Women (and Dogs) in Secularism III

I am finally back from the Women in Secularism III conference. You check out photos from the conference over at Bruce F Press Photography. (I am in the background of several of these shots. See if you can find me!)

When first talking to some of my friends about the Women in Secularism conference, I noted how odd and exciting it was for me to be attending a conference unrelated to literature or creative writing. One friend said, “Well, really, it’s all about finding your people.” To say the least, the women present at this conference were definitely my kind of peIMG_20140522_182447ople.

In addition to thought-provoking panels and discussions, there was unsurprisingly a dog presence at the conference.

Amy Davis Roth, owner of Surly-Ramics, spoke on multiple panels and sold some of her necklaces in the storeroom. She makes ceramic necklaces that feature science-orientated subjects among other topics. I bought a dog necklace (pictured above) and later found out that she even does custom pet designs over at her Etsy shop. Her jewelry features messages like “Think” and “This is what a humanist looks like” or art prints of microscopes, organic matter, fossils, atoms, space, Darwin illustrations, depictions of iconic artists, and more. Her jewelry and ceramics are the perfect gift for the pro-science advocate.

I couldn’t get over Amy’s inviting and vibrant personality. See, here is a photo of Amy measuring her personality:

panel1Source: Bruce F Press Photography (Panelists, left to right)
Melody Hensley, Amy Davis Roth, Amanda Knief, and Debbie Goddard

It’s huge!

Feel free to browse around her Etsy Shop, Surly, to look over her products, talent, and pricing. If you want to check out some of Amy’s paintings, you can read this article at Mad Art Lab that talks about her exhibit at the American Atheist Art Show.

Another inspiring speaker, Amanda Knief, was present at the conference with her dog, Sagan. (Carl Sagan fans, unite!)

Sagan12Source: Amanda Knief’s Twitter Account

Knief and Sagan were championing the table for American Atheists at the conference where Knief works as managing director. Come to find out, the American Atheists’ 2015 National Convention is in my back yard Memphis, Tennessee. The conference is scheduled from April 3-5, 2015 at the Peabody Hotel, and you can bet that I will be in attendance.

I will post more soon about the conference, which was an overload of inspiration. For now, I am going to settle in with a copy of Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich, another speaker present at the conference, and get ready to grill out some steaks. The Women in Secularism III conference was the perfect beginning to my summer.

Reflections on AWP

The internet can be an unusually lonely place.

This weekend, many of my friends are attending AWP Seattle. AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) is the largest literary conference in the US. Last year, I had the pleasure of attending this migrating conference in Boston with Zone 3 Press.

write

An AWP “swag” favorite –
mug purchased from Rumpus.

Even just scrolling through the AWP schedule can be an abundant source of inspiration. Though unable to attend the conference this year, the descriptions of sessions/panels has been similarly thought-provoking for me. In some ways, I think the schedule can be read like a series of brief reminders:

  • Find a quiet space, a sanctuary, for yourself and your writing.
  • Live an experience worth writing about.
  • Embrace peculiarity.
  • Memoir is about developing a deeper understanding of experience.
  • There are consequences that stem from our writing.
  • We owe something to the people we write about.

Out of all the sessions at AWP Seattle, I found myself most drawn to the panel titled “Peace Corps Writers Across the Genres.”

It’s easy to become lost at AWP. (Don’t get me started on the book fair shenanigans.) I loved attending readings or following around my favorite writers to their sessions. At the same time, I was often drawn to feminist topics, writing in relation to nature/yoga, religious writing, book reviews, short plays, sustaining a writing group, short story anything, etc. If nothing else, AWP provides a space to meet up with old friends. Many attend the conference for the drinks and good company.

AWP presented me with a type of psalm that I often experience at writing conferences; there is always more to give. We thrive in community unable to quite live without one another, after all.

Q&A: A Series of Short Answers

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
How did NaNoWriMo 2013 go for you? Were you able to finish and what would you call the central theme of what you were writing?

For NaNoWriMo 2013, I worked on my title Adultery in the Guest Bedroom. I was able to hit the 50,000 word goal, but I did not finish the novel. There were several themes that I was going for in the project. If I had to choose a central guiding principle, it probably would have been: “Do not forget what it means to be a human being, whether this loss be out of fear, valid argument, or personal philosophy. Do not judge those who do forget, because not everyone is as strong as they would like to be.”

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
If you had to put a warning label on your blog…. what would it be?

Reading Dog-faced Atheist may cause eyestrain, deep thoughts (rare), raised eyebrows, furrowing of the forehead, and self-inflicted wounds caused by the proverbial facepalm.

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
Will you be at AWP this year in Seattle? Do you have any tips for newbies based on last year?

Unfortunately, I am not attending AWP Seattle this year. However, I have been working on a collaborative entry about “surviving AWP” for my blog. That entry should be posted around the second or third week of February.

che

The line-up of featured presenters looks as impressive as always.  Annie Proulx, the keynote speaker, is sure to be an interesting panel. I would love to hear Sherman Alexie, Gary Snyder, and Tobias Wolff among others. I have met Richard Blanco, Ben Fountain, and Sharon Olds before. All great readings. Ben Fountain is a wonderfully funny guy if you’re looking for a laugh.

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
What are your thoughts on evolution?

I am not sure if I fully understand the intent or desired response for this question. To me, evolution is just another small battle in the proposition of moving in the direction of a more logical society. The idea that biological evolution should be taken out of schools in Tennessee is preposterous. Anti-evolution bills are as astounding as they are absurd.

[Dog-faced Atheist] Ask
Does your family know that you’re an atheist?

For the most part, yes. My family acknowledges my atheism in different ways and to varying degrees. For example, my dad doesn’t like the word “atheist” and prefers to call me “non-religious” instead. While my family does know about my atheism, I think the philosophy makes them notably uncomfortable. The dogs don’t seem to mind nearly as much.

Positivity Week: Day 5 and 6

Positivity Week Prompt

Day 5: Your Impact
What positive impact (or impacts) do you hope to leave behind when you go? Do you hope that positive impacts you leave behind will change the world for the better?

Growing up, I felt continually oppressed in East Tennessee. I carry the suffering of place with me everywhere I go, but I do not have active plans to change the social landscape there.

flickr1

National Cemetery by Natalie
Greeneville, Tennessee

What makes an act eternal? The generation or articulation of new thought, creation of an outlet, and/or reduction of suffering? I am an inherently selfish person, but I long to act in meaningful ways. I do not know if I will ever impact the place where I grew up, and I think to theorize on this possibility suggests a willingness to adhere to the philosophy of determinism.

This past summer, I worked and taught playwriting at the Appalachian Young Writers’ Program at LMU. I am not sure if I impacted someone during my time there, but I know the impact such organizations have had on me. I may one day change the mountains of East Tennessee, but for now, I will exist within the act of throwing stones.

Day 6: Something Funny
Share what makes you laugh. And I mean, really laugh to the point where your face hurts, your stomach hurts and you’re crying. There is nothing better than a good laugh.

Basset Hounds are the silliest dogs in the world. They are basically the floppy, depressed versions of Corgis. The Eeyores of the dog world. I love their long ears, thick paws, and layers of love. (Layers of love being just another way to talk about wrinkles.)

basset

Photo by Rob Carr

Ever see a Basset Hound run or look at one of their “beauty shots” from dog shows? It’s absurd. Too much.

The first dog I ever wanted was a Basset Hound. Later, I would live across the road from a family who owned one named Flash. The hilarity of his name only increased when the family bought a sleek Weimaraner, who would occasionally trample or hurdle Flash during his pursuits. From my window, I would watch Flash leisurely walk up and down the side of the street and laugh. Sometimes, Flash would start trailing a scent and run into a mailbox or bicycle.

Basset Hounds are loud, messy, gassy dogs, and they make me smile.

Positivity Week: Day 3 and 4

Positivity Week Prompt

Day 3: A Step Into The Past
This day we will visit the past for a little bit and find something positive. It can be an event such as a concert, going on a trip, spending the day with someone you love, someone (famous or someone you know) that was a positive influence on you as a child.

I remember the day we brought Bandit home. It was during summer, right around the time of my father’s July 4th birthday, just weeks before the school year. The pup rode in the back compartment of a Chevrolet S-10 between the feet of my little brother and me. My father thought up names and tested them out loud while driving and told stories about old dogs with good names. “All purebred dogs have three names,” he said.

bandit

We bought Bandit from a farm owned by the Houser family. My mother worked at FedEx as a manager, and one of her drivers mentioned that his dad had some Australian Shepherd puppies for sale. There were so many dogs that I came home with tiny holes around the ankles of my jeans. Amidst the writhing red-black-blue fur, the two-toned eyes and bobtails, we found him. Bandit was not my first dog, but he was the first one I ever cared about. He felt like mine.

Day 4: Best of 2013
What is some of the best times you’ve had this year? What are some of your happiest moments of 2013? Feel free to post pictures on this day if you have any and you can share more than one thing.

Many of the happier moments experienced in 2013 have been shadowed by painful events. For example, I visited Boston for AWP with a group of students and  had the opportunity to attend a Celtics game. (They won in overtime.) A month later, the Boston Marathon bombings occurred. Similar circumstances have continued to form in lessening degrees throughout the year always casting a long and dark shadow behind them.

Perhaps my best moment as a reader in 2013 occurred when I stumbled across Simone de Beauvoir. Her book, She Came to Stay, was exactly what my summer needed. I was experiencing the tiring effects of East Tennessee sexism, and a French existential feminist made me feel understood.

simone

Since then, Beauvoir has become a type of personal hero for me. I love it when writers sweep into my life the way she did. I feel a combination of wonder and anxiety at these discoveries of writers whose words keep me thumbing over page after page and longing to find a similar experience.

Southern Festival of Books 2013

One of my favorite fall events, The Southern Festival of Books, has come to another close today. I am sad to admit I was feeling sick for its 25th Annual Celebration, but going to readings and panels at the Legislative Plaza has become a cornerstone of the season a time to see familiar faces, eat out of food trucks, and take pictures of mums. I wouldn’t miss it. It took some thought, but I finally figured it up; this weekend was my fifth year at the festival.

SFB13

Kate DiCamillo, a children’s writer and novelist, was the first author I met in 2009. I asked Kate if she knew Margaret Atwood.

“Not personally,” she said.

“I think you two have the same hair stylist.”

Kate laughed and said nobody had ever compared her to Margaret before. She cupped her hand around the side of her face and with a playful look lingering in her corner of her eye said, “I’m honored.”

I’ve come to realize I say equally crazy shit to authors all the time.

I remember feeling cold in 2009. I kept wishing I had brought a jacket with me instead of my mother. I didn’t look at the author line-up or plan anything beforehand; I just went. I remember 2009 as the year I dumped books all over this deep-voice author, who I found out later was Silas House (and yes, I bought one of his books after that but was too shy to ask him to sign it and yes, I’ll admit that I first read Silas out of apology, rather than interest), and as the year William Gay was sick and couldn’t attend his session.

tribute1

William Gay, Photo Credit: Oxford American

I remember thinking William had seemed okay only a few months before. Later that night, I visited the Bluebird Cafe for the first time to hear Marshall Chapman play, and William wasn’t there either. I held The Long Home and Twilight against my chest and started to feel something like worry. I love going back to the plaza now and hearing strangers all around me talk about William, because when I am at the Southern Festival of Books, I can feel him there.

Today, when I drove to Nashville for the festival, I felt like aged whiskey. The parking garage was the familiar shape of a bottle. I knew which panels would have the best taste and burn the longest. I have met so many writers that the years run together. I like imagining the festival when it began in 1989 as being as beautiful and powerful as it is today, and I thank Humanities Tennessee for their dedication, and if nothing else, for putting up with us lot.