Violence

This is a sobering weekend here in the United States.

The country is reeling from at least 49 mass shootings this month, as recorded by the Gun Violence Archive. I have to say “at least” because it could be more by the time I hit publish. This is in addition to all the shooting incidents with less than four victims and all the self-inflicted shootings, sometimes accidental but, sadly, most often deliberate. In the US, suicides have, for many years, constituted the majority of gun deaths. (If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or any other mental health crisis, please reach out for help. In the US, you can call or text 988 or visit this website: https://988lifeline.org/ any day/any time.)

As I’ve written about before, the United States needs to deal with gun safety issues, especially when it comes to military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, gun trafficking, poor licensing and training requirements in some states, and lack of comprehensive universal background checks. We need to vastly improve access to mental health care, on both humanitarian and violence-prevention grounds.

One of the stories that illustrates this need is the shooting of a first-grade teacher in Newport News, Virginia by one of her six-year-old students. She was seriously wounded but has survived. The boy was known to have been diagnosed with what has been termed by his family as an “acute disability” and is now being treated in a hospital. While this is a particularly stark example, many shootings, including mass shootings and suicides, are linked to mental health problems.

While guns are highly visible as a means of violence, videos released to the media on Friday illustrate that other means can be just as severe in causing injury, trauma, and death.

Security camera and police body camera footage showed the October 2022 break-in at the California home of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the subsequent attack on her husband, Paul, with a hammer. He was severely injured and is continuing his recovery. Besides being personal, this was also an act of political violence.

The country is also reacting to the shocking video of the police beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, which led to his death in the hospital three days later. Five officers were fired soon after the beating and have just been charged with several counts, including second degree murder. Two additional officers have been suspended while the investigation continues. Yesterday, the Memphis Police Department announced that the Scorpion Unit that had included the officers who carried out the attack has been permanently disbanded. The public gatherings in the wake of this horror have been almost exclusively non-violent, as Tyre’s family has urged.

Sadly, there are a vocal few who use their power in the media to sow confusion – or even show support for those who perpetrate violence. Even with the release of the video, there were some still insinuating that Paul Pelosi knew his attacker and invited him into his home. Mind you, there is video of the attacker repeatedly bashing a glass door with a hammer in the middle of the night but these conspiracy-theory followers don’t let facts get in the way of their twisted beliefs. In so doing, they multiply the violence and harm.

What can we do?

Some of the things I try to do are live a non-violent life, seek out facts and relay them accurately, respectfully enter into dialogue, and advocate for public policy to reduce violence. Even though I am only one person, I know there are millions of others doing the same.

My hope is that more people will realize that both victims and perpetrators of violence could be their own family member, friend, or neighbor.

Each one deserving of care and concern.

The only way we can stop the violence is together.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/29/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-28th-2023/.

XBB.1.5

A new COVID subvariant has emerged here in the United States. It is designated XBB.1.5 and is considered the most transmissible Omicron variant to date by the World Health Organization. It is also considered to be highly immune evasive, which means it is more likely to cause infection among those who have COVID antibodies, whether from vaccines or prior infection. However, the vaccines should still be effective in reducing hospitalization and death rates from infection.

XBB.1.5 is especially prevalent in the northeastern region of the US. It is powering the rise in regional cases accounting for 72.7% of cases in the past week. It is also likely the driver behind Broome County, New York, where I live, again moving into the CDC’s high community risk level classification. (That will mean mandatory masking at our concerts this weekend.)

The XBB.1.5 subvariant orignated in the US, but has spread to some other countries. Meanwhile, China is suffering through a huge infection wave, although there is no reliable official data on its extent.

In many places, especially in the Northern Hemisphere winter, there are also high rates of flu and RSV.

As always, I’ll repeat my advice. Vaccinate, if you are eligible and vaccines are available to you. In particular, if you are eligible for the bivalent COVID booster, get it as soon as possible because it is much more protective against all Omicron strains than the original formulation. If you are sick, get tested. If you contract COVID or flu, immediately contact a medical provider to see if you can take antiviral medication to cut down on symptom severity. When there is risk in your area, use a high-quality mask in indoor public spaces and avoid crowds. Increase ventilation and/or air filtration indoors. Wash hands frequently and avoid touching your face (more for flu/RSV prevention than for COVID). Try to eat and sleep well. Look out for one another.

We need to work together for this pandemic to end. We are all tired of COVID but we need to fight effectively and continuously. Ignoring the risk and letting the virus spread just gives it even more opportunity to mutate and develop more virulent strains. We are now in our fourth year of the COVID pandemic. Let’s work together to make it the last.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/06/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2023-daily-prompt-jan-7th/

One-Liner Wednesday: compassion

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.

Thomas Merton

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/11/30/one-liner-wednesday-ha/

Emily Dashes

The Design Thinking Initiative and the Boutelle-Day Poetry Center at Smith College, my alma mater, are currently spearheading a Common Reassemble project using the works of Emily Dickinson.

To participate in the Emily Dashes project, members of the Smith community take a page or two of Dickinson’s poems and create a response to the work using whatever materials they see fit.

I have submitted two pages. Being more of a poet than a visual artist, I relied on erasure style with a bit of added decoration.

The pages will be displayed at the Poetry Center and may be shared on social media. At the conclusion of the project, they will be assembled and housed at the library as part of the Mortimer Rare Book collections.

What a fun and innovative way to leave a bit of myself “in residence” at Smith!

My First Chapbook!

I am thrilled to announce that Hearts, my first chapbook, will be published by Kelsay Books in 2023! I don’t yet have an exact release date but expect it to be around September.

Kelsay Books was founded by poet Karen Kelsay in 2012 and currently has over a thousand titles listed in its bookstore. This makes it a much larger press than most of my previous submissions, some of which went to presses that only publish one or two titles a year. I took a chance submitting to Kelsay because two of my local Grapevine Poets, Jessica Dubey and Burt Myers, have books forthcoming from them. I’ll be sure to post their books here at Top of JC’s Mind when they become available.

Kelsay publishes poetry exclusively under four different imprints: Aldrich Press for free verse poetry up to 90 pages; White Violet Press for formal poetry up to 100 pages (Burt’s category); Alabaster Leaves for chapbooks under 50 pages (Jessica and my books will be under this imprint); and Daffydowndilly for rhyming poetry by adults for children.

Another welcome feature of Kelsay is that they respond very quickly, generally within fourteen days of submission. I received word of acceptance on day ten. This is blazingly fast. The typical response time for prior submissions I had done was six months, with a few taking more than a year to send out rejections.

Hearts centers around my mother, known here at TJCM as Nana, particularly in the last years of her life as she struggled with heart failure. The first incarnation of the chapbook was assembled in fall of 2017 as an entry into the QuillsEdge Press contest with the theme “Transitions.” It was named a finalist and the poem “Sixteen Hours” was included in an anthology that was published in conjunction with the winning manuscript, Skin Gin. That version also placed in the top 1% of submissions in another contest.

That early positive feedback proved to be important in the following years. As Nana’s health continued to decline, I wrote poems to help me process but couldn’t think about reworking the manuscript. After her death in May, 2019, I took some time to extend, workshop, and edit the chapbook and started sending it out in spring of 2020. That version was a semifinalist in a contest but was also getting a lot of rejections from contests and open submission periods.

I continued to do edits and added a new poem in spring, 2021. At that point, my father, known here as Paco, was entering the last few months of his life, so doing submissions faded into the background. He passed away last September and I returned to doing a few submissions before the end of the year. I was doing submissions for my full-length manuscript, as well.

Kelsay was the 34th submission for Hearts in its various forms.

There is a difference of opinion on whether that is a lot or just run-of-the-mill. Most of the people that I’ve told have noted my perseverance and commitment in the face of rejection but a few, who have decades-long experience as poets, think thirty-four isn’t that bad or unusual.

For now, I’m still feeling joy mixed with relief. In these past years, I’ve watched many of my poet-friends publish their first books and had begun to wonder if I just wasn’t good enough. Now, I’m coming to think of it more as finding the right match. Kelsay Books makes clear they are seeking manuscripts that are accessible to a general audience. I consider myself a community poet, as my experience has come through workshopping with fellow poets and community poetry sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and others, instead of from academic studies. I tend to write in a narrative style. While I occasionally write in Chinese/Japanese-derived forms like tanka, I have never written anything decent in traditional European forms, like sonnet or villanelle. Every once in a while, a rejection email comes with a bit of feedback, which tends to run along the lines of my work not being crafted well enough or sophisticated enough. While I do continue to work on craft and revision skills, I will never write like someone with an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree.

And that’s okay.

It’s just easier to believe now that I can say I have a book forthcoming.

I’m sure I will post more about this as I work through the process of publication and gain more skills along the way. Style guidelines. Fonts. Cover art.

One of the blessings of being in a community of poets, though, is that help is available if I need it. I also now have a publisher with a team of professionals to get my book out into the world.

It still feels strange to be able to say that.

But I think I could get used to it.

JC’s Confessions #23

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

National Poetry Month Edition:

I’ve been struggling to regain my sense of myself as a poet.

This is ironic because, when I first turned to poetry as a means of self-expression ten or so years ago, I didn’t have any problem calling myself a poet. I was writing poems, so I was a poet. I remember early on reading a short essay from a person who had an MFA in poetry, had published at least one book, and was editing a poetry journal, but couldn’t bring himself to say that he was a poet because he wasn’t suffering for his art. I was perplexed.

I managed to still think of myself as a poet through the labyrinth of dealing with years of family health and caretaking issues. I was still writing and workshopping and doing residencies with the Boiler House Poets Collective and doing sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and Broome County Arts Council. I wasn’t submitting to journals as much as I should have, but I did put together two manuscripts, one chapbook and one full-length collection, which I started submitting to contests and publishers. In recent months, I have also been submitting individual poems to journals more often.

Perhaps I had forgotten the level of rejection that is inherent in the submission process. Some of the recent rejections I have received with manuscripts have chosen one for publication from a field of 800-900. I mean, do the math. Somehow, though, even knowing that the odds are not remotely in my favor has not shielded me from questioning whether I am a publishable poet, or even a poet at all.

Meanwhile, several of my poet-friends have published or are in the process of publishing their first books. I’m very happy for them and buy and help promote their work but it makes me wonder what is wrong with me that I’m only garnering a long list of rejections. What does it say about me that, when I see publication credits for other poets, I can often mentally tick off which of their presses have rejected me?

Things are better these past few weeks. The publications of my work for an Ekphrastic Review challenge and in Wilderness House Literary Review buoyed me through the latest round of journal and manuscript rejections that the spring has brought. I’ve participated in National Poetry Month projects with the Broome County and Tioga Arts Councils. Binghamton Poetry Project has been having their spring workshops, so I’ve been working on craft and writing from their prompts, once or twice a week. I’ve even gotten several unsolicited comments from my blog posts, saying that I am a good writer, which is somehow still encouraging of my sense as a poet. Writing is writing, whatever the form.

The question is whether I can keep my re-discovered sense of my identity as a poet from being buried by the avalanche of rejections that are sure to come. When I first set a goal of publishing a book by the time I was sixty, a goal that I failed to meet, I told myself that it didn’t matter if I ever published a book. After all, it’s not that I write for a living.

It would be best if I can get back to concentrating on reaching people with my work within my community sphere. I do consider myself to be an accessible, community poet. If I can do that, then I could look at publishing in a broader context as a bonus if it happens, not as a measure of my worth as a poet.

Please remind me when I am in doubt again.

One-Liner Wednesday: hope in community

Until we find the communal meaning and significance of the suffering of all life, we will continue to retreat into our individual, small worlds in our misguided quest for personal safety and sanity.

Richard Rohr

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/13/one-liner-wednesday-creepy-enough/

SoCS: Linda

Way to go, Linda! Today marks the eighth anniversary of Stream of Consciousness Saturday on Linda’s blog, Life in Progress. I and so many others have connected with each other as bloggers through SoCS, One-Liner Wednesdays, and Just Jot it January, all thanks to Linda G. Hill.

Check out Linda’s blog and her books! Join us for SoCS and/or One-Liner Wednesdays! Whether you contribute posts or just read along, it’s all good.

And again, thanks so much, Linda!

Way to go!
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “way to go.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/03/04/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-5-2022/

Review: Encanto

When we went to the UK to visit our family for the holidays, four-year-old granddaughter ABC watched the Disney film Encanto frequently. I was impressed with it but hadn’t realized how popular it had become until after we returned to the US and it seems that I run into commentary on it several times a week, including news that the soundtrack and individual songs from Encanto have been appearing in high positions in the Billboard charts.

For the few of you who may not know, Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family from Columbia who use their magical gifts to help their community. Granddaughter Mirabel appears not to have been given a magical gift but her strong love for her family and their home powers the story.

Much of the commentary that I’ve seen concentrates on how important it is to have this portrayal of a Latinx family and story, along with inclusion of Spanish in the dialogue and songs. I agree with this point but want to note some other ways that this film feels inclusive to me. As someone whose family is racially diverse, I appreciate that the Madrigals have Indigenous and Black roots, as well as (presumably) European. As someone who wore glasses from a young age, I love that Mirabel wears glasses. I could get all metaphorical about clarity of vision, but I won’t. It’s just nice to see a positive portrayal of a girl who wears glasses in an animated movie.

The biggest point of inclusivity for me is the complexities of the family relationship. The most popular song in the soundtrack, the ensemble piece “We Don’t Talk about Bruno”, reminds me that my own family had an uncle that was seldom mentioned for mysterious reasons. We see Mirabel and her non-magical father struggle with finding their place within the family, which is a familiar issue in many families, for example, when a very sports-oriented family has a member who would rather be singing in the chorus than out on the field with a ball.

We also see the double-edged sword of trying to live up to family expectations. While it’s admirable that members of the family want to use their gifts to serve the family and the community, it’s all too easy to see each only for that one gift and not for the complex being that they are. This leads to feeling that it is only that gift that makes you valuable or loved. The clearest expression of this is “Surface Pressure”, the song that Mirabel’s sister Luisa sings. Luisa’s gift is that she is very strong, so she is much in demand at home and in the village. The song shows how difficult it is to deal with the pressure of those demands and her own worries and insecurities. She sings, “Under the surface/I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.” Ouch. How often in our families do we pigeonhole someone in a specific role, overlooking other attributes and gifts they bring? How often do we take for granted the work that someone does or make it seem that they are only valuable in what they can do, not in who they are as a person?

To me, among Mirabel’s gifts are love, thoughtfulness, insight, curiosity, caring, and truthfulness. None of them are “magical” but the results of them can be miraculous.

They can be for our own families and communities, too, if we honor those gifts and each other as Mirabel does.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/21/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-21st-2022/

One-Liner Wednesday: MLK quote

It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January and/or One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/19/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-19th-2022-voice-to-text/

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