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Writing Women Back Into History

8 Mar

This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the 14th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference on the Auraria campus in Denver with two of my good friends. Before attending this conference, I had no idea that March is National Women’s History Month or that the Auraria campus has hosted these Women’s Leadership Conferences for the past 13 years.

Where have I been?

In the mothering trenches I guess…

I was particulary intrigued with the 2010 theme for National Women’s History Month–“Writing Women Back into History”–since I am a writer (artist, poet, musician, leader, etc….) In one of my workshops, this lovely empowering quote was shared with us:

Women have always innovated our own strategies for being part of history. We have taken it into our own hands to be an agent in our own story. Not simply as subject or object, but as writer, artist or creator. Women are writing ourselves back into history.

This particular workshop addressed women’s self-agency and the opportunities to make our voices heard through social media. The point was made that in this DIY generation, women don’t have to wait for permission, for somone to say we’ll include your voice. We can use social media to get our voices out there and to be heard. This quote from a study by Stavrositu and Sundar was also cited:

The constant activity of blogging itself serves to further boost one’s competence as a creator and as a distinct voice, most likely imbuing users with a deep sense of agency. Blogs therefore become a powerful vehicle for developing and mastering one’s voice. In addition, they also enable users to relate their voice to the voices of others.

At the end of the conference, the keynote speaker, Molly Murphy MacGregor, President and Co-Founder of the National Women’s History Project, challenged us to pick one woman from history and discover who she really was. She also encouraged us to use Women’s History Month as a springboard for our own explorations, to draw information and inspiration from the past, and to continue to expand on the women’s movement.

In response to Molly’s challenge, I have several ideas fluttering around in my head of how I can do these things. I’m always hesitant to voice my ideas since I am more of a visionary than a follow-it-through-to-the-end kind of gal, but here goes nothing…

1. Blog more often to get my voice “out there.”

2. See what it would take to start a Women’s Club on my community college campus.

3. Create an art journal that incorporates the accomplishments of the women that inspire me most.

Hmmm…we’ll see how far I get with those ideas, but even if none of them come to fruition anytime soon, I DO know that I had a fantastic experience at the Women’s Leadership Conference and I will go back next year, for sure!

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Live Like Bananas

30 Jul

 

The other day as I was tidying up the kitchen, I happened to notice the back of the Post Selects Banana Nut Crunch cereal box. “We should all aspire to live like bananas,” it said. “They are on a permanent vacation, living in lush, tropical rainforests. From high above, a canopy of trees provides the perfect balance of sun and shade.”

“Live like bananas”–what a concept! My mind certainly feels like it has been on a permanent vacation this summer. As soon as my last Philosophy paper was turned in and my final Psychology exam was over at the beginning of May, my brain has pretty much been on a leave of absence. Since then, I haven’t done anything remotely intellectual.

For the past two months, I’ve fought against my lack of ambition and pummeled myself with guilt. Now that I apparently have more free time to write, the desire is lacking. Why can’t I seem to pull myself out of this ennui? Stacks of unread books sit on my bookshelf and bedside table while my writing output has been a dismal nil.

I think Anne Morrow Lindbergh knew about this kind of lethargy when she said, “The beach is not the place to work; to read, write or think. I should have remembered that from other years. Too warm…for any real mental discipline or sharp flights of spirit. One never learns. Hopefully, one carries…the faded straw bag, lumpy with books, clean paper, long over-due unanswered letters, freshly sharpened pencils, lists, and good intentions. The books remain unread, the pencils break their points, and the pads rest smooth and unblemished as the cloudless sky. No reading, no writing, no thoughs even…the tired body takes over completely. As on shipboard, one descends into a deck-chair apathy. One is forced against one’s mind, against all tidy resolutions, back into the primeval rhythms of the sea-shore…One becomes…bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today’s tides of all yesterday’s scribblings.”

Yes, I feel the particular beguilement of that deck-chair apathy. In my search for the “perfect balance of sun and shade,” the primeval rhythms of summer have erased all resolution, all hopeless straining, all the good intentions and all mental discipline. I know in two short weeks, that will all change. The empty hours will become all too full again. For now, I’ll live in the moment–like a banana.

Blog Block

23 Jul

I had a good talk with my creativity therapist (a.k.a. my youngest sister) this morning who encouraged me to start blogging again. (Funny to hear that particular advice coming from her since I’m the one that got her hooked on blogging in the first place!)  🙂 With a gentle nudge, she reminded me that the longer I stay away from blogging, the harder it will be to get back into it. I agreed with her and then went on to delineate some of my writing hangups which are as follows:

1. I am a perfectionist. I operate under the belief that in order for me to post anything on my blog, it must be a coherent, meaningful, polished essay. Anything less than that must wait (perhaps indefinitely) in the draft stage until it is worthy to show its brilliant, literary face.

2. I am a “slow-cooker” writer which means that I need ideas to simmer for awhile. I need a lot of time to process my thoughts before I feel they are ready to share with a public audience. This aggravating personality trait is particularly problematice since as a SAHM, I do not have large blocks of time for either solitude of meditation. Hence, my lack of prolificacy.

3. While many bloggers are quite content to be spontaneous, impulsive, and informal, I have this crazy notion that I should be the one to take blogging to a higher level–one that extends beyond the simple, random, and inane ramblings of the masses. As an idealist, I dream of being able to offer my loyal audience a thoughtful composition with some degree of edification whenever I post.

Yeah…whatever. I’m just a crazy INFP personality type that needs to chill out a bit. *Sigh*

“Think of blogging as a conversation, such as the one you’re having with me right now,” my sister said.

Okay, Beeb. I’m going to try to loosen up a bit just for you. And you’ll be proud to know I only spent an hour writing this! Ha!

Another Little Summit Reached…

15 Apr

Okay, this is just one of those “ka-ching” kind of weeks when everything good seems to converge all at the same time.

Yesterday afternoon, I was honored at an awards ceremony for placing second in the English 122 Essay Contest. This is me with Dr. Lewan, the head of the English department and one of my favorite professors and mentors. She has been such a great encourager and champion of my writing since I took her online English 121 class my very first semester at ACC. She read parts of my winning essay aloud and I will post it below in its entirety for anyone who would like to read it. Along with the lovely certificate, I get $25! Yahoo! For someone who never has pocket change, $25 is a windfall! And guess where that money is going? Yep–into my walking tour of England fund.

 

Reading: The Key to “Critical Literacy” in the Digital Age

 

“Where is the wisdom we’ve lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we’ve lost in information?”

—T.S. Eliot, “The Rock”

 

Like a homing pigeon returning to its loft, I find myself circling back through the doors of my local library again and again. From the age of four, I have sought out the comforting companionship of books, gleaning from their open pages insights into life’s marvelous complexities. Reading has always been an integral part of my life. For me, books are so much more than just wood pulp and ink. They provide a mental lifeline, an intellectual retreat, and a continual source of knowledge that nourishes my rich, inner life and keeps my mind active, engaged, and invigorated.

Unfortunately, avid readers such as myself, are becoming an anomaly in modern society. Recent surveys conducted by the National Endowment of the Arts show that less than half of American adults read anything literary (i.e. fiction, poetry, and drama) and that “the rate of decline for the youngest adults, those aged 18 to 24 was 55 percent greater than that of the total adult population” (NEA “Literary Reading”). Even as young people are opening their minds to the vast possibilities of the Information Age, they seem to be closing their minds to the ageless wisdom available only through the medium of books. However, young adults cannot afford to neglect literature if they are to have the critical thinking skills needed to compete and be successful in the 21st century.

Dan Gioia, chairman of the NEA, believes this declining interest in “active and engaged literacy” is not only a “national crisis” but a tragedy as well (NEA “Reading at Risk”). He claims there is a causal connection between the rise in electronic media usage and the declining literacy rate among youth. “Reading a book requires a degree of active attention and engagement,” he says. “By contrast, most electronic media…make fewer demands on their audiences…[requiring] no more than passive participation…Even interactive electronic media foster shorter attention spans and accelerated gratification. To lose such intellectual capabilities…would constitute a vast cultural impoverishment” (NEA “Reading at Risk”).

Although today’s young people are able to adapt to ever-changing technologies, assimilate information quickly, and multi-task efficiently, the internet generation is in danger of losing the important “intellectual capability” of critical thinking. Today’s youth, comfortable with the seamless integration of technology in their lives, may not understand why older generations are concerned about the impending “cultural impoverishment” that threatens our society if this trend of declining literacy is not reversed. Many educators are seeing that “fast-paced lifestyles, coupled with heavy media diets of visual immediacy, beget brains misfitted to traditional modes of academic learning” (Guterl).

Chris Ransick, an English professor at Arapahoe Community College, agrees that the explosion of technology and the internet over the past twenty years has led to a rapid cycle of social change. Ransick, a passionate supporter of media literacy, says that over the years, he has noticed the steadily declining work ethic and ability to think critically among his students. He believes strongly that “you either use media or get used by it and there is no middle ground” (Ransick). The one question he asks all of his students at the beginning of each term is: What is the last book you read? For Ransick, this question is the litmus test that determines which students are educable and which ones are not.

Even though young people are adept in the area of “computer literacy,” many people question whether the rising generation, who has never known anything but the influence of technology and the mass media, will be able to acquire the critical thinking skills necessary for successful leadership in the future. As the world’s problems increase in scale and complexity, the minds of our young people are unfortunately inundated and overwhelmed by the immediate and insignificant. Distracted by a plethora of technological gadgets, glitzy advertisements, and entertainment options, our young people habitually opt for the path of least resistance.

In response to a feature article in Business Week about the lifestyle of the internet generation, a young anonymous person said, “…its great to hear people complain about how my generation…[is] too focused on technology…But honestly, what do you expect? In a world where everyone…wants the next new gizmo…you wonder why we do anything else. Why are we going to call a single person a few miles away when we can hold multiple conversations with friends all over the country? Why go shopping in a single store when we can shop in six at once?…Honestly, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not. But technology is only going to grow, and it’s only going to get bigger. Do you expect us to resist? No, we’re moving with [the] progress of the times” (Hempel).

Indeed the lure of technology is difficult to resist, particularly for young people who, according to a study conducted by The Kaiser Family Foundation, “spend an average of six-and-a-half hours a day online” (Paulos). David McCullough, one of America’s most literate personalities, decries the fact that Americans have approximately twenty-eight hours per week to watch television but claim they have no time for reading. He laments, “The greatest of all avenues to learning—to wisdom, adventure, pleasure, insight, to understanding human nature, understanding ourselves and our world and our place in it—is in reading books…Nothing ever invented provides such sustenance, such infinite reward for time spent, as a good book” (McCullough).

Yet young people, seeking for connection, entertainment, socialization, and expression prefer to turn to electronic devices for that sustenance. “Reading is harder than watching television or playing video games” concedes writer Andrew Solomon. “It requires effort, concentration, attention. In exchange, it offers the stimulus to and the fruit of thought and feeling” (Solomon). Solomon believes that Americans would readily “exchange easier for more difficult pleasures” if they understood “that those more difficult pleasures are more rewarding” (Solomon). Because the rewards of literacy may not be as tangible or apparent as the instant gratification proffered by technology, many young people overlook, ignore, or avoid books altogether. Most do not even realize that literature is far superior to technology when it comes to meeting these basic human needs.

Nevertheless, the benefits of active and engaged literacy are real, satisfying, and long-lasting. Books offer a multi-dimensional look at humanity that technology does not. Unlike the preprocessed information available through the mass media and the internet, the concepts presented in books invite thoughtful analysis by the reader. One idea at a time, the reader makes personal connections to ideas based on the context of his or her experience. Unlike technology, books build a solid foundation of character within the reader and create a greater capacity for complex thought. During the confusing and stress-filled years of young adulthood, when monumental and life-altering decisions about career and family hang in the balance, literature can provide a foundation of principle and needed illumination for youth navigating through those turbulent years of change and growth.

If the internet generation has the perseverance and attention span to master video games and endlessly changing technology, they have the attention span and capability to develop a taste for literature. Although today’s young adults can read, they choose not to. “What is the point of having a population that can read, but doesn’t?” Solomon asks. “Readers…are active,” he says “while nonreaders…have settled into apathy. There is a basic social divide between those for whom life in an accrual of fresh experience and knowledge, and those for whom maturity is a process of mental atrophy” (Solomon).

With access to millions of books, I know that my education never has to end. I have learned that literature can always be customized to my ever-changing circumstances. Always available, portable, and economical, reading accommodates every season of life. Every time I leave the library hefting my oversize tote bag filled to the brim with books, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction, expectation, and gratitude. I am the richest woman on earth because I have ready access to information that enriches, empowers, encourages and shapes me, granting me the limitless freedom to grow and soar. The realm of inexhaustible possibilities keeps me coming back for more, week after week.

“As more Americans lose this capability [of active and engaged literacy], our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose” Gioia says (NEA “Literary Reading”). In order for today’s young adults to successfully navigate the challenges of the 21st century and solve the problems of their time, they must find a way to reverse the declining literacy rate.

Clearly, technology will continue to shape our lives in unpredictable ways. The challenge of our time will be to regain the balance we have lost and find ways to reintegrate a more substantial literary focus back into our cultural landscape. If more young people would replace a few minutes of mindless web surfing with attentive reading each day, they might discover that the immeasurable impetus of ideas found only in literature may hold the key to reversing the impoverishment and malaise of their generation.

 

Works Cited

 

Guterl, Fred. “The End Of The Word As We Know It; If you think kids don’t read now, wait until the visual media really take off.” Newsweek International (Sept 26, 2005): 95. General Reference Center. Gale. Arapahoe Community College. 24 Sept. 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=GRCM&gt;.

Hempel, Jessi. “The My Space Generation.” Business Week. 12 Dec. 2005. 26 Sep. 2007 <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_50/b3963001.htm&gt;.

McCullough, David. “No Time to Read?” Perspectives on Contemporary Issues: Reading Across the Disciplines. Ed. Katherine Anne Ackley. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. 333-34.

National Endowment for the Arts. “Literary Reading in Dramatic Decline, According to National Endowment for the Arts Survey.” National Endowment for the Arts. 8 Jul. 2004. National Endowment for the Arts. 26 Sep. 2007 <http://www.nea.gov/news/news04/ReadingAtRisk.html&gt;.

– – – . Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America Executive Summary. Washington D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts, 2004. 26 Sep. 2007 <http://www.nea.gov/pub/RaRExec.pdf&gt;.

Paulos, Leah. “Multitasking madness: are you always online, downloading music, chatting with friends, and sending text messages? If so, you’re being trapped by your own technology.(Health).” Scholastic Choices 23.1 (Sept 2007): 10(4). General Reference Center. Gale. Arapahoe Community College. 30 Sept. 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=GRCM&gt;.

Ransick, Chris. Personal interview. 24 Sep. 2007.

Solomon, Andrew. “The Closing of the American Book.” New York Times. 10 Jul. 2004. 27 Sep. 2007 <http://www.nytimes.com/&gt;

 

Latest Writing News…

9 Jan

FastWeb has hired me to write three more nontraditional student columns. Hurrah! Check out my latest article here.

And my piece “Wonder Mold Mother” made Literary Mama’s Best of 2007 Creative Nonfiction list! Check it out here.

persiangirls.jpg

I’m also participating in an online book club for Mother Talk. (I’m “yiddolis.”) We are reviewing Nahid Rachlin’s unforgettable memoir Persian Girls. Check out the lively discussion and reading par-tay here. 

Saying “No” to NaNoWriMo

4 Nov

nanowrimo-header.png 

Well, I’m proud to say, I’ve let myself off the hook. I’ve realized my limits and have given myself permission to fail promptly and with dignity. 

Let me explain. I have this instinctual desire to always be plugging away at some worthy goal. Since my condensed college classes were finished in mid-October, I’ve been scheming of ways to fill the void over the next three months. (As if attending to normal household responsibilities, five very active children, and the crush of the holidays isn’t enough.) 

Ah ha! I’ll do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, I thought. In theory, it sounded fabulous—write almost 1,700 words a day each day in November and end up with a 50,000 word novel on day 30. I bought and read Chris Baty’s rollicking No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, signed up on the NaNoWriMo website, and was prepared to surrender my inner critic—all for the glory of saying I had entered the ranks of noveldom (along with 90,000 other hopefuls.) 🙂

Two weeks before kick off day, November 1st, numerous ideas for plots and characters filled my waking and dreaming hours. And then the day of the launch was finally here. I woke early, sat down at my computer, and started to write. Throughout the day, I kept typing and checking my word count constantly. By dinner time, I had written only 1,200 words and was mentally at my wits’ end. At that moment, having to write 500 more words felt like a death sentence (and rather like the torture of having to drink 64 ounces of water the hour before an ultrasound!)

As I reread what I had written, I began to notice that what was going on with the main character in my story mirrored what was going on with me internally. My protagonist had started out at the beginning of the story on a joyous, expectant journey and she was now in a dangerous predicament. Terrified, she was currently running away and trying to hide from an evil antagonist.

Whoa! This sounded like a big cue from my psyche! Maybe I’m not quite ready for this experience, I reasoned. Why am I putting myself under such pressure to do this right now? I thought about my upcoming trip to Cancun with my husband. Did I really want to be focused on and stressed over writing a novel when I should be relaxing with and rediscovering my husband in a rare get-away to a tropical paradise? Did I really want to end up hating the act of writing by the end of the month?

Sometimes I have to protect myself from my own overreaching and just say “no!”

The Queen of Notebooks

19 Jun

I have to admit something. I have this fetish for notebooks. From my childhood, I have always been intrigued with the promise of an empty notebook just waiting to be filled. As a little girl, I loved to make books of my own by stapling typing or notebook paper together between construction paper covers. Often, I would peruse the office supply aisle at the grocery store looking for the “perfect” pocket-sized spiral notebook to spend my pocket money on. Eagerly, I would spend hours filling the tiny pages with my big ideas. Drawings, poetry, and stories poured out, unrestrained.

Now, my own two daughters, ages 8 and 12, follow in my footsteps. My older daughter has begun journaling and logging her pre-teen experiences in a snazzy, spiral-bound book while my younger daughter’s stapled or ribbon-tied “books” can be found on countertops and bedrooms under various stages of construction. I recognize that familiar sparkle in their eyes, the compulsion to create and express oneself on the holy medium of paper. Many books are started but few, if any, are ever completed. Every time I help my girls deep clean their rooms, we come across their stash of personal notebooks. Too sacred to toss, we always find a convenient drawer or compartment to store them in.

Like my daughters, my own collection of notebooks and journals has grown over the years and come in varying sizes and shapes (though I seem to gravitate towards the basic 70-sheet, wide-ruled, one-subject spiral notebook or the more durable, hard-cover, 100-sheet composition book.) Some notebooks, filled from cover to cover, are my “morning pages” or freewriting ramblings (see Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.) Other notebooks which started out as places to write book reviews, travel experiences, letter boxing expeditions or favorite quotes remain unfinished. But even in their unfinished state, the notebooks’ blank pages are a symbol of hope, reminding me of the realm of possibility beneath my fingertips. Currently, a tiny hardcover book with lilacs on the cover nestles in the bottom of my purse to catch those fleeting writing ideas or “seeds of thought” and a recycled spiral notebook, rescued from a child’s backpack, lays in the bottom of my desk drawer to hold my sporadic morning musings.

And now the urge to fill yet another notebook, a “Mother’s Notebook,” as recommended by author Lisa Garrigues in her new book Writing Motherhood: Tapping Into Your Creativity as a Mother and a Writer, is too tempting to resist. I was intrigued to read Garrigues’ description of the differences between a diary and a Mother’s Notebook. She says, “Think of your Mother’s Notebook as an open space for contemplation, reflection, and meandering…Let it be experimental…Let it be colorful…Let it be collaborative…The Mother’s Notebook, finally, is where we can write down our experience in our voice…this is where we take ourselves and our writing seriously.” Then she quotes Georgia Heard who said, “My notebook is a constant weight in my already-too-heavy black bag…Its presence always reminds me I’m a writer, and it helps me live a considered life that doesn’t spin by focused only on groceries, dinner, and car repairs. A notebook is fertilizer for my writing, not just a record of daily events. It’s a place to dream, to explore, to play. It’s a companion.” I can hardly wait to go shopping this afternoon for my first Mother’s Notebook. And whether I fill it or not is irrelevant. I know that it’s the personal journey of expression that matters, the discovery of self. Like Garrigues, I believe that “just as mothering gives us material for writing, so writing gives us tools for mothering.” Who knows if this new attempt will help me work out my maternal salvation, but for a couple of dollars, it never hurts to buy another notebook.