New Story in REDIVIDER 14.2

This one, “Next to Godliness” is a flash story that came from a prompt from my Fall 2016 fiction workshop at Georgia State [Write a story that takes a saying literally and use it for the premise of a story].

I think I must have submitted at least 20 stories to this magazine before they finally took one. Writing ain’t nothing if it ain’t persistence.

Tiny Desk Music

 

I am excited to share the entry for NPR’s 2016 Tiny Desk Contest that I made with my friend Libby. I wrote this song 9 years ago (!) while I was living in Thailand.

The most fun part of making this video was watching the other entries on Youtube for ideas about how to go about this one. There are so many tremendous musicians, so many fun ways to record music.1599354_10201366556065653_350168024_o

My husband, Jeremy, recorded this one and my friend Libby O’Neill is on the violin.

You can listen to her music here.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 26: Love Song

PROMPT: Learn a happy song about love.

Because so many of my friends are celebrating love today, I’m going to go ahead and sing about it.

SONG OF THE DAY: Rainbow Connection

Because once I played this for my friends in a friend’s living room and her mother came in and asked, “Is that a song about being gay?”  She thought Jim Hensen was gay.  I’m pretty sure he was not, however, today this song is about being gay.

🙂

Thought for Day 20: The Game

I am a day behind in my writing thoughts but I wrote two today to catch up.

Here’s the thought for yesterday:

Know what game you’re playing and know the rules.

This thought comes from this sermon Iyanla Vanzant preached called “Playing the Game”:

The speech is full of great metaphors about life from baseball and football.  “You have to get all the way up the field,” and “You can’t get the house and the jaguar if you’re only on first base,” etc.  The essence is, know what game you’re playing and know the rules.  If your game is to publish a novel, you have to get focused on “where you’re going in order to get there…”  A rule might be that when you’re trying to write, you can’t have Facebook open in your browser.  It might be that you have to write for two hours a day.  It might be that you have to accrue a team of allies.

You have to get educated.  You have to figure out how the game works.  When it’s time to find an agent, you have to figure out the rules to that part of the game.  Know where you are in the game.  If you’re on first base, don’t expect the celebration of a home run.

If you write science fiction, there are different rules to writing horror.  You know this.  I get a lot of complaints from my friends who write in genres that those of us (like me) who don’t write in genres take them less seriously. First of all, I do write in a genre, it’s called literary fiction, I guess.  I have trouble with that word “literary” though, because there are tons of literary romances out there. There is crossover, but our job is to figure out what game we’re playing.  I am currently writing a literary ghost story.  It has different rules than the book I thought I was going to write–a transnational epic about human trafficking.

Do know that one game is not more valuable than the other. If anyone tells you that you’re style of writing, or your genre, or your interests, is less valuable, they are talking from a POV of taste preference, not capital T Truth.

That said, do know that the games share a lot of the rules.  Don’t worry about whether or not other people think your kind of writing is valuable.  Just play the game that makes you the most excited.

Thought for Day 19: Embrace Challenge

It’s Malcolm X’s birthday and I’ve been thinking about him since this morning. His life’s story has had a pretty big impact on my white-girl-growing-up-in-Detroit narrative.  I think his words have a lot to teach us about writing and living. I mean, they have taught me a lot.

One of the greatest gifts anyone ever gave me was the assignment to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in high school. I think it was my senior year but I can’t remember.  Could have been my junior year.  I had the same teacher for both.  I was one of a handful of white students in a predominately black school.  We watched the Spike Lee film in that same English class and there’s this scene in the movie (and if I remember, in the book, too) where this white woman comes up to Malcolm and asks what she can do help his cause. He looks at her directly and says, flat-out, “Nothing,” and walks away from her.  She is flabbergasted. Then a bunch of eyes fell on me for my reaction. Fell on me and on the other white girls in the class.  I can’t speak for the other white girls, but I know I was devastated when I read and watched that.

That moment, and the book in general, has taught me a lot about compassion.  It forced me to spend hours with words that challenged me and made me uncomfortable; and this is a big part of what compassion is, I think: the willingness to engage with a different perspective.

If you know the book, you know it is about transformation. Granted, I read it a long time ago, but I think I remember that Alex Haley met with Malcolm X at various points in his life for him to articulate the story.  Between meetings, Malcolm’s opinions changed drastically.  Each moment in the book is like a blazing light in a different color.  Blazing, because Malcolm X is so convincing, so articulate, so courageous in his word choice.  Each argument mesmerizes the reader.

The book ends up being a testament of a person who was always hungry for the truth, who was always ready to stand up and serve the truth as he knew it at various moments of his life.  This dedicated search required that he learn new information from time to time. He never stopped looking for the truth and as a result, the truth changed for him.

Malcolm X’s story is the story of what happens when a person believes something as hard as he or she can believe it, gets more information, and actually has the rare courage to change that belief.   Not only change the belief, but speak out for that new belief.

Okay, so here is where our writing comes in:

I already wrote an entry earlier this month about how a writer needs to be open to transformation, and so today’s writing thought takes it a step back from that to say that in order to be transformed, we have to allow ourselves to sit in the room and listen to people who disagree with us. We have to engage with our characters when their story makes us uncomfortable–goes to a place we don’t want be. This is more than tolerance—tolerance is sitting in the room with a different perspective without allowing that perspective to change us.  Tolerance is cold and has little use for a writer.

Instead, we must learn to be uncomfortable, we must learn to acknowledge another person’s perspective in such a way that we let it transform our own perspective. Meanwhile, we also have to know when to speak up. It’s a hard balance.    It’s probably the most challenging aspect of being an artist.

You might be asking, why? Why do we need to embrace discomfort?  Because great writing, I believe, involves a lot of tension and transformation.  You must have both of these things to tell a great story.

Thought for Day 16: Keep the Drama on the Page.

This was my favorite part of Julia Cameron’s THE RIGHT TO WRITE (which I am about to finish after I write this post). She says:

For a writer, personal drama is the drink of creative poison.  For a writer, the willing engagement in power struggles is an act of creative sabotage

(p. 41).

This is the truth.  We are living in world of crazy people–all people are crazy. It’s true! All people are self-absorbed. Especially artists. Especially talented ones. You included. Me included.  That doesn’t mean we have to contribute to the world’s craziness.  Our writing can and should bring order to this–help us process and perhaps contribute to the eradication of all hate and harm by acknowledging hate and harm, by getting a handle on it.  If you must act on drama, journal about it.  Save it for your characters’ conflicts.

We don’t have a choice about whether drama will get into our lives but we can learn how to deal with it before it takes over us and prevents us from writing. Here are three ways we can keep drama from interfering with our work:

1. Do our best to avoid it. 

We can start by being careful how we handle other people–especially in romantic/physical situations.  In all of our relationships, romantic or otherwise, avoiding drama looks like keeping other people’s best interests at heart. Pretty simple.  This doesn’t always work, though. People lie. People keep important information from us.  Even so, a lot of drama can be avoided if we go at the world with our best intentions.

2. Be aware of our own power trips.

Writing can help us acknowledge when we feel powerless.  Sometime we will. This is just going to happen.  But by acknowledging this, we can prevent ourselves from using whatever power we have  to harm others.

Do harm to your characters instead. It will make for a much more interesting story.

3. Rise above criticism.

People are going to say mean things to us, or mean things about our writing. Not all criticism is constructive.  But an important aspect of being a writer is having a thick enough skin to sort through criticism and pull out the constructive stuff.

4. Remember that people are time and energy.

Avoid the ones that waste your time and energy.  That doesn’t mean you have to be mean to them.  (See #1). Be respectful.  Love everyone. Even so, loving everyone doesn’t mean handing over your time and energy for them to sabotage it. Sometimes the most loving thing you can to for a person is to leave them alone to their own devices.  Loving someone sometimes means acknowledging that you can’t fix them. It means letting them learn how to fix themselves after you’ve treated them with your best intentions. Ultimately,  you choose who you spend time with and who you think about.

Got drama? Shake it off. Bring it to God, if you are prone to do such a thing. Acknowledge when you need to ask for forgiveness from folks.  Don’t expect anyone to apologize to you when they have hurt you. No matter what, know that you are bigger, more complex, more beautiful than whatever is trying to get in and sabotage your work.  Ultimately, we decide what to worship (what to give power to).

For more information, listen to David Foster Wallace’s speech to Kenyon College: