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Michelle's Musings

Independence Days

Our nation recently celebrated the anniversary of its declaration of independence from Great Britain. During a televised Capitol Fourth of July celebration also held in commemoration of Juneteenth (the anniversary of the final emancipation of all enslaved African Americans), I listened to a performance of the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing." To my recollection, this song was dubbed the "Black National Anthem." A quick Google search confirmed my suspicion; however, I also learned that the anthem not only contains prose specific to the struggles of enslaved Blacks, but it was also written to celebrate the anniversary of President Lincoln's birthday in 1905.

 

During this nation's recent period of heightened racial awareness and reckoning, suppressed African American history like that of the Tulsa, Oklahoma Massacre (of which I previously had no knowledge) has come to the fore. Sadly, public acknowledgement of the brutality of our nation's past has become mired in heated political divisiveness. Some Americans see an accurate historical accounting as a personal affront to their sensibilities. I can assure you that they are not alone in their feelings of reproach. The legacy of slavery is as painful for Black Americans as is the wholesale discounting of their ancestors' contributions to the development of our nation.

 

The amount of discord over a fair and accurate rendering of African American history reflects the impact of a pervasive whitewashing of said history. No matter how sanitized our tools of education, however, the reality of our past cannot be erased. Other atrocities like plagues, wars, and genocides have been visited upon civilizations since the beginning of time. As painful as that history is, we have learned from it.

 

When did we decide that it was proper to teach only that history which does not offend the feelings of one segment of our population, particularly given that its long-term ramifications serve as its reminder day in and day out? To reconcile the discord and animus that now run rampant, we must acknowledge our history in all its shortcomings and glory. And we need more freedom to expose and write about that history. We can't be in the business of penalizing educators for speaking truth.

 

We're all in this together. Armed with factual knowledge, maybe we can declare our independence from hatred and learn to love again!

Procrastination

It took me a while to get down to writing this month's blog post, as I had difficulty coming up with a topic. Technically, I don't consider that conundrum a form of procrastination. Being the task-minded person that I am, and given how much I enjoy writing, however, I'm loath to admit that I sometimes find it difficult to launch a writing session. My main excuse is a need to clear my head, which means I invariably check emails and text messages before addressing the keyboard. Once I'm at it, though, I'm good to go until fatigue sets in.

 

After ridding my head of distractions, I silence my phone and reread prior work before resuming the project. Yet even my own review process can get in the way as I linger on something problematic. A slow start often leads to frustration about not getting as much accomplished as I intended, and sometimes I pay for that underperformance by waking up at three in the morning with a guilty conscience. I've been known to jump out of bed and burn the midnight oil during the wee hours of the night to make up for lost productivity. Admittedly, some fault lies with me being that driven person with the to-do list that won't quit. But that's another digression!

 

One solution to procrastination that works for me is a deadline, which reinforces discipline. My goal is to publish this blog on the 15th of each month. Although I got a late start this time around, at least I met my deadline.

You Can Make this Stuff Up

In this climate of conspiracy theories and alternative facts, the line between reality and surrealism can become blurred at times, which is often the case in magical realism writing.

 

Magical realism differs from fantasy in that the latter contains a unique, fantastical environment or world in which its characters exist. Magical realism, on the other hand, drops a fantastical element into the midst of an otherwise ordinary, real world. A successful magical realism writer must coax her readers into suspending disbelief so that the story doesn't seem silly.

 

Some authors open their stories with a magical element to ground the reader in the genre up front. I'm more a fan of the gradual introduction of magic. For me, that makes the "twist" even more intriguing when it first appears. I'm hooked when I'm given pause to ponder whether what I just read is what the author intended me to understand. I'm motivated to keep reading to see how this bit of intrigue will play out. Either way, I find the genre enthralling.

 

In recent months, I've repeatedly heard, "You can't make this stuff up." I imagine there are lots of Hollywood scriptwriters and producers foaming at the mouth about plotlines and miniseries with themes based in our current political environment. While those headlines don't necessarily implicate magic, there is a sense of surrealism from time to time that might stir the creative mind to consider, What if?

Dare to Share

This time of year must be writing contest season. I've received a ton of notices about submission opportunities in just about every genre from poetry to memoir, short story to creative non-fiction, novel excerpt to literary journal piece. The word count requirements are just as varied.

 

It feels good to be at a point in my writing where I'm confident enough to submit material for judging. Yet as I strive to meet deadlines, I realize that most, if not all, responses to my submissions will be rejections. But my efforts are not wasted, as there is always room for learning. As needed, I refer to notes from classes or conferences I've attended and review salient advice for the revision process. I proceed accordingly, sharpening my revision and editing skills with each pass. Some contests even inspire me to create new work. Social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic has also provided more opportunity for me to hone my skills with fewer distractions. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I look forward to a return of all those external sources of diversion!

 

Spring has arrived, however, and so has the season of showcasing one's talent. Not only am I proceeding full steam ahead with my craft, I also may have discovered a flair for photography. I seem to have an eye for photographic composition and plan to submit one or two images for competition.

 

As my vegetable and flower gardens flourish, birds awaken, and temperatures rise, so, too, does my creative energy. I hope yours is also roused and that you dare to share your work with others!

Timing is Everything

I recently started another revision of my novel, Hide and Seek, a magical realism story about a 12-year-old girl with a special gift that she must properly embrace if she is to help her deceased brother cross over to "the other side." Though the intended audience is adults, I have attempted to write it from the perspective of a 12-year-old narrator. I've been advised by experts in the publishing industry that such an endeavor would be hard to pull off. Indeed, it's been difficult to find other stories written this way. The few that I did find tend to take liberty with the child's capacity for an advanced vocabulary, which did not bother me so much. However, I recognized the same in my own work and had made several notations about correcting the language in a future revision—admittedly, a daunting task.

 

Well, this go-around, after being satisfied that I'd composed the storyline I wanted, I began another revision. At the second chapter in, something "clicked," and I realized that the mature vocabulary of an adult gives me more freedom of voice. So, I changed the narrator to that of a young adult looking back.

 

The timing of this epiphany was perfect, as I'd contemplated submitting the first 15 pages of my novel to a couple of fellowship-type programs designed to guide writers through a professional revision process. I immediately went back to my opening chapter and made appropriate changes. My deadlines are in a couple of days, so I've been devoting most of my writing time to the novel revision.

 

As the saying goes, "Timing is everything."

A Little Yellow Book

During Black History Month, recommendations for creative works by African American authors and playwrights have ticked up, including W.E.B. DuBois' "The Souls of Black Folk." The day before I sat down to write this post, I realized that the other reason this book was on my mind was my recollection of taking my father's copy with me when I left home for college some decades ago.

 

I never read the book in its entirety, and I was moved to search for it among my collection. At first, I was unable to locate it amid the stacks of paperbacks and hardcovers jammed into my bookshelves, some of which perpetually await the opening of legitimate shelf space. As I gave a final sigh and started to turn away from the sagging shelves, the weathered yellow paperback suddenly "jumped out" at me from its resting place atop the uppermost shelf.

 

Copyrighted in 1953, this version of "The Souls of Black Folk" was published in 1961. Its pages, which look like they're about to free themselves from the book spine, are almost as yellow as the cover. Thankfully, the strange odor of decay seems to be fading.

 

The book obviously belonged to someone other than my father as it is filled with annotations in handwriting that is not his. Did he loan it to another person? Did someone give it to him? The elusive answer to this person's identity is as intriguing as the fact that I was able to lay my hands on the book.

 

I find it amazing that DuBois' historic work, considered a controversial but highly touted read back in the day, is being referenced in discussions about racism in 2021, exactly 50 years after the release of this version. In my estimation, I've stumbled upon something worthy of enshrinement. Though the font is painfully small and dense, I plan to gingerly read it from cover to cover and, hopefully, experience some sort of spiritual awakening as I do.

 

But, oh, how I wish I knew whose handwriting and underscoring grace its pages!

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Journalistic Integrity

Paraphrasing Spanish philosopher George Santayana, Winston Churchill wrote, "Those who failed to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

 

Writing serves a purposeful role in the transmission of information, including the preservation of past and present events for future consideration. During this past pandemic-stricken, democracy-threatening year, I've relied upon the skills of respected journalists to keep me abreast of the staggering pace of evolution of this Nation's history. While in no way diminishing the exceedingly difficult conditions under which health care workers, grocery store clerks, law enforcement members, mass transit workers, garbage handlers, truck drivers, postal workers, and others have toiled to keep us safe and functioning with a minimal degree of normality, journalists also became front-line workers, as they often risked their lives to take us into the heart of developing critical situations and, in most cases, attempt to objectively present what we may not personally experience.

 

As writers, we are unified in our goal to impart information to others. Written words and speech are powerful tools of communication that can be as inciteful as they are enlightening. While journalists have been demonized by those who would prefer to camouflage the truth with "alternative facts," they have persevered at great peril to keep us informed during these tumultuous times. In the hopefully waning era of "fake news," I am thankful that journalistic integrity reliably informed me.

 

Let us celebrate our esteemed colleagues by taking a moment to acknowledge those who make it their mission to convey truth through the power of words.

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The Final Chapter

Most would agree that 2020 has been a year of many firsts, heartaches, dreams gone bust, and precious little good in between. So many twists and turns that we thought we'd never see or experience. Lots of unique stories found their genesis in the Covid-19 pandemic. Empty store shelves early on set the stage for dark suspense. I imagine that we'll see more than a few creative works incorporating this unfortunate chapter in our history.

 

Although many stories have been written about natural disasters, there's something sacrilegious about exploiting the pandemic theme at this time, mainly because we're still in the throes of something akin to Armageddon, the Plague, or the Second Coming of Christ. While there are numerous plot lines, dastardly characters, and an abundance of tense drama to pull from 2020, we would still need to determine what it is our protagonist must achieve by the end of our story. Of course, you'd need a good antagonist to foil her quest to achieve that goal.

 

As we come to the end of this nightmare of a year, we might envision that nightmare ending on a positive note like any good read. Indeed, there are already signs of light at the end of a long and winding tunnel. But we need to stay tuned in, be focused and vigilant, and keep turning the pages of this hellish narrative to reach that satisfying conclusion.

 

On a brighter holiday season note: While contemplating alternate means to celebrate the spirit of the season with family and friends, consider bringing joy into the life of a stranger by doing something kind and unexpected. It will mean the world to them—and to yourself!

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Time for a New Pair of Shoes?

As the close of 2020 nears, I find myself contemplating the sense of renewal that accompanies the start of a New Year, particularly in light of the recent presidential election. Whatever your desired outcome, the results signal the advent of change.

 

Over the last several years, I've repeatedly heard it said, "This isn't who we are" in reference to overt racist acts and the pervasive divisiveness that has infected our nation as well as the lack of empathy and humanity on the part of many of our leaders. I've also heard the retort, "This is exactly who we are." I agree with both statements.

 

While it has been upsetting to witness some of the ugliest aspects of human nature and see that behavior sanctioned by very powerful people, I look forward to a collective raising of our consciousness that will, hopefully, reunite us all as Americans.

 

In the spirit of renewal, this might be a good time to step outside your comfort zone and walk for a bit in a different pair of shoes, contemplating what can be done to heal this country and bring light to darkness. It might also be a good time to bring a piece of writing out from under the pile of set-asides and breathe life back into it. Or you might want to start an entirely new project, maybe even tackle a subject in which you are not well-versed, but one in which you've maintained a latent interest. The latter means doing some research, but it's never a bad thing to broaden one's repertoire of knowledge.

 

While expanding one's horizons should be a wonderful jumpstart to inspire creativity, renewed contemplation might also help unify this nation. May you and your loved ones stay safe this holiday season and find your hearts filled with grace and gratitude.

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Write to Relieve

2020 is a year unlike any other. My stress level has constantly risen as I take in devastating headlines that play across our computer monitors, TV screens, smart phones, tablets, and on and on and on. It's enough to make you throw everything out the window—Oh my! Even after turning off my digital information banks, my worry about the future of our democracy compels me to turn something back on for a brief update, which quickly turns into an extended one. Then I'm back into the cycle of ingesting (with indigestion) more dire news.

 

I recently found that writing helped defuse my angst about what is occurring outside my four walls when I was compelled to change the theme of my blog posts in response to the video of George Floyd's death. I started writing personal essays about my experiences navigating daily life as a woman of color. I also confronted the fact that much of my sentiments about those experiences is consciously and subconsciously suppressed so as not to make uncomfortable those around me who prefer to avoid acknowledging the existence of racism. The essays have been pouring out—I can't write them fast enough! Although I had planned to start a memoir soon, a collection of these snapshots of the larger project may end up replacing it.

 

If you find yourself overcome with negative emotions about the current political, financial, and public health crises, try writing about their impact on you even if you don't intend to publish the material. We must do what we can to preserve our sanities during this difficult time and, as writers, we have a precious opportunity to relieve tension through our creativity. Although a large portion of those who read about my truth will find it entirely different from their own, grappling with it has been downright liberating for me. Fortunately, I don't foresee having writers' block for the rest of this year, or the next.

 

And, consider this: Though we are a nation spawned from an ambitious yet horrific and storied beginning, the fact that we were resourceful enough to carry off this great American experiment and build a brand-new world, and resilient enough to rebuild after 9/11, surely means we can weather yet another storm!

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