Léna's Lit.Life

Léna (me): Lit, as in literature, Lit, as in light, Lit, as in a little kooky: Life.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Developing Empathy through Writing


I've been thinking a lot about empathy, and that it is paramount to the survival of our humanity. The kind of empathy I'm talking about isn't just the ability to discern what someone else is feeling, but it's having  the empirical knowledge that the differences between self and others aren't as important as the similarities.

Last week I saw this kind of empathy in action when Writopia Lab hosted a life-changing event at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on the Lower East Side of New York City.

We had thirtytwo teens come and perform their Spoken Word pieces including five of my Writopia "daughters" from Westchester and Connecticut, and my niece and other Writopians from NYC. One of our teachers has been bringing Writopia to treatment centers, and she managed to bring a few of those writers as well. The evening was nothing short of electric. The teens were all from extremely diverse backgrounds - we had every demographic covered, but we identified with every single one as they were speaking from their most authentic selves.

Look at those bright, shining, connected faces!

Those teens were the embodiment of empathy - they were living and breathing EMPATHY.

And of course it's the holiday season that brings about these ruminations. We're told that it's time to connect, yet so many of us feel disconnected. I grew up in the Christian tradition where empathy is the cornerstone, where the birth of Jesus reminds us that we all have God inside of us (Christian or not!). We are called to remember that we are all miracles.

However, the holidays are not miraculous for many people - commercialism is rampant and the divide between the haves and have nots is the greatest. They tend to bring out the best and the worst in humanity when expectations run high and everyone's sense of entitlement peaks.

Entitlement seems to be the opposite of empathy, doesn't it? And in this world we seem to be breeding more of the former and less of the latter. Entitlement separates us from others, separates us from our true selves. And our expectations are so often unconscious! I work hard so I deserve x - well, what if you don't? Who is the arbiter of what we deserve? And what if you don't get x, y, or z?

It's dangerous territory for me as well, and maybe that's why I am so passionate about nurturing kids and teens and their natural, budding sense of empathy, not only through their writing, but through their participation in groups with different dynamics and chemistry. Creating a microcosm of the macrocosm with 3 to 6 other peers. Peers who have the courage to be vulnerable.

If you are struggling, you are not alone. When I was 23 my sense of isolation and misplaced entitlement was life-threatening. It was only through self-discovery and seeing myself in others that I was able to fully come back to life.

And this is why middle school sucks - we desperately want to be like everybody else but we know that we're not, and that's when we start to develop the personas to get us through, and the masks can harden into something that's very hard to take off and we lose the sense of who we are.

So many of us are stuck in a middle school frame of mind!

Writing helps us come back to our sense of self and who we are. And I'm noticing both in kids and adults who are encouraged to write that their masks are more flexible as they grow up.

Don't you think "diversity" should be more of a unifying experience rather than something that separates and "divides" us?

The kids and teens I am privileged to work with remind me of that every day.

Write, breathe, unite.





Friday, December 6, 2013

Why Words Matter: Star-Studded Author Panel at FLMS!


We held a literary event last night at my kids' place of learning, Fox Lane Middle School. It was a veritable authorpalooza. Here I am with authors James Howe and Gae Polisner, gazing at Rebecca Stead.

Community is awesome, isn't it? Communities strive to find common ground and share values. One of our major tasks as human beings is to not only find our place in community, but to help it evolve, grow, and function.

For instance, when I moved to Northern Westchester just over three years ago, I became a de facto member of that community at-large, and have looked for my niches within the larger structure. There's my sweet neighborhood in Bedford Hills, the kids' schools, Writopia Lab and then there's the kid-lit community.

I was asked by another mom to find an author to host an event in December to coincide with the  Book Fair. (And I was thrilled to find out that the school would be using an independent book store, Main Street Books as the vendor.) Knowing my author friends and their beaucoup experience in this arena, I couldn't just ask one. Why not ask a few? We all like each other so much in our community, we love having an excuse to hang out!

And then this past Monday, I got nervous about people showing up. There didn't seem to be any buzz . . . until a few of us shouted out into the universe and people in our community and others helped with email blasts and Facebook posts.

Thank you! We had over 100 people show up - the room was full of not only kids, but librarians and teachers. Our principal, Anne-Marie Berardi was there as well as Superintendents  Jere Hochman and Drew Patrick. So much support!

What a treat to have Newbery Award winner Rebecca Stead, National Book Award winner Judy Blundell, the inimitable James Howe, Michael Northrop, Nora Raleigh Baskin and Gae Polisner. We were regaled not only with their humor, pathos and authenticity, but with their generosity of spirit in signing books and connecting with the audience - our community! I moderated a discussion on Why Words Matter and how reading and writing saves our sanity. So many kids went home with beaming smiles, their hunger for literature satisfied.
                                                           Here's Nora and Michael!



                                                                    Judy and a fan!

            Just look how many kids got to meet and interact with some of their favorite authors!

Thank you to everyone who came out last night to help make it a groundbreaking event at FLMS - we are sure to make this an annual event!


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why Teach Creative Writing?

A high school senior in Texas is writing a paper arguing that creative writing should be an elective in schools. Because I teach creative writing, he asked me for a quote in defense of that profession: why does it matter?

I could explain how creative writing is ridiculously empowering. It is. I see this on a daily basis. Some kids come to me already self-identifying as writers. Others are reluctant, whether stemming from learning differences or a lack of confidence. All are capable of finding their own unique voices, and by that developing and nurturing their inner lives. When kids feel that they matter, they become better grown ups who help others to feel that they matter too. They are happy, grateful and joyful. It's one of those beautiful tautologies that make the world go around. Creative writing brings joy.

Or I could explain how creative writing fosters critical thinking. Having a space where kids are encouraged to explore tangents of thought, to analyze structure and emotion, and to problem solve the biggest riddles of life…  that doesn't just help them grow as human beings, but also as students. Creative writing isn't just vomiting words on paper - it's a process of restructuring the world. Stories need characters with strong objectives and corresponding obstacles that stand in their way. Stories can be fantastical, silly, or dark, but they need rhythm and order, or they don't work. Creative writing broadens critical thinking.

Maybe instead I should explain how creative writing stokes and sustains literacy. What I observe as a teacher is that when kids feel their thoughts and feelings are read and understood, they are motivated to become more effective communicators. They inevitably care about the mechanics of their writing; you don't have to drag them to it. They become more careful readers as they learn what they like, and seek to emulate the best that's out there. They learn to ask deeper questions; not only the "what if?", but the "where?", "what?", "when?" and "why?". They fall in-love with the possibilities of language, as inventors and architects of grammatical, structural, psychological, and cultural landscapes. Creative writing is fundamental to excellence in literacy.

Those three things, joy, critical thinking, and literacy, are behind the core mission of Writopia Lab, the non-profit for which I work as a program manager and instructor. But maybe I'm too close to it. Maybe I'm just grasping at straws, wanting to justify my work. Maybe all of those reasons aren't enough. 

If so, then creative writing can matter because test scores need it, because college admissions officers are looking for it, and because eventual employers need it. After all, the thing any good teacher (or even the new standardized tests) want to see from students is a demonstrated ability to project themselves on the page. Tests are a place to showcase critical problem solving. And critical problem solving comes from the development of personal voice, which happens through creative writing. College admissions  are constantly looking for unique voices. They want the prospective collegian's voice to be palpable in their essay. They want enthusiasm, commitment, and joy. Then there's employers. Surely they don't care about creative writing. Right? Except when they want convincing proposals, briefs, research, and all of the other tangible demonstrations of a flexible mind.

When I teach creative writing, I'm coaxing kids into realizing and then remembering that they can and should always demonstrate their own personal voice on every page they write. Everyone who grades, appraises, accepts, and hires tacitly agrees with me.

So Ian, here is my quote for you: No writing is effective without a personal voice. And every reader wants that, whether they are a friend, a fan, a teacher, or an employer.


Monday, September 30, 2013

I Held Hands with Judy Blume!!!!!

There aren't many people I would drive through two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic to see, but when my sister suggested I meet her at the main branch of the New York City Public Library on 42nd Street and 5th avenue to see Judy Blume and Eric Carle for a special reading and panel discussion celebrating the NYPL's first ever list of 100 great children's books of the past 100 years, of course I said YES!

(And yes, my grandmother's A Wrinkle in Time is on that list . . .)

And . . . I was late. (Because of said traffic.) But what a treat! The woman is 75 years old and looks thirty years younger. Every fiber of her being is attentive and completely engaged. She talked about the joys of revising - yet another reason why I love this woman! (Not just for Are you there God, It's Me, Margaret, Deenie, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great and the mind-blowing FOREVER.) She read a snippet from Double Fudge and every word was GOLD. She had us in the palm of her hands!

Leonard Marcus as the moderator was fabulous as usual. Eric Carle was adorable, and read his brand new book called Friends, but Judy was a childhood idol. Judy wrote for ME. She understood - she knew what it was like - she could read minds!

And I never got to meet her, to hold both of her hands and tell her what a difference she made in my life.

Until this morning. (She kept holding onto my hand as she high-fived the elementary school kids who were in the audience. So gracious!) I did not not ask for a photo or an autograph -

The hand-holding was more than enough!

Afterwards, my sister and I were treated to a private tour of the NYPL's acclaimed exhibition The ABC of it: Why Children's Books Matter which I urge you all to RUN to. It was also curated by Leonard, and he and the librarians and the conceptual artists did an amazing job. (Yes, A Wrinkle in Time is included, in the Banned Books section.) Look! There's the car from the Phantom Tollbooth! And the Wild Thing! And the Secret Garden! And, and, and . . . Just GO! You won't regret it. Tell them I sent you!

PS Whose hands would you like to hold?

xoxox


Monday, September 16, 2013

Italians, Arches and Getting Older

I may not be a Delicate Arch, but I am forming over time.

We pull up to the Moab Valley Inn and there's a group of about twenty Harley Davisdson's in front.  We have already been dazzled by our drive through the Rockies and then winding around the Colorado River on 128. I am still feeling that sense of surreality I felt over seventeen years ago when I first landed here, in Moab, Utah, so the motorcycles fit right in with my out of body experience.

In my '20's and '30's, I thought that time was linear, but more and more now I am realizing that it's not: time is fluid - I am every age I have ever been. The good news is that the bull*&^* is what's eroding, leaving room for my authentic self.

I pass the riders on my way to check in and have to stop myself from gaping - they are all in their 60's and 70's, the sounds from their mouths sounding like bubbles from a stream: Italians.

My past, present and future are commingling - yes, being an elderly Italian tourist on a motorbike is in my future. Why not?

Yet I have no time or wherewithal to stop and make friends, to practice my rusty Italian - I am on a mission - to get my family of five settled so that we can blaze trails up and through the red rocks of Arches National Park.

The last time I was in Moab, the kids were barely a twinkle in my eye and I still had a lot of growing up to do. Now I am 45 and I have an 8, 11, and 13 year old. They have never been to Moab. I haven't been back either, and if you've read my book Edges, you can feel my love for the area - setting as character.

Back to the car and the motorcycles are gone, and we are off to the trail head for the 1.5 mile hike to Delicate Arch. It is 5pm, and although there is no direct sunlight making the 90 degree weather bearable, the light on the rocks turn them into the color of bright watermelon.

We have company on our journey, and the voices we hear are not just American: they are Hebrew, German, mostly French . . . Italian! The hiker's ages range from twenty to seventy, in various shapes and sizes.  Scarlett at 8, is the youngest hiker, so we can forgive her the occasional "are we there yet?" sighs.

The wonderful thing about this hike is that as massive as Delicate Arch is, you can't see it until you get there. You have to trust, have faith.

I am moving in that faith, in the present.

Hiking through the rocks and then the steep slick rock, then up and up (vertigo!) and around corners, steep drops and . . .

"Che bellissima!" Indeed. The kids are enchanted, as I knew they would be.

The vertigo is new for me: a sign of age? Yet it's not annoying or frighting, it just adds another dimension and I take deeper breaths and exhale more slowly.

The kids are exhilarated hiking back, feeling a sense of accomplishment. We have a late dinner at the Blu Pig, and a group of elderly Italians have the table next to us. Were they the ones on the motorbikes? Were they the ones on the hike?

We see them for sure at breakfast the next morning, and on another long hike we do in Arches to Devil's Garden. There are so many things to do, how can we have the same itinerary?

Rob helps some of them through a stream the next day when we are hiking in Negro Bill Canyon.

Although they are older, they are vigorous, they are inspiring. They are curious and delighted.

Finally, on our last morning, I get the courage to speak to some of them. I have been saving up all of my Italian until this moment. They are from Milan, and flew to Phoenix, renting the bikes there. They only laugh when I ask them what they think of American coffee.

"Ciao!" they shout, and vroom off.

But our adventures are not finished! Our next stop is Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. It is mid afternoon and we have a tour of Cliff Palace at 4, but the drizzle makes us bide our time in the museum, where four of the Italians are! We greet each other like old friends - and I again am reminded of the fluidity of time.

I may not be a spring chicken, but I have learned and am still learning what it takes to practice radical self-care, and not to give up on any aspect of my life - be it physical, mental, spiritual. I may NOT be Italian, but I will be an older person who is a voracious lover of life, just like these powers of example.

I may not be a Delicate Arch, but I am forming over time.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Back in the Saddle?


Hello my turtle doves! I've missed you! My writing self has been quiet for the summer, but I can assure you that FALL is here and I am back in the saddle - back to writing and nurturing my own inner life, back to spreading around the writing love!

How? Why? Because I've shaken up my perspective, had some adventure.

Rob and I took our first vacation in YEARS and took the kids on a road trip through the Colorado Rockies to the Four Corners, back to where we met in Moab, Utah.

Back in the saddle . . . the term has become part of our vernacular from our rich history in the West embodied by the song stylings of the famous cowboy entertainer Gene Autry. And who doesn't think of John Wayne?

But Léna Roy?

Here I am IN the saddle for sure, but not BACK in the saddle, as I am not a horse aficionado. (Being back in the saddle implies that you are returning to doing something that you regularly do.)

I am a writer who couldn't make time for writing this summer, so I needed to shake things up. That's what we need to get back to doing what we love - a shift in perspective.

The whole trip in and of itself helped with that as the five of us hiked four or five miles a day in various gorgeous environs.

But here, something is "new". I am sitting astride Rebel, and Rebel is giving me a different perspective on the landscape, a fresh experience. I have never had to put a bandana over my face because of the masses of dust kicked up by horses hooves. There were sixteen of us, crisscrossing through streams and going up and down the rocks in Castle Creek, led by the good folks at Red Cliffs Lodge on Hwy 128.

I have never had such a good time on a horse and although I feared his name at first, Rebel took good care of me. I had to get in the saddle to realize again that I am a composite of all of my experiences, and yet so much more. I am more than any story that I tell myself about myself. And I don't need to be afraid of the stories I need to tell. (Or need to be written?)

It's a life-long project and journey,  this confidence game.

So I am back in the saddle so to speak, as I hope you all are - with the ability to look at your life and yourself as an artist with fresh eyes.

And more is coming!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Myth of Writer's Block, Teen Author Reading Night & Breathing



I have been thinking a lot about the myth of writer's block lately, particularly as I haven't been writing much myself in the past couple of months.

But I'm not worried.

I'm not blocked, just lazy.

Rather: other things have become more important.

But someday soon I will (write), again.

I am also breathing in the present and (as they say) being here now.

For now I am content as I create community out in Westchester under the cozy umbrella of Writopia Lab, where we embrace the rich inner worlds of kids and teens.

For the summer, I have the privilege of running writing workshops all day, during the time I usually write. (September will come soon enough.)

This week, I took eleven teens into the city, on Metro North, through the labyrinth of Grand Central Station and the subway system during rush hour, on the streets and down to Jefferson Market Library for Teen Author Reading Night.

It had started out with an email from David Levithan reminding me about the event that I received during one of my workshops, and then blurting out to the group: oh, we should do this - who wants to come? And then it snowballed into permission slips and fear that I just might be in over my head. Breathe.

(My deus ex machina came in the form of two parent volunteers!) 

Wednesday was hot and humid, and I was shiny in my Dr. Who tee shirt (in places I shouldn't be) (breathe) and the kids were so wacky and happy it was infectious.

Navigating the city just by myself can be harrowing enough, so with 13 other people it was truly an adventure (;-0), but we finally arrived.

Breathe.

Late.

Breathe.

David had saved us the two front rows of seats, which made everyone feel oh-so-special, but I was horrified to walk in on the middle of Sara Zarr's reading from her new novel, The Lucy Variations. (Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.That was all before she turned fourteen.) 

I am a HUGE Sara fan! But as I settled in, listening to her voice intone the melodies of her lyrical prose I relaxed and became 100% present for my fellow authors. (She mentioned my grandmother's book, House Like a Lotus in David's Q & A.)

I was riveted by Elizabeth Kiem, author of Daughter, dancer, Traitor, Spy: (A new breed of spy novel combines classic thrills (The Americans, John Le Carre, and Alan Furst), Bolshoi intrigue, and elements of the paranormal.) She herself was poised and funny, and the fact that she mentioned Benedict Cumberbatch in the Q and A (just let her fan gurl slip) endeared her to me even more.

We heard the lovely Alissa Grosso read from her new book Shallow Pond, (Annie is the oldest. The sickly one who gave up on her own life so she could raise her sisters after their parents died. Gracie is the wild child. She wants a man so bad, she’ll do anything it takes to get one. Barbara, the youngest, hates being constantly mistaken for her sisters. She wants nothing more than to finish senior year and get out of Shallow Pond—before she succumbs to her unwanted attraction to the new boy in town, Zach Faraday) Jennifer E. Smith read from This is What Happy Looks Like, (When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.) and Corey Haydu read from her debut, OCD Love Story. (When Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again. But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic…and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a lot about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed. Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control. But this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down…and she might end up breaking her own heart.)

Breathe.

Don't these sound amazing!?!? I want to run to my independent bookstore . . .

But wait! There's more! There's Shana Mlawsky's debut novel Hammer of Witches! Magic, the Spanish Inquisition and a 14 year old male narrator named Balthasar - who can resist that? And Emmy Laybourne, with her Monument 14 series. Now I don't know what rock I've been living under, but this lady is fantabulous. A post-apocalyptic tale about a group of kids living out the end of days at a Target in Monument, Colorado? I am sooooo there! And she was a superstar, no doubt about it.

Last but not least was Alex London, who read from his new thriller, Proxy: The adventure novel of the year! Inspired by The Whipping Boy and Feed, this adrenaline-fueled thriller will appeal to fans of The Hunger Games for its razor-sharp insights into the nature of human survival and its clever writing.

It was Alex who reminded me about the myth of writer's block. WRITING IS A JOB. And you have to give yourself permission to suck. You just have to be a workhorse. 

Breathe.

We talk about that ad nauseum, don't we? Sticking our butts to our chairs and churning out words.



Emmy had us in stitches when she said that her advice about writer's block was channeled through Tonya Harding (y'all recall her? Charming Olympic ice skater who had her competition knocked out, literally?) Evidently, Tonya had talked about "tree-ing" in one of her interviews, a technique in which one places all of one's negative emotions into a piece of wood.(Too bad she didn't really take her own advice!)

But it's all in the breath isn't it?

The teens were so excited to meet David, and a few of them had already read Monument 14 and were bending Emmy's ear quite a bit - she (Emmy)  even gave one of them a tote bag with the name of the store the kids live in in Monument 14!

Writers are so generous - with their time, with their words. David is a role model for impacting community, for bringing people together.

So kids, this has been a very long and late-night post I know, so if you are still reading this, my hat's off to you.

But here is the clincher, and hopefully I'm bringing this all together: we HAVE to rub elbows with others like us and become community. It makes no difference if you're just finding out about yourself and writing, or whether you are a writing veteran, we ALL matter. We All give each other sustenance and energy to keep going. We are not alone!

The Writopia teens and parents and I went to a diner for dinner before hopping back on the train (that makes it sound so easy, doesn't it?) bonding over running for and just missing the 9:24 train back to Katonah. 

No matter, there is always another train, a Starbucks around the corner, and EACH OTHER!

Breathe. 

And when the butt is back in that chair for myself, I won't have writer's block, because I will give myself that permission to suck AND the knowledge that I have my community at my back, cheering me on.

Oooh! The wind beneath my wings. (Heh, heh, heh . . . sorry, I couldn't resist.) Breathe.


 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Joys of Love Study Guide!

Hey there!

I am super excited to share with you all the new Joys of Love study guide on the Madeleine L'Engle website. It went live today! It has a very special place in my heart as it was my sister's and my "secret" as children - our grandmother's unpublished book that was just for us.  It had everything a young reader could ask for - three different manuscripts with three different endings, theater, romance, and a hint of the adult world to come.

I love this particular study guide because although the book was written and is set in the 1940's, we are asked to reflect on today's world as well. Literature helps us to question the world that we live in and to see our place in it. I wish that more books had study guides, don't you?

So what are you waiting for? Get thee over to yonder Madeleine L'Engle website!

xoxox

Thursday, June 20, 2013

You Say it's Your Birthday????



'What day is it?' asked Pooh.




'It's today,' squeaked Piglet. 




'My favorite day,' said Pooh.


45, 45, 45, 45.

I am 45.

4 plus 5 = 9.

I am 9

I am 10, I am 11, and so on . . .

I am every age I've ever been.

The gift of Memory.

But today. Today I went to Finn's graduation from 5th grade (sniff) and took him out to lunch at the diner, where we knew half of the patrons.

The gift of Community.

But today. Today I went to see the doctor to get the results from my physical. (Blood tests, etcetera.) I am relieved that I only have some vitamin deficiency: B12 and D3. I have lost 23 pounds since mid-March and am committed to living gluten, dairy and sugar free.

The gift of Willingness.

But today. Today I worked with an amazing kid on her novel.

The gift of Passion for Work. For knowing that I am in the Right Place.

But today. Friends called and sent me texts and messages. One took me for an iced tea whilst my kids were all at their evening swim practice.

The Gift of Friendship.

I mess up, we all do.

The Gift of Giving up on Perfection. (This is a very late night, very quick blog post.)

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” 

And the Gift of Gratitude.

xoxoxox Thank you to everyone in my life, whether we can hug in person, or just virtually - you all help my heart to grow bigger and stronger!



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Missing pictures

The only thing missing is the pictures.

But here's the thing: I can't be present and take pictures at the same time. I know that other people can - in fact, the camera helps them to focus even more.

But not me.
              (My hands shake.)

The only thing missing is the pictures - I can't  PROVE to you how wonderful, how inspiring, how empowering the end-of-the-year stuff with students can be.

Thursday night: Writopia Lab workshop and Open Mic at the Mt. Kisco Library. These kids show me every day what it means to take risks, and how important writing is. They shone so bright and proved what community can do. I was so proud!

But, I didn't take any pictures, I was watching and listening too intently. Bearing witness.

Then straight to see my fabulous intern's senior presentation at her high school. She is off to college y'all. Done. (No pictures.)

Friday: my daughter Scarlett's dance "recital" with Dance Naiad. Now I know that you know that I love kids and I love their recitals no matter what, but this one blew me away  - it was so professional. I had no idea. The older dancers - the teens - were not just excellent in their technique, they were true artists. They embodied the dance with passion and intensity that seemed beyond their years. They took my breath away.

But guess what? No pictures.

And no pictures this afternoon when I hosted another Writopia Lab Open Mic at a completely packed, standing room only Voracious Reader in Larchmont. Man.

Missing pictures. (Is that a metaphor for something else?)

No.

Life is awesomely beautiful and full of meaning.

The only thing missing is the (darn) pictures!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Playfully Human

She has always felt a bit alien.
Other.

A child isolating herself,  feeling like an outsider.
Not knowing
Where she ends and the other begins
Not knowing.

Still: pockets of presence
Feel like a present
(A cliché is nothing but a repeated truth.)

The tender beauty of humanity.

How do they do it?

Words, sentences, paragraphs
Pen to paper.

Write me.
Write ME.

Our souls inhabit these houses

The house the child struggles to care for,

Then growing into knowing she is more than that
Place she calls home.

Alien, but not alone,
Playfully human.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Balance, Writing and Dairy Dreams

Everyone is looking for balance in their lives, for all of the pieces of the pie to have enough  . . . girth. But sometimes trying to balance everything stresses us out so much that we fall off kilter and lose our way.

I have been perfectly happy just balancing my work, family and health these past couple of months, but I had to drop my writing in order to stay steady. I've lost 15+ pounds since March 15th. YAY!

Now I'm ready to add novel writing back, but I don't want the other parts to teeter totter. (It's amazing how much we need to do to take care of ourselves, isn't it?)  I have to regroup and get back to my novel, get back to writing essays, even if it's small.  I just gave myself a music prompt and posted what I wrote, going to many places in my heart. That was fun. (Two posts in one day - whoa now!)

I need to write an outline. I have the setting and primal character arc - I've already written 25k or so, but I don't know where it's going!!!! Thus the refusal to get butt-in-chair AND since I have gone dairy-free . . . I can't hang out at Starbucks anymore. I might as well be going to a bar.

In fact, I had a dairy dream the other night. Like a drunk dream, you know? (Well, for those who don't, a drunk dream, important to those in recovery, is a dream where you think you've messed up and slipped but you really haven't. You wake up either a) grateful, or b) with a new understanding that you really need to stay away from that substance.)

I dreamed that I had cup after cup of coffee with half and half and sugar. You see, since I've taken the dairy away, I don't drink as much coffee. Maybe I'll have a small cup once in a while with some almond milk. It's the coffee that I miss the most. It's working in Starbucks. But green tea just ain't the same. (I love green tea, but Starbucks is for strong coffee damnit!) I miss coffee with half and half more than I miss ice cream.

So instead of going to Starbucks this morning, I came back home after spin class and stuck in my ear phones and went back to 1986 to write the previous essay about a certain night at The Palladium, dancing to Art of Noise. Then I put on some Daft Punk and decided to write this and come up with a semi-public game plan. My readers, will you keep me accountable?

1) outline novel
2) 300 words a day - start out small. Can always write more! But something every day to keep characters in head.
3) one personal essay a week, based on a song from the 70's or 80's

Thank you for your support y'all!

Moments in Love

Late June at the Palladium, summer of 1986, 3 in the morning. I have just turned eighteen. Almost empty dance floor. Combat boots, vintage dress, flattop hair. No more high school, college looming, life looming.
 
Michelle and I are dancing to There ain't nothin' goin' on but the rent. Gwen Guthrie.

Gotta have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me.

We're singing along, this anthem. My last boyfriend was a dick. He treated me like crap and I ended up hating him. But he wouldn't let me break up with him, and senior year of high school there were no adults around to help me. (Okay yes, my beloved Drama and English teachers, but I didn't talk to older gay male authority figures about my love life.) Imagine my joy when he broke up with me right before I graduated from high school! Fly girl like me, needs security.

I was going to freaking Barnard College after all. I was valedictorian of my class.

Freedom. I got a job at The Palladium, the new nightclub on 14th street between 2nd and 3rd avenues, and I was back with my people. Kids. Yes, we were freaky. I loved night clubs. I loved the dressing up, the gender non-conforming, the boys who found acceptance in their outlandishness and the girls who loved them. (Imagine my shock at the sordidness that happened ten years later: Michael Alig was just another outrageous kid and hadn't yet descended deep into his addictions and insanity. And no, I was not friends with him, so he may or may not have been there that night.)

Then Ricky,  the gorgeous aloof DJ who was said to be dating Cindy Crawford, puts on Art of Noise, Moments in Love. I am transported back to the summer I was fifteen, so innocent, a mere three years ago. So much has happened, and I find I am floating in space, in love with this moment, with being eighteen, with finishing high school, with not having to worry about where I am going to college, or abusive boyfriends who think nobody "else" would ever go out with me because I am "too" plump. Always too much and yet not enough.

But for now I am. I am in that sweet spot of "just right". After a night of working, a night of sweating. I have friends I can dance with. Friends who think I am perfect the way I am, in the moment.

Moments in love with life.

Monday, May 6, 2013

WILLingness and GRACE

I've been quiet on the interwebs. Perhaps that's because I am writing? Not exactly . . .

I have been hanging out in the world of willingness and grace. Mostly because I don't know how I get out of personal ruts and change for the better. How I let go of self destructive behaviors.

But I get out of them.

However, even though I've let go of a lot in my life, there always seems to be a lot more to release.

How does one become willing to change for the better? Change is scary, even when (especially when?) it's for our own good. Our flawed thinking has served us in some way.

I have struggled with some form of anxiety for most of my life, which is why I am so grateful that I have the practice of writing as the cornerstone of my Life Survival Kit. I have been writing, but I haven't been sharing, as I have been exploring the vicissitudes of life in regards to . . . my body and self-love.

Nothing earth-shattering to the outside world, but to me - oh yes. Another layer of the onion has been peeled, a new awareness has been birthed: the food industry has hijacked my taste buds and turned me into a zombie.

And I KNOW you feel me. Who doesn't have food issues? (Okay, some of you don't.)  The battle starts early.

I had beat myself up for as long as I can remember, and had supported the diet industry for just as long. I had become addicted to "diet" foods: sugar substitutes, low-fat this, no-fat that and wonder why I gain weight. I lost weight on Weight Watchers, but only if I was willing to be obsessed with food. I could never keep it up. I gained weight back, and more weight.

I need to make peace with my body. I need to practice mindFUL eating and break the cycle of filling my body with addictive foods. I need to look at a shift in lifestyle that helps me love and feel good about myself.

So back to willingness and grace.

I have never tried cutting out gluten, dairy and sugar (and sugar substitutes) before - in fact, that always felt too deprivational and extreme to me. But seven weeks ago, I did just that. And yes the first few weeks were rough, but now I feel TERRIFIC.

I found the willingness, the open-ness to try something new, and I'm so grateful. I hope that I continue to have the willingness to sustain this huge lifestyle shift, but for now I am grateful to be free from anxiety around FOOD.

Now to take this energy I've used to focus on my health and reflection and put it back on my writing . . .






Monday, April 8, 2013

Goin' Back to Moab . . .

I can't believe it. I actually booked tickets today for a trip that has been so long overdue - waiting for the right time, waiting for money, waiting for the kids to age appropriately, waiting for . . .

For me, decisions can be hard. I waffle. I wring my hands. (All that's missing sometimes is a skull, Ophelia, Queen Gertrude, et al, you feel me?)

An adventure vacation. We'll fly to Denver and rent a car, stopping at Glenwood Springs and then onto Moab, Mesa Verde, Santa Fe, Great Sand Dunes National Park and then back to Denver.

In AUGUST. Yes, where Moab averages 96 degrees during the day!

EDGES is set in August.

I met my husband seventeen years ago in August at The Lazy Lizard Youth Hostel. Our 14th anniversary was last week, April Fool's Day (yeah, that's how we roll) and we started thinking that this could really happen.

I have been quiet on the blog lately, cuz I wonder if anybody really reads blogs anymore. But when I have something to say, I say it. And this is it!

Future blog topics -  a few weeks ago I had a come-to-Jesus epiphany about my health and have eliminated sugar, gluten and dairy from my diet. (It's been amazing!)  Mother/daughter book club, poetry walks with kids, revision (again), Infinite Jest (yes, I am reading it!) and the Writer Identity.

Oh, and PS . . . if any of you all are out there or will be out there this August, we can try to meet up! Maybe I can try to schedule some readings and/or workshops or something . . .

Ciao!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What Does an Award Mean Anyway?

Greetings and salutations!

I still have a grin on my face from our first ever award ceremony as the regional affiliate for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards where we were shown what a sincere and warm community we really are. Reid Castle at Manhattanville College was the perfect venue, and it was a thrill to see each writer come up to the mic and say their names. Our keynote speaker, Rachel Vail, spoke to us writer to writer and moved us so much that she received a standing ovation.
 
I had the privilege of making the closing remarks, and I thought I would share them with you . . .

I have a student who, after winning a silver key, keeps asking me what winning an award really means. I love this question. You've won an award, you've been recognized, and now what?

It would really mean more if I won a gold key, wouldn’t it? But then, If I won a gold, would I have reached my peak? If I didn’t win anything, does that mean I’m not a writer?

Is art about winning and losing?

No grasshopper, it isn’t.

Kurt Vonnegut said: “The arts are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”  

 
You are making your soul grow, you are daring to have a voice, to share and shine your light with the world. You are making your mark.

It’s not about winning or losing . . . but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of you for putting yourself out there, and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t celebrate all of our successes along the way. After all, you may win a gold next year, or an honorable mention. Or nothing!

And that’s not only the life of a writer, that’s life.

So don’t let the award define you. Instead, use it as inspiration and affirmation to keep writing, to keep discovering, to keep developing your inner life.
 

Let it motivate you to solidify and expand your creative community, to find mentors and peers who both support and push you to the edges of what you think you can do.
 

You have found a nurturing writing community that cares about your writing. You all took a risk and made yourselves vulnerable by submitting, and now we have become this new Hudson-to-Housatonic Writing Community.

Let's close tonight with promising to continue this conversation about art and the artist and what it all means. An award is a bright light on the journey, to keep us going, but it doesn’t change our intrinsic value as artists and humans. It reminds us that we can achieve greatness, and that we can develop wings with which to fly.
 

Keep writing; see you all soon!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Six Word Memoirs: Girls2Greatness

I was invited by Girls2Greatness to participate in a book event for Women's History Month last weekend in Mt. Vernon, NY. I say yes if I can to these events, not so much to sell books, but to meet other writers.

At first, I was uncomfortable because I didn't know anybody, and all of the other authors seemed to know each other. I was also the only non African-American woman there. Did they make a mistake in inviting me? (My old unempowered and terribly insecure self rearing her head. Fight it!)

That thought quickly disappeared as I started talking to people, engaging in conversation about the power of the written word. My table was next to Kai Storm's, an author who writes with an edge and a huge smile.

I had brought pads of paper and some pens because I had planned to try to get all of the authors to write a six-word memoir as a way to engage myself in their community.

I started: Words build community in my house.

Then I nervously asked the other authors to play with me. And they did!

I write, therefor I am. Period.
Mother, sister, friend, foe, student, authoress
Live Life! And be free always!
Mother, friend, God, sister, daughter, aunt
Passionate, teacher, author, loyal friend, blessed!
Blessed! Fortunate! Humble! Determined! Loving writer.
Dedicated, strong, determined, kind, loving, motivated
Resilient, timeless, determined, beautiful, humbled
Passionate writer loves writing for people
Art and dreams keeps us alive

And finally Kai wrote: Da hustle moves toward success always!

We all ended up reading excerpts from our books, and the true grit with which these women write was awesome to behold.

I left there feeling awesome being a part of girls2greatness, invigorated and empowered by all of these other woman with whom I have so much in common!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Caroline Bock: Before My Eyes

When author comrade Caroline Bock asked me if I would consider blurbing her latest manuscript, I didn't hesitate to say yes. I had more than merely enjoyed her debut novel LIE; reading her words I felt a kindred writing spirit. She uses multiple characters in search of a broader truth as they try to make sense out of horrific events.


That's what reading and writing are for: making sense of the world and helping us to understand.

This is what Before My Eyes does.

Bock boldly opens with a character who is obviously dangerously mentally ill, and he has a gun.

Violence is both a noun and a physical construct. I embody the noun - and the construct - and if I am violence and I am good, (which  must be), then violence must be good or in the purpose of the greater good since my only purpose is to do good. I am wrapped in goodness, an invincible light. My cape. My shield. No one can hurt me. This is my day.

Bock's story begins with a mass shooting on a Monday morning, and then she takes us back to Friday, weaving the narrative between three points of view: Max, a state senator's son who is having a hard time doing the right thing, Claire, a poet who has too many responsibilities, and Barkley, who hears voices, and unravels before our eyes. Max and Claire are more worried about themselves, and although we know what is going to happen, we quickly turn the pages.

Bock isn't preaching to us about the way things should be, she's giving us a glimpse into the way things are, without sentimentality and without an agenda. Her characters are multi-dimensional, filled with both darkness and light, as we, her readers all are. She reminds us of the struggle to be human, and has us searching for our own redemption, our own path to forgiving the world for its sins.

This book should be required reading in high schools as it has multiple topics to explore: mental illness,  bullying, to family relationships, friendships, loyalty and of course, violence.

Before My Eyes will be published by St. Martin's Press in the winter of 2014. I'll let you know when it's available!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Time for Dinner

The bell, the chime, the ring, the dinner bell. A golden little woman with a hoop and a tiny piece under her skirt, her pitch high but soft as we shake her.

Time for dinner.

It’s time.

A cap on her head and a wide smile.

Who is she and why is she a bell? I wonder if she is Aunt Jemima - time for pancakes. Her face has a tarnish and I imagine she has a past filled with racism and stereotypes.

Time for dinner, it’s time.

Who else could be calling us to dinner?

She lived in the dining room in my grandmother’s grand apartment, sitting on the antique high boy where the silver was housed and the wedgewood lived, where the silver platters adorned the gleaming mahogany foundation. She was probably my great grandmother’s, or even my great great before her - the great great greats from the deep South, from St. Augustine Florida, where family mythology tells that my great great once had an African princess for a playmate as sure as she had a woman with dark, dark skin play mama.

Not my world, yet it’s time for dinner, it’s time.

My small chubby hands grow into slender, adolescent fingers and they clutch the bell, eager to announce that dinner is ready, my grandmother has cooked the feast herself.

Time for dinner, it’s time.

My world spins faster and faster from East Coast to West and back again, back to my grandmother, to take care of her when her own chime stops ringing, when she can no longer cook dinner, or tell me stories of the past, until she can no longer take a breath.

It’s time . . .

To clear out the apartment, to split her things between the sisters, or put into storage until the fates can decide how to sort, how to qualify a life when all that’s left is “stuff”.

I don’t want anything, and yet I can’t help put scoop the golden lady into my handbag. She needs a home, she needs refuge. She doesn’t deserve to suffocate in a box, to live in the dark, to serve no purpose. She was made to be a dinner bell, and should be allowed to sing.

What is my purpose, and am I doing everything I can do to live up to that? I can get too comfortable in boxes, sleepwalking my way through life.
It’s time.
It’s time.
It’s time.

Now she lives in my kitchen, and is rung every night around 7pm. Sometimes I wish I knew more of her story, but then I realize that she is still living it, just as I am living mine.