Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cinematic Poetry (it can happen)

The other evening I had the distinct pleasure of encountering the delights of Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg. Since it’s been winging its way around the US festival circuit since April, I shall shunt my lyrical waxings elsewhere, and instead talk about something shiny and new, but nonetheless related.

Winnipeg does what film should aspire to: using the medium to create something personal, distinct and engaging – and, not being a literary expert in any shape or form, I can, in my relative naivety, squash the words ‘cinematic’ and ‘poetry’ together in celebration of what Maddin’s film achieves. Whether the words and phrases used in the film hold much poetic weight on their own matters not, since the overall experience comes from the layering of image, sound and narration.

I’m not the only one throwing around this particular label; the UK’s foremost pithy critic, Mark Kermode, has recently sung the praises of Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City (‘lyrical’ and ‘transcendent’ being the key words). Davies speaks of his love of the small things that reveal ‘the greater truth’ of loss, nostalgia and the city. This rendering of what critics have described as both a love song and a eulogy was achieved through initial mute edits, to ensure that the images ‘speak’ on their own terms; extracts of (very carefully) chosen music and poetry were added later as a counterpoint. Whether this approach renders the end result less of a personal expression than Maddin’s film remains to be seen. I’m not sure how much I can love a snowless snippet of docu-memory, but Kermode assures us all that Davies’ mesmerising tones will more than make up for this oversight. It makes its US debut in January, so if you liked Winnipeg, be sure to track down ‘Liverpool’ - and let me know how the two compare.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Global economic downturn is bad news for women's shelters

I normally think of large corporations as necessary evils (but mostly just evils) of a capitalist society, and although I care about the daily employees, I've felt a bit smug about some of the collapses in a nostalgic Fight Club sense--until seeing that the global economic crisis means less money for charities. And that as the Arlington, VA Doorways women's shelter rep says, "domestic abuse spikes during hard economic times — driving more women and their children to the shelters and safe houses." Doorways is looking at possibly losing only a fifth of its budget, which is bad news, but compare that to the Women's Aid Organization in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which has a shortfall of $200,000 USD, less than the Doorways shortfall, and yet that amount is 2/3 the total budget. The WAO shortfall is also due to the global recession, and if the money can't be raised soon, they will have to close the Child Care Center which allows abused women to bring thier children with them.

It's a commonly held fact that women and children need charity and social services more than men, but lately I felt that such a coversation topic was too divisive, given the broad range of people suffering right now from job loss. But even if men and women were losing jobs at the same rate, women would still be holding the shorter end, because as Susan Faludi so effectively argues in Stiffed, a whole new wave of violence against women is likely to occur, brought about by men who feel emasculated by not being a breadwinner, who can't handle the powerlessness that is intrinsic to suffering consequences of the actions of people more powerful than oneself. And those more powerful in this case are the hedge fund managers, CEOs, deregulationists in congress, and every small investor and motgage holder who attempted to hop onto that bandwagon once it looked unstoppable. And some of those people will also be increasing violence.

So, what the heck is this blog about? I am concerned about how the fall of these major employers will statistically raise incidents of domestic abuse and then concerned that the lack of corporate donations is causing women's shelters to be crippled at the time they are even more in demand. In my naive Fight Club fantasy wherein multinationals crumble because of overexpansion, it never dawned on me that the "extra" of women's well-being would be compromised in such an event. More than this, it never occured to me that of course in a global recession, women in nonwestern countries wherein feminism hasn't nearly made the impact it has in the west will suffer disproportionately; in KL the police are still just as likely to tell a battered wife to go home and cook her husband his favorite meal or ask her "What did you do to make him hit you?" as they are to refer a woman to services like WAO's. In such a climate, clearly the lack of education about violence against women makes fundraising and forming alliances even more challenging for groups like WAO. I'm not saying that charity groups in the U.S. have it easy, except by comparison. And what a sad comparison. Women and children deserve more, and so do men. Men could help by proving the statistics wrong and not increasing violence in the first place.

Roll up your sleeves, friends of women. It's going to be a long winter.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Writing and Open Heart Surgery: Totally the same

Two weeks ago, I was laid off. (And no, it wasn't because I wrote about my job dissatisfaction on this blog.) The organization I worked for lost $1.6 million -- don't you just hate it when that happens? -- and had to cut 30 jobs.

As soon as they announced this tiny deficit, I knew I was a goner. Not only was I a relatively new hire, but my position was also a newly created one. Also? I'm a writer; the work I do is not valued.

I don't say this bitterly (well, maybe a little) or to evoke pity, but rather, simply to state a fact. In the business world, and often in the world at large, writing is not valued.

There are many reasons for this, but the one I want to focus on today is: Everyone's a Writer Syndrome.

We all use words, and most of us know how to read and write them. Because of this, many people -- some of whom I've had the pleasure of working with -- believe that they are good writers. And while I would never walk into an operating room and claim that because I know how to cut things open, I am therefore a qualified surgeon, these people actually believe that they can do what I do, and well.

It's an insulting yet all-too-frequent assumption. Case in point: The co-worker who designed and manages the agency's Web site is now additionally the writer/editor for the organization. To him I would say "good luck," but he probably won't need it.

Neither will I when, later this evening, I perform my first open heart surgery.

[Note: I am writing this post from my rightful spot at Panera.]

Friday, November 21, 2008

upcoming challenges to CA's prop 8

It's been a busy couple of weeks here in San Francisco since the November 4th election when a slim majority of Californians voted to overturn queer marriage rights. An
impromptu march, organized primarily through Facebook, Twitter and other internet sites, took place November 7th from SF's City Hall through the Castro to Dolores Park. Just over a week later, Join the Impact unified queer communities and their allies across the nation in concurrent protests.

Navel-gazing, angry San Franciscans examined any and all election results available to see what went wrong. A good 25% of the city's residents voted in support of prop 8; the SF Chronicle recently published a citywide map that allows users to determine the percentage of voters in each neighborhood who supported--or opposed--the proposition. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my neighborhood, where older Asian families rub up against houses packed with twentysomethings, voted 70-90% NO on 8. Some neighborhoods voting YES were obvious, such as Chinatown, but other districts, like SOMA, a semi-affluent loft playground for upwardly mobile suits, were surprising. The Chronicle also has a searchable database of donors to either side of the proposition 8 campaign. While such technology is necessary for any future fight, by allowing us to see where we need to create change, they also raise the prospect of community boycotts or hateful attacks. The community here has already spent a lot of time inaccurately blaming the black, latino and asian communities for passing prop 8, while few of us have been honest about our own efforts prior to the election. Most people I know, gay or straight, assumed 8 would never pass and did no work on the NO campaign. Sure, there is still work to be done within communities of color, but queers need to be mindful of scapegoating tactics.

In many ways, the fight over proposition 8 is the Stonewall of our generation. Over two weeks after the election, opposition to prop 8 is still making daily headlines, and Join the Impact continues to plan nationwide events, such as December 10th, aka Day Without A Gay. Want to follow the debate? The California Supreme Court has recently agreed to hear several challenges to prop 8. One such case examines the status of marriage rights of the 18,000 queer couples legally married in California. Will the state be forced to nullify those marriages? A second case focuses on the manner in which prop 8 was passed, arguing that a measure that strips a minority group of rights held by others needs to be passed in the legislature and not through a ballot initiative. This is the first instance of using the state constitution to rescind minority rights. A third challenge seeks to prove that prop 8 limits the scope of judicial power and violates the separation of powers guaranteed in the Constitution. Equality California has information on the challenges to proposition 8 for readers looking for extensive explanation of the cases going before the court as well as information on how to stay involved.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Savvy Context: Editing with Technology

A few years ago I was pretty sure I knew everything about Microsoft Word. Of course, the day I hit the "Track Changes" button, I realized I'd been missing out on something huge. Those of you in the publishing world might have had a similar revelation, but in my short time in the field, I've realized some people are still missing out. For the sake of my own sanity--not to mention yours--I'm not turning this blog into a Word tutorial. If you're looking for instructions, head over to Microsoft's website.

The benefits are pretty easy to identify. You can
  • literally record everything you change while you type
  • insert comments and queries just like you would while line editing a manuscript
  • and keep track of multiple reviewer' comments.
Of course, Word isn't the only program out there, and track changes is native to most word processing applications (or maybe all? I admit I'm not an expert across platforms). The editing process can be started, tracked, and archived using these programs, and where editorial assistants had to print tens of thousands of pages a week (yes, an accurate estimate), they are now capable of simply managing one soft copy as it progresses through the ranks of editors and proofers.

An individual editor who switches to a strictly electronic review process can only make so much of a dent in the practices of an entire company. Unless entire work-flows shift to make use of technology, the costly inefficiency will continue. While I entirely respect the creative process and some writers' need for paper, I just don't think editors should continue working without electronic editing and work-flows. Undoubtedly the transition will be tough and we'll all have to get better at working with the programs our companies chose to use. The thought that we can do away with time consuming copying, bulky print-outs, and all the energy we currently spend manually tracking changes in a manuscript just outweighs the work we'll do changing our habits.

Next blog, I'll be bringing in some real life examples of how technology has helped the editing process (beyond the copy-paste revolution, of course) and hopefully have thoughts from people getting the most out of their electronic resources. Until then, I'd love to hear what you all have to say: any EA's out there dying to stop copying? Or any that think it'd be impossible to switch?

Teh Internetz (But Not Really): Recycling Someone Else's Blog Post

As I said before, I am deep in the trenches of writing a novel in 30 days or less, or the whole book is free. So this post comes to you from the sort-of distant past. I write this one day before the election, so I am still beautifully in the dark. I can still worry about silly things.

Like grammar.

My nerd and language hero, Stephen Fry, has just written a new blog post about the nature of language which is a must-read for any writer. Especially writers who (whom? no, no, I think it's okay) are freaking out about vomiting up a minimum word count every day, regardless of whether it's grammatically correct or even makes any sense.

It's a beautiful argument against Language Nazism, and a lovely mantra to keep in mind as you attempt to break through your block to get words down on the processor. Here's a snippet:

Sadly, desperately sadly, the only people who seem to bother with language in public today bother with it in quite the wrong way. They write letters to broadcasters and newspapers in which they are rude and haughty about other people’s usage and in which they show off their own superior ‘knowledge’ of how language should be. I hate that, and I particularly hate the fact that so many of these pedants assume that I’m on their side. When asked to join in a “let’s persuade this supermarket chain to get rid of their ‘five items or less’ sign” I never join in. Yes, I am aware of the technical distinction between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’, and between ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’ and ‘infer’ and ‘imply’, but none of these are of importance to me. ‘None of these are of importance,’ I wrote there, you’ll notice – the old pedantic me would have insisted on “none of them is of importance”. Well I’m glad to say I’ve outgrown that silly approach to language. Oscar Wilde, and there have been few greater and more complete lords of language in the past thousand years, once included with a manuscript he was delivering to his publishers a compliment slip in which he had scribbled the injunction: “I’ll leave you to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whiches &c.” Which gives us all encouragement to feel less guilty, don’t you think?

It does, sir. It does.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

Last month I met one of my idols. A writer that was introduced to me before I ever thought of myself as one. A woman with a multifaceted voice that comes from a landscape very different from my own but who has an outlook on family and tragedy that brought me in. When I learned that she would be at my local bookstore to read, I screamed and danced around my apartment. I realized I would get to hear her voice, reading her words, and that I might even get to speak with her. I still get sick thinking about the fact that I did.

Terry Tempest Williams
came to Porter Square Books, a small but powerhouse independent bookstore in Cambridge, MA, in late October to read from her latest publication Finding Beauty in a Broken World. TTW found her inspiration as she lost her sense of self in a post 9/11 country broken and at war:

We watched the towers collapse. We watched America choose war. The peace in our own hearts shattered. How to pick up the pieces? What to do with the pieces?

It was the “pieces” that inspired Williams to look closer at our fragmentation and the potential to not only rebuild but also for beauty. Her journey takes her to Ravenna, Italy, a town famous for its bejeweled walls, to lean the craft of mosaic and then to Bryce Canyon National Park where she studies endangered prairie dogs for two weeks day and night in what she calls an “ecological mosaic.” Her journey comes full circle when she travels to Rugerero, Rwanda, with a group called the Barefoot Artists to meet with survivors of the 1994 genocide, serving as their scribe and telling the world what many countries, including America, tried to pretend was not happening.

My main concern is that while showcasing the prairie dog for its ecological importance and complex language system (something this blogger admits being completely ignorant of), Williams loses her readers at times discussing political action and detailing her days observing the animals in excess. That is not to say, however, that this section does not hold merit, but it is difficult to get through. (TTW told attendees at the reading that her father claimed he would pay anyone $1 who could get through this portion.)

Finding Beauty in a Broken World finds its voice and journey’s purpose with the tale of the genocide survivors and their ongoing battle to rebuild their country and to find semblance in their everyday lives. There are few words to describe what these people have been through and continue to deal with. Yet there is so much hope and want for progression. Williams captures this essence describing the villagers as they work with the Barefoot Artists—a group experienced with rebuilding and uniting communities through art. Bleak, government-built houses are painted with designs from orphans and a mosaic memorial is built from rubble and overlooked material. Together they create something beautiful out of their destruction and show what humanity is capable of (good and bad).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Nobel, the Zeitgeist, and the All-American Poem

Dear Lents, dear 82nd avenue, dear 92nd and Foster,
I am your strange son.
--Matthew Dickman, "Lents District"

When the Nobel Academy's permanent secretary, Horace Engdahl announced that U.S. literature is "too isolated, too insular," he wasn't so far from the truth as we'd like to believe. Sure, Slate Magazine is right to suggest that the Nobel committee has no clue what's going on in American literature—despite its enormous presence, especially among young writers, on the World Wide Web. But even then, what you find in American poetry, at least, as well as its fiction, is the pervasive influence of PoMo theory, self-referential language deconstruction, and the politics of Identity. Some of it is readable, some dull to the point of tears. I often find myself reading this stuff and saying, "So what?"

I recently finished reading Virgil's Aeneid and found it a kind of hack-job of Homer, nothing new in the world of criticism, but I found it out for myself. What is important is that I arrived at this conclusion only after a careful examination of Virgil's forebears—Homer, Sophocles, Aristotle, and the rest of the Greeks—as well as his fellow Romans—Horace, Ovid, et al. Thus, I've learned for myself that the only way to approach literature is through a careful refinement of the sensibility, through being informed of the entire history of literature. Taste is something different, but even within its confines I realize that Virgil is important, but he doesn't suit me.

It is in this state of mind that I recently attended Portland's literary festival, Wordstock, solely to hear Matthew Dickman read from his APR-winning first book, All-American Poem. Dickman has all the elements of the current American zeitgeist: the humor, the French-styled imaginative flourishes, the stream-of-consciousness machine-gunning of images building and building upon one trope or another. Just look at his poems on the Boston Review.

But whereas other contemporary young poets offer detailed maps of their imagination, or contemplate their undependable self and voice, Dickman charges into his poems with an inherent sense of both hope and the human condition, as well as the desire to communicate. Rather than relying on self-referential feelings, Dickman looks outward to the neighborhoods he grew up in, to the people in his life who have suffered, and in this way he resembles Whitman. Still, he does look inward, but to his own faults, cruelties, and blindsides. Even in this self-regard, he rises above it to offer a vision, a kind of unity, no matter how unstable, and he's careful enough to say, as he says in the poem "Trouble", "I want to be good to myself."

The Nobel committee knows nothing about a poet like Dickman, of course. As Marvin Bell has said to students, "I don't care about the poems you're writing now, I care about the poems you'll be writing ten years from now." As Dickman says in his poem, "V": "maybe this is not a giant leap / into the science of compassion, but it's something." And so, it is exciting to think where Dickman will take this all, his sweeping themes, his adherence to tradition. If we're lucky, we may see a writer like Dickman wearing a ribbon in fifty years, rising as all good cream does to the top, singing the "all-American, broken in half and beautiful."

Monday, November 17, 2008

YOU Make the Difference

Fringe loves you. You love Fringe. But that's not all.

Sure, Fringe has a website that looks good, but did you know that each slick issue of Fringe takes more than 20 hours to code and load? We'd like to reduce that time and give you a product that looks even more suave by upgrading our site. But it won't come cheap -- we need $10,000 to get the job professionally done and to get our weekends back from HTML.

We wouldn't ask you to do anything we aren't willing to: In addition to lavishing time on our issues, each Fringe editor donates $10 per month, or $120 per year to keep your favorite online journal afloat.

If everyone on our newslist donated $25, we'd have more than enough to get a new website and pay our extra operating costs. We are a federal nonprofit, so all donations are tax-deductible. You can donate here --

And, if you donate $50 or more by the end of the year, we'll send you a Fringe shot glass! Guaranteed to start lots of fringey conversations.

As always, thank you for your generous support of Fringe. Keep indie publishing HOT!

The Editors of Fringe

Fringe Magazine

Curious about what we spend our money on? Take a look at our 2008 operations budget:

$ 48 Cost of web space
$ 488 Legal filing fees associated with maintaining nonprofit status.
$ 120 Dirty Water Reading Series
$ 300 Marketing budget
$ 200 Miscellaneous expenses, including web consulting
$ 375 For a table at the American Writing Programs conference. (This year a gracious donor paid our way.)
$ 75 Membership in the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses
$1,231 Total Budget vs $1,180 in 2008 donations ($800 from Fringe editors and $380 from readers)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Struggling would-be writer master class

Lesson one: define yourself

Compulsive - ‘If I don’t scribble down my insightful slices of wit/genius/woe right now my mind will literally implode in a sticky, angst-ridden mess.’

Dreamer – ‘I want to write, but I just don’t know what about...’

One-time wonder – Breaks through with a lifetime’s labour of love. They may only have one novel inside them, but they have the sense to make it a damn good one.

Memoir miserablist - Taints the literary world with details of their (possibly fabricated) abusive/difficult childhood and/or time in rehab. A self-righteous tone is essential. Ditto details of horrific depravity coupled with triumph of the human spirit.

Obsessive - Unlike the compulsive, the obsessive enjoys writing for its own sake. They have clocked up their 10,000 hours of genius-making time before puberty, whilst their peers were still lost in the follies of navel-gazing. Once their genius reaches its inevitable peak, they will be forced to publish under a myriad of jazzy pseudonyms so as not to flood the unsuspecting market.

Good poet – Expresses various elements of the human condition in an array of elegant and quietly affecting musings.

Bad poet – Believes that they are doing the above simply by omitting punctuation and capital letters.

Glory hound– Unavoidable. Gain respect by not pretending that your work is nothing more than a twee hobby for which you partake for your own amusement/therapeutic reasons. You’ve already rehearsed your interviews numerous times already – more reason to get it right whence that hallowed day arrives.

Be clear in your own mind as to which type of writer you are going to become and hope for the best. Your journey is sure to be long, arduous and largely unfulfilling, but that’s pretty much the point. There is absolutely no point in styling yourself as a writer if you can’t bitch about it every step of the way.

Not found your type? The full list can be found here.

Next week: Discover your 'process'...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

California Dreamin?

Obama's victory wasn't the only landmark decision in last week's election. Here, guest contributor Kelley Calvert weighs in on the passing of Proposition 8 against gay marriage in California:

Standing before a crowd of thousands in Washington DC, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. told audiences 45 years ago: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

In what seemed to be the completion of Martin Luther King’s dream, Barack Obama was elected president in a landslide victory. Standing before a crowd of over 200,000 people in Chicago, President-Elect Barack Obama told the nation, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”

For millions of Californians, his words already rang untrue.

Though Barack Obama’s election has created a sense of euphoria and a belief that all things are possible for all people, the passing of Proposition 8 by a 52%-48% margin has cast a doubtful shadow over our national dream of equality.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on Washington in 1963, his dream had gathered inertia, but it was far from being realized. The Supreme Court had made school segregation illegal nine years prior, but overt and violent racism was still a norm. In a 1958 Gallup poll, 94% of Americans disapproved of interracial marriage, a statistic showing the deep entrenchment of American Apartheid.

The President of the Confederacy during the Civil War, Jefferson Davis stated, "[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation.” Fliers distributed by the Yes on 8 Campaign brazenly declare that, “God himself is the author of marriage. Its meaning is written in the very nature of man and woman.”

Just as religion was once used to justify slavery, it is now being used to argue that gay people do not deserve the same rights as everyone else. The New American Apartheid again suggests that one group of people is somehow lesser than another and “Separate but Equal” has found its modern manifestation in Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships.

In an irony capable only in these times, the record minority turnout for elections which put Barack Obama in the White House served to perpetuate the persecution of another minority group. Exit polls show that Proposition 8 was supported by 70% of black voters.

The remnants of yellow ‘Yes on 8’ signs paid for by religious institutions that targeted and manipulated the black vote represent a massive failure of democracy. They represent not the triumph of tradition or God’s will, but the betrayal of the values upon which we Americans have built our country. In California, we realized the dream of Martin Luther King by a staggering percentage: 61.2% for Barack Obama. This historic occasion leads me to a simple question.

California, did you forget about us? Or, are we just not included in the American fairy tale that all men are created equal? Today, my well-meaning liberal friends assure me that, “We still have a long way to go on social issues,” and continue on their way, floating on Obama’s glory. Last night my fellow Californians voted to procure rights for farm animals. Yet, somehow, you have voted to take away rights from human beings?

How is this possible?

Yes, November 4th represents the culmination of a great dream and minorities all over the country are awakening today rightfully reinvigorated by the hope that equality has been realized. Nonetheless, millions of your separate but equal fellow citizens are awakening to a different dream, a nightmare that raises the exact question many Americans asked on the eve of September 11: Why do they hate us so much?

It certainly isn’t our freedom.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The greener grass

As I've expressed before, my job isn't particularly challenging. I don't have a whole lot to do, and the projects I'm assigned to do bore me. I'm writing (marketing materials), but not in the capacity I want to be writing (articles, columns, essays, books). My chief complaint isn't lack of time to write, but rather, lack of inspiration, energy, drive. Boredom breeds lethargy. Cubicles breed hopelessness. And so on.

A friend of mine, however, has the opposite problem. She, too, graduated from a MFA program last December. She found a job that allows her to write, and constantly. She gets paid to craft fun, creative short pieces about pop culture, TV, and politics. Unfortunately, her employers under-appreciate and under-value her work. The results? Long hours, constant criticism, and an environment that she describes as "toxic." Working 12 hours a day in a toxic environment doesn't leave her with much time for her own writing, let alone a social life. She enjoys the work, she says, but wonders if the job is worth it.

When we compare notes at the end of a long week, I can't help but wonder which one of us is worse/better off. Would I rather be too busy in a job that more closely resembles the career I envision for myself, or not busy enough in a job that allows me the time to write (if only I could motivate myself)? Which type of job would better serve my (our) writing?