Medium for the Universe

I wrote seven words today, James Joyce said. I just don’t know what order they go in.

Yes, that is the question.

Yesterday, a senior high school student wanted me to show him a different font.

I said, No.

He asked Why?

I said Appearance means nothing.

He said he wanted that font.

I said, “I don’t care if you write it on a Sonic paper sack, if they are the right words, I’ll slap an “A” on it.”

He was not satisfied, but the class started clapping. I said, “Testify,” and the class started whooping and hollering.

That’s the difference between a writer and a non-writer.

A writer writes in the back seat of a car in the rain with someone driving her somewhere she doesn’t want to go.

On the back of the cable bill because it is oversized with questionable and despicably vague charges while pulled over in a parking lot transcribing song lyrics with an eyebrow pencil.

On the back of the professional development agenda because of the droning on and on of apologies for the ultimate failure to show the video because of technical difficulties.

In crayon on a paper sack with colored pencil on a found blank page for note-taking in the back of a pamphlet on Anemia and You in the waiting room, on printer paper while asking forgiveness from the gods of the printer budget, on long, yellow, legal-pad paper going against the grain and writing something that should be, by all that is holy, illegal.

A non-writer thinks of writing as something innocuous and pedestrian, something along the lines of setting up garden gnomes or stringing beads, or washing wheel covers.

Writing at its best is graffiti and at its worst is graffiti, and it is never pretty, only mind-altering.

When was the last time you got your mind blown by a garden gnome, or a pretty font, or a white picket-fence?

Who can say when the muses will strike, when the albatross will die, when the furies will screech and scratch their message through?

What will you take to hand, you medium of testimonies?

Oh, great, paper soul

These stone words sink

By degrees

Into

Thy fine-milled

Eternity.

The Universe is whispering. Do you hear?

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The Meaning of Deadline

I love the word deadline. I love the sound it makes as it whooshes past.
– Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

There is a photographer  in Iowa, Mark Hirsch, who photographed the same tree
for  365 days. There is something very loving and methodical in such a commitment. It reminds me of a long marriage or the  way a man will go to the same dead-end job every day to feed his family or the way a woman will keep putting her kids first and do without every single thing she needs just to watch her kids grow up with what they want. More than that, watching the report on the photographer, I learned that things happen that change your perspective. He had a job and they let him go. They didn’t need any more print publication photographers, thank  you very much. Next, he had an accident. There had been this tree Hirsch had  passed on a rural road nearly every day. It had always been there. One day after  the accident, the man realized he needed that tree. He needed to stop and  photograph it. He needed to capture it.

The  Cherokee believed that a camera snatched your soul and stored it in the box. It must have  sure seemed that way to look at that great square chamber with the fire pluming out and embers burning into the air, and the image appearing under  water like something from another dimension. Poof! Another soul, gone! In the old days, developing a photo must have seemed like creation itself. There’s something to that line of thinking, that a photograph captures the essence of an object, person, or living thing, maybe even catches that thing or person showing off its true inner self with its guard down, how it really is all the time. Even when no one is looking.

I used to think of deadlines as arbitrary dates set by a boss or a blind bureaucratic
organization beyond which, if not observed or adhered to, penalties would be
assessed, heads would roll, jobs would be in jeopardy. Steps would be taken.

I now think of deadlines as points in time when something comes down out of another
dimension, snaps a picture, and serves up the truth. For me, it was a neurological illness.
I discovered that everything I  ate was either part of the problem or part of the solution.

That had been true long before I got sick, but it soon became a matter of getting better or getting worse, a choice between living and dying.

I have learned bits of nutrition wisdom in the most unlikely places. At my son’s Tang Soo
Do class, the master teacher told me about the healing powers of honey. Specifically, he said, honey attacks bacteria. A woman from a Georgia mountain community shocked her grandson’s Vanderbilt physicians when she applied a honey-cinnamon paste to the boy’s burns. The burns healed. The doctors discovered that the honey-cinnamon combination destroyed the bacteria.

I have been on a three year journey to discover the healing properties of food, cooking my way through a year of decadent gluten-free recipes to prove to myself that it can be done. Organic food and natural oils have brought me new friends and taken me to unexpected places. My house has turned into a gathering place for women and children learning alongside me to cook with clean ingredients. At some point, we can kill ourselves with food or we can change our eating habits and make our lives richer. It comes down to simple changes, like this end-of-summer recipe for homemade clean ginger ale.

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Ginger Ale made with Essential Oils
Sliced ginger root, 1 drop lemon oil, 1 drop lime oil, 1/4-1/2 cup raw honey, supply of sparkling water, 4 cups spring water
Combine spring water with sliced ginger root in saucepan.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer. Add lemon, lime, and honey to make syrup. To ice in a glass, add part ginger syrup and part sparkling water. Garnish with lemon or lime wedge.

 

Why Melania Trump’s plagiarism goes beyond the need to perform well.

After days of tuning out of the Republican National Convention, (I have no plans to watch the DNC either) it was impossible to remain impervious to the sound bites and memorable moments, especially the moment when Melania Trump conjured Michelle Obama’s DNC speech and tried to make it her own.Most speechwriters would find enough in the Melania Trump historical archives to create quite a moving speech. Her life is not totally devoid of authenticity. What sunk Melania’s ship the night of her speech before millions was the plagiarism, and this speaks of a tendency to farm out arduous tasks to “service” people, which is a big reason that political candidates and their wives can never successfully convince the public that they know what it’s like to survive, paycheck to paycheck, in an ordinary world like an ordinary person.

Several articles on Melania’s young life turn up the same story. Donald Trump’s third wife started life as Melania Knavs and grew up in Communist Yugoslavia, an area divided into Bosnia and Hertzogovnia after a long war between ethnic groups. At the time, her city, Sevnica, was an industrial town, and photos of that area in the Seventies show green hills in the background with run-down, colorless buildings dotting grimy streets. Melania’s mother worked in a textile mill while Melania’s father was a car dealer. They were certainly working class people, but apparently people of some means, moving from their small town to the Slovenian capital where Melania attended high school.

It was a combination of luck and money that propelled Melania into the kind of life the ordinary envy. Melania is an immigrant but not an illegal one. According to reporter Alexander Robertson with the Daily Mail, when asked about her husband’s harsh stand on illegals, she said, “I never would have considered entering without papers.” That’s because she didn’t have to. Someone paid her way to cities across Europe where she fulfilled her dream of a career in fashion and modeling.

After her discovery in Yugoslavia when she was a high school student by photographer Stane Jerko, her path to stardom went into overdrive. Her official biography reveals that she began her modeling career at the age of sixteen. She certainly “went to work” as a pre-teen, but modeling eclipsed her desire to design and create new clothes. Her knowledge of multiple languages certainly helped her advancement, and at the age of 25, Melania, who had by now changed her name to Knauss, moved to New York. Two years later, she became Donald Trump’s wife.

In contrast, First Lady Michelle Obama grew up on the south side of Chicago. We shouldn’t make too much of the word “bungalow” used to in reference to her home in some biographies. It’s clear that multiple children slept in the living room of Michelle’s childhood home, a typical “row” or “tenant” house as one would see in Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, and other large northern cities.

They were the Robinsons. Her dad, Fraser Robinson, a pump worker at the city waterworks, brought home the only income until Michelle’s mother, Marian, went to work at Spiegel Catalogue as a secretary after raising her own children at home until school age.

Michelle Obama was no slouch in academics, and her own effort in the classroom paved the way to her success. She skipped the second grade, qualified for the gifted program in sixth grade, and attended the first magnet school in Chicago. Before obtaining her doctorate in Juris Prudence from Harvard, she earned a degree in social work, and this interest dominated the direction of her life. She used her law degree to assist the disenfranchised, offering free legal help to minorities, schooling Blacks on their rights under the law.

The current First Lady earned her way through Princeton working at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Understanding (formerly known as the Third World Center).

Michelle Obama did not have to plagiarise her speeches for the simple reason that she did not rely on others to make her path smooth for her. While it is true to say that Melania Knavs Trump had a real life, she quickly gained membership into an elite group to whom hard work is something other people do. Michelle Obama truly, authentically struggled in life, relied solely on her wit, instinct, and compassion to get her academic degrees. Melania fell into her career through a series of lucky discoveries, from the photographer who recruited her as a child to Donald Trump, a quarter century her senior, who married her. Melania, no doubt brilliant, did not attend college, relying on her looks to propel her into the lifestyle she no doubt coveted. Michelle Obama is a distinctive, successful, actualized individual even without her husband in the picture, while Melania Trump used her body and her image to angle for a wealthy husband who wears her like a Rolex on his arm.

And this distinction is what makes the faux pas of Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech all the more disturbing. The Yugoslavian immigrant used the life of a truly authentic fighting spirit to embellish and tastefully furnish her own one-dimensional existence. A staff ghostwriter has come forward to take responsibility for the lifted lines, but Melania’s academic theft only reiterates the Trumps’ need to fill out the narrative of their empty campaign rhetoric reflecting the empty house that results when privilege is all you can give.

 

 

 

Dreamless in America

A good friend of mine, Candace Moonshower,  (author of the YA novel The Legend of Zoey available via Kindle/Amazon) recently recounted a vivid dream in a forum. As dreams go, it was lucid, filled with people, some she knew and strangers as well. At the center of the dream was the erratic behavior of a particular plane and its ultimate crash. Like something out of the Twilight Zone, at the dream’s end, a child’s hand appeared, picking up the plane.

I won’t mention too many particulars, not because they are not important; rather I became most interested not in the dream itself but in the comments in reaction to my friend’s account.

One person asked what she’d had to eat.

Another suggested ambien if she were “having trouble sleeping,” as if my friend were recounting a waking hallucination rather than dreams achieved in REM sleep.

I left this forum thinking that we have lost touch with past cultures and generations who not only knew how to dream but also welcomed dreams as healthy, normal, and even the seal of an important person, someone marked by the gods as special. A prophet. A seer.

According to the biocybernaut institute, creative people dream more than so-called “normal” people. We know that dreams occur during REM sleep, as alpha waves are emitted in the brain. Alphas are the second-highest frequency of brain waves measured and are present during some intriguing periods in the daily lives of creative types, including, but not limited to:

high peak athletic performance.

meditation or prayer.

dreaming.

I left the forum thinking of all the things our ancestors embraced that modern living has eradicated as annoying, irritating, or even deviant behavior, the way some laugh at people who take longs walks or collect insects or study calligraphy.

We know that animals dream, and higher animals dream lucidly and in graphic detail. For humans, dreams are a way of working out problems or filtering the events of the day through our subconscious. Yes, whether we are in touch with our unconscious mind or not, it is there, as we sleep, a portal to our thought life, maybe even a gateway to a higher plane, a bridge to a state of high performance, but apparently most of us consider this “higher calling” a nuisance to be stamped out and eradicated with whatever prescription psychotropic drug is on the nightstand.

My friend Candace interpreted her own dream as a lesson on perspective, her unconscious mind working out a problem, revealing a different way of seeing, turning the problem on its ear.

The Bible speaks of young men having visions and old men dreaming dreams. Is it true that most people don’t dream in technicolor? I always assumed others dreamed big, colorful, sometimes even loud dreams of worlds as real as the one we actually live in. Do most never visit Poe’s “Plutonian shore” where the speaker in the Raven traveled in his grief? Or is it possible we have been duped into suffocating our creative spirit which, if released in deep meditation or dreaming, might work out our deepest worries without anxiety, fear, or paranoia? Is our country’s mental illness epidemic a result of our failure to understand that we are higher creatures prone to dream, born to meditate, pray, and possibly escape our reality to a higher perspective?

I challenge anyone reading this to start a dream journal and begin to practice quietness. We have lost the value of quietness and fail to pursue it. Corporate entities have convinced us that we must stay consistently linked to others, networked, hooked up. We are talking endlessly, listening constantly, but the content of our lives has become trivialized to the point that we have lost our ability to imagine, to dream, and to recognize a part of ourselves, perhaps the best and highest part.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackberry Thicket

I live in a place where blackberries grow wild in fence rows and picking them is as easy as walking out your back door. They grow in shady spots in the protection of locust trees and scrub cedars. Every day in the cool of twilight, this time of year with a breeze and a storm brewing out of the heat of the day, I go back to the thicket and listen to the wind rustling the leaves of the locusts, the tall grasses, the wild flowers, the cedar boughs. And I think how this is the full cache of summer, the deepest, most lush and beautiful height of it, and battling the June bugs and the bees and the myriad breeds of insects, I pull berries from vines drooping black and red with plump, sweet goodness.

It is this lush thicket and the continual coming out to meet life in its abundance, moving among the humming and rustling, that I will miss most when the cold comes. I will miss thinking my own thoughts while doing the brainless work of pulling ripe blackberries from vines, promising myself a cobbler or a parfait as reward for my labor. I will miss hiding in the cover of vines and willowy locusts, watching life go by, unobserved by people in a hurry.

Most memorable and important moments in life are the result of accidents. Such was the quick reaction that sent me reaching with stealth into the pocket of my cutoff jeans to retrieve my cell phone and snap the photo of this swallowtail butterfly who came to check out the blackberries, too. Another happy accident is the concoction below, recipe included, for Gluten-free blackberry parfait made with homemade whipped cream and walnuts.

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1 to 1 1/2 cups blackberries
1/4 cup honey
1/8 cup water
1 cup crushed walnuts
1-2 cartons heavy cream
3-4 tsp white sugar
3 tsp brown sugar

Add half of honey to cream. Whip cream in a large mixing bowl until stiff peaks form. Boil blackberries in sauce pan with honey and water. Crush walnuts. Mix walnuts separately in small saucepan with brown sugar and a tablespoon of honey. Heat up for about 30 seconds on stovetop. Do not microwave. Starting with walnut mixture, spoon in layers: walnuts, blackberries, and whipped cream, repeating until filled. Top with a few walnuts.

Serve fresh

 

 

 

 

 

Get your work noticed.

 Navigate the world of promotion, publishing, writing jobs, contests/competitions, and agenting.

Here you will find manuscript wish lists compiled by agents, lists of poetry, novel, and short story contests, writer’s residencies and conferences, writing job sites, and foundations designed to support and help writers. 

http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/

http://algonkianconferences.com/AlgonkianWriterRetreat/

http://www.christopherfielden.com/short-story-tips-and-writing-advice/book-and-novel-competitions.php

http://www.shademountainpress.com/contact.php

http://www.jessicabarrow.com/

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents

https://pen.org/literary-awards

Which Writers’ Conferences are the Best to Attend?

A get-away for work, not play

https://tennesseewritingworkshop.com/

https://storify.com/jasonboog/manuscript-wish-lists-shared-on-twitter

http://bookpipeline.com/

http://www.writermag.com/contests/killer-nashville-claymore-award-2/

http://www.bustle.com/articles/67210-11-small-literary-presses-that-prove-book-publishing-isnt-just-in-new-york-city

http://www.narrativemagazine.com/node/421

Children’s Novel Competition 2016

http://www.munsterlit.ie/SOF%20Page.html

New Writer Awards: Poetry

http://longstoryshort.squarespace.com/submissions/

http://www.one-story.com/?page=submit

Novel Writing Competitions 2015

http://www.freedomwithwriting.com/

13 Publishers Open to Previously Self-Published Books and Reprints

http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/Prizes-and-Awards/tp/Mid-August-Fiction-Writing-Contests.htm

http://www.writejobs.info/search/label/free%20writing%20contests?updated-max=%22%20%22&max-results=7&start=5&by-date=false

29 Free Writing Contests: Legitimate Competitions With Cash Prizes

http://www.hedgebrook.org/

Follow submittable on twitter

List of Women-Run Presses

Happiness Rules

Having learned the secret, I pass this along to you . . . .

Happiness Rules for Valentine’s Day and every day.images1
1) Know yourself
2) Know what you want.
3) Knowing yourself, give yourself what you want.
4) Keep peace in your life by living authentically and setting good boundaries.
5) Share your experiences with others without expecting anything in return.
6) Do good to others without expecting anything in return.
7) Remember that no one is in your life to make you happy. (That would be a very poor excuse for a life purpose for anyone.)

8) Bring to the table a value equal to what you want out of any situation.

9) Don’t look to others to supply what you need.