May the Sun Shine Eternally Upon You, Maya Angelou

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Maya_Angelou_Disc2000I think it was an ABA meeting I attended with my husband. There is always a sort of convocation opening event. We were in a large auditorium and the guest speaker was Maya Angelou. It was one of the periods where she was quite out front and public, and so I’d been exposed to her quite a bit. I really looked forward to hearing her.

But the reality…well, I couldn’t have anticipated it, and I’ll never forget it. I’d never sat in such a large room and felt that the speaker was addressing me directly. Such was the power of her delivery, and of her words. I’m certain I wasn’t the only one to feel that way. She drew us into her circle from the first sentence, as if to say, “Here, let me tell you something,” and like curious children, we all bent forward.

She spoke of morality, of right and wrong, and the gargantuan effect one human can have upon another with only the smallest gesture. She shared her own hard-won wisdom with grace and humor—oh, her humor, her laugh—and the most astonishingly compelling voice. When she finished I was distraught. I didn’t want it to end.

I will always count the experience as one of the seminal moments of my life. One of those moments when your eyes are opened to things, people, places you would otherwise never, ever have seen. I’m forever grateful to have brushed against Ms. Angelou, even metaphorically, from my auditorium seat far away.

 

Photo attribution: By Rick Lewis, NPS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Today I Had To Turn Away From #YesAllWomen

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Luminale_2012_-_Broken_Heart_-_6 croppedBecause I truly thought I was going to vomit.

The negative sentiments hurled around both before and in response to this hashtag were so vitriolic, so hateful and ugly, so archaic. The most sickening thing was they were from women as well as men. I couldn’t stomach it. Like many others, I typed at least ten tweets. Not one of them made it into the Twittershere. I couldn’t wrap my brain around all of the implications.

My feminism goes back to being raised by a single mother after my parents divorced when it was still frowned upon. My mother was already a professional when women were mostly still secretaries. Our landlord threatened to evict us because my mom let a man she wasn’t married to stay the night. We moved when the lease was up. She was five feet tall, was never seen without heels, wore a leopard print bra under her corporate clothes. She was feminine and respected and no one dared cross her.

That’s what I grew up with, how I learned to behave. It wasn’t overt, it just was.

I’m aware my experience isn’t universal. I’m aware that too many people think women have a “place” and should stay in it. I’m fully aware that misogyny exists, no less than racism or any anti-gay sentiments or rafts of other exclusionary bullshit. I raised my sons, hopefully, to be respectful of and loving toward all other humans. I know they’re not always, but I hope, by my example, they know women aren’t objects.

But in the sphere of social media, the spewing of things like “this is what you get for treating guys like shit” and “stop being so stuck up and give that kid some pussy”…How does that even exist in this day and age? Why does it feel to me like we’ve gone so far backward? The age of instant communication means every misogynist can share his or her unfiltered thoughts and there are a fucking lot of unfiltered thoughts.

I’m certain I should feel grateful that we can see it so plainly, force it out of the dark corners where it thrives, expose those black hearts. Shine a light on it, increase awareness, make people THINK. I should be reveling in the smart tweets, the insightful tweets, the awful, truthful tweets. I should be thankful for the supportive tweets of enlightened men.

But in all honesty, all it did was make me sick that those tweets are even needed.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have more heart.

 

Image: Luminale 2012 – Broken Heart By JeLuF (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m Guilty…of Judging Book Covers

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256px-CourtGavel

Judgmental is a word I shy away from most of the time. A word fraught with a tremendous amount of rightly earned baggage. But I found myself in a conversation with other writers discussing “being judgmental.” As in, judging a book by its cover. *raises hand for guilty* Or judging a book without reading it based on it’s genre or reputation or things I’ve heard. To which I found myself replying…Yeah…so?

The conversation coincided with an interesting discussion on Absolute Write, the writer’s forum I frequent, about whether the genre Women’s Fiction  is sexist. After all, sub-categorizing it implies…something, because there is no genre called Men’s Fiction. My feeling is that having women’s fiction isn’t sexist on it’s own, but the way the term Women’s Fiction is used to separate certain categories of books, or to say “you’ll like this because it’s about women,” as if every woman’s life experience is roughly the same, or “you won’t like it because you’re a man,” certainly is sexist. But in all fairness, even though I’m writing romance, I admit that I do shy away from the books that are dubbed “Women’s Fiction.” Mostly because I’m not very much like a lot of women I know. I don’t have a close and loving relationship with my mother, I don’t have a core group of women friends with whom I share all, I’ve never gone on a girls weekend. I don’t relate to books that include those elements as cores of the storytelling. Beyond that, Women’s Fiction books tend to be a little too realistic for me. I read for escapism, plain and simple. So when it comes to reading, I judge. By the label or the cover. I know I miss out on some groundbreaking books, but, my God, I have to draw the line somewhere. I just can’t read every worthy book.

Which takes me back to the conversation with my writer friends. We have so many choices to make every single day. From what to eat for breakfast, to finding a way to afford the college your kid has gotten into. Small choices, huge choices. And in this vast spectrum are the What should I read? and Which movie should I watch? decisions. Not generally life altering ones, rather, the choices I’m making about my leisure time. And so I am judgmental, and I’m comfortable with that. I’ll judge whether to read a book (or watch a movie or TV show) by the cover or genre or word-of-mouth or review, without doing much more than a small amount of work to decide it. When it comes to books, often if the cover is pink and cutesy, I’m passing. Unfair, I know, but there it is.

We all have to make decisions about the most precious resource each of us have: our time. Without some shortcuts, we would spend our entire waking lives mulling those decisions, never getting to the action. I do regret that my decision on how I make my decisions might not sit right with everyone, might seem judgmental, but…well, it’s my decision.

 

(Oh, and by the way, the friend who would rather have us make more informed decisions about the books we read, to not be judgmental, wishes so out of the desire for us not to miss out on something wonderful, and I love her for it. I regret that I might be a disappointment to her.)

 

(Photo Attribution: By Jonathunder (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

You Can’t Take Away My Roget’s

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Old_KeyWe writers are always looking for the golden key, the one perfect piece of wisdom that will propel us from mundane to renowned. I suppose most pursuits, whether artistic, athletic, career-related, are filled with rules and advice. The shorter and pithier the better. Writing has plenty of them: Show, don’t tell. Never start a story with the main character waking up. Always capitalize the first word of a sentence. Just to name three off the top of my head.

But last weekend I saw a tweet cross my computer that just Pissed Me Off. It said: “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” And was attributed to Stephen King! Now I’m not here to cast aspersions on Mr. King. I credit him with being a formative influence on my writing style and I don’t mean to put words in his mouth, but I  suspect that what he meant by the thesaurus bit is more along the lines of “don’t be pretentious” if you’re writing genre fiction. Which is a suggestion, not a rule.

And yet someone passed along this gem last weekend as if it was gospel. Seriously? Are we telling writers not to expand their vocabularies, to limit their language to the words they read in Harriet The Spy novels? To not make use of reference books or take the time to search for just the perfect word for a particular moment in the story? Am I only allowed to use the words I can pull from my ever-less-efficient brain at the moment my fingers are on the keyboard, better word bedamned? What ROT!

This is the trouble with Rules and their vile offspring Always/Never statements: they can paralyze a person. New writers especially. Someone who does what writers are wont do and simply sits down one day to write a story, only to be told “You mustn’t do this. You have to do that.” That person might not have the experience to know (to quote a famous Hollywood pirate) the rules are more like guidelines. And now we’ve put him in a box.

The best writing wisdom I know? “Just write.”

Get the rules crap out of the way. There are no rules. There might be hard-won wisdom. There might be guidelines that are time-tested and therefore worth paying attention to. (I AM a fan of punctuation at the end of a sentence.) But if you want to tell a story, go for it. Save the guidelines and conventions for later. For now, just write.

 

(Photo By Asghar Mughal (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Ahh, Completion

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orgasm face 2Wow.

I had forgotten the exhilaration of completing a draft of a novel. I haven’t done it in over a year. Yeah, I was seriously celibate, which made the climax all the more thrilling. Not so much fireworks and pulsing lights, but that long, drawn out sigh of satisfaction. The one that makes you walk around with a secretive little smile, like you know something no one else does. The lingering, pleasant thrum you still feel the next day.

Only now, it’s the proverbial morning after. It’s off to betas, and reality’s about to hit. We’ll see if there’s potential for a long term relationship, but if not, the one night was…awesome.

 

Photo: Franciszek Żmurko [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I have these kids…

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Kids pointing

Mine are the Pointers.

…three of them. I always think of them as just…normal kids. Mine, yes, and I’m no different from any mom who thinks her offspring are pretty special. They are. I’m certain of it. But I do try to keep in mind that my thinking so doesn’t amount to much. Still, inevitably, they surprise me when I’m least expecting it. All three of them have done.

It’s the end of the school year, my youngest’s first at university, and I get a quick note. “Hi Mom. Sent you an essay. Think you could edit it? Love you!”

This semester he’s is taking a creative writing course. His first. I had the chance to look at the first draft of his first story after he got it back. The prof was supportive and forgiving and gave excellent direction, but the story needed…work. Of course it did. My son is new at this. But he sent me this piece he wrote for his final assignment. A creative nonfiction piece. A little twenty minute snippet of his life, held together by a repeated phrase. I read it, astonished. This was my son. Writing a piece that…mesmerized me. The hair stood up on my arms, and I had a moment there where I couldn’t breathe.

Is there anything better than being stunned into immobility by your children revealing layers you never expected? By showing, unequivocally, they could very well outpace you? If there is, I can’t think of it.