Posts Tagged ‘LinkedIn’

Words of Wisdom in the Most Unlikely Places

June 25, 2015

Graffiti is visual pollution, right? Not always. The other day, I was walking along the Erie Canal when I spotted the white-painted words on the underside of a bridge spanning the water that read, “They Say It’s Lonely at the Top”. My first thought was “I’d like the chance to find that out for myself!” But, as I considered it further I realized that, with my seven-year career as a freelance writer, being on top isn’t really an issue for me anymore. Yes, there are times where I mutter and sputter to myself that I will never be a “real” writer, at least not until I publish a book. This most often occurs after a party in which countless people approach me and ask me if I’m “still writing”. The next question is always “What are you writing?” or “Who are you writing for?” and their faces inevitably fall when I name my local newspaper or the regional magazines my articles frequently appear in. It almost seems like if you aren’t writing for Time or Newsweek or on the New York Times Best Seller list, you don’t count as a writer.

In my heart I know that this simply isn’t true. The pieces I write are about people, places, and events that I’m interested in and each one receives the same attention to detail and accuracy and the careful editing as those of the writers who are considered by others to be at the pinnacle of success. The reality is, when all is said and done, would I rather have written hundreds of well-researched, passionate, and thought-provoking pieces for smaller magazines with large readerships or one mediocre novel that barely sells? Where else but in smaller publications with open-minded editors could I immerse myself in topics as diverse as Mormons, a Dairy Cow Birthing Center, local politics, spiedies, or glamping, all in one year?

This isn’t to say that I won’t ever write a book. My point is that it’s important to keep in mind that the writing life is all about the process; the detective-like research, the in-depth interviews, and the endless polishing until you have a piece of writing you can be truly proud of. Why be lonely at the top when you can enjoy humanity in general, and your work in particular, right there in the middle? I don’t know about you but that works just fine for me!

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Different Voices for the Same Change

June 17, 2015

I just returned from a trip to Boston where I had the opportunity to learn more about two influential men, similar in some ways, dissimilar in others. My first stop was the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. I think we all enter places like this with certain preconceptions and expectations. The three things that stood out most in my mind about JFK were “The Camelot Era”, his oft-repeated quote, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country”, and his unexpected and shocking murder in Dallas. The range of exhibits gave my son and me a much broader picture of Kennedy, as a man and a president. What I came away with was that he was also a relentless campaigner and ruthless political adversary, an author and war hero, and a consummate Kennedy family member, with all the required wealth, education, and good looks. He was also wary of civil rights protests and often avoided making public statements that could be perceived as too bold or divisive, expertly deflecting reporters with humor, his endless charm, and pithy rejoinders.

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My next stop was the Museum of African American History, Boston & Nantucket on Joy Street to hear Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, speak at the African Meeting House. Titled, “Growing Up X: Readings and Reflections with the Daughter of Malcolm X.” Shabazz described her father as one of America’s most influential figures, a natural-born leader. Reading from the children’s book she’s written about her father, she explained that Malcolm Little was raised in a household by parents who were socially and politically active in their community which led to them being plagued by intolerance and a series of tragedies. Malcolm had to learn, at a young age, how to be strong and self-reliant. Eventually, as a young man, he joined with the religious leader Elijah Muhammad to become one of the most powerful and charismatic spokespersons for black self-determination during the 1960s. He ultimately became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and made a pilgrimage to Mecca where he came to believe that America’s racist society as a whole was what needed to be addressed, rather than the actions of particular whites. Though his voice was silenced much too soon, his daughter is carrying on his legacy through her various writings.

MAAH

 

 

To some JFK may seem like an expensive, polished gemstone to Malcolm X’s diamond-in-the-rough. However, the unexpected juxtaposition of these two men in my mind that Thursday afternoon caused me to realize that, though the words they chose to use and the way they delivered their ideas to the public may have been different, their ideologies and life trajectories were not dissimilar. Both were articulate, thoughtful, and well-read. Both were strong and inspirational role models for young people. Both believed that Americans need to take charge of their own destinies and work towards the greater good of society, rather than simply for their own individual gains. And, both were ultimately assassinated for daring to speak out and trying to change the status quo. Their means of addressing inequality may have been different but the outcomes were the same.

JFK Museum

Cutting a Few Corners in Pursuit of Good Writing

June 4, 2015

I began my writing career late in life. I’m over fifty and I don’t have an undergraduate degree in English or Creative Writing or an MFA. Maybe that should deter me. Perhaps I should be more sensible and practical and get a job with a regular paycheck and benefits. But that doesn’t really interest me. Instead, I try to find ways to get around my lack of formal education. After all don’t Americans love the idea of self-taught success stories? The underdog rising up?

I’ve already shared my love for library book sales and the hidden treasures they offer up for mere pennies. And, I’ve told you about my trips onto college campuses to attend any and all free writers’ talks. This summer I found yet another way to learn more about the craft of writing from the “experts”. My youngest son just happens to be a Creative Writing major. Instead of moaning and groaning at the two huge boxes of books he insisted on bringing home from college, I gamely stuffed them into our Cruz. When we got home, I dragged them into the living room and what to my wondering eyes did appear but a plethora of books that today’s college professors are assigning their students! Talk about an opportunity to “double dip”!

I’m almost done with my first book, Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern. I wasn’t enthralled with the title of the book or its first section, which often felt contrived to me, with sub-chapter titles bordering on “cutesy”. The second part got better, especially the portion titled, “Don’t Do This: A Short Guide to What Not to Do” which discussed common errors authors can make. The ones that resonated most with me were:

  • Trying to tell too many stories in one novel. Here, Stern wisely notes that complication isn’t necessarily the same as complexity.
  • Becoming moralistic and preachy, rather than allowing readers to draw their own conclusions from how your characters act and feel
  • Thinking “This is fiction so I don’t have to fact-check or do much research”

However, it’s the last chapter, where Stern finally seems to hit his stride, that’s making the book a worthwhile read. “From Accuracy to Zigzag: An Alphabet for Writers of Fiction” offers definitions for common writing terms as well as insightful tips and excellent suggestions. A sampling of concepts you’ll find there includes:

  • Allusion
  • Names of characters and settings
  • Profanity
  • Psychic Distance
  • Resolution

If you want to learn about these and more, you’ll have to read the book yourself! I realize that not everyone has a Creative Writing student or MFA scholar in their family to utilize. But don’t let that stop you. Figure out a way to get ahold of a college writing class syllabus and start working your way through it. This is guaranteed to save you time and energy. Rather than standing in a large, overwhelming bookstore or library wondering where to start, you can confidently stroll to the Reference section and begin to read or make your purchase. You can also keep checking my blog for regular reviews of my summer reading!

Got a favorite writing book? I’d love to hear about it!

The Opposite of Anticipation

May 16, 2015

Most of us know that life can often change in a heartbeat. Three weeks ago, my blog post was optimistically entitled, “Living a Life Full of Anticipation”. April had been an excellent month for me. I had lots of interesting assignments and people to interview. I entered several short stories which I felt really good about in contests and I had finally mastered Twitter. I was feeling confident and happy in my writing life and looking forward to a well-deserved, and hopefully less hectic, summer. Then the axe fell.

A childhood friend who had been heroically battling cancer for five years succumbed to it within a two-week period and both his passing and the funeral service were heartbreaking. I received three rejection letters in a row for my stories and an email informing me that I didn’t get into the summer writing conference I’d optimistically applied to. In the midst of all this, we had to drive ten hours to Indiana and back to retrieve our youngest from college, throwing my normal work schedule off-kilter and forcing me to scramble to meet deadlines.

It’s extremely hard to feel like a failure on so many levels. I try telling myself that this is what separates the wheat from the chaff, but somehow I can’t bring myself to care about whether I’m wheat or not. I’m just too emotionally and physically exhausted. I contemplate spending the day in bed but the thought of lying immobile with only my racing thoughts for company isn’t particularly appealing. So I drag myself to my green corduroy chair with a cup of coffee and pick up my journal to write my morning pages. I give myself three simple goals each day.

  • Get up
  • Dress up
  • Show up

For days that require something extra, I add

  • Pick up (your pen)
  • Grow up
  • (Don’t) Give up

Age and experience have taught me that things will get better eventually and that writing will help that process. When times are challenging you can try to work through the forces that assail you by writing about them in a journal, a personal essay, or a poem. Or you can use your writing to escape reality, to take a break from the pain and despair and sadness in the real world by escaping to a fictitious one where you alone are in control of all the outcomes. Words are our friend. They will always be there when we need them most. It’s up to us how we choose to use them.

Living a Life Full of Anticipation

April 22, 2015

One of the best parts of reading short stories is the anticipation. Admit it! When you open the first page (or turn on your Kindle or Nook) aren’t you looking forward to what you might learn, about yourself and others, from the story’s characters and their adventures and mishaps? What does anticipation feel like to you? For me, it’s a quickening of my heartbeat, a sharp intake of breath, or a lightness in my step. Emotionally, it’s a feeling of hope, of optimism, of barely suppressed excitement and, ultimately, a quiet sense of peace and satisfaction.

To write the kind of stories that give your readers a sense of anticipation, you have to allow yourself to experience it firsthand so you understand how it can build and reward you with its pleasurable sensations. Those of us who live in the land of four seasons will find this easy because each season brings new delights for us to anticipate. Take spring, for example. Each day as I walk around Trumansburg or drive to Ithaca or Rochester, I see signs of good things to come. When the winter fences and blockades come down from around the Rim Trail I shout “Yes!” and pump my fist in the air. I’m already anticipating how wonderful it will feel, physically and mentally, to resume my long hikes there and how my muscles and mind will soon become flexible again with my regular tromps through the woods.

Hitting the trail!

When I see farmers plowing their fields, I lick my lips lightly, already savoring the taste of just-picked strawberries, cherry tomatoes off the vine, and corn-on-the-cob. When I see campers appear at Taughannock and Sampson State Parks, a smile comes to my face as a vision of my tent, with me in it, and images of past camping trips fill my mind. I’m anticipating long days at the ocean or the pond, nights filled with s’mores and campfires, and strolling through Provincetown. I usually wonder how I will be ever be able to wait three more months until I can get in my car and head east!

Head of the Meadows Beach at Cape Cod

Not every story you write will be happy or jubilant. Nor will everything you anticipate be as good as you hope. But looking forward to things is an important part of a well-balanced life and a little bit of this goes a long way toward making your world a more colorful one. Try adding a little anticipation to your stories and your own daily existence and you might be amazed at the results!

Be Yourself on Paper-The College Essay

April 17, 2015

Guest Post by Lucia Tyler,  Ph.D., Tyler Admissions Consulting

Dr. Lucia Tyler

Dr. Lucia Tyler (photo credit-Jim Mason)

Students dread the college essay. Why?  Often they have not reflected on their life or practiced writing about it.  This is the perfect opportunity to show a college who you are beyond the numbers—beyond the test scores and the GPA. In a way, it’s like a one question interview on paper. This is an opportunity to show the human side of your application.  The object is not to impress but to be memorable.  Think about the stories in your family that are repeatedly told.  In my family, they are either usually funny, sad, or scary. For instance, there was the time that my son tried to rewire the TV set….. at age 10.

Getting started is often the hardest part.  Story-telling is key to the process.  It can be helpful to review meaningful incidents in your life and relate them to a family member. “Remember the time that I got separated from the family on vacation in Mexico and found my way back to the hotel alone with my minimal Spanish?”  You might ask a friend or family member to tell a memorable story about you if you can’t think of one.  Sometimes it even helps to record these stories or write notes about them.

Reading essays that Ivy League students have written for publication in a book of winning essays may be discouraging and actually delay you from beginning your essay.  How can you compete with a Harvard student who graduated with honors while living with drug addicted parents?  This is your story to tell and that’s what colleges want to hear.

The Common Application has a general essay that is submitted to all schools.  You need to relate your essay to one of the prompts provided.  If you choose a topic describing an environment where you feel comfortable and then talk about how your sister loves to go rock-climbing with her friends, the reader will note that you didn’t respond to the prompt.

Key points to remember about the essay are to tell your story, use a conversational style, answer the prompt, and proofread the essay carefully for errors.

I’m always willing to consider guest posts related to writing for my blog. I’m also interested in posting about writing issues on your blogs. Either way-feel free to get in touch!

Boris Fishman’s Tips for a Successful Writing Life

April 15, 2015

I had the good fortune to hear Boris Fishman (A Replacement Life) speak at Writers & Books in Rochester the other night. I always find published writers’ talks helpful in terms of learning about concrete steps I can take to improve my writing and to plan for future creative endeavors. Boris was a lively and informative speaker who didn’t pull any punches.

Boris Fishman at Writers and Books

Boris Fishman at Writers & Books

 

Here are a few things I learned from him about the writing process:

  • Treat your writing like the job it is, not just something you do in your spare time. Create a work schedule where you read and write for a specific amount of hours each day.
  • Eavesdrop shamelessly! This will help you immeasurably with perfecting different styles of dialogue.
  • A high-concept title is crucial to the success of your novel.
  • Sometimes it can take a really long time to write your novel. Boris wrote six drafts on his own and then several more with his agent’s help before he was finally published.
  • Attend writing conferences that are in an intimate setting with a focus on craft, rather than large “writing-lite” symposiums.

Boris also talked to us about his journey down the path to publication. Some tips I found most helpful were:

  • It helps if you can exhibit some familiarity with the publication, agent, or editor you’re submitting to. You can show this by saying something meaningful about them or their publication in your query or by showing how your idea dovetails with their mission or goals. It’s not the subject matter of your book that matters as much as having an “editorial affinity” or other professionals who care about the same things you do.
  • Persistence often pays off. According to Boris, you should send a minimum of five queries to an editor before giving up and you need to become indifferent to rejection. (As a side note, I’ve frequently heard that men are often better at ignoring rejection than women who tend to give up submitting after only two tries).
  • Establishing an online presence is a must! Boris recommends a website, creating an author page on Facebook, and joining the Twitterverse. He explains that readers love feeling live they’ve been part of the process with you and that most publishers are huge fans of Twitter. Boris also uses email blasts and makes it a point to write back to anyone who contacts him.  He urges writers to “own” their successes and triumphs, by saying things like “Hey guys, I have great news” instead of using what he calls “humble brag” on all their social media sites.
  • Most importantly, he says, detach your sense of self-worth from the commercial success of your book. Once you transition from “Please like me” to “I don’t care if you like me or not” you will become a better writer. Though it can be difficult, remember, you have the right to write your story the way you want to.

April Showers Bring…Inspiration!

April 8, 2015

April showers bring mud, and lots of it, at least in my little corner of the world. It sometimes feels like you’re walking in quicksand and that everything around you is brown and depressing. The colorlessness of the landscape makes it easy for artists to slip into a slump, even to feel like what they’re doing doesn’t really matter to anyone but them. If that’s how you’ve been experiencing life lately I’d like to suggest that you set aside some time to explore other creators’ work as a way to jumpstart your own, That’s the great thing about the artistic life, ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, not just other writers. Two things I’ve done over the last week that were not only inspirational, but free, include taking in a new exhibit at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, and attending an art opening for one of my favorite local artists, Alice Gant.

Staged, Performed, Manipulated (through June 7, 2015) challenges you to think outside the box, or more aptly, outside of the frame. What you’re looking at is not what you were expecting to see and the provocative photos lead you down all sorts of imaginative paths and potential storylines. Some challenge stereotypes and expectations you may not have even know you had, like Renee Cox’s, Yo Mama’s Last Supper, where the artist herself is shown as a nude Jesus and all the disciples are African American, with the exception of Judas, who’s white. Others are unnerving, like a diorama that shows a gang of middle school-age boys in a variety of obviously and subtly threatening poses. The first thing that comes to mind is William Golding’s chilling classic, “Lord of the Flies. However, when you look even closer at the tableau, it becomes even more disconcerting to realize that each image is actually the same boy, just in different clothes. Another particularly memorable photo is the brightly colored one that greets you as you enter the exhibit is Yasumasa Morimura’s, Self-Portrait (Actress) after Liza Minnelli 1. This photo is guaranteed to unwittingly draw your gaze to a specific region of the actress’ body, whether you’re a male or female. This isn’t a huge exhibit but museum curator Andrea Inselmann did a fabulous job with it, so don’t make the mistake of rushing through it to get to the next room.

Alice Gant is a textile artist and fellow TBurger. I have long been a fan of her colorful and joyful banners and even have a blue heron of hers hanging in my dining room! When her grandson was born in Amsterdam, she made him a small soft cloth book which she and her family enjoyed so much that she created a larger  “Softer Books” exhibit. With her typical attention to detail, Gant stitched several long horizontal pieces together, using a technique she invented called “neo-reverse applique”, each of which can be folded into a book.

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There was a woods-themed one, an ocean-themed one, and my favorite, “The Curious Pets of Trumansburg”.This week make it a goal to get out of your home or office and seek out some art in a different medium than your own. Seeing other creative people’s work can be so much more motivating to winter-weary writers than a scolding or a bribe. It definitely worked for me!

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Barrio Cafe in Phoenix-Not your Average Bodega!

March 31, 2015

The absolute best meal we had in Phoenix, hands down, was our first one at the Barrio Café on the corner of Thomas and North 16th Streets. From the outside, Barrio looks like just another unpretentious neighborhood eatery, just our type of place. But appearances can be deceiving! Once inside, we quickly discovered why this establishment has earned the reputation of being one of the trendiest and most authentic Mexican restaurants in the area.

Barrio Cafe

Barrio Cafe

Though it was past lunchtime, the friendly spiky-haired waiter told us there would be a short wait and invited us to sit at what must be the smallest bar I’ve ever seen. My husband and I took two of the three seats and (rather boringly) ordered Mexican beer. We then proceeded to ogle the man in the third seat’s lunch, which was a work of art, with the various colors and texture on the plate effortlessly complementing each other. Perhaps feeling dismay that we hadn’t ordered one of the Barrio’s signature margaritas, an older man came behind the bar, went to work mixing, and presented me with a small glass of a seashell pink beverage. Though I don’t really care for tequila, I didn’t want to offend him so I took a sip. Muy delicioso! Called “Organica Margarita” it contains Tierras Organic Silver Tequila, and agave nectar, pomegranate, grapefruit, and fresh lime juices. When I return I’ll definitely order a whole one for myself.

Our entrees were wonderful. Mine was Suiza-a Mexican City-style enchilada with layers of chicken and cheese and a delicate creamy tomato sauce topped with crumbled chorizo and red onion. Neil got pork tacos with tangy pickled red onions which contrasted nicely with the sweet and smoky pork, giving your taste buds an unexpected little “zing”! But what really blew me away was the “Esquites” which I’ve sampled before in Dallas, as “street corn”. It was this amazing, tongue-pleasing combination of firm, yet extremely juicy, bright yellow corn kernels that were so sweet that each individual one literally exploded in my mouth. The corn was topped with crumbled cotija cheese and completed by a generous drizzle of chipotle cream sprinkled with cilantro and fresh lime juice. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven with each tiny bite and my eyes threatened to fill with tears as I spooned the last succulent morsel into my mouth, scraping the sides and bottom of the crystal goblet it was served in to make sure I didn’t leave a single crumb behind.

Don't miss this!

Don’t miss this!

I am 99.9% sure that I could never make any of these dishes at home, making them the perfect vacation food. The two of us left with the mutual understanding that this restaurant was at the top of our all-time favorites list.

The second-best meal we had in Phoenix was at Joyride Taco House on Central Avenue. The food and drinks were fresh and tasty, the atmosphere upbeat, and the servers friendly and enthusiastic. For those of you on a budget, they have Happy Hour prices too!

Tucson-A Word Lovers Paradise!

March 25, 2015

The Tucson Festival of Books exceeded my wildest expectations, despite occasional frustration of long lines for many of the author conversations and panels and the limited seating in others. I could write pages about the six discussions by famous writers that I was able to participate in, which included:

  •  Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel
  • Ridley Pearson and Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Gail Sheehy
  • Ally Carter, Jenny Han, and Sarah Mlynowski
  • Marja Mills

But, because today is Arts Advocacy Day, my Festival post is going to highlight The Tucson Youth Poetry Slam (TYPS). Attending a poetry slam has been on my “to do” list forever, so TFOB seemed like as good a place as any to finally do it. Billed as “Young Voices of Southern Arizona” and with an irresistible call-to-action, “Youth! Voice! Equity! Power!” this one, under the umbrella of the group “Spoken Futures, Inc.”, seemed particularly appealing.

Tucson Youth Poetry Slam participants

Tucson Youth Poetry Slam participants

My friend Melissa and I took our seats with anticipation, unsure what to expect. We knew the basics of a slam; that it’s a spoken word contest with a time limit and no censorship, though poets are encouraged to choose their words for the greatest impact, rather than shock value and no “hate speech” is allowed. The Tucson group welcomes all languages and styles of poetry and the group’s goal seemed to be building community rather than tearing it down, which appealed to both of us. We were blown away! If you want to hear what’s on teens’ minds these days, in no uncertain terms, this is the place to find out. They’re not professional poets but their concerns and observations are spot-on when they speak about things that are important to them and their futures. Here’s a few lines to illustrate this:

On getting a GED: People roll their eyes and tell me “Good luck with that”.

On undocumented immigrants: We fight every day and we barely make a sound.

On health and family issues: I was dealt a hand that might cause others to fold.

On self: I hold onto things that break too easily, like pencils and people.

On school budget cuts to the arts: You already have 24% of our life; what more can you take from us? Art-there’s no money in it, only numbers count. You steal the only color we’ve got.

And, on why they write poetry: I don’t write to be questioned. I write to be understood.

Don’t we all…April is National Poetry Month and I’d like to encourage you to put aside a few hours and attend a youth poetry slam in your town or city. Don’t go alone, take a friend, young or old. I promise, it will be worth it!


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