Writing Craft & Practice

Exploring the boundary between skill and inspiration...    and a few other things

My radio interview: “singular they”

A radio host read my essay on they as a singular pronoun,  so I got to advocate for this usage on KGO ‘s Maureen Langan Show in San Francisco. I explained that in order to know for sure what pronouns someone uses, you need to ask. “That’s a lot of pressure on me,” Maureen objected. She wanted to know why she should go out of her way to use this  pronoun in such a weird, awkward way, so I told her. It was a nice opportunity to evangelize a bit. Language is embedded deep in our brains, so even political progressives[…]

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More trumpery, and questions of “meaning”

I didn’t intend to do another “found” poem from a Trump speech, but the following passage, sent by my friend Sallie Reynolds, was irresistible. It’s one single sentence. You choose: read it first, or read the two poems below it first: by me and Winkie Ma, a high-school senior whom I mentor in a writing program. Found poetry was one of our assignments. I brought the passage to a mentoring session and each of us tackled it. Here goes, hold on to your rational mind: 

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“Found” Trump poem

This month’s assignment for my Girls Write Now mentoring program  was “found poetry.” There are several ways to “find” a poem, but our assignment was an “erasure poem,” where you take an existing text and black out lines and words. The poem is what’s left, rather like Michaelangelo and the block of marble. I was in a stream-of-consciousness sort of mood, so I  downloaded a transcript of a Trump campaign speech, and to my surprise—since I’m in no way a poet—produced something that I rather like. (WordPress doesn’t let me reproduce the line breaks nicely, so I turned it into[…]

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The Trojan Purse and the subversive woman

This ten-foot high wooden purse on wheels was part of a week-long art festival in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Happily for me the artist, Ethan Crenson, was on hand the day I came upon it, conducting dialogues with curious passersby. Why a “Trojan” purse? Was it filled with some kind of subversive material? No, Crenson told me. It was empty. The idea was that everyone could project their own feelings or ideas into it—anger at capitalism, the political system, whatever. I didn’t ask him why he’d chosen to make it a purse—probably because my own imagination immediately supplied a rationale.

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My Girls Write Now mentee in Newsweek!

Every June, Girls Write Now, where I volunteer as a writing mentor for a teenager, publishes an anthology of specially polished pieces by that year’s group of girls. This year Newsweek ran a big story on the GWN program, featuring six selections from the anthology. And one was by my own mentee, Winkie Ma! I am beyond thrilled. Her piece came out of one of GWN’s monthly genre workshops: Dystopian Flash Fiction. I had vaguely heard of flash fiction but had never met it, so to speak. I haven’t written fiction since my 20s, so a fiction workshop is a[…]

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Self-sacrificing women: free tipsheet for you

An issue that hasn’t gone away How many men would eat food they don’t like because their wife likes it? Or wear clothes they don’t like because she wants them to look a certain way? Women do these things all the time. I did them with my former husband. In my book Slaying the Mermaid: Women and the Culture of Sacrifice, which uses Andersen’s Little Mermaid as an image of the ultimate self-sacrificing woman, I investigated why so many women feel obliged to put other people’s needs first—even when they don’t want to. I discovered that the self-sacrificing impulse comes[…]

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A Jewish fable for adults

Kelev’s Journey: A Jewish Dog Wanders Home, by my client David Hammerstein, is about to be published, and I’m just thrilled. I knew Kelev when he was first coming into the world. David is a retired investment advisor who took up creative writing during a difficult time in his life. He found himself producing stories about Kelev, a black Lab who lives in Pittsburgh with an orthodox Jewish family. When Kelev learns about his Jewish heritage from his beagle buddy Schmalzie, he embarks on a spiritual journey as God’s mitzvah macher. Nosing through a thicket of thorny questions about Judaism[…]

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