Join Us Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Join us for an evening of poetry and prose …

Mountain Writers Series proudly presents VoiceCatcher authors

                       Maggie Chula, Jennifer Weinberg, Cindy Stewart-Rinier,                       Shawn Aveningo, Burky Achilles and Thea Constantine

Aug 20 readers

  Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Glyph Cafe, 804 NW Couch Street, Portland, OR

                         6:00 p.m.     Experience Glyph’s luscious menu and meet members of the VoiceCatcher community

                           7:00 p.m.    Reading

Thank you, Mountain Writers Series and the Glyph Cafe, for hosting this event.

Event flyer for downloading, printing and/or sharing. (Word doc)

Welcome to VoiceCatcherMentors.Org!

Thanks to Designer and Administrator Lisa Sudo, we at VoiceCatcher are proud to announce the launch of our new, online, mentor website. Discover what our mentoring program is all about and meet our director of the program, Carol Ellis, and our five talented mentors: Tricia Knoll, Sally K. Lehman, Pattie Palmer-Baker, Kristin Roedell and Elizabeth Stoessl.

We’ll beta test this site for 90 days to track its ease of use, and expand it to meet the needs of our community in the future. Here’s another VoiceCatcher dream come to fruition because these women arrived – and we built it!

Contact us via the website if you are interested in becoming or finding a mentor.

Carol Ellis

Tricia Knoll

Tricia Knoll

Sally K. Lehman

Sally K. Lehman

Kristen Roedell

Kristen Roedell

Elizabeth Stoessl

Elizabeth Stoessl

Pattie Palmer-Baker

Pattie Palmer-Baker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Keeping Kurrent” Gives Voice to Three VoiceCatcher Authors

Tune in to Tricia Knoll, Kelly Running and Theresa Snyder as they share their diverse writing styles and interests with Wayne Potter, the host and producer of “Keeping Kurrent,” a digital radio program focused on travel, current events and writers. Go to the program on soundcloud to listen to each author’s program; scroll down or use the website’s search box to find each of our authors.

Tricia Knoll: Once a Poet, Always a Poet
A VoiceCatcher journal and website contributor as well as a poetry mentor, Tricia Knoll retired in 2007 from a career in communications with the city of Portland. She has always written poetry but started to study it in earnest after retirement. More than 100 of her poems have already appeared in literary journals worldwide. She tells Wayne about learning how to prune her work during her tenure with Portland, and how her daily haiku practice forces her to see something different every day. She also writes eco-poetry which, she explains, is a new genre poets are creating to address the environmental chaos permeating the world.

With degrees in literature from Stanford and Yale, Tricia taught high school English for eight years. Finishing Line Press recently published her chapbook, Urban Wild.

Kelly Running: Poet Turned Mystery Writer
Kelly Running’s poetry appeared in each of the first three issues of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions. She tells Wayne that she always wanted to write the Great American Novel but thought she had nothing important to say. Then life threw her a curve when she discovered two of her sons were struggling with addictions. She turned to journaling and then to poetry as a way to “bookmark feelings” that could have overwhelmed her.

Her real passion, however, was in the genre of mystery writing. The idea for Medicine Wheel: Lizzy O’Malley Mystery  – the first book in her series, published in 2013 – can be traced to 2000 and a stay at Haystack. From then on, Kelly’s dedicated herself to creating a fun character akin to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. Since her next novel in the series is set in Ireland, Kelly explains the importance of doing primary research to make her books more authentic.

Theresa Snyder: From Sci-fi and Dragons to The Paranormal
VoiceCatcher’s marketing director and board member at-large, Theresa Snyder discusses the four types of writing she’s published: a young adult science fiction series called The Star Traveler Series (she’s currently working on the seventh book); a memoir called We 3 based on the years she spent as the caregiver for her aging parents; a middle-school series featuring Farloft the Dragon; and a recent foray into the world of the paranormal with a 50-page book called Shifting in The Realms.

Theresa discusses what for her is the most exciting things about writing; how she uses Twitter to make instant connections with her audience; and how the hardest part of writing a series is the fact that characters won’t let their creator go.

Each of these high energy, highly entertaining interviews will inspire any writer to embrace her art anew and learn from the experiences of three women VoiceCatcher is proud to count among its community of authors.

 

What’s On Your Bookshelf?

“What’s On Your Bookshelf” shares VoiceCatcher community members’ favorite books. Contact the editors to share your top recommendations for writers’ craft and reference books, as well as inspirational books for writers or artists. Include any comments to recommend the books to our readers. We could feature your bookshelf on this website!    –The Editors 

Featured Bookshelf: Marlene Kate Dalziel’s
Marlene highly recommends these books on grammar and writing:

The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English, by Bill Walsh

Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing, by Mignon Fogarty
“Quirky and memorable,” says Marlene.

Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print – and How to Avoid Them, by Bill Walsh

Naked, Drunk and Writing, by Adair Lara
“Just simply wonderful,” says Marlene.

Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, by Patricia O’Connor

Yes, I Could Care Less: How to be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk, by Bill Walsh

 

Marlene Kate DalzielMarlene Kate Dalziel is a voracious reader and researcher with a life-long penchant for discovery and learning. Her education has followed an empirical path, allowing her the freedom to slue from one fascination to another. Writing, however, has always been the prime passion in her life. After decades in the full-time, button-down business world, she now works three days a week in a low-stress job, which allows her time to build her business as a freelance copy editor. Her blog, My Life’s P.A.C.E., has been on hiatus but will return in fall 2014.

If You Come, We Will Build – and Sustain – VoiceCatcher!

by Carolyn Martin
President, Board of Directors

This year has already been an exciting one for VoiceCatcher. We attracted over 5,500 first-time visitors to the Winter 2014 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions. We already celebrated the work of our journal authors in six of ten public readings. We just launched the fifth issue of our journal VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions. Later this month we hope to roll out a new website dedicated to our mentoring program.

As you know, none of this would have been accomplished without the passion and commitment of dedicated women who believe that VoiceCatcher plays an important role in our community – and that something would be lost if we disappeared.

To ensure the survival and growth of this splendid organization, we need your help. We are looking for women to share the VoiceCatcher experience of caring, respect and support by filling the following positions:

President of the Board of Directors
According to our bylaws the role of president is simply stated: “The President shall be the chief officer of the corporation and shall act as the Chair of the Board. The President shall have any other powers and duties as may be prescribed by the Board of Directors.”

Every president to date has brought her own style and passion to this position. At this moment in our history, VoiceCatcher needs a woman who can connect, inspire and empower all the volunteers who dream big dreams and want to turn them into reality as we expand and deepen our mission. While every president has taken on other duties beyond the scope of this position, we estimate this position by itself requires about 10-15 hours a month. There also are 4-6 board meetings per year of approximately two-hour duration each.

Secretary of the Board of Directors
According to our bylaws, the secretary shall perform the following duties: “(a) providing the official recording of the minutes of all proceedings of the Board of Directors meetings and actions; (b) notifying members of all meetings of the Board of Directors; (c) securing the archives of VoiceCatcher documents and anthologies; (d) sending out acknowledgements of donations received.”

There are 4-6 board meetings per year. Approximate time commitment for this position: 2-3 hours per month.

Managing Editor, VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions
This position supports journal editors as they read, rate and respond to submissions between our two annual reading periods: Sept. 1-Oct. 15 and March 1-April 15. She must have a knowledge of – or willingness to learn – Submittable, Dropbox and the Excel spreadsheet. The heaviest investment in time comes toward the end of each reading period when submissions arrive in droves.

The managing editor prepares the final documents to be delivered to the designer and ensures that all feedback letters are sent to authors, usually within six weeks after the close of each submission period. All processes for this position are already documented.

Youth Editor, VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions
The youth editor works closely with English Departments in one or more local high schools. She solicits 10-12 pieces of prose and/or poetry that teachers feel are the best work students have to offer. Then she selects five for publication in our journal. Along the way, she establishes an editor/author relationship with each young voice, offering direction as they get their pieces ready for publication. In the process, students have the experience of working with an editor who takes them and their work seriously. The time commitment varies, but the edited prose and/or poetry is sent to the journal’s managing editor by the end of October for the winter issue and end of April for the summer issue.

Newsletter Editor
Using our easy format on Constant Contact, this position requires about two hours per month. The newsletter communicates the latest news from VoiceCatcher as well as links to the newest articles on our community’s website.

Facebook Administrator
Publishes announcements pertinent to our community on a daily basis. Approximate time commitment: 30-45 minutes per week.

Writers for Our Community Website
Have a how-to article, a personal essay, an idea for a monthly column or a several-part series that would benefit our community? Please contact us attention our VoiceCatcher Community Website Managing Editor Barbara E. Berger, to discuss ideas.

We’re ready to roll out new voices in this publication and would love to hear yours.

Mentors
We are looking for more talented women to join our team of mentors. Stay tuned for the launch of our new website and, if you think you might enjoy helping other writers or artists as a mentor, please contact us, attention Carol Ellis, for more information.

Please contact us at editors@voicecatcher.org for more information on any of these opportunities. We’d be happy to chat with you about how you can use your talents, expand your skills, and have a fun experience rubbing elbows with other dedicated women.

If you come, VoiceCatcher will continue to sustain its current projects and grow in new and creative ways. We can’t do it without you. We wouldn’t want to do it without you!

We’re Live! New Issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions!

The fifth issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions is here!

Congratulations to the editorial team: Sarah Fagan, Michelle Fredette, Carolyn Martin, Emily Pittman Newberry, Pattie Palmer-Baker, Donna Prinzmetal, Tina Lindner Raphael, Helen Sinoradzki and Wendy Thompson – and to our dynamic designer, Deb Scott – for a rich and enriching Summer 2014 issue.

This issue features the work of 14 poets, six prose writers, five artists and five “young voices” – many of them new to the VoiceCatcher community.

Browse, read, enjoy and share our journal with your family, friends and colleagues. And, if you want to warm the heart of an author or artist, leave a comment in the space below their selections. They would love knowing you took the time to hear their voices and see their visions!

July Prompt: You Are What You Eat

by Carrie Conner

Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are.
– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Warning: After reading this, the next time you see your mother, partner or best friend you may be overcome by uncontrollable hunger.

We are hardwired to remember scent. For this reason, food has the power to trigger memories secreted in the most primal part of our brains. This prevents us, for example, from poisoning ourselves or eating rotten food.

Imagine your favorite meal as a child. A single memory of the taste and texture of the food can transport you back to a moment in time. In a flash you recall where you were and who you were with when you were eating it.

I recently read Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, former New York Times food critic and editor in chief at Gourmet magazine. She closed each of her chapters with recipes rather than photographs. In the epilogue to the book, she writes:

As I was trying to think about telling my story through food, it occurred to me that the recipes could function the way photographs did in other people’s books. I wanted readers to get to know the characters through the food they cooked and ate, to be able to taste the time.

After reading that passage, I immediately began thinking of my family. As I thought of my grandpa Gallo, I saw huge, dented pots of spaghetti holding the sauce he always had simmering on his stove. Thinking of my brother reminded me of apricot jam because it was the only thing he would eat the entire year he was four. Thoughts of my sister conjured images of onions – she hated them and threw a fit if Mom cooked with them, but then ordered onion rings if we went out to eat.

Every time I thought of a person in my life, an instant image of food floated up, and with it, a story.

*  *  *

An Invitation from VoiceCatcher
Willing to share what this prompt inspires you to write? Each month we might publish some responses to the VoiceCatcher prompts. Send your responses to our prompts to editors(at)voicecatcher(dot)org.  Notes on sending your responses to our prompts:

  • Substitute the symbols “@” and “.” for (above words) when you address your email.
  • Include “Response to Prompt” in the subject line. Tell us which prompt you are responding to, please.
  • Respect other people’s creative output, and use just a few lines from someone else’s work. Use only images you have explicit permission to use or are in the public domain. For hints about using copyrighted material, look here.

 

Carrie ConnerA friend once asked Carrie Conner why she writes. “Because I have to,” she said. “You mean like publish or perish?” he asked. “No,” she said, “It’s more like … breathing.” Carrie has spent 20 years as a staff and features journalist and freelance copywriter for a variety of publications and companies. One day, while interviewing an emerging novelist about her new book release, she realized she was done writing about other people’s accomplishments. She’s currently putting together a yet-untitled collection of short stories and a screenplay.

Share Resources and Celebrate Successes – No. 1

This is the first installment celebrating the publication successes of our VoiceCatcher authors. We hope you enjoy their work and find their comments on each publication helpful as you research where to send your own work. As soon as you are published, please let us know by using the format below, so we can include your success and any tips in a future posting. Email your information to editors(at)voicecatcher(dot)org and use the subject line: “I’m published.” (Note: Substitute the symbols “@” and “.” for (words) when you address your email, please.)   – The Editors

From Shawn Aveningo, a globally published, award-winning poet who joins our community of authors with her poem “Binders Full of Women” in the Summer 2014 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions. She shares the creative life and a business – The Poetry Box – with her best friend and soul-mate. They have recently made Portland, Oregon their home.

Shawn’s Publications and Tips
Thought Drops,” “American Cannibals,” “Poetically Opposed,” “Virtuoso” and “Crabgrass in Suburbia,” Whisperings Literary Journal (Volume 3 Issue 1) by Mountain Tales Press, March 2014.

Long response time (over 6 months), very professional and lovely publication.  Complimentary contributor copy. Acceptance also automatically submits author for Ghost Mountain Award as well as consideration for inclusion in Mot Juste Series™ Anthologies.

“Shape of Your Mouth” was top ten (honorable mention) in the annual Benicia Love Poem Contest for 2014 and will be included in a chapbook.

“Black Widows & Divorce,” Napalm & Novocain, February 7, 2014.

Very quick response time (8 days), online version only. Editors very easy to work with.

“Saturday Morning at Starbucks,” Something Brewing, a coffee-themed anthology by Kind of Hurricane Press, May 2014.

Very easy publisher to work with, nice perfect bound anthologies, several themed submission opportunities throughout the year.  Discounted contributor’s copy.

“Cancer Beetles,” “Blue Moon,” and “Shane’s Beach,” Boston Poetry Magazine (online only), Feb 16, 2014.

Quick response time (22 days), great for emerging/new writers.  High acceptance rate.

“Post Divorce Tarot Reading: A Courtship Trifecta,” PoeticDiversity-Spring Issue, April 2014 (online).

Editor is very picky about submission guidelines, so read them carefully. Great diversity in work as well as a mix of established and emerging writers.

“Pie Filling” and “Mapping His Freckles,” Kentucky Review, April 2014.

New online literary journal. Both emerging and established writers. Great to work with.

“Runaway,” River Poets Journal Special Edition Anthology, May 2014. (Theme: The Last Time I Ran Away.)

Very easy to work with, however contributors must pay full price for print copy. No complimentary or discounted contributor’s copies.

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From Tricia Knoll, a VoiceCatcher journal contributor as well as one of our poetry mentors. Her chapbook Urban Wild was just released by Finishing Line Press.

Tricia’s Publications and Tips
“Leftover After Holidays,” Your Daily Poem.

A daily email from Your Daily Poem brings a poem to you – often family-centered. The editor wants seasonal material 4-6 months before the season.

“The Pulmonologist’s Office,” Chest Journal.

This medical journal of chest-related medical concerns wants topical poems. About nine months from submission to online publication.

“Paper Money and Snake Eyes,” Glass: A Journal of Poetry.

Good response times.

“The Reunion of the Pussy Riot Singers,” New Verse News.

New Verse News is a great outlet for poetic reactions to today’s news. James Penha, the editor, is a delight to work with.

“Wahclella Falls,” Cascadia Review.

Be sure to read submission guidelines carefully to understand how the Review works.

“Demise of the Monarch,” New Verse News.

“With Me, Please,” Antiphon.

A British journal that seems to want lyric poetry.

“River Hair,” Muddy River Poetry Review.

A few years ago this journal was happy to publish one of my first online poems.

“The Shawl in My Closet,” Wolf Willow Journal.

A relatively new online journal out of Saskatchewan. Nice art and feeling to the site.

“Crabby Apples,” Trivia: The Voice of Feminism, June 2014.

Read the journal’s explanation for its title. Journal asks for a MP3 after acceptance to post with the poem so people hear the author reading, but this isn’t required.

“When We Crack, Let’s Do It Together,” Trivia: The Voices of Feminism.

“My Memory Stick,” Cattails, Spring 2014.

A journal of haiku, tanka, and haibun. Nice folks to work with.

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From Carolyn Martin,  president of VoiceCatcher and managing editor of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions, Summer 2014.

Carolyn’s Publications and Tips
“Testimony,” Persimmon Tree, Winter 2014.

A publication focusing on women over sixty-years-old. Holds regional contests.

“The long trip here,” Mojave River Review, Winter 2014, p. 59.

A new journal out of southern California. Editor very easy to work with.

“In the made and raw,” Poetry Pacific.

A new Canadian publication that accepts reprints.

“Search for the ‘Lord God’ Bird,” Belle Reve Literary Journal, Spring 2014, p. 16.

This publication publishes Southern authors or Southern-focused work. They also take reprints.

“Storm Advisory,” Spark: A Creative Anthology, Vol. V

Check out this anthology’s series of contests. They are free to enter and the prizes are substantial. Winning does not automatically mean publication in their print anthologies. That requires a direct submission.

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” “A sonnet to plotting amateurs,” “Your party invitation just arrived,” Antiphon, Summer 2014.

A British publication eager to reach across the pond for poetry. Another unique site. Thanks to Tricia Knoll for alerting me to this journal.

“Taking stock,” Star 82 Review, Summer 2014.

Literally, an overnight acceptance. Very eclectic site with a delightful editor. Each online issue is simultaneously printed in a slender, good-looking volume available on Amazon.

“Mary winds down the day,” Knotted Bond: Oregon Poets Speak of Their Sisters, edited by Liz Nakazawa. (Uttered Chaos Press, 2014). Available on Amazon.

An anthology of poems about the complicated relationships between sisters. Included are poems by VoiceCatcher authors Diane Averill, Margaret Chula, Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, Lisa Maier and Penelope Scambly Schott.

*  *  *

Related posts:
Poetry in Bytes: submitting to online poetry publications
An Invitation to Share Resources, Celebrate Success

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Portland Artists Capture and Release Words

By Barbara E. Berger

Since 2007, Portland artists Laurel Kurtz and Sandy Sampson have captured the voices of everyday people by collecting words through random interviews with strangers in public places. This month they released new word collections: the off-the-cuff responses to their question, “What is not a museum?” The project is in response to Jen Delos Reyes’, artist in residence at PAM, invitation to the team to participate in her June 2014 project, “Talking About Museums in Public.”

You can still catch the team’s speech re-enactments at the Portland Art Museum (PAM), as well as in a Walmart parking lot. (See schedule below.)

Kurtz and Sampson, PAM June 13, 2014, photo by B. E. BergerTo collect the words, Kurtz and Sampson – collaborators of Parallel University – got their own TriMet day passes and rode local rails and buses. Armed with voice recorders, they approached strangers on MAX trains, at bus stops and in other locales from Gresham, to Beaverton, to Hillsboro, Oregon. They asked random strangers, “What does not happen in a museum?” and “What can you not do in a museum?”

Kurtz explains her joy in the project. “We bring ordinary people’s words into the museum and to the public, and put their voices on the same footing as famous people who usually are the only ones who get quoted, who get heard. We elevate the average person.”

“Transcribing the words, verbatim – putting them on paper – is another way of honoring the speakers, as well,” says Sampson. “I love the transcripts: the content and the physicality of them.”

Passers-by, photo by B. E. Berger, 2014Friday, June 13, was their third of seven re-enactments this month. Kurtz and Sampson set up their podium, microphones and amplifier outside the Portland Art Museum, and re-enacted their vox pop-style interviews to the delight, curiosity or even mild bewilderment of passers-by.Passers-by at PMA, photo by B. E. Berger, 2014

Here are some of the 37 anonymous conversations the team recorded and re-enacted in hour-long segments:

Team: What can you not do in a museum?
Little Boy: You can’t jump around and have fun.

Team: What is not a museum?
Woman on MAX: Anything that doesn’t exhibit, uh, anything that doesn’t exhibit from the past, like dinosaurs, old art, old, you know, things that we don’t have nowadays.
Team: What is a museum not for?
Woman on MAX: When I think of what it’s not for, it’s not a bazaar, you know, you don’t just get to put anything in there  … It’s not something that … it’s not modern day. I’m going to have to stick with that.

Team: What is not a museum?
Girl One at a Bar: If it doesn’t have s— in it.
Girl Two at a Bar: You feel like you’ve improved upon yourself after visiting it, so if you haven’t, then you’re like, no, this isn’t a museum, this like is a fun house ..
Team: What can you not do in a museum?
Girl One at a Bar: “You don’t break s—, you don’t talk about politics.
Girl Two at a Bar: You do not sound smart about art even if you try.
Girl Three at a Bar: You don’t sound awesome when you talk about how cool everything is.

Team:  What is not a museum
Jeff: I don’t know if there’s a spot that could potentially not be a museum.
Team: What does not happen in a museum?
Jeff: The idea that “nothing happens in a museum” – is that thing that should not happen at a museum.

Team: What is not a museum?
Library Worker: An unconfined, organic, manifestation of … stuff.

Team:  What can’t you do in a museum?
Friend: You can’t make art in a museum. If you’re an artist, you can’t walk into a museum, and say, ‘I’ve got this project that I wanna do. I wanna do it.’ You can’t do that. And I think that’s a problem … it’s not a public institution. It’s not an open source public presentation venue.

Team: What is not allowed in a museum?
Woman at Hospital: Um, hosts?

Team at burger joint (not Burgerville): What is not a museum?
Guy 1: Well this Burgerville isn’t no museum.
Guy 2: Well, I guess that really depends on the public view … If a lot of people collect stuff and put it in their areas of the store, or whatever, is that a museum? Or are they just a hoarder?

Team (at Walmart): What is not a museum?
Guy: It’s crazy, because there are certain things you could say are a museum, even though they’re not … Like say for example a store, if you have no money, it’s like walking around a museum looking at all these things, right?

“The diversity is so rich,” says Sampson. “It’s so rewarding. Wherever you are, this diversity of thought is going on all around you in people’s minds. It’s exciting to tap into it, hear it and give it expression. People feel affirmed and gain confidence hearing their words spoken back to them by someone else. It’s a great feeling to give those words a voice.”

You can catch the team at these remaining scheduled speech re-enactments in Portland:

Friday, June 20        3 p.m. – 5 p.m, Walmart, parking lot, 4200 SE 82nd Ave, Portland
Friday, June 27        6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Portland Art Museum, Free Friday
Saturday, June 21    noon – 2 p.m., Portland Art Museum

 

Laurel Kurtz, by Laurel KurtzLaurel Kurtz, of Portland, Oregon, makes social art projects with friends, family, Parallel University, and folks she has met through work. Kurtz pursues a variety of explorations ranging from interview projects, to the occult, to addressing power imbalances through advocacy and program development in her chosen vocation.

 

Sandy Sampson, by Sandy SampsonSandy Sampson is an artist and educator based in Portland. Her public work aims to reveal connections between fellow community members and highlight the value of their experiences. She employs a variety of media, techniques and collaborative partnerships in her process. She is a founding member of Parallel University.

 

Kurtz and Sampson’s past speech re-enactments include:

2008 Proflux Satellite Festival. PUBLIC SPEAKING: Interpretive Irving Park Speech Reenactments; on site at Irving Park and Web-based, Portland, OR

2008 PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival (TBA). Neighborhood Projects; PUBLIC SPEAKING: Museum of the City; on site at Waterfront Park, Portland, OR

2010 Apex Art. The Incidental Person; PUBLIC SPEAKING; Union Square subway station, NY, NY

 

Barbara  E. BergerBarbara E. Berger is a Portland-based writer, editor and photographer. She specializes in government, business and other creative writing. Berger serves as this site’s managing editor.

In Defense of Nothingness in an Always Something World

By B. E. Scully

I’d been putting it off for months, but the short-circuiting connection plug forced my hand. About to hand my laptop over the computer repair shop counter, I was as reluctant as Eric Snowden at a CIA convention. Like many people these days, that hunk of plastic and parts was my primary connection to the world.

I finally let go and asked the critical question. “How long will it take to fix?”

“At least a week; maybe more if we have to order parts.”

At least a week. Maybe more.

Five years ago, even one day without my laptop would have sent me into serious withdrawal. Five years ago, I would abandon making dinner to go check my Twitter feed. My trusty screen would be at my side while watching a movie or television, demanding attention like an irritable toddler. My laptop woke up with me in the morning and stayed that way until we both went to sleep. Once it even tagged along on a family vacation.

The problem began with my first novel. The actual writing part wasn’t the issue. At the time I had no social media accounts, and I lost entire afternoons doing nothing but researching, writing, and revising.

Then came pre- and post-publication.

I quickly learned that in our media-saturated age, promotion counts almost as much as product. So I Twittered; I posted on Facebook; I blogged. I checked sales stats, tracked customer reviews, and responded to every request for an interview or article no matter how small or obscure the source. I was becoming an online promo pro.

And then one day I looked up from my screen and realized that I hadn’t written anything substantial in almost a year.

In his now (in)famous article “What’s Wrong With the Modern World,” author Jonathan Franzen states that “the actual substance of our daily lives is total distraction. We can’t face the real problems … [but] what we can all agree to do instead is to deliver ourselves to the cool new media and technologies, to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, and to let them profit at our expense.”

McCarton Ackerman writes in salon.com, “Internet addiction can be especially harmful for those who make a living through intense focus – such as novelists.” He says some novelists, including Zadie Smith, use Internet-blocking software programs such as Freedom and Self Control. “Smith … thanks these programs in [her new novel NW’s] acknowledgements ‘for creating the time.’”

And it’s not just writers who feel the weight of the Internet’s increasingly heavy hand. If students or their parents had a question or concern, they used to make an appointment during school or office hours. Then, email and instant chat arrived on the scene. Now it’s routine — and sometimes required — for teachers to provide students with cell phone numbers. In both school systems and places of employment, more and more online obligations are being added with no corresponding reduction of the traditional workload.

It’s hard to evict the technological behemoth camped in our living rooms when so much of our professional success requires its being there.

One of the downsides of living in a time of change as vast and rapid as the technological revolution is that the negatives can begin to overshadow the positives. The Internet has allowed me to network with and discover authors and artists I hadn’t even heard of. Likewise, my own work can now reach diverse global audiences. Online venues and services like print-on-demand publishing have opened up incredible new opportunities for both readers and writers, including publications like VoiceCatcher. (Even Franzen would appreciate the irony of so many people having a platform to bemoan the Internet — because of the Internet!). If I could magically make the Internet go away, I wouldn’t really want it to, and would miss it if it did.

Well, at least most of the time.

Like all zeitgeists before it, our Internet culture will inevitably peak and ebb into something more in proportion with the rest of our lives. The behemoth will retreat to the yard and wait for us to invite it in. But in the meantime, it’s more crucial than ever to make time for the nothingness of non-connectivity.

What did I do with my own laptop-free days? After taking care of basic business on a back-up system, I read without time limits and wrote without purpose (with a pen! on paper!). My daily walks grew longer and more rambling. And most blissful of all, sometimes I spent the extra hours doing nothing at all.

The 19th century journalist and critic Margaret Fuller wrote,

If any individual live too much in relations, so that he becomes a stranger to the resources of his own nature, he falls after a while into a distraction, or imbecility,  from which he can only be cured by a time of isolation, which gives the renovating fountains time to rise up.

Margaret Fuller, The Great Lawsuit, page 39

Five years ago, I was falling into Internet imbecility. The experience taught me to guard my solitude and relish nothingness. Now, I set aside time for social media and then I get to work. At a certain point in the day, I shut the computer down even if the work isn’t finished. If every message hasn’t been answered or request fulfilled, that’s okay. I’ll get to them tomorrow, or perhaps not at all. I’m learning that a large part of managing one’s time on the Internet is learning when to say “no” and sticking to it. I don’t own a Smartphone, and if I ever do, I’ll make sure to keep it in my pocket until it’s truly needed.

Most important, once a week, usually on Saturdays, I celebrate “Luddite Day”:  an entirely computer-free 24 hours. When I reconnect, I find that my online time is more selective, and more engaging as a result.

When life gets too hectic and I’m forced to skip Luddite Day, I feel the loss of daydreaming, imagining and reflecting; of relishing the vast, open spaces of nothingness, and the rich possibilities that wander in.

 

B. E. ScullyB.E. Scully writes tales dark and strange, drinks red wine and murky beer, cooks, reads, studies, and believes in the golden key. Scully lives in a haunted red house that lacks a foundation in the misty woods of Oregon with a variety of human and animal companions. Published work, interviews and odd scribblings can be found at B.E. Scully.