On Living and Dying and Making a Difference

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“I think I’m dying,” I said, and I coughed weakly. My children gathered around me, stroking my head and handing me small squares of toilet paper instead of Kleenex. My oldest got me a glass of water as I propped myself on some pillows. I tried to watch another season of Hell’s Kitchen but it made me hungry and being hungry made me feel nauseated. This sickness is not consumption, though that would be a far more literary way to write about my sick bed. This sickness is just a nasty head cold, a head cold I developed because my children are in grade school, and I just cannot help but hug and kiss them even when they are sick, which is always, because they are in grade school.

All that day I camped out in bed, and I read the stack of magazines I keep on my nightstand. I collect literary journals like some kids collect bottle caps. I line them up on the shelf under my nightstand. I stack them under the bed. I pile them on the coffee table. When the magazines arrive I read them while sitting on the couch, feet up, absent to everything else. On this day, I am reading Ruminate Magazine, one of my favorite journals. It is one of my favorites because of the beautiful work inside, the feel of the thick paper between my fingers, the splash of color of the artwork every few pages.

I might never have subscribed to Ruminate had I not met the editor, Brianna Vandyke at a writer’s conference in Michigan many years ago. I met her while walking through the “vendor” room. She was positioned behind the Ruminate table, smiling. I browsed the sample magazines on the table. They were a young outfit back then, just getting started. I had heard of them through a few other writers, and I had submitted to one of their writing contests. When Brianna saw my nametag, she said, “I know your name! I’ve been wanting to meet you!” and then she came out from behind the table and hugged me. At that point in my writing career, no one knew my name. I had no publishing credits to speak of and in fact, I was still unsure of whether I could truly say out loud that I was a writer.

I subscribed that day. And it was in that generous greeting, that moment of recognition and that small, well-loved journal that I began to form some solid understanding of what it means to create something beautiful. It’s something I still value to this day. Truly, I’m grateful for the work of Ruminate.

Because you might never have come across Ruminate before this post, I’d like to tell you that you also might never realize that they are in a funding crisis. Years of working on this magazine for no monetary compensation have taken its toll on the creators, and they are faced with closing their doors. This post is just to say that it will most likely not cut into your Hell’s Kitchen viewing. It will not keep you from your important engagements. If you have not heard about the magazine, the closing of Ruminate will not affect your daily living so far as you know.

What you don’t know is that the effect of this magazine on creative and talented folks is immense. Letting this magazine fall into the waters and not surface again is a loss that is felt at the deepest levels by people who read and imbibe the words there like vitamins, like minerals, like meat. These words sustain us, they bolster us, they fuel us well and whether you realize it or not, the loss makes us all weaker. The loss of good creative work, deep and beautiful work, wears on our communal immune system. We need Ruminate Magazine because we’re weary and worn down and words matter, art matters.

Will you help? You have a couple of days yet to lend a hand to help pull this powerful force from the water. Subscribe today, give a subscription or just toss some coin in this direction instead of a couple of pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. Be a part of something foundational and good where art is concerned. Your small contribution makes a difference, I promise.

And listen, if you’ve never subscribed to a literary journal before, consider this your opportunity. Even Gordon Ramsey would agree that work like this needs your support.

Let’s do this thing.

 

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Nobody cares about your blog

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There have been days, quite a lot of them actually, when I really wanted to buy this tee shirt. And on some of those days, once purchased, I think I’d actually have worn the tee shirt in public.

For a long time (in internet years) “blogging” has been the thing. Everyone’s doing it. But when I started this blog, back in the good ole days of the internet, the concept was new. We were all maybe a little paranoid while putting out all this personal and revelational material into the great vacuum of cyber land, even adopting a pseudonym (see: mrsmetaphor) to protect our identity. It felt as though I was shouting into the chasm. Nowadays it’s more like shouting into the storm of people shouting. Everyone has a blog. So what?

Many of my long time blogging compadres have left their cyber houses untended, letting weeds reclaim the yard and vines grow over the entrance. We can peer in the windows and see the layers of dust on the floors and shelves, white sheets draped over the furniture. I think back about the hey day of blogging, lo those many (internet) years ago and sometimes I sigh with wonder and appreciation. Those were the days.

Then the idea of monetizing came and the idea of viral posts and blogging for book deals and high profiles and millions of readers. It’s interesting to see how things shift over time. I was never much for monetizing or viral posts. I just write what I feel like writing and put it out there, no longer shouting into the storm but more likely whispering. That’s okay by me.

I have to admit that I don’t read a great number of blogs anymore. I just don’t have the time or energy. The information overload on the internet is too much and too often so now I subscribe to the writers I like and have it delivered easy-like to my email in box. I unwrap those entries at my leisure and savor them in my own time.

All that said, as recently as a few months ago I encouraged someone to start a blog. Even with all the saturation and monetization and the “nobody cares about your blog” feelings, I will sometimes still offer a big thumbs up when someone asks my opinion on it. In no particular order, here are the things that sway me on that front-

5 Reasons to start a blog (even in the modern soggy internet market):

  1. You love to write and you have something to say
    So let’s say you find yourself with a little time on your hands, a working computer and something to say but no place to publish or no interest in pursuing publishing as a career.
    Go for it.
    It’s a great way to start a writing discipline and begin to see words on a page. Just be warned that whatever you put out there is out there. I like to tell people that the internet has a long memory and a short attention span. Even if you remove a blog post or shut down a blog those words might live forever someplace else- someone’s hard drive, cached pages, etc. Don’t write anything you hope no one sees. That’s just asking for trouble.
  2. You have something to sell
    I hate that I just wrote that but nevertheless, it’s true. If you sell something like jewelry or essential oils or fitness practices (wink wink) then it’s probably a decent idea to have a blog connected to your website. Products are lifeless and cold, writing about what you sell or how it affects your life or even how much you love donuts or Disney movies helps to make you a real person, weirdly enough, and that will lend your product some edge in an overcrowded online market.
  3. You are an amazing writer
    It’s true that I know amazing writers who won’t go anywhere near the “blogosphere” (mainly because there are non words like blogosphere that describe it.) But if you are an amazing writer and are not published anywhere but want to have your work out there, go for it. It’s a good way to begin to build some presence online and perhaps even begin to build a readership for your work. My limited experience is that people who are amazing writers get blog traffic when what they write about fills a niche no one else is reaching OR fills a niche no one reaches with amazing writing. Let that roll around on your tongue for a while.I’ll give a caveat here though because I know from experience that if you are an amazing writer and have something to say, see #2 and heed that advice as well. If you “publish” a great essay on your blog but think you’d like to send it to a lit mag or online journal you may find they won’t touch it. The thinking on this has been shifting a little bit but for the most part the most respected journals won’t publish it even if it’s “just” on your blog. Take care with your work. Blog about “blog” things, keep ’em short and chewable and lovely but don’t stop there. Use it as a springboard to write longer and more interesting things to submit when you’re ready.
  4. You’re quirky
    For this one I’d say you also should be an amazing writer but that’s because I get tired of people trying too hard to be quirky at the expense of the writing. Unless you’re selling something or are already known it’s really hard to get your work noticed. People need a reason to visit or subscribe to your blog, they’re busy and distracted and impatient. If you’re quirky they’ll come back or trek along for the ride. If you’re not sure if you’re quirky ask your friends. They’ll tell you. Most likely that’s why they hang out with you.
  5. You’re already published
    Here’s the thing, most of my favorite published authors don’t blog and I respect that. There’s this little nagging thing in me though and I don’t think it’s only me. I want more. I want to know more, I want to understand more, I want to know what that author thinks about Ferguson or the deficit or the cost of higher education. Sometimes you can get that by following them on Facebook and, in fact, Anne Lamott does her own version of this on that site. She’ll post long status updates (blog length, I’d say!) and those serve the purpose. But if you’re not Anne Lamott and you’re published and people love your work and want more it may be worthwhile to start a blog. You can do it on an author Facebook page if that’s your bag but it may be a good idea to set up shop on an actual blog and just save Facebook for cat memes. That’s your call. In any case you want your work to be available and sharable. That’s the key.

I hate that this now feels like one of those “ask the expert” posts. Sorry about that. I’m no expert. I just have feelings, a whole lot of feelings…and I have a computer and some time on my hands. Maybe nobody cares about my blog or your blog these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

Good luck all my blogging people…make beautiful posts!

Share the love…

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It’s a full on social media blitz over here at Angela’s Book Release Headquarters.

I promise I will do my level best to keep it to a dull roar on weekends and after 10pm on school nights but for the balance of the time I’m afraid it’s going to be a bit crazy for a while. I apologize in advance if that’s annoying. I intend to post more about my love of doughnuts and pre-occupation with the zombie apocalypse as time marches on so that’s something to look forward to, right?

For those of you who do not already know I’ve written my first full length book and the fine folks at Ancient Faith Publishers have decided to put it out there into the world. For a writer who has been pitching books like a crazy person for the last 10 years (me) this is kind of a big deal. So now that the hard work of writing the thing is done we now enter into the hard work of telling everyone I know that I’ve done this thing and ask politely if anyone within earshot would like to take a look and maybe pick up a copy for their own perusal.

The book, Nearly Orthodox: On being a modern woman in an ancient tradition is best described as spiritual memoir. It began as a detailing of my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy after a lot of years of wandering from my roots but it’s more than that, struggle, redemption, humor, maybe a little angst-ridden ranting. It’s a book for anyone who has been on a road they did not intend to take. Lonesome pilgrims, sign in here. Fellow travelers, represent.

If you go to the publishers website you can even read a full chapter to whet your appetite, how great is that? If you like your books the Amazon way you can grab it up there as well by clicking here: NEARLY ORTHODOX. You say you like eBooks? No problem! Go here and get it! The point is, the book is here and it’s waiting for you. All of you. No matter what your walk, your journey, you ice cream flavor preference.

Now, the best possible way to get the book into the world is for me to reach out to you lovely friends, family, faithful readers to let you know it’s out there. If you like what you see the crucial part is that I need to ask you to do this really important thing.

Share.

Are you on Facebook? Put a link to the book on your timeline-  http://store.ancientfaith.com/nearly-orthodox/

Are you on Twitter? Write a quick tweet to say you’re excited about the book and post the link- http://www.amazon.com/Nearly-Orthodox-modern-ancient-tradition/dp/193627096X/

Instagram? How about posting a picture of the book when it arrives in your hands? And tell ’em to go here to buy a copy- http://www.amazon.com/Nearly-Orthodox-modern-ancient-tradition/dp/193627096X/

Google+ is your bag? Simple. Post this link and some words of affirmation- http://store.ancientfaith.com/nearly-orthodox/

Other unnamed social media sources? No problem…post this link, friends! How easy is that? http://www.amazon.com/Nearly-Orthodox-modern-ancient-tradition/dp/193627096X/

Online social interaction not your jam? Are you a live and in person type? Easy peasy. Get you a book and carry it around. That stunning cover art ought to open all kinds of doors. Then you can pull out a pen and just write “Nearly Orthodox by Angela Doll Carlson” on their palm. Well, okay, maybe write it on a piece of paper to avoid awkwardness.

In any case, what’s going to make this thing happen for this untried first time author is your participation. It’s just like your kindergarten teacher always said, “It’s good to share.”

Thanks in advance my dear, wonderful, kind pals! Your support over the years has been a true gift.

-Ang

Silences

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“There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything that has answered to the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo.”
Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Slings and Arows

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
-Shakespeare “Hamlet”

I guess I knew that putting a book out might be risky on some level. Bad reviews are bound to happen because honestly, it’s not likely that everyone is going to like my work. In fact, there may be people who hate it. I like to think that getting a bad review is a way to become a better writer for my future work. I take feedback seriously. The trick is to not let it define me or completely shut me down I suppose.

But this is different.

I got a bad review this past week but it was not about the book. It was personal. I know the commenter. She was not interested in shrouding herself in anonymity and for that I suppose I should be grateful, though even if she had been anonymous I’m pretty sure I would have known who it is. At the same time, I confess, I had no idea this person hated me to this degree. I know that we ended our friendship and that she was unhappy with how things went down while we were friends. I thought we’d talked it through and at least reached some stasis, but given the libelous nature of her “review” for my book, I guess I was wrong.

It happens.

What’s hard is that all I could think to do was comment in return asking if she’d even read the book, asking why she still held this much anger towards me, asking why none of our shared friends ever mentioned that she believed me to be so very evil and abusive. I did not comment immediately. It seemed like a losing proposition and a poor way to dialogue about it.

And you know, the reality is that I don’t really want to be in relationship with her at this point. To engage and try to understand or smooth over or make it right, especially with someone who is so hell-bent on making sure people know the depth of some fabricated deceitfulness feels like walking into quicksand and I’m not willing to do that. Even so, in the midst of all the slings and arrows I do wish her well. I do hope the best for her.

A bad review of my work is an opportunity. I can always learn and study and revise in the future in order to become a better writer. Bad reviews of my work are words on a page, from strangers or near strangers. I can place those into the appropriate categories when they come (and they will come.) But an attack on my character is different, it’s personal and it’s ugly and the accusations are false. I begin to wonder if I ought to look deeper at what happened in our short friendship. I begin to question and worry. I wonder if I should counter the charges. I wonder if I should try to make a plea for peace. I wonder if there some hidden split in me, a Mr Hyde to my  Dr Jeckyll, that I do not recall or realize.

In the end there is really nothing I can do about it except to trust that my work speaks for itself, that my true character shines through and maybe too, that Amazon will expose it as a personal attack rather than a legitimate critique of a book I’ve poured so much of my self into over these last three years.  Time will tell.

Why I hate Bob Dylan…

Don’t get mad. 

Hear me out, because once in a while I have an inclination to write something that might be considered controversial, something that might make people angry or insulted. I don’t do it to stir up trouble. It’s just that this it the internet; a magical place where everyone has an opinion, a street corner, a soap box and a megaphone. So, there’s that but no matter how I try I just cannot contain myself anymore where Bob Dylan is concerned. That was misleading. I don’t actually hate Bob Dylan. I have no reason to hate Bob Dylan. I’m sure he’s a really nice guy. Historically, I just have not cared much for his music.

I have this friend I like an awful lot who hates does not care for Rufus Wainwright and she’s quick to rib me teasingly whenever I express my profound love appreciation of him. I can see her point about Mr Wainwright, though I guess it just doesn’t bother me that much. I’m willing to overlook her perception of his lack of musical prowess because, well, I don’t know why exactly. Maybe it was the moment I heard Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk. Maybe I heard it at the right moment, in my car after a hard day or in a restaurant while lunching with a good friend. Maybe it was the chord progressions. Maybe it was the piano work. Maybe it was all of these things working together for the good. 

It stands to reason that all of these things might contribute to why I have always taken my friend’s view where Bob Dylan is concerned. I’m a child of the 70’s, living my teen years deep into the 80’s, fueled by a different flavor of rock and roll and rebellion. People have told me that Bob Dylan is the father of the music that fueled me growing up. They have impressed upon me the need to respect the roots, to learn an appreciation of the rock and roll family tree. But I turned that thought away, instead digging in with my distaste, voicing my disbelief that anyone would like Bob Dylan, rolling my eyes like any good overgrown teenager might. 

And then last week something interesting happened…or perhaps, it didn’t. Perhaps it was nothing outward that happened but something shifted, almost imperceptible and yet it stuck to me.

Dave and I were sitting on the deck that evening. His iTunes playlist jumped from track to track, randomly moving from Van Morrison to Tedeschi Trucks to some obscure polka/yodeling song (true story) when Bob Dylan surfaced. For whatever reason- the moment, the mood, the weather, the wine – he got me.

The song was Jokerman, a song and an album that Bob Dylan reportedly did not like all that much. The song itself is catchy, the chord progressions lovely, flowing and wide. It’s probably the first time I could listen to his voice without feeling as though someone was rubbing sandpaper on the back of my arms, so I listened, maybe for the first time. It’s not without irony that the first song I actually dug from Bob Dylan was one he didn’t end up liking. It’s also striking to me that the first song I dug was said to be about Jesus, a false messiah or Ronald Reagan. 

Who knows what the song is really about or if it was the scent of Mark Knopfler’s production that eased me in or if it was the weather or the wine or time passing. But I’m in. Now I’m in. I don’t hate you afterall, Bob Dylan. I guess never really did. 

 

Stay.

Well, that’s over now. We can all resume our regular programming. It’s been a week since Robin Williams died. The words and pictures and tributes are only trickling into the newsfeed. Maybe we’ll see an uptick from time to time as new information comes forth, as new insights are gleaned but for the most part we are cycling around again, coming back into our normal way of operating. Maybe we’ll think of him from time to time, when the quotes and memes resurface, when his films show up on television, when awards ceremonies air their tributes to those we’ve lost this year. But for most of us, those of us who did not know him personally, our regular lives just pick up right where we left them. It’s the way of things.

For those who did know him personally the loss is palpable, I imagine. The loss is daily and will continue to be felt in the day to day, perhaps even in the moment to moment. Haven’t we all lost someone at one point or another? Don’t we all know that ache? That empty? That unanswered question?

Robin Williams suicide raised important issues, awareness issues in its wake. Depression, mental illness, visibility, treatment. Between the posts of movie lines and funny tidbits and grief there were calls to action, to listen better, to pick up the phone when feeling as though all is lost. Despair has depths unplumbed to most of us, I’d wager.

I’d always thought that if someone wants to end their life there’s probably little any of us could do about it. We can see the signs, we can treat the signs, we can listen better, we can call and keep tabs and remind about medication or therapy appointments but it’s not a cure for what ails. In the end it feels to me that those people who choose suicide do so because they see no other options or perhaps if they do see options they seem untenable, temporary, too painful to attempt. Nothing will help, this is the course of action.

But what do I know? Nothing. I don’t know because I have not been there, I have not studied it, I have not survived the loss of a close friend or relative to suicide. I know nothing and of course that makes it so easy to judge. From where I sit, it’s a simple task to unpack all of the anger and regret, grief and despair. I can just pick up my life where I left off, resume my regular programming, unaffected.

Except that I don’t feel unaffected now. I feel some deep dark pressing in from the outside, the “there must be something we can do or could have done or should have done” thought. And it’s there because we don’t want to be absent anything. Loss is terrible and difficult, death seems so final to those of us who stay behind. Perhaps it’s true that there is nothing we could say or do or be that would entice someone so deep in despair that they’d consider and choose to end their own life and yet I’m compelled to try. I’m compelled to encourage all of us to keep talking and trying and exploring and listening well to those around us who struggle

And I’m compelled to put out this small plea to the struggling community at large, to all of us, to any of us but especially to those people who feel there is no other way than to leave the land of the living –

Stay. Please stay.

 

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Good Letters: Jars of Clay

I’ve got a post up today on Good Letters, the fine blog offered by that Image Journal magazine I like so much. If you’ve got a moment take time to check it out. In light of the heat the band (and front man, Dan Haseltine in particular) took a few weeks ago over a Twitter discussion on marriage equality I just wanted to check in with my friend, Stephen Mason. He delivers some lovely words and sage thinking. Hope you’ll give it a read! 20130614-jarsofclay-600x-1371228007-300x240

The answer to gun violence…

Yesterday a shooter opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, killing one and injuring several others. I sat forward in my chair when I read this because I have a number of friends who attend or teach at SPU. It was a strange feeling, two sides tugging at me; first about how unlikely it would be that someone I knew was involved and then the counter-thought of “well, you never know.”

We never do know.

Thankfully I discovered that my friends were safe. Consuming the information coming from my computer and television was about finding out this very thing. Are they safe? But I didn’t stop there. I kept consuming information that streamed out, long after I got what I needed. I was still hungry.

Or perhaps not.

There’s  a mindfulness aspect to eating. If I’m not careful I will sit and eat the food within arms reach without thinking. In restaurants I must move the bread basket far away from me to avoid it. Don’t even get me started on the “all you can eat” buffet. There’s a whole bounty of studies done on why we eat after we’re filled, after our body has what it needs on a physical level. We eat from boredom, out of fear, the loss of control, the specter of death. We are lonely and we are powerless and food is our savior and food is available. This fuel for our bodies can be our undoing. We eat until we feel nothing.

So I consumed the information and the pictures and the reports of eye witnesses. And I searched for articles on how and why it keeps happening because it seems as though it does just keep happening. Why universities? Why students? Why this university? Why these students?

Why?

We say that we do this in the name of change, in the name of reform and redemption but it’s ridiculous the amount of food set before us and the speed at which it is offered. When no good information comes quickly we are restless. We are angry. We are hungry.

Or perhaps not.

We think that this eating is about “doing” something, becoming more aware, solving the problem, knowing our place in the wide world, uncovering the mystery of “why.” But in that steady stream of meals eaten with no real regard for quality, nutrition or purpose we simply consume the information until we feel nothing.

The answer to gun violence will not come in the moments or the days after the tragedy from the banquet of information offered. It will not come out in steaming pans which sit under heat lamps ready for eager hands and mouths.  The answer to gun violence will come only when we experience the emptiness, when we sit in the grief of it. We forget our humanity if we rush from grief too soon. We forget what real hunger feels like, an aching inside, an emptiness, a weary body in need of fuel.

Perhaps we ought to back away from the table and just let that ache rise a while.

Magic and Metal…

 

 

The “writing” vs “publishing” trap gets to me way too often.

Head on over to Ruminate Magazine’s blog to see just how much 🙂

 

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I wanted to write about that dollhouse but the words won’t come. I’m thinking too much today about the rejection notices I’ve gotten already this week. I’m consumed today not by the “magic” of writing but by the messy business end of this writer’s life. It could be that it’s on my mind because of the most recent failed submissions or the agent email saying he’ll “take a pass” on reading my work. But more likely it’s on my mind because I spent some time at a writer’s conference a few weeks ago.