Talkin’ ‘bout My Generation… (and Others!)

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Last week for class, my college freshmen, who have one foot planted in Generation Y (Millennial) and the other in Z (iGen), read about their generations as well as overviews of the Greatest Generation, Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Alpha (the newest humans off nature’s mold). The readings, videos, and ensuing discussion proved just as interesting for me as it did for them.

I’m a Gen Xer. Gen X has evidently gone from being thought of as slackers to the “middle child” between two larger generations, Boomers and Millennials (“Generations: Past, Present, and Future,” youtube), and according to Alex Williams of The New York Times, “a relatively small, jaded generation….former latchkey kids, who…have tried to give their children the safe, secure childhood that they never had…” I can see this. We were raised in the wake of the Vietnam war, Civil Rights and Women’s movements, and assassinations. We felt vaguely as though we had missed something; at the same time, we had considerable time and freedom but not much direction to focus our passion and energy. This spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e for many of us during early adulthood. The world changed as mothers increasingly entered the workforce, we learned about AIDS, “date rape” became a term, and we lived through Columbine and later, 9/11, mass shootings and global terrorism becoming a stitch, forming a seam, in our cultural fabric. It only makes sense that our anxiety would be manifested in wanting to protect our progeny.  (I wouldn’t argue against the backlash toward “helicopter parenting,” though – children need to gain a sense of independence and confidence in their ability to make decisions on their own as they grow older.)

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But who are these kids, today’s 18 and 19 year olds? They appear to be more Z than Y. They were in diapers or not yet born when 9/11 occurred. It’s as much a part of history to them as MLK Jr’s assassination and the moon landing are to me. On one hand, they grew up with a black president and LGBT identification and rights increasing. They also grew up with the most diversity of any generation; it is even said that they only notice diversity when it is lacking. (My 12-year-old daughter is half-white/non-Hispanic, half-white/Hispanic, with many friends who are half one race or ethnicity, half another. We consciously assess and discuss diversity ratios when away from home.) They are also the most global in their mindsets and have more in common with kids their age in other countries than older people in their own (“8 Keys Differences between Gen Z and Millennials” by George Beall). On the other hand, sadly, they were raised with mass shootings, global terrorism, and climate change as a part of their world. Unlike older Millennials, who are reported to have had their innocence taken away by 9/11 and the Great Recession, Generation Z was born with “eyes open” (Williams). And we all hear about how tech savvy they are, having been born as social media natives, most of whom don’t recall a time before the existence of the smart phone. (“Addicted” and “dependent” have also been used in relation to iGen technology habits.) We know that these global changes and this early connection to the world has allowed the majority of the generation to grow up fast psychosocially. It could also be argued that we privilege the use of nonfiction, of current events, in the classroom more so than previously and live in higher pressure world caused by effects of the Great Recession and expectations of excellent grades as well as earlier exposure to college admission decisions (beginning as early as elementary school) and internship opportunities (now available to high schoolers) – and even the concept of branding!  According to Dan Gould, a New York advertising firm trend consultant, Gen Z is aware of privacy in relation to personal brand, unlike Gen Y, who, upon entering the social media frontier, posted “too openly” (Williams). It is important that we consider these factors in relation to our thinking and treatment of Gen Z.

It has been pointed out that the iGen is growing up slower than previous generations. According to Jeanne Twenge of CNN, “This generation of teens…is delaying the responsibilities and pleasures of adulthood.” They drive, drink, and have sex later. I think of how quinceañeras, sweet sixteen parties, and bar mitzvahs have become less connected to the idea of “coming of age” as women and men. We have less children now, generally speaking, and pay more attention to their individual development (Twenge). My grandma Ruby was one of something like eleven or thirteen children; she was married at age fifteen and had her fourth and final child at age 24; long gone are those days (thank goodness!). I cannot help but wonder if part of the delay serves as a pressure valve. Aren’t we, after all, putting tremendous pressure on these youth? In “Introducing Generation Z,” it was suggested that they may take social issues for granted.  However, I disagree – they’re growing up in the Trump era, with social issues in everyone’s face to an extent unknown and with the country politically divided unlike any time other than likely the 1960’s.  They’re growing up with dystopia leaving fiction and looming over their heads in the form of predicted consequences of climate severely affecting or possibly ending their adult lives prematurely. It’s as though we’ve been grooming Gen Z to solve the problems of the world – “Here, we and the generations before us have made a real mess.  Sorry!  But we’re raising you so that you’ll be smart and capable enough to fix the problems we’ve stuck you with!  Good luck!” According to Twenge, younger adults are “taking longer to settle into careers, marry and have children.” She continues that “iGen evinces a stronger work ethics than millennials…” While she also states that because of their slower pace to adulthood, they will likely need more help with the transition, it seems that we’re raising a generation that is more aware and responsible than those previous. So, what does that mean for older Millennials, Xers, Boomers, and older folks?

Innovation consultant Lucie Green states that Gen Z is “conscientious, hard-working, somewhat anxious and mindful of the future” (Williams). I intend to devote the remainder of my life, in part, to helping iGen on their way.  As the step-mom as a younger Millennial and the mom of an iGen about to enter her teens, I want the generation to find a healthy balance between the digital world and “real” world, so that they have all of the advantages of technology without missing out on the opportunities and beauty afforded by life outside of it. I also want to do as much as possibly to lessen the issues that they are inheriting. In addition, I worry that Gen Z is going to have a collective nervous breakdown by age 30. In unprecedented numbers (and I’ve been teaching college for longer than they’ve been walking upon the earth) my students, especially females, report being on medication to fight depression and more frequently, anxiety. It is alarming. I want to help our future adults to balance the positive with the negative, to learn coping skills, and to use writing as a means to dive beneath the chaos and static to have an opportunity to reflect and make meaning for themselves. I always thought that the “slacker” label was slapped on Xers too soon; I was named a slacker before I even had my first full-time position as a college graduate. Gens Y and Z have been called everything from “self-involved” and “less focused” to “boring” and “less prepared.” In his TED Talk, “What Do We Know About the Generation After Millennials,” Jason Dorsey encourages viewers to, instead of fixating upon generational differences, generation gaps, see what each generation brings to the table and play to all of our strengths. Generations Y and perhaps even more so, Z, have learned from being raised in a more progressive environment, from adversity and early exposure, and from parenting that focused more on individual development. I hope that we will all work to lessen the load of these young people, guide them as needed, and invite them to pull a chair up to the generational roundtable and stay, bringing their passion, ideas, energy, dreams, good work ethic, and willingness to act with them.

If we do, who knows what future will be possible for and with Generation Alpha!

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem

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“Hello, everyone! My name is Janine, and I’m a workaholic.”

(You say:  “Hello, Janine!”)

In August, I decided to step down from my full-time faculty position and have cut back to part-time teaching for fall; after this semester, I will be done. There were numerous reasons involved in the choice. For one, I have had the hectic schedule of an eighteen-year-old for over double that amount of time – “work/life balance” has never been an area at which I have excelled. My almost-teen daughter is going to be closing the hatch door on the silver CRV, after loading her last item, perhaps a plastic laundry basket, and heading off to the dorm, after I blink one more time. Family nutrition, fitness, and mental health, particularly the reduction of my own anxiety, are also factors. In addition, I have been teaching college for about 25 years, which is longer than my Gen Y/Z cusp undergrads have walked on upon this Earth. Higher education isn’t what it used to be either – the business approach, disregard of faculty, minimization of the importance of the liberal arts and subsequent falling numbers in English; I’d like to be able to fight the good fight from the outside, rather than fear firing from my non-tenure track position.  Moreover, despite its spread and advances in craft in recent decades and invaluable contributions to English departments, creative writing still remains the ugly red-headed step-child at some institutions (especially according to old, elitist members whose time to step down from teaching was over a decade ago, not that I have anyone in particular in mind, mind you). At any rate, it is time for new challenges, and there is a reason that we so often hear, “Life is short.”

While I look forward to the combination of roles ahead, primarily as a freelance writer but also as a teaching artist and an online college English instructor of creative and freelance writing and literature, I’ll admit that I’m a bit nervous about the transition.  I have, in fact, identified potential pitfalls to avoid as I enter my second career, which are as follows:

  1. I have been go, go, go for the longest time! What happens when it comes to an almost screeching halt by comparison? I will have time to think and feel, too much of which, for me, historically, has been a bit dangerous. From talking to other women, I know that I am not the only one who has experienced this issue.
  2. What if I let my world become smaller?
  3. What if I get fat from lack of exercise?
  4. What if I really am a college professor at heart, and I don’t find writing as my primary responsibility as meaningful?
  5. What if the instability, competitiveness, and stress of freelancing prove more than I have bargained for – what if I can’t make ends meet and steadily learn to excel in the field?

What if…what if…what if? If everyone listened to the “what if’s” inside of their heads, though, no one would ever risk? Right?!?  Besides, since I have identified potential pitfalls, I should be able to work hard to avoid them. (Excuse me while I go sign up for zumba…)

What I know is that I am experiencing a sense of peace that I have not felt for years – you know, the exhale — and I am looking forward to a healthier way of living my life and sharing it with my immediate and extended family and friends.

I have been fortunate enough to have had many literary arts experiences and gained enough knowledge in recent years that I have developed the strong sense of self-confidence that would have been invaluable to me when I was in my twenties and earlier thirties, but “better late than never,” as they say. I believe that I can do this!  But if I fail, and I have failed before, then I will get up, shake off the paperclips and sticky notes, put Band-Aids on my paper cuts, and figure out what is next.

No matter the outcome, beginning next January, I will finally have time to apply lessons that I’ve taught, to explore commercial and literary freelancing in meaningful ways, to make discoveries and meet new people, and to do sit-ups and leg lifts!

“And with that, I’ll pass.”

(This is the part where you say, “Thanks, Janine!”)

See you next meeting!

 

#HereToStay – 5 Ways to Help Our DREAMers Now!

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Soon, I’d love to write about writing, teaching, motherhood, and the myriad other topics that I planned to discuss when I began this blog. However, this has been a year for activism, and as many of you know, I had a poetry chapbook, If We Were Birds, published earlier this year to advocate on behalf of our DREAMers.

They need our support more than ever now!  We have approximately 10,000 DREAMers residing in Indiana and 45,000 in Illinois alone, and 780,000 nationwide, 96,000+ of whom have already graduate from college. If the graduates, especially, lose DACA with no replacement, many will lose professional positions and with them, the opportunity for livelihoods that support independent living or affording families with young children.

It is time for DREAMers to be given a permanent solution to their citizenship issue; the United States of America is the only home that the majority of them even remember and the only culture they know.  They deserve to feel secure, instead of fearful, anxiety riddled, or depressed, and to be able to invest in futures that cannot be ripped away at a moment’s notice.

5 Ways to Help Our DREAMers Now Include

  1. Become informed about the Acts that have been introduced to Congress.
  2. Telephone your Congressional representatives and Speaker of the House to tell them that you not only support DREAMers, but also which Act you are asking them to back in the House and Senate:   Indiana Representatives  Paul Ryan
  3. Sign the following petitions:  MoveOn.org  CREDO
  4. Donate to the following organizations:  United We Dream  MoveOn.org  ACLU
  5. Use social media to raise awareness.  Tweet Congress. Post about the issue, asking your friends and followers to advocate on behalf of our undocumented American kids.

So…what are you waiting for?  Click, click, click!  Let’s make the U.S. a better place!

In solidarity,

Janine

 

 

 

A Trade School that Saves Lives

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While in Jérémie, Haiti, in July, I visited the MUJRE Ecole professionnelle de la Grand’ Anse (MEPGA). The school is located in the Lycée St. Luc complex, a spacious facility that serves multiple purposes, including hosting a classical school and English as a Foreign Language instruction.

MEPGA appears to be laying a strong foundation for its future and the future of Jérémie, a community that is in greater need than ever, post-Hurricane Matthew. During my visit, the team-taught classes that were in session included plumbing and electrical as well as tiling and bricklaying. Carpentry is also taught at the institution. While observing, I was impressed by the high attendance numbers, attentiveness of students, and professionalism of instructors. I had an opportunity to speak to one student, Guillaume Wislin, who said, “The profession, when you hardly begin, the work is very good, and step by step you will learn more at this school. They use good methods, and practice is needed every day.” Wislin spoke with sincerity and confidence about his educational experience.

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MEPGA is a new trade school that was co-founded by a University of Nouvelle Grand’Anse graduate, Pierre Benic, and Pastor Jean Ouston Lestin. It opened after Hurricane Matthew devastated the region last October. Students, who are barely surviving, themselves, cannot afford to pay tuition to attend the institution; instead, they enter their studies with the contractual understanding that upon graduation, they must rebuild or help to repair five houses in Jérémie that were destroyed or significantly damaged by the disaster. This is an urgent need, since a new hurricane season is upon the city and much structural damage remains to homes.

MEPGA serves a two-fold purpose: First, it gives students who attend skills needed to eek out a livelihood in an area in which employment opportunities are scarce, so that they may secure food and clean water for their families and themselves, and second, the graduates will be giving back to the community by helping to rebuild it after 80 percent infrastructure loss.

Since it is in its infancy, MEPGA is urgently seeking support to assist in the payment of teachers’ salaries and purchase of building materials that students may use for practice, until the administration is able to enact a solid plan that will allow for sustainability. In contributing, you will be literally filling bellies, providing shelters, and changing lives.

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MEPGA is located in a country that runs on a primarily cash-based economy.  There is no Paypal account.  For this reason, I am collecting donations myself, which I will then wire to a founder using Western Union.  If you would like to make a contribution, please do one of the following:

  1. Send a check made payable to “Janine Harrison” to:

8802 Johnston Street

Highland, IN  46322

If you include your email address on the correspondence, I will happily send a receipt and photographic evidence of the transaction, so that you know that I did not spend the funds on bonbons.

  1. If you know me, when you see me, please hand me a check or money. I will send a receipt to you for your tax records.

Thank you very much for considering this request! All size donations appreciated!

Adding New Voices to Old in the “City of Poets” – A Workshop in Jérémie, Haiti

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Renate Shneider, coordinator of Haitian Connection, invited me to lead a two-day poetry workshop for young adults and adolescents in Jérémie, “The City of Poets,” Haiti, on July 11th and 12th; I happily obliged.

Haitian Connection is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that has “been established as a compassionate response to the poverty and misery that so many Haitians face. We are committed to the creative energy and inherent worth of each individual. We foster self help and grassroots development by building shelter for the most vulnerable in society – women and children, by promoting mental health and by strengthening the educational infrastructure.” Recently, the group expanded from city to nationwide.  I support Haitian Connection because they have built over 100 houses for women and children, worked tirelessly to help area residents to survive and rebuild after Hurricane Matthew, offer Divergent Thinking workshops, host an after-school program, hold stress reduction workshops and a literacy program for women, assist women with microbusinesses, work with a business that turns breadfruit into flour, and more. I was honored to be asked to contribute.

In Haiti, events such as workshops customarily begin with a prayer or other religious component. On the first day, Renate, who both attended and served as translator between English and Haitian creole, asked our youngest workshop attendee, a thirteen-year-old boy, Kendy, who is a preacher and intellectually and musically gifted, to sing to both open and close the session. He sang a cappella, and it did not matter that I couldn’t understand a word that he uttered – his voice enveloped the room with a melodic richness that would “wow” even the toughest judges in an American TV star search competition.

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Kendy

We then began with an ice breaker that many people are familiar with – “Two Truths and a Lie.” I have learned over the years that cultures vary when completing assignments. For instance, I once taught English to an almost all Mexican-American adult student-filled college class, and when I asked them to bring in a poem or song lyrics for discussion, they all chose work that focused on love. Love was not assigned, and I would have received more variety from a more diversely-populated class. Similarly, several students stated that they hadn’t been to church the past Sunday or something of a similar vein; it was their lie, and it revealed a bit about their sense of priorities.

After discussion of Jérémie’s history of poets and writers, types of poetry, tropes, and what makes poems effective or ineffective, we delved into an exercise and then focused on narrative, place, protest, and epistle poetry, which included discussion of work by primarily African-American, Haitian, and Haitian-American poets, and exercises related to each form. (A big thank you to Indiana Poet Laureate Shari Wagner for posting poems and related prompts for public use on the Indiana Humanities website during National Poetry Month this April! I used several of the pairings.)  We enjoyed stimulating discussion throughout the workshop as well as some laughs.

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Some highlights for me included Pierre Moise Louis forming an extended metaphor in which his mother became a “big truck” because she is strong and unstoppable; Pierre Benic reciting an original poem off of the top of his head in Haitian creole and my being able to hear the lyricality of it, even without comprehending the words; a theology student, Juste Pierre Weslaire’s oration style – so powerful with its resonant voice and effective pauses; and Steeve Janvier’s extensive knowledge of Haitian poets and poetry, appreciation of the protest form and fairness in perspective when considering an issue, and expressive facial and body language.  I also appreciated the seriousness with which students took discussion of issues faced in their country, such as deforestation and restaveks. Honestly, there wasn’t a “slacker” in the group!

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(Left to right): Steeve, Brunel, Juste, Darline, Kendy, Benic, Janine, Judith, & Pierre Moise

After workshopping and revision, participants presented their poems to an appreciative audience of peers. They were wonderful! One or more attendees considered themselves as poets before ever entering the workshop. I hope that whether it be tomorrow or a decade from now, some of these young, needed, and insightful voices of Jérémie find their way from paper to published page, and they continue the literary legacy begun long ago in the “City of Poets.”

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Judith

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Darline

My Haiti series will continue next blog with a look at the new MEPGA professional school!  (After that, I’ll get to things that go bump in the night…)

Heading to Haiti for Haitian Connection

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Instead of my usual Second (or occasionally third…gulp!) Sunday Scribble, this month, I’ll be blogging either on the road or shortly after my return from Jeremie, Haiti (contingent upon wifi connection), where I’m going to teach a two-day poetry workshop for the not-for-profit organization, Haitian Connection, coordinated by the tireless and wonderful Renate Schneider.

I am very excited about teaching poetry in Jeremie, “The City of Poets,” in an intimate workshop setting to these young adults. I relish meeting the attendees.  And I already know from last trip, October 2012, when I taught English as a Foreign Language and fiction, that I need to see teaching of the subject through new eyes, eliminating cultural allusions that won’t make sense to this audience and considering their possible frames of reference. Secondly, as this group’s English proficiency levels will likely vary, there may or may not be a translator.

As much as I’m looking forward to the adventures that these challenges will bring, I am even more eager to meet and hug two students I’ve been mentoring online, Seby and Degraff, and see a student whom I met last trip, Benic, again; he has since become a teacher, himself.

The fun will begin when I arrive in Port-au-Prince next Monday.  On Tuesday, I’ll then take a small plane to Jeremie in the rural west and start teaching that afternoon.  Please stay tuned!  Anecdotes and photos to follow!

 

 

100 Locofo Chaps Political Poetry Books Sent to Trump

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In January, William Allegrezza, publisher of Moria Books, announced a new imprint, locofo chaps, which focuses on political poetry, and within Donald Trump’s first 100 days of office, he single-handedly undertook a project in which he read, accepted, designed, formatted, published, and mailed 100 protest poetry chapbooks to the White House. Since accomplishing this colossal feat, Allegrezza has continued to accept submissions. The chapbooks are available for free in .pdf form or for purchase in hard copy at http://www.moriapoetry.com/locofo.html and would serve as wonderful resources for resistance efforts and in the college classroom. Eileen R. Tabios wrote an insightful review of the project in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, available at http://www.glass-poetry.com/journal/reviews/tabios-locofo.html  In her article, she states, “Sending the chapbooks to the White House means that locofo chaps is de facto creating literature’s own protest rally.”

Writing is a dynamo when it serves as an agent of social betterment, and I am very pleased that my first chapbook, If We Were Birds, was included in the project. The focus of the single poem work is the precarious status that DREAMers (undocumented children who have been raised in the United States) face. While Trump first intended to reverse Obama’s DACA initiative and deport this group of immigrants, he has more recently recanted, choosing, instead, to focus on the deportation of older undocumented immigrants. Even though I am delighted that DREAMers have received a temporary reprieve and will be able to continue to drive and work in the United States, it still does not change the fact that a permanent solution is needed for this population. Any American leader at any time in the future could revoke DACA, leaving DREAMers unable to continue being productive members of our society as well as at risk of deportation. In addition, DACA does not allow DREAMers to have Medicaid or, if they entered the USA without a Visa, to marry, among other limitations. The issue is not being faced by a small number of immigrants either; it affects 1.9 million DACA eligible undocumented young people, over 96,000 of whom have already graduated from college (which they paid for out of pocket). Many DREAMers do not even remember the country in which they were born and were not given a choice as to whether or not to come to America.  They are ours now, are as American as those of us who are citizens, and instead of paying approximately $500 every two years to be allowed limited rights, DREAMers deserve to be given permanent status.

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On Saturday, July 15th, locofo chaps will be hosting a reading.  To hear about the plight of DREAMers and from other activist poets on innumerable timely issues, please come!

The information is as follows:

Myopic Bookstore

1564 North Milwaukee Avenue

Chicago, IL

7-8 PM

A Different Kind of Con: Losing My ACEN Virginity

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When I think about attending an event that begins with C-O-N, the letters to follow are usually F-E-R-E-N-C-E. But my twelve-year-old old, Jianna, speaks, lives, and breathes anime and manga, so this past weekend we attended a C-O-N-V-E-N-T-I-O-N, namely, Anime Central (ACEN).

A friend who has been attending the Con for twenty years was concerned that I might experience culture shock, but I usually attend creative writing conferences, so participating in an event with anime and other pop culture characters and furries really wasn’t that much of a stretch!  However, I will admit that the vendor exhibit hall caused a bit of sensory overload for me at first.  Fortunately, a gaming vendor was handing out free bubble wrap to pop for stress relief and free chocolate, so with that winning combination, I was soon good!

One perspective on this form of entertainment would have to be as symbolic of American privilege and consumerism, with member attendance numbers alone likely above 30,000 and participants as regular patrons of TV and film products leading to the Con as well as fortunate enough to be able to afford registration and often hotel, food, elaborate costumes, and product purchases. However, it is certainly not unique. I recently looked up Bruno Mars concert tickets and saw that the cheapest seats were $167.00.

That stated, I was amazed by the creativity of many costumes that were crafted by the wearers. Some outfits included crocheted beards and other elements, and both a panel on choosing sewing machines and discussion of “fine stitches” by a costume judge allowed me to see such efforts as a resurgence in art forms with modern-day applications – art forms that may otherwise have died with our grandmothers’ and mothers’ generations. Craftsmanship of accessories or, in one instance, the entire Howl’s Moving Castle (pictured, which won an award), often showed incredible talent as well. And to be fair, some costumes were completely homemade, inexpensively, involving such items as cardboard boxes and tin foil.

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I did not enter Anime Central as a stranger to the media. My introduction took place almost twenty years ago, when my niece, Chyanne, and one of her college friends showed me Princess Mononoke. While I was initially taken aback by its violence, I was appreciative of its depth. Since Jianna was little, she and I have watched numerous additional Hayao Miyazaki films together, beginning with Ponyo. In addition to being astounded by the aesthetics of such productions, I also found the inclusion of such themes as parental illness/death admirable; such frank and realistic portrayals were refreshing. Jianna has continued to explore anime films and series on her own, introducing me to a number as she has joined the fandoms.  While I disapprove of the sexual objectification of women that I have witnessed in some works (and Jianna and I have discussed this and why), overall, I’m a fan of the form.

At the Con, though, my admiration grew, in part because I learned more about what happens behind the scenes. For example, we attended a Yuri on Ice fan panel, and were told that professional costume designers imagine the costumes for the anime cast to wear and professional ice dance choreographers design routines for the ice competitions.

We also attended a panel on web comic production because Jianna is a budding artist and writer. I was delighted to hear one comic writer and artist tell attendees that they must read heavily and widely, so that the frame of reference they’d gain would inform their web comic creation.  He also stated that if a web comic is written and drawn to the point that it is good enough to “get by,” then it really isn’t finished yet. In other words, he argued for high standards.

Equally so, in a panel on the female heroic journey in anime, voice actor Crispin Freeman talked about the power of stories to help audiences to reflect on life lessons, and he told panel attendees that if they do not take said lessons back into their realities and apply them, then they are cheating themselves. I felt very good knowing that the presenters were giving such invaluable advice to adolescent and young adult listeners.

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At the end of our first day, Jianna said, “The whole world should be an anime con!”

When I told two twenty-year veteran ACEN attendees that, one replied, “Anime Central is the least judgmental place I’ve ever been.” The other individual added that she doesn’t see anyone as “weird” in everyday life.  Anime Central helps all who attend to move past such restrictive thinking and to accept people for who they are. I could see it. Not only was impressive racial and sexual orientation diversity evident, but Anime Central also consisted of a large age and ability range as well.  Once could say that I was CONvinced (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)  – which is good considering that Jianna asked, “Can we attend Anime Central next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year…”

Poetry Liaison Seeks News, Ideas, and Partnerships

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Happy National Poetry Month! 

As many of you are already aware, I was selected as the 2017 Highland Poet Laureate (Indiana).  I have a year to foster poetry in my town and surrounding communities, and I would like to make the most of it.  In today’s society, the idea that “poetry is dead” persists, despite the fact that the form is possibly more active and relevant than ever before, and frequently, when I ask my college students in introductory creative writing to name their favorite poet, the response is “Shel Silverstein”; it seems that in the pursuit of quality standardized test scores and with the increased emphasis on STEM, creative thinking and literature are often pushed to the side in education after elementary school.  (Please note that I do not blame teachers for this shift.)

My goals thus far are as follows:

  1. To show the uninitiated that news of poetry’s death has been greatly exaggerated. To invite people of all ages into the poetry community and illustrate that contemporary poetry is powerful, accessible, and vital
  2. To host poetry workshops for children, adolescents, and adults that introduce and encourage the writing of poetry in its myriad forms
  3. To support poets, particularly those who reside in Indiana, by showcasing their work
  4. And to strengthen Northwest Indiana’s arts community by promoting awareness and poetry events, both stand alone and mixed media

To these ends, I am asking you, dear readers, to:

  1. Please friend highlandpoetlaureate on Facebook and/or follow @highlandpoet on Twitter

I will be posting news of local and state poetry events and projects, videos, resource recommendations, links to interviews, reviews, and more on social media.

  1. Email me at highlandpoetlaureate@gmail.com
  • Send news about local poetry happenings that you’d like promoted
  • Send ideas for events and projects that I could possibly assist with or host in Highland
  • Write “Add to Eblast List” in the subject line, and I will add you to the list for announcements of local poetry events
  1. Spread the word about events and projects – please be an advocate!
  1. Attend! Participate!  Having coordinated the IWC’s literary reading series, Stream Line, for two years, I can promise you that I will organize events with these aims in mind:  They are comfortable, accessible, interactive, stimulating, creative, and enjoyable
  1. Share this blog post to help me get the word out!

Please know that I appreciate any and all efforts on your part, and I look forward to serving Northwest Indiana as a poetry liaison!

There are a million powerful quotations about poetry in existence, each saying something different about its impetus, purpose, beauty or power.  According to Paul Engle, “Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.”  In response, I say, let our words walk, our words dance, our words climb mountains, this year and always!

Waving Good-bye to Faulty Practices: For Our Newest Feminists

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Since the Women’s March on Washington, I’ve seen a new wave of feminism cascade into my composition classrooms with Generation Z females, which has done my heart considerable good since it is certainly still needed.  In recent years, leading up to police brutality coming to the attention of the Fourth Estate and the 2016 presidential election, I was having difficulty convincing many white Generation Y students that we don’t live in a post –ism world, including sexism. My current female students are mainly addressing the gender wage gap, which is only about 79 or 80 cents to every man’s dollar, if you are a white woman, and even more shamefully, less than women on average made in the 1970’s, if you are a woman of color.

As a female in my late 40’s, post-Women’s March, during Women’s History Month, and as a creative writer who has spent half of her life teaching college, I cannot help but reflect upon where I am and what it says about where we as women are today.

I like what I am reading in my students’ papers.  One bit of advice is that women need to learn about the salaries of their colleagues, so that they know whether or not they are being discriminated against financially.  I explained to one student writer that historically, etiquette has dictated that one should never ask someone, “How much money do you make?”  Perhaps such etiquette needs to change?  Or better yet, maybe we should demand transparency from our employers.

Another best practice suggested to women is that we use our voices.  Evidently, most men negotiate their salaries when being hired; the majority of women do not.  I remember being so happy that I was being offered a job and a pittance of a raise as compared to my last position that I would eagerly take it without ever thinking to ask for more money.  If I had, I would surely have conned myself out of it with the thinking, If I ask for more money, perhaps they’ll decide not to hire me and go with the next person on their list – their back-up person.  Even today, as qualified as I am, I’ve gone through life practically having to beg for any type of upward mobility, so the thought of entering a hiring situation having confidence in my worth is daunting, especially now that I am getting older and in an economy that is so competitive and precariously balanced, and especially so in the Liberal Arts.  Life experience has taught me to whisper and now, I will need to retrain myself to assert myself in ways that I haven’t previously.  Not impossible, but certainly not easy.

Women are encouraged to use our voices on the job as well.  I always thought – must have been taught either directly or indirectly while growing up (perhaps because I was raised by Silent Generation parents?) — that if I worked diligently, made strong contributions, that my work would be recognized and reward would be fairly allotted.  I never bought into “it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know” or “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  However, academia is still largely an “ol’ boys’ club.”  I look at the president, chancellor, and vice-chancellors of my own university, and six out of eight positions are held by white men.  It seems as though they’ve thrown in a token black woman and a token Latina for good measure.  During an informal meeting a few years’ ago, academic and activist Sue Eleuterio told me that she’d learned that a person can only soar as high as their network allows, which is often a problem for minorities, women included.  I’ve always thought that an employee’s work should speak for itself.  However, I’ve begun to see through fresh eyes that women should give voice individually as well as unite, fostering voices collectively, so that we may rise.

Furthermore, when examining layoffs of non-tenure track academics and lack of conversion of positions from temporary contracts to permanent at my university, the majority of instructors affected have been female.  While the university can undoubtedly show “reasons” for these layoffs, ultimately, the message is clear – the treatment women have received in academia (and maybe even the lives that took the women into non-tenure track directions to begin with) – signal that we are often considered expendable.  I witness and I participate as a woman in a work world where women almost always take on one more responsibility and then one more, one more responsibility, rarely expecting anything additional in return.  And that’s what women get in terms of financial compensation – nada.  It is for such reasons that the life expectancy of women is decreasing.  On March 8th, as one of the “10 Actions in the First 100 Days,” follow-up to the Women’s March, women went on strike.  Had it been a true strike, in academia the university would fall apart within weeks.  My university is a microcosm of the whole in the United States – no worse, no better.  Women need to expect fair compensation for our work and for additional work; we deserve it; we need to squeak to be recognized at the table.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not a coal miner.  I don’t pick burnt Frosted Flakes off of a conveyor belt for eight hours per day to make a living.  As both an academic and writer, I perform work that I find extremely gratifying; otherwise, I wouldn’t do it.  I never went into the discipline that I chose to get rich. However, as I approach what is supposed to be the “peak” of my earning potential, in a job that pays me what would be considered an entry-level salary in other fields and with a downturn in recent years out of nowhere that has led to no security, I cannot help but feel a bit depressed, hurt, and well, cheated.  I am writing this blog for my younger sisters – the Y’s and the Z’s – because social change is again imbuing the air, and I want better for you than socialization within patriarchy or than I have allowed for myself to date.  My 12-year-old daughter, Jianna, recently said, “I think that I’ll become an artist now and president of the United States later on.”  I want it for her.