Month: March 2012

HALF THE SKY and a call to action

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Vintage)A couple weeks ago, I finished the book HALF THE SKY by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They’re the first husband-wife duo to win a Pulitzer for their work, and their goal was to shine light on the troubles of women around the world (particularly India, Africa, and the Middle East). Now, we in the U.S. have plenty to be worried about in our own country, but even with my deep sadness and anger and frustration about certain issues, I can’t help thinking how privileged American women generally are compared to so many other places in the world.

What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce. – Mark Twain

One point the book raises is that the term “women’s issues” can be problematic. Many men tune out as soon as they hear it, automatically assuming that whatever follows doesn’t affect them. But women’s issues are in fact universal, because hey, guess where you came from? That’s right: a woman.

Furthermore, studies have shown that investing in the women of any given area does more social and economic good than investing in the men. Women tend to spend on food, clothing, and education for their family and themselves, whereas men tend to spend on alcohol, gambling, and prostitutes.* (Sorry, guys, I’m just repeating the findings.) Yet men dominate business and government in most societies worldwide (including ours — let’s not deceive ourselves).

Part of the solution is training everyone to care about so-called “women’s issues.” We should all be concerned about the maternal mortality rate of women in Sierra Leone, and about the number of female village leaders in India, and about the education levels of girls in Pakistan. Not only out of compassion (though I wish that were enough) but also because those numbers have widespread effects on the growth and stability of those regions, which then have effects on politics and economies worldwide.

I’ll step off the soapbox now, but needless to say, “women’s issues” are important to me. You can see that threaded throughout my stories, even in the ones from childhood, and especially in the ones to come.

Yes, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

The tide of history is turning women from beasts of burden and sexual playthings into full-fledged human beings. The economic advantages of empowering women are so vast as to persuade nations to move in that direction. Before long, we will consider sex slavery, honor killings, and acid attacks as unfathomable as foot-binding. The question is how long that transformation will take and how many girls will be kidnapped into brothels before it is complete — and whether each of us will be part of that historical movement, or a bystander. (251)

By coincidence, screenwriter John August blogged today about “citizenship.” Not belonging to a country, but understanding and participating in a community. Local, national, global. I’ve been thinking about that myself lately. About my citizenship. About what I can do to make a difference.

If you, like me, want to be part of the movement, here’s one way: join the micro-lending organization Kiva and take advantage of a free trial, meaning your first $25 loan is FREE (for a limited time). By doing so, you can help a young woman finish her college education, or a widower expand his village business. (*Obviously I’m not suggesting that we should lend only to women. All Kiva loanees have been vetted.) There are thousands of enterprising individuals around the world who have applied for these loans, for all sorts of ventures that will improve life for their families and/or their communities. You can support a budding artist, or a farmer, or a construction worker. All at low/no cost to yourself.

A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water.

“What are you doing, son?” the man asks. “You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.”

The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean.

“It sure made a difference to that one,” he said. (Hawaiian parable)

Fellow blogger and writer Amanda Kendle has been micro-lending for some time and said she’s never not been paid back. Her reassurance about the whole process, along with John Green’s tweets about the free trials, encouraged me to take the plunge, which I’d been wanting to do for a while. Four of my friends joined shortly after.

Maybe we’re all just throwing starfish into the ocean. Maybe there are thousands we’ll never get to. But maybe some is better than none.

Writerly Wurdsday

Wednesday. Thursday. I’m somewhere in between.

“Five Questions About Writing” by Stephen A. Watkins

3. What are your writings to you?
My writings are more than words on a page. They’re more than stories I tell to entertain myself and others. My writings are my still-beating heart. They are the blood in my veins. They are the breath in my lungs, flowing in and flowing out. They are the fire in my mind, the electricity of neurons and synapses connecting and evolving. They are strands of my DNA unzipping and recombining, new ideas born and new life formed.

When I look in a mirror I see my reflection, the outward image of who I am to the world. When I look at my stories, I see my true reflection – the reflection of who I am from the inside out, made bare to the world. My stories are me at my most vulnerable, and me at my strongest.

The words. Right out. Of my soul.

I do not believe there is a magic bullet, any single quality which, if present, enables one person to write and if absent prevents another from writing. Anyone can write a story, when it comes right down to it.  Doing so successfully could come down to any number of factors: perseverance, love of writing, talent, skill, desperation, desire, inspiration, hard work, and on and on.  I try to cultivate as many of these qualities in myself as I can.

“A Powerful Sort of Doubt” by Eugene Cross

… when we as writers doubt our own work, it’s because we realize that it is not yet where we want it to be. And so we keep trying, keep at it, over and over and over again. We collect our rejection slips. We revise the same sentence dozens of times. We read our work aloud and torture our thesauruses and slam our heads against the wall, until we get it right. Because we know we can. Because we know it can be better.

“25 Things I Want to Say to So-Called ‘Aspiring’ Writers” by Chuck Wendig

(Note: He does a lot of these lists, but I almost always find something fresh and valuable in them.)

Nobody respects writers, yet everybody wants to be one (probably because everybody wants to be one). Point is, you want to be a writer? Good for you. So does that guy. And that girl. And him. And her. And that old dude. And that young broad. And your neighbor. And your mailman. And that chihuahua. And that copy machine. Ahead of you is an ocean of wannabe ink-slaves and word-earners. I don’t say this to daunt you. Or to be dismissive. But you have to differentiate yourself and the way you do that is by doing rather than be pretending. You will climb higher than them on a ladder built from your wordsmithy.

Or as I often tell myself, “Less think, more do.”

I used to imagine pictures in my head and I’d try to paint them in watercolor and they’d end up looking like someone barfed up watery yogurt onto the canvas. I’d rail against this: WHY DON’T THEY LOOK BEAUTIFUL? Uhh, because you don’t know how to actually paint, dumb-fuck. You cannot exert your talent unless you first have the skill to bolster that talent.

The grass is always greener

For months I have been dying to be finished with my first draft. “Y’all are so lucky,” I said to my crit partners. “I would give anything to be editing right now.”

Oh, Kristan. Be careful what you wish for.

My original plan was to take a day off — yes, ONE DAY — and then dive right into edits. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Let’s just say that when you spend over a year drafting a book, you’ll probably need more than 24 hours to rest, let it sink in, figure out what and how to edit, and oh yeah, catch up on all the non-writing stuff you neglected in order to claw your way to “The End.”

So I ended up taking the entire month of February off. By “off” I mean that I did extra research, and some brainstorming and game planning, and a lot of thinking deeply about my characters and their story and the larger series I’d like it to be a part of. “Thinking deeply” probably sounds like hooey to most non-writers, but the truth is, it’s one of the most valuable and motivating parts of the process, at least for me. And now I’ve got a month’s worth of that inspiration and energy stored up inside me, ready to burst, ready to be channeled into the edits.

But there’s one more hurdle I wasn’t expecting.

The last step of preparation that I wanted to take was to read over my entire manuscript on my Kindle. No fixing typos, no deleting or rewriting. Just me experiencing the story as a reader, to see where it really stands and to wrap my mind around it as a whole.

But holy crap it’s weird!

So weird to read when I know what’s coming. And not just what happens, but the exact words that will be used to describe it. So weird that I can’t even get through the first chapter. Not because it’s bad (although it might be) but because it’s just so… weird. So very very very very weird.

For some reason rereading Twenty-Somewhere didn’t throw me the same way. Maybe because it was written for the web originally, and I approach online writing with a different mindset. Or maybe because it’s been two and a half years now since I wrote that “The End.”

Regardless, I’ll have to find some way to push through the weird, and through the edits, so I can finally move on to the next step: querying. Man, all you writers who are querying are so lucky. I would give anything to be querying right now.


Last night Andy and I went to a trendy downtown neighborhood for dinner, and as we paid for parking, we were approached by a middle-aged man with a wiry gray beard and patchwork coat. His brown skin was creased with hardship, but his voice was clear and strong, his eyes bright in the light of the setting sun. He explained that he didn’t want to disturb us, but he was offering an alternative newspaper — free, with a suggested donation of $1. The paper was written to benefit the homeless, who earned income by purchasing copies and then distributing them.

This man wasn’t just selling, though. “I write, too,” he said, his voice ringing with pride. “Got an article comin’ out in the next issue.”

“Congratulations,” I said warmly, with a big smile. As a writer, I know what publication means. The excitement, the validation.

Wanting to support him, I donated a dollar for a copy of the paper. (In retrospect, I wish I had given him more.) Then Andy and I continued to the restaurant where we were meeting our friends. After small talk, drinks, and gourmet tacos, the conversation turned to work stuff that didn’t really interest me. So I slipped the newspaper out of my purse and flipped through its pages.

The articles were mostly local, with a uniquely urban angle. Stories included a defense of dumpster diving, support for a local inn that serves as low-income housing for women, and the gentrification of the very neighborhood where we were currently dining.

A letter from the editor explained more about the newspaper’s mission. The goal is not just to help the homeless, but to empower them. Give them meaningful work, and a voice. There are many rules these distributors have to follow — no begging, no drinking or drug use, no belligerence. The list of guidelines takes up an entire half-page of the paper. To some that might seem like a lot to ask, but as I thought more about this operation, it seemed to me that you could not put a price on what was being offered in exchange.


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