Candlelight Vigil for Freedom of Expression at AWP 2017. Corrected commentary.

My commentary–updated with corrections 2/6/17–and a reblogged post (at bottom).

Many have been saying the following and then launching new campaigns of activism. As always, I launch only my considered opinions, research-based (the one statistic I did use and cite needed correcting afterwards–my apologies) views, and best advice, leaving each person to do as conscience dictates.

It has been my aim to avoid politics in large part on my blog, focusing on pre-chosen themes that put art and beauty and positivity first. However, those themes include freedom of expression and opposing censorship, I’m still putting positivity first, and I’ll offer content according to my conscience regardless of trends, mine or others.

We all have choices to make. Wouldn’t it be great if we all kept the freedom to make them?


When executive orders forbid, for instance, federal workers from discussing federal policy, conditions at work, or opinions at all related to their jobs, it is a form of corporate practice as lawful as the conditions of security clearance or signing a confidentiality agreement. It goes with the job. That’s why it’s called an executive branch rather than just “the president”; there’s the Cabinet with 15 departments including Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, State, Justice, Agriculture, Interior, Environment, Education, Energy, etc., each with subsets of dozens of other organizations such as the FBI, the EPA, and the CIA.

The unreasonable suddenness, logistical difficulty, and accumulation of such orders amounting to a moving target that creates confusion and chaos is another matter for the company to work out within itself, lest its efforts to comply break a host of laws and fracture the Constitution. Even as they comply, federal workers must be cognizant of the consequences of their actions and weigh the risks and benefits of continuing to comply, keeping the conversation open amongst themselves if nothing else.

But there is more to consider in a climate in which the default impulse of the executive–whether he chooses to act on that impulse each time or not–is to rule by unexpected direct order, absolute silencing, intimidation, bullying, bribery, general dismissive belligerence or a combination of these. We must consider that non-federal employees with legitimate, rights-based objections to those or other orders have an even greater obligation than previously, and than their federal fellow citizens, to voice or also enact their objections.

Those included under such an obligation are state-level law enforcement leadership, whose duty it is to oppose, countermand, and, if necessary, arrest federal agents who have little choice but to carry out federal orders regardless of state-level legality or moral rightness. Where refusal to comply is truly untenable, blockage of compliance becomes essential.

The power of the executive branch of the federal government has expanded dangerously over the last several decades, for nearly a century in fact.

Now we see (because we finally choose to pay attention), in more vivid and alarming detail than under previous administrations who also wielded such power with various degrees and kinds of impunity, the threats that unchallenged executive mandates and manipulation pose to a panoply of basic freedoms–to pursue work or education, movement, trade, speech, religion, decisions about one’s own physical body and property, including land, and the ability to ask our State and military leader challenging (or any) questions. The legislative branch, the judicial branch, the states, and everyday citizens all have the obligation to check and nullify those threats.

Speak on, ask on, petition on, fund, litigate, assemble, enjoin, fight for what’s yours, relinquish what is not, pray or abstain, and don’t be intimidated. You’re not alone. No persecuted American left behind. Liberty and justice for all. Keep the conversation going. Debate, question, and prioritize your engagements.

No one has the right not to be offended, but you can choose not to take offense by ignoring non-threats to your freedom and focusing on those things that actually threaten it. In a society in which it has become far too easy to get distracted by inflammatory language and pursue useless tangents, the first order of business in making positive change in your country is to restrain yourself so that your energy is not spent before it can apply to what matters.

To that end, speak but don’t just speak. Think before you speak, choose your words wisely, and move from speech to action to protect your liberty and your neighbor’s. Don’t fight each other; fight the unlawful and abhorrent actions of your government. Show each other the respect, but not without adherence to Constitutional law, that your executive chooses not to show as he flouts the Constitution.

Be brave enough not to panic but to question, find facts, learn, engage, think, object, reconsider, seek alternative views, train your mind, open your heart, think critically, understand, decide, and, when necessary, dissent. That’s freedom. That’s patriotism.

What is not freeing or patriotic is terrorism, which comes in many forms. Since 9/11, we have scared ourselves into creating a less secure and far less free society. Now we are seeing the culmination of that extended, misguided, and misapplied paranoia.

From the Patriot Act forward, starting with Bush Jr., we have made incremental choices to excel at being our own most effective terrorists. We have looked the other way while our government implemented ineffectual laws and programs, and devastating military operations, and continued them under Obama:

the counterproductive bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act’s negation of habeas corpus and due process, Guantanamo Bay’s remaining open with the resulting unjust detentions, NSA snooping on American citizens, the TSA’s invasive blunders, Benghazi’s wrongful deaths, lack of transparency in leadership, Afghanistan, and drone strikes amounting to undeclared war in Syria and now troops in Yemen, for just the more obvious examples.

The effects–of both these government actions and the people’s acceptance of them–have been gradually eroding our basic freedoms and rights, and increasing our enemies’ hostility towards us, as well as abilities and determination to harm us.

Nothing brings that fact into sharper relief than the election of this president, who now perfectly embodies our terror. The fear has merely been disguised as anger. We must eventually learn and might as well start now: The only response with any chance to reverse this freedom-hating trend is calm, reasoned, organized, and well-applied resistance–first and foremost, to our own worst impulses.

Resist. But: Know why you resist, be clear about what you’re resisting, prioritize what is most important to resist, and learn how to do it more effectively than the government does anything.

Stop looking to centralized government to fix everything. They have proven repeatedly, in both parties, from all angles, that they are unfit to do so. A new executive won’t resolve this; the system itself is unfit, and the wisdom of term limits supports this notion. Being “unfit” may seem unfortunate, but it is not the tragedy. The real misfortune is our continued gullibility in believing they can fix it all as we passively await our deliverance. The corrupt, powerful godheads have led by fear and kept us afraid. In this respect, the federal government is a modern god for those no longer beholden to the earthly bonds of organized religion, a secondary one for those still trapped by it.

The alternative?

Start being responsible for the state of your own citizenship; the least of the actions demonstrating this is voting for a leader or simply attending church regularly. Each of us is the first, best, and only leader of ourselves. Set yourself free, and become the best kind of advocate for fellow citizens without the power to do so. Grow your worth, moral and monetary, to apply to the community in discerning, uncompromised benefit. Transform your anger into loving, positive, freedom-expanding action.

Real liberty is scary, but it is worth everything. Jesus, who sacrificed himself for everyone, understood that. So did Stalin, who sacrificed everyone for himself. Neither way is right or practical for the citizen who must remain strong and vital to serve as a thread in the societal tapestry, lest it all unravel. Neither absolute equality, nor absolute deference, nor totalitarianism will serve. Only generous spirit for uncommonly meaningful and inclusive purpose combined with an educated, well-reasoned will can defeat the frightened sheep–in this externalized form of a stingy, insecure egomaniac–that lives in us all.

Liberty is that inclusive purpose. Liberation is that will enacted. Actual security is an illusion. Actual equality is an illusion. We can choose to put first either freedom or safety, either freedom or equality, but not both. Put safety first, and freedom dies. Put equality first, and freedom dies. In seeking freedom first, we welcome safety and equality; we open the door for both. We can and must choose whether we are our own worst enemies or our own best friends, whether we will stay fearful and overly self-sacrificing or calm and wise.

Protectionism is fearful and unwise–bad for the economy and global relations. Discriminatory application of basic rights by sex, religion or politics is fearful and wrongheaded. Targeting things and people to ban by a scary-sounding name or traditionally suspect nationality is cowardly and stupid. But if you’re going to be that way, at least be consistent. Targeting those things and people while at the same time allowing even more actually suspect ones to travel freely is asinine and completely counterproductive. We seem to have a Joseph McCarthy-like character in the highest office.

However, the illogic of this seemingly arbitrary discrimination is nothing new. Obama’s “higher deportation numbers than those of all 20th-century presidents combined” (questionable claim) at least partly targeted those illegals previously convicted of a crime, though non-criminal ejections (whether mostly returns or removals) have exceeded criminal ones consistently since 2001.¹ See updates to this footnote (in purple). Ousting peaceful but illegal Mexican farmers with non-violent criminal records, and peaceful but legal Shiite Muslim Iranian academics, when the real problem is legal Sunni Muslim Saudi immigrants learning to fly planes into iconic American buildings, is pure bald-faced, idiotic cruelty in the guise of tough do-something-ness.

Furthermore, behaving like an absolute monarch or dictator is fearful, malicious behavior. Supporting only like-minded advisers is infantile and short sighted. Gag orders are fascist–fearful and growth stunting. Acting without thinking, without warning, and without remorse is profoundly malignant, distrusting (fearful), and incredibly foolish. Whether cunning steamroller or bold imbecile, and at times he seems to be both, this president may well be insane. Signs of schizophrenia would not be more disorienting to the observer. (Well, maybe that’s insulting to schizophrenics.) What is certain is that the man is a frightened rabbit with a nest for hair. It would be funny if he were not so dangerous to freedom.

He either doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or both. But even if he were a better leader, it would still be up to the people to lead. To each person. Freedom is not free. For free speech, free religion, free choice, freedom over our bodily person, free assembly, free expression, free enterprise, free trade, and free pursuit of happiness, freedom to have a sense of humor or none whatsoever, we have the responsibility to control ourselves: to avoid fraud and falsehood, assemble peacefully and lawfully, invest wisely, refrain from censorship, interact only by mutual consent, permit individuals’ free use of their own minds and bodies, and defend the rights of everyone else to do the same. Live and let live.

Not just Uncle Sam but the people of your country want you. Need you. Facts are indisputable, and this is the plainest fact: Only you can make things better.


¹ Corrected, 2/6/17: See the Pew Research Center’s August 2016 article “U.S. immigrant deportations declined in 2014, but remain near record high,” The Economist‘s February 2014 article “America’s Deportation Machine: The Great Expulsion,” and ABC’s August 2016 article “Obama Has Deported More People Than Any Other President.”

Pew’s chart does not distinguish illegal immigrant returns from removals, both of which have increased fluctuated since the late 90s but together have steadily decreased, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), since 2004; see the Center for Immigration Studies’ chart spanning 1982-2011.

The CIS reports directly cite the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s own “internal” records as opposed to “packaged press kits.” CIS’s claim is that the DHS numbers used by other sources (such as the 3 above) to report record highs in expulsions were manipulated in unprecedented ways under the Obama administration. Some of this has to do with which agency is doing the ousting (ICE vs. Border Patrol), the actual departed vs. ordered gone status of illegals (order vs. enforcement), and how returns and removals have traditionally been counted.

The Reuters blog reported a total of 414,481 deportations in fiscal year 2014, citing DHS, closer to the annual downward trend shared by CIS. According to their chart referenced above, it appears that President Clinton was the expulsion winner among two-term presidents in recent decades (including Reagan, Bush Jr. and Obama).

I encourage you to seek additional sources beyond those above, to take few things at face value, to challenge the media not to swallow whole everything authority figures tell them, even when quantified and packaged well, and to take this example of the unclear state of reported facts as a lesson in the value of general skepticism, if not that of deeper, nuanced investigation few of us have time to conduct personally. And, thus, to understand the futility and folly of rash, precipitous action based on sound bites taken out of context, half truths that ignore equally relevant truths, and distortions of fact that breed further distortion.

What politician does not spin the facts for his or her own purposes? And, ultimately, what is the government if not political?

Often, our reactions and overreactions prove that we can be puppets in their hands. Take great care and consider that sometimes on certain issues, just maybe, we really do not need to do anything, except wait for the fog to clear. Abstinence, restraint, and calm but alert, steady work make the best, most effective kinds of resistance to the seductive call to chaos.


BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

March.jpgThe annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference is in D.C. this year, and in fact, it is next week, and this year is starting to look a bit different. Yes there will be books, and yes there will be beer, and chances are good someone at some panel is going to sound pretentious, but in keeping with the times, we have this:

On Saturday, February 11, during the last evening of the AWP Conference & Bookfair, a Candlelight Vigil for Freedom of Expression will be held in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, which faces the north side of the White House. The vigil is set to begin at 6:15 p.m.

The gathering will include several speakers: Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson.

The group organizing the event writes on their Facebook page: “This basic freedom is threatened in…

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Packing for Camp

It’s that time again. July is Camp NaNoWriMo, round 2 of the year 2016. I continue to feel the need for this kind of support to stay motivated to keep writing. With the onset of summer, I itch to play in the flower beds we so carefully planned and planted, or finally to clear the clutter from that room (all of them), especially when the temperatures lose temperance.

It helps to have a sense of permission to write, as well as a dedicated space–real and virtual–for writing since it’s not part of my daily routine and makes no income for me otherwise.

To reinforce that positive energy, I’ll be hosting a weekly write-in at a cafe for my local NaNo area for the month of July. I see my primary role as offering support for my immediate writing community, and that does include me. Currently, the project I will work on remains unknown to me.

I didn’t get very far with my April novel writing, after feeling so great about the elaborate planning I managed to complete for the plot. Previously posted was my piece about being “Ready to Start” as the month was coming to a close, so maybe I should continue working on that novel, “start” on it again.

Often, I feel as if “real writers” don’t have this problem of what to write about, or even what basic form to write in–prose, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journal, essay, etc.

Traditionally, I gravitated toward periodicals and books about the writing life in general, but given how little of my collection I’ve actually read or acted upon, I’m less inclined to add to the collection these days.

My dusty library includes classic guides such as On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, as well as Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, and many others including a variety of Writer’s Digest books and magazine issues on writing and publishing, collected from having worked at the parent company of the WD imprint.

I have significant experience with writing papers for college and graduate school, tutoring writing, and doing editing and proofreading, but that’s not really being a writer.

On the flip side, I don’t consider simply being a published author as being a writer, either. Celebrities, politicians, and businesspeople may employ ghost writers to create their books. I recently took a stab at ghost writing, but that didn’t work out. If there is a dearth of ideas in my own mind of what to write about, my motivation to convey someone else’s message dips below even that level.

There’s been this long-standing pressure, inside and out, for me to seat myself firmly in the writing field and declare myself a writer. More and more, though, I’m sensing that it’s not my primary career identifier. I tend to enjoy learning, research, and teaching, as well as the performing arts, more than either reading or writing novels. Even my poetry doesn’t come urgently forth on a regular basis, though it seems to be my default setting among forms.

Whatever emerges as my Camp focus, the first step for me is brainstorming. I need to pack a case full of ideas to take with me to Camp. Why not use my blog as the duffel bag?

First, though, the physical materials to support Camp participation:

  • laptop with all writing files and Internet access
  • laptop cable and power strip
  • noveling materials from last Camp–notes, drafts, outline, reference sheets
  • notebook(s) and various writing utensils
  • tab of my blog open in browser
  • book/websites of creative writing prompts, inspirational images, writing starters
  • tab open of my cabin at campnanowrimo.org to communicate with cabin mates online
  • stopwatch (online or on phone) to do word sprints
  • fellow writers, supplied
  • refreshments (i.e., coffee), brought and available for purchase
  • miniature, rubber ninja figurine supplied by our Municipal Liaison during November’s NaNoWriMo as a talisman to boost our writing mojo

backpackers_2_evergreens_summer

Ideas Packed for a Productive, Enjoyable Camp NaNoWriMo, July 2016:

  • novel started in April – contemporary realistic fiction set in a high school about a teacher and her experiences with bullying
  • alternative version of the bullying novel: revenge fantasy a la Inglorious Basterds
  • revamp WordPress blog and plan new content
  • continue revising, compiling, and writing poems for a first published collection
  • travel writing essay about planning for vacation
  • Outlander fan fiction or spin-off using a minor character as the main character
  • Outlander season 2 overall review, or series of reviews, on my blog
  • develop business plan and materials for in-person tutoring writing clients
  • revisit and finish the story for my first novel, attempted in 2011, my favorite so far, about a traumatized ranching family, wolves, and Native American mythologies in Montana, Idaho and Yellowstone
  • revisit and develop my 2nd favorite novel from 2013, about Shakespeare’s mistress and her playwright ambitions
  • revisit and develop my 2014 tragic novel about a delusional history professor with financial problems
  • probe my anxiety dreams for fantastical adventures and horror stories
  • set a non-writing goal of learning a new skill, organizational system, research method, or other process for fun or practical application
  • make the month an artistic month of coloring, drawing, rap and song writing, crafting, and generally unfettered creative impulses
  • follow the same approach as done in April by selecting an aspect of writing to learn about and practice in depth, such as new or less practiced poetry forms (haiku, villanelle, sestina, parody) or subjects, viewpoint experimentation in fiction, short story writing, or truly free free writing
  • write whatever comes to mind for a certain amount of time every single day, with no expectations or requirements for specific application to a story or other writing form–just produce, produce, produce raw material for later mining
  • play or screen writing
  • political, persuasive essays about this ridiculous election cycle, or just satire of it
  • satire
  • jokes
  • novel ideas and plot synopses, one after another
  • use the month to repeat The Artist’s Way program or try a new and different creativity-boosting program

And maybe eventually I won’t need a special event like Camp NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month in November to devote the time, thought, and effort to supply myself with the necessary tools for perpetual writing. Only with consistently dedicated time and space, and the steady dual work of reading and writing, can we improve our craft and make something worth writing and reading.

Based on reading my blog posts, do you have any suggestions for my Camp NaNo focus? Feel free to add them in the comments.

Happy Camping!

On Teaching Exploration: The Pigeon Paper

Learning, writing, birds, otters, details, and soul. A reblogged post.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

by Jan Priddy

z pigeons.jpg (c) 2016 photo by Dinty W.Moore

In my college writing class I assign “The Pigeon Paper.” This is a short expository essay written to address a one-word topic—write about “squash” or write about “salt”—a paper completed in ten days. The first year it was about pigeons—hence the name. We began the assignment by brainstorming what we knew individually about pigeons and considering different structures for an expository paper (comparison, chronology, description); overnight each of us researched and the next day we brought in research and each proposed three potential topics and approaches; then we had a few days to complete a draft for peer editing in class, and a final draft of the paper was handed in the following day.

Long before I began teaching, I had faith both in assignments and research. I believe writing creates learning, because it forces us to examine our knowledge in the…

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Slow Down: Interrogating the Past Takes Time

A reblogged post

Our imperfect memories, emotional blind spots, and need for a degree of heroism in our memoir’s protagonist can muddle the truth and the facts when writing autobiography. Author Julie Riddle uses an example from experience to describe how taking the time to process and re-process our writing before entrusting it to readers can be as important as telling our stories.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

Julie Riddle Julie Riddle

By Julie Riddle

In spring 2009 I completed the final year of a low-residency MFA program. I had just turned thirty-nine years old, had no publishing credits to my name, and years of work lay ahead of me, developing my creative-nonfiction thesis into a book-length memoir that, I hoped, someone might one-day want to publish.

One May afternoon an email appeared in my in-box. A faculty member from my graduate program had invited me to contribute an essay from my thesis to an anthology on domestic violence in the West that would be used in college and university classrooms. The essay, “Frontier Girl,” explored my fraught relationship with a boy I had dated for two years in high school. A respected university press had expressed interest in publishing the anthology. I was thrilled!

Over the next six weeks I revised the essay for the anthology, pleased to be…

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Does the Atheist have a Theory of Mind? (a pressed post)

Does the Atheist have a Theory of Mind?.

Are atheists “all there,” or are they somehow cognitively impaired? In other words, do you have to be stupid or crazy not to believe in God or gods? This excellent scholarly essay by Thomas Coleman III, originally posted on Scientia Salon, explores and answers that question.

2013: contents inventoried, the “artist’s way”

I have taken an inventory of art I produced and enjoyed in 2013, a sort of artist’s résumé. Never mind publishing or selling most of these. There are as many things simply enjoyed as created, anyway. This is art for art’s sake, in the spirit of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Behold my “artist’s dates.”

  • 2 acrylic paintings on canvas at Wine and Canvas.
  • 1 acrylic painting on paper, created in the shade of our back deck gazebo one warm, sunny summer afternoon.
  • 1 confidence decoy painting of a wooden killdeer.
  • 3 still-life nature sketches. 1 bunch of crab apples with stems and leaves, 1 canine skull, and 1 set of seed pods in a glass jar.
  • numerous colored mandalas and other pictures using crayons, colored pencils, and markers.
  • created 2 zentangle designs using an extremely fine-tipped black pen.
  • 4 or 5 journal-entry essays.
  • attended 2 plays and a ballet — Richard III, Wicked, and The Nutcracker, respectively.
  • participated in an hour of dance at Dance Dance Party Party-Akron several times.
  • explored several new parks and trails in the Summit County MetroParks.
  • witnessed wildlife including great blue herons, a Cooper’s hawk, tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees, eastern towhees, northern cardinals, cerulean warblers, an eastern meadowlark, tree swallows, American woodcock (at dusk, a lopsided-looking fellow), common nighthawk (same twilight outing), raccoons, red-spotted salamander, deer bucks and does, hummingbirds, rabbits, swallowtail butterflies, a praying mantis, ants in my house, and a hummingbird moth on my butterfly bush.
  • learned about 30 some species of warbler in a five-part nature class.
  • a few poems, one revised and polished (nature themed, of course).
  • visited the Akron Art Museum for 3 exhibits: “Real/Surreal,” “Line, Color, Illusion,” featuring artist Julian Stanczak’s work, and a photography exhibit on the theme of capturing people’s absences, called “With a Trace.”
  • attended the Irish Fest in late summer on the river front in Cuyahoga Falls, watching kids play in the fountain and listening to an Irish band in the amphitheater with friends.
  • tutored students to create satirical cartoons, interpret historical art, and analyze poems, non-fiction, short stories, and novels.
  • read books for classics book club and my own edification.
  • watched many new and recent films and TV shows, as well as old favorites, including Black Swan and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
  • sang in my car, at home, and at a Christmas service.
  • made a collage as one of The Artist’s Way chapter tasks.
  • danced around the house.
  • helped make Halloween cookies and decorate for a dual-purpose Dad’s surprise birthday and Halloween party (he was surprised).
  • browsed and bought handmade jewelry and holiday rubber stamps, and viewed other local artists’ work, at the Cuyahoga Valley Art Center.
  • made several Halloween greeting cards using my mother’s scrapbooking and card making supplies from Archiver’s; sent them to friends and family.
  • met weekly with my Morning Pagers group for brunch at Caffe Gelato in North Canton for mutual encouragement, commiseration, and inspiration.
  • attended off-season NaNoWriMo meet-ups with our Canton regional Municipal Liaison, in addition to writing a novel in November.
  • took photographs at home and out and about; refined and printed some, giving a few as gifts.
  • my first complete novel draft.
  • and much more!

I also completed oodles of morning pages throughout the year.

It’s amazing how much and how well my way has become an artist’s way over the past year. 2014, here I come! I plan to try painting pottery for the first time soon, to continue nature drawing, try other new activities, and develop my skills in some art forms already explored.

My advice to blocked or otherwise yearning artists? Get out there and play the artist’s way. Note: It helps tremendously to read and follow the program of the book. I especially recommend doing this with a friend or a group of fellow creatives to help motivate you and hold you accountable. Play on.