10 August 2015

The Liebster Award

Last week, I was nominated for a Liebster Award by Heidi of The Art of Living Fully. The Liebster Award is given by and among bloggers, to recognize the best writing available on the web. It's also a way to introduce readers to new blogs; you are eligible for a Liebster only if you have fewer than 250 regular followers.

The custom, in accepting the award, is to introduce and say something about yourself, and then to nominate a few new blogs for your readers to peruse.

Things that make me happy.

Sitting around the dinner table with my husband and children, laughing. With two of my three children in college, this is happening more and more rarely, and I have begun to really miss it.

My two dogs, Sparky and Trixie. They are wonderful companions. I can't imagine life without them.

I love to knit, sew, cook - all that domestic stuff. I love craft fairs and farmers' markets. Fireplaces on a snowy night. A good book. An afternoon spent writing on my back porch. Lunch with a friend. A cool swimming pool on a hot summer day.

Why I started blogging.

I have always wanted to be a writer. I wanted to see whether it was possible to be successful publishing my essays on this platform. The jury is still out.

The best thing that anyone has ever said about my blog.

It is actually extremely rare for anyone to say anything about it to me, let alone anything that would fall into this category! I still don't think I have many regular readers. Three people I can think of have told me in recent weeks that they look for new posts all the time, because they like my calm, reasoned tone and my way of explaining things. One of my old posts, an attempt at silly humor, still makes one of my daughters laugh every time she reads it. That, in itself, is a measure of success.

A quick anecdote: last summer, I attended a bloggers' conference in California. I went to a breakout session on coming up with creative titles and taglines for posts. We all sat around a table and introduced ourselves. When I said, "I'm Jennie, and I write a little blog called Still Life With Crockpot," the woman sitting next to me gasped and said, "Still Life With Crockpot? That's my absolute FAVORITE blog ever! I can't believe I am meeting you in person!" She wanted to take a selfie with me. I was so thrilled and surprised to be recognized. (I thought no one read my blog except my mom and my kids.) That woman has become a friend, and I have become a fan of hers, too.

One piece of advice I would offer my readers.

Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.

I find myself repeating this mantra over and over. It's applied to so many phases of my life that I can't even begin to list them. Things have a way of resolving, no matter how much you worry or panic. By all means, be proactive in solving your problems and in seeking new pathways when doors are closed to you. But remember that most difficulties you'll encounter in life are commas, not periods.

My ultimate guilty pleasure.

I won't lie. I love a Wendy's hamburger. It's the only fast food I eat with any sort of regularity. I know, I know. Industrialized, processed meat. Eew. But it's a guilty pleasure, remember? Also, I love massages. I have no idea why, but I would give up several necessities of life for a few minutes of getting my shoulders or feet massaged.

My favorite U.S. destination.

Park City, Utah. We have a timeshare there, and we go often to ski. Beyond that, I love walking around cities. Chicago, Boston, and Sam Francisco are among my favorites. And I don't think I'll ever live too far from my native city of New York.

Two countries that make me the happiest to visit.

I love Great Britain and Germany. I speak both languages well, and that helps. But I also like the people, and the ancient cathedrals, and the cool weather.

My dream destination.

My husband and I have talked about taking a trip to Scandinavia (I've been sort of fascinated by Sweden since a neighbor gave me one of those little painted horses when I was a child, but I have never been). On the same trip, we'd like to get to St. Petersburg, too.

Blogs for you to check out:

Please visit my friend Heidi at The Art of Living Fully. She originally nominated me for this award. Until recently, her blog was called "The Magic of Mothering," but her children are grown now, and she is in the process of rebranding. She journals about her mother's Alzheimer's journey, her recent downsizing move back to the city, and many other issues of interest to women in their middle age.

I love Justine at A Half Baked Life. She writes memories and reflections, usually accompanied by a recipe tied to the theme of her post. The format is wonderful, but her intelligence and insights are her real assets. (Her husband recently wrote a guest post - a rare treat!)

Style Dementia. This will surprise anyone who knows me, because I am certainly NOT a fashion-oriented person. Think sweatpants, t-shirts, flip-flops, and no makeup, and you pretty much know what I look like. But the irresistible tag-team of Cynthia and Emily, college buddies alternately telling their stories through their style choices, will draw you in.

Malcolm Andrews is a former Navy pilot who now flies commercial planes. He brings his photography skills into the cockpit, and his exceptional aerial photography, on display at The Aerial Horizon, will take your breath away.

Thank you, Heidi, for your nomination. I hope all my blogging friends will gain a few new readers through this exercise. And if you're new here, now you know a little something about me. Please come back soon.

29 July 2015

About Those Things You're Not Supposed To Say To Writers

Yesterday, there was a hashtag running wild on Twitter. I follow a lot of professional writers, so I saw a lot of tweets carrying the tag: #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter. They were mostly funny, but some of them made me cringe. And one or two of them shot me right through the heart. For example:

A writer is, by definition, someone who writes. Some of us, like the tweeter cited above, write long-form novels for traditional publication. Some of us write essays or short-form fiction, which we publish in magazines or blogs. Some are journalists. Some of us are poets, either traditionally published or self-published. But anyone who writes is a writer, and it is insulting - and short-sighted, in this information age - to suggest otherwise.

It is true that there are a lot of terrible writers in the world. The opening of the internet has enabled anyone with a keyboard and some very basic skills to establish a blog and start writing. This is one of the things that surprised me when I first started blogging, and that continues to surprise me to this day: many of the most successful active blogs are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, or are full of posts that are simply poorly thought out or poorly composed and presented. In the beginning, I commented on posts that I thought needed more work or more editing. Sometimes I wrote posts responding directly to bloggers with whose ideas I strongly disagreed.

I learned quickly, however, that the world is so saturated with writers doing their own thing that my opinion simply doesn't matter. Nobody cares where the apostrophe goes, as long as they have a solid and engaged readership. That's what makes any writer successful, after all: people who want to read your writing. You can have seventeen finely-crafted, well-edited, traditionally-published novels that no one has ever opened, or you can have one blog with thousands of followers who read your work on a daily basis. Who's the real writer?

Nor do I agree with the suggestion that being a writer necessarily requires any specialized training, like being an eye surgeon:

With apologies to Harlan Coben, who, despite his snarkiness, is a very successful novelist by any measure, one doesn't just wake up one day and decide to do eye surgery. But that's how most novels get started. There is an idea, and the idea is sketched out, crafted, and put to paper. A novelist is someone who writes novels, and nothing more. He doesn't need specialized training, an advanced degree, or a professional license to do so. He just needs to write. That's not to say it's easy work, or that it doesn't require discipline and skill and talent and the support of professionals with experience. Not everyone can do it. But someone who decides to do it can. And should.

In my quest to become a writer, I have been rebuffed many, many times by professionals who treated my inquiries and enthusiasm the same way Coben and Mieszkowski apparently would. I'm a lawyer by training, and several writers have said, "I don't try to practice law, and you shouldn't try to write fiction." One editor rejected me many years ago with the blunt: "I'll call you when I get a traffic ticket."

On the other hand, I have been encouraged by many kind-hearted people I've reached out to. A high-school friend who is an editor at a major publishing house handed me her business card and told me she would read my completed manuscript whenever it was ready. (It's not ready yet, but I still have her card.) Another friend, a very successful published writer, offered to put me in touch with her agent (again, when I'm ready). Even the great Philip Roth, whom I had the good fortune to meet in person some years ago in a social setting, was kind and encouraging. "Just write it. If it's good - and there is every reason to expect it will be - it will find readers."

If you know someone whose writing you like, I can suggest a few things you can do that will put you into the encouraging column. First, if their writing is traditionally published and is available for sale, buy it. In a bookstore, if possible, or for your electronic reader. If you can't find it for sale, check it out of the library. If it's a blog, visit often and post comments. Share good writing - give good books as gifts, or pass them on to people you think might like them. Choose your favorite titles to discuss at book groups. Write online reviews. Repost and tweet blog entries that have struck a chord with you. This increases readership, sending your favorite writers down the road to success. And for blogs, click on the ads - doing this provides the financial support that enables your favorite bloggers to keep going.

If you are a writer or editor, aspirants are asking you questions because they admire you and are seeking your expertise and help. Good writing is not a zero-sum game. Helping out another writer is not going to ruin your own career. There is and will always be a market for good content. Stephen King is not threatened by J.K. Rowling; they sing each other's praises and they both rise. Instead of discouraging aspiring writers with mean-spirited tweets, be welcoming. Everyone will benefit from your efforts.

01 April 2015

Jailed For Miscarrying

I read a news report yesterday that I have been thinking about it ever since. I want to share it with you. Please be warned that the facts of the story contain some graphic details. (I have adapted my description of the facts from a UPI story that you can read for yourself here.)

The story is that of Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman of Hindu descent from mostly Irish-Catholic South Bend, Indiana. In July 2013, Patel miscarried a pregnancy at her home, where she lived with her immigrant parents and grandparents. It is not clear exactly how advanced the pregnancy was - that was one of the issues at her later trial. But Patel expelled, along with a lot of blood, a recognizable fetus, which she claims was dead. (Whether it was actually dead at the time was also an issue at the trial.)

A few hours after miscarrying, Patel went to a local hospital, because she was bleeding heavily. Before she left for the hospital, she cleaned up the mess and put the fetus in a dumpster at a shopping center across the street from the hospital. She then presented herself in the emergency room for treatment of her heavy bleeding.

Although Patel did not initially tell the emergency-room doctor all of the details of what had happened, it was apparent to him that she had recently given birth. Her womb still contained a placenta and a severed umbilical cord, and the doctor opined that her pregnancy had been "fairly far along." The doctor decided that he was looking at a case of child abuse, and, as a mandatory reporter, called the police and sent them to Patel's home in search of a newborn baby.

Told that the police were on their way to her home, Patel revealed to the doctor that the fetus was across the street in a dumpster. The doctor relayed that information to the police, who gathered at the shopping center across the street to conduct their search. Patel went into surgery to have the placenta removed; while that was going on, the doctor joined the police outside and assisted them with their search. They found the fetus fairly quickly, exactly where Patel had told them it was, and it was definitely dead.

A criminal investigation was initiated, on the theory that the fetus had been born alive and breathing, and that Patel's neglect had caused its death. Patel was interrogated as she emerged from anesthesia in the recovery room at 3:00 AM, without benefit of a Miranda warning, and was ultimately charged with child neglect and infanticide under Indiana law.

The pretrial investigation uncovered text messages between Patel and a friend in which they had discussed buying abortion drugs online, but there was no evidence that Patel had ever purchased them. Both she and the fetus tested negative for the presence of the drugs. To support its theory that the fetus had been viable, the prosecution hired a pathologist who placed the fetal lungs in water and observed that they floated, and were therefore capable of holding air.

Patel was convicted, after a jury trial, on both counts. She was sentenced on March 30 to twenty years' imprisonment.

I find this case troubling - even horrifying - on many levels. The aggressive prosecution of a woman in her situation raises many very serious issues. Where were the emergency room doctor's ethical loyalties - to his patient, or to the police? Most states have statutes in place that protect doctor-patient communications from disclosure in legal proceedings. The idea is that doctors must be able to treat their patients effectively, without fear of legal reprisal. Where was the confidentiality in this situation? Did Patel have a right to expect that her doctor would not turn her in to the police?

Why was Patel questioned right after coming out of surgery, without benefit of a lawyer and without being advised that she was entitled to one? (The Miranda requirement is federal and not subject to the Indiana legislature's whims.) Many of the questions she was asked while coming out of anesthesia seem unnecessarily harassing and even irrelevant. (According to the UPI report, she was apparently questioned repeatedly about the identity and race of the father.)

On a larger scale, what sort of precedent do we set by prosecuting a case like this? Will women be discouraged from seeking medical assistance after miscarriage, for fear of being charged with a fetus's death? Should a woman who delivers a fetus prematurely at home be given the responsibility of determining its viability and, in her extremis, seeking medical care for it? Will women be charged criminally if they miscarry after engaging in poorly-advised behaviors during pregnancy (drinking alcohol or eating unpasteurized cheese, for instance, or failing to wear a seat belt? Skipping their vitamins)? Patel's defenders have noted, pointedly, that the law under which she was charged has been used only twice - both times against immigrant women. (The other woman apparently attempted suicide by poisoning herself during her pregnancy, and her newborn died shortly after birth.) Is this a simple fact of circumstance, or is there, as Patel's defenders charge, discrimination afoot?

I know many of my readers will have a lot to say about this. Please let me know what your thoughts are, in the comments. I know that this is a highly-charged issue, but I trust you to keep your comments civil.