A Writer’s Rights

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Earlier today, Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses alerted me to the following post on John Scalzi’s blog: Dear The Toast and The Butter, Please Fix Your Rights Grab. As you may know, last month, one of my essays appeared on The Toast. I was thrilled to have it accepted and published there, but I refused to sign their contract, which as Scalzi and the folks at Writers Beware note requests not just all rights but moral rights as well. For me, this refusal was a gut instinct. My essay is an incredibly personal one, and the stories I tell in it have implications that affect many others in my family besides myself. There is absolutely no way in hell I would sell all rights to it to anyone, no matter how much money they offered me.

As a fiction writer, I’ve done a lot of research into what rights publications typically acquire and the language of contracts, so when I got The Toast’s contract and read it, I knew that the language was terrible for writers. In fact, it seemed like such an overreach to me that I asked a handful of friends about it before I sent a response. I am lucky enough to have several friends who are either lawyers or who know a lot about law, and they all advised me that the contract was a bad deal for me. Basically, if I had signed it, The Toast could do whatever they wanted with my work, from now until infinity. And if I, say, suddenly became a screenwriter and developed a movie based on my essay, they could sue me for it. Continue reading

“Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air…

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…we all have it, or none of us has it. That is the truth of it.” – Maya Angelou

For days, I’ve considered writing a post about Michael Brown, about Eric Garner, about Tamir Rice. But there is a lot of excellent writing out there already, and despite my frustration and outrage about these situations, I doubt I could add anything to the conversation that is different or significant enough that it’s worth asking people to listen to me. Instead, I think we should listen to these men:

  • Chris Rock, who gives a very thought-provoking interview with so many great quotes that I can’t choose a favorite
  • W. Kamau Bell, who walks us through the way he approaches something as seemingly simple as buying ice cream at night as a 6’4″ black man
  • Kiese Laymon, who talks about the protection he is afforded by his Vassar College faculty ID, and about how he and his students, despite the “protection” of Vassar, are not okay

And if you’re interested, like I am, in doing something that may help bring justice in the long term, Amnesty International USA is calling for some concrete action. I’m still looking for other places and ways to make a difference, so if you know of any, feel free to share them in the comments.

I’ve put this list together now because silence seems wrong; it seems to imply that I’m not upset about each of these cases, and that isn’t true at all. But as I said, a speech from me seems inappropriate too. This is my compromise.

And if you’re interested, here are some shots of what the protests looked like here in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

Thank You, and Goodbye

The time has come for me to say goodbye to DC. Not to worry, I still plan on being a city girl, but the next time you hear from me, it will be as a newly minted Denver resident. There are a lot of reasons why I’m leaving, so I’ll make it quick. The first and foremost is highlighted in this month’s issue of the Washingtonian, entitled “Can You Afford To Live Here,” and speaks to the ridiculous housing and ever-rising cost of living. Short answer: No, I can’t afford to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Secondly, I’m well into my 30s, and without children of my own, I want to be closer to my family. Reason three, I miss the mountains, I want to spend more time outdoors, and well..sometimes you just need to be a ski bum.

Now with that out of the way, here’s what I want to say. Thank you, DC. It’s been an adventure. A pretty crazy one at times, but I moved here because I knew I’d be able to do things here I couldn’t do anywhere else. At times I’ve wondered if you were the right choice. I stand now, single and poor, but no one will ever say I’ve led a boring or predictable life. It hasn’t been an easy journey. I’ve battled with crazy landlords, bed bugs, and theft, to name just a few of the hardships, but I’ve walked away with a wealth of experiences. Here are a just few of the things I have to thank you for: Continue reading

Burners

What is a “burner”? Well, since I’ve started living with one, I’ve had a decent amount of exposure to the community of people who not only attend Burning Man but have invested themselves in attending regional events all year round. At these events, people congregate for a number of days, and eventually they burn an effigy, and sometimes more than one. During the days between setup and the actual burn, any number of things can and do happen. If I had to summarize it in a sentence, I’d say it’s free-for-all Disney for adults. Imagination runs wild, and so do the people. Here’s my take on it all.

I’ve wanted to go to Burning Man for years; for me, the appeal of 70,000 people putting together a temporary city is nothing short of astounding. What’s more, some of the most impressive and creative sculptures in the world are there. Some of them are burned down by the end of the week! For a theatre geek like myself, the allure of seeing such creativity exploding at the seams is irresistible, and I hope dearly to go one day soon. Still, it’s always seemed like such a remote and esoteric experience, I had no idea until the last couple of years that Burning Man existed outside the once a year event in the Nevada desert.  Nor did I realize that it’s a community that people identify with and define themselves by, though if you think about it perhaps it shouldn’t be a huge surprise.

Burning Man appeals greatly to Gen X-ers and Millennials for the same reason we still want to watch transformers and mutant turtles. We who are constantly accused (maybe rightly so) of never growing up, not only have we turned Halloween into an adult holiday, but we find almost any excuse to dress in silly costumes and get snookered. We can’t even exercise without silly makeup. I’m so accustomed to seeing runners on the way to their latest drag-themed 5K, zombie 10K, or glow-in-the-dark bocce tournament that I hardly even turn my head at the constant stream of crazy costumes mucking about the city streets all year long. Well, here’s another example of us trying to bask in everlasting youth. Always wanted to be a fairy princess in a castle? Sure, why not? Buy some glitter and fairy wings, dye your hair, and build a castle. Then do a lot of drugs and burn it down. Burning Man is in many ways the ultimate example of our generation’s slow saunter into adulthood. It’s no wonder Black Rock City has grown so quickly in the last few years. Rumors has it if they can get the proper permits it will grow to 100,000 within the next five years. Tickets sell out so quickly that you’ve got to be in the know to get one. Continue reading

In Which I Direct You Elsewhere

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I haven’t had a chance to write here for the past couple of weeks, partly because I’m trying to do NaNoWriMo – or a version of it, anyway – and partly because on a whim I went to a presentation on executive functioning skills yesterday that took up most of my night, which is often my only available blogging time.

In lieu of a new post here, I am proud to say that I have a personal essay up on The Toast this week called “Hope Is Not a Strategy: On Violence, Redirected.” It is probably the most personal thing I’ve written to date, and I hope you read it if you have a chance. Then you should read everything else on The Toast because they are awesome.

And hopefully I will be back to posting here next week, unless I’m still trying to decipher how Hilary Mantel can write so very perfectly that maybe the rest of us should just give up, at least on NaNoWriMo if not altogether.

 

In Defense of the Thousands of Little Elsas Descending Upon our Cities Tonight

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It is the word you knew was coming. The dreaded one-word answer to “What do you want to be for Halloween?” Gone were the days where you could stick your baby in a Hot Dog sack as a nod to Portillo’s. Or glue a mustache to their binky in homage to the great Ditka.

unnamedNo. Now they have opinions of their own. They don’t like your hilarious ideas or genius play-on-words costumes. This year, they want to be what THEY want to be.
And they want to be Elsa. Continue reading

An Ode to My Favorite Kids’ Show

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My kids are obsessed with the TV show Peppa Pig. In case you are not familiar with it, which is likely unless you also have small children, it’s a British series about a family of pigs and the other animal families they are friends with, and it centers around 4-year-old Peppa and her little brother, George. It’s actually pretty adorable and not super annoying, even when you, the grown-up, end up watching a whole bunch of episodes in a row. It features nice little moments like a bull who loves his china tea set breaking it and having to take it to a china shop to get repaired, where the rabbit who owns the shop gets to yelp, “Oh, it’s a bull in a china shop!” See? Hilariously cute, and the kids don’t get it! That joke was just for you!

Anyway, my favorite thing about Peppa – other than the fact that the animations are simplistic almost on the level of stick figures, like a talented kid drew them – is the fact that, almost once an episode, everyone in the final scene starts laughing together at something that has transpired, and they always laugh so hard that they fall over. The episode typically ends with them laughing as they lay on the ground in a big group, so tickled by whatever the situation may be that they just can’t stay upright.

I love this. I love it because it somehow feels like it encapsulates the best parts of childhood, the wonder and the hilarity that can be found in so many odd places and that tend to evaporate the older we get, the more we are bogged down by the many details of orchestrating a life. Continue reading

Things Taken, Things Given

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Up until recently I’ve been relatively lucky in the arena of theft. As a long-time resident of a crime-filled city, I’ve had very few things stolen, but all of those instances have been within the last six months. I’ve had three sets of bike lights lifted, my car broken into twice, my bike stolen, my checking account drained, and my entire security deposit commandeered by my crappy ex-landlord. Ugh. And yet, I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of generosity in return that far exceeds what I’ve lost. I’ve gotten everything back somehow, and then some.

I’ve been trying to figure out the patterns. In some instances, what I get has been as a direct result of the things taken. When my bike was stolen, a guy I was dating custom built one to replace it. When my account was drained, friends came to the rescue, sweeping me away to dinner parties, fun evenings out, and even the beach. My bank replaced all of my money pretty quickly anyway. Partly I think I’m getting more because I’m better at asking for help than I used to be, but also fate seems to have steered me at the right time into a small minority of DC residents who are very generous, giving, and kind-hearted.

One of my friends said recently that mediocre people don’t exists in DC. People here are either incredibly wonderful, or really awful. I’m of a mind to agree. Continue reading

Domestic Erotica

CandlesHey baby.

No, not the baby. I was talking to you. Yes, you! Put the baby down. Let’s- no, she’s crying but she’s fine, she just… here, just here, let me take her. Oh god, she needs a diaper change. Oh god that stinks.

Where were we? Oh yeah. Hey. You look good. Have you been working out? Ha, I know. I was kidding. But seriously. Is that a rabbit in your pocket or are you happy to see me? WINK, WINK. Oh… it IS a rabbit. Kiddo was looking for that everywhere yesterday. Ew, what is all over it? Gross, it’s like gum or something. And hair. Hold on, I’m going to go throw this in the hamper. I don’t know if it’s salvageable at this point.

Kiss me. Wait – let me take these Crest White Strips out. They do? Yeah, I didn’t know if it’d work or not, but you think so? Oh good, they were expensive! Continue reading

The Back-to-School Blues

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So, I had a conversation with my five-year-old about child labor laws on the drive to school last week. We discussed them again briefly at breakfast this morning.

He already complains about going to school. It isn’t a consistent complaint, and he loves it once he arrives, but he hates having to get dressed and get out the door on a schedule. On one hand, I understand, and that’s why I work from home. On the other hand, I did attend school and then report to a 9-to-5 job for many years before I had the privilege of sitting around all morning in my pjs, drinking coffee and repeatedly calling the Public Works department about that nice big gap they’ve left between the curb they recently installed in front of my house and the street.

Anyway, last week – the FIRST WEEK OF THE SCHOOL YEAR – he was complaining, and I had just had enough. I couldn’t face it anymore, or the thought of having to deal with it every day for, literally, months. But yelling, cajoling, reasoning, all of these things have not worked. So I decided to try reality, or possibly fear, and I started talking about how much better school was than working in a factory or on a farm all day. He wanted details: what kinds of work does one do on a farm or in a factory? How early does one have to get up? And then when he started asking what could be bad about working in a factory, I thought, maybe this conversation isn’t quite appropriate, and I reined it in. Of course, I didn’t have much more to say anyway because I don’t actually know all that much about child labor laws. I know just enough, it turns out, to get my kid to stop whining about going to school. Continue reading

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