Our moderator, Susan Donovan gave us a brief tour of the original UV campus, designed and built by Thomas Jefferson himself. The original dorms, still in use, flank a huge, lawn where students lay down to read while listening to iPods or play ball. Each room has a fireplace for warmth and indeed, piles of wood sit between doors. The interiors are quite small and a local woodmaker replenishes the Revolutionary Era beds, desks, etc. Bathrooms are down the hall as in the old days. Apparently, these rooms are highly prized by students.
People kept talking about the "Rotunda," and so I guess it's a big deal. The Rotunda, designed and built by Jefferson, sits aside the top end of the lawn and is designed so that from his home, Monticello, built on top of a hill in the distance, Jefferson could see the Rotunda dome. As a prank, some students steered a cow up to the top of the Rotunda, even though cows can't climb stairs. The cow died.
(C) 2008. William Poy Lee
Our panel was lively. Marsha Mehran fell ill the day before and didn't make it. H.G. Carillo, a live wire, kicked it off energetically with a passage from "Loosing my Espanish." Nahid Rachlin, in her sweet, low key way, read of the stepmother who took care of her. I read Mom's Chapter 2, about Toisan, the Chinese American civil right march along Grant Avenue, Mom using Chinese New Year rituals to heal from Richard's conviction, and how I girded up to fight the good fight on his behalf.
So our discussion ranged from rituals in Tehran (their new year begins on March 21st this year for 2 weeks) to Santeria rites in daily life; revisiting melting pot and salad bowl in light of globalization where the concept of national borders is disappearing; the impact of Jefferson on Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of Democracy and signs of the birthing of democratic legacies within modern China like freer speech and respect for rule of law; how land forms lingistics; and the importance of keeping land-based values while living in a competitive modern age.
The manager cut off our discussion because so we still had time to sell books before the staff had to go home. It's Friday night after all and our panel started at six. They had estimated 60 folks would be in attendance, but I was happy to see around 40, all quite attentive, mostly older but 7 or so students were in attendance.
One person asked what we all thought of our "native countries." After Herman and Nahid finished talking bout Cuba (a state of mind more than reality) and Iran, I simply said, "I'm fine with America. No plans to leave any time soon."
When asked why we chose to write in American (for me that's my native tongue), Nahid said something that helped me to understand why perhaps Anchee Minh and Ha Jin write so eloquently in American. There are so many taboos, forbidden topics, and fear of retribution that she can only write freely in English. She is completely uninhibited and can and will say anything she wants. Herman also feels a different mood and feeling depending upon which language he's speaking -- and vice versa, depending upon mood, he'll naturally switch between tongues.
Susan and her friend and co-worker in IRC went off to a lecture (not workshop they stressed) on Tantra. I told them I'd teach them the fire breath if they sought us out after the lecture. Carillo, Rachlin, and I adjourned to Enoteca to conviviate. Made a couple of new friends who I think will help me understand how to live the writer's life lecturing, teaching, as well as writing.
Saturday morning, I toured Monticello. My old friend and now Virginia resident and author of The Eight, Magic Circle, and more, dropped me off. Well worth a visit. Inspiring. There's two walking tours -- the main house and the slave quarters. Well worth it. An older white blues musician who day-jobs as a cab driver took me back. Local whose father was an academic genius and the youngest faculty ever appointed to UV.
(C) 2008. William Poy Lee
Causes William Lee Supports
Kim Baptiste's Culture Clash Hip-Hop Clubs for Youth, SF Bay Area East Bay Meditation Center, availing Buddhist wisdom to inner cities Belladonna Sanctuary...