Because we were theater nerds — RJ and I and who else? Pam maybe — we were asked by Mr. Martello to clean the backstage area and scrub the bathroom because Maine South was hosting a guest speaker of great importance. This was probably 1979.
I remember cleaning the counters for her. And putting flowers in the bathroom. I remember hearing her read her poetry. She was diminutive and grand.
The speaker was Gwendolyn Brooks.
I was jazzed by her colloquialisms. By her direct language. Though small of size, she was huge to us, to us in the lily whitest of white suburbs. Her poetry sang.
I especially remember her reading, “We real cool.” And I remember reading it on the page — how she set out the way to read it out loud by the way she broke the lines. She made us pause. At that time, too, I was learning about ‘the Pinter Pause,’ and I was excited by the pauses that poetic language could invite.
The “We”—you’re supposed to stop after the “we” and think about validity; of course, there’s no way for you to tell whether it should be said softly or not, I suppose, but I say it rather softly because I want to represent their basic uncertainty.
So this is February, Black History Month. And I’m pretty much in love with poetry written in spoken language. And I thank God for Ms. Brooks, and Maine South for introducing me to her poetry. In high school, before I learned of Ms. Brooks’ work, I had fallen hard, as young people do, for Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. We’re so lucky to have such a history of amazing women poets in this country. The dramatic work of poet laureate Amanda Gorman continues and expands this poetic tradition.
By hearing Ms. Brooks read her work, I discovered that poetry could merge with drama. That poetry allowed you to try out a new voice. Just as acting allows you to embody a new person. I celebrate the newness of voice and vision of great poets in this country.
On September 7, I attended the 27th Annual Press Club Conference on Journalism at NYU. As a former staff writer, and frankly, an American citizen, I appreciate the role of the press in a democracy. A free press is a pillar upon which this union stands and if the press crumbles, so goes the country. I’m not being old school here – responsible journalism and truth-telling is a civic responsibility. And, as Chris Cuomo says, “Let’s get after it.”
The keynote speaker was Ross Buettner who along with Susanne Craig and David Barstow got after it when the New York Times reporters broke the story of how Trump inflated his ego (and flat out lied) by calling himself a self-made millionaire. Truth was he inherited, squandered, and exaggerated his millions. It’s curious why this story did not have legs, as they say. Maybe it’s that we, the American people, are bombarded with falsehoods every fricken’ day, including on this day, September 11, 2019 – has Trump (DT) no shame? — and we’ve become inured to this shady executive in chief’s penchant for falsehoods and exaggerations.
One question for the keynoter: “Is DT an outlier?” And the answer is, indubitably, “Yes,” the man is an outlier. We, the people, are so much better than this charlatan currently occupying the Oval Office.
like Barstow, Craig, and Buettner are my modern-day heroes. And like so many
people of principle, they choose humility over self-aggrandizement. For example,
Buettner admonished, “You always wanna’ be checking your own BS.” Wise words.
Also sage advice: “Don’t be afraid of sounding stupid,” said Alana Pipe in the workshop on Making Data a Routine Part of Your Beat, which featured two additional amazing investigative and data savvy reporters, Irina Ivanova and Will Bedderman, who specialize in using data to unearth hidden stories. These data and investigative stories take time to simmer so this kind of reporting requires patience, which is difficult for me. However, I remind myself to stay on topic and not chase side stories. I am so easily distracted: what’s the shiny new thing? Hey, I tell myself, follow the truth — but make it sparkly. After all, writers are competing for the attention of readers who might prefer shiny games like Candy Crush to the depressing news.
The workshop on Workin’ It: Making It as a Freelancer was chock-full of advice. Hanna Bae (@hanbae) was a fount of knowledge. Here are a few of her suggestions, plucked from my Twitter feed @MaryBethC
New voices, submit your writing to the WSJ and the Washington Post’s the Lily.
Use your interests. The topic of academic stress was interesting to Bae so she wrote about specialized high schools.
Reach out to local bureau chiefs in international settings for assignments and for professional development.
Peer mentors and friends are the best networking buddies!
Never pitch on social media; use thoughtfully worded emails.
In the conference’s opening plenary, panelists Zach Fink, Harry Siegel, Ruby Cramer, and Michael Calderone discussed The Media’s Responsibility in Election 2020. How can the press report differently (better!) this time around? Here again, my advice? Do not chase shiny objects!
On a discussion of whether journalists fear for their safety in a climate of hate-mongering from the president, both Ruby Cramer and Michael Calderone agreed that female and people of color journalists receive more hate on social media than their white male colleagues.
Zack Fink spun the current political morass as one that has sparked an uptick in civic engagement, a new “level of wokeness,” calling the current political climate “a backlash to elitism.”
Still, there were calls for greater diversity in newsrooms (okay, that was me). Most of the audience seemed to be young people, women, and people of color yet the panelists and our media’s talking heads are often white, male pundits.
I think that the event was sold out because the Press Club supported college students and young journalists to attend the conference. We need these young people and we need the freakin’ press. Support your local journos.
To join the Press Club, I had to submit a few of my press clippings and pay my membership dues. Growing up, my father was a member of the Chicago Press Club and to me, there was nothing fancier than a night out to dinner with my parents and a bunch of press people. This is still true today!
Maybe if I had a second extra hour, I’d spend that time querying other magazines and newspapers with my funny, short essays.
I sent that essay to the newspaper as part of my challenge to query 7 places in 7 days. I may challenge myself with that again. But maybe in November, because in October my challenge is to post every single day. And besides that, I’m a little lazy.
“Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself,” Ree Drummond advised on her keynote and then proceeded to sing Endless Love to her dog on the big screen. Host of the Pioneer Woman blog, a bunch of cookbooks, and the number one food show for women on Food Network, it all started with her self-deprecating stories on her blog.
This BlogHer Chicago conference is all about the power of a small story to make a big change.
I only have about 20 minutes before I run back to McCormick Place to hear Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In. I am sleeping on my mom’s couch. (Thanks!) Here are a few highlights.
Kathleen Sebelius gave the keynote on the first day. We are in good hands in this country with Sebelius as secretary of health and human services, rolling out the health care. “Women put their health last,” she said. Not me, I vow.
Sebelius drew applause when she talked about the need for mental health coverage. With health care for all coming soon in this country, “62 million people will have access to mental health that they don’t have it today.” And this, “Depression is real.”
Secretary Sebelius advocated for more women in decision-making positions, be it in corporate boards or elected offices.
“Take a risk,” Sebelius said. “Kick a door open. Put yourself in.”
Yoga in Millennium Park, sponsored by Yasso yogurt, was awesome. The drizzle on my yoga mat stretched me. Then, I felt grateful when a bit of blue peeked through the clouds.
Other highlights for me were the panels on caregiving, podcasts, Instagram, and essay writing. Guy Kawasaki spoke at lunch. He gave the example of NPR as a place with great content that’s earned the right to host a telethon a couple of days a year. (Not to self: provide great content, only then host a telethon.)
Kawasaki is is a huge fan of Google Plus. He said it is for your passion, whereas Facebook is for your friends. And he referred to his four kids as “my four start-ups.”
I loved when Elisa Camahort asked Kawasaki, “Four kids, a lot of work — how do you do it all?” He acknowledged that he has three women making him look good — a wife, a nanny, and a @PegFitzpatrick, who happens to be my #blogchat Twitter friend.
And that reminds me, for more updates, you can follow me on Twitter at MaryBethC for more on BlogHer. But right now I’ve got to run back to the conference and lean in.
I am working on a very short novel. I am working on my business. I am working on myself. I wonder if any of these things will work out.
I believe that I already have everything I need. I try to know, deep down, that all I want will come to pass. Yesterday I announced that I’m going to lead workshops for the International Women’s Writing Guild summer conference and in May I’ll be performing on Mother’s Day with the Listen To Your Mother Show. These are dreams that have come true for me.
Still, sometimes I think it’d be a heckova lot easier to just get a job and show up every day. And do what’s asked of you and then go home.
Sometimes believing in myself is a lot of work.
Speaking of work, I have a freelance assignment due tomorrow. A small part of me does not want to do it. Okay, a big part.
I like my own stuff. But once I throw myself into something, even someone else’s something, I get into it. The problem is the throwing myself in. It’s like when you’re standing on the edge of the pool, hesitant to swim. You just have to jump.
About freelancing, here’s my truth — I love accepting a job; I love interviewing people; I like collecting the check. All the middle part, after the interview and before the job’s complete, all the writing and rewriting and fact checking, that’s a pain.
Life has been a bit of whirlwind. Only today does it feel like the the dust has settled. And it’s a rainy, dreary, depressing day.
After the kids’ and my spring break trip to Chris’s cousins in Boston and Nantucket, I led a blogging workshop at the Indiana Writers Center and a social media workshop at Religion Communicators Council, both in Indianapolis. Then I visited family in Chicago. It was all great.
I went solo on this recent trip to Indy and Chi-town. And the adage is true: you travel faster when you travel alone. But maybe fast is not always best.
Is social media really making me more creative and connected?
Am I using social media only to market my stuff? Or do I really want to get to know you and your stuff too?
Am I oversharing with all my blogging, tweeting, Facebragging, instagramming?
See, I bumped into a friend on the street yesterday and she asked me how my spring cleaning was going. My first response was embarrassment. How did she know I was spring cleaning? But then I remembered my joke on my FB status. I’d updated, “While spring cleaning this morning, I found $3 – who says housework doesn’t pay?”
I felt a little flattered and a little naked. Truly, I write so people will read me.
So, on one hand, I worry if no one will read me, and then, on the other, I worry if people will read my stuff and react. (I write like I dance, like no one is watching me.)
In our last MOOC session on motivation and learning, Natalie Rusk mentioned that the keys to happiness are purpose and belonging. That these lead to personal growth. Maybe social media is for the social good when it encourages all of us to belong, to be purposeful, and to grow together.
Maybe when the rain stops and the dust settles some more, I’ll figure it all out.
Until then, here’s where I market my stuff on my social media — I’ve still got room in my Writing Retreat 4/25-4/28. And I need a few more good writers to make the weekend happen. We can discuss our digital diets over a nice long, leisurely dinner together.
My friend Jolain told me that when she started her clothing line years ago, her goal was simply to make beautiful clothes. She said that wasn’t enough.
“A business has to solve a problem,” Jolain said.
When Kelly and I launched our new biz, we figured offering first-class writing workshops at non-luxury prices would answer a writer’s problem.
A writer’s challenge includes the need to:
be a part of a community
find a sanctuary for dangerous writing
make time for writing
nurture creativity and beauty in a society that overlooks the arts.
Our biz does all that.
This morning I listened to a podcast about traveling salesmen (at Field Notes Brand, a company my brother co-founded). Ron Solberg praises the tenacity and brilliance of the early traveling salespeople who often sold books. And the customers appreciated how the salesmen delivered news, as well as products. They liked the free samples.
“The trick really was volume, the number of stops you make,” Solberg said.
And more winning advice: “Take advantage of the moment.”
In a sense, when I started the biz, I wanted to make and nurture beautiful writing the same way Jolain wanted to make beautiful clothing. But I am learning to sell as well as to create.
As a small business owner, I need to sustain my biz, so I must do both sales and art. And for both, I need to value beauty, tenacity, hard work, and being in the moment.
During yesterday’s long lunch with Hal, he mentioned casually, “You should be making about $2,500 a week freelancing.” Gulp. I reminded him that unemployment pays $405 a week. Next to my computer sits a book from my sister a few Christmases ago: Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $85,000 a Year by Robert W. Bly.
Since that 2nd edition, the third edition’s out. A potential freelancer’s pay’s shot up to $100,000 a year. Okay, great, let me get going.
I cracked open the book, looking to get on that $2,500/per week thing. Here are some tips (based on Bly’s book):
manage time well
get to the point
keep the client satisfied
All good. And here are some of my tips:
let go of the guilt for asking for any pay at all
make your promotional material pretty (like website, biz cards)
turn it on time
give clients more than they asked for
I added that first bullet point, because I realize I have guilt for making money and guilt for not making money. (In yesterday’s post, I admitted to feelings of guilt for indulging in any activities that please myself only and do not please others.) Thus, I have to let go of all guilt, even about gilt!
I am letting go of my excuses for not pursuing the almighty dollar. Yes, yes, I was born a girl, raised Catholic, worked for a Christian group. I have believed (even unconsciously) that money was the father’s job. That the pursuit of money made me selfish or materialistic. That other people had greater need than me so let the poor suckers have my money. That I am artist so I must suffer and live in poverty.
None of this is true. And I felt affirmed in my quest for asking for top dollar after reading Mika Brzezinski’s book, Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth. Mika faced and overcame the same problems I have with money. Her advice is:
sponsor or mentor one another
stay matter of fact (don’t get emotional, apologetic)
I should have told Hal what I really think about making money. Money is just energy. To make more of it, just insert yourself into the energy’s flow. I buy that.
And I will get on it, right after I finish reading another book. And blogging.
Watch the president’s acceptance speech. (Couldn’t stay up on election night to wait for Romney’s concession!)
Help my husband with bill-paying.
So I napped. I slept for two and a half hours. I woke up groggy, confused. I had dreamt I was at a racetrack with my son and I was drinking champagne. It was a warm afternoon and I was enjoying our shady spot. I wanted to stay asleep.
The kids come home from school, dropping their backpacks by the front door, noisy and hungry for a snack or attention.
But I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t remember who they were, who I was, or where I was. It took me half an hour to feel right. That’s why I never nap. It’s discombobulating.
I know I’m tired because I’ve been waking early to get the kids up to their bus and get to my 7:30 am guided meditation class.
In meditation yesterday morning, a long-haired dude sitting next to me was falling on my shoulder, snoring away. It threw me off my meditation game.
My nap threw me off too. Since it snowed last night, I’m wondering if maybe I was just getting ready for a long winter’s nap.
I was in Portland with my work for United Methodist Women. I was early to my meeting. I rented a car and drove to visit another friend named Kelly in Eugene.
Since I was early I could meander. (Note to self: be early!). On the side of the highway, I spotted a sign that said Old West Museum in Brownsville. I took that country road.
I knew it was sort of crazy to leave the direct path laid out for me by the GPS. But I thought, “Heck, I’m so rarely someone who can meander.” Besides, I was in a great western state where, almost two hundred years ago, people traveled the Oregon Trail.
The museum was closed but I snapped a couple of pictures, posting them to Twitter and Instagram. Kelly @kellythewriter1 replied back, “Brownsville! You are in the boonies.”
I vaguely knew Kelly as a writer. I looked up her writing. I saw a section of her amazing memoir, The Trial.
We exchanged some Twitter messages and agreed to meet a few days later in Portland to talk about writing.
After my day at Powell’s bookstore, we met in a hip neighborhood, the Southeast part of Portland. (Isn’t it all hip?).
We sat at a cafe then walked around.
Kelly asked me if I remembered how I knew her, “Um, no,” I admitted.
“We were at the IWGG weekend together last year,” Kelly said. Kelly always gets the acronym wrong and that cracks me up.
“Oh, right!” I laughed. “The International Women’s Writing Guild.” (the IWWG!) We’d met at their fall workshop and luncheon at the National Arts Club.
Kelly and I gossiped about the changes that the guild was going through.
We agreed it would be fun to start our own writing guild. We’d gear it towards helping writers get published. We’d help writers get serious about and value their work. And we are!
Although our writing workshops are intended to get writers focused, our business started because, less than four months ago, I intentionally lost my way. I took the path less traveled. And by posting the story of my journey on social media (and here on my blog), I am finding my way.