Monthly Archives: February 2015

Beach Blanket Bingo Summer Writing Program

So, this happened: I came across a promotion for a summer writing program at a prestigious college. Curious, I clicked through to see who would be there, what they were offering, and what the fee was. Several literary authors are on the bill, with promises of panel discussions with agents and editors. I recognized some of the authors’ names, but lately I’ve not been reading a lot of what passes for Lit-RAH-chure these days, so most of them were only vaguely familiar. I’m not judging them by my lack of awareness, though. But…

bookbannerParticipants have to shell out, oh, around $3,000 for this ten-day program. And they’re not guaranteed a slot. They have to submit writing samples first, to see if they’re worthy, I guess. And, in the FAQ section of the website, you learn: Participants stay in dorm rooms. Un-air-conditioned dorm rooms. Rooms do not have private baths. Baths are in the hallways. The dorms do not have elevators. There’s no parking. Breakfast and lunch are provided, but dinner, you’re on your own.

Sorry, but I started laughing then. I’m thinking: Why would I want to shell out several thousand dollars for ten days of what will most likely be at least some self-flagellation as I listen to critiques of my work or hear talks on what constitutes great literary effort these days (hint: probably not my stuff) and get to add to this “pleasure” by sweating away the nights in un-air-conditioned dorm rooms with hallway baths, while paying extra for dinners and having no place to park my car?

I have a better idea. I might try this writing seminar instead. I call it The Beach Blanket Bingo Writing Program (BBBWP, for short). Here are the deets:

For less than a third of what Prestigious Writing Program costs, you can rent a beautiful, comfortable two-bedroom, two-bathroom, air-conditioned condo with great parking on the Bethany Beach coast of Delaware. There is no writing sample requirement for the BBBWP. You are, however, encouraged to bring with you your favorite book(s) about writing, from Anne Lamott to Stephen King, and any novels/short story collections that inspire you. Also bring a computer, as BBBWP does not provide any, but Wi-Fi is available in each condo.

The BBBWP schedule is as follows for each of the ten days:

MORNING

  • Rise early to view sunrise over the Atlantic.
  • Return to condo for yoga, meditation on your own.
  • Breakfast at nearby McCabe’s Gourmet Market on French pastry and coffee while engaging in amiable conversation with the Eastern European workers there.
  • Return to condo for either: reading or writing.

LUNCH in condo (in addition to bedrooms and baths and air-conditioning and parking, the condos also have fully equipped kitchens).

AFTERNOON

  • Spend time on beach thinking about writing.
  • Exercise in heated pool.
  • Nap.

DINNER ON YOUR OWN, either at the condo or at one of the many restaurants nearby.

As you can see, the BBBWP does have some drawbacks–you won’t be interacting with other aspiring writers or published authors or agents or editors. To compensate for this, the BBBWP will provide a phone line consultation daily. Because of call volume, however, you will hear only recorded messages, along the lines of:

  • AGENT RECORDING: “Your characters must be married to theme more.”
  • FAMOUS AUTHOR RECORDING: “The writing was beautiful and you are clearly highly skilled, but you seem to be stretching for a more literary feel than your writing actually achieves (unlike my writing, which is always spectacular and where everyone goes out for cigarettes and commits suicide at the end).”
  • EDITOR RECORDING: “I am so impressed. But I wanted more. More plot twists. Or something. I’m not sure – so I’m going to pass with thanks.”
  • EDITOR RECORDING: “I do see this working for someone else; it’s so well drawn.”
  • EDITOR RECORDING: “Surely some other editor will love this, and it will be a great success.”
  • EDITOR RECORDING: “I was very impressed with your unique premise, well-drawn characters and page-turning plot. But in this tight market, it won’t sell, so I have to pass.”

Most of these recordings, by the way, will have the advantage of being culled from the actual words of real editors and agents!

So, sign up today and get your BBBWP certificate (of need), along with the T-shirt and name tag lanyard (which will not have the BBBWP name on it, but will carry the name of the resort so you can get into the pool and private beach).

All kidding aside, if you do prefer the group experience with its promise of meet-ups with agents and editors, my advice is simple: Join Romance Writers of America (even if you don’t write romance) and go to a chapter conference or the big national one. You’ll find lots of supportive writers there. I’ve never come across a more supportive group of writers than those in RWA. They’re always eager to cheer you on, offer encouragement, suggest publishing routes and share information. As I said, even if romance isn’t your writing thing, you’ll still find something to like here and maybe, just maybe, a door will open. Unless you can be guaranteed one of those things — writing support and open doors — I’m not sure it’s worth shelling out thousands of bucks for any conference. But that’s just me.

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The “I am not worthy” syndrome

So, this happened: Patricia Arquette won the Academy Award for best supporting actress and used her moment at the podium to advocate for equal pay for equal work. Hear, hear. Meryl Streep gave a great fist pump, or some sort of gesture indicating endorsement.

And who wouldn’t endorse such a notion, really? Of course, women should be paid as much as men for equal work! What a ridiculous notion that anyone would believe they shouldn’t be!

rs_560x415-150222222309-1024-Patricia-Arquette-acceptance-oscars.jw.22215But out in Hollywood, famous for its left-leaning politics, you’d think you’d find those thoughts in action. Not so. As the hacking of Sony records revealed, female stars (not just actresses but bona fide, household-name stars with box-office drawing power) were getting less than their male costars. Oopsie. 

Sony’s now-former CEO Amy Pascal explained the gender pay gap bluntly in an interview:

Pascal said the problem was much bigger than just her studio. “Here’s the problem: I run a business. People want to work for less money, I pay them less money,” she said. “Women shouldn’t work for less money. They should know what they’re worth. Women shouldn’t take less.”

Ouch. But, the reason it hurts is because it’s true. Women often accept less because they don’t ask for more. This was also explored in an excellent essay in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. Written by a woman, it went through the various ways women differ in their approach to jobs. Here was an enlightening tidbit about promotion-seeking:

Mr. Kaufmann of Cardinal Health noticed that if a job opening has five criteria, a woman with four of them won’t apply—but “a guy will have one of the five and will say, ‘Give the job to me!’ ”

A recent CBS News story about the gender pay gap being a myth interviewed a career expert who pointed out, among other things, that women business owners get paid significantly less than their male counterparts:

Women business owners make less than half of what male business owners make, which, since they have no boss, means it’s independent of discrimination.

I don’t think the pay gap is a myth, and I suspect most women don’t think so either. But count me among those who believe there are complex reasons for pay disparity, few of which are linked to outright discriminatory practices. In the CBS story, the expert noted that women business owners make less than their male counterparts often because they place more value on more flexible schedules and shorter work days/weeks, while men…just want the money.

Women also seem to suffer from the “I am not worthy” syndrome, as indicated in the Wall Street Journal essay mentioned above. I know I often do. Just ask me about my book royalties, and I’ll tell you a story about not paying adequate attention to them because I thought I wasn’t a best seller, so why bother. (I wasn’t worthy of success, see?)

Throw in the mix an angle to the problem that possible Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has been trying to draw attention to–seniority pay systems. Many unions use seniority to determine pay scale. Since a lot of women drop out of the full-time work force to rear children, this puts them at a disadvantage on the seniority scale. Fiorina argues that merit pay rather than seniority pay is part of the answer to some gender pay gaps.

What’s the right response to the pay gap problem? Is it legislation? Or is it…education? Maybe a combination of both. I find utterly distasteful corporate policies that forbid employees from talking about salaries. It seems to me that’s a violation of free speech rights. Information is power, and, if women knew what others were getting paid in an office, they might speak up more for similar amounts for the same work. (Actress Charlize Theron did just that after finding out what her male costar was making on a film–she demanded and got the same.) But I also think women need to be coached, mentored, educated on how to stand up for themselves, how to fight the “I am not worthy” syndrome, how to apply for promotions, place value on themselves and learn, most importantly, when to walk away from a deal that isn’t so sweet.

Women’s organizations would do a great service to their sisters by sponsoring such programs. Maybe many already do. This would be a far more serious effort to advance gender pay equality than some of the theatrics we’ve seen recently where pols on the left (who are guilty of paying women staff less than men, too) use the issue to bash pols on the right (who too often deny the problem).

Women should be paid the same as men for the same work. But they shouldn’t wait for men to solve this problem for them.

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Can I get a witness?

We’ve all been horrified, haven’t we, by the cruel executions carried out by ISIL? I can’t bring myself to talk about them, their barbarity is so horrible. And the question that dances around in my head is: What is to be done?

Not on a national or global level. But what is to be done on a personal level? How does one confront such evil acts on the individual level, in the here and now, in our own lives?

I’m too old to don a uniform and volunteer to fight to protect those who are in the path of this savage group. My thoughts instead go back to the gospel I’ve grown up with and embraced with more vigor as I age: Christ’s message of love. Love one another.

But to think of loving those barbarians who perpetrate such evil, horrific acts? It’s a hard slog. Far easier to love the person who irritates you or whose views you don’t share. There’s a smugness in that kind of love that lets you feel…superior. No, it’s far harder to love, to even seek to love, those who have only hatred in their hearts.

But I am a Christian, and this is the message of Christ, to forgive one’s enemies, to offer them love in exchange for hate. It’s hard to do. We can go through our entire lives without realizing how hard it is. The church’s life itself contains a history of not always recognizing the true meaning of the message of love.  As David Bentley Hart argues in his book Atheist Delusions:

“….men and women have done many wicked things in Christ’s name….(but) Christianity expressly forbids the various evils that have been done by Christians, whereas democracy, in principle, forbids nothing (except, of course, the defeat of the majority’s will).”

Hart’s point is apt.  Depending on your political sympathies, you might point a finger of blame for Mideast turmoil at the leader you think (or thought) most feckless and least honest.  But, come election day, the majority rules.

Speaking of majorities, Christianity is still the dominant religion in the US, according to Gallup, but over the years, the percentage of people identifying themselves with any religion has declined, and the percentage who belong to a church or synagogue has gone down even more. Gallup’s numbers on this are here.

john_15_12_love_one_another_poster-rac0d4c53566348458f59796e03c63b1a_au58_8byvr_512All of this leads me back to the word of Christ, His message of loving one another. There are a multitude of ways to exhibit such love . My friends and family provide examples for me daily, and I hope I reciprocate in ways that make a difference to them. Where I fall down on the job most, I think, is in spreading the gospel to those who might be seeking a spiritual home. I suspect many of us fail in that regard, if Gallup’s numbers are a reference. We don’t know how to reach out to seekers and searchers. We’re afraid of offending or turning off a searcher, especially in an age where religious sentiment is often mocked and religious-minded Christians painted as being one step away from an intolerant brand of fundamentalism that few share.

How does one evangelize in this secular, diverse time, where we celebrate tolerance and respect for other faiths — a good thing, a wonderful thing. But in our respect for other faiths and points of view, many of us have stopped celebrating our own beliefs. We think it impolite or politically incorrect to stand up and say, I’m a Christian, and Christ teaches us to love one another. Won’t you join me?

It’s that last question that’s hard these days. To ask someone of another faith to join you in your celebration of Christianity is, to some, an insult. “What–you don’t think my faith is good enough? You need me to convert to yours?”

Most mainline Protestant churches don’t do much evangelizing. The Catholic church doesn’t do much either. Oh, I know they all send missionaries overseas. But they don’t evangelize the way, say, Mormons do, going door to door. They don’t reach out the way evangelical churches might, on radio and television. It seems so déclassé, so outré, to engage in that kind of up close and personal religious persuasion. But maybe we Christians need to do more of it. Maybe we need to have the courage to stand up and actually talk about that message of Christ’s love and how essential it is in our lives. Maybe we need to…witness.

So, here is my witness:  I believe Jesus Christ came into a world of barbarity and said: It doesn’t have to be this way. You should love one another. Even when it’s hard. Let me show you just how hard it can be…

So, yes, I’d like to be able to say to those cruel barbarians across the ocean the same thing: There is a better way. And, in my view, it’s the way of Christ. But if you find that better way on a different path from mine, I will still be able to see Jesus in you.

If you love one another.

I cannot join the fight. I can only try to express the love of Christianity in my own life. For those seeking such love, let me issue an invitation–try going to your local church or temple. Find one where you are comfortable. It might take a while. You might need to go back several times to get to know people and figure out how you fit in.

My church is St. Edward’s Episcopal Church on Harrisburg Pike in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There, you’ll find a loving group of people who’ll help you when you’re down but won’t badger you when you need to be alone. It’s filled with groups that try to do good by knitting shawls (the Knit Wits!) for those ailing in body and spirit, by feeding the hungry through a local food bank, by actually serving the hungry at a local shelter, by squeezing the hand of a friendly soul who is suffering an inner pain. We laugh together. Sometimes we cry together. We eat together. We worship together. We pray together. We love together.

In the name of Christ, I ask you to come join us.

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