The Story of Me

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I was born in Italy, in a small town in Tuscany, a beautiful promontory that stakes its claim to history for being a major port for the city of Livorno. Piombino has the dubious distinction of having bid farewell to Napoleon, when the French dictator (who stole Italy’s Mona Lisa) was first exiled to the Island of Elba, only reachable by boat through its port.

My family moved from Italy to the United States on the day of my 12th birthday because my father hoped it would bring us luck.  The evening of my first touching foot on US land, I celebrated my birthday dinner at a chain Italian restaurant named Pronto, with a lasagna that tasted like it had been boiled in ketchup, a meal that, for better or for worse, forged its way into my permanent memory and colored my mixed impressions, excitement, love, and ambivalence for the country I have adopted as my own.

My father was a successful consultant for the pharmaceutical industry and was hired by a division of Pfizer in New York in International Sales.  Needless to say, mine was not the typical immigrant experience. Pfizer sponsored my father’s green card and our transatlantic move, and my father’s commissions ensured solid middle class stability for us. However,  I soon learned that a comfortable social status and a rich cultural past does not protect one from xenophobia. To the bigots, social status, education and even money mean little to nothing if you speak with an accent and you cannot verbally defend yourself.  That is, of course, the central and most obvious lesson to learn about bigotry: that it is not a cause/effect proposition. A marked cultural or physical difference or lack of education or social status does not provoke prejudice anymore than one’s dress provokes rape. Hate does not require provocation; it only requires an easy target.

The xenophobia incidents lessened in frequency as my English improved, emphasizing again for me the importance of fluency.  Nevertheless, I was already 21 when my best friend at NYU, daughter of a prominent New York lawyer, affirmed with unwavering confidence that surely my family had to be in the Mafia. No Italian could ever make a respectable living unless they were connected with organized crime. Her father had assured her of this fact, and nothing I could say would persuade her otherwise. The only thing that shocks me to this day is how I actually tried to plead reason with her, as if her assumptions merited the dignity of logical discourse.

This and other similar incidents were valuable if painful lesson that turned me sensitive to issues of equality and justice of all kind.  It especially opened up my eyes to the social and psychological realities of the life of an immigrant that, to this day, influence the matter of my fiction and nonfiction, even when the subject is not about Italy or about immigrants at all.  I also understood, viscerally, at body level, the importance of fluency in language.  In retrospect, I am certain that if I became a writer, it is because I saw it as the only sure means of survival.  I took that pen and clutched it with both my hands, and brandished it as my weapon against that mighty sword of bigotry.

I had a good setting for my mission. I spent my early teenage years in New York city, a memorable experience that influenced me in more ways than I can say and opened up my mind in lasting and significant ways. As an undergraduate, I attended New York University.  Living in New York city was and has always been, for writers, for artists of all kinds, a cultural immersion.  My education came not just from the talented professors (which were many) and the multi-cultural events that sprouted all over the city virtually every day, but also from being immersed in a place that attracted so many people, so many points of view, so many ways of expressions in music and art.

I began writing when I was twelve, and I did major in English at NYU, but I didn’t take my writing seriously until I moved to Miami and my first short story titled “A Rafter in Miami Beach” was published in Gulfstream Magazine.  I had already graduated NYU by then, and I was working in international sales, by all appearances, following in my father’s footsteps.  Miami lured me to its shores and seduced me with its glimmering blue waters and its perpetual springtime weather, but it was also the culture that won me over, the passionate, explosive mix of South and Central American influxes crashing against  the sedate Anglo world, and spicing up the old European world, too.

I used to frequent a Cuban santera in Hialeah who predicted the profession of my future husband for a small donation to Chango.  She and her PTSD-suffering husband, who once refused to open the door to me because he claimed that his Cuban compatriots were out to shoot him,  benevolently adopted me as “la Italiana que habla Espanol tan raro.” I used to eat my breakfast in Jewish cafes where I was an interloper, where I was expected to hold an educated conversation about Zionism and the Torah because the other regulars, from the temple, from the Jewish high school around the corner, would never believe, let alone imagine, that a goy, a shiksah, would deliberately frequent, with almost apostolic devotion, such an obviously Jewish haven. And of course I ate my dinners at Italian restaurants and begged the chef to relinquish his grandmother’s ricotta Cheesecake recipe, and hung out in Spanish tavernas for that tabla’o flamenco that inspired so much fire in me, a gypsy ghost flowing in my Old World blue blood.

When I lived in Miami, it never felt to me like I was living in the US, so much as I was living in the city of the future, where race, ethnic, religious and cultural barriers collapse onto one another but also maintain, in some baffling Santeria kind of magic, their own distinctive qualities and traditions. Miami is also where I dropped my Christianity (really, laid it gently aside), and picked up Buddhism first, than yoga.

Then something happened. I wrote a novel. It was terrible, but all the same, it seduced me, hypnotized me, made me feel in love with the written word.  I had no choice, then, but to abandon my office job and pursue the writer’s life, becoming first a student again, and completing my first MFA with Florida International University (creative writing, 2000), where I had such amazing mentors as John Dufresne, Lynne Barrett and Dan Wakefield, and later adding another Masters with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (fiction, 2002) where I was blessed to work with Lan Samantha Chang, Chris Offutt, and James McPherson.  Then I began teaching writing, as an Adjunct professor in Iowa, Florida and Georgia, climbing through the ranks from adjunct level until I finally became an Assistant Professor, then Associate Professor at Georgia Southern University.

I was lucky to see my first collection of short stories titled The Kind of Things Saints Do get picked up by the University of Iowa Press and win two awards, the Iowa/John Simmons Award and the Binghamton University John Gardner Award. My second collection of short stories titled Safe in Your Head came out from Stephen F. Austin University Press, and was also an award winner from the 2011 Stephen F. Austin Literary Prize in Fiction.

My profession took me to Savannah, where I have married my soul mate, a gourmet cook just like the santera predicted, and where I have learned about yet another aspect of American culture: the Southern identity. It is fascinating, full of angles and shadings and lyricism and history (some of it, not always pretty), and the eye here rests so pleasantly on these salt marshes, on these draping oaks laden with Spanish moss, on these ante-bellum beauties sunning themselves around manicured parks while horse-drawn carriages clop on by.

I’ve been writing short stories, short memoirs, essays, poems, audio poems, book reviews, screenplays,…anything and everything. I like to experiment with genre, form and media.  It’s an exciting time to be creative in this era of booming new technologies.

Through it all, however, if I had to say what it is that I write about, I would say that I write about love, about the connections that people try to make with each other in order to lessen their loneliness and to feel like they belong.  I write about what it means to flee the crush of hate which takes its form in war and terrorism, and to seek for connections that have the power to heal and renew, because those are the polar forces that have buffeted my life, that have shaped it, for better or for worse, into what it is today.  And whether I am writing about ancient Sumer or about Ezra Pound’s love affair with Venice, there is always a focus on the mysteries of language, on the magic and charge that emanates from words that root their power in the culture and setting in which they are born.

I’m still not sure if I can take myself seriously, though…Thanks for checking out my blog, and for reading me.

Oh, and the blog title, Write, Rather, is a shortened version of my mantra: “I’d rather be writing.”

 

 

 

10 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hi Laura, I came across your writing on Sumer and the invention of money. I did a lot of research on Sumer and published Sumerianturks. Only a few articles so far but I will publish more soon. Let me know. I will keep reading your articles on Sumer and check it against what I know so far.

  2. PS. Your defining of the word kur has something in common. The idea of coming out of. You come out of the underworld in the east, out from Elam, out from the mountains, out from foreignors. And it reminds me of a week ago when i discovered the word Mar being used for WEST where Noah the son of God went to dwell in the west when his wife died, he went out into the sea (Kittim Cyprus) to the west, where the sea is called Mare and Mari and as Naomi said call me mari because it means bitter, but it refers to bitter waters, much like bitter populations, tossed sea of waves, etc. Thus the connection between Mar the son (as in Jospeh Ben Matthias, Joseph Bar Metthias or Joseph Mar Matthias) and the west would be Noah, or when migration (your sons) head west instead of those who head east. Going toward the sun is not always east because for example if you head west all day, the summer sun will take you to Britain, the winter sun will take you to Lybia, the winter rise to Elam and India, the summer rise to Russia Siberia. It is all based on what they choose to make of former written words to live by.

  3. HEY, I just discovered YOU; why do places close comments? I wanted to share actual Dumuzi dates and Marduk dates (the Marduk that is Mars, not Jupiter). 13x 360 day = 6x 780 day. (I discover or unveil discoveries by finding how global world errors can be confused, and were.) The actual Dumuzi and actual Marduk that built Babylon are actually two different dates though they are the same 13-year Mars. Babel the tower was started for the city of Kish on new year 2240bc Nov 18 (Noah’s year 732) while Babylon’s first king ruled 1894bc Nov 2 ALL SOULS DAY (Noah’s year 1083) where these 346 Julian years are 351 of 360-day and so 13-year Mars. What this means is 2240bc is labeled as Dumuzi, and 1894bc is labeled as Marduk, and together they merge as if one creation date of the city. Last week i noted that the Zi (life-force) seems derived from Di (day aka the sun dios and dias, and also God as if the sun), the evolution seems to have taken Dios and Dias and Dius and Deus into both Theos and Zeus (Zi-us). What got me there was finding that Chinese Huang Di verifies that di is both day and god, and that the Chinese year 255-315 from Chinese NuWa’s Flood matched the 60 years of Shiloh (Shelah) to Harran Day (Hawwang Di) the son of Terah in Ur. So then pondering Huang Di, then I also pondered Dumu Zi. Interestingly Marduk does not lose its LEADER status. Looking at Mars on the calendar new year makes Dumu-Zi a leader of the year. But that status is also given to a Marduk New Year whose 52 year span (51.25 Julian) marks off quarter seasons to form a full Julian cycle of 205 years (208x 360 day). This too marks Babel 2240bc to Amizaduga 1625bc, and i find it’s origin to be 205-year old Terah of Ur. I once thought Nimrod invented Marduk since his first Dumuzi was 130 years after the Flood; (10x 13 year Mars is 13x 10 year sars of 3600 days, once again a Sar being leader of the Decade, eventually leader of the year). What i now realize is three Marduks exist for the same 360-day calendar, Terah’s 2148bc -2058bc -2007bc -1943bc then Babel’s brought from Haran of Ur to Nimrod 2060bc -2009bc (which includes the 2368bc -2240bc -1894bc), and then Harran Syria absorbed by Mari Syria and kept separate by Asians while in Babylon it is now Mayan America. Thus as new years they are 720 days apart Haran then Babel then Terah, but for any given Mars conjunction they are in 60-day increments, where Terah is the TAU conjunction observed 60 days before and 60 days after, and so Babel’s is day 60 as rising morningstar (the rising Marduk of July 8 in 2009bc is 45 days after actual TAU May 24 though Terah’s Marduk places artifical TAU as 60 days May 9), Harran’s is the morningstar 60 days after Babel’s and so 120 days after Terah’s TAU, and the Maya shift that another 20 days (so 140 of Terah, and 80 of Babel, and 20 of Harran) of which Mayans also shift all 360-day tun to be 20 days after the original preFlood and Noah’s. I then find that the 2088bc Greek Terah is from mistaking the Jupiter Marduk new year date (September 1) as being that of 780-day Mars new year Dumuzi/Marduk. truthfully, hmmm, i have never looked for a Gilgamesh Dumuzi date. And since Harran’s Marduk began in 2049bc, the Gilgamesh visit to Noah in 2040bc would have all three versions known to him. For 2041bc Terah TAU 5-01-934 (Apr 27); Babel 7-01 (Jun 26); Harran 9-01 (Aug 25); Mayan (9-21 =Sep 14). For 2039bc Terah TAU 7-01-936 (Jun 16); Babel 9-01 (Aug 15); Harran 11-01 (Oct 14); Mayan (11-21 =Dec 3). Reconstructing this, does mean a confusion took place for the 936-year unit of the Armageddon calendar countdown of 3744 years from 2256am to 6000am. In 360-day the 2256am starts with the Babel Marduk of 1778bc Feb 26 (Noah’s 1200) to the first of four 936 years do not complete until 855bc, while in Egyptian year 1200 is 1770bc as 2256am to 834bc). BOTH of these get confused as this 936in 2039bc. Actually though i never looked for a Dumuzi in 2040-2039bc this is old school revival for me regarding Gilgamesh confused as year 936, which is also confused with Nineveh regarded as 312 (the third of 936) which is carried thru to 312bc Seleucus, to Magi Christ, to 312AD Constantine and its being inconsistant with the 624 years it should be, (just like Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar). Note the 21-year difference between father and son, with Amizaduga’s 21 years, and with this Nineveh to GIlgamesh as 21 years, as well as Ur’s fall at Peleg’s death to Marduk Street as 21 years. Alot of 21-year to make error of.

  4. Dear friend, Thank you very much, I was really happy to have been following your blog. I’m still a lot to figure out, and here I can only say that you are an awesome blogger, full Inspiring and hope you can inspire more readers. Thanks and greetings compassion from Gede Prama 🙂

  5. Hello Laura: I have just randomly browsed some of your research entries after googling some Sumerian words. I am a graduate student studying Assyriology and Sumerology, and it’s always pleasing to see someone make good use of the literature of the field. You’ve done a good job with the very complex and difficult figure of Dumuzi, it can be bewildering talking about a Sumerian deity this complex but it can also be a puzzle that’s hard to put down. I think I would have made a comment on that thread but the comment box is absent. In any case, I will wish you all the best with your work on Gilgamesh – if you may want feedback on this or any Mesopotamian topic, or suggestions for up to date bibliography etc. feel free to mail me: bill.mcgrath@utoronto.ca . I also organize a discussion forum which focuses on the academic discussion of Mesopotamian religion and magic, you’re welcome to visit: http://enenuru.proboards.com/

    • Hey, I’m so pleased you found and read my blog. And thanks for alerting me that there is no comment thread box (weird). I’ll look into that. I am doing this as an amateur so it always makes me a little nervous to post stuff becuase the scholarship changes as people in the field learn more. I will definitely check out your links. I’m on the road right now, but will dive into it enthusiastically when I come back. I’m fascinated. Thanks for offering to help.

    • Thank you. Working towards those 10,000 hours we supposedly all have to put in so as to become great at what we do… Although in my case, I think I may need 15,000: I’m always so much slower. Thanks for reading my bio.

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