Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) budget cuts

Just found out about this proposed cut (thanks, Bush admin.):

President Bush Eliminates Funding for Reading Is Fundamental’s Historic Book Distribution Program Serving 4.6 Million Children
Statement from Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO, of Reading Is Fundamental

"President Bush’s proposed budget calling for the elimination of Reading Is Fundamental’s (RIF) Inexpensive Book Distribution program would be devastating to the 4.6 million children and their families who receive free books and reading encouragement from RIF programs at nearly 20,000 locations throughout the U.S.

“Unless Congress reinstates $26 million in funding for this program, RIF will not be able to distribute 16 million books annually to the nation’s youngest and most at-risk children. RIF programs in schools, childcare centers, migrant programs, military bases, and other locations serve children from low-income families, children with disabilities, foster and homeless children, and children without access to libraries. The Inexpensive Book Distribution program is authorized under the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (SEC.5451 Inexpensive Book Distribution Program for Reading Motivation) and is not funded through earmarks. It has been funded by Congress and six Administrations without interruption since 1975.

“Since its founding in 1966, RIF’s programs have played an important role in improving literacy in this country. The U.S. Department of Education has shown that the number of books in a child’s home is a significant predictor of academic achievement. In addition, RIF programs also support academic achievement by involving hundreds of thousands of volunteers and other caring adults in encouraging children to read for fun. We urge all Americans to contact their Congressional representatives and ask them to reinstate funding for this important program.”

Go to their website to read more and take action.

Obviously, as a writer and reader, I think this is tremendously important! I hope you do too.

writing at home vs. writing in public

Okay, I've mentioned this before, but it bears noting again, probably because I'm currently at a coffeehouse and am SO distracted by the music, the people, and the generally fascinating things about the world that I am not writing. I am , however, cruising my favorite sites on the Internet, naturellement.

Writing in the privacy of one's home can be terribly distracting as well, of course. The books...the TV...the radio...the neighbors...the family...the roommates...the pets...the backyard...the underwear drawer that just must be cleaned out. Immediately. And everything else that we love about our homes! I distract myself quite well at home, I freely admit. But I am having the hardest time right now, out here at a Durango Joe's, waiting for my truck to finish up her appointment at the car doctor. I had high hopes for myself today. Copy due tomorrow, which I had only barely begun and planned on doing a brainstorming session on here, which usually works for me very well, being one of those brilliant-but-stresses-under-deadline people. However, my very sweet "handler" (as I call her, lol--she manages the freelancers) emailed me earlier to tell me their office is closed tomorrow for Good Friday and my copy is not due till Monday. So now I don't even have that pressure available for me to write right now! I also have self-imposed deadlines/reminders, as well as a network of family and friends reminding me, on my personal writing.

What is it about deadlines, self-imposed and otherwise? How does the human brain work that way? Why can't I hold myself to my own deadlines and my own plans sometimes (um, most of the time)?


What about you? Writing at home: bane or blessing? Writing elsewhere: perfection or horror? And how do you deal with deadlines? (Or how do they deal with you, heh heh heh.)

Inquiring and mildly despairing writers want to know! Okay, back I go to...well, to be honest, surfing the web. Help me.....

Sunday, March 16, 2008

land rape updates

I know that's an eye-grabbing and potentially shocking post title. But it's true. There are many, many people out there who rape the land we live on. lists one meaning of the word as "4. an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: the rape of the countryside." That about sums it up. Thankfully, there are also many, many people out there who are working to save the land we call home (i.e., our entire planet, folks).

My beloved red rock country has been undergoing violations for years. I've witnessed much of it over the time I've called it home. Two recent developments (not so recent, actually) are, firstly, the Utah resource management plans (RMPs) being sussed out by the BLM. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has great articles and actions you can take to get informed and help. They've also teamed up with one of my favorite artists, Greg Brown, to provide a limited edition CD you can get for a $50 donation to SUWA. Pretty cool.

At any rate, seems our current D.C. administration is rushing to get certain things thrown back to earlier, less-informed eras--such as overturning Clinton's 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. See this link for a cool timeline chart too, in pdf. The BLM (Bureau of Livestock & Mining, as it's very sarcastically yet quite accurately been called) likes to muck things up, as any good government agency does, to confuse us all on the matters at hand. Here's a not-so-funny quote that just sums everything up:

What Is a BLM Roadless Area in Utah?
Let’s start with this: The term “BLM roadless area” is a SUWA creation. The agency, opting for confusion over clarity, uses its own unwieldy construction:“non-Wilderness Study Area lands with wilderness character.”


Horrifying, no?

The second piece of news of note: Another coal-fired power plant, proposed in Sigurd, Utah, which is near Wayne County, home of the gorgeous photo on this site. There are hearings on it happening this coming week, and concerned citizens will be commenting. You can see more about this here, and here (this one has the original documents about it from 2004, in pdf format), and here.

Sometimes it's just depressing. But that's part of why I write about this land, and will be writing more and more over the years. It takes writers/agitators like Ed Abbey, and individual citizens who care, and public awareness, and a feeling of community and connection with everything and everyone in order to create positive change and to truly recognize what we all are doing. I mean, if we don't give a damn, who will? Our mutant little descendants, crawling around in the rubble we've left of this planet, cursing us with their every gasping breath in the foul air?

Let's not let it get to that, eh? I know there are doubters and naysayers (the eyes-shut-tight crew, as I think of them) who complacently believe everything will go on as it always has. I disagree. Love this place? Then do something about it, even if it's a little tiny thing like writing a blog that not many people read! What do you think?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

the endless fount of ideas

Interesting little tidbit I noticed on this morning about a writer who parlayed an article in a NY Times column into a book deal, which also became a movie deal and just a big deal overall. She wrote about how animal training can help with love training, or finding, or something like that. (The article is from 2006.)

The most interesting part of this story to me (well, the literary fame and fortune are pretty cool too) is how she positively plumbed the depths of the Modern Love column in the Times, to the point of manually counting the words in several of the articles. She did her research. And it paid off. In spades. And her idea came from a previous book she'd written called Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched, about people at an exotic animal training school. Bit of a leap, no? But a fascinating example of how to find and breathe life into ideas. It certainly made my head start to whirl with all the possibilities that I can wrestle out of the primordial stew of ideas and plunk onto paper (screen).

Where do your ideas come from? How do you string them together, make connections? Most importantly, I suppose, what do you do when the ideas seem to dry up?

Okay, enough expounding. Time for me to go find my ideas and drag them into the light...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

writing must-haves

A list of the things I must have in order to write:

1) My laptop (oh precious, oh wonderful, oh holy, I bow down to thee and promise to never again let unsaved work and pictures be on you if you crash...I have learned the wonders of the flash drive.)

2) Glasses. Yes, I wear them. To read. And write. I get headaches otherwise. Started wearing reading glasses when I started a job as a lowly editorial assistant in 1995. My love of reading led to the degeneration of my ocular senses. Ironic, no?

3) Dark chocolate. Need I say more?

4) Coffee. In the mornings. Only the good stuff, preferably organic, shade grown, fair trade, and dark. Lightened with rice milk, although I just yesterday discovered lactose-free organic milk, yes, cow milk, which has not been my drink of choice for years. So far, so good....

5) An Internet connection. The better to procrastinate, of course. I mean, research. No, seriously, I love both and, among others.

6) Music, a background movie (at the moment, LOTR, which I have seen so many times it does not distract, except during the coolest scenes, like when Arwen is carrying the injured Frodo to safety and the horrible ring wraiths are closing in on them, and then my heart just pumps and I have to watch), or the chatter of people around me. My head doesn't like the quiet otherwise--that's only welcome during sleep or meditation.

7) A working, sleep-fulfilled, focused, and purposeful mind. If I'm stressing, forget it. No writing!

8) A view. Either through a window or in pictures and posters in my room. Yes, posters, even though that makes me sound like I'm in junior high worshiping some boy band pop star. My favorite, which I have noted before, is the one of Capitol Reef National Park, situated just so the afternoon light hits it....

9) A clean house, if I'm home! Yes, I'm one of those people who cannot work if I am surrounded by disorder. That could also be another procrastination technique. But it does make for a delightfully clean abode.

There might be other must-haves, but those are the ones that are with me at this very moment. What do you need in order to write? Pen & paper? Dictaphone? A sparse office with nothing but a table, chair, and four depressingly (charmingly?) white walls?

Post your thoughts, I want to know....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

freelance writing & other disguises

Having a multitude of thoughts today, as usual. It's warm out, and sunny (ah, the glories of daylight savings time for our non-agrarian country--it's silly, but I do love all the "extra" light), and life is just so full! Hmm, I think I've been bitten by springtime follies and excitement, and it's not even officially springtime yet. I am, of course, supposed to be working on deadlines, but here it is after 5 p.m. and I haven't even cracked open the files yet. Ahem. But it's a beautiful spring day, she whines! Note that I am at my laptop, inside, and actually writing at the moment. But I'm writing in my nonpaying (although much-loved), deadline-free blog as well as (gasp) web surfing, as a friend who just walked by and came in to say howdy pointed out. (I'm also listening to the quiet background hum of Lakshmi Singh's voice on NPR--can I count that as time well spent?) Anyway....

So I was just checking out some other people's thoughts on freelance writing and blogging (see here, and here, and here, for a brief example of some of my procrastinatory habits) and triggered my own juices as well.

I am a freelance writer. Does that mean I make my entire living from it? No. Does that mean that I spend all my time writing, looking for writing jobs, or setting up my freelancing website? No. But I am still a freelance writer, and I have the invoices and lovely checks to prove it, baby. I also have the background (insatiable reader, long-time writer, worked in the industry for years, etc.) and the definite desire to make my own way in the world, unencumbered by the tyrannical purview of dictatorial bosses. Hee hee.

However. I freely admit that the solitary life of the writer isn't necessarily all that. Have I ever longed for the camaraderie of some of my day jobs? The silly office gossip that spiced up the required hours of attendance? The steady gratification of paycheck, perks, and paid time off? Yes, yes, and yes. Sometimes I still do, especially in my down moments (They happen. Just ask my friend David and he'll tell you all about my moods, to which he is subjected on the phone from 2,000 miles away.) Give me the title! The salary! The peace of a daily purpose! My mother encourages all this too, with typical motherly love and concern. (Thanks, Mom. It's really very sweet!) And I do, in fact, have a "day job" at the moment, which fulfills many of my needs (especially the money part, of course.)

Writing as solitary profession is hard for most people. Even right now, I am in a coffeehouse, surrounded by others and their energy, and I find it buoys me. But still. I long to be a professional writer, which means to me that my entire income is derived from my writing, preferably both freelance and fiction. (See earlier posts about my fictional aspirations.) And that, my dears, demands time alone, writing. Even if I am in a public place, surrounded by others. (Who, oddly enough, are all also on laptops, lost in their own worlds of whatever they are doing, fingers tapping away on their keyboards, occasionally chuckling out loud at some hidden wonder on their screens. It's amusing.)

All right. I have expounded with brilliance on the state of being a freelance writer. Now I do need to get back to the nuts & bolts of said endeavor, and actually write something that will pay me, all the while apparently disguised as a student or other coffeehouse lurker, as I have decided most of my fellow chair-sitters in here are. Although I may do just a little more surfing first... It's research. Really.

Oh, and by the way, check out my friend Rachel's new blog, Be Whole Now. Cool stuff. She's also a writer, and woman who wears many hats.

Monday, March 10, 2008

on plagiarism & other fun things

First let me note that I've been terribly ill with some flu-y thing for the past week. I have so much empathy for people who live with illness all the time. It makes it so hard to do anything, such as, oh, have the will or interest to live. But score another win for health, which has emerged victorious again. Although only after a grim battle.

Anyway. I read with interest and not some small amount of disgust about yet another writer who decided to fabricate her life and call it a memoir. (Also recently in the news was even another writer who fabricated a Holocaust memoir.) But the disgust was only partially aimed at the writer.

I mean, come on. If you can get away with it...if you are desperate enough...and if you live in our culture at this time, when it's so hard to recognize anything as the truth at all (um, hello, Mr. President), no wonder she was a little confused on the process. You can't even tell if a picture is real or not anymore, what with technological amazements that anyone can manipulate from their own computers. Reality TV? Snort. Not quite. And as for writing--well, it's virtually impossible to be able to say that anything is absolute truth, no? Who can get into the head of a writer? Or of anyone? Ask any police officer and she'll tell you that five different witnesses have five different memories of an event. Which of them is lying? One? Or all? Or, perhaps, no one was lying? Human memory is notorious for its infallibility (thank god, eh?). Perhaps that's a large part of what makes us so creative. We can fabricate stories at any time, slap them on paper (or on our blog), and call it literature.

Heck, what I write in my blog could be complete and utter fiction. I'm sure lots are. We are so good at not being what we really are, for so many different reasons. Is Margaret B. Jones really to blame for wanting to be someone else? (Even if, oddly enough, that someone was a gang member wannabe in South Central L.A.) We all want that at some point in our lives, even if very briefly and only as a moment of wild fantasy. (Come on, admit it. You wanted to be Wonder Woman and have her golden bracelets that could deflect nasty things.)

On a strictly literary level, I certainly do not approve of the actions of writers who pass off someone else's life experiences as their own. If it's a blurry memoir, where the lines of truth, reality, fantasy, and wishful thinking all cross, well then by all means call it such. The reading public can handle it. We are not stupid, and we are capable of bending our minds around the usual suspects to create new categories, new genres.

We are, however, liable to get pissed off if we feel deceived. There's not much we homo sapiens enjoy less (aside from waterboarding, philandering spouses, and unethical lawyers, that is) than having the wool pulled over our eyes, which we like to think of as being very sharp and in charge. Fool me, shame on you--and I'm also going to get even and show you who's the smart one, you smarmy little bastard. (Hey, I just call it as I see it. We do not like being duped.)

Ah, who knows what went through the heads of people like Margaret Seltzer (dba Margaret B. Jones, lol and hardy har har), JT Leroy, James Frey, Misha Defonseca , Kaavya Viswanathan, and others as they penned their fake masterpieces? They probably didn't really plan it. It wasn't really murder, officer, it was more a literary bookslaughter. Things just sort of--got out of control. All of a sudden, I had a big book contract, a book tour, people asking me to sign copies, saying in awed voices, "All that really happened to you? And you had the guts to relive it and write it down? Cool." Yeah, what was I supposed to do then? Admit it was all a fake before it went any farther?

Um, in a word: Yes.

Well, yeah. I know, I know. Easier said than done. But still. As a writer, who is very clear when I write either fiction, or a literary essay (which should be pretty clear by its label that it's not cut and dried nonfiction, dredged up via hypnosis from the still whimpering depths of my traumatized soul), etc., I am offended. I have not written anything that should have been fiction (or blurry nonfiction), had it published as something else, and whirled off on a tour. And I'm not going to.

But again, I am offended at both the individuals as well as our own culture, which fosters such behavior through means both obvious and less so.

Elders, wake up. Young people, wake up. Everyone, wake up. What are we doing, when we allow such untruths to be circulated and homaged as gritty (or pretty, depending on the case) reality? Where does it end? How close are we to slipping our hold on the true reality of our lives and letting just anything go? Boundaries are there for a reason, believe it or not. And I think we should abide by them, because otherwise it is a strong and clear nod to anarchy.

I know, I know--you'll accuse me of the slippery slope argument. But take a closer look. Really look. Really use your own, uncluttered judgment on this one. And decide for yourself.