Monday, December 6, 2010


When you lose someone, her name is lost too - lost as in floating, with no one to land on, curl up against, declare.  Her name is a slip, which you can't reel back in even if you want to. 

A ghost in the room.  An orphan.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Interview in the Examiner

From an interview with Justin Tedaldi:

"The most unbearable stories were often about children. Children who died; children who tried to save their brothers or parents; children who cremated their parents, at age six, because that was what their parents would have wanted. In the months after 9/11, though, something happened which was very moving and powerful. A number of people came to me to tell their stories. Before then, I had been finding my own interviewees with the help of my translators, but after September 11th, I found out that many people actually knew I was there, listening, and they sought me out because they needed a witness. They needed a safe place to relive, and purge, their memories.  And then, it wasn’t just the sad moments. It was also the happy memories of life before, and their family members before. They needed to share those, too, and they gave them to me so their loved ones would not fade away."

Read the whole conversation here.

For more articles and essays, check out the sidebar.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


My mother, Shirley Anne Rizzuto
April 5, 1942 – November 16, 2010

Memorial service on Sunday, November 28, 2010
Service at 1:30 pm, visitation at 12:30 pm.
Davies Memorial Chapel
Hawaii Preparatory Academy, Waimea, HI
Aloha attire

Monday, November 15, 2010


A story about stories on My Friend Amy's blog:

"For the first time in a while, I was listening to a survivor’s story. As the Hiroshima survivors did, this man picked his details and told the story that made sense to him. There were things he held onto, like the friendly fire. Details he must tell every time he talks about this, until they are rehearsed. He wanted to know – did my book contain anything like his story? Did I know what he knew, or enough of it, so that he could rest easy? I had a similar experience in Japan after September 11th: the survivors sought me out, needing a place to leave their stories in safety. Needing a witness."

Read the whole story here: Looking at Ground Zero...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Going to Hawaii

For anyone planning to attending the Author Lunch Talk at the Asia Society, I need to reschedule it and make a trip to Hawaii.  I am sorry for any inconvenience, and very grateful to the Asia Society for making this possible, and for welcoming me back later.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Announcing the winner of the 2010 Grub Street Book Prize in Non-Fiction

"Grub Street is thrilled to announce that Rahna Reiko Rizzuto has won our 2010 National Book Prize in Non-Fiction for her memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning, published by The Feminist Press.
"Rizzuto will lead a class on the craft of narrative non-fiction at the Muse and the Marketplace conference April 30-May 1, 2011. She will also lead a free craft class for members in our space.
"Head juror Grace Talusan described this wonderful book in these words: 
“In her memoir Hiroshima in the Morning, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto explores what happens when a bomb finds its target. Initially, she’s in search of stories about Japanese Americans during World War II and survivors of the atomic bomb. Her husband and sons, ages 3 and 5, stay in New York as Rizzuto travels to Hiroshima, despite criticism that she’s a “bad mother” for leaving her family for months to write. She’s steeped in stories about fate and survival, about how someone survived because of a seemingly mundane and arbitrary move. She is collecting material for her second novel, including interviews with survivors of the atomic bomb named Little Boy, when a new ground zero is created in New York. The world around her as well as the world she’s created with her husband will never be the same. Her family pressures her to come home, but Rizzuto won’t leave Japan or her work. She writes, “So there is that moment, then; the last breath of before: when life is about to change, utterly and forever, into something we have no way to conceive of. When the trajectory is already being drawn and there is no way to stop it.” Using diary entries, emails, telephone transcripts, and oral histories, Rizzuto pieces together a masterful collage about Hiroshima, 9/11, ambivalent motherhood, a doomed marriage, and a writer trying to understand what narrative means amidst so many kinds of bombs hitting so many beloved targets.”"

Thank you so much to Grub Street - to the jurors and staff and the whole community of writers.  I look forward to meeting you in Boston in April.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Please bear with me.  I know I disappeared after September 11th.  This has not been proof of post-traumatic stress, or mourning (though we should all mourn) the beginning of the Afghan war, but rather something magical.  A book is being born.  It is a gift from God knows where, and maybe I mean that literally!, but all I know for sure is that I have to show up for it. I cannot remember a race to the end of a book like this, this kind of excitement.  And we are almost there.

Come to the readings on the west coast, if you can, and I will tell you then if you ask.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Join me for a Facebook party celebrating the release of Hiroshima in the Morning.

When:  September 22, 2010 8:30 PM EST
Where:  Facebook.  Be sure to like Rahna Reiko Rizzuto on Facebook.
Who:  You!
What:  A Live Chat with author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto about her new book, Hiroshima in the Morning.  There will also be a chance to win a Koa carved bookmark from Hawaii and receive an entry into the grand prize.

Help us spread the word about the trailer for Hiroshima in the Morning!
Tweet a link to the trailer
Share it on Facebook
Email the trailer to your friends
Post it on your website for blog

Send an email to with Hiroshima in the Morning Trailer as the subject line and everything you did to spread the word.  If you post the trailer on your blog, please include a link to the post.

You'll be entered to win a special Hawaii gift pack including: 1 package 100% Kona coffee, 1 package of Maui pure cane sugar, 1 package organic luau seasoning rub, 1 pound Alaea Red Sea Salt, and 1 box chocolate covered macadamia nuts, along with a copy of Hiroshima in the Morning.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Extreme Reading

"Extreme reading is like cannibalism.  You take a book, like a piece of food, and eat it.  For sustenance, for blood, if not to ritually ingest the soul or heart or power of your enemy or someone you loved. You take it in and chew and grind and tear it down to the smallish bits, to the things that you can swallow. You rid yourself of some of it and keep some of the rest.  Sometimes you keep what may not be the best for you. Your body knows what's good for you, but sometimes you don't listen.  The things you eat and keep become a part of you.  You re-create inside yourself, with caverns, juices, processes you can and can't control, a kind of meat."

                  - Rebecca Brown, American Romances, City Lights Books, 2009

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hiroshima: The Lesson We Never Learned

On the 65th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we risk losing the memories of the survivors.
I went to Hiroshima in 2001 to interview the hibakusha -- literally, the "bomb-affected people." I made this journey as a Japanese-American woman who had no knowledge of the atomic bombings -- no experience of war at all.
When I got to Hiroshima in June 2001 and began my interviews, good-hearted people shared their testimonies with me, all beginning with where they were the moment they saw the plane, where they fled to, and who among their family and friends survived. Even those stories with some gore in them -- descriptions of how the six rivers of the Hiroshima delta were so swollen with bodies that you couldn't see the water -- were curiously detached. It was not that they were afraid to offend the American interviewer. It was that they had forgotten precisely what it felt like.
The survivors recited the facts I had found in books: 100,000 dead within days, 100,000 more dying; everything within two kilometers irradiated; thirteen square kilometers burned to the ground. Drinking the water was deadly. Small fleshy body parts, like ears and noses, melted long before the people themselves died.
Often, the hibakusha ended our conversations with a speech about the need for peace and nuclear disarmament. There were even people who expressed their belief that the world was already at peace, and that, by dying spectacularly, the victims of Hiroshima had made it impossible for any sane leader to use nuclear weapons again.
I couldn't bring myself to tell them that their sacrifice was almost invisible where I came from. Photos, film, documentation of the city had been confiscated and censored almost immediately after Japan surrendered, and the only indelible image of the bombing was the power of the bomb itself: the "shock and awe" version of the mushroom cloud. John Hersey's Hiroshima, first published in 1946, remained the only "oral history" account released by a major, commercial American press. As a result, most Americans know almost nothing about nuclear fallout beyond the 1950's advice to stock your bomb shelter with canned food.
But after September 11, 2001, when terrorism exploded on television, the interviews began to change.
Witnesses recalled being trapped under beams, screaming to be saved from the tornadoes of fire that were whipped up as the shock wave advanced. One woman I spoke with, who was about eight at the time, told me about trying to fit her mother's eye back into its socket. Another remembered giving her child water and watching his lips attach and pull off onto the spout of the kettle. One man said:
They brought my sister home, lying on a door. She died the next night, calling, 'Mother, help me, please.' My sister's agony, her terrible burns, her skin slithering off... it was common at the time.
The global instability -- the terrorist attacks, the anthrax, the war in Afghanistan -- had seeped into the past and made the kind of unconscious link between inhumanities that only trauma can. The hibakusha had been stripped of their trust in the future, and they passed that insecurity to me.
In 2001, living at the world's first "ground zero" and watching on TV as my New York City home adopted that label, war seemed to be an act that could only be possible if we could fool ourselves into believing that other people's children were not as precious, or human, as our own.
Hiroshima should have taught us not to be such fools.
This article was first published by the Progressive Media Project. When I sat down to write something for this anniversary, I realized that nothing has changed, except the date. So I changed the date.  It is now also available on The Huffington Post and Discover Nikkei.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


The two things that everyone wants to hear:

You are safe.

I see you.

It comes up in the context of children, in an article on The Huffington Post by Judith Acosta about verbal healing, but it’s what we all want, even when we have grown beyond those fragile, trusting years, even after we have been disappointed in friends, rejected in love, worn out by work, surprised and confused.  It is why we marry, why we create community and organize religion.  Why we buy things we think we will possess forever; why we think we can own anything.

And it is why, I suspect, we believe the fear-mongers when they say: “You are just like us” (I see you); “Trust us to keep the bad/different guys away from you” (You are safe).

My most vivid memories of my mother, even now that I am one, are of her assuring me that whatever the latest dishonorable, stupid thing I did was, it would pass.  I would not have to carry it forever.  Stealing candy from a store when I was in grade school.  I remember the panic, the sinking in my stomach that I could never make this right, that I could never be worthy of my parents’ love.

You are safe, she said.  I see you

And though that was close to forty years ago, I can still feel that gift she gave me.  I can still feel her climbing into my bed to hold me and wipe my mistakes and inadequacies away.  To thank her, I often try to give that same sense of safety and being seen to everyone I meet, even if just in a smile.  Thank you, Mom.

Can you still feel your mother?  

Monday, July 12, 2010


This is the first summer that my boys are going to camp.

It’s a New York thing, and I am not originally a New Yorker. Where I grew up, summer was about hanging around, making yourself useful and finding a way to entertain yourself with a paper cup and a stick. But in Brooklyn, early teenagers attend camp. Soccer camp, tech camp, baseball, math, music camp: each one offers a focused specialty, a set of skills that will give your child an edge in the competition to come. I confess that, when camp finally seemed inevitable, I, too, was eying the summer as an opportunity to introduce my younger son to a new and notable talent – digital storytelling? film? – that he might become passionate about just in time for seventh grade, when every New York child must find some way to stand out from the tens of thousands of other smart, wonderful kids who are applying to the same high schools.

Instead, my sons are attending an all-purpose “summer experience” day camp in Brooklyn, where my fourteen year old is a Counselor in Training. Which means, far from distinguishing himself as a prodigy, the bulk of his days are spent taking care of seven year olds.

“It’s awesome,” he says.

Why? I ask him. Why on earth? What person, especially a teenage boy, would look forward to spending his free time with a large group of little kids?

It just is, he says. It’s fun. They have a lot of energy. They like to hang on him, and pull on his arms, and cling to his legs so he can’t go anywhere without them.

The CITs, as they are called, do get time to play dodge ball and other games (my son tells me proudly that his group won yesterday) and they also have time off – during Arts and Crafts and Swim for example – when they can go to their own counselors and do something supervised for a half hour or so. Their counselors, I am told, are also awesome. But my son usually chooses to hang out with the kids.

There is a boy who can’t swim because of an ear infection so he and my son shoot hoops and hit baseballs. A young man who is taller than his mother and a kid half his size: “You’d never believe it, Mom. He can hit the ball up to the ceiling. He’s amazing!” Or he hangs out in art class to see what they are drawing. “That’s great. That’s a beautiful picture,” he says mimicking himself as he wanders among them.

This is his choice. This is not Facebook, or texting, or any of the things he usually likes to do. He tells me, as if it just occurred to him, that he hasn’t logged onto Facebook in the past three days.

Who knew that my son would find his best summer experience, not in soccer or tech, but in caretaking? In New York City, we are conditioned to focus on self-improvement, every child for himself, with self being the center. We are transient, high-tech; we are busy. By the time school and guitar lessons and homework are done every evening, there is not a lot of time for service, or for taking care of others, or for anything except going to sleep.

But this summer, in this camp, my son is practicing love. We didn’t plan it that way, but I am so grateful. He is finding new priorities. He is celebrating others. And he is enjoying every minute of what he discovers.

And it is awesome.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Time of Lizards

My father recently sent me a picture of my mother playing with a lizard.  It was a Jackson’s Chameleon, green and black with three horns on its head.  You might think how cute, or that she was visiting a zoo with children, or that she is an intrepid exotic animal lover.  You might begin to question your assumptions, though, when I tell you that my mother has dementia, and the lizard was something she and her caregiver rescued from the side of the road.

Last night I had dinner with Kenny Fries, renowned disability expert and author of several books, most recently, The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory.  We were talking about disability, and Alzheimer’s, and a Father’s Day article in the New York Times, by Katy Butler called “What Broke My Father’s Heart” about a family’s struggle with stroke, dementia, pacemakers, and aging.  We were both moved by the story.  He had some issues, however, with the disability aspects, particularly with questions about quality of life, and who decides when a life is worth living or what the experience of that life is.

Kenny is a born disability activist.  He was born missing bones in his legs.  The majority of the rest of us, the “normal” ones, do not start life thinking much about disability.  But we will all become disability activists eventually.  Because, we are all on a life path that ends in disability.  It is not other.  It is, or will be, us.

This notion of disability as both ordinary and inevitable is part of what Kenny is writing about in his next book.   Disability has entered my life in the form of my mother, just as it has for some five million people who have Alzheimer’s, and ten million unpaid caregivers who love them.  These numbers are projected to explode, and I may become one of them.  If I don’t develop Alzheimer’s, something else will happen to disable me (unless I fall off a caldera and am killed instantly).  But if I do, I have my mother to look to for my future.

She has been losing her memory for twelve years.  She can’t feed herself, dress herself, put together a sentence.  She needs full time care.  Yet she can enjoy her grandchildren, even if she doesn’t remember their names.  She laughs.  She apparently likes lizards.

Would I want this for myself in a perfect world?  Would I prefer the alternative of “assisted death” that author Terry Prachett is advocating for?

One of the strategies that Kenny Fries espouses is for our society to turn away from the “illness model” where we try to cure disability or treat it in nursing homes, and give assistance instead to families who are trying to help their loved ones live quality lives.  The strain that Katy Butler’s mother suffered, caring for her husband for seven years at the expense of her own health and life, doesn’t have to be the norm.  It is something my father would do, though we are not at that stage quite yet, but not something any of us would want for him.  For the moment, he has managed to get some help from home caregivers who amaze me with their joy and patience and competence.  They are helping my disabled mother to live a life of laughter and hugs and Jackson’s Chameleons.

A life. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

This Is Your Society on Oil

I know why BP is lying to us. But why are we lying to ourselves?

This oil spill has become a blot -- not just a slick, deadly blot in our ocean, but a black spot on our vision so that we can no longer see the future, or the past, or even the present clearly. And it isn't just the spill we can't see, but oil itself.

BP, of course, is counting on this blindness. We can watch the oil blasting out of the broken pipe. But if we don't measure it, if we drop dispersants on it so it hides out of sight, they know we will forget it, even as it is happening. We will question whether the dead dolphins and turtles that washed up on shore might be entirely unrelated, since they were not (yet!) obviously suffocated by oil. We will forget that the oil is already in the water, as the Governor of Florida did when, on May 12th, three weeks after the rig exploded, he called for a marketing campaign to tout Florida's clean beaches. BP knows that it doesn't matter that the chemicals they are dumping into the oil are full of cancer-causing compounds and neurotoxins that might kill 25% of all organisms in their path, not to mention move up the food chain, because we will forget, or not make the connection, even if we are all growing two heads 20 years from now. They have seen from the Exxon Valdez spill that they can spend nearly two decades fighting against paying the tab and win.

The future is on their side, because the future is too overwhelming for us to think about.

Then there is the past. Who cares? Looking back is merely whining and Sunday morning quarterbacking. Plus, it's boring. We don't really want to have to sift through and assign blame to all the deregulation and grossly mismanaged oversight by previous administrations that allowed this to happen in the first place. Even that sentence is exhausting to read. The problem is now. The Obama administration is now. We want the spill stopped, and they are the people who are responsible, even if this just dropped in their laps and they don't have a clue how to do it. We want it to go away. We want it to have no effect, to never have happened; we want the oil that is continuing to impregnate our ocean after more than 50 days to never touch our white beaches, and if Barack "Whose ass do I kick?" Obama can't do that, we will blame him for everything he has done, and everything he hasn't done, both at the same time.

The problem with being blind to the past and the future is that the present is also too overwhelming, and too confusing, for us to see.

Consider Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour who blames the national press for scaring away the tourists who should understand, like he does, that the tar balls on the beaches "are no big deal." What about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's protest against a moratorium on new permits and the suspension of already approved drilling projects because of a "potential" loss of up to 10,000 jobs? Just this morning, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu echoed that protest on the grounds that deepwater oil rigs "employ, directly, hundreds of people and indirectly thousands." These are the voices of local representatives for the people whose beaches are being covered in oil "like chocolate," "like pancake mix," where all the fisherman are beached, communities are suffering, an ecosystem that exists nowhere else on earth is effectively dead. Yes, lost jobs are terrible, especially in this economy, especially for these communities. But in what formulation of "now" does it make sense to blame Obama for hurting people (whose lives are now being ruined by an oil spill) by trying to ensure some protection against future spills?

It's like we are sitting in a car, driving down a road and we can see a brick wall in front of us. We are going to hit the wall. But this is the only car we have. This is the only road there is. We can't think about stopping the car, about walking, about making a new road. This is our car, this is our road, this is the wall. And so we crash.

Why can't we envision a life without oil? Why is oil such a given in our system, so much a part of our narrative, our identity, our way of understanding the world, that we can't imagine letting go of it?

Oil, as energy, is a newcomer to the history of man. We only drilled our first oil well about 150 years ago. Electricity, cars, followed. A juggernaut to be sure; a systematic change in our way of life. But not an essential part of our being.

In fact, in that last 150 years, we have welcomed many new technologies into our daily lives - airplanes, television, telephones, computers, faxes, and personal electronics of all kinds - and we have also seen many become obsolete. My 12 year old has never seen a rotary phone except in a museum; his is the generation for whom "phone" is the thing in your pocket that also plays music, locates you through a satellite, and shoots video. He has never played a record, watched an eight-track, used a floppy disk, or typed on a typewriter. Televisions must now be HD, or have a converter box to function; there is a lively argument about whether, and for how long, printed books will continue to exist.

We live in an age where we are tumbling over ourselves in the quest for bigger and better and new. While there are many early adopters, many more of us have gotten so used to the breathtaking pace of technological advancement that we wait for the next generation, or the competition's answer, before deciding what to buy. Everything becomes obsolete so fast.

Why not oil?

Why do we think instead:
This is how we do it.
This is how the world is.
This is how we've always done it.
There are no other jobs. There is no other solution. This is the only way.

No, no, no, and no.

But still we are stuck in our black blot, seeing neither past, present or future, suffocating, as surely as the pelicans are, in oil.

Why do we believe this is how it must be?

Also posted on The Huffington Post

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wet, Not Bisqued

Ming just returned from a five-day ceramics workshop.  He was learning about wedged coil building, which is something he has never done.   He loves the wheel, and he is used to making four pieces in an afternoon; but last weekend, it took him four days to finish a single piece. 

Every night when I talked to him, he said, I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t get this done, the clay is too wet, the clay is too dry…  He was beginning to face the fact that he might not have a single piece from the entire workshop.  It was a new experience for him not to know where he was going, not to be comfortable as he was creating.  And every day, the piece changed.  Other potters would say, That looks good.  Why don’t you stop?  Isn’t it done?  But it wasn’t.

It was a lesson about time.  About how time is an ingredient too.  I thought of my own memoir, coming out nine years after I lived it.  After two years, the draft I had was too full of me and had to be slashed in half.  After four years, the draft became a hybrid novel/memoir; after six years, a meditation on narrative that manipulated form so the memoir moved from third person into first as personal awareness was earned.  Now, all of that artifice has fallen away – a gift of time – and the final book is tightly woven and startling to me: this week I read the page proofs, looking for typos and for sections that I will read in public, and I found myself, at times, in tears.

It was the gift of time that I found the courage, in now-forgotten moments over these last nine years, to write this way.  It was the gift of time that I could see a bigger picture, a different angle, a universal experience in these little things that happened to me.  Each morning, the artist wakes up and looks at the world from a new place.  And finally finds himself in the right frame of reference to finish the biggest, most organic piece of work he has ever produced on the very last day of the ceramics workshop.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lost in the Timeline

If the past has already happened; if it is an event or thing that is at least as far away from “now” as the split second we need to begin to describe it…

     And if the future is a realm of possibilities that might manifest someday, but that exists now only as fretting and testing and planning, and if the future too is also something that is far enough from us that we can put words and consideration to it…

     If both of these are defined by our ability to articulate them…

     Then what is the present?

And what is memory?

     Memory is the way we choose to describe the past, from the moment we are in now when we make that choice.  A moment which is, of course, “future” to that past we are describing on the timeline we all believe in.

     Memory is our only tool to understand and keep the past, whether it is our own memory, or another person’s, or a compilation of memories set down as history in a book.

     But if we continue to move into the future, away from the past, and if our lives contain an always new and different constellation of events and perspectives as a result, then the past is always new because the future is always coming.

     As this happens, memory changes.

     And the past changes too.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Laughing with the Dalai Lama

The last time I saw the Dalai Lama (I love saying that), I had a date with my then-estranged husband to hang out in Central Park and listen to a talk on compassion with some 200,000 people.  He didn’t show up (the estranged husband, not the Dalai Lama). 

This time, I was sitting in a lunchroom at the Department of Education’s Hearing Office waiting for my son to be called to testify about being shot by a BB gun three times at school, and I picked up a paper out of boredom – I never read the paper – and there was a full page announcing the Dalai Lama at Radio City Music Hall. 

What I remember most about the first time was the way that man laughs, how readily he does, and how his upper arms shake with joy.   The ad was a sign – as unexpected as me with a newspaper in my hand – it was a gift, a call for peace, on what was turning out to be a very bad day.

Armed only with a texting cell phone, which is high tech for me, and one flickering bar of service, I texted my partner Ming from the lunchroom and asked if he wanted to go, and if so could he get tickets?  There was a flurry of texts – which day, what time, which one could Ming reasonably get to immediately upon returning from a ten day trip to Australia and Singapore?  He got tickets.  But somehow in our truncated back and forth, and our New Yorkers’ assumption of options, we failed to realize there was only one public talk on Awakening the Heart of Selflessness, and what he had purchased were seats for the final in a series of six intensive teachings on the Commentary on Bodhicitta, which was delivered in Tibetan and translated.

We went, of course, because when you have the chance to hear the Dalai Lama, you go.

It was a dense teaching, with a heavy emphasis on how to meditate, offered by a jolly robed man sitting cross-legged on an enormous, ornate throne; a man, I guess I should be calling him His Holiness, who popped a  maroon visor (which matched his robe) onto his bald head with a grin to read the scriptures.  I enjoyed his English punctuations: “Generally speaking, vegetarian food is best.”   “Mainly using common sense, isn’t it?”  One of his messages was joyous effort, and amid his directions for how to cultivate a single point of attention, how to understand that appearance is not the true nature of reality, and how we are all too attached to “I,” this comment stood out:

“Just as the wind blows a piece of cotton, so shall I be controlled by joy.”

The wind has blown me all over the place recently, and I am so grateful to have a cheerful, maroon-visored reminder to relax into it and let it be joyful.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.  And also Dad, who too often these days has to be Mom too.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Guns in School

My son was shot three times – in school – by a BB gun, and I didn’t know it.  He was shot in the back, and in the ankle, and at the base of his skull.  This was not a single, isolated spree of a crazed shooter in the school yard.  Five different sixth graders shot their classmates (three boys, two girls): at recess, on the subway to a fieldtrip, in the stairwells of the school building; while they were standing in line on the fieldtrip, flanked by teachers on either end.  It was not a single day either.  The gun came back to school again and again in the backpack of a child who sat at the same table, in the same homeroom, as my son.

Many kids were shot.

No one told.

This is not a case ripped from the headlines.  This is standard, every day middle school bullying…with gun.  For weeks, my son studied with the kids who shot him.  He left for school knowing the gun might be there.  He had to deal with the fact that a person he’d always thought was his friend sidled up to him at recess and shot him in the back at close range.  What haunts me the most in all of this is: none of the kids said anything. When I first asked my son why he didn’t tell anyone, he said, “Because they said if I told, they would shoot me again.”

How could he believe that?  I pointed out the obvious: you tell the teacher.  You show the place where you got shot, supply the witnesses; she finds the gun and takes it away.  Voila!  There is no more shooting.  This is crystal clear to me.

He looks pained. 

He doesn’t believe me.

My son thinks:  If it has happened, then it can happen.  He doesn’t want to be shot again.

It shocks me that he conceives of a future where such a thing could continue to happen.  My perspective is just the opposite:  it will never happen again.  I will make sure of it.  I will take steps.  I imagine scenarios of marching my son into the Principal’s office.  The weapon is confiscated.  Many relieved children begin to speak.  Only later does it occur to me that the gun might not have been brought to the school that day, and that the other victims might been too afraid to break their silence.  In this country, we are protected against false accusation, and what if we have no proof?

But even then, surely, there would be something I could do. Right is right, after all.  We stand up for the innocent, and bullies get what they deserve – even if what sixth grade bullies deserve is compassionate counseling about how life is not a video game and hurting – hunting! – people is a bad thing.

What I have failed to notice in my headlong march down my imaginary hallway is that my need to take action and get this situation under control is fueled by exactly the same fear that I dismissed in my son:  I, too, understand on some level that it can happen again. 

What if no one listens?

Of course I will listen.

What if no one listens?

Of course the school we chose precisely because it is small and safe and teaches compassion and good citizenship will listen.

But what if they don’t?  What if they don’t act, quick enough and with force?

The school in South Hadley didn’t.

Luckily for us, someone eventually told.  I got the news first by telephone from the head of the middle school.  My son is trying to feel comfortable in his school once again.  And I am trying to use the incident to encourage him to ask for help when he needs it and to check in anyway even when he thinks he’s got something under control. 

We need to talk about these things, I tell him: the good, the bad, the boring.  Don’t leave anything out.

Of course, I have told him this before.  I’ve offered my children other adults, who they love, in my place if they need to talk to someone who is not their mother.  I’ve also kept him away from violent games and movies.  I’ve insisted on empathy, and honesty, and coming to the aid of other children.
None of these things helped in the end.

So I ask him again, “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“It’s a hard thing,” he says.  And a little later, he adds, “I didn’t know…”

This time, I listen because I don’t know either.  Except, I know that it’s a hard thing because it seizes me up and sends me into a flurry of phone calls and emails –anything to get a handle on it. We have the same fear.  Sharing it makes it seem more possible to overcome.

I told my son that I was sad, that I was deeply saddened for him and for all the children who felt they had to go through this, and struggle with it, all alone.  We sat with that feeling together for a long time, and hugged.  It’s not a solution to school bullying, but maybe it will keep us out of the headlines. 

We can hope.

This post also appears on The Huffington Post.  Please feel free to read it there, and share and comment there as well.  

Friday, April 23, 2010

BB guns

I made a deal with myself today to let my brain take a break and to be guided instead by my inner knowing, even if I ended up at the pizza parlor when I was trying to get to the dentist's office.   This experiment was to help me get back in touch with my writing voice, after several weeks away.  And it would normally be quite safe and simple, since my usual day only takes me around and around my living room, and once to the mailbox.

But today I got a call from my son's school saying that my son had been shot with a BB gun.  Two weeks ago, on a school trip.  A child has apparently been bringing this gun to school and shooting kids in parks etc., but they only found out today when the gun was seen inside the school.

So I ask my child why he never told me, and he says, predictably, that he was threatened that he'd be shot again if he told.  "That would be four times, Mom.  And it hurt."  Four times?  It turns out three separate children shot him with the same gun in the same incident.  They shot, it seems, "a lot of kids."  None of whom told.

My inner knowing doesn't know what to do with this.  Nor does my brain.  How can it be that my son doesn't assume I can protect him?  And what if he is right?

Saturday, April 10, 2010


I found a friend on the telephone recently.  I answered it in the house I grew up in, and this caller, upon discovering who I was, told me he'd been following my writing.  He said a lot of nice things about it - about how it was male and also female, in the way the ocean is female.  That may not make sense to you, but it spoke to me.

He said he liked my writing because I have no agenda.  But I do:  I want everyone to take the next step down the path they came here to walk.  In joy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today is my mother's 68th birthday.  The bad news is, she doesn't remember.  The good news is, we remind her often and she always seems pleased - if surprised.  And then there is the cake.

Most of us will, at some point, lose our mothers.  Many have already lost her.  In my family, we are losing her.  Have been losing her for years to early dementia.  I can't say that this is one of the worst ways to go, since I don't have the experience or inclination to judge other people's loss.  It has certainly been hard not to know what is left, minute to minute, month to month.

But the lack of closure in our current conjugation of the verb "to lose" also means...we still have her.

She laughs when we laugh, even if no joke preceded it.  She is always ready to get into the car and go, even if she falls asleep once the engine starts in the way I used to pray that my cranky infants would.  She can tell good food from junk.  She follows the old songs with a bob of her head.  She still trusts us - my sons and I are visiting from the other side of the country and she will follow wherever we want to take her, even if she sometimes asks who we are or marvels that there are two not quite look-alike grandsons ready to take her dark glasses off or get her seatbelt buckled.

She loves pretty things.  She loves babies.  She loves hugs.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

                            (Nelson Mandela, 1994 Inaugural Speech)

Today, whether you believe in a divine spirit in any form or not, let something go.  Pick one thing that you are tired of carrying and drop it.  Make room for something new to rise and take its place.  Death and rebirth.

Let go, if you can, if you think you might be ready, of your fear of your own beauty.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Writer's Block and Health Care Reform...

My blog on their blog again!  Sorry you have to click the link this time, just trying to raise my voice.  :-)

Here's a sample:

It's real. People are afraid. Not of what exists, but of the possibility that we aren't actually sure what's in front of us. It might be worse than we thought; there might be some underlying problem. We worry that we have something - it's ours, it belongs to us! - and someone is going to take it away or ruin it. Danger, danger! Warning, warning! It is as if we are standing on the very edge of the cliff and are too afraid to step away in case we slip in the opposite direction and fall over.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Rushing things.  Trying to check my email while rescheduling my acupuncture appointment.  Not the worst thing in the world as long as I don’t press send.

I have tried to save my children from too much of this multi-tasking sound bite world too soon by trying to limit electronic games, television.  My older son still insists he finds it easier to concentrate on polynomials with Pandora playing in his earphones and perhaps Facebook open and lurking behind a sheaf of other open windows to be clicked on once I leave the room.

And I, who made up the rules to protect the present – the live-in-the-moment zen path to enlightenment – find myself dropping the telephone on a friend from Canada to hand another friend who was away from home for a week his mail. Unable to connect with either of them in that traverse across the house and back, no good to anyone, including myself.

Breathe.  Do one thing.  Do nothing.  Remember what it feels like when you can.

*a tribute to Bhanu Kapil.  Just the title, not the text.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Whose Coffin Would You Carry?

Friday night, I went to see Fela on Broadway.  It was, in turns, jubilant and heart wrenching – most notably when the projected mugshots that followed the storming of his compound reminded the audience that the bigger-than-life characters we were dancing with were based on life, and especially that the gorgeous female dancers we might have thought of as merely ‘backup’ each had a tragic spotlight of her own.

But the most resonant moment for me was not when the body of ‘truth’ broke the surface of the water, but when, back in the safety of the performance, the character of Fela decides to carry his mother’s coffin to the seat of government and place her on the stairs to show his country what a true leader looks like.  He turns to us and invites us to join him.  He asks, “Whose coffin would you carry?”

Whose coffin would you carry? 

Who do you love that much?  What do you stand for?

These are very important questions as we try to raise ourselves out of a prolonged period of fear:  fear of losing our jobs or having lost them, fear of losing homes, the market crashing; fear that our country is busy killing people in other countries, and that they are killing us.  The corruption of government that Fela spoke out against was rooted in the same greed and need to control and fear of lack that we all face: that every country, group and individual must face down in our own souls.

Whose coffin would you carry?

I invite you to answer.

Friday, March 12, 2010

This Train Takes Me Back to Hiroshima

Today's thoughts on memory and narrative have found a home on the Huffington Post.  You can read it here.

A sample:

"On September 11th, 2001, however, my keitai denwa (my little Japanese cellphone) rang, and a friend told me that a plane had just smashed into the World Trade Center. In the aftermath of those terrorist attacks, the survivors' stories changed radically. The shock of war, hostility, lives lost so tragically, opened them up. Their stories no longer began with the time (8:15 am), the blue sky, the faraway dot of the B-29 bomber. They told me about cremating their children, scraping maggots out of the raw swathes of skin on their spouses' bodies. How a child's lips came off on the spout of the water container when he tried to drink."

Monday, March 8, 2010


Seventy-eight new spirits have taken up residence in my house, or perhaps just one spirit with 78 voices.  They are the cards in Rachel Pollack’s Shining Tribe Tarot, and they seem quite pleased at the prospect of celebrating the sacred truth and spirit of the individual in the former Catholic seminary that is my home.

I have always loved the tarot, but never tried to read it on my own.  I bought this deck and its accompanying book, not because I thought I could be a tarot card reader, but because Rachel’s images, and her emphasis on joy and spirit, called to me.  It was quite a surprise, then, that every time I ask a question and pull a card, the meanings and ideas and thoughts that Rachel has set out in her book resonate perfectly.  The cards know.

Last night, my friend Jan was visiting and she pulled three cards for me and told me to tell a story.  “There once was a woman named Reiko who…” I tried to go to the book, but she wouldn’t let me.  I had to make up my own story from the puppet trees, the sacred ceremony, the spirits in the underworld.  The story came out of nowhere – it was truthful and scary and necessary, and later, when I went to the book, I found it was also very congruent with Rachel’s descriptions of the essence of the cards.

Where does the story come from?  It isn’t “the cards” that know.  The origin isn’t “nowhere.”  As a writer, I call the story, I do some magic, something alchemical in my body, to translate it into words and bring it onto the page.  Whether that alchemy is conveyed using cards, or whether it is happening, hidden, in the silent, solitary figure of a writer with paper and pen, I am only now, as I write my fourth book, realizing that we are magicians, and that the divine spirit is ours to call on.  It is out there, and inside us, waiting to be called.

From the “scary” card, the Five of Stones, which is where I am going:

“They emerge, they emerge,
the dark hidden healers,
power from secrets,
visions from stones.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I have been thinking recently about how to enter a book.  The best way, I think, is just to step into it.  Wrap the pages around you like a favorite blanket.  Let the ink smudge your cheek, the words seep into your skin.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Like the story of the princess and the pea, the little bump of snow in the center of the table is an echo of sea shells, which my dear friend and amazing poet Elena Georgiou gave me.  Even in winter, summer is present.  Even in adulthood, the child in us still shapes who we are.  Thank you to all the people and events that have bumped me, and made me who I am.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


A question from Rob Brezsny:

Do you promise to push hard to get better and smarter, grow your
devotion to the truth, fuel your commitment to beauty, refine your
emotions, hone your dreams, wrestle with your shadow, purge your
ignorance, and soften your heart -- even as you always accept yourself
for exactly who you are, with all of your so-called foibles and wobbles?

Do you pledge to wake yourself up, never hold back, have nothing to lose,
go all the way, kiss the stormy sky, be the hero of your own story, ask for
everything you need and give everything you have, take yourself to the
river when it's time to go to the river, and take yourself to the
mountaintop when it's time to go to the mountaintop?

Saturday, February 20, 2010


To mark today - which is the Day of Remembrance for the Japanese-Americans, the 68th anniversary of the  Executive Order that would put 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry into American internment camps - a small excerpt from the manuscript of my new memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning:

"There’s a little girl in my head with Shirley Temple curls and freckles playing in a dustswept road.  She is the enemy.  She looks about six, even though she shouldn’t be: my mother was not five when she was released from the internment camp, but no pictures survive from that time so age six is the youngest image I have of my mother, the only image I have from ‘war time’ was taken after the end of the war.  Of course, this little girl – skirt flying, dancing with tumble weeds – is not my mother, not exactly.  She is my first character from my first book.
My mother could not remember the camps, so I invented them for her.  That’s how my first novel began.  I made them up, pulling from a mixed bag of the photographs that could be taken, from the questions that the man with the year book at the internment camp “reunion” had asked, the man who wandered through the community center full of former internees eating home lunches of sushi rice and teriyaki, searching for anyone in the room who was three when he was three in camp, who might have been in a nearby block, who might have been his friend. 

I pulled from dreams.

I created the children first – this little boy, the little girl who was his friend – and even while I was doing interviews, gathering the details of how the brick floors in the barracks had to be shellacked to keep the dirt from rising, I must have known I wasn’t dreaming up a “book about the internment.”  Write a potboiler, a kindly, grandfatherly man had told me in passing, in the halls of one of the elder homes I visited to do my interviews.  That’s what people want to read.  The facts are boring.  His advice stuck, though I was never aware of following it.  I began to fictionalize, to trace family ties that could never have existed but could still be realized and, more than that, could be made so persuasive that my mother could fill in her past with them, tucking her adopted life into bed each night without acknowledging its true parentage until it was hers by nurture.  I recreated my mother’s memories before she began to lose her own, and now she too cannot remember what is real.  I have been left with fragments of my own creation, with fictions, and now that I am in Japan, I’m discovering new creations and new memories of my mother – older, different – of times with her that I never experienced."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I've been rendered speechless by the idiocy in the conversation about Obama's plan to build more nuclear power plants.   

Is it the counter-argument about regulation?  (Nuclear power plants are problematic because regulations are so let's just ease those regulations, eh? Where have we heard that brilliant solution before?)

No, it's this quote, from The Atlantic, which offers arguments against the arguments against the idea (already I am dizzy): 

"Then there's the worry of a terrorist threat. What if someone flies a plane into a nuclear reactor? Thousands could die. Well, what if someone flies a plane into a giant building? Thousands could die. Should we not build them either?"

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Your Day

Thinking about Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day.  Our best Presidents, the ones we really need, are pathmakers.  Writers are also pathmakers.  Someone (okay, an incredible writer and a witch) once told me that I was a pathmaker, that it was my job to walk into the dark forest and make a path so others could follow, and so others could make their own paths off of mine.  I loved this image – who wouldn’t? – and when I shared it with another incredible writer friend, she looked at me kindly and said, “of course.”  As in, of course, you silly child, we (writers, artists, lovers, creative thinkers) are ALL pathmakers, how could it be that you are only now understanding this about your forty-something year old self?”

So I am writing today to celebrate President’s Day.  I am going to clear the path all the way through Chapter Two of my new book.  I am doing it at the temporary expense of the two manuscripts on my desk that I have to read, and in doing that – putting myself above others! – and I am also celebrating Valentine’s Day.  For how can I give love without understanding how to love myself?  How can I offer myself in service unless I have nurtured the strength I need to serve?  For me, that means feeding that thing I do best, that makes me whole: my writing.

Hey Obama, Happy "Your" Day.  What a beautiful morning to pick up your sword or scythe or shining heart or Buddha nature and start clearing that path to health and peace so the rest of us can follow.  

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where The Love Is

Last night in the Rizzuto household: two boys age 13 and 11 wandering around in the kitchen, suddenly hear strains of a new song on the radio in the back room.  They run in, yelling, “I love this song!”  “This is a great song!”  “I know all the words!”  They then proceed to dance around, singing:

“And to discriminate only generates hate
And if you hatin you're bound to get irate
Yeah madness is what you demonstrate
And that's exactly how anger works and operates
You gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love y'all”

(Where Is The Love?, Black Eyed Peas)

Of course, then they began smashing into each other, and wrestling, and ending up in a happy heap on the floor because they are boys after all.

Thank you, Black Eyed Peas for lyrics that are much more inspiring and apparently as catchy as “lovely lady lumps.”  

And thank you, New York City for another anecdote from the lives of these boys:  Last year, my sons were really engaged in the presidential election, staying up late to watch the debates, following the issues and considering what was important to them in the platforms.  They were, and still are, big Obama fans.  When I asked them if it was important to him that he was African American, they said, “Yes.”  (Hey, they are also multiracial with Hawaiian roots and are big shave ice fans, so I wasn’t sure.)  When I asked why, they said, “Because we need an African American president.”  When I asked, what portion of the United States do you think is black?” they said: “Fifty percent.”  I said, “What portion do you think is Hispanic?” and they said, “Twenty-five percent.”  Which leaves less than a quarter of the country to the Caucasians.  J  This is, of course, the mix of kids in their very good Brooklyn public schools.

I like this part of this world we are living in.  Let your soul gravitate to the love.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Real Blood

“This wasn’t a game or an exercise or a movie; these were real soldiers with real blood and real families waiting back home. What had I done wrong?”
(Craig M. Mullaney, The Unforgiving Minute)

When war is not felt, it cannot be avoided. If I learned anything from the survivors of Hiroshima, it is this. After the atomic bomb was dropped, the world was treated to visions of power (the mushroom cloud) and might (the devastated landscape). Pictures and video of what happened to the people – of what a living creature looks like without a face – these were confiscated because of their potentially incendiary nature. In other words, if we could see them, then we might feel them.  And if we had to grapple with, and even take responsibility for, such suffering, we might lose our taste for war. 

This is why the narratives from the “well-written war” are so important (New York Times, 2/7/10). If our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are willing to speak from their nightmares and publicly wrestle their ghosts, we should be listening. These men and women risked their lives; they risked limbs, senses, “ability.” If they no longer believe in a war they would have died for, we need to know what they thought war was, and what turned out not to be true. We owe it to them to understand this. We owe it to our children to feel it.

It seems to me the answer is in the word: absurd.

“The civil affairs officer, Lt Jackson, stares

at his missing hands, which make 

no sense to him, no sense at all, to wave

these absurd stumps held in the air

where just a moment before he'd blown bubbles

out the Humvee window…”

(Brian Turner, Here, Bullet)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Thank you, Christian

And so, it begins...

A gorgeous new website created by Christian Peet. An artistic and sensitive collaborator, an inspiring poet, and a nice person too. Peruse the many faces of Christian on his website and blog, and check out his essential literary journal, Tarpaulin Sky.