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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thank You For Supporting Wisconsin Public Workers!!

By David Seth Michaels

Thank you to everyone who attended a demonstration on Solidarity Saturday in support of Wisconsin's public workers! It's important to turn up in physical as opposed to digital form, to link arms, to carry signs, to speak out, to be counted on this important issue.

I've been on fire about Scott Walker's plan to abrogate public workers' collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, and the copy cat legislation introduced in other states in which the Teapublicans and probably more important, the Koch brothers or other members of the oligarchy, have control. I've written about it. I've bought pizza for the demonstrators. I've talked to colleagues and friends about it.

So pulling on the heavy boots and the thermal underwear and hitting the pavement with others in Albany, New York on Saturday was a natural, positive next step to express my view that the termination of collective bargaining for public or private workers, in Wisconsin or elsewhere, is an unwarranted regression to Teapublican Nirvana, the nineteenth century. That and every other atavism that increases oppression and exploitation, however disguised, has to be fought.

I have little doubt that what we are seeing is a dramatic exercise of the Shock Doctrine. The excuse is that the states don't have money in the treasury. You can tell this is so: asking the top 1% to discontinue their tax exemption to balance a budget is immediately called tyranny, but cutting a teacher's salary by 8% along with his/her pension and medical benefits is necessary to curtail excessive spending. Asking for an increase in corporate taxes is decried as socialism, but abrogating the right to collective bargaining is a necessary sharing of the pain.

Bailing out Wall Street to the tune of billions is necessary because they are too big to fail, but extending unemployment benefits to workers who cannot find work is an incentive to sloth. Look. It's really simple. The rich don't pay their fair share and they control the Government to prevent that from happening. Everybody else, meaning you and me and everyone you know, has to "share the pain."

Why? Because we're only willing to look at one side of the equation: the side about spending. We don't dare look at the side about income. This is silly. But it's also simple, household bookkeeping. Want to balance your budget: you can either increase the money coming into the till by taxing those with the most, or you can decrease spending on the backs of the soon to be once-middle-class by impoverishing teachers, firefighters, state workers, policemen, sanitation workers, on and on. The Teapublicans clearly prefer the latter.

The fact is that the Teapublicans are just stooges for the Oligarchy. It should be obvious by now. Scott Walker immediately took the phone call from "David Koch." Do you think for a second that you could get your Governor on the phone by calling up? And that once you got the Gov on the line, you could have a rambling, pointless, unhurried blibber blabber? Are you kidding? When officials-none of these are in as exalted a position as the Governonr-- rarely take my calls, they want to get down to the bottom line in a big hurry and they want to get off the line. Not so if you're "David Koch." And if Scott Walker won't take the call and grovel for a while, the Citizens United decision and the Koch Brothers' money will assure that there will always be someone else in the office who is more receptive, more appreciative. And just as much a tool.

The only known counterpoint to this is organized labor. Only organized labor has money to fund candidates who aren't Koch heads. If labor is destroyed, there is no obstacle to the Oligarchy's impoverishing everyone, include the once-middle-class. There is no check to its rapaciousness. The government will slowly be filled with even more tools and stooges. And you and I, amigos, will do more than share the pain, we'll carry all of it.

NOTE: Salon.org's Joan Walsh was reporting on Sunday night that Wisconsin's unionized police had allowed demonstrators to remain in the state capital another night. Also, a Wisconsin state Republican reportedly had come out in opposition to the Governor's union-busting tactics.

Writer David Seth Michaels is an attorney in Columbia County, New York, who keeps a wonderful blog called The Dream Antilles. This post appeared first on a series of blogs associated with the Port Writers Alliance.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

And the Oscar Goes to...


"The Social Network" may or may not win the Oscar for Best Picture out in Hollywood tonight. But marketing expert Sean Smith suggests that no matter what happens with the movie, the story of the Facebook phenomenon told in the film is worthy of an award -- one for absolutely brilliant marketing.

By Sean Smith

The 83rd Academy Awards are tonight, and "The Social Network," with eight nominations, including one for Best Picture, is among the top contenders. Interestingly, what makes "The Social Network" a strong contender is less the quality of its acting or directing than the fact that it is one of greatest rags-to-riches story ever told. Forget the over-hyped controversy about whether Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook. This film actually shows how Facebook went from being just an idea to a viral marketing phenomenon that convinced 500 million people to change their online behavior. Forever.

So how did a couple of college students, with almost no resources, marketing budget or staff launch and build the most successful social networking Web site ever? And more importantly, what viral marketing lessons can we learn from watching The Social Network?

One of the aspects of "The Social Network" is that it actually demonstrates some of the critical marketing decisions that Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin, the co-founders of Facebook, made during the launch and start-up period of Facebook.

Both the movie and the book on which it is based, Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires, make clear that Zuckerberg and Saverin had more than an intuitive understanding of some time-tested marketing principles, strategies and tactics. What the movie and the book both show is that even some of their seemingly minor decisions, proved to have a profound effect on the success of their product.

The money shot comes about a third of the way into the movie -- the cold February night in 2004 when they launched what was then called thefacebook.com from Zuckerberg's Harvard dorm room. Objectively, it may seem laughable that a couple of college students huddled over a laptop while discussing email lists changed history, but that's exactly what happened.

After some discussion, Zuckerberg and Saverin agreed to send the initial email to just two lists: Zuckerberg's dorm list and a list of the members of the Phoenix, a prominent Harvard social club to which Saverin belonged. This scene in the movie shows what the book states:

If Mark had simply tried to send it out to his own e-mail list, it would bounce around the computer science department. And the Jewish fraternity of course. Certainly it wouldn't get many -- if any -- girls. And that would be a problem.
As the book further points out, they decided this:

"The Phoenix [email list] was a much better idea. That -- along with Kirkland House e-mail list, which Mark had legal access to, as a member of the house -- would get this thing started right."

And get this thing started right it did -- that email changed history. According to the book, in the first four days following the launch of thefacebook.com, "Most of the Harvard Campus had signed up. By the second week there had been nearly 5,000 members."

Two points that critically important here:

Zuckerberg knew he needed that Phoenix list -- without it all he had was just another idea in search of an audience, and
They didn't bother trying to get every email address at Harvard; they knew they didn't need to. Somehow they understood that it was better to reach the trendsetters or influencers. The rest would follow.
Shortly thereafter they opened Facebook up to some other schools, but only a few. According to the book, inside of two months, "it was estimated that there were close to nearly 50,000 members. Stanford, Columbia, Yale -- ". It is not clear to what extent the decision to roll out Facebook first at Harvard, then to the other Ivies (before opening it up other schools), was motivated by resource constraints, caution or a well thought out marketing strategy.

What is clear is that they executed a near-perfect "D-Day Strategy," a marketing strategy described by Dr. Geoffrey Moore in his seminal technology marketing book Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers. In short, Dr. Moore's book advocates a highly focused market penetration strategy, based on the Normandy invasion. It begins with a single point of entry (the beachhead) and then fans out like a "bowling alley," acquiring one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group. Dr. Moore, asked this week for comment on "The Social Network," said he hadn't seen it. However he did have this to say: "I can see how Harvard could have been a beachhead and the Ivy League a bowling alley."

So back to the movie. What's thrilling to watch is how this brilliant strategy plays out throughout the rest of the film. By concentrating all of their limited resources on first securing the beachhead (Harvard) and then slowly expanding to other Ivy League schools, Zuckerberg and Saverin were able to quickly capture practically all of the university market, almost effortlessly. What is even more amazing is that within one year of the launch, they had already passed the million-user mark. And it all started with one email.

Sean Smith is Director of Marketing for InfoDesk, Winner: 2011 CODiE Award for "Best Business Information Resource." He lives in Washington, D.C. This piece appeared first at the Huff Post.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Palms, Growing Everywhere in the Desert Canyons


By Claudia Ricci

I guess most people come out to Palm Springs for golfing, as there is said to be 100 golf courses.

But I've only seen one, as we drove to Palm Canyon, one of many of the so-called "Indian Canyons," part of the reservation where the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians lives. We hiked Palm Canyon first, and saw 3,000 native California fan palms. Of 2,800 species of palm world-wide, this is the only species of palm native to California.

Then, yesterday, we went back to hike Andreas Canyon. Everyone on the trail was smiling. It is one of the most astonishing places I've ever been. It's like hiking in the Garden of Eden. It is the sort of place you wish you could airlift every single person you love in for a few hours.

Bubbling streams.
Gigantic pink and rose-colored rock. Waving palms. Cactus as high as your shoulders. And tiny desert flowers.

Clear air. Blue skies. Mountains powdered with snow. And so much rock.



We were having so much fun that when we reached the end of the hike, we turned around and hiked back in the other direction.






The ocotillo cactus, with their thin limbs sprawling 10 or 12 feet high, had red flowers that attracted hummingbirds! So too did the tiny red chuparosa, a desert flower that resembles honeysuckle. And yes, the blossoms are sweet and taste a little like cucumber! People here put them in salad!









Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lynn, Still, Breathless, Writing

By Lynn Biederstadt

Woke smiling, this rainy morning. Woke quiet. Woke in love. Woke in the collected, concentrated inner stillness that comes of knowing that you and the beloved thing breathe a common air; that the loved one, even at a distance, is always close by. The writing. The thing I am.

The outside world, farther away today. Its realities, its disappointments, its challenges, they don’t press so closely. The writer floats within herself, hearing the inner voice that says “it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay, whatever it will be.” It’s the flame, the smoke, the mist, the water, the moment before the rising sun makes itself known.

If I had had the freedom, I would have stayed home today; would have written into the silence. I don’t. So I will smile as long as I can and try to remember how I feel in this moment to recall in the moments when I feel nothing at all.

I don’t know where it comes from, this feeling. I don’t know how long it will last or how to hang onto it or how to make it come back when it goes. The energy of a small hope, translated overnight into something bigger.

Today, I know who I am. Today, I know what I do.

Lynn breathless, smiling in the rain.

Writer Lynn Biederstadt, a former New Yorker, lives in Missouri and keeps a marvelous blog called Sky Diaries. Bookmark it. And look for Lynn's new novel, The Spiritkeeper, to appear SOON, on MyStoryLives.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Does Writing Make Us Healthier?

NOTE TO READERS: Anyone who is hooked on journaling will tell you that they feel almost a physical relief after writing. The act of expression releases pent-up energy and when the writing is done, the body feels more relaxed. In his ground-breaking book,"Opening Up," psychologist James Pennebaker explores the medical benefits associated with journaling, or what he calls "confession." He first began his research after studying lie-detector tests. It turns out that after a person takes the test, muscles relax, heart and respiratory rates improve. In other words, confessing our secrets is good for the body. Pennebaker went on to do multiple studies of college students and other groups, and measured marked improvements in health as a result of sharing our innermost secrets.

In the Happiness class this semester, we are reading Pennebaker and discussing the merits of his research. One student, Carrie Holmes, who is now a senior in college, reacted to Pennebaker's book by telling the story of her freshman year, and how journal-writing helped save her sanity after a horrifying incident occurred.

By Carrie Holmes

James Pennebaker, psychologist and author of Opening Up, poses a series of questions in the opening chapter of his book.

He asks, “Why do people throughout the world seek to tell their stories? Is there some kind of urge to confess? Is it healthy for us to divulge our deepest thoughts and feelings? Or, conversely, is it unhealthy not to disclose the private sides of our lives?”

While I must admit, most, if not all of these questions never crossed my mind prior to reading them, I was intrigued.

I immediately thought back to the first time I told my story (well part of it, as I do not believe I have told my entire story.)

I tried to recover my feelings and thoughts as I went through that process. What made me tell my story? How did it feel? How did I feel? It became apparent to me that the only way to answer these questions would be to first answer to opposite; what made me not tell my story?

For a long time I carried the secrets of my past, and at some points in my life, secrets of the present. I was yoked to those secrets. They were agents of oppression, and I was in bondage to them. There was this one particular incident: it occurred freshman year of college, during the summer before freshman year, to be exact. I had just met this guy who, at first, seemed very nice to me. We began seeing each other.

Being young and naïve, I thought this relationship was going to be "it." I thought that I had found the love of my life and I was looking forward to the next four years with him in college.

Then one evening we were in his car and he was driving and suddenly I did not recognize where we were going. He pulled into some abandoned lot and to make a long story short, I was violated sexually.

When I got back to campus, I acted as if nothing had happened. The way I saw it, I was lucky to be alive. I tried my best to forget about it and focus on the remainder of the summer program that was the reason for me being in Albany in the first place.

Many people may think that I was crazy for not telling anyone what happened to me that summer. I can imagine now what some of my friends would have said to me: “You have to go to the cops," and "Don’t you want him arrested?" and "Don't you want revenge?"

To have talked about the issue would have meant that I would actually have had to confront the issue, and as Pennebaker suggests, “Confrontation forces a rethinking of events.” (pg. 10)

Unfortunately I just wanted it all to go away! I was confused, I was hurt, and I was scared by this traumatic experience.

“People are less likely to talk about parental divorce, sexual trauma, and violence than the death of a family member. Death appears to be socially acceptable…” (pg.19). Date rape was something that I had only heard about until that experience, and even so, it was not something “socially acceptable.”

The only accounts I had heard were statistics, or from TV shows. It was not something that was discussed. Even if I wanted to talk about it, I did not know how. Talking about being raped was not something I'd been taught in school. I was still processing it all. I was coping with it the best way I knew how and that was to keep it to myself.

I remember how guilty I felt. It seemed like people always had something negative to say about women who are raped. I also remembered the loud words of a fellow high school student, who had said, “If a girl gets raped it’s her fault for putting herself in that situation.” I couldn’t tell anyone because I felt that it was my fault, at least that’s what I thought at the time.
I beat myself up every day for being so “stupid.”

As every day passed, it became easier and easier to keep it all bottled inside.

No one can deny that talking about what happened to me would have been in my favor, but there were too many things riding on keeping it secret. Back then my friends always saw me as strong, primarily because I had gone through so many other traumas growing up. That was another reason I could not bring myself to talk about what had happened. I did not want my friends to view me as weak or defenseless. I did not want to be exposed. I wanted to remain the strong Carrie that every relied on; I wanted to be the one to help them through their issues.

Pennebaker explores the “healing power” of expressing emotions and writing about traumatic situations. He says that “writing about emotional upheavals has been found to improve the physical and mental health of…rape victims” (pg. 40). When I read this quote I must say that I had to agree. Not only did I agree with this statement but also the statement “writing about emotional topics has been found to reduce anxiety and depression.” (pg. 40)

These two quotes really highlight my freshman-year experience. After my assault, I took an English class with one of the most inspiring professors of my college career (she is also helping me now to maintain my sanity senior year.) It was in this professor's class that I began writing about my traumatic experience. She required us to keep journals.

While there were some assignments given, most of what we wrote in our journals was about how we felt and what was going on in our lives. One evening I chose to write about the rape for the first time. I had a lot of feelings. I felt nervous, I wondered what she would think, I felt relived, I felt liberated, I felt sad, I felt angry, and I felt all kinds of ways. I can say today that that was one of the best choices that I have made in my life.

As Pennebaker suggests, writing about my experience allowed me to understand how I felt. Journaling also allowed me to get some closure about the situation; I was no longer hostabe to the secret. I could move on. I was no longer depressed about the situation.

Although there were still things going on in my life that caused stress and depression, I had discovered writing and realized what a very good coping mechanism it could be for me. And so I wrote my way through freshman year. With every opportunity that I got, I wrote about an experience, whether in a journal entry, or a class assignment, I wrote.

If there was anything that I could add to Pennebaker’s work, it would be the fact that writing about a situation that is traumatic gives you power over it. Through my writing I was able to recreate a lot of situations that felt like they were out of my control; that proved to be very helpful in my healing process.

I have come to understand that although my reasons for not telling my story may have been valid, and even “normal,” expressing myself has had many benefits. Through writing, a different feeling came over me; something shifted in my life.

Truly, Pennebaker is right: “a change does come over people when they write about traumatic experiences for the first time.” (pg. 43)

I know one thing: I'm glad I wrote, and I will continue writing!

Carrie Holmes, a senior at the University at Albany, State University of New York, will graduate in May, 2011.

Monday, February 21, 2011

"I'm Gonna Live!"

By Roshell Roland-Curry


Death’s angels came to me today reminding me of all my ways, and how they blocked my path.

Death showers came and rained their soothing sounds, saying

you can leave today make it all go away, you won’t cry no more, hurt no more, see no more, breathe no more

In that second it seemed so right and then there came my saving light.

It screamed and groaned so loud in me saying

I’m gonna live, I’m gonna live. I wanna live; I wanna live, to see the sun rise again, to feel the wind rub my face, to hear the songs the birds will sing, to taste the fruit that harvest brings, to smell the salt in the ocean’s breeze I wanna live.

Death’s angel started in right away with despair and troubled times, heart ache, pain and all my shame.

My saving light so shined on me and whispered,

Remember when we laughed and played, remember trouble don’t last always. Remember this you do in remembrance of me, my blood was shed to set you free, I died, was buried, and rose again! Remember you're always in my hands

I’m gonna live, I’m gonna live, I wanna live, wanna live.

I don’t remember breathing in my sleep, but I know it is God keeping me. He wakes me each morning with new grace and mercy saying behold the sun rising again, feel the wind caress your skin, listen to the melodies the birds sing, savor the fruit my harvest brings, smell the seasoning in the ocean's breeze...

You’re living!



Writer Roshell Roland-Curry lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is exploring the way poetry writing can help to move her life forward.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Killing Natasha" -- My Journey Forward


By Elizabeth Aritonang

I am carelessly flipping through my math notebook, the equations and linear graphs a jumble in my mind.

Man, fuck this! Why am I doing this nonsense when I could be off with Natasha somewhere? We could be eating McGriddles and talking about the complexities of life. Now there’s something worth learning. Not this daily dose of bullshit. I’m never going to make it anywhere in life anyway. Why do I even come to school?

The bell rings and Mr. Ford stops me. I stand awkwardly in the doorway. He tries to give me a pep talk.

Asshole,” I whisper to myself. I glare at him thinking, your sandy hair and blue eyes don’t faze me you bad Chad Michael Murray impersonator.

He pauses, looking at me confused. “Don’t you have any dreams?” He says this in such a way that I feel as if he is insulting me. I turn to stone and my face is burning. Before I know it, tears start to fall.

“I’m sick and tired of all you teachers getting all up in my business about my life. If I want to be a screw up it’s my decision. You don’t know me. I’m a screw up on my own. Nobody cares what my dreams are. So neither should you.”

As the next class pours in, I storm out, leaving Mr. Ford speechless.

I meet Natasha in a dingy stairway. Her bright pink bangs frame her big eyes that are widened with concern. “Lizzy what’s wrong?”

I giggle and say “Nothing.” I suggest that we leave school and get food.

After my encounter with Mr. Ford, I didn’t go back to math class for about a week and a half. I spent those hours taking long walks with Natasha and taking the 7 train to nowhere. We ran from her grandmother who chased her to school and we kept far from the place I lived. We cried under bridges and collected quarters for bagels.

I imagined myself giving a dramatic monologue to my math teacher, “My only dream, Mr. Ford, is to take away Natasha’s pain as well as my own.”

These days when I think of Natasha, she is just a beautiful memory – not a jerking heartache.

When I was thirteen I met this girl with colorful hair named Natasha Jezel Hoyos. We got into the same high school.

When I was fourteen I ran away from school and had plans of running away forever. Unfortunately we ran to Toys r Us, and unfortunately she had suspicious contents in her backpack.
Sitting in that dingy room, I was unhappy. Looking at my face in a clouded car window, I was unhappy. Watching Natasha get high and steal honey buns, I was unhappy. My life needed to change. I went to school, she left me.
When I was sixteen, I applied to 12 schools. I was a junior in high school with a 3.2. Natasha was still a freshmen and she ended up dropping out.
When I was seventeen I got into seven of those schools.
When I was eighteen I wrote about how I killed Natasha.
And I’m never looking back.

Writer Elizabeth Aritonang is a freshman at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is one of the most outstanding students that this college professor has ever had the pleasure to meet.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Resurrecting Proust -- a new book that will help you tell YOUR story!


Note to Readers: I had the very great pleasure to meet writer CoCo Harris at a journal writing conference in Denver back in 2008. I've been waiting for her book, "Resurrecting Proust," ever since! CoCo -- a self-described "true believer in the power of expressive, creative writing" -- has compiled a fabulous set of journaling techniques and prompts that take you by the hand and lead you directly into personal storytelling and memoir. Thanks CoCo, for your terrific book!






PREFACE

By CoCo Harris

He didn’t invent it, but he owns it: the Proust Questionnaire. A questionnaire devised by Antoinette Faure, the daughter of the 19th century French president, was taken by Marcel Proust at the ages of 14 and 20. Although completed only twice, his name has since become associated with this set of 23 questions that was once the bourgeoisie parlor game of Paris.

At social gatherings in the late 1800s, the social and literary elite would answer this set of questions and share their responses in a game-like fashion. In an 1892 article, Proust published his answers as “Salon Confidences Written by Marcel,” in La Revue Illustrée XV and this Parisian Parlor game later became famously associated with his name after his death in 1922.

Now, in the 21st century, versions of the Proust Questionnaire have shown up in a wide array of magazines, newspapers, blogs, and even talk shows. This post-modern resurgence of related questionnaires has illustrated the desire of readers and writers alike to stop and take a quick look at who they are and form answers based on a set of specified questions.

Well over a century later, and long after the questionnaire became in vogue, a host of such quizzes have crept onto our computer screens in non-print versions by way of myriad web sites, social networking sites, and scores of emails; which, at best, only offer small morsels of insight into the psyche and soul of the queried; and at worst, provide an assortment of collected trivia.

Resurrecting Proust encourages much more than trivia in this next level of querying and contemplation. By providing a set of creative journaling techniques, along with stimulating prompts, this book requires those engaged in it to not only search for answers but to go further and consider the why, who, where, when, and most importantly, what we have become because of our thoughts and experiences.

Marcel Proust has long since been revered for his languid passages that evoke a connection between the act of reflection and understanding aspects of the self. Proust’s fiction and nonfiction writings are replete with contemplative introspections carrying the readers along emotional threads weaving a thick tapestry of interiority. His characteristic introspection embodies the type of writing Resurrecting Proust is aiming to evoke.

We are now more aware of the role of uncovering the emotional tone of our memories, both consciously and unconsciously. Our memories create our stories, which are the inner narratives that we tell ourselves over and over again, revising all along. Our stories are central to who we are, or who we think we are. Key to identity is the act of reflection.

Today, we are continuing to evolve even further into examining our psyches, attempting to understand who we are, and in this case, telling our stories. More than ever, we are reading, writing, and sharing our stories in various forms of memoir and literary biography. Resurrecting Proust allows us to push the boundaries of structure in our personal narratives. We are afforded an opportunity to take ourselves at face value without judgment and unearth our stories by way of the informal guise of journaling to produce memoir as art.

Furthermore, as we move forward with the old and new ways of creating narratives, a guiding template such as Resurrecting Proust allows us to move toward more robust and dynamic storytelling, while maintaining interior forms of expression. With the creative journal writing techniques described herein, we are writing Letters (sent and unsent), sculpting Poems, forming Lists, constructing Dialogues, traveling on Written Journeys, devising Portraits (of self and others), creating Artistic entries, taking on Altered Viewpoints, and mining our streams of consciousness with Freeversing.

Resurrecting Proust employs post-modern storytelling methods that push us even further into examining ourselves and shaping our stories. There are prompts within this text such as Living in You-topia; Words that Stick; Stupidity; On Death and Dying; Never!; The Name Game; Ego vs. Superego; It Was the Best of Time; and Time Capsule just to name a few, all of which foster meaningful memory mining, not unlike the famed questionnaire. However, these techniques, in conjunction with the array of prompts, attempt to influence sustainable story. Some examples of these stories are presented in the brief anthology of Part IV,3 The Techniques in Action.

Sure, we can continue to produce trivia that can be palpated in a game-like fashion, but Resurrecting Proust requires us to think, describe, relate, invent and examine who we are and to craft our personal narratives along the way. We are moved to go beyond the responses of trivia and actually create memoir-art.

So let us unearth our stories . . .

Let us create memoir with creative flair . . .

Let us form unique narrative art . . .

Writer CoCo Harris, a native of Atlanta, attended Howard University as an undergraduate, majoring in electrical engineering. She did graduate studies at Howard in African Studies. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing in Fiction from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. "Resurrecting Proust" was published by Telling Our Stories Press. You can purchase Harris' book at Amazon.com or at the website for Resurrecting Proust, at http://www.resurrectingproust.com.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"The Worst Roommates Ever!"


Note to Readers: Students in the Happiness Class this week read psychologist James Pennebaker's book, Opening Up, which presents very persuasive evidence that writing one's deepest thoughts and feelings leads to direct improvements in health. Pennebaker studied groups of college students who wrote several times a week about troubling events and the emotions associated with those events. His research suggested that students who did this "expressive writing" had fewer visits to the health center, stronger immune systems, and lower levels of stress.

In her weekly response paper, psychology major Lori Walker chose a marvelously creative way to express her reactions to Pennebaker's book. Her short story follows here. What a great job, Lori, thanks so much for this! And thanks for last week's fabulous response paper too, a first-class essay on Albert Camus' puzzling character, Meursault, from that classic existentialist novel,The Stranger!!


By Lori Walker

I have the worst roommates ever. Seriously, it’s really bad. I don’t remember meeting them, I don’t remember them moving in, and I don’t remember ASKING them to move in. One day they were just there, in my space, using my resources, wasting my time. My house is not big enough for all of them, and besides, I was here first.

Most of the time I can keep them locked in their rooms, but it’s not easy. They are clever, and they whine, and beg and yell and scream to be let out; but isolating them is really my only option. I can’t even walk around my house. There is this one girl who just follows me around, just yelling at me. She balls up her fists, her dirty blond hair in her face and her face twisted into an ugly grimace. Every minute of every day. She gets right up in my face, I feel spit as she yells the words:

“YOU’RE USELESS! I HATE YOU! YOU DON’T BELONG HERE! NOBODY LIKES YOU!”

There is another girl too, she isn’t as aggressive as Blondie, but just the same, she follows me around all day, all night. She’s always crying, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without her sniffles, her tears, her puffy red eyes.

“WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME? WHAT DID I DO TO YOU? WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME? YOU LEFT ME; YOU LEFT ME ALL ALONE WHEN I NEEDED YOU!”

She’s tugging at my shirt, she is blocking the doorways. She looks up at me with her glassy eyes, her chin quivery and snot running down her face; I can’t stand looking into those big brown pathetic eyes.

Those are the worst of the roommates. There is a boy too though. He’s gorgeous; he is never aggressive, never mean, and never nasty. He generally keeps to himself and stays in his room.

Oddly enough, though, he bothers me the most. If I go past his room, he just looks at me. Stares at me. Looks through me. His perfect face is like stone, his golden red 5 o’clock shadow covers his strong chin, his green eyes are filled with pain, and your heart aches to look into them.

“What did I do? How could you? I loved you, didn’t you love me?”

His eyes fill with tears, and I walk down the hall.

The old lady comes out of her room. She looks me square in the eyes and says, “Sweetie, you are alone. I’m sorry but that is the truth. No one will ever love you, you are tainted.” She stands with her hand on her hip and sticks her finger in my face. I smack it away. She smells of a sweet perfume, and hairspray. She makes me feel like I could be safe with her in the house. She hugs me, strokes my hair and whispers to me. “Honey, you are alone, always alone. No one will ever be there; nothing will make you feel better.”

I push her away and go to my room.

I can’t sleep most of the time, after I lock everyone in their rooms. I go to my own room and try to get some peace.

My head feels fuzzy, my eyes droop, the world is starting to fade away, and then I hear it.

It’s so soft sometimes that I miss it, other times it's so loud I fear my head will explode. It’s a baby, or a toddler, I don’t know. I’ve never seen it, just heard it. One night its cries were so loud, so desperate, that I went down the hallway to the room they were coming from. I thought that if I could save this baby from whatever was happening, then I could get some sleep, some peace, some serenity. But when I got to the door, I couldn’t open it.

The baby squealed, wailed actually, like a tiny banshee. I’ve never heard a more terrible sound. A tired little whimper escaped from the room. I thought back to my childhood, when my grandmother and I would volunteer at the pound. I remembered that whimper. The puppies there had been abused. I remembered holding one puppy's tiny shaking body. He had been beaten, tortured, starved.

I remember how I could feel his ribs through the mangy fur; I kissed him on his torn ear. I would play with him, nuzzle him, love him; and then it was time to go. I promised the mutt that everything would be ok, that I would find it a home. I never kept that promise. Like the puppy this baby had to be alone too. Probably scared, hungry, wet, and shivering. Its cries are so piercing. If only I could make them stop. The door won’t open, and you know what? Maybe I don’t want to open it. So I go back to my room and lay down. The crying stops. It’s whimpering now, soft sobs, heart wrenching sobs.

I wake up the next day and it’s very quiet. I sit in bed, still warm with sleep, and enjoy the sound of nothing. I get up and open my door, preparing myself for the walk down the hallway. I take a step out on the cold floor…

“I HATE YOU! YOU’RE FAT AND UGLY AND NO ONE LOVES YOU! WHY CAN’T YOU JUST DIE?”

“WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME? I NEEDED YOU SO MUCH, YOU LEFT ME WHEN I NEEDED YOU, YOU DIDN’T EVEN SAY GOODBYE!”

I push Blondie out of the way; the old woman is trying to embrace me, I tug my shirttail away from the brunettes blubbering, I feel the boys eyes grasp onto me. The baby is crying again. Whose baby is that? I turn the corner and then I see her, the Beauty Queen.

Sometimes I forget she is there, she never talks, never does anything. She just sits in from of the mirror, curling her hair, painting her nails, straightening her hair, trying on blue make up, pink makeup, ooops...too much eyeliner. She braids her hair.

She is pretty, until you see the scars. Her arms are covered in them, small straight cuts, all the same size, they start at her wrist and go up to her elbow. Some are white scares, some are just pink, most are crimson red, and others are still caked in blood. If you look closely you can see her legs have scars too. She sits there and tries to cover them with makeup, but there are too many, they are too deep, they are fresh enough that they sting. Frustrated she throws the makeup brush at the mirror; claws at her hair, black tears streak her face, her makeup ruined. Then suddenly, as if someone had drugged her, she stops. Then like nothing ever happened, starts brushing her hair again, starts painting on her face again.

The baby is crying, that piercing banshee shriek again, why won’t anyone help it? I head back to my room but to no avail the yelling continues.

“WHY DON’T YOU JUST KILL YOURSELF? NOBODY LOVES YOU!”

I try to push Blondie off, but she is so strong. I squirm out from underneath her fall into the old woman’s arms.

“She is right you know. Sweetie, no one will ever love you, and no one ever did. That’s just how life is.”

I push her away, the crying brunette pulls at my shirt, tries to get close to me, tries to get my attention, she is so close I can feel her tremble, taste her salty tears. The baby hollers. I’m scrambling to get away, I need a way out, Blondie and the old women are smothering me again, I smell perfume and hairspray, I taste salt, I feel nails breaking my skin. The baby’s wails pierce my ears. I’ve fallen into the boy’s frigid room. His eyes are so cold they shatter my heart. Beauty Queen throws a hairbrush my way, a tube of lipstick hits my cheek. And suddenly I can’t stand it anymore.

“GO AWAY! LEAVE ME ALONE! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?”

As I escape towards my room, I can’t breathe.

“DON’T TOUCH ME! I MEAN IT! I’M DONE! GET AWAY FROM ME! CAN SOMEONE SHUT THAT DAMN BABY UP?”

I reach my room, lock the door and sink to the floor in a mess of blood, tears, and humiliation. I didn’t ask for this, I don’t want this. I don’t remember falling asleep.

I wake up in my bed, still dressed from yesterday and decide that I’m not going to put up with this anymore. I go to my desk, rummage through the draws for a paper and pen. I’m going to write the roommates a letter, it seems silly, and perhaps it won’t change anything, but this way they will know how I feel. Before I know it the pencil is scratching on the paper. My hand flows so fast I can barely read what I’m writing.

Blondie, don’t ever touch me again, I am worth something, I am a person.

The point of the pencil breaks, and I don’t even care.

I was wrong, please don’t cry anymore, I’m sorry for what I’ve done, will I ever see love in those green eyes again?

My wrist is burning, the wood digging into my pencil.

Beauty Queen, you are beautiful, you don’t need makeup, let those scares heal, you are gorgeous just how you are. Little baby, If I could find you I would help you. Where are you? How can I save you?

Seconds turn into minutes, minutes into hours, I am finally done. I stand up, and get ready to give these letters to the roommates. I open my door, and it’s silent.

The air is still, it’s bright in the house. The sun is shining in the windows, and you can see the dust in the air. I hear birds. I walk down the hallway, and look into the bedrooms. Nothing, the boy is gone, Blondie is gone, no one is crying, no one is looking in the mirror. The house is silent, it’s just me. I just stand in the center of it all and look around. Everything in a mess, furniture is overturned, plates are smashed, the wallpaper is coming right off the walls. I don’t smell hairspray, I don’t smell anything. I hear my own heart beat, the sound is foreign.

I spent hours walking about the house, MY house. I started to clean things up; I opened the windows to let fresh air in. I laughed for no reason, I sang in the shower. My house was mine again; I was alone with myself and my thoughts. I began looking around for any trace of my roommates. Searching in corners, closets, breezeways, I found nothing.

I found them in the most peculiar spot. I found them in my room; on my desk. Buried in the pages of my journal. They were all there, I could see them all in the pages, and they were locked away there.

The house is slowly being repaired, it needs a lot of work; but it feels good to fix it. I found a baby crib and a yellow baby blanket. I haven’t moved it out of the house yet, I don’t know why. Sometimes I’ll find a bassinet in a closet, or a rattle on my dresser. I have yet to decide whether I’m bothered by the small tokens. I’ve had other roommates move in, but they have only stayed in the house for a short time. I’ve learned to deal with them, if they get too rowdy I just sit and write them a letter, and they get the point. I still have that journal, and more roommates have moved into it. My journal of solitude.

Writer Lori Walker is a junior at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is majoring in Psychology.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Take Me"

By Camincha

Take me
in your hands
like I was a tall cool
glass of water. First you
taste me. Slowly. Like you
'been trudging through the
desert and just found an
oasis, seductive, abundant.
Then drop to your knees
and drink from me like
I am your last chance.

Take me
in your hands
pushing your tongue
just for a sip. You'll swish
it 'round in your mouth
waking your taste buds
to the promised pleasures.

Take me
in your hands
hungrily, anxiously and
drink, drink, drink till we
have exhausted all positions
and our aching bodies have
erased all other memories.

Take me
in your hands…

Camincha is a pen name for a writer who lives in California.

“…But Camincha wants to take in continents and hemispheres. She is a woman of extraordinary vitality, passion and a hunger for life...” -- Michael Krasny KQED-FM

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"What's a Toilet Bowl Doing in this LOVE Story?" Read Seeing Red's "Wretch!!"

The HuffPost has revolutionized journalism by taking over the news business. Is fiction next? My new novel, Seeing Red, is being serialized three times a week on the Huffington Post. Here's the fourth installment of the book. (Catch up with previous chapters at "Seeing Red on the HuffPost!")

By Claudia Ricci

Tonight she's been sleeping, or trying to, right beside the toilet bowl. Because she is that desperate. Because she can't seem to get back and forth from the bedroom to the bathroom quickly enough. Because she has thrown up so many times that she's lost track. It is some time after midnight now and she has dragged her pillow and Noni's afghan to the tile floor and she is flat on her back, saying, "I'll die here, I'll die here," and her head is so close to the white porcelain toilet that she can feel its cool surface through her damp dark curls.

She is weaker than she ever remembers being before. She can barely lift her head up above the white ceramic rim. She screams out, "Help me somebody! Help me, I'm dying in here." Not that she really expects anybody -- with Ben Sr. moved out now and both boys asleep -- to come to her aid. But then, her darling, Jack, she can always, always count on him, he comes stumbling through the bathroom door, groggy, eyes in a squint. Instantly he is crouching beside her, his warm hand pressing her arm.

"Ma, it's me! I'm here, Ma," and his voice quakes and squeaks as it always does when he gets upset. And she is saying, "Oh, Jack, honey, just...just...I'm sorry, I'm sorry to wake you...maybe you could just sit there and stay with me." And Jack says "Sure, Ma."

In the very next moment, she thinks of Jack's father, Ben Sr., and she throws up again.

And then she wipes her lips with a wad of toilet paper, and she leans into her cold sweaty forearms, the prayer position, and then she prays that she will simply pass out. But she doesn't, not yet. Jack kneels on the floor right next to her, and he places his hand on her back.

"Ma, let me...let me call somebody. Karen. She'll come. You know she'll come. At least then...I mean she's a nurse and she'll know...or at least she's somebody who can..." he shrugs, wrinkles his face. "You can talk to her at least."

"Sure," Ronda whispers.

He leaves, and now, cross-legged on the floor, her head twirling, she sees Ben Sr. the way he was that last night, as he stuffed a few gray under things into his frayed suitcase on top of an Irish knit sweater, on top of a polo shirt and a couple pairs of khaki pants. "Oh so you didn't plan it this way? So which way did you plan it exactly Ronda?"

And then later, just before he dragged the suitcase out the back door, when he stopped, came right up to her in the kitchen, stood no more than two inches away, close enough so that she caught the whiskey on his sour breath and the red threads in his haggard eyes and the twitch in his right eyelid and even the flecks of dandruff dusting his shoulders.

"So tell me," he whispered then, leaning even closer, his face so close that for a moment she half expected he would kiss her. "Now that it doesn't matter anymore, tell me who it is and how long you've been screwing him, huh, Ronda? A year? Two? Three? Tell me. Maybe it'll make me feel better."

She had turned away, had covered her eyes, but he had stuck with her, had circled around, had kept his face twisted so close to hers that his nose practically brushed her lips. And he'd continued the harangue, too, asking over and over again for her lover's name.

"Who is it, Ronda? Jeff French? Bill Antos? Ted Harris? Who? Somebody from Williams? A creep from the kids' school? Who? Who can I kill, huh?"

She raised her shoulders and kept shaking her head until finally, unable to keep quiet any longer, she looked up, and blurted out two words, softly at first, but when it was clear he hadn't heard them, she said them again, loud, she screamed them in fact, at the top of her lungs.

"FOUR MONTHS!"

The words hung there, with no explanation, Ben just staring, open mouthed, him not asking what they meant and she not saying, but soon enough, she added the rest, in a voice made gravelly from crying. "For your information it's only been four months, barely four, but they have been the most wonderful months of my life."

She dropped into silence again, and looked down, glad suddenly that she had said it, and tempted too just to tell him who it was, because what the hell difference would it make? She might have told him, too, except that when she raised her eyes again, she saw that the menacing look on Ben's splotchy red face had dissolved, and his shaggy grey head was crumbling over into his hands.

In the next moment his beefy frame began to shake and he started breathing hard and coughing and making a rather pathetic snorting noise that sounded like it was coming from an animal stuck inside a drum. In the end, that sound is what started Ronda's own tears going.

"I'm sorry, Ben, I'm sorry but you asked," Ronda said, but by then, she was talking to no one, because just as suddenly as he'd started crying he had fled, outside, he was already lifting the garage door, and as he started the car backing out of the driveway he rolled down the window and gave her the finger. "You wait, Ronda," he'd called out. "You'll pay for this. You'll see. You'll pay." 2011-02-10-FINALCOVERSEEINGREDNOV6th.jpg

And now she is paying, rather dearly, right here in the bathroom. And as she raises her chin barely over the rim and pukes into the bowl again, a thin green drool, it occurs to her that surely, Ben didn't mean it this way. Or maybe he did."I called her, Ma," Jack is saying, laying his hand on her back once again. She fumbles for his other hand and squeezes it.

Hard, so she can feel the long bones of his fingers. He kneels. They sit there together in the bathroom on the floor, as if there were nothing more normal. If her mouth weren't so foul tasting, she would kiss him.

"Thank you honey," she whispers, curious now how Ben Jr., can possibly sleep through all this. Or maybe, she thinks now, he actually hears every single thing going on. Maybe he's just keeping to his room. Like he did the night Ben Sr. left. After it was all over, Jack had tiptoed out to the living room, had embraced Ronda, had kissed her on the face, had given her a Kleenex to blow her nose. Ben Jr., meanwhile, had remained holed up in his room, just like he had almost every other night since he'd come home from college for the summer.

When he emerged the next morning, he poured himself a glass of orange juice and left for work, his face revealing absolutely nothing.

"I never realized it was so hard," Jack says now. "You know, to have a baby."

"No Jack. It isn't. It doesn't always go this way," she is saying, thinking how the poor boy will be frightened away, permanently, from fatherhood.

"Isn't there...isn't there some medicine or something?" he asks. "I mean, for God's sake." Jack. Always so practical. So logical. Just like her father. Always thinking there has to be a solution. Money. Hard work. Guts. Determination. Only, there isn't always. The night her father died, there was no solution. No matter that the EMTs worked on him in the living room, with Ronda watching, crying, wishing for a miracle, for close to a half an hour. There was a massive rupture of the heart tissue in his chest. That was that.

"Oh maybe there is a medicine," she says wearily, weepy now, thinking about her father. And about how sad it is that Jack even has to know that she is pregnant. She was determined to keep the secret until she was sure what to do. But then, she became so terribly sick that she was forced to tell him the truth - no, it wasn't a stomach flu after all.

"I'm going...I'll call the doctor in the morning," she says now, her voice wavering. "Karen says her doctor gave her something once when she was sick like this."

READ THE NEXT INSTALLMENT, "DOWN THE DRAIN," TODAY, Sunday, February 13, 2011, on The Huffington Post!

"Wretch" appeared first on the Huff Post on Thursday, February 10, 2011.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Buried Alive"

NOTE TO READERS: Every once in a while, a student walks in the classroom and starts writing fiction that is just astonishing. Krystal Folk, a freshman at the University at Albany, SUNY, is one such student. She has been taking my Short Story class for just a few weeks but already she's produced some mighty impressive writing. Here is one of her stories, which reminds me just a bit, at least in tone, of "The Yellow Wallpaper," by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Fortunately, Krystal's story has a far more redemptive ending!

By Krystal Folk

Sometimes I feel the house move at night. It makes a 180-degree turn and it stays there for a little while. No one else feels it, just me.

I lay in bed watching the walls move, hearing the sounds the house makes as it tries to flex its muscles.

It takes about an hour for it to get completely upside down and when it does: the noise stops, all the walls become still, and the house pauses to catch its breath.

It is then when the dresser drawers empty onto the floors, the dishes find their way out of the sink, the dog walks on the ceiling, and the fridge goes bare.

There I am stuck in bed, the whole family is asleep and I am unable to move, to stop all this from happening. I just have to keep still and wait until the house starts to strain, moving a little faster as it rights itself and returns to normal before anyone else wakes and realizes what has happened.

It knows that I know. It waits for everyone else to go to sleep. It waits for me to get in bed with my husband so that it can trap me in my sheets. It laughs as it watches me struggle for freedom, a way out, an escape.

When everyone else wakes up in the morning, it’s like they don’t see the mess.

They stare at me as I run back and forth, fixing that, cleaning this, and preparing their first meal.

When I finish cooking, I stop my running around and sit at the table with my family. It’s a rule: eating time is family time. So when I look at the mess on the counter, the paw prints on the carpet, the clothes in need of laundering, I am trapped in place again.

The house knows this so it begins to make more of a mess. I can’t take it but I can’t do anything about it either.

Once everyone is done eating and off to their own destinations, I rush to clean what I can before the house decides to come alive again.

I wash all the dishes, put the clothes in the machine, replace the books on their shelves, make the beds, vacuum the carpet, put the clothes in the dryer, sweep the wood floors, scrub and polish the bathroom, take care of my baby girl who is stuck here with me, dust everything in sight, iron the clothes, rake the yard, put the delivered groceries in the fridge, let the dog out, and organize every single drawer and closet in the house.

By the time I am done with all of that, family starts to come home and dinner has to be ready in a half hour and once that’s done, it is family time again.

Oh and don't think for a minute that my day is not done after that.

No. The kids need me: the baby needs to be put to bed, the toddler needs to be bathed, the twins need help with their homework, and the oldest has to rant at me about some teenage drama.

“I don’t have any freedom,” the oldest starts. “You and dad never let me go out on the weekend, or drive the car, or anything! I never get to do what I want.”

You cannot be serious I think as I hear these words. You can’t go out? You don’t have any freedom? You never get to do what you want?

That was it, the straw that cracked my back.

I lost it at that moment. I did the house’s job for the night.

I ran through every room doing as much damage as I could. I went nuts. The kids ran to their father and he tried to stop me, but that was useless. I was gone. Nothing could stand in my way. I smashed, demolished, threw, and emptied any and everything.

Not even the stove was safe. The smell of gasoline filled the air as I attacked the stove with all my might. I was all set to douse the stove when that smell brought me back to reality. I looked around the house and saw what I had done.

I laughed the same laugh the house makes at night.

I went over to the crib that held my baby girl. She was awake and laughing too.

She is the only one who knows what I go though all day, the only one who feels the same way I do. I picked her up and walked over to the window. We both glanced around at the mess and just smiled. We then looked out the window in the same direction.

“Honey you just made a mess,” I heard my husband say to me with a tone of distress.

Without looking in his direction, I replayed his words over in my head and then responded with something I had never been able to say before.

“So?”

Krystal Folk, a freshman at the University at Albany, SUNY, was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She intends to major in Business Administration and Social Welfare and to minor, in, what else, ENGLISH!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A POET WRITES IN: "I Don't Like AOL Owning the Blogosphere!"


Note to Readers: My poet friend, Suzanne Wise, has written in with these thoughts about the plight of writers and artists who are not compensated for their work. Meanwhile, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has weighed in with a rather frank and eye-opening column suggesting that Arianna Huffington is indeed Queen of Shifty "ideological transformation." Is AOL's takeover of the HuffPost a "sell out"? Milbank, who has known Arianna through several dramatic morphs, says, in effect, of course it is.

P.S. there is a rather quirky video to go with Milbank's column, in which AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and HuffPost CEO Arianna Huffington discuss their future together in journalism. I will reserve judgement of this video, but I strongly suggest you watch it, to SEE WHAT YOU THINK!!

BY SUZANNE WISE

The AOL takeover brings to mind that oft-repeated scenario in New York City in which artists are the pioneers of low-income, less-than-safe neighborhoods. As artists collect in said kind of neighborhood, cafes, galleries, bookstores etc. crop up. Pretty soon, the neighborhood becomes desirable, real estate movers and shakers come in and buy and gentrify and before you know it the artists are getting evicted and/or priced out of the neighborhood.

In this case, however, writers are not getting kicked off The Huffington Post but, after upping the value of the site, they retain their place as non-paid laborers, sharing in none of the profits. As media outlets becomes owned by fewer and fewer companies and as journalists are being fired right and left and newspaper pages dwindle and book review sections are cut, this seems like part of business as usual.

And business as usual is rather depressing.

I don't like the idea of AOL owning the blogosphere. AOL owns enough already. But somehow I am not wild with anger either. Maybe because I have not been pouring my heart and soul into a blog. Maybe because I don't expect the writing I care about to get supported by mainstream corporate culture--which AOL is the epitome of.

I am not a blogger and I don't read many blogs, so I may be out of touch. But I had thought blogging was about being on the outside of the machine, not being tied -- financially or otherwise -- to any official media venture. Thus you could be objective and not beholden to those who paid your salary.

The fact that I am a poet -- a pursuit that is completely outside the marketplace -- surely shapes this view.

Maybe bloggers for The Huffington Post could respond by critiquing the platform from which they speak, talking back to AOL, uncovering their dirt. An acquaintance from graduate school taught a popular course on the economics of education, revealing to students the ways in which their education was largely coming to them by way of low-paid teaching assistants and revealing where tution money actually went.

I worry that blogs will go the way of so-called Indie music or indie films, that nowadays actually have the backing of major money and power. But everyone likes to pretend they're having an "alternative" experience because it's more work to find the art and culture that has not already been packaged and marketed to us. I think people should work hard to resist being sucked into the machine in whatever way seems most effective to them. And bloggers can help readers find life beyond the machine.

But that's the poet talking.

POET SUZANNE WISE, a Vermont native, received her BA from Middlebury College in Vermont and her MFA from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Her poems have appeared in Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Fence, Tikkun, Volt, and elsewhere, and have been recognized with two fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and a Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Award, among other honors. Her first book is The Kingdom of the Subjunctive (Alice James, 2000). Wise has served as the literary events planner for Small Press Distribution in Berkeley and Poets House in New York City, and has taught creative writing at Middlebury College and in the Publication, Performance, and Media Program at Pratt Institute. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, musician and writer Jacob Slichter.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

WHY DO PEOPLE EXPECT ME TO WORK FOR FREE??

By Liza Frenette

I feel so strongly about this subject there is a burn in my stomach! Would a carpenter regularly build houses for free just for the...exposure?

Would a chef prepare meals for years without pay while the restaurant makes money -- just so people can get to know the chef's work?

Why do artists swallow the belief that their work is not income-worthy?

That their time is not worth money?

That financial success does not go along with being a real artist?

Who first said that it was okay to ask artists (writers, photographers, painters, sculptors) to create for free while others make money?

Would you ask a financial planner to put together a plan for you that would save you money and improve your investments, but expect that planner to do the work for free -- just so YOU could earn money?

I once was asked by a newspaper editor to write a column on a particular subject that would have required a fair amount of research and interviews. I was flattered that the editor valued my opinion and my writing; that they had called me.

At the end of the conversation, I asked the question that has, for some reason

become almost taboo in this business:

What does it pay? There was a long pause,

then the editor said he could pay me $30 per column.

"But you'd be getting exposure," he said.

This was in the 1990s. $30, he had said. I thought surely I was not

hearing him correctly. At this time, a teensy classified ad in that

newspaper cost $25; one that took up about a quarter of an inch. My

column would have been about 500 words.

I didn't need exposure. I needed to feed my daughter. I needed to pay my rent.

I needed work where my worth was valued.

I declined the job. It was not okay with me. At all. It was insulting.

Another time I wrote a magazine article that turned out to be a SIX-page spread (with photos) in the magazine. It involved countless hours of travel, research, interviews; far more than I had been lead to believe when I accepted the assignment. I was paid $300.

I was supposed to be thrilled because I was getting "exposure." I was livid. I was, at that time, beyond broke. I was so broke that when I was asked by the editor, one more time, to make another trip for the article, I didn't have money for gas and tolls.

I was paid $300 and the magazine filled six pages with my work. Meanwhile, a tiny ad they sold in that same issue cost $250.

I never wrote for them again, though many others still do.

If I want to volunteer my time as a writer and author for a fundraising project, I will make that choice.

But don't expect me to write for free so you and/or your business can make money!

We all deserve fair wages. Not just the sellers and the ones who sit in the big swivel chairs.

Yes, we all deserve fair wages.

And here we are:

Artists. Writers. Poets.

Those who pick the beans for the expensive coffee at trendy coffee shops.

Adjuncts! They teach students who pay the same tuition whether they are being taught by adjuncts paid a paltry salary (usually without any benefits) or by a professor.

Day care workers. (Yes, the ones taking care of your children!)

Home health aids. (Yes, the ones taking care of your parents!)

This AOL takeover is just one more example of a company taking advantage of workers -- while making huge profits.

Liza Frenette is an Albany, New York-based journalist who writes feature stories and articles raising awareness about issues in education, health and safety, labor, union issues and literacy. Frenette was recently honored with the Mary Heaton Vorse award for humanitarian writing from the Metro Labor Communications Council in New York City. The award, named for an activist and writer, honored a feature story on how a school and community creatively responded to the abject poverty of some of its students. Frenette is also the author of three children's books, "Soft Shoulders," "Dangerous Falls Ahead," and "Dead End."