Goodbye and Farewell

GOODBYE

Dear Readers: This is my last post for Live to Write – Write to Live.

It has been deeply gratifying to post my thoughts about the business and craft of writing here every other week for almost eight years. I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge, my successes and my challenges with you. And I’ve loved the “Likes” and comments you have given me in reply.

I’ve come to recognize many of your avatars, enjoyed stimulating correspondence with others of you, and consider a few of you my on-line friends. I will miss you, but it’s time for me to consolidate.

CONSOLIDATION

The impasse I came to with Vermont Public Radio has shaken me in curious and unlooked for ways. Most notably, I am honoring a need to consolidate my thoughts and energies to telling the two stories I’ve been working on in fits and starts these past years. I recognize the need to make telling them my priority, and to do that, I have to give up the shorter, easier, extremely gratifying work of writing for you.

TURNING INWARD

Between the death of my father, the end of my term as Chair of the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, and my break with VPR, I sense in myself a great moving inward, as if I’m finally ready to sit still and listen to the voice rising from deep inside.

LIVING IN PLACE

I will continue to post an essay every Wednesday on my personal blog, Living in Place. I invite you to join me there, where I write about our human condition by telling stories. Humans are a narrative species. We thrive on stories.

For reasons I don’t begin to understand, I seem to have been chosen to tell them. I hope you will honor me by subscribing to Living in Place. I look forward to seeing your avatars there, and to engaging in thoughtful exchanges of ideas and opinions.

FARE WELL, WRITE WELL

I wish you all the courage to tell your own stories. May you always find the exact word you need to say what you mean and thereby engage in that intimate relationship between writer and reader.

Fare well,

Deborah.

Goodbye and FarewellDeborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator who blogs weekly at Living in Place.

 

When Does Editing Become Censorship?

When Editing Becomes CensorshipWHEN DOES EDITING BECOME CENSORSHIP?

I recently had to answer this question when Vermont Public Radio prohibited me from using the word “grandfather” to name my childhood abuser.

They insisted on alternatives, like “male relative.”

I refused.

For ten days we went back and forth, trying to find a way through this editorial impasse until finally, I withdrew my script and wrote the story of what had become the all-too-familiar narrative of being blamed, shamed and silenced for speaking out about sexual abuse.

But I wasn’t silenced: I wrote the story about VPR’s attempt to censor me, published here.

DRAWING AN ETHICAL LINE IN THE SAND

I was torn between my desire to broadcast my story and my need to be accurate. In the past, I’ve mostly accepted editorial suggestions that I thought were less than perfect but not worth taking to the mat. This time, I balked for the following reasons:

  1. Precision of Language: There was no reason to be vague when the English language already provides a perfectly good, accurate, and specific word to name my abuser: He was my grandfather.
  2. To use one of VPR’s suggested substitutes, like “beloved male relative” or “someone close” would be to cast aspersions on many innocent people, including all my truly beloved and respectful male relatives and friends;
  3. VPR’s claim that to name “my grandfather” crossed the line of “journalistic integrity” is specious:
    1. My grandfather died in 1972; the dead cannot sue for defamation of character;
    2. This is a commentary, not a news report;
    3. My contract clearly states that I’m responsible for the veracity of my content, not the radio station.

A MATTER OF TRUST

Worse than the arguments outlined above was the station’s complete lack of trust in me, despite their repeated protestations of “complete trust in your integrity.” Ironically, the script I’d submitted was about why women stay silent about sexual abuse for fear of being disbelieved. I was disbelieved.

Worst: VPR worked harder to protect the reputation of my long-dead abuser than to help get this story out in the world. They didn’t succeed in silencing me, as I found a different outlet for the story, but they have done their audience a disservice by remaining silent about what happens to ordinary women who are willing to speak out about what we’re discovering to be a common occurrence.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post, among other mainstream news outlets, continues to publish the voices of well-known women willing to talk about their abuse. Are only celebrities allowed to speak? Let’s not kid ourselves: sexual abuse occurs across all ages, genders, races, religions, socio-economic groups; it is truly inclusive.

ENDING THE SILENCE

At first, I was hesitant to insist on accurate language for fear that I’d never be allowed on the radio again. But during the ten days of arguing by email, I knew that speaking the dirty truth was more important than sanitizing my words, even if it meant losing what has been a wonderful gig. I’ve already found other outlets for publication.

And most important: I’m doing my part to end the silence that allows the ubiquitous abuse of girls and women at work, at school and at home to continue.

I hope you will read both He Was My Grandfather and Ordinary, Daily, Demeaning Abuse.

Thank you.

Deborah Lee Luskin, photoDeborah Lee Luskin lives and writes in southern Vermont. She blogs weekly at Living in Place.

 

Just Read!

Just Read!

  • Carry a magazine with you at all times.
  • Keep a book in your car.
  • Tuck a paperback into your messenger bag.
  • Load a library onto your Kindle – and fire it up instead of checking your phone!

Too much screen time!

Just Read!

I’m not the only one checking my cell phone like a nervous tic.

I’m trying this technique myself, because I find myself checking my phone like a nervous tic, and if I see a new email or a new headline, I fall into the black hole of cyberspace. Poof! My time to read evaporates, and it’s time for bed.

Instead of reading print on a page in a chair by the fire before retiring, I pollute myself with screen time. Even if there’s no new message from a friend or no new headline to upset me, the light itself is known to disrupt sleep. In my case, I’m also cranky for having squandered the time I’d planned to read, and for not reading.

Advice to writers: “Just read!”

As writers, we’re told, “Just read!” as a way to learn craft, study style, examine structure, and gather facts. Reading other people’s stories helps us tell our own, whether our stories are invented, factual, remembered, retold, or some combination thereof.

Technology changes, but our human need for stories does not.

Humans are a narrative species. We used to tell stories around a fire; then we heard them in the marketplace and in the cathedrals. Eventually, we learned to write and read. Drama, film and TV tell stories through acting. These days, stories are lost in email and stunted in social media. Our time to read at length grows short.

I love to read; I have to plan time to do it.

As a writer, I’m a glutton for words, most of which I get from print on a page. So I’m starting a new campaign to increase my reading time. I’m going to keep prose on hand wherever I go, so when I have a moment of “downtime,” I can “Just Read!” instead of reflexively checking my phone.

How do you make time to read?

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin reads and writes in southern Vermont, where Into the Wilderness, her critically acclaimed story of love in middle age, is set.

Write Now!

Write Now!

Due to complications of my husband’s broken jaw, I have to Write Now!

This afternoon’s writing time was unexpectedly pushed aside to pick up liquid Ibuprofen, a pill crusher, a WaterPik, and energy drinks for my husband, who’s had his broken jaw wired together this morning and will be on a liquid diet for weeks. I rushed home to cook dinner for friends arriving from Great Britain momentarily, and I haven’t written Tuesday’s post yet.

Write now!

I remember days when writing time would be supplanted by a childcare-giver’s day off, a sick child, a grandmother’s broken ankle, chicken pox, strep throat and a child’s broken ankle. Emergencies happen, yet one can still write in the waiting room, in the car, in the sick room, while the kids are playing dress up or make believe or watching a movie.

Write now!

Write now!

You can write anywhere, write now!

Then there are the planned trips to the shop for car maintenance. I’ve come to love those waiting rooms. With earplugs to drown out the TV, I use the hour to write.

I’m driving on the Interstate, headed to or from a gig at a library and the words for a commentary start bubbling up. I pull over, pick up my pen and notebook.

Write now!

The dishes are piled in the sink, the clean laundry needs to be folded, the trash needs to go out. Take care of the trash. Everything else can wait.

Write now!

I’m told my mother-in-law sold her washer and dryer, subscribed to The New Yorker, and read it in the laundromat every week. Have to do laundry? Write now!

The emails are incoming thick and fast. Turn off email – write now!

If social media is no longer a tool but a distraction, turn off your internet connection – write now!

Whatever you’re doing, write now!

www.deborahleeluskin.comEven though I prefer to write in my studio, life happens. I write here, there, and everywhere, at all hours of the day or night. I always have paper and pen with me. I’m always ready – write now!

 

 

September: The End is Where We Start From

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.   ~T.S. Eliot

The end is where we start from

September’s first task was to clean my desk.

September: Summer ends, and we begin the push to the end of the year. Summer ends and work resumes in earnest.

September: the first thing I did was clean my desk.

The very act of sorting books, papers and projects has helped me choose what to place front and center of my attention and which to shelve for the time being. This simple act has given me focus, structure and deadlines.

September is full of promise and hope. So are a clean desk and the deadline of a year’s end just over the horizon. I’m feeling hopeful and focused to be back at my desk after a summer of grief.

This September: I’m adjusting to the memory of loving parents who are not longer alive. I’m peering through the murky fog of mourning and see hope and promise in the slow death of the garden as it gives up its bounty. I hear the crickets singing summer’s end and know the silence of winter is coming. I welcome the gradually shortening days as the earth tilts away from the extended daylight that makes summer so luxurious. And I welcome the shift that allows me to sit at my desk with focus and energy to blog, to teach, and to advance a novel that’s starting to sing in me.

September is like taking a breath: I inhale cool air of intention and exhale the warm air of summer’s ease.

September is a time to focus and write.

What does September mean to you?

www.deborahleeluskin.comDeborah Lee Luskin lives in southern Vermont and blogs at Living in Place. She is a freelance educator, a radio commentator, and an avid hiker. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com.

 

 

Attention to Details

 

Attention to detail

Attention to detail matters.

“What’s wrong with a drawer full of jar lids?” I asked Roz Chast during the Q & A following her recent author talk before a capacity crowd.

I’d hesitated to ask the question because it was so unlike the questions about process and inspiration readers usually ask authors. But I’d loved her graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? – except for the one frame about the jar lids, which bothered me both personally and professionally.

You can read my personal reasons at Living In Place; the professional reason are about craft, and are what this post is about.

DETAILS

Attention to Detail

Chast’s graphic memoir about caring for her elderly parents.

Chast’s frame about the drawer full of jar lids struck me as off, not just because I have a drawer full of jar lids, but because Chast didn’t give me enough information about what made this bizarre.

All the other frames in the section – photographs rather than drawings – of the “stuff” she was left to clean out of the apartment in which her parents had lived for forty-eight years made sense: the photos show piles of magazines and papers, dozens of handbags and several defunct electric razors. It’s clear that the things we save – sometimes deliberately for reasons of potential usefulness or sentiment and sometimes from sheer neglect – take on a meaning of their own to she who has to sift through it. I know; I’ve just emptied my dad’s desk of pens that had run out of ink.

As a reader, I simply wanted more information about why Chast chose this particular detail, because it wasn’t clear to me the way it was clear why she chose to photograph her mother’s two-dozen nearly indistinguishable old handbags and electric razors that clearly no longer worked. So I asked.

“Rusty jar tops?” she said, her voice rising as she wrinkled her nose in disgust.

I got it.

And I got more.

Chast went on to tell a story about a man who’d saved the screw tops of toothpaste tubes. He’d always planned to use them as lampshades for his granddaughter’s dollhouse.

This is a detail I’ll never forget because Chast did more than simply answer my question: she told me another story. In the process, she illustrated the kind of details that help a reader get what the writer is trying to convey. She amplified the characterization of the narrator of her memoir’s persona with her intonation and nose wrinkle, “They’re rusty!” And she created an idiosyncratic grandfather who saw the potential for miniature lampshades in every toothpaste tube cap.

THE TAKE AWAY

A single vivid detail can make the difference between the mundane and the memorable. If you make your details accurate and vivid, you will help your reader will see objects and attitudes the way you want them to. That’s authority.

www.deborahleeluskin.com

Deborah Lee Luskin

Deborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly at Living in Place.

 

 

The Story of the Books that Change Our Lives

A friend recently tagged me on Facebook to participate in one of those modern-age chain letter-type things where you’re tasked with sharing a series of something-or-others within a specific theme. For instance, you might be asked to post seven black-and-white photos or six baby pictures or ten favorite poems.

The mission of this particular challenge was to post—without comment—covers of books that have meant something to me and/or influenced my life. This was exceedingly difficult. Not only did it require me to whittle down my list of influential books to only seven, it also demanded that I refrain from sharing any thoughts or wistful reminisces about my relationship with each book. I’m sure, as fellow bibliophiles, you can see my dilemma.

Still, I was moved to play along, because—you know—BOOKS.

But now, I am breaking the rules by re-sharing my seven selections along with brief commentary that provides a little of the back story for each book—how I discovered it, when I read it, why it matters in the overall scope of my reading life. I hope you enjoy this peek into my love affair with books, and I’d love for you to share something about your favorite reads in the comments.

 

1807 book galapagos

I made my first selection based on instinct and whim. I do love Kurt Vonnegut, and Galápagos is one of my favorites, but I was a little surprised at the way this one jumped to the front of my mind as my initial response to the question about books that have influenced my life. While you can probably tell by the battered nature of this mass media paperback, I’ve had this book in my collection for quite a while. I honestly can’t recall when I first read it, but the copyright on my edition is 1985, with a cover price of only $4.50. You do the math.

This book has stuck with me over the years because its commentary on the human condition and our role on planet Earth is somehow both sublimely ridiculous and deeply tragic. There are passages that are laugh-out-loud funny, but themes that make me worry for the fate of our species (not to mention all the other species with whom we share the planet). And yet, through it all, there is a thread of hope that runs through with a quick smile and a reassuring sense of the absurd. It’s marvelous, really.

1807b book wolves

My second pick took me in a completely different direction. Women Who Run With the Wolves is the seminal work of Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.. As the subtitle explains, this is a book about the myths and stories of the Wild Woman archetype. It is a book full of deep wisdom and revelation, comfort and challenge, mystery and insight.

Like Galápagos, I have had this copy for a pretty long time. Not a lifetime, but long enough. I chose it for my list of seven even though, truth be told, I have never finished reading it all the way through. It is a book that I have returned to at different times throughout my life, visiting its pantheon of wise and wild women as I need them. Many of the pages are heavily underlined and annotated (in pencil, of course), bearing witness to prior visits. I always find it interesting to see which lines and ideas called to me at different times in my life. My attention has shifted over the years.

I know that one day I will have read this book all the way through, probably multiple times; but—for now—I count it among my favorites and most influential despite having not yet discovered all its stories. Sometimes, leaving some of a book’s secrets unopened is a good thing. It’s nice to have something to look forward to, and I have no doubt I will unwrap each remaining story at exactly the right time.

1807 book want to write

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland is the only book on writing craft that I included in my list. As I have shared previously on this blog, this slim tome is aptly and, I think, beautifully sub-titled: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.

There is hardly a page of my copy that isn’t criss-crossed with pencil underlinings from previous readings. In some places, I’ve actually drawn hearts and stars in the margins. Originally published in 1938, this book is surprisingly relevant. With a gentle, but no-nonsense voice, Ueland quietly transforms the often overwhelming task of writing into a simple magic that feels simultaneously accessible and miraculous.

If you have ever felt daunted by writing or doubtful about your right to write, please read this book. I promise you that it will warm your heart, ease your mind, and stoke your creative fires. It has certainly done so for me over the years. In fact, I think it might be time for yet another re-read of this old favorite.

1807 book fantasy

Here again, the age of this old friend is hinted at by the copyright (1977) and the retail price ($2.25). Given that I was born in 1969 and my vague recollection of having purchased this book while on a cross-country family road trip that took place the summer after I graduated the sixth grade, I would estimate that I was eleven or twelve when I first read this book. The Fantastic Imagination—An Anthology of High Fantasy— is a marvelous collection of “Adventures in Myth and Mystical Enchantment” from writers like George McDonald, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Peter S. Beagle, Ursula Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, and many others.

I remember buying this book at a small, independent bookstore somewhere on the west coast. It may even have been an old-fashioned newsstand kind of establishment, like the one we used to have in my home town (but which, sadly, burned down and was never rebuilt). I have a vague recollection of the scent of pipe tobacco and of dingy shelves, tourist postcards and maybe a selection of snacks. I don’t really have any other concrete memories of the sights and sounds of that place, but I do remember clearly the feeling of choosing that book for my own. I remember the sense of anticipation for all the magic to come, a tingle of excitement, and the delicious warmth of book ownership. Even today, this book still inspires that feeling. Even after all these years.

1807 book earthsea

When I learned of Ursula K. Le Guin’s passing, it was the first time I shed a tear over the loss of a beloved author. I grew up reading her stories of Earthsea. I practiced speaking to dragons and tried to learn her runic languages. In her stories, I felt I could see clearly the contrast of light and shadow and their eternal struggle and dance. I loved the way her stories connected so deeply to the natural world, helping me to see magic and wonder in even the most mundane of settings. She taught patience and loyalty while also kindling the young flames of courage and fierceness in my heart.

I recently reread A Wizard of Earthsea and was impressed by the way Le Guin’s story has stood the test of time. Soon, I will journey to the Tombs of Atuan and the Farthest Shore as well. I’ve been away too long. There are old friends I need to see and old lessons I need to relearn.

1807 book LOTR

My mother has told me that I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy when I was only in the third grade. While I cannot myself pinpoint exactly how old I was when I first picked up J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece works, I do remember checking them out of our public library. They were hard copy editions that were shelved not in the children’s room, but in the grown-up upstairs of the library. In fact, they were kept just to the left of the circulation desk, at a height that caused me to tip toe up to reach them. I remember embossed covers with bits of gold ink and worn bindings secured with librarian’s tape. I know I borrowed them multiple times before eventually acquiring my own copies.

LOTR became a staple for my whole family. We bootlegged the 1981 BBC dramatization, which was broadcast in the U.S. by NPR radio. I listened to those cassettes so many times, I wore them out. Happily, many years later, all twelve episodes were released on CD. And now, I also own digital copies via Audible. I listened to that adaptation so many times that I can recite various passages by heart, which is to say that I can recite passages from the book because the script for the BBC production was very faithful to Tolkien’s original works.

When Peter Jackson’s movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001, my whole family went to the theatre together, and then to dinner where we expressed great relief that Jackson had done such an admirable job of adapting the stories to screen. (We didn’t want to have to hunt him down and give him what for.) To this day, I often turn to LOTR when I need some comfort, or when I need to be reminded of the power each of us has to make a positive change in the world.

1807 book board books

Finally, for my last selection, I cheated again (as I’d done by combining The Hobbit and LOTR into one pick), and included several books as a single selection. In the case of Tolkien’s works, they are all part of one long story. But in the case of this collection of children’s board books, they are each a unique facet of my daughter’s young childhood, linked only by the number of times we read each of them. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Runaway Bunny, Goodnight Moon, Snow Bears, Big Red Barn, Let’s Go Visiting, I Love Animals, Carl’s Afternoon in the Park, and Jamberry … oh, how I adore these books!

The original challenge was to share books that had meant something to me and/or influenced my life. These books, though I only discovered them when my daughter was born and I was thirty-four years old, most definitely fit the bill on both counts. These books are a treasure, each one capturing the warmth and joy and wonder and love shared between mother and daughter during some of my daughter’s most formative years. I cannot even count the hours we spent with these books. How many bedtimes and naptimes and every other time between?

Though their cardboard pages are worn and even peeling, their colors are still bright and the stories they tell are still vibrant and full of the exuberance of a child’s heart and mind. I hope that they will serve, forever, as an anchor for my daughter’s heart. I know they will be that for me until the day I die.

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace I am a freelance content writer, columnist, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. For more from me, check out the archives for the  Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy posts. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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