Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Watching Rosebuds Unfurl

I know, I know. I promised this would be a monthly blog, but what’s a ridiculously overcommitted novelist, essayist, Jungian analyst, teacher, conference presenter, litter box emptier, yogini, film fanatic, and neighborhood walker to do? If you’re like me, almost every moment in this rich life is accounted for, so I’m going to try to make up for a little lost time today.

One of the delights of publishing a novel is making contact with souls one would never have otherwise met, as well as connecting with familiar people in one’s life on a whole new level. Last fall, I happened to mention to the radiologist performing my mammogram that I’d published a novel. This brilliant man had saved my life in 1999 by catching a suspicious little something on a mammogram, which was treated with a lumpectomy and radiation and pronounced cured 4,628 days ago, but who’s counting? (And who is ever going to think of mammograms as routine again?!!)


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Anyway, it turns out that the dear man and his delightful wife and a few of their equally delightful friends actually read my book and, better yet, loved it, recommending it to all their friends and even reviewing it on book pages they belong to. This I know because he called me several weeks after my recent squeezorma – a method of female torture clearly invented by a very different sort of male, one who would never, ever submit a penis to such sadistic compression, but never mind. Seeing my radiologist’s name on my caller ID at 7 in the morning nearly scared the bejesus out of me, until he asked, “Is this Sharon Heath? The one who wrote that marvelous book The History of My Body?” I quickly discovered that there is no better way to begin a workday morning than to hear the man who saved your life rhapsodize about how your first published novel has enlivened his.

Cut to several months later and my invitation to speak at the book club of one of my now doubly-dear radiologist’s friends, a livewire herself who’d been meeting for ages with a group of serious readers at the Hillcrest Country Club. Trying to decide how many mouth-watering buffet offerings I could manage to shovel onto one pristine white plate, I could sense my parents making goo-goo eyes at the selection from the hole in my heart where I’ve stuffed everyone I’ve ever loved (something, actually, that I’d learned from my young protagonist Fleur). My folks had moved on up when I was a teenager from plumbing and waitressing to running a hamburger joint a block away from UC Berkeley’s Sather Gate, but this kind of sumptuous spread was as far from Si’s Charbroiler’s version of John Belushi’s “Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, chip, chip, no Coke, Pepsi” as could be.

My own humble beginnings aside, the women in this book club were incredibly warm and welcoming, smart, astute in their questions and interpretations, heartfelt in their reactions to the story, and left little doubt that Fleur, who's been skipping around in my mind for so many years, was as real to them as she is to me. A miracle. Something cooked up in my own psyche assuming a life of its own in the world? Who’da thunk it? I felt like I’d joined the ranks of inventors like Sir John Harrington, who (I’m sorry to disappoint those of you who think it was Thomas Crapper) invented the flush toilet, and Frances Thomas Upton, inventor of smoke alarms (whose awful, high-pitched eruptions are taken by my cats as permission for no end of unsheathed-claw mayhem), and even Alex Doumak, whose invention of marshmallows probably didn’t include the live mouse I found in a package of them years ago, his nose pressed against the inside of the plastic bag as if he thought he could fool us into thinking he was just one of those square-shaped powdery white sugar guys rather than a gray little beast with moist black eyes and a pointy tail. Lucky guy, we gingerly carried the bag outside and sprung him loose without springing a trap on him; he actually delivered one lingering, sideways glance at the marshmallow heaven from which we'd rousted him before scurrying away into a sugarless bush.


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That’s the thing about the imagination. Everything made by us humans originated in the psyche, yet the natural world is still achingly vulnerable to what we humans decide, consciously or unconsciously, for good or ill. As Jung is rightly famous for observing, “The world hangs on a single thread and that thread is the psyche of man.” Which translates not just into the old saw about needing to be careful what you wish for, but about being mindful about who we vote for, what choices and assumptions we make, how we, as citizens of this beseiged planet, live. Do we die in delusion over dominion over the earth or flourish in recognition of our interdependence with it? 


The image of the thread is particularly alive for me these days. Not only does Indra's Web of mirroring interconnection figure prominently in The History of My Body, but I recently spoke at a conference where our relationship and responsibility to the tenuous thread of life on earth was explored with great sensitivity and depth. My own presentation was titled “Penthos in the Consulting Room: How Psyche Meets the Possibility of an Evolutionary Dead End,” and the transformational image that emerged from my question was tears: tears of grief; tears of dread; caring, healing tears. Tears have played a part, as well, in a conflict that emerged recently in a Facebook group to which I belong, one devoted to social justice and environmental consciousness. A conversational thread emerged that became hurtful enough that many of us feared that the thread of the group’s precious fabric would snap. But as I observed in my Penthos paper, “According to quantum physicists, we live in an asymmetrical universe, in which there is 1/1 billionth more matter than anti-matter, 1/1 billionth more light than dark. All the created universe results from that 1/1 billionth disparity." In the case of my FaceTribe, it was the open-hearted transparency of numerous participants that seems to have acted as a 1/1billionth tipping point in saving the day.  

Sometimes it takes only the tiniest difference to make all the difference. Just as my doctor friend saved my life by paying attention to his tiny level of discomfort with my 1999 mammogram, so our lives can be transformed by experiences that also have the capacity to break us.  That’s what I’ve written about in a chapter in the upcoming anthology edited by Naomi Lowinsky and Patricia Damery, Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way, which, p.s. will be launched at Temple Isaiah in L.A. on Sunday, April 15, from 1:30 to 4 p.m., with most of its stellar authors reading from their chapters - which I can't wait to read myself! (I sure hope you can come! Signed books will be available, and there’ll be plenty of copies of The History of My Body available for signing, too. Besides, I'd just love to meet you. Actually, why not sign up now?!)

Flickriver: Steve Taylor


As for what’s making a difference for me these days, Fleur’s more active in my life than ever, even making an appearance on author Smoky Zeidel’s wonderful blog in three separate incarnations, in a really fun interview, a lovely book review and then quoted in her moving post, Feed Your Nature Deprivation


Katherine Hauswirth of Bibliobuffet concluded after reading The History of My Body: "Fleur’s imperfections create space into which enlightenment can fall, and those around her—when they can accept her—also benefit from the illumination...perhaps there’s a much larger spectrum we are all on together. We can teach each other there." 


From the prolific writer and reviewer Malcolm R. Campbell, a gratifyingly enthusiastic review on his Malcolm's Round Table and another friendly piece on his Sarabande's Journey blog that concludes with the words,"As a heroine's journey, The History of My Body entertains and enlightens me - and for me, it will be teaching me more about chaos and synchronicity and being an odd duck for a very long time." 


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Grady Harp, in a review titled "Now and Again Along Comes a Bright Light," had this to say: "Sharon Heath bounces onto the literary scene with this her debut (unbelievably) novel THE HISTORY OF MY BODY. It is an astonishing fine novel with a heroine named Fleur Robins who will remain emblazoned on the memory like other great creations of literature." Nice, huh? I've also had a chance to speak about Fleur and the process of launching her into the world in a podcast interview with writer April Line on her Billtown Blue Lit. As Fleur would say, “Yum yum!”

But mostly Fleur’s busy these days fleshing herself out as a twenty-one-year-old in the sequel I’m writing to The History of My Body. I’d tell you all about where she’s heading, but I don’t want to spoil the new incarnation. Let's just say we could make no end of fascinating lists about what she's up to now. But if you’re in a book club that would like to talk about where she’s been so far, leave a comment below or send me an email at sharonheath@sharonheath.com. I just love to talk about that girl!