Our Authentic Show Must Go On

This weekend, I was enthralled by a blog post shared by Mark Willen (“Sexual Assault: When Real Life and Fiction Collide”), who was pondering how his published works hold up in the #MeToo era. As a result of Mark’s post, which was weighing heavily on my mind today, I decided to ask a few writers/teachers about what they thought influences authors to share certain works with their intended audiences.

Now, that’s a lot packed into that last sentence, so let me unpack it.

What influences authors.

As English teachers, we often analyze an author’s writing by what the topic of the essay/story is about, and what was happening during that time in history or, more specifically, what was happening in that author’s personal life, either directly or indirectly. Our focus is finding that cause-and-effect relationship, that One Big Thing that led her to craft that piece. We love doing that. It’s what we live for.

To share certain works.

As well, we know that writers often choose which pieces they take to publication. This is what they offer the masses; this is what they have selected as their representative piece.

With their intended audiences.

Not only does the author select the intended piece, he selects the intended audience. Sometimes, that’s a decision based on money and quantity. What can I write that will reach the most number of people, and fill my pockets with the most amount of money? Or, conversely, he might choose a very selective audience to share a more cultivated piece, aimed at entertaining or conversing with a smaller group.

So what?

What all these things have in common is that we are making gross assumptions that the cause-and-effect relationship even exists. As we know in this era of all things, it is nearly the opposite. Some of us are in great distress, and our creativity is stifled in ways we could never fathom. We put our pens to paper and the parchment remains unblemished.

Where do we begin? How do we tell the truth? How do we write about something that is so polarizing?

So we choose to write about other things, and in other genres. Published or not, none of it is representative of where many of us are. There is no authenticity in a large body of what is being published. Truth lies in that unwritten, Barbaric YAWP that plagues us, weighs us down, suppresses our voice in ways that historians might overlook entirely.

In other words, the literature written centuries ago, which we have been analyzing so comfortably based on the stories crafted in history books, may be as much of a lie in absencia of the truth that could never be written.

Maybe a little like what we’re going through now.

I just got rejected from yet another publication (Let the great streak from 2017 continue!). It was a horror short story that I thought was pretty good. It wasn’t, according to the judges (again this year), and I’ve allowed myself a 12-hour pity party that ended, oh, a few minutes ago.

But I find this okay. I’m not a horror writer anymore. I thought that I should be able to spin a good tale no matter the genre, but that’s probably not true. I’ve got so much bunched up in me of what I am not writing about, that it makes full sense to me that anything I try to pass off as authentic is anything but.

So I’m turning this figurative page somehow, and I will return to authenticity. I will spill words here that are raw, genuine, politically incorrect, and my truth. I will lose followers and, perhaps, close friends and family members. It sounds so harsh to say this, but I can no longer let that stop me.

I don’t want to be cautious, gentle, patient, worldly, or even compromising. The time has come to share that authenticity with all of you.

I have no idea where this will take me, but at least I’ve opened the door for it to happen and to find out. We have to demonstrate courage in our writing and our art in the present; we must let our work be an authentic reflection of who we are, where we are, how we are reacting to it, and why all of this matters.

Thanks for listening (er– reading). I’ll be back soon, sharing words that need to be said, and by me.

So, let’s talk

Earlier today, I had a little sit-down with myself to figure a few things out. You see, my inner critic has been working overtime in the past month or two, absolutely convincing me that the following were completely, and without question, true:

  • My words were no longer meaningful, and they no longer mattered with the masses;
  • Blogs were dead, stupid, antiquated, washed up, and no longer read (hey! just like me);
  • Your audience is sick of you;
  • You are pathetic to think otherwise; and
  • Hell, you are pathetic.

These thoughts stopped me from writing anything. I did not even write in my daybook. It was a ridiculous, self-piteous period of wallowing in negativity and doubt.

So, as I said, I had that little sit-down convo with me-truly, and I’m not going to lie, I let the expletives fly, as Seinfeld’s Kramer says.

It felt good. It really did. I needed to hear myself fight back against all that fake news that I have been self-spewing. I made the commitment to blog tonight, but with a purpose:

To not teach, preach, or inspire.

Gasp!

So, not only did I throw myself back into the fire, I threw away the crutches and dove in head first without a safety net.

Which brings me to what I’ll be doing here at The Baltimore Writer for the foreseeable future. Many years ago, I started writing “Rus Uncut” entries, and they were well received because they were so raw. I’ve tried a few times to get back to that, but I kept falling back into the teach-and-preach model.

Pathetic, right?

So here we are tonight, willing (desperately) to give it another shot.

What does that mean? Probably some really boring blogs, some out-there thinking, and maybe some pretty pictures to keep you coming back to see something shiny.

It means all of this, maybe none of it, maybe some Franken-mix of a bunch of different things. And I’ve opened comments for you to join in with the uncut-ness of the whole thing.

But what I can promise you is that it will be raw, uncut, and authentic. All Rus.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I need to do this for me, though, so there. You are welcome to follow along, share your thoughts, or unsubscribe entirely and vote to have The Baltimore Writer completely scrubbed from the interwebs.

We’ll see how this goes. Thanks for whatever choice you make (except for the web scrubbing. That would suck for sure).

Yours, sans teaching and preaching,

Rus

Offering The Creative Collective To Artists, Writers, and Creatives

the-creative-collective-coverYesterday, out of a strong desire to create a “safe space” for creatives to share ideas, prompts, strategies, and inspirations, I created a new Facebook group called The Creative Collective.

Here, writers, artists, and all creatives now have the opportunity to share and be inspired to rediscover and strengthen their creativity. Nothing is being sold or pitched here; this is purely for imagination stimulation.

If you would like to join us on Facebook (it’s free and open to the public), go HERE.

Model Teaching: Empowerment Through Multi-Faceted Instruction

I’ve been teaching for a long time — long enough to see the spin of the pedagogical cycle of strategies come full circle. What I have learned along the way is that there are some practices that work better than others when it comes to teaching writing.
In 2009, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) published a call-to-action report, “Writing in the 21st Century,” that stated clearly our need to recognize the importance of teaching writing in a way that aligns with our complex lifestyles interwoven with technology and multitasking.

In the report’s introduction, NCTE past president, Kathleen Blake Yancey, writes, “It’s time for us to join the future and support all forms of 21st century literacies, inside school and outside school. For in this time and in this place we want our kids—in our classrooms, yes, and in our families, on our streets and in our neighborhoods, across this wide country and, indeed, around the world—to ‘grow up in a society that values knowledge and hard work and public spirit over owning stuff and looking cool.’” (Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion)

She rallies teachers of writing to answer this “call to research and articulate new composition, [this] call to help our students compose often, compose well, and through these composings, become the citizen writers of our country, the citizen writers of our world, and the writers of our future.”

I could not agree more with Yancey’s call to action. What we need to do, as teachers of writing, is to find ways to integrate the various strategies that have worked over the years and apply them to real-world needs that empower our students to effect change. This is the most meaningful way to make writing matter to students who are already engaged in communication outlets and devices only dreamed of in sci-fi works a generation ago.

Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year, models this beautifully in a 12-minute feature with the Teaching Channel. This video, titled, “Making Learning Personalized and Customized,” empowers individuals in the classroom to write about real issues (many of their own choosing) that are relevant in their lives today and, most certainly, their future.

What makes McComb’s approach so authentic and applicable to the students’ lives is his development of this project.

McComb’s strategies are clear in this graphic that is presented toward the end of the video. Not only has he integrated technology through Skype sessions and Google interviews with real sources, as well as through laptops and tablets at various stations, he has integrated opportunities for individual, one-on-one, small group, and larger group collaborative activities that all work toward the publishing of original, genuine, and meaningful works for a larger audience.

In other words, he has taken the finest materials of our best teaching strategies, the recursive writing process, real-world issues, and publishing and has seamlessly woven them together to create a lasting experience for his students that they will be able to apply long after the last bell rings for the school year.
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Our opportunities to teach well and effect change in the classroom are still available to us as teachers of writing (and this applies to all ages and across all content areas). We need to rethink how we approach teaching, though, and create projects like McComb’s that have strong beginnings built on the foundations of communication and comprehension, solid middles filled with diverse opportunities for rigorous and highly applicable learning, and empowering endings that give the students the tools they need to succeed in real-world ways that improve their communities and allow them to fight confidently and appropriately in the acts of advocacy and equality.

To see the full video, click on the image below.
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Journaling: Your Greatest Investment

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.22.16 AMOne of the questions I am asked most frequently about the process of writing is which is most important: the writing or the publishing? It’s a good question, but like everything else associated with the practice of writing, it’s not an easy one to answer.

When we look at the process of writing, we can first break it into five simple, yet recursive, steps: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

In recent years, some writing initiatives, such as the 6+1 Traits concept, bring greater depth and meaning behind each step of the writing process. Those who apply this strategy toward writing are mindful of ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. The “+1” represents publishing in some format. When you lay the traits over the process, you begin to get a pretty exhaustive approach to writing with intent, and often with success in connecting with your intended audience.

So when I’m asked whether writing or publishing is more important, it’s not an easy answer; both are so interconnected with each other. Even if we rephrase the question and ask, “Which is more important: Process or Product?” we are left with two very generic categories that cannot be separated.

My answer, invariably, ends up turning some heads.

“Neither,” I offer. What I think is most important is what happens before we start writing for an audience, and certainly before we consider publishing for an audience beyond ourselves.”

When they ask me to explain, all I need to do is reach into my ripped and well-traveled book bag and pull out two, three, maybe even four books of various sizes, colors, and even textures. Within each book, the pages might differ as well: lined or unlined, heavy or light stock, glossy or coarse.

These are my Daybooks, my journals, my greatest investment in my writing, and my greatest investment in defining with authenticity who I am as an individual.

IMG_2481I have been journaling since I was in 7th grade, when I started playing around with various essay formats on defining, of all things, love. When I would open my cheap spiralbound books bought at Woolworth’s for a few dimes, I felt an immediate rush of trust in this process of journaling for an audience of one — myself. I would jot down notes about my daily observations, my feelings about my experiences, and my philosophic ponderings about life and our existence. Even at the young age of 12, I allowed myself to tell the “Watcher at the Gates” guarding my thoughts to be gone. When it came to writing in my Daybook, there were no inhibitions, no rules, no exceptions. Just me and the page; that’s all that mattered.

Today, nearly 40 years later, I am still journaling as furiously as I did in my younger days. I now have many different journals dedicated to specific writing projects and purposes: some are for in-process novels, others are for Christian or spiritual reflections, and even more are are for my “Morning Pages” (a huge shout out to Julie Cameron for her inspiration in The Artist’s Way and other creativity books).

Most recently, I have started using specific Daybooks for art journals, which has been therapeutic in an entirely different way.

In every case, though, journaling/Daybooking has enabled me to invest in myself, in my writing, and in my understanding of the human condition. It is both spiritual and practical, theoretical and theological. When I am spending time in my Daybook, I am spending time growing, understanding, and experiencing humility, grace, patience, and service.

The many volumes of completed Daybooks that I have accrued are, at times, fun to look at and reflect on where I was at each stage in my life. But when I do take a peek at the past, I realize, over and over again, that these Daybooks are filled with words of what I needed to write, to say, at that time in my life. For the most part, 95% of those words never saw the light of day in published form; on the other hand, 95% of those words contributed significantly to who I am today.

And that is why I believe Journaling has been my greatest investment.

A few shout outs: First, to Dawn Herring at www.dawnherring.net. She’s a leading expert in the field of journaling, and she’s doing some great things for others with her #JournalChat sessions on Twitter. She inspired me to write about journaling, and I am grateful for the invitation.

Also, I use journaling and Daybooking with all of my fellow writers that I work with on a daily basis to help them find the courage they need to write their memoir. It’s never easy, and I’ve found that journaling is the best remedy to crack the ice and get to the heart of the stories still untold.

If you are interested in learning more about The LifeStory Lighthouse, check out this story about our plan to share the world’s stories, one word, one idea, at a time: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-lifestory-lighthouse/x/13401651#/.

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This Is Our Reality As Creatives

magnetic_poetry1_by_cassandra_tiensivuMany fellow writers and artists have been posting about the distractions we face in our creative lives, and how we can overcome them. One of those pieces was by an artist I just started following, Debbie McClure., thanks to another writer, ML Swift, who reblogged her post. McClure writes,

At some point, the rubber must hit the road for the car to move forward even one inch. It doesn’t matter what challenges you’re faced with, to move forward means doing something.

That’s pretty good advice for all of us. Here’s where I take it in my own writing life.

We know ourselves better than anyone. We are aware of what gives us energy, and what pulls it away. We know where we are strong, and we know when we are vulnerable. Our understanding of these forces, both around us and within us, grants us the opportunity to live our lives in greater control of how we exert our energy, utilize our experiences, and convert them into creative products.

This is our reality as Creatives.

I don’t pretend to keep everything in balance, all the time. Quite the contrary, and that’s what motivated me to write last night’s piece about being more authentic in my posts. The truth is, I struggle with this balance all the time, and for a number of reasons.

First, I have many interests, and I like to pursue all of them. Writing, reading, photography, music, nature immersion, abstract drawing, teaching, and journalism, to name a few. I’m also happily married and the proud papa of three beautiful children. I don’t like to slight any of these things. I am passionate about all of them. I have learned how to integrate these loves into my writing.

Second, I am, by my very nature, a people pleaser and helper. Now, knowing this has allowed me to be better about how I manage this. I get caught up in some pretty emotional issues that are close to me (depression awareness and suicide prevention, to name a few). But what I’ve learned is that, even though I care deeply about these issues, it isn’t my calling. There are ways for me to help, through my writing, that are in many ways more powerful.

Third, I am empathetic about global issues that can really pull me away from my work. Again — awareness of my empathy allows me to break away consciously and, in my writing, find a way to contribute to healing in some way.

I think Creatives are just like this. We are open to receive the world emotionally and spiritually; and through the relationship with have with the world — through that absorption of ideas and emotions, we churn out products that help us better understand what we experience. Through poetry, prose, artwork, or photography, we exhale what we absorb, doing our best to communicate effectively with our audience.

So, let’s stay aware. Let’s remember that our reality as Creatives is as fluid as our breathing. We take in everything, and we touch what we experience with insight, love, and wisdom.

This is our reality as Creatives. Embrace it, and keep doing the work. The world needs to hear, read, experience what we have to share.

It’s Time For Us To Get (Really) Acquainted

cropped-rvw-autumn-road.jpgHi.

I read a piece this weekend by a former student of mine and now fellow writer/author. Amanda, like a few others I know, is really digging deep and writing authentically (here’s the piece I’m talking about).

She made me turn the mirror on myself and see if I practice what I preach in my writing, or if I am one of those e-Posers, creating a false image of who I really am.

After thinking about it for the last 24 hours, I’ve come to this conclusion: I’m walking the thin fence, and I wobble a little to the left, a little to the right, a little too often.

What does that mean exactly? Well, to be honest…

What I Am Noticing

I believe everything that I write, everything that I preach, everything that I share. My mantras on love, kindness, wellness, and spirituality are all sincere — not just for you, but for me as well. All of that stuff is true.

The wobbles come in when we start talking about what I will call “selective posting.” Like Amanda writes, we’re all at least a little guilty of it, in some way. Right? We hold back the negatives that might cast a harsh light on our otherwise stellar lives. We keep in the backs of our minds our jobs, our family, our friends, our relationships. We are careful to walk that smooth line atop that fence, keeping our opinions in check, making sure that what we say, or write, or do does not become a misconstrued piece of evidence to jeopardize any aspect of our lives as we have crafted them.

In effect, though, we are becoming a mirrored image of the not-so-transparent people that we pose to be in our online worlds.

Do you get that? Do you see what is happening? In our effort to use social media to build ourselves up, we are actually using it to build nothing more than a superficial prototype of ourselves.

This is not who we are! And yet, the more we put in to that image, the less we can access that core of who we really are.

There’s another thing that happens, too: We spend a lot of time doing two things: logging in and logging out of the virtual world, and spending a lot of energy trying to get back to a place that we are losing touch with.

Thoreaus_quote_near_his_cabin_site,_Walden_PondThoreau called it the masses leading lives of quiet desperation. I think that, in this 21st century, Thoreau’s editor would change that to “…masses leading desperate lives of quiet superficiality.”

It’s sad, but it’s true. All it takes is a little mindfulness to slow it down long enough to step off the train and get reacquainted with who you really are.

Then hold on to that knowledge and never, ever surrender it.

What I Am Changing

Well, for starters, I’m going to use this space to be a bit more… uncut. My friend Steve has always liked these kinds of posts. He says that they are raw, real; something he can relate to. That’s what I want to share with you: more of the real side of me that isn’t always shown in a polished piece of writing. That begins now.

I’m also changing the frequency with which I write in this space. A good friend of mine, Jackie, writes a blog called the BaltimoreBlackWoman, and I find her words to be so encouraging and sincere as she embarks on this journey of online writing and publishing. Last month, she PM’d me and asked if everything was okay, as I had not been publishing much here at the Baltimore Writer. I assured her everything was fine, but it made me realize that I wasn’t seizing an opportunity to write more, share more, be authentic…more.

So that’s a big thing: Walking the walk while talking the talk. I want you to get to know me as a writer who freaks out about synthetics sucking all of the negative ions (and creativity) out of his soul, who charts methodically — obsessively — about every character’s nuances and every twist and turn of the story’s plot.

I want to share my more personal thoughts that are behind the polished pieces I write.

In essence, I want you to get to know me 3-dimensionally, where the struggles and challenges of living are made apparent in such a way that you can identify. That we can say we’re going through this thing called life together, holding hands, and taking our steps forward with courage and determination.

That we can say we knew each other more deeply than what was printed on the page, the screen, the tablet.

That we can say we appreciated the genuineness of our words, of our friendship, of our ideals.

That we can remember that we are not alone, that we are deeper than our social media avatar, that we are more loving, more gentle, more kind than we might have let on.

That we love, that we need to be loved, that we need to deliver love.

Those last few grafs sure sounded pretty plastic, I know. They sounded like the stuff I always publish, and maybe that’s the part of me that’s transparent. I believe in those things; I really do.

But what I believe in, just as much, is authenticity, through and through.

So there’s this:

I’m a writer runner, skipping over projects sometimes two at a time to get to the safer piece, usually without the deadlines, so that I can continue to feel productive. I am immensely deadline-driven, and I lose myself whenever possible in the non-structured wilderness of brainstorming, generating, and molding of ideas.

But for me to be successful, I have to stay close to the core of who I am. That’s a daily struggle as a writer. I have enough freelance gigs now that I can hop from story to story without feeling too guilty. Hey– I’m writing all the time; isn’t that what this life is all about?

Yes and, well, no.

The stuff I’m writing isn’t deep enough. I have to stay closer to the core, and more often, to really capture the words to express what I am thinking, feeling.

It’s not about hopping from deadline to deadline; in fact, it’s the complete opposite. It’s about crafting pieces deeply and then finding homes for them afterward.

It’s also about being genuine with myself, more often.

And that’s what you will be hearing from me, more often, here at The Baltimore Writer.