About readwritenow

writer, editor, publisher, avid reader, wife, mother, opinionated middle-aged, guitar playing (sorta), singing (sorta), liberal, Midwestern, Greekophile

The beauty of infinite air.

Infinite air is the principle, from which the things that are becoming,
and that are, and that shall be, and gods and things divine, all come into being,
and the rest from its products.
~ adapted from Hippolytus quoting Anaximenes of Miletus (585 BCE – 528 BCE) 

On Monday night I was driving across town to the Delmar Loop for writer’s group when I took the photographs below. The beauty of the sunset was overwhelming and I tried not to wreck as I used my iPhone to capture the sunset. (All the photos were taken through my bug-splattered, dusty windshield.) The reflection of the sun off the clouds, the shimmering of the evening air, and the smell of early fall, however, could not be captured. Those things were fleeting…and yet eternal, somehow.

Through the ages, we have looked up at the heavens and wondered at the beauty of it all. We have questioned how the sun and the stars got there, why the clouds move across the sky, what causes the sun and moon to rise and set,  and what it all means to us down below.

The Ancient Greeks had very sophisticated theories about the natural world and our place in it. A group of pre-Socratic philosophers subscribed to a belief system called material monism which held that all things were created from a single element. One believed all things came from water, another from apeiron which was supposed to be a boundless, regenerating substance. Anaximenes believed all things were made from air.

Although the idea of material monism seems simplistic to us today, these men, and those like Leucippus and his pupil Democritus who came up with the atomic theory some 400 years before Christ, were brilliant and innovative thinkers who were unafraid to remove the gods and other supernatural elements from explanations of the world around them. They wondered at the natural world and, instead of accepting that it was created at the behest of a mysterious being in the sky, sought to understand it on its own terms.

And watching sunsets like the one Monday night, I can see how Anaximenes came up with his idea. Infinite air indeed ….

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Justice and capital punishment–then and now.

Justice, even if slow, is sure.
~ Solon (c.638 BCE – c. 558 BCE) 

Whatever one may think about capital punishment, yesterday’s events were extraordinary. Two men were put to death by governmental bodies in America–one, in Texas, was a white man convicted of killing a black man in a hate crime, and the other, in Georgia, was a black man convicted of killing a white off-duty police officer. In the first, the family of the victim, James Byrd, went on the record saying that they were against the death penalty in the case and his eldest daughter said,”I want the world to know that I have forgiven him and I don’t hate him.” In the second case, the family of the victim, Mark MacPhail, was in favor of the execution and several were on hand to witness it.

In the twittersphere, on cable news, and on blogs, people were debating the merits of capital punishment. Is it just? Is it moral? Can we ever know beyond a reasonable doubt if someone is guilty and what does “reasonable doubt” mean? Can you be for small government and yet use that same government to kill a man? Can you be pro-choice and anti-death penalty–or vice versa? Can we, as US citizens, call ourselves modern and civilized if we stand with nations like North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen when it comes to executing our own.

According to Wikipedia:

  • 2010 – The following 23 countries carried out executions in 2010: Bahrain (1), Bangladesh (9+), Belarus (2), Botswana (1), China (2000+), Egypt (4), Equatorial Guinea (4), Iran (252+), Iraq (1+), Japan (2), Libya (18+), Malaysia (1+), North Korea (60+), Palestinian Authority (5), Saudi Arabia (27+), Singapore (1+), Somalia (8+), Sudan (6+), Syria (17+), Taiwan (4), USA (46+), Vietnam (1+), Yemen (53+).[2]
  • 2011 – As of 5 May 2011 executions have been reported in the following 9 countries during 2011: Bangladesh, China, Iran, North Korea, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, UAE, USA.

So what is it about Americans and capital punishment? Why does it remain so overwhelmingly popularI don’t know. The concept of an eye for an eye seems so archaic to me. But I wonder if there’s something deeper going on. Something beyond simple blood payment or revenge. I wonder if part of the reason Americans favor the death penalty is because they believe it can never happen to them or to anyone they know. It always happens to “the other”.  After all, we’re all law-abiding citizens. Only murderers (and their families) will pay the ultimate price for their crimes, so it doesn’t have anything to do with me or anyone I know. America is a nation of laws and, as Javert might say, the law is the law.

But we know that the law is a product of humans and humans are infallible. Have innocent people been put to death in America? Yes. Did it happen last night in the Troy Davis case? I don’t know. But the risk that it could have and the fact that it has happened before makes capital punishment–for me–an untenable practice in a modern society.

In Ancient Greece, as in my other ancient societies, capital punishment was carried out for all sorts of crimes. In fact, until Solon reformed Draco’s laws (circa 650 BCE, which were very harsh, hence draconian), in Athens minor crimes such as theft and even adultery were considered capital offences (although it appears that the punishment was seldom carried out). In terms of adultery, dealing harshly with the man who came into your home and had sex with your wife was permitted because it was essential for men, who owned/controlled all a family’s wealth and property, to know that their heirs were indeed their own. It is interesting to note that some sources refer to odd punishments such as the insertion of a radish into the anus of the man who committed adultery and a prohibition against wearing jewelry or entering into any temples or holy places by women.

Radishes aside, after Solon’s reforms, homicide was the only crime for which an Athenian could be put to death by the state. Today, Greece is among the community of nations that have abolished capital punishment. When will it be America’s turn to join that community?

At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.
~ Plato (424/423 – 348/347 BCE)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about love. One of my nieces is getting married next month and just days before her wedding, my husband and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

Twenty-five years.

That’s hard to get my mind around because I don’t feel old enough to have been married that long. And I’m fairly certain neither one of us likes to think of ourselves as “middle-aged.” Ugh.

Some of the loveliest memories I have of our “courtship” are the poems my sweetie wrote for me. Poems full of passion and beauty and dreams.Today, I know, the poetry of true love is all that–and more. It is also full of sorrow, anger, and disappointment. It is full of forgiveness. It is full of time. And, after 25 years, I know it is full of laughter. Laughter is one thing that we’re really good at.

It’s amazing to think we’re still together when so many of our friends’ marriages did not survive. At one point, as I was sharing a bottle of wine (or two) with three of my friends whose marriages were in some stage of dissolution one of them asked me how we managed to stay together and how we appeared to be so happy. “Low expectations,” I answered.

And I was only half kidding.

Marriage is hard and I’ll be the first one to admit I’ve made ours harder. But the key, in my humble opinion, is to have realistic expectations of what it’s really like to live (and in our case work) together with the same person day in and day out. Lust comes and goes. Passion can burn one day and fade the next. Children (as much as you love them) make demands of time, attention, and money. Work interferes. Age takes its toll. Shared interests change. Dreams go unfulfilled. So the best thing that can be said about the man/woman to whom you pledge your troth is that you like them.

Respect and genuine affection for someone can get you over some steep hills and out of some deep holes. Indeed, for my money the true measure of lasting love is mutual respect and shared laughter.

So, while my sweetie wrote poems for me at the beginning of our relationship. Here’s one for him. (Disclaimer: I wrote this a couple of years ago…and no one has ever called me a great poet.)

An autumn chill arrived today
wrapping eager arms
around my shoulders, chafing
my toes with rough fingers,
sending me upstairs for that old
nubby sweater you bought me
that day at the shore when
wind whipped waves danced
at our feet, salt spray kissed
our tongues, and we retreated
inside under the covers and I
think of you now and smile.

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.”

~ Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) 

Do you ever feel you have TOO MANY ideas? Sometimes it seems like having too many things swirling around in my head at once leads either to a sense of being frozen in place or heading off in a million directions at once, and that perhaps the energy of my mind has created a logjam preventing me from fulfilling the essence of my life.

How do I know what to start–or finish? What do I focus on? How do I determine which ideas have immediate, intermediate or long-term pay-offs? Which ideas really stink? Which ideas need validation and from whom? I turn 51 in a few weeks and life is half over…how can I possibly get everything accomplished?

As a writer, I’ve started outlining the sequel to ORACLES OF DELPHI and I’m getting excited about where the story is going. I also showed parts of a long-shelved literary fiction novel to a friend and she loved it and said, “That’s the book that you need to write,” and then, after my ego was sufficiently stroked and my confidence up, I showed it to my writers group and at least one member of the group heartily agreed that it is well worth pursuing. But, I’ve got another long-shelved novel–about a group of fiction writers/poets who live a “Bohemian” lifestyle on the in late 19th century rural America that is loosely based on my great aunt–that has also been whispering in my ear lately.

As a publisher/editor, I’ve started editing Blank Slate Press’s third novel, DAYBREAK,–a historical about a love triangle set in a utopian society founded in southern Missouri just before the outbreak of the Civil War. (It’s going to be GREAT, by the way.) I’m also editing and helping a mental health consultant/writer get his book, (AN AMERICAN RESURRECTION: ONE MAN’S JOURNEY FROM CHILDHOOD ABUSE AND MENTAL ILLNESS TO REBIRTH AND LITERARY COMMUNION), on his journey through child abuse and mental illness published. And I’ve been working with a Vietnam veteran on telling his story. Plus, I’m interested in pursuing what I’m calling my Treehouse Writers Cooperative (TWC) idea. (See my BSP blog post on this here.)

The TWC idea is very attractive for me as an entrepreneur. My husband and I have been running our own consulting business (he consults and I do marketing/back-office) for 11 years and we started Blank Slate Press together. I like having control of my destiny and, although I am actively looking for an agent for Oracles of Delphi, I have to admit I am more than a little intrigued by the idea of getting a bunch of writers together to “curate” our own work and publish it under the TWC imprint.

The rapidly changing technology enabling POD and eBooks, along with the changes in attitude toward self-publishing makes forging a “middle way” in curated group publishing very exciting. Call it a writer-owned/controlled imprint or cooperative self-publishing or Hogarth Press revisited or whatever…

Often, when people find out that I’m both a publisher and a writer and that I’m actively looking for an agent for my own work, they ask, “Why don’t you publish your own work?” And I answer, it’s not that simple. Yes, since publishing two books through Blank Slate Press (and editing many others as a subcontractor/editor) and working closely with a talented book designer, I know how to get a book “out there.” (I am in the market for a really, really, really good proofreader, though, because I su*k at doing the final copy/proofing and the last one I hired, while admittedly much better than I am, still missed typos that shouldn’t have been missed.) But, I love the success we’ve had with our first two Blank Slate Press authors (Fred Venturini and Anene Tressler) and we’re so excited about our next author (to be revealed soon!) that I want to keep BSP “pure” so to speak…no work by any of the BSP principals will be published through BSP itself.

So, that leaves the divergent paths of either self-publishing or continuing the work of trying to get an agent. Right now, I’m focused on the agent path…but I’ve got so many other things going on and there are so many new publishing possibilities that working hard to get an agent’s attention–and waiting, waiting, waiting for a response–might get real frustrating real fast.

Anyway, somehow I got off topic … which is exactly my problem! Gah! Too many things going on! And yet, after all this interesting discussion about writing and publishing, I must sign off and get back to the electricity industry–which pays the rent. But, before I go, I’m interested in finding out how you balance it all? How do you prioritize your work? How do you keep yourself sane in the face of competing interests and demands so that the energy of your mind allows you to fulfill rather than impede the essence of your life?

Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.

~ Epicurus (341 – 270 BC)

Like many (most?) authors, I read a lot, write a lot, and can be a bit of a loner sometimes. I’m happy to work for hours on a story at my computer or curl up with a book (or favorite movie) when other more social/extroverted types might feel the need to go out or hang out with others. I work at home, my kids are older (college/post-college age), and my husband often has to travel  for his job, so I spend much of my time hanging with our dogs. While I often go out for coffee with other writers/publishers and I’m involved in a weekly writers group, it’s not unusual for a whole work day to go by without me speaking to another human being.

That’s why I’m addicted to Twitter and Facebook and why I enjoy writing conferences.

For instance, I attended the Historical Novel Society conference in San Diego last month and met some wonderful new friends including writers, readers, agents, editors and even a couple of tag-a-long sisters which was very nice because my sister attended with me as well. I’d already read books by many of the established writers, but by meeting people face to face, I discovered new writers and new books I hadn’t even heard of. And there’s nothing quite so exciting as discovering a wonderful new writer! Okay, there are other things equally if not more exciting…depending on the mood….

Like things that Nell Gwynn did to keep her many lovers, including King Charles II, occupied. (Check out a literary three-way reading describing some of these activities here.) Or at least reading about the things Nell did. And that’s what kept me occupied last night–finishing Gillian Bagwell’s novel about Nell and her extraordinary life and many love affairs. But the best thing about the novel, which was a wonderful read, was the thrill of being able to recommend the book to friends by saying, “Yeah, you should read that. I know the author.”

And how cool is that?

Getting to know other writers and people in the publishing industry is great because everyone is so passionate–about their genre, their world building, their heroes, their bad guys, their fools. They’re passionate about their settings and time periods, (gah! sometimes I can get a bit too passionate about that), their research, and the craft of working and reworking a sentence until it is just right.

But the nature of writing is such that the passion that fuels creativity must be channeled into work that is usually done alone. The joy of camaraderie and community that is everywhere at a good writers conference is not available when you get back home and power on your computer. And even for those who choose to spend a great deal of time in a solitary pursuit, it can sometimes get lonely.

That’s where Twitter and Facebook come in (and maybe Google +?). Maintaining connections with the people I meet at conferences and following people whose work I admire or who I’d like to meet allows me to tap into that passion when I need it. It’s like a little charge of happy excitement and a little motivational thread that connects me back to a community of like-minded people. It’s like Epicurus said, to be happy during the whole course of our lives, wisdom requires us to have friends.

So to all the writers, agents, editors, publishers, readers who I’ve met over the last several years, I’d like to say Thank You. Thank you for providing the friendship that allows me to tap into your passion and to, hopefully, translate that into becoming a happier, better (dare I say, wiser?) writer.

For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.
~ Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

(Warning: Sunday afternoon rambling alert…)

What am I? Since my novel is not published (yet), am I a writer, an “aspiring writer,” an unpublished novelist, or what? I don’t write short stories, so I’m not submitting to lit journals and I’m a sometimes prolific but almost always pretty terrible poet, so I’m not submitting to poetry anthologies. I write novels. But I haven’t been paid to write novels, so am I merely an amateur novelist?

Last night I took my youngest daughter out to pizza where we talked about a story idea she’s been working on and possible plot twists in the next book in my Aithera series. She’s nineteen, a sophomore in college and has already had more recognition for her writing than I have. She went to the Iowa Young Writers Studio and was awarded a full scholarship to the Young Writers Institute at Washington University. In high school, she won both poetry and short story prizes in the writing contests judged by alumni authors. And she received a poetry prize from the Wednesday Club (founded in 1890) which has honored many famous literary figures in the past. She has worked on countless poems, short stories and novels over the years and still she hesitates to call herself a writer.

Why?

(She’s also an amazing artist, but I digress….)

I paint (not as much as I’d like to) abstracts canvases where I like to play with color and texture, but I do it as a hobby and I would never presume to call myself an artist. But writing is different. I don’t want to “be” an artist–I want to “be” a writer. And yet, even though I’ve written all my life, I too have hesitated to lay claim to the title: writer.

There are lots of people who ride bikes for exercise, sport, or just enjoyment and they may call themselves cyclists. Do they have to be competing in the Tour de France to earn the name? There are people who cook for a living and are “chefs” and people who cook for enjoyment and are “gourmet chefs.” Do they both have to be credentialed?

What is it about the creative arts that makes some hesitate to lay claim to the title? Many artists and writers achieve success without MFA’s or other degrees–without credentials. And many more people sketch or paint watercolors for fun or write in journals every day and would never dream of showing–or trying to sell–their work to someone else. Are they artists? Writers? Or must you create/write with an external audience in mind in order to earn the title?

For those of us who create/write and want to get our work out there to external audiences but just haven’t achieved that goal yet, it’s sometimes difficult to get over the lack of credential without the imprimatur of having an agent represent you (so you can say, “yes, I’m a writer and my agent is working on getting the book out there”) or an editor/publisher who actually puts your words between two covers and puts a real book up for sale–with their logo on the spine.

But I think I’ve finally learned, at age 50, that, as Aristotle says, “For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.” For years I’ve been writing. And during all that time, hopefully, I’ve been learning to be a better writer. And with each new project I undertake, I’m learning by doing. So with a new novel started, one completed, and three others in some state of suspended animation, I finally feel confident in saying:

I am a writer.

And so is my daughter.

Now, I have to get back to my story…

If you wish to be a writer, write.*
~Epictetus (AD 55 – AD 135)

For at least 2,000 years, the best advice for aspiring writers was to just do it. Just write. Write every day. Like any other habit or exercise, the writer who writes daily will get better at his/her craft. And the writer who reads incessantly–and who reads great writers–will inevitably internalize what looks right on the page and learn what sounds right to the ear.

We all know we should write every day. The problem is not the want of writing, but making the time for writing (and/or blogging, tweeting, editing, marketing, promoting, working the day job, eating, sleeping, exercising)…. As I start looking over a long-neglected manuscript and filling in the outline for my next Aithera novel, I have to keep Epictetus’s advice in mind and know that if I want to be a writer, I must write. Period. No excuses.

* Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher who was born into slavery in Hierapolis, Phrygia which is present day Pamukkale, Turkey. He lived much of his life in Rome as a slave for a wealthy freedman (former slave) and secretary of Nero. His owner apparently encouraged his studies and eventually he gained his freedom and began to teach philosophy. Sometime around 93 AD, the Emperor Domitian banished all philosophers from Rome and, ultimately, from Italy. Epictetus left Rome and founded his own philosophical school in Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece. He believed philosophy is not merely a theoretical discipline to be studied, but a way of life to be lived.