Monday, May 30, 2011

Want to Help Save Art?

The democratization of patronage. That's what my friend, the very gifted writer, Scott Morris, calls the new kind of patronage available to anyone who wants to support the arts these days. Scott has two published novels, The Total View of Taftly and Waiting for April. But his third and most brilliant work, a novel titled Gaines Green, has had trouble getting published due to the economy and other complex issues. He needs our help, and frankly, we need to join the new order of patrons who can save art in our times.

Read all about Scott's story at Kickstarter:

"A Novel That Won't Quit Needs One More Boost." (Be sure and watch the video!)

I've already pledged $100. Not just because Scott is my friend (and mentor) but also because I believe it's time to embrace the opportunities that all of us now have to become patrons... to save art. As Scott says:

"During the 18th Century—and this was painfully embodied by Samuel Johnson—Western culture began shifting from patronage to a middle-class market for books and paintings and other art forms. Yet now the model of a market that can sustain independent artists no longer coheres. A new form of patronage has emerged. While the older form relied on aristocrats and elites, the new form of patronage could be described as the democratization of patronage. Anyone interested in an artist can support that artist."

For the past three years, Scott has served as workshop critique leader at the Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers Workshop in Oxford, Mississippi, where we first met. (He'll be leading the critique sessions again this year, and also giving a craft talk on "Voice," June 10-12.) He was also on faculty at the Seaside Writers Workshop I attended in 2009. He's been an invaluable guide for me in my own work. If you haven't read my posts about him in the past, here are a few:

"Learning to See and Write Sunsets."

"The Writer's Cross: Transcending the Existential Shorthand."

It's easy to become a patron of Scott, or other writers, musicians and artists you might want to support, on Kickstarter. If you've got an Amazon account, you can make your pledge through Amazon, which I did. It's as quick as downloading a book to your Kindle!

So, please consider making even a small pledge to help this brilliant novel find a publishing home. Just hop on over to Kickstarter and read Scott's story, and you'll want to help.

Do it for your soul. Do it for Scott. Do it for art.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why I Haven't Written About Mom Lately

Some of you have been wondering why I haven't written about Mom lately. I still visit her at the nursing home in Jackson, Mississippi, about twice a month. But the past few visits have left me wordless. Why? I think for two reasons: (1) They've actually been a little boring. As she slips farther away, there's less to talk about. (2) I think I've been repressing a degree of sadness over losing her and haven't been ready to write about it.

But that may be changing, thanks to Dinty Moore's interview and article, both in Writer's Digest. Read all about it over at my post on the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction site:

"The Personal Essay: In Search of Insight and Enlightenment."

On my next visit I think I'm going to cut her hair. She has asked me to, although she won't let the people at the nursing home cut it. I'm a little nervous about doing it. I think cutting hair is a very intimate activity. Kind of like giving manicures and pedicures. Hope I'm up to the task.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Cushman Row

Thanks to Rich Zakka, my New York friend who lived in Memphis for a while, I discovered a family treasure yesterday in Chelsea. CUSHMAN ROW, a row of Greek Revival houses on West 20th Street, built by my husband's great-great grandfather, Don Alonzo Cushman, in 1840!

Rich knew I was having breakfast at La Grainne, a French cafe just around the corner from Cushman Row in Chelsea, yesterday, and mentioned the houses, having no idea we were actually so closely related to the builder.

Sadly, none of them are for sale.

We're off to meet Rich for lunch before heading to the airport to catch our flight back home. He's taking us to Moustache in the West Village... voted "Best Middle Eastern Restaurant" in New York City.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Saint Photini and the Depth and Vastness of Man

Today is the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman (Saint Photini) in the Orthodox Church. Father Paul Yerger of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Clinton, Mississippi, put this nice piece by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in his newsletter for today, and I was touched by it and want to share it. Especially this part:

"... nothing can fill us, because man is too deep for things material, too deep for things psychological, too vast - only God can fill this vastness and this depth."

I struggle with this every day, as I try to fill that vastness with material or psychological things.. or intellectual or artistic food. I'm pretty sure there's nothing wrong with those things that God gave us to enjoy. (I'm off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art today for a feast of beauty created by man.) But every now and then something (like this article) reminds me that these things aren't the water that will quench our eternal thirst. So today, like Saint Photini, the Woman at the Well, I will try to turn to God a bit more and say, "Give me that water."

Here's the short article by Met. Bloom: (And the icon is Coptic... I love the simplicity of the Coptic style.):

WHEN THE SAMARITAN WOMAN came back in haste to her town and called all those who lived around her to see Christ, she said: 'Come! Here is a Man who has told me everything I have done!’ And the people flocked around, and listened to what Christ had to say.

At times we think, how easy it was for this woman to believe and how easy it was for her, from within this shattering experience to turn to others and say: Come! Listen to one who has spoken as no-one else has ever spoken, One Who, without a word of mine has seen into the depth of my heart, into the darkness of my life, has seen and known everything.

But is it not something that can happen to each of us? Christ did not tell her anything very singular, He told her who she was, what her life had been, how God saw her. But this He can tell us every day of our life, and not in a mystical experience, not as it happened to some saints, but in the simplest possible way.

If we turn to the Gospel and read it every day, or if we simply read it once in a while with an openness that we do not always possess, we may think that Christ holds before our eyes a mirror in which we see ourselves as we are: either by rejoicing at what we see, or by contrast, being shaken by the fact that we are so different from what we seem to be, or what we imagine we are.

Christ said to the Samaritan woman: Call your husband! And she said: I have no husband. Christ replied: You have spoken the truth. You have had five husbands, and the one who is your husband now indeed, is not your husband more than anyone else. Certain spiritual writers have commented on this passage by suggesting that Christ was saying to her: Yes - you have been wedded to all that your five senses could give you, and you have seen that you find fulfilment, satisfaction in none. And now, what is left to you is your own self, your body, your mind, and this, no more than your five senses can fulfil you, give you that fullness without which you cannot live.…So let us learn from this woman that we have turned, all of us, to so may ways in which we could receive the message of this world and be filled, and we have all discovered that nothing can fill us, because man is too deep for things material, too deep for things psychological, too vast - only God can fill this vastness and this depth. If we only could realise this, we would be exactly in the position of the woman of Samaria. We need not meet Christ at the well. The well, indeed, is the Gospel, the place from which the water of life may gush - but not a material well, that well is a symbol. The water which we are to drink is different.
- Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (full version is here.)

For previous posts where I quote from Met. Anthony, see:

"A Preview of Authentic Beauty"

"Scootch, Scootch, Bog, or Grace Eventually"

"Beginning to Pray"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Still Waiting for a Sincere Apology from the Pope

An op ed piece in Wednesday’s New York Times, “The Vatican Comes Up Short,” speaks to the disappointing, inadequate guidelines the Vatican has come up with for preventing sexual abuse of children by clergy. The directive, called “nonbinding guidance,” came two days before a new study of the abuse problem that “cites the sexual and social turmoil of the 1960s as a possible factor in priests’ crimes.”

Really? The Vatican is going to blame the 60s for the sexual abuse they continue to cover up?

My friend and writer, Kim Michele Richardson, author of The Unbreakable Child, keeps fighting the good fight. In her article in today’s Huffington Post, “Catholic Church Reform Should Start with ‘I’m Sorry,’” she states that she and others who were victims of sexual abuse by priests and nuns are “still waiting for a real and sincere apology from the pope and the rest of the hierarchy. In its place, the Vatican and the U.S. bishops have offered vapid pamphlets preaching ‘zero tolerance’—Band-Aid fixes to the gaping wounds of hundreds of thousands of victims and survivors.”

If you’re new to my blog, here’s my post two years ago about The Irish Commission’s report on child abuse, “The Face of God in Ireland? Memphis?”

And my Q&A with Kim Michele Richardson when her book first came out in 2009, “Q&A With the ‘Unbreakable Child,’ Kim Michele Richardson.”

Of course the Catholic Church isn't the only place that child abuse happens, or that it gets covered up. But since it's the largest denomination of the Christian Church in the world, it's hugely important that its leaders own up to these abuses, quit protecting the abusers, and genuinely ask forgiveness from those they have harmed. As Richardson says, "Compared to the magnitude of the pain inflicted, the harm done and the lives shattered, one simple phrase is not too much to ask."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: WHAT IS IT?

We found this silky, knit thingy under the seat in the Jeep Liberty we rented to take everything down to Florida for our daughter's wedding. WHAT IS IT? It's about 20 inches long and 15 inches wide, as it's laid out in the picture. WINNER WINS IT! (If you want it:-)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Meta-Moir?

Hey, I'm off on a day trip to Jackson (Mississippi) to visit my mom, so no time for a new post here. But, *drum roll* you might like my new post at the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction blog today:

"The Meta-Memoir."

Have a great Monday!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The (Crazy?) Woman on the Beach

Artwork: The Title Lobby Card From Renoir's 1947 Film "Woman On The Beach..."

A few days before our daughter’s wedding at Seagrove Beach, I met a woman walking on the beach near the wedding venue. She appeared to be in her 70s, but very fit and outgoing. She asked if I was on vacation, and I told her about my daughter’s upcoming wedding.

“Oh, can I come?” Her eyes lit up with excitement.

“Well, it will be on the beach, so anyone can watch the ceremony.”

“I’d love to come and have a glass of wine with you!”

“Um, the reception is actually a small, private, mostly family affair.”

“That’s okay. I’ll bring my own wine.”

The woman tagged along with me on my walk for about ten minutes after that and told me her story. I’ve changed a few of the details, but this is basically what she told me:

“I live on the tenth floor of that high rise down there (she points) which my son owns. I lease it from him. But now he and my other kids want to have me committed. They think I’m crazy, just because I want to live on the beach! I love it here. I walk about 7 miles every day… all the way down to Deer Creek Park and back. I’ve got lots of friends here who know I’m not crazy, and they’re signing a petition saying so.”

At this point I have to slow down because my recently broken ankle is bothering me just a bit. She notices and asks if I’m okay, so I tell her I broke my ankle 6 weeks ago and it’s healing.

“Oh, honey, I’ve got two pulled tendons in this foot and an old stress fracture in this one, but I just ignore them and keep on going.”

I look down at her feet, which are both swollen. Her body is trim and fit. Her hair is short and blond-streaked. There is something a bit crazed about her eyes and her smile. As we approach my condo I tell her I’ve got to go, but I’ll be praying for her. (I’m remembering River Jordan’s book, Praying For Strangers, and thinking how this woman would definitely have been River’s stranger had she met her, but I guess she’s mine, and I wasn’t even looking for one.)

“Okay. Take care of your foot, and I’ll see you at the wedding!”

I didn’t think about the woman at the beach over the next few days as the wedding preparations went into full gear. But at the end of the wedding, just as the wedding party was gathering for photographs, there she was. She just walked up to my daughter and congratulated her. Of course Beth had no idea who she was, so I stepped up and said, “Hi, Linda.”

She gave me a hug, and I hugged her back.

“What a beautiful bride!”

“Yes, isn’t she?” I noticed she didn’t have a glass of wine in her hand and I worried for a minute that she might follow the other guests up the steps to the reception. “Um, we’ve got to take some more photographs, but thanks for coming by.”

Smiling her crazed smile, she walked off down the beach. I couldn’t help but wonder if I might end up like her one day. If I do, I wonder if my children will let me live on the beach.

When I returned home to Memphis and thought about the encounter, I remembered Joan Anderson’s books, which I read a few years ago, especially A Walk on the Beach. In A Year by the Sea and An Unfinished Marriage, Anderson shared her account of taking a break from her marriage and spending a year of solitude at the beach. In A Walk on the Beach, she introduces the inspiring woman she befriended during that time: Joan Erikson, wife of psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. But unlike “Linda,” Joan wasn’t crazy, and her year by the sea resulted in a renewal of her marriage. The beach can be healing that way. I hope it will heal Linda enough to allow her to live by the sea for a bit longer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: The Rehearsal

Just got home from Seagrove Beach last night, having been away for two weeks, so it's a good thing today is "Wordless Wednesday." (Unpacking, laundry, groceries, and opening two weeks' worth of mail is keeping me busy!) It's hard to choose just one picture to share today, but I've settled on this one, taken right after the wedding rehearsal for our daughter's wedding on the beach this past weekend. Her dad and I had an unbelievably joyous time all weekend! Watch for wedding photos and stories here soon. (and on Facebook, of course) Well, okay, here are a few more from the rehearsal.

A note of explanation about this first one: my Goddaughter, Katherine Thames, and her husband, Hardy, arrived at the rehearsal (and the wedding the next afternoon) on a bike and skate board. Perfect.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Organizing a Writers Workshop: Part 2

Hop on over to Jane Friedman's Writers Digest blog, "There Are No Rules," for my guest post today:

"Organizing a Writers Workshop, Part 2: Marketing."

Having a great time at the beach, getting set up for rehearsal dinner on the grounds tonight! Fun watching the guys put up the tent. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Where the Boys ARE

“I’m not frightened and I’m not being coy. It’s just that I’ve … I’ve never done anything like this before.” – Merrit Andrews (Dolores Hart) in the 1960 spring break classic, Where the Boys Are

Never shared your (written) treasures with others and asked for feedback? Don't be coy. Come join us at the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop in September.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Where the Boys Aren't: Guest Post by Porter Anderson

Thanks so much to Porter Anderson (right) for this guest post today! Porter is a 28-year career journalist whose venues have included three of Time Warner's CNN networks, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media. He is a member of Digital Book World, the American Men's Studies Association and the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Porter has registered for the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop this coming September. He responded to my challenge for guys to "man up"... who will join him? Here's his post:

Since my first days in journalism, when mentors were mentors and newspaper readers roamed the land, I have known, of course, that the lead of a good article never states what the piece is NOT about.
In the interest of clarity, however, I'm breaking that rule.

1. I do not say, believe, or mean to imply that there are too many women in writing workshops, webinars, seminars, book camps, book groups, or at conference events called (Whatever)World.
2. I do not say, believe, or mean to imply that women are doing anything wrong about anything, ever, anywhere, anyplace, for any reason, anytime, no way, Josée.
3. I do not say, believe, or mean to imply that I don't like women. Especially in literature. If I could become Joan Didion, I'd be the happiest former man alive.

Somewhat in line with that thought, in fact, I give you Maia. She is 4 years old. She lives in New Hampshire. She's the daughter of the formidable master of meditation and author Bodhipaksa(@bodhipaksa) of Maia announced to Bodhipaksa recently, "Daddy. I am Neil Gaiman." Maybe because I once at CNN interviewed the man I was told was Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself)—and figuring that Maia is registered for BEA by now—I believe we need to consider a subject we don't talk about much but should: When it comes to writing-community events, where are the guys?

How I came to write this

Susan Cushman (@SusanCushman), who's directing the September 23-25 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop was bold enough to point out on the workshop's website that women were leading men in registration, five-to-one. I told her I wasn't surprised.

• My first writer event was in 2006, one of Don Maass' popular weeklong "intensives" at Hood River, Oregon, about writing "breakout novels" or having a breakdown trying. Colleagues who were there concur with me, it seemed about 85-percent women.
• In another writing retreat near Biosphere 2 in Arizona in 2009, I was the only man who enrolled, and I worked for a week with 12 fine women writers. Some of them churned out prodigious reams of copy while I sweated over a paragraph and made javelina sightings in the cacti.
• On the Greek island of Skiathos in 2007, I was one guy with six women. No javelina. Unforgettable calamari. And an airport that's easily the best bus station I've ever flown into.
• In a just concluded "Build Your Author Platform" course with Dan Blank (@DanBlank of @WeGrowMedia), I was one of two guys. We worked with Dan and eight or nine women I enjoy thoroughly, good colleagues still in touch.
I have other examples, but you get the picture.

Why I noticed and care

The project currently kicking my ass (as @spressfield warns us) is a novel in the masculinities. It involves men's identity. While there's one male gender, men's studies experts recognize multiple masculinities that are "performed" more than they're genetically patterned. Which is to say, who was a guy before he learned his masculinity?
Having male colleagues with me at writer-training events would have been a huge help in testing my agonized prose against male ears, discussing plot and perspective points relative to varying masculinities' sensibilities, and sharing taxis to avoid having to ask directions to the airport.

Numbers from others

I've asked. We don't seem to know how many men and how many women are actually publishing books annually. What's more, that metric becomes ever more elusive as self-publication pushes more content into the system through largely unmonitored channels.
It's hard to get the attendance ratios at our big events, too.

• Some good people with the Digital Book World (@DigiBookWorld) Conference in New York in early February say they think they saw a roughly 60-40 female-male ratio at DBW11.
• Writer's Digest (@WritersDigest) Conference people say they think WDC11 was closer to 50-50. However, Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman), who is among the top observers of the national writing scene and the former publisher and editorial director with Writer's Digest, tells me that participation in WD's activities runs "probably 70-percent women—that's the case for nearly all Writer's Digest products and services."
• Association of Writers and Writing Programs (@awpwriter) Conference organizers say that among 1,168 of the 9,000 attendees who have answered their survey, 320 say they are male, 843 say they are female, and five decline either option. Realize, we may be gauging whether women fill out surveys more readily than men do, but it's as close as we get.
• O'Reilly Tools of Change Conference personnel had no ready ballpark estimates, but didn't disagree with my observation from mid-February: TOC might be the one such event I've seen that tips toward men because it's a summit of technology, which of course trends male. @MargaretAtwood was worth at least four rows of men in the plenary sessions.
• Christina Katz (@thewritermama), who has deftly positioned her suite of writer courses in the context of women's and parents' interests, nevertheless does see a few men enroll from time to time. I think that's impressive, a credit to her welcoming presentation.
• Last year, I explained my need for male colleagues to Montreal author and playwright Kent Stetson. He offers an extremely good Skype course based in E.M. Forster's bracing 1927 lectures at Cambridge. Kent pulled together a group of four swell writing men on two continents for an eight-week course, all of us working on material that in one way or another would benefit from the responses of other men. His normal enrollment draws more women than men. On May 14, he's starting a new four-week course unstintingly hashmarked #PorterEndorsed. Click here for more information.
Based on my own six years of events-going, unless that 4-year-old Gaiman and his fellows are high-heeling it in pretty good drag through BEA this month, even that writerly-communal confab will be peopled by more women than men.

So I asked

Author Bob Cowser, Jr, who's on the Memphis CNF Workshop faculty in September, told Susan Cushman that he thinks men can be uncomfortable sharing the intimate experience that goes into nonfiction. Fine as far as it goes. But my experiences of the missing men have been across the board, not just in nonfiction contexts.
Here are selected lines I got from women about it.

"Men tend to devaluate situations where there are a lot of women."
"Men want to do it, themselves, figure it out alone, suffer through it. They don't like sharing the process."
"Men don't tend to take advice from women. And they don't like to waste any time learning. Men want to write; they write; they just do it."
"Women tend to be more collaborative, while men are more competitive. Men also don't like to take direction, especially within earshot of anyone else. There's a lot of research in education, too, that shows boys learn by doing. That can be considered disruptive by some."
"I do find many of the other women I meet at writers' events looking at them as ways to get away from the house and socialize, at least as much as they see them as professional career trips. Those are the ones who get addicted to taking courses. They never write. They just go to events."
And here are selected lines I got from men about it.
"As a teacher and a coach, I was often reminded that men prefer to 'just do it,' even at the risk of failing, rather than seeking advice, assistance, mentoring, feedback, support. We've monumentalized the stubborn, hard-drinking, manly man, island-unto-himself icons of successful male writerdom in the West for centuries."
"The WDC11 won't be the last conference I attend. I was 90-percent finished with a manuscript for a novel and I needed to go drink from a fire hose... sort out the publishing industry... make contacts...use the conference date as a motivation to complete the manuscript."
"I attended presentations trying to primarily identify thought leaders I could follow up with. Many of the women were more 'in the moment' and trying to learn from the speaker at the podium."
"I've been to four or five writing courses...and yes, the majority were women...and, yes, they did seem to socialize a lot. I've spoken to some who have been working on the same manuscript for ten and fifteen years. It's almost like getting published is not the goal."
"Ego may also play a role where men feel they don’t need a primer course. And some men just prefer to work in isolation, the anti-social aspect, and just not talk about their work, keeping it to themselves."

Bottom line(s)

I'm sorry more of the guys aren't with us. And that's in no way a criticism of the many women who are.
The last census figure I saw reported 50.9 percent of the US population to be women. And whether we're working in fiction or nonfiction, surely the way to make something of interest to humans is to maintain and explore our work together, as happens in life.
You remember life. Well, of course you do.

There's more about Porter Anderson, a journalist and producer, here.