WRITE WITH ME! Study Hall, Monday, May 25, 2015

Unknown-1Hey there! Hope you’re set and readyimage to write this morning–or whenever you can schedule it today. You know that saying from Eleanor Roosevelt–“a woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water”? Well, you could say the same thing about writers. So the laundry is piled up, the landlord is at the door, the kids are screaming, and your favorite soap is on TV. Tough titties! (I always liked that saying–it reminds me of Julianne Moore and her Viking bustiere in–oh, wait, I digress, and this posting is about NOT digressing!) So throw in a load, slide a post it under the door to the landlord, sit the kids down with popcorn and a movie, and TIVO that soap Opera–then sit down and write! You can do it!

And you can hold me to it, too. I’ll be traveling today, but you can bet I’ll be looking for Wi-Fi spots throughout the day, where I can stop, check in with you in the comments section, below, and write for a bit before the Yorkie and I get back in the road. I’m on a deadline for a lit mag submission, so I’ll be working in my short story, entitled “Clemmie’s Bouquet.”

Happy trails to you!

Love, Glenda

Write with Me! Study Hall Time!

DownloadedFile-1What are YOU working on today? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll do the same.

Above is a painting of Phyllis Wheatley. She was born in West Africa and wrote and published poetry while she was a slave to the Wheatley family. She used word-images of the Sun many times, a reference to the African religion she left behind. If she could write and keep writing even while working as a scullery maid after emancipation, what can we not do with our freedom and relative comfort? Write like your life depends on it. Because your life does–the life you want!

On Not Knowing What You’re Doing

Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the most important thing. ~ Georgia O’Keefe

I ran across the quote above this week and it fell right into my problem-solving nexus. You know, the one that’s working on three novels, two short stories, an essay, and a poetry manuscript all at the same time.

It speaks to me of the need to understand our life’s work as a never-ending task that may yet be taken up by someone else after us, but which will never be “done,” because there is almost always a way to push a process, a thought, a concept deeper, truer. In the same way that modern painters have been influenced by, even directed by, O’Keefe’s work. So why worry about success, rather than completing the piece at hand? Completing it should, if nothing else, show you why you created it, a very important thing to know in order to see the bigger picture of our work.

I like to think of my work as all related, even when the characters, or even the setting, are wholly different. For example, one of the new novels takes its title from the last one, Eve’s Garden: It’s called The Fruit of Queens, and it’s about five daughters, all named aftImpassionataer queens, in the aftermath of their mother’s death. It hooks onto the loss in Eve of Maisie’s mother, Evangeline, and asks what we really know of our mothers’ lives, and how signicant our emotional connection, or lack of it, to them might be. It explores how we build confidence and find our centers.

But the O’Keefe quote speaks to something even more important to us writers: the act of creating when you don’t know the ending. What’s important is to know what the problem is, what is driving you to create a specific piece of work. Writing to know that, the why, and to learn the rest, the how, will keep us going when the well seems dry. Make your unknowns known. When you have done that, you can see, perhaps, the next piece of the puzzle that you want and need to complete.

Last thoughts for Women’s History Month

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Betty Friedan used to say that the 1950s and early 1960s were a time when we wore girdles on our heads.

I think of that remark when I talk to writers. If I ask a group, “Who’s working on a novel manuscript?” A few will put their hands up, boldly, but I see many hesitate and even more squirm as if the manuscript were an uncomfortable telephone book beneath their bums. My goal in a workshop is always to get those hands in the air, waving with confidence.

I set Eve’s Garden in those days, when our heads were wrapped in layers of expectations that didn’t accommodate bold visions for women. In some societies, in some segments of our own society, those confining, latex-like expectations and teachings still prevail.

Eve and her mother, Maisie, and especially her grandmother, Evangeline, defy those expectations. And they pay the price, but not without gaining more than they lose. In fact, Eve has a plan to build greater possibilities for the girls under her care.

In October, I’ll be teaching a workshop for Jane’s Stories Press Foundation on what I learned about writing a novel during my time spent with these three wonderful imaginary women. Date and time and place (other than that it will be in the Chicago area) haven’t been announced yet, but if you’re floundering with your novel or just a bit stuck or maybe hesitant to take it head-on, I hope you’ll join us; watch here for details.

In the meantime, if you have a story about what confines you and what you’ve observed about bold visions, please drop me a line in the comment section.

And, by the way, what is the difference, do you think, between what’s above and Spanx, etc.? Are we a little sexier, but still “reducing” ourselves?

The World TWIRLS along–or not!

It amazes me that we can feel so abandoned by a game that generates random letters. That a logarithm rolling along produces near-depression when it is no longer available. The game TWIRL is no longer functioning on Facebook, and many users, including myself, have pleaded with the "admins" to fix it. They are not listening, apparently. Meantime, how did we get so hooked?

My, how I have been conditioned by Social Media. Truthfully, I have a hard time imagining my life without checking it at least twice a day. What do I most love? Here's my list:

1. I love that my nieces and nephews will actually drop me a line or even a few photos now and then, when they'd never think of writing me a letter or calling me, because, well, they're young, and busy inventing their lives.

2. I love that my friends and I can so easily post photos, stories, other items that we can share at large, thus spurring a potential sunami effect. I didn't know that Joanne was an art lover until I posted a "What's your favorite masterpiece" to someone else, and she responded to me with a Kandinsky–one of my "favs!" And now another friend, who has never invited me to a museum, undoubtedly because she thought we shared only a love of literature, has responded in kind. The serendipitous wonder of eavesdropping is reinforced.

3. The opportunity to get to know, at least a little, writers whose work I admire, is not to be missed. When we trade garden plants or book lists, or fill in rote formulas like "The ABCS of ME" with personal details, I learn a little about what is behind their words.  It makes me think that random and trivial, isn't.

4. Knowing the latest of what is affecting my writer world. Readings, events, upcoming publications, conference workshops, show up here first, if in a somewhat spotty fashion. Anyway to put your ear to the ground is a plus, right?

5. Okay, I love my farm in Farm Town. I created it from scratch. It has a large farmhouse surrounded by lemon trees, a small artists' cottage in a meadow of flowers, a market stand for produce sales, and all the cherry trees a girl could want. It's my world, and I spend about twenty minutes a day in it and feel refreshed. Who cares if it's a fantasy?

6.I love not knowing what will show up in my feed today, but trusting the people whom I have "friended" to steer me straight to the heart of their day.

7. I love all the new language this communication revolution fosters, words like "admins" and "favs" and "friended." Words that don't make sense elsewhere except in the loopy, bopping world of the latest fads.

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Winter Discipline

Red beans and rice, with a little diced ham and Cajun seasoning, makes a cool winter day bearable. It's that time of year when I have to force one foot in front of the other. So much easier to curl up in bed with my laptop and scribble the day away. But it's also the holiday season, and there are early presents to buy and friends-from-afar to mail to.

I dream of blazing dessert suns or a cruise on tropical waters. And I live in Florida. Snap out of it! i say to myself. You have to enjoy the slow-down time and take comfort in what you will. A cup of hot tea, the chance to make a friend smile. A story idea that engages your mind for blissful moments.
Discipline–as hard at 60 as at 16.

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Summer Highlights

It's no wonder I feel shell-shocked. Look at where I've been this summer:

In May, the Jane's Stories retreat in Asheville, was followed swiftly by….

the Writing Below Sea Level St. Augustine Conference, where I worked with twelve astoundingly talented writers under the supervision of Dorothy Allison, who did some of the most surgical, brilliant, kind workshop leading I have ever seen. Then…


my brother visited with his two wired (and wiry) Jack Russells. This is Brady enjoying his perch on the top of my couch. Did I mention….

that I had a 60-page manuscript due for the novel-writing seminar led by the incomparably compassionate, wise, and stringently demanding Connie May Fowler? Well,…


after that I needed a diversion, so I went to the Long Island wedding of my dear niece, Alexandra, met her charming groom and his fascinating family from Montreal and visited with her passionately loving ya-ya, Mary, and then my husband, son and I…

toured New York City–double decker bus and MOMA and watching the matrons, I-pod-popping teens, and business people on the Long Island Rail Road (of Monopoly fame). Had a tour guide who really cared about and expounded on the architecture….

and the art was fabulous. Jackson Pollock and I finally bonded. Interesting that you can recognize the brilliance of another brain, but not really get into its rhythms enough to empathize, until a new experience jolts you into the breach. That was my experience with seeing enough Pollocks together, including his early work, to understand the trajectory he was traveling. Just three weeks later….

I was in D.C. to wave at the pink-and-green clad Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters as they marched from the White House to the Capitol to celebrate their 100th anniversary. (That's me in the tan jacket, waving.) Imagine a sorority founded to combat lynching and infant mortality and still going strong all these years later, making change in the world…

and also making change was the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Every woman and every man who loves women in this country should immediately send them $10 of your hardest-earned money, because what they show us is that Lee Krasner and Elaine De Kooning were just as talented as the men who eclipsed them (to the men who were writing the reviews) and that it is imperative if we ever want equality to save these roots from our past for the young people to graft onto and pull all of us up. Sadly, I have not one photograph from there, but I can give you the link:  National Museum of Women in the Arts

And did I mention that this past month I celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary with
the man who took me to Paris a few years ago (This photo is from the top floor of the Louvre looking across the Tuileries Garden to the Eiffel Tower) and also…

loves my dog? Is it possible to be too drunk on love and travel and sheer joy to concentrate? To be thrown wide by luck and adventure, so that the mind does not narrow to the specifics of creating? Excuse me, while I lock myself in my room to write.

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High blue summer

High blue summer. A tiger-striped butterfly samples the grass where the mower has just been. Even my beagle is drunk on the resin scent of pine. On such a day, how can we concentrate on the world's racing pulse? Time to slow and ponder, meander and listen to the stars.

Oh, those deadlines!

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Learning to write––again!

I'm convinced that knowing and doing are two separate things, all the more so since attending Connie May Fowler's wonderful Below Sea Level conference in St. Augustine last week. The company was excellent––what a top notch group of writers. I think Iearned something from every single person there. We chose buddies who started off the critique of our work and saw that we didn't freak out too much from the experience, then kept in touch with us. That system worked very well and is missing from many conferences, I think. Have you ever been to a writing conference where you didn't know anyone at first and felt very isolated outside of sessions, when you were mulling over what was said? Then you'll know what I mean.

And the critique sessions were the best I've ever been to, including some of our Jane's Stories critiques, which, I think, are generally very fine. What was better about the BSL sessions is that one and a half hours were spent on each piece, which is a luxury one rarely gets at this level. This will affect how we do things at JSPF in the future, I hope.

My workshop leader was Dorothy Allison, and she walks on water as far as I'm concerned. (I'm in a novel-writing seminar with Connie May Fowler, so I opted to seek out Dorothy's session for variety, but I would happily follow Connie May anywhere, as well.) Dorothy is so superb at structural analysis that she synopsized the trajectory of my story and how I had structured it to achieve its mission in two sentences better than I could have done myself. She did something similar with each work, after encouraging the group to give their opinions. Better than that, she is a fine human being who knows how to pull out the guts of a writer for analysis without agony, and put them back in a little better organized. I was impressed by her deep compassion that is totally without bullshit.

And then there were the talks with literary agent Joy Harris, Wordsmith organizer and literary analyst Kate Sullivan, and Ploughshares editor Laura van den Berg. Excellent, informative lunchtime sessions with each of these kept us focused on our goals.

Lastly, we had nightly readings that let us meet writers in the other workshop leader's group, and also allowed us to let down our hair a little by reading our coolest, most moving, and experimental work. The readings really ranged widely and so were very stimulating, sometimes tearful, and often funny beyond side-splitting.

I heartily recommend this conference to everyone. Check the next offering out at http://www.writingbelowsealevel.com.

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