Showing posts with label North Carolina. Show all posts
Showing posts with label North Carolina. Show all posts

06 January 2017

Resolutions & A Residency

By Art Taylor

I don't believe that any of us make ourselves anew each January 1, but I do believe very strongly that the turn of the new year can offer opportunities for for reflection, for taking stock, and for articulating some intentions and ambitions for the immediate future. Vague resolutions like "Eat better" or "Lose weight" or "Be more patient" are, in my opinion, largely doomed to failure. Better are those that set not just goals but also the path toward reaching those goals: "Instead of a cookie for an afternoon snack, I'll eat more fruit instead," for example... and then you buy fruit, you keep fruit instead of cookies at your desk—in fact, you throw your cookies away. Resolutions that involve cultivating new habits are, it's been proven, the most successful—and it takes a month or more of building those habits for them to stick. "Read War and Peace" never worked for me, until I changed it to "Read War and Peace one chapter a day"—and as I've written about before, that ultimately seemed an integral part of my day for a while.

Among my own new year's resolutions this year are plans to build a more positive attitude, for example—something my wife and I are embarking on together. (This was prompted, I should explain, by a recent weekend trip to New York where our son got sick; recounting the story to friends afterward, that sickness became the focal point of an ill-fated weekend—until we realized we could tell the same story a different way, shifting focus to all the fun things we did, and suddenly the weekend looked like a terrific adventure, despite some small stumbles.) For our resolution, we bought a small journal, and each evening our goal has been to write down at least one thing that stood out as positive about the day. Truth is, a couple of times already we've forgotten and then played catch-up the following morning. But with persistence, I think that this small record will become such a regular part of our day that we'll do it by routine—and, with luck, some more positive attitudes will grow out of that routine.

Another of my resolutions is always about writing—some articulation about writing projects for the year, some implementation of a plan to accomplish those goals...even as I recognize that some of those plans may at times go off the rails.

Coming off a tough year and a busy semester, I found myself at wit's end about my writing: a novel that had lost traction, four stories in various ragged degrees of being unfinished, the sense that all of them needed attention, and no idea about which draft to tackle first—which meant working on none of them. Clearly, a shift in perspective was needed, and a shift in perspective is what we've taken.

Hand in hand with a resolution to give fresh priority to our writing, my wife Tara and I jumped on the opportunity to start the year off with a week's worth of immersion in the writing life. As I finish this post, my wife and I are taking part in the writer-in-residence program at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines, NC—a program that promises some much-appreciated time and space both to indulge our imaginations and to focus intently on our craft, freedom and diligence in equal measure.

The timing of this was good—both because I'm still on winter break from my teaching at George Mason University and because the start of January helps us to get the new writing year off on the right foot. This is the first writing retreat/residency I've ever done, so I have little to compare it to, but the experience has proven a positive one, in great part thanks to the kindness of our host, Katrina Denza, of the Weymouth board. The Weymouth Center's home is the Boyd House, a beautiful mansion built by James and Katherine Boyd, the former a writer of historical novels best known for  Drums, set in the Revolutionary War and illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. Writers in residence at Weymouth stay in one of several rooms named for the Boyds' friends and frequent visitors to the home; I'm staying, for example, in the Sherwood Anderson room—which I adore, of course, given my commitment to short fiction and my admiration for the novel in stories, and it's inspiring to know that Anderson himself was one of the most frequent visitors to the mansion in the late 1930s. Other rooms are named for Thomas Wolfe, Maxwell Perkins, and Paul Green—the latter the room that Tara chose—and each room has a bed and a desk, inevitably echoing that famous saying of Virginia Woolf's about the need for a writer to have a room of one's own.

With only small breaks over the last few days (more on that below), I've worked at this desk from the moment I rolled out of the bed three feet away until close to dinner time. While my schedule at home (at least here on winter break from school) might seem to offer some of the same flexibility, there are significant differences. If I were in my office at school, I would likely feel the need to devote part of the day to prepping syllabi for the next semester  or to answering the emails that are inevitably coming in despite my away message; but I'm putting off that syllabi prep for now and I'm very much treating that away message seriously (sorry to say for anyone who's reached out). If I were trying to work at home, there would inevitably be things to do around the house—all of which are too far away right now even if I was suddenly looking for a distraction (as I know we writers are prone to look for).  And on the flipside of those negatives (can't do this, won't do this), there's also the pervasive sense of what I am here to do and I need to take it seriously. And lest we forget that purpose, there are reminders hanging on every door—signs which both Tara and I are already wishing we could take home.

Has it worked? I printed up drafts of those four stories I mentioned above, and the first half of the week I did major revisions on two of them—refocusing some of the thematic threads of one story and then reshaping and finishing up some extensive line edits on another, to the point of trimming away nearly a quarter of that story, streamlining it considerably. And around all that writing and revising, I've been reading steadily—works that I hope helped to engage and inspire.

The next few days? Well, as I write this, a winter storm is bearing down on the area, and it will be after this post is public that we make the decision whether to ride out the storm or head home before it arrives.

In the meantime, a word about those small breaks I mentioned above. Downtown Southern Pines, within walking distance, is a great haven of fine restaurants and shops as well as home to a beautiful bookstore, The Country Bookshop; we've gone down there at least once each day during our stay for a quick bit of exercise or bite to eat or to browse some books—and pleased to see my own book on the shelf there too! And mid-day on Thursday, we popped up to Raleigh for lunch with my parents and our son (they've been taking care of him this week—thanks so much, Mom and Dad!) and to visit the new location for another of my favorite bookstores, Quail Ridge Books. (And yes, looked for and found my book there too. Took pictures in each case as well, as you'll see below.)

On the shelves at the Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC

On the shelves at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh


Needless to say, this too helps keep the momentum going—seeing where the hard work might end up one of these days.

Circling back to where I started this post: I'm not certain how well that overall momentum might continue—even through the rest of the week, given the uncertain weather, much less back in the real world of laundry and dirty dishes, lesson prep, daily grading, and the daily grind. But, keeping a positive outlook (that other resolution!), I'm feeling encouraged by the work I've done, and making headway on a couple of those stories so far has helped clear my head for work on the others and on my longer project.

And here's sending out good wishes to all the writers reading this! May 2017 treat all of us well.



13 September 2015

The Law is an Ass

by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard
“The law is a ass” runs the famous quotation by the beadle Bumble (I’ll probably never get another opportunity to write that phrase) in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, chapter 51 (or this squib in context). The sentiment is about the only agreement we find in the comeuppance of the unpleasant Mr. Bumble. Time has repeatedly proven the maxim.

Last year, we mentioned Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi attempted to stop a lesbian couple’s divorce. Not good for family values, see. Barbie Doll Bondi is the same AG who schedules her executions around cocktails.

Asinine is from the Latin for 'ass' and to be sure, Florida is loaded with asinine laws. You may remember we re-elected as governor the perpetrator of the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history. It’s sadly ironic in so many ways that this governor has been a most ardent opponent of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, turning down billions in federal aid to 800,000 of the state’s needy. But you don’t have to oppose ObamaCare to appreciate the irony that Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet (including Pam Bondi) pay only $8.34 a month for individual heath coverage. Our multi-millionaire governor shells out only $30 a month to cover his family of five. The poor need not apply.

As you already know, Florida originated the asinine Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law which supplanted the far more sensible Castle Defense. Now we have a ‘Gun Gag’ law, also called Docs versus Glocks, which forbids physicians from enquiring about guns in the home, even if, say a child, is obviously wounded by a gunshot.

It’s like the story about a poacher who sought medical treatment after a hunting accident. The man said, “Doc, I got run through by a tree branch.” The doctor looked closely at the wound and said, “Really? What calibre?”

In 2001, the governor and legislature proudly enacted the Scarlet Letter law (Florida Statute §63.088, voted for and passed by two present presidential candidates). Intentionally intended to humiliate, the statute required single women who wanted to put a child up for adoption to publish their sexual histories in a newspaper, not just once, but weekly for a month, paid for by the women themselves. The law compelled them to provide details about their sexual encounters including names of sex partners, physical descriptions (height, weight, hair and eye color), dates and locations. The law provided no exceptions for minors or victims of rape. Sensible liberals and conservatives came together to oppose the law and in 2003, the act was declared unconstitutional and repealed.

The Florida legislature decided it would be a genius idea to label sexual offenders as such on their driver's license so that they couldn't, say, visit Walt Disney World. Except the slot allocated on the Florida drivers licenses shares the same field as organ donor and glasses requirements. What could go wrong?

Florida was hardly done meddling in sex. This year we outdid ourselves with an act barring transsexuals from using public restrooms if their birth gender doesn’t match the picture on the door. Violation of this law, even in emergencies, can result in a year of incarceration although, in a twist of irony, the law doesn’t seem to specify men’s or women’s prison.

But wait, there’s more! Any non-transsexual who somehow discovers the chromosomes of the person in the stall next to them aren’t the same as their own may sue that person for emotional damages and attorneys fees. But stop! Florida law isn’t done. Said non-trans person may also sue the proprietor as well for damages and attorneys fees.

North Carolina postcard
But we’re not finished as we turn our attention to North Carolina.

An arrest in the Tar Heel State prompted today’s article. A minor charged as an adult is facing up to ten years in prison and registration as a sexual predator for having nude pictures of a minor on his cell phone.

Pictures of… himself.

Wait. Try to grasp that. Police are charging a boy as an adult for having naked photos of himself… because he’s a minor.

It’s like corrupting the morals… of himself. (His girlfriend was fined $200 for the same thing and does not have to register as an offender.)

Even though authorities have made his name and face public, the premise of this article is the law is an ass and it’s not up to me to disseminate his personal information. But even beadle Bumble could not have imagined such a plight.