips in the hot tub. The buttoned-up banker you see commuting on the ferry might be listening to yoga chants on his iPod, and the hippi on the corner could very well be a law student. Its really hard to tell at first glance.
It’s all good. I suppose if I know anything it’s that underneath we’re all more or less the same, but that we sure take some crazy paths to get to that point. I also know that what makes humans unique is that we’re capable of simultaneosuly conceptualizing contrasting ideas. In other words, we contain multitudes: our grandparents and lineage, our friends, our communities.
I’m a Gemini. I’m an earth Rooster, a Christian, a mother, a middle-aged woman who still feels seventeen, Ukranian, and I’m not naturally blonde. I wrote a novel about a woman with gigantism, a very small, Vietnam war survivor, a witch, and a boy who at one point wears his mother’s dress. Am I any of those things? No, but somehow, by some miracle, I knew something about them, and, after you finish reading, I hope you do, too.
So, get yourselves ready. Christmas is around the corner. So is Hanukkah, Kwanza, and the year of the Ox. Roll out your moon cakes, crack open a good book, and enjoy everything in life!