>My favorite curry spot in Siem Reap.
This is a short video that we shot this morning. We’re off to Angor Wat now!
While I was in college I spent a fair amount of time talking about the “men’s movement”. Essentially that comprised if the understanding that men, together and all had to begin examining their role in society. It sounds so uber intellectual now but at the time-me and a very cool circle of guys were very serious about it. Some of those guys I am friends with today, Pat Mueller, Phillip Holmes, Chris Myer and Jeff Miner.
Primarily, our number one activity was putting on a white ribbon campaign. We did other things like have regular lunches with deans and talk to Sosh professors but that was mostly it. I loved talking about it theory and later was a year shy of a men’s studies minor, the first of it’s kind in the states. Jack Harris and Chip Caparao wrote a lot on the subject and still do. They taught a class called Men & Masculinity that we all took. I ended up with a women’s studies minor and I am very proud of it.
Anyway, this White Ribbon Campaign (http://bit.ly/kB0QWK). This was an import from Canada where men took a pledge of non-violence and standing up for women’s rights. We would ask fellow men to take the pledge with us and wear a white ribbon. This was a big deal and I found the hardest part of the work talking to fellow men. “do you take a pledge of non-violence in support of women and stand for their equal rights.” there was always some guys who would come right up to the counter and turn at that. “no way,” or “sorry, all that PC stuff is shite.”
In the end, that was a lot of men talking about their privilege and saying. “Nah, I’m not interested in recognizing it.” We’re talking violence here–not some damn pledge to join NOW. It’s the resistance that I remember very well, the disdain and the way another man can make you feel for supporting women’s rights. Such BS now when I think about it. Men have to convince other men to change, it must be part of the conversation.
I did that for four years, organize that in the spring. All year round i did lots of other stuff: training facilitators, protests, something called Making Connections which I’ll write about in some other blog post. In the fall, I did acquaintance rape prevention workshops. I had a really good friend in college that was a cool guy, I mean he sort of embodied cool, ex-Lax player, New Jersey swagger with rings on his fingers. Obviously just didn’t give an F. Jeff Miner, total badass. We were an unlikely duo but trust me it worked. Well, the two of us would sit in frosh dorms with this crew of dudes and break down what acquaintance rape meant. We walked them through scenarios. A woman had this much to drink, and you wind back here. You’re both black out drunk and things are happening. That sort of thing. I’d helped write the skits and think they were my first writing that blended social activism with creative writing. Okay, the skits weren’t mondo prose or nuttin’ but they got at the sticky gray area of College relations.
The guys were a mixed bag. Freshmen full of themselves and mostly scared. I can say that now. Scared. I didn’t blame them, many were single and away from home for the first time, their privilege was all they had. To be really honest–I was fn’ scared too, talking to men about issues of intimacy, to burst that bubble when it is just you and other men, well it is big. We’re shut off from that stuff for the most part–dads have the birds and the bees discussion with daughters, men learn about sex through porn and such.
When we first talked to these guys about why we were there in their dorms, there were lots of jokes but when they could tell we weren’t joking and took the discussion seriously we would end up changing their minds. Three years of it and i’d say 7 sessions each year, plus just talking to other guys about it. Jeff and I had female friends who had been raped and if we could bring the reality to some frosh, well this might change some lives.
It has been a while since I have taken to this work. Speaking openly about the fact that men need to stand up together and fight sexism. To the work of recognizing their privilege in society. It is long overdue. I did some of the work in Peace Corps, a little Mason. I call this, we facilitators and such call this “the work” because it is part of an array of social justice issues that we feel drawn to. I am at 35 still trying to get back to “the work” it is part of the huge reason I went back to college to get an MSW.
This is what today was about. Leslie and I talked over lunch for hours about how to change the system. How to continue this work when we get back to the states. Men must be part of the conversation and work with educating one another. One thing for sure, the skills I learned years ago are essential today. This is the reason I know I am here, to educate other men and, like I said before–to listen.
Tomorrow we are going to Angor Wat and on Monday we are going to the AFESIP center here in Siam Riep. Stay tuned for touristy stuff.
The view from the top of our hotel.
>More about this project can be found <HERE
If you consider that we spent the first couple of days traveling in an airplane to get here, technically this is day three of our trip.
We woke up in the morning and ate some brunch and hit the town. Our first experiences in the town were overwhelming. Dozens of motorcycles and took-tooks motorized rickshaws called to us.
We walked in the heat, Americans obviously, Westerners for sure it was if we were the only people without a bike or a moto or a car and it was hot. The humidity furious and the smell of exhaust everywhere. But the smiles, the smiles of the people were infectious and genuine. I loved watching Leslie smile through the city. Finally able to interact with people she had long since been thinking of.
As we walked around the city some more it was obvious we had no idea where to go. We eventually were talked into a took-took ride to tour the city.
The queen’s garden entrance.
After our trip around the city we were beat. We rested in our room and found refuge from the heat in our room. The staff is very nice, generally kind and talkative. Not to generalize but a hugely different vibe than when Leslie and I lived in Korea. Leslie and I had a lot of great talks and tried to really take it easy. We both are a bit warn from the trip and didn’t want to push it.
We hit lunch at a local restaurant with a wonderful set menu. Guess what, plenty of veggie options.
We stopped for a coffee on the way back. A man with dreads laid on a couch reading a book. He later identified himself as the owner of the restaurant. Figures.
Took-took in effect.
This guy delivered a huge bag of ice to the restaurant out of the back of a truck. He loaded a large mesh bag with the ice from a gigantic cooler. Rad.
The entire day I kept wondering about the world that I was interfacing with. Here I am, this American with a camera, sneaking pictures and what am I showing the world? I hope you see something of what I saw today. It was quite beautiful and lovely.
Though a bit messy at times.
>With lots of help from all of you…
Next stop Korea… Then Cambodia.
I am headed to Cambodia with my wife tomorrow wild.
Here’s how this all started: About four months ago, after a long series of talks about my wife’s career as a musician took something of a turn as she decided to fuse her art with social justice. See Leslie’s website >>Here.
This has been central to what I have viewed the duality of my own existence: social justice and creative writing. Many conversations wrought over take out or egg sandwiches were filled on the subject on how to turn our passions into positions for change. Over the course of this year I believe I have gotten to better understand myself through my wife’s journey in taking her often lauded music to new levels in making change. We first developed a friendship when she was on tour with Todd Sapio (Language Room) and Jenn Woodhouse on a US and Canada regarding the environment called the Green Light Tour. Her passion for the environment is still palpable but she has begun to take on a new cache of understanding of what her life’s work is about in music and helping her fellow woman.
For me, I have always been interested in the work of the warrior poet. How can we continue to ensure that the pen is mightier than the sword? How can I become a writer of fiction, a publisher of short stories and such while at the same time focusing my life on social justice? I believe, as others have believed before me that in order to change the world we must begin with ourselves. We gotta write from what we know and we have to seek out truth.
Somewhere around the turn of the new year Leslie made some firm decisions. She had read Half the Sky by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristoff, the book, an account of the lives of women across the world who are sold into slavery and are trafficked into force prostitution.
Daughters of Cambodia became the title of the next record and she began writing furiously new songs. In a short period of time she raised over 5,000 dollars for us to travel there. I’ll be doing the photography and taking video. We’ll visit four rescue centers and Leslie will play some of her new material.
This is our process. Our journey. I’m–in a sense–along for the ride but as a man I hope to document some of my thoughts of what this means to me. What this is nothing short of slavery, and a process of sexual discrimination, violence, and dis-empowerment which is systematically depriving millions of women around the world of a future.
I got a lot to pack but I’ll be posting more. Big ups to the people of Hipstamatic who will be cross posting some of the pictures that I shoot over the course of the next few weeks. Thank you all for your support and please do write me here and drop notes. We need all the support we can get.
Location:Saint Louis, MO
>This is one of my many works of art that is inspired by the work of Jackson Pollock.
When I first went to college I was of humble means. Being unable to afford the cool posters, I came up with an alternative. I took an old bed sheet and splattered it with the paints my mother had in the basement of the house. Through the years I have done half a dozen or so, they decorate walls
Four years ago in September of 2007 my step-father suddenly died. I began working on this piece of art after he passed in October of 2007. I let it sit his barn for three years and then did not touch the piece for another year, setting it in his closet, letting it gather.
This past year the day that the tsunami hit Japan, in the midst of such a change in the world I finished the piece of art. The image of the piece has been donated to a poetry journal where all the proceeds will go to the Red Cross in Japan. The original piece hangs in our dining room.
IT ONLY TAKES ONE MISTAKE. After one mistake in a manuscript, they can reject you. Definitely if it happens in the first sentence, foooghetabouit. That’s what we think when we’re reading through your short stories. We’re looking for just that one mistake and then we’re ready to move on. Well, not really “Us,” because, at Our Stories, we read every page in order to give you honest feedback. However, I mean “Us” as a literary community. Rather “Us” as the collective editors out there in the free world. I’m letting you behind the curtain and I want you to pay attention.
It takes one huge mistake somewhere on the first couple of pages. Some sort of confusing line, or a word order issue. An unclear sentence or two that leaves us scratching our heads. You can’t get away with too many of them then the ball game is over. Maybe your character’s dialogue seemed too dramatic, too confusing. Or your story goes nowhere in the first three pages and that editor is thinking about the other one hundred and fifty two stories they have to read before they go to bed tonight. Maybe because you decided to do a flashback inside of your flashback. Or you used flashback at all. I certainly can’t stand flashback.
Maybe you get rejected because the font looks extremely childish. Because you decided to use a cover letter in front of your story. READ and FOLLOW the submission rules! Maybe your bio is near the beginning of the story and they can tell you’re trying to overcompensate. Maybe you don’t know how to use a break, or you use too many breaks. Some editors would reject you because all of your paragraphs and spacing are not aligned. That you have no pattern as to where your paragraphs end and how wide the margins are. You put things oddly. Your grammar is a mess. The writing was rushed WW and the sentences were too long and you said and too many times and you don’t have a clue that you are using run-on sentences and your audience just needs a chance to rest. Phew. You’re using quotes for dialogue. You’re not using quotes for dialogue and prefer italics. Listen up! You’re not using italics for dialogue you’re too old-school and underline instead.
Because you know nothing of poetry. Because you’re too poetic. Some would reject you because your first lines sound stock, too simple. Or that you’re trying to overplay your hand at language as opposed to tell us something straight ahead. Some would reject you because you dropped too many shock and awe bombs on the first page and forgot about the art of language. Some would reject you because you wrote something sexist, homophobic, racist and well, maybe you should’ve been rejected for that if it had no point whatsoever. Some would reject you because you had too many points you were trying to make. Some would reject you because you never got to the point.
Some would reject you because you decided to take Chekov’s gun out too early, or that you decided that that the gun was really a bazooka tube. Or because the gun came out too early and it never went off. The ending isn’t dramatic enough, where is the gun?
Some would reject you because they think you’re culturally ignorant. Because you are culturally ignorant. Because they have no idea what your aesthetic is all about. Because they haven’t read anything from Latin authors or African American authors or Asian authors and the just don’t know. They haven’t figured out that all literature has to be workshopped from the aesthetic that it comes from. Because you’re PoMo. Because they are too PoMo.
Maybe they read the New Yorker too much or not enough. Maybe they stopped reading the Atlantic and never looked back.
Because you’re not writing about terrorists. Because you are writing about terrorists. Cuz’ your grammar sucks, see? Because your writing is too informal. Some would reject you just because they thought your name reminded them of an ex, a mortal enemy, a bad character on TV, or maybe the doctor that treated their VD.
Some would shoot you the old email stock bullshit, trite rejection email because they had a bad day themselves, after they received some same old email stock bullshit, trite rejection email.. They only publish their friends. Some would reject you because, you know what, because they decided, just cause. Some would reject you because they don’t really know literature or how the short story is supposed to work and they haven’t a clue. Some would reject you because they were behind on their reading and needed to catch up. They read too fast. They read too slowly. Someone spilled coffee all over your story and they couldn’t read it so, rather than ask you for another copy, they decide they probably should reject you. Some would reject to feel better about themselves. Some would reject you because your address was New York City and that scares them. Some would reject you because your address was in Wichita, Kansas and that scares them. Or maybe because you are too Southern, too northeastern, too California new-agey and that editor doesn’t get it. Or because you’re too Cormac McCarthy. Because you’re too Eugene McCarthy. Maybe you’re too gay, too straight, too damn conservative, too damn liberal, 2 many emoticons OMG WTF IDK TRU DAT.
They don’t accept anything longer than 6000 words. They don’t accept anything over 1000. Too brief. Jealously. You’ve already published too much. Dark. Too much light. You blew the opening, you have no ending. The ending is too dramatic: get rid of the guns. Too much like Carver. Too drunk. Too much like Eggers wants to be. Too much like Eggers should be. You’re not Jhumba Lahiri.
Because you take yourself too seriously. You need to lighten up in your writing. It’s repetitive and high-minded and it thinks it can actually make a difference. Because your grammar sucks. Too ambitious don’t set it in Greece, set the story in New Jersey! You think you can make a difference. Idealistic. Because your writing is too informal. Too repetitive. Because you are some sort of arrogant, cocky jerkface editor at some no name literary journal with bizarre editorial policies and some sort of high minded, holier than though attitude that thinks everyone should sing koom-by-ahhh-my-lord-and-get-a-long crap fest.
It’s a wild world out there in English letters and they do all this. We reject people for some of these reasons but the thing is–we have to tell you what we were thinking when we read your manuscript. Honest to God, that’s what we do. Sure, I’d say others journals read your work, at least till they find that one mistake, the first mistake and then they have their reason. Once they find the reason to reject you, well, your manuscript goes in the recycling bin and then they mail you back your SASE. They don’t have to tell you any thing at all. That’s the way it works for everyone else. Not us.
Our Stories literary journal has been giving personalized feedback to every short story we’ve received for five years. Every last one. That’s a lot of stories. We’ve made a lot of friends. We’d like you to tell your friends about us. We like people. We like stories. We read every page and go through your entire story so you know what we thought. You should try us if you never have. We just gave you about a hundred reasons why you should—it might be worth it. We don’t claim to always be right when we send a rejection notice to someone, but at least you know why we came to our decision. Heck—maybe, just maybe after all the money that we took out in loans to study this stuff in MFA programs and the years of working on this literary journal—we might be able to help. There may just be some thread of feedback that may help, if not with the next draft, maybe the next story you work on.
Don’t buy into the literary panzi scheme: Learn to Receive. We have abilities for your needs.
I’ll be on the blog or find me, I mean “Us,” on Facebook. Include links to these here.
Alexis E Santí editor in chief and founder
I applaud Damon Winter and his amazing prose, he is articulate and a fantastic artist. I want to take a moment and respond to the article and include some of my own photos which were used with the hipstamatic app.
I am a long time user of Hipstamatic, meaning I’ve had it for the past nine months or so, which is a long time in the life of an app. This is an important and thrilling conversation to be having about the role of camera phones in the photography world. This is important because, over time, these photos from camera phones are going to continue to crop up everywhere, no pun intended. No longer are the pictures from phones grainy, pixelated images–they are now mega pixel shots that can be edited with apps like the Photoshop app and then “effected” as an after effect. Hipstamatic shots are a unique bird though, they are pr-effected shots, meaning that the photographer doesn’t “do” anything with them after the picture is shot. The app allows you to choose the film, the lens and a flash. You swap them out like a, well, excuse me, a photographer would. The irony should not be lost on the audience that Hipstamatic shots are supposed to mimic some of the past niche lenses that have since fallen out of fashion, including the Helga or Robo Glitter lenses of a forgone era. They are supposed to mimic the Lo/Fi retro effect on an iPhone, a somewhat post modern statement, I know. However, consider the fact that this world of Lo/F lenses and cameras that did exist at one time in a greater popularity than the scant attention that their real life counterparts receive today–has given them a renaissance. The folks at Hipstamatic are smart, dead smart. They know that there’s something to the past lenses that have been all but forgotten. Their application has continued to develop in a sort of cheeky old take with new technology. Whether they will ever venture into the field of reproducing Lo/Fi camera phone pictures from the recent past of, “I just wish I could get back my Motorola Razr camera!” remains to be seen.
My take on this issue is as follows: Damon’s picture is quite amazing, period. The lighting is spot on and the perspective he captures is incredible. He has an amazing eye. The thing that is: “camera phone sucky” about his picture has nothing to do with any of that though–it’s the damn crummy border that he used: a throw back to the camera paper of the 60′s called “Inas” that’s what gives the picture a truly amateur camera phone effect. (Upon close inspection, it appears Damon faded the border of his shot as the camera paper that the photo is on is not a Hipstamatic paper, it still looks poor.) Just so you know, Damon had choices, as it the life of an app photographer! He had two other “film papers” he could have chosen, to achieve a better effect in my estimate, the “blanko” film and the “Inas 1935″ that would have eliminated the border. Just as he had many other choices. The border he chose crams the shot into a sort of shit bird mounting that you just don’t like to see in the art shots that these cameras produce (there, I said it”cameras”.) Let me put it another way: his shot is like the the Mona Lisa sitting on mildewed cardboard paper, doesn’t matter how much you dig it–it looks cheap.
Folks, the bottom line is camera phones are here to stay. As the cameras continue to improve in functionality one can never ignore the portability and ease of use. Do you really want to carry two cameras around? Consider the fact that your camera can’t access the internet, you can’t instantly share your photos with anyone until you plug the camera in? I mean, stone ages, dudes. Shucks, Damon could’ve took his 20 amazing shots, edited these pics if he wanted to, sent it into this contest, checked his email, let people know he submitted to the contest on Facebook, texted his mom letting her know he had a shot at winning a contest, all while listening to Lil’ Wayne kick it and STILL had time to get to target practice. This brings the question–should Damon have to work harder in developing this effect? Is he not, in fact, posing as a great photographer because he needs to work on it longer in a dark room and such with chemicals and ugly paper? My only response: why should he? I do not mean this statement to insult those that came before us and whose craft of film making, the work of processing photos in a dark room–the skills of rendering physical pictures on paper. No, I hold these men and women in the highest regard. We are aware and respect the fact that these shots take talent, skill and an earnestness that can not be attained in the world camera phones. However, this should not exclude the talent and the eye for photography that is rapidly developing in an increasingly wireless and converging technological world. This is the moment in the photography world that is much the same as the advent of color to films or sound before it. Those who only cling to the past and are unable to adapt typically scorn all things new with the fervor that they are heretics. Mellow out people, this stuff is here to stay.
I think that sums it up: Damon, chose a different background next time, brother controversy stopped.
Alexis E Santi
With a bandanna rolled over our eyes we strike with a heavy stick to knock the Pinata down (aka Roadblocks)
WE START OFF OUR STORIES WITH VAGUE NOTIONS. We think things like, I’d like to set a story right before WWI in a German training camp. Or something like, I remember my mother crawling into bed with me and crying after she had a fight with my father. The trailer at the movie theater reminds me of the last time I saw my sister alive. That’s usually how it starts. A vague notion where you decide that the way you see the world means something. We all do this. I don’t care whether you have your MFA or you’ve never written a story before. We all capture moments in our lives that we believe are significant, that a we believe—for one reason or another—that there is a story behind what we saw in our mind’s eye.
For some reason, us descendants of Sisyphus; the writers of poetry and prose, decided that writing things down would be where we got our kicks. Other people become stand up comedians, others become painters, or musicians, sculptors—you catch my drift, all of us artist types are telling stories. However, the true laborers (in my opinion) are the writers, the ones that metaphorically put pen to paper, hands to the keyboard, index finger to the iPhone—drift caught. We set off, deciding with sure-fire audacity, “I’m going to write that down.” And just like that we’re spun arond three times fast, dizzy and confused and start off. With a bandana rolled over our eyes we strike out with a heavy stick to knock the piñata down. To nail that damn story with our big stick so that we can be rid of it.
The truth is when we start writing—be honest here, folks—when we start writing we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. We start imagining things that include the setting and try to picture the world these characters we’re trying to sketch out. We use our senses and try to sniff things out, we reach our hands into the grass and feel, we’re served some deep dish and taste what the story has to serve us. We are truly lost. All we have is the vague notion that the story is out there, somewhere. So we lurch forward, taking our wild swings at a story, trying fitfully to get at what is encased inside that stupid flimsy paper mache so that we can have it spill all over the page.
What I notice is that often (with us emerging writers) is that we make choices that can corrupt the process of telling the story. We make really bad choices through no fault of our own we do this. And when I say us I include me in the process, I know I do this. Show of hands, who does this—see that’s a lot of people out there! The reason we do this merits an essay by itself but simply put: we make bad choices because we believe the artistic process should not be “messed with”. First thought, best thought, drift thrown again and drift caught? It’s like we believe that the original idea for our story is this perfect little ET alien that we gotta let sit in our closet and not talk about. Ignore it and it’ll be cool. I mean, just let that weird dookie looking thing chill and let us tell the story in whatever way we want, cause homie, if you mess with it too much it’ll just disappear, get sick and stuff. The story will die if I talk about it! I am here to tell you the following: bullshit. You have to look at what choices you make in telling your story, you have to have a moment in your creative process where that pencil pusher devil on your left shoulder gets a chance to add some things up. You gotta do the math for a second and see if it totals out. Because, folks, hear me out already, if you don’t take a moment and reflect you will have wasted your talents on a story that is DOA: Dead On Arrival. I know that’s cold. I know. I know. But I’m giving it to you straight. Let me give you some examples that I recently saw. The details have been changed to protect the author’s original idea.
I read a brilliant short story this quarter about a kindergartner who takes her homework and burns it in a bathroom. It was hilarious at every turn but since the story was told from a first person present (from the 5 year old’s voice) it was entirely incoherent for me to understand what was actually happening. Next, I read a very compelling story about three cowboys who were stuck in the middle of the desert surrounded by coyotes. The trouble with this story is that the story was told by a third person narrator that sounded so academic that I thought I was in Cambridge and not in the Mojave. And finally, if my point is still not clear, I read a story about a woman who had attempted suicide but since the story was told in the first person past tense it became boring, since I knew she was alive and well, reciting the manuscript.
Now, with that being said, I am not saying that these can’t be done. Seriously, it can all be done—it’s just that if you start off on the wrong ways you have to write to a level that is sheer brilliance. So, for example, about the suicide attempt, there is the potential that the story can be amazing. However, the writer has to make the voice of the character so interesting, so incredibly beautiful that we are horrified that they would ever want to take their life. It’s always possible to tell that story but it takes, I’d say, 10 times the work. In the end, take a breather instead.
Now, the very hard part of the job as editor at Our Stories is reading these stories that are brilliant, smart, and hilarious—yet—have an enormous logic flaw inside of them. There is literally no worse news I can give a writer when this occurs. The only thing the writer can do is revise from the very foundation. Not good. This is not the sort of feedback I relish in giving. In fact, I almost wish I did not see it at all and I could just tell them that their plot needed “work”. If only other journals gave that little, right comrades? I digress.
Let me get to my point. Here’s the deal, Power Rangers, when you first start writing your story—somewhere after you get that brilliant epiphany that gave you the idea of your story and before you write the second page of what you believe is the “the best story you’ve ever written.” you need to pause. Take a breather. Get up out of your chair and stretch. Go outside. Have a smoke. Have two smokes while no one is looking. Then, before you walk back inside to your computer ask yourself whether you’re handling the story in the right way. Think about whether if you changed the story to a past tense whether it’d be better. Decide whether the voice of your 1st person narrator is someone who your audience would like to spend the fifteen pages with. Analyze whether your 3rd person narrationo is up to snuff. And if you have doubts then it’s not too late. You haven’t taken too much time out of your life to look back at that point.
I think before the second page is the perfect time to question these things. At that point you can still write the story in two, three different ways. I remember Richard Bausch would tell us examples of novelists that would write hundreds of pages in one or two ways and then decide which they liked better. You can at least take a couple pages and work this out. I know it’s a lot like asking a bull to stop bucking, like a bird to stop flapping, like a duck to stop . . . drift caught again, bing! What I’m saying is to just take a moment before you make a mistake that ends up throwing all of these roadblocks in front of you where they’re not needed. You owe it to yourself to open up the closest, spank that dookie headed ET and see what they say—don’t worry, you can throw them back in the closet when you’re done getting what you need.
Okay. That’s it for now. Enjoy the Fall 2010 issue, I love all of the stories we published this quarter, they all show us something beautiful. We’ll be back when there’s snow on the ground and we’ve found our third annual Richard Bausch Short Story prize. For those of you applying to MFA programs good luck. Write well.