Ritual

Ritual
~for Julia, in memoria

On this Lily-white
silent Sunday she
combs one hundred times
the strands of pony-grey,
streaked-aged mane
of ninety-two years,
pulls it back tightly
into an outdated bun.

Liquid-blue-petal eyes
shift, stare sadly down
at purple-viened hands
lain gently across cloth,
placid in a lap
of sagging flesh
and weak-white bone.

Old Southern sighs resignation
as generations gather
around the chair
to celebrate ancient,
another birthday.

Their debt of homage
paid in presence, ordered
by size and height around
the matriarchal chair.

Time-ticks every face older
into a mist of memory
becoming dreams —
as death comes
she remembers the future–

ball gown of tangerine silk
flowing, she dances
times distorted promenade.

The children will turn,
burn old candles,
forget,
and live forward.

~Summer 2011, South Carolina
Photography Prints

Writing an Author Bio: How to Win the Race Part 2

Running Down the Track: Creating an Image of You as Writer

You’ve selected your Type from the list in Part 1 (go here to read part 1) – this alone should help you narrow your focus and describe the intent of the work. Now, once you’ve reached a place of honesty and distance toward yourself and your work, it’s time to start the actual work of writing your Author Bio.

The writing process takes time. This is why most writing advice suggests that you write something and then put it away for awhile before coming back to re-read and edit. Good writing is even better writing when you return to it later. Bad writing will scream for edits and fixes when you go back to it (a crippled animal needing help before it goes off on its own)! Allow yourself the time you need to focus, write, and revise your Bio. The goal is to write an excellent Author Bio, not to write one faster than everyone else.

Here are some examples of how a not-so-great Bio becomes a better one:

Example One: Type A

Type A Indistinct: Jane Doe received her BA degree from Blank University, her Master’s degree from Blank University, and her MFA at Blank University. She graduated last month and took a course at Blank Blank Writer Retreat. She has always loved to read and is an aspiring writer of fiction. She has had work published in ABC Journal and One Journal.

Type A Specific & Individual: Jane Doe is a graduate of the MFA program at Blank University. She attended the Blank Area Writer’s Retreat last June with specialized study in the art of fiction. Her short story, “From Here to There,” recently appeared in Blank Journal. Other writing has appeared in Blank 3 Magazine and We Are Journal. Her fiction seeks to explore the connections between childhood myth and adult neurosis.

We get a much stronger sense of who the writer is and what she cares about in the second example. Remember to be concise but thorough. If you’ve earned degrees and attended retreats please let the editor know (you probably spent a fair amount of money to do so) as it allows them to understand your training and quality of writing they can expect.

However, be careful not rattle-off a litany of schools and accomplishments without tying them to your work, or explaining their relevance to your writing. I love butterflies, but would not include that in an Author Bio unless it was pertinent to the article I’d written.

Example Two: Type B

Type B Indistinct: John Doe is a writer and has a BA degree in architecture from Blank University. His wife and children are his greatest inspiration. He loves music, opera, and Frank Sinatra. He writes for his local paper, the daily news. He also won a poetry contest when he was younger.

Type B Specific & Individual: John Doe has been writing since childhood. He is the author of “Today’s Best Music,” a weekly column for the Any Town Newspaper. John enjoys all music, but Frank Sinatra is his favorite vocalist. He is working on a short-story collection about the changes in the music scene over the past decade. This essay is an adapted version from that project.

There is a temptation to include any professional or educational accomplishments in your Author Bio. This usually comes from a fear of not mentioning educational levels when sending work to literary magazines. However, information just for the sake of information, without relevance to the topic, is a wasteful use of your limited word-count. Try to avoid this!

In John’s case, the BA degree in architecture is irrelevant information for this piece. His mention of his wife and kids is sweet, but it is also unimportant to the piece and more about sentimentality than relevance. John’s love of music and prior writing about music is more relevant and provides a deeper, stronger vision of who he is and why he’s writing the essay we’re going to read.

Example Three: Type C

Type C Indistinct: My name is Jane Doe and I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I have written in journals all my life. I read a lot and have over 100 books on my shelves. I live in the west and hate the hail storms, but I love the snow. I should have started writing before. I’m glad my husband talked me into it.(And, yes, I have received Bio’s like this!)

Type C Specific & Individual: Jane Doe is an avid reader and lives in Oklahoma. She has always been fascinated with journal-keeping and is researching the history of journal-keeping in the prairie states during the 1800’s. The essay, “Life of Prairie Storms,” is her first published work and evolved from her journal-keeping research.

OR

Type C Specific & Individual: Jane Doe moved to Oklahoma from New York in 1974. She soon discovered that the hail storms in that area were more violent and damaging than the Northeasters she had faced back home. Jane told her husband that people in New York would never believe the ferocity of the storms. He encouraged her to write about them. The resulting essay, “Ice Battering at Tulsa,” included in this issue of Blank magazine is her first published work.

It’s always difficult being new at something. As a new writer, there is much to absorb and many new skills to polish when seeking publication. A new writer often has a Bio filled with sentimental, personal things that are irrelevant to their new career effort, or they have a “one liner” Bio with no content or warmth. It’s is essential to find a middle ground.

The examples for Jane above show two opposite tactics based on the content of the submitted work. Either option takes for granted that she is writing about something in which she has personal experience or direct knowledge. I advise all new writers to start in that way. Hobbies and passions are wonderful places to find and build stories, family and regional history are also filled with possible story ideas.

There is a key difference between being a new writer and an unprofessional one. Take yourself and your writing seriously and approach submissions in a professional way. Write an Author Bio that exemplifies your desire, talent, and humility. Submit material appropriate for the specific market you’ve targeted with a professional Bio and a good Cover Letter. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed due to a lack of publishing credits. Instead, be proud of the new voice and career path opening before you. Remember that being new to the writing profession doesn’t mean that your stories aren’t valid. Believe in who you are and what you have to say!

Into the Home Stretch: A Word of Caution

Every writer has a distinct voice that shows in their work, helps shape and define it, but that is not necessarily the voice or personhood of the writer as an individual. Writing, much like the arts of music or painting, should speak for itself. Be careful not to provide a voice stronger than your writing-voice in your Author Bio.

The voice within your writing may be the voice the reader will enjoy most or want to hear. After all, haven’t we all watched that in-depth interview with a lead singer we once loved turn into an episode of TMI (Too Much Information) or a whine-fest that makes us decide we’ll never buy another one of their CD’s? Or, there’s the movie star interview (think about Mel Gibson or Charlie Sheen here) that starts out okay and quickly disintegrates into a hellishly bad episode that makes us wonder why we ever liked them.

We may love the voice and tone in a writer’s work and still, as with Gibson or Sheen, be insulted and turned off by the true, unrestrained, everything-exposed personality. Much like the wizard from The Wizard of Oz – there’s a reason and a purpose for the curtain covering a writer’s magic.

Crossing the Finish Line: Flexibility & Revision

Wow! Congratulations! You did it! You wrote an articulate, professional Author’s Bio! That’s it, you’ve won the race and we’re finished, right? Well, almost. There are a few final things you should know…

An Author’s Bio is constantly evolving and changing. I recommend a basic Bio like the examples above as a starting point. If you’re putting your Author Bio on a blog or book it will be more permanent. However, for general submissions over time, and as you establish new credentials and published credits, you’ll need to tweak it and edit often. Consider your submission content and adjust your Bio accordingly.

Remember, your Author Bio is like your business card or resume – it is the biographical information on you as a writer. It will continue to change and grow with you on this wonderful journey.

Writing an Author Bio: How to Win the Race! Part 1

“All runners (writers) in place!”

“Ready! Set! Go!”

The starting gun fires and the race begins!

Half the contestants stumble and turn, blindly running in the wrong direction. The other half run toward an imaginary finish line in the distance . . . somewhere?

Welcome to the world-cup championship race for the best Author Bio!* You, the writer (or hope-to-be writer), must tell the world who you are, and why they should listen to you, in a succinct 25 to 150 words. No solid guidelines exist to help you and there is no definitive formula for winning. Ready! Set! Go!

Does this scene sound familiar to you? Do you sit at the keyboard, palms sweating – trying to figure out who you are, what you have to say, why your work matters – trying to create the perfect Author Bio? If so, this article will help you understand and formulate a great Author Bio that works for you!

Warming Up: Defining Yourself as an Author!

I’ve been thinking about Author Bio’s for several weeks due to my blog getting more clicks on that page. It’s time to revise and update, and that decision, to re-work my own personal Bio, led to this article. Honestly, I never enjoy writing my Author Bio. It always seems a bit egotistical and pretentious – listing all my previous publication credits,talking about myself formally, introducing myself with all that pomp and grandeur – it’s not really a comfortable process even if you’re an old hand at it.

It’s even worse if you’re new to the writing profession. How do unpublished writers create credibility for their work and a professional sense of who they are in the Bio? After all, it’s not like you can say, “I’ve never written anything before, but I know my work is worth publishing. Trust me.” Right? Well, you can do that, but it never works out to your benefit!

The Author Bio is the starting point for any serious writer.**  Most editors read your Author Bio and your cover letter before even glancing at your submission. (I’ll talk about cover letters in another post.) The effort to write a good Author Bio is both necessary and worthwhile. A “good Author Bio” will help to define who you are as a writer and what your work says to the world. It is a source of clarity and purpose if done correctly. It is also, based on my years of experience as an editor, one of the most neglected parts of a submission package.

Starting Line: Understanding the Three Types of Author Bio’s

The Author Bio is the first impression an editor will have of you. It should contain the same level of writing expertise as your work. It should provide a glimpse into your philosophy on writing and the motivation behind your work. The first key to writing a good Author Bio is to understand that it is intricately linked to your work as a writer.

There are three main types of Author Bio’s:

1. Author Bio A: Educational credentials and previous publications in the small-press arena and/or winning or high placement in literary contests;

2. Author Bio B: Non-educational credentials, but combinations of publications in local or online arenas, mixed with small-press and literary publication credits;

3. Author Bio C: Non-educational and Non-published credentials, may have a blog or informal online publications or no publication history of any type.

These Bio Types are intentionally broad to allow for varying degrees of writing expertise and publication history.*** The Type label is an organized way for us to discuss “writers” as professionals, using their background, particular focus and interests, and their degree of publication experience in order to write an effective Author Bio.

It is important to remember that your Author Bio is actually your writer biography – not your mom biography, your I keep a perfectly clean house biography, or I love ice skating biography – your Bio should represent you as writer and your specific area of interest regarding a piece of work and it’s inclusion in a specific magazine or market. (The exception to this rule: Stephen King can say anything he wants in his bio!)

The Type A Bio will typically be a more experienced professional writer or an academic with numerous publication credits in their field of study. They often have a PhD or an MFA,  attend well-known workshops, are involved with writer colonies, and may be a full-time writer, professor, or editor. They often blog professionally for various media,win numerous prizes and grants via writing competitions, and may have published books one or more books.

The Type B Bio often holds a college degree and is a writer for local publications or literary magazines. They may own or edit a small-press magazine, have numerous literary publications, have won or placed in literary competitions, and may be a professional blogger with a medium to large following. They are usually less involved with national events/publications and more involved in local arts programs and cultural events or organizations in their area.

The Type C Bio is typically the beginning writer or a more mature person who has retired and is now pursuing a life-long dream. They may or may not have a college degree, may have written for local regional publications, may have some published credits or none at all. They often start writing as an emotional release, an escape from troubled lives, or because they are an avid reader and have always wanted to be a writer. They often have a blog with a small following and may or may not participate in community writing activities or reading groups.

The first step in writing a great Author Bio is to decide your Bio Type and then make an  honest assessment of self.  Nathaniel Hawthorne was right when he said:

“No man, for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one is true.”

Many people in the world wear masks on a daily basis, but the writer must to step from behind his mask and view himself with distance and perspective.

It is the element of distance that allows the writer to find truth in himself and the piece of work he’s creating. Again, Hawthorne makes a succinct point when he says, “Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy, of dishonesty.” Good writing always flows from a place of emotional honesty and perspective cultivated and polished by the writer. instinctively, the reader understands this and backs away from the work of an overwrought, dishonest writer.

(E.g. Writing a story of Aunt Martha being fat because you hate her guts, and with no other intention or depth, will seem hostile, petty, and pointless to the reader. You’ll lose them before the end of the first paragraph. On the other hand, writing a story about Aunt Martha, from a place of honesty and compassion, detailing your journey to forgive her and move away from hatred, will gain a reader’s interest and involvement. They’ll want to know how the story – your journey – works out and will likely continue reading.)

Take a long, serious look in the mirror and then take a long, serious look at your writing from the position of observer. It’s time to start writing.

(Read Part 2 Here)

Photo courtesy of:training racing pigeonswebsite.

*The term Author Bio is used in its general, wider meaning throughout this article to include any writer, poet, author, etc. that would be formally submitting work for acceptance and publication.

**I realize that writing and publication has changed a great deal these past years. However, whether submitting work in a traditional snail-mail manner or via online submission tools or emails, I still believe a certain level of professionalism is required. Thus, the Author Bio and cover letters are treated as necessary to any submission process regardless of the format.

***I firmly believe that you can be a successful writer regardless of your particular Bio Type or level of experience. I also believe that no one type is better or worse than the other. These Types are used as a simple guideline to understanding the various levels of professional achievement, along with the slant or focus of particular writers. It is not intended to be in any way discriminatory, argumentative, or seen as support or rejection of any particular group or individual writer.

you for Muse

Love poems never suited
me. Too un-sentimental,
a realist, an artist. I
wrote of concrete moments,
never tried sonnets or
romantic poesy. One
must have unrequited
love for that — a permanently
present, happy love says
little. Lives content not to
speak — but, lost un-held
things demand words. Need
expression of absence. Loss
or broken dreams demand
a voice.

Love poems never called
to me. Too realistic, too jaded
for fairy tales. I need
to crave the unavailable,
must have gut-wrenching
deep-set pain to push
the words forward, out of heated
muscle, flesh, heart – the poet
in me found you for Muse –
this reminds me of Greek
mythology, love-hate
relationships with the Oracles.

You will be
like other myths, will
grow distant,
un-useable. With time
an old god no longer
believed to exist. Your
shimmering marble
covered in moss,
decay crossing cream,
old water stains and
some new graffiti
will color you unimportant.

April 2011

Autism: An Interview with the Founders of William’s Garden

An Interview for Whippoorwill Journal with Marilyn and John Winright, founders of William’s Garden: A Camp for Autistic Children.

WJ:  In the Testimonial section of your website, you and John describe the initial decision to start William’s Garden and your belief that it is a God-given mission. Can you elaborate for our readers how you came up with the idea and what it means to you as Christian to be able to serve in this ministry?

Marilyn: I’ve always loved children and working with them.  For years I’ve worked as the girls club leader in our church, as well as teaching Sunday School and assisting with the teens. I was immediately on board when John approached me with the idea of starting some sort of a camp for children as a retirement career. This was something that I could get excited about because of my love for children.

We originally thought about a “camp” for children with Down’s Syndrome. We were familiar with illness and felt a strong desire to try to make life more complete and fun for those special kids. Then, after sitting down with our consultant, Ms. Dee Moody, also of Gaffney, SC, we learned that there are many programs available for children with Down’s Syndrome. However, we discovered a new, growing type of special needs children, those suffering with Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders, and very few local programs  or other assistance available to help them and their families. We didn’t know that much about Autism. We’d heard it mentioned, but knew few details. John and I did some research and realized there was a great need for help in the Autism community.

As to what it means to us as Christians to be able to serve in this ministry: we feel that God has laid this project on our hearts and has given us the desire to do whatever we can to make William’s Garden a complete success. We are excited and hopeful every time we sit down to discuss our next step. We consider it an honor to be used of God to make the life of children with Autism and their families happier and more productive. We also hope that William’s Garden will help remove some pressure and aid the parents of autistic children as they try to find a place within our community and work toward their child reaching his or her greatest potential.

We believe that God leads us every step of the way and guides us in this effort. We feel confident that he confirms His Will in this for us through some awesome signs. That’s what we write about in our Testimonial on our website, www.williamsgarden2010.com.  There’s just nothing more fulfilling then knowing that you are doing the will of God.

WJ: What were the most difficult steps in the journey once you and John made the decision to start the William’s Garden project?  And, how did you overcome those places of struggle?

Marilyn: William’s Garden is still a work in progress and, so far, we’ve been blessed not to have what I would call “struggles”, but we have had to learn more patience. Creating a non-profit organization is not an easy task. There are many rules and regulations to follow. I’m sure that as we move forward there will be difficult times, but we know that God will provide the way for us to get this done.

WJ: Tell us about the struggles and the joys so far in this endeavor?

Marilyn: The hardest part at the moment is waiting for the finalization of our 501(c)3 Tax Exempt Status. We’ve gotten a head start by getting our name out to the community, we are working with developers  create the plans for the facilities and the campsites. It’s a process that takes time. Sometimes it’s a struggle to be patient, but we are making progress, and that’s what matters. Slowly but surely, William’s Garden is coming into being. We’ve met, emailed, and had comments on our website from parents who are so excited about what we are doing and how it will benefit them and their child with Autism. That’s a real joy. To know that we are already making a difference.

WJ:  Can you give us an idea, a description, of what you see William’s Garden becoming in the next 3 years? Five years? What are some of the goals and benchmarks you’d like to meet?

Marilyn: Wow! What we envision for William’s Garden? Lots! That’s for sure.

Our plans are to have a facility constructed on 7 acres of land that will include a shelter-house for outside activities and gatherings, campsites for 10 children and their counselors for a week long summer camping experience, outdoor gardening projects as well as nursery garden, and a “petting zoo” with farm animals and a few exotic animals. We have hiking/nature trails and will have horse riding  for the children as well. We plan to build “dorm” type sleeping facilities, offices for professional service providers which will include psychologists, therapists, family counselors, etc., as well as a Sensory Room, a computer lab and a Media Room for photography.

We plan to work with the school system and provide after-school programs for those kids who need extra help with homework, and communication and socialization skill sets. A swimming pool will be available to teach swimming lessons and water safety (which is very important because the Autistic child is often drawn to and sometimes has a deep fascination with water). As William’s Garden grows, we plan to offer various job training programs such as growing and selling produce, pottery classes, basket weaving, all types of arts and crafts, and some specialized training for industry within our community. We will begin with those children/youth from Cherokee county, SC and then expand into surrounding communities. We hope to one day be a national program.

A BIG part of our focus will be on making our program affordable. Most of what these special children need is not federally funded. We hope to raise enough in donations, contributions, and sponsorships to make it possible for ANYONE who wants to participate to be able to do so.

WJ: On your website, you mention that you do not have an autistic child and explain why you felt pulled toward this project. Can you explain that a little here for our readers? Also, how do your children feel about the project and will any of them be involved in it?

Marilyn: John and I love children and wanted to do something in our retirement years for children with special needs. It’s just something that we feel the need to do in our hearts. What really solidified the decision for me was an event that happened a few years ago in Spartanburg, SC. A 2 1/2 year old little boy was playing outside with his siblings when his mother needed to run back into the house for just a moment. When she returned, he was gone. She searched for 2 hours with no sign of him so she called 911.  There was a massive search. two days later his little body was found not far from his home –  in the river behind where he lived.  His mother said he had always had a fascination of the water. Investigators assumed that he could hear the sounds of the river, which was full because of recent rains, and went looking for it.  He apparently slipped and fell.  I followed it on the news very closely – there was just something in that little boys eyes… he had such beautiful, sweet, precious eyes! It just tore at my heart when I heard that he had died. His name was William. It just seemed fitting to name our program William’s Garden in his honor. His mother is aware of what we are doing and is supportive.

John and I, between us, have 6 sons, (as well as a foreign exchange student that we had several years ago that we also consider a son), 2 (3) daughter-in-laws, 1 (3), grandsons and 6 granddaughters.  They all support what we are doing with William’s Garden and are as excited as we are about it. Our youngest son, Caleb, lives with us and will be helping us with the gardening/landscaping/maintenance aspect of William’s Garden. He loves helping us with the planning and is really looking forward working in the gardens with the kids. The rest of our family lives all over the US, but if they were here, I’m sure they would be willing to do whatever it took to help make William’s Garden  a success.

Originally published in Whippoorwill Journal, Spring 2011 edition. Http://whippoorwilljournal.com

Self-Direction: Angela Irvin

Lately, I haven’t had the time to blog as I would like. So, I’m trying to provide some “mini” blog posts calling attention to some of the great Blogs and Bloggers I’ve found on the web. I hope you’ll all enjoy the excerpts and links – please support all the wonderful bloggers out there in cyber-land!

Go check out this excellent, intelligent blog by Angela.

…we should not passively accept a direction that is handed to us. Instead, we should actively set our own direction. Additionally, we should foster relationships with people who are understanding and supportive of our need for self-direction, and when others offer opinions and suggestions regarding our lives, first consider how they fit in with our own goals.

A little info about Angela:  My name is Angela, and I am currently pursuing acceptance into a doctoral program for Clinical Psychology.

Grandfather

On some other lost plane
of time you are standing
watching the years roll
like clouds forecasting
rain on a spring day.

Gray-black eyes fold tears
into memory that forgets
you. As soon as dawn comes
you watch the children
grow like strong trees,
the grandchildren grow
like deep-rooted sycamores
in the ground you plowed.

On some other lost plane
of time you are hovering
as a bright-bold presence
with a smile eating tears
of snow on a winter day.

April 2011

The 99% and The Battle for America

“Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked?“      ~Soren Kierkegaard

venice_masque

We are the author of our own personal truth. We make daily decisions, as the creator, designing and constructing the platform-frame as a foundation to which we attach our personality, build a narrative history, and create a legacy that becomes the unique remembrance of us in the world. We do this as individuals and as the United States of America.

Nationally, as Americans, we love to believe in the American Dream – that anyone can become anything, rising above circumstances and limitations, to become an American success story.  Our history is one of dreamers and dreams being born and flourishing. Our soil grows an independent fighting Spirit that makes us seek more and better; each new generation shoving past its predecessor to become smarter, brighter, stronger, richer, and happier. This is the promise we have cherished since becoming a nation; a promise believed to be our great Destiny. We are a nation built on hope, individuality, and dreams.

But, times are changing, and as New Americans we live in a time of masks. Our politicians are primarily a collective of hidden faces behind picturesque disguises, the national economy still tragically caught within a depression that is masked by the title recession, and numerous negative sociological and cultural changes ignored and denied as non-existent boogey-monsters imagined by an uneducated and panicky lower-class public. The American Dream still applies to 1% of the population, but what about the 99% who have trouble sleeping and haven’t dreamed in years?

Class Levels and the Battle for Education

America has always been a land of class division as much as she would deny it. However, not since the years of open slavery has the schism between the rich and poor been so great. The classes continue to grow in distance from one another, with the realities of one class being almost incomprehensible to the other class. At the heart of these different realities lies education.

The poorer classes traditionally are less educated and less literate than the more prosperous classes. The recent cuts in public school budgets for arts and sciences, the teacher downsizing and layoffs in the public schools, and the current trend toward staff reductions and closing of public libraries is obviously more detrimental to the poor. Likewise, when the fear of government shut-downs were discussed, it was the military and public parks that faced pay cuts and closures – both of which are utilized by and filled with people of poor to modest incomes. The rich seldom need to use these services or join our military forces.

The money and privilege of the higher classes provides advantages beyond what the “average” American can afford. High crime rates, violent acts during a crime, and major drug use are often directly traceable to lack of education and trauma in the home. Deprivation of basic resources and a sense of stability and security, along with unhealthy self-esteem, creates an unbalanced psyche that leans toward mental illness, drug use, and violent crime. While the answer may not be to throw money at the problems once they’ve reached that stage; certainly, no one would deny that our society benefits from educating our children, teaching them to be productive, ensuring that all children have their basic needs met, and are provided a good, basic education.

Education is like medical care: those with higher incomes and more disposable money will always be able to purchase both commodities. Those without the funds to do so lose the foundation of opportunity. We create a society in which violence thrives because higher education, critical thinking, logic and problem solving have not been taught. Instead, people take what they want by forces believing that to be the only way they’ll ever have it. Lack of opportunity, inequality, and jealousy creates violent men and women.

door-lock_small 

In recent years, our public education system has fallen terribly short of its objectives – we do need review and changes. However, cutting teacher pay, laying-off teachers, and increasing class size are not forward-moving steps. Rather, these are antiquated methods that lock doors to keep certain people (classes) “in their place.” An uninformed and uneducated public is also a less powerful public. But, we must beware, because history shows that mob rule becomes the norm when people cannot find voice or power any other way.

 

 Who is the 99% ?

 

There’s a wonderful article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, in this month’s Vanity Fair, titled, “Of The 1%, By The 1%, For The 1%,” that explores the inequality in wealth and class in America. According to Stiglitz:

The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent….While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.

  

This is a staggering truth – the numbers don’t lie. The rich run the country through wealth and power, and the middle class IS shrinking. Stiglitz goes on to examine this situation in depth, looking at the ruling class and politicians, at current reinforcing rules, and at what this means for America as time passes. In closing he explains a basic truth often forgotten by those in power: As a nation, the fate of the 1 percent and the fate of the 99 percent is intricately knotted together.

The 99 percent could be called the “average Americans.” The men and women who work a job in construction, food service, plants or warehouses, service industries, and myriad other “blue and white collar” jobs. The 1 percent are the politicians, the IT millionaires, the privileged dynasty families, and the other top power brokers in our nation. The 1 percent, like the mythical comments of the French queen, may very well say “let them eat cake,” as the lower classes starve. Again, history teaches us valuable lessons about the abject distance between the two classes and the violence that is possible when the rich and powerful men forget that the poor man has a destiny entwined with his own.   

For the Love of Art and Artists

Photography Prints

I’ve always been a fan of art and artists. Even to the point of marrying one! But, long before meeting my husband, art was firmly rooted in my mind as a flowering garden I would always admire. My first two memories of art as a child revolve around Crayola Crayons and the picture of a horse painted by my mother.

First memory: my Crayola Crayons. I still recall them with great joy (you know, the sixty-four pack with the sharpener in the back)! Unusual names like Sienna, Thistle, Raw Umber, and Magenta conjured up images of a wild, exotic land far away from the rural, humdrum farmhouse of my childhood. I loved coloring as a child, but I could never master drawing.

Eventually, getting bored with coloring and being unable to draw, I went through a spell of melting the various individual crayons and pouring them together in molds to create new color choices. All this under my grandparents watchful eyes, of course, and to the chagrin of my mother and other adults. They would stop by and find me in the dining room with an old cooking pot (donated by my grandmother for the effort) filled with melting crayons on top of the wood stove, the smell of hot wax drifting through the rooms. My grandparents would shush the naysayers with, “she’s just a child.”

“It’s okay. She’s not hurting anything,” was the mantra as they sat watching me stir various colors into tin cans, saucers, and any other makeshift molds I could find. (Just for the record, my grandparents were so darn cool to let me do that!)

Second memory: that cute little brown horse standing in a bright green pasture. I’m not sure the exact age that I noticed the painted pony, but I was young and it was before I started school. It was vivid. I remember asking my grandmother about it. There was a tone of pride in her voice as she explained that my mother had painted it.

My mother had me very young. As a child, I adored her and believed she was the most beautiful creature on the planet. The fact that she had painted this, that she was an artist, made her suddenly mysterious and talented too. I studied the picture often, picturing my mother as she painted; begging to see the picture up close. A request my grandmother often indulged. I would hold it in my hands, staring at each stroke of paint, at the way in which the lines met to create the picture in full.

The picture held great significance because it was the only painting in my grandmother’s house. There were doilies, ceramic plates from various places, trinkets and family photographs on the fireplaces and side tables, but there were no other pieces of art anywhere in the house.

I grew up watching the little horse, trying to draw something that even slightly resembled the horse, or anything “real,” to no avail. The more obvious my inability as an artist became (I couldn’t even manage to get the paint-by-numbers pictures done correctly) the more I admired my mother’s artistic talent. I eventually turned to writing as a way of drawing pictures with words. And words remain the closest I can come to artistry. I am unable to paint with colored pencils, pastels and the like, but I learned to paint pictures with words. And, to a great extent, most of my poems and short-stories and heavy on imagery. I want the reader to see it.

So, loving art and artists as I do, I want to introduce you to a wonderful site: Fine Art America. They have numerous artists with art available in any medium imaginable, as well as offering the ability to purchase original canvas, framed pictures, notecards, etc. They also provide art images with a link for use on blogs that allow you to use the lovely work while correctly crediting the artist. Their mission, per the website says: “FineArtAmerica.com is a social network and e-commerce marketplace for photographers, visual artists, art galleries, and fine art collectors.  Visitors to FineArtAmerica.com can choose from over 1.5 million pieces of original artwork including paintings, sculptures, drawings, mixed media, jewelry, and more!” If you get a chance, please check them out at http://www.fineartamerica.com.

 

.

Fallout I

1-her-majesty-tom-mc-nemar

When it ended
I wanted
warm goodbyes
that never
came. I absorbed
quiet, as others
watched me
retreat, disappear
into silence.
I became
loss
and fielded
phone calls from
curious players
in the game
of chess, played
with people, cities
doubling as
squares
on the board.

February 2011

  

A Post About Nothing

Wallpaper__Elegant_1680_x_1050_by_beanhugger

 

It’s been rainy and cool here in South Carolina today. Strange weather after two weeks of sunshine and 70 degree temperatures. It will be a little cooler this week, but still in the 60’s so I’m happy.

Yes, I broke the rule and started a story with the weather, but it’s okay. This isn’t meant to be a serious post about anything – surely you figured that out by the title! No, you probably didn’t expect the title of the post to be true. Nothing is ever about nothing, right?

Okay, so maybe the post isn’t about nothing, but it is a mundane post without any intentions. Sometimes it’s just nice to write a rambling post that isn’t dressed up in the finery of purpose or deep intent.

I’ve spent the day reading numerous research papers and articles about neuroscience, memory retention factors, and the psychological and philosophical elements and theories about Bipolar disorder. These are all background study and/or sources for two research essays I’m working on. Both pieces seem timely considering the Charlie Sheen meltdown and the new medical findings in several areas of cognitive science. So, I’m putting my “serious writer” hat on and actually working on some serious writing, except for here at the blog.

 

Charlie Sheen, Religious Arguments, and Self-Delusion

Is it just me, or does it seem like America has slipped down the rabbit hole with Alice? It reminds me of the Brandon Jenkins song, The Whole Worlds Gone Crazy.

Video of the Week

What is up with Charlie Sheen? He’s been notorious for years now – stripper problems, drug issues, and now seriously sad and crazy behavior. I’ve always liked his acting (and ditto for Mel Gibson and his bizarre behavior). They’re very talented actors, but what is going on? I have no answers, I’m just asking…

Earlier today I was reading my Facebook page  and noticed where my sister and friends from our school years  ended up in a heated argument over God and religion. Okay, can we all accept that everyone has a right to their belief system without having the right to inflict it on others?

It seems like a simple agreement, a basic social courtesy to extend to others, but, considering the past two thousand years of religion-based warfare, I’m probably just expecting too much. Still, peaceful disagreement is always better than a heated argument that leaves people feeling hurt and unloved.

It was a rough week at work (sales were great, but personnel issues took center stage). I’m learning that the title Sales Manager puts a dart-board target on my back and that every disgruntled worker we terminate grabs a handful of darts on the way out. It’s no biggie in the larger scheme of things, but it’s amazing to me the level of self-delusion many people live in.

Twice now I’ve hired people as a favor to my kids, their friends, and that just doesn’t seem to work out. So, no more of that! The sad part is that these people were given an opportunity that they would never had been given otherwise.

I actually care about this situation and these people. It hurts me that it doesn’t work, that they prefer delusions to true growth. I want very much to help the less fortunate, the people who can most benefit from an opportunity, but they don’t want the opportunity as much as I want to give it to them. It is sad to watch the jealousy and venomous behavior of people that you’re trying to help end up destroying them.

 

Pondering an Important Question

Lately, I’ve been pondering the following question: Am I a writer selling cars or a car salesman that writes?

I have a tendency to “fall into” situations, careers, relationships. It’s a unique and quirky part of who I am. Plans are fine. I make them, of course; but life always twists and turns in some unexpected way…and…oops, there I go, falling into the next new thing!

The car business has been an accidental success. I loved it almost immediately and my tenacious determination to win kicked in. It’s been a good business for me, one in which my verbal talents serve me well. One that pays me very well.

I was a writer for many years before I was in the car business. writing is and has always been my first love. I seldom write as I once did, my output and body of work has diminished due to time constraints. I have finally taken a few vacation days this month (my first time-off in two years) and am looking forward to some extra writing time. I have several major projects I hope to complete by the end of the month.

It’s ironic to think that two years ago while in Pryor, Oklahoma I thought I would never write again. Rather, I am at a place where major, deeper works seem more likely just a short while later.

Writer’s are writer’s because of two major things:

  1. because they write, and
  2. because they see the world with a different level of perception, depth, and detail than most people around them.

A writer is always a keen observer of the people and the world he or she lives in. Even more ironic is the fact that the same observation skills are what makes a great sales person. I suppose the answer to my question could be both. After all, we all carry various names, tags, and titles through our lives. Our identity doesn’t come from a title. Our true identity comes from the various mixture of titles and intricate details of our personality combined into the whole of us. We are the sum of all that has touched us, taught us, claimed us, and identified us, We are individually wonderful in many ways. ~

 

 

 

Clinical Despair: Science, Psychotherapy and Spirituality in the Treatment of Depression | Psychology Today

This is an interesting and insightful article about depression at Psychology Today: Clinical Despair: Science, Psychotherapy and Spirituality in the Treatment of Depression | Psychology Today.

Perception

 

I am
a question mark written
on the pages of your life.

You are
a melodic song
I will hum on lonely days.

We are a question,
a melody forever playing ~
water to thirsting strangers,
food glorious to starving men.

I am a child dancing
too close to the fire.
You are a roaring flame
licking the edges of my soul.

February 2011

Confessions of a Book Lover

Bibliophile ~ A collector of books. An avid reader or book lover.

Okay, I admit it. My name is Marissa and I’m a book lover. They hold a special power in my life unlike anything else.

Books actually helped me choose my new home two years ago. The beautiful, ornate, wood floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the living room made this house a “must have.” My husband understood that immediately when we opened the door and walked into the room for the first time. My “ooh, look at the bookshelves,” sigh caused a laugh and resigned eye-rolling.

We talked about the various other merits of the house for a few days: the huge yard, the wonderful wood deck, the hardwood floors, the large kitchen, and the renovated bedrooms. We discussed it all as if there was a decision to make, but we both knew the decision was a given,that the bookshelves were a “sign” and that this was the perfect house for us.We moved in a month later.

I unpacked boxes of books, loading them onto the shelves, starting in the middle. I suddenly realized that the double bookcases covering an entire wall of the living room were much larger than they looked. I only had enough books to fill four of the ten shelves. I made a mental note of the number of books I would need to fill-up the cases. Wow! Time to start buying more books!  No happier thought than that ever occurs to a bibliophile!

Two years later I am a beloved customer of Quality Paperback Books, Barnes & Noble, Folio Society, and quite a few other book stores and publishers. I’m doing my part to stimulate the economy, keep literature alive, publishers publishing, and writers writing! I’ve made progress on filling the shelves and only four empty ones remain. Those should be filled by the end of the year.

I have more unread books than ones I’ve read on my shelves for the first time in my life, and I am buying books at a faster pace than I can read them. I am a voracious reader and owning so many books I haven’t yet read is an anomaly in my life, but it’s an anomaly I’m beginning to enjoy. The unread books are like fine chocolates waiting to be devoured when appetite demands. I love knowing that those mysterious sweets are there waiting for me. 

Some co-workers were talking the other day, asking each other the imaginary-scenario question: What would you do if you won the lottery for a million dollars? I listened as they all talked about buying houses, yachts, new cars, huge HDTVs, and new computers. When they came to me, the answer was much simpler and more nerdy: I’d go to Barnes & Nobles and buy every book I wanted!

My co-workers looked at me as if I’d turned into a frog, declared this a terrible waste of lottery winnings, and responded with awe-struck gasps of…

“Why?”

“Why would you want all those books?”

“You know they have Nook and Kindle now, you don’t even have to buy real books like that anymore.”

Yes, I do know about Nook and Kindle. I understand that the world of books and publishing is changing dramatically in our lifetime. I hear the news stories, read the blog entries, and listen as the pundits declare an end to hard copy books. I’m listening.

I also realize that very few students need to go to a library, learn how to use an antiquated card catalog system, or pick up a hard copy encyclopedia. They are more likely to do all their research on the web, cite Wikipedia information in term papers, or purchase college essay papers from one of the many companies providing them online for $19.95. My children knew libraries, book stores, and hard copy research for school papers. My grandchildren will have no memory of a time before computers and the Internet.

I remember Windows 3.1, America Online in its great heyday, and the Internet when dial-up was the only access. But, I too am growing and changing with the times, and have made my own personal strides forward into the digital age. You can follow me on Twitter, read one of my several blogs, or view my work as an editor for the online magazine, Whippoorwill. I own three computers, all equipped with wireless access, and the new laptop I purchased came with Nook included. I’m listening to all the chatter about the end of books as we know them, but I don’t agree with the chatter. I am a true bibliophile, and, for a true bibliophile, nothing replaces a “real book.”

I may use online texts, search engines, Wikipedia, and even Nook, but none of these resources gives me the same joy and happiness as a traditionally published book. I will always prefer hard copy, printed and bound books. Books that smell of ink and paper, that sing with crisp pages, offer margins for notes, and can be gifted to others as something very personal and intimate. I love being able to return to the same beloved books again and again, rereading pages that hold important revelation or insight, opening to a favorite section and participating in the dialogue between writer and reader.

We are old friends taking time for a chat. Each book on my shelf is like a precious relationship, a voice and persona I am acquainted with, one that I know. The writer lives in those dry inky pages, is resurrected as I hold the book in my hands, listening to his voice flow from the pages. Old notes, highlighter marks, and red-ink underlines are reminders of our journey, of time we have shared on other lost days.

I willingly embrace the new mediums, resources, and tools available to writers, readers, and the world at large. However, as a book lover, a person in love with and addicted to true “hold-em-in-your-hand” books, I think it’s important to remember that change does not always equal demise.

The world is a big place. Traditional book publishing may go through deep changes during the present decade, but I believe the world contains many closet bibliophiles like me who will continue to love books, want books, need books, spend too much money on books … and keep trying to fill their bookshelves with assorted books, a source of sweet chocolates to be devoured at their leisure.ß

 

Reprinted from Whippoorwill: an Online Literary Journal, Spring 2011.

 

 

 

Passionate Art

  

“One should never write just to avoid being silent…. I feel a writer MUST write what is in his heart, and if there is nothing there of strong content or passion, then he must LIVE and EXPERIENCE before he can truly write….writing is, after all like art, simply sharing our passion with the world.”      ~from a letter to my mother, April 2001 
       
Today, I found an old copy of a letter written to my mother ten years ago. Reading the letter reminded me of the exuberant passion I’ve always felt toward writing as art and my sincere, consistent belief that “one should never write just to avoid being silent.”

 I believe that the best writing comes from deep belief, sincere passion, and a strong connective tissue between the writer and the written. These qualities allow great writing to transcend the particular time of its creation.

A writer suffering deep loss, of a child or spouse, will put that loss into the words of a poem or story. It is an intimate loss to him, but it is also a common experience, a shared sadness among other human beings. He will articulate the loss, others will read and identify with his words, the poem or story will always be his but will also become an independent identity in many ways. It will outlive him, or keep him alive, in coming centuries depending on your view. It has its own permanence.

This permanence, or legacy, is part of arts truth, so to speak. Most people can name a few classic writers and artists without great trouble (Shakespeare, Hemingway, Van Gogh, Rembrandt), but how many could name current artists? Very few could name the current Poet Laureate or a current popular painter. Artists understand, to some degree, that their work may well have more meaning and be worth more value in the future. A writer writes now with an eye focused a decade away. An artist creates now with the understanding that his canvass is more permanent than himself.

The artist is a creator. He excavates his emotional soul and pours deep truths onto the waiting page or canvass; he dissects and maneuvers the universal realities he sees as he lives, recasting and reworking them into a timelessness that becomes art. This art becomes a flexible representation of the universal passion of humanity and endures because of that kinship. He creates a legacy, an oeuvre, for himself that will eventually be all that remains.

Art is steeped in the history of it’s time of creation to some degree, but that is more reference point than anything else. The language, dress, and backgrounds’ may change, but the faces and voices are timeless. Eyes look out hauntingly with fear or joy, action takes place with a certain tone or with laughter. The experience is universally human regardless of the time period.

Great writing, like all great art, will show us a truth we know in a way we didn’t know how to express. The combination of new insight along with recognizable, enduring truth gives us an “ah-ha” moment – a moment in which we become one with the words and the writer, one with the art and the artist.
 
 

 

 
 

 

 

Burning

Burning red days
follow pink-petal nights.
Fragrance singing soft
lullabies. In memory

yearning ruptures,
breast bursting open,
tears like ash
slowly spilling
into crimson spoons

used for digging
up history.
Pure-petulant remorse,

regretting too late
the burning black days
to follow.

composed January 27, 2011

Whispering

Little girl singing soft
melodies of hatred, fueled
by conversations overheard
at the dinner table through
hiss and venom of mom and dad.

She’ll never know the wounding
burn of burning pain flowing
through her little red heart.
She doesn’t understand she is
damaged.

She is the mimic, the parrot
of parents filled with brokenness.
She is their voice speaking openly
in the next blatant generation
things grated-out in private
in the previous quieter age.

This is how we make monsters grow
in fertile fields of seeds sown
from the normalcy of lives lived
whispering the hatred of others.

October 2010

S94765BWVA66

Healing Silence

“How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” ~William Shakespeare

 
 

It’s difficult to find the creative energy necessary for good writing during illness. Or, at least it is for me. So, during the past two weeks of stressful health issues, my mantra has been “no writing is better than bad writing” and I’ve stayed away from the keyboard for a bit.

I received good news from the surgeon this week that back surgery shouldn’t be necessary just yet. Instead, I’m having epidural nerve blocks done where the disc is torn and possibly minor outpatient surgery to clip another nerve that’s tangled in with the disc and arthritis. The first nerve block is scheduled for the end of this month. Overall, it’s been good news and I’m deeply happy that major surgery isn’t necessary!

I’m pleased with my orthopaedic doctor (he’s much nicer than the surgeon) and appreciate how open he was to working with me to develop a treatment plan I’d be happy with. Now, if I can just get the bronchitis to go away … another problematic area of late due to allergies to my pets (2 dogs, a cat, and a rabbit) and exposure to so many sick people at my job (dealing with 25 people a day and whatever germs they bring in the door)!

Patience, patience, patience. Yes, I know.

7 years later

 

File folders clothed them,
alphabetically arranged,
in soft manila suits.

Their stories, each record
of submission, publication
duly noted in colored caps.

They wore published clips
buttoned at the back
like jewelry.

A wardrobe of time,
collected life, whispered secrets,
screamed epiphanies. Gone

in a moment of unintentional
unraveling, a thread caught
on life’s edges —

weak seams pulled apart until
the cloth gave way, the threads
broke
turning into a thousand tears.

composed January 2011