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Imagine that you have a one-time-only chance to become a vampire. With one swift, painless bite, you’ll be permanently transformed into an elegant and fabulous creature of the night. As a member of the Undead, your life will be completely different. You’ll experience a range of intense new sense experiences, you’ll gain immortal strength, speed and power, and you’ll look fantastic in everything you wear. You’ll also need to drink the blood of humanely farmed animals (but not human blood), avoid sunlight, and sleep in a coffin.
Now, suppose that all of your friends, people whose interests, views and lives were similar to yours, have already decided to become vampires. And all of them tell you that they love it. They encourage you to become a vampire too, saying things like: “I’d never go back, even if I could. Life has meaning and a sense of purpose now that it never had when I was human. It’s amazing! But I can’t really explain it to you, a mere human. You’ll have to become a vampire to know what it’s like.”
In this situation, how could you possibly make an informed choice about what to do? For, after all, you cannot know what it is like to become a vampire until you become one. The experience of becoming a vampire is transformative. What I mean by this is that it is an experience that is both radically epistemically new, such that you have to have it in order to know what it will be like for you, and moreover, will change your core personal preferences.
“You’ll have to become a vampire to know what it’s like”
So you can’t rationally choose to become a vampire, but nor can you rationally choose to not become one, if you want to choose based on what you think it would be like to live your life as a vampire. This is because you can’t possibly know what it would be like before you try it. And you can’t possibly know what you’d be missing if you didn’t.
We don’t normally have to consider the choice to become Undead, but the structure of this example generalizes, and this makes trouble for a widely assumed story about how we should make momentous, life-changing choices for ourselves. The story is based on the assumption that, in modern western society, the ideal rational agent is supposed to charge of her own destiny, mapping out the subjective future she hopes to realize by rationally evaluating her options from her authentic, personal point of view. In other words, when we approach major life decisions, we are supposed to introspect on our past experiences and our current desires about what we want our futures to be like in order to guide us in determining our future selves. But if a big life choice is transformative, you can’t know what your future will be like, at least, not in the deeply relevant way that you want to know about it, until you’ve actually undergone the life experience.
Transformative experience cases are special kinds of cases where important ordinary approaches that people try to use to make better decisions, such as making better generalizations based on past experiences, or educating themselves to better evaluate and recognize their true desires or preferences, simply don’t apply. So transformative experience cases are not just cases involving our uncertainty about certain sorts of future experiences. They are special kinds of cases that focus on a distinctive kind of ‘unknowability’—certain important and distinctive values of the lived experiences in our possible futures are fundamentally first-personally unknowable. The problems with knowing what it will be like to undergo life experiences that will transform you can challenge the very coherence of the ordinary way to approach major decisions.
Moreover, the problem with these kinds of choices isn’t just with the unknowability of your future. Transformative experience cases also raise a distinctive kind of decision-theoretic problem for these decisions made for our future selves. Recall the vampire case I started with. The problem here is that, before you change, you are supposed to perform a simulation of how you’d respond to the experience in order to decide whether to change. But the trouble is, who you are changes as you become a vampire.
Think about it: before you become a vampire, you should assess the decision as a human. But you can’t imaginatively put yourself in the shoes of the vampire you will become and imaginatively assess what that future lived experience will be. And, after you have become a vampire, you’ve changed, such that your assessment of your decision now is different from the assessment you made as a human. So the question is, which assessment is the better one? Which view should determine who you become? The view you have when you are human? Or the one you have when you are a vampire.
The questions I’ve been raising here focus on the fictional case of the choice to be come a vampire. But many real-life experiences and the decisions they involve have the very same structure, such as the choice to have one’s first child. In fact, in many ways, the choice to become a parent is just like the choice to become a vampire! (You won’t have to drink any blood, but you will undergo a major transition, and life will never be the same again.)
In many ways, large and small, as we live our lives, we find ourselves confronted with a brute fact about how little we can know about our futures, just when it is most important to us that we do know. If that’s right, then for many big life choices, we only learn what we need to know after we’ve done it, and we change ourselves in the process of doing it. In the end, it may be that the most rational response to this situation is to change the way we frame these big decisions: instead of choosing based on what we think our futures will be like, we should choose based on whether we want to discover who we’ll become.
When it comes to teaching writing, we are bound by a painful, formulaic Five Step Process: Prewriting, Drafting, Revising, and Publishing. Does it work? If you teach the writing process, it is crucial for you to experience it at the very same moment you are actually teaching it. Model the behavior. But this isn't a preachy blog post. It's more of an observational type of post because I've had too much coffee and it's 3 A.M. Anyway, back to the question: Does the five step writing process work? To answer this, I must put away my Teacher Hat and put on my lovely, leopard print fedora Writer Hat. When it comes to teaching writing, we are bound by a painful, formulaic Five Step Process: P
Does the formulaic Five Step Process Work? As a writer, I'll answer this a different way: I’ve experienced a difference in the state of mind I have to assume in two types of writing: creative and commercial writing. In literary writing, whether in my poetry, children’s books, or novels, my state of mind is much like experiencing deep house music. Known for its complexities in melodic tunes and use of unrelated chromatic chords underlying most sequences, deep house music is also trance-like and hypnotic. The rhythm of writing feels a lot like a deep house song. Building up layers of rhythm which fades out quickly, then leaving the melody to stand alone for a few seconds only to build up as quickly as it faded. It’s a rush! That’s what that writing process feels like when I'm in my most creative mood.
The images, the metaphors, the rhyme, and the diction are always brought into life from the spontaneous flow of the sentences. No matter how much I plan them ahead, I realize that when it happens, it happens because of that momentar experience. Or it just doesn’t happen. This doesn’t mean I sit and wait for that moment. It just means I have very little control of it, and that there are days when I can work for hours and churn out thousands of words in one day, or work for a mere ten minutes to churn out a weak one hundred words. Many times, I cringe at what I’ve written and delete as much as I can. Voice is important to this process. I have to recognize and feel that voice before I can even begin to turn on my computer. Otherwise, nothing will
The images, metaphors and insights are always born out of the spontaneous flow of the sentences: I can never plan them ahead, or put them in later when I realize that’s where I need an insight. It either happens in the moment or it doesn’t happen at all. That is not to say that I just sit and wait for it to happen. Not! What it means is that I don’t have as much control over a good or a bad day, and that often I’ll work for hours and have to trash most of what I wrote. Also voice is crucial to the process. I have to hear that voice before I can do anything with it, or nothing worth my time will come out. And that’s also tricky, because the voice in my head may change depending on the mood I’m in, what I’ve been reading, and how close I feel to the work in any given moment.
But when I write what I would call a mainstream or commercial piece it’s different. I have to be much more analytical. There’s a lot of planning going on, trying to project the whole thing from beginning to end. It’s much less about the poetry of it, and much more about the story and the moment to moment action of it. I want to clarify: even if I’m writing commercial (whatever that means) I work very hard at making the characters emotionally complex and the narrative intellectually stimulating, but it’s the way that it’s accomplished that’s different. It’s harder in a way, but also easier, because no matter how hard my writing day goes, usually by the end of the day there’s plenty of my work that will be usable at some point. Not so for literary, where it seems more like a good day/bad day either/or proposition with not a whole lot I can do about it.
Ultimately, though, with slight variances, I think the process is what it is: you work hard at it, over and over, and then at some point, if you’re lucky, something will come through. There is a part of it that’s numinous and mysterious, but that is not something I can explain. Everyone who works creatively would know what I’m talking about, I think, because it just comes. If you work at it long enough, it comes.
For today’s prompt, write an alone poem. Some people covet “alone time.” Others prefer not to be left alone. Many like a certain balance. But this doesn’t have to just be about people. Maybe a forest wishes to be left alone, or there is a product left alone on a store shelf (how the children’s story “Corduroy” begins).
2015 Poet’s Market
Get your poetry published!
Learn how to get your poetry published with the premiere book on publishing your poetry: the 2015 Poet’s Market, edited by Robert Lee Brewer.
This essential resource includes hundreds of listings for book publishers, magazines, journals, contests, grants, and so much more. Plus, there are articles on the craft of poetry, business of poetry, and promotion of poetry. Beyond that, there’s an hour-long webinar, a subscription to the poetry slice of WritersMarket.com, original poems, poet interviews, resources galore, and more-more-more!!!
as long as I have my internet connection
& smart phone I have this feeling that I can’t
possibly be alone. I consider going into hiding
until I remember my faith & the fact that even
before the internet I was never alone & ditching
all my gadgets & connections won’t change that.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.
He has moments when he feels alone–like anyone–but then he usually comes to his senses. He’s thankful for the community of poets here that help lift each other up throughout the month and year.
Toronto Maple Leaf fans (that's Toronto Canadia, our non-US neighbors to the north) finish singing the AMERICAN national anthem when the mic kicks out. So, how many of us could even START the Canadian national anthem? (Let alone finish, on time, and largely on key?) Way to go Leafs fans!
Award-winning Australian author, Archimede Fusillo delves deep into what it is to be a man in his latest coming-of-age novel for young adults, Dead Dog In The Still Of The Night. The story follows the journey of Primo as he attempts to navigate his way though his final year of school with an emotionally brittle […]
I love coming across literary sculptures, whether they are the slew of Paddington Bears which recently appeared in London, a dapper James Joyce leaning on his cane on Earl Street in Dublin or Don Quijote and Sancho Panza trotting through the Plaza España in Madrid.
This curious monument of a man sitting amid the tentacles of a giant octopus is also a literary monument. It is in Vigo, in Galicia in North-Western Spain - but what is it?
It is a homage to the French novelist Jules Verne, often described as the inventor of the genre of science fiction, and to the Galician references in his much-loved adventure Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. First of all, the sculpture reminds us of the terrifying chapter in which Captain Nemo and the crew of the submarine Nautilus are attacked by giant squid, as in the English translation, or more correctly by giant octopus (les poulpes, in French). Galicia, renowned for spectacular seafood, is particularly in thrall to the octopus and Pulpo a feira, octopus in the style of the fair, is its signature dish - boiled in huge cauldrons by the pulpeiras, specialist octopus cooks, the tentacles snipped up with massive scissors and sprinkled with olive oil and pimentón.
But there is another chapter of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea which takes place right in the Ría de Vigo, the Bay of Vigo. This was the real life location of a major naval disaster in 1702 when English ships burnt and scuttled the French and Spanish fleets which were returning from the Caribbean laden with treasure from the New World. In the novel, Captain Nemo comes to Vigo to loot the ships´treasure.
Around the Nautilus for a half-mile radius, the waters seemed saturated with electric light. The sandy bottom was clear and bright. Dressed in diving suits, crewmen were busy clearing away half-rotted barrels and disemboweled trunks in the midst of the dingy hulks of ships. Out of these trunks and kegs spilled ingots of gold and silver, cascades of jewels, pieces of eight. The sand was heaped with them. Then, laden with these valuable spoils, the men returned to the Nautilus, dropped off their burdens inside, and went to resume this inexhaustible fishing for silver and gold.
I understood. This was the setting of that battle on October 22, 1702. Here, in this very place, those galleons carrying treasure to the Spanish government had gone to the bottom. Here, whenever he needed, Captain Nemo came to withdraw these millions to ballast his Nautilus. It was for him, for him alone, that America had yielded up its precious metals. He was the direct, sole heir to these treasures wrested from the Incas and those peoples conquered by Hernando Cortez!
Don´t miss the monument to M. Verne if you are visiting this less well known corner of Spain, a place redolent with stories of shipwrecks, smugglers, fishermen´s tales and foot-weary pilgrims, the furious music of bagpipes and an all-pervading smell of octopus and sizzling sardines. And of course, I recommend that you read the book too!
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Margaret Jull Costa's new translation of Benito Pérez Galdós' classic, Tristana -- yes, the basis for the 1970 Luis Buñuel film with Catherine Deneuve in the title-role -- coming out from New York Review Books.
It's apparently Pérez Galdós-revival time -- a (new ?) translation in the Everyman's Library (see the ... cover) of his masterpiece, Fortunata and Jacinta, is one of the big upcoming publications of 2015 -- but much as I'm glad to see these works reworked and him getting attention, it would be neat if some of the still untranslated fiction was (also) made available, given how many huge piles of it still haven't been.
(Not that anyone could easily get their hands on the old translation of Tristana, either .....)
I can see these as the easier sell, but Pérez Galdós is one of the Spanish greats, and it's about time more of his work was available in English (for the first, not -- as in these cases -- the second or third time).
Well, maybe these, if nicely successful, will help open the floodgates.
I always look forward to new picture book releases from Kentucky novelist and poet, George Ella Lyon. I reviewed her newest picture book, What Forest Knows (Atheneum, November 2014), illustrated by August Hall, for BookPage. That link is here, if you’d like to read more about it. And today I’m sharing some spreads from it.
While we’re on the subject of Lyon, I’m also currently reading this wonderful book, which she wrote with J. Patrick Lewis and which was released by WordSong last month:
There’s more about the book here, including several starred reviews, and here’s an interview with Lyon at Sylvia Vardell’s site.
Here are two more spreads from What Forest Knows:
“Then forest knows snow. While Earth travels round the sun Forest knows each season, each creature, needs the others.” (Click to enlarge spread)
“Sniff. Forest knows everything belongs.” (Click to enlarge spread)
Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.
* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *
1) Naomi Shihab Nye. One of my favorite writers, and this interview from this week is wonderful. Also, I’m excited to start her new book, which I just got.
Hey, everyone – this is Becca, with a new post we are doing here on Adventures in YA Publishing, called What's on Reader's Minds?Once a month, I send an email out to bloggers, asking them to tell me what's been on their mind lately. Sometimes they even post a segment from a discussion they've had on their blog recently, and then I post their answers right here! Want to be a part of our book blogger panel? Leave your blog name and contact details in the comments below! We’d love to have you!
"I've been thinking a lot about the publishing industry the past few months. It's so much bigger and more complicated than I'd known as a non-blogging reader! I've also been thinking about the people I've met within the industry and how wonderful they are. So I started a new series called What I Think Of When I Think Of... to help untangle the knot that is publishing companies and their imprints and also to call out some of the fantastic people I've met through my contacts as a blogger."
"What is the worst thing that could happen while you read? Your M.C. make you want to punch walls? You have a weird back and forth narration going on? Or perhaps M.C. has perished and your now trailing their ghost? None of these things are as bad as the dreaded Insta- love triangle!! *duh duh dummmmm*. This is the absolute most common of the hated trend in Y.A. Or in any literature for that matter....but why? What do we have against these 2 cliches? They drive the story well and make things a hell of a lot more interesting. Are we so cynical as readers that we hate to see people In love? What's with all the hate...when it comes down to love?"
Meg on (Shipping) tropes I'm over/can't get enough of:
"Spoiler alert: I am framing this in terms of both YA-focused books and TV (including the 100
because apparently that's all I can talk about now).
I am sick to death of these "nice guy" love interests that put the MC on a pedestal and fall in love with the idealized version of her. (I'm looking at you Finn/Stefan/Angel.) These guys all have created fictionalized ideas of what she is in their heads that they never totally let go of. The problem is, these creations aren't real people. Real people are flawed and surprising. Ideals are set in stone. It's an insidious trope because all of these guys are the good guys and are, arguably, encouraging the MC to become the best version of themselves. It's easy to see why people root for them. Unfortunately that best version isn't based on reality and when the MC fails to live up, the nice guys can't accept that. They often end up holding the reality of the MC against them.
And I'm not saying all nice guys are bad. Levi from Fangirl is probably one of the nicest fictional love interests ever written and he is absolutely fantastic. The difference is he sees Cath. He doesn't come into the relationship with a fortified idea of who she is. He actually gets to know her in real time. Ditto Cricket with Lola in Lola and the Boy Next Door. He grew up with her, he's seen her at her best and her worst. He knows her for who she is from interacting with her and getting to know her. Not following her around like a puppy (at best, a stalker at worst) and observing.
As Spike said to Buffy:
I've seen the best and the worst of you, and I understand, with perfect clarity, exactly what you are.
That is what I ship and why I end up shipping the Bellamys, the Damons and the Spikes. These guys see the MC. They actually hate the pedestal version of the MC. Then when they see who she really is beneath the hype and end up over throwing their preconceived notion, they connect to the real person they've come to know. (Well done) hate to love is such an infinitely more interesting trope to me because there are so many more layers to it. I'd also like to point out that all of these guys encourage the best in their love interest but they do so in a way that recognizes what the love interest's best self actually is, not what they think it should be. They don't tell them who to be, they tell them they know they can be the best of who they are. That is a ship trope I will never get over.
"I've recently discovered a new blog (Notebook Sisters) and Cait wrote a post about how we should stop Apologizing on our blogs. I've actually been in the process of writing the same post. I swear the girl has been shuffling around in my brain! This is something that's been bugging me for a long time, and every time I see a new post where someone is telling the world sorry for their blogging choices, it makes me want to shake someone. NOOOOO!!!! Don't do it! You can read more on my blog here."
One of the more interesting recent developments in film studies is the recognition that what has seemed to be separate histories — documentary filmmaking and avant-garde filmmaking — are, once again, converging. I say “once again” because the interplay between documentary and avant-garde film has long been more significant than seems generally understood.
An intersection of an avant-garde artistic practice and a documentary impulse helped to instigate the dawn of cinema itself. When Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey were discovering and exploring the possibilities of photographic motion study, they were the photographic avant-garde of that moment. And their subject was the documentation of the motion of animals, birds, and human beings, presumably so that we could know, more fully, the truth about this motion. And at the moment when W. K. L. Dickson perfected the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope and the Lumière Brothers perfected the Cinématographe and the projected motion picture, they in turn became the photographic avant-garde; and their primary fascination, too, was the documentation of motion, specifically human activity, first, in the world around them and soon, in the case of the Lumières, across the globe.
Flaherty’s Nanook (1922) was both a breakthrough documentary and an avant-garde experiment in collaborative filmmaking; and the City Symphonies that emerged in the 1920s (Berlin: Symphony of a Big City, 1926, e.g., and The Man with a Movie Camera, 1929) were documentary interpretations of reality and avant-garde experiments.
During the 1940s, the most important development for independent cinema in the United States was the emergence of a full-fledged film society movement. The leading contributor was Cinema 16, founded by Amos and Marcia Vogel in New York City in 1947. At its height, Cinema 16 had 7,000 members, and filled a 1,500-seat auditorium twice a night for monthly screenings. Cinema 16’s programming was an inventive mixture of documentary and avant-garde film.
The development of light-weight cameras and tape recorders, more flexible microphones, and faster film stocks during the late 1950s created additional options that in one sense, drove documentary filmmaking and avant-garde filmmaking apart, but in another sense, created a different kind of intersection between them. Sync-sound shooting expanded the options available to filmmakers committed to documentary, instigating forms of cinematic entertainment that functioned as critiques of Hollywood filmmaking and early television. Drew Associates, D. A. Pennebaker, Frederick Wiseman, and the Maysles Brothers fashioned engaging melodrama out of real life in Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963), Don’t Look Back (1967), Hospital (1968), and Salesman (1968).
During the same decade, avant-garde filmmakers were producing very different forms of documentary, often by abjuring sound altogether. Stan Brakhage was committed to the idea of cinema as a visual art, and created remarkable—silent—confrontations of visual taboo such as Window Water Baby Moving (1959) and The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (1972)—now recognized as canonical documentaries. These films could hardly have been more different from the cinema verite films, but we can now see that Brakhage shared the mission of the cinema verite documentarians: the cinematic confrontation of convention-bound commercial media.
In 1955, Francis Flaherty, Robert Flaherty’s widow, established a symposium to honor her husband’s filmmaking oeuvre and to promote his commitment to filmmaking “without preconceptions.” In recent decades “the Flaherty,” as the symposium has come to be called, has attracted dozens of filmmakers, programmers, teachers, students, and other cine-aficionados for week-long immersions in programs of screenings and discussions. Modern Flaherty seminars have often been driven by an implicit debate about what the correct balance between documentary and avant-garde film should be at the seminar.
Since the 1940s, avant-garde filmmakers have found ways of exploring the personal, first by psycho-dramatizing their inner disturbances (Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks are landmark instances), and later by filming the particulars of their personal lives. Brakhage documented dimensions of his personal life in many films, as did Carolee Schneemann, in Fuses (1967), and Jonas Mekas, in Walden (1969) and Lost Lost Lost (1976). And during the 1980s, avant-garde filmmakers Su Friedrich (in The Ties that Bind, 1984; and Sink or Swim, 1990) and Alan Berliner (in Intimate Stranger, 1991; and Nobody’s Business, 1996), used experimental techniques learned from other avant-garde filmmakers to directly engage their family histories.
What has come to be called “personal documentary” (basically, the use of sync-sound to explore personal issues) was instigated in the early 1970s by Ed Pincus’s Diaries (filmed from 1971-1976; completed in 1981), Miriam Weinstein’s Living with Peter (1973), Amalie Rothschild’s Nana, Mom and Me (1974), Alfred Guzzetti’s Family Portrait Sittings (1975). By the 1980s, several of Pincus’s students at MIT were contributing to this approach, among them Ross McElwee, whose films, including Sherman’s March (1986), Time Indefinite (1994), and Photographic Memory (2011) are an on-going personal saga.
Globalization and the standardization of so many dimensions of modern life, along with threats to the environment, have created a desire on the part of many filmmakers to pay a deeper attention to the particulars of Place. Since the early 1970s, contemplations of Place have been produced by avant-garde filmmakers Larry Gottheim (Fog Line, 1970; Horizons, 1973), Nathaniel Dorsky (Hours for Jerome, 1982), James Benning (13 Lakes, 2004), Peter Hutton (Landscape (for Manon), 1987; At Sea, 2007), Sharon Lockhart (Double Tide, 2009) and many others. A fascination with Place, or more precisely, people-in-place, also characterizes the documentaries coming out of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL), including Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Sweetgrass (2009), Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan (2013), and Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana (2014). Indeed, the films of Hutton, Benning, and Lockhart, in particular, have been shown regularly at the SEL.
The interviewees in Avant-Doc reveal a wide range of ways in which their own work and the work of colleagues function creatively within the liminal zone between documentary and avant-garde and the ways in which the intersections between these histories have played into their work.
Headline image credit: Camera. Public domain via Pixabay.
Let me say one thing straight out: My picture book, GHOST IN THE HOUSE, is very close to my heart. Of my published picture books, it’s the one that’s gotten the most visibility so far, including a fabulous review in the New York Times, several “Best of the Year” roundups, and a pickup by the Scholastic Clubs and Fairs. Needless to say, these small joys absolutely thrilled me.
But also? I have to be honest: They surprised me a little. Those of you who have heard me speak about GHOST IN THE HOUSE will have heard how it came about: Following the rejection of another Halloween manuscript, an editor asked if I “had any other spooky rhyming picture books.” At that moment, I did not. Several weeks, much brainstorming, and a torrent of writing later, I did.
Don’t get me wrong. I worked hard on GHOST IN THE HOUSE. But compared to many of my picture book texts, over which I toiled ad infinitum, this text came relatively easy. The end result also felt, well, simple. It was a sweet, zippy rhyming story. Short and to the point. Fun characters, neat twist. But when lined up against my other laboriously crafted stories—and, in particular, the one it had originally supplanted—it felt uncomfortably ordinary.
Still, someone wanted to publish my picture book! Joy!
In the months following publication, I gained more respect for my modest little manuscript. But it took one final thing to bring me fully around. And that was this: One day I received an email from my editor at Candlewick, asking what I would think about writing a companion book. It might, she suggested, be called ELF IN THE HOUSE.
Well! Ask no further—I was on it. GHOST was just a simple, puny little story, right? I could crank out another one of those in a flash. No worries!
Instead? I hit the blank page. Hard.
Frustrated at my false starts, I sat down and listed the elements that made up GHOST IN THE HOUSE, so I could attempt to replicate them (in a perfectly organic, all-new-and-fresh way, with a Christmas spin) in the sequel. Here’s what I needed:
a reason for the creatures to accumulate
tension—what’s keeping the reader turning the pages?
perfect fit to the rhyming scheme
satisfying, feel-good ending
Let’s just say (if that list wasn’t clear enough), that this exercise made me look at GHOST in a whole new light. Short? Yes. Simple-easy-basic-ordinary? Not so much.
Astute readers will likely have seen this coming, but ELF IN THE HOUSE did not come in a flash. More than once I doubted if I could pull it off at all. It took writing, and rewriting, and re-rewriting. Forget inspiration: This was deliberate, backbreaking effort: Lists and brainstorming and trial-and-error and throw-it-all-out-and-start-over. Time after time after time. I’d almost have it… but not quite. This angle might work… only not.
It did not come easy. Not even close.
But finally, in the end, it did come. And great was my delight when my editor received my final manuscript, and made a publication offer. (Woohoo!)
Once ELF IN THE HOUSE is published, I imagine most readers won’t see much difference in tone between the two stories. From the outside, it’s likely that they’ll both appear effortless and breezy. But what this experience crystalized for me was that stories can be born in all sorts of ways. Some arrive on the magical wings of inspiration, landing lightly on your shoulder and seeping onto the screen with the greatest of ease. Others bare their bloody fangs and force you to wrestle them into submission.
One method, one origin, one final story is not necessarily greater than any other. We are authors: we take what we can get, and we make it our own. It’s the making—however long or short, easy or gut-hard—that brings the magic.
Ammi-Joan Paquette is an author and a literary agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency. She’s a mother, friend, reader, traveler, food-lover, chocolate connoisseur. She is not especially tidy, a fan of mushy vegetables, or good at coming up with spur-of-the-moment self-portraits.
I’ve spent a lot more time than usual poring over and considering children’s books of late. That’s in part because friends are starting to have babies and I am a giver of books as presents for any and all occasions that require (even if that makes me the un-fun ‘auntie’ in these early years). I’ve […]
Welcome to the 2015 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Best First Novel Competition!
Please read all of the rules and guidelines before submitting your entry. You can find the complete rules and guidelines at us.macmillan.com/minotaurbooks/writing-competitions.
To enter, you must complete this form and upload an electronic file of your Manuscript.
Only electronic submissions, uploaded through this entry form, will be considered; do not mail or e-mail
manuscript submissions to Minotaur Books.
Before uploading, please ensure that your Manuscript is formatted as follows:
1) The Manuscript must be either a Microsoft Word document or a PDF
2) Text must be double spaced
3) Pages must be numbered consecutively from beginning to end
4) The Manuscript must be saved as “Manuscript Title_Entrant Name”
Because of the great volume of submissions we receive and the fact that judges are volunteers with full-time responsibilities elsewhere, it is important that you submit your Manuscript as early as possible. Submissions will get a more careful reading if the judge does not have to contend with a flood of last-minute entries.
To be considered for the 2015 competition, all submissions must be received by 11:59pm on December 15,
Lynn Davidman, author of Becoming Un-Orthodox: Stories of Ex-Hasidic Jews, not only interviewed former Orthodox Jews for her book; she was a former Modern Orthodox herself. Davidman answered some questions for us about her experience leaving Orthodox Judaism and how it informed her research.
Aside from being the topic of your book, you also became un-Orthodox, and in fact were disowned from your family. How did your own experience becoming un-Orthodox inform your writing?
My own experiences of leaving Orthodoxy informed this book every step along the way. I had been reading and learning about self-reflexivity before I began this project, and I tried to be self-reflexive in every stage of the research, beginning with conceiving this study (which came out of my gut, reflecting my desire to learn about people’s similar—although also different—experiences in leaving). I analyzed my stance in relation to this book and wrote about it within the book. I felt strongly that readers needed to know “where I was coming from” to help them better assess the quality of my analysis. I also described some of my experiences throughout the book, I think a bit in each chapter; because I think it is a much more honest approach and because I think readers are interested in learning about the author and her life.
How did your own experience leaving Orthodox Judaism compare to those you write about?
My own experiences leaving Orthodox Judaism were in many ways easier (despite being disowned). Modern Orthodox Jews engage with the secular world; their philosophy is following Torah and being a person in the world. So, as a Modern Orthodox, I grew up knowing about the secular world of movies, television, plays, etc. I went to a university, which helped me leave, and when I left I knew I could manage well in the secular world.
In contrast, the Hasidic defectors did not know much about the secular world. They grew up speaking Yiddish, and newspapers, television, and other forms of secular media were banned from their homes. They grew up in a community in which they were encapsulated physically, socially, and ideologically. They were taught that non-Jews are threatening and that many of them were like animals. So they were terrified of leaving: they did not have the education needed to find jobs to support themselves in the secular world; they had no idea how to find an apartment, or how to finance it; the men spoke Yiddish and poor English. So they had a lot more cultural learning to do in order to leave than I had. Also they had to “disinscribe” the Haredi markers from their bodies—learn to dress differently (putting on pants was a big deal for the women) and comport themselves in a more open way.
Did any interviews surprise you? If so, what was it that surprised you?
One aspect of my interviews that surprised me is that none of the people I spoke to were fully cut off from their families as I had been. I expected I would find other defectors (than me) had been cut off from their families. Some remained quite distant or not in contact with their families for a few years, but usually became reconnected after the passage of time… or when a grandchild was born. Some, though, have very poor and painful relationships with their families, speaking of emotional distance and pain.
I was also surprised by the sheer amount of abuse—physical, sexual, and emotional—I heard in the stories. One woman knew from childhood that her mother simply did not like her and she still does not get along with her; she told me others (such as a doctor or a relative) could clearly tell her mother disliked her intensely. The stories of sexual abuse were so sad to talk about and many exclaimed about the irony of the abusers being part of a very religious community where they are supposed to be pious.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
For one, I want them to take away an understanding of the body as central to all social interaction and institutions. I would like them to see how embodiment is not one aspect of a person but the fundamental ground of everyone’s being. I have a fantasy they will come away understanding we need to reverse Descartes: I think therefore I am and instead have it as “I am therefore I think.”
I hope readers will understand both the uniqueness of Haredi life, and the similarities between defectors and others who change their identities through the medium of the body such as LGBTQ people.
I want to complicate the common sense assumption that all Orthodox Jews are alike.
A deeper understanding of how the perspective of the author shapes written work: both books and articles. I would like them to understand there is no “objectivity” in social science research and therefore the more the author reveals about her perspective, the better they are able to judge the quality of the work.
Sometimes, at the end of the day when it's already dark, I get frustrated that I still didn't get my daily drawing done. So then I just sit down, put something in front of me, place a lamp beside/above it and draw. I made this drawing of a pair of shoes, while sitting on the couch, sipping a cup of herbal tea and watching a movie on tv with one eye. It was wonderful to be absorbed in the hatching. Done with a fountain pen (Lamy safary) filled with carbon ink:
More Hatching! I took out a good old black Bic ballpoint pen, and started drawing the condiments on the table of a Sechuan restaurant in the centre of Amsterdam, while waiting for my dinner companion, who called to say that he was running a little later. That gave me 15 minutes of drawing time. So I got the basics in, took a picture with my phone for reference, and later that night when I got back home, I sat up in bed and did the rest of the hatching. It was late, I was tired, and it was so relaxing, at some point I felt myself actually dozing off while hatching!! The next day, I looked at it again and saw it needed a little bit of background or colour so I added the yellow watercolour:
There is ALWAYS something interesting to draw. And if you really want to - you can find and make time for it. Even a quick 5-minute scribble can be very rewarding.
If you need a little help, making time to do what you love, and to fill your art journal pages every day, you can still join my 4-week online workshop 'Awesome Art Journaling' for only $69. I will guide you through those weeks and give you a kickstart on a daily drawing habit. Join me by clicking here.
In June, when Simon & Schuster made their ebooks available only to libraries who agreed to add a “Buy It Now” option to their catalog, I was torn between two important promises libraries make to kids and families: we will do everything we can to get you the books you want, and everything we offer is free.
My library holds the line on keeping things free in many ways, even to the point of refusing to offer summer reading coupons that require an additional purchase to get that free ice cream cone. Parents value libraries as places where they know they can escape the relentless pressure to buy stuff, and our commitment to keep it so extends online.
But what happens when the trade-off is keeping popular titles out of our ebook collection? I was stumped. I spent the past few months not taking a stand, simply delaying. Looking askance at every detail of the program and trying to find a good way out of two bad choices.
So I’m thrilled now that the requirement is gone and I can welcome Simon & Schuster to our ebook offerings! Welcome Bunnicula, Olivia, Lucky, Caddie, Derek and Rush! Thanks to libraries who tried “Buy It Now” and those who didn’t and everyone who keeps lines of communication open and advocates for books and readers. Thanks Simon & Schuster for listening and being flexible and working with us to find the way.
This month’s blog post by Rachel Wood, ALSC Digital Content Task Force & Materials Division Chief at Arlington (VA) Public Library.
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The official Nobel Prize site continues to impress with the wealth of information available on it.
Okay, I don't really need to know the contents of each and every of the Menus at the Nobel Banquet 1901-2013 -- but I do like stuff like that catalogue of Alfred Nobel's Private Library
Given the criticism the literature prize gets -- especially for its early choices -- it's interesting to see what Nobel had in his own library -- and revealing that, for example, he had a tidy Tolstoy collection (much of it in Russian, no less) but not a volume by the first Nobel laureate, Sully Prudhomme (a prize Tolstoy could -- and arguably should -- have won).
First off, the Nobel winners -- a mix of the predictable (Nordic) ones and a few of the early stand-outs: Nobel's collection included works by: Henrik Pontoppidan (1917), Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam (1916), Paul Heyse (1910), Selma Lagerlöf (1909), Rudyard Kipling (1907), and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1903).
(It makes me wonder yet again about the now-forgotten Verner von Heidenstam, whose citation reads: "in recognition of his significance as the leading representative of a new era in our literature" -- what era was that ?
But Nobel had a bunch of his work, and he was translated into English back in the day.)
The only surprising missing laureate-name is Knut Hamsun, whose work was already fairly well-known before Nobel's death.
An interesting mix of other titles, too: no Dickens, for example, but Edward Bulwer-Lytton's notorious (for its: "It was a dark and stormy night ..." opening) Paul Clifford, and overall really quite a decent literary collection (in an impressive selection of languages).
(Also good to see: Karl Gutzkow's Die Ritter vom Geiste -- one of those big German books Arno Schmidt introduced me (and so many others) to (as noted also, of course, in my Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy).)
Throughout my career, there have been many times when advice, support, and criticism were critical for my own professional development. Sometimes that assistance came from people who were formally tasked with providing advice; a good example is a Ph.D. advisor (in my case, John Aldrich of Duke University, who has been a fantastic advisor and mentor to a long list of very successful students). Sometimes that advice was less formal, coming from senior colleagues, other academics at conferences, and in many cases from peers. The lesson is professional advice and support — or to put it into a single term, mentoring — comes from many different sources and occurs in many different ways.
However, there is growing concern in political science that more mentoring is necessary, that there are scholars who are not getting the professional support and advice that they need to help them with career decisions, teaching, and the publication of their research. There are many good programs that have developed in recent years to help provide more mentoring in political methodology, for example the excellent “Visions in Methodology” program. And the Society for Political Methodology recently approved the foundation of a new professional award, to recognize excellent mentors. But more needs to be done to improve mentoring and mentoring opportunities in academia.
After the conference I sent Leslie, Tiffany, and Ashley some questions about mentoring by email. Their responses are informative and helpful, and should be read by anyone who is interested in mentoring.
R. Michael Alvarez: How have you benefited from being involved in mentoring relationships?
Tiffany D. Barnes: I have benefited in a number of ways from being involved in a mentoring relationship. Mentors have provided me with feedback on research at multiple different stages of the research process. They have provided me with professional advice about a number of things including applying for fellowships and grants, marketing my book manuscript to university presses, and navigating the negotiation process at my university. My mentoring relationships have broadened my network of scholars with similar research interests and/or professional goals, which in turn have resulted in a number of different opportunities (e.g. coauthors, and invitations to participate in conference panels/round tables, mini-conferences, and edited volumes/special journal issues). Equally important, my mentoring relationships have resulted in a number of valuable friendships that make working in the profession more enjoyable.
Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: As a mentee, I really benefited from getting guidance, feedback, and research assistance from many different formal and informal mentors over the years. As a mentor, I get to give that back which is a great opportunity.
Brett Ashley Leeds: I believe fundamentally that no one figures everything out on his or her own. I know for sure that I did not, and I have had (and continue to have) a variety of mentors throughout my career. As a mentee, what I really value is knowing that I have people who respect me enough to tell me when I am wrong and to help me improve. As a mentor, I not only learn a lot from thinking intently about my mentees’ work and articulating my opinions for them, but I also get great personal satisfaction from the relationships that evolve and from helping others to succeed. It feels good to pay forward what has been done for me.
R. Michael Alvarez: Why has the issue of mentoring become an important topic of conversation in academia, and in particular, in political science?
Tiffany D. Barnes: Although it is well established that mentoring is an important aspect of professional development, it has recently become an important topic of conversation because academics have become aware that not all scholars have the same opportunities to develop mentorship relationships nor do they derive the same benefits from mentor relationships. In particular, women and minorities may face more challenges when it comes to identifying mentors in the field and they may not reap the same benefits (e.g. opportunities to collaborate, sponsorship) from mentorship relationships as men do. In the long run, this “mentor gap” may have negative repercussions for the retention and career advancement of some otherwise talented scholars.
If a scholar feels they would benefit by mentoring, how can they seek out a mentor? What should they look for in an appropriate mentor?
Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: Mentoring relationships can be both informal and formal. Informal relationships often emerge when scholars ask for advice and support from colleagues in their department, subfields, or various disciplinary organizations. Formal relationships sometimes emerge organically or at the initiative of a mentee or mentor, but they also can be entered into through a number of mentoring programs in the discipline. For women, the Visions in Methodology program offers a mentoring program through which mentees can ask to be paired with a mentor. They usually ask the mentee to suggest someone they would like to be paired with and then check with the suggested mentor about interest and availability. The Midwest Women’s Caucus has a mentoring program for women in any subfield. They ask individuals interested in mentoring and being mentored to volunteer to participate and then pair them by interest. Other organizations and groups probably offer similar programs.
In seeking a mentor, either formally or informally, you should think about exactly what you want out of the relationship. Are you looking for someone to provide you with general guidance about the profession or are you seeking someone who is willing to read your work from time to time and talk through research challenges when you come across them? Are you in your first year out, feeling lost, and needing help getting back on track or are you close to tenure and looking for guidance on how to navigate the process? Do you want a mentor whose style is to give “pep talks” or “straight talk?” Knowing what you want out of the relationship will help you identify the right person for the job.
Tiffany D. Barnes: Scholars who want to find a mentor can look for a mentor by signing up for a formal mentor match or by identifying someone in the profession who shares similar research interests or professional goals.
A formal mentor match is good option for identifying someone who is interested in serving in a capacity as a mentor. Typically the mentor program will ask you questions about what you are looking for in a mentor relationship, your research interests, your rank, and your professional interests. The program will try to match you with a mentor based on this information. If you are paired with someone through a program, you can be confident that your mentor wants to help you. These relationships can be very valuable, but, as with all mentor-mentee relationships, it requires initiative on the part of the mentee. It is the mentee’s responsibility to drive the mentor-mentee relationship. Mentees should identify why they want a mentor and reach out to the mentor and ask for help in areas where they can benefit the most. One criticism of formal matching programs is that they may not always result in the best “fit.” Even if you do not think the match is the best fit, there are still a number of benefits you can derive from the relationship. Your research interests do not have to perfectly overlap for you to benefit from the relationship. Indeed, most successful scholars have a wealth of information, advice, and perspective to offer junior colleagues. It is up to the mentee to identify areas where your needs or interests intersect with the mentor’s strengths, experiences, and interests — and to capitalize on these opportunities.
A second option is to develop a more informal mentor relationship. To do this, mentees should identify someone in the field who has similar research interests or professional goals. Mentees should identify different opportunities to get to know scholars with similar interests and try to develop these relationships from there. For example, you may have the opportunity to establish relationships with scholars when you present research on the same panel, when someone shows interest in your work by offering comments or questions about your research (or vice versa), or even when you have the opportunity to bring a guest speaker to your university. By following up with people after the initial meeting and/or taking them up on their offer to read and comment on your research, you can begin to establish relationships with them. These relationships may take time to develop and they may be difficult establish if you are new to the profession or do not know many scholars in your field. Finally, when attempting to establish more informal mentor relationships, it is important to be self-aware. Some people will show interest in you and be eager to get to know and help you, others will not, and no one is obligated to do so. Respect people’s rights to not be interested in you and try not to take it personal.
Brett Ashley Leeds: My view is that it is less important to find one person that can be identified as “a mentor” and instead to focus on finding mentoring, even if it comes from a variety of people. I encourage scholars to identify people who have skills, abilities, and/or information that they think would be useful to them– basically people they would like to emulate in particular areas of their work. Approach these folks politely in person or by email (for instance, asking to have coffee at a conference) and ask questions. Some will not be responsive, but many will be responsive and helpful. Follow up with those who are helpful. In some cases a relationship will develop.
R. Michael Alvarez: What are the most important “dos” and “don’ts” for a scholar who is in a mentoring relationship?
Brett Ashley Leeds: Since below I cover some tips for mentors, here are some tips for mentees: (1) Figure out what it is you want to know/learn. Think of both specific and general questions so you are prepared to ask when the opportunity arises. (2) Recognize the time and costs of what you ask and make things as easy as possible for your mentor by reminding him/her of past interactions and explaining the specific feedback you are looking for. (3) Understand that ultimately you are responsible for your own decisions. Ask your mentor to explain why he/she believes a particular action/approach is best, and for major decisions, seek advice from multiple people. (4) Let your mentors know about the outcomes. For example, if a mentor helps you with a paper, send a note when the paper is accepted for publication.
Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: For mentees, be assertive and discuss with your mentor when your relationship begins just what you each want from the relationship and are willing to commit to it. If you need something from your mentor, don’t wait for him/her to reach out to you. Email, call, or arrange to meet with your mentor at a conference. Since the mentee is the one who needs the mentoring relationship the most, the mentee needs to take the initiative to ask for help or guidance from the mentor.
Tiffany D. Barnes: Establish clear expectations and boundaries. Tell your mentor what you are hoping to get out of a mentoring relationship, and don’t be afraid to ask your mentor for help in areas where you could benefit the most. That said, it is important to acknowledge that your mentor may not always be willing or able to help you in the ways you want. Respect these boundaries and do not take them personal.
When establishing boundaries, it is important to respect your mentor’s time and to be cognizant and courteous with the time you ask of your mentor. For example, if your mentor agrees to meet with you for half an hour, pay attention to the time and wrap up your meeting in a timely manner. Your mentor will likely appreciate not having to cut you short, and, if they know you respect their time, it may make them more likely to make time for you in the future.
Don’t expect any single mentor to fulfill all of your mentoring needs. Different people, depending on their experience and expertise, have different things to offer. Try to identify the areas where your mentor is most likely to be of help to you and build on these strengths. Along these same lines, although your mentor likely gives great advice, you cannot expect them to have the answer to all of your questions. It is important to weight their point of view carefully and to seek out a number of different perspectives.
Seek to develop a number of mentoring relationships. It can be useful to have mentors within your own department, in your university (but outside your department), and in the discipline more broadly. Moreover, it is often just as useful to develop relationships with senior mentors, as it is to develop relationships with peer mentors.
R. Michael Alvarez: What are the responsibilities of a mentor?
Brett Ashley Leeds (1) Create an environment in which you can provide effective constructive criticism. This tends to require first establishing an environment of mutual respect. (2) Know what you know and what you don’t, and know that your experience is not universal. (3) Always explain why you are giving the advice you are giving and be willing to consider alternatives. (4) Recognize that in the end, your mentee should make his/her own decisions and may not always take all of your advice. (5) Recognize how important your opinion may be to your mentee; wield this power responsibly.
Tiffany D. Barnes: A mentor should establish clear boundaries with their mentee. Be honest and upfront the role you are and are not willing to play as a mentor. Be clear about your time constraints and the amount of time you are willing to commit to your mentee.
Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: If it is a formal mentoring relationship, make sure you and your mentee establish ground rules at the beginning about what each of you wants from the relationship and are willing to give to it. Don’t commit to something you aren’t willing to follow through with and be sure to follow through with whatever you commit to do for your mentee. If you can only commit to an hour of time twice a semester, that is fine, but make sure your mentee knows that and agrees that it is sufficient for him/her. If you are willing to provide general guidance but don’t want to read/comment on your mentee’s work, that is fine. But, again, make sure your mentee knows that from the beginning. Keep in mind that your mentee may place very high value on your advice and guidance so give it carefully.
R. Michael Alvarez: What are the personal and professional benefits of being a mentor?
Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: Too numerous to list in a short response!
Brett Ashley Leeds: It has often been said that one only really knows something when she can teach it to others. Mentoring gives me an opportunity to clarify and articulate my views on professional issues and research in a way that I otherwise might not. I frequently learn in the act of mentoring. The main benefits, however, are personal, and come from the satisfaction of helping others to achieve their goals and the feeling of paying forward what has been done in the past for me.
R. Michael Alvarez: How can professional organizations (like the Society for Political Methodology) facilitate professional mentoring?
Brett Ashley Leeds: The most important thing that professional organizations can do is provide opportunities that encourage interaction among scholars who don’t already know one another, and particularly between junior and senior scholars. Small conferences, dinners, and receptions help a lot with this. Poster sessions in which junior scholars are matched with senior discussants also help.
Tiffany D. Barnes: In my experience professional organizations play both, an important formal and informal role in facilitating professional mentoring.
Professional organization can formally facilitate mentoring relationship by matching mentors with mentees. I have two different successful mentoring relationships that were products of mentoring matches. This is a great way to help young scholars identify someone in the profession who is willing to serve as a mentor.
Professional organizations can also facilitate mentoring by simply providing both professional and social opportunities for junior scholars to meet likeminded senior (and junior!) colleagues. By becoming involved in professional organizations that align with your professional interests you will establish relationships with colleagues in your field. Most of these relationships will emerge naturally and develop slowly over time. Although you may not formally call the individuals you meet here “mentors,” they will become an important part of your mentoring community.
Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer: One of many ways is a formal mentoring program. The Visions in Methodology mentoring program is a fantastic example, but it is only for women. This is a very positive feature of the program because women in a field with a small representation of women face different and sometimes more challenging sets of obstacles than men. However, plenty of men in the field would also benefit immensely from mentoring and so offering a similar program for men or a program that is open to both women and men, if it does not already exist, would help to facilitate formal professional mentoring in the methods subfield.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month and for today’s La Bloga posting, I’m so happy to introduce you to Diabetes Activist, Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez.Christina is a Chicago native, and is active with the Diabetes Online Community, has her own blog at kikisbetes.com, and is on twitter:@kikisbetes.Look her up!
Before we get started, I’m adding a few introductory facts regarding diabetes.
Second, technology:The glucose meter is essential for individuals with any of these four types of diabetes, because it measures blood glucose levels.With the meter, individuals know exactly what is happening in their body. Guessing glucose levels simply by how one feels can be dangerous, because assuming your glucose number is in no way accurate.
Testing reveals how much glucose is present in your blood at that moment. The components of the meter are: (1) the meter, (2) glucose strips, (3) lancet.To test, you take a glucose strip and insert it into the meter.Then, you pierce one finger with a lancet, placing the drop of blood on the glucose strip. In a few seconds, the glucose number will appear on the meter. There are also continuous glucose monitoring systems and pumps.
Third, what the meter says:A normal blood sugar level is considered less that 100 mg/dL when fasting (morning numbers) and less than 140 mg/dL two hours after eating your first bite of a meal.Christina was diagnosed with diabetes Type I when she was 7 years old.During her lifetime, she has been a passionate seeker of knowledge, wanting to understand her body in order to assist what is not working.I found her on twitter and have been continually inspired by her passion, her commitment to understanding diabetes, and, in turn, assisting others in diabetes education.She is a truth seeker!I had the opportunity to speak with Christina recently and want to share with you our conversation:
Amelia M.L. Montes:Thank you so much, Christina, for taking the time to talk with me about a chronic disease that greatly affects the Latina/Latino communities.First, tell me about your tattoo.
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:It’s a blue circle to represent diabetes.I took the Chicago flag and instead of two blue lines, I made it into one circle and then added the Chicago stars, the four stars across the middle of that circle.I feel the empowerment with this tattoo.People see the tattoo and say, “That’s cool, is that Chicago?”I say, “Yes, BUT, it’s also representative of diabetes awareness” and then this gives me the opportunity to talk about diabetes with them.
Amelia M.L. Montes: And you mentioned that you also wear a pump.
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez: People see the pump and ask me if it’s a pager or ask if I’m a doctor. And I think of responding with crazy answers, but then I think, where will that get me? So I explain what it is, and what it means to me.
Amelia M.L. Montes:So, in what creative ways do you educate people so they will remember details (because diabetes demands learning so much information)?For example, how do you educate people about the differences between Type I and Type II Diabetes?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:I call Type II a “Disorder,” and Type I a “Disease.”I call Type II a “Disorder” because your body has a malfunction, whereas with Type I, diabetes is an autoimmune disease.
Amelia M.L. Montes: You’ve had diabetes (Type I) since childhood. Does the disease limit you in any way?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:I don’t want to let chronic illness limit me from doing anything, but there are days when I can’t physically do something due to exhaustion, hyperglycemia, or hypoglycemia, and it can weigh on me as a psychological issue.There are many studies that connect Type II diabetes to depression, but this doesn’t mean people with Type I don’t have depression.
Amelia M.L. Montes:Agreed.It’s definitely false to think that depression only manifests itself in individuals with Type II.Also, some people feel that Diabetes Type I and Diabetes Type II are two very different diseases.In some of your articles, you have said there are similarities.Where are the connections?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:The cause—the causes are all different but the reasons they’re all called diabetes are because the symptoms and the ultimate effects are the same.With Type I, I feel all the symptoms twice as fast as those with Type II.With Type II, their blood sugars are elevated for so long, that they don’t know how normal feels.With Type I, my moods and symptoms change multiple times [a day] and are so different every day.
I remember the first time I was on a twitter chat and we were asked how we feel when we do everything right, and then you check your blood sugar, and it’s still high.I saw answers like:“I want to throw it [the glucose meter] out the window,” and “I get angry, and then my blood sugar goes higher.” Just reading that helped me feel I was not alone.
Checking your blood sugar. Placing a drop of blood on the glucose strip that has been inserted into the meter.
Amelia M.L. Montes:I get that—reading diabetes online community comments and feeling less isolated.You’ve made sure to reach out, educate yourself, be involved with diabetes communities.How can readers who have diabetes break through the stigma, the shame connected to this disease, which sometimes makes them hide?How can we talk to each other?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:You have to talk about it, and let them know just what they’re doing to their bodies if they don’t take care of themselves.I always said that if we taught Latino families together [those with and without diabetes] about the treatment of diabetes, the person that actually developed it would be better off.It really takes a village to cure individuals.If you get everyone to understand, make healthier choices, and even change their lifestyle, the entire family (or community) will be better off.
Amelia M.L. Montes: How do we do this with our various communities.Also--do you belong to other communities and how do you navigate diabetes in all of these communities?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez: Sometimes I feel I’m in three different communities. The first community is the general every day. I go to work, and I mingle with people who are not Latino and don’t have diabetes. Total market experience. You don’t care what color anyone is—you are just “being.” The second community is the Latino community who has less resources. I am very tied to that culture, from the art I have in my house, to the way that I say my name. The third community is the Diabetes community. Not only am I usually the only Latina with diabetes, but I also have Type I which is not as common as Type II among the Latino community. And then I say, how are we going to get these different communities together? What are we going to do to upkeep your health? Diabetes isn’t racist, sexist, gender neutral. When you have diabetes, you can get comments like, “pero no estas gorda” [“but you’re not fat”]. And there is where diabetes education is most needed. So I try to speak from a general diabetes perspective. I may not know what medication you’re taking, but I know exactly how you feel.
Amelia M.L. Montes: Was there a time where you were able to educate “on the street.”
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:I was on the bus, and there was an older woman with a woman who seemed to me to be in her 40s.I heard them talking, about the older woman’s husband who was going blind and how her eyesight was going as well because of diabetes.And the younger woman also had diabetes and was talking about her A1C (a test that measures the amount of blood in one’s sugar over the period of three months), and I thought, “Holy cow—there really is someone who understands diabetes.”The younger woman got off the bus and I was trying to figure out how to start a conversation with the older woman without seeming like I had been eavesdropping on their conversation.So I ended up taking out my glucose meter on the bus, and she said, “Ahhh—tu tambien!Pero tan jovencita!” [“Ahhh—you too!But you’re so young!”] And we started talking.I asked her about her family, and if they talked to their family about diabetes.I said, “Talk to your kids about it, they may be able to help you.”It was the most memorable diabetes experience I’ve had.I ended up overshooting my bus stop by 20 blocks so I could keep talking to her.
Amelia M.L. Montes:That is such an important story that, again, speaks to the need for education.What kind of diabetes education do you feel should be in place for Latinas/Latinos?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez: The one thing that we have realized is that fear does not educate anyone. We’ve seen HIV campaigns in Mexico gone wrong, and now Ebola is another perfect example. We need to put a positive spin on education. What I’ve found completely useful is that I learned how the body is supposed to work and then I learned why my body is not working the way it’s supposed to. A health class shouldn’t be about just medication or carbohydrate counting. It should be about how your body is supposed to function and how to get it back there. I’ve always been interested in the science portion of diabetes.
Amelia M.L. Montes:So what are some ways to talk to the public that may be helpful?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez: Don’t say: “If you don’t check your blood sugar, you’re going to lose your leg.” That doesn’t educate. In order to manage diabetes, it’s important to not let it take you over. You have to be the one who is leading diabetes, and that’s where education comes in—not scaring people. There has to be more positivity and empowerment.
Amelia M.L. Montes: Agreed!
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:For example, I was at Northwestern, and a doctor explained that if you check your blood sugar only three or four times a day, that’s like taking a thousand piece puzzle, and only having three pieces of it.The more you know, the more you own the situation.It’s in your power to do it.
Amelia M.L. Montes:Yes—so important.And regarding checking one’s blood, I’ve become used to testing more often on days when I’m not feeling well.So, Christina, where do you feel we are now with diabetes education?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez: I feel like there’s a cure for this issue already. World wide, diabetes costs over 240 billion dollars a year. I volunteer with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and sit on the committee for the ADA EXPO that happens every year. The Chicago ADA chapter is the biggest one in the country. Everyone who sits on the committee wants to do something to further community education, but it seems that the funding is always for something big: “The Walk,” or the EXPO that happens once a year draws about 14,000 people. What I’ve noticed is that the most congested area of the EXPO is the screening section where they will check your feet, your eyes. It’s a free screening, but without any education. But if you look at it that way, what does it tell you? You learn that people clearly aren’t getting the attention they need outside of that EXPO. That means that there needs to be more education, health services, and guidance and that’s just not happening. There’s nothing in regards to community building. Community building is about having the time, energy, and efficiency to do it.
Amelia M.L. Montes: Are hospital clinics different?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:I didn’t have insurance for about a year, and I used this state-funded healthcare situation as a learning experience.Throughout the experience, I had to ask the right questions and demand proper health care.I had a nurse once who told me I didn’t have to check myself so often.Why?Because the state only gives you enough strips to test once a day.They will not insure you for more than one strip a day.How are people supposed to take care of themselves?So if you can afford it, it comes out of your pocket.But what happens when you can’t?
Amelia M.L. Montes: When you say that you “had to ask the right questions and demand proper health care,” I think about the average patient who will not at all think about asking questions, but instead, simply “following doctors orders” without bringing a healthy dose of skepticism into the doctor’s office. But that comes with empowerment. Because you are active with the ADA and are familiar with medical corporations, what do you say to them?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez: I’ve been approached by pharmaceutical companies. I tell them: “You have to teach people about themselves, and how they can manage this on their own.” This is why, if I ever won the lottery, I would give donations to clinics – not to foundations. You can donate and donate to foundations, but you don’t know where that money is going. If there were more funding for community clinics where the underserved go for medical attention, they would have more resources for education and servicing the people who really need it.
A visual explanation of diabetes
Amelia M.L. Montes: Your openness and forthright discussions are vital for the rest of us, Christina.For example, here’s an excerpt from the “Discuss Diabetes” posting introducing you:“Growing up with diabetes has given Christina a unique perspective.‘Ever since the beginning, I’ve always had this perception that I didn’t do anything to get Diabetes,’ she said.‘I didn’t choose to have this condition, and if people don’t like me because of it, it’s not my problem.It’s theirs.People often say, they’re sorry when they hear I have diabetes.But I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have it.I likely wouldn’t be such a good multi-tasker or as ambitious.I want people to know that I believe I can still do everything I want to do.’”Comments?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:I’ve grown extremely honest.When I go to the endocrinologist, there are times when residents who are working with the doctors come in to see me first.The last time I went, I gave her [the resident] a run for her money.She asked how I was doing, and I told her I’m tired.I’m exhausted from having to be my pancreas.There’s this thing called a burnout, where having diabetes literally gets you down and you’re doing things just to get by.So I gave her this scenario.For me, a burnout happens about every six months.When I told her how I felt, she didn’t know how to deal with it, which is fine.She was just learning.But sometimes doctors are also shocked at how open I can be.I figure, the more they know, the more they can help me.Being vocal and open and talking about it as much as possible is going to eventually make diabetes less of a stigma and more something that can be managed:Talking about it and making it a lifestyle change.
Amelia M.L. Montes: Are there other challenges for you that are linked to diabetes?
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez: I developed vitiligo, which is skin discoloration. There are no health repercussions. It starts off as white patches. This is another autoimmune disease, and when you have one, you can get more. There are worse things than having your skin color go away—like diabetes.
Amelia M.L. Montes:Christina—thank you so much for your passionate and important words.La Bloga honors November Diabetes Awareness with your interview today. Gracias!
When it comes to teaching the writing process, we are bound by a painful, formulaic Five Step Process: Prewriting, Drafting, Revising, and Publishing. Does it work?
"I'm bored because this class is boring."
If you teach the writing process, it is crucial for you to experience it at the very same moment you are actually teaching it. Model the behavior. Impossible? Well of course it is! But you're a teacher, and you do the impossible everyday. So that's nothing new. But this isn't a preachy blog post. It's more of a reflective analysis because I've had too much coffee to ramp up my NaNoWriMo word count, and it's 3 A.M. So now I'm winding down from the high of writing my manuscript with more writing. Anyway, back to the question: Does the five step writing process work? To answer this, I must put away my Teacher Hat and put on my lovely, leopard print fedora Writer Hat.
My Writing Hat is not boring.
As a writer, I'll answer this in a different way: I've experienced a difference in the mindset and mental state I have to assume in two types of writing: creative and journalistic writing. In literary writing, whether it's in my poetry, children's books, or novels, my state of mind is much like experiencing deep house music. Known for its complexities in melodic tunes and use of unrelated chromatic chords underlying most sequences, deep house music is also trance-like and hypnotic. The rhythm of writing feels a lot like a really good deep house song where everyone in the room is dancing without a care in the world. Building up layers of rhythm which fades out quickly, then leaving the melody to stand alone for a few seconds only to build up as quickly as it faded. It's a rush! At the risk of sounding like I'm romanticizing the process, that's what it feels like when I'm in my most creative mood. This month, I've been listening to Everything But the Girl's Driving Remix to get me going with the marathon writing.
"I'm with the DJ, okay?"
The images, metaphors, the rhyme, and the diction are always brought into life from the spontaneous overflow of sentences. No matter how much I plan them ahead, I realize that when it happens, it happens because of that momentary experience. Or it just doesn't happen at all. This doesn't mean that I sit around and wait for that moment, even though much of this month has been about sitting around. It just means I have very little control over it. There are days when I can work for hours and churn out thousands of words in one day, or work for a mere ten minutes painfully slaving away a series of weak words not even worth sentences, but fragments. Many times, I cringe at what I've written and delete as much as I can. Voice is important to the literary writing process. Without that voice, nothing will happen except maybe I'd fall into the rabbit hole of Facebook chatting or worse, the entire Internet and BuzzFeed Quizzes. The voice can be very elusive sometimes because it's schizophrenic. It really just depends on my mood and what I've been reading. I could be reading a YA novel one day, and then an autobiography of a Navy SEAL the next day, so the voice may change according to how close I feel to the work at that moment. But when I write what I would call journalistic writing (which for me is more like PR/marketing, or some other article pieces that get me paid by actual business people who need my skills), the writing process is not like deep house music. Nothing trance-like about this type of writing at all. It's different. I have to be much more methodical. I do a whole lot of planning that looks somewhat like Prewriting (Facebooking and whining), Drafting (sleeping), Revising (writing and simultaneously editing furiously), and Publishing (submitting). The experience isn't about the spontaneity, but I still work very hard at honing my craft. The narrative is still my voice, and I try to make my pieces as intellectually stimulating as possible. The way I've accomplished these pieces are much different from my poetry and stories. I would say that the five step writing process works when you need it to work. It's harder to write in this way, but it's also easier. No matter what mood I'm in that day, the five step process usually guarantees something written and something tangible that can be used at some point. Not so for creative or literary writing. There are no guarantees. Freelance writing jobs are easier to come by when you can work the process. This is what I tell my students to wake them up when I tell them it's time to write: "I've made money from writing essays." (More on that later)
"Why can't I cry money instead of tears?"
Essentially, however, the process is what you make of it. Hone the craft. Repeat. At some point, you can tell your students that they can get lucky that at least an "A" or a perfect score will come through eventually as they practice their expository or narrative essays. There is a part of it that is dreadful and mysterious, but that is not the entire thing. It's not about how hard it is. It's about how much you practice and how much wiser you become. We all need to wise up a bit, so we might as well write. Write with them and believe what you teach about writing like it's the gospel truth because in the end, no matter how painful, it's worth it. Add a Comment