A Writer’s Work

The morning after the election, dazed and confused along with so many others, I found myself searching quotation databases for words of wisdom to soothe my soul.

Using key phrases like “moving through shock” and “coming back from defeat” and “when bad things happen,” I found encouraging words from Martin Luther King, Rabbi Harold Kushner and former President Bill Clinton (see below.)

Those post-election days are a blur to me now, but I’ll never forget how comforting it felt to find the right words.

I have been thinking about that moment as I watch my family and friends respond to and recover from the election of the man who turned the world upside down.

Some ranted, went mute, fishing, or to bed.

Some cried, cooked, collapsed.

But as bearings returned, so did action.

My rabbi invited local legislators and the community for a town hall-style meeting at our synagogue.

The Christian-Muslim-Jewish women’s interfaith group in which I have been a longtime member met for a heartfelt dinner and discussion at a local Turkish restaurant.

My daughter organized a fundraiser with other millennials for a women’s homeless shelter.

Journalists and news organizations debated the principles of real news.

Businesspeople innovated.

Women marched.

And it was good. This was action. We were facing this.

More accurately, people I knew were finding their place. I just hadn’t found mine yet. I couldn’t figure out how to plug in. What could I do to make an actual, concrete contribution?

I considered what had given me solace in the days and weeks post-election.

Laughter from Alec Baldwin’s Trump and Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway on Saturday Night Live.

Empathy from Sara Bareilles and Leslie Odom, Jr’s song, “Seriously.”

Community from Chicago storytellers expressing how they were feeling at live lit events.

Beauty through my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds in words, photographs, poster slogans, political cartoons, films, paintings and sculpture.

 It’s ridiculous that it took me so long to see it. But I finally got it.

Comedy. Music. Storytelling. Words. Photographs. Film. Painting. Clay.

 All artistic expressions.

Art moves me to feel. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. But feeling strongly moves me to get up and do something. Maybe that something is making art. But it can also be about inspiring others.

And this is where I can be helpful.

I’ve seen what can happen when people write stories from their lives. They lighten. They rise up a little.

But being inspired could also stir someone to change a vote, run for office, or create a ruckus.

I’m not the person who will turn a vote around or set up a foundation.

I will, however, show up. Offer my signature. Write a small check.

But I hope that I can generate a bigger impact – a larger noise – through making, and inspiring others to make, art or express themselves.

One piece of this is my commitment to infusing this blog space with inspiration on writing, creativity and craft. If you aren’t already a subscriber, I hope you’ll be one. It’s easy. And free. Subscribe here.

But I have another idea that is still marinating:

To curate a live lit storytelling event featuring personal narratives about the givens in our life – the color of our skin, the place we grew up and/or live and the religion in which we were raised (or not). I’m thinking of calling it “Race, Place and Divine Grace.” Stories about the parts of our lives that we can’t change in an effort to look at how we might, in fact, change. To hear one another – the full range of perspectives – a little better.

If you live near Chicago and have any thoughts about how we might co-mingle, let’s talk.

So this year, I’ve decided to go for more feeling, less reeling.

Will you join me?

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

“Is there an answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people?…The response would be…to forgive the world for not being perfect, to forgive God for not making a better world, to reach out to the people around us, and to go on living despite it all…no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened.”
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

 

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.”
Former President William J. Clinton

 

Photograph by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2017.

Making Room

img_3557-2

One evening in April of 2013, alone in my house for the first time in a long time, I gathered up all of my journals, placed them in a pile by my fireplace, and, accompanied by a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, read my way through each of them, one by one.

I read every page, then tore each from its binding and threw them into the raging fire.

And then I drank.

It was a dramatic and very drinky evening. Imagine choosing to douse yourself in every feeling you ever put down on paper. What kind of person does that sort of thing?

An emotional epicurean, that’s who.

I wanted to make it a ritual, so I savored each diary and took a video of the burning fire. You can read about that night and see the video here.

In the days that followed, I received a vast array of responses ranging from hallelujahs to horror which prompted this response. 

For the covers that remained, I had an art project in mind. I would find a way to attach them with thread, metal rings or glue and hang them over my office desk as a patchwork quilt representing decades of diary entries. To acknowledge the writing that led me to becoming a writer.

Just this week, while cleaning out my office closet, I came across the bulging plastic container with the shells of my former journals. It’s been more than three years since I stowed them there and I’ve talked about the wall hanging,  consulted artists about how do it and dreamed of how it would look on the wall. But up until now, it was just an idea taking up space in my mind and my closet.

Today, a new idea popped into my head, one that must have grown from the desire to pare down and also speaks to our digital times: I could lay them out on my dining room table, highlighting their color and texture, and photograph them.

Cue the angels!

The photo above is one version. The photo below, another.

img_3568-2

After thanking the covers for their service, I threw them unceremoniously into the garbage can.

How did it feel?

It felt good. Really good. Like the proper completion to the journal burning, which I now see as a three-part process.

First we let go. Then we make art. Then, we make room to do it all over again.

Photos by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look How You’ve Grown!

IMG_0130 3

I like to think of Thread as a magnificent tapestry made from the lines of letters that form the words that make these beautiful stories.

But Thread has a story of unto itself. While the writers give Thread its color, texture and dimension, it feels like my job as editor is to keep track of Thread’s own story, marking the important milestones.

December 10 is one of those moments. It’s the first anniversary of Thread’s launch! I can barely believe how much this small online literary publication has grown in twelve months. In just under one year, Thread has published three issues, which has included the work of eighteen writers and five photographers, hosted three readings with full houses, two of which included original music; shot a video, and been featured in Brevity, New Pages and Duotrope.

Plans for 2016 include three more issues, a mega-event with readings, music and spirits at a new, soon-to-be-disclosed, larger venue, a flash non-fiction writing contest, a greeting card line and a few other surprises that will be revealed next year. Subscribers of EBB & Flow will be the first to know, so if you haven’t yet, I urge you to do it now!

Most importantly, I wanted to acknowledge that Thread wouldn’t be what it is without your multi-dimensional love. Thread is a beautiful blending of visual, digital, audible and mobile words and images.

Art, in four dimensions.

So stay close to stay looped into the conversational thread.

Photo by Ellen Blum Barish. Copyright 2015.

 

 

A Cluster of Color on a Palette of Possibility

craypas

A cluster of color on a palette of possibility.

That’s how I’ve been feeling since my June 4th post that linked readers to my essay in Brevity’s Blog about the decision not to go with themes for Thread.

The weeks since that post gifted me with a beautiful selection of submissions and many new blog subscribers. A warm welcome to you all!

Since 2008, I’ve been utilizing this space to write about creativity, craft and the writing life. I’ve ruminated on words as worlds unto themselves, writing as a way of seeing up close and far away, what made me burn my journals, the potency in taking a writing break, and struggling with the writing-and-reading-rich promise of summer. EBB & Flow is also a direct link to updates on, and the latest issues of, Thread.

I believe that we all get more than enough to read online as it is, so I only post a few times a month when I’ve got something on my mind that feels share-worthy.

And right now, it’s thank you. Whether you found Thread through Brevity or Duotrope or Facebook, thank you for reading Thread, writing to say how much you enjoyed Thread, submitting your work and for supporting Thread by telling others about it. To those of you who submitted your essays in the month of June, my goal is to respond to you by month’s end because I’ve never much liked all that waiting to hear from literary editors myself.

I’m hoping that the cluster of color will begin to look more like this soon:

craypas #2

I’m working on a blog post about chaos theory and the creative process for early July.

Hoping you’ll stay tuned and in touch.

To a word-and-image-rich, sun-drenched summer.

Photos by Ellen Blum Barish