This is the Working Hour…

…We are paid by those who learn by our mistakes. (Tears For Fears – “The Working Hour”, Songs From the Big Chair)

Bad moods, certain songs, and an internet connection could get one into a lot of trouble. But I will refrain from that and just ask you, my dear readers, are there certain songs, entire albums, musicians, etc. that just take you ‘there’? ‘There’ is that place where you connect with some small part of you that you forget you have most of the time. It’s the alive spot in you that can be released just by playing that certain disc or song.

Sometimes I can connect like that when I’m writing. Sometimes not. If I can get that perfect synergy between writing and playing music, then it’s insane. I used to achieve it by writing music. Writing music and playing music at the same time is counter-productive – and ridiculous –  so I’ve only had this marriage of connection activities since I’ve become so invested in my writing.

Then there’s this other thing. The other thing is related to all of the crap I deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes writing can’t help that; sometimes it is absolutely necessary to help it. But there’s one thing I know for sure that always helps it: music. Certain music. I have a rather lengthy list of varying and sundry artists and songs, but I’m currently on a tangent. You know how that is; it’s when only one type of musical vibe will do. What’s your certain music? I bet you can get a feel of where my vibe is at by my certain tangent right now:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOY_aqkUTxY

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My Blog Was Nominated For a Liebster Blog Award, Yee-ha!

What is a Liebster Blog Award, you may ask? These are the types of questions that plague us in these mysterious times. That may seem overly dramatic, however, I think the blogging community has a better chance of uncovering who the Zodiac killer was than finding out who started this whole Liebster thing. After diligently scouring the internet for at least ten minutes, this is what I discovered:

“Some time, somewhere (rumour has it that it might be Germany), someone decided to do something nice for a lot of bloggers and started the Liebster Blog Award. It’s an award you receive, but it is also an award that you give. If you receive a Liebster Blog Award, please choose 3 or more bloggers and send them one as well.”  (stolen from http://tracycampbellwriter.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/liebster-blog-award/ )

Once you receive your award, you must do the following:

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog. So many, many thanks to LimebirdBeth at Limebird Writers: http://limebirduk.wordpress.com/  I was actually really excited that someone who happened to stumble across my relatively new blog was motivated enough to think of me for this. It is also what I love about the internet the most; that as a global community we can meet people and interact with them, when we may never have had the chance to any other way.

2. Link back to the blogger who presented the award to you. Done. See above link – and I would recommend clicking it as well, they have a lot of relevant writerly things to say.

3. Copy and paste the blog award on your blog. That would be the cool graphic above that I also stole from other bloggers.

4. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 5 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed. I have seen the above 3 or more followers mentioned, but the majority have been the number five. Since I always follow directions to the letter (*choke* *gasp*), I will be naming 5 blogs.

5. Let them know they have been chosen by leaving a comment at their blog.

Okay, I know the suspense is killing you, so here are my 5 blog picks that deserve to be nominated for a Liebster Blog Award!

1. A. W. Omyn – Writing Adventures: http://awomyn.wordpress.com/2011/12/10/a-letter-to-santa/#comment-33 She is a YA/fantasy/paranormal aspiring novelist, and holds a Black Belt in the Sarcastic Arts; if you like it blunt and hilarious, you will enjoy immersing yourself in her world.

2. CDeminski’s Blog: http://cdeminski.wordpress.com/ Carol is a published short story writer whose flash fiction and short pieces can be found in several literary journals such as Right Hand Pointing and Spilling Ink Review. She covers a variety of topics at her blog, and does so with a dose of humor.

3. Black Alchemy – Dark Works and Speculative Horror from Hope Sullivan McMickle: http://blackalchemy.wordpress.com/ There are some cool flash fiction pieces and a lot of stuff from the heart. If you love zombies and vampires that don’t sparkle – check this one out.

4. Robert S. Wilson – Author of Shining in Crimson and The Quiet:  http://shiningincrimson.blogspot.com/   Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a sucker for dystopian fiction. This is Robert’s arena, and he has a great dystopian (non-sparkling) vampire series (Shining in Crimson is Book One), and a very disturbing novella that I love, “The Quiet”. Plus – he’s a fellow musician.

5. Scribbla – For writers who need an audience for their daily scribbles: http://scribbla.wordpress.com/   There is some awesome and intense stuff going on here. I feel like I’m eavesdropping on an art piece in progress – do it!

So there you have it folks; some bloggers you should take the time to visit. I am continually blown away by all of the talent that is out there waiting to be stumbled on. Thank you internet for being more than just a  virus and hacking  breeding ground every once in a while.

Startling Frank Confessions Pt. 2: Or How I Hope to Someday Make a Living as a Writer

I think that title was long enough – I’m done writing for now. Ha!

The purpose of this post is to answer a few questions that have been posed to me regarding pen names, writing erotica, and the big question all writers ask themselves: will I ever be able to make my living as a writer? Really? Especially if what we’re talking about is creative, or artistic writing.  This is opposed to writing ad copy, articles, press releases, technical writing and all other legitimate forms of non-creative writing. It’s not that people ( and I have been one of those people) writing ad copy or articles are not creative writers, but that they are generating written copy based on the needs of the venue; i.e. magazine, client, newspaper, website, etc. It’s not the same.

When you write a short story, novel, poem – you are creating something that did not exist before you as the artist made it come alive. When I quit public relations and writing for newspapers, it was because I wanted to focus my writing energies on creating as a writer. Carol Deminski (http://cdeminski.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/time-to-write-a-rant/) is a blogger/writer I follow, and the questions she posed to me in the comment section of my last blog, and the questions I have had from friends and writers, have inspired me to give you a brief history of my writing  journey up to this point.

After I began writing creatively again – which was post music business, post P.R. and post ghost writing someone else’s memoir – my writing was sporadic and shaky, at best. I fumbled around with the beginnings of some novels, and then put them aside. I began to focus on short stories, my own possible memoirs about the music business, and the occasional poem. There were snippets in there of light and possibility. There were also large chunks of garbage and drivel. I could probably do another entire post – or book – about the whys and wherefores, but the reality was that I was practicing. I was learning. I took some classes, went back to college for a bit, started a writing group; I was finding my voice as a writer.

In the middle of finding that voice, I discovered I was just as eclectic (or schizophrenic, take your choice) as a writer, as I was when I was in music. I love a lot of different genres, both as a reader and a writer. But because the realities of marketing yourself as a writer, and whatever book you are promoting, precludes mash-ups of genres, it’s better to be identified as a writer (at least the name you’ve attached to it) with a particular genre. So even though I read – and write – literary, memoir, sci-fi, horror, fantasy, romance, paranormal romance and erotica – my one name can’t be all things to all people. Seriously – the Pulitzer people are not going to be awarding prizes to a writer that is known for kinky vampire romance sagas. At least maybe not this year.

Which brings me to the next point: can creative writers make a living anymore if they’re not with the Big Six, or one of the top chosen few that are bestsellers with film options and all of that? Carol commented that short story writers have a particularly difficult time, and she gave an example of someone who did win the Pulitzer, wondering if they were able to survive financially. I suppose we could get into another discussion regarding the differences between literary and commercial fiction – but I don’t want to get anymore off-kilter in this post than I already have. My opinion is that you are creatively writing in either mode, but the difference lies in the writing style and voice. Hence, why Wren Andre as kinky vamp writer and Wren Andre as literary short story writer might twist people’s brains too much.

But I believe we can make a living. I spoke briefly in my last post about how I was using a pen name to write erotica, and had made a few bucks by selling them on Amazon through Kindle self-publishing. The technical aspects of it alone were very uncreative and very non-writerly, almost putting the kibosh on the whole enterprise. But I persevered, and have had some startling (in my opinion) results.

The idea was that I would invent a persona for this type of writing, and she would have her own blog and twitter account. However, she has really no platform at all, and no one has ever heard of her, hence me not holding out hope for much more than that Starbuck’s latte in reward for my efforts. The first title went up the end of August, and I sold 9 copies in about 10 days. I think 2 of those were me and my hubby, and 1 was a friend I had confessed to. So 6 copies purchased by complete strangers from an unknown author. Most of those are being sold at a 70% royalty rate, and at $2.99 a copy, I end up with a clean $2.04 per copy. In 35% royalty territories (Kindle explains the breakdown), I get about a buck.

September saw me add another title, and my sales were a little over a copy a day. At least 75% are at the 70% royalty rate. I added 2  more titles in October, one as an experiment – a shorter story for only .99 cents – and I broke over a 100 copies total a few days ago. With the 4 titles, my sales are now averaging 3 to 4 a day. Not bad for someone who has never existed before August of this year. I am giving these stats not to brag, but to shout out to all my fellow authors out there – ANYONE can do this. Be warned though: sex sells, so other self-pubbed efforts will likely not take off as well initially. Like all the gurus say, you still have to market yourself and do all the work – including making sure there are proper edits, appealing cover, blablabla.

But it is possible with the right effort. Staying on course in all that you do will definitely pay off in the long run. I saw a graph recently from Amazon that showed the striking rise of e-book sales in just the last 3 years – it was astonishing. There is no longer any doubt that e-publishing is a viable and exciting new way for authors to be seen. Check out this link from one of my favorite romance blogs: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/comments/what-ever-happened-to-shanna-swendson/#com It revolves around what ever happened to a romance author whose final book in her series was turned down by the publisher. Yet, she had plenty of readers and fans who were dying to read it. So why not self-publish? Read the comments section – of particular interest are the responses from the author herself and other  traditionally published authors, particularly P.N. Elrod. What an eye-opener. I am more excited than ever to take my writing destiny in my own hands, and while I will still send out stuff to traditional sources, I no longer feel held prisoner by them.

As a final comment on the erotica, I was first introduced to the concept of a “real” writer seriously handling that genre through Anne Rice’s Erotic Adventures of Sleeping Beauty, which she wrote under the pen name of A.N. Roquelaure. That lead to my discovery of Anais Nin and other women writers who had written quality erotica that some considered literary. So, even though I may be a smut peddler, I am taking it seriously to the extent that I care about the quality of the writing. Special side benefit:I am getting an amazing amount of writing done, and it is helping my craft! Yay! Since I am taking it seriously as a story writer ( not just throwing in gratuitous sex scenes) I am giving myself continuous exercises in character development, story arc, plot points and creativity.

Keep on keeping on to all the writers out there – we are no longer just limited to waiting for that stamp of approval from the Big Six, or a handful of literary presses and boutique presses. Let your readers decide.

 

Startling Frank Confessions

19 days until NaNoWriMo, and I have swerved drastically off course. Oh – I’ll be writing, no problems there. It’s just that I’ve completely altered my plan of action. Ever see that movie “The Three Faces of Eve”? Or “Sybil”? Well…I have an alter-ego. Every writer out there is familiar with that special phrase. Many of us like to use pen names. Sometimes we use pen personas, which is really what I’m talking about here.

Wren Andre is the me that runs around all day, doin’ my thang, holding a respectable job, hangin’ with the family, playing Rock Band and video pinball, and delving into the deep, philosophical ideas that shape our very existence. That persona was all set to write “The Wilds People”, a dystopian novel of grit and determination. I have a decent outline. Two main characters, and a couple of ancillary characters I was going to work on further before the November 1st start date. I also drafted a shocking conclusion already. I even have a week of vacation left so that I can dedicate that first week to pounding out as much of that 50,000 word goal as possible before Black Friday – the retail holy grail – takes over.

But in the hushed nighttime hours, I also have another writer persona (who shall remain unnamed) that writes erotic short stories and makes a few bucks off of them on Amazon. That persona has a bitchen’  idea for a full-length paranormal erotica novel, and really isn’t ready to toss it aside while Wren Andre works on something deep and meaningful. Hmmmm. So, here’s the deal. I shall report periodically on that other writer’s NaNoWriMo progress, while Wren Andre continues to blog and gather stuff there and here to be deep and meaningful at some point in the future. After November.

How about all of you writers out there? Any startling frank confessions of your own 😉

(P.S. – I believe I lifted the above graphic from author Dani Harper…maybe?)

In the Zone

I’m tellin’ ya’ – this whole flu season nonsense is beyond annoying. I’m the person who always gets the disease right out of the gate – so there’s not even a chance of me getting that silly shot first. So then I think, “Am I just wasting my time, money, immune system, etc. by getting this shot after the fact? Is it just the drug companies trying to separate me from my hard-earned cash? Should I get french vanilla whipped cream for my coffee again, or should I try the chocolate even though it might be weird and gross? Should I be putting quotation marks around my own thoughts in a written sentence?”

My actual point is that fighting off the flu this past week took me out of this amazing writing zone I was in. My facebook friends and tweeps will know what I’m talking about; the whole writing cave tangent I was on during my day job birthday vacay. Then, I had to drag my sorry behind back to work just in time to feel like crap all day, but because I had just had seven days off – I couldn’t very well take a sick day! What with me supposedly being in charge and everything. HA!

So, it was slog through work, come home, have dinner, fall into bed, rinse and repeat for the last six days. Bye bye zone.

I feel loads better now; there is a lot to be said for making yourself go to bed early and getting rest. I also managed to thwart a full-on weird flu-virus invasion on my person. So you know what this means: time to get back in the zone!

It was incredible. I got back to this place I haven’t been in since I was in middle school/early high school and obsessively writing every day. I couldn’t be stopped. Oh, there were science teachers, math teachers, friends, bullies, Barbie dolls, parents and all manner of enemies trying to stop me – but I found my way around them and their evil plotting. When I was shipped off to the lake in summertime to see my grandmother and aunt – I would spend entire stretches of the day ignoring swimming in the lake, berry picking, kayaking, fishing, tree-climbing, walking in the woods, marshmallow roasting and even bingo with free donuts & Kool Aid on Wednesday nights in favor of writing the latest installment in the “Wren the Detective” series. Yikes.

After sending my first novel with the awesome title “The Syndicate Fury” off to William & Morris (sorry, I had to stop for a moment, I was laughing so hard I thought the tears might fall on the keyboard and short it out), I waited for months for the reply that would announce that I had my first of what I assumed would be many publishing deals. You may find it hard to believe (I know I did) that I received a form rejection letter.

One interesting side note that my 14 year-old brain couldn’t grasp the enormity of: at the end of the form letter was a hand-written note from the editor explaining that they didn’t publish young adult fiction (my story was along the lines of Harriet the Spy), but that my writing was very good for someone my age,  and that I should send it to one of their subsidiaries that published YA.

If it were now, I would literally pee myself in excitement over a letter like that from William Morris. All I could see at that time though, was that I didn’t get what I wanted: a multi-million dollar publishing deal and my writing career set in stone; game, set  and match. I should have had a mentor. I shouldn’t have been so solitary. Any pat on the back would have been cool. I was a kid that subscribed to Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market and thought I could just figure it out all on my own. 

 I sort of gave up after that. I never sent it on to the other publisher using the name of that editor, as he had invited me to. Something about that experience knocked me completely out of the zone, and even though many times over the years I would have epiphanies of ideas – I never got beyond a brief synopsis or a chapter or two. Or I would re-read it and be disgusted and discard it. It could have been the rejection, the ensuing grip of rock music, boys or who knows what. I couldn’t get it back.

This last week was just a lame flu bug; certainly nothing to threaten my continued writing flow. It took at least a decade of focusing on my writing to get back to this point,  but that’s ok. I’m back. Back in the zone.

Interview & Story With Autism Awareness Advocate, Laura Shumaker

Wren has been immersed deep within the storied Writing Cave this past week, – thanks to the day gig vacation time and a very understanding family – but I don’t want to completely ignore the blog. As I mentioned in my last post, my experience as a first reader for the Glass Woman Prize gave me the opportunity to read the works of two talented women writers, Laura Shumaker and Ana Nieto.

Being a writer among many out there in the big scary world can sometimes feel as if no one is really getting you. Writers do their jobs in a completely solitary environment, so it’s easy to lose perspective on whether or not your voice matters. I personally got a lot out of reading the pieces by these women, and wanted to share them with you. I’m starting off this week with Laura Shumaker, the author of  “A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism”, and an autism advocate. Let’s find out a little bit about Laura, shall we?

WA: This essay is about your son Matthew, correct?

LS: Yes, about Matthew.

WA: You also wrote  a book about your life with Matthew entitled “A Regular Guy: Growing up With Autism”. What was the “aha” moment that lead to you wanting to write this memoir?

LS: My aha moment was when my husband and I came to the heart wrenching conclusion that we needed to send Matthew to a residential school. When we came home from dropping him off, a “friend” called and told us we must be relieved. Grrr…

WA: Yikes. On being an autism advocate, how did that come about? Were you approached, or did you seek it out?

LS: I became an autism advocate because so many people who read my book, which tells the story of raising Matthew from babyhood to young adulthood, reached out to me and told me my story gave them HOPE.  I strive to inform parents of children with autism that our kids can have a  meaningful life.

WA: What is next for you – any more books?

LS: I am writing a parents helping parents book  (stay tuned) and I write an internationally recognized autism blog for the San Francisco Chronicle. I also write essays about anything and everything! Read them at www.laurashumaker.com

WA: If there was one statement you wanted to make about misconceptions regarding Autism, what would it be?

LS:  Hmmm. I just think that people with autism deserve a lot of admiration! It is not easy to be them.

WA: Thanks Laura! Your book is at the top of my TBR list. For more info on Laura, and to find her book, check out these links:

A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism

Now, here is the wonderful essay “Love Lessons”, by Laura Shumaker:

It was February 16th, just two days after the Valentine’s Day storm paralyzed the Northeast. I had just finished my continental breakfast- a rubbery muffin and weak coffee – at  a mediocre hotel near the Philadelphia Airport. My flight from California had arrived late the night before, following hours of delays, and I was tired and jittery.

 I was on my way to pick up my twenty-year-old son, Matthew, who is autistic, at his special school in rural Pennsylvania, about an hour west of the city. He had been begging me to take him to Washington D.C. since he’d enrolled at the school three years before, and I thought it would be fun to go over the President’s Weekend break. When the storm hit I almost backed out, but maternal love and guilt pushed me forward.

 When I pulled into the snowy driveway of the house where Matthew lived, I saw him waiting on the porch, smiling widely, and that old familiar lump made its way back to my throat. He was wearing jeans, black snow boots and a thin t-shirt, even though it was only 28 degrees. A self-proclaimed gardening expert, he was holding the leaf blower that I’d given him for Christmas, and was using it as a snow blower. It was clear that he had just cut his bangs again, another botch job. Matthew’s house was on the grounds of his school, and he lived there with two other students and his house parents, Dawn and Lazlo.

 “He’d be really good looking if he weren’t autistic,” my fourteen-year-old son has said about Matthew, and as unkind as it sounds, it’s true. Matthew is very handsome, with a tall and solid frame, broad shoulders, and sandy blonde hair. His eyebrows arch dramatically to frame his brown eyes, and his jaw is square and masculine. But his exaggerated expressions and awkward body carriage make him stand out in a crowd. His forehead twists with intensity, he smiles too suddenly and his hungry-for-friendship gaze is desperate. And the bangs are a problem.

“He’s been so excited about this,” said Dawn as she loaded Matthew’s bag in the car. She looked excited, too, and I understood. Matthew had been unusually aggressive about making contact with “hot” girls when his school group went on outings, using suave pickup lines such as “Can I touch your hair?” and “When was the last time you had a seizure?” When counselors from the school tried to offer suggestions of more appropriate exchanges, Matthew yelled, “Stay out of my business!”.  The pretty girls scattered, rolling their eyes, and leaving Matthew angry, heartbroken and inconsolable. I applauded anyone who tried to crack Matthew’s socially awkward behavior, but was losing hope that Matthew would ever be able to enjoy the relationship that he craved, one that every mother wants for her child.

 “There will be a lot of pretty girls in Washington D.C. this weekend,” Dawn warned me under her breath, then waved us on our way. “Good luck!”

 I heeded her warning, but as Matthew’s mother, I had seen it all, and was optimistic that I could manage his girl-crazy behavior and coach him successfully.

The drive from Pennsylvania to Washington was stressful as I swerved to avoid shards of ice, remnants of the storm flying off of cars, trucks and tree limbs. Matthew seemed oblivious to my angst, and played Beatles music loudly as we drove, replaying the first thirty seconds of Octopus’s Garden over and over each time we entered a new state. By the time we got to Washington DC I was ragged and hungry, and while seeing the Washington Monument, the White House, the Jefferson Memorial for the first time thrilled me, I worried that it was all too much for Matthew, who was smiling but flapping his hands and rocking double time. Near our hotel, we found a pizza place – Mathew’s first meal while traveling must be pizza –  and Matthew settled down after eating his cheese pizza “with nineteen French fries on the side” before heading back to our hotel for the night.

 During breakfast at our hotel the next morning, I bit my lip as Matthew leered awkwardly at our attractive young waitress while ordering three Belgian Waffles and an order of sausage.

“First time in D.C.?” she asked, “you have got to go to the Botanical Gardens! Look,” she said, pointing at our map, “it’s just about six blocks away, right next to the Capitol.”

“I’m smart about gardens, I tell you,” Matthew said earnestly, trying to impress, “and you should stay away from oleanders. They’re poisonous.”

The waitress rushed away, stifling laughter, leaving me with the heavy feeling in my chest that mothers get when people laugh at their children.

**

I panicked when I first saw the enormous glass conservatory that housed the botanical gardens and the swarm of people streaming in. Clearly, this was a popular week for middle school tour groups in Washington. A small pack young teenage girls  wearing identical t-shirts were bunched in front of us giggling uncontrollably.

 “Those girls are hot!” Matthew said, loudly enough for some chaperones to look at us warily.

“They are too young to be hot,” I shot back nervously as Matthew pushed towards the entrance. “Stay away from them or you’ll get in trouble.”

“Let me go in first,” Matthew said, still eyeing the young teens.  “I don’t want people to think I came here with my mother.”

“That’s fine,” I said, “but Matthew. This is Washington D.C.” I pointed at the pair of armed security guards at the entrance. “It’s important that we stay together and use out best manners. Do you understand?”

“If I don’t use my manners, will they think I’m a bad guy?” Matthew asked, raising his brows and looking titillated.

“They might. You’re a big guy, you know how to behave.”

 I tried to suppress the sinking feeling that I’d already lost control of the day, that in fact this entire trip had been a bad idea, that the reward for my sacrifice would be heartache for me and frustration for Matthew. It had been easy to fantasize about this trip from California, where the magnificence of Washington was uncluttered by snow, crowds,  and hot middle school girls. But here we were, at the entrance of the Botanical gardens. I had to try to make our day a successful one.

 Matthew followed the group of young middle-schoolers past the security guards, darting through a series of automatic sliding doors that separated the collections of plants. While I was able to track him, he was working so hard to distance himself from me that he looked suspicious, and I looked like an undercover agent tracking him. This was not a good place to be running after a suspicious looking son, and I caught Matthew by the arm just as a security guard started marching toward us.

“What did I just say a minute ago?” I whispered hoarsely.

“Is everything all right here?” demanded the no-nonsense security guard.

“My mother keeps following me,” wailed Matthew, “I need some space. I want to be independent!” 

“Of course you do,” said the guard, glancing at the hacked bangs that explained all, “ but you need to stay together while you’re in this building.” So gripped by his desire to connect with pretty girls, Matthew took off again once the guard turned his back, and I followed like a championship speed walker until he raced through the exit and turned to me, stomping his foot.

“Stop stalking me!” he yelled, echoing the words he’d heard directed toward him so many times before. I felt like the young mother whose child was having a melt-down at the grocery store-if only I could just pick Matthew up and disappear into my minivan. Instead, I had to remain calm. The last thing we needed was a public shouting match.

“I have a great idea,” I said, “Let’s drive to Virginia! That’s a state that you’ve never been to before.”

“Or we could go there first,” Matthew said, pointing to the Capitol Building. There was a line curving around the imposing marble steps, also protected by armed security guards. My instincts told me that it would be best to stay away from any more monuments except from the distance of our rental car. But darn it, I wanted to see the Capitol myself.

“Can you promise to stay with me and walk slowly?” I sighed, “Will you remember that this is the most important place in the world to follow the rules?”

**

Fortunately, the line that led to the entrance of the Capitol was moving quickly. It wasn’t until we got to the security checkpoint that I learned we were in the line for the gallery that overlooked the Senate floor. There was a special Saturday session debating censorship of the Iraq war. This didn’t concern me at first. Surely since 9/11 the gallery would be in a secure, soundproofed room with floor to ceiling bulletproof windows separating us from the Senate floor. But after filing through a third and final metal detector, Matthew and I were led into the second of three rows that overlooked the Senate floor, where John Warner was speaking. No walls, no glass…just open air and the Senate floor right before us.  A camera crew was taping the proceedings for CSPAN.

God help me…

To add to my tension, seated in the row behind us were five very good-looking college age girls.

The hot flashes I’d experienced before were nothing compared to the whoosh of heat that rushed through me now. Matthew promptly got down to business, leaning back and flirting loudly and awkwardly with the co-ed behind him. She shook her head and motioned for him to turn around, which he did with a sly smirk.

“Talking is not allowed here,” I whispered firmly. “I’m serious.”

“O.K!” he yelled. I glanced at the security guards. Matthew had gotten their attention. What would they do if he erupted again? Just as Carl Levin rose to speak, Matthew twisted around again, tapped the knee of another girl behind him and waved at her.

“Cut it out!” she whispered, then looked at her friends in disbelief. While I was frantically thinking of a way to coax Matthew out peacefully, the girls got up and left in disgust. Matthew rose to leave with them, but one of the security guards motioned for him to stay seated. Matthew looked surprised, hesitated, then sat down and faced forward. His face turned red, and tears poured down his face. Diane Feinstein made her way to the podium.  I looked pleadingly at the security guard, and he came to my aid.

“Let’s go, son,” he said kindly, his arm outstretched, and my sobbing son and I filed out of the gallery. Once outside in the hallway, Matthew confided to the security guard that he wanted a hot girlfriend because he was healthy.

I put my arm around Matthew’s shoulder as we left the Capitol, and wondered what I could say about this experience that would make sense to him. The obvious explanation would be that since 9/11, it was more important than ever keep a low profile. But how in the world could I communicate that to a person devoid of common sense?

“Those girls really hurt my feelings,” Matthew said as we exited into the cold. “They weren’t nice.”

“I know Matthew, but you know what? One time when I was your age, something like this happened to me, too.”

“Really? Where were you?”

“Well, I was in church, and some really cool guys were sitting behind me. I decided to talk to them.”

“Then what happened?”

“I started to talk to them and they told me to shut up!”

“Then what did you do?”

“ I started crying. Then my mother, your grandma, walked me out of the church.”

“Was she angry with you?”

“No, she knew that I felt bad because the boys yelled at me. She explained to me that at church, you are not supposed to talk. And the boys knew that and didn’t want to get in trouble.”

“Oh.” Matthew was quiet for about a minute, and wiped his runny nose on the sleeve of his pale blue sweater.

“But Mom?” he asked, his voice quavering, “Did the boys actually think you were nice?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I never saw them again. But later there were other boys who thought I was nice.”

“That’s good. I’m done talking about the girls now. Can we have lunch in Virginia?”

**

We headed toward Virginia, and as Matthew cued up Octopus’s Garden on the car’s CD player, it occurred to me that this silly ritual had a purpose-it distracted Matthew’s heavy, longing heart. As littered with roadblocks as it was, Matthew’s search for a meaningful relationship was as important and valid as anyone’s. It was vital that everyone who cared for him keep trying to help him find one.  

 I looked wistfully as we drove away from the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial we wouldn’t visit.  

I’ll see them next time.

Writing, Reading, Reflecting

So this has been a different day for me. I’m home, it’s nice outside, the last gasp of summer is nearing, and I’ve been trying to catch up on some emails. It’s also a pretty intense anniversary for the country, and so the pall of that has been around everything. Yet – when I went out to do the inevitable day-off errands – the Sunday market was in full force, the participants in the local Classic Car show were making their way home in their extra-shiny vehicles, and the grocery store was bustling with crazed coupon clippers, screaming toddlers and freaks of nature who probably only EVER see the light of day to purchase sustenance. 

Life goes on. Through this and many other horrid events in human history, life grasps and claws its way forward. This is as it should be, and I’m grateful to be a part of the humanity that is good, and seeks to improve what little time we have here. I’m not going to list all of the ways one can accomplish this – I’m certainly not any kind of authority on that subject. Finding our own way is highly personal, and as with most things, quite subjective.

I just began reading Ellen Burstyn’s memoir, “Lessons in Becoming Myself”, where she describes her life through the veil of what she has learned through Sufism. I’m by no means finished reading it, but already I would recommend it as an honest portrayal of an artist’s journey and their process of self-realization. It’s all about exploration and connection, man. The perfect book for me to be reading in the backyard today, while looking out at the choppy Columbia River.

Before I sign off and immerse myself in my own little selfish world again, I want to mention that I will be doing a couple of blog posts coming up that feature two new writers that I was fortunate to come across while being a first reader for the Glass Woman Prize. (The contest deadline is September 21st, so there is still time to get your jewels sent in! Here’s the link: http://www.sigriddaughter.com/GlassWomanPrize.htm)

So, in the next couple weeks, watch for Ana Nieto’s short story, “Glass Curtain”, and Laura Shumaker’s story, “Love Lessons”.  It was just one of those things where I was struck and moved by their stories; both deal with our human condition and the joy and agony that is a result of our connections to one another.

Until then!

Artistic Expression vs. Death

I know. Heavy title for such a silly woman as me. But I do have my moments, and this article caught my eye:

http://washingtonexaminer.com/entertainment/movies/2011/08/threat-letterman-muslim-forum

Apparently, a radical jihadist, ( I don’t want to refer to him as muslim, as that then places this evil mindset on a group of people who do not necessarily believe this way.) has threatened David Letterman on an al-Qaeda forum. The frequent poster made the threat because of  jokes Letterman made regarding the recent drone bombing of an al-Qaeda leader and Osama Bin Laden.

This is not incredibly surprising, since many, many people from world leaders on down have been threatened by al-Qaeda, radical Christians, Jews and any other religion, group and so on that you can come up with. All for statements or activities they found kill-worthy. The disturbing part of this though, is that the article’s author concludes their story with a recap of other artists who have been threatened or killed by muslims – or in the name of al-Qaeda – for their artistic expression.

One of the more notorious incidents like this would be the fallout from Salman Rushdie‘s novel “The Satanic Verses” of 1988, that forced the author into hiding for years out of fear for his life. Last year, the creators of South Park were threatened, and previously, so was a Dutch cartoonist.

The one that really struck me however, was the story of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh. He made a film that was a fictional study of abused Muslim women entitled “Submission”. Apparently, a Dutch muslim who was infuriated by this film killed the filmmaker in the streets. I really started to dwell on this. Here was someone who went to the monumental effort to put together a film, ( I don’t know how people do this – I get overwhelmed just at the thought. Turning on the computer everyday is epic enough for me) had the need to express this story, get it out there, and then lost their life solely because of their artistic expression. 

Was it worth it? I wonder if those close to Mr.van Gogh are angry that he put himself in that position, or if they applaud his courage to stand up for what he believed. I imagine it’s a mixture of both. I have no idea if I would have the cojones to put myself out there in such a way, and that bothers me.

There are things that I want to write about that I know some people might find offensive, will vehemently disagree with, or laugh at me for. I doubt anything I might write would become a death sentence – but who knows? Am I willing to put myself out there unabashedly and freely as an artist? When I was a young pup on the rock music scene, it was all about expression, man. This is how I FEEL, deal with it. But I’m not on Sunset Blvd. anymore.

Theo van Gogh’s film is something I want to watch. Had I been aware of it under normal circumstances, I would have wanted to watch it anyway. But now, it has another association with it. I want to see a film that I imagine a man had no reservations about creating, because his artistic expression was more important than any other consideration. I wonder if that still applies to me?