07 August 2015

Only. Endure. by Heydon Hensley

In the warm, midnight embrace of July, rippling stalks of golden wheat cast finger puppets of shadow across the moon-silvered earth.  The Leonids dashed themselves against the atmosphere, turning cold mass into heat and light and nothing - a spurt of heartblood.

Pari sat alone, tucked beneath those waving, grasping fingers of wheat.  Hours had snatched away her tears – hard as diamonds and for three years just as common – snatched away and replaced with tracks of salt.  That seemed more appropriate; her face felt like Carthage.  Ravaged, razed, raked over, salted.

Ultimately though, Carthage won.  Yes, it won, because Carthage endured.  Scipio, the Punic Wars, even Dido and Aeneus were forgotten long before Carthage.  Knife-blade snapped and gone, the lacquer handle felt like a stone in Pari's adrenaline-frozen fingers.  Endure beyond the general and his war, beyond star-crossed lovers and heartless men.  Endure.

The last fragments of stone slammed against the atmosphere and slid brilliant to shadow.  A cold breath rattled through the wheat.  Even summer winds have teeth, and whispered between them, "No matter the season, life will pass and winter will consume light into shadow."  The broken knife fell from Pari's hand to the benighted earth.  


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Read the other great entries here. Especially make sure to check out THIS entry.  

02 July 2015

Racism without Racists, in the Rear View

Hello Again Readers,

Recently I was hired on to Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse, a community resource center for survivors of Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and even General Crime Victimization.  One of the many awesome things about my job is that I get to read books aimed at increasing my own cultural awareness and sensitivity.

One of those books was Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's brilliant monograph Racism without Racists.  Reading the book opened my eyes to many of the truths about my own life that are, admittedly, uncomfortable (e.g. the whiteness of my own social sphere).  Silva's arguments are made very even-handedly, however, and I didn't walk away feeling attacked or berated, only with the knowledge that I can and should do better at desegregating my life.

Above all Racism without Racists points to a persistent myth about language and racism: that as long as we don't talk about race, then we're not racist.  The truth is we've created new social signifiers that allow us to disguise our same racist ideology with more socially appropriate terms.  And this brings me to the point I really wanted to address, Political Correctness and the "PC Police."  We've all heard that some things aren't "PC" to say anymore, if you haven't then Google "Fox News" and listen for fifteen minutes.  Done?  Good!

So here's the thing, all the folks who complain the loudest about being PC are... wait for it... white males!  Whoa.  Shocking, right?  Probably not for super observant readers like yourselves.  This argument about being PC is an argument about being able to keep our language the same and not be held accountable for the damaging beliefs lurking underneath.  People are getting wiser to the window dressings for racist and bigoted ideology.  If you start a sentence with "My best friend is Black" people know that you're probably pretty racist (Thanks, Paula Deen!).  The truth is the world isn't catering to some segment that wants people to be more "Politically Correct," because this isn't (just) a political matter, it's a human matter.  White racial progressives and minorities and the disenfranchised don't want us to speak in a different way, but to think and to believe in a different ways, in more compassionate ways, in better ways.

And really, shouldn't we want that from ourselves already?

Thanks for reading.

06 April 2015


Hello again, Intrepid Readers

I hope that you've all worked towards your personal goals and towards increasing world awesome – because that's how you all roll.

Today let's talk about something that no one likes but that everyone experiences: Rejection.

Rejection is a staple in life, especially in the writing life.  Ideally, you're always pushing out essays, poems, novels, and/or stories that are accepted (YAY!), not accepted yet (hoping!), or freshly rejected (Sad Day!).
There are a lot of resources out there on how to "fail well" (or as Maxwell says, "Failing Forward"), but rejection isn't necessarily an indication of failure, even though it can sure feel that way.  So with that in mind, let's look at how we can cope with rejection in a way that is healthy and reasonable.

Here's what Rejection is NOT:
1) A valuation of you as a person
      (No matter how vitriolically written the rejection slip, no editor or slush-pile reader knows the whole of your person, and so really they're just writing based on the sample provided).

2) A valuation of your abilities as a writer.
      (Again, the rejection is only based on this single piece – or clutch of poems – so, no rejection can categorically state that you're a bad writer.)

3) A reason to stop writing.
       ... for more than like a day.  A little moping time is allowable, but don't let one rejection kick you out of the writing business forever.  To survive, you'll need all the persistence and strength that you can muster.

4) Proof that you'll "never write anything good."
       Like #3, you can wallow a bit, but the only way you'll never write something good is if you quit writing.

Bonus!) A rejection slip isn't even necessarily proof that your piece is bad.
        Everything has a few weak spots that could be shored up, but if you're afraid that you're going to over-edit and take out all the luster of a piece, then maybe leave it alone for a while.  Or get feedback from a trusted reader (which you hopefully did already).  Maybe the place you submitted wasn't looking for that sort of piece at that specific time.  There are tons of reasons that good pieces get passed over.  It's hard to deal with, but it's true.

Here's what Rejection actually IS:
1) An acknowledgement that this specific piece in this specific incarnation is not being chosen for that specific print of that specific publisher.
      Tune it up, send it out to other journals, send it to that same publisher for later consideration, etc. Don't necessarily give up on that piece, but don't hold onto it with a death grip either.

2) A Reason to keep improving your craft
     Maybe your piece wasn't as strong as it could have been.  Maybe you threw in a few cliches, or you swung for the fence with some hackneyed trope.  Anyway you cut it, KEEP WRITING.  And keep learning more about your market and your craft.

3) A sign that you're sending your work out to brave the world.
     And sometimes braving the world is tough, but you've crafted the best piece that you knew how at the time.  Give yourself kudos.  Reward yourself for trying.

4) A sign that you're writing and that you're taking your writing seriously.
       And isn't that sort of a reward in and of itself?

And finally here's one thing that rejection MIGHT mean:
     Rejection might mean that this piece isn't salable right now.  You might need to shelve it for a while and work on some other projects.  Or you might need to re-evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as a writer and rewrite the piece towards your strengths.

There are only two types of writers, the type who publish and the type who give up.

Persevere, and you'll make it.

As always, thanks for reading.

07 March 2015

WIC helps people escape DV situations, and here's how.

Hello Again, Dear Readers

Thanks for dropping in.

Today I wanted to talk about WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), a program which helps get needed nutrition and medical referrals to low-income women and the children they care for.  In essence, it's an extension of the US food stamp system (called SNAP).

WIC is a program that falls under a lot of fire from Fiscal Conservatives, who see it as a handout and a defacto incentive for pregnancies that the woman can't take care of. While this may seem harsh, many of these conservatives want greater accountability for the father of the child, but there's no clear consensus on how to get that to happen.  That demand for accountability misses a key element in our modern world, which is that more and more women are entering the workforce and being the primary breadwinner, so greater male accountability doesn't necessarily mean greater earning potential.  AND... then there's the emotional component, what if the woman decided that particular person wasn't a good long-term partner?  Then we'd be forcing people into unhealthy relationships – and I don't think anyone would advocate for that.  

And that brings us to a hidden benefits of programs like WIC: these programs helps women with children to escape abusive relationships.  

That might sound like a far-fetched claim.  It certainly did to me at first, but after six months of working with the local SA/DV hotline and shelter in the Palouse (ATVP), I can tell you that it's the honest truth.  After an abuser has seduced/charmed their partner, the next job is to isolate that person.  Isolation has a lot of components, but one of the most effective ways to isolate a person is to limit their access to money.  Without money, one cannot access most transit (even most bus systems have a fare), one cannot get their own food, one cannot buy toothpaste, toilet paper, pay rent, etc.  Basically limiting money is the easiest way to completely lock a person down.

During any escape plan, there is a LOT of safety planning and forethought that goes into getting away.  The person needs to collect the documents for them and their children (IDs, birth certificates, Social Security Cards, etc.), plan on an opening where they know they'll have time to escape, determine how to keep themselves and their children safe after leaving (70% of DV homicides occur AFTER the abused partner has left), and figure out how they'll survive on their own (shelter, food, employment, etc.).

Which brings us to how WIC helps women and children to escape abusive partnerships: it's a lot easier to leave a batterer if you know that you won't starve to death.  Abuse is bad, but ultimately survival wins.  If a mother knows that she'll be able to feed her children, then she's much more likely to be able to escape a destructive relationship and go on to make a better life for herself and her children.

And that's yet another reason why programs like WIC are so important.

Thanks for reading.

02 March 2015

Healing in 3rd Person

Narrative Therapy Coping Skills

Hello, Dear Readers!

Sorry for the long hiatus, and thanks for coming back.  In this post I'm going to share a coping skill that I've been working on in a Depression support group, and I normally wouldn't foist this on you all, but I think it's a really interesting way to use one's skill at narrative as a tool for healing.

This exercise happens in three parts:

  1. The exercise is to take your perceptions of yourself and to write that as a description of a character under a different name.  
  2. Write a healthy version of that character (the trick here is to be realistic about expectations.  Healthy you is not necessarily super(wo)man).  
  3. Set aside some time to role-play that healthy version of your character.  

So for example, here's a version of my exercise, describing myself under the name Isaiah.  
1) Perception of Self under fictitious name: 
Isaiah is a mediocre cook, a lazy guy.  He plays games all day and dreams about being a writer without doing any of the hard work.  He hates himself, because he knows what he's doing wrong in his life, but he can't quite seem to stop himself from failing preemptively.  Isaiah does his best to at least help make life comfortable and nice for his partner, even though he feels like dying much of the time. Keeping his partner well-fed and making sure she doesn't have t o do too much of the housework at least lets Isaiah believe that he isn't a complete waste of space , even if he isn't spending his life earning a real living or even on pursuing his own goals.  When he's around other people he's considered droll – even witty – or smart, but alone his thoughts shatter on inspection, cutting shards that burrow into his mind.  Some shards become seeds and grow and probe out roots, threatening to break open his mind like saplings near a cliff face – strong enough to crumble stone, but too weak to bear the weight once the rock is cleft.  He's been depressed for so long that he can't tell what's him (the real him) and what's the illness.  Is illness all there is to Isaiah, or is there something beneath the tangle of roots and debris?  

2) Healthy Version of Self under same fictitious name:
With the roots and stumps hacked away and yanked out, Isaiah discovered that beneath the fractured face, lay a bedrock of self.  He writes more but still feels like it's not enough, but he forgives himself.  Daily tasks don't paralyze him, and he feels like life is worth living for himself, for his own worth.  He dedicates time to helping his partner and to helping others.  He takes rejections from editors in stride, because it means that he's getting his work out there, and he's actively learning his trade.  There are still hard days, and he's maybe not happy, but he's not so, so sad.  Pleasure exists again in the small things and in the large.  He's present during sex – engaged, not anxiety-ridden.  On most days he is thoroughly convinced that life is worth living.  

3) Role-play Healthy You
So this is where the work you've done really hits the road.  For me that means writing even on the bad days, that means celebrating small writing victories and reminding myself that even in my darkest days, I've taken time out to help other people – whether it was loaning them a few dollars or talking them down from crisis-mode.  

Celebrate your Healthy you, and reward yourself for Role-playing the healthy you, and keep playing like you're that healthy person until you are.  It's a great way to pull in other coping skills and to get the most out of your therapy.  Also, it's a way to literally bring your Narrative skills to life.  

Thanks for reading.  

P.S. For Concerned Readers: While that first example may seem extreme or melodramatic (or dangerously desperate), much of what I expressed is experienced by the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who suffer major depression.  If you have a friend or family member who talks to you about wanting to kill themselves, LISTEN.  Even (ESPECIALLY) if they've talked about it a lot before.  The average person remains actively suicidal for only a period of a few minutes, so even delaying someone with 10 to 15 minutes of pleasantries can be enough to save a life.  Try to get that person to a therapist or ask them to consider hospitalization – if they don't want to dial the suicide prevention Lifeline, offer to dial for them 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255).  If you or someone you know has struggled with depression, educate yourself through a Mental Health First Aid course or any of a number of wonderful works on the subject, including Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression or even Allie Brosh's "Adventures in Depression".  

P.P.S. Thanks for being awesome, impressive people.  

23 December 2014

What We the People talk about when we talk about Police Reform

Welcome back Dear Readers, and a happy [Solstice Holiday] to you all.  

In case you haven't read the op-ed "Blue Lives Matter" featured in the Atlantic yesterday.  Do yourself a favor and read it.  Ta-Nehisi Coates is a skilled wordsmith and handles the underlying issues that dog police reform and racial reconciliation with incredible compassion for the victims and for Police Officers.  In a time when people are shouting on both sides that such a view is impossible, Coates reveals why compassion for victims and police is inseparable.  

A lot of what Coates discusses reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad just a few weeks ago.  "My dad told me to be careful about making laws – any law.  Because as soon as you pass a law, you've told someone with a gun to go enforce that law.  If you're not comfortable with the real possibility that someone might be killed for that law, then maybe it's not such a good law."  

And that premise is what Coates calls out: police are in fact public servants.  They are bound to the will of the majority, and it is their burden to enforce all the laws that our representatives pass at the behest of their constituents (that's us).  Police brutality and other abuses of power happen as an outcropping of the beliefs that we as a majority have put into law.  I've known several officers – all good, honorable men and women – and there are laws that they are bound to enforce which they completely disagree with.  Police officers aren't free to enforce according to their consciences, but according to the conscience we created through legislation.  

So what we need to accept when we call for "Police Reform" what we're really calling for is a hard look in the mirror.  We need to change ourselves and our laws, and if we can do that, then the servants of that law will change.  If they don't, then we can say that the police need reform.

As always, thanks for reading.  

08 December 2014

Throne of the Crescent Moon in the Rearview Mirror

Hello, readers!  How are you beautiful people doing today?  

I just finished reading Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon, and it's wonderful. Though the book is definitely written to be YA friendly, the characters are dynamic, driven by multiple motivations, and every bit as devastatingly flawed and hopelessly heroic as we humans are. Whether it's the good Doctor Adoulla struggling to balance his job (ghul-hunting) with the home life he wishes he had, or the dashing lioness Zamia Banu Laith Badawi fighting to discover what it means to be the last of her tribe and its Protector, the characters are inspiring, frustrating, and complex.  Also, despite the YA 

Ahmed's work is set in a distinctly Middle Eastern setting, not unlike Medina (with some extra magic thrown in). Then he peopled it with zealots, traitors, thieves, and prostitutes – there are some bad guys, too. Superbly written with just a touch of exoticism, this is a must read.

If you've already read it, or you have book suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading.