Taking my cue from Isabel Allende, today’s guest speaker at the scrumptious luncheon hosted by the Dallas Women’s Foundation, I better write my impressions before I forget — otherwise it will be as if “I didn’t live them.”
It’s such a poetic way of claiming a “senior moment.”
It’s no wonder that Isabel – I think we’re on first names now – is praised for her writing.
That she can make jokes about sex sound poetic is testament to her range of expression — trust me, you had to have been there (AND there were a lot of women who were there).
They were saying that this luncheon was the biggest turnout ever for one held by the Dallas Women’s Foundation. Over 2,000 women of all ages and professions showed up at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Dallas to hear Ms. Allende, bid on mysterious gift basket centerpieces, enter a prize drawing and eat a meal that didn’t consist of a member of the poultry family.
From the time she took to the podium (they had to supply her with a riser to stand on because she’s so petite) and she declared, “I’m short but I’m not a dwarf,” I knew she wasn’t going to be boring.
She immediately got everyone’s attention when she recounted a special visit she had with the Dalai Lama and how he recommended to her that she eat some papaya to quell her queasiness. She reasoned that since she was sharing the Dalai Lama’s plate, she was “halfway through the path of enlightenment.”
I think that’s how some of us felt after hearing her. It was clear that though she’s small in stature, she has a BIG passion for what she does and how she shares it.
Aside from her family, her biggest passion is the Isabel Allende Foundation she set up in memory of her deceased daughter that targets grass-roots organizations that empower women.
It was easy to tell how strongly she feels about the topic when she stated, “When women are beaten and raped, it’s called domestic violence, but when men are beaten and raped, it becomes a human rights issue.”
She inserted a little politics into her talk as well, and mentioned – sounding somewhat hopeful – that the next president could be a woman. Only about half the room applauded her remarks on that one.
Yet, she kept on in the same vein by imploring all the women to keep fighting for freedom and equality, saying, “We are not going to knit socks for our grandchildren, but we are going to change the world for them.” At the end, I almost felt like I had been at a political rally – but instead of cheering on a specific candidate, I was cheering for my gender.
I have to admit it felt pretty good, but it left me torn as to which direction I should pursue in my after-lunch interview with her. Luckily, she mentioned something in her talk in passing that I knew would be a perfect fit as my first post for this Arts & Culture blog.
In April 2008, the English version of her book The Sum of Our Days hits bookshelves. It’s about love and family — Ms. Allende’s family. The story starts after the ashes of her daughter are scattered in the forest and what happens with the family members next. Ms. Allende said she struggled, not with the writing but with how much of her family members’ stories she was entitled to tell.
So being a strong believer in democracy, she gave a manuscript to each member of the family for them to review. What she found was that they each had their own perspectives on what happened in the family — and they didn’t always agree with how Ms. Allende remembered it.
But overall, she was able to get everyone’s approval in telling their story — except for her youngest stepson. His part had to be deleted and so Ms. Allende said she had to do a complete rewrite because of it.
She said it didn’t take long, but I got the impression that it might have taken longer than she really wanted to do but chalked it up to that special kind of diplomacy necessary in blended families in order to keep the peace.
However, peace is the last thing she is feeling these days. Ms. Allende shared that on January 8, 2008, she has to start on a new book and she doesn’t have a clear idea about what she will write other than that it will be fiction. But she was quick to say that writing fiction was SO much easier than writing non-fiction.
Given the current political climate and her social activism, I asked her if immigration might figure in her next book. She said she didn’t think so but that it was a possibility for future books and, of course, had always been a part of her other books.
She relates to the immigrant experience being first ” a foreigner, the daughter of diplomats, next a political refugee and finally an immigrant.” It’s an inescapable part of who she is. As she said, “I’ve always known what it’s like to be the outsider, the one who doesn’t belong.”
Judging from the standing ovation she received today, I can say those days of not belonging are long over.