Tuesday, October 26, 2010

STAY TUNED: Seven New Writing Projects All of Which Will be FINISHED by year's end!!

By Lori Cullen

Sometimes you stay up too late at night and a crazy idea takes shape. Before you know it, you’ve opened your mouth, created a blog post that says you swear, come hell or high water, that you’re going to finish your novel (Like Fish Out of Water) by the end of the year. Then you make a call far and wide for other writers to do the same in a nanowrimo-style-online-writing challenge right here on your blog.

The next day after you’ve had your coffee and you’ve slept a little, you can’t escape that morning-after feeling that you might have done something crazy, so you check your phone–nothing there, your email–nothing there either except a couple of emails from people you don’t know sending you writing samples, your blog–aah hah. Writing in Motion.

Well maybe no one will really respond. I mean, who really is going to commit to writing online furiously from now until the end of the year to finish a novel or a story in just 65 days. It turns out, there are many writers who have had characters lurking around their heads and their lives just saying, “Come on now. Just finish me already.”

So here we are: seven writers, turning off the TV, saying no to the kids, the spouses, the SO’s, all working on a variety of projects in a variety of genres with just one goal. Get it done.

Below, you’ll find a list of participating writers. At my blog, you can click on each writer to read a description of their project and their specific goals. As their projects progress, you’ll find their writing listed by title under “Writing in Motion” on the lower right side of this blog page.

I hope you’ll stop by to read and give them support:


Andrew Bull Thrift Store Adventures Fiction
Laurie Burns Natalie Juvenile Fiction
Lori Cullen Like Fish Out of Water Fiction
Jacqueline Kirkpatrick 77 Pine Street Fiction
Jolie Morange Nobuhle: The Beautiful One Fiction
Claudia Ricci Switch!! Fiction
Joshua P. Sheridan Old Fires Fiction

Lori Cullen's blog is at the Times Union's website. All seven of the books that are part of "Writing in Motion" can be accessed from Ms. Cullen's blog.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Move to the Desert, Fall in Love with... a Cow?

I had a neighbor here in Spencertown (population 1,504) who decided not too long ago to sell his house (I think he got out before the housing market crash). He moved to the middle of nowhere, Texas where he bought himself a chunk of land. Apparently, he is experimenting with a lifestyle that takes him "off the grid."

So to speak.

Except of course for the electricity he's using to fire up his internet connection. He's an avid blogger and in the past two years, he's had nearly half a million hits to his blogsite, The Field Lab, where he gives a running account of life in the middle of nowhere, Texas.  He seems very proud of the popularity of his blog, as he has the visitor counter prominently displayed at the top of his site.

Recently he's fallen in love with a cow. Take a look at Benita here. She's certainly a long-horned beauty.

He has written a poem to Benita, comparing her favorably to all the women (human) in his life who came before and were apparently more trouble than said cow. (See below.)

All this has me thinking about how the internet permits us to live today:

We can be totally cut off physically from others (well except for cows maybe). But we can be connected so intently

by cyberspace.

"My Benita"

By John Wells

The big city lured me when I was young
the women were gorgeous - I sure had my fun
had the world on my plate
but it wasn’t my fate
I moved to the desert - my life’s just begun

She’s a real pretty girl
with big brown eyes
and a heart as wide
as the west Texas skies
found her out on the prairie
that was quite a surprise
My Benita...

Lots of women in my youth that I have had
some made me happy…most made me sad
aint one of them near
like the one I got here
my fortunes have turned and I sure am glad

She’s a real pretty girl
with big brown eyes
and a heart as wide
as the west Texas skies
our affections are mutual
of that I surmise
My Benita...

This here girl that I got is like no other
she’s had 15 kids, now that’s quite a mother
she sleeps most of the day
eats grass, grain , and hay
of all of my past ones this one is my druther

She’s a real pretty girl
with big brown eyes
and a heart as wide
as the west Texas skies
but in the heat of the day
she is covered with flies
My Benita...

She pees by the gallon and poops by the pound
the queen of the desert and all that’s around
a west Texas longhorn
that moos like a car horn
hooves, fur, a long tail - the best friend that I’ve found

She’s a real pretty girl
with big brown eyes
and a heart as wide
as the west Texas skies
we are of different species
she’s 5 times my size
My Benita...

In this great wide world I have searched long and hard
found the beast in me, my reputation is marred
by those big brown eyes
and the wide Texas skies
an adopted old longhorn I call
My Benita.

Friday, October 22, 2010

An American Flag Fashioned out of 30,000 Bullets!

It took artist Berta Leone, who was trained in metal sculpture at the University of South Florida, almost two years to produce this amazing sculpture, an American flag fashioned entirely out of bullets "sewn" together. The flag measures four by six feet.

There are approximately 30,000 bullets in the sculpture, which is called “E Pluribus Unum,” -- “Out of Many, One.”

Leone retrieved the spent copper and lead bullets from a local shooting range near her former home in Tampa. "They were fired by a cross-section of fellow Americans," she says.

On her website, Leone explains that she “sorted, drilled, and finally hand-stitched together” the bullets with wire. Leone began work in November 1999 and completed the sculpture in 2001, quite appropriately, on the Fourth of July. "The bullets are seductive -- they sparkle like gems. Since they are used, the surface is somewhat dulled, smashed and blackened by the gunpowder.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

Soles of War

By Claudia Ricci

Outdoors, in the garden. The light is the color of seawater. There are shadows. There are feathery astilbe tails, swishing like golden wings. There are lilies of every color, cupped to the sky. And there are trees: palm and mango and even, a dwarf apple. Always in a story like this, a tale of evil and temptation, a story of sin and possible redemption, there has to be an apple tree.

And of course, an Eve. Only in this case, Eve’s name is Caroline. Cee for short.

Oddly enough, his name is actually. Adam.

“Oh but why?” she asks him. Her eyelashes are as thick and dark as midnight brooms.

“Why do you have to go?”

“Why do you think?” He toys with her earlobe. A teardrop of flesh between his callused fingertips. Then he slides one finger down her neck. Traces her collarbone. Stops right on the point of it. Her collarbone. The rounded nub. It sticks out so far. She’s always been so self-conscious.

“Could you not do that?” She speaks in a low voice.

“Don’t whine.”

She sits up. They are parked on the lush green lawn that occupies one side of the hotel’s garden. She is sitting enveloped in between his legs. His arms wrap hers. His arms in fatigues. Hers in a white T. “I’m not whining,” she says, struggling to ramp her voice up to a new note. It sounds false.

She cocks her head back. Her eyes are giant black olives. “I just can’t believe you are leaving me. Again. When you promised you wouldn’t. When you came back you said you would never ever have to…”

He moves roughly to cover her mouth with his hand. “And so now I do. I have to go, Cee. Please don’t make it hard for me.”

She tries to move his hand away with her own two, but his hand is vised there. She smells his cologne. A fragrance her body owns. She makes a small ragged noise as she pries away at his grip. Finally she bellows loud and sharp and starts kicking her sneakered feet. For a fleeting moment, she thinks: this is what it must feel like, to be one of his enemy prisoners.

One long screech, and then she is free of his embrace. She gets to her feet. Her face is red and blotchy. Her heart is slamming.

“Damn you Adam. Damn you. You didn’t have to do that.” She bolts out of the garden. Walks the curved white stone path that ends up in the slate courtyard of the hotel. The doors slide open and she steps into the frigid air conditioned lobby. The chill feels good on her face, which is burned by his hand. She walks past the desk and the dull-eyed clerk and pushes the elevator button. She is going up.

The door of the elevator opens. As it does, she sees into the mirror inside. He’s standing there behind her. He is more than a full head taller than she is. She hesitates, glares at him. They get into the elevator. She turns away from him. Crosses her arms. The door closes.

They are going up.

“Caroline, the simple matter is this. I have to hit the sands in 33 hours exactly. Now are you going to spend this last day being angry at me?”

She blinks. Her image of him now: silty. Covered in the fine white and yellow dusts of the desert. His helmet. His eyes. His nostrils. All encrusted. The terrible terrible desert he has described to her so many times. Her heart pumps a little bit faster. Thinking of him like this makes her eyes watery. All those months she spent. Watching CNN. Waiting for email. Cringing at every early morning or late night phone call.

She can’t live life with him over there. She shouldn’t have to. Again.

Tears balance like waves on the rims of her eyes.

But they don’t fall.

Instead, she hears these words. They form all on their own, as if her lips are a forge of their own.

“I’m going. I’m going too, Adam. I’m going to sign up. Join. If you are going, then, hell, I’m going to. I’m not staying here. I won’t…I just won’t do it, won’t stay behind. Waiting. Waiting. I won’t do it anymore. I can’t. I can’t live that way.”

There is a small ding. The doors open. They both stand there.

“That is the stupidest thing you have ever said.” He mutters that and shuffles out of the elevator.

She sniffles. Starts to trail after him. “Oh what, so you think I can’t do it? You think I can’t be a soldier. What I’m too weak, too scared?”

He doesn’t speak. And then he does. “No, Caroline, you are not too weak. You are not too scared. There are just things you could never do,” he says. He starts down the hall.

“What things? What things? What like marching or something?” She is following him. She is hurrying. She hears herself. She is shrieking.

He stops. He turns to face her. To look down into her eyes. He’s smirking. She stares at him. His squared jaw. His pouty lips. His eyes, which narrow into slits.

“What things can’t I do?” she says again, breathing hard, but more quietly now.

He bends toward her. She can smell garlic on his breath. Garlic from the shrimp they ate at lunch. And she can smell the bottle of white wine they shared.

“You couldn’t hurt somebody Caroline. You would fall apart before you shot somebody in the head. And there comes a time when you have to hurt somebody in war. You have to hurt somebody real bad. As in, pow. Splat. Red blood. Dead.”

His eyes –hazel with a yellow streak--widen. And maybe it’s her imagination, but they seem to shine. They seem to shine in some kind of violent color.

She shrinks away from him. He turns, and all of a sudden she sees him. Falling. Fallen. His face blackened, one cheek crushed into the ground. His teeth smashed. Bits of teeth everywhere. And his right leg. A bloody stump lying a few feet away on the side of the road. The fabric of his pants blood soaked. The humvee he was riding in a moment ago, now tipped upside down, the dull grey metal in shreds. The shattered pieces scattered across the road amid dead body parts and a tangle of brambles and bushes.

She shakes her head. She has to make the image go away. “I would do anything to stop you from going, Adam.” She says that so quietly it cannot be heard. And now she is starting to sob. But he is walking away. “Doesn’t that matter to you Adam? At all? Adam?”

He stops again. Doesn’t turn to face her. Speaks into the empty hotel hallway. His voice thunders in her ear.

“Caroline for chrissakes what has gotten into you? You went through two years with me gone. And you knew there was a chance I’d have to go back. And now here I am half-way there. No, three quarters. For chrissakes. Here I spend a goddamn fortune on two days with you in a five-star hotel just so you can ruin things this way? What the hell are you doing?”

“Adam, I just know,” she says, sucking in her breath. “I just…I know you shouldn’t go. Something…something is going to…”

He is too far down the hallway now to hear her. The thick carpet sucks up the word “happen.”
There is no sound from his boots.

She stares into the muted lights on the walls.

He disappears around the corner.

She blinks.

She follows him. Something comes to her now. Another vision of him.

She is thinking something she can’t possibly think.


They make love with the television blaring. When they finish, they lie in silence, side by side, changing channels.

“You hungry Cee?” he says after a while.

“I guess. I don’t know. I’ll be fine.” She hugs her knees. She is in a short pale blue silk bathrobe, sitting on the bed, cross legged.

He picks up the phone and orders a bottle of chilled champagne and fresh strawberries and warm chocolate from room service.

After a while, there is a knock on the door. It is about four o’clock. The sun rays are lying across the bed like strips of gold.

The waiter, an older black man dressed in a short red jacket and crisp grey trousers, wheels in the table, covered in a spotless white cloth. The champagne is in a large silver decanter that gleams. The strawberries are piled high in a silver bowl. The chocolate is in a closed bowl astride a small candle.

The waiter offers to open the bottle but Adam declines the offer.

As soon as the waiter leaves, Adam twists off the wire caging at the top of bottle. Then he leans to a chair and pulls out his pocket knife from his fatigues. The blade is a sharp little mirror that catches a narrow wedge of sun and casts it on the wall. He uses the blade to loosen the cork. In a moment the cork shoots up across the bed. Champagne the color of ginger ale slops out of the bottle. He holds the bottle to his lips and slurps in the champagne. Grinning, he offers her the bottle. She refuses.

“Geesh,” he says, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth.

He lays the pocket knife on the table. She eyes the blade. She blinks. She is thinking something she doesn’t want to think.

He is bare-chested. In red plaid boxer shorts. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he pours two glasses of champagne. The white fizz foams up and over the top of the slender glasses. He holds up one glass and hands her the other. She raises her glass but averts her eyes.


She looks up at him. She blinks. Her mouth is cottony. Her lips are a grim little line. She raises her glass and the two glasses come together in a dull “clink.”

They dip strawberries into warm chocolate. She eats one and says she’s had enough.

“You know, Cee, lately you are no fun at all.” He dips one after another strawberry into the chocolate goo.

They finish the champagne. He drinks most of the bottle.

They sit in bed, slumped together under the comforter. There is a smudge of chocolate on the sheets.

Soon, she can tell from his occasional snore, and his steady breathing, that he is asleep. She pulls herself from his grasp. She keeps the television on.

She stares at his sleeping face. The soft O in his pouty lips. She picks up one of his hands and kisses the back of his knuckles. He mutters something, but drops back to sleep. She kisses his lips. Her hair falls onto his cheeks.

She makes the sign of the cross and lifts her eyes into the air. “Bless me Father,” she whispers, “for I am about to sin.” Her head drops. “Please, that I may be forgiven.”

She walks to the end of the bed. Pulls up the comforter. Pulls up the sheet.

His feet are bare. The tops of his feet are wired in sparse black hairs. His toenails are square and ragged. Yellowing. They need clipping.

She walks over to the table where the empty champagne bottle lies in the silver decanter. She picks up the pocket knife.

She is not crying or trembling and she can’t figure out why she is not.

She carries the pocket knife to the end of the bed. She sits cross legged on the floor. She reaches up to the bottom of his left foot. She stares at the callused heel a moment, and then, she cuts.

She slashes the knife straight up, from heel to toe, going deep with the knife. Then she switches direction, cuts again, perpendicular this time, so that he has what looks to be a crude red crucifix on the bottom of his foot. Blood spurts out from the cross. His leg jerks back into the covers. Her breath grows rapid as warm crimson streaks the sheets.

She kneels, and bowing over the right foot, she sets quickly to work. Digging. Deep into the other sole.

"Soles of War" appeared first in Wordsmith Wars.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Go Back to When They First Met

By Elizabeth Octavina Aritonang

A crisp fall Sunday, all gathered on the stairs
The Holy space where people come to relieve their sins
The light end of a solemn service
Of all places, this is where they meet.
My mother’s rosy, high cheek bones twitch.
He’s noticed her, and she’s noticed him.
The eye contact flickers, for only a moment.
It dies down, but the excitement inflates bit by bit.
He strolls up to her, in a proper manner,
My great aunt watching from a distance.
I want to run and scream and holler
Don’t create me, WALK AWAY!
You don’t know what you’re going to do.
Go back to the islands, to your wife and kids,
Leave my mother alone, in her young and lonely life.

But my mother is taken by this gentleman,
His dark skin and eyes belonging to her,
They’ve captured her, and she’s drowning
in his presence and she doesn't even know it.
She lowers her eyes, at the scarf she’s twisting,
Black and white flowers intertwined and flowing,
Her hands still smooth, her nails painted bright red,
His hands edging towards hers, longing.
He’s asked her for a stroll and maybe some tea?
Mother, please step back and look at this man,
Mother, can you see me here, all these years later, crying?
He will lie and promise and lie and promise
Please don’t let him turn your hair gray
And your fingernails into dust.
You will spend forever waiting for him.
What you don’t know, you will know.
So you take his hand and his warm smile
and let your youth possess you.

Elizabeth Octavina Aritonang is a freshman at the University at Albany, State University of New York majoring in economics and journalism. This is her first published poem. Her inspiration is Sharon Olds' poem, "I Go Back to May 1937."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

So, anybody can be a journalist today, right?

Well, it depends on what you mean by "journalist."

There actually are very specific skills and talents that one needs in order to practise the profession, and hopefully, there is also a set of ethical principles that should guide a journalist's behavior.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. thinks the idea of citizen journalism (i.e., the notion that any citizen can be a journalist) stinks.

He points to the so-called "journalist" James O'Keefe III, who is (in)famous for helping to bring down the national community organization ACORN, one of the most effective progressive organizations in the U.S. The group, now defunct thanks in part to O'Keefe's "investigative journalism," once organized on social justice issues mostly in communities of color.

Pitts has plenty to say about O'Keefe's style of journalism. Quoting from his column,

"... I remain convinced that, with exceptions, citizen journalism is to journalism as pornography is to a Martin Scorsese film; while they may employ similar tools -- i.e., camera, lighting -- they aspire to different results."

Read more from Pitts' provocative column at The Miami Herald's website.

And then, weigh in right here on the debate over citizen journalism. The New York Times has started to dabble in the idea that anybody can be a journalist. Recall the post here a few weeks ago about the Times' new experiment with a hyper local news organization based in the East Village? It's called The Local East Village and it's making news out of, well, happenings in the local East Village.

Will people read it?

Will it be "journalism"? Does celebrity gossip (and sitings) count as journalism? Why or why not?

All of this brings us right back to the question, what do we mean when we say "journalism" ?

Last year, while on sabbatical at Georgetown, I taught a journalism class in the grad school called "Journalism Upside Down." One of the most intriguing aspects of the class -- one that haunted us all semester -- was coming to some common agreement on what journalism is today, in this era when traditional news organizations are withering, and blogs and websites and social media are blossoming.

So what do you think about this idea of citizen journalism? We would love to hear your views!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Story of a Sculpture, the Mermaid "Awareness"

By Kellie Meisl

This story begins when a twisted mass of wire washed down the brook behind my house and was retrieved by my husband. He carried the rusty, tangled form right past me and was heading to the trash bin when I saw “her” and proclaimed, “Steve, she’s a mermaid!”

Hence, “she” was promptly rescued from his arms and placed squarely amongst the flowers in my garden where she lived, relatively peacefully, (barring a few more times, early on, when I had to retrieve her from the trash bin -- before Steve could see her mermaidness, and finally resigned himself to letting her stay.) Years passed and she held her ground with graceful presence alongside the foxgloves and delphiniums.

In the winter of 2010, she started to speak to me -- only at first I did not know it was her voice. That winter, I spent many days in the woods behind my home, often walking along the very brook that had carried the twisted wire into my possession.  On these treks, my mind’s eye began to see a mermaid who seemed to be caught upstream. Because she was exerting all of her energy swimming against the current, she was falling prey to the many hooks that were being cast her way in attempts to catch her. I could see she was in need of rescue and began to formulate a plan.

I walked and listened for many days. One day I decided that I might be able to help release her by bringing her into the light. This, I reasoned, might give her the courage to show her true self to the world. The idea was that she would share her truth with those who had eagerly snatched pieces of her when she was vulnerable and unaware; in honoring her truth, I would be releasing her. Then she would be free to go to the places she had intended to go before she had forgotten to pay attention and had gotten caught upstream. 

I spent many more days walking and searching for a way that I could make her visible. Then, one night I had a dream. In the dream, a beautiful twisted tree, stripped of its bark, its branches and roots missing, washed past me in the brook behind my home. I perceived the tree as a beautiful piece of art.

The dream brought many layers of awareness to my life and is still enlightening me. One of the things the dream reminded me was that I had received a gift of art from the very water where the tree had presented itself. The twisted wire mermaid was visible to me! She had been sitting in my garden awaiting her purpose. (The dream also contained my gardens.)

So, the walks, the visions, the dream with the twisted tree, and the rusty, tangled mermaid born of the water all merged, as so often things in my life do since I've learned to follow my dreams and visions. My hands and heart got to work crafting “Awareness” so that she could be seen by others and go on to carry out her true mission, the one she was meant for before all the hooks got in the way and confused her.

“Awareness” was made to honor a particularly great woman, who brought compassionate awareness to others in her quest to heal. This woman gifted us with a glimpse of her truth, raw as it might have been at times, as she bravely faced cancer. She also taught us that when we let go of the illusion of the hooks, we can truly live, we can truly love, and that is key.

“Awareness,” created in loving memory of Denise Kaley, now resides at Pittsfield’s Colonial Theater, where she is on display for the Think Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Art Exhibit until October 11, 2010.

From there, she will go with the city’s mayor, James Ruberto, to his home in Florida. She was purchased by Mayor Ruberto last week as a remembrance of his wife Ellen, herself an amazing woman, who passed away from cancer in 2009.

Artist Kellie Meisl, who relies on dreams as a springboard for her work, has created most of her artwork over the past decade for community causes. She is an annual contributor to the Think Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Art Exhibit in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and has shown her work at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, where she teaches DreamArt classes in her native Berkshires. In 2009, she published her first book, "Dream Stories: Recovering the Inner Mystic," the cover of which features her first painting for Think Pink, entitled, “Hummingbird Medicine.” Kellie can be reached through her website: www.kelliemeisldreamart.com. She is pictured in the lower photo, (right) with Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto (left) at the Think Pink exhibit this past week. In the center is Jo Ann Losinger, the Pittsfield woman who bought Kellie's Think Pink submission last year, a marvelously creative collage called "Shattered Cups." Stay tuned for more on that wonderful work of art!