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Most recent posts
Baby at the Airport
Thank you, Ben Affleck. Now what?
Why I LOVE to collect author autographs
Closing lines from books that changed my life
No indictment (and, sadly, no surprise) in death of Eric Garner
Give BOOKS for the holidays! Save $$$ and support a Great Cause!
All The Light We Cannot See
Most recent comments
Baby at the Airport (4)
Melissa: I'm reminded that by looking into the eye of a baby, one can see the...
Mark Offenbacher: Tom, Great story, I’m sure the baby will be sharing it as well....
Didie: Wow! Beautiful experience!
Bob Brown: Wonderful story Tom. I am sure the feeling was calming yet unnerving, at the...
Janis Ian’s “front row guy” (2)
Dara: Hi Tom, My name is Dara and I am from Philadelphia, PA. I enjoyed reading about...
Appearances by Tom
Author Stuff, Writing
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Inheriting the Trade
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Traces of the Trade
Trauma and Healing
Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!
I can’t recall ever having a layover in San Diego before. The convenient part was the arrival and departure gates were adjacent to each other. Easy plane change for a 45-minute layover. I made my way over the few steps to the line for my connecting flight and stood behind a young couple standing on either side of a stroller holding what looked to be about an 8-month old baby boy.
The baby’s eyes and mine locked on each other and didn’t let go. He smiled. I smiled. Daddy lowered a spoonful of yogurt toward his mouth but his lips were closed. I opened my mouth as if I were feeding him with the thought he would mimic me and open up. He did, and took in the yogurt. He continued to stare and smile. So did I, expecting at any moment that Dad or Mom would turn to look at me; this man with whom their child was so intently engaging. They would nod. I would smile. “Nice baby,” I would say. “Thanks,” they would respond. And the spell would be broken. But it never happened. They never turned.
Baby and I continued to stare; our eyes locked and joyful. “It’s good to see you again,” I thought. “You, too,” he replied.
As clear as any feeling I’ve ever had, I knew I knew him from previous lifetimes. And I knew he knew me. I just knew.
“That’s ridiculous,” I thought as doubt crept in. I smiled one last time, turned and walked away. I walked around for maybe ten minutes before returning. The boy and his parents hadn’t budged an inch. He looked at me and smiled.
“Welcome back,” I felt.
“Thanks,” I replied. “You’re going to have a great life.”
“Yeah, exactly what I need.”
“It really is good to see you again,” I thought.
“You, too,” his eyes said.
Our smiles never wavered, nor did our gaze for the next several minutes until the flight began to board. As I settled into my seat I felt renewed confidence that all is well with the world. We’re all on our way home and we’re walking this incredible journey together.
And every once in a while, when we pay attention as we look into the eyes of a fellow traveler, we recognize an old friend.
We see each other.
An article I wrote, “Dear Ben Affleck, My Ancestors Were Slaveowners, Too” was published this morning.
I was contacted this past Wednesday by an editor with Zócalo Public Square, an L.A.-based not-for-profit that hosts live events and publishes daily humanities journalism. They describe themselves as an “ideas exchange” — their mission is to connect people to ideas and to each other.
She wrote, “I’m hoping you’ll consider writing a piece for us. As you probably heard, Ben Affleck asked producers of the PBS documentary series “Finding Your Roots” to not reveal that his ancestors were slave owners. I thought it would be interesting to get a response from you — as a writer who has delved so deeply into the story of your family history …and as the head of an organization devoted to healing the wounds rooted in our nation’s history of slavery. I thought you could write an open letter to Ben Affleck that essentially tells him why it’s OK (and actually really good) to dig into one’s family history, even when it involves something as painful and horrible as slavery.”
The article begins…
I’m certain being in the spotlight for not wanting the PBS show Finding Your Roots to include mention of your slave-owning ancestor has been a real pain. The unwanted headlines, the online comments, the “Dear Ben” letters must be getting old. I’m sure you want this whole episode behind you. I get that: I’m related to the most successful transatlantic slave-trading dynasty in U.S. history.
I thank you for your honesty in admitting you were embarrassed. Many white people, upon discovering enslavers among our ancestors, feel embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty. But as I learned from Will Hairston, a white descendant of one of the wealthiest Southern enslaving families in American history, “Guilt is the glue that holds racism together.”
I appreciate you writing on your Facebook page, “We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggests that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery. It is an examination well worth continuing.”
Yes it is. And I can tell you from personal experience that what you choose to do next to continue that examination is what matters now.
You can read the full article here.
My dear friend and fellow author Andi Cumbo-Floyd posted a blog entitled “6 Reasons I Don’t Get Author Autographs.” I didn’t need to read what she wrote to know we are polar opposites on this one. But I did read her post. She doesn’t like crowds, knows what it’s like to give a talk and then sign books, knows that writers often don’t necessarily love the person they write, “love, Andi (or Tom)” in their copy of our books. I get it. And I feel totally different about it.
I LOVE getting books autographed. My prized possession is a signed copy of Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, my personal favorite novel of all time. I remember when my friend Brad called me and said, “Hey, Tom, there’s a signed copy at…” and he told me it cost seventy-five dollars and this was around 1979 and I was a poor, working stiff who still owed on college loans and I told Brad to forget about it. I called him back an hour later and told him I’d find the money to pay him back.
Why? Because Somerset Maugham hadn’t just written The Razor’s Edge. He’d held this particular copy of his book in his hands; had signed it. His DNA was on this sucker. So as I read my new, signed, copy, Maugham was there with me, physically; literally. The book became more alive, more connected, to me. I’d read it before. This time was different; more personal.
I sometimes write to authors when I’ve been particularly moved by their book. And sometimes they write back. Though I won’t share their names here, the notes I’ve received in return are cherished treasures. And sometimes I have received notes from people whose books of mine I have signed… including just yesterday from a student at a college I visited with my writing partner Sharon a couple weeks ago. “Thank you for your encouraging words,” she wrote, amongst other things. “Whatever your next big project is,” she wrote, “you can count me in.”
I’ve felt nothing better as an author than the feeling I get when I receive such a message.
Richard Bach wrote that some of his best friends are people he’s never met… authors… the words on the pages of their books. I get that. And I respect Andi’s position. And for me? I feel differently. I LOVE meeting authors and owning their books they have held and signed.
And yes, Andi, I have Sherman Alexie’s autograph… in a few of his books. I respect your choice. Truly, I do. And I’ll be waiting in line for my next signed book…
I flew to Orlando, Florida on Wednesday, and flew back home Sunday. I’m speaking across the state tomorrow and in Indiana next Wednesday.
Then I’ll fly to Southern California to join Mom, my sister, our family, and friends to celebrate Dad’s life on the 31st.
It feels a little like a pinball machine is going full tilt in my head with all the silver balls bouncing around at once and the bells and whistles and lights celebrating the highest score ever on “Vampire Stimuli Juggling.” WoooHOOO!
I spent much of yesterday quietly thinking.
I thought about all I experienced over the weekend at the conference; the people I met, the ideas that were shared, my daily telephone conversations with my mom, the eyes of the 10-month old baby whose eyes locked into my 60-year old eyes in the lobby of the hotel just before I caught the shuttle back to the airport to fly home.
Lindi and I watched Boyhood last night. As Mason’s life and the lives of his family unfolded before us I was filled with sadness and hope and I thought what a perfect film to watch at a perfect time.
I thought about Dad being diagnosed with cancer more than three years ago, shortly before he and Mom celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary; about the precious blessing of having him with us these past three years, which offered many opportunities to be together, to talk, to hug, to share “I love you” over and over.
I thought about how my second book, Gather at the Table, was published more than two years ago, offering my co-author, Sharon Morgan, and me the opportunity to crisscross the country since, speaking with people at universities, corporations, conferences, book fairs, churches and other gatherings about healing the wounds inflicted through racism and the legacy of slavery. Even more, our journey offered us the opportunity to build our solid friendship.
I thought about the past few months; how in July I became certified as a STAR Practitioner, authorized to integrate Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience into my work. How in November I read the top ten things dead people want to tell you (ah, the timing), by Mike Dooley, the man from whom I’ve been receiving daily Notes from the Universe for the past dozen years.
I thought about driving to Southern California in December to spend four days with my parents, talking about life and death, Boy Scouts and baseball, laughing through reruns of Family Feud on the Game Show channel, setting up a new laptop to replace their ten-year old desktop that was on its last legs, going to church together the Sunday before Christmas; the church they were married in, that I attended almost every Sunday of my childhood, where we will remember Dad together at a service to celebrate his life, across the street from the hospital where I was born and where he died.
I thought about talking with Mom when we knew Dad wasn’t coming back this time, about changing my plans to immediately fly to Southern California, about her encouraging me to go ahead and attend the conference in Orlando, about my gratitude for my sister for staying with Mom throughout Dad’s passing and for several days after.
I thought about life and death and the intimate and infinite relationship between the two, about feeling as close to my father now as I ever have. About talking with my 6- and 7-year old granddaughters about what happens to Pampa after he died; about cremation and how our bodies and our spirits are both connected and separate.
I thought about all I experienced during the conference, where I became certified as an Infinite Possibilities Trainer. Where I met, spoke deeply with, and held in my arms, Mike Dooley, who’s Notes from the Universe have greeted me each morning for so many years with a reminder of my power, of life’s magic, and how much I am loved. Where I learned more about our innate ability to shape our lives and live our dreams through understanding and working with our thoughts, words, attitudes, beliefs, and actions.
I thought of the intimate and infinite connections between this conference and my work with Coming to the Table, my writing, STAR, Gather at the Table, speaking appearances, and Mike Dooley’s 10-month old daughter, my children and grandchildren, my father, my mother, and how each moment offers the opportunity for me, and for you, to direct our future.
I thought about Deborah, Jeoffrey, Gretchen, Regena, Tracy, Craig, Roberto, Susan, Rebecca, Andy, Mike, and so many others I encountered this weekend; the words “I told you I would find you again” being whispered in my ear in the midst of a powerful embrace, and knowing they were true.
It’s a lot. Believe me, I know. And I’m paying attention; enjoying the game. I look forward to celebrating my father and continuing to create my future. How about you?
The Possibilities are Infinite.
There are times when I am “stuck” in my own writing for various reasons, but I always read. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading a book. I read for the joy of the story. I read to enter other worlds. I read to inspire my own writing. Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin for a writer. Both are requirements for the job.
Since August I’ve participated in The Painted Steps, a small group of writers who have committed to working together for six months, to inspire each other to keep our writing at the forefront of our daily lives, and to complete the first draft of a manuscript by the end of January. We meet via video conference every week. The Painted Steps is the brainchild of Andi Cumbo-Floyd, author of The Slaves Have Names. Over the past couple weeks Andi asked us to share some favorite “opening lines” in books and then “closing lines.” The “opening lines” was easier. “Call me Ishmael.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” “I am an invisible man.” Choosing closing lines to share with my fellow writers took more time; more thought.
The successful ending of a story not only offers a conclusion. Successful endings offer beginnings to further contemplation of what has gone before and imaginings of what’s next. What follows are the closing lines from ten books that have had a profound impact on my thinking; on how I view the world. I hope these lines don’t ruin these stories for anyone who has not read them. I don’t believe they do. hopefully they inspire you to read… Read the rest of this entry »
SUPPORT A GREAT CAUSE!
This Holiday Season, you can give copies of Gather at the Table, or Inheriting the Trade, books from the King Legacy Series, the powerful An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (which I recently reviewed) or virtually ANY book published by Beacon Press to your friends, family, and professional colleagues and you will SAVE MONEY and SUPPORT HEALING in the United States!
My publisher, Beacon Press, has partnered with the non-profit organization Coming to the Table, for which I work as Executive Director, to offer this special. Order as many books as you want directly from Beacon Press. When you go to your “Cart” to check out, enter CTTT in the “Coupon or Promotional Code” box in the upper left corner and click the “Apply” button. You will receive:
Make a positive difference in the reading lives of those around you, and in everyone who is served by Coming to the Table! I wish you a joyous and blessed holiday season. Let’s join together in working toward more Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Peace in 2015!
I’m in the midst of participating in a writing group called The Painted Steps that will last six months; concluding the end of January. I love participating in this group with several people committed to writing and supporting each other in our widely varied efforts. We hail from across 12 time zones, from the West Coast of the U.S. to the United Arab Emirates.
My new friend Jolandi (who lives in the UAE) recommended Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See a few weeks ago. Jolandi’s taste – and her timing, as it turns out – is impeccable.
Next week I’ll be at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, taking the advanced STAR II training (Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience) through the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding. All The Light We Cannot See is a perfect precursor. Read the rest of this entry »
I am a lucky guy to have my books published by Beacon Press. I’m proud to be in the company of such distinguished authors as Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Cornel West, Mary Oliver and Anita Hill. I recently learned of another author with whom I’m excited to be connected through Beacon: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. I highly recommend her recently published An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.
As an author and public speaker who works to dispel the myths of the founding of this nation in the hope that we might someday actually live up to the ideals espoused in our founding documents, I appreciate all efforts to shine a light on truth.
Dunbar-Ortiz does precisely that, page after page, from the perspective of the Indigenous people who lived on this continent for thousands of years before it was “discovered” – and then colonized – by Europeans. It is not pleasant to learn details of the centuries-long program of terror, genocide, displacement, and theft of the land that became what is now the United States. This is not a pleasant book to read. But it is an essential book – and eminently readable – for anyone committed to understanding truth from the perspective of those outside the systems of power. Read the rest of this entry »
Much of my life is occupied with words. I write; always working on my next book. I also read books; lots of them. I am always reading at least one book, sometimes two (only when one is a novel and the other is a book about the craft of writing). My work as a public speaker revolves around words, as does my work with Coming to the Table. I try to find the right words to convey my exact meaning in emails, Facebook and blog posts, on Twitter, and in front of a convention audience or a classroom. I’m a writer and I love my writing life.
First, as I do each year in October, I borrowed a compressor from a friend of mine to blow the water out of our sprinkler system so the pipes won’t freeze and burst over the winter. The hardest part of the whole operation is lifting the heavy compressor into and out of our Jeep to transport it. The actual job takes about half an hour and we’re now set for winter.
Second, the latch in our front door finally bought the farm. Read the rest of this entry »
I read a review of My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff, in Entertainment Weekly last month. Though I had a pile of other books to read, the review inspired me to reserve this one at the library. It came in the same time as two other books high on my ‘must read soon’ list, so I set it aside assuming I wouldn’t get to it. But I finally cracked open My Salinger Year two days ago, thinking I’d skim through it over the weekend since it is due back Tuesday and someone else has it reserved. Instead, the past two days have been a headlong dive into Rakoff’s book and Salinger himself.
In the late 1990’s, Joanna Rakoff, after leaving graduate school in her early-twenties and dreaming of becoming a published poet, gets hired as an assistant to the literary agent for J.D. Salinger. Though the events of this book transpired not so long ago, the times she describes feel like ancient history. Rakoff was hired during the last moments of the pre-digital age. She transcribed letters on a Selectric while listening to her boss’s voice on a Dictaphone with foot-pedal controls for playback and rewind. No emails. Just imagine!
One of her tasks was to respond to fan mail that came for Salinger. Though his last book, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, had been published in 1963, the impact it, and Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, and especially The Catcher in the Rye continued to have on readers was profound. Stacks of letters arrived from teenagers, college students, World War II veterans, and others. The letters were by turns raw, heart-breaking, deeply revealing, grateful, poignant, and very personal to the writers. Rakoff was told to reply with a form letter that Mr. Salinger had instructed the agency not to forward any mail to him, and then toss the letter into the trash. She didn’t exactly obey the instructions. Read the rest of this entry »