Thursday, February 23, 2017
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What difference does it make to writers of stories if public figures are denying their responsibility for their own actions? So what if they are, in effect, refusing to tell their own stories accurately? So what if the President of the United States is making himself out to be, of all things, a victim? Well, to make an obvious point, they create a climate in which social narratives are designed to be deliberately incoherent and misleading. Such narratives humiliate the act of storytelling. You can argue that only a coherent narrative can manage to explain public events, and you can reconstruct a story if someone says, "I made a mistake," or We did that." You can't reconstruct a story—you can't even know what the story is—if everybody is saying, "Mistakes were made." Who made them? Everybody made them and no one did, and it's history anyway, so let's forget about it. Every story is a history, however, and when there is no comprehensible story, there is no history. The past, under these circumstances, becomes an unreadable mess.Incredible words, right? Written as if they erupted just yesterday, but they did not. Burning Down the House was first published in the 1990s, and Baxter begins this chapter, called "Dysfunctional Narratives," by talking about Richard M. Nixon.
Perhaps from gladness at escaping that harangue and at remembering how everyone is vulnerable to hardship, a tenderness welled up in me toward all the living. I found a stillness within our transitory state, relishing the passing folk intent on business or recreation, and loving the familiar clip-clop of horses, freshly curried and brushed, as they pulled grocery wagons house to house, stopping to deliver milk or ice or bread. The odors of meals escaped through windows, and hunger cut into me.Jill Santopolo's The Light We Lost (on sale in May from G.P. Putnam's Sons) is a book about right now, a story about a woman's undying love for the man who knows and loves her best, but is never quite hers. This is a novel steeped in the melancholy of what might have been, a narrator who writes of her personal history from a suffused and brokenhearted present. This is a story that ponders the porous and saturating nature of love—the lines that can't be crossed, the lines that are, nonetheless, crossed. It is a novel of what if's, and it can't be helpeds. Lucy cannot rewrite the past, and maybe she doesn't want to rewrite or negate the past, even if the past hurts, even if the present cannot free her from her past. Short chapters, look back and ahead at once:
Sometimes we make decisions that seem right at the time, but later, looking back, were clearly a mistake. Some decisions are right even in hindsight. Even though everyone told me not to, and even knowing what happened afterward, I'm still glad I moved in with you that snowy day in January.Why is it that books that break our hearts are books we love to read? Jill's book raises this question again, in all of the best ways.
Many Philadelphia writers have a felt responsibility to incorporate historic city texts into the conversations that swirl today. As part of that process, work is underway to publish the Philadelphia freedom texts that were read on January 15th during the WritersResistPHL gathering (more that gathering here). Interested in researching and sharing and, indeed, applying additional texts? Ask questions.
Many writers are concerned about purported proposals that would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Those who would like to participate in drafting a petition or speaking to representatives or framing the importance of the arts to legislators or patrons have an opportunity to get involved.
The Philadelphia-area writers traveling to the AWP conference in Washington, DC, hope to put on a united front—to get to know each other, to advocate with each other, to make a difference together. If you're planning on spending time at the AWP and would like to help organize a united front, check in through the email list.
Philadelphia-area writers and artists and musicians seeking to strengthen the power of their art and the utility of their concerns would benefit from collaboration and conversation with other similar groups across the city and nation. Start or join a conversation about linking your actions/our actions to the work of others via the list.
On April 1, on the Widener campus, an undergraduate-focused Writers Resist program will feature the voices of the young from campuses across our area. If you are a teacher or a parent who knows of undergraduates who would like to read or speak (or if you are an undergraduate!), ask questions.
Every protest march, every protest poster, is ultimately local. Politics happens on a local level, too—through locally elected representatives. Gerrymandering, in the words of the non-partisan organization Fair Districts PA—results in "politicians ... choosing their voters, rather than voters choosing their politicians." One of the most important acts of change will come from those who effectively speak up and out with the tools provided through this organization. There are resources out there. Ask.
If we're going to speak or write or be active, we have to have the facts. Many texts, articles, resources were noted today. If you were one of those sharing links, please share them via the list. If you have additional links to share, please do add those as well.
Many literary journals and bloggers have platforms through which to speak, or platforms from which they might now speak. Among those discussed at today's meeting were Cleaver, which offers a "Life as Activism" segment, the Shockwire Chapbook series developed by The Head & The Hand Press, and mainstream publications. Additionally, there is the Write Our Democracy program, noted above, created by the national WritersResist program—an opportunity for you to write an immigrant's story.
What do writers do? They write. Who can writers help, on a volunteer basis? Those who need some writing done. There are resources out there listing organizations in fields ranging from science and the environment to health care and immigration that could all use a voluntary press corps. If you'd like to help with this, or if you are an organization in need, let your interests be known.
Independent bookstores are sanctuaries, no matter the time of day or the season. But such bookstores have a special role to play today. If you are interested in helping bookstores develop material that might be shared with patrons, get involved.
Many individual writers and artists are hosting speakers, unveiling new exhibits, and launching books at this time—all opportunities to go beyond the typical book launch or lecture or show to bring people together and raise funds for the greater good. If you would like to help manage or create a single listing of such events, please ask questions on the Facebook page. If you would like to help develop a tool kit that might be disseminated at signings and events, please let us know.
Writers will only be effective as a group if the group mirrors our societies as a whole. Today we heard from two women who have embarked on a project designed to help them truly know each other. But what more can be done to ensure that the group that gathered today is sufficiently diverse in all ways? We'd love your ideas.
There was, believe me, more said and proposed and hoped for today. But this, I think, gets us started. I'll conclude this blog posting the way our meeting ended, with words by Calvino, as read to us by Ann de Forest, from Six Memos for the Next Millennium, written in 1985. Excerpting from the excerpt: "Think what it would be to have a work conceived from outside the self, a work that would escape the limited perspective of the individual ego, not only to enter into selves like our own, but to give speech to that which has no language, to the bird perching on the edge of the gutter, to the tree in spring and the tree in fall, to stone, to cement, to plastic......."
... This Is the Story of You—has been awarded the distinction of being a VOYA Perfect Ten 2016. Each year, VOYA Magazine compiles reviews of titles that were awarded a 5Q and a 5P into our annual Perfect Tens list. VOYA’s unique rating system is the only one that weighs both literary quality and teen appeal equally, a distinction that is of great interest and use to those charged with ordering and collecting reading materials for teens.This list is relied upon by librarians and educators around the country (and the world) in their selection of titles to add to library and classroom collections. It is an invaluable tool to our readership, and a lofty honor to those authors and publishers whose titles are selected.The full reviews of all of the Perfect Ten honorees are included in ordering databases/systems of some of the largest book wholesalers and library jobbers in the country, for both public and school libraries. The complete listing of this year’s Perfect Ten reviews will be available to all on our website (www.voyamagazine.com), including the full reviews and book cover graphics. VOYA will be publicizing this year’s list via Facebook and Twitter. We are also publishing these reviews in our sister journal, Teacher Librarian.As reviews editor, I understand how difficult it is for a title to receive a perfect 10 rating from one of our reviewers. In fact, out of more than 1,100 titles reviewed last year, only 33 titles were awarded this honor. That’s less than 3% of all titles reviewed. Our reviewers are cautioned to consider and re-consider a number of issues before deciding on a 5Q 5P rating assignment for a book. It is not a designation given lightly—nor is it given by novices. Our reviewers are seasoned library and education professionals who work directly with young adult readers and have a broad base of understanding and appreciation for YA literature.In sum, a VOYA Perfect Ten is a laudable accomplishment that very few titles can claim. Congratulations again, and thank you for allowing VOYA to be part of celebrating your outstanding contribution to YA literature.
When the way is dark and the night is cold
One sunny mornin' we'll rise I know
And I'll meet you further on up the road.....
A few months before, she was beautiful—you could still see it in flashes. Her hair was thick and blondish, and her body was round in some places and slender in others. Her hands, always cold, held pens and typed and cooked scrambled eggs. Her eyes were blue and her heels were narrow. She looked a lot like me.
When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound along well-worn trails of neurons, tracking the echoing questions: the confused family of whys, whats, and whens and their impossibly distant kin how. The search is exhaustive; the answers elusive. Sometimes my mind went blank and listless; at other times it was flooded with storms of thought, unspeakable sadness, and intolerable loss.The Art of Perspective, Christopher Castellani (Graywolf Press Series)—a refreshingly smart examination of narrative strategy and literary point of view. This may be a craft book, but there is, within the pages, a kind of suspense as the author presents his own quandaries about a story he might write. I could quote this entire book. But this should give you a taste for Castellani's smarts:
Why bother to write if you don't have a view worthy of sharing? I think we judge the literary merit of a text not merely by how closely we relate to the characters' experiences—that's the relatively easy part of the author's job—but by how strongly the author's ultimate vision compels us, provokes us, challenges us, or makes new the everyday.The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, Caroline Paul illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton. I'll be honest. I did not know about this NYT bestseller until I read about it in Brain Pickings. I bought it for my niece (to be perfectly honest), and I was just planning to scan enough of it so that we might speak of it later. Well. Hold the scissors. I could not stop. This is a memoir/history/how-to/diary journal with pictures, all in one. But it's not just the cleverness of the design that strikes me hard. It's the cleverness of the prose. Paul begins with a story from her youth, when she set out to build a boat out of milk cartons:
I envisioned a three-masted vessel, with a plank off to one side (of course) and a huge curved prow that ended in an eagle head. So I set about collecting milk cartons. I collected from my school cafeteria. I collected from my friends. I collected from my family. I soon became familiar with the look on their faces when I explained I was building a milk carton pirate ship. It was actually a combination of looks, all rolled into one. Hahaha, what a crazy idea, the expression said. And Good luck, kid, but I don't think it's going to happen. And, Well, at least I'm getting ride of my milk cartons. Then at the very end of this facial conga-dance, I always caught something else. Actually, that sounds like FUN. I wish I could do that, the final look exclaimed.
What a life is ours! Doesn't
anybody in the world anymore want to get up in the
middle of the night and
And what I hated most was the sight of a certain parasitic creeper that flourished aggressively, bowing the treetops down and binding them to each other in a dense, undifferentiated mat of choking foliage. I longed to be transported at once to Scotland where the air was sharp and the nights brisk, and where plants were encouraged to grow separately and upright, with individual dignity.Can't you just see it? Don't you marvel at how she chooses to introduce herself? As almost not married, as oppressed by density, as longing for sharp air and dignity?
There was a moment, a kind of Mrs. Dalloway moment, when I just stopped, stood stock-still, and looked around at the loveliness of the scene. The men were in the kitchen drinking beer. The women were outside, chatting. The boys were juggling—a skill they all learned together in sixth and seventh grade and suddenly, spontaneously, decided to revive at ages seventeen and eighteen. Clubs flew through the air. A fiercely competitive badminton game was in progress. A group of girls sat at the picnic table, deep in conversation....We have a responsibility, this Thanksgiving, to love out loud, to yield the floor, to listen. We have a responsibility to look for and find beauty, because that will strengthen us, that will enliven us, that will help us find not just hope but a right path forward.
Today, I promised myself this: More time for fun. More spur of the moment parties, before it's too late and the younger generation is up and out and gone for good. More fires outside, more s'mores, more reasons to celebrate the joy of being alive, of raising children to young adulthood, of spending time with those young adults—who, after all, are still learning from us, each and every day, what it means to live a good life.