Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Noise and Silence, and a call to arms



I'm thinking, a lot, these days, about opposing forces. Noise. And silence.

I'm late to most controversy, most hullabaloo (what a great word.) I spend most of my days on a rainbow foam mat, tickling Little's O's toes, or reaching for his wrist, with a don't touch that, but, too late, the keys in his mouth, the flower pot on the floor in pieces, as he somehow purchases movies on the DVR with the remote control. Whatever time is not spent with him or those I love is spent with words. Reading them, thinking on them, writing them, and wishing them into the world.

Because, finding the time to sit with words, to be with them, is what I love. I care about my work because it's important. It took me a long time to come to that understanding, and, still, I question it every day. This blind faith in story, in my story, with only the smallest of forums in which to write in and no big book deal to announce. Maybe, I have had to question its importance all these years because I'm a woman and used to being dismissed. Maybe I've had to question it, because, for most of my young life, the spoken word was a confused tangle. I was quiet and shy, never the one to have a whip-smart retort in the moment, never as articulate as I wished I could have been.

The written word, both my own and those of others, is where I found, and still find, solace. It's where I come to understand. It's where I feel most responsible. Most challenged. Most moved.  

Because of that, I'm interested in coming out from behind the pages and engaging in conversation surrounding words and craft. I read any article I can get my hands on. I participate in discussions on twitter or Facebook. I make my way into Manhattan and sit in bookstores or in auditoriums and listen to conversation between writers, hungry for inspiration and dialogue about the work I care so deeply about.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of discussion, particularly in the YA world, regarding a prominent author, his words, and the lack of female representation in his work. I hesitate to call it noise because most of it was intelligent, constructive, important conversation. But it turned into what I'm defining as noise when trolls and name-calling and personal attacks came into the conversation. Rotten? Yes. But, sadly, par for the course in this digital age.

And what happened at the end of the day to that conversation? Shut. Down. An author gone into temporary hiding. The intelligent, important voices that needed to be heard? Silenced.

This weekend, at the Teen Author Festival, I was fortunate to hear a keynote from the amazing Libba Bray, who spoke a little about this controversy, but mostly reprised her continuing thoughts from another conference earlier this year about feminism and equality in books and publishing. A rousing, funny, wickedly smart, presentation that made me think about my own work, about the work of others, and how we continue to silence women and girls every day.

After, I was fortunate to listen to a panel discussion about diversity and representation in YA. A group of authors spoke with honesty, intelligence, and kindness about their hard work, their research, the responsibility they felt to tell stories about cultures, races, and people who have been dismissed, under-represented and misrepresented for years.

I was hungry for this discussion. My mind processing and reeling and questioning. I felt, as I do when I sit with my own words. I felt engaged, challenged, and moved.

Then I watched and listened as that same prominent author I spoke of, also on the panel, joked about that hard work with an irresponsible comment, dismissing the care, time, and energy these writers put into their craft. I cheered as the other authors defended their work in response. But, this dismissal? As a writer who cares? It felt personal. And it does not go unnoticed.

Last month, I read as Michelle Goldberg spoke of important online voices, so attacked, they have had to go into hiding. And, last weekend, I watched Monica Lewinsky come back from her own exile.

Noise. Dismissal. Silence. A reoccurring theme.

And I wonder where my own voice, with its tendency to wither, always questioning its own importance, fits inside it all.

It does what it can. What it cares about. It goes back to the work of words. It fights its own agenda. It campaigns for less silence, less noise, and more good work, hard work, and intelligent, passionate discussion. It does not care to be dismissed.

In the words of Beth Kephart, one of my favorite comrades to go into 'battle' with, it asks that we get 'less caught up in the noise about books and more invested in making extremely fine ones.'

So, are you in?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Currently


I'd like to blog more. I don't know if I will. I feel a quiet in the blogging world that makes me sad. It feels like a place of nostalgia rather than a place that screams now, now. So, I figured I'd plant myself here, find my way back in, as urgently as I can, with a currently post. 

Watching

Tina Fey's latest, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I am trying to pace myself when it comes to this show. Even though I don't want to pace myself. I want to watch it all in one wonderful, hyper-color, fluorescent sitting. In the words of my own pithy twitter status, this show is everything. To elaborate: smart, charming, optimistic, positive, and, above all, hilarious. It makes me smile. It improves my mood. The world needs Kimmy Schmidt. We are lucky to have her.

Reading

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. After last year's mishap with my reading list, I decided to participate on Goodreads. If you want to know what I'm reading, I hope you'll join me there, here.  

Listening

To Sia. Podcasts, podcasts, and more podcasts. Death, Sex, & Money, The Longest Shortest Time, This American Life, Pop Culture Happy Hour... the list goes on and on. Little O's babble, a steady dadadada, tatatata, bababa chant. Long ago it was mamamama but, sigh, he's moved on. 

Making

Cakes. Novels (I finished a first draft of a new book last week.) Essays. 

Feeling

Restless. Ready. As I'll ever be. As I've been.

Planning

My revisions. And a weekend trip with one of my favorite friends, away from the little ones. 

Loving

Green things pushing through the dirt, past the winter we've had, letting themselves be known. Time with family and warm weather down South, where I spent the past few days among even more green, like the live oaks above, finally feeling, not cold. The moments when I'm alone, sitting, thinking, staring out a window or in the dark or tucked in bed and I think of Little O and something runs through me, from my toes to my chest. A love surge. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A reminder that stories matter


With Little O napping, a cup of tea at my side, and a deluge of sun at my window, I find myself with a few moments to sit here with words. Usually, I'd use the time to work on my novel or plug away at essays and articles I try to pitch for publication or for the rare freelance work or to find some work or any work or more work but there's an exhaustion that comes with spending every spare minute working toward something, instead of just being with the time we have.

These past few months, I've written a lot of blog posts and emails in my head. Some, I've even sat down and started, then deleted before pressing publish or send. There are a lot of days when I just don't feel confident in my words, even in a silly email to a friend. Most days, I don't want to share anything I write at all.

I've been journaling. On the computer. In secret. Paper journals have never quite worked for me. There's something about paper and pen that feels very permanent. Unforgivable. The typed word feels transient, fleeting and, therefore, comfortable. There are some ideas and thoughts that don't need to be etched in the stones of history.

Journaling has helped me remember and understand what I think and care about. It's helped me find a lot of joy in sitting down to think, which, for me, is a bit more active, since writing is how I think my everything.

Irony of all ironies, the secret journaling has helped me understand that sharing some of the work is important to me. I've spent my entire life engaged in the stories of others, entangled in a rich dialogue with writers I've never talked to or met, and I'd like some of my words to get tied up in the same imaginary dialogue someday.

Once I was asked for writing advice, or maybe I was asked in my head, that's definitely possible since I don't engage in much real conversation anymore, but I thought the best advice I could give was to always remember that stories matter and that the work is important.

For the past few months, in the imaginary lines of an online journal, in the actual words, and real thoughts, I've questioned validity.  I've thought about writers and writing and the way our world sees the profession. I've wondered if the work still matters if it isn't shared or seen. I've wondered when it is seen, if becomes more or less valid. Or if, all of it, is part of a disappearing act. I've questioned the importance, the mattering of writing at all.

I guess I discovered, in secret, what I already knew. It is important. It does matter. Seen or unseen. Secret or exposed. It's all part of a rich dialogue, some of it imagined, some of it real. So I'm here to remind myself, novice nobody writer that I am, that it is and it does.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snow Day

They closed schools, shut the subways down, the BQE became a ghost tunnel, and we prepared for the blustering, dumping, blizzard they said it would be.

Instead, the storm surged East and North and we had a slushy few inches. 

A let-down, in some ways. I expected a wonderland when I woke up. And, for me, I thought how much better a snow day would be if I didn't have to wake up and be ​present​. If I could read all day in my pajamas, watch a dumb movie on tv. 

At least, we thought, Little O could play in the snow, in a way he couldn't in his infancy last year. We bundled him in his space-suit, his hood an astronaut puff. We stepped out the door, caked snow on his mittens, touched it to his cheek, our voices knocking up a register, as always. ​Snow! Snow!  He sat in it, looked at it, had this way of looking back up at us, glum and unimpressed, wondering when we'd take him in from the cold. 

Our usually happy baby spent the rest of the day indoors crying, fussing, unhappily being plopped from one uninteresting activity to the next. The mat, his room, the bag of books, the basket of toys, the slinking dog pull-thing, the ride-on push-car with its piano keys. None of it inspiring, apparently. 

Yes, we stayed safe. Yes, all was not lost or destroyed. We are lucky. But I feel his restlessness. So much excitement over the white-stuff. Press conferences and news headlines. Empty supermarket shelves. The possibility that the world we know and everything around it could turn white and drift and slope, shake our footing, shape the ground, contour our lives, and we'd see something we'd never really seen before. 

I guess the gray and white days will slog along just the same until spring. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

First Drafts



Sometimes, when I face a first draft, the daunting, bridge-less white gaps of story, I feel overwhelmed. I think, this is the worst part of writing. This is the conjuring. Every word, every sentence, an angry miracle.

Other times, the empty spaces feel like possibilities and I marvel in them. I send strands of story as far as I can. I circle them into messy, tangled nests that I hope will one day become functional.

I often count words and days. I wonder when I'll reach an end. I make deadlines. I think if I can finish a draft before this but after that, I will be on track to get here so I can get there. Because if I don't get there I'll never be anywhere and who, in their right mind, would want that?

I add. I divide. I carry the one. I try to understand how long it will take to finish.

Finish.

Finish.

The old chant.

So much of my creative life, measured in the completion of words, rather than the actual practice of finding them.

Today, I thought, this is the best part of writing. The actual, well, writing. The wandering and wishing through a story I didn't know I knew. The waiting for words, however agonizing.

I think there's certainly something to be said for completing a work. For thumbing through the pages of a printed manuscript. For being able to say, I did it.

But, today, I feel even more satisfaction as I sit with all the words ahead of me and say, I'm doing it. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose

This week we're celebrating Caroline Starr Rose's Blue Birds, which turned out to be my first completed book of the new year. Little O was feverish and cough-y and had fallen asleep on my chest. A rare moment for the boy who will no longer sit still. I reached for this gorgeous novel in verse and read it without ever needing a bookmark, turning pages to find out what would happen, stopping to re-read the most beautiful passages, until I reached the end.

This novel takes place in 1587 and follows the friendship of two spirited, young girls. Alis: the only English girl to arrive on the island of Roanoke. And Kimi: a member of the Roanoke tribe. 

Tensions rise between the English and the Roanoke, war is waged, and these girls find one another, call to one another, take unbelievable risks, and make room in their hearts to understand and love one another like sisters.  

The novel takes place in 1587 but it's a story for right now. Today. This minute. 

It's a story to stop and sit with, to use the rare moments of quiet amidst all the terrible noise. War wages across our world and within our hearts and we need more stories about finding empathy and compassion. We need more stories about two girls who find beauty in the mystery of one another, who look past their differences and find a shared language of friendship and love.

I loved this book. I also needed it. Since every day I listen to the noise and wish we could all find a new way of seeing. 

There are so many stunning passages in this book but I'll pull one of my favorites, a question Alis asks: 

What if a flight of birds
followed the wandering one,
joining him on a journey
entirely new?

These days, I ask a lot of what if's. This gorgeous novel answers many of them. It releases in March.

But read on to pre-order. The book is gift enough but Caroline has another beautiful gift for you too.

This post is part of a week-long celebration in honor of the book Blue Birds. Author Caroline Starr Rose is giving away a downloadable PDF of this beautiful Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book from January 12-19Simply click through to order from AmazonBarnes and NobleBooks A MillionIndieBound, or Powell's, then email a copy of your receipt tocaroline@carolinestarrrose.com by Monday, January 19. PDFs will be sent out January 20.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Year In Reading - 2014


I had hoped to share my reading list this year. As I did last year, I had tracked it all on a google map, all the settings and cities and villages of each book, labelled all pretty. In mid-November, I clicked to add a new book and its location, slipped to a key, and somehow lost the map in its entirety. Despite a lot of whining, no recovery possible.

So, it is fitting, in a year in which my life turned upside down with the birth of my son, that I have no record of all the books that let me live inside them.

And I had hoped, when I began this post, that I would come to a deeper reflection of this loss.

If it isn't already clear, I have not.

So. I read a lot of books this year.

I lived, for a time, in many beautiful worlds.

There's no proof I did.

Next year, I will track them inside me, instead.