Conscience.

Listen. I write about writing. But–I’m also a student of the world. A mother. A teacher. A women’s rights activist. A human rights activist. A believer that we all deserve to be safe, loved, respected, and honored.

I’m not going to lie. This recent world has left me so–fucking hollow and angry, and sad, and despondent. We are sick. We are dying. We are killing each other and hating each other, and judging each other. I have kids, for christssake. Beautiful little beings that I brought into this quagmire of hatred and corruption. I kick myself every day for the world we’re giving them.

If you aren’t angry. You should be. If you aren’t melted into a pool of helpless and hopelessness; you should be. Every day I fight to get up and DO something.

Today I did this.

And if you don’t like it, stop following me. If it offends you, go sit down and examine why. Chances are it has to do with your own conscience.

Conscience

Peel back the antiquity

The antebellum haze over your eyes

The veil of American greatness

And look at what we’ve done.

A body lies face down

Slaughtered in her own home

Life cut short,

Weightless in blood loss

And all the things

She will never do.

She will never again

Be.

Someone’s child.

Someone’s baby.

Someone’s daughter,

Someone’s only heart.

Stop looking away…

Stop justifying

The unjustifiable.

Stop making excuses

Pale, white excuses.

Justifying your hatred

Through the fabric of a flag

Or a bible

Or whatever misguided armaments

You deny the worth

Of another human life with.

Stop denying

That the slave owner still owns.

That the shackles still bind

Stop denying

That the rules don’t apply

Stop denying

That the seething pool of hatred

That puts the small brained

And fearful men in power

Isn’t a sickening, disease,

Worsening this land

Butchering its people.

In the middle of the night

In their own homes.

Stop putting power into

Hands that hold no compassion

Stop putting power

into fear-filled hearts

Into anger-filled heads

Stop putting bullets

Into black skin

Peel back the white washed history

Look to the truth

See it.

The sun shining on

The dark, sweat slicked backs

that built this country

The lives that paid its dues,

Built its land

Its commerce

Its industry.

See how we still manage,

To. This. Day.

To put them up on blocks

Bloodied

On streets

Bullet holes in backs

Children watching

Their fathers cut down

Crosses burned and

Bodies dragged

Churches riddled with metal

And hate.

Six gaping holes

In the pajamas of an EMT.

How many more lives would she have saved?

That’s how many murders you deserved to answer for.

Add in the life of her mother.

Her family.

Everyone who loved her.

Because you killed them too.

Not free.

I hope your conscious is never free.

I hope it shackles you.

I hope it whips tight, thick lashes

into your back

And puts you on the blocks

To weigh your worth.

I hope it steals your children

I hope it guns them down in the street

I hope it corners you, every night

I hope it kneels on your throat

I hope you suffocate in your shame.

Shame on you.

Shame on all of us.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: A Musical Reprieve

Hello kids. Listen, lately this blog has been heavy handed with the writerly stuff. Let’s face it, a lot is going on in the world and sometimes its nice to focus on something we can control, something we can improve, something we can do.

I began this blog with a rant that just sprung out of the general feeling of hopelessness, anger, frustration and worry. For my family, my community, my country. I began on a three paragraph spewing about inequality and why the government and richest among us love to stoke the fires of divisiveness. I began, this early morning, festering outwardly what I’ve been festering inwardly for the last three an a half years.

Because our country has turned to a festering shit pile that’s hard to ignore. But we all know it. We all see ourselves behaving like hateful, ignorant assholes, but…everyone’s doing it so it makes it ok? See? Witness how easy it is for me to fall back into the loop that keeps me up at night, gives me anxiety, and makes me plan to move off the grid and become a hermit.

But today is about reprieve. A break. A rest.

Something different is called for. And so, to take a side road from writing (while not diving into the sewage that our current state of affairs has become), I want to talk about song lyrics.

Specifically, those lyrics from songs that stick into the sides of our hearts. That spur inspiration in our brains. That connect us as human beings. Surely you’ve got a few rambling around in your neurons. I’m going to give you a few here, and links to the songs.

Your exercise this week is to listen to some of your favorites and something new. Think about the words and how they correspond with your own experiences.

Writing is not as powerful if, at some point, the reader (or listener) doesn’t sit back and say to themselves ‘man, I’ve been there’.

Your job, in essence is to find a way to connect to a complete stranger by letting their words affect you.

Here you go:

I heard this one earlier in the week and it had been years. As I’ve aged, it’s struck different and more meaningful emotions in me.

“Once upon a time there was an ocean
But now it’s a mountain range
Something unstoppable set into motion
Nothing is different, but everything’s changed

It’s a dead end job, and you gets tired of sittin’
And it’s like a nicotine habit you’re always thinking about quittin’
I think about quittin’ every day of the week
When I look out my window it’s brown and it’s bleak

Outta here
How am I gonna get outta here?
I’m thinking outta here
When am I gonna get outta here?
And when will I cash in my lottery ticket
And bury my past with my burdens and strife?
I want to shake every limb in the garden of Eden
And make every love the love of my life

I figure that once upon a time I was an ocean
But now I’m a mountain range
Something unstoppable set into motion
Nothing is different, but everything’s changed

Found a room in the heart of the city, down by the bridge
Hot plate and TV and beer in the fridge
But I’m easy, I’m open, that’s my gift
I can flow with the traffic, I can drift with the drift
Home again?
Naw, never going home again
Think about home again?
I never think about homeBut then comes a letter from home
The handwriting’s fragile and strange
Something unstoppable set into motion
Nothing is different, but everything’s changed

The light through the stained glass was cobalt and red
And the frayed cuffs and collars were mended by haloes of golden thread
The choir sang, “Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean”
And all the old hymns and family names came fluttering down as leaves of emotion

As nothing is different, but everything’s changed”

This man is brilliant, in voice and lyric. There’s something dark and gritty in him that brings out the underbelly of love:

“Love ain’t nothing more than black magic
You better want what you wish for
It might happen
I drank your poison
Fell under your spell
Love is hell and nothing more than black magic

Love is like a bag of drugs it blows out both your knees
Innocence gets tangled when you hang it on a string
Both our eyes were foggy glass, too high to ever see
The devil’s sleight of hand, twisting fate with ancient ink”

This song…is on my alarm in the morning…Because what we have is what we are and where we’ve been has gotten us this far.

“Every tree has got a root
And every girl forbidden fruit and got her demons
And the path I chose to go, a different girl so long ago
I had my reasons

And she’s in my head so loud, screaming
“Shouldn’t you be proud of what you came from?
Oh, you’ve been crippled and you’ve walked on
You’ve been shut up and you talked, so let’s talk some more”

Where is the hand for me to reach?
Where is the moral I’ll ever teach myself?
In all the black, in all the grief, I am redeemed

And its ripping at my heart
Because Im dodging all the darts and on a slow train
And then Ill wear it til it tatters
And it shatters on the floor in instant replay

Oh, were all rotten and were pure
And were just looking for the cure that feels like spring snow
And all we have is who we are and where we’ve been got us this far, so let me go”

This woman’s voice and writing is so empowering. I recommend listening to this one while you’re out walking, or running, or moving. It’s a heart-helper.

“The way you smile
When you believe in it, in your future
It’s different, it’s different

Now we moving forward, ever backwards
Never forward, ever backwards, never
And when the going gets rough and life gets tough
Don’t forget to breathe

I love it here
‘Cause I don’t have to explain to them
Why I’m valuable, that I’m magical
And back home they tear
Tear my soul apart
Love my broken heart
I don’t know where to start

The way you smile when you believe in it, in your future
It’s different”

I could go on ALL DAY. But I’ll only give you two more.

This has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It feels like a whole journey through life and the one lesson at the end you wished you’d known sooner. And this video, I believe, was compiled by some amateur videographers. It’s brilliant. It feels like what my soul would do, if it were untethered from fear.

“Hello, my old heart
How have you been?
Are you still there inside my chest?
I’ve been so worried, you’ve been so still
Barely beating at all

Oh, oh, don’t leave me here alone
Don’t tell me that we’ve grown
For having loved a little while
Oh, oh, I don’t wanna be alone
I wanna find a home
And I wanna share it with you

Hello, my old heart
It’s been so long
Since I’ve given you away
And every day, I add another stone
To the walls I built around you
To keep you safe

Oh, oh, don’t leave me here alone
Don’t tell me that we’ve grown
For having loved a little while
Oh, oh, I don’t wanna be alone
I wanna find a home
And I wanna share it with you

Hello, my old heart
How have you been?
How is it being locked away?
Don’t you worry, in there, you’re safe
And it’s true, you’ll never beat
But you’ll never break

Nothing lasts forever
Some things aren’t meant to be
But you’ll never find the answers
Until you set your old heart free
Until you set your old heart free”

If you haven’t been listening to them so far it’s cool. But, PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS ONE. PLEASE WATCH THIS ONE. In today’s hurtful environment, we all need to be reminded that every man is a son to a daughter. Every woman is a daughter to a father. We should always treat each other as if we are gifts, in need of love and understanding. It should be forefront in every heart and mind.

“What I’ve learnt from the ocean
Hard to dance and rejoice in the motion
Let the sun have its moment
The moon will come
What I’ve learnt from a soldier
Every man is a son to a daughter
And we only remember
When we see the blood

Don’t grow up on me
Keep that backstroke in your Afro
Don’t you grow up on me
Slow up homie
Don’t you grow up on me
Keep it OG sipping slowly
Don’t you grow up on me
Slow up homie

Don’t you show off on me
Don’t you grow up on me
Show off on me

What I’ve learnt from a traveler
There’s no road that can lead to nirvana
There’s a world to discover
But home is love

What I’ve learnt from a mirror
Look too hard and you’ll find you a stranger
Love is just a decision
The choice is yours”

All right, writers. The choice is yours, how you do this day. Are you an ocean or a mountain range? All you’ve gone through has led you to where you are today. And while love is like a bag of drugs that blows out both your knees, you’ll never find the answers until you set your old heart free. I hope you move forwards, ever. Backwards, never. And know that love is just a decision; the choice is yours. I hope you choose love.

I hope you choose love.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #30: The Dirty Thirty

Okay. That title doesn’t have anything to do with short stories and how we write them (unless you’re on the right route to submit for Letters to Penthouse…does that still exist anymore?)

What do you mean you haven’t seen this movie!?I’m kind of surprised my mom let me watch it. I’m still mildly obsessed with angels…

I just wanted to mark the occasion of your thirtieth lesson in writing. And drum up interest for our last foray into the short story.

First–How did last week go? Were you able to come up with some ideas for future short stories? Did you write any? Did you revisit some of your favorites from the past? No? Come on…I can’t do it all for you!

If you have managed to draft up a couple of ideas and maybe even pursue them, and you’d like to have a second set of eyes, I’d love to take a look. As you may have seen, I updated my submissions guidelines on Tuesday for anyone looking to start building their platform as well as finding a place for their work (without the work of having to start and maintain a blog…gosh, I’m doing EVERY THING for you!)

So, last bit of short story advice is this. Once you have your strong (loved or hated character) and you’ve thrown them into a bus crash on their way up to hike Machu Pichu, what do you do with it?

Well, as in Poetry and Flash Fiction, if you you believe in this work and you want to see if it’s worth the reading for the general public; you submit it for consideration.

After a very thorough round of editing (or six), conformance (sure that’s a word?) to industry standard word counts, and all of your I’s dotted, you embark on the great internet search to find the perfect journals/mags/online forums to submit to. You find out the editor’s name, and use it to craft a beautiful query letter, follow each publication’s guidelines to the letter, and submit your work (while recording who and where and when you sent it to because you’re not a disorganized slob like me). Then you sit back and wait for the magic to happen.

Except you should never just sit back and wait as a writer.

Once that beautiful piece of literature, sure to torture high-school student’s someday with its dissection, is out in the hands of hard-eyed editors, you go back to that booklet of ideas and begin again.

The secret to a good writer, is that they don’t throw all of their hope into one basket and hurl it into the universe. They churn out the baskets, in a timely manner and with enough care that they aren’t just filled with shit. And they keep plugging away at it. And the first stories might actually be baskets of shit. But it gets better, they get better, you get better, until soon, you know what works and what doesn’t by the frequency of rejection notices.

I think I just summed up my writing existence in one paragraph. You’re welcome.

Normally, I would leave you with a list of publications that are accepting short stories. But…I think it might be time for me to kick you out of the proverbial nest on this one.

Go online–resist the urge to search cute kitten videos or Henry Cavill shirtless…holding kittens–and search for places now accepting submissions for short stories. If you can be specific in your search to the content of your story. Narrowing your search engine will save you time and weed out the journals that aren’t interesting in what you’ve written.

My general rule of thumb is collecting a list of 15 to 20 potential publications (yes, there are that many) and submitting my story(s) to 3 or 4 of them a week.

*Disclaimer–some publications will NOT ACCEPT simultaneous submissions so either submit different pieces or wait to submit until your current work is rejected (I’m not saying it will be…I’m just–*sigh*–saying that the odds are such).

Boom.

Mic Drop

That’s it. Go write something. Go submit something. Go watch “Barbarella” then write something. Come see me next week and yell at me for breaking your brain with Jane Fonda breaking ‘The Machine’. Next week’s topic is a surprise. (I say that because I don’t even know what I’m writing about next week)

Happy Writing!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #28:

Happy Tuesday Beautiful Writers. I hope that your weekend was productive or relaxing (depending on what you needed most). It’s been a surreal existence as the mountains west are experiencing a massive wildfire. Kids and dogs and parents all stuck inside while a throat-burning haze has settled over the neighborhoods and streets. Makes for a feeling of being pressed down even further into the desperation of our times.

I hope, where ever you are reading this from, that you are safe and healthy, and that you are taking the precautions you need to in order to stay well.

I feel like there are some soap boxes I want to stand on right now…I’ve already deleted a few paragraphs on matters related to the continued destruction of our world, to the importance of the people we put in charge of our governments when it comes to the health of the environment, to the responsibility we hold over the continuation of all life on earth. But I’m going to take a deep breath, back away from that for now, and offer you up what I promised. Flash Fiction examples and where to send your work.

The first comes from Bill Wickstrom (a helluva fine man, expert bicycle mechanic, fisherman, and 4-H Shooting Sports Instructor, from the beautiful wilds of Wyoming) Enjoy!

Untitled

The cat curled up in the sun, his stomach full and warm. I told him I would, he thought.

Next Ms Janis Perez from New Mexico (a nearly-retired fifth-grade teacher *standing ovation* who’s getting a jump start on her ‘new’ career as a writer *standing ovation #2 because teachers deserve EVERY ounce of support we can give them) we have:

Three Tires

            Lisa sat in passenger’s seat and wondered; what happened to the car who’s tire exploded with such force that all remained were the shreds of it being bandied about by the never-ending flow of traffic on I-25?

At some point, in some person’s day, their car’s stability broke away and they were faced with the instantaneous situation of being hobbled at breakneck speeds. Would the lights come? Would the sirens bawl and angry drivers crane their necks to see what had thrown off their commute?

What happened to the person in the three-legged car? Did they crash? Did they lose their jobs for being late? Did they die?

What did it sound like when your cushion of safety suddenly turned to the sound of aching metal on asphalt?

            What did it feel like to know were going to die? Even for a split second?

            “Nearly there! Boy this traffic!” Her father startled her. “Are you excited?”

            Lisa mumbled, “Sure.”

            “Come on, L Bean! This is the first week of college! Out on your own!”

He was painting on the false sense of excitement thick. She didn’t understand why he felt the need to pretend; why he was lying that he was excited she was moving out. Not when it had just been them for so long.

            Ever since the tire had blown out on their life. Ever since mom left shards of herself along the bathroom wall and tub. Pieces of her safety cushion spattered across the sink. Lucky number 13-birthday present. The quiet instability of a tire that couldn’t survive the pressure of lane-shifting at breakneck speeds.

            She wondered what would become of her father when they she was gone. When the emptiness of the house would be complete. How sturdy were his tires? Would he end up a scatter of broken pieces in the HOV lane?

What would happen to her?

Lisa looked out the window at the Albuquerque skyline, cluttered with the fog of traffic. The particulate matter of a city so congested that the wind couldn’t keep up with its exhaling. A large Lexus swerved in front of them and her dad hit the brakes reactively.

            Her heart stopped, the burn of rubber squealing beneath her, the painful nerve sense that flooded her body with adrenaline.

            “I wanna go home!” she shrieked.

            “What?” Her dad’s breath caught and he slowed down, avoiding the collision.

            “I want to go home. I don’t want to change lanes. I don’t want to go. I’ve only got three tires.”

            “What?” Her father swung his head to look at her between checking his mirrors. “Honey—“

            “I don’t want to be a tire in the road.”

            “Lisa, what are you talking about?”

            “Take me home,” she said.

            “You have to go.” The first honest words in months. “You can’t get to anywhere good, if you don’t take the road. You have to start making your won.”

            “Dad.”

            “I’ll get you there, safe and sound.” He promised.

And here are a couple of my own:

Hoarder

Grandma’s ghost hid the silver, again.

We-evil

            The desolation was complete. Nothing stood in the field but lone stalks of brown, looking like they’d once been corn, leaning at odd angles from random pockets where the potential of seeds once bedded. Dried holes in the ground. Dried memories of a life, no longer sustainable.

            Chance Patterson tipped his cap up against the sun and squinted, crows-feet to the sky.

            He couldn’t remember when he’d last seen the color green.

            He couldn’t remember when he’d last seen another person driving down the dirt road, or the farther off highway. The distant train tracks, long since abandoned. Not one soul.

Not since the cloud swept through. Not since the sky turned that awful shade of black and turned out the sun. Not since the sickness hit his herd and the cloud silenced his corn before fruit could bear. He sighed to the rays of a sun much hotter than all his memories of summer combined.

A smarter man might have moved on. Stocked up on gas, food, supplies, and what clean water he could find and left the land. Looked for what remained. Looked for someone else who’d survived. Chance tucked his cap back down at the sight of distant crosses on the hill.

Momma and Dad buried in the hard-parched earth. Sister Rose and his favorite dog Beau.

Who knew what kinds were left? The helpless kind? Or the killing kind. The hungry and wild kind, like the sickness that had took his brother’s brain and left bullet holes in the lot of them while Chance had been out walking the lines, looking for hope.

Coming home to the hopeless.

Why didn’t he just leave?

Call it the comfort of familiarity; call it the only place he’d ever known, his whole world the sixty acres of useless burnt ground, littered with the corpses of his family and the death of three generations of dreams. Chance kicked the dust, stirring the debris of corn and wheat up into the air and he recalled a song that one fella used to sing. Kind of the hippie type; kind of a rocker.

Time to move on, he’d said. Time to get going.

“What lies ahead,” Chance said and stared at the road, empty and sullen. Not even the casual silhouette of a raven on a fence post or finch on a wire. Was it worth the trip out? What if there was a woman out there? A woman, like him, just trying to survive. Nothing left to her name but the shitty straw of having survived.

What if…his eyes fell to the barren fields. The sun hit something, flashing a star into his eyes. He wandered over, bent down, and picked up the broken mirror of his old Tonka truck.  A boy playing in the dirt. Whole future ahead of him.

Maybe tomorrow he’d chance it.

Thank you to everyone who sent me something for consideration as well as to those who shared them without wanting to share it with the world. I’m honored you chose to share it with me. All stunning stuff, so thanks again!

Now, here’s your promised list. All of these journals and mags are phenomenal but I URGE you to READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES before submitting. Some of them are very niche. Some of them have strict word count guidelines. Some are darker, some are lighter. Some require you to study a picture and write 100 words on what could be happening. All good things. Good luck and let me know if you get any response back from your submissions!

3 AM Magazine

Flash Fiction Online 

Word Riot 

Everyday Fiction 

Brevity 

Pank 

100 Word Story 

Smokelong Quarterly 

Hobart 

Drunken Boat 

Flash Fiction Magazine 

The Collagist 

Lunch Ticket 

NANO Fiction 

Fiction Southeast 

Southeast Review

Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Prize.

Literary Orphans –

The Rookery

Monkeybicycle 

Wigleaf –

Vestal Review –

 DecomP 

 Juked 

 Cheap Pop 

 Nanoism 

 New Flash Fiction Review 

 Lamplight,

FRiGG Magazine,

Superstition Review 

 Hoot

Willow Springs 

In Honor of Rebellion

I wrote this blog a year ago, before COVID-19, before the Black Lives Matter movement gained ground, before the staggering abuse of power from one of the most self-interested presidents we have had went full on “tear gas peaceful protesters so they don’t get in the shot of my photo op” crazy.

In the original version I was careful to try and not alienate readers with use of politics. Re-reading it now, after what we’ve all been through this year, I’m resubmitting it with more balls. (I never understood why “having balls” was equated with being tough. We all know those things can’t even withstand a little nut tap without shriveling into a vomit inducing pity party. They should really say “grow a vagina” or “have a uterus” those things can, as Betty White once said, “take a pounding”. Anyway—on to the point.)

Independence in our country used to mean the freedom to pursue our dreams. But now we’re finally opening our eyes to the fact that not everyone has the same opportunities for this pursuit. Discrimination based on race, the disparity between economic status, and various other homophobic, misogynistic, and white-power-driven stereotypes were collars that kept a majority of this nation underfoot and away from an “American Dream” that was really just a concept reserved for the continuation of power for those already in possession of it.

This week, “Hamilton” will be available for the general public’s viewing and I hope you and everyone you love has a chance to watch it. Here’s what I had to say last year, adapted to call out the injustice I should have been brave enough to speak against before.

“Independence”

For the last few weeks I’ve been listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack, catering to my daughters’ obsession of the rhythmic and addictive lyrics. I realize there’s some language in it that many would deem inappropriate. But being a lover of all language and knowing my kids’ ability to differentiate between words used for flavoring and appropriate alternatives for mixed company, I don’t shy away from it. Because more important than a few f-bombs is the fact that they love it, and by loving it are learning from it.

I love it too. I love that this amazingly talented writer and performer (hats off to you, Lin-Manuel Miranda), took an overlooked story and breathed life and passion into for a new generation with quick-witted writing that tied the past with present day issues including but not limited to the fact that this country wasn’t built by white landowners but on the backs of the slaves they held captive for generations.

Suddenly, not just my family but the entire country will be witness to this snapshot of history and remember the grit it took for our country to break free of tyranny. If ever there was a time to break free of the tyranny in our government and economic systems, this is it.

We should all strive to remember the past. When we don’t, we stop being on guard for the behaviors and situations that can lead to tragic ends in our own country.

For the last three years we’ve been idle as a nation, allowing forgiveness for “jokes” that weren’t funny, policies that bullied our allies, and the practice of placating dictators who held their own people beneath their boots.

Some of you rolled our eyes. Some of you applauded. Some of you tried to justify his inability to understand complex foreign policy and economic issues by saying he was an outsider. (That’s like saying the intern you hired was given a roomful of mentors and material to study up on for the job and then shrugging when he runs the skid steer into a pile of propane tanks while smoking and jerking off, sans a mask while he’s at it, and shouting “I don’t need you idiots! I know exactly what I’m doing!”)

We are living beneath a dissonant administration that has sought to divide us as a nation. and WE NEED TO REALIZE THAT WHEN ONE PERSON IN POWER DISENFRANCHISES ENTIRE GROUPS BASED ON THEIR GENDER, RACE, RELIGION, OR ECONOMIC STATUS IT SETS US BACK AS A NATION AND BURNS TO THE GROUND ANY FALSE CLAIM WE HOLD THAT ALL PEOPLE ARE CREATED EQUAL IN OUR ‘GREAT’ NATION.

On this day, I want you to consider what it means to you to have independence.

Look to the people standing six feet away at the grocery story, in the parking lot, grabbing food to go. Look at them, their skin, their difference, SEE RACE AND UNDERSTAND THAT IT HAS KEPT YOUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS FROM BEING TREATED FAIRLY AND OWN THAT YOU’VE NOT HAD TO SUFFER THE SAME FATE BECAUSE YOU WERE BORN WITH DIFFERENT SKIN COLOR.

There are cries from the opposing side that all lives matter, failing to grasp the concept that if all lives truly mattered you’d stop imprisoning, persecuting, discriminating against, and killing people of color and see that its an unbalanced scale. It’s like having two kids; one you’ve put in the best schools, fed nutritious meals, spent quality time with, and gave adequate medical care to, the other you’ve neglected, forced into hard labor for no pay, sent to an over-taxed inner city school, given no medical care, and barely fed. Can you truly claim that they both matter equally to you? Actions and results of where we are on the path towards the American Dream speak louder than those words. So until balance is achieved, their lives matter more.

Watch “Hamilton” if you can. Think about this country. Think about what makes you proud of it (if there’s anything anymore.)

We were a bunch of ragtag rebels once. Who burned things and refused to be taxed without representation. Who stood up to an upper ruling class who didn’t give two shits about us. Our country was built on the riots of people who had had enough of injustice. That’s why the FIRST amendment of our constitution guarantees the right to protest. Because for all the stupid ways those first founders screwed up, at least they recognized that a country full of free and empowered people is stronger than those kept under the shiny shoe of a narcissistic dictator.

Revolutions rarely take a day. They are years in the making, with sacrifices of blood and lives. Revolutions are not free. There is a cost to rise up against the powers that seek to tie us, bind us, use our one precious lifetime for their own gain.

I could tell you to sit back, relax, enjoy the barbecues and hot dogs, slather your standard American body down with potato salad and jump into a kiddie pool filled with Bud Light while waving sparklers from every available appendage…but I won’t.

Today I’m going to tell you to remember the past, remember the fight. Remember there are things worth standing up for and things don’t change unless you rise up and change them.

Free yourself from the fear, trepidation, and self-doubt that keeps you from standing up for the rights of every man, woman, non-binary, and child in this country. We are Americans and we stand together against the forces that seek to keep any one of us down.

Rise up.

Don’t give away your shot.

Be young, scrappy, and hungry, and take back your life, your country, and the principles that sparked revolution and never give up the fight to win freedom for all of us to pursue happiness.

Photo by Sides Imagery on Pexels.com

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #20: Finding Romance in a Time of Disconnect

The world is a tense place right now and I know I’m not the only one who’s been suffering with a busy and worried mind. These days, these times, these overcrowded houses, and insecurities about the future don’t make for good bedfellows and it’s not just artists who are suffering.

A recent study revealed that fewer people are having sex. Especially in the younger age groups. A combination of the world’s current crises, economic disparity, job loss, women’s fears of sexual violence, and a general unease about the current “hook up” culture have left a great many of us feeling as though sex just isn’t worth all the hullabaloo. (Clear sign that people aren’t getting enough play time between the sheets is the uptake in old-timey language like “hullabaloo”, “horse feathers”, “fiddle faddle”, wisenheimer”, “canoodling” and “shenanigans”)

So, what better time for yours truly to have signed up for an online Romance Writers Conference this weekend, brought to us by the lovely folks at The Wordsmith Institute. Despite feeling a little ‘meh’ about love in general, my hope is that it will ignite some latent ideas that will help me finish the two or three novels that have just been sitting like cold leftovers in my fridge.

 (I should eat that before it goes bad, but I’m just not feeling like all that fiddle-faddle. I’ll make a quesadilla.)

I’m not sure how many of my writing clan out there dabbles in romance or what your current feelings are on the matter, but I think that when we are faced with a world in such serious and important chaos, the idea of a little escapism should not be dismissed too lightly. Passion comes in many forms, and when we stoke the fires of one form, we help to ignite the others. A passionate life is not just in the pursuit of justice, it is in the pursuit of love and happiness as well. And a good romance novel will follow this pursuit.

So, for today’s exercise, whether or not you write romance, I would like you to try your hand at a touch of eroticism (there’s a double meaning in there). I’m not suggesting you sit down and write your tawdriest letter to Penthouse. I don’t want to know about girth or the overused metaphors of trembling phalluses or ‘moist’ orifices. (Yuck, I think I just grossed myself out).

I want you to find the eroticism in the small details, objects, places, memories. Eroticism is more than just what you think of when you see an eggplant emoji.

Awe, they’re canoodling! (Photo by Dainis Graveris on Pexels.com)

Take your time, focus on the minute details of moments. The way a finger plucks a grape from the vine, or how a callus feels against the small of your back. Focus on the path of a rain droplet down a leaf, the low blood-warming rumble of thunder, the smell of skin warmed by sunshine. The juice of a mango running down your wrist.

Write about those moments and observations, as if it were the world teasing you.

What makes them sensual? What makes your breath quicken?

If you need more direct inspiration, here are some great suggestions from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”:

  1. What makes you hot?
  2. Name all the sexual fruits you know? What makes them so?
  3. What do you crave when you are in love?
  4. What is the most erotic part of your body? (and please, be creative, we all know the obvious ones—reach for something more interesting—well, not literally…or yes literally–what do I care what you do in the privacy of your own home? I support however you process).
  5. Write the body as a landscape.
  6. What do you connect with? (physicality, music, touch, words: think of this similarly as how you learn. Visually, orally, auditory, by doing, by reading?)
  7. Do you remember the very first time you felt desire? When was the first time you felt erotic?

Okay! There you go, something fun to get out of the world for a minute. I hope it helps to boost your writing if not your mood. Maybe your cohabiter will even benefit from these shenanigans. As Monty Python so eloquently said: “wink, wink, nudge, nudge”.

Life Without FaceBook

Let’s admit it, the last fifteen years have been a time of experimental growth for humans and their technology. Zuckerberg and his pals in Social Media Land rolled a tiny pair of dice and took the house. It is in everything we do. Its how we communicate, how we share, how we learn about each other (or at least what we choose to tell people in our half-truth screen life). It’s also how advertisers find us, how personal information is given out to people we never intended it for, and how the dangerous Echo Chamber was born.

I decided, last week, to step off of that particular merry-go-round. Yes, it hurts my online presence as a writer. But let’s be honest, not many people read my work anyway, so its not like I’m at a huge loss there. Yes, I miss seeing pictures of my friends and their funny posts, or catching up with my mom via Messenger. I miss seeing my nephew grow like a weed, and laugh at the geeky memes from my writer and nerd friends.

But one of the biggest reasons I left was that I realized how much I would miss the immediate gratification of a thumbs up sign to the comments, or pictures, or jokes that I used to post.

You see, FaceBook didn’t just sell us “connectivity” with our friends, family, and community. It sells us self-esteem, self-empowerment, even self-justification. And it reinforces those things by allowing us to filter out the people and sites we don’t agree with, and keep us comfortably surrounded by our already accepted beliefs.

Fifty likes on a post made me feel like I was some sort of rock start writer, or that I was cared about after a rough day.

Three made me feel like no one was listening and I didn’t matter.

None at all, I admit, somedays made me wonder if I existed at all…

I became a person who measured her self-worth by how many people were paying attention to me.

I became a person who was in need of the treat, like a dog who’s been clicker trained. Combine that with the perfectly filtered photos of friends, their lofty career accomplishments, their ‘humble’ retelling of good deeds done and I often felt self-stigma as to why I was not doing, being, having more. I teetered on the edge of what was real. I dove directly into self-loathing on more than one occasion.

Then, life threw in a few major world-events, the dividing lines between friends and family started cutting deeper and deeper and every post became something that set you apart from or joined you to one side or the other. Just like the Kardashians, FaceBook thrives the most when it’s got a healthy plate of drama in front of it.

We are a nation and world in the midst of a health crisis as well as sitting on the precipice of FINALLY understanding what America has been doing wrong since the creation of our country. I began to realize that no matter how loud I shouted on-line that racism was real, that being white and poor is not the same as being black and poor, that white children will never know the fear and limits that have been placed on black children, I would never change the minds of people who were not ready to accept it.

And watching that disheartening ignorance was just as bad as seeing well-MEANING friends post the trendiest slogan and know that that was the extent of their epiphany on the matter.

So I left. Not because I don’t love pictures of toe-headed babies and Star Wars Memes. I didn’t leave because I don’t like reading well-thought out and civil discussions on hard topics (a few of those do exist). I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to connect with all kinds of people from all spectrums of the scale.

I left because it’s not real. There’s always an angle, even from the most well-intentioned person.

I left because I don’t trust Zuckerberg to fact-check if it doesn’t suit his bottom line.

I left because most of the conversations I read or engaged in, have devolved into ugly name calling and personal attacks that have nothing to do with compassionate communication or the intention of trying to understand.

I left because in the last week I’ve actually connected on a personal level with friends I hadn’t talked to in years.

I left because I want to be more real and not just someone hiding myself  behind a glossy filter of anonymity.

I left because I know that all those perfect people out there aren’t so perfect.

I left because I am enough and I don’t need someone else’s approval to justify my worth.

I left because FaceBook is fucking addictive and I don’t need another addiction in my life.

I left because I can’t change the hatred driven opinions of anyone, and I’m done trying to at the expense of my mental health.

I left because my time is better spent working towards a new, hopefully better, future for every human in this country.

I left because I want to make a difference, not just crow about it for the ‘likes’.

I don’t have a writing exercise for you, but I would encourage you to give up FaceBook for one week. (They even have a ‘take a break’ option if you’re not ready to throw in the towel completely like me).

See how much time it frees up. See how much mental space it frees up. Enjoy a meal without having to share a picture. Enjoy a song and call the person who it reminds you of, instead of posting it. Try being a real person for a bit, and see how your mental health improves. Remember, we actually all got along pretty well before it came around, you won’t die without it.

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #19: Writing Your Truth

In the midst of a nation undergoing painful and necessary growth, I’m happy to have you joining me here today.

If you follow my writings and my blog, you know where I stand on the issue and I want to take a moment to urge every white person in this country to re-examine their own lives, understand the privileges they have, and really start opening your hearts, minds, and ears to listen to People of Color.

Keep your mouths shut and listen.

It isn’t about you. It isn’t about your guilt, it isn’t about how it makes YOU feel. It isn’t about arguing your way out of the discomfort. It’s about anyone and everyone who has had to limit themselves out of fear, who was held back or down because of the color of their skin. Listen, work to understand and ask what you can do to be the most effective in fighting alongside them. Let’s start working towards a country and nation where we are all free to walk down the street, drive our cars, go out for ice cream, go out for a jog without being pursued, punished, incarcerated or killed.

Now, in line with that, I wanted to talk about a program that I had planned to start this summer with a beautiful human and social organizer, Queen (you may remember the piece on her son Dontré. If you haven’t read it, please do: “Weapons Used Against Me”)

Queen and I had envisioned a free writing workshop for disadvantaged youth and others in the community who’s voices were constantly being silenced or marginalized. The idea was to encourage and teach them how to find their true voice (outside of influence), to tell their story, in their truth and have a safe place to do so. A place where it wasn’t about the moderator’s discomfort, or what could or could not be said. A place for them to find power in their own purpose. Then, how to take those words and get them noticed. How to be heard in a world that is too used to turning away when something makes it uncomfortable. I had hopes of finding publishers for their work, and if nothing else sponsoring publishing of their work myself with all proceeds going back to the participants.

Then COVID came along and sort of blew it all to hell. But, I’m in contact with Queen and will find a way, in the next coming months, to bring the workshop back to the table. Because writing things down matters. Because putting emotion, thought, and personal truth down in words on paper immortalizes the truth of you and your place in time. And the more voices we listen to, the bigger the truth we find.

Today’s exercise is about finding your voice. And that can be scary as hell. We humans can harbor some pretty dark shit in our souls. We hold on to traumas like moths in a closet that we’re afraid to let out. But they slowly eat away at everything we own. We shrug and say “It’s okay, it’s no big deal how I feel, how I felt, how I survived…”

Humans, it is a big deal. It matters and you matter. So write it down.

Write down what you’re feeling about today’s social climate. About your own feelings about racism, what you notice in yourself at the bridging of the topic, what you wish for, what you hate about yourself, what you love. What can you change? What will you change?

I will keep you updated on the progress of the class and how you can participate, contribute, or spread the world to people who may need this kind of therapeutic and power-restoring practice.

Normally I’d say “Happy Writing” but today I’ll leave you with this.

Write in Truth.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #12: It Can’t Rain All The Time

I used to consider myself an optimist.

But if you’ve been following me lately, you’ve probably seen a shift in demeanor. Let’s face it, nothing is normal in the new ‘now’ and I am no exception. You see, I’m a creature of routine. I’m an early-rising, mile-running, kettle-ball-swinging, lunch-packing, 1,000-word-before breakfast machine. I live my life by the beat of the day and the rolling pace of a full life. I’m going to school. I started an internship. I was in the process of finishing books and starting a new blog series.

Then…well. You know.

Life stole my beat. Circumstances started to peel away the fullness of my life. Tasks dropped off like over-ripe fruit, destined to waste on the ground.

And all I could do was watch. All any of us could do was watch.

And half the world shouted to get up and do something with this opportunity but I don’t think many of us felt the drive in our heart to listen. The other half shouted to self-care ourselves into a state of zen-like enlightenment, unicorn pajamas or Netflix binges.

But the paralysis settled, a blocked river swelling the banks with murky and stagnant water.

We were not given the time to grieve the loss of the life we were building. We have no assurances that it will ever come back, only the knowledge that nothing will ever be the same.

And maybe we feel guilty that we don’t want to let go, and we feel morally responsible to accept the change, and we feel angry, and we fell regret, and we feel lethargy, and we feel our pants get tighter and our morning’s wasted with a paralyzing sense of not knowing what will come from this. Or even what we should do in the present hour.

And the voices from all around shout well-intended advice about all of our spare time and howling at the moon, but to some, spare time means no job and rent coming due. Some don’t get spare time, they get understaffed and over worked in under prepared hospitals, fighting governments that horde supplies for what purpose I don’t know (except I’m sure there’s a profit in it for those who need the profits the least). And howling together isn’t as effective at showing solidarity by voting for someone who would have actually taken care of our neighbors four years ago with better health care, or one who would have listened to science and helped to prevent the worst yet to come.

But this morning, I got up early.

I got up early, and though my gym is closed and I miss the familiar faces that I never really talked to before, I got on the Peloton and listened to some size-two Brit tell me to take back my day. And I had a quiet cup of coffee with my cat resting on my shoulders and I wrote. I listened to Hozier and sang back-up to the words

‘I came in from the outside, burned out from a joyride”

And I made my own normal in a time that is not normal.

I miss my job. I miss my routine. And though everyone touts that we’re in this together, the truth is that we are all in this alone. We all may be experiencing the tsunami, but no one else is in your life-preserver.

So, here’s my advice to you;

Grieve as long as you need. Pajama all you want. Cry and scream and be a pessimist for as long as you feel it, and get the hate and frustration off of your chest. But do, eventually, get it off your chest. Because the world will have to reemerge sometime, and we’ll need to come out with it. And when we do, rather than have a false sense of hope that someone else guilted you into feeling, come out with a heart that has been made stronger by the process of loss. One that chose to come back in its own time, and in staying true to itself, can do the work needed without a fluffy layer of guilt to drive it. One that knows the work lies in the painful changes of growth that mean fighting some big fights to protect everyone in this country, not just the shareholders.

Because right now it’s dark, and that darkness isn’t going to go away when we’re all allowed to ‘go back’ to the life left outside. We don’t need false sunshine and social-media guru’s, we need our own resilience to look at the world as a realist does. Accepting there will be clouds. Choosing to fight the man-made shade that still seeks to darken our collective sky. Knowing there is light behind it.

After all, it can’t rain all the time.