Reflections in the Silver Cup

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 a thing that I can just jump out of and say, ‘Here I am!’”

Austin is a friend of my friend, Monica Friedman (See my interview with her about her spiritual journey in the December 15, 2015) archive of this blog). When Monica read Austin’s piece, she passed it on to me, thinking I’d be interested. I wasn’t just interested, I was deeply moved by Austin’s poignant search for belonging at the spiritual place where they should most belong, most be able to say, “Here I am!” Their story is their story, and it is profoundly personal. It is also universal—the story of so many of us queer folk who struggle to find our place within our religious roots. With their permission, what Austin wrote for National Coming Out Day is reprinted here:


This picture was taken nearly four years ago, in Israel. My friends and I are crying because we are standing in front of the Egalitarian section of the Western Wall—a designated section of the holy site, where people of all genders may pray and sing together and where women (and people who are perceived as women) can wear tallit, lay tefillin, and read from the Torah without risking harassment or arrest. We cried with relief, with exhilaration, with love.

Earlier in our trip we had visited the main Western Wall—the holy site divided into two sections: Men and Women, with a smaller wall between to keep the two separate. I cried there as well, because I felt like I was suffocating under the weight of this ugly aspect of my religion that I had so rarely encountered before, blessed as I was to grow up in a liberal family and a liberal congregation. At the time I think I was even angry at the trip organizers for bringing us there. Why would you bring a group of LGBT Jews to a place where we would be divided and discriminated against? Why not just bring us to the Egalitarian Wall and leave it at that? I am grateful now for the contrast, though. My experience at the Egalitarian Wall would not have been so sweet without the knowledge of what it was replacing.

The night before we visited the Western Wall, we all stood in a circle and introduced ourselves. Names and pronouns. For the first time ever, I asked to be referred to with they/them pronouns. I was curious what that would feel like. If it would feel more “right” to me. For the most part everyone just used she/her for me throughout the trip anyway. I didn't correct anyone. One day one person caught and corrected himself and I mumbled something like, “It's not a big deal.”

I didn't want to inconvenience anyone.

For me “the closet” is not a thing that I can just jump out of and say, “Here I am!” and have that be enough. For me “the closet” is the box no one even sees but they put me in all the same. It is a cloak of invisibility and no matter how many times I pull it off there will always be another one that settles around my shoulders, because people will see what they expect to see.

It is going to an LGBT wedding convention with your partner and having a dozen different organizers and vendors tell you that they're so happy to see allies participating.

It is a new friend so excitedly talking about a series of parties he's planning for queer folks and saying, “You should come too. Allies are totally welcome.”

It is coming home from Israel wearing a kippah and continuing to wear it for a few months before finally giving it up because if you have to hear, “I didn't know women wore those” one more time you're going to scream because you're not a woman, but just saying, “I'm actually not a woman” would infer that women DON'T wear kippot and also this really isn't a conversation you feel like having with a stranger in the grocery store or on the bus or across the counter at work.

It is having so much anxiety over what you're going to wear during a four-day business trip that will fit and that will look good and that you'll feel good in that you shave your armpits to give yourself more “feminine” options even though you promised yourself after your cousin's wedding that you'll never do that again, because you hated making that compromise, but here you are doing it again.

It is wanting to cringe at every “girls' night” invitation and whenever a customer says they're so happy to be working with a woman, but people are just being nice and you like to feel included and appreciated so you're not gonna say anything.

It is trying on a binder for the first time and looking in the mirror and wanting to cry because it still doesn't look right and when you leave the store you tell yourself, “It's okay, you didn't really want to bind anyway,” and later a friend suggests that maybe sometimes it feels important to be visibly trans, and that makes sense to you.

I don't like feeling invisible.

Hineini - Here I Am:

I am a human.

I am nonbinary.

I use they/them pronouns (or no pronouns, but that gets trickier).

I love who I love.

I exist.

#nationalcomingoutday

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…)

THE FLOW OF MINISTRY

October 18, 2017

Tags: Gallup Independent, Spiritual Perspectives



"The Flow of Ministry" appeared in The Gallup Independent in "Spiritual Perspectives" on Saturday, October 14, 2017. It is reprinted here with permission.

A few months ago, my friend called from Shiprock to tell me that her brother, who was also my friend, didn’t have long to live. “He wants to see you,” she said.

I know I’m on a sacred journey when the journey is difficult, when there are obstacles, and when the desire or the need to make the journey overcomes the obstacles. I live in Albuquerque, and I don’t have a car, so I had to think creatively about how I was going to make it up there. Finally I took the train to Gallup and got my nephew to drive me up Highway 491.

The first thing my friend asked when I got there was for me to pray with him. I said I would. Then he and his son and some friends and I sat around talking. Pretty soon the others went to another part of the house, and the two of us sat and talked about whether he believed what the doctor had said and the different roles of traditional Navajo healing and Western medicine. He told me he had fallen in love with life, and his smile was so sweet when he said it. Finally, I had to tell him that I don’t really pray aloud. “It’s because when I pray aloud I don’t feel like I’m connecting with the Holy One. Instead I feel that I’m performing for the people who are listening. I don’t seem to be able to get over that,” I said. “Can I pray silently with you?”

He smiled again, that sweet smile, and nodded. We took each other’s hands, and we prayed together. I was so blessed to be called, to find a way to make the sacred journey, to be asked to pray, to have those precious moments with my friend. Not many days later, he walked on to the next life.

In the Christian tradition of my youth and also the one I practice now, we believe that all of us are called to ministry. Not just the people with Reverend or Father or Sister in front of their names. In fact, the word minister comes from the Latin, meaning servant. The first definition of the verb, to minister, is “to attend to the needs of someone.” The idea that ministering has something to do with religion came later. Being a minister is something human, something we are all asked to do—to serve others.

Recently I read a book by a Christian woman who thought she was being called to be a missionary to Somali refugees who were of the Muslim faith. She wanted desperately to convert them to Christianity. After many years of friendship, the woman discovered that she wasn’t good at converting people by preaching sermons or telling Bible stories. She discovered that ministry is mostly about showing up again and again, wherever we are needed. Ministry is about the deceptively simple things—holding someone’s hand, praying with them, making a casserole when there has been a death in the family, drinking a terrible cup of coffee with a smile on your face because someone made it with love, washing dishes without being asked, baking a cake because its sweetness will make someone happy.

The other thing this woman discovered was not that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but that it may be more blessed to receive than to give. Often we think that we have much to give to others, but those thoughts sometimes come from arrogance. I think of the missionaries—the people who raised me. Their intentions, like those of this author were good, but they have often been guilty of believing that they had everything to give and nothing to receive.

Maybe it’s not more blessed to receive than to give. I think it’s a give and take, a back and forth flow, the flow of ministry. Giving and receiving are like two sides of the same rug. Think of a Navajo rug—the front and the back are usually equally beautiful; in fact, you usually can’t tell which is which. In serving, we are served. In being served, we are serving. In those moments of prayer I shared with my friend, the love was flowing back and forth between us through our hands, through our hearts. His sweet smile blessed me. His request that I come to see him blessed me. His smile told me that my coming also blessed him. We ministered to each other.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved

GREETING AUTUMN

October 7, 2017

Last night (Friday) marked the changing of the air. It always comes on one particular day. I noted it by spreading the blue-and-black plaid fleece on top of my green comforter—not yet time for the winter duvet, but the summer one was not enough. And I put on my long-sleeved red pajama top and pushed the windows mostly closed. This morning I opened all the curtains to let the light warm the rooms, after keeping them closed for summer coolness. I set about boiling pots of water for a ritual lavender bath to greet the autumn chill. Autumn is here.

More than thirty years ago I worked in the kitchen garden of the yoga school in (more…)

BOOKS ON THE JOURNEY VI

September 25, 2017

Tags: Jeanette Winterson, Warsan Shire, Chaim Potok, Abraham Joshua Heschel, micro-lending, Muhammad Yunus, Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me Ultima, Rachel Naomi Remen, Rumi, Anne Frank, Viktor Frankl, Tristine Rainer, Ursula Hegi

BOOKS ON THE JOURNEY VI
A Final Assortment


Starting off with titles that are mentioned in the epigraphs of To Drink from the Silver Cup. The epigraph for the entire book, “You cannot disown what is yours. Flung out, there is always the return, the reckoning … perhaps the reconciliation. There is always the return. And the wound will take you there. It is a blood-trail.” This is from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? which, by the way, is what Jeanette’s mother, whom she always refers to as Mrs. Winterson, said to her regarding her decision to live as the lesbian she is. I guess an epigraph for a book should encapsulate the book, and this one pretty much does, so one could ask why I bothered to write it. As I’ve often said, and then elaborated on at readings, “Because I had to.” (from the front material)

The Prologue, entitled “Leaving: 1964” has its own epigraph from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel: “…a stone, a leaf, a door…O lost, and by the wind grieved…” It’s little wonder that I connected so powerfully with Look Homeward, Angel that for years I called it my favorite book. Certainly there was the prose poetry, a literary phenomenon on which I once wrote a paper. But it was more the theme of loss and (more…)

BOOK REVIEW

September 21, 2017

Tags: Native American Reconciliation, Mainline Church Reconciliation, conciliation, Chalice Press, Evangelicals for Social Action

Recognition, Responsibility, Reconstruction, Reparation:
A Review of Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial Justice

by Anna Redsand




A rectangular pit lined with dressed stones stands on a low hill in Toadlena, New Mexico, near the center of the Navajo Nation. The pit comprises the basement and foundation of what had, years earlier, been my missionary family’s home. The pit is half-filled with charred timbers, a bathtub, a sink, and the rusted remains of a coal furnace. Sometime after my family moved away, the house burned to the ground. Investigators said the fire was started intentionally. It wasn’t the first time. Two other houses we had lived in had fallen to arson, never while my family lived in them, but when missionaries who followed my father did. I have always wondered if these events were pained attempts to redress wrongs—cultural genocide aided and abetted by missionaries’ actions in a land that did not belong to us.

It was from this context and its many implications that, as I read David Phillips Hansen’s Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial Justice, I flagged lines and paragraphs in the book until its text block looked like (more…)

BOOKS ON THE JOURNEY V

September 4, 2017

Tags: Gnostic Gospels, Pagels, Thich Nhat Hahn, Karen Armstrong, Jeanette Winterson, Tirzah Firestone, Eboo Patel, Interfaith dialog

BOOKS ON THE JOURNEY V
Sorting Things out in Later Adulthood


Spirituality and religion may have flowed out of me like so much water out of a pitcher, but as I quoted her in To Drink from the Silver Cup, Jeanette Winterson wrote of herself in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? “If you are raised on the Bible, you don’t just walk away, whatever anyone says.” Winterson, a well known British lesbian author whose adoptive mother raised her to be a fundamentalist preacher and missionary, wrote this to explain the fact that today, perhaps forty years after leaving her church, she still reads a good deal of spiritual material. It was that way for me, too, after leaving the church. Even while I denied my spiritual nature, I continued to read, in order to attempt to reconcile who I was (a lesbian among other things), with who I’d been raised to be—like Winterson, raised on the Bible. One place I looked was in the stories of how others had made peace with their religious roots, Winterson’s books being among them. I loved her story for its irreverent, brave humor in the face of a world turned upside down because she chose (more…)