STUDY HALL: Write with us, beginning each Tuesday at 10 a.m.!

IMG_3546We check In each Tuesday here to give each other support and encouragement to work in those writing projects we might otherwise put off. Everyone is invited to join us by including below a brief comment about what you’re working on today. Afterward, please let us know how it went. If you can’t make it at 10 a.m., leave your comments when you can, before you start, by the Study Hall post dated today. Better late than never, better now than not at all!

Where’s YOUR Sass?

When I was small, the worst thing I could do, I was convinced, was to “sass” my mom. At least, that’s what she led me to believe when she got that crazed look in her eye, usually right after she’d taken off her weaver’s apron and started to serve dinner. If I even looked like I disagreed about something, she’d zing, “Don’t you dare sass me!”

Now, of course, I know she was extremely tired after a long day running back and forth in front of six big looms, trying to keep them going so there were no “slubs” in the cloth they were making. (These days, I read that a blouse, say, is made from “slubbed” cotton and I can’t even imagine wearing it. My mother would never!) And then she had to come home and get dinner on the table.

Usually, my older sister and I would have started dinner, baking or frying chicken, cutting up potatoes, pulling a vegetable or two from the bin. But my mother liked to add her own touch, and, I must say, no food I’ve ever had was better than hers. (Different, but not better!) I don’t know what magic she used, but everything tasted better when she was done. And we were never entrusted with the making of biscuits. We had biscuits at every meal, unless she served beans, in which case there was cornbread, which I could make before I was 10.

Looking back now, I wish I had been taught, made, induced to sass. I wish my mom had been Dorothy Parker in all her vicious eloquence. Knowing how to talk back to a grabby boss, how to curse rude strangers on the street, how to get that sprawling teenager out of the bus seat so I could sit down, would have been handier than knowing how to make guests comfortable in my home. (You can get your own linens, right? There’s nothing wrong with your feet.) As it was, I had to learn it on my own, or, rather, my NOW (National Organization for Women) sisters taught me. But that’s a story for another day.

This weekend, I went for the very first time to a pro-choice demonstration in my hometown, the Southern city I left when I was eighteen years old. Sass was there in abundance, loud and very defiant. That is how we have to be now, not just about abortion rights, but also about white nationalism and the insane number of weapons on our streets. I never wanted to tolerate any of that, and I have a feeling other people are reaching their boiling point, too. I hope you are one of this mighty, furious majority. Kindness will not cut it with people who think their right to own an assault weapon is more important than our right to buy groceries or attend church in peace. Or with the people who think their religious beliefs should dictate how you handle your body, or with the folks who fear being a minority so much because they know how minorities are treated in this country.

Be loud. Be incensed. Be effective.

Study Hall: On Timely Tweets, Our Uteruses, ETC

How many of you use Twitter? Many women my age don’t. Let me tell you why I think that’s a bad idea.

First of all, #writingcommunity will get you everything from journals open for submission now to lit agents looking for specific kinds of writing. Don’t know what a hash tag is? Well, it’s a way to shorthand and categorize your tweet so people can find it. And you can find tweets on almost any subject by searching for the topic in Twitter’s search engine. So if you use the #writingcommunity, your tweet will likely get seen by more people. In my haste, I often forget the hashtag, and thus are speaking only to my followers. But, hey, it takes practice, like anything worthwhile.

Writing these days is all about “platform,” it seems. Agents and publishers want you to have a few thousand Twitter followers, at least, and so forth on Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, and other social media apps. So learning the ropes is definitely worth your while if you want to be more widely published.

Speaking of which, I am very happy to have an essay on the speculative work of Caren Gussoff Sumption on the new website https://romacanon.co.uk. Caren is one of my favorite writers with whom I’ve become friends. Her latest, Three Songs for Roxy, is a wonderful example of how Romani characters should appear in spec fiction, instead of the glaring stereotypes we often find (Witches, anyone? Hag? Dazzling Esmeraldas?) Give it a look and let me know what you think. https://romacanon.wordpress.com/2022/04/17/caren-gussoff-sumptions-non-exotic-and-completely-believable-fictional-roma/ Caren has a new book coming out soon, and I can’t wait to read it.

In the meantime, Twitter is all, well, atwitter, about Elon Musk’s purchase of the platform and the leaked Supreme Court decision on abortion. So, of course, two clever writers merged the two issues into a hilarious but ominous piece:

A REIMAGINING OF YOUR UTERUS, WHICH I, ELON MUSK, NOW OWN

by MIRIAM JAYARATNA and ALEXA KOCINSKI

https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/a-reimagining-of-your-uterus-which-i-elon-musk-now-ownhttps://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/a-reimagining-of-your-uterus-which-i-elon-musk-now-own https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/a-reimagining-of-your-uterus-which-i-elon-musk-now-own

So, you see, it’s worth it to plumb social media for all it’s worth.

As always, please like and comment below, use the social media buttons to share and RT (retweet) if you’re so inclined. Thank you for reading! I’ll be here all day to answer questions, reply, have conversations, whatever you like.

Study Hall, May 3, 2022

With the news that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is circulating a draft decision that would overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision and allow states to outlaw abortion without exception, if they choose, people keep asking me how I feel. They’re asking because they know that I gave many year— most of my life, in fact—to the fight for women’s rights. My husband, who knows me best, simply came and gave me a kiss when he heard the news.

How I feel about it is not complicated. It’s encapsulated in the quote from Jill Ruckelshaus, above. Jill was a very brave woman, a Republican who fought within the party for women’s equality. She held many offices, in the White House, at the state level, and in the UN, and they all revolved around women’s rights. (Her husband, Bill Ruckelshaus, was a very brave man, one of the Justice Department officials who refused Nixon’s order during the Saturday Night Massacre. Look it up.)

Many of us did what Jill urged. We fought first for the ERA, which would enshrine women’s equality in the U. S. Constitution, so that any abrogation of our rights would need to be justified at the highest level of scrutiny, and also for women’s reproductive rights. I was an officer, then President of Illinois Now, during the times when we fought tooth and nail to keep the Radical Right from throwing young and poor women under the bus after Roe became law. (Note, we did not then realize that we should also be fighting for the rights of trans men, or nonbinary people, to control their reproductive rights.)

It was vicious—Phyllis Schlafly was often in our state—but worse were the religious zealots who flung blood at us, bashed us with their signs, spat at us, and otherwise showed their fine Christian principles, while we escorted women into clinics or lobbied legislators. Once, at a counter-demonstration, one of them, a kindly looking grandfather type, told my son that his mommy had tried to kill him. They sent a constant stream of postcards of bloody ”fetuses,” to make sure I knew that they knew where I lived. They called to threaten my life and that of my family. I had a job and two children, and then I came home to work nearly all night every night, after brief family time, on our issues, making calls, drawing up agendas and memoranda and emails, writing speeches which I then had to deliver, though it made my knees shake. I learned to not let it show.

We had little help in the media. Once, we organized an evening of personal witnessing in downtown Chicago by women who had had illegal abortions, and both women and men who had lost mothers, sisters, aunts, friends, to backalley abortions. Several media figures accused us of “sensationalizing” the issue with that program. None covered it as the chilling, agonizing look backwards that it was.

So how I feel is that I cannot outlive Brett Kavanaugh’s or Amy Coney Barrett’s, or, in truth, this conservative majority’s time on the court, barring some Cosmic intervention. We will need a Constitutional amendment to make all people truly equal before the law and national legislation like the Women’s Health Improvement Act, to codify Roe vs. Wade. I will fight as hard as I can as long as I can, but younger and healthier women and men, trans and nonbinary people and will have now to lead the charge.

So be brave, in your mind, in your interactions with others, in your speech, in your actions. And in your writing! All our lives depend on you.

And please, please both like and comment below!

Study Hall, April 26, 2021: Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned

Hello again. Yesterday was a perfectly terrible, effed up day, so today we are starting out fresh and rambunctious because there’s no way to go but up. So why not tear out all the stops and tackle the knots in my new novel, and while I’m at it try to solve the lack of something in my latest short story. Maybe I’ll even get up enough courage to send my poetry manuscript to an editor friend and poet who offered to look at it for me.

Wait, you say that’s a good agenda for a week or two? You’re right. Sometimes I have to stop myself from being too ambitious and make myself focus. So maybe I’ll take another look at the poetry manuscript and send it to that editor plus another friend who’s really an editor but won’t call herself that (Looking at you, L) whose word I really trust. And while I’m at it, here’s my bit of cheek for today:

If you haven’t yet read my novel, Eve’s Garden, or have a friend who hasn’t, please hop on over to the EVIL EMPIRE, Amazon, and purchase an e-copy or send one to that friend. Unfortunately, it’s only available as an e-book right now, as my very small publisher took it out of print so she could publish new books. (Or, rather, she kept saying she was going to, so I said, go ahead and put me out of my misery.) I hope I can sell enough ebooks to make it worth another publisher’s while to republish it, along with its sequel, coming up next after this latest little offbeat romance novel. Want to help me in my quest? Thank you and may the goddesses bless.

You see, I didn’t know then what I know now, that most authors who are midlist (or not on any list because their publisher is too small) have to hire their own publicist to do what all publishers should be doing, which is treat your book like it’s your life’s blood. This was a change from when I myself was a small publisher about a decade before. I had done all the things most industry whizzes say an author should do, start a blog, mention your book in ever-new ways on social media, put out a newsletter, talk to bookstores to organize readings, and so on. But there are things an author can’t easily do for herself, like write reviews, or have them written, nominate the book for appropriate awards, etc. Those things should be done by your publisher, but if they don’t, do it half-heartedly, or they are too busy to do it promptly, it has become industry standard to hire your own publicist to stir that soup. So now I know and have my eye out for candidates.

In case you’re also interested in what an agent/publicity rep has to say about book marketing and publicity, here’s a new newsletter from agent and book rep Cassie Murray Mannes that you may find enlightening. Let’s all learn together how not to make mistakes, or, at least, how not to make the same mistake twice.

https://pinestatepublicity.substack.com/p/coming-soon?s=w&utm_medium=web

And, please, please leave me a comment so I know someone out there is listening. I love you and may you have a fabulous day.

Scary Good News

Sometimes good news jangles as much enlivens us. That’s the kind of news I got a few days ago. A publisher to whom I had submitted a poetry manuscript gave me feedback suggesting some changes and asking me to resubmit. It took me about a week to calm my nerves. But today I am doing exactly as she suggested, making changes, retitling and I plan to resubmit after running the manuscript by a a few friends. It’s scar, because this has always been one of my goals, to publish in fiction and poetry and nonfiction. (Why narrow my dreams?) Oddly, my first writings and my initial publications were in poetry, so it’s strange to me that I first published a novel rather than poems in book form, but, hey, writing is a wild journey, and often unpredictable. One thing I have learned, though, is that when an editor asks you to resubmit, you do it, whatever else you have going on. So here goes. Wish me luck. And what are you doing to get your voice out there?

Study Hall, April 12: When You’re Stuck

Writer’s block isn’t a major issue for me—maybe because I am always struggling to find enough time, what with health issues, family, and activism, to write all the stories going on in my head—but there are times when I know a particular character or plot point needs underpinning, though I can’t quite suss out what’s missing. I have two main methods to address these quandaries. One is to take a relevant workshop with a writer I admire. If I’m having trouble, say, with a particular character, I know that if I take a character framing workshop with a good writer, I will likely hear something that will help me round out the person in question.

I am having trouble with a beloved story that isnt getting quite the juice it requires. I suspect the issue is that my main character isn’t quite “bad” enough to show a really great learning curve in the story. So this month I’ll be taking a workshop on ”The Mighty and Flawed” from a very successful writer, Tommy Dean, author of the fiction books Covenants and Hollow, and editor at ”Fractured Lit.” Tommy is a pretty modest guy, so his workshops are “pay what you want”—irresistible to a senior writer like me. He has a bunch of short workshops coming up this month; check them out at https://www.tommydeanwriter.com .

My other method? It’s a writing prompt exercise I do now and then to spur my subconscious to write what my conscious mind won’t allow.

I’ll post a video of that prompt in a separate posting. In the meanwhile, happy writing to you!

Study Hall: April 5, 2022–Wordsmiths

Word games are a great way to start a writing session, especially at times when you don’t feel inspired. Pastimes like crosswords, word scrambles, and, yes, Wordle, can get us out of our everyday vocabulary and help jumpstart ideas. A favorite strategy of mine for such times is to make a list of nouns and verbs, then try to combine them into description without adjectives or adverbs. One of my favorites is the term ”jump master.” It’s vivid and provocative. There is a military designation using that term, but how about an eight-year-old jump master?

Wordle 290 5/6

⬜⬜🟨⬜⬜
🟨🟩🟩⬜⬜
⬜🟩🟩⬜⬜
⬜🟩🟩🟩🟩
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩

Today I’m not feeling my manuscript, but playing around with words for a while may get me over my doldrums and into full scribe mode.

One of my early academic administrators, Dr. Dan Bern, called each of us on his grantwriting team “wordsmiths.” I love the idea that we’re crafting words through the crucible of inspiration into writing that soars, spins, serves. (There’s a reason they call political operatives “spin doctors.”)

Do you have a favorite word game that gets your writing dreams flowing? Drop me a line—I love to know about ways to cherish words!

Study Hall, March 29, 2022

Had a wonderful meeting this morning with members of the European Institute for Roma Arts and Culture. It was excellent to place names with faces and hear wonderful ideas about integrating Romani artists (including writers!) into the mainstream culture to replace negative stereotypes about Roma, and about connecting elders to young people through traditional customs and artistry. So I am all revved up about creating today!

The dogs photobombing my happy birthday photo. Like my crown? I wear it often now (but only in my bedroom,)

Also, I am exchanging chapters of the new novel with one of my fairest and fiercest (You can be both!) critics, Linda. So good to read her latest and also get some respected feedback on my work.

What about you? What has you excited? Who helps move you along? Do you have a writing group or terrific beta readers to help vet your work? Talk to me, loves—then get to work! I’m always thrilled to hear from you!

Roma in Ukraine: Too angry to write, too sad to stop writing

Roma, Europe’s largest and poorest minority, are discriminated against in all of Europe. Ukraine is no exception. While most of us admire the Ukrainians’ brave defense of their country, we must address the effects of unsavory elements among them who do harm to Romani women, children, and the elderly as they all flee. The stories of terrible treatment are mounting.

The crisis of Roma at the Ukraine border deepens every day. Both border officials and local volunteers are discriminating against Roma, who have suffered pogroms, police brutality, and intense discrimination inside Ukraine, as in all of Europe.

We have reports of Roma who are fleeing burning cities being denied entry, volunteers refusing food and water to them, officials segregating them because white nationalists among the refugee population are threatening them (Punishing the victims, the age old story.) Roma get the worst temporary housing, are left unprocessed for better housing, even as their children are denied the same food and water allotment as white Ukrainians.

Much of this has been documented by journalists such as Mauricio Lima, photographer for the New York Times, the nonprofit Roma Nation, Roma News, Romedia, and others. Google any of those names and “Roma” and you should find the details. My friend Sonya Jasaroska has posted a good bit on her Facebook page.

Our larger organizations such as the European Roma Rights Centre and the ERGO network seem to be expecting the UN to do something about this. They aren’t. They never have. Nor has the European Union addressed this current crisis among Romani Ukrainians in any meaningful way.

One organization addressing issues on the ground is the Foundation Towards Dialogue (Fundacja w Strone Dialogu) in Poland. Their web site is http://www.fundacjawstronedialogu.pl.

They are hiring buses to move Roma away from the temporary housing and to other major EU cities and countries where volunteers have given their spare rooms, their apartments, any space they have to the Romani Ukrainian refugees. They are serving as a clearing house for such housing. They are seeing the people get adequate food and water.

What can you do? Clearly we Roma must take these issues into our own hands. But you don’t have to be Roma to know this isn’t fair and want to help. Do you know lawyers or medical personnel who will help? do you own and/or know owners or spaces where people can be housed? Do you know restauranteurs who will donate food and water? Please send them to the Foundation’s page to volunteer. Or have them contact me and I will direct them to the Facebook page where volunteers are working.

Will you donate money to the Foundation Towards Dialogue so they can purchase what is needed? Below is their banking information. Joanna Talewicz-Kwiatkowska, who chairs the foundation, has a good track record. This is where I’m putting my money.

We are collecting funds as donations to help accommodate Roma refugees coming to Poland. If you wish to support it, this is our internet site (basic information are also available in English) http://www.fundacjawstronedialogu.pl.

Thank you so much for your interest and thoughts! Please help before we have a humanitarian disaster within a disaster.

Life and Death and Why

“Think about it: One moment, you’re a sexually spent adult; the next, you’re a budding youth about to enjoy life all over again.”

Virginia Morell’s brilliant essay, which you can read by clicking the graphic above, perfectly fit my mood this week. A week from last Sunday, my fourteen-year-old grandson was killed in a car crash in Kansas. If you have read my previous post, you know that. What Morell made me think about is a portrait of a family in grief and why we want to be remembered when we’re gone.

Not everybody does want to be immortalized in some way. Some people fade away, alone and unnoticed, but they may wish it were otherwise. On the other hand, some affect (I think it’s an attitude born of resignation mixed with fear?) a cavalier attitude.

“I don’t care where you put me,” said my mother, not wanting to discuss arrangements near the end.

Others, like my husband’s wonderful Aunt Rosemary, met her end with joy. ”I’ll see my husband and Mama and Daddy again.” Her faith in an immortal afterlife was strong.

Yet when we are faced with an unexpected, untimely death, something in many of us rebels. My grandson, yet to live his life in full bloom. The Ukrainian victims of Russia’s hellish thermobaric bombs, their lungs suddenly collapsed mid-step. All those many young Black men and women killed in our streets. The Native women who are simply vanished, too often unsought. And, of course, recently we have all seen or read about so many untimely deaths in the Covid pandemic. If any of these things or something like them has happened to you, I am very sorry for the wounds you have suffered.

I am old enough to regret the misspent hours of my youth. Not the time spent socializing with friends or even a few misdirected acts of mischief. No, it’s the self-denials I regret: the opportunities I passed up out of fear of rejection, the degrees I didn’t get, the the times I didn’t take a chance on love. Still, I did tend to dive in now and then, I did find true love, I did learn a lot, and, okay, I didn’t achieve my goal of being a dedicated scholar, but I did all right and so I have no lasting agonies of remembrance.

Except for one: My nineteen-year-old son killed himself. His was a unique, difficult personality, and I gave birth to him much too young to know how to cope with parenting well. I was still learning about that when he died. The logical part of me knows that he was bipolar and unmedicated by choice and that he refused the psychiatric help I arranged for him. The part of me that is a mother, that had, I thought, an unbreakable bond with him, still chafes and struggles at the unbinding, still wonders why he didn’t let me help him more. Still regrets his absence from our lives. Wonders, now and then, what he would have said about—something, anything. Sees him in every Christmas ornament, every place set at the table, every glimpse of a young man in a hoodie.

That part of me spools a thread between my own heart and that of any parent who loses a child. Recognizes that expression of sudden, desperate acknowledgment of what has happened. It’s that part of me that led me to go to a wake for my young optical technician, whom I barely knew, to hug her father tight and whisper assurances that one day the pain would not be so acute. It’s that part of me that would crawl over hot coals to get to the mothers of Ukraine and Chicago and Los Angeles and Myanmar and Sudan, to hold them and whisper whatever may help.

One of the persons I admire most is Fred Guttenberg, who has turned his grief over the death of his daughter, Jaime, in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting, into a public reckoning with the reality of losing thousands of children each year to gun violence. He does not hide his tears or his agony while he demonstrates that one can make the end of violence a mission that is not impaired by mourning. And then there is Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, who has sat through hour after agonizing hour of court trials, of watching that video of her son’s last moments over and over again. Who refused the Justice Department’s shameful plea bargain agreement and insisted on a full trial, which ended in the world seeing what the consequences of racial hatred should be.

Truly, I never wanted any immortality except my children. In my Romani-Native, deeply Scottish mountain community, children are everything, our life’s blood, the consequence that must be considered before we spend any resource, make any move, take any decision. All of our lives are about them. Without them, our lives have no lasting purpose, no matter who we are or what we achieve personally. It is not about blood, but about community: our children belong to all of us, and all of us must take care with them. They will carry forth the meaning of our lives and braid something new with our strands.

As I read Morell, I thought that perhaps we humans can only achieve immortality by eschewing violence, by giving up our right to defend resources to the point of war, by putting our children’s lives above all other motives. Maybe her jellyfish and other examples have somehow achieved more than we, with our larger brains and volatile weapons.

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