A Dog-faced Return

I am finally back to blogging. I can’t say how good it feels to sit in front of a blank screen this morning and quietly ripple out into a larger digital world without pressure or time constraint. A lot has happened since my last entry in February, and there will be plenty of opportunities to comment on that in the future.

Lately, I have been thinking about this short Christopher Hitchens clip rather a lot.

When I talked to a friend about the above clip last week, she said, “Doubt is scary. To hear atheism talked about in such a way makes it too appealing for people like me.”

In secular news. . .

I have some interviews planned, forthcoming blog features, and I am accepting nominations for the Laika Spotlight. Enjoy your anarchy this Guy Fawkes Day, everyone. Another post to come soon!

Jesus Goes to Hobby Lobby

At my university, I manage a student organization for creative writers. In addition to workshops, readings, etc., we host craft nights that pertain to writing and literature. Since we are located in a smaller town with few available art-centric resources and since I am admittedly not always the best planner, I occasionally end up buying some of our supplies from Hobby Lobby, the begrudged craft store not far from campus. For example, the organization’s Writer’s Block Party required acrylic spray that would add a glossed finish to members’ works, and I (poor planner that I am) ended up at Hobby Lobby on the day of our event asking an employee to help find the product. Alas.

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Me with that damned Hobby Lobby acrylic spray. *pitch forks! fire!*
Someone! Quick! Mop that floor.

With a more liberal-leaning membership and support system, some people voiced concerns about purchasing products from Hobby Lobby. Our more conservative members were silent. They didn’t praise our “support” of Hobby Lobby. When asked, many of them said they didn’t care at all and thought the whole thing was being “blown out of proportion.”

The popular view in the media was that conservatives were going wild over the Supreme Court decision to favor Hobby Lobby’s charged mandate against providing female employees with contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby has claimed to be a reflection of Christian values. (I guess, this explains why I never see any snazzy Margaritaville signs in their stores.) Many conservatives who support the pro-life movement thought Hobby Lobby was making a crucial stand for their freedoms and quickly joined in the crusade by posting their opinions on social media websites. The most popular question being, “How can the Government make Christians pay for abortions?”

On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court decision was made, and conservatives celebrated. Many considered this ruling to be a success for freedom of religion and began writing posts on Facebook and Twitter about a “rare triumph. . . in the war against Christianity.”

During all this yaysaying and war victory celebrating and liberal head shaking, we failed to see one simple detail:

“The most straightforward way of doing this would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections.”

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Who is “the Government” exactly? Well, taxpayers. Me, the conservatives and their pro-choice neighbor. In celebrating the rights of for-profit corporations to have religious freedom, many conservatives failed to see the scope of this detail. Corporations were the winner in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Not conservatives or Christians or protesting activists. Hobby Lobby decided not to pay their share and thus burdened taxpayers. None of this is a new story. Pacifists have long been paying taxes that go to military support. Atheists have shouldered a larger tax responsibility, because many churches are tax-exempt.

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Hobby Lobby sold its case as being a huge victory for the conservative pro-life movement to garner customers and higher sales. It made Christians believe that their corporation was carrying some huge burden for them on the front lines of the “war against Christianity” when really this court ruling was a huge loss for everyone but Hobby Lobby and other future corporations that could possibly pass off their fiscal obligations to taxpayers.

It does make me feel somewhat disgusted to find myself shopping in Hobby Lobby and to know that I will probably end up there again sometime in the next year, but it’s not because of my anti-religious leanings. It’s because of my feminist ideology. I am exhausted at women being treated like objects again in some sort of religious contest. I am exhausted at seeing the working class woman disproportionately affected by a demagogic corporation. I am exhausted by reading another ridiculous gender-based legislative act. Here is to hoping that we remain conscious of the disingenuous nature in these acts and the consequences of such ubiquitous crusades.

A Skeptic’s Guide To Writing Contests

Earlier this morning, I submitted a short story to a popular literary journal’s writing contest, and I feel worse for it. I have never submitted to this type of contest before. Despite knowing fiction writers and poets who have won story and poetry contests, I have even advised other people against this practice. Writing contests have often rubbed me the wrong way. We can chalk it up to my inner skeptic. We can call it bad math. Writing contests? I just don’t trust them. But here I am, short another $20 looking at my Submittable ticket receipt, and drinking coffee like any other regular day in the life.

Many of my friends have entered contests with a reader’s fee. (Say, $20.) A journal would announce its contest, promise the winner $500/publication, and the runner-up $100/publication. This amount varies depending on the contest, journal, allotted reader’s fee, etc. In exchange for the reader’s fee, writers will receive a subscription to the literary journal.AQR Writers begin submitting their stories and paying the journal’s fees. A journal hosting the contest might receive 1,000 manuscripts during their reading period. That’s a lot of reading fees. $20,000 of reading fees. For a long time, that sounded like bullshit to me.

Maybe I’ve become a bit more amiable over the years, because I’ve met the readers and judges of these contests and heard their horror stories. Or maybe I’ve gotten an insider look into literary journals that allows me to see how difficult funding can be. I am saddened by a recent article and movement that’s been floating through the literary scene entitled Save the Alaska Quarterly Review. This article illuminates some of the obstacles faced by journals, and the hashtag #saveaqr is a painful reminder of these problems.

I realize I could just be saying all this to make myself feel better about spending that $20.

Originally, I felt like contests were money-making ponzi schemes. Highly successful literary cons. A darker side of my skepticism thought the judges of said contests probably had a small pool of favorites anyway. I disregarded reading hierarchies and anonymous submission/reading guidelines with the understanding that people talk. Writers recognize each other. I concentrated on getting published the regular way, and that has seemed to work pretty well. I operated under the golden light that my stories might receive awards after they’ve been published. In some ways, I felt like I was taking the “smart” route, but now, I’m not so sure. I have started to see contests as a necessary evil in the literary world. A give and take affair.

Contests are a viable way for journals to stay afloat financially. Some journals that have contests use that extra generated money to pay writers for their accepted submissions throughout the year. Other journals just want to pay their fucking rent. However, it’s still best to remain pragmatic when submitting:

  • Submit to contests hosted by journals you love.
  • Only submit exceptional material.

There are a thousand other people out there submitting their work to a contest. If your submission doesn’t stand out from your own pool of writing on your laptop at home, it’s not going to stand out in an even greater pool.

But here I am thinking about the different ways a person could spend $20—new pants, a bike lock, gourmet cheese, tote bags— and wondering if any of my friends secretly submitted, too.

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.

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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.

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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.

Q&A Session

Apologies to anyone who has submitted a question to my ask box. For the past couple of months, I was under the false impression that I would receive a notification if anyone chose to write and send me a question. In the coming week, I am going to attempt answering the accumulated questions. (There aren’t many.) If you would like to add  to my available content, please feel free to take a moment and submit a question.

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Bandit pleads the fifth.

As long as the questions are appropriate and relevant to the content of my blog, I will try working through a thoughtful response. Remember: I stick to blogging about writing, dogs, and atheism. While I am interested in theological concerns and discussions, all the current questions in my ask box pertain primarily to atheist’s response. I would love to see some questions about writing, dogs, or other correlating topics.

Click here to access my ask box. All submissions have the option to remain anonymous. Thank you, dog-faced readers!

Re: Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs

Yesterday, my creative writing group experimented with a prompt derived from Chuck Palahniuk’s essay Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs. We read the essay out loud (link) followed by a group confession of addictive “thought” verbs. We talked about what we found agreeable or disagreeable in Palahniuk’s essay before working on the prompt individually.

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The group liked Palahniuk’s advice on thesis statement paragraphs and burying detail in actions or gestures. However, we noted the necessary quality of frontloading in short stories.

We did not entirely agree with his argument against leaving characters alone. We agreed that, as readers, we wanted to see a character worry and wonder.  We wanted to see the inside of his/her mind. I mentioned Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin as a novel that shined primarily through its exploration of the main character’s thoughts.

And so, the discussion continued weaving at times between contradiction and flattery and frustration…

Prompt

Pulling the three sentences from Palahniuk’s homework section of Nuts and Bolts, I asked the group to avoid “thought” verbs and write about the sentence of their choice.

1. “Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”

2. “Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”

3. “Larry knew he was a dead man…”

We ended up with pieces about Nancy the dumpster diver, Nancy the homewrecker, and Nancy the waitress. Some writers combined all three sentences into one story. In another piece, Larry was right. He was a dead man.

Final Thoughts

After writing, participants noted how they kept having to go back and rewrite sentences, because of their subconscious reliance on “thought” verbs. Occasionally, a writer found that a verb slipped through the cracks. (“Dammit, remember.”) We also mentioned that Palahniuk’s advice was more applicable to the body of prose writing, not dialogue.

I can’t say that anyone from the group will keep up Palahniuk’s challenge through December, but for a restrictive prompt, there weren’t any complaints.

What do you think about Palahniuk’s essay? Do you agree or disagree?