Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rules for Writers

  1. When you're writing at Starbucks and someone says, "You're still working on your book."  Remind them that crafting a provocative, powerful, yet delicately beautiful narrative, that also sticks to the absolute truth of humanity is not as simple as drafting an email.
  2. When you meet someone who says, "I'm a doctor now, but I'm going to write books when I retire."  Cock your head to the side and say, "I'm a writer now, but I'm going to perform a few cardiothoracic surgeries when I retire."  
  3. When people say, "These days you can write almost anything, it's the editors who put it all together and do all the work."  Hit them on the noggin, turn, and run really fast in the other direction.
  4. When someone says, "Yeah, I'm going to write a book one of these days," but then can't name a single book they've ever finished reading, you should do the following.  Tilt your head back and laugh out loud for at least a full minute.  
  5. When some random person takes the time to not only read your work, but to tell you how it moved them, remember that moment for the rest of your life. A writer creates a structure made out of words that are reluctantly pulled together, slowly, one at a time.  If you manage to complete your word structure and then find that it has inspired the soul of a complete stranger, then something miraculous has just occurred. The ability to do that is a gift, one that only God can grant.
  6. Every day work as if you have the aforementioned gift.  Hope against hope that you are one of the precious few who can bring life to death, set hope alight, and remove the blinders that keep us from seeing our true selves. That's what it is to be a writer.  The only two requirements are that you nurture your own capacity to dream and that you never, ever give up.  Even when it feels as if people have run out of their ability to believe in you, you must never give up.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ray Rice: Are Some People Beyond Hope?

Never in a million years did I ever think I'd link to something on TMZ.  For the record, they've lead the way in robbing celebrities (who are people, too) of their privacy by paying kids with cameras (okay 20 somethings, but still) to stalk famous people and take pictures of them picking their noses, eating fast food, or simply walking.

But, never say never.

Years ago there was an Oprah Winfrey show that left me with a question.  It was a show about domestic violence.  If I remember correctly, most of the guests were survivors or family members of women who'd been killed by their partners.  One guest was a woman who appeared with her husband. (I think it was her husband) He had tried to kill her.  They were reconciled.  He was working on his anger.

Before this woman and her husband appeared, the message was clear that a woman in a relationship with a physically abusive man needs to get the hell out. (Yes, there are lots of other forms of abuse, but that's for another day).  Then, the woman who'd chosen to stay came on as one of the last guests.  She sat there and explained how her husband, who was sitting right next to her, had strangled her and screamed at her.  She believed in that moment that he would kill her.

I sensed an awkwardness just hanging in the air as this woman explained how she feared him, but loved him, and understood his demons.  She was willing to stand by him.

A the time I was struck with a question.  Is it realistic to say that all men who beat women should be left behind, ran from, and denied the hope of sexual intimacy?  In this scenario, a man who hits a woman would have to remain celibate for life.  If we as a society have a no return policy on perpetrators of domestic violence, then we're encouraging men to lie and to deny that they've struggled with this.

Imagine that a man tells a woman that he hit his former partner, sought counseling, and has worked through those demons.  But she is an "emotionally healthy," self-possessed woman who will not allow herself to ever be with a man who would hit a woman.  Where does this man go?  Does he lie to her and pretend his past never happened?  Does he seek out desperate, "emotionally unhealthy" women, who are willing to date a reformed abuser?

We live in strange times.  Part of me thinks that we have to make room for people to change and to reinvent themselves.  How can we breathe if there's no hope for change?

Then I saw this and was horrified.  I was horrified.  After he punched her, after he lifted her limp body and dropped her face down on the ground, he kicked her calves as if irritated that she was in the way of the elevator doors.  At first when I watched it I thought that maybe Ray Rice believed his then fiancee was overreacting or pretending.

But even when it became clear that she'd passed out, he didn't help her.  She slowly came to and it appears she was crying.  He stood a part from her, several feet away watching.  Maybe they told him to stay away from her.  I don't know.

What I do know is that Janay went on to marry him.

Recently, she expressed her views on social media.  She's mad at us for sticking our nose into other people's business.  She's mad at us for caring.  For being appalled.  Mad that he lost his dream job.  Sure, some of this is about politics.  But what is it that can make a man treat any human being with such utter disregard.  And what is it in her that keeps her from being able to hold him accountable?

And what is it in me that wants to believe in everyone even the abusers?  It's one thing to watch a talk show and tell myself that there's hope for everyone.

But watching Ray Rice beat up and toss around the love his life made a little bit of my hope for humanity slip away.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Anthony Bourdain - Parts Unknown

I found out a little late that Booker's story, or at least part of it, was going to be included in one of Anthony Bourdain's food shows.  Parts Unknown is the name of the show.  I'm hoping to be able to get my hands on  the episode to see it for myself, but I did hear that they aired Booker's monologue.

I'm thrilled, beyond thrilled really, because more people are learning about his story. No one in my family even knew my grandfather made those statements until about seven years ago.  He protected his daughters and my whole family from his thoughts and feelings about his work at Lusco's.  When we finally found the footage it brought both joy and heartache.  Joy because we could see him, moving and speaking and laughing.  Heartache because of how much shame he endured every night just to make a living.

I read Anthony's blog post about the Delta.  Yes, it is an amazing place.  It's virtually impossible to measure all the things we have as Americans that originated there.  But like an Achilles heel, the history of slavery and the legacy of segregation will always be a part of the South's rich inheritance.  The story of man's subjugation to man is written all over the Delta.  It's painted on people's faces, it's in the space that often still separates whites and blacks, it's in their laws, their customs, and is an integral fiber in the every day lives of today's Mississippians.

If you find yourself interested in the Mississippi Delta's rich, tragic past try not to gawk as though observing a car wreck or even a horrifyingly beautiful work of art.

Howard Zinn, one of the nation's most beloved historians, said the South is a mirror.  When we look at her, we're seeing a concentrated version of the rest of the nation.  The Mississippi Delta is not some random, scandal-ridden anomaly, a stain on our nation, and the excuse for why the state ranks last in almost every barometer that measures quality of life.

The Delta is none of those things.

What is it?  It's us.  It's all that we're capable of - good and bad.  It's what is beautiful and tragic about the human spirit.

It's really not all that different down there after all.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Public Speaking Do's and Don'ts Number #1 When In Wisconsin in February

When in Wisconsin in February:

DO realize that it might be colder outside than in a deep freezer.

DO bring winter boots with you.  They can even be adorable (picture to be posted soon).

DON'T act surprised when you go for a pleasant mid-day stroll and get frostbite on your ears.  Okay, according to the Mayo Clinic, what I had was probably Frost Nip, but saying I had Frost Bite sounds way more dramatic.

DO retell your Wisconsin stories using dramatic overstatements like "Frost Bite" as opposed to "Frost Nip," because 1) you will sound like an adventurer, even if you were just trying to find a Starbucks and 2) future venues will know that you're willing to die for the cause.

DO tell all of the lovely people you meet (most of whom will be hard to see because they'll be covered in layer upon layer of fabrics created in a lab to withstand the coldest temperatures) that you'd be happy to return to Wisconsin to share the story with more people, as long as it's in July.

DO realize that many of Wisconsin's towns are connected by land and nothing else.  I just completed six talks in four days in four cities and there isn't a greyhound or train that travels between them.  At first I thought I could rent a car, then realized that if it was snowing and I rented a car - well, I am from California, so basically it wasn't going to happen.

DO Remember to thank the amazing people who made it all worthwhile.  Most of the venues were kind enough to drive me all over the state (note the use of dramatic overstatement) in order to make it to my events.  THANK YOU Melanie, William, Marvette, Dorothea, Josephine, and the sweet ladies (whose names I don't even know) who drove me back to my hotel tonight.  All of these wonderful people endured  my presence in their warm vehicles for hours on end so that I could share my grandfather's story.

Even though you were colder than Alaska in February (and I know because I was in Alaska last February) I LOVE YOU, Wisconsin.  Remember, "Ya Gotta Keep That Smile"!!!