Disappointing the Christian Republicans, It Hurts: 1997 – present

The last bit of this reads like I’m a PhD.  I’m not. I have a BA in English.  In the larger piece, that is clear before you get here.

Hanging out with some friends this weekend, we were talking about our parents and how it’s easy to say, “I don’t care what they think,” but that we never mean it. On some level, no matter how grown up and independent and smart and knowledgeable we become, we  will always crave our parents’ approval.  I am no exception, but I guess I don’t want their approval enough to engage in things I think are barmy.  Onward.

From Flickr User BuckDaddy
From Flickr User BuckDaddy

There are two classifications that are deeply important to my parents. The first is Christian, and if you can claim that one, you get a pass on everything else, even if you do not also espouse the second, Republican.  It helps if you are the Rush Limbaugh sort of Republican, because like a lot of my peers with Jon Stewart, My parents’ only source of news and analysis is Rush. They use terms like “feminazi” and “Slick Willy” without irony. I stopped paying attention, but I shudder to think what that lunatic is saying about Obama beyond “produce your birth certificate, Towel Head!”

When I told my father that I didn’t think I believed in God anymore, he wrung his little hands and said, “Where did we go wrong?”

I have attended a couple of holiday church services with them since leaving home, and each time I do, my poor dad gets this watery-eyed hope on his face that breaks my fucking heart. It is so important to him. I want to rub his back and say, “Dad, I love you, but this is not the answer for me. Don’t worry. In my own religious absolutism, my soul is just fine.” I also want to shake him and say, “If all this supernatural shit you believe about God is true, isn’t it reasonable to expect that god can be anything to anyone? How can you presume to understand anything about God?”

My father used to be my guide in all intellectual pursuits. To his credit, he gave me the sense of what it means to engage in critical thinking. He was just not expecting that to backfire on him. He was expecting me to continue to inoculate myself in his traditions and rhetorics and do the correct kind of critical thinking.  He cautioned me as I announced that I’d be starting college not to let those “liberal idiots” in academia turn me into one of them.

I can’t be sure, but I think he got the following from Rush, which he repeats with glee whenever anybody mentions educated people’s opinions.  BS PhD = Bullshit, Pile higher and deeper.

And so it is that I am a massive disappointment to my parents.

The Misogynist Rhetoric Runs Deep: 1980 – present

This is the beginning of a piece about sexual assault:

This is from Flickr User Hey Paul Studios
This is from Flickr User Hey Paul Studios

It is deep inside me, a sliver of an idea, an idea that I have tried to banish by reading feminist criticism, by performing in The Vagina Monologues, by reading those sad, captioned photos online that have rape victims holding white signs with handwritten quotations from their abusers, by paying attention to politics, espousing liberal, evolved beliefs, by talking about myself as a feminist, even though there are a lot of women—outside the leftist intelligentsia—who are afraid to call themselves that. I have no difficulty thinking of a woman’s right over her reproductive choices as not remotely debatable by anybody with a lick of sense. But I cannot shake this ugly little kernel of a thought that on some level, women deserve to be raped.

The misogynist rhetoric is so, so deeply ingrained. Take this list of facts and rhetorical oddities and crimes.

  1. My parents are fundamentalist Christians who oppose abortion, gay marriage, and still talk about liberty.
  2. I was raised with the notion that a woman’s place is at home. My mother trained me well in the domestic arts. By the time I was 12, I knew how to cook, clean, do laundry, and sew. I enjoyed cooking and doing laundry.
  3. I was taught to fear sex. Sex makes you have babies, and if you do it wrong, you can go to hell. Sex is sacred and not for discussing or for doing with strangers.
  4. My mother has often told me that I “think too much.”
  5. God punishes the wanton.  If women dress slutty, then the men around them have no choice but to do their Godly duty and teach them a rapey lesson.

Naturally, in college I learned that 100% of what I knew about being a woman and sex and having a spirituality was useless. My sense of spirituality was all about feeling guilty and asking God to make it stop. My sense of womanhood was slavery to a husband, baby making. My sense of sex was so broken and hung up that I’d become afraid to lose my virginity: I clung to it as this remaining bastion of legitimacy for the dogma that authored my childhood, my sense of how men and women are supposed to interact, and my own ridiculous, misogynist reflexes about why and how women come to be raped.

So around my twenty-first birthday, I set out to prove that God wouldn’t punish me for being “bad.”

I Buy My Parents Underwear For Christmas: 1998

Kelley took loads of pictures of my family. Here’s one of my parents, probably around the time I bought them underwear for Xmas.

Picture by Kelley Stevens. My cute parents.
Picture by Kelley Stevens. My cute parents.

I am in the Point Mall because I am in the school chorus and we are having a holiday concert there. This is a strange place, I think, to have a concert, but we go early enough to shop. I go into a boutique shop full of expensive, ugly, decorative things, and spend one of my hours for shopping rearranging words on a metal display in vague, surrealist streams, as is my present style. I have a drawerful of poems at home with streams of unpunctuated lines like, “…and the window in my mind is growing teeth…”

I get a brilliant idea. Are you ready for a nonsequitur?

I will buy my parents matching leopard print nightwear for Christmas. I am, after all, their oldest child, and I have never been grossed out by the idea that my parents have sex. I have walked in on them more times than I care to count. I want my parents to do it. I do not want my parents to get a divorce, and as far as I can tell, the only real perk of marriage is sex.

The rest of it looks like a dreadful strain: cleaning, washing stuff, taking sick kids to waiting rooms full of other sick kids so then everybody in the house gets sick, and doing it all while your husband works 80 hours a week? My parents should be encouraged in the realm of carnal pleasures. I know about the birds and bees, and have since I was five. My brother was three. The whole business is the forbidden fruit, the exquisite privilege of adulthood, and when God sends my mate, a reward for being good. It does not even occur to me that there is something a bit demented about living vicariously through my parents in this way.

Mom’s is easy. I pop into the Vickie’s Secret, and after a moment, I locate the perfect nightie. It is short, strappy, and leopard print sateen. I spend my own money, which I have earned being a hostess at a restaurant.

Dad’s proves to be more difficult. I begin a frantic tour in pursuit of gaudy men’s undewear. I start with the obvious choice, Spencer’s. My older, worldlier friends have told me about this store, and I am titillated. Spencer’s is full of mysterious and sinful things that get my heart going pitter pat and my belly dropping and churning. I can’t look away, even though I know I should. Is that a plastic penis? In a box? Oh my.

A week later, I find a pair of silk leopard print boxers in Kmart in Carlisle. I am relieved, for the force of my gift will be lessened considerably if there is only pervy nightwear for my mom.

What’s Next? or Why I’ve Been a Shitty Blogger and How I Plan to Change

from flickr user dbking
from flickr user dbking

You probably remember the days when I blogged five days a week.

And I doubt you’ve missed me.

But I’ve missed you.

See, I’m in this grad program for writing. It’s mostly online. I go two times a year for about a week to get my physical learning on, then the rest of the time I read and write about stuff and post it on the internet where classmates and instructors read it.

This is my first drafting semester for my book-length project that will earn me my MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

Next year, around this time, I’ll start a thing known as a “critical paper” that will earn me my MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

But I’ve had to shave some stuff down in order to make time for this program, and consistent blogging was the first to go.

But it’s January, right?

time for resolutions and new beginnings and refreshed perspectives.

And I’ve got this great idea.

I’ll be writing for two hours a day on my creative project.

And three times a week, I’m going to post stuff from my journey here.

You can feel free to comment or hate.

It’s not going to be chapters. It’ll be 400-500 words at a slice, edited for the reading habits of screen-lookers.

And it’ll probably often be funny, and sometimes it’ll be sad, and sometimes, it’ll make you scratch your head and go “what the what?”

So I’ll be seeing you on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. EST.

Looking forward to you.

Love.

Late 2012, or Self (Publishing) Help: How to Be a Baller Client

Flowers from Susan Norris
Flowers from Susan Norris

Late in 2012, I had the honor of working with two excellent writers.

These authors are not excellent because they and I share a bit of commonality in terms of literary goals and aesthetics, they were excellent because they were wonderful to work with.

The authors were REKTOK ross, author of YA Inspirational Romance, and Susan Norris, author of YA Agenda Fiction.

REKTOK’s book, Prodigal, had already been through a number of substantial developmental edits when I saw it. I did the copy edit, and I had some significant notes. Of course, though the author was tired and finished, was still willing to stay the course and make some considerable changes that made the story tighter, more believable, and ultimately, more marketable.

Susan Norris’s book, Rescuing Hope, was a mission from God. That’s how she tells it. She spent a lot of time on her knees before her maker, begging for an easier path. But in the end, she wrote it. About human sex trafficking.  And Susan’s book is only a sliver of her work on that important issue. You can get more information and links from the post just below this one.

If you’re considering self-publishing, I encourage you to be as much like REKTOK and Susan as possible.

Here’s How:

1. I’ve said it before, but Engage Professional Editors.

2. Listen to your professional editors. We usually have years of experience tweaking stories and have read more stories than most people. Susan and REKTOK were both incredibly easy to work with–and I’m sure they both had to beat their inner diva off with a stick from time to time.  In REKTOK’s case, I think it helped that I added a lot of humor to my comments, REKTOK chuckled while reading them to me over the phone when we were talking through some things.  But still. It is never ever exactly pleasant (though after a time, it becomes exciting and revelatory) to read comments, no matter how delicately worded, that ostensibly say “up your game, fool.”

3. Be a class act.  Understand that professional editors are perfectly willing to negotiate their fees.  Both Susan and REKTOK chose from a number of editing packages that I offered, and neither of them got my proposal and then ran away, never to be heard from again, which is the thing that happens more often. I suspect, if they’d opted to use someone else’s services, they would’ve let me know.

4. Pay when you say you will. As a freelance editor and writer, I am paid on all kinds of wonky schedules. I am always willing to work with clients to figure out something that works for them, but it is always a complete joy when a client says, “The check’s in the mail,” and I get it three, not thirty, days later.

5. You are paying for your editor’s time, so if you need a phone call or an extra email, or some clarification on some comment or another, ask for it. This editor is only too happy to oblige.  And I would a million times prefer to clarify something than to have a client run off and weep or whine or, worse still, post nasty reviews or troll.

6. Thank your editor. I am talking about a polite phrase here, not gifts or flowers like the ones above for my birthday, which happened in the middle of the project with Susan. I appreciated those flowers. I never understood about getting flowers before because they always came from some kind of obligatory social convention–prom, valentine’s day, being in a show–but those flowers from Susan were wonderful. They represented a vote of confidence, a kindness, thoughtfulness.  But your editor is not expecting flowers. I would be as thrilled to have worked with Susan with or without them. Your editor is not the enemy. She is can be your biggest cheerleader and greatest ally.  She is probably a writer, too.  She understands what you’re going through.  This is not Us vs. Them.  This is team work, sometimes friendship, and always giving the world better art.

Editors, what would you add to this list? Writers, what do you want from your editor?

Happy New Year in April Line Writing Land: Stop Sex Trafficking of Minors!

from Flickr user a strangelyisolatedplace
from Flickr user a strangelyisolatedplace

I have been busy, and neglecting you, fair blog readers.

But I’m on a train after spending New Year’s Eve at a benefit for A13, an initiative by Resolution Hope to stop sex trafficking of minors by building awareness and to provide care and appropriate homes and healing resources for women and and children who are rescued from trafficking.

I was there because I worked on a novel by Susan Norris about the problem. The book is called Rescuing Hope. Working on it gave me nightmares and has turned me into a fanatic about keeping Child in sight.  The book is being marketed as Young Adult Fiction, and though it is definitely PG-13, it is probably more like Creative Nonfiction–Susan’s agent calls it “Faction.”

So last night was a fundraiser/event/kickoff/book release party with a lot of very loud Christian Contemporary music, semi-preachy (like the intersection of fund-raising and a worship service) rhetoric, and no drunk people (until afterward, on the drive home, when a dude with hollow, booze-consumed eyes who didn’t know he was walking on the street instead of the sidewalk fell on the street, and the good Norris family stopped to help him).  It was not my normal comfort zone, but owing to my upbringing, I squirmed less than I might’ve for sure. Besides I expect that the rhetoric would be more healing than damaging to victims of sex trafficking, and I can’t think of a better cause for which to endure some discomfort in my sometimes excessive broad-mindedness regarding religion.

I will tell you more about Susan soon, when I write the blog post about how to be a terrific self-publishing author to work with. In the meantime, I present to you:

This is what you do with a BA in English!
This is what you do with a BA in English!

Oh, you wanna know what the front cover looks like, too?  And where to buy it?  All right.

You can go here to see more pictures, and to purchase in paperback or eBook.

And for die-hard Amazon devotees, here.

I’ll keep you posted on what’s happening with the book.  In the meantime, you can get involved in the petition to the White House to stop sex trafficking of minors here, donate here, and engage in awareness-building/networking here.