Category Archives: AROHO

words of wisdom

Standard

Sometimes I’ve found it to be important to write down inspiring words from friends or fellow writers.  Even just short little things like, “you only live once,” or “every dark cloud has a silver lining.”  It doesn’t matter how many times they’ve already been said, or how cheesy they sound when you’re feeling positive already and you don’t need more positive affirmations.

When I’m depressed, these little bits of sunshine give me hope.  And when I have writer’s block, they can sometime act as wondrous prompts.

***

At AROHO’s retreat this past August, I was able to meet Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint it Black.  

She sat down across from me during lunch one day before I realized who she actually was, and then I proceeded to tell her how much I loved White Oleander and I was nervous to talk to her.  We did speak, though, many times during the week, and my silly nerves went away quickly once I realized how down to earth she was, how friendly and sweet, and all the little things we had in common.

photo

{Janet and I at the dance on the final evening of the retreat.}

*

Janet said so many wise words during her presentations that I found myself, for the first time, desperately attempting to write down or paraphrase everything that was particularly awesome WHILE watching my interpreter interpret her words into ASL.  Janet did give me a typed sheet of the main part of her talk, but a lot of the things she said before and around it were the kinds of things you say spontaneously, while staring into the eyes of almost a hundred women looking back at you.  I added them, in red ink, all over the margins and the back of the paper.  Messy little scratches of inspiration.  And then when I got home, I copied them into my journal, so that I’d always have them in a place where I can find them easily.  

*

Now, I realize, I should give them even larger lives than that.  Right now, I wish to give them to you—to the world—because I know they will help some of you just as much as they’ve helped me.

*

  If you look for the miraculous—you will find it.

*

Live slower, more child-like, like a poet.

*

You are where you should be.  

You’re always in the right place.

*

You can catch the beauty in life without being the beauty—you can see it, and it’s yours.

*

Write from the neck down.

*

Let things happen, don’t force anything.

Allow it to happen.

*

We can use our “imaginary friends” and discover things we didn’t know we knew!

***

I also wrote other more personal notes like:

Janet was a child liar (told stories), like me!!!

As a teen (and sometimes later on, too), I often wrote into the margins of my favorite books, and my comments were usually things like:

“Me, too!!!”   “YESYESYESYES!”   “F**king LOVE THIS!!!!!”   “I’m like him/her!!!”

Now, thankfully, I can just highlight the phrases I love in my Kindle (though I can still add extra exclamations —or exclamation points—when absolutely necessary).

***

I’d like to offer up this writing assignment to everyone:  

When you hear a phrase you love, write it down in your journal or a notebook, quote it on Facebook, scribble it onto a napkin.  

Save it’s wisdom for later.  You never know when you might need it.  And I honestly believe words can be saviors, to non-writers as much as writers.  

Words can heal.  And when you hear something that sings to you, words that empower you to do something you’ve never done, or say something you’ve never said, then it might do the same to someone else.  That’s when you know you should probably share those words of wisdom. 

*

Sometimes I wish words could fall from the sky like autumn leaves.  

photo

{I love the shape and vibrant yellow of the fallen cottonwood leaves at Ghost Ranch.}

Here’s another writing (or life) “assignment”:

The next time a leaf falls on you when you’re out walking or hiking, or just standing under a tree, catch it!  

Close your eyes with the leaf in your hands.

And listen for the word it could be telling you.  

Listen for the word you need.

(In times of desperation, or for variation, please feel free to just go and find a leaf already fallen, a leaf waiting for someone to rescue it

and give it new meaning.  

This, I believe, is yet another way of going out and finding the miraculous.)

If leaves don’t “speak” for you, find a stone, a shell, a button, a penny.  

The objects we usually overlook might hold the most meaning,

because honestly, the miraculous really is everywhere.

*

the importance of writing retreats

Standard

I’ve recently returned from AROHO‘s women’s writing retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.  I came back to the woods of New Hampshire, my toddler, my puppy, and my partner weeks ago, but I am still half in the desert, and half with the 100 other women as we communicate via social media and emails, trying to maintain the interconnectedness we felt at the ranch.  

*  *  *

I want to use this post to stress the importance of writing retreats for every writer.  Right now.  If you are a writer, please go online and look for a writing retreat.  Apply to dozens that offer scholarships or free residencies.  AROHO’s retreat was packed with so many presentations, readings, and workshops that it was hard for me to get much actual writing done there, but the AROHO women are working hard to provide all of us with so much stimulation, that I wasn’t disappointed by any means.  They always have a literary agent attend their retreats, which is an invaluable thing to writers who do not yet have agents.  She answered all of our questions and offered genuine, caring advice to anyone who approached her.  

*

Other retreats and residencies do not have so much interaction.  But they also may not have agents attend or presentations that change your entire life or work as a writer.  AROHO changes me, every time.  I’ve only attended two retreats of theirs, but each one gave me gifts I could never have found in books or online.  Gifts that have enriched my writing and my life immensely.  

And because I am writing fervently right now, I am finding my blogging-self lost for words.  So, writers, I urge you to GO.  

Research what YOU as a writer NEED RIGHT NOW to get your words on the page more freely.  Expand your concept of what you deserve as a writer—because writers, I think, can often sacrifice their writing for their family or their pets, even.  Your writing is calling.  And I firmly believe all writers need at least 1-2 weeks, or longer, per year to be in a place where they can write without thinking of anything else, not food, or anyone else in their lives.  You can make your own retreat if you know of someone with a log cabin, or a small apartment, or anything you can rent or care for while you stay there ALONE and WRITE.  

*

Wishing everyone the best of luck in finding solitude…and writing to their heart’s content.

***

Through the Lens of Deafness and other Disabilities

Standard

I was 35 weeks pregnant when I flew from Rhode Island to New Mexico in order to attend the AROHO Women’s Writing Retreat back in 2011.  Many people were concerned about me flying alone to spend a week at the high elevation of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, when I was so close to giving birth.  I also wouldn’t have a reliable cell phone signal there, and the nearest hospital or birth center was hours away.  I listened to my body and I took that risk because sometimes, we are faced with risks that we absolutely need to take, and it’s a personal, private choice that no one else can make for us.

I needed the opportunity of that retreat for my writing, and I needed it as one last trip before my entire life was about to change with the birth of my first child.

*

The retreat was amazing.  I made contacts with other writers and with a wonderful literary agent who has given me a lot of guidance with various writing projects throughout the past two years.

*

I gave a presentation, called a “Mind Stretch”, while at the retreat.  A lot of people  enjoyed it, so I am happy to post it here (because I am currently still in the process of my latest YA novel, and I’ve got to get back to it):

*

***

I’d first like to begin by saying that most Deaf people who also speak American Sign Language and are part of the Deaf community, which has its own culture revolving around the sign language of its members, do not view deafness as a disability at all.  The reason for this is that deafness is not something that limits any of us physically until we encounter a hearing person trying to speak to us.  We can all do everything that a hearing person can do and everything we need to survive.  In a sense, deafness is like perpetually living in a foreign country where most of the people around you do not speak your language.

 *

I also believe that deafness becomes a disability when a deaf person chooses to be in an environment where they are surrounded by hearing people conversing and expecting them to be part of a conversation.  In this instance, deafness is literally a disability because the deaf person cannot follow a conversation.  I don’t think it’s possible for a deaf person in these circumstances to ever feel equal to the people around him or her.

FamilyDog

In the deaf artist, Susan Dupor’s, painting, Family Dog, she is in the position of a dog under a coffee table while the rest of the hearing people in the room have blurry faces to signify that they are speaking things she cannot understand.  Her deafness makes her feel lower than everyone else, like a pet dog that sits on the floor with their tongue hanging out.  I’ve often felt this way in groups of hearing people, and I know this is a component to my lifelong attachment to animals and dogs especially.  This feeling drove Susan Dupor to paint the scene exactly as she has felt it happen to her, and for me, this feeling has prompted me to fly to India and help stray dogs and to train my own dog as a Hearing dog and companion.  I literally do not feel complete without my dog or any dog by my side, and it’s because of how marginalized I’ve felt growing up and going deaf while everyone just kept talking.

 ***

As a side note: I wanted to bring my Hearing dog on this trip, but my current disability of being pregnant has basically made me decide to make this trip on my own and have as little as possible to worry about.  Although my dog helps me to feel more comfortable and equal in groups of hearing people, he is still like a child in many ways because I haven’t yet been able to train him to feed himself or take himself for a walk or carry my bags for me.  So, it was easier to leave him home.

***

The painter, Frida Khalo’s, disabilities greatly influenced her self-portraits.  One example is her painting the Broken Column:

 The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo OSA164

Carole Maso, in her cross-genre work Beauty is Convulsive, The Passion of Frida Khalo, explains:

“Three concerns impelled her to make art,

she told a critic in 1944:

her vivid memory of her own blood flowing during her childhood accident,

her thoughts about birth, death, and the conducting threads of life,

and the desire to be a mother.”

*

Frida was never able to be a mother and suffered through three abortions before she stopped trying.

 *

Anne Finger, in her short story Helen and Frida, imagines a meeting between Helen Keller and Frida:

“So now the two female icons of disability have met:  Helen, who is nothing but, who swells to fill up the category, sweet Helen with her drooping dresses covering drooping bosom, who is Blind and Deaf, her vocation; and Frida, who lifts her skirt to reveal the gaping, cunt-like wound on her leg, who rips her body open to reveal her back, a broken column, her back corset with its white canvas straps framing her beautiful breasts, her body stuck with nails: but she can’t be Disabled, she’s Sexual.”

*

I think what Finger means here about Frida being “Sexual” not “Disabled” is how Frida has painted her perfect breasts despite all the nails sticking into her skin.  She is emulating her sexuality, and was known for her many affairs with both men and women.  I find myself wondering if Frida is actually hiding behind her sexuality and using that as well as her art as a means to escape the feeling of being disabled.

 ***

In a poem by Kenny Fries, Excavation, he is focusing on the scars that mark his disability, but he is also digging deeper, trying to figure out who he was before such scars were made.  His poem reads:

*

“Tonight, when I take off my shoes:

three toes on each twisted foot.

I touch the rough skin.  The holes

where the pins were.  The scars.

If I touch them long enough will I find

those who never touched me?  Or those

who did?  Freak, midget, three-toed

bastard.  Words I’ve always heard.

Disabled, crippled, deformed.  Words

I was given.  But tonight I go back

farther, want more, tear deeper into

my skin.  Peeling it back I reveal

the bones at birth I wasn’t given­—

the place where no one speaks a word.”

 *

We are left with the questions:

Where do we end and our disabilities begin?

Is it even possible to separate ourselves from our disabilities?

 ***

I’d like to call up the concept of disability as something that everyone faces at one point or another in their lives.  We all can’t physically do something we want to do at some point, whether it is due to pregnancy or a broken leg or arthritis or old age.  I’d like to present disability as something people should be more accepting of rather than marginalizing because of the fact that disability is part of being human.

 *

We live in a society that does help each other and has moved away from Darwinism in the sense that, in the animal world, a disabled animal is a target, it’s something that will die much faster than any other animal in its herd or its pack, and no one will help it.  Everyone is focused on their own survival and a disabled creature is a liability to the whole pack if they all try and help it.  With humans, we have created a different sort of society here where disabled people often live as long as other people.  We do help each other.  But I think its hard for us to do this, somewhere inside we are all still animals, and disability is often a social stigmata because its something no one wants to face or experiences for themselves.

 ***

Chistopher John Heuer has written a poem called Visible Scars, which details his desire for deafness to be as well-known and as the persecution of black people.  Deaf people are just as marginalized as other minorities of America and in other countries, but we look just like everyone else and our language is silent.  In many ways, the discrimination against us happens privately, but it’s understandable that Heuer wishes it were more public.  I’ll read and sign his poem:

*

“In my dream the old black woman

said My but ain’t you an uppity nigger

for a white boy,

and threw a copy of the Americans with

Disabilities Act at my chest.

She said What whip were you ever under?

What land did you ever lose?

Then she showed me her back, tugging down

the heavy brown sweater that protected

her oppression.  Her scars were black

in the way that skin visibly shudders

when ripped open, black in the way

that melanin reasserts itself in fury.

I reached for my ears but could not pull them off.

I felt in my ears but nothing was there.

I wished for scars like hers.

I wished to stand up and scream Look!

Look, look, look!

I wanted proof to show her, I wanted

centuries of songs to the Lord, I wished

for a hearing overseer

with a whip, I wished for rows of deaf men

in the cotton fields, signing in the sun.

I wished for the hearing man you could see,

so that I could point and shout

Look, look, look!

She said Don’t bring your anger here to me,

white boy, and pointed at the door.

I left the interview with a deaf man’s guilt,

Because I had no proof.”

 *

Disability, for me, can often be frustrating to deal with (especially in groups of hearing people who are not trying to slow down their conversations, or who are trying to over compromise and slow things down so much that I can feel myself holding everyone back)…but if I was not gradually going deaf, I don’t believe my imagination would be as powerful and my writing wouldn’t be the same either.

 ***

I’ve learned to use my deafness as a way to reach out to people through both writing and art, as many other deaf and otherwise disabled artists have also done.  I think its something everyone can use, regardless of how obviously disabled they are.  Think of disabling emotions like fear, anxiety, paranoia, pain, depression…these are disabilities that begin in the mind or the heart but they can easily extend to our bodies… most people have these feelings at one point or another and as writers – we need to be able to tap into these universal human emotions in order to make our characters accessible. So in a sense, I feel that disability is the key to making a character we are writing about more human.  It’s about making sure there is conflict in a story or a poem – because without some sort of tension, your reader isn’t going to be interested or feel connected to it.  Disability becomes not just how we connect but WHY we connect.

 *

It’s only when you consider a person or character’s disabilities – the things they can’t do – that you are able to figure out what things they are able to do best and what might be the gift or lesson you can learn from their disabilities.  Humans often find the strongest communities through the things that they struggle with – like deafness or blindness or depression, or addictions or writing – they come together in support and compassion for each other and are able to help each other really figure out what they can do and where their strengths are.

 *

I’d like you all to consider your characters and fellow humans this way as you write and live.  See someone’s disability – but also look past it to find their talents as well, and connect their strengths and weaknesses with your own.  We aren’t whole without this balance of disability and ability.

 ***

John Lee Clark is a deaf/blind writer and he illustrates the beautiful community that Deafness, other disabilities, and writing, CAN PROVIDE if we are able to reach out and connect with other people.  I’d like to read and sign this poem of his to you in closing:

*

“Long Goodbyes

I miss all of the long goodbyes

of my parent’s guests

taking their leave by not leaving

when it was time to go.  Someone would sign

Better go home we but hours would pass

around our round table—

the bowls of our hands offering

confession after confession

assuring us that we are we—

before anyone stands up.

Then others, sighing, will stand up

slowly and slowly walk

through our house, pausing

where the walls offer stories,

reasons to stay longer

and touch more things with our hands.

I remember how long,

how wonderfully they stood

unwilling to open the front door,

signing away with warm faces

and hugging goodbye again

before going gently into the night.

My family would huddle to watch

their cars’ headlights roll away

but pause to flash in the Deaf way,

waving goodbye to our house.

How we children dashed inside

to light switches for our house

to wave back goodbye,

light to light bright in the night!

Now that I am grown

and have my own family, do come

for a visit but do not leave

when it is time to go.  Sign, do sign

Better go home we and our hands

will make time go suddenly slow.”

 ***

navigating the waters of poetry and fiction

Standard

I must admit, I write from the poet in me first and foremost, and I’m so in love with poetry, that I don’t want to ever put that part of me aside.  Lyrical fiction has been the “answer” for me, after working for a long time between the genres of fiction and poetry and discovering that my voice pours out more naturally when I either write a poem OR a novel.

*

This isn’t true for everyone, and I LOVE some of the cross-genre writings I’ve studied (anything by Bhanu Kapil, a friend and fellow AROHO 2011 women’s writing retreat presenter, who was also one of my advisors from Goddard College).  I’ve also read a lot by Carole Maso and Anne Carson.

*

My first novel, Makara, was initially cross-genre, but through numerous edits, it became clear that lyrical fiction was the way that story needed to be told.

***

Now, I’m working on yet another fiction project, and this time for Young Adults, and I’m working faster than my usual pace (Makara took 2 years of serious, full time writing, and then 4 years of submitting and small edits here and there).

I’ve started my newest novel only 15 days ago, and have written a total of 27,048 words (almost half the minimum length it will be upon completion).  For this book, I’ve been thinking through the entire plot every night while laying in bed, and all day while doing other things.

Within a few days of starting, I knew the “log line”, which is a one sentence description of the whole book.  This is essential for anyone writing a book-length work.  I’ve heard this from agents as well as fellow writers, and it’s why I haven’t been able to write a good-enough draft of my memoir-in-progress (because I still can’t figure out what that one sentence IS yet).

*

I’d like to not discuss my current project’s plot yet, but I can say that figuring out the plot before really getting into the story was essential.

The book I wrote between this one and Makara was something I wrote day-by-day, without thinking about plot until a few drafts into it.  It took me one month to write a rough first draft of that one, one year off, then one and a half years of intense editing to get a “finished” draft (draft fifteen!).  But the market isn’t biting for that one, so, it’s going on the shelf for a while, and I am now conducting a writerly experiment with this current project:

HOW FAST can I write a GOOD WORKING DRAFT of a novel in a new genre?

Some smaller questions to consider would be:

Will it be fun, or hellish?

How much will it suck?

How much will my friends and family end up hating me for ignoring them for 4-6 weeks?

*

Because it would be safe to say that this blog might otherwise get pushed aside in the coming weeks as I work hard to write an entire manuscript, I will use this blog to update on my progress.

*

I’ll also be posting more on AROHO women’s writing retreats, which take place every two years at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.  I’m going for the second time this August, though I won’t be presenting this time, just attending, and soaking up all that amazing writer/artist energy at the ranch.

*

Wishing everyone the best of luck in all of their creative endeavors.

***