Jack Straw Writers tell “Family Secrets” at Literary Arts on October 2

I’m very excited to invite you to “Family Secrets,” the only Portland reading for this year’s Jack Straw Writers on October 2 at Literary Arts.

I’ll be reading from my new memoir How I Lost My Inheritance and I’m joined by three writers from Seattle’s Jack Straw Writers Program: Claudia Castro Luna, Loreen Lilynn Lee, and Michelle Peñaloza. Curator Felicia Gonzalez hosts.

With this reading’s “Family Secrets” theme, I can promise some raucous, hilarious and outrageous moments.

It would mean so much if you could join me that night and extend a warm welcome to these Seattle writers. Event details:

When: October 2 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Where: Literary Arts, 925 SW Washington Street, Portland, OR 97205

You’re welcome to RSVP on the event’s Facebook page.

If you’re a writer, the deadline to apply to the 2015 Jack Straw Writers Program is October 31. I loved the program in which we published an anthology, received vocal and performance training and hosted readings throughout the Pacific Northwest. My year as a Jack Straw Writer has been a highlight of my literary life.

Building front 2013The Jack Straw Writers Program based in Washington, was created in 1997 to introduce local writers to the medium of recorded audio, to develop their presentation skills for both live and recorded readings, to encourage the creation of new literary work, and to provide new venues for the writers and their work.

On October 2, you’ll meet these writers:

Claudia Castro Luna was born in El Salvador and came to the United States in 1981. She studied French and German, earned an MA in Urban Planning from UCLA and taught Spanish to high school students in Oakland, CA. After years of putting writing on the backburner, she finally decided to get serious and earned an MFA in poetry from MillsCollege in 2012. Her poems have appeared in Milvia Street, The Womanist, andRiverbabble. She has been a featured reader for the Berkeley Poetry Festival and for KALW, an NPR affiliate in San Francisco.

Loreen Lilyn Lee grew up in three cultures: Chinese, American, and Hawaiian. Her memoir The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir tells the stories “I’m not supposed to tell.” She weaves together family secrets; childhood trauma; cultural confusion; and Hawaiian history, geology, and mythology in a journey to discover her authentic self. A Seattle resident since 1986, she graduated from the University of Washington in 1994 as a working adult and began writing her personal stories.

Michelle Peñaloza grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and earned her M.F.A. from the University of Oregon. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Hobart, TriQuarterly, The Weekly Rumpus, and Hyphen Magazine. She is the recipient of the Miriam McFall Starlin Poetry Award, fellowships from Kundiman, the Richard Hugo House, and Literary Arts, as well as scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, VONA/Voices Workshop, Vermont Studio Center, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.

Gigi Rosenberg’s current project is How I Lost My Inheritance: A Mother/Daughter Memoir. She’s performed at On the Boards, been a guest commentator on Oregon Public Radio, and been published by Seal Press, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, and Parenting. The author of The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing (Watson-Guptill, 2010), Gigi lives in Portland.

Felicia Gonzalez hosts.

Felicia Gonzalez hosts.

2014 Writers Program Curator Felicia Gonzalez was born in Cuba. She believes that language and the act of speaking are not only physical, but also have a geographic presence. An alumna of Hedgebrook Writers Retreat and the Jack Straw Writers Program, her writing has received numerous awards including a 2007 Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship.

 

Please let me know if you can join us in October 2. I so look forward to seeing you!

 

 

 

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I’m now Editor at ‘Professional Artist’ magazine

The August/September 2014 cover of 'Professional Artist' magazine

The August/September 2014 cover of ‘Professional Artist’ magazine.

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been named Editor of Professional Artist, the business magazine for visual artists. Ever since I was in junior high school, I’ve wanted to edit a magazine so when this opportunity opened, I jumped at the chance.

I’ve been at it since early last month and so far, I love it. All the ideas for marketing and funding that come across my desk now have a home. I can either write about them for the magazine or assign them to one of our contributors. And now, I’m exposed to even more resources I can share with the artists I coach.

Professional Artist is based in Orlando, Florida but I can edit it from my office in downtown Portland. Since it’s part-time, I continue to coach artists, offer presentation coaching, teach workshops and work on my own creative writing projects.

I love running my own business, but one thing I always missed from the days when I had a “real job” was the social aspect of work, of working with a team towards a shared goal. I partner with artists and arts associations in the coaching and teaching that I do but it’s time-limited. After the workshop is over, we won’t talk again until the next time which could be a year away.

Now, I have colleagues – the publisher, the assistant editor of the magazine and our contributing writers. I really enjoy working with them to create the best business magazine for visual artists.

To learn more about the magazine or to purchase this issue or subscribe, visit http://bit.ly/1r8L3bV

You can still reach me at gigi@gigirosenberg.com or if you have a story idea, email me at grosenberg@professionalartistmag.com.

 

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Ask your questions, while you still can

 This story appeared in this week’s newsletter. It was so popular – I received dozens of comments about it – I decided to post it on my blog in case you missed it.

My father, the illustrator and painter, Robert Shore, sculpting in his New York City studio in the early 60s. Photo by Ken Wittenberg.

My father, the illustrator and painter, Robert Shore, sculpting in his New York City studio in the early 60s. Photo by Ken Wittenberg.

Since I last wrote, my beloved father, the illustrator and painter Robert Shore, passed away on April 30 at the age of ninety.

Over the years, my father had inscribed and given me many of the books he illustrated including Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, among others.

After his death, to console myself, I decided to hunt down another copy of Moby Dick and visited biblio.com which lets you search used books by illustrator. Not only did I find a copy of the Melville classic, I found and ordered several other books my father illustrated that I never knew about.

It was bittersweet when the week after my order, packages arrived at my doorstep each day including Home is the North by Walt Morey and Bitter Victory: A History of Black Soldiers in WW I by Florette Henri among several others.

I’m happy to have these books to hold in my hand, to see my father’s name on their covers, and look at the illustrations inside that are so undeniably his. But I’m sorry I can’t ask him about each project.

On one of my last visits with my father, I told him I was writing a memoir.

“You have quite a story to tell,” he said.

“I’d like to interview you.”

“Hmmm,” he said, sounding a little wary.

“You don’t have to talk to me,” I said. “I’m going to write the memoir either way but I’d rather have your story.”

He was silent for a moment.

“What do you want to know?” he said at last.

“How did you and my mother meet?” I asked knowing he might not want to talk about the woman he’d divorced more than 50 years ago.

He paused.

“You really want me to tell you?”

“Yes, Dad.”

He told me a story that solved a deep mystery in my memoir and is now one of the final chapters.

After the interview, he was full of energy.

“Wow. I feel so much better I told you,” he said. “It’s better to let it out.”

“Thanks, Dad.” I’m sorry now that he won’t get to read it.

What questions do you want to ask while you still can? From a person, from a place, about an event? I’m glad I persevered and that my father sat for that last interview.

Before the year runs out, visit that place, talk to that person, ask your questions. You never know what gold you may find. Then, tell me what happened. I’d love to hear.

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Apply for a residency or make your own

Summer seems the perfect season to consider a residency – a time to indulge for an extended period, in a special place, just for your art.

Sometimes, a residency deadline is even more important than the next grant deadline. A residency can help you find your new direction or deepen the work you’ve already started. Building a body of work, no matter the stage of your career, is often the best next step.

Some websites list residencies all over the world – where you could be the only artist or one among many. Some residencies even provide stipends to cover some expenses. As many of you have heard me say in my workshops, you could secure a prestigious residency and then apply for a professional development grant to pay for the costs of attending like travel, childcare, and so on.

For free information on international residencies visit:

http://www.transartists.org/ or

http://www.resartis.org/en/

For residency information for a fee, visit

http://www.artistcommunities.org/

But what if you feel like a residency tomorrow or next week? Then make one for yourself!

Remember that a residency consists of two parts: time and space. So, find a time and block it out on your calendar. It could be a morning or a day. The space could be your office or your studio with the wi-fi turned off and a candle burning to remind you that this day is special.

Or you could host a day for a couple of artists to meet in your home or studio – with all your phones turned off and some guidelines for when you’ll work, when you’ll share and when you’ll eat lunch.

When I need a residency, I block out a day in my office. I don’t need to announce it to anyone. I prepare the night before so I know exactly what I’ll work on. When I arrive, I unplug wi-fi so I have fewer temptations to escape. I might buy lunch that day (so it feels more special than my usual brown bag lunch). I might use my timer and plan time for stretching so I can keep my body lose between the stillness of writing.

Find a residency by looking at these websites or make your own even if the best you can do is a mini-residency – it can make all the difference in your work.

Then, write me and tell me how it all worked out. I’d love to hear.

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Let Yourself Arrive

After you walk to the podium or step onto the stage to read or give a talk “let yourself arrive,” said Elizabeth Austen, at the performance workshop I attended last Sunday at Jack Straw Productions in Seattle.

Don’t rush, especially at the beginning, she said, because “it takes the audience a few moments to tune its ears to your voice.”

Austen is a poet, trained actress, Washington State Poet Laureate, and an inspiring, insightful performance coach. She has a knack for bringing out the best in the poets, memoirists and novelists among us – twelve writers reading in different genres, with different presentation styles, and different needs for each piece of writing. She helped us identify our natural gifts as performers and our challenges with many tips for how to “best serve the work.”

If you live in Seattle and want to see how this year’s Jack Straw Writers applied Austen’s coaching to our work, please join us on May 2, 9, or 16 at 7 pm at Jack Straw Productions. (I’m reading May 9 and would love to see you there.)

I want to share three more tips with you from Austen’s workshop that may help you when you rehearse for a talk or a reading:

  1. “You are not the work,” she said. The performer you is different than the writer you (or the artist you). The way I think about this is when I’m reading a work or giving a talk, it’s as if I’m playing me in a movie. But it’s not “me.”
  2. You’re performing (or presenting) “in service of the work,” she said. Think about what style will best serve your audience and your work. For example, you may be a shy person but your work may be large and loud. Can you stretch yourself as a performer so you can be as big as your words need you to be?
  3. “Don’t let the word ‘perform’ scare you,” she said. “To perform is to activate, to bring something to life.” That’s all and that’s everything.

What else do you know to be true for you when you perform or talk in front of an audience? What questions do you have about how to apply this wisdom to your own performances? I’d like to know. Comment here.

Elizabeth Austen (right) coaches Loreen Lilyn Lee

Elizabeth Austen (right) coaches Loreen Lilyn Lee.

Kristen Millares Young rehearses at our performance workshop.

Kristen Millares Young rehearses at our performance workshop.

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The gold to be found in rejection

Another rejection letter landed in my mailbox recently and I didn’t toss it in the recycling bin as quickly as I used to. Instead, I read it carefully. Because I’ve learned that you never know what gold you may find.

It used to be that to rid myself of the sting of “no” I would scan the letter and throw it away almost in one motion. I wanted to rid myself of that rejected feeling asap.

Then, once, as I was skimming, I read this sentence: “We encourage you to apply again next year.”

Hmmm. I thought. “I bet they say that to everyone.”

I decided to find out if they did in fact write that to everyone so I called the organization. After thanking them for reviewing my application, I  said, “I’m just wondering but did everyone receive the same rejection letter? Because mine encouraged me to apply again next year.”

“We had two rejection letters we sent,” the woman said. “So you received the better one.”

This wasn’t the acceptance I wanted but this meant a lot: it was encouragement to keep going. It was an invitation to look at my work again. It was what all artists want: an audience.

Here’s a few sentences from that last rejection I received:

We received more than 1,500 applications and can offer 40 residencies. Though your application did not advance into the final round this year, we want you to know that your work resonated with our reviewers. Sending work into the world is an act of bravery, and we appreciate the opportunity to experience your voice.

I didn’t need to call them this time.

Of course I was sorry to lose but this letter provided some gold. First, it showed me just how stiff the competition was this year. Second, it complemented my work and acknowledged my bravery. That took the sting out, and even better, propelled me back to the writing desk.

Also, I made a mental note for the next time I need to write a rejection letter: What I write can either open up a relationship or shut it down. Because of this organization’s nice letter, even though they rejected me, I still feel warmly toward them. Perhaps I’ll take a workshop with them or, when I’m feeling generous, give them a donation. In other words, they haven’t lost me.

Have you ever encountered some gold in a rejection? I’d love to hear. Comment here.

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The bus is my new editing suite

Every morning I board the number 10 bus with a chapter of my memoir, still warm from my printer. For the 25-minute ride downtown, I edit furiously; some days it’s my most productive 25 minutes all day.

When a paragraph doesn’t work, I don’t try to fix it, I just circle it and write “FIX” in the margin.

If a couple of paragraphs are repetitive, I circle and write “COMBINE.”

As I read, if I get a twitch in my stomach that something is missing, I don’t worry about what’s missing because that would slow me down, I just write “ADD” in the margin with an arrow.

By the time I arrive at my office, my writer brain is fully warmed and this big-picture editing has created my roadmap for the finer editing and re-writes. I’m set for my work of the day.

This process works I realized because it gives me three (or four) things:

  1. A space and a deadline: The bus provides a physical container and the length of my journey provides a deadline. This makes procrastination impossible.
  2. An assignment: The pages have been printed ahead of time so I’m clear on my job: Read it and mark it up.
  3. The instruction to mark up without fixing: Because I don’t worry about minutiae, I just label what needs to be fixed later. This keeps my momentum.

Now this rewrite is not overwhelming because everything that needs to be fixed and re-written is already labeled – it feels like it’s already half done.

The key ingredients are: a space, a deadline, a clear assignment, and the instruction to label the problem without fixing it.

Do you have a similar process or ways to trick yourself to make “small work” out of what can seem overwhelming? I’d love to hear what’s working for you. Comment here.

The view across the Hawthorne Bridge from my editing suite on wheels.

The view across the Hawthorne Bridge from my editing suite on wheels.

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Where’s Your Sword?

I came up for air this week after an intense month of memoir writing.

Although creativity can be fun and rewarding I’ve noticed that it can sometimes feel terrifying and exhausting.

As I launched into this latest stretch of art-making, I realized that I needed something physical at my writing desk that would help me muster the courage to keep writing. I wanted something that would scare away the nasty voices not only of doubt but of fear that I would die if I told some family secrets.

One day, I realized what I needed at my computer was: a sword! So, I ran to Finnegan’s Toy Store and for less than $5 I acquired my own King Arthur-era sword that even comes with its own sheath.

Its presence reminds me to take the plunge, run towards the enemy, dive into the truth, keep writing into every nook and cranny. Ridiculously, this plastic, made-in-China sword has helped me.

Now, I wouldn’t write without it!

What physical object, totem, rabbit’s foot, or ??? do you take with you into the studio or to the writing desk to scare away not only the demons of doubt but the real pressures we feel sometimes to hold back?

I’d love to hear about your lucky charms! Comment here.

photo-1

Sword (above) in situ. (I move it to reach the keyboard!)

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The Tomato That Saved My Creative Life

I’ve been spending so much time at the computer these days writing for hours and hours, I had to find a strategy for preventing a sore neck and a dampened creative spirit from so much sitting.

A friend told me about “The Pomodoro Technique” which includes working in 25-minute chunks with 5-minute breaks. The technique may have other aspects to it also, but as soon as I heard about this timed working and timed breaks, I decided to try it.

I set a timer for 25 minutes and work uninterrupted. Then I take an enforced 5-minute break where I walk around my office, look out the window, do a few yoga stretches and before I know it, it’s time to work uninterrupted for 25 minutes.

What I love about this system is: 25 minutes feels like a very short time so when I set the timer I feel the pressure to not dawdle but to get moving. By the time the timer rings, I’m in the flow and hate to stop but I seem to be able to hold onto that creative energy while I’m stretching and I still have it when I sit down again.

It’s also raised my consciousness about how long things take. When I keep pressing the 25-minute timer over and over again, I realize that something I thought would take 10 minutes really took 2 hours.

The huge benefit is that I’m no longer a physical wreck when I’m done writing. That 10 minutes of moving and stretching for every 60 minutes of writing keeps me limber and pain-free.

Why is this technique called “pomodoro” which means tomato in Italian? Beats me. The website sells a cool tomato-shaped timer which is cute but unnecessary.

I’d love to hear what happens to you when you try this! Or tell me about another technique you use. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that nothing works forever. I seem to require changing things up as I grow and my work grows. Comment here.

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Persistence Pays Off

When I saw the call to apply to the Jack Straw Writers Program last fall, I almost didn’t apply.

Why?

Because I’d applied every year for the last six years and I was tired of getting rejected. The closest I’d come was being wait-listed a few years back.

Then, I reminded myself what I tell my coaching clients: If you don’t apply, it’s a 100% guarantee you won’t be accepted. If you do apply, your chances are better.

I opted for slightly better chances. Then, I rewrote my artist statement, edited the strongest writing sample from the memoir I’m currently writing and like every year, I mailed it by the deadline.

The twelve Jack Straw Writers receive voice/microphone training, recorded studio interviews, do a series of public readings in Seattle all year long, publish an anthology and are featured in SoundPages, the Jack Straw Literary Podcast series.

When the skinny letter from Jack Straw Productions arrived in my mailbox, I sighed. Everyone knows that if you win, it’s usually an email and that if it’s a letter, it’s usually a fat letter.

I opened it.

The first word after “Dear Gigi” was “Congratulations!” I’m now one of 12 writers chosen out of a pool of 93 applicants who will be in the Jack Straw Writers Program this year. This win was especially sweet because I’d included an excerpt from the memoir I’m now writing.

What did I learn? I learned what I teach my students: If you know an opportunity is the right match for you and the curator changes every year, it’s a numbers game. Chances are that one year, it’s all going to line up: The right curator for the right work sample out of the right pool of applicants.

This win also reminded me how important it is to receive recognition. I’ve had mostly rejections this year and this one acceptance has already fueled my writing. It’s also softened the rejections I’ve received since.

The next day, I received a rejection from the Hedgebrook Residency, one I’d love to attend. Their odds are even worse. They received 1500 applications for 40 slots. The silver lining: My rejection letter stated that my work “resonated with our reviewers.” They didn’t have to say that and I so appreciate they did.

You can bet I’ll apply to Hedgebrook every year from now on and one of these years, you never know. I might be one of those 40 writers.

So, I ask you: What’s an opportunity you know is the right match for you that you could “show up for”? It’s hard to keep showing up if they’ve already said “no.” But if you really want it, can you humble yourself and throw your name in the hat again and again? This year, it might be you.

I’d love to hear from you. Comment here.

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