Archive for the ‘diversity’ Category

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Best Books and Reading Lists

January 19, 2017

Last year I started a list, cataloging all the books I read in 2016. I won’t give the number because it’s a lot, and I don’t want to come across as a braggart. I’m a writer, and all writers should be reading. It’s part of my work. By making a list, I review what genres I read most (YA) as well as what I lacked (poetry), and it helps determine what to read this year. There are SOOOOOO many books and only so much time, right?

A lot of people ask me for suggestions, which I always find hard to do. However, now that I have my list, it’s a little easier.

Here are a few of my favorites from 2016 (some were published before 2016- it just took me until 2016 to read them).

Picture Book:

Last Stop on Market Street; Matt De La Pena         

Middle Grade:                                                           

5 Times Revenge; Lindsay Eland

The Thing About Jellyfish: Ali Benjamin 

Young Adult:

Girl in Pieces; Kathleen Glasgow

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli

Bone Gap, Laura Ruby          

I will Save You: Matt de la Pena

Adult Fiction:

God Help the Child: Toni Morrison   

Tell the Wolves I’m Home: Carol Rifka Brunt

Everything I Ever Knew: Celeste NG

A Man Called Ove: Fredrik Backman

Trans-Sister Radio; Chris Bohjalian

Short Story:

A Manual For Cleaning Woman: Lucia Berlin

Essay:

Far and Away: selected stories: Andrew Solomon

Non-Fiction:

Between the World and Me; Ta-Nehisi Coates

READ ON!

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March #RESIST

January 4, 2017

 

 

I plan to march. On January 21, 2017, millions of women across the country will be marching to express their voice and taking part in the Women’s March on Washington, while other will march in sister cities around the world. Some people criticize us for being anti-democratic, sore losers, and pinheads, but none of those tags are true. I won’t be marching to protest the vote. I will be marching because women matter. I will be marching because I’m half the planet’s population, and I’m not going away. I choose to march because…

I march because I matter.

I march because I believe in freedom.

I march because I have a voice.

I march because I love my country.

I march because I have daughters.

I march because I have a son.

I march because I have a mother.

I march because I have sisters, a brother, a husband, nieces and nephews and cousins.

I march for my grandmothers and great grandmothers who marched before me.

I march for my father, brothers, grandfathers and ancestors who’ve past and can’t march.

I march because I represent marginalized voices.

I march because we matter.

I march because I love pure democracy.

I march because I choose to march.

I march because I believe choice matters.

I march because I am tired of people telling me how to feel and how to act.

I march because women should not be called fat, or ugly, or pussies.

I march because assault is not okay.

I march because women are more than contestants in a beauty pageant.

I march because I don’t want to be ranked by my looks or my f!#*$@ability.

I march because women have brains.

I march because I believe in good and right and equality.

I march because we need to heal.

I march because women should not be marginalized or minimalized to objects.

I march because women are not lesser human beings.

I march because women should not be afraid to be women.

I march because I love.

I march because I care.

I march because I am not afraid.

I march because I want others to know women matter.

I march because women should be able to choose what they do with their bodies.

I march because when the environment is ignored, women suffer first.

I march because women should not die in backroom, coat hanger abortions.

I march because I care about early childcare initiatives that help women.

I march because locker room talk hurts women.

I march because I have a right to feel safe.

I march because women should not be thrown into poverty because men got them pregnant.

I march because I have a vagina and am not embarrassed or ashamed to say it.

I march because women should be paid what men are paid.

I march because it is time to move forward, move beyond sexism.

I march because I need to feel hopeful about my future.

I march because I don’t want to feel terrified alone.

I march because women working together can transform the planet.

I march because I love and stand with my LGBTQIA, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Black, Brown, indigenous, disabled, ethnic, hurt, abused, and all of my sisters.

I march because we won’t move backward.

I march because we matter.

I march because I matter.

Join me. The organizers for the Women’s March on Washington posted this statement; “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families—recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

If you can’t get to Washington DC, go local! There are over 30 states planning sister marches, including in Colorado. The event in Denver will be 9 am- 3 pm on January 21, 2017 at Denver’s Civic Center Park. For more information and other marches, check out: https://www.womensmarch.com/colorado/

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Ants, Honey, and Human Dependency

May 31, 2016

There is a tree in Nicaragua that is not the tallest tree. It is not the most beautiful tree. It is not a sweet smelling tree. And yet, it is a powerful tree; one that offers wisdom, as all plants do, if one is willing to listen.

Like miniature swords, long spiky thorns poke from the branches of the tree, swearing off enemies. They do their job well. The barbs are sharp and painful, and they hurt. They are also full of honey. Because of the honey, the tree is covered with ants, which bury in the thorns to feed on sweet nectar. In return, the ants pee (ecosystems at their most sophisticated are also often at their most basic) on the tree, offering much-needed liquid, fuel to carry itself through a long dry season. The tree gives food; the ant gives drink.

Magic.

But sadly, perhaps terrifyingly, enchanting global ecosystems are in danger, becoming bewitched. Until I ventured to Central America, I had no idea jungles turn brown. They do. They remind me of Ohio in November, not the most stunning time of the year. The tropical trees drop their leaves, leaving barren branches and matted, crunched-up grasses below. In a perfect world, the rains begin in May, and within a few short weeks, the landscape becomes lush. However, because of global warming, the six-month rainy season has been shortened; hurting crops, farmers, plants, and animals.

But why should we care? We have nothing to worry about: we can buy our bananas at Safeway.

With an increasingly long dry season (I’m sure the same could be said for an extended rainy season), ecosystems all over the world are in danger. John Muir once said, “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” ‘Tis true: we are responsible for the future. Will we act the fool? Turn our heads? Or will we come to the realization that although we can buy bananas at Safeway, we share one planet?

Like it or not, we depend on a healthy structured environment, and our world is contingent on a balanced system. Ants and the thorny tree rely on each other to survive. Not only is it a fine balance, but it is also their relationship that makes it work. Many people talk about the need for relationships: with God, families, peers, and partners. And I agree: relationships are essential components to a healthy, vibrant life. I would also add that a strong and equal relationship with our environment is essential.

We can’t take without offering back.IMG_9157

The thorn tree might not be the most beautiful or popular tree in the jungle, but it knows it can’t stand alone. It survives by sharing its nectar with ants. Their relationship is key to their survival. Likewise, our survival as humans is dependent on our relationship with the environment, not just on ‘earth day’ but on all days.

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Books in Nica

May 17, 2016

Choosing a book, or many books, to read on vacation can be challenging. Will I be in the mood for a mindless beach read? Will I want to learn something and discover personal growth? Should the book be work related? Completely literary? In the end, I almost always choose a bit of everything. In my line of work, reading is as important as writing.

In April, my family traveled to Nicaragua for two weeks. We had lots of time on planes, in the airport, on the beach, waiting at restaurants, siesta-ing, and even during the middle of the night when temperatures hovered near 90 with no air-conditioning. Thank God for e-readers!

Lots of people ask me for reading suggestions, so I’ve listed what I read in Nicaragua. However, I think it’s important to prepare for a trip and read a related book or two before arrival. I began with The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War by Gioconda Belli, and while on the plane I devoured a collection of short stories set in Panama: Come Together, Fall Apart, by Cristina Henriquez.

This next selection was chosen because I wanted to read adult literary fiction. I picked A 100 Foot Journey by Richard Morais because it’s set in three different countries. Because I was traveling to a foreign land, I could appreciate the nuances that come with cross-cultural living. Next, I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, which is new and on many best seller lists. I love Elizabeth Strout, and the book did not disappoint. I also love Chris Bohjalian’s and was surprised to find Trans-Sister Radio, a book of his that I hadn’t yet read. Given the debate about gender-neutral bathrooms, it’s a book that everyone should read RIGHT NOW.

By reading, 250 Things you Should Know about Writing by Chuck Wendig, I did a little work, right? And because reading middle grade and young adult is also part of my job, I read I will Save You: Matt de la Pena, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky: Heidi Durrow, and This is Where it Ends; Marieke Nijkamp, but they were all so good that I can’t call it work.

Personal growth and well-being are always part of my routine, and I read parts and pieces of these four books: Awakening the Energy Body: Kenneth Smith, Defy Gravity: Caroline Myss, Courageous Dreaming: Alberto Villoldo, and Dark Nights of the Soul: Thomas Moore.

Did I have a favorite? Nope. Each served their purpose for different reasons, and I enjoyed them all. Developing a selection of books to read takes a bit of planning, but it’s well worth it.

We also took phones away from our kids, and they balked as only teenagers can. But guess what? They read—a couple of books each! Parents shouldn’t be afraid to pull technology from their children. Of course, kids will complain; that’s their job. No one said parenting was easy. But here’s the upshot: reading improves writing skills ten-fold, triggers receptors in the brain, and offers new worlds, an escape, a welcome respite from an overly stimulated world. Parents can’t mandate books like teachers can, but if kids don’t have an alternative; they’ll read. And odds are? They’ll like it.

Happy reading on your next vacation! Summer anyone?

 

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Jungle Juice and Sensory Awareness

May 2, 2016

I recently returned from an adventurous trip to Nicaragua. It inspired. My next few blogs will no doubt be related to my musings about this particular part of the world. Like all journeys, my time in Central America was filled with highs and lows, offering up lessons and tales to be told.

Disclaimer: Nicaragua was not high on my list of places to see. If I’d won the lottery and could have traveled anywhere, I’d have flown to the South Pacific, headed back to Italy, or gone to see my adopted family in Tunisia. But I found round-trip tickets to Managua for $300, which, in a way, was like winning the lottery. Plus, two of my three kids spoke Spanish, and Central America was high on their list. We had friends who’d been to Nica and loved it. We’d even met a great Nicaraguan guy—on a hut trip of all places. He promised to show us a good time. Clearly, the stars were aligned, and Nicaragua was where we needed to go. It was a done deal.

However, because Nica wasn’t top on my list, I didn’t think much about it. I read one book. I watched an Anthony Bourdain episode. I talked to a few people who’d been, but I had no expectations for the trip. Until I got there and realized I did.

When I first saw the dormant jungle; brown, twisted, and void of lush beauty;

I cried. After living through a winter of white, my hope was to see green. Breathe green. Live green. But the jungle wasn’t yet awake, and with the exception of palm trees and bougainvillea, the colors had vaporized.

In order to push through my disappointment, I honed in on other ways to explore the country and its environment. In doing so, I discovered intoxicating beauty not found with sight, and I used my other senses instead.

The 95-degree Nicaraguan heat saturated my body, offering a longed-for respite from the Colorado cold. I let it sink into my skin; at times enjoying it, at others, not so much. The excessive temperatures also taught me to welcome the wind, which can’t be seen. First, I’d hear it. The wind whistled and rustled through the canopy overhead and then swept over me like a soft wash, cleansing my scorched skin. I taught myself to listen to the breeze, anticipating the relief it would bring.

I also heard birds—beautiful birds greeting the morning and closing the day. They became my clock. I heard people pounding nails, others selling wares. I listened to new music and learned the Nicaraguan beat. The sounds were foreign, exotic, and welcoming.

The fragrances in Central America were equally exotic. Smoke from burning trash and wood was not so pleasant, but others smells delighted my entire being. Fried coconut oil spilled through the streets as women grilled chicken, plantains, and fried fish. Spices filled the air, making my mouth water. The taste of turmeric and onion and red peppers exploded when I ate. Freshly roasted coffee greeted my morning, and pure honey tasted exceptionally good. After eating tiny, tangy bananas, mangos, papayas and pineapples, the fruit juices dripped across my fingertips, sweet and sour flavors lingered behind my tongue.

I didn’t see my self-imagined jungle, but as with any unmet expectations, there were lessons to be learned, experiences to be found. There is more to the world than sight. Would I have preferred to see the jungle its green glory? Of course. But in its place, I re-awakened my underused senses, rousing both body and soul and offering me the opportunity to rejuvenate, experience, and truly explore. Isn’t that what a journey is all about? The challenge now, as with all returns, is to keep the lesson alive.

Given that I still see snow outside my window, I’m more than happy to practice non-seeing. But it’s easy to forget to breathe deeply, to take time to feel the air, smell the sweetness in the coffee shop, or to taste every single bite of a hurried breakfast. But slowing down and taking time to taste and smell and feel and truly listen enhances our lives. I teach my writing students to use senses in their writing. Providing a variety of details is important to the depth of a description. And so it is with life. Seeing is powerful. Beautiful. But it’s not all there is.

 

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White Oscars: Not Okay

February 22, 2016

On February 28th, the Oscars arrive. But for the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated only white actors/films in the industry’s top categories; exposing a shocking lack of respect for our diverse culture. As a writer, not an actor, should I care about the Oscars and the recent movie scandal?

Yes. Everyone should.

The Academy’s predominately white, male board members may not have consciously or purposely shut out diverse movies, but that’s no excuse. Honoring all people, matters.

Why?

  • Everyone deserves to be heard, and everyone has a story. Enough said.
  • Our country has changed. The white majority is in decline, and yet, they still command the wealth, privilege, and power in our society. Until all individuals are recognized for their accomplishments, a distorted and unfair balance hangs like ugly air. Not only is it important to learn from a film’s content, but also, it’s crucial to have a diverse balance of leaders running the show.
  • Education is key to our country’s health and well-being. Diversity (including, but not limited to; race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, age, sexual preference, and gender) should be recognized and reflected in all realms of our society. By watching stories on the screen, we can learn about historical and societal events, highlighting a variety of subjects. In Straight Out of Compton (unfortunately, NOT nominated for best picture) the audience learns one reason artists rap about police brutality, exposing an important and timely issue. While watching the movie, I felt extreme empathy for African Americans who continue to be unjustly targeted in police brutality. Empathy (via education) is a key ingredient to change.
  • People need positive role models. If there aren’t any in film, literature, business, or in our leadership, how can there be growth? In the book/film, The Danish Girl (unfortunately, NOT nominated for best picture), the main character’s confusion about his gender identity almost leads him to suicide. However, once he finds the courage and support he needs to come forward as a woman; he discovers himself, paving a way for others struggling with gender identity and acting as a progressive role model.
  • Diversity can act as an avenue to discover common ground. People suffer. People triumph. People cry, and people laugh. It’s simple; human emotion does not discriminate.

A diverse culture creates a strong economy. I come from a long line of farmers, and my female ancestors contributed to the economy by raising children, preparing meals, cleaning clothes, and running the household. They created the foundation for stay-at home-moms. However, as our country expanded beyond an agricultural workforce, and thanks to people like Gloria Steinem, women expanded their talents and skills. Girls can now become whomever they chose to be: a pilot, a plumber, a CEO, or a carpenter, thus creating a more sophisticated and healthy economy.

Shame on the Academy for not recognizing and respecting our culture’s rich diversity. For our country to move forward in a healthy, successful manner, we need all walks of life to be honored in film, books, businesses, and in our government—diversity should be respected and represented in all realms.