Category Archives: Writing

Make a Splash with 99 Days of Summer Blogging!

99 Days of Summer Blogging

Every year, the same thing.

“Summer went by too fast!”

“How can it be back-to-school time already?”

“It seems like summer just started!”

We make bucket lists, grand plans to make the most of these lazy, hazy, crazy days.  We vow to keep summer simple, to enjoy the moments that matter.

And then September arrives and those days become a blur.

Did you know there are exactly 99 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day?  A lot can happen in that time.

A lot that’s worth remembering and sharing with your words and photos.

Inspired by my friend Emily Levenson, who recently did a #100DaysBlogging project, I have decided to try something similar.

Introducing … 99 Days of Summer Blogging!  Starting this Monday, May 30 and continuing through September 5, 2016, I plan to blog every single day.

Yes.  Every. Single. Day.

For 99 days.

Why am I doing this?

  1. Because I need the discipline of writing every day. I do.  I need to practice Ass in Chair time when it comes to writing and actually GET THINGS WRITTEN.  I need to get better at writing first and editing later, instead of writing a sentence and immediately start futzing with word choices.
  2. Because at this moment, I have 206 blog posts in Drafts.  A very, very small percentage of those are actually completed. The rest are half-baked concoctions.  Some of those may become #99DaysSummerBlogging posts. If I’m doing any new writing on them (e.g., finishing a partially-written book review) then it counts.
  3. Because I need to spend a little less time on Facebook — and by spending time here instead of there, my writing will get stronger.
  4. Because I want to start thinking more strategically about planning potential posts (I need to do an editorial calendar) while at the same time tapping into my creativity and cultivating ideas for potential writing projects. I’m always thinking, “Oh, I could definitely do a post about that!” or “This is a perfect blog post.” And then the idea or the moment vanishes, lost forever.  I’m excited about seeing what those nuggets hold.
  5. Because writing and connecting is how I work through things that I’m dealing with and how I gain greater insights about what this life is trying to teach me (even though I may be a stubborn learner). At the same time, some of the issues our family is working through aren’t ones for the blog so there’s that. But maybe a photo or a quote will be.

Do these issues resonate for you, too? If so, jump right in … the water’s fine. These posts don’t have to be Pulitzer worthy. (Trust me, mine won’t be.) Perfection isn’t what this is about.  Rather, #99DaysSummerBlogging is about cultivating our craft, capturing ideas and thoughts, and carving out some time for reflection and stillness among our words.

99 Days of Summer Blogging starts Monday, May 30 — Memorial Day here in the United States. (And if it’s not summer where you are, no worries. You can still participate.)

I’m not doing a linky thing for this. Rather, if you’d like to participate, simply do a post on your blog and link back to melissafirman.com.  Feel free to grab the button, too.  (That’s an actual photo taken by me during a beach vacation — “downnashore” as we say where I’m from — two years ago.)

99 Days of Summer Blogging

 

Will you be taking the 99 Days of Summer Blogging plunge?

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afterglow

LTYM - Poster

LTYM poster at the entrance, as the audience arrived. 

LTYM - Ready, Set ...

Our words, waiting to be released into the world.

LTYM - Roses and quoteTwo dozen roses from The Husband (a.k.a. as my perfect guy) along with a lovely gift from the LTYM producers  ~ a framed quote from my essay, about love and differences and acceptance.
The meaning behind this at this particular time defies words right now. 


“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” 
~ Muriel Rukeyser, “Käthe Kollwitz” 


Sometimes in this life, you have the kind of experience when you can physically feel yourself being transformed.

When your heart becomes lighter while simultaneously overflowing, spilling over the brim.

When your perspective and understanding becomes a kaleidoscope, shifting your view of yourself and your world.

When you can almost see your words in the air, and you take a leap and ride.

All of that and so much more was Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh 2016.

So much more. 


On Friday night, I stood on a stage and told more than 400 people the most personal story of my life.

I told them I was born without a uterus.

I told them I didn’t get my period.

I told them this is called Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser syndrome.

Here’s where I’d expected to write “and the room got completely quiet and still.” That’s not what happened.

Some people laughed.

They laughed.

Mind you, it wasn’t in a mean way, but nervously. Like when you laugh at an inappropriate time.

Onstage, I heard those laughs and for a moment I was terrified.

I thought, holy shit, what the fuck have I done?

And then I did the only thing I could do.


I told them how it felt, back then.

I told them about being 1 in 5,000 women with MRKH.

I told them about the shock, the tears, the denial, the wishing-away, the feelings of being like a freak, the hopelessness.

I told them all of this and how I thought all the plans I had for my life were over. I told them how I thought I was given MRKH because I would be a crappy mom and that maybe I was better off.

I told them about meeting someone who saw me for who I am. I told them about acceptance and being different and being loved despite those differences and the challenges that would lie ahead.

I told them about those challenges, about chemical pregnancies and depths of sadness.

I told them about the power and mystery of the science and faith that makes it possible to turn a handful of cells into two teenagers.

I told them this and the room got very, very still and quiet.

(Except for the knocking of my knees, which started about mid-way through my talk and which I was convinced could be heard echoing off the walls.)

I told them all this because Friday will be exactly 31 years since I learned I have MRKH and that’s a really long time to stay silent.

I told them this because I want — no, because I need — women and girls like the one in India who took her life because she couldn’t see a future post-MRKH to know she is seen and respected and loved.


After the show, many people came up to me, thanking me and letting me know of their similar journeys. A few moments before the show, our producers gathered our incredible, amazing cast together in the “green room” and told us that there would be someone out there who needed our words, our story.

Who needed to feel heard and to be seen.


Nearly 48 hours later, I am still running on the electricity that surged through the Lecture Hall on Friday night, powered by the incredible women onstage with me and the generosity and compassion from everyone in the audience. I’m so grateful for those who were part of this and the support from so many people in my life, here in Pittsburgh and those far away.

You know who you are. You know what you did to give me the courage and strength to do this.

You know.

When I say that Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh was — and is — a significant life event for me, I mean it like this:

I was one person before getting on that stage and a very different person after.

This isn’t hyperbole.  This is right up there with seeing our children for the first time and marrying The Husband.

It is a defining, specific moment. A life event in every sense.

There’s so much I still need to reflect, process, and write about from this experience.

So much more.

This is just the beginning.

LTYM Cast - Final Bow (2)

 

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I Am Not a Writer

Pittsburgh Bloggers Guest Blogger Event 2016

Today’s post comes from my friend Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers.  For April Fools, local bloggers are having some fun by showing up on other blogs with guest posts. You can see my post over on my friend Emily Levenson’s new blog harvest + bloom, where I talk about how a potential freelancing opportunity allowed me to see the value of time in a new way. 

And now, without further ado, please welcome Sue Kerr!

I am not a writer. There’s no unfinished manuscript in my life, nor any lingering regret about not pursuing a career as a journalist. I don’t write poetry and I’ve never kept a journal in my entire life.

In 2005, I began blogging as a community organizing tool (I’m a social worker, not a writer.) I never expected to still be at it in the year 2016. Didn’t expect to write – WRITE – over 2,000 blog posts. Didn’t see it coming that my blog would be the longest running LGBTQ blog in Pennsylvania (yep, the whole darn Commonwealth) nor did I imagine being asked to write things for other people’s sites. Sometimes, they pay me. Who knew?

I should also tell you that I am not an artist. But somehow I find myself now managing a multi-year community art project on my blog. I’m a blogger artist attached to a gallery and funded by a major foundation. How did that happen?

Blogging. Blogging happened and now I am fortunate enough to be curating a project called AMPLIFY which explores the everyday ‘lived experiences’ of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) neighbors in Western Pennsylvania. I collect their stories using an online form and publish them in a Q&A format without editing or modifying their words.

Blogging allows for many things. It allows me to publish without concerns for grammar or spelling overruling someone’s authentic voice. It allows me to modify the questions as we move through the project. I have the flexibility to use pseudonyms to protect identities. And I have the privilege of using my own voice via my original content to continue drawing people’s attention to this curated archive of their neighbor’s experiences.

We started in January 2015 and now find ourselves with more than 125 contributions from people with ties to 18 of the 26 Western PA counties in our cachement area. They range from 18 – 71 and run the gamut of identity, gender, race, religion, family status and so forth. Their stories are profound and ordinary; I’m sure you would find at least one anecdote that rings true for you, no matter who you are.

There are three reasons why I am doing this. First, I believe that the power of sharing one’s story is a positive experience and want to create a safe space for my LGBTQ siblings and neighbors to be able to do that on their own terms. Second, there is also power in having access to an archive of people’s stories that mirror your own experiences. A blog archive can be accessed anywhere in the world where there is Internet access. It serves both as a unifying experience now for today’s neighbors and a permanent record of what life is like in the mid 2010’s for LGBTQ residents in Pennsylvania, a state with marriage equality but no statewide non-discrimination protections. And, finally, I know that the act of being more visible is a dynamic force that creates change.

AMPLIFY will continue throughout 2017 so we have the opportunity to reach out and connect with people in the outlying counties, to gain their trust and invite their participation. After that, who knows what is next? I am working with the Senator John Heinz History Center to ensure that AMPLIFY’s archive is accessible.

In the meantime, I am publishing an AMPLIFY zine series and working with a local playwright to create a staged version of the blog posts. I just submitted a forum piece to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And there are three partially completed grant proposals in my inbox.

Clearly, this not a writer thing hasn’t worked out for me. And I couldn’t be happier.

Established in 2005, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents is the longest running LGBTQ blog in Pennsylvania. Editor Sue Kerr is a social worker, social media consultant and avidly shares pet pics to her Instagram account. She is currently a Resident Artist with Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery where she created the #AMPLIFY project. You can find her on Twitter at @pghlesbian24 and Instagram @pghlesbian

Thanks, Sue!  For more April Fools fun, visit the other participating Pittsburgh Bloggers listed below.  

Harvest + Bloom // Yes, Wear That! // jelly jars // Glam and Graffiti // To The Streets // In Pursuit // Pittsburgh & Pearls // Beezus Kiddo // Goodness Madness // Last Minute Panic // Steel City Intrigue // Crank Crank Revolution // Amanda Narcisi // Pittsburgh is Beautiful // From Cats to Cooking // Yum Yum PGH // Breelicious Bites // Parmesan Princess // Coffee & A Blonde // The Steel Trap // Wavy Alabaster // everybody loves you… // Eat with Emily // Don’t Forget to Eat // Sloping in the Sky // From Farm to Turntable // Secrets in the Wall // Red Pen Mama // Feedback Soup // The AP Collection // Blog Or Die PGH // Pittsburgh Happy Hour // Friendly Fitness Foodie // Small Town Dad // Josh’s World // Geeky Sweetie // Sean’s Ramblings // Lunges, Long Runs and Lattes // Try it and You May! // lil Burghers // Orange Chair Blog // Ya Jagoff // Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents // Melissa Firman

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Listen To Me …in Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh

LTYM-Pittsburgh-2016-graphic-300x300

Listen up, yinz.

Tickets are now on sale for LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER PITTSBURGH on Friday, May 6 beginning at 8 p.m. in the Carnegie Lecture Hall. I’d love to see as many of you in the audience as possible. This show means the world to me — not just because of me and my story being included but because all women’s voices and stories have value and importance.

(Oh, you missed my announcement that me and my writing are part of this amazing show? Go here.)

About the 13 other women who are reading their stories on May 6:  they are awesome writers, mothers, and just all around great people.  They kick ass and they take names and they will leave you crying and laughing.

Tickets are just $20 and are available first-come, first serve. It will likely sell out … last year’s show sold out fast and in the first few days, sales this year have been quite brisk.  DO. NOT. DELAY. Note that if this show was a movie, it would be rated PG-13, which means some of the content is not suitable for very young children.  

A percentage of Listen to Your Mother ticket sales will benefit Jeremiah’s Place, a 24/7 safe nursery in Pittsburgh for children ages 6 and under for free, temporary short-term care when families are in crises or experiencing an emergency situation and need safe care for their children. That crisis may be emergency medical care, urgent childcare needs, and care of children at risk for child abuse. Jeremiah’s Place serves the needs of all families when they have no other safe option for childcare and helps prevent child abuse, addresses the needs of homeless children, and provides safe child care when families have no other options.

If you are able to make it to the ‘Burgh on Mother’s Day weekend, I would love to see you. (And if that’s not possible, I do understand the distance factor. Believe me, I get it.)

But trust me on this.

YOU.

WILL.

WANT.

TO SEE.

THIS SHOW.

 

DETAILS:
WHEN:          Friday, May 6, 2016, 8 p.m.

WHERE:        Carnegie Lecture Hall (venue information here, although note that handicapped accessibility is at the Hall entrance itself, not the Portal)

HOW:            Tickets $20  (purchase here)
Seating is general admission (no assigned seats)

 

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On Learning How Big My Brave Is … and Being Selected for Listen to Your Mother

Listen to Your Mother
Wednesday afternoon.  Typical day in the office.  I’m at my desk, working on eighty bazillion reports, my headphones drowning out the world so I can try and capture some modicum of productivity.

An email notification from the Listen to Your Mother producers appears, and I know immediately what this is.

They’ve made their decisions.

*
Eighteen days earlier, in the aftermath of the snowiest weekend of the year, I auditioned for one of 13 spots in Pittsburgh’s Listen to Your Mother performance.

If you’re not familiar with Listen to Your Mother, it is a reading/performance event hosted in connection with Mother’s Day in 41 cities. It celebrates motherhood with original writing by 13 individuals who get onstage in front of several hundred people to read their funny, sad, heartbreaking, and hilarious essays about being or not being a mom, trying to be a mom, missing one’s mom, etc.  

It’s also a fundraiser for a different charity in each city. This year, 10% of the Pittsburgh’s show proceeds will benefit Jeremiah’s Place, a crisis nursery in East Liberty open 24/7 for all children ages 6 and under who need free, temporary short-term care when families are in crisis or experiencing an emergency situation and need safe care for their children. That crisis may be emergency medical care, urgent childcare needs, and care of children at risk for child abuse. It’s staffed 24/7 by trauma-informed caregivers and social workers.  Children’s length of stay is determined based on the needs of the family and availability of care.  In addition to providing free, round-the-clock childcare, Jeremiah’s Place is also working to invest in the kinds of programs that prevent child abuse and neglect by providing parenting classes, community events, and a mentor program.

*
Last year was the inaugural year for Pittsburgh’s Listen to Your Mother show, and although I had an audition time in 2015, I wasn’t able to make it because of the damn weather that particular weekend. Although this year wasn’t much better, things worked out.

I’d written and re-written this particular essay, gotten The Husband’s blessing. Yes, this story was and is mine and I don’t need his permission to tell it, but it’s a story that’s a significant part of our 25 year history together. So, you know, courtesy and respect and all that. Plus, we’re a little fragile these days, so speak now or forever hold your peace if you’d rather I not tell the whole world about this, that, and the other thing.

I asked if he wanted to hear my essay ahead of time (he said the choice was up to me).  I bitched about not being able to nail the tone in the way I wanted, wrangled over an entire section, killed some darlings, and stayed up late editing and revising. I practiced the entire piece alone in our bedroom, timing myself with my cell phone to stay at the 5 minute requirement, and spent a Friday night watching YouTube videos of Pittsburgh’s 2015 Listen to Your Mother cast. Revised and edited some more. Rinsed, lathered, repeated.

*
And now, in the middle of a perfectly ordinary Wednesday, was the verdict.

It took a few minutes for the news to sink in, that, yes, I had been selected as part of the 2016 Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh cast.  I re-read the email several dozen times. Mum was the word, at least until everyone had been notified, so there would be no running into my coworkers’ offices.  They knew about the audition and promised to come to the show.

(I love my coworkers, who are some of the best people in the world, but … ehrmaGAWD, the FUCK have I done?!) 

I did, however, text The Husband and make sure he really was interested in hearing me tell this story to 600 people on May 6.

(He repeated that yes, he is. And that he was so, so proud.)

While I would have been disappointed — and, ultimately, fine — if the decision had been different, this is a big freaking deal to me.  As I told the producers before reading my piece, this is a story that I haven’t told publicly. I made a brief mention of it during a church service 15 years ago but I’m just starting to write more about it.

Although this is something I’ve lived with for almost 31 years, this openness is something that is very, very new.  I’m still getting used to this, which is an odd feeling.  Sure, I could have easily gone the rest of my days without sharing this story. After all, it’s much easier to remain quiet and hidden than to put yourself out there. But sometimes, when opportunities present themselves, I think that’s a nudge from the universe to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and surprise ourselves by doing greater things that we would have never thought ourselves capable of doing.

Which is what I’ll be doing in a big way, standing right here, onstage at the Carnegie Lecture Hall on May 6.  And if you would like to see me be brave, you can get your tickets NOW by clicking here.  Based on last year’s sales, this will sell out quickly.

Lecture-Hall

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is …

~ Sara Bareilles, “Brave”

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Thoughts on Big Magic: Creative Living Through Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Pittsburgh’s literary community is a vibrant one. Besides being home to several MFA programs, there’s a creative and innovative undercurrent in this town that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced anywhere else.

Recently, I spent an entire Saturday with many of our region’s finest writers. They’re some of the most talented and accomplished people I’ve ever met and I’m honored to call several of them friends.

But this writing thing we share — it’s a crazy, crazy thing. I can’t think of many other pursuits that summon feelings of joy and inadequacy at the same time.

Big MagicElizabeth Gilbert has a few things to say about that in her new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I happened to be reading this that same weekend and it resonated with me (whether because of the workshop or because I needed to hear its message, I don’t know).

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.

What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. 

We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. 

We are terrified, and we are brave. 

Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. 

Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. 

Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise — you can make anything.” 

Big Magic is part memoir, part writing manual, and part motivational kick in the ass.

“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers — these are our common ancestors.

The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design.” (pg. 89)”

You may be thinking that Big Magic is just another gimmicky book about creativity and following your passion, the likes of which you’ve probably read before. And you would be wrong. Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t advocating that we creative types go into the office tomorrow and quit our jobs or commit to waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to write The Best Novel Ever or build a wing onto our house for the studio of our dreams. If you are able to do those things, more power to you. That’s not reality for most of us, however. And if we’re looking to our creativity to solve those questions, we might be missing the point altogether.

“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir — something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.” (pg. 172)

I really enjoyed this book and Elizabeth Gilbert’s direct and down-to-earth approach to creativity was exactly what I needed at the time.  Highly recommended.

 

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sunday salon: my week of bookish events

The Sunday Salon.com

October in the ‘Burgh seems to bring a burst of literary events to our town. I think that is because of the growing visibility, strength and supportive nature of Pittsburgh’s literary community which is fueled by the various writing programs at our local universities and the creative mojo that powers this region.

I’ve written previously  about how Pittsburgh’s vibrant literary scene has been one of my surprises about living here. I don’t think many cities have what we have. It’s very special.

On Thursday evening, Rainbow Rowell appeared at the library for a talk and book signing.  I haven’t read any of her books yet, but The Girl is a big fan.  When she heard that Ms. Rowell was going to be in town, she pleaded with me for several weeks to get tickets. Despite this being a school night, I acquiesced. Seeing her unrestrained excitement made me glad I did.

Yesterday, the great folks from Barrelhouse brought their fantastic Conversations and Connections writing conference back to Chatham University. This was my second year attending and once again, this conference was outstanding. It lives up to its name: you get the chance to have wonderful conversations with authors and make connections with small press publishers and editors of journals. As a writer, it gives you validation with a kick in the ass.

I’m planning separate posts recapping each of these happenings, but today I’m flat-out exhausted. I slept for 12 hours last night and needed every minute. Managing life on the homefront is taking a tremendous amount of mental energy lately and by the end of the week, I am depleted. (This week, I felt like I’d reached that point by lunchtime on Monday.)

The John Cheever Audio CollectionOn the reading front, not too much to report. I finally finished listening to The John Cheever Audio Collection. I’ll likely read more of his short stories at some point, but this collection served my purpose of getting acquainted with his work. Among these 12 stories, my favorites were “The Enormous Radio,” “The Five Forty-Eight,” “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor,” and “The Brigadier and the Golf Widow.”  There are a few others that I listened to while somewhat distracted (always a good state of mind for driving)  and that I need to revisit in print.

Big MagicMy current read is Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m not necessarily an Elizabeth Gilbert fan — I have no inclination to read Eat Pray Love and The Signature of All Things was a DNF for me — but I am liking this book a lot. Most creativity books I’ve read tend to give overused and simplistic suggestions for discovering your creativity and making time to pursue your passion. That’s all fine and well and good. For me, Big Magic is a little different: it’s about addressing the fear that holds us back, the spirituality that’s such a big part of the ideas we have, and the work of capturing them and nurturing them into life.

Hope you are having a great weekend!

What is the Sunday Salon? Imagine some university library’s vast reading room. It’s filled with people–students and faculty and strangers who’ve wandered in. They’re seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they’re all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they’ll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon’s literary intake….

That’s what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it’s all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week’s Salon get together–at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones–and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another’s blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one’s earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book.

 

 

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