Slow Writing: Julia Alvarez on the craft of writing

# 6. The World Slowed Down On My Birthday!

Several years ago, I recall hearing about a special gift catalogue for people who have everything. I don't remember the particulars, as I've never received this catalogue. But as soon as I was told about it, I began to imagine some entries: a gold toothpick with a diamond tip, a bouquet of flowers a day for the rest of one's life, a bunch of little planes with streamers wishing you happy birthday flying over your home town, maybe raining down flyers inviting everyone below to your party.

Well, this year on my sixtieth birthday (March 27th) I got the surprise of my life! Perhaps in honor of the fact that I am slowing down both literally and figuratively, people around the world turned off lights so they could see the stars.

Of course, they were also calling attention to the fact that we must rethink how we use energy so we can safeguard our fragile planet. But I like the idea that this lights-out was both: a return to basics -- as we've been doing in these slow writing entries -- but also a step forward towards a viable future for us all.

I actually didn't know about this gift until my incredible night-watching webmistress, Sienna Potts, sent me an email asking, Did you know about this worldwide celebration of dark skies on your birthday? Along with the email came the link to a slide show from Earth Hour on

What I didn't know was that less than 20% of people in this country can see the Milky Way. Now that is a kind of poverty. I do feel lucky because, birthday or no birthday, unless the sky is overcast, I can usually see the Milky Way from our Vermont countryside. But what I didn't realize was that even in our rural state, the skies aren't as pristine as we imagine. All I have to do is spend a night at Alta Gracia, up in the interior mountains of the Dominican Republic, where there is no electricity, and look up. I didn't know there were that many stars visible to the naked eye! The first time I saw that dazzling sky, I thought, there is some social justice on the earth. This might be one of the poorest areas in the country, but rich folks in their shining villas on the coast were not getting this view.

So, next year for my birthday, you're all invited to my party, to be held on Saturday, March 26th in order to join the rest of the world's Earth Hour celebration. Join me in blowing out the candles, turning off the lights, and making a wish on a star -- there are more than enough up there (you'll see!) for all of us.

Visit for more information.

Julia Alvarez
April 6, 2010
3 blades of grass
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una babosa -- a slug at Alta Gracia in the Dominican Republic
una babosa
a slug at Alta Gracia in the Dominican Republic

Slow Writing: Julia Alvarez on the craft of writing
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