The Reason She Left on Goodreads

The Reason She LeftThe Reason She Left by Kristen Caven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What I love about graphic novels and cartoons is the way you can distill ideas and pack emotion into the theater of the page. This was a thrilling project to work on, as I attempted to pack years of learning into thirty pages. I wrote this story over twenty years ago, and was pleased to find how well it's held up. As a matter of fact, it feels stronger, in some ways, to me, as the world has NOT learned the lessons it needs to, yet, and needs more original thoughts and voices.

The most amusing thing to me is how even people close to me call this an autobiographical work, even though the plot, setting, and all the characters are made up. I take that as a compliment that I write convincingly!

I hope this work finds its readership among smart and curious people, especially women who are having trouble feeling like their voice is being heard.

You can order it from Indiebound, Amazon, my website, or get the ebook on scribd.

trsl fan

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Cobbler Cheer, 2011-style

The year of 2011 wrapped up with highlights from our funniest xmas card, the holiday letter I didn't write, and an image of the Caven family Xmas card (Dave took the lead this year).

I cheered about reuniting with my composer, made predictions for my career, and shared a link to a very terrible shirt I made with my son.


Pumped up Kicks

Good morning, KFOG.
I tried to call in during the song that woke me up this morning, but there was no answer.
"All the other kids better run, better run... faster than my bullet."
This is an upbeat song about a kid shooting other kids. I like the catchy tune, but the song is morally twisted, and not in a good way; it's sociopathic and horrible. There is no frame of reference for the evil sentiment. The songwriter said he was 'exploring the mind of a young killer,' but it sounds more like he's glorifying it. At least with A Clockwork Orange there was some framing of the sentiment of cheerful violence, and a resolution at the end. (And songs like Jeremy, I Don't Like Mondays, etc. at least reflect an authentic emotional tone.) This song says, "it's okay and fun to kill other people! I like it!" It feels like the normalization of a phenomenon that destroys the fabric of American lives over and over again.
On the plus side, a comment made on the YouTube video did tip off Phoenix police that a 14-year-old was inspired by this song, and his rampage was prevented.
I'm a big fan of whimsy, even serious whimsy, but this song really upsets me, and I always turn off the radio when I hear it. But I like KFOG, especially in the mornings, and figured it would be worth the trouble to ask: Could you please not play it anymore? The tune gets stuck in my head for hours, and I hate myself. Maybe ask your other listeners what they think.
Kristen Caven
Oakland parent


Eleven Eleven Eleven Cobbler

Things felt a little magical to me on 11-11-11; I snapped a photo of myself at 11:11:11a.m. and sent a wish for the world.

I was excited about some upcoming events, namely a quickie reading of The Reason She Left, and a table sale with a really cool person at a really hip venue.

I also announced my new sideline career as a Zumba instructor and my work on the novelization of my musical.

It was awesome, I tell ya!


What kind of pie does the 99% need now?

Occu-pied!  Photo by Howard Dyckoff/Oakland Local

Occu-pie! Photo by Howard Dyckoff/Oakland Local
The sweet side of the movement! Photo by Howard Dyckoff/Oakland Local


YES on #Occupy!

Here's my Letter to the Editor on 10/21... (read all of them here).
Like individuals, banks and corporations must take responsibility for their mistakes and failures. Like individuals, they need to contribute taxes to the greater good and do their part to keep our schools, hospitals, and roads open. 

Unlike other recent political movements -- funded by the superrich to serve their own political interests (Google 'tea party funding') -- the Occupy Wall Street (which is everywhere) movement unifies many grass roots movements under a common banner of economic justice.

Our popularly-elected president is powerless to turn the tide of corruption alone. The 1 percent uses its financial savvy to exploit loopholes for their own benefit. They throw their wealth behind politicians who glorify ignorance and block measures that would help the people. They hire the best PR firms to help spread fear-based propaganda and Orwellian doublespeak to the mindless media, keeping Americans bickering about the news instead of working together to help ourselves. Why? To protect their bottom line.

Mathematically, the 99 percent cannot all be on the left. We are the growing poor, the diminishing middle class, and yes, even the well-off and wealthy.

We are the exhausted "thousand points of light" who have been shoring up the system since trickle-down economics began. Our personal freedoms, our personal finances, our human rights, our cities, our schools, our environment, and all species are all in trouble -- and to occupy is to say, "enough!"


Presenting: Fresh, New Cobbler!

A fresh redesign of my Wandering Pie columnblognewsletter came with exciting news: the arrival of a box of my second book, The Reason She Left.

The sidebar announced more exciting news: my first nationally published magazine article. (A good, funny, and exciting writing experience, but what I learned later was: this publisher doesn't pay his bills.)

I was also excited about a host of upcoming events surrounding my book launch.


I didn't believe in cancer (for Michele)

Michele, I don’t want to say goodbye to you.  I don’t want this world to be without you — baby fanatic, mother motherer, visionary, compassionate soul. I’m very angry at this cancer thing! I never wanted to believe it was real. YOU, of all people, so passionate about creating a healthy life and healthy lives! But I am so grateful that you shared the adventure with me. I am so grateful to have had you as a mommy-mentor, client, partner, fan, friend, and inspiration.

How do you say goodbye to someone who catalyzed so much? Child-Friendly Initiative—a group of incredibly capable mommies at a critical time—who made a noise that started a movement that led to the family bathrooms and airport nursing stations we now rely on - and even made an impression on the United Nations! Even the CFI fundraisers left a legacy, amazing events with amazing art. (Amazing - one of Michele's favorite words.) Those gorgeous Art of Life bellies are still a gift to the world. And we've still got a Chair-ity for Children chair my kid no longer fits!

You don’t say goodbye; you can’t. As we all learned in our time with Michele, babies grow up. Some day they'll have babies. Friends move away and make new friends. The mysteries – the things you don’t know - keep one step ahead of the accomplishments, the things you do know. Life comes and goes, but love, laughter, and amazing beauty are everywhere, ever-renewing.

Michele told me a secret, earlier this year; perhaps it’s no longer a secret. She had had a few glasses of wine after one of her amazing cancer healings, then went down to visit Hannah in college. Wandering around campus, she felt lightheaded, out-of-body. She had visions. She saw hands, everywhere hands. When I heard this, tears came to my eyes —what a beautiful vision for Michele, all the people she touched, who touched her. The babies she massaged. The mothers she reached out to. Look at the CFI logo. Look at the logo for Healthy Family Living. Michele ‘handed’ us a new, more compassionate way to see the world. (I’d love to see what she would do with a fundraiser about hands, to follow up on those bellies and chairs.)

I don’t worry about Michele. But I weep for her children, to have lost a mother whose love was so awesome it spilled out beyond them to change the world. I weep so hard for you guys, and for Dan, love of her life, who made it all possible. (There is something wrong with a world in which your grandkids don’t get to experience Michele!) But I don’t worry about Michele. I told her those visions of hands were the hands of everyone supporting her, which she really appreciated, since she was a little creeped out. Of course, since I was such a loyal cancer-denier, I kept my real thoughts to myself: that those were the hands of the ones who’d gone before, reaching back for her. "Come on, Michele! We need you on the other side!"

So Michele, I won't say goodbye. I know you'll be back. There is still work to be done. And I hope to meet you again, in the blink of an eye.


Too Much to Swallow

This is a reprint of Innocent Perspective: A Mother's Reflections on September 11, 2001, an essay I wrote for Child-Friendly Initiative.

On Tuesday, September 11th, my four-year old vehicle expert told people very importantly that "an airplane had crashed into a building." The next day he wanted to "watch New York" on TV - all the rescue and construction equipment was much more interesting than nap time. I took a deep comfort in his innocent perspective.

By the time the weekend rolled around, though, a loneliness hung around our small family, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that mom and dad were on the phone all the time, and friendly visitors also seemed to carry a cloud of debris in their hearts. On Sunday my son grew warm and listless, and that night began crying out every hour in a fever.

For the next few days the fever clung, and he clung to me. This time I took comfort in the small scale of a bad virus and willingly sat under him for a few days. I was grateful for the moments he was asleep, for then I could turn on the television and try to absorb it all, sort it all out. He was desperately afraid of being alone, and I would run to him each time he woke.

He complained of a sore throat and stopped eating. The doctor blamed a virus that had caused blisters in his mouth and prescribed tylenol, liquids and rest. After a few days I was exhausted. I didn't know what was worse - battling with him to get him to take medicine, or hearing him cry out in pain each time he swallowed. His mouth and throat were covered with white, oozing sores. Eventually we discovered a strep infection raging behind the blisters.

Today he is on the mend, thanks to an army of antibiotics and a new construction set to play “can we fix it” with. But he hasn't seemed himself. Every interaction is demanding and tense. I figure it's because he's cranky because he hasn't eaten in three days.

But finally, he opens up his feelings. “Mom, dad, I'm worried,” he tells us on the cranky edge of sleep, beginning to weep. He is worried about Oakland. About the buildings falling down. About car crashes. Suddenly I realized he has been there with us in our confusion and grief. He is not a baby anymore. Although it seemed important at the time, I wonder now if letting my vehicle-loving son (who wants to see every jack-knifed big-rig and derailed train) see those bulldozers was the right thing to do. Did he feel something was being forced down his throat? Was it too much for him to swallow? A part of him must have welcomed that virus and that bacteria. It gave him a time-out. He gave me the gift of a time-out, too.

Tonight after we fought about toothpaste (I let him win), we talked a long time. About bad guys. About sadness. About safety. I told him we were all sad but we were glad to be together. I told him our house wouldn't fall down. I told him this terrible thing that happened had never happened before. I told him all the presidents of every country in the world were going to work together to try to make sure this would never happen again. Because they all want to protect and take care of children. “And you'll take care of me, right?” he asked. Yes little one, I will, no matter what.

He went to sleep peacefully for the first time in days. He just grew up a lot, and as a mom, I did, too. I really want my words to be true. We will all work together to protect and take care of children.


Book Review: Bossypants

BossypantsBossypants by Tina Fey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a memoir after my own heart. I love being under Tina Fey's* spell, the way she can be self-deprecating and righteous in the same breath, ridiculing and loving at the same time. I kept having to read passages out loud to Dave so I could say, "Look! She's one of us!"

Inapproporiate places I burst out laughing:
- on a city bus
- giving my blood donation
- at the vet
- in orthodontists office
- on the toilet with guests in the house**
- late at night, trying not to wake Dave up

* She calls her dad Don Fey all the time, which makes you realize her first and last name always go together

** On the page about Pee Wee with bad teeth, I had to wipe, so imagine this very complicated maneuver: I pressed my forehead to the cover and cried, through laughter and tears, I...love...you...so...much...!

(That was a bit of Tina Fey-ish writing, by the way.)

Thank you Tina Fey!

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Joe Climbed Up On The Roof..

Okay, so Joe died. We knew he would. Everyone does, right? But we’re sad, we’re disappointed, since we really didn’t want him to die of ALS. We wanted him to be the one (or one of the few) who figured out how to turn this disease around on its path, show it the door, pull himself back together cell by cell, get up out of that wheelchair, and start walking again. Up to podiums to talk about his journey, inspiring others to follow him. Onto stages to accept the acclamations he deserved. Down the aisle with Julie when she got married. Through the woods with Diane when he was old. No, we wanted him to die instead with dignity, say, clutching his chest in the middle of a joke and keeling over into his cream pie at age ninety-nine.

We sure didn’t want ALS to win. Joe was the underdog from the beginning, by all rights. I want to say he kicked its ass, gave it a whuppin, showed it who was boss, etc... but idioms of might are not appropriate in describing Joe's fight, since his muscles were slowly deactivated by the disease. Joe's many triumphs came from curiosity, from skepticism, from communication, from investigation, from thoughtfulness, from introspection, from prayer and from humility. That being said, Joe was just like Rocky: he went fifteen epic rounds with inspiring courage and faith, (and we all got to take the journey with him,) so it’s not like he lost, really. Even at age 61, he still lived longer than your average NFL player. To use a word the kids like these days, Joe pwnd (poned) that lame-ass disease.

Look: the truth is, death isn’t so bad. It’s part of life, it happens to everyone, and reports keep coming in that it provides some relief to this problem of living. The worst thing to me about Joe dying is not getting one last email, one last blog post. Joe so faithfully shared his adventures in healing that I want to know what it was like at the end. I want to know what he thought about, what he decided, if he decided anything. I want to know what it felt like and what he said and who was there. I want to know what he understood, and if indeed he got a final flash of insight that wrapped up his research somehow. I want to know what it felt like for him to suddenly and finally be released of his body.

ALS, ALS, ALS. Joe’s life was defined by a greater drama when that gene activated, but ALS is not who he was. Joe was a strong and positive person who saw life in his own way, managing this and that with humor and with love, magnetically drawing good people to himself. In our living room, Joe once laughed hard at my husband’s favorite joke. It’s about a guy who was traveling through Europe when his brother called with the news that his cat had died. “That was so cold and cruel, to tell me the news like that,” he cried. “What else could I have said?” asked his brother. “You could have broken it to me slowly,” the guy sobbed. “You could have said, ‘the cat climbed up on the roof.’ And then called the next day to say ‘the cat finally came down, but caught a cold.’ And then a few days later, you could have said, ‘The cat’s cold got worse, and we took her to the vet.’ And then you could have said, ‘there were complications.’ And then a few days later, ‘The infection couldn’t be stopped, and we had to put her down.’” “Oh, I see,” said the brother. “Yes, that was very insensitive of me.” The guy in Europe sighed, wiped his tears, and said, “Well, as long as we’re on the phone, is there any other news?” There was a long silence, then the brother said, “Um… well, mom climbed up on the roof.”

Today, when I got Dan’s email, I cried. Then my husband asked me if Joe had climbed up on the roof. Oh my. There's a thought. The racket he must have made in that wheelchair…!

But seriously. Diane, you are my hero, for partnering gorgeously with Joe and his troublesome gene. Julie, and Dan, your lives have gotten off to an interesting start and you are both magnificent people. I look forward to seeing you enjoy every adventure life brings you, with your dad’s wonderful spirit watching over you. And Joe, you're not gone, you're with us all. I can't wait to read your book.


Fresh Summer Cobbler

In this issue I crow about my interview in The Monthly and the book trailer I finally made for Perfectly Revolting.

There's also a picture of me snuggling up to founding father George Mason.

What happened after? I must keep masonic...


Killing Osama

In the weeks following 9/11, I wished death to Osama bin Laden. But I am against death penalties and war as much as I am against murder, so I struggled with my feelings. I lay awake at night pondering capital punishment. How can victims express their hurt and anger without becoming killers themselves? Having a government do the dirty work seems like a good solution until you realize governments are made of individuals, and when it comes down to it, someone has to pull a trigger, push a button. I thought about firing squads and public stonings, hangings and guillotines — all efficient but imperfect — and at last the poetic part of me came up with a theatrical solution. I imagined a pageant for mass-murderers that could be used all over the world in events that provide emotional closure for victims and a reckoning for those who have brought evil. Without making murder anyone's professional calling.

That night, here is how I imagined Osama's final moments:
At Ground Zero, a chair is prepared where he will sit. Above the chair a canopy is stretched, a simple tarpaulin suspended by poles. Outside the poles there is a walkway that goes around the perimeter of the canopy, with stairs leading up and down on either side. Nearby, bulldozers have delivered a pile of rubble saved from the dark mess he made.

The crowd gathers around, and anyone who has been hurt by his actions may take a piece of rubble in their hand. Children, parents, widows, friends, firefighters, rescuers, targeted Muslims, air travelers file past Osama and tell him what he did. They walk up the stairs and toss their object onto the tarp in the name of the Lost, perhaps with a shout, a silent prayer, or the words they've been dying to say. As the day goes on, each small stone adds to the next and the canopy begins to sag. At some point it will break, crushing him under the rubble and pain he created. But the pageant does not end until all the rubble is gone and every harm is spoken.


My Life as a Reader...

I remember reading Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things that Go on my dad's lap with my brother. Dad would point to a word and if we guessed it right we'd get a sooper smooch. If we guessed it wrong he'd squeeze our feet 'til it hurt. Just a little.

I got to watch the first season of Sesame Street before I started kindergarten. I also loved the Electric Company, which came on after school starting when I was in 1st grade. Especially the "r... ead... read!" segment.

I remember the first time I realized I could read silently, in my head, without speaking the words. An "a-ha!" moment that showed me the power of thought.

The first "chapter book" I read by myself was Matilda, a book about a cat having babies. Then my own cat had babies. B is for Betsy was my first series.

In kindergarten, I tested at a 3rd grade reading level, so my teacher let me go to the school library alone at library time. In first grade, I went to the school library at library time and my angry (distraught?) teacher sent me to the principal.

In sixth grade, my friend Cathy and I spent our recess time looking for entrances to Narnia.

In junior high, I had a reading elective. I'd check out a book during 8th period each day and read it throughout the school day, annoying all of my other teachers. Especially when I could still answer all their questions. But during those years I was a lonely latchkey kid, so those books were my best friends.

I had a vague awareness at that time of how much books had given me. And the inkling of an idea to write one of my own some day, to give something back. A feeling that lingers to this day.

I couldn't decide which college to go to until I found one that was entirely based on reading. I met the "Great Books." When I got there I realized how hard reading can be. First you have to read something. Then you have to try to understand what the author is saying. Then, and only then, should you form your own opinion. It's easier to jump right to step three. Or just read easy books.

What a treat it was, then, to have a child! I got to re-read all my favorite books out loud, meet all my old friends again, make some new ones. Again, that idea haunts me: Give something back.

I realized, in my late thirties, that nothing makes me happier than writing. Well, almost nothing. The books, they do stack up.


Modest Proposal #217

California spends an average of $47,000 per year on its prison inmates,[1] and about $9,000 per year on public school students.[2]  Meanwhile, over 30% of California's students do not graduate from high school. Dropouts from the class of 2008 will cost California almost $42.1 billion in lost taxable wages over their lifetime.[3] Poverty is a factor in both dropout rates and crime rates in every state in America. [4]

Around the world, governments are fighting poverty by literally paying parents to send their children to school. In one Mexican community, parents are paid the equivalent of $30 each month their child has perfect attendance, and $145 if their child completes high school. Social welfare? Maybe. A mechanism to end poverty? Absolutely. Not having to keep children out of school to work or to care for their siblings, parents can support them, instead, to become educated and better their lives. These structures are designed to end poverty in one generation.[5]

Here is a modest proposal, not nearly as clever as Swift's, but not as cruel, either: Let's release anyone from prison who can prove they have a family that will welcome them back. Give that family some training and structure, and reward them with cash prizes for keeping their inmate out of trouble and on the right track. Find a new way for the inmate to pay their debt through restorative justice. For the cost of one year in prison, a family could turn around to the point they could start giving back. Spend the cost of the next year on that family to reward them for getting their kids to school on a regular basis to become literate, competent problem-solvers. And then funnel the budget for the rest of that prisoner's term back into schools.

See what that does to solve three problems at once: crime, dropouts, and poverty. See how that translates, in the future, to a better economy. See how that translates to stronger families, a safer society.

And just think of the reality TV it could spawn!


The Mighty Foubavole

I once had an art car
A mighty Foubavole
When driving was for pleasure...
And art my only goal.

If you remember my art car and want to remember it some more,
check out my art car page!


Have a Good (Valen)time.

I used to be so tormented by this holiday and all its expectations. Valentine's Day seemed engineered to point out the fact that I was the only one who did not have one. Except I wasn't the only one. My best VDs were days that I hung out with other 'losers'. My friend Dave and I would go out in search of Mr. and Mrs. Right...so we could introduce them to each other. Read more...