New Year, new story, and exciting news…

Happy New Year everyone!

I’m back at my desk after a week of family visits and back at my blog after a busy November/December.  Some exciting things happened this past month…

My gothic Midwestern flash fiction piece “Women’s Work” is up at Flash Fiction Online.  I love the art the editorial team picked to be featured with the story so much!  I’d also like to give a shout out to Tanya DePass for consulting on this story.  If you are looking for professional manuscript consultation regarding diversity issues (i.e.  you’re writing characters backgrounds and identities than you and you really don’t want to fall into tired tropes), I highly recommending working with Tanya.

My article “Interviewing Venture Capital and Private Equity Professionals” made the top five most popular article list on the Helen Brown Group’s The Intelligent Edge.  I started reading The Intelligent Edge when I started my first job in prospect research four years ago; reading it helped me dive right into important conversations in the field–so I’m very excited to be included on such a great resource!

On a political note, while I’m frustrated and angry and scared for what the recent U.S. presidential election means for my community, I’ve been impressed by the outpouring of activism and engagement from my professional and social circles.  Some highlights (including resources to bookmark!):

  1.  This call script for contacting public officials, including how to tailor your call based on your official’s voting history.
  2. This action list  by the Southern Poverty Law Center on how to combat everyday bias in ourselves and our communities and the creative activism by Showing Up for Racial Justice during Thanksgiving.
  3. The outpouring of donations to nonprofits that serve and advocate for people likely to be targeted by the Trump administration.
  4. This call to action and responsibility by Helen Brown  for those of us in the information gathering and disseminating profession and a similar call by Barbara Kingsolver.
  5. The insistence that we remember our history and act accordingly, by  Kameron Hurley and Danielle Tanimura.
  6. Seeing my friends, family members, and colleagues take the opportunity to have tough discussions, fundraise, and do difficult self-reflection during the holiday season.  Witnessing my community’s commitment to doing the work needed to build a safer and more just world helps me do the same.

Looking towards the future, I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year, but  two phrases have been rolling around in my head during the past month:

Follow the joy.

Do the the work.

I think that sums up my intention for 2017.

Let’s do this.

 

 

 

The Trump presidency and what I do not accept

A man who has openly campaigned for persecution on the basis of religion, for building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and who both claimed that he didn’t know what the Klu Klux Klan was and refused to reject their endorsement, who has bragged in interviews about sexually assaulting women is going to be president of the United States.  A man who signed into law the ability for businesses to discriminate against LGBTQI people, a man who advocated against same-sex marriage and advocated for electroshock therapy to “convert” gay people, is going to be our vice president.

Like most of the country, I didn’t expect this to happen.  I read Nate Silver’s analysis of the polls, saw that there was a greater probability of Donald Trump losing then winning.  But there was a possibility of him winning and he did.

There are a lot of analyses being published about how Donald Trump won the presidency and I expect there will be many more in the future and that we will probably learn a lot from them.  But regardless, this is true:  we are going to have a president and vice president who have campaigned on a platform of discrimination and suppression of human rights.

Those who voted for them knew that.  They decided that the reason they had for voting for Trump, including the promise of economic stability and attention after decades of neglect, the attraction of a Washington outsider, distrust of Hillary Clinton, or any other reason was more important than rejecting a man who publicly condoned discrimination as a public policy.  This is true even if the voter does not consider themselves discriminatory, rejects racism and other discrimination personally, believes that they would never discriminate against another person, or even believes that Donald Trump is lying and he won’t actually follow through on those campaign promises.  They still decided that they were willing to risk having a president who promised to force all Muslims in America to register with the government and when asked how this policy would be different  than when Germany required all Jews to register, responded, “You tell me.”

It is difficult for me to acknowledge and own when I have chosen my own (perceived) safety, my fear, or my well-being above the safety and well-being of others.  If you voted for Trump, I imagine that what I have said will make you angry and defensive.  If you are a fellow Hoosier, I imagine you might want to remind me of the economic shambles of our state, the way the Democratic party and the entire federal government has not created a real plan for Midwest, remind me of the meth epidemic, the long hours working three part time jobs to almost make ends meet, the high cost of mandated private insurance, and the shitty, condescending way Hollywood and the rest of the country  talks about us–like our whole state and our lives are a punchline.  And you’ll probably tell me of a  lot of other things I don’t know because I haven’t walked in your shoes.  These things are all true.  I accept that truth.

And it is also true that Donald Trump has promised to force all Muslims to register with the government, his vice president co-sponsored a bill that would deny citizenship to the children born in the United States, if their parents were undocumented immigrants and if you voted for Trump and Pence, you decided to that it was okay for those things to happen, or least, you were willing to risk it.

And that is what terrifies me, and terrifies the people who are targeted by Trump’s proposed policies.  Even if he doesn’t go through with his promises, the willingness of white people (because white people overwhelmingly voted for Trump, including the majority of white women) to risk the safety of people of color, LGBTQI people, and religious minorities means that we have normalized and condoned violence and discrimination.  Again.

And I do not accept that.

This didn’t happen over night, and white people aren’t suddenly more biased, but Trump’s presidency makes it more likely for oppressive acts to be accepted. There has already been a spike in hate crimes against Black people, against Muslims, against LGBTQI people.  In south Philly, people are painting swastikas on walls, and I’ve already had one friend be harassed for speaking out against white supremacist posters that are appearing on the Ohio State University campus.

I have heard close friends and family (all white and straight, and mostly middle-class) say, “We got through Reagan, we got through both Bushes, we’ll get through Trump.”  But not everyone got through Reagan, and the Bushes.  There are thousands of dead Nicaraguans, thousands of Black and Hispanic people sitting in prison, thousands of dead American soldiers, thousands of dead victims of the AIDS epidemic, who did not “get through” those administrations.  There are people my age who grew up without a parent because their mother or father died in Iraq or Afghanistan, or at the hands of CIA-trained Central American death squads.  I do not accept that we will all inevitably “get through” Trump’s administration.

Why am I writing so much about what I accept and do not accept?  Because if Donald Trump, or Mike Pence, or any of his administration, or even regular private citizens, want to oppress others, they first have to make it normal and palatable to the public.  We have seen this again, and again in our history.  We don’t start off by sending people to internment camps, we start with a database.  And before we start with a database, we start talking about registration.  So the time to push back is not when they string up the barbed wire, the time is when you first hear about registration.  Or denying citizenship.  Or taking away voting rights.  Or building a wall.

I know a lot people are already working to make the world and ourselves less cruel and dangerous.  But as my dear friend Faith, theologian, pastor, teacher and supreme bad-ass said immediately after the election,

I pray every single one of us demands no less of the new president than the best we could imagine. Hold the President accountable, hold those in the Senate and the House and the Cabinet and the block next door and hold yourself accountable. In the aftermath of this election, we all have to be better, more loving, more imaginative, more committed to protecting the outcast, the stranger, we must be more generous of spirit, than we have yet imagined we can possibly be. Now more than ever, lives surely depend on it.

I’m going to be writing more on this blog about ways to push back, care for our community, and hold ourselves accountable, but my overwhelming plan is: Don’t accept discrimination or neglect as normal.  Don’t let it become acceptable.  There is nothing natural about letting people live in poverty, there is nothing natural about discriminating against someone because of their religion, or race, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or gender or any other glorious expression of humanity.

I’m holding myself accountable to my community and I’m entrusting myself to you too.

 

 

How to put together a writing group

Writing ToolsDecide what the goal of the group is and communicate it clearly. Generally, there are two types of writing groups:  writing date groups and workshopping groups.  The goal of a writing date group is to devote time to writing; the goal of a workshopping group is to, well, workshop.  Some groups do a mix of the two.  Regardless of the set up, communicate clearly to the participants what the purpose of the group is.  It’s frustrating for everyone if a writer shows up expecting to get feedback and doesn’t, or if someone shows up expecting to have time blocked out for writing and doesn’t get it.

Figure out a regular meeting place or at least a regular way of communicating where you’ll be meeting.  Inconsistent meeting times or places is swift way to kill a writing group, especially if the participants don’t know each other well.  The point of a writing group is to focus your energy on writing–if you have to spend energy figuring out logistics, then that’s less energy spent on the actual writing.  Here are the pros and cons of a couple of common meeting places:

a)  Libraries:  My favorite place to meet writing groups–they’re free, they are open to all ages, they are usually open until at least 8pm, and they often have meeting rooms or study tables available.  The Chicago Public Library system just launched an online reservation system for  their meeting rooms, which is one of the most exciting things that happened this summer (I lead a quiet life).  The cons?  You usually need a library card to make a reservation, there might be a lot of competition for particular time slots, no food or drink to purchase.

JNB_1373

“Three hours of sitting and no drink or tip…that’s cool, that’s cool. Definitely not thinking about throwing this coffee at your head. Never even crossed my mind.”

b) Coffeeshops:  They are popular with writers for a reason, you can watch people without engaging with them, there are table and chairs and outlets and often WiFi, baristas are used to people writing there, coffeeshops are open to all ages, and of course, there’s readily available bean juice.  Cons include: you generally can’t reserve areas, which can be a problem is your writing group is big and there’s less privacy if you’re workshopping.  Further, while you can get away with just writing and not buying anything, it’s not recommended if you want to stay in the good graces of the staff–and if you’re meeting there regularly, you want to be in their good graces.

c) Private Homes:  I occaisionally run writing group session out of my home–it is convenient to the organizer, you can bring or make food, the group can stay as long as they want (provided you’ve worked it out with your roommates or partner), there’s lots of privacy if you are workshopping stuff that you don’t feel like shouting over the rattle of coffeecups.*  However, I’ve found that doing workshops or writing date sessions in a private home can feel more like a social get together which means it’s easy for the writers to get distracted.  And of course, there’s the safety and comfort issue–not everyone feels comfortable going to someone’s house, especially if you don’t know the host well.  And if your’re the host, it means you have to tidy up somewhat.**

d) Unusual spots: During National Novel Writing Month, there’s a lot of writing meet ups in unexpected places such as museums, hookah bars, train cars, and theatres.  There’s something really fun about meeting in place you don’t normally write in, it can spark creativity and be a good way to get out of a rut.  But of course, those places are less convenient–limited space, ticketed entry, etc.

If you are workshopping, have some agreed upon guidelines.  There are a lot of methods for workshopping, this post isn’t advocating a particular method but I do think that workshop participants should have an idea of what to expect (will they get written notes?  Are they allowed to respond to comments?).  If there are  rules you want to lay down, make that clear from the beginning (such as submitting no more than 10 pages, or submitting at least a week in advance).

If you are meeting to just get writing done, still structure the session.  I run a chapter of Just Write Chicago, in which we do exactly that–just write.  However, our writing sessions still have a regular format: we just write for about an hour and a half, then we spend 20-30 minutes introducing ourselves and talking about any writing issues that have come up that week.  Having a regular format helps focus the writing time and pushes folks to actually get stuff done, which is the point of writing date type groups.  I’m also a big fan of actually talking to people at the end of a writing session, it helps build community and gives people a chance to network.  And who else is going to listen to you talk about your imaginary friends that live on the page?

Think about community management.  If you are organizing a group of humans, whether it be a writing group, a sports team, or a rag-tag heist gang, you are going to have to think about community.  What are your values as a community and how do you practice them?  Do you want your writing group to focus on a particular demographic, such as novice writers, or working parents?  If so, how do you make your group accessible and helpful to them?  Similarly, if you value having a space for diverse experiences and voices, it’s worth looking at the specific ways white writers in workshop groups disregard writers of color and the ways in which women are disregarded by men in co-ed meetings so you can avoid those pitfalls.  Yes, it’s a lot to think about, but these issues are going to exist regardless of whether or not you address them–so you might as well be a responsible organizer and deal with them.

"Is this writing group working for me?"

This statue isn’t sure if she’s getting what she wants out of her writing group.

Check in with the group and yourself every so often.  I used to be really bad about this and would keep on attending or running a writing group, regardless of whether or not it was useful or fun for me.  It should be at least one of those things, preferably both.  So check in with everyone and see if it’s still worthwhile–people’s schedules and goals change, so sometimes even an awesome group stops working.  It’s hard enough to make time for writing, don’t let a writing group get in the way of writing.

*Fun fact:  In the 1940s Anais Nin ran a writing group in her apartment at the end of every month when all of her writer friends were broke and desperately trying to make rent.  They ate oatmeal (because that’s all they could afford), wrote naughty stories for about twelve hours straight, then sold them to a mysterious collector who paid by the page.  Flush with cash, the writers paid their rent and went on writing their novels and plays for the rest of the month.  Everyone won!

** For me, that usually means running around about 10 minutes before people arrive, frantically shoving laundry in the bedroom

The Researcher Reads Up: Baltimore

So, I’ve decided to start an irregular series on my blog called the Researcher Reads Up.  I find social media both thrilling and overwhelming in general; on one hand, there is so much info out there, on the other hand, THERE IS SO MUCH INFO OUT THERE.  I’ve always been grateful to folks who take the time to compile reading lists, links, and other education tools, so I’ve decided to pay it forward/back/sideways and start compiling lists of useful links on issues that I care about, but in which I am not an expert.

I’ll be linking especially to folks whose voices have been historically marginalized and/or who are affected directly by the issues in question.  I’m not claiming to be impartial by any stretch, but I will try to link to a variety of news sources, because I think reading a variety of sources and opinions is useful to understand how a conversation is being framed.  I’ll also try to cite my sources best I can, because links can go dead, go behind a paywall, and it’s simply good manners to other hardworking writers and researchers.

Today’s links are about the protests and the conditions leading up to the protests in Baltimore, MD.

Things to read:

Coverage by major US news sources:

CNN coverage (continually updated)

Fox News Coverage

Narratives of Violence and Non-violence:

Coates, Ta-Nehisi.   (2015, April 27) Nonviolence as Compliance. The Atlantic.

Smith, Mychal Denzel. (2015, April 28) Toward a New Broken Windows Theory. The Nation.

Traister, Rebecca. (2015, April 29). The Violence in Baltimore Didn’t Start with the Riots . The New Republic.

Burroughs, Todd Steven. (2015, April 29) Former Black Panther Paul Coates Remembers Charm City, Circa 1968. The Root

Updates on investigation in Mr. Gray’s death and other legal actions:

Baltimore Public Defender’s description of jail conditions for detainees

Reuters reporting on Gray investigation

History of Race, Poverty, and Policing in Baltimore:

Fletcher, Michael. (2015, April 28) What you really need to know about Baltimore, from a reporter who’s lived there for over 40 years. The Washington Post.

Rockman, Seth.  (2003, July) Mobtown U.S.A. Baltimore.  Common-place. Vol. 3 (4)

Puente, Mark (2014, September 28) Undue Force. Baltimore Sun.

Coverage in other countries:

Sevastopulo, Demetri & Chon, Gina.  (2015, April 28) Baltimore hit by worst riots since 1968. The Financial Times.

Sevastopulo, Demteri. (2015, May 1) Baltimore riots highlight city’s deprivation. The Financial Times

Baltimore, en llamas tras disturbios por muerte de afroestadunidense.  (2015, April 28) La Jornada.

Other reading lists:

Baltimore-based writer Michael R. Underwood has good set of links to start.

The Rumpus has a timeline of events and links.

People to follow on Twitter:

@Karthynia is a Chicago writer, journalist, historian who tweets and links on issues of race and recently wrote a piece in the Washington Post on police violence.

@WesleyLowery is a journalist for the Washington Post, he did extensive coverage on Ferguson.

@tanehisicoates is a journalist for the Atlantic (see previously cited article)

@BlackGirlDanger is an editor and founder of Black Girl Dangerous, an online publication that amplifies the voices of queer and trans people of color.

A Twitter list of people on the ground in Baltimore, created by Matt Pearce.

Coverage in Conservative Media*

Williamson, Kevin.  (2015, April 28) Riot-Plaugued Balitmore is a Catastrophe Entirely of the Democratic Party’s Own Making. National Review

Driscoll, Robert. (2015, April 28) Freddie Gray is Not Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown.  The National Review

Response in Chicago:

Chicagoans Rally over Police Violence (2015, April 29) The Chicagoist 

Briscoe, Tony and Jeremy Gorner.  Hundreds Gather in Chicago to Protest Police Violence  (2015, April 27)  Chicago Tribune

Things to Do:

In Baltimore:

per Michael R. Underwood: “The Maryland Food Bank is going to be facing a ton of demand this week as people’s lives and schedules are disrupted. Baltimore City Schools are canceled today, a place where many children get their only reliable meals. And many parents will have to miss work today to take care of their children.”

In Chicago:

The Campaign for Equitable Policing is lobbying for a bill in the Illinois House that would require private police forces on university campuses to have the same transparency and reporting laws as public police forces.  Learn more here.

A bill to give reparations and establish a memorial for survivors of torture under police captain Jon Burge is being voted on this week in Chicago.  Learn more here.

Anywhere in the US:

Learn about several upcoming bills regarding incarceration and police militarization, via the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

*self-identified by publication as conservative

SB101: Let’s make it awkward.

My fellow Hoosiers.

By now, you have probably heard that SB101 has been signed by Governor Mike Pence.

I’m not going to talk about whether or not this law forms a legal basis for discrimination.  Lawyers with more knowledge than I on these matters have already made that case and I am convinced.  If you want to read some of their arguments, you can do so here and here.

I’m not going to talk about whether or not Jesus of Nazareth would have condoned such a law.  More learned Christians than I have already made that case, if you would like to read some of  their arguments, here they are.

I am going to talk about what Hoosiers who oppose this law, who think that this law is bad governing, bad theology, and a breach of human compassion and decency, can do.

I grew up in Indiana.  I was born in Lafayette, I went to high school in Bloomington, I attended college in Richmond.  My extended family and friends live in Indianapolis, Elkhart, and South Bend.  I know my home state and I know the misplaced fear, the mistaken righteousness, and the dangerous passivity that allows a law like this to be lobbied for and to be passed.  I know it because I grew up with that fear and righteousness and passivity, and sometimes I was the perpetrator and sometimes I was the survivor and I know a lot of people who will be the perpetrators and who will be the victims of this law.

And I also know that as Hoosiers, one of the things we fear the most is…awkwardness.  Discomfort.  Making a scene.

We are taught to be nice, by which I mean to make sure that conversations aren’t too distressing, that no one is publicly embarrassed, that everything seems, at least on the surface, to be agreeable and pleasant.

This isn’t always a bad thing.  Sometimes it is a kind and useful thing.

But sometimes, we need to make a scene to effect change.  We need to point a finger at the status quo and say that the status quo is wrong.   It’s taken me a long time to learn this and it is still something with which I am deeply uneasy.  I don’t like confrontation, I don’t like making people visibly uncomfortable, I don’t like sticking out and calling attention to myself.  But I have learned that oppression thrives in many environments, and a silent community is one of them.

What can Hoosiers do to fight this law?  We can make it viscerally, horribly, deeply uncomfortable to have it on the books.

We can bring it up at our workplace, at our churches, at our schools, and among our families.  Among strangers.  Yes, strangers.

We can ask the stores we patronize if they serve everyone.  We can walk out if their answer is anything but, “yes.”

If we work at an Indiana business that serves people in the state, we can ask our bosses and co-workers to make it clear that we serve everyone and if they say no, we can ask why they don’t want to serve particular people.  We can have that awkward conversation and we can refuse to shut up about the issue, no matter how uncomfortable it makes others.

If we live in Indiana and choose to boycott businesses that refuse to serve particular people, we can write them and clearly explain why they have lost our business.  We can send copies of that letter to our local paper.  And our state representative.  And our city council.

If we choose to patronize businesses that are serve all people, we publicly declare that support.  We can compile lists of those businesses and distribute those lists.

If we are living outside of Indiana and choose to boycott the state, we can publicly declare why exactly why we are boycotting Indiana.  Maybe we can send the money we would have spent in Indiana to organizations and businesses fighting this law and we can declare that publicly as well.

If we choose to come to the state for an event, we can make a point to ask each and every business we patronize if they serve all people and only work with those who do.

If we live in Indiana and lose paychecks and jobs and contracts because people are boycotting our state and we are mad about that, we can write angry letters about how mad we are and how this law is making it hard for us to get by.   We can point our anger to the politicians that signed this law, to the groups that lobbied for this law, and we can tell them loudly that they are to blame for our suffering.

Whatever it is we choose to do, we need to make it loud.  Don’t let the passing of this law be business as usual—make it a public relations nightmare.

Don’t let the conversation die, because if we do that, our silence will be a shield for this law.   And if anyone points out that we are being loud and awkward and making the whole situation so very, very uncomfortable, we can point out that being discriminated against is deeply awkward. 

Now, I want to be clear, I am not calling on vulnerable folks targeted by this legislation to put their safety at risk—I am calling on folks like me, who are not (yet) the target of this legislation.  We need to take care of our community and right now that means making a big, ugly scene.  Throw a fit over this.

Don’t be nice, be brave and fearless for the people we love. 

#MakeItAwkward