Reflections in the Silver Cup

WE NEED GOOD STORIES

February 11, 2018

I have a friend who writes me a letter every Sunday morning. Her letters are full of tales about activities and projects, stimulating thoughts and perceptions, links to interests we share. She practices the art of letter-writing in an era when real letters are almost nonexistent. Yesterday, her letter was much shorter than usual. She told me about her not very good week. And then she asked, "Do you have any good stories for me?"

At first I said no, that I haven't been coming up with good stories lately. Then I thought, wait a minute; I think I might have one. I don't think she meant a story that is necessarily well written or particularly remarkable in any way, but maybe a story that could lift her up out of that tough week. Something to encourage her.

My friend has been a persistent activist for LGBT inclusion in the Church, and has lately felt beaten down and bruised by a task for which she's known passion, commitment, sorrow, defeat, and few enough victories. I take her request this week to mean that she needs to hear that despite all the obstacles and pain, there are still some good stories out there–even stories that relate to the task she took on. I know she has heard good stories about her own work, but some days, we need to hear other people's stories.

The one that came to me was something that happened as I was about to leave church yesterday morning. A friend I'll call Brandon got up from where he was chatting with some folks to stop me at the door. Brandon is a teacher, and back in December he bought a copy of To Drink from the Silver Cup to give to one of his students. The student is a young gay man who was depressed, struggling to accept his sexuality, and had been cutting to relieve his pain. A month or so ago, Brandon told me that the student had thanked him for the book and said it was changing his life. When Brandon made a point of catching me yesterday, he said that the student's entire affect had changed, that he's stopped cutting, and that his parents have noticed the difference in him. Then came words that nearly brought me to tears. Brandon said, "My student said he finished the book and started reading it again! Your book told him that there's hope." What a gift to know that my story has let this frightened, unhappy young man know that it gets better.

I've been amazed, humbled, and grateful to hear how many young people have been touched by Silver Cup because for them my story took place so long ago that it might seem to have little consequence for them. Times have changed so much for LGBT people. But there are still monumental struggles that many young people encounter. And as one of my colleagues said, the book is in part a coming of age story, a story that moves from darkness into light, so it's still relevant to young people today.

I'm gearing up for my next tour, which I expect to be the last, except for some possible individual events. As always, I am surprised and deeply grateful for the people, some of whom have only met me virtually, yet work with such energy and creativity to make a place for this book to reach their communities. Just a few things that are in the offing: a mini-writing workshop with LGBT folks in Holland, Michigan; a reading that is also a hymn sing, using songs mentioned in the book–in Minnetonka, Minnesota; and a presentation I've never done before, by request: "The Church and Native People: A Perspective from a White Missionary Kid." It's been a few months since I've done a reading, so, odd as it may sound, I've decided it's time for me to read To Drink from the Silver Cup in its entirety in preparation.

Recently I reviewed Silentium: And Other Reflections on Memory, Sorrow, Place, and the Sacred by Canadian author Connie T. Braun, whom I met while I was in British Columbia. In personal communication, she said that she believed writers are given our stories. I couldn't agree more. I know without a doubt that I was given my story, painful and joyful as it is, to help others as they live and tell their stories.

If you have a story about what To Drink from the Silver Cup has meant to you or to someone you know, I'd love to hear about it in the comments or in a private message. Sharing it could mean something to someone else.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved

THE STORY BASKET: On Counseling Children

January 22, 2018

Tags: child counseling, school counseling, storytelling narrative therapy

…in the aftermath of violent histories, telling stories and listening to stories are acts of peace. ~ Connie Braun, Silentium



All day long these children and I
trade stories
we weave colors and textures
we write together in journals
we tell what it is all about
we trade love for love
I hold their tears

I am the story basket
and in me the stories change
color and shape and sound
they take on rhythm
drum beats
heart beats
they dance and weave
and one day
if I am so blessed,
I give them back
changed a little
I hope

I am the hearer
the listener
the spinner
the trader of tales


I hate my mother, the girl seethes
through clenched teeth
plots with her friends
how to do her mother in
I ask if I need to warn her mother
then do my best to give
her a mother who is not
all bad

The boy with the pinched blue face
handsomely terrified
tells me his father threw him
to the floor after breakfast
kicked his ribs
told him he is the dirt he walks on
I tell him the story of the man
who walked through four concentration camps
the man who chose to find other meaning
the man who made a goal
You can do it, too, I say
Your father may never be able to be
the father you deserve
but you can Be

After it
I make the call
the one of many many
countless
to the agency that is
to protect children
I tell the boy I will do it
first he is worried then
unlike some
he is glad


I am the holder of children’s nightmares
and dreams
the basket of song
and prayer sticks
masks and stones
and good bread

I am the teller of tales
I tell stories wild
and wonderful
sad
and funny as often as I can

I tell about the old Native woman
who lived past a hundred
not because she ate well
or exercised
or didn’t smoke or drink
but because she didn’t argue
the woman who always said Could Be
no one believed her
because it was too simple
but not easy
the children wonder Could Be
and they laugh
they need to laugh
and soon
they tell the Could Be
story
to each other

I tell the story of the Navajo rug
as finished when it is the size of my hand
as when it fills a room
because one of their own has died
and they need
with desperation to find
some sense to it

I am the hearer
the one who listens
I am the basket that
cradles their stories
loves their stories

I am the warm waterfall
that shushes over them
through them
down their young backs
slumped in the chair
or sometimes
straight and drum-tight

These are the children of my heart
I hold their stories for them
turn them gently
in my palm
the jagged ones
the hollow ones
the ones in black and white
the ones in fragments
the ones of great flowing color
the ones made from cookie cutters
always the same
frozen jello that I jiggle
when I hope it’s safe

I give them back their stories
we trade stories for stories
can this story get a new life
can the hero find the key
the adventurer the treasure
will the dancer put out one toe
and be swept away to her Self

I don't often set my hand to writing poetry, but I found this on yellow legal paper in a box with other papers. I remembered it pouring out of me in my office, between children, when I was a counselor at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque, a school filled with high-risk, beautiful children. The poem also draws from times in private practice and at Cuba Elementary and Middle Schools.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved

THE SHEET

January 15, 2018

Tags: birthing, childbirth, home birth, haircuts, curtains

It was a narrow, mint green rectangle, about the size of a crib sheet with Auckland Hospital Delivery stenciled large and black in one corner. The midwife brought it with her to the house, and my baby slid out onto it like a little otter. The midwife forgot it, and I washed it with the first load of diapers and undershirts. Some of the blood stayed, making furry looking, irregular rings—wide, brown outlines of small continents. Now and then, I used it in my daughter’s crib—clean, just a bit stained. A male nurse lived in our house then. He liked rules and said he would take the sheet back to the hospital. It sounded like a threat, but we moved up to the tip of the North Island before he had the chance. I wanted the sheet; it belonged to us, to that night. Over time the brown faded with each washing, fainter and fainter and then gone.

I liked to cut my friends’ hair for friendship, never for money. I had a dress, brown with blue lines like on mattress ticking. It was of thin cotton, straight and loose. I wore it when I cut hair, and I used the mint green sheet for a barber’s cape, fastened with a big diaper pin, a blue plastic duck where the point locked in. I cut hair in my kitchen, after supper, when there was black night pressing against steamy windows. People want their hair cut when they are going through transition, and we talked about their changes as tufts of hair fell soft onto wooden floorboards. I became the basket for what they were leaving and where they were going. The first time I cut my daughter’s hair, she was two. She kept asking me, so I got out my brown dress and slipped it over my head. I pinned the mint green sheet around her shoulders and got out the shears engraved with the name of a German town. The next morning my girl saw her white-blonde hair standing straight up and out to the sides from her head. She cried, “I look like a star!” My heart flipped, and I laughed.

Then came a time when no one asked for haircuts anymore, and I folded the mint green sheet away in a drawer with other, bigger sheets. From time to time I saw an edge of it and remembered the night of my slippery otter, the nights of clipping friends’ hair and listening to their in-between times. Thirty-two years after the birth of my baby, I moved into the place where I live now. I left the kitchen window uncovered for a while, until the western sun got too hot. I didn’t have money for a curtain, but I remembered the sheet, folded it in half, clipped curtain rings to the fold, and hung it at the window. Sunlight pricks through tiny holes in places. Pin holes, story holes, holes for changing-times.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved

INTEGRATING NATIVE PERSPECTIVES WITH CHRISTIANTY: AN INTERVIEW WITH DARLENE SILVERSMITH

January 4, 2018

Tags: decolonizing religion, decolonizing Christianity, spiritual journey, Doctrine of Discovery, Christian Reformed Church, CRC

Meeting Darlene Silversmith was a surprise. It happened while I was serializing To Drink from the Silver Cup on my blog. She must have found the blog through a Facebook post and commented something like this: “Wow! Christian Reformed [CRC and the church I grew up in] and in the Navajo Nation. Have to read this.” After she’d read a few chapters, she shared some of her own story about being in the CRC. Darlene is Diné, and her family roots are in Crownpoint, New Mexico, although she was born in Oakland, California, her birth there being one more example of the colonization of indigenous people. It was US policy, especially in the 1950s and 60s, to try to integrate Diné into the society at large through a program known as relocation, in which Native people were sent to urban areas to vocational training programs, where it was hoped they would settle.

Darlene’s Facebook posts intrigued me, as she was clearly very involved in the CRC. At the time she was going through its Leadership Development Program and seeking what is known in the CRC as a license to exhort, which means basically a license to preach without being ordained. At the same time, she was clearly aware of and raising consciousness about the need to decolonize Christianity. I asked if I could interview her at some point when I would be in the area. Her reply was a single word: “Sure.”

As my book tour evolved, it turned out that I would drive through Crownpoint en route to an event in Cuba, NM. We agreed to meet at (more…)

BE THE LIGHT

December 21, 2017

Tags: Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Gallup Independent

This piece first appeared as a column on December 23 in my hometown newspaper, the Gallup Independent. Printed here with permission.

On the magnificent golden butte that overlooks the ruins of Chaco Canyon, ancient astronomers, ancestors of the Pueblo peoples, created a massive solar calendar. They were not only astronomers, they had among them highly talented engineers that were able to place three enormous slices of sandstone in perfect alignment so that, as Earth revolves around the sun, sunlight strikes a spiral carved on the foremost rock in targeted locations. It happens on the fall and spring equinoxes and on the summer and winter solstices.

Long before I knew about this calendar, I imagined (more…)

HINEINI: HERE I AM

November 20, 2017

Tags: gender queer, Egalitarian Wall, Western Wall, hineini

Austin and Friends at the Egalitarian Western Wall
When Rabbi Gershon Winkler sent his endorsement of To Drink from the Silver Cup, he alluded to the first question that God asked First Human, “Where are you?” The answer from those who are ready—from Abraham to Samuel to Isaiah—is, “Hineini (Hebrew),” or, in English, “Here I Am.”

“Here I Am,” was what Austin Schaffer, who is a genderqueer Jew, needed to be able to say at the Western Wall in Jerusalem four years ago. Being able to say, “Here I am,” is for most LGBTQ people a process that takes place over time. As Austin wrote in commemoration of National Coming Out Day 2017, “For me ‘the closet’ is not (more…)

BOOK PUBLISHING 101D

November 14, 2017

Tags: book publishing, compromise, editors, publishers

On October 9, 2017, I presented an introduction to book publishing to Jody Keisner’s University of Nebraska/Omaha graduate seminar—Publishing Creative Nonfiction—via Skype. Thinking the information might be useful to others who hope to publish a book, my next five blog entries will recap that presentation. Jody’s class focuses mainly on publishing in literary journals and commercial magazines, so my presentation constitutes only a brief introduction.

The Five Areas to Be Covered:

I. PLATFORM BUILDING
II. ROUTES TO AN AGENT AND/OR PUBLISHER
III. PUBLISHING OPTIONS
IV. COMPROMISING WITH EDITORS/PUBLISHERS
V. MARKETING

Caveat: Things change from day to day in the book-publishing world, so anything I write here could well be followed by a disclaimer.

IV. COMPROMISING WITH EDITORS/PUBLISHERS

The Roald Dahl Story:
Who hasn’t read and loved Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Who would suspect that Roald Dahl was an utter jerk? Well, maybe there are some clues in Charlie, and Matilda was originally a wicked little girl whose character was cleaned up by Dahl’s editor at Knopf, which published Dahl for twenty years. Dahl is described by one of the publishers as demanding, rude and anti-Semitic, and the last time that Dahl threatened to leave Knopf, Knopf accepted. When the termination letter was read, the staff stood on their desks and cheered. So editors can and do fire authors, even ones that make them lots of money, if they don’t behave themselves.

Why I Backed Out from SheWrites Press: I alluded to choosing not to work with SheWrites Press briefly in my last post. They had accepted my manuscript as a Category One book—one needing very little revision or editing and ready to go to press. The next step was a conference call with several other writers and the editor/publisher regarding the publishing, distribution and marketing processes at SheWrites. This would be the last step before signing a contract. I asked two questions (I don’t remember what they were), but the editor was condescending, brushing them off as inconsequential. I decided I didn’t need an editor who treated me that way already before we started working together.

Ordinary Compromises: It is industry standard that publishers have the final say about cover and book design and titles. I felt very good about the book design at Clarion. The title of my biography was Viktor Frankl. The working subtitle was A Time to Live, which was also the title of one of the chapters. My editor wanted to change the subtitle, and we jointly proposed several possibilities, though I continued to like my original best. She chose A Life Worth Living. I have never liked it because I believe that everyone’s life is worth living, so this subtitle sends a message that I have trouble standing behind. Nevertheless, I let it go without complaint.

At Terra Nova, my original title was The Silver Cup. As we neared publication, I began to breathe more deeply, thinking we’d gotten past the possibility of a title change. Then I got an email from my editor suggesting just that. He proposed several options. I had already done significant advance marketing under the title The Silver Cup. I didn’t want to reject his idea outright, but I did say that I felt we needed to continue with a title that did not differ too greatly because if we did, I would lose the valuable advance marketing I’d done. I had lots of feelings—some anger, mostly anxiety—but I didn’t express them, trying to remain reasonable. Eventually we settled on To Drink from the Silver Cup and also made some changes to the subtitle. I felt that we had ended up with a better title, once I got used to it. Later still, my editor came back with advice from one of the sales force who thought that the word lesbian should appear in the subtitle, that it would help sell more books to store buyers. I nixed that idea outright because I feel that the book has an appeal to a wider audience, and that has been borne out many times over.

When we first discussed cover ideas, we talked about using road signs to suggest the journey aspect of the book. I also sent a large packet of photographs of scenes in the Navajo Nation that were of significance to me and held some prominence in the book.
For various reasons, the publisher said he couldn’t use the photos and for an unknown reason had discarded the road-sign plan. He sent me bunch of stock photos. It took a lot of passes for me to pick one that he said would work. Then he sent several variations of a cover design. I felt a high level of anxiety about approving one, even down to the colors of the title fonts. I got opinions from colleagues with publishing and design experience. I ran up against the feelings that come with interpreting and probably misinterpreting the emotional content of email messages. I wasn’t completely happy with the cover, but I agreed to it, knowing that in most cases I wouldn’t have had any input at all. When the back cover came out with its vertical rather than horizontal text orientation, I was very unsettled. I’d never seen anything like it, and it just looked odd to me, not innovative. I expressed my objection and got back a no-compromise note. Lots of feelings.

A Near Divorce: None of these compromises compared with the one I dealt with over the actual editing process used at Terra Nova. That nearly ended in divorce when we were weeks away from finalizing everything. I won’t go into detail here except to say that my editor felt we had reached a point of irreconcilable differences and suggested we go our separate ways and that I buy out what they had already put into the book and find another publisher. After no small amount of anguish, knowing that we had come too far for me to take a huge number of steps back, I mustered all my best mediation skills and wrote a peacemaking letter that I’m still pretty proud of. I got a conciliatory letter back, and the book came out on schedule. Moreover, it is a book whose appearance I’ve grown to love. Recently I met up with my editor at the Terra Nova table at the New Mexico Library Association Conference, and he spoke some truly healing words to me, finally making things right between us.

Being able to compromise is one of the hallmarks of being a healthy adult. It’s easier as a writer when the book requiring concession is not so intensely close up as a memoir or novel (unlike my Viktor Frankl biography). Being able to arrive at compromise may be the greatest personal growth opportunity in book publishing, the greatest opportunity to let go of ego demands, and also the greatest opportunity to champion oneself and one’s work—the paradoxical line between conceding and advocating. None of it could have been done without the support of my wonderful writing colleagues.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved

BOOK PUBLISHING 101C

November 5, 2017

Tags: book publishing

On October 9, 2017, I presented an introduction to book publishing to Jody Keisner’s University of Nebraska/Omaha graduate seminar—Publishing Creative Nonfiction—via Skype. Thinking the information might be useful to others who hope to publish a book, my next five blog entries will recap that presentation. Jody’s class focuses mainly on publishing in literary journals and commercial magazines, so my presentation constitutes only a brief introduction.

The Five Areas to Be Covered:

I. PLATFORM BUILDING (see archived post from October 23)
II. ROUTES TO AN AGENT AND/OR PUBLISHER
III. PUBLISHING OPTIONS
IV. COMPROMISING WITH EDITORS
V. MARKETING

Caveat: Things change from day to day in the book-publishing world, so anything I write here could well be followed by a disclaimer.

Correction on BOOK PUBLISHING 101B: I wrote: “Contests are another possible route to book publication. Most of the time I avoid them, thinking (correctly or not) that they offer too much competition.” In an article in this week’s Author’s Guild newsletter, I learned that I was incorrect in that assumption—that poor authors avoid contests because of the contest fees, which are usually somewhere in the $20 range. Also, established writers do not often enter contests. Those two factors tend to reduce the competition, and most contests, if you are the winner result in publication and a small honorarium.

III. PUBLISHING OPTIONS

This is the area of book publishing that is changing the most rapidly with new options (more…)

BOOK PUBLISHING 101B

October 27, 2017

Tags: book publishing, agent, publisher

BOOK PUBLISHING 101B


On October 9, 2017, I presented an introduction to book publishing to Jody Keisner’s University of Nebraska/Omaha graduate seminar—Publishing Creative Nonfiction—via Skype. Thinking the information might be useful to others who hope to publish a book, my next five blog entries will recap that presentation. Jody’s class focuses mainly on publishing in literary journals and commercial magazines, so my presentation constitutes only a brief introduction.

FIVE AREAS TO BE COVERED:

I. PLATFORM BUILDING (see archived post from October 23)
II. ROUTES TO AN AGENT AND/OR PUBLISHER
III. PUBLISHING OPTIONS
IV. COMPROMISING WITH EDITORS
V. MARKETING

Caveat: Things change from day to day in the book-publishing world, so anything I write here could well be followed by a disclaimer.

II. ROUTES TO AN AGENT AND/OR PUBLISHER

Note: Getting an agent can be just as difficult as getting a publisher, as agents today often serve as gatekeepers for publishers. In other words publishers trust an agent they know well to send them authors that will be a good fit for the house and be up to the house’s standards. (more…)

BOOK PUBLISHING 101A

October 23, 2017

Tags: book publishing, writer's platform


On October 9, 2017, I presented an introduction to book publishing to Jody Keisner’s University of Nebraska/Omaha graduate seminar—Publishing Creative Nonfiction—via Skype. I thought the information might be useful to others who hope to publish a book; thus, my next five blog entries will recap that presentation. Jody’s class focuses mainly on publishing in literary journals and commercial magazines, so my presentation constitutes only a brief introduction.

FIVE AREAS TO BE COVERED:

I. PLATFORM BUILDING
II. ROUTES TO AN AGENT AND/OR PUBLISHER
III. PUBLISHING OPTIONS
IV. COMPROMISING WITH EDITORS
V. MARKETING

Caveat: Things change from day to day in the book-publishing world, so anything I write here could well be followed by a disclaimer.

I. PLATFORM BUILDING

Definition of a Writer’s Platform:
A writer’s platform is anything that makes the writer visible to their potential audience.

A Most Important Bit of Advice: If you want to get published and (more…)