This is an old post, but worth repeating.
I am so tired of us 'sexy-shaming' women.
If you haven't done it, you've seen it. Judging women for dressing too sexy, or acting too sexy, or dancing too sexy, or being in a line of work that we consider sexual, or doing things we associate with sex. And if you're a woman, chances are you've made excuses for yourself for looking or acting or being sexy. "I didn't realize this dress was so tight!" "I had no idea these shoes made me look like a hooker!" "I was only dirty-dancing because I was drunk!"
It's old, people. I'm really tired of it.
I really started thinking about this when I saw a thread on a hula-hooping facebook page. Most of the participants in this group are young women, much younger than me. One of them shared a comment someone left on a picture of video of her hooping that insinuated that she was being sexual. She defended herself, saying "Don't make hooping sexual!" The ensuing discussion consisted mostly of people saying either "hooping isn't slutty" or "haters gonna hate", but my thought is this: so fucking what? So what if her hooping is sexy? Women are sexy! It's part of our nature, and it's been so for ages, even before Salome had poor John's head served up on a plate. Granted when I hoop there's nothing sexy about it. I'm lucky when I can keep the hoop going around my hips and throw in a few tricks--adding sex appeal would be nothing short of disastrous. But if I could hoop sexily? Then heck yeah I would! So does that make me a slut?
The obvious answer is no. But that doesn't stop the pervasive judgement. perpetuated by a conflicted society that bombards us with pictures of barely legal lithe girls in undergarments and touts them as sexy, and then turns their noses up at strippers. When I started belly dancing, years and years ago, people judged me for it. After all, you're half-naked, gyrating your hips around. Doesn't this make you a slut? I made excuses, concessions. I didn't dance in restaurants for men--I danced as an art form. I was sensual, not sexual. I kept all my lady parts safely tucked away. MY belly dancing wasn't slutty. But truth was, when I danced I felt sexy. Very, very sexy. No matter what I wore or who I danced in front of--even when I danced alone--I felt hella sexy.
So did that make me a slut? How about when I started pole dancing? Again, I was surprised at the judgement, especially by other women but by men as well. Again, the defenses: It's athletic! It's basically aerial gymnastics. It's not like I'm stripping while I do it! You can't wear a lot of clothes or your skin won't stick to the pole! But once again, the truth was buried beneath the defense. While I liked the acrobatic parts of the sport, I loved the sexy part of the dance. It made me feel beautiful, alive, sinuous, sensual, and yes--sexy. My clothes got skimpier and sexier. I danced in heels. I emulated strippers and their hypnotic seductive moves.
So is that where I became a slut? No. And here's the bottom line, which we need to be reminded of again and again and again---dancing sexy does not make one a slut. Dressing skimpy does not make one a slut. Stripping for a living does not make one a slut. Sleeping with consenting adults does not make one a slut. No matter where, when, or how many.
But slut-shaming is pervasive, so pervasive that I know I lost some of you in that last paragraph. Our culture really wants to hang onto the notion that women are not supposed to do what they want with their bodies, and that women who do should be scorned and judged. So we make excuses for ourselves when we do things that could be perceived as slutty. Or we avoid doing such things completely to avoid judgement.
All those Halloween costumes we scoff at--sexy nurse! Sexy zombie! Sexy pirate! That's in all of us, every day, in real life. Sexy doctors. Sexy lawyers. Sexy EMTs. Sexy chefs. Sexy professors. Sexy baristas. Sexy CEOS, accountants, dancers, graphic artists, stay-at-home moms. We don't need a silly costume once a year to be sexy. We just need to be who we are, comfortable in our own skin, doing our own thing. For some of us, that might mean dancing in 5 inch heels. For others, that might mean wearing comfortable clothes and reading a book. But let's stop the judgement, of ourselves and of each other, for being sexual beings.
So go ahead and be sexy. Wear what makes you feel good, move in ways that make you feel good. Sleep with who you want to, when you want to. But be safe about it. Know that the judgement is not going away. Protect yourself. Don't put yourself in unsafe situations. Be as sexy as you want to be, and when you hide the sexy side from those who will use it to hurt you, do it not because you are ashamed of it, but because you are strong and smart and safe.
"There were days, there were days, and there were days between
Summer flies and August dies and the world grows dark and mean"
Yesterday began what Grateful Dead fans term 'the days between'. Named after one of the later songs Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter wrote, the days between refer to the time span between Jerry Garcia's birthday on August 1st, and the day he died, August 9th. These days have come to be an occasion for Deadheads. Many find them reflective and introspective. The mythos behind it reminds me of the time period that Demeter mourned her daughter Persephone's loss in Greek mythology, when she refused to allow the seasons to change, or of the period Christians believe to be have occurred between Christ's death and resurrection. Much like the Hanged Man tarot card, to me the days between are a pregnant pause, a moment of stasis, of waiting for the inevitable. Once it is past, all begins again.
My father died during the days between, on August 3rd. I find this fitting. My dad was a deadhead back in the 60s, back when the Dead played free concerts in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, where my dad was living in a commune. After my friends saw a picture of him in his hippie heyday, they began calling him Jerry because they thought he looked like Jerry Garcia. (He in turn called them 'Jerry's kids' in a reference to Jerry Lewis' work with muscular dystrophy--not very PC, but very much my dad). My dad was the one who told me about Jerry Garcia's death. We both took it hard.
Our culture has a hard time with grief and loss. We like to keep ourselves busy, to avoid thinking about or feeling that which causes us pain. But I like the idea of taking advantage of moments like the days between to find some sort of remembrance. This can be quiet remembrance, or celebratory. The days between are a reminder that even as we suffer losses, life continues and moves on. And as we celebrate periods of joy, moments of pain lurk just around the corner. It's a reminder to live despite this, to feel the pain, to find the joy. It's a moment to remember those we loved and lost. To quote Robert Hunter's lyrics, it's a moment to love and learn and grow.
It's also a beautiful song. well worth listening to. I posted the lyrics below. May we all continue to love and learn and grow.
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Jerry Garcia
There were days, and there were days
And there were days between
Summer flies and August dies
The world grows dark and mean
Comes the shimmer of the moon
On black infested trees
The singing man is at his song
The holy on their knees
The reckless are out wrecking
The timid plead their pleas
No one knows much more of this
Than anyone can see
Anyone can see
There were days, and there were days
And there were days besides
When phantom ships with phantom sails
Set to sea on phantom tides
Comes the lightning of the sun
On bright unfocused eyes
The blue of yet another day
A springtime wet with sighs
A hopeful candle lingers
In the land of lullabies
Where headless horsemen vanish
With wild and lonely cries
There were days, and there were days
And there were days I know
When all we ever wanted
Was to learn and love and grow
Once we grew into our shoes
We told them where to go
Walked halfway around the world
On promise of the glow
Stood upon a mountain top
Walked barefoot in the snow
Gave the best we had to give
How much we'll never know
We'll never know
There were days, and there were days
And there were days between
Polished like a golden bowl
The finest ever seen
Hearts of Summer held in trust
Still tender young and green
Left on shelves collecting dust
Not knowing what they mean
Valentines of flesh and blood
As soft as velveteen
Hoping love would not forsake
The days that lie between
Some of you may know I've seen the Grateful Dead one or two or sixty-four times. (Yes, not only do I know the exact number but I also have a notebook in which I've written down every set list for every show I attended, plus details of who I was with, guest performers, notable things that happened at the show, how I got tickets, unusual songs played, etc . But I digress...) It's hard to explain the allure of the Dead to people who haven't experienced it. If you know it, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, you're probably shaking your head at me. I've been thinking a lot about it myself, especially after this weekend of the Fare Thee Well shows, where the surviving original members of the band came together for what they deemed their final performance after 50 years, and almost exactly 20 years after the last Grateful Dead show before Jerry Garcia died (tomorrow, July 9, will be the actual anniversary). This weekend touched me in ways I didn't expect, brought me back to places I never again expected to be, and found parts of me that I thought were gone forever.
My first Dead show was at the Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena--why do they ruin venue names like that?) in April 1989. I was 16, and somewhat familiar with the Dead already. I was raised by hippies, and fiercely envious of their experiences in the 60s. I listened to classic rock, and I had stolen my dad's Dead albums and played them on the cheap turntable in my room. I thought it was pretty cool when my friend Devra got me a ticket to the Dead show. I figured it was like going to see the Who or the Stones. But as soon as we drove into the parking lot, I realized this was like nothing I had seen before. Colorful people sporting tie-dyes or patchwork dresses or Guatemalan clothes, with long hair, dreadlocks, bandannas, meandered through the lot. Vendors sold clothing, jewelry, pipes, stickers, posters, food, and yes drugs. Everyone smiled. Everyone seemed happy. I was floored. These were my people! Everything I longed for from my parents' time was still happening right here! Inside, I was transfixed. I didn't know most of the songs or really appreciate the set list (what I wouldn't give to go back in time and hear that To Lay Me Down again!) but I loved what I heard, and I felt the importance of it all. I left that show in awe. Around the same time, I started going out with a Deadhead named Corey, who had access to just about every bootleg ever recorded and countless stories about traveling around the country to see them, and that was it. The bus came by and I got on, that's where it all began.
For the next 6 years, I toured as much as I could. At first it was just shows around Chicago, then a little midwest run, and the next thing you know my friends and I were catching rides at truck stops to hit the start of Spring Tour. Tour was amazing. I didn't have a car, so I just threw a bunch of clothes in a Guatemalan duffel bag and carried my sleeping bag. I have no idea how to explain how liberating it was to not plan out what was going to happen--how I was getting to the next show, how I was getting IN the next show, where I was going to crash--because if I tried to apply it to my actual life now it would be terrifying. But it wasn't. It was freeing. I trusted that everything would fall into place, and everything did. I made friends that I only saw at shows, but knew exactly how to find them each time. We didn't call or text; we met in the Phil zone or behind the stage or at will call every hour on the hour. But we always found each other.
And the music. As much as I loved the scene and the people, the music was what drew me. The thrill of guessing what song they'd play next, or hearing a song they hadn't played in years. The Dead's repertoire was huge, and they didn't repeat songs from night to night at any venue, and usually not at back to back venues either. Each band member brought different nuances to the show. Bobby's energy and enthusiasm, Phil's mellow flow. The lilt in Jerry's solos; the emotion in his voice.The crowd fed off the band and the band fed off the crowd. The energy was tangible. There's an almost ritualistic culture at Dead shows. This weekend my friend Danny, who has never seen the Dead, mentioned it at the end of the show when even the fans shut out of the show were chanting "You know our love will not fade away" and clapping before the encore. He was a little freaked out by it, said it reminded him of church. I think he's right, and to many the shows were spiritual and ritualistic in a culture that craves such things.
Following the Dead around wasn't all I did. I went to college, worked minimum wage jobs while I waited for spring or summer break. But tour was my respite, my refueling, my refreshment. I had slowed down a bit by 95 but still managed to hit a few of the spring and summer shows. Things were getting a little crazy at that point. Gate-crashers in Deer Creek, IN caused the Dead to cancel a show for the first time that I knew of. Jerry seemed to be struggling and we worried about his health and his drug use. But I thought the last show at Soldier Field was great, especially Jerry's So Many Roads. And then they encored with Black Muddy River, which I had been dying to hear and didn't expect to at that show because it had been played recently. And then they played a second song--Box of Rain--which never happened in a Grateful Dead encore! I left that show happy as always, but somehow a strange feeling plagued me. I felt a sense of ending, as if this was the last time I'd see them. I told my brother that maybe I was going to stop going to see the Dead, and he laughed at me. "As soon as the next shows line up you'll be looking for tickets." I nodded, but I couldn't shake the feeling that this was it, that I was done. It turned out I was right, but not for the reason I was thinking. Jerry died one month later.
The loss of Jerry was huge for me. Not only would I not be able to see the Dead play with him again, but I wouldn't be able to find my friends again, the ones I only saw at shows. I wouldn't be able to throw caution to the wind and hit the road, waiting to see where I'd end up, who I'd be with, how it'd fall into place this time. It was the loss of a lifestyle, and I mourned it.
And then life went on. I had a baby, graduated college, became a teacher. I traveled, I saw music. I lived my life, often nostalgic for those days, but I moved on.
When the Dead announced this final run of shows, I wasn't sure what to think about it. Was the Dead without Jerry even the Dead? I knew the music would be great, the performances good, but it wouldn't be the same. Was it worth it? But of course I had to find out. I wasn't lucky enough to get tickets through mail order or ticketmaster, but I was lucky enough to know some people (thank you Val and Paulie!) who got me into the first two shows. So I went--and all the feels came rushing back. The feeling of being in the lot, where everyone is cool, having a good time, in solidarity with one another. That feeling of being home was still there. The kindness was still there. The energy in the shows was still there. Of course there were differences. Hearing Jerry's songs sung by someone else wasn't easy, and harder with some songs than others. And all the cell phones everywhere was definitely different. But something within me reawakened, something that I didn't even realize was there after all these years. I was refreshed and refueled.
Since the shows ended I've been missing it. Missing the lot. Missing the people who get it, who know what I'm feeling. But I've also been happy. Smiling at strangers in the grocery store. Letting people cut in front of me in traffic. Riding that wave of being kind. The last thing Mickey Hart said, at the closing of the final show, was for us to be kind. And I'm feeling that. Like my friend Paulie says, the spirit lives strong in us.
Anyone else feel like you're inundated with self-help articles? 7 keys to happiness! 12 ways to cheer yourself up when you're at your lowest! 9 ways to beat belly fat! (I admit, I always get suckered into clicking on that one, and then they lose me at 'quit eating sugar'). 8 things successful people have already done before you even hit snooze for the 80th time and drag your sorry ass out of bed!
Personally I'm sick to death of these articles. They're glib, full of grammatical errors and reek of that fake, pasted-on Stepford Wife smile. But there's a reason these articles are out there, luring us in with their promise of perfection. On some level, as a culture, we are constantly in search of the elusive secret to happiness.
I consider myself a happy person. But 'happy' is a pretty broad term. Do I walk around life elated, jumping for joy, cheering all the time? Nah, and thank goodness, because I'd be insufferable if I did. Do I often feel sad, angry, other 'non-happy' feelings? Yeah, pretty much every day. At least once. Or twice. Or more. In fact, if you saw me driving, you certainly wouldn't peg me as a happy person. You'd probably want me institutionalized.
But I am content. I am comfortable with who I am, where I am in my life. As a default, I feel pretty good. And lately, I've been trying to figure out why. Not because I believe I can write anyone else a prescription for contentment. One reason those articles I referenced above irk me so much is because there is no one-size-fits-all plan for happiness. We're all different-- chemically, hormonally, environmentally--so how could anything work for everyone?
But I wasn't always this happy. And I've certainly gone through some pretty dark times--probably darker than many of my friends are aware of. And maybe some of what works for me could work for others, who knows? In any case, I've been thinking about it, and here it is: The Things That Keep Me Content.
1. I let myself feel. I cry often. Sometimes watching a movie or listening to a song; sometimes hearing about something sad that happened to someone else; sometimes because I am sad myself. When I'm angry or frustrated, I voice it. I find someone to vent to or I face the issue. I'm not saying you have to cry every day or swear at drivers in the car to be happy, but I do think that not allowing yourself to feel your feelings could be a deterrent to contentment.
2. I don't compare myself to others. There are zillions of people who are richer than I am, more successful than me, in better shape, more graceful, have a bigger house, etc. etc. etc. I don't spend time worrying about it. I applaud the successes of others and keep striving for my own. I'm sure there are things I can do that they can't. Each of us brings something unique and beautiful to this world. There's room for all of us. No one is falling short.
3. I don't hold myself to a vision that's beyond my control. Is this the life I imagined for myself? Probably not. I didn't expect to be divorced. I thought I'd have more than one kid, and definitely a daughter. I never thought I'd live in Chicago for my entire life. But this is where I am now--single mom of one boy, still in Chicago--and I don't lament what couldn't be. I try to find the joy in what I do have. For instance, teenage boys seem to be easier than teenage girls--at least if you're comparing me as a teenager to my son as a teenager. For that I am grateful beyond belief.
4. I do what I love. I know you can't always get paid to do what you love. If you're one of the lucky ones who does, awesome. If not, find ways to do what you love to do. I love dancing, so I dance. I love writing, so I write. What do you love doing? Do it!! And as an addendum to this, I make time for myself. This is much harder when you have young kids--especially if you're a single mom. Believe me, I know. But I still found ways here and there to make time for myself. Honestly it made me a better mother to take time away from my child for myself.
5. I ask for help. I'm lucky enough to have a rich support network, and I use it when necessary. I pride myself on being a strong, capable person who can handle my own, but even the strongest of us can't do it all all the time. The beginning of this year was a real rough time for me, and it was the kindness of my friends and loved ones who got me through it. I even enlisted the help of my old therapist, who I hadn't talked to in years. It's not easy to do, but it pays off in the end.
6. I'm patient with myself. I know I'm a work in progress. I know that I'm going to screw things up. I know that I'm going to have rough days. I take pains not to beat myself up for it.
7. I savor what I do have. I am very, very grateful for my life. Even when things aren't going well and I'm feeling low, I am thankful for my family, my friends, the little things in life that I'm able to enjoy.
I suppose I could get into specifics, which might involve wine, chocolate, cuddling with cats, hot baths, and exercise (not necessarily in that order!!) but I won't. Suffice to say these are some of the things I do to try to keep on keeping on, and have a pretty good time while I do it. What are yours? I'd love to hear some!
Oh, and as for how to be beautiful? Can't help you there. I woke up like this.
My dad was a character. He was larger than life, and not just in size. His voice, his humor, his presence. Even his stories were exaggerated, and became more so throughout the years, although he would deny this fiercely.
A look through his Facebook page tells you a lot about him. He was very political, fiercely liberal, a champion for the rights of minorities, the working class, the LBGT community. He loved animals, especially the puppies that were born in his house in the months before his death. He loved his family. He shared the accomplishments of his children, his grand kids, his daughter-in-law, his nephews and nieces. He loved my mother more than anything. He was a very smart man and an avid reader. We both read the Game of Thrones books and discussed them constantly. We played words with friends. He usually lost.
He could argue. He was stubborn. Sometimes impatient, although he seemed to gain patience with age, and was way more patient with the grandkids than he had been with us.
My dad taught me to make the best of any situation. If there was nothing you could do about it, you just had to keep going. He went through a lot and did it all with fortitude. He taught me to love unconditionally. My dad loved us no matter what we did. I never felt as if I disappointed him, even through the worst of times.
He told great stories. Most of them were inappropriate, so if you want to hear them you'll have to ask.
He loved fishing. I have tons of memories of camping and fishing expeditions when I was young. He taught so many of us how to fish: me, my siblings, my cousins, my son.
He was an amazing cook. He didn't follow recipes, just threw things together to make delicious and unique meals and drinks. If you were lucky enough to have eaten something my father made, you know what I'm talking about.
He loved music, and left behind a huge list of songs that remind us of him. He couldn't sing on key, but that didn't stop him from singing loudly and with much enthusiasm.
He was eccentric, and often obnoxious, and inappropriate, and I had this idea that only those of us who knew him well 'got him'. I found out I was wrong at his services, when countless people came and shared stories of how he touched their lives, with his humor or his kindness. Everyone who met him embraced his eccentricities, and saw the good, good man that he was. I still love to hear stories about him from friends and family members.
It's hard to believe it's been almost three years since he died. It doesn't seem that long, but there's so much of my life that'he's missed. I wish he could see my house, read my book, meet my cats. I miss him so much, but he was larger than life, and his presence stays with me always.
Happy Father's Day, dad. I love you.
You have 6 days to enter! The more options you choose, the better your chances of winning!
I'm jumping in the virtual VW and hitting the cyberroad to promote my book!
6/2: Today my book is reviewed by the lovely Amy Bizzarri, author of Discovering Vintage Chicago!
5/26: And yet another interview, this time by author Christina Hamlett! Interviewing is fun!
5/25: Check me out at Jamie L. Kaplan's blog. Jamie is also an author, and you can find her latest book here.
5/24: Today I'm featured on Random Michelle's blog. Read an excerpt from her upcoming novel, What Comes After, here!
5/23: Another interview, this time with ID Johnson, author of Cordia's Will (which I am currently enjoying. Review coming soon!)
5/22: Today check out my interview with Ronda Del Boccio! Ronda is a prolific author with many books for sale and tips for aspiring authors, so be sure to browse around!
5/20: Today I'm featured on Lauren Scharhag's blog. Lauren is a fellow author with several published books and projects in the works. Click the link and check it out, and browse around her site while you're there!
(This is an oldie but goodie. I think I wrote it in 2007. I am proud to say that Trevor has grown into a wonderful young man--smart, ethical, logical and far more grounded than I was as a teen).
The best thing that ever happened to me was becoming a mother.
Trevor wasn't planned. I like to tell him that he was the best surprise I've ever received. As unexpected as it was, I loved him from the moment I got over the shock of seeing that blue line on the pregnancy test. Though areas of my life were unsure, I embraced the idea of motherhood. Of course, I loved him more after he was born and I could hold him in my arms, feel his sweet soft skin next to mine, suckle him at my breast. And I love him more now than I did then, although I wouldn't have believed it possible. It is a joy to watch him unfold, to grow into the unique and amazing individual that he is.
Before I became pregnant, I was a college student, drifting through boyfriends and bars, untethered and melodramatic, unsure of my place in life. Pregnancy grounded me in a way I never thought possible--and with joy, excitement and happiness. Finally I felt that I was doing something important, something monumental and sacred. As unsure as I was about my ability to mother, I readily accepted the challenge, gave up the bars and the boys, and settled into a sort of domestic bliss with Trevor's father. The years when I was pregnant and breastfeeding Trevor were some of the happiest and most contented of my life.
Of course, motherhood is difficult. It is impossible to protect my son from pain and heartbreak, both caused by others and by himself. He is a willful and independent child, and sometimes the choices he makes prove frustrating and painful to both of us. I can remember other moments of heartbreak: when he pulled a window on his finger when he was 7 months old and needed stitches--he looked so tiny in that hospital bed, and nothing I did could comfort him--; when he was three and his father and I had to tell him we were separating--he went to his room and refused to talk to either of us for several hours--; when his father was gone for the year after that, dealing with health problems, and Trevor missed him terribly; when our first pet hamster died; when he was hospitalized with meningitis; when he tried in vain to save the bugs he loves from other children who were killing them, and he couldn't understand why they would do so.
There is only so much I can do, as a mother, for Trevor. As Kahlil Gibran says, we parents are just the bows from which our children fly. I can only hope that the love I give to him, the thoughts that I share with him, and the support that I provide him are enough for him to learn and grow into whomever he is meant to be. And I think back to my own childhood--or rather my adolescence--a tumultous time during which my mother was at a loss. I realize now the frustration and heartbreak she must have felt as I struggled with anger, rebellion, and depression; as I chose to fail my classes and disobey my parents; to experiment with things I wasn't ready for; to engage in risky behaviors. I can feel the anger--sometimes probably rage--and helplessness; the guilt and confusion; the fear for my welfare and safety. I can only hope that, once Trevor is finding his own footing as he becomes a man, I can remain as constant and supportive as my mother was for me. As angry as she became with me, I never once doubted the strength of her love for me. It was unconditional and ever-present. It is because of the force of that love that I was able to grow into the woman I am today, and able to provide the same for my own child. My mother is the greatest woman that I know, and if I am able to be to my son what she was to me, then all the pain, the helplessness, the frustration and doubt will be worthwhile.
Happy Mother's Day, all.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Facebook! Not only because my friends have been supportive and instrumental in spreading the word about my novel, but also because my book is of interest to a very specific subculture of people--those who followed the Grateful Dead around. I belong to several groups for Deadheads, and my novel has been received warmly there. I appreciate the love and hope it helps people relive those days that we are so nostalgic for!
Describe your desk
It is a mess! Right now it's covered in books, papers to grade, lesson plans, lotions, hand sanitizers, fake flowers, a little koala bear....an enigmatic bunch of clutter!
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Chicago, so I have been exposed to everything. There is so much culture in Chicago, so much ethnicity, great food, great art, great theater, great museums. There is also crime and all the problems that plague a huge city. Even though I had a pretty good life in a pretty good neighborhood, you can't grow up in Chicago without being exposed to that other side. I'm currently writing a book of short stories about urban youth, somewhat influenced by my students and somewhat influenced by things I've seen in my life.
When did you first start writing?
I have written for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first poem before I was in Kindergarten. I have always loved to write: poetry, short stories, essays, speeches....I even enjoy writing research papers! I kept a journal from the age of 14 until the age of 25 in which I wrote religiously--mostly about boys, in retrospect--and I believe that might be the only thing that kept my sanity through those tumultuous years.
What's the story behind your latest book?
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I followed the band the Grateful Dead around the country. There was a whole subculture of people following them from show to show, camping together, selling things in the parking lot. It was a unique experience that can't be truly understood unless you were there. The protagonist of my novel, Free, brings that scene to life for readers who didn't experience it, and will be pleasantly familiar to those who did. I always went home after each tour, but there were plenty of people who remained nomadic until the next one, who went to new towns, stayed with new people, found new ways to survive. This intrigued me, and Free is the story of one such person.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Well, I wrote a book! After years of writing short stories, poems, and unfinished novels, I finally finished one. Then nothing happened for the next few years, because I had no idea what one does after writing a book. Eventually my friend Kevin encouraged me to get it published, and I found a small-press company who published it. They are no longer in business, so recently I republished my first novel under my own label, Scribomusings Press.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I am very new to Smashwords, so time will tell! But Smashwords is user friendly and very fair to authors from what I have seen so far.
What do your fans mean to you?
I love the feedback I've gotten on this novel. My fans see things in my book and in my characters that I might have missed, adding a richness to the story. My fans inspired the book I'm currently working on. So many people have asked for a sequel. They want to know where Free is now, how she turned out. My next book isn't going to be about Free directly, but it will answer these questions. I'm really enjoying revisiting her.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on two things at the moment: a compilation of short stories featuring urban youth, and my second novel, which is not a sequel to my first but does piggyback on it. The short story project will be completed first, and will probably include an excerpt from the novel. I have been a high school teacher in an urban community for over 15 years, and my students have influenced a lot of the stories in my compilation. They find it meaningful to read literature that reflects their lives, that they can relate to. I want to be able to give this to them.
I started writing my second book due to multiple requests from my fans. They want to see where the main character from my first book is now, and as I thought about it her story began to unfold. However, this time it will be told through someone else's eyes.
Who are your favorite authors?
There are so many. Harper Lee and Carson McCullers are probably at the top of my list. I think To Kill a Mockingbird is the greatest book ever written, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter a very close second. I have also read nearly everything Stephen King has written. He is a master at characterization. No one can develop a character like King. My favorite books of his are his Dark Tower series. Lately I've been reading Hugh Howey, a science fiction writer who got his start through internet publishing. His Wool Omnibus series is brilliant. Another favorite book is The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It is fantasy meets historical fiction, and takes place during the time of King Arthur. I could go on. S.E. Hinton, who probably influenced the style of my first novel more than anyone else. William Golding. Barbara Kingsolver. Douglas Adams. Neil Gaiman. Maybe I should compile my top 100 list!
What inspires you to get out of bed each morning?
Well, I'm not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. If I had my way I'd sleep until at least 9 every day. But what inspires me? People. My son. My family. My friends. My students. I am naïve enough that I still believe deeply in the inherent good within people. I see this manifested every day, in so many ways. I see beauty in everything. It calls to me. It beckons my soul. I have seen enough hardship in my life to know that sadness and beauty are inseparable, that suffering is crucial to living, and that 'this too shall pass'. If there is pain, there will be joy. You'll see it in children playing, in a cat curled up in the sunlight pouring through a window, in flowers pushing up through frozen ground. This is what inspires me to make art. This is what inspires me to live, to breathe, to be.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I remember the first play I wrote! It was called "The Car Crash", and it was about a mother whose children were yelling in the car and caused her to crash. All the children died but she survived. In the next scene she is at home mourning her children, and their ghosts come back to haunt her. It ends with her jumping out the window to her death. I think I was six when I wrote this. I was always a little macabre.
For as long as she can remember, Lisa Litberg has loved to write. Over the years she has amassed quite a collection of short stories and poetry. Free is her first novel. Ms. Litberg has been a high school teacher for nearly twenty years and helps empower her urban students with the power of the written word. Currently she is working on a short story compilation geared toward urban youth, as well as her second novel, which will answer her readers' questions about what happened to Free.