Signs of the Times

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!

Bon vivant.

9 Replies to “Signs of the Times”

  1. Pingback: Signs of the Times
  2. Interesting post, Tiffany. And so nice to learn all those fascinating things about you. Sounds like you did write about what you know … in a way. The amazing and sometimes wonderful mix of things that – at first glance – have nothing in common!

    And, ooh, I love San Francisco – hope to get out there next Spring. And we’ll have to talk about that kibbutz someday!

  3. I love San Francisco, too! I think it’s one of the few cities that New Yorkers commonly say that they wouldn’t mind moving to. We definitely have our share of the weirdness factor here, and I think it makes the day much more interesting (and gives me fuel for my books!).

  4. I love this! My son is getting similar exposure to diversity right here in flyover country, ordinary old Michigan. I think the San Francisco spirit might be spreading a little, and to my mind that’s a good thing.

  5. By “similar exposure to diversity” I mean in school, where he’s also learned about the Chinese New Year and brought home a dreidel. I can’t yet claim that gender is optional in Michigan! Well, maybe in Ann Arbor…

  6. Life in San Francisco sounds fun AND delicious! I can’t believe I’ve lived in California for such a long time and not spent any quality time in San Fran. I used to work for a company whose corporate office was there, so my perception of the city was kind of tainted by the day they flew our whole office in, fired half of the employees, sent them home on the next flight, and then had (naturally) a pizza party. LOL (now LOL… back then, not so LOL).

    So I need to go back and give the city a fresh look, I think! Maybe we could meet up!

  7. I agree that you don’t HAVE to write what you know. How much fun it that? There’s so much stuff out there to write about that I’ve never done or been around. I think imagination is more fun than anything.
    One of my goals in life is to get to San Francisco someday. I’ve been close to it, but never made it all the way.

  8. San Francisco always reminds me of a fantastic cornucopia where there’s something new to discover around every corner and you wrote a beautiful post on its personal influence. How fortunate you are, Tiffany, and how fortunate we’ll all be when THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN debuts.

  9. Oh your post was so funny at first, then at second read…familiar. I think having children who are as politically aware as mine are…coming from what I guess was an rather “inclusive” upbringing, now that I look more closely at it…for me, is kind of like having San Francisco in your own backyard and the Unitarians for baby sitters. It is all good.

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