Tag Archives: politics

AWP, activism, loss, and ugly monsters.

This year’s AWP conference was in WDC and what with the current political climate & the crowds of deep-thinking humans attending, I had high hopes for “activist moments.” Perhaps there were some in the keynote(s) that I was too exhausted to attend or during something of the panels – too numerous to choose from. The single event advertised as specifically activist was on Saturday. After a tour of the very poorly designed DC Metro system trying to get from the Convention Center to the White House, I witnessed the end of a short “vigil.” A vigil where poets spoke and no one could hear. A vigil where there was insufficient light and no one could see. A vigil where the messages were so muddy as to fizzle out as soon as they were voiced. After taking part in countless post-election protests in NYC, I felt let down. This isn’t a time for holding candles politely and speaking softly. We’ve done too much of that.

AWP is always a bit of a mess – too many panels, too many people crammed into the book fair, not enough drinking water or edible food, terrible coffee (except the year AWP was in Seattle).  But AWP is also a yearly affirmation that words matter; that people still read and write books; that there is more to American life than Reality TV, the LCD, fake news, and sound bites. At AWP17, I had countless enthusiastic conversations with writers, poets, editors, and even a few who self-identified simply as “readers.” There were also a number of MFA students who weren’t quite sure they could identify as “writers.” Note: If you commit to an MFA program – you’re a writer.

Working for a small press is a bit like working for an indie label (something I did a lot of in decades past). It doesn’t pay, it’s a lot of work, and you have to care about what you do. Many people who stopped by the BLP booth at the book fair asked, “What kind of fiction do you like/publish/read?” and “What do you look for in a book?” The best answer I can give to any of these questions is, “something good.” By which I mean a manuscript that shows not only a knowledge of plot and character but language, how to craft a sentence, how to edit. So many manuscripts I read have unnecessary prefaces, prologues, endless paragraphs telling me what the book is about. I want to read the book, not words telling me about the book. Certainly there are publishers, editors, agents who require query letters, a synopsis, etc. but not BLP. That first sentence is crucial. The first chapter in a novel, the first story in a collection has to be strong. Often when I read a manuscript that saves the best for the middle, I’m reminded of listening to band demos where the “best” song is third or fourth. This makes the assumption that the listener/reader/editor is going to listen or read more than the first song, the first few pages. We’re not, we don’t, we can’t.

I’m a writer myself and I know how frustrating the publishing world can be. In the past couple of years, my own non-academic writing has suffered from a surfeit of neglect. Sure I do poem-a-day & NaNoWriMo but I rarely send anything out into the world that’s not a book review, an academic essay, or a blog post. After each AWP, I feel inspired (at least a little) to send stories, poems, manuscripts out to any of the hundreds of journals and/or small presses that publish work I like. But it’s rare that I follow up on that feeling.

When my father died earlier this year I thought a lot about what I would say at his memorial. I ended up writing something the day prior and tossing everything else I’d drafted. When I thought about our relationship over the years and what it means to me to lose him, a lot of that loss is the silencing of his stories. He was a wonderful story teller. He told stories about his life, his ancestors, his childhood home, and the many and vastly varied places he saw in his long life and travels. There is some part of me now that wonders just what it matters whether or not my own stories ever get out into the world now that he’s gone. But there’s also a part of me that knows that when I say women’s voices matter, I also mean my voice, my stories and so I know I have to face down the ugly dual monsters of discouragement and fear of rejection and send my stories out into the world. Because I’m a writer and because my dad would want me to.

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do not tell me to “build a bridge”

In the days since last Tuesday’s election, I’ve heard and read exhortations to “build bridges,” to “start a dialogue,” and to “express ourselves through art.” I’ve also read and heard many people say “there’s no point” to the ongoing protests in many American cities. Most people who know me know that I am an intellectual, a critical thinker and abhor violence. Aside from a few Freedom of Choice or Anti-War gatherings, it’s been years since I’ve participated in a street protest. I’m painfully shy, loathe crowds and have found in the past that most protesters hold more extreme views than my own.

This time it’s different. I could argue the math: HRC won the popular vote (as the days pass, it appears, by a large margin). I could argue the political history: the Electoral College was created in a time when 75% of the current American population did not have the vote and it has become largely irrelevant and an impediment to Democracy – silencing the will of the people rather than aiding in any balance of power. But while there are those in the NYC protests whose signs reflect these views, there is a much more urgent reason we are marching. We are certainly not “professional protesters” (as Trump has claimed) but average New Yorkers of all genders, races, and age groups. These marches are not about “being sore losers” (as Trumpians claim), nor are they about “being unrealistic” (as pundits and politicians tell us). Instead, this is about drawing a line in the sand. Or to quote one of the signs I saw yesterday referencing Gandalf (LOTR), a line beyond which hate “shall not pass.”

As the days pass and the incidences of hate crimes increase while the Government does and says NOTHING, it has become important that we march, that we hold signs high that read “Muslim Rights are Human Rights,” “Trans Rights are Human Rights,” “Refugees Are Welcome Here,” “We are ALL Immigrants,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Nasty Women Fight Back.” I’ve read posts on Facebook and heard from otherwise relatively compassionate white friends that we all need to move on and to move forward together. No, we don’t. We ALL need to stand up against Fascism, against Racism and Misogyny and Homophobia and Anti-Refugee and Anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence. We ALL need to march in the streets in vast numbers until our Government hears us and says loud enough for Trump’s followers to hear: “We will NOT tolerate violence against our citizens and we WILL prosecute hate crimes and hate speech.” And until THAT happens, please do not ask any of us who are marching to “build bridges” with people who think gay-bashing and Muslim-bashing and assaulting women and spray painting swastikas in school dorms and chanting “build a wall” at kids in school cafeterias is “freedom of speech.”

We did not vote for hate. We did not elect Trump. And we MUST stand up against his followers. Hiding at home or “getting back to normal” or thinking posting photos of yourself on Facebook wearing a safety pin counts as activism, cannot be our collective response. Give to the ACLU, volunteer in your community, wear a safety pin but ALSO get out there and raise your voice. Because until we ALL march, until we are ALL loud in our condemnation of hate, they will do nothing. #notmypresident


of politics and optimism

I generally try to keep these posts focused on writing and editing and the more creative aspects of my life but in the midst of one of the more bitter Democratic primary processes I can remember, I find myself at odds with many acquaintances (I hesitate to call them “friends”) over the rhetoric being slung about by the Sanders’ campaign. I’ve been told I’m “voting gender,” “voting with an older demographic,” and “not understanding Progressive politics.” Several people I admire have responded to this rhetoric – perhaps none better than Gloria Steinem – but I find myself feeling that people just want me to “be quiet.” As a woman and a feminist, this is a feeling I’ve had before – many times. It’s a part of the insidious anti-woman behavior of many in this country. When I was a young undergrad at Smith, I traveled with a group to UMass-Amherst for a rally in support of Geraldine Ferraro. We were met with a HUGE crowd of “bros” holding signs that read “Ditch the Bitch.” This atmosphere has not changed. The assumptions made by Sanders’ supporters that Clinton supporters are a) not “Progressive” b) voting w/a gender bias c) not smart enough to understand the nuances of this campaign, or d) too “old” to vote outside “the Establishment” are all deeply disturbing and deeply flawed. I am an intelligent (some would say “over”) educated, politically Left, “progressive” and yes, a woman of a certain age. To suggest that my politics are “invalid” or “simplistic” or that I have not thought through ALL candidates and their ability to represent the causes I champion is not only disrespectful but also leaves me questioning the foundation of their views. When Obama ran the first time, I was hesitant to support him – because, I believed, he simply did not have the experience necessary for the job. Because of this hesitancy, I was called a “racist” by more than one person. The assumption was that I was hesitant because I didn’t want a black man in office. I was (and am) thrilled that we had two terms with a black man in office. Obama accomplished a great deal but his lack of experience did cause problems during his first term.  And that’s part of why I’m supporting Clinton – because she has the experience. (Sanders does not). The other part? Because she is a champion of human rights – including women’s rights (why we always have to specify “women” as if we’re not included in “human” speaks to the broader issue of misogyny). That Clinton is a woman who is both accomplished and intelligent leaves her open to vicious attacks from the Right and from those who position themselves as a part of the “Left” – but bias is bias and I for one am sick of it. It is time for this country to have a woman president – we’ve waited long enough. I am proud to call myself a Liberal and a Leftist and I am voting for Clinton – not just because she is a woman but because I’ve done the research and I believe she is the best PERSON for the job. I also believe that there is nothing “progressive” about a bunch of white people voting for yet another aging white male – whatever he claims his politics may be. Whatever the outcome, I remain, as always, an optimist – eventually women will have equality in this country and eventually, we will have a woman president. Here’s hoping 2016 is that year.