Art of the Yearly Birthday Dinner

The perks of having lovely friends who like you even when you don’t stay in touch that often.

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When Mr. Belm emails out a ‘save- the- date’ I get giddy that we’re still on the list. The Belms were in my husband’s life before they were in mine but it only took me meeting them once to understand their tight connection. As much as we like one one another somehow we only see each other once a year during Mrs. Belm’s birthday dinner.  We’d like to see them more often but being on the invite list, regardless of our lack of communication, almost makes up for being out of touch.

Mr. Belm is an accomplished chef. He’s mastered the elegant precision of the basics and embarked in the truly experimental and creative. Mr. Belm doesn’t just cook us dinner,  he choreographs a stunning feast to celebrate his wife. I imagine that the preparation starts early on with deliberate planning and since he’s a scientist; some kind of experimentation. It was during one of these dinners when I first learned about (and tasted) molecular gastronomy and the precise alchemy of Sous Vide.

On the evening of the dinner when I come into Chez Belm, I head straight to the kitchen to hug the chef and scan around for unexpected equipment (hint: there’s usually a somewhat unrecognizable gizmo). There’s always a neat assembly setup and light conversation. Some of us go to the living room for Prosecco, and a damn good cheese platter until it is time to eat. As we sit down to the first course Mr.Belm makes an appearance at the head of the table wearing  meticulous chef’s whites. He describes in way of  charming stories, why will be eating what will be eating,  and then we toast the birthday girl.

 

What stays with me, after the sumptuous dishes, the flawless wine pairings, and the guests’ lively  conversation is the unmistakeable love story.  The yearly birthday dinner is about exquisite food yes, but it is also a tender valentine from Mr. Belm to his charming Mrs. Belm, who is obviously appreciative. My husband and I spend time with a lot of couples, and we admire them all for different reasons. I take particular delight in seeing partners who demonstrate, sometimes effortlessly how much they genuinely ‘like’ their partners. The Belms embody this notion of reciprocal like. They are clearly smitten with each other. 2016’s dinner was another knockout and I can’t wait to get our ‘save-the-date’ for 2017 (no pressure at all Mr. Belm).

You can read  it all about it from Mr. Belm himself.

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AWP2016 Los Angeles style

Panel session report

We’re on the Road to Somewhere: Approaches to Managing the Writing Life.

Another effective session. The panelists were all super candid about what works and doesn’t work  trying to manage a writer’s life. Heavens knows this is a tough management area for me. I need unbroken stretches of time, not only to write, but to fully embody my self as a writer. If I don’t get that space I am just walking around wishing that (insert blank here about writing). It’s not a pretty sight.

Description:

There are no shortcuts when it comes to writing. Sometimes, the challenge isn’t getting started—it’s sticking with it through criticism and rejection; doubts and confusion with the material itself. In this inspiring panel, successful writers discuss their own winding paths to publication and offer practical suggestions for building a creative and professional life in a variety of writing fields—including editing, blogging, and screenwriting—while managing a writing life over the long haul.

Cast of Characters: ,  ,  ,  ,  

Austin Bunn spoke about coloring outside your own lines as a writer. He discussed his experience  expanding his writing to include direct interactions with his audiences by creating collaborative synchronicity through screenwriting and immersive theater. He’s a super cool guy, smart, and funny. His approach of incorporating writing and expanding into other genres and mediums has allowed him to produce exiting work. Check him out.

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“Art did not require a remove from the material of life; if could actually seek to dissolve the boundary between the two.”

Brag note about Austin: He wrote the screenplay to the excellent film  Kill your Darlings.

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Leslie Pietrzyk

Leslie’s energy is contagious. She spoke about the long road of being a writer and pointed out what you can and can’t control. She’s the winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize for her novel This Angel on my Chest.   Thanks to Leslie’s suggestions  I am starting a local writer’s group. Here’s her essay for AWP around the writing group idea.

that kept her going a

Here’s Sonya Chung making one of her points in this interview from The Days of Yorea damn great blog about writers and artist in their ‘early days.’ A little inspo to keep you focused and reassured.

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“My answer is persistence; hang in there. It takes awhile.”

Takeaways:

  • Some of the suggestions I am running with, like creating a writing group.
  • Other ideas dealt with fighting demons of envy and despair and instead refocusing our the work to be real and concrete.
  • Working with what’s in front of you is also a huge leap of faith.
  • Hit the ball from where its at. It’s okay to go for low-hanging fruit.
  • One only has control of talent, hard work and perseverance, the rest is luck.
  • Yiyun Li, who is also a scientist motivates herself by uttering the words by Elinor  from Sense and Sensibility: “…Exert yourself, (dear Marianne).” She notes that in Science you don’t wait around for inspiration. You experiment. Do the same with writing.
  •  Josh Rolnick “There is virtue in abandoning something. Let it die a crypt death.”
  • Take your writing life forward in small steps.
  • Little victories matter.
  • If you’re wondering if you’re writing from a dark place or not, then you’re not writing from a dark place. It’s important to write from there.
  • Create small writing hacks, reward yourself  and writing partner with outrageous rewards or punishments. Did you write? Yes or No? Simple. Set a timer!
  • The question from the audience the panelists didn’t work hard to answer; ” How do you explain the necessities of the writing life to your spouse or partner?

AWP2016 Los Angeles style

Panel session report

Creative Writing and Resistance in the Classroom: Helping Students Write Social Justice.

An importatant discussion on  confronting  writing about  issues of social justice writing  in our classrooms.  I struggle finding open and effective ways to teach my students rhetoric based content that reflects important sociopolitical  issues. The panel gave examples of writing exercises and practical ideas to implement in writing workshops.

 

Creative writing students compelled to write about social justice may
be intimated by the challenges of shaping art, craft, and social forces in
their writing. How do teachers encourage students to explore political
inequality and injustice, while crafting narrative art? Panelists discuss
specific pedagogical approaches and techniques that both respect
students’ backgrounds and beliefs and encourage their exploration,
examination, and literary engagement with our complex world
Cast of Characters:  Hayan Charara,  Achy Obejas,     Nan Cuba , Ellen Meeropol,
If you have a moment check out Hayan Charara reading “Out, Out” by R. Frost
Takeaways
  • Creative writing that is grounded in good craft provokes conversations about social justice and diversity and gets recognized as literature.
  • To over come resistance of writing about social justice issues: Use rhetoric for argument, counter argument and debate. Use creative writing for empathy
  • From Achy: Take a story like Indian Camp, by Hemingway, where the Indians never speak.  Come up with a set of questions. Why suicide? Why is the doctor unprepared?  Why does George vanish? . Reconsider the story by recasting it.  Tell the story from a different character’s POV and ask the original questions. They seem different now.
  • Teaching social justice takes empathy and courage. In order for this to work you need to
    • assume responsibility
    • anticipate the resistance
    • question the canonical texts
    • understand that it is challenging to write outside demographics.
    • good to ponder what we know and what we don’t know
  • Challenge students notions about scene in dramatic story. Ignore facts, and extract drama from a minor character.
  • Change a major element of the narrative, either age or gender, change a dominant version as reality.
  • An exercise which can help students write and read about experience and then apply to their own realities: Choose 3 images which evoke a sense of social justice,  and have students write on the place, composition of the images and then work on the Fabula. Then choose 6 words or less for the titles.
  • Hayan- There’s a resistance in the classroom to so called “political poems.” Some think they are propagandist poems to sway the reader.  However, If one is an Arab is hard not to live politically. The personal is tied up in the political.  Check out the creatively charged space program in the University of Houston where Hayan teaches.

AWP2016 Los Angeles style

Panel Session Report

Rewriting the Iconic West: Native and Latino Writers on
Crafting Change.
In trying to do the right thing or in acting out of lazy tropes, some writers tend to rely on the obvious cartoons seared into years of collective misinformation and misattribution. These authors set the record straight by relating experiences in their own writing and perception of the work they should or shouldn’t be producing.

Description

From the cowboy on horseback to the detective on the dark city
streets, the fictional icons of the West loom both familiar and large.
Their stories have the ease of familiarity, but what if the stories
you want to tell shift the vantage point? What if your hero is the
one shot by the cowboy, the man turning the corner to avoid the
detective? A diverse set of writers discusses strategies for telling
the West’s iconic stories through a wide range of viewpoints and in
diverse cultural contexts.
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Tweet by @thepoetmendez  capturing  Ito Romo’s advice: A profound sentiment about owning your narrative
The talented cast of characters:  (Stephen Graham Jones couldn’t make it)
Check out the work of these fabulous authors:
Takeaways:
  • Working against stereotypes is the job.
  • As a writer work to create a reality of ethnic characters that don’t have to play to a rule of expectations.
  • It is crucial to understand what is already embedded in history and literature about characters of color to tear apart and give truth to. There is a prevalence of misconceptions seared in the mind of the readers.  Tim Hernandez spoke about “Terry the Mexican girl.” Bea Kozera, was her real name and her life story had been miscast, unbeknownst to her, in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Tim found Bea (Terry). You can read the incredible story here published after Bea’s death at the age of 92.

Around the Bookfair @ AWP16

Neat, Cool Booths & Discoveries

Broadsided Press

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I have a slight fixation with Viewmasters and have been smitten with them since I first held in front of my face. Pure magic  happened between my eyes and that reel. The more I pushed down on the side lever enjoying the springy sound that came from each new image, the more entranced I became.

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image by kidclassics.org

 

Someone set up a trap for me: Headphones and a Viewmaster.  I stopped cold in my tracks. In the delightfulest discovery ever, I met the delightful creator of this press: Elizabeth Bradfield. So I put on the headphones and listened to some  atmospheric sounds and music,  held the Viewmaster up to my face and began reading  poems that floated in front of me.  Here is what you’ll find is the description of Elizabeth’s vision:

“Before paperbacks and pocket books, before blogs, there were broadsides.Every day, we walk past billboards for shops and car dealers, for churches and insurance, but our streets, our daily lives among each other, are missing something. They’re missing thought. Dialogue. Opinion. Ideas.”

 

THE PLAN

On the first of every month, a new Broadsided literary/visual collaboration will be posted here for you to download. FREE.

What’s more, Vectors (this could be you!) will post them in cafes, hallways, and elsewhere. See where Vectors are posting and add your town.

Here’s the latest poem: “Spring” Why don’t you go ahead and start posting?

Here is a downloadable “about us”

 

Another Neat Sighting at the Bookfair

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I must have been living under a rock because I don’t know this cool thing exists:

Bookview Now some big-name author interviews are up and ready for you to watch.

2016 AWP Bookfair Video on Demand

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between interviews

 

 

Also:  Handy advice for AWP’ers heed the warnings my friends.

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Around the Bookfair @ AWP16

Neat, Cool Booths & Discoveries

Freewrite

I am a distracted sieve-mind of a writer. I am especially worse in libraries where I begin perusing the stacks to find marvelous shiny titles. Exhibit A:

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Lost myself in this book

Anyhoo- What do you think about Freewrite? I love the idea, typography, the type-writer thing it has going for it. I am not super jazzed about the weight, the E-ink (haven’t managed to fall in love with E-ink yet) or the manual options to work on multiple documents at once.

 

Sabbatical Homes

Are you an educator, writer or student looking for temporary housing? Check this out:  The lovely Nadege Conger, who is the super hands-on founder of  sabbaticalhomes.com spent some time explaining why she created the service. Mainly? The advantages and  affordability of a sharing economy and a novel solution for academics who often find temporary housing options to be limiting. Nadege, likes the low-key approach to her site. She wants to encourage trust and affordability.

Write.ink

The write.ink folks were giving away a free one year domain name. You sign up for a year and the opt to renew at 21 dollars per month. So, as of today I have daphnestrassmann.ink to play with!

Talking Book

In my past life, when I was 14 or so, I was producing my own This American Life kinda show, except without an audience, or Ira’s quirky voice. My tape recorder, was low-tech at best, and I couldn’t find a good way to splice the music in. That’s for another post. The thing is that surrounding a story with spoken word and sound is the best way for a large majority of readers to enjoy books.  Talking Book had a great looking booth with a nice display with a demo. Liquid-like images moved in front of you, while a comfy set of headphones gave the viewer the audible experience.

AWP2016 Los Angeles style

Panel session report

The Science of Story: Creative Nonfiction and Cognitive Science.

Someone must have developed a precise dating site algorithm to match me up with this panel. I just know it.  Each panelist spoke about topics that are near and dear to my interest in memoir and memory, and personal narrative storytelling.  I was in memoir heaven. The room was packed- sitting- on -the floor-room only. The takeaways are at the bottom of the post. One of my favorite parts was the discussion led by Jessica H. Nelson about the “exhaustion around Did this really happen? conversation.”Phrases like “time is a tenuous master,” and “emotional truth vs. higher truth” continue to define the work of narrative non-fiction.

Description

New research in cognitive/neuroscience illuminates how and why creative nonfiction works. Panelists explore why our perception of time slows during crisis and how to replicate crisis on the page (showing) and why the best nonfiction engages the prefrontal cortex through introspection, reflection, and speculation (components of telling). This panel examines elements of creative nonfiction and offers suggestions on how we can use science to improve our writing and writing lives.

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waiting for the panel to start

The fabulous cast of characters who hit the  all right notes for their audience.

Moderator: Sean Prentiss is the author of Finding Abbey: A Search for Edward AbbeyandHis Hidden Desert Grave, coauthor of Nature and Environmental Writing: A Guide and Anthology (forthcoming), and coeditor of the Fourth Genre: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction.

Jessica Hendry Nelson is the author of the memoir If Only You People Could Follow Directions. Her work has appeared in the Threepenny Review, the Carolina Quarterly, the Rumpus, and elsewhere. She teaches at Burlington College and in the MFA Program at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.

Nancer Ballard is a writer, book artist, editor, and resident scholar at the Brandeis University where she leads creative projects that combine science, humanities, creative writing, and fine arts. She’s the author of Dead Reckoning, and her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies.

BTW- Nancer had what seemed some handy handouts. I wanted some but they went quickly. She urged us to contact her and she’d email us some. This lack of materials was a peeve of mine throughout the conference. Is there an AWP conference web section for PDF’s or other documents such as copies of presentations? I shall find out. Anyhoo, Nancer will is local to me, since she teaches at Brandeis and giving a talk on  The Science of Evocation: Neuroscience and the Art of Memorable Stories, on April 19th. I shall be there.

No Bio on this presenter. He was super-funny and quite inspiring. Here’s  his site:

 Takeaways:

  • Thinking broadly about what we mean by ‘sensory details.’ When writing memoir, think about how the brain perceives time.
  • It’s fine (and thus affirming to me) to write memoir closely to the way memory works. Challenge the form! Memory can be a “tenuous master.”
  • The work that Robert A. Bjork is doing in UCLA.
  • The work of Daniel Kahneman about memory and the experiencing and the remembering self.
  • The work of economist and psychologist  Daniel Kahneman – Take a look at his Ted talk The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory.
  • A call to action (Yay! fits my memoir’s voice and structure) from Jessica to create new shapes on the page.