Wonderful podcast interview with WCCO’s Jordana Green and award-winning columnist and speaker Caryn Sullivan about the anthology Here in the Middle: Stories of Love, Loss and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in between!
Source: Jordana Green
Wonderful podcast interview with WCCO’s Jordana Green and award-winning columnist and speaker Caryn Sullivan about the anthology Here in the Middle: Stories of Love, Loss and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in between!
Source: Jordana Green
Last night, I was offered an extraordinary opportunity to do something I, a formerly rural, small-town, Methodist-turned-Catholic girl, would never have thought I’d do: I sat in the women’s section of my local mosque and watched as the women engaged in their final prayer session of the night.
This unexpected gift came about thanks to a community forum I attended entitled “How to Oppose Hate,” sponsored by our local Maryland State Delegate Eric Luedtke, our local Muslim Community Center, the Association of Black Democrats of Montgomery County, CASA de Maryland (a local nonprofit serving low-income immigrant communities), the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County, Maryland State Senator Craig Zucker, Maryland Delegate Anne Kaiser, and Maryland Delegate Pam Queen.
Aside from the obvious appeal of the topic, the diversity of the speaker panel is what interested me most; it included Imam Mohamed Abdullahi, Rabbi Ari Sunshine, Reverend Mansfield Kaseman, and community leaders Gabriel Acevero, Hamza Khan, and Delegate Eric Luedtke.
The panel proceeded much as one would expect, with a moderator posing a set of five prepared questions and passing the mic from speaker to speaker, giving each the opportunity to respond. There were many moments of great profundity in their thoughtful, heartfelt replies; below is a sample of what they had to say. With one notable exception involving a speaker using a quote from Audre Lord, which I’m including, I am deliberately not providing individual attributions for these words, because I sensed throughout the evening that these individuals were united in the hope of speaking with one voice:
In all honesty, that last sentence about ignorance–and its polar opposite, curiosity–is what drew me to the forum last night. I have spent nearly four years now, driving past the Muslim Community Center, without ever going in, and judging from comments by other attendees, I was not alone. The MCC sits smack in the middle of a long stretch of numerous faith communities, so many concentrated in this one area, in fact, that Delegate Luedtke referred to the street as the “Highway to Heaven.”
There has been so much media coverage about the administration’s recent attempt at a Muslim travel “ban,” that the plight of the Muslim community has been weighing heavily on my mind. Before anyone gets their undies in a bunch, puffing out their chests with “What about the illegal immigrants’ plight? What about the women’s plight? What about the scourge of anti-Semitism? What about etc., etc., etc.?” Please, refer to the third bullet above.
So–when I saw that the community forum would be held at the Muslim Community Center, with an actual imam on the panel, I knew I wanted to hear what the panel would say.
So how did I, then, wind up watching a prayer service later that evening? Simple: The imam extended a gracious, loving invitation to all those present, and I, curious, accepted. Ignorance may be the enemy, but curiosity is its greatest foe.
But now, I must engage in a little truth-telling, in the vein of that second bullet above, the one about difficult conversations. I learned a lot about myself during my evening at the mosque, and it’s not all stuff I was happy to learn. It’s not ever easy to learn awful truths about yourself, but sometimes, those most difficult conversations are precisely the ones you need the most.
This is the difficult conversation I had with myself last night, and which I share with you, in hopes that it will inspire you to have some of your own. What is holding you back from engaging with others who are different from you? I participated in an extraordinary opportunity last night, offered to me and to all with love and open arms by the Muslim community. It’s easy to consider yourself open-minded and tolerant and accepting because you think you’re saying the right words, or because you can say, “I know some Muslim people, or some blacks, or some gays, or some cops, or some Trump supporters, or some undocumented immigrants, or some refugees, or some women who’ve had abortions.” It’s another thing entirely to examine your own fears and then take the necessary steps to combat them with one of the greatest weapons the human mind possesses—curiosity. Curiosity led me to attend the forum; curiosity ushered me across the threshold; curiosity drew me to witness a faithful, loving, peaceful group of women at prayer, and it changed me.
It was an extraordinary experience, one that perhaps, were we living in less extraordinary times, may not have moved me so deeply. I hope with all my heart that moments like these, where we reach out to engage with and embrace others who, on the surface seem so different, will someday become less extraordinary, become instead ordinary, unremarkable. I hope that someday we will finally understand how much more alike we are than we are different. It starts with each one of us taking that first step. If we do not now have the difficult conversations with ourselves about our own deepest fears, intolerance, and ignorance, how can we ever hope to prevail in the difficult conversations we must now have, as communities and as a nation, with others who are afraid because they are ignorant, uneducated, ill-informed, or, perhaps worst of all, incurious? This important work begins inside each of us, alone.
I urge you to follow your curiosity, to actively begin stepping outside of your comfort zone. Don’t just be a mindless sheep, following only what the media or other people tell you, not even me. Go and see for yourselves, I urge you. It will make all the difference in your perspective. Learn about other faiths, engage with people from other communities, from other backgrounds. Don’t let your fears dictate your behavior. Ask questions, show up, be a part of their world, and invite them to be part of yours–because really, it’s never been about “my world” and “their world.” It’s always been “our world.”
Excerpt from Julia Tagliere’s story “His Last Human Day”
Trapped, he crouches, contemplating the giant sludge of applesauce oozing between his toes, and tries to remember exactly when everything went wrong. Then he does remember: He no longer has toes. It’s just another mind trick he still hasn’t conquered, like remembering he has an exoskeleton now, not skin. They say karma’s the bitch, but for him, it’s the remembering.
Hi Julia! Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer? How did you begin? Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?
As I suspect is the case with many writers, I started writing very young and wrote a lot of early garbage, resorting to non-writing employment—in my case, nine years of teaching high school Spanish and French—for survival purposes. Actually, when I began college, I really thought I’d be an interpreter at the UN by now; funny how things work out, isn’t it? After my third consecutive maternity leave, I took up writing again to save my sanity, and started taking graduate writing classes to get better at it. Sixteen years later, I’m still working on that.
What do you read for fun?
Anything by Neil Gaiman (I read Good Omens at least once every year) and Cook’s Illustrated magazine—outstanding writing, detailed research, and a healthy dose of dark fantasy (especially the cooking magazine). I’m also doing the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge this year, which will have me reading things outside of my comfort zone this year; they may not all be “fun,” but we shall see.
Some writers have rituals that they feel helps them with the creative process. Do you employ any rituals, or do anything regularly that helps keep you on track with your writing?
When I’m composing, I burrow into my comfy chair, put my feet up, and work with my laptop propped on a pillow on my legs; I can sit like that for hours without moving. When I’m revising, however, I’m all business—I hunch over my desktop keyboard to work, streaming classical music to help me tune out any distractions. Both approaches are terrible for one’s back; I’m certain later in life I’ll wind up emulating Dalton Trumbo and have to write in my bathtub. Keeping track of my daily word count keeps me honest.
You have a lot of experience with writing programs, having studied at DePaul University and most recently getting your M.A. from Johns Hopkins (Congrats!). What would you say to beginning writers who are trying to decide whether or not to enter a program? Is there anything you’d wished that you’d known before applying?
Dirty little secret time: I don’t believe that, in and of themselves, writing programs make anyone a better writer (except for Ed Perlman’s Sentence Power class—that kicked my butt. Thank you, Ed). In fact, I think that’s a mistake many beginning writers make—believing that if they just complete a program they’ll magically become great writers. What writing programs do, and it’s something I feel both DePaul and Johns Hopkins do quite well, is create opportunities: opportunities, in a (largely) supportive communal setting, to study, to analyze, to reflect, to debate, to connect, to be exposed (and I mean that in dual senses, both to be exposed to other works and viewpoints and such, as well as to be exposed as a writer oneself). Recognizing those opportunities and taking advantage of them with an open mind, a willing spirit, and the tenacity to put in some really hard work—that’s what makes one a better writer. Could you accomplish this growth on your own, outside of a formal writing program? Perhaps, but it’d be far more difficult to recreate such a banquet of opportunities in isolation.
If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process, what would it be? Any advice for writers trying to crack the anthology market?
We’d all like to think that being published is simply a matter of being talented, but the hard truth is that getting published requires more than just being a good writer. The world is full of good writers. The ones who are published are the ones who put themselves in the right place at the right time, something you do by getting out there and meeting people. I know, we’d all much rather snuggle into our comfy chairs and pretend the world doesn’t exist, but it just doesn’t work that way. Get out there! Attend conferences, seminars, lectures, readings, become active on social media; that is how you make the connections that will get your work seen.
Your story, “His Last Human Day,” was a ton of fun. Without giving away too much of the story, I’d like to talk about it a bit. This is a tale about transformation, on a number of levels. What touched me most about it was how well you humanize a character that is a species most find abhorrent. Was that difficult to do, or did it just sort of happen organically?
One of the things I found so difficult about reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis (and this piece is obviously an homage) was that Samsa was just so gross (I can’t watch the Jeff Goldblum version of The Fly, either). For me, personally, as a reader, the grossness got in the way of the story; I knew that, if I was going to be able to say what I wanted to say with this piece, I would have to tone down the gross-out factor quite a bit, perhaps even incorporate some humor. Once I made that decision, the actual humanization came about rather organically.
How did you come up with the idea for this story, I mean…were you just standing there in the shower, thinking dark thoughts while pondering Kafka….and…suddenly, you weren’t alone? In other words, any basis in real life, or was this just one of those fantasies that evolved out of “what if’s”?
This piece came about in two ways: First, the house we’d just moved into had a huge infestation of stink bugs; those little fuckers were everywhere. As I was showering one morning, I noticed a stink bug on the door; it was just sitting there, swinging its antennae back and forth, looking for all the world like it was actively watching me shower— that left a very disturbing impression. Then, in one of my classes later that week, we did a first-line swap: We each wrote an original first line on the chalkboard and then chose someone else’s line to start a new piece. I chose one about someone standing in a bowl of applesauce and wondering where everything went wrong, but when I began working on the assignment, using a normal-sized human protagonist just didn’t work; for my purposes, the character had to be someone (or something) very small. Of course, I thought immediately of my stinkbug stalker, but I worried about being perceived as ripping off Kafka. After much deliberation, I tackled the problem head-on by making the character an actual cockroach (a common misconception of Samsa’s character) and having the cockroach itself address Kafka’s work directly in the piece. It turned out to be one of the most fun pieces of writing I’ve done to date.
You wrote a novel, Widow Woman, in 2012. One theme of that work was forgiveness, which is also touched upon in “His Last Human Day.” Do you find that this is a recurring theme for your writing?
Yes, it is a recurring theme. I suspect it’s because I have a hard time with cynicism. Perhaps that makes me a Pollyanna or a naïve chump, but I always want to believe the best of others, no matter how abhorrent. Enough evil exists and dark things happen every day in real life; in my fiction, I can let the more optimistic, hopeful side of my imagination take over and create those opportunities for redemption. It’s not always granted, of course—wouldn’t that be dull? But the opportunities are definitely there.
Any future projects (or anything else) you want to tell us about?
I have a few short pieces already in the pipeline, along with an upper middle-grade adventure I’ve finished and am hoping to get out in 2017. As far as new writing, I’ll be working on completing my third novel, The Day the Music Didn’t Die, a fun work of magic realism for adult readers I’m excited to get back to now that I’m done with my classes; I also blog about “stuff” at justscribbling.com.
Julia Tagliere is a freelance writer and editor and studied in the M.A. in Creative Writing program at DePaul University in Illinois. Her work has appeared in magazines such as The Writer and Hay & Forage Grower and in numerous online publications. Julia’s debut novel, Widow Woman, was published in 2012. In 2014, Open to Interpretation, the juried photography and prose series, selected Julia’s short story, “The Navigator,” for publication in Love + Lust, its fourth and final installment. Another of her recent stories, “Te Absolvo,” won Best Short Story in the 2015 William Faulkner Literary Competition. This December, her personal essay, “Stars I Will Find,” appears in a collection of stories about the challenges of simultaneously caring for growing children and aging parents, Here In The Middle: Stories Of Love, Loss, And Connection From The Ones Sandwiched In Between. An active blogger and past finalist in Minneapolis’ Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series Competition, Julia resides in Maryland with her family, where she recently completed her M.A. in Fiction Writing at Johns Hopkins University.
It’s been a couple of days now, and I’ve given the Women’s March a lot of thought. I called this photo album “Julia’s March,” because I want to be clear that the photos in it represent what I saw that day, what I felt that day, and what I hoped that day would bring about. So here are my thoughts:
1. In this era of fake news, it’s critical for us to stop relying on biased media. Fox, CNN, MSNBC, Breitbart, ABC, NBC–they ALL have slants, they all have agendas. It’s time for us to see with our own eyes, hear with our own ears, and make better informed judgments. With that in mind, I didn’t caption most of these photos, because I want you to look at what I saw and make your own judgments. Please, however, pay close attention to the faces of the people in them. Notice the genders, notice the ages, notice the colors, notice the expressions, notice what the signs say, whether you like them or not.
2. I don’t consider myself a feminist. I consider myself a wife, a mother, a woman, a human being. The only one of those I marched to fight for was the last one, and I think a lot of people there felt the same way. #womensrightsarehumanright
3. People have asked me many times, before the March and since, “What do I think this big protest is going to accomplish?” It’s a valid question. Protests mean nothing, without meaningful action afterwards. What I hope, and what think I already see happening, is that the March is beginning to engage people, many of whom never engaged before, myself included, in civic action and respectful discourse on very complicated and divisive issues on a greater level than we’ve seen in my ENTIRE lifetime. Whether you marched or not, whatever your reasons for marching or not marching, I think we can ALL agree that there are too many people in this country who are hurting, who need help, who need protection–civil rights protection, economic protection, health care protection, racial justice protection, environmental protection–our country is IN TROUBLE, and it was before Trump, before Obama, before Clinton, before Bush–these problems have deep, thorny roots. If Trump has done anything, it’s to turn over the foul, grimy complacent layer of dirt on them and expose to all of us just how ugly and deep they run.
It’s insidiously easy to sit back and let the government do whatever the government wants to do, easy to feel like you, one person, you’re not enough to effect change. If all we do is march, if all we do is talk and post, then you are absolutely right: The March was for nothing, and we are not enough, will never BE enough. But if, instead, the March, whether you participated in it or not, causes us to LISTEN to each other; to actively seek out opposing viewpoints and try to engage with the people who hold them in a respectful, positive spirit of mutual cooperation and compromise; causes us to actively seek out unbiased, unfiltered primary sources of information, like CSPAN, or, even better, to attend hearings and protests and meetings IN PERSON, rather than to continue relying on someone else to regurgitate FOR you the information you use to make your judgments; causes us to CALL OUR GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES AND HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE TO THEIR PROMISES TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE; causes us to become involved at a local level in helping others–food drives, volunteering at schools and shelters and for trash pickups, causes us to stop talking and start DOING; causes us to stop reacting from the gut to sensational and polarizing news bites and stop perpetuating the cycle of disinformation and distrust–IF, and it’s a big IF, I know, because it’s a lot to ask of each other, IF this is what the March accomplishes, then that is EVERYTHING I hoped it would do. We can do this, America. I believe in us. I believe in you.
My mother was a true badass.
I never read it. Like many children do, I rebelled against my parent’s teachings. In my case, that meant soundly rejecting my mother’s fire-breathing, chest-thumping, who-needs-a-man brand of feminism. I realize now how that must’ve felt like a rejection of her, of all she was, and all she’d hoped for me. I wish I’d read it then.
Though the divorce made the early part of my life tougher (needing donations from the food pantry to get by that week; going to work at age fourteen, cleaning my mom’s friends’ homes for extra money; wearing hand-me-down clothes that my mom’s kind teacher friends brought for us in black garbage bags; having to choose between clean laundry or a shower because they both drained directly into the ground beneath our house and would flood the basement if you did both; graduating from college thousands of dollars in debt from my student loans), compared to millions of other people in this country, I would say that, on the whole, since then, I’ve had, by many folks’ objective benchmarks, a pretty great fucking life.
It wasn’t always easy, but after that initial rough start, my family and I have been blessed for decades with steady employment; nice, roomy houses in safe communities with good schools; outstanding corporate health benefits; and enough financial security to be able to absorb emergencies, save for our children’s college educations, and prepare ourselves for a comfortable retirement. We are, in fact, living the American dream.
If you didn’t know me and know what my childhood was like, you’d think I’d always lived this life overflowing with a disgusting amount of privilege. You’d think it’d be easy for me, then, to sit back and say, “Hey, our family’s good to go. Now we can relax. To hell with everybody else.”
But it’s not easy. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t look around me and remember where my life started, how hard my husband and I had to work to get to where we are today, not to mention how much support and downright luck we’ve enjoyed along the way. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel an obligation to pay that forward, in any way I can, to people who have never, in their wildest dreams, had a single day as easy as one of my hardest ones.
Yes, I’ve had a great fucking life. But for all those out there who life is just fucking—the jobless; the homeless; those lacking a decent education to prepare them for changing workforce needs, safe neighborhoods in which to live, or affordable access to quality medical care; those suffering discrimination, denial of civil rights, or outright persecution because of their race, religion, gender, country of origin, or sexual orientation—
I see you.
I hear you.
I want to help you.
My badass mother did not live to see me become a mother myself; she died before my daughter was born. But where I may not have been my mother’s idea of a woman who runs with the wolves, my daughter, however, was born howling.
From her earliest days, when her first word was “no” and she refused to wear pink or sing the alphabet song on command or stop biting her little brother on the ass, she showed herself to be a proper little savage, full of spirit and fire and fight, a spirit we never, ever tried to squelch.
She has, in fact, been raised as a child of great privilege, but she has not been raised to be blind to injustice and suffering. On the contrary: as she has grown and matured and learned about the world around her, she has begun bringing her spirit of fire and fight to bear on those injustices she sees around her, the large and the small, learning to stand up and speak her mind, to channel her passions and energies into pushing back, hard, at bullies and bigots.
But speaking up alone isn’t enough, clearly. I have occasionally sensed in her, over the last couple of years, a hint of frustration with her too-submissive, too-conventional mother, a hint of sadness, even, that I seemed (at least in her mind) content to just keep baking cookies and writing my books and cleaning the bathrooms and doing the grocery shopping. Didn’t I want to do something more?
My girl—she wants to run with the wolves, and I know that she wants me to run with them, too. Her grandmother would’ve loved that.
So we will march this weekend, howling together at the top of our lungs.
We will march for our past—for her grandmother, my mother, who was a total badass right to her last breath.
We will march for our present—for the life of privilege and access that is in such stark contrast to the lives so many of our fellow citizens are living today, the life that COMPELS us, that REQUIRES us, to find ways to help and protect others.
And, because I know I will not live forever, we will march together for the future I want to see for her: a future where she, personally, not only has the freedom to do anything with her life that she wants to, but also a future where she and all her fellow Americans can live together in peace, in freedom, with equal opportunities for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, no matter their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or orientation.
We can do better for each other, and we must.
This is #why I march.
The holidays are over, we’ve hauled the tree to the curb, and the decorations are steadily disappearing. In our house, it is also the time of year when we begin sorting and disposing of the items in the holiday gift baskets we received from my husband’s various corporate associates.
Some of the items we devour immediately (BTW, thank you, to the individual who sent the choclate pecan turtles; they were delicious–all of them, which I know, because I ate them all myself). Other items…well, let’s just say they make you wonder if someone was on the naughty list; sea urchin caviar or squid ink fettucini, anyone? Though the contents vary somewhat from year to year, the silly and child-like excitement I experience now from opening each basket has grown steadily over the years, part receiving an unexpected gift and part treasure hunt–you just never know what you’ll find inside. Here, for #FlashbackFriday, is the tale (an homage to the late, great MFK Fisher I wrote while still at DePaul University) of one such treasure we received, many years and many lovely baskets ago:
Corporate holiday gift baskets can, at times, be somewhat depressing: bottles of dicey wine; diminutive cardboard boxes full of communion-wafer crackers; almost inevitably, it seems there is always at least one shrink-wrapped brick of some cheese-like substance, the criss-cross stripes of its rubbery beige rind like pale scars—all festively cellophaned and tied with a gaudy bow. Happy Holidays! from our Human Resources Department to you…well, you humans.
This basket, however, was different. It had already been opened, for one thing, which is generally not the custom in our family: we prefer to leave them unopened. The other thing was the way in which my husband swept into our kitchen like a conquering hero, placed the basket on the counter with a flourish, and immediately pulled out of it a chunk of something crumpled into plastic wrap. He danced straight to the silverware drawer for a knife. “You have to try this.”
Allow me to say, at this point, that I am not possessed of an adventurous palate, a fact of which my husband is quite aware and which he has used against me in the past. (The last time he said “You have to try this”, I wound up choking down an elastic mouthful of calamari, a food he knows that I detest. As our children were present at the table, and we plead with them to be “tryers” of all things, no small hypocrisy on my part, my husband knew he had me cornered: I had to swallow the vile bite.) I eyed the plastic chrysalis in his hand with some misgiving.
“Try what?” I suspiciously watched him peeling the layers of plastic wrap from the mass. Through the plastic, I could see smeary glimpses of verdant green, like moss through a foggy window.
“What is it?” He removed the last of its filmy cocoon and held it out triumphantly for me to see. “It’s cheese.” I looked skeptically at the large wedge he was cupping reverently in his hands: it was surprisingly beautiful. The rind revealed was more like an emerald in color; the cheese itself was firm and a milky white, alabaster flesh untouched by the sun. I leaned a little closer and gave a small sniff, still not quite trusting my husband’s motives. Was this, perhaps, Limburger in disguise?
As I inhaled its fragrance, my fears dissolved. My mouth began to water, convulsively so. Its perfume was pungent, richly infused with an almost palpable creaminess and a tartness I could not define. I felt the first stirrings of hesitant desire. I looked up and nodded to my husband: I would, indeed, try. He eagerly and tenderly coaxed a small, crumbly morsel from the wedge, and placed it on my waiting tongue. I could feel its tanginess penetrating the tender buds on the tip of my tongue, as the velvety white flesh melted in my mouth. Delicate crystals shivered their way across my teeth. I closed my eyes, lost in blissful gustatory communion. I swallowed the last glorious swallow with a feeling of profound sadness at the emptiness of my mouth. Without opening my eyes, I said “More. Please.” My husband happily obliged, granting me another precious mouthful, a dewy milkpod bursting open on my tongue and flooding my mouth with delight. Fairly purring now, I sank into a chair and sighed contentedly. “What is this and where can we get more?”
He joined me at the table, carving off, I noted, a quite large slice for himself; my eyes narrowed as I visualized the tipped scales of his portion as compared to mine. “Isn’t it good? I don’t know what it’s called,” he blithely replied, gobbling his entire slice down in one hedonistic gulp. The briny kiss of this new love still tingling on my lips, I felt the beginnings of panic start to rise. “What do you mean, you don’t know? Where did you get it? What store did they buy the basket from?” As my husband unconcernedly chopped off yet another enormous tranche for himself, I began tearing apart the rest of the basket, searching frantically for a store label. There was none. Typical corporate holiday gift basket, I thought bitterly. I sank back into my chair, dejected.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like it?” My husband was blissfully unaware of my sense of loss at realizing that this rapidly shrinking wedge was all that remained of such ecstasy. I felt the desolate sensation of two ships having passed in the night.
Seeing my husband raise the knife once again, I moved quickly and grabbed the remaining treasure, hurriedly, but lovingly, cocooning it once again in its cradle of plastic wrap. “Why don’t we save this for later? Maybe this weekend, get a good bottle of wine to go with it?” My voice sounded artificially cheerful even to me. “Okay,” my husband said over his shoulder, as he left the kitchen to change out of his work clothes, innocent of my machinations.
After watching him retreat down the hallway, I gazed in wicked, adulterous triumph at the surprisingly weighty jewel I now held in my hands, knowing full well that this weekend, the good bottle of wine would be consumed sans fromage—at least, sans this fromage. I hid my stolen, anonymous love deep in the refrigerator, behind the plain yogurt (where I knew it would be safe). I dreamed of the midnight rendez-vous to com
Here in the Middle–Stories of Love, Loss and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between is being published today, and I am absolutely thrilled–and terrified, but more on that in a moment–to be included in this collection. When I first learned about this anthology from one of its two amazing editors, Julie Jo Severson, I knew right away that 1) this book would be something special, something desperately needed; and 2) I wanted to be a part of it.
I had a story to tell, but, honestly, I wasn’t sure if it would be a good fit–maybe my experience wasn’t universal enough, maybe it was too different from what other families were experiencing. But as it turns out, that worry, that “maybe I’m the only one” sentiment, is precisely what’s at the heart of this lovely anthology.
So many of us today, as we enter (ick-ack-can’t say it-must say it) middle age, find that we’re not only still raising our own kids, but are also increasingly faced with the additional challenges of caring for our aging parents, even grandparents–and so many of us, while blessed with the bounty of extra time with our parents and the precious opportunities that time presents for us, also find ourselves struggling mightily at the constant pulling on our resources in every direction.
The worst part of this struggle is that we believe, quite mistakenly, that no one else could possibly understand what we’re going through; as Here in the Middle proves in such a moving, inspiring, and achingly tender fashion, that belief couldn’t be farther from the truth.
We are not alone.
So I took a chance and submitted my piece, “Stars I Will Find,” which I wrote as a way to process a tremendously difficult experience my family went through with my elderly dad last year. As I so often do when I’m struggling to make sense of something going on in my world, I wrote about it. Often, those types of writing are more my “therapy” than anything I would ever intend to see the light of a public day–they’re just too personal. Writing about what happened was the easy part, the cathartic part; making the decision to share it publicly was downright terrifying. I’m a fiction writer, after all; making up stories about fictional characters is what I do, so sharing something so real about people I love so much feels incredibly frightening to me. But because I feel so strongly about the positive impact sharing our stories could have on other people facing many of these same issues, I knew that I wanted to share mine as a part of this incredible book.
I suspect that many of my fellow contributors underwent similar experiences–writing to understand, to learn, and to heal, but now, sharing, to help others. I give my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to our amazing editors, Christine Organ and Julie Jo Severson, for their inspiration, dedication, their tireless work to bring this book to fruition, and their faith in my story, as well as to my fellow contributors for their courage, humor, and generosity in sharing their stories.
No matter what stage of life you are in at the moment, I hope that you will pick up a copy of Here in the Middle, if only as a loving, compassionate reminder that some experiences are, in fact, more universal than we let ourselves believe, and that there is strength, hope, inspiration, and joy to be found in sharing those experiences with others. I would humbly ask, if you find the book helpful, as I believe people will, please be sure to let others know about it by sharing a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. Thanks.
Happy Launch Day, everyone! #hereinthemiddlebook
It’s been several days since it rained here, but this morning, November 9, 2016, it is raining and gloomy, which suits my frame of mind.
The pundits this morning are all wondering what they missed, how they didn’t see a Trump victory coming. That’s sort of the point of a “secret vote,” though, and more significant in this election, perhaps, than in any other. I believe the people who won this election for Trump were not the ones screaming at his rallies, wearing his Make America Great Again hats, or posting signs in their front yards. Yesterday, the people who won this election for Trump weren’t using an “ImWithHim” hashtag or wearing pantsuits for unity; they weren’t even sharing photos of their I Voted stickers.
No, they were virtually silent, trying desperately to fly under the radar of their friends, families, and neighbors. I believe that’s because, unlike Trump’s louder, hate-spewing, proud-to-be-visible core “basket of deplorables” (his white supremacist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant, shit heap of a base), the folks who pushed Trump over the finish line were deeply ashamed of voting for him, but saw no other viable option. (Come on, HRC voters—did all of you feel you saw one, truly?)
But why didn’t that shame translate into a vote against him? That’s a question that will keep historians busy for generations to come. Obviously, in the minds of these silent voters, Secretary Clinton seemed an equally terrible choice.
I get it—I do. Back in the primaries, when we had a baker’s dozen and then some of Republican candidates to choose from, I, too, pushed the idea of “Don’t just elect a woman president; elect the right one.” I am no Clinton fan. But as the field of options shrank throughout the primary process, finally leading to this previously unthinkable contest between two wretched candidates, I, like so many of my fellow Americans, cast my vote feeling like I had no choice.
It’d be easy to lump these quiet Trump folks into the same basket with the rest of his cretins, but that would be ignoring the message we should be trying to understand from their silent support of this terrible man.
These secret voters of his, I believe in my heart, feel quite anxious this morning, too. They’ve been just as appalled by this man’s rhetoric, just as disgusted by his actual behavior, as the rest of us, but these folks, these “forgotten men and women” Trump referenced in his speech last night, they’re in trouble, and they know it. Their schools, their government, and their economy have left them desperate in the dust, scrabbling for basic survival. You know what desperate people do? Well, last night, they voted, and this morning, I believe, they’re hoping and praying that, now that the bluster of the election is over, Trump will settle down, stop being such an asshat, and start delivering on some of the promises he made to them during his campaign.
Unlike his basket of core deplorables, Trump’s silent voters last night, I believe, are not out for the blood of our vulnerable brothers and sisters—the minorities, women, LGBTQ, immigrants, Muslims, and others whose rights will likely now be in jeopardy under a Trump presidency. I believe that those stealth voters voted in silence because they actually disagree with many of Trump’s positions, but that, out of their own desperation, they were willing to set those concerns aside and vote for the candidate they thought more likely to help them and their families. Their silence last night, even as their vote count climbed, was deafening. That silence, a reflection of their collective shame, should send a huge message to those of us who voted differently, a message that, on the other side of this divide, there are people suffering, just as there are on this side. The fact that they hid their votes should shed a bright light for all of us not just on the freshly re-exposed hatred and misogyny and bigotry of the mouthpieces at the front of Trump’s vaunted “national [bowel] movement,” but also on the fact that there are desperate people in our country who need our help, and they are desperately unprepared to come up with any better solution than electing this equally unprepared demagogue. They will need all the help we can give them.
Having said all of this has not lessened my own anger, anxiety, disgust, distress—even fear—this morning at the thought of what the Trump presidency will mean for our legitimately now more-vulnerable brothers and sisters. While I am trying hard to understand and have some empathy for Trump’s silent, shamed supporters, the results of my efforts pale in comparison to what I fear lies ahead for the list of people Trump and his basket of core deplorables now must feel completely within their rights to intimidate, mock, threaten, and persecute.
So what do we do now, with all this desperation on both sides? Can we find a way to turn to each other and say, I know you’re suffering, brother, what can I do to help? Can we find a way, sister, that will lift us all up? Not only to build up those who feel the firm ground of American potential has crumbled beneath their feet, but also, to build an unbreakable wall (YES! I said build a damned wall!) of loving service and tolerance and compassion, not at any of our borders, but between our vulnerable, terrified brothers and sisters—women, minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ, Muslims—and the hateful agenda of Trump’s reprehensible base? I believe that we can. What’s more, I believe that now, we must.
But words are no longer enough. Trump will be president now, and we need to join together as a country to protect and serve in all of the areas his presidency now puts in jeopardy, so below, I’ve compiled a list of organizations that already exist. Check them out, choose one, donate, volunteer, repeat as necessary.
I get it. It’s upsetting and terrifying to wake up this morning to the reality of a Trump presidency, so take a day. Cry a little. Curse a little. Then dust off your pantsuit, roll up those sleeves, and get to work—we’ve got a country to make great again, and it will only happen if we all work together to stop the bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic, ignorant base that started this crazy train rolling to begin with.
After all, we’ve only got four more years.
Last week, I attended my second Chesapeake Writing Workshop in Arlington, VA. Our speaker was Brian A. Klems, Online Editor for Writer’s Digest. The workshop covered some of the basic nuts and bolts of publishing and offered the opportunity to not only pitch (for a fee) some of the agents on hand, but also to have the first page of your work read aloud and critiqued live by a panel of four agents–sort of like The Voice, but for writing.
The “Writers Got Talent” portion of the day didn’t really hold any surprises for me, but a handful of some of the more seasoned attendees noticed that the mood in the room, as page after page was rejected by the agents (some after just a line or two, not even making it to the end of the page), grew increasingly hostile. Some of these aspiring writers in the audience were really angry at the agents, who were, I’m sorry to say, just doing their jobs, the same ones they do every single day, at a pace that can drop hundreds of submissions a day into their inboxes.
I’ll be honest, I felt bad for the agents on hand, because I’m sure they could hear the grumblings and see the glares (though they’re agents, so they are unbelievably tough), so I took a lot of notes on the comments the agents were making, because as writers, folks, these are the kinds of things we ignore at our peril. Think you’re ready to submit to an agent? Read through my notes first–you just might thank me someday. Not sure what some of these things mean? Well, that right there’s a red flag for you, but send me a message–I’m happy to clarify.
WHY AGENTS STOP READING:
I could go on, but that’s a pretty long list as it is. The bottom line is, you only get a minute or two to make that good strong impression on an agent, so your query letter and your submission better be outstanding. Good luck, and keep writing!
Well, it’s official: I’ve submitted the first draft of my thesis for review, and the process was just as much of a pain in the ass as I’d heard it would be.
From a body of program work comprising more than thirty pieces, I needed to select a maximum of sixty pages. In preparation, I spent weeks revisiting all of them, trying to identify which pieces felt strongest, and ultimately narrowed it down to five.
I’d been contemplating doing a collection of linked stories, but initially, I worried that the five pieces I thought were my strongest didn’t have a readily apparent link. The more time I spent with them, however, the clearer their connection became. Once I understood that, the rest of the process suddenly seemed like a piece of cake:
But you don’t sacrifice this much time, blood and sweat and tears and coffee addiction, working on something, only to stop at the finish line–even if you are ready to vomit.
Needless to say, after several days more of revising; six hours of formatting (Can we just all agree that the phrase “Should adhere to official university and program format and style” is code for “You are now entering the ninth circle of Hell”?); one wasted hour of tracking down ink for the new printer; one hour of printing; one hour of reprinting; one hour of obsessively line-checking each page; one hour of driving into D.C. to hand-deliver the draft; ten minutes of arguing with the parking garage attendant that yes, I LITERALLY* ONLY NEED TEN MINUTES BECAUSE I’M JUST DROPPING SOMETHING OFF SO PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LET ME PARK HERE AND I’LL GIVE YOU ALL THE CASH IN MY WALLET; five minutes of hyperventilating in front of the locked door to a clearly empty office; two minutes of grateful weeping on the shoulder of the office staffer who promised to get my thesis to my advisor; thirty seconds of sprinting back to the garage to make my ten-minute window; and one hour of driving home from D.C. (my sincerest apologies to all the motorists I passed on the way, who clearly did not appreciate the volume of my music), the job was done: I could finally relax…
…at least until the revision process with my faculty advisor begins.
*Acceptable usage in this case–and ONLY in this case.