It’s been just over a week, and this war has become historical fact, as inevitable as the sun that set over Baghdad last Wednesday night. And now that it has become fact, it must be paid for. We must pay $75 billion dollars for it, and that’s just the down payment. There go social services. There goes the budget for educating the next generation of American minds. I’m not being unpatriotic, but it seems to me that if you’re prepared to spend $75+ billion dollars, surely there must be a more creative way to liberate the people of Iraq, which doesn’t require killing them, and sacrificing American lives. But hey, what do I know…

In “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning,” Chris Hedges talks about how war, once launched, creates facts, which in turn create war’s inevitability. Every death or wounding becomes a new fact that justifies, retroactively, war’s start. Every bombing or attack provides a reason to continue. Once sparked, facts become stories, stories become myths. War is a feedback loop, growing more powerful with every round of suffering. Canny aggressors throughout history have always known this and have been careful to co-opt the cuture's myth-makers. To in-bed them, as it were.

I’ve been traveling everyday to the relentless, mind-numbing soundtrack of CNN’s Orwellian war coverage, pumping through the PA systems of hotel lobbies and airline terminals across the nation. I’m glad to be moving, though. Glad to have an excuse to escape the television and to spend the evenings in the company of readers. I’m grateful to the bookstores for providing us with the space to congregate, and to everyone who comes to listen and to share. So...

Thanks to Book Passage and to A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco, and to Dutton’s in Los Angeles.

Thanks to The Toronto Woman’s Bookstore, Spa Ha Restaurant, Food Share, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, and Polaris Institute (wow…talk about diversity!) for sponsoring a really fun evening.

Thanks to the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York for the on-going advocacy and support for our voices, and to Barnes & Noble at Astor Place for welcoming me home.

And here’s a little story about media and reality. The other day I had an interview at the Toronto Star. When I walked into the vast newspaper office, the largest in North America, I was amazed at how perfect it was, a seemingly endless expanse of desks and cubicles, covered with piles of paper and files and coffee cups, and reporters in shirtsleeves threading their way purposefully through the maze. I exclaimed something dumb like, "Oh gee, this is so authentic! It's exactly what a newspaper office should look like!"... at which point the journalist who was doing the interview smiled and informed me that it had been used as the location for the Washington Post pressroom in the film “All The President’s Men.”

shock and....

…just more grinding shock. The events of the last few days have silenced this nascent weblog, and I am ashamed to be a wordsmith at a time when words are being so debased and abused. The cognitive dissonance created by Bush's speech on Monday is indescribable! It made me want to shut up, permanently. How can we write—what can we possibly write?—at a time when words have clearly lost all ties to meaning? Language has become disconnected from significance. Sacred words like “Truth” have been cheapened, become just another form of cynical manipulation. Sentences condemn real, live, innocent people to death. Communication is futile and deadly…Oh, my sweet Silkie chicks, how I envy your bean-sized brains now!

But no. No. No. No. I don’t believe this. I refuse it, and for good reason. I've been going from city to city on this crazy book tour, and not a SINGLE person I have met—readers, newspaper reporters, radio hosts, TV newscasters—believes this war is sane, right, just, or even inevitable, however inevitable it may seem. We might not have the words right away, but we know what is wrong. So we've got to be patient with our silence, even as we struggle towards speech.

The readings have been wonderful. Why? Because my readers are amazing—strong, smart, resilient, curious, active, funny, compassionate, alert. And I've been reading at the independent bookstores who hold their own and provide a community and a safe haven for us all. Thank you Elliot Bay in Seattle. Thank you, Powell’s in Portland. Thank you Kepler’s, tonight. I'm so grateful to you.

Here’s a bit of consolation. For now, as long as we are allowed to be readers and writers, and to read and write freely, at least some of our words will retain their integrity. Here in America, we still have the right to freedom of expression. We’ve got to guard against incursions, against erosions of this right.

And here’s a very powerful phrase that I learned: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” I repeat this to myself, over and over, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, because it brings my choices to the surface. However pessimistic our empirical or “realistic” assessment of the world may be, these words make it clear that optimism is a moral imperative. It’s a choice that we can make, every day. Hang on to that thought, and I hope I'll see you around San Francisco and in Los Angeles in the next few days…