3/31/2008

Riding the Wave

Writing begets writing.

I'm going to have that printed and framed, I think.

So riding the crest of my work last night, I took three unpublished pieces from my files and sent them off to an essay contest. When I sat down to work, I thought I had a month to get the pieces ready, but a quick check of the submission guidelines revealed that the contest would end on the 30th of April... and the submissions are due tomorrow.

Again, it would have been easier to give up and look for another contest, but my 'big project' including shaping these three pieces into the best state I thought they could be. So, I took them out, dusted them a bit, and sent them off. Thankfully the contest had a terrific submission system that allowed me to pay the reading fee via PayPal.

I lurv the Intertubes.

I also got an update on a reading I'm giving in early June. The program is shaping up nicely and I'm looking forward to meeting all the other writers. I'll post details once I receive the official blurb.

3/30/2008

Reaching Out

**looks around** Where did March go? I distinctly remember celebrating Leap Year and suddenly it's past Easter and nearly April Fools... It's the snow, I'm sure of it. Who heard of snow after Spring Equinox? Snow is /so/ out of context for me this time of year.

Seriously, though, between the getting ready for Easter and the family crises big and small, plus the project I'm working on (that sadly, I can't share much about here...yet) it's been a crazy month. I've gotten some good work done - rewrites of older material but new possible venues, so that makes for happy.

It was good to work on material for submission again, having a definite goal in mind, selecting the pieces, shaping them into things I thought would match their aesthetic. I hit that place, though, where it all looks close to being finished, but not really /feeling/ finished. It seemed easier to walk away, but I know I need to get into that practice of shaping and submitting material so it seems as natural as breathing.

I'm learning to be comfortable with risk. I'm reading “Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk” by Ben Carson and its helping me know that there are different kinds of risk and that avoiding risk doesn't guarantee safety. Carson speaks of how in the US we've created a culture afraid of risks and therefore are unaccustomed to evaluating risks with a measure of wisdom. Avoidance seems 'safer' than failure.

A friend recently said to me, in a completely different context: "There (comes) a time that we wish to be more than who we are. To realize that we *can* be (what we aspire to become)." While another quipped: "...the risk is probably worth the taking--if you know who it is you want to be."

I know I want to be a successful writer – paid, published, and prolific – and I know that my big project will help me reach that goal by challenging me to expand my writing and take more risks. I can't afford any longer to let the fear of failure continue to hold me back. Who I 'be' is a writer and everything I do must reflect that commitment.

3/01/2008

Kaya Mong Maging Dakila!

Attended the WWU Bond Children's Lit Conference today. A single day event, but to say it was inspiring would be to understate the experience. Incredibly moving, would come closer to describing the event. I laughed, cried, scribbled notes, saw new things in my writing, remembered old things I wanted to see with my writing.

I remembered being in Hawaii and being asked by a book seller to tell the stories of FilAms, not the folktales and history books for kids, but the fiction stories so obliquitous in other cultures which filled shelf after shelf in bookstores and libraries. I didn't know any FilAm writers then. Didn't even know about Carlos Bulosan or Jessica Hagedorn. I just wanted to write and be read. But then the stories started coming, the possibilities of stories meant to reveal the history of plantation life in Hawaii, farm worker strikes in California, escaped slaves in Louisiana, Alaskeros in Seattle. Too many stories all at once, but at the same time, I wrote my first two picture books, one based on a folktale and the other on a boy coping with his grandfather's stroke.

That same year, I published my first poems and drafted the skeleton of a memoir. I dreamed of the Oprah Book Club, attended three writing conferences, each in different genres, and finished my BA by correspondence. It was about the writing - didn't matter what I was writing, just so I /was/ writing. And I survived one of the worst, one of the best years of my life.

Circling back on Children's Lit is sort of like coming home for me and at the same time walking toward a future I'd set aside to work on other projects. I used to see this as a flaw, the coming around, the never really settling, the always beginning and never finishing. Something shifted today, though, maybe not quite a healing, but definitely a stitching together of lost pieces. The drive to tell stories about surviving grief and betrayal, to give voice to lost/buried history, to find the humor and love that always surrounds us, and celebrate independence and belonging all at the same time.

Aileen Ibardaloza of the FLIPS listserve sent me the link to a collaborative song called Kaya Mong Maging Dakila! (You can be noble). It's a sort of "We are the World" piece featuring several Filipino artists, but the entire song is in Tagalog and I couldn't understand much of it.

Usually, I don't engage well with Tagalog or the other dialects my elder family speaks. I can respond in English usually to simple questions and conversations, but I usually feel a little less, a little outside, and more than a little lost when I'm around the dialects. These were the languages used to punish, hide, shame me as a child, leaving me confused, frustrated, and angry more often than not. I tried once to learn Tagalog, taking classes locally, but I lack my husband's ear, perfect mimicry, and unselfconscious ability to make language work for me. Speaking English can even be difficult as my thoughts run faster than my words.

What was different this time with Kaya Mong Maging Dakila! is that I kept listening, kept watching as the lyrics were held up for me to read. I could finally put what I heard with what I was reading and suddenly concepts were getting through. I didn't get all of the song, couldn't translate it if anyone asked, but it helped me feel connected to something I hadn't yet, something gapped even with all the research and writing I've done this past decade. Still working out the specifics, but in the meantime, here tis:



I think the themes I'm thinking about now are in the song. I can't be sure until I find the translated lyrics. Some of them I can see on the pages held up during the video - bata (children), pilipino (Filipino), kapwa-tao (people in community), isang (one or single), puso (heart), Rizal and Tandang Sora and Bonifacio (historic heroes).

Themes. I guess that's where I start with my writing, themes and character experiences. Sometimes it comes out as fiction, sometimes poetry, sometimes spec fic, sometimes YA, sometimes memoir, sometimes academic writing, sometimes performance storytelling. The /form/ doesn't matter, it's the themes, characters, and sense of place (location and/or time) that matters to me - whatever will serve the thing I'm trying to make meaning out of.

Writer/illustrator Eric Rohmann (Kitten Tale, My Friend Rabbit) talked about how children don't read illustrations left to right or top to bottom, they take in the whole image and then apply their experience to the image to make sense of what they are seeing. He urged us to look 'behold' the images in picture books, to /be/ with the images and see them as a child does, and to understand how our own experiences shape meanings for us.

All four speakers were incredibly funny, talented, and inspiring, but Christopher Paul Curtis (Bud, Not Buddy, Elijah Buxton) touched my heart the deepest. "Follow your heart," he said to me while he signed my books.

He echoed what Maurice Sendak said to writer/illustrator John Rocco (Wolf! Wolf!, Moonpowder) "Don't try to figure out what publishers want, or what readers want, or what Whoopie wants. Draw from your heart."

Maybe I'm finding my way to the same place as Kaya Mong Maging Dakila, the place I never had a name for, but only knew there was a path I had to follow to get there.