Friday, February 28, 2014

Afterthought #25 - Beautiful Words

River Teeth Journal came up with a brilliant idea for the short-in-days-but-long-in-wintery-ness month of February.  Each day, River Teeth staffer Michelle Webster-Hein posted “glimpses, glimmers, meditations, moments, reflections, refractions, interrupted shadows, river shimmers, darkened mirrors, keyholes, kaleidoscopes, earring hoops, slabs of cracked granite, cracks where the light gets in” for the 28 Days of Beautiful Things Project.

I’ve enjoyed the short pieces waiting in my e-mail inbox each morning this month (if you missed them, they’re archived), and evidently others did, too. River Teeth has decided to continue the series as a weekly column, called Beautiful Things, that will run on Mondays beginning in April.

Readers who subscribed to the 28 Days of Beautiful Things list automatically receive the new column. If you didn’t, no worries.  You can sign up here to receive Beautiful Things for free in your inbox. And you can offer your own beautiful words to the column through Submittable.

Here are a few more beautiful words to end this month. 

The wait is over. Gretchen Wing writes: “It's here! Friends, I am THRILLED to announce that my young adult novel, The Flying Burgowski, is now available to purchase.”

My thesis advisor, Ana Maria Spagna wrote this after critiquing my revised memoir manuscript:  

Well, you’ve done it!  You’ve written a beautiful book: honest, moving, cohesive, spiritual, most assuredly publishable.

Then, because she’s such a damn good writer and editor, Ana Maria offered 261 comments in-text—suggestions to make the book even more beautiful. And because she’s such a fine writer, I’ll take ‘em. My beautiful words in response – thank you.

            “Afterthoughts” is my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the mornings worship. I’ve adopted the form here for brief reflections on headlines, quotes, comments overheard, maybe even bumper stickers.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Awaiting The Flying Burgowski

It’s been a lot of years since I was pregnant and awaiting the birth of a baby (which ended up being, well, two babies, when I was surprised with twins).  And I don’t have any grandchildren (yet), so I’m out of practice with this waiting-for-something-to-be-born business. I had a taste of it five years ago when I published my first book, Hands at Work, and I’m feeling it again as I wait for the “birth” of a friend’s new book—Gretchen Wing’s young adult/middle grade novel, The Flying BurgowskiBook One of the Flying Burgowski Trilogy.

Gretchen describes her novel as “magical realism for kids,” and that category fits. Literary critic Patrick Kennedy defines this genre as “…a manner of writing that combines precise historical, social, and psychological observations (the material of traditional ‘realism’) with elements of fantasy, surreal descriptions, and dreamlike touches.”  Magical realism is associated with Latin American authors such as Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Isabel Allende. And then there’s J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, which happens to be the literary obsession of Jocelyn Burgowski, the main character in Gretchen’s book.

When Jocelyn discovers on her fourteenth birthday that she can fly, this superpower opens a whole new messy horizon. She struggles to keep her flying a secret while rescuing her troubled mother, two challenging tasks for a teen living on a small, remote island in the Pacific Northwest. Throughout the book, Jocelyn wrestles with a dilemma: must she give up her powers to save her mom, or can she use them to heal the damage of her mother’s own secret?

The Flying Burgowski offers a rich cast of characters, vivid settings, and dramatic scenes to explore real-world “horrors” like substance dependency, sexual assault, racism, and homophobia.Books are the safest place for kids to process their thoughts about these issues,” Gretchen says, and she handles them delicately—just right for the adolescent readers she hopes to reach.

Gretchen Wing, author
A high school English and history teacher for twenty years, Gretchen understands her audience well. She used to push her students to find their voices through writing, and to pay attention to the voices of others through reading. In The Flying Burgowski, Gretchen has applied that same passion to Jocelyn’s story, that of a girl who needs empowerment and finds it, not in magic as she hopes, but in herself.

I first met Gretchen at the local bakery and struck up a conversation about the Carolina Friends School t-shirt she was wearing.  Turns out, she not only attended the Quaker school in North Carolina, but her folks, Martha and Peter Klopfer, are the school’s co-founders. Now, Gretchen and I are in a writing group that meets weekly. Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed getting to know her,­ her writing, and how Quaker testimonies permeate her creative work. I wrote about her Musical Essays in October 2013, soon after she was interviewed on Northern Spirit Radio’s Song of the Soul.

Any day I’m expecting a “birth announcement” from Gretchen. Until then, I’m calling on a little magical realism to help the time pass quickly as I wait for The Flying Burgowski - and her siblings - to arrive. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Guns Making Music

Last October I wrote about an effort in Washington State to reduce gun violence by requiring background checks for most firearm purchases and transfers, including gun show and online sales. Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility recently announced they’d gained enough signatures for Initiative Measure 594 to be considered by the legislature.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence knows how helpful gun laws can be to prevent the loss of lives caused by gun violence. The non-profit organization, founded by attorneys in 1993 in the aftermath of an assault weapon rampage at a law firm at in San Francisco, works in support of gun violence prevention and the promotion of smart gun laws. They’d agree that I-594 is a step in the right direction.

Clearly, every step is needed.

  •     The 2/12/14 issue of The Guardian reports that since the Sandy Hook massacre in Dec. 2012, there have been 28 deaths in 44 US school shootings.
  •         A new study reported jointly by Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns notes that in the first six weeks of 2014 there were shootings in 13 schools.
  •          Joe Nocera posts even more grim statistics about violence involving guns in his regular NY Times blog, Gun Report.  The “Presidents’ Day Edition” cites dozens of shootings over the 3-day holiday.

Recently I learned from a friend about another response to the devastation of gun violence.

Mexico City artist Pedro Reyes first explored reimagining weapons in his 2008 project, Palas por Pistolas. In that effort, Reyes melted the1527 guns collected by the Mexican city of Cualiacan as part of a campaign to curb shootings and made them into the same number of shovels. The shovels, in turn, were used to plant 1527 trees. A few years later, Reyes created Imagine, a set of 50 electric guitars, violins, flutes and percussion instruments fabricated out of destroyed revolvers, shotguns, and machine-guns—6700 of them—seized in Ciudad Juarez.

The results of Reyes’s latest transformations are part of an exhibition called Disarm currently at the University of South Florida's Contemporary Art Museum. Reyes talked about the project in a recent NPR interview and of his belief that “…art should address social issues like gun violence, even if the issue is difficult or controversial.” This series was made in collaboration with a team of musicians and Cocolab, a media studio in Mexico City. These new pieces can be programmed and operated via computer, making them capable of performing music concerts with compositions prepared beforehand.

While President Obama spoke about the need for gun control in his State of the Union address last month, a 20-year-old man was shot in the leg during an argument over a gambling debt following an intramural basketball game at Tennessee State University.

“Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day,” Obama said in his address and pledged,  “… to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.

Pedro Reyes is standing up in his own way for the lives stolen by gun violence. Watch him at work.