Saturday, December 18, 2010

Water Lanterns for Sandra "Everlasting" Jones

Today is the birth date of American writer and poet Sandra E. Jones, born December 18, 1948 in Philadelphia, PA. passed away on November 27, 2010 in Seattle, surrounded by loved ones.

This morning I woke up with Sandi's smile and her love for Style-ish colors on my mind. And yes, Garrison Keillor's voice in my head. His unmistakable sound accounts for the above starting lines.
Sandi and I met only five times and she left an indelible impression. The first time she surprised me before Aunt Mama's Story Hour at a coffee shop, by saying "You're Judith?" For a moment I thought the lady in cobalt blue was clairvoyant, but then I realized we'd made our first acquaintance on the SheWrites site, where I had my profile picture posted, but she didn't. Not long after that she attended SheWrites' 1st anniversary party, followed by a book launch for her writing teacher Priscilla Long, and yet again at Aunt Mama's (where she plugged Priscilla's book) and finally I got to enjoy Sandra E. Jones' reading... no, performance at the book launch party for Sunday Ink.

Let me tell you, the lady stood up and delivered.

Last night Sandi's family of friends gathered at Greenlake in Seattle for Toro nagashi the Buddhist custom of floating lanterns on water, usually practiced on the last day of the Bon or Obon Festival, to honor ancestors or send off the spirits of departed loved ones. 

If I may continue with Keillor's voice in his program The Writer's Almanac I'd say some of her short stories can be found in the just published anthology Sunday Ink: Work by Uptown Writers.
And I'd like to add what can be read in the notes about Sunday Ink writers:
"Her poem Ladybug was featured in Terri Casey's book Pride and Joy: The Lives and Passions of Women Without Children. Her stories and poems were given special prominence by the Seattle arts organization SOIL and the Los Angeles POST Theatre. She volunteered as a teacher in the Seattle School District's Powerful Writers Literacy program."

Sandra "Everlasting" Jones did not let illness get in her way.

To get back to Greenlake, Sandi's writer friends PK, Geri and Stacy set up a small altar and supplied floating lantern kits. Some came with their eulogies, written memories and collages prepared, some of us crouched on the moving boat dock to write our thoughts for Sandi on thin paper shades.

Here I'm taking a chance by sharing Sandi's haiku Ladybug, used as epigraph by Princess Jackon-Smit for her contribution (page 51-57) to Pride and Joy: The Lives and Passions of Women without Children.

Black, well read, busy:
Spotted without small children,
Lady bug wings it. 

 Sandra E. Jones 
She winged it, And she did it so well!

Japanese lanterns, incense, Jahrzeit candles, "The It" (or would that be ID, or idea?) of spirituality was present as we said our goodbyes, sharing stories, anecdotes, pinking away tears and laughing in remembrance. A gentle breeze set sail to decorated lanterns we followed with our eyes. Flickering lights, getting smaller and smaller, until they were but reflections, or memories of stars.

She shines.
Visit the memorial site for Sandra E. Jones 

Do you have a "Mensch" in your life who shows by example how to be here now and live life to the fullest? How do you honor her or him?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Multi-Tasking | Ultra Focused | Hyper Sensitive

Gallery Dutchess Abroad - Art, Literature & Guidance by Judith van Praag

A book starts by writing one word. 

Last month, on the 1st of November, one minute past midnight Pacific Standard Time, I typed the first word of what had to become a 50,000 word manuscript by November 30. Thanks to exhausting and exhilarating Word Wars initiated by Lia Keyes between NaNoWriMo Warriors on Facebook, I passed the 50K word count on the 21st.

December 1st finds me adding and editing, filling in the gaps, paying attention to all senses and tenses, past present and future. Today the word count is 63,333, I'm at page 80 of the present total of 309.
Imagine that, one month ago, there was one word, the title Forgiveness.
A good moment if ever to capture the screen that illustrates the title of this post, or rather, what it takes to write a complex story. I'll keep you posted here of the developments concerning this novel, while I continue to share hopeful thoughts on art, culture and transcendence.

Which screen captures best what you are doing, who you are, what you stand for?

Friday, November 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo Winners Celebrate the Season

Today is Black Friday which has nothing to do with Good Friday even although Wikipedia seems to want to mention both in one mouthful. All Black Friday has to do with religion is that it's the official beginning of the Christmas holiday shopping season.

Friday is Challah Day
Thanks to the weather gods we were able to make it to our friends' house for Thanksgiving. The arctic storm that crippled most of greater Seattle had us running a high cabin fever after nearly four days spent at our own home. While I feel no urge to participate in Black Friday shopping sprees (which can start as early as 3:00 a.m.), I did wake up at 4:00 a.m. and a friend who lives nearby, noted that his toddler woke up at 4:40 a.m. babbling non-stop until 11:00. Makes you wonder what's in the air.

You may have noticed I rely heavily on html links to explain whatever strange or foreign notions I introduce in my posts. This of course to cut down on the number of words I have to type myself. Economy is a cherished word when it comes down to running a message home. Editors, especially those who have limited funds/ space love contributors who know how to be concise.

That you may and can use more words than strictly necessary, as is the case when writing a first draft for a novel, can be a surprising notion for well trained journalists. But when will they ever experience such liberating moments? The answer to that question is November. Participants in the National Novel Writing Month, the so called NaNo Writers, don't have to deal with the restrictions of word count, at least not on the low side. The more words you type, the merrier. After all, the aim is to write 50,000 within a 30-day frame. In order to make the score by November 30th a writer has to produce 1,667 words per day.

Never thought I could write a novel in a month, but November 21st marks the day when I scored my 50K. Since I wasn't finished with my story, I kept on writing. The day before Thanksgiving I used Scrivener to compile my 48 sections into one long Word document, which I scrambled and uploaded at the NaNoWriMo site for word verification. On Thanksgiving my green word count bar turned purple with 59,484 words (at the time) the DutchessAbroad was a  Winner! or as my number one supporter and fan said "his number one weener". I'm pretty sure he means Wiener cause a weener is a looser, but then, I'm the writer in our family, he's the musician. As long as he sings his songs for me, I won't hold it against him.

To be honest, I became hooked on writing an average of 2288 words a day, so much better than my earlier 500 word count average. So I continued joining my Online NaNoWriMo Warrior friends to continue hammering out the words, even on Thanksgiving day.

Today, on Black Friday however, I set down for the 10 a.m. Word War and instead of writing new material, I started reading my manuscript. I know there's still a lot of work ahead of me, editing, rewrite or revision, moving scenes around, filling in, and a lot of cutting. Still, I know I'm on a roll, thanks to NaNoWriMo the Black Friday starts a new season, no shopping involved merely hunkering down, letting out the critic, honoring my editor and writing on.

What writerly adventures are you starting continuing or embarking on this season?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NaNoWriMo Editor/Devil - Git Friendly or Git!

Hi, my name is Judith and I'm an editor 

Initially I wrote incorrigible editor, but that would have been too funny. Eternal editor comes close, it sounds like a sentence for life, or a life sentence. Internal editor, I could settle for that, but for the fact that "I am an internal editor", doesn't really cut it. I would have to change the beginning and make it something like: "My eternal editor has woken up", or, "this morning my internal editor woke me up and started arguing right off the bat." Whichever way I put it, my eternal editor started bashing the internal one, and since my Ego and ID were caught in between, I had to get up.

If you think the editor in me is keeping me from writing you're mistaken.

Nobody can keep me from writing. Not even the little devil that sits on my shoulder impersonating everyone I've ever known, who has said that there's nobody in hell (or on earth for that matter) who could be interested in one more original story. 

"What could you possibly have to tell (that's new)?" in other words, "There's nothing new under the sun", or the unintentional (one hopes) "There's enough BS being published already."

A real road block is thrown in the writer's path by relatives exclaiming "I don't want to know (read: the world to know) that my uncle was a crook."

The editor in me lets me write up a storm, but on a different level, she starts correcting my words and sentences, or challenging me, saying: what if this or that happened in such and so way. This is something I can live with any other day, week, or month, but not during NaNoWriMo.

The whole idea of participating in National Novel Writing Month is that you go with the Flow and write like the devil is after your very own butt. For most writers that's not a hard notion to imagine.

Until Day #15 I was doing fine, every now and then I'd start dreaming during a Word War (when NaNo Warriors who have found each other on FaceBook start writing like fiends at the word GO and compare word count when TIME is called after one hour) but I'd whip myself back on track.

On Day #16 I was struggling with how and where I wanted the story to go. Was Sophie going to force Nita to tell Jake the truth while visiting her parental home, or could I delay that moment, or was the keeper of the gate who guards my own family's secrets trying to throw me for a loop. 
Too Much Information (is this me or my internal editor, the cute little pesky devil on my shoulder, or the devil in disguise saying this?). I started reading instead of writing and before I knew it time was up and my word count had dwindled.

Day #17 I confronted my personal antagonists, told them to either shut up, or work for me, that I wouldn't stand for their B.S. anymore. Help me or Git Already! Got that!

At the end of the day I entered my last total word count, which was 37,161 or a daily average of 2,185 which isn't bad at all considering that you have to produce an average of 1,667 per day to reach the aim of 50,000 words by November 30.

So, notwithstanding adversaries like internal editors and critical little devils, I'm still ahead of the game. I've got my ducks lined up and go with the Flow once more. Today's word count (so far) is 3,088 —what does that tell you?).

How do you get them internal and external editors, critics and devils to shut up or become your allies?

Creative Commons License
This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Sunday, November 07, 2010

NaNoWriMo YAY or NAY Sayers -Git Already!

Don't you ever do —have you never done— any kind of timed writing? How about the Dadaists' automatic hand writing, how about the Flow, the good old meditative stream of consciousness stuff that informed and inspired the popular Writing Down the Bones, Morning Pages and all that Jazz? 

You mean to say you sit there poised for the right word, pen on paper fingers on the keys, thumbs on the phone pad, thinking hard, harder, hardest, slow and carefully for-mu-la-ting that thing, that one and own-ly word that will do?

~~~~~~~~~~Been there, done that, still do it —when the time is ripe— says the NaNoWriMo enthusiast. Get there after I've got the idea down, after I've grabbed the sucker and hammered the notion, letter by letter, key-by-key, so the essence, the heart of the matter won't escape me, won't fly off, disappear into thin air ~~~~~~~~~~

"Ideas lie in the gutter by the hundreds, the trick is to pick them up and do something with them," said Hector Vilche a brilliant creator who painstakingly filled tiny squares in different hues of the same color, side by side, while contemplating larger paintings, sculptures, art installations and bigger than life staged productions

Troubadour and visual artist Bobby Bridger wove hundreds of seed beads in intricate patterns or dotted canvases the Aboriginal way, while composing rhymes and music for his epic Ballad or musical fairy tale in his head.

Creative minds such as Vilche and Bridger understand the dynamics of creativity.

Whether you sew, paint or write, the seeds of your effort will germinate and come harvest time, you're well prepared to add the finishing touch.

While still known as NaNoWriMo it's no longer just a National wordsmiths' effort to finish at least the scaffolding for a Novel by Writing 50,000 words in one Month. NaNo-ists down under in New Zealand were the first to start typing the night after Halloween, one minute into the 1st of November.

Groups such as NaNoWarriors participate in Word Wars. Triggering writers all over the world take their seats close to the whole hour four times per 24-hours waiting for a fellow member to give the GO! sign followed by TIME-UP! one hour later. It's nothing but "timed writing" y'all!

So, get down with your bad shit and turn on the timer, git with it already, the words are waiting! If you need more encouragement check out The NaNoWriMo Daily!

What do you say, nay or yay?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Count-Down to NaNoWriMo Madness

First Tweet of the day: @WrimoSea 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 six days till NaNoWeen kick-off party at #Denny's in #Overlake #inSeattle! #NaNoWriMo.

The first time I heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was in 2003 during Dorothy Allison's workshop at Centrum's Port Townsend Writers' Conference. Go for it! was Dorothy's suggestion. But I wasn't ready, not then, not the following seven years. Before I knew where my story could go I had to write a memoir (or two, three). Now I am ready. I've already announced (said it out loud, posted it in the Diary to Fiction or Memoir SW Group that I'm writing a novel, inspired by my memoir writing.
Yesterday I came up with the title: Forgiveness.

On Facebook I promise to let my hair grow out for the HalloNaNoWeen at Denny's Restaurant in Seattle's Overlake neighborhood. No matter it's way out of my normal axis radius, I will cross that floating bridge, I will go to the Eastside, the other side of the lake, just to get started right, at midnight on October the 31st.

These last few days I'll be working on the outline for my novel "Forgiveness". Ever since my arrival in Seattle in 1994, when I discovered Gabriele Rico's book "Writing the Natural Way" I've been using her cluster method to get to the point, to get my stories down. These last days of October I'll cluster my way through beginning, middle and end of the storyline, creating an arch that'll help me get through the tough 2nd and 3rd weeks of the NaNoWri Month.

Saturday November 13 Seattle NaNo Writers will get together for an all day (9 a.m. - 6 p.m.) Half-Way Party, I'm putting it on my calendar now. Before y'all think I'm a party animal —I did after all organize the Seattle SW Birthday Party— this coming out of my writing den is rare. The only times I'm away from my desk (or couch) is: when I'm presenting architectural tours of the Seattle Central Public Library, when I volunteer my help at authors' events at said library, when I drive my hubby to work, when I run errands or when I walk the dog.

Initially I thought NaNoWriMo would just help me get the first 50,000 word skeleton draft of my novel out as quickly as possible. But the moment I started my Dutchessabroad account, something shifted. Something unforeseen happened. By signing up I became a member of a community. A nationwide, no worldwide community. And as it turns out to be, right here, in Seattle, there's a whole lot of other most likely usually solitary writers like me, who are coming out of their dens, their attics, their niches, their closets (Murphy no doubt) to join in the madness.

The fever has started.

Will you follow me,if anything my blog posts on what is going to be my very first NaNoWriMo?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dutch Theatermaker Dea Koert about Polish Artist Rafal Betlejewski

Some time ago an image of an art installation by Rafal Betlejewski started circulating on the Internet. In the photo a man is seated on a straight backed chair placed on brownish-green, un-mowed grass of a hillside. The man, at ease, legs crossed, his hands folded in his lap, appears to be waiting for someone to sit on the sheepskin hide draped across an armchair beside him.   
A building and trees in the background are obscured by fog and a slanted white text is superimposed on the imagery, graffiti on air. 

I miss you, Jew I miss you in Poland In all these villages and big cities You left a vacuum there Both in space and my heart I just wanted you to know that  

On September 26, 2010 theater maker Dea Koert attended Betlejewski's lecture, "Coming out of the Jewish ignorance. The story of a regular Pole" at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.
Guest blogger Dea Koert writes:
Rafal Beteljewski, who is not Jewish, was born in Poland in 1969. For me, having been born in the Netherlands in 1947 the paradigm change as presented by this young Pole's ongoing art project Tesknie Za Toba Zydzie (I Love You Jew) was striking.

He paints these words in graffiti style on walls in villages all over Poland. By using this seemingly simple text he reclaims the presence of Jews in his country. Rafal is an unprejudiced, relaxed kind of guy who seeks and longs for a connection with what he misses in Polish daily life. 
He'll place an empty armchair with a Kippah (skullcap) on the seat in streets of Polish villages and invites people tot sit down. Those who agree then have their photograph taken.
He asks them: "Jewish people, where are they?" 
Betlejewski fights ignorance (about the role the Polish played during the Holocaust) with his empty chair project and with the art installation/ performance  ''The Burning Barn" (triggered by a massacre that took place in 1941) which he presented in Zawada in July of 2010. 
Members of the audience/ participants wrote their names on a white pieces of paper (symbolizing negative thoughts about Jews that would be burned inside the barn) adding NO to ignorance and NO to further denying of the Polish past. By doing so they acknowledged missing them (the Jews) as well. Like Rafal, they wished for a kind of Utopian connection that should speak to all people scattered around the world. 

That a barn burning can be problematic within this context is shown in photographs and videos and was apparent in the small meeting room at JHM in Amsterdam. Some people were really shocked,  they could not understand the underlying motive. 
"Why burning?" asked a lady who could have been my grandmother. "Rafal, why a burning barn? That burning is problematic for me - when the ghetto of Warzawa was burning, the Polish people pushed us back into the fire."
Rafal explained his intention. I can only hope she understood.

I myself visited Poland for the first time as a student in 1972. Everybody around me was going to the West, so I want to go East. What drew me was a theatre workshop lead by Jerzy Grotowsky in Wroclaw (now Breslau).
Having witnessed the major post WWII clean-up in the Netherlands in the 1950s, I was surprised by the visible remnants of that war all over Poland. A fascinating experience. Everything looked gray. I saw a lot of invalids in odd looking wheelchairs on the streets, ruins of houses, I witnessed an ugly political regime, and unhappy poor people. Poland was a country in mourning. But most bewildering was the total silence about the fate of the Jews. Before 1939 one tenth of the Poles were Jewish. The ignorance was complete, there were no signs, no memorials. The scarce remnants of Jewish burial sites had been transformed into dumping grounds for garbage. People overtly made anti-Semitic jokes. But not a Jew to be seen. What's going on here? I wondered back then. 

With a bunch of Russian fellow students in a bus, more or less clandestine (I did not speak one word of their language) I visited the camps of Auschwitz. 
I can still hear the echo of their partisan songs amidst the barracks. 
In 1980 I used my experience in Poland for the theater piece "Nagalm" or Reverberation,  a co-production with Jenn Ben Yakov at the Mickery Theatre in Amsterdam. 

Now, in 2010, all of a sudden there's a third generation, with Rafal Betlejewski (my gosh, even the word Jew is embedded in his family name) who makes such a fantastic art statement. 
This is hopeful, I presume.

Can art change perceptions, can art change the world? If yes, how?
Dea Koert, born in the Noord-Oost Polder, the first reclaimed land province in the Netherlands is a theater maker, actor and drama coach. She's known for both intimate and large scale productions, often triggered by her emotional reaction to injustice.

Sketch of Dea Koert  ©Judith van Praag

This work by Dea Koert with Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fifteen Books to Remember

The other day I promised to post the 15 books (read by myself), that will always stick with me. 
Thinking of books that left lasting impressions, a tornado comes to mind. A whirlwind of printed matters of all sizes and design, whirling around me, the reader.

I/ the eye of the storm, the dreamer, ascending and descending a literary Tower of Babel; a  mind boggling building created of hard covers and paperback novels, of fairy tales and mysteries, of chapter books and Russian classics, of dead and alive poets, of poetry anthologies, published plays and even film scenarios.

Memories of titles a whirlwind of letters, strung words, printed materials, begging for attention, leaving me breathless, stranded outside an unknown house, along a dry river bed, in a country I never visited but on those travels triggered by words grabbed from the mind of the author, planted firmly on paper, black on white.

Covers, plot lines, memorable characters fly by, voices calling out: Mention, me, me, me!

Here goes, 15 titles, Dutch, Austrian, English (with an accent, posh, foreign, immigrant, artistic) and American. And this my friends, is only the beginning.

Sans Famille - (Alleen op de wereld, Nobody's Boy) by Hector Malot
Scheepsmaat Woeltje by Klaas Norel
Het achterhuis - (Diary of ) by Anne Frank - Take a look inside the hiding place.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Reigen (Hands Out - a play) by Arthur Schnitzler
De Ondergang - Jacques Presser
Timebends - Arthur Miller
Diaries by Anaïs Nin
Plexus, Sexus, Nexus by Henry Miller
Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
The Family Moskat by  Isaac Bashevis Singer
Gaglow by Esther Freud
The Clothes On Their Backs by Linda Grant

What does this list tell you about me? What does your list say about you? Care to share?
Please do!

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Chain Letters and Important Books

Letter writing is something I've always done. Thinking of letter writing makes me remember my mother's insistence that I first try-out what I wanted to write on scratch paper, to be more exact, on my  HEMA kladblok. They call it the "memoblok" these days and it's sold out.
Even if you can't read the language, do click on the HEMA link. turn up the volume and watch the company's Online commercial, it's fun.

To get back to letters, you get the point, I've pretty much been a correspondent all my life. From the early thank-you notes to an aunt who gifted me with a box of crayons and a new sketchpad with real white drawing paper, up to missives I send by email these days.

The first time I moved abroad was as an adolescent, as I followed my post-doc spouse to  Los Angeles. Back then  I wrote weekly letters to my mom and she wrote back pronto. The year I lived in L.A. as a a single adult, I wrote to about 40 people back home who wanted to be kept abreast of my adventures. Of those maybe three wrote back. My mother for sure (we wrote each other every few weeks), and perhaps a friend or two. Even although I would have liked to receive more letters in return, and had my ears perked to hear the mailman arrive, I never liked chain letters. Perhaps because of the threats that often accompanies such writing. That is, I tend to read the promises to get rich fast, as threats of what may happen if I don't do what's suggested. Send this letter to ten of your friends. You'll start receiving dollar bills in the mail becomes:  

If you don't do it, and you walk underneath a ladder the painter will inadvertently drop a paint bucket on your head. Up side down. Or, you'll find out too late there's no toilet paper left in the honey bucket. You are on your own. Or, you're out of sugar and the neighbor isn't home. Your cake will self-destruct in ten minutes.

To state that I don't like chain letters is an understatement, I dare say I don't do chain letters.
That is, until now. A few days back I received a request on FaceBook from my Dialogue2010 friend in Prague Sezin Koehler, I have to admit, at first all I saw scanning her request was "15 friends", that was enough to scare me off. But then our Dialogue2010 partner Anastasia Ashman in Istanbul who'd been one of Sezin's addressees included me in the 15 friends she addressed and seeing the list of her books, my eye catching authors whose work I hadn't read, something clicked. This is how the message read:

List fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. Don't take too long to think about it. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your fifteen picks, and tag people in the note.) Do yours before you read anyone else's!

The only threat involved in this chain —reaction— I'd like to call it, is that you start thinking and writing about the books that made an impression on you so profound that you still remember them, their drift, the time you read them, what you were eating while you read, how heavy the paper was, what the book smelled like, where you got it, at the library, from the book store, from a relative, or a friend, found in a hotel lobby, on the bus, at a garage sale.

Care to share a book or two, or fifteen? Send me a note, post a comment, a tiny letter, I love hearing from you!

If you start with the first decade of your life, which children's book made the greatest impression on you as a child reader?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Bloggin' for Money or a Cause

In 2004 I started what turned out to be the beginning of a new career as the Arts Writer for the International Examiner in Seattle. Concerned to be taken seriously I didn't want to publish anything anymore without being paid. Self respecting professionals didn't work for free, unless they were volunteering their expertise and time for a "good cause". There you go, I said it. Meanwhile I continued posting what I didn't think would sell but deserved attention on my blog Hope Filled Jars, and as a ghostwriter for the garden blog Tuin van de Marienhof.  

Seeing my name in print in a newspaper (as the reporter) was relatively new to me. Earlier I'd published an article in a glossy for men and written for paper newsletters of infant loss support groups. After I published a book on grief  I was invited to write a column and book reviews for a Dutch parental Internet magazine Ouders Online. Still I hadn't dared consider myself a journalist until someone I was chatting with at a party stopped mid-sentence, took a look at me and said he wasn't "going to divulge any more 'secrets'", since I was a journalist. Oh, wow, he thinks I'm a journalist, well, then I must be.

It was with the curiosity of the journalist that I answered an ad on Craig's list calling for bloggers. I wondered whether  HotelsByCity's promise that bloggers could make money Online was true, and in March of 2007 I took the plunge, in order to find out. All I had to do was enter two posts per week about my home town, sharing hidden gems with visitors.

HotelsByCity informed me by email they made use of Google Adsense to monetize visits to their site and would pay bloggers 75% of "revenue generated through your blog".  Earning reports would be sent at the end of each month and payments would be made 30 days after the completion of each calendar month. After setting up my own Adsense account I found out a "hit" amounted to one penny, or 0.75 dollar cents earned. 

How could HotelsByCity offer writers 75% of the revenue? Well for one, we are talking peanuts. More importantly, HotelByCity is a hotel broker. The money generated by "our blog" does not equal the money generated by visitors making reservations for hotel rooms through the broker. HotelsByCity doesn't need the quarter penny per hit, they need the traffic to the HotelByCity sites that's generated by the bloggers who work for less than peanuts. Worse, they work for free, for recognition, and get some pennies, or if they work really hard, a voucher tossed at them. We're not talking one blog maintained by one blogger, but a group-blog per city, filled with interesting content provided by several or many bloggers. There's a HotelsByCity site for practically every large city in the world.

Today's smart bloggers create their own platforms, choose the ads Google Adsense places in the margin or banners and write content to attract readers, be it to introduce visitors to their writing, or to something else they're trying to sell, apples, oranges, any kind of knowledge. Those who are really good at hooking visitors to their posts, can make money Online, but most of the time it's not by adding up the hits on Google ads, but by selling their own product.

At some point the HotelsByCity Seattle blog entries got a bit confused, posts by SeattleBlogman09 and mine (Seattleblogger29) got mixed up, our hotel reviews credited to one or the other, but never quite right. Finally I even lost access to my account. By that time I'd lost interest in writing an article about making money Online as well. Still, I thought I'd better collect what I'd written and archive the posts on my Seattle Blog History, a blog I started in 2008 especially for that purpose, and then I forgot about it again. Until I got a response on an post at HotelsByCity about Tea at the Teacup in Seattle and Go-go Goats... 
Which proves that good blog content continues generating traffic. 

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention Google Adsense doesn't pay revenue until the moment you've accumulated $100 which for me arrived at the end of 2009.

Have you found a way to hit the Google Adsense jackpot? If so, care to share how? 

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Writing on Loss

A post by Deborah Siegel about the loss of a dear family friend triggered some thoughts on the death of my father, my child, friends and other relatives.

Reading about David's death at age 69 I can't help but think of my own father's death in '69 when we, my mother (52 at the time) and I, considered him gone too soon, when I was only 13 and he two days short of 71. I was the child that had to make up for all those killed during the Holocaust and my father asked me not to forget his story, history.

I promised him I would not, and up to today I consider his wish a command (I'm working on it Dad).
What story exactly? His story is my story, our history, my past and present and yes, my future. Yet, I have always felt more comfortable making visible the stories of others (as a designer for multicultural theater) than sharing my family's.

A visit around 1980 with a woman who practiced "automatic handwriting" helped me with my first attempts to grasp the extend of the influence of early loss of my father on my life. While automatic handwriting did open the gate, started the flow, I only shared my poetry. I did not think I could write worth while full sentences.

It wasn't until the loss of our baby daughter Ariane Eira in 1993, that I really started writing about my own loss and later in response to other people's losses. My husband  called me the Ann Landers of Grief.

I don't know how I could have survived without writing down my feelings, or rather the translation in words of sensations. Writing about a baby's death the first as last question that remains unanswered even if the clinical reason for the demise is clear, is Why?
My father was an artist the last twenty years of his life. He painted and created objects in clay. One of his sculptures shows a man addressing G.d in despair, asking Why? Why hast thou forsaken me?

Writing about loss gives us besides a place to unload, to try and make sense, or to try and accept, a gauge to measure our development in the mourning process. Acknowledging our own or an other person's loss is never futile, it's all about remembering, paying respect, offering condolences. Remembering a person on the page is of great importance to those who are left behind.

When someone I've known, someone dear to my heart has died, I write down her name, cluster in Gabriele Rico's fashion around the name, bringing to the surface memories, deeper and further from the present time, I cluster about moments between back when and right now until a mental shift gives me the sentence that makes up the essence of what was or is most important about my relationship with the deceased.

I write letters to those who remain, or publish a blog post and when appropriate I send the poem Claribel Alegria wrote after her husband had died. Her books is among those that make me believe writing is a Creative Act of Healing.

Salí a buscarte

Salí a buscarte
atravesé valles
y montañas
surqué mares lejanos
le pregunté a las nubes
y al viento
inútil todo
dentro de mí estabas.

Searching for You

I went out searching for you
crossing valleys
and mountains
ploughing distant seas
asking of the clouds
and the wind your whereabouts
it was all useless
you were within me.

Claribel Alegría

from Sorrow
Curbstone Press 1999

How do you find solace? Do you write about your own or other people's losses?

This work (prose) by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We Write History Today

HYBRID AMBASSADORS: a blog-ring project of Dialogue2010 This spring you listened in or read about our multinational cultural roundtable discussion on hybrid life at expat+HAREM. Now we're back with interconnected blog posts, a shared reaction to a recent polarizing book promotion at the writing network SheWrites. Join the discussion on Twitter using #HybridAmbassadors or #Dialogue2010

Introduction for White Readers to Black Authors 
Borders Books Seattle
Carleen Brice author of Orange Mint & Honey is an ambassador for black authors and their books. On her blog she reminds readers that August the 29th is the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and she shares some compelling titles related to that natural and civic disaster. 

To buy these books Online, all you have to do is click on a link, it'll get you to the requested title. If you go to a real bookstore however, one you enter through the front door, you may not find novels by Afro- or African American authors in the regular fiction department. You'll discover there's an African American Interest section where all Af Am writers are grouped together. At least, that's the case at the chain bookstores such as Borders and its subsidiary Waldenbooks.  

The Indie bookstores I frequent in Seattle don't show segregated shelves for work by novelists of color.  Nor is this the case at the Tattered Cover where Brice filmed her fictional video. (If you watch her video now, you'll see a disclaimer). Good booksellers will assist customers in finding what they are looking for, the best are able to direct book lovers in new directions.

Welcome White Folks

Elliott Bay Book Company
Last month, in the SheWrites TalkRadio program White Readers, Meet Black Authors: How Women Writers of Color are Read, Received and Reviewed Brice told SW founder Kamy Wicoff that white readers emailed her saying they felt people would look at them funny if they visited the African American Interest section at a book store. They felt that section was for blacks only. In order to deal with this misunderstanding she created a (she says tongue in cheek) video with the hope that watching it will make people think twice before walking past the African-American Interest section at a chain book store in the future (click on video in menu bar at WelcomeWhiteFolks if link above doesn't work for you).

Wanted White Ambassadors to Help Black Author Cross Over
Between Friends - Sandy Bell-Lundy
June 29, a day after the TalkRadio show, Kamy Wicoff called white SheWrites members on their lack of participation in the discussion with beside Wicoff and Brice Virginia De Berry, Bernice McFadden and Martha Southgate. At the end of her post she offered some suggestions of action to take.

One of the aims of the founders of SheWrites is to offer members a possibility to promote their upcoming titles by keeping the membership abreast of developments leading to the publication date. 

After the above mentioned TalkRadio program had aired SheWrites member Lori L. Tharps, author of the memoir Kinky Gazpacho published her "Countdown to Publication" blog post

Perhaps she was inspired by Carleen Brice's video . Perhaps Tharps thought humor would win over people unfamiliar with her work. Tharps's Kinky Gazpacho does look like a fun read, but a comedy writer she is not. There was nothing remotely funny about the way she addressed her white Shewrites sisters. Perhaps she was the victim of a self fulfilling prophecy.
The discussion that followed in the comments section reeled participants in and out of a time warp, with white readers promising to promote her book, sight unseen and a few wondering what the hell was going on. 

Why the segregation in addressing fellow writers?

The Times are Literary A Changin' 
The fact is, the TalkRadio program and the discussion following the blogpost by Lori Tharps tell us that the times they are a changin', but if we don't pay close attention, all we may wind up with is a reversal.

By Judy L Katz 1st publ. 1978
 After a sensitivity training in the 70s Judy L.Katz noted:
"... I felt defensive about my whiteness and guilty and hurt because I was labeled the oppressor.  [The group's response:] This was a self-indulgent way to use up my energy. The real issue was not whether I was concerned about addressing racism but what I had done to challenge it. What action had I taken? By not acting I supported and perpetuated racism." From White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training

SheWrites is a platform where writers can count on support as writers. A place to promote our own work and if we like an other writer's work, we'll promote her book, but our willingness to promote a writer is based on our liking someone's work, not on an imposed sense of discomfort.

Celebrate Contemporary Authors of Color
At this time in history the focus of African American writing is changing and all of us can have a hand in making that known to people in our community, no matter what color we have.

"Today, African American literature has become accepted as an integral part of American literature, with books such as Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and Beloved by Toni Morrison achieving both best-selling and award-winning status."

Seeing this last paragraph of the Wikipedia page on Af Am Lit makes me smile. The mentioned "Today" was the today of yesteryear and is way behind the times. Take alone the books on Hurricane Katrina and engaging novels by women authors mentioned above, look at work by Jeffery Renard Allen and while you're at it check out other "young" writers of color such as Sonya Chung or Rattawut Lapcharoensap.

Have you read a great novel by a writer of color lately? Visit Wikipedia and help contemporary writers make history. 

More thoughts on this subject from my fellow HYBRID AMBASSADORS:
Sezin Koehler's Whites Only?
Catherine Yiğit's Special-ism
Anastasia Ashman's Great White People Book Club
Tara Lutman Agacayak's Circles
Catherine Bayar's Thicker Skin
Elmira Bayraslı's The Color of Writing
Jocelyn Eikenburg's The Problem with "Chinese Food"

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Monday, August 02, 2010

Naranja Sanguina Creates a Sense of Apolcalypse

My sweetheart is "at camp" this week. He's participating in Centrum's Acoustic Blues Fest in Port Townsend. A sucker for road trips I offered to drive him and his gear to Fort Worden where the Festival takes place, five hours on the road, just to see our dog run on the beach and my hubby in his dorm room. On our way to the utmost north-eastern point of the Olympic Peninsula we noticed the temperature was lower than it had been when we left; on my way back to Seattle I felt it went up again the moment I crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Leaving the Kitsap Peninsula  behind me it was as though I drove into a moderately warm oven the moment the tires of the truck hit the mainland. It was 6 p.m. and the sun, while still high in the light blue sky, seemed veiled.

When I stepped out of the car in front of our house in Seattle I noticed a wood burning smell, not unpleasant, rather like that of a good campfire (no, really) but I drew no conclusions other than that I was glad I could detect smoke again after living without a sense of smell for two years, and that our neighbors must have added some aromatic chips to their charcoal barbecue pit.

By 8:30 p.m. the sun stood like a Spanish blood orange over the horizon without any of the usual spreading of colors in the sky, a bloody red ball against Wedgwood powder blue. In the iPic I took the sun was golden, not red. The surrounding atmosphere of the globe was reddish pink. It all had an apocalypse-like feel to it. The stillness of the summer evening, the sun like a ball on fire, a photograph that didn't speak of reality, it made me want to scream. A silent scream like the one uttered by the figure in the famous Munch painting. For the longest time people thought Munch had to be crazy for "seeing" such an image, but astronomers discovered changes in the atmosphere due to a volcanic eruption can create the colors Edvard Munch painted. In the sky that is, it doesn't explain the red sun ...

This morning I awoke with the aromatic wood burning smell in my nostrils and remembered last night's red sun and that I've seen something similar in Los Angeles about 35 years ago. Forest fires, I realized, it's summer time and the woods are ablaze. Dreadful, dreadful fires. A good reason to scream.

Which artwork expresses how you feel at times?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Let the Spirit Lead

Photo courtesy Sezin Koehler

Tears from heaven, butterflies the size of condors
a bathtub drain as compass,  swirling whirling
stream of scented water, consciousness finding a way
to the tide, the waves. Beached whales floating
back to the pod, playing with octopuses, embraced by
countless arms, swimming with mermaids
bound for heavenly parties between silhouettes
of trees, growing upside down in Australia, or
was it all happening in your mind, high
on herbal essence, clouds of steamy goodwill
Love in the air, no need to put a word on paper
Words multiply and mate forming never ending
Stories waiting to be told

This is no labored poem, just my comment in response to Sezin Koehler's post "This is what my blog looks like on writer's block".
 When you visit her blog now, you won't see the image, it's not show as illustration with her blog post. "Let the Spirit Lead" was the header of an earlier blog design.

What do YOU see when you look at art?
Illustration © Sezin Koehler, author of American Monsters

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License