Thursday, December 30, 2010

All Shook Up

Just when I thought I had nothing new to write about this happens

Needless to say, things have been chaotic. Emergency surgery. My father suffers a fall Christmas Eve. This is the season for expecting the unexpected.

In the next few days we will bring in 2011--what will the new year bring for you?

I'm looking forward to this. My VERY FIRST artist residency. I'm particularly looking forward to the twice daily dip in the local hot springs which is part of the residency package. To offset the travel expenses and other misc I'm applying to this. I was awarded monies in 2007 for professional development and hope to receive some this coming year.

So I encourage you dear readers to start getting your applications in for conferences (see my Highlights Foundation post from earlier), grants, and residencies. It is much better to hope and feel rejected than to never risk at all.

I might not be posting much this next week as I take time off to visit my parents and assess their situation. 2011 will be a year of new lifestages for me and mine.

Take care and have a Happy, SAFE New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Stand up for Commercialization

Is it a coincidence that twice in one week I've been involved in conversations where people said they were so happy with the commercialization of Christmas? Some context here is necessary. Early in the week a woman addressed a meeting I was at. She and her husband and kids had spent the past three Christmases in Costa Rica. I swooned. Outside it was snowing and the temps hadn't risen above 17 degrees for . . . awhile. Anyway she shared that she had begun to miss the commercialization of Christmas. We all laughed. No really, she said. There just wasn't enough "stuff" there to remind her of the season or of home. Then just the other night my friend's son was home from high school abroad. In Norway he said they are more laid back about Christmas. He scanned the room we were in with the lights, the lit candles, the TREE. He said already there are more decorations in this room then you'd find in a whole house in Norway. The tree for instance might have one strand of light and decorations made out of straw.

I understand that Costa Rica and Norway bring their own traditions into play at Christmas. Who doesn't get Scandinavian design--hello, IKEA. And I could take a decorated palm tree right about now.

But I also understood what each of these people meant when they said I missed the commercialization of Christmas. As Americans we "own" it. I write that literally and figuratively--if that is possible. One) we like to own things, ahem the Louisana Purchase, the buying and selling of people. Our history is littered with deals, bargains (see Manhattan Island for wampum), and steals. And 2) as a people we are generally over the top. Not only do we have to have it, but we're also lovin' it. A lot of my international friends find that appealing. Americans are so enthusiastic!

I've been in other countries as the Christmas season was closing in and have to admit the festivities seemed restrained and some of the hilltowns a little dark--maybe a throw back to their medieval past. Oh, they had fried doughnuts and panetonne and versions of Santa Claus and even some drunks. But something was missing.

I think it's because, in atleast some parts of Europe and South/Central America, Christmas is considered a religious occasion, a high holiday. People go to church and then have family time etc. Sort of like Thanksgiving. You travel to grandma's, eat, talk, sit around, watch TV, someone gets drunk and the family fights, and then it's over for another year.

Whereas as much as we decry the commercialization of Christmas and certain people insist on the "reason for the season": Rejoice! Most of us wouldn't want it any other way.

Now excuse me, gotta go; someone is about to put Frosty the Snowman into the DVD player.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Disturbing Books that Shook the Skin I'm In

My library queue finally shook loose the three books I've most wanted to read--and I managed to read all three of them in two weeks. WHAT AN INTENSE READING TIME:
Room by Emma Donoghue* ever wonder what Elizabeth Smart felt/thought after being snatched
Nothing by Janne Teller* is going to make you think
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi* action-packed and fast paced

all three of these books were too great to put down and I highly recommend them

How Poor People Get Money


Here is one of my stories published this past summer in Steam Ticket, a print journal out of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse English department

How Poor People Get Money

I’ve done many things for money. I rode a bike retrofitted with an ice chest and sold Rocket Popsicles and Drumsticks and other novelty ice creams. I had a paper route where I had to get up at four o’clock in the morning. I did that for a week before I dumped the papers down a sewer. Next, I left leaflets on car windshields. I got in trouble if they blew off, so I pasted them on and that got me fired. Of course, there was also the usual: babysitting, mowing grass, taking out trash, and blackmail.

I’ve dogwalked, found lost dogs and gotten a reward, and stolen dogs only to later be rewarded. I’ve sold lemonade from a card table at the end of the driveway. Told jokes for a penny, though to be honest only my mom ever paid. I told her a hundred jokes and earned a dollar—that was before the cancer. After a snowstorm I shoveled Mr. Meyer’s driveway and charged him $15, figuring he’d give me $20. He did. And, from my older brother Cal, I extorted $50, in two $25 allotments.

There was one ambitious summer where Cal and I constructed a putt-putt golf course and charged the neighborhood kids admission. We decided to expand and made an amusement park with lumber raided from a nearby housing development. The real money, though, was in concessions. We were able to charge twenty percent over what we paid for a case lot of Zagnut and Zero Bars. It all came apart after Cal and I fought. He took his half and I took mine and later Dad paid us to clean up the yard.

I’ve collected the nickel deposit on soda pop bottles. We found wagonloads of them discarded at construction sites and out by the highway. One time Cal and I discovered a stash of old Playboys under a bridge. Cal brought them home and hid them behind a row of books on a shelf in our room. When I threatened to tell Mom, Cal freaked out until I mentioned I could be persuaded not to snitch if he gave me money. I sucked him dry, eventually getting his half of the amusement park money. That was the summer Mom died.

In high school I worked at Pizza Hut to pay for my car. I stayed at this job the longest—especially after the accident to reimburse Dad. I was a pizza maker. Late at night on slow weeknights I’d get creative with the toppings, borrow stuff from the salad bar to concoct one-of-a-kind masterpieces that my cohorts and I would sit around and eat. I invented the grilled cheese pizza, the broccoli baked potato pizza, and a fried egg pizza. The French do it all the time. I read about it in a book. This was before the manager turned the surveillance cameras on the cook line trying to figure out why every week the inventory came up short. One time I worked my alchemy and came up with a desert pizza with Jolly Rogers melted over the crust. It looked like stained glass and shattered when bit into. I had the idea to patent it. I’d name it after me, Jolly Ryan’s—except the boss 86ed my ass on that one, mainly because the candy seeped over the side and stuck to the pizza oven and smoked for a week or more until the sugar burned off.

Speaking of smoke . . . Wait, I’m getting out of order. That comes later in this list.

Lunchtime at school I’d bet on flicker ball, where I’d win some, lose some. Flicker ball was basically a sheet of notebook paper folded into a dense triangle. One guy would sit across from me at the table and make a goal post with his fingers and I’d flick the triangle up and over. I’d bet I could do it, and then I upped the ante and bet I could do it five times in a row, ten times until I’d wasted the entire lunch hour. I never won much, but the exercise carried over into weekend boys’ poker night, where the stakes became much higher.

I got into a bit of a cash flow problem. We had a nice turntable, receiver, and Boise speakers. I pawned them and got $160 bucks. Where the fuck is my stereo? Cal couldn’t believe I’d hocked his stereo and when he went to get it back it was gone. I really did feel bad when I saw his face coming back to the car empty handed. I thought he was going to beat the shit out of me like he did over the amusement park fiasco. All he did was get in the car and grip the steering wheel. Not a word. He left for college that fall, and, not surprisingly, hasn’t talked to me much since.

A year later when I packed up for college I had a garage sale to get rid of a lot of my crap. I wasn’t planning on coming back. Dad had remarried and even though Carol was nice and didn’t try to be our mom, she changed things. She repainted the living room and moved the old furniture into the basement and bought new stuff. She had two daughters off at college and wanted to make over a room for them when they visited. I said, Hey, take mine. Carol got this furtive stuttering look on her face and Dad tried to talk me out of the offer. He said she hadn’t meant to make me feel unwelcome. I told him, I completely understand. But, what I couldn’t say was, it didn’t feel like my house anymore. So I left for college $300 richer.

In college I did the student work thing to help pay for tuition. My freshman year I shelved books in the library and my second year I put together the audio/visual carts. I also got the idea of getting old computers off of Freecycle, refurbishing them, and then selling them on eBay. I answered an ad on craigslist looking for people willing to participate in medical studies. I got paid to test green tea and its affect, if any, upon a person’s overall health. I joked with the nurse, Why can’t it be beer? I drank so much tea over the course of the study that the thought of it now makes me sick. I once got $50 bucks for an MRI, and over winter break I stayed at the facility and was a guinea pig for a new kind of chewing gum drug that supposedly controls blood sugar. That worked out well since I didn’t want to go home for Christmas and could really use the grand I was paid—especially after the fire.

During my third year I lived off campus. A couple of us guys rented the top floor in an old factory building down by the river. The place quickly became party central. We didn’t lock the doors so I never knew who’d be crashed out on our couch. Strewn across the floor and piled high on the coffee table were empty beer cans and pizza boxes and black plastic ashtrays full of butts and ash and little aluminum tabs. We never cleaned, so it always smelled rank like wet towels tossed behind a radiator. After a month I was so sick of the place I could care less if it burned. In fact I could care less just about everything. Suddenly my double major clicked into sharp focus and I wondered why the hell I ever wanted to be an architect/civil engineer. So I switched to pre-law, which was like having no major at all.

In there somewhere were several gigs that called for costumes. I dressed up like a hot dog outside the ballpark to advertise Red Hots. For Liberty Tax Service I passed out handbills dressed as the Statue of Liberty, Lady Lib. At a party I was a stalk of broccoli working the crowd with a plate of hors d’oeuvres, ironically serving raw veggies: carrots, celery, cauliflower, and broccoli. Earlier in the day I’d ingested some of my roommate’s Paxil and was feeling pleasantly numb until I bottomed out contemplating how we end up eating our own, cannibalizing each other.

Midway through the semester the factory caught on fire. At the time I was indisposed with a girl. We heard shouting and smelled the smoke and without getting completely dressed climbed out the window and dropped to the ground where I heard my ankle go SNAP. From the back of an ambulance I watched our apartment go up in flames. There was so much combustible material, the place pretty much exploded. We wondered if we might be able to recover our losses until the fire inspector blamed us for negligence (apparently someone had left a cigarette burning on the armrest of our black and orange couch) and our landlord tried to sue us. I called Cal.

He said I could come stay with him for a while.

So I got a job at an Internet startup, a dot.com that sold cheap toys. Lots of glue and balsa wood and plastic parts with a lifespan of maybe two months. I worked full-time pulling invoices and operating the forklift. Someone else put the orders together while someone else did the shipping. This job was perfect—there was no one around at night to annoy me. I had the whole warehouse to myself during the third shift. Just me and a juice/soda machine that when it kicked in sounded like a mainstage generator. Sometimes I talked out loud, the sound of my voice lost in the acre-high ceilings and labyrinth of metal shelving. One time I asked Mom where she was and what she was doing. She never answered.

Cal had a theory. He said I needed to face up, face myself and stop making excuses. I accused him of trying to manipulate me with psychological mumbo jumbo. Again he played the quiet game. I screamed, TALK TO ME.

He shook his head and walked away.

Yeah, well fuck you! I started looking for rentals in the area. A few days later he rang me on my cell and said he had a job for me, if I needed it. Okay. What?

It’s Julie, he said. Julie was his girlfriend. She worked at a shelter for women and children. She needs someone to drive a mom and her kids to the bus station Monday morning.

How much? I asked. I needed to come up with enough for a deposit.

Twenty bucks.

That’s it?

Just there and back. About an hour’s worth of work.

I left the warehouse at dawn and drove to the shelter to pick up Julie and her client. We crammed them and all their stuff in. Is this everything? I asked. It didn’t seem like much. The woman said it was enough.

Julie and one of the kids sat up front with me with the other four in the back seat. We had two more people than seat belts and I worried about the cops stopping us. I didn’t need any more trouble.

The lady said she had a whole house of stuff back in Ann Arbor. I asked her if that was where she was going and she said no. She was starting life over in another state. Somewhere where her ex-husband wouldn’t find them.

I glanced at her in the rearview mirror. She had a round face the color of an acorn. Two of her kids were squished up looking out the window in anticipation of new scenery. The baby on her lap sucked her thumb and stared back at me with eyes half hidden by long lashes. All of them were dressed in their best clothes. Crisp white shirts tucked into belted trousers. The little girl next to Julie wore a pink sundress with a matching pink bucket hat. She clutched a Hello Kitty! daypack. The boys, too, each had a travel bag in their lap. I want to get them enrolled in their new school before it start, the mom explained. Julie nodded and told me where to turn.

The morning sun Tasered in through the windshield just as a tension headache was forming at the base of my skull. The woman rambled on, I’ve got a job lined up. At a nursing home, doing laundry. Internally I cringed. It sounded brutal, that kind of work. I imagined carts heaped high with urine-soaked sheets.

Mom, one of the kids spoke up. You said we might be able to get some treats, you know, for the road.

The mom looked like she was weighing the idea. She opened her purse and pulled out a well-worn envelope. Inside were bills stapled and paperclipped. It seemed as if each one had been reserved for a special purpose.

I can stop, I offered. I saw a mini mart across the street. Maybe I’d pick up a pair of sunglasses.

Okay, she said and then directed her oldest boy, Go get some drinks, chips, and stuff.

When we got to the bus station I had to let her off in the street since there weren’t any spaces close to the door. The woman heaved a good-size black garbage bag out of the trunk. Julie got out to help. The boys each took hold of the little girl’s hand. Take care, Julie said, and gave them a hug. Good luck!

We got Jesus.

I know, Julie said. Still, good luck.

We’re gonna be okay. We got each other.

Julie patted the boys on their shiny heads.

Wait! I shouted before they started for the door. I jumped out and crossed in front of the car. My head throbbed. Here. I thrust a bill at the woman. The $20 Cal had given me.

Sir, we don’t—

Please, I begged. Just take it.

The mom studied me. I must’ve looked a wreck, in need of sleep and a shave. The back of my shirt was wrinkled and blanketed in perspiration. Bless you, she said. She turned and wove through the human traffic, hauling her possessions out in front of her and her children straggling behind. I ripped the tag off my new sunglasses and quickly put them on so that no one would notice the sweat stinging my eyes.

Making Memories


Whenever anything happens in our family, usually something of the bad sort, we try to lighten the moment by saying: well, at least we’re making memories. Like the camping trip when the rain NEVER stopped. We huddled inside the tent door flap for a break in the weather. Well at least we’re making memories. We run out of gas and have to flag down a ride to the gas station. You get the picture. “Making memories” is the redeemable part we can take away from a catastrophe or a bad situation.

Of course when my husband and I argue we don’t later have a laugh and say afterward, well at least we were making memories, because there are some things too horrible to ever come out right.

But this past weekend falls into the category of “making memories.” We’ll forever remember this as the Christmas that Mike got his gallbladder out. Totally unexpected—which I guess is a good definition for emergency surgery. We had a good evening welcoming our daughter home from college. Ate some takeout and then because we were all a bit tired from travel and waiting and making mini-memories, we went to bed. Three hours later my husband woke up in intense pain.

So we’ve gotten off to a memiorous start to our holidays. Hope to hear from readers about your precious moments. Hope all your days are memoirous.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

a New Year's Resolution: Stop Procrastinating

10 Ways To Give Yourself A Procrastination Inoculation

Karen Leland, author of the new book, Time Management In an Instant. via:http://zenhabits.net
You know what you need to do. You know why you need to do it. You even know what steps you must take to get it done. But there’s one small problem: you can’t seem to get moving. It’s a common problem. Maybe it’s chronic procrastination or maybe you’re just so overwhelmed that you feel paralyzed. Either way, the task you must complete is just sitting there, gathering metaphorical (or perhaps literal) dust, and growing more ominous by the day.
A recently study by Dr. Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary concluded that procrastination is on the rise. According to Steel’s research, in 1978 about 15 percent of the population were considered moderate procrastinators. Today that number is up to 60 percent, a four-fold increase. While procrastination is to some degree a natural phenomenon and can’t be completely eradicated, you can use the following ten strategies to to get in the habit of getting things done.
1. Take advantage of your power hours. Are you an early riser who tackles your morning to-do list with all the gusto of a bear eating honey? Perhaps you’re a night-owl and crank through your most pressing projects at 11:00 p.m.?
Either way, knowing and taking advantage of your natural energy patterns will help you steer clear of procrastination by using your power times to tackle the projects you find most challenging.
2. Focus for five minutes. The hardest part of overcoming procrastination is often just getting started. For a tedious task that you have been putting off try setting a timer for five-minutes and get to work. When the alarm sounds, if you feel like stopping – don’t be surprised if that first five minutes turns into 10, 15 and 20.
3. Create cues. Write down the item you need to do and place it somewhere where you can see it – your refrigerator door, car dashboard, calender, iphone, bathroom mirror. Posting prompts on items you are procrastinating about in a highly visible place, helps remind you to get them done.

4. Use the clout of your calendar: Do you have a task that has been lingering on your to-do list for days, weeks or even (gulp) months? If so, use the clout of your calendar to move from inertia to action. Open your planner or PDA and schedule a specific date and time period when you promise yourself that you will work on that item – and that item only.
5. Decide on the next action: One reason people procrastinate is they feel intimidated by the task as it is currently stated and can’t figure out what to do next. To overcome overwhelm, figure out the next smallest, easiest and most comfortable action you could take to move forward. By breaking down the bigger less defined item into smaller more specific chunks, you tell your mind “I can do this”!
6. Give yourself credit all along the way: The moment you take any action (no matter how small) – give yourself credit. Don’t wait until the entire to-do is complete before experiencing at least some degree of satisfaction and accomplishment.
7. Tackle the hard ones first: Almost everyone has more focus, energy and attention available at the beginning of their workday than at the end. When you have to do a hard task, get it out of the way and do it first thing in the morning. This way it won’t nag at you all day long.
8. Be decisive: Putting off a decision on what to do with that piece of paper won’t be any easier tomorrow than it is today. Train yourself to categorize every item that comes across your desk as something to do now, delegate, dump, or defer. Defer does not mean placing it back in the pile and pretending it does not exist. That is the pathway to procrastination. It means putting it in a dated tickler file, scheduling a time to do it, or moving it to a someday to-do list – where the guilt and stress of procrastination don’t apply.
9. Enlist encouragement. Tell a close friend what you’re going to accomplish by when and ask them to check in on your progress. Going public can create a self-imposed pressure to shun procrastination and perform. Having a buddy who can celebrate your successes, and help you maintain perspective when you procrastinate is invaluable.
10. Play let’s make a deal. To get yourself moving on a hard to do activity, try a bribe. Make a promise to yourself that when you stop procrastinating and take some action on the item, you get a reward. This can be a piece of chocolate, watching a favorite tv show, spending time with your family – anything that you value and will motivate you to get moving.

Karen leland is the bestselling author of the new book Time Management In an Instant: 60 Ways to Make the Most of Your Day. Feel free to excerpt any or all of this article but please give credit to Karen Leland and the book. You can read more at her blog, or order a copy of the book and receive a free bonus of The Essential Email online program.

Promoting your Books Through Literary Blogs

as someone who has just start blogging 
 
here is a GREAT article on promoting your books through blogging
 
also the Chicago Artist Resouce is a great . . .ahem . . . resource. Bookmark it for future visits.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Coolest Thing Ever

for most of us fortunate enough to be published it's a sad day when we receive the e-mail/letter informing us that our baby has gone out of print or simply OP. Well my friend Laurel Snyder whom I met at Breadloaf about ten years ago when we were child prodigies has a very GREAT idea to ease the pain of OP.

Laurel take it away:

Does this sound like a good idea?

Ukraine to open Chernobyl area to tourists in 2011 (AP)

Christmas Memories

There are no sadder words than I remember, because it usually means that's in the past, gone. We only can hold it in our minds. It was real, but no longer. And there is no going back.

Lately I've been writing Christmas cards to friends and relatives. Mom has been losing her mind, dementia. so in my card to her I say remember this, remember that. I do this hoping to wake her up and bring her back. Remember when you used to put the fudge in the garage to set. Remember the Christmas we all got bikes. Remember the Christmas we only got money because you were too sick to shop. I didn't want to remind Mom of the Christmas she came home from the hospital. Here, she said, I made this for you in occupational therapy. I opened a box. It was a wristband with my name stamped into the leather--except she had spelled it Jayne instead of Jane. That's not how I spell my name, I said. Mom looked confused. I forgot, she muttered. Then she said, It must be the shock treatments.

I can't remember what I did with the bracelet. I saved it for a long time. After a while things get lost. Yet I didn't stop remembering.

From the Frozen tundra called Chicago

Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
“I don’t want realism! I want magic! ...I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth” 

It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Having a Moment

I feel old.
I don't get about half the gifts being advertised on TV this year. Get, like you know, UNDERSTAND. Tom Toms, GPSes, Apps, Epic Mickey, Wii.
What does it do? How do these things work?
I feel hopelessly behind the times.
Technology isn't on my wish list. No Nanos, no can do Kindle, no Leapfrog, Ipad, or Droids.
It all sounds like robots to me.
And the sad thing is--I'm NOT really all that OLD, but if I feel this way now--how am I going to feel in 20 years?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas is coming

Czech Christmas cookies

called Beehives

now this post should arouse some comments!! Let's use this picture as a prompt and write (or post comments) about our favorite holiday cookies (or treats).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Year of Pleasures

Elizabeth Berg is my go to person for fun, lazy afternoon reads. She is good for my soul, like a deep breath. She is candy in a dish. I love her.






Afterwards I saw that she acknowledges Pamela Todd, a mutual friend. I have to say it that way so that I can convince myself that Elizabeth and I have something in common. Pam is the author of the award-winning The Blind Faith Hotel. Check it out http://www.pamelatodd.com/

Chekhov stories with the help of Justin Timberlake, Nicole Kidman, Paula Abdul, Billy Ray Cyrus, Bono, Conan O’Brien and others.

Stumbled acorss an interview with Ben Greenman at Failbetter.com
http://www.failbetter.com/37/GreenmanInterview.php

Now here's an interesting idea. Greenman creates a mashup between celebrities in the news and Chekhov stories. Sort of like found poetry with the added element of "ripped from the headlines." This would be a fantastic assignment for a comp class. I want a story like this--only instead of the lady with the dog, I need Joan Collins with a muskrat on a leash at the El Paso/Juarez border: now go. Anyway, gotta add this book to my queue at the public library.

Swirls of Pet Milk

No one does it for me quite like Stuart Dybek. Yes, I know he's a Chicagoan and, yes, I read that he teaches at Northwestern, but those things have nothing to do with it. It is how he stirs me up. He hits a memory nerve every time I read one of his short stories. In The Coast of Chicago is the short story "Pet Milk" this one is a gem. "Today I've been drinking instant coffee and Pet milk, and watching it snow." And, yes, dear readers, it was snowing outside my window while I read "Pet Milk". "Pet milk isn't real milk, The color's off, to start with. There's almost something of the past about it, like old ivory."

Dybek is very good at invoking the past, and inciting his readers, such as myself, to wax nostalgic. He asks us to remember when we were kids, when grandma gave us kid coffee laced with lots of sugar and milk. His stories remind me of when I came to Chicago in the early 80s, when the curbs were full of litter, when vacant lots were nothing more than parking lots for abandoned cars, when slum landlords set fires every weekend in their run-down 6-flats converted into rooming houses, housing 30 - 40 people. One never really gets used to the blight. The old ladies hobbling down icy sidewalks, the young Cambodian kids jumping off a fence into a pile of dirty mattresses, the scrawny teenage boy sitting listlessly on a seesaw in the derelict playlot huffing on paint stripper from a paperbag.

When I first came to my neighborhood in Uptown, every night the gangbangers used to roll out and if they couldn't fight a rival gang they beat up each other--usually with baseball bats.

Dybek reminds me of all this. And as bad as it was, these memories are a badge. Thy are now part of MY story, which I'm going to have to sit down one day and write about. Especially that time I found a man in my closet, a drunk who had wandered in off the street and entered me and my husband's room while we were sleeping. After that we always remembered to lock the door--but that, again, is another story.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Happiness Project

and Old Friend from Far Away

I picked this book up from the library and found it to be a good resource for those of us teaching memoir writing (attention Beth Finke http://bethfinke.com/). The subtitle is The Practice of Memoir Writing by Natalie Goldberg best known for writing Writing Down the Bones. With this new book about writing she helps us strip away the barriers preventing us from remembering by providing chapters full of prompts--some as simple as Coffee--now GO, write for 10 minutes.

For those not familiar with Goldberg she is a Buddhist and many of her prompts come from a Zen-like center. One lesson she provides early on in the book is that sometimes it isn't about remembering but what is it that we are trying to forget. A great concept, and powerful. Fear can be a huge block as well as a motivator. For a writer to harness it can mean lots and lots of material.

Then somewhere along the way in this day I stumbled upon the http://www.happiness-project.com/
From Gretchen Rubin:
A few years ago, I had an epiphany on the cross-town bus. I asked myself, “What do I want from life, anyway?” and I thought, “I want to be happy”—but I never spent any time thinking about happiness. “I should do a happiness project!” I realized. And so I have.
My book, THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, is a memoir of the year I spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy--from Aristotle to Martin Seligman to Thoreau to Oprah. (Oprah--now there's a happiness factor times pi).
Anyway--just another way to do memoir. I have the book on hold at the library and will report on it as soon as I can. In the meanwhile let me say that the new library hold system has radicalized my life and raised my specter of happiness. Now I can manage my holds like a Netflix queue and get just about everything I want. Life is good.

Where do you see yourself?

 
Scholarships
 
27th Annual
Writers Workshop at Chautauqua
July 16-23, 2011
 
 
A Life-Changing Experience

In 2005, writer and storyteller Dianne de las Casas lived and worked in New Orleans. Her home and business had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Dianne was trying to get back on her feet and rebuild her career because her bread and butter had been in Louisiana, which suffered tremendously after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In 2007, Dianne was selected to receive a scholarship to attend the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua.
Here is what Dianne has to say:
“My experience at Chautauqua was life-changing. I was able to spend one-on-one time with children’s book masters, who became my mentors and finally, my friends. Candace Fleming was my assigned mentor but authors Bruce Coville, Kelly Milner Halls, Christine Taylor-Butler, Eric Rohmann, Larry Dane Brimner, and Joy Cowley were all willing mentors to every Chautauqua attendee. Many of the other Chautauqua attendees became lifelong friends. The connections I made at Chautauqua were no doubt some of the most meaningful connections I have made in the children’s book industry.
If you are considering attending any of the Highlights Foundation workshops or retreats, I highly encourage you to just do it. You will nourish your soul in a breathtaking environment, learn from the best in the children’s book publishing industry, mingle with masters, and make lifelong friends.”
When events threatened to swamp Dianne’s writing goals, she did not give up. She found the help she needed to move forward and so can you. Apply for a scholarship today and in July, 2011, you may find yourself posing for a picture with the new writing friends you’ve made at Chautauqua!



 
Think Chautauqua is out of your reach?
Think again!
Since 1988, the Highlights Foundation has provided more than 300 scholarships to writers and illustrators like you!
The requirements are simple.
  1. 1.You must have a serious interest in writing for children.
  2. 2.You must have established financial need.
  3. 3.You must believe in yourself enough to apply!

The earlier you apply, the better your chances!

It’s easy to apply. Just contact Jo Lloyd at 570-253-1192 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              570-253-1192      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or e-mail jalloyd@highlightsfoundation.org.
Put yourself in this picture!

once upon a time I was a would-be children’s writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Every year, I sent off a request for a report on the previous summer’s Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. I poured over the excerpts from workshops taught by such icons as Jerry Spinelli and Patricia Lee Gauch. I looked at photos of faculty members interacting with participants: chatting on benches, eating ice-cream cones, strolling down brick-cobbled paths. I can’t tell you how many times I imagined myself at Chautauqua or how much I longed to go there and learn what I needed to know to reach my goals as a children’s writer.

What I can tell you is this—I never went, at least not as a student. Why not? Because I thought I couldn’t afford to go. You see, somehow I missed one essential bit of information: the Highlights Foundation offers scholarships! 

If you long to attend Chautauqua as much as I did, it’s likely that financial concerns have stopped you. Now you know: they don’t have to.

It took me eight years as an editor to finally get to Chautauqua, but I’ve been blessed to serve on the faculty for seven years. If I’d known back then what I know today, I wouldn’t have wasted a moment getting my scholarship application in the mail. Now that you know, don’t wait. Make 2011 the year you go after your dream. 

I’ll look forward to meeting you at Chautauqua!

Kim T. Griswell
Senior editor; Highlights, Inc.http://www.highlightsfoundation.orghttp://www.highlightsfoundation.orghttp://www.highlightsfoundation.org/pages/scholarships_top.htmlshapeimage_10_link_0shapeimage_10_link_1shapeimage_10_link_2
For more scholarship information or to apply for your 2011 Highlights Foundation scholarship, contact Jo Lloyd at 570-253-1192 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              570-253-1192      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or e-mail jalloyd@highlightsfoundation.org.
Imagine Yourself at Chautauqua
One Week • 45 Workshop Choices • Inspiring Talks • One-on-One Mentoring
 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why do we lie to ourselves?

Andre Aciman
Perhaps this is why all memorists lie: we alter the truth on paper so as to alter it in fact; we lie about our past and invent surrogate memories—to make sense of our lives
We write about our life, not to see it as it was, but to see it as we wish others might see it, so we borrow their gaze and see ourselves through their eyes—not ours.

Andre Aciman as well as penning his memoir Out of Egypt has also contributed  to Stories in the Stepmother Tongue about immigrant writers now writing in English.
The past three days the sun has barely appeared. I feel like I live in the far north, like Norway. Sometimes in fact I like to pretend that I live here: Kristiansand Residency – Norway

I've walked past the house; it's green with little lace curtains at the window. I fantasize about taking up a residency there for three months, writing through the winter solstice, and teaching memoir writing at the local university.

I think on these shortest days of the year when the snow is falling outside that it is okay to let our thoughts take us far away. Where are you being taken to today?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hallelujah

 
And now the viral video taking the world by storm. http://www.wellandtribune.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2852421

The Food Court Hallelujah chorus. Can I get a witness? Can something similar to this be done for literature?


The Frey

I’ve been afraid of jumping into the fray or rather Frey. Mostly because I don’t want to give the bum any more media attention. But then I realized the kind of attention I might afford James Frey would be minimal compared to the hell the NY Times gave him. http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/69474/
Okay we already know he is a liar, but it seems as if the “author” of A Million Little Pieces is now a crook and a liar—and he’s not even a politician (at least not yet). I use the term author loosely. I guess he is an author, he wrote the above mentioned book and now a few others—but it’s how he got published and rose to fame that is the most galling. He lied.

First he tried to publish his ms as fiction and when that didn’t work he merely tried to pass it off as memoir. And OMG it worked! He got picked up by Nan Talese who sold him and got big bucks and Oprah and more big bucks and visibility (something by the way that big bucks can’t always get you). I saw people on the train reading his book. Wow to reach a critical mass to where your book is read on a train. If only, I lust and yearn, and ultimately despair of ever getting published again.

But then I remind myself, he tricked people!! It was all a sham. Yes, I trade exchanges with myself, but it worked. And that’s how it goes.

That covers the liar liar pants on fire part of this entry, now onto the crook part. As covered in the above NY Times link, Frey has started a writing factory enterprise. Listservs have lit up about this now for a couple of weeks, so for some of you, dear readers, this is OLD news. But the ethics is so so sticky.

Listen. It is a win-win situation. The underpaid anonymous author gets published. (We all know the lure of that, to see your name in lights, or maybe not YOUR name, but an affiliation with the guy who stole your work). Anyway, to see the work of your hands, the fruit of your labor out there and being read and hopefully enjoyed. It’s why many of us work so hard for little to no recognition. It’s a win-win for Frey and his writing factory Full Fathom Five. He makes money. The publishing house and subsequent movie people, script writers, etc—they’re all getting a cut. And isn’t this what it is all about?: fueling the economy, getting people back to work??

Yeah but . . . .

All those good intentions, the fruit of the labor, the work of the hands, is now simply considered content. That’s right. Even as I sit here I’m creating content or as journalists refer to them “clips.” Or maybe what Frey likes to call “product.”

Yet . . . there is a nagging naïve thought echoing in the hollows of my brain, a question really. What about art? Not content, or filler, or the stuff Frey needs to fulfill his contract. What about that driving passion, that subtle feeling that can’t be produced on demand, that thing which rises up involuntarily inside of me at the end of a story—either one I’ve read or one I’ve written—that thing that says Whoa, Wow, or YESSS. The Holy Ghost Goosebumps of Literature.

I’m gonna miss that feeling when all that gets published is packaged, propaganda, or commercial James Frey do-do.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Memoirs this Past Weekend


This past weekend I perused and read a couple of memoirs picked up on a whim from the library. One was the third memoir from Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, and a screenwriter, most recently for Brokeback Mountain for which he won an Oscar.

I was impressed with his memoir called Hollywood because one) he came off as a very likeable, balanced kind of guy, whose fame never went to his head. And two) he learned a lot about screenwriting that eventually influenced his novels. The book jacket said he was the author of thirty. He talked about the importance of an establishing shot, a quick pan that gives the reader an idea of location, a hint of the tension or conflict, and at least a cursory outline of the main characters. An establishing shot isn’t about backstory or setting up narrative, rather it is just that ESTABLISHING.

For example: The camera starts wide on a school yard, comes in closer so that we can see we’re at the E.L. Stanley High School and then shifts to the side of the building where 2 boys are sneaking a smoke and where we hear one talking to the other. Everybody’s acting funny lately. Yeah, it’s creeping me out. Like they’re under a spell or something.

WHOOSH. Establishing shot.

The other book I looked through, but eventually decided was a slog, slow and too full of minutia was at least good for a wiki. I looked up the author and found out she had been keeping a journal since like 1967. That’s it, she’d been keeping track of her life (she was a cancer survivor and single parent after her first husband walked out on her leaving her in the middle of Hodgkin’s disease with three kids and her second husband ran off after emptying her bank account after her first successful memoir came out—whew!) and had made a living off of her journals. Her approach to life’s problems was whimsical and somewhat simplistic, which I found a bit cloying at first, but came to appreciate as I considered the time period. She was a hippie, a free thinker, a true child of the times. Her journals totally encapsulated the 60s and the prevailing philosophy of that era. So in a way it was like going back and capturing the feel—or vibe! For that I’ll give Walking Through Fire by Laurel Lee a thumb’s up.

Conferences


Conferences. I’ve been to too many. Here is a small list, in no particular order:

Festival of Faith & Writing—Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI
Pilcrow Literary Festival, Chicago, Lincoln Park neighborhood
Prairie Writers Day, SCBWI-IL regional event
Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, where I worked on waitstaff, which turned out to be a very BIG DEAL, Kevin McIlvoy and Ernesto Quiñonez were my workshop facilitators
Sewanee Writer’s Conference, where I met Cheri Peters who championed me, I’ve always wished for someone to believe in me, thank you Cheri
Green Mountain Writers’ Conference, headed back again to the piney woods of Vermont, and thanks Yvonne Daley to awarding me a scholarship
Wesleyan Writers’ Conference, I attended on the Amanda Davis scholarship, Amanda was a truly gifted writer who had just come out with a YA novel and was beginning a book tour when her small plane crashed and she was killed
Highlights Foundation Writer’s Conference, at Chautauqua, NY (look it up, it’s amazing), full scholarship, where I worked under Helen Hemphill, author of Long Gone Daddy among others)
AWP or Associated Writing Programs, mostly I hung out at the Book Fair where I picked up writer’s guidelines and sample copies, so many that I could barely get home afterwards

I hope I’m not leaving any out.

Now the whole point of attending these conferences is to meet people. Like your future agent, editor, husband/wife/mistress/etc. In a nutshell: I’m horrible at this networking stuff. I loved Breadloaf because it was my first and I didn’t even know then what I know now, that I should be nervous, and also it helped to work. I served meals to faculty and participants in the dining hall. The year I was there another waitstaff person blogged about his experience at Slate. He got a lot right: the drinking, commingling, cohabitating, the readings, and then more readings. But he left out a lot, such as the words, the work, the edgy desire to better oneself. People in my group such as Gloria Estela Gonzalez-Zenteno were writing and revising on up to the day they workshopped and then continued to rewrite afterwards. Some people decide to audit, which I don’t get because what goes on in the workshop is the real conference and where the nitty gritty takes place.

I think a lot goes on after hours also, but I was never awake. Just my take. On Breadloaf—with, of course more to come later, about CONFERENCES.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

National Book Awards

Congratulations Patti!

News of the winners of the National Book Award just came over the wires (a euphemism, since technology today rarely involves wires) and Just Kids, Patti Smith, won for non-fiction.

I read Patti’s memoir this summer and was WOW-ed. I guess in her speech or an interview she said that she wrote it for Robert Mapplethorpe one of the first people she met after leaving home (a dreary small town in NJ) and arriving in New York City. They lived together, were lovers, but mostly they were dedicated friends. She promised him before he died that she would write a book about their relationship. Forty years later she writes it and wins the National Book Award. Aren’t you WOW-ed?

Oh yeah and art. They were both totally dedicated to art. Patti and Robert were young and trying to figure out if they wanted college or a factory job (was there a difference?) or a third way, making art. Coming as outsiders without experience, connections, or even a university degree (let alone an MFA), they jumped in, all the way. They lived in ratty SRO hotels, bummed off friends, and ate at automats. An old couple noticing them one day with their hippy clothes and long hair remarked out loud that they were “just kids.”

JUST KIDS captured perfectly that heart-felt longing for something better. Not money or fame exactly, though they wouldn’t have minded. But, rather, that inner confidence one experiences when you know you have gotten it right. When you’re young and working through the process, wondering what it is that you want to say, the light at the end of the tunnel must seem like death. Or atleast a long long long way off.

So congratulations Patti. All those years you sat in bed because there were no chairs at the Chelsea Hotel and scribble-scrabbled on a pad of paper and Robert walked the streets taking pictures and you both had to put up with BS and naysaying—this one’s for you.

And YOU, too. Go for it. People have the power.